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The Color of Possibility

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Recovery was generally a slow process. Bilbo knew that. Thorin hadn’t just broken a bone (in fact he had broken several) or been slashed across the face on Raven Hill. His pride was also bruised from being saved, yet again, by a meddling hobbit. Bilbo couldn’t regret putting himself and the mithril shirt between Thorin and Azog’s blade, but by now he had some idea of how a warrior’s pride suffered from being saved in such a way. Some of the Iron Hills dwarves now whispered the name Thorin Bagginshield, though never where Thorin could hear them.

Then there was the fact that, from the sound of things, Thorin had been trying to die for nearly his entire life, only to be thwarted time and again of the glorious battlefield death his people prized. It wasn’t terribly surprising then that his recovery was slowed by an attempt to die of overwork. It was just upsetting to see Thorin’s mind clear of the dragon sickness, and yet to know that he still had no peace. He’d been ready to die and wipe the slate clean, his legacy cleared by a heroic death, and Bilbo had stopped him. Bilbo had forced him to live with the consequences and rebuild the bridges he’d burned in his illness. So of course he had grudgingly rebuilt all but one.

Thorin still refused to see Bilbo.

It had been a week since the Battle for the Mountain. A week since Thorin had plunged his blade through Azog, fear and worry shining in his eyes. A week since Thorin had run his hands all over Bilbo’s torso as he’d lay there gasping for breath with the wind knocked out of him, the dwarf searching desperately for a mortal wound, only to breathe a sigh of relief at finding nothing but a darkening bruise. In that moment, it had seemed like there was something Thorin wanted to say, but then he’d heard Dwalin shout, and remembered the equally mortal peril of his nephews, and then run off. There had been nothing since then, and though Bilbo hadn’t been officially kicked out of Erebor, he hadn’t seen the King either. Not that he hadn’t tried. But no matter what he tried, coming at different times of day and night, or if he brought food, he would find Balin and Dwalin shaking their heads sadly.

“Your banishment was revoked,” Balin assured him the first time. “But Thorin’s not ready to see you yet. Not after what happened.”

Bilbo took that to mean he wasn’t forgiven for preventing Thorin from killing himself (though it was always possible that Thorin was still bitter over the theft of the Arkenstone), and the news that came from the royal chambers had agreed with him. Dori reported disapprovingly that Thorin ate and slept little, putting everything into the restoration of the mountain. It felt like a return of the dragon sickness, except now Bilbo was the untrustworthy one, instead of Thorin’s kin. As much as he tried to tell himself that at least this was a restoration of the natural order of things, Bilbo couldn’t shake the feeling that Thorin was still trying to kill himself, and this time it was his fault.

But of course all of that was ridiculous. Fíli and Kíli were both still alive, but in a precarious condition. Fíli hadn’t woken since being thrown off the tower, and Kíli’s chest wound had become infected thanks to whatever vile substances Bolg’s blade had been coated with. Of course Thorin would try to distract himself from something so terrible as his nephews hanging on for dear life.

There at least, Bilbo could make himself useful, once the bruising on his ribs from Azog’s blow had healed enough that he could move without screaming. The battle had left many wounded, and if Fíli and Kíli had not been princes, they would have been given up for dead to focus on more saveable patients. Óin only had two hands, and the Iron Hills dwarves had only brought a few healers. They needed all the help they could get, and though the blood and pained cries were hardly pleasant, Bilbo did the best he could to help. Sometimes he cleaned wounds and dressed them in new bandages. Sometimes Óin sent him outside to hunt for useful herbs, as he trusted no one else to tell the medicinal plants from the poisonous ones. There wasn’t much of that to find in the Desolation of Smaug, but thankfully the elves had stores to spare. He just had to ask the right elves.

Some small part of Bilbo hoped that he would finally meet Thorin again while caring for Fíli and Kíli, because he had to visit eventually. But it was a petty part of him, and he shoved it down as deep as he could. Whether Thorin ever wanted to see him again or not, he wanted Fíli and Kíli to wake up again. Once they were well, he would try one more time to see Thorin, and if he failed, then he would return to the Shire. Thorin was alive, had his home back, and wasn’t sick anymore. Even if Thorin didn’t forgive him, it was enough. It had to be enough. If he had ever thought there could be more, well, those days were behind him now. He couldn’t keep waiting forever.

At times he wondered if Fíli and Kíli lingered so because they knew what he intended to do. They would want him back on good terms with Thorin. But then, Bilbo also hoped they would understand why he couldn’t just wait for that to happen. They had known their uncle longer than he had after all.

Bilbo had been called in to the infirmary to help Kíli through a fever spike when he found that someone else had gotten there first. The red-haired elf captain didn’t have to kneel or bend to fit in the room, something Bilbo wouldn’t have expected until he’d actually been inside Erebor. In fact, the sick room had windows that could open and close by tugging on pulleys to air out the room and refresh the ailing. Yet another thing he never would have expected. It seemed like a structural weakness, but he knew by now not to question dwarves on engineering matters unless he wanted to be stuck there for an hour at least for politeness’ sake.

“Captain Tauriel,” Bilbo said in greeting, then winced. She had mentioned the first time they’d been in the princes’ sick room at the same time that she’d been relieved of duty and even banished from the Woodland Realm. Not unlike how he had been banished from Erebor, though her king seemed less likely to yield on that subject.

“Just Tauriel,” she reminded him, though she didn’t sound offended. “His fever hasn’t broken.”

Always straight to business, that one.

“Óin says there’s not much we can do except give him water,” Bilbo admitted, setting the water jug he’d brought next to the bed. “The wound’s been cleaned a dozen times over with every infection purging herb we can think of.”

And of course Tauriel herself had put some of her own power into trying to cleanse the infection. Nothing had worked for long. Sometimes Bilbo wondered if Kíli would only begin to truly heal once Fíli woke and he heard his voice. The fevered dwarf still didn’t know that his brother was alive, even if only barely. It was part of why they were kept in the same room.

“I wish there was more I could do,” Tauriel admitted. “My people rarely stay sick for this long. When they do...” She shook her head, unwilling to finish the thought.

“Dwarves aren’t particularly fast healers, but they’re stubborn. They hold on, even beyond all reasonable hope,” Bilbo assured her, though at times he wondered about that. “His fever will break, and he’ll recover. Why don’t you help him drink, just for a bit? I have to help Fíli.”

Tauriel nodded and lifted the water jug. Once Bilbo was assured that she wasn’t going to drown Kíli, he turned to Fíli.

The real danger with Fíli was from the fall. His stab wound had managed to avoid infection after careful cleaning and the application of poultices, but he still hadn’t woken up. His limbs sometimes twitched in sleep, confirming that they hadn’t missed some hidden damage to his spine, but there could be any number of problems with his brain. Óin wasn’t willing to risk trying to crack his head open to find out, and no one disagreed. Fíli’s brain would recover on its own, or not at all. In the meantime, all he could do was try to give the dwarf prince a little soup at a time and hope he swallowed.

Bilbo wondered sometimes what he would do if Fíli never woke up. It wasn’t something he liked allowing himself to consider, as if felt too much like giving up, but sometimes his Baggins pragmatism wouldn’t be ignored. Would he just stay here forever, holding onto hope when everyone else had given up? Would someone eventually decide that it would be more merciful to let Fíli die? He had a hard time believing Thorin capable of that, but then, dwarves were not hobbits. Their values were different. Letting Fíli linger if there was no chance of recovery was probably seen as just delaying the inevitable.

“Ah, there you are Bilbo!” Balin called out cheerfully as Bilbo was closing the door to Fíli’s room. “I thought you might be done around now.”

“Am I that predictable?” Bilbo asked. Somehow, it didn’t feel like it had been long enough for him to develop a reliable routine.

“Well, you can almost always be counted on to be with the lads around this time,” Balin admitted. “How are they looking?”

“The same,” Bilbo replied, fighting to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “Fíli’s wound heals more every day, but he still doesn’t wake, and Kíli’s fever hasn’t broken.”

“It will,” Balin assured him with a comforting pat on the shoulder. “And you shouldn’t work yourself to death waiting for it. It won’t make Fíli and Kíli happy.”

Was that what he had been doing? If that was true, he was starting to take after Thorin!

“I’ll be careful,” was all he said.

“Good,” Balin said with a nod. “Now, I found something in the library I thought you might like. Something to take your mind off things.”

“Something I can read? There’s not much of that in your library,” Bilbo admitted dryly, though he followed Balin anyway. Most of the writings in Erebor’s library, at least those unearthed so far (which admittedly wasn’t much), were written in various dialects of Khuzdul, and though he might want to learn the secret dwarf language, he couldn’t. For all that he had been through with dwarves, he wasn’t one. The company would have more than Thorin to answer to if they broke that rule, as he understood it.

“You can read this,” Balin replied dryly. “I found a collection of dwarven poems, translated into Westron. They don’t translate perfectly, especially in a medium like poetry, but I thought you might be interested.”

Bilbo was interested. There was a lot you could learn about a culture from their poems, both from the subject matter and the structure, and he’d only gotten a little of that from their singing. And really, it would be a nice distraction from the unpleasantness of the infirmary. Going out to look for herbs barely accomplished that, as there was really nowhere to go where there wasn’t evidence of the battle. If he wandered too far, he’d end up in Dale’s infirmaries, helping their wounded. Bard had quite firmly sent him on his way the time that had happened.

“Here we are,” Balin declared, dusting off a small leather-bound volume. It was almost pocket-sized, as if meant to be carried around and taken out in moments of contemplation. Balin offered it to him. “Don’t worry about bringing it back, we have enough to go through in here without worrying about one little poetry book.”

Bilbo accepted the book gingerly, as if it would fall apart at any second. But it felt rather solid in his hands, the pages holding fast under his fingers instead of crumbling into dust. Like everything else, the dwarves had made it to last.

“Smaug didn’t much change this room, did he?” Bilbo observed, taking in the dusty library. Balin had cleared most of the corpses and decay away during their very first days in the mountains, so now it looked much like any other library, if an underground one. A necessary distraction from Thorin’s state at the time, no doubt.

“I don’t think he had much interest in the treasures of knowledge,” Balin admitted with a sigh of relief. “Not that he could fit in here anyway. Very fortunate for us, or the whole room would likely be a pile of ash. If we’re to begin work in the mines, we need the records from earlier excavations to avoid collapsing the place.”

“Have you found them yet?” Bilbo asked. He rather liked not dying in a cave in.

“Not yet,” Balin told him, shaking his head slowly. “No one who worked in here originally is still alive, and their filing system is still something of a mystery to me. If there even is one. It’s certainly not alphabetical by title or author, though maybe by subject…”

Balin was clearly talking to himself now more than to Bilbo, so Bilbo slipped quietly out of the library, the poetry book clutched close to his chest. He navigated the corridor back to his chamber with practiced ease, neatly avoiding the heavily armored Iron Hills dwarves as they marched quickly down the hall.

When the company had originally entered Erebor, Bilbo had chosen where to stay based on proximity to the treasury, so that he could easily check on Thorin in the middle of the night. It proved necessary more than once. Now it was hard to think of being anywhere else, after the many hours he’d spent running back and forth between the treasury and the library to consult Balin, and so he had a proper room in very close to the same spot. The mountain was confusing enough even with landmarks, painful as some of the landmarks might be, so he was grateful.

When Bilbo reached his room, stifling and windowless as it was, suddenly it didn’t feel like the right place to go. He wanted to read the poems, but the mountain felt too close, too suffocating. It would be impossible to enjoy proper poetry if he couldn’t breathe.

Bilbo didn’t remember running, but when he finally felt able to breathe deeply, he was on the wall, staring out at Dale. If anything, it should have been harder to breathe up there, in the place where dragon-sick Thorin had tried to kill him. But that section of the wall had been utterly destroyed during Thorin’s charge, and with all the comings and goings, no one had made an effort to fix it. Perhaps that was why he had decided to read up here, and make some good memories to balance out the bad. It was just a wall, after all.

Mindful of the patrolling guards, Bilbo found an out of the way spot and cracked open the book to a random page.

Thundering hammer-blows
Swift as lightning
The heartbeat of the mountain.

Mixed metaphors, no rhyming, nor any syllabary pattern that he could see, but then maybe that was only obvious in the original khuzdul. It was certainly a very dwarvish poem, and he could see the image if he closed his eyes, though imagining Thorin hammering over an anvil shook him right out of it. Kings did not work in the smithy.

Shaking his head lightly, Bilbo flipped forward a few pages to another poem.

The workmen sing of home and hearth
Their work tearing gems from the rock
At the end of the day they may rest
But for me there is no warm home
Only eyes like dragonfire.

Bilbo nearly slammed the book closed. The first poem had been short and cheerful, and this was its opposite in every respect. Unfortunately, ‘eyes like dragonfire’ was an image he wouldn’t soon forget.

“Oh, why if it isn’t Master Baggins!”

Bilbo started at Dáin’s greeting, unconsciously putting the book behind him as he turned to face the Lord of the Iron Hills. He wondered if it would be appropriate to bow, even though he’d never bowed to Thorin, and was halfway through one and a greeting of “Lord Dáin,” when Dáin waved dismissively.

“Och, none of that now! Thorin said you’re to be treated as kin, and kin don’t bow to kin. I’m just Dáin, or Ironfoot if you prefer,” Dáin informed him with a hearty pat on the back that made his knees buckle.

“Thorin said that?” Bilbo asked. Quite a change in status from being banished! He couldn’t help but wonder if Dáin even knew about the theft of the Arkenstone.

“Almost first thing after the battle was over,” Dáin admitted. “I expect he thought you might get lost in the shuffle, or barred from the mountain by dwarves who didn’t know what they owed you.”

“Oh no, I didn’t-” Bilbo began in protest, but once again Dáin wasn’t having it.

“Don’t be modest now! Even if you’d done nothin’ else, you saved the King! That’s a deed any dwarf would respect. But agreein’ to help Thorin when few else would, that’s all I need to know your character is a worthy one,” Dáin said with a satisfied nod. His accent seemed to become thicker the more comfortable he became.

“Then why won’t he see me?” The words came out in a rush before Bilbo could stop them, though he regretted them instantly. He barely knew Dáin. They had only spoken once or twice before, while he tended the wounded. But Dáin was another cousin of Thorin, and surrounded by them as he was, it was too easy now to get comfortable, especially when Dáin seemed more immediately friendly than Thorin had ever been.

“He won’t see you?” Dáin’s eyebrows shot up.

Too late to go back now.

Bilbo nodded. “I know he’s busy, but-”

“That’s no excuse,” Dáin said firmly, his accent fading again as he became serious. “He said to treat you as kin, and here I find that he’s not doin’ the same! I’ll talk to him.”

“Oh, no, that’s not necessary-”

“Worry not, I’ll soon have it set to rights,” Dáin assured him, though Bilbo was not the least bit assured. “We can’t have Thorin at odds with his Bagginshield.”

With that truly alarming sentence uttered, Dáin was off, leaving Bilbo to wonder if maybe Dáin was the one who had started the whispers about Thorin Bagginshield.

Chapter Text

“Oh, ‘eyes like dragonfire?’” Ori peered at the offered poem thoughtfully. “In Khuzdul poetry, that’s shorthand for madness.”

“A common shorthand?” Bilbo asked for clarity, relief already flooding through him. For a brief moment, he’d wondered if Balin had snuck him something of Thorin’s, but of course that would be ridiculous.

“In western poetry, at least,” Ori confirmed. “Smaug wasn’t the first dragon to attack a dwarven kingdom, or even the first dragon to attack Erebor, you know. There are earlier cases of dragon sickness reported in kingdoms after dragons had been there and then been driven away.”

Bilbo didn’t know why he hadn’t expected that. Thror couldn’t have been the first dwarf to like a little hoarding, and of course too much of that had a way of attracting gold’s ultimate predator. Of course dragons and dragon sickness would be a common motif. The dwarves had a long history with both.

“You might think after all that they would be more careful,” Bilbo observed, flipping to a random page of the book.

“I have a theory about that,” Ori admitted, tugging a heavy tome off one of the shelves. Apparently he was having more luck figuring out the library’s filing system than Balin. Were they not speaking? “Do you see this?” He pointed to a drawing of a large ring with a chunky gem on top.

“A ring?” Unconsciously, Bilbo found his hand drawn to his pocket where his own magic ring lay hidden.

“The heads of all the clans were given one, and afterwards their wealth increased very quickly,” Ori explained. “Dry mines suddenly had new veins, and their wealth grew before they could spend it.”

“Because of these rings?” Bilbo asked skeptically. It seemed a little far-fetched, though it wasn’t like he didn’t have his own magic ring.

“Maybe,” Ori said with a shrug. “Most of the records were lost to dragons, along with the rings. But most of the western clans have been destitute at some point. None of them would refuse extra gold.”

Even though in some cases, their destitution had been a result of over-hoarding or careless mining. And so the cycle continued. In hindsight, it was amazing that Thorin had managed to come back to himself. Living so close to the treasury, Bilbo had seen it being partitioned and moved, each dwarf moving their share somewhere else and putting it toward some aspect of restoration. And of course there was the gold for the Men of Lake Town, flowing out of the mountain slowly but surely, to avoid flooding their marketplaces. The hoard was breaking up, keeping Erebor safe again, at least for a little while.

Why do your eyes, so bright
Burn hotter than the forges?
What is your bellows, keeping them lit?

Bilbo’s eyes had drifted down to the book again, lost in thought over what Ori had explained, and he had to repress a snort. Was this what passed for dwarvish love poetry? Really, referencing a bellows!

Ori noticed where his attention was, and frowned down at the poem. “That one’s not very good,” he admitted apologetically. “Balin just gave you the first poetry book he found, didn’t he?”

“The first one he found written in Westron, maybe,” Bilbo allowed, noting how Ori’s face fell.

“Oh. Right,” Ori said sheepishly.

“Maybe it was better in the original Khuzdul,” Bilbo suggested. “For now, I’ll have to make do with these, at least until Fíli and Kíli get better.”

“I’ll find better ones,” Ori promised. “I’ll translate them myself if I have to.”

Again Bilbo found himself protesting, saying, “You don’t have to do that, really.” But Ori was suddenly determined, and Bilbo wondered if he’d said something wrong, or missed a cue that would have been obvious to a dwarf. The members of the company who he had seen since the battle were all treating him differently lately, and while none of them had made him feel unwelcome, it felt like they were hiding something. It made it hard to know what he should be doing.

In the end, Bilbo decided to read some of the poems to Fíli. He could at least open the windows and feel the fresh air, and Óin had said there was no harm in talking to the lad. Better it be poetry than pointless chatter, though it was hard to say why he felt so strongly about his talk being edifying.

Tauriel was gone when Bilbo arrived, though the cool cloth on Kíli’s forehead hadn’t warmed yet, suggesting her departure had been recent. His breathing was still heavy, his skin still burning from fever, but by now this was normal. He would keep, so Bilbo slowly opened the windows and turned to the older brother.

Fíli was always silent in comparison. He did not labor or struggle. He just lay there, his breathing quiet and even, as if sleeping peacefully. But then, death was peaceful too. It would have been comforting to see him fight.

“Maybe some bad poetry will wake you up,” Bilbo muttered, though he rather doubted it. As older brother to Kíli, Fíli was the more patient of the two. He wasn’t likely to force himself awake to make a bad poetry recitation stop.

So Bilbo read, not knowing if there was a certain way or rhythm to reading dwarven poetry, and not caring.

Glimmering fireflies in the darkness
Like stars in the mountain
The first and last light.

Bilbo paused. “Hmm, that one wasn’t too bad, was it Fíli?”

Fíli gave no response. Not that he had expected one, really.

“Let’s try another one,” Bilbo suggested, flipping forward a few pages. On the other bed, Kíli groaned softly, as if in protest. Bilbo just shook his head and settled on a poem.

The blue of Mirrormere,
Durin’s deep blue
The color of loneliness.

The unknown cloudless sky,
Like pale sapphires
The color of possibility.

Unconsciously, Bilbo turned toward the window. The sun was setting, casting the sky in brilliant reds and oranges, rather than the blue mentioned in the poem.

“Imagine that,” he observed conversationally. “A dwarvish poet writing about the sky.” Though it rather felt like another love poem, in a way. But those were his own biases, surely. It was just a coincidence that Thorin’s eyes did look an awful lot like a cloudless sky. Just a coincidence that he thought of that first, even though he hadn’t seen Thorin’s eyes in decent lighting for quite some time.

“You had better wake up soon,” Bilbo told Fíli with a sigh. “This place is making me maudlin.” More accurately, wondering if or when Thorin would forgive him was making him maudlin. But he suspected Fíli knew that, even trapped in sleep. They all knew, didn’t they?


Bilbo overslept, a fairly rare occurrence in the Shire, but all too common in Erebor. Without much natural light, he just couldn’t wake himself up in a timely fashion. Even the tolling bells that rumbled through the mountain, announcing the hours in a way that made his teeth ache, were barely enough to rouse him. Thus he found himself running to the infirmary, when a familiar voice stopped him in his tracks.

“It wasn’t your leg you broke, you can walk faster.” Dwalin’s voice carried down the hallway, his word choice immediately attracting Bilbo’s attention. The bald dwarf was walking swiftly down an intersecting corridor, throwing amused looks over his shoulder at someone.

“Thranduil can wait.”

Sure enough, the one following Dwalin was Thorin, taking a much more sedate pace. His face was lit with an easy smile, as if he was walking slowly just to tease his cousin. The sight left Bilbo transfixed. There were definitely shadows under Thorin’s eyes, the cut across his face was shiny with new skin and his left arm was in a sling, but he looked happy. Healthy enough. There was no trace of dragon sickness anywhere that he could see. So why-

Bilbo shook his head, banishing the thought. At least Thorin was back on good terms with his kin, and here was the proof of it. Maybe he’d been wrong about Thorin trying to kill himself with overwork. It was so like Dori to exaggerate a little. Or a lot.

Thorin turned to look down Bilbo’s hall, that smile still dancing in his eyes as he watched the efficient Iron Hills dwarves go about their business. Then he saw Bilbo, and stopped much like Bilbo had, as if hypnotized. He seemed lost for a moment, a dozen little emotions whirling in his expressive eyes. But then the smiled returned, even brighter than before, reminding Bilbo so strongly of when he had shown Thorin the acorn, and Thorin took a single step in his direction.

“Thorin!” Dwalin called again.

There was so much regret in Thorin’s eyes as he turned to follow Dwalin that Bilbo began to doubt what Balin had told him. That hadn’t looked like someone who was angry at him, someone who hadn’t yet forgiven him. Thorin’s displeasure wasn’t a subtle thing. And of all the emotions he had seen in that single moment, displeasure had been the least of them.

With a start, Bilbo remembered the hurry he’d been in, and dashed off to the infirmary. Óin, half-deaf as he was, heard Bilbo coming and greeted him with a distracted wave. One of the Iron Hills dwarves had torn the stitches on his leg, and Óin was busy putting it back to rights, though not without scolding the difficult patient.

A quick survey of the main infirmary revealed that everyone had food and water, and most of the patients were well enough now to either change their own bandages alone, or with their neighbor’s help. In true dwarvish fashion, they all insisted they were fine, and urged him to hurry to the princes.

Yet again, a red-haired someone was there already, looking down at the princes with an unreadable expression, but this time it was Dáin, not Tauriel. He looked up when Bilbo entered, but his expression didn’t change. Apparently his chat with Thorin hadn’t been terribly productive, Bilbo surmised as Dáin clapped a hand on his shoulder. Not that he’d expected anything to come of it.

“You’ve some good friends, Master Baggins,” was all Dáin said before leaving the room, without any of his usual good humor.

What in all of Erebor was that supposed to mean?

Still, it was no surprise that Dáin hadn’t gotten any further than he had with Thorin. He already had enough meddling allies in the dwarves of the company, and no doubt Thorin was tired of hearing them speaking on Bilbo’s behalf. None of that accounted for that look this morning, but Bilbo was tired. Tired of worrying about what Thorin might think of him. He had saved his life for goodness sake, and if that wasn’t enough to clear away any bad feelings then dwarves were a strange race indeed.

He set about caring for the princes more briskly than usual, removing their dirty bandages and linen and replacing them with efficiency any well-bred hobbit would envy. Once their wounds were cleaned and dressed, restoring what decency they could have in the infirmary, Bilbo tugged open the windows, banishing the stale air of disease. It was all part of a routine by now, down to checking Kíli’s forehead and wondering if he truly felt cooler or if that was just wishful thinking.

“Water,” Kíli croaked, the first words out of his mouth that made a lick of sense since he’d been found in Tauriel’s arms on Raven Hill. His eyes were still closed, but that didn’t matter. Even if it was the delirium talking, Kíli had said something. At least there was progress with one prince to report.

“Drink slowly,” Bilbo advised, holding a goblet to Kíli’s lips.

Kíli, of course, ignored him. He tried to drink it all at once, resulting in choking and spluttering, water dripping everywhere. Bilbo didn’t bother cleaning it up, choosing instead to refill the goblet in a nearby urn. A little extra cooling water on Kíli’s skin wouldn’t do him any harm.

Kíli drank more slowly this time, though with no less gusto, and when the cup was empty he fell back into his fevered sleep. Now if only Fíli would do as much, proving that some part of him was still in there.

“Óin,” Bilbo called, returning to the main infirmary. “Kíli spoke!”

“Did he now?” Óin was headed toward him in an instant, and whispers arose among the other wounded dwarves.

“He asked for water, then went right back to sleep,” Bilbo confirmed, stepping aside as Óin entered the room.

Óin felt Kíli’s forehead with a thoughtful expression. “He feels cooler,” he told Bilbo, filling the hobbit with relief. “Too soon to say if the fevers broken, but it’s something.”

“Now if only something would happen with Fíli, I could be on my way,” Bilbo observed, watching the still silent prince.

“What was that now?” Óin asked, holding up his ear trumpet.

“I said-”

“Don’t bother,” Glóin advised him, appearing from around a corner in the infirmary. “My brother’s deafness is selective. If he doesn’t want to hear, he won’t,”

“And what exactly doesn’t he want to hear?” Bilbo demanded, conscious of how public this conversation was, though the injured dwarves turned away politely.

“That you’re leaving,” Glóin said simply. “Without asking the elves, there’s no one as knowledgeable about herbs, or so he says.”

“This isn’t my home,” Bilbo reminded him with a pointed look at Óin. “It was never intended to be. I just wanted to help you all get yours back. Now that you have it, I should be returning to mine.”

“Oh, don’t even think of going to the mines, they’re no place for a hobbit,” Óin said loudly, effectively ending that conversation.

Once the princes were cared for, Bilbo was free to wander, and not for the first time, he found himself drawn in the direction of Thorin’s chambers. At this time of day, it was likely Thorin was in the throne room, but he’d never been able to get close to the throne room. Someone always intercepted him, generally Balin or Dwalin, but occasionally Bofur or Bombur, to encourage him to find somewhere else to go.

“Don’t make this public,” he would be advised by whoever found him. “Any discord in the company is best kept within the company.”

And it felt like sound advice. Not that he felt any enmity toward Thorin. The dwarf king wasn’t responsible for the things he’d said and done while sick, and even on Raven Hill it had been obvious that the sickness was gone. The brief moments when he’d been afraid had been fear for Thorin, fear that guilt would overtake him once lucidity returned. Bilbo just… wanted to see him. More and more he doubted the idea that Thorin was upset with him. So why couldn’t they meet, at least one more time before he went back home? Would it really be better to go back to the Shire without knowing?

That was why he headed for Thorin’s chambers instead. Maybe he could catch them in an unguarded moment, slip inside, and wait. Not something he would have thought to do before, but he wasn’t the same hobbit who had left the Shire. He was far less willing to give up now, and if need be, he always had his ring. If they ended up fighting, at least he would know how Thorin truly felt. At least he would know how much of Thorin’s behavior toward him had been the sickness talking.

Thorin had looked so panicked on Raven Hill when he thought that Bilbo had died to save him. He had looked so relieved to discover he was wrong, so overjoyed just to see him wandering the halls of Erebor. Was it okay to hope that the way Thorin had clung to him and smiled at him during the depths of his dragon sickness had meant something? Or was that just his selfishness talking? Just his quiet pride that Thorin’s brightest smiles had been reserved just for him, even as he lashed out at his own family?

Bilbo was tired of waiting and wondering, and woe betide any dwarf who got in his way.

Chapter Text

Bilbo never made it to Thorin’s chambers. Once again he was intercepted, this time by Bifur, who he really had no chance of understanding without help. Instead, he allowed himself to be led by Bifur into the main kitchens, which Bombur had undertaken the main repairs of. Like the library, Smaug had neither the ability nor the inclination to get inside the kitchens, so most of the damage was just from time and neglect. As they all needed to eat, and as none of the food left in the kitchen from before the attack was still even close to being edible, the kitchen’s restoration had proceeded somewhat quicker than the library’s.

Bilbo found Bombur managing several stoves with remarkable agility, delicious lunch smells wafting out of them. Bifur jabbered something at Bombur in Khuzdul, and Bombur responded in the same tongue. Apparently it was a dismissal, as Bifur left without another word, leaving Bilbo alone with Bombur.

“Did you need help with something?” Bilbo asked. “I still haven’t quite figured out Bifur’s sign language, I’m afraid, and he seemed rather excited.”

“Oh, er, no, I have all the help I need here,” Bombur assured him, though no one else appeared to be in the kitchens at the moment. Then his eyes widened, and he seemed to remember something, as he rushed to add, “Oh, well, yes actually.”

Bilbo narrowed his eyes. This was starting to feel like some kind of conspiracy. “How can I help?”

“One of the miners found some mushrooms in one of the older shafts,” Bombur explained, gesturing toward a bowl of mushrooms Bilbo hadn’t noticed. “No one’s sure if they’re safe to eat, as there’s no record of mushrooms in that shaft before, and they don’t look like the ones in Ered Luin.”

Bilbo perked up immediately. “I’m not an expert on which mushrooms can grow in caves, but I might know something,” he allowed, walking over to the bowl. He could certainly understand why no one had wanted to just pop one in their mouth to find out. The infirmary was overtaxed as it was without dealing with food poisoning, and if the mushrooms were releasing spores into the mine shafts, it could endanger the entire operation.

As it turned out, the dwarves needn’t have worried. The bowl of mushrooms contained several species, all of which were related to mushrooms common to the Shire, and not poisonous. If even one had been, Bilbo would have been forced to toss the entire bowl just to be safe, and what a dreadful waste that would be! Especially now, with winter right on their heels and food already scarce. Less dependence on the elves could only make everyone happier in the end.

“Any of these types should be safe to eat,” Bilbo told Bombur, separating them all by type and putting them in different bowls to make things easier. “Are there any still in the mines, or did they tear them all out?”

“There were miles and miles of mushrooms,” Bombur assured him. “When Thorin found out, he ordered everyone out of the area until they knew if the mushrooms were edible. Avoiding starvation is more important than reopening the mines, he said.”

“Well he’s certainly right about that,” Bilbo observed, pleased to hear that Thorin really did seem to be in his right mind again.

Still, as Bilbo left the kitchens, having spent the better part of an hour sorting and classifying mushrooms (a true passion for any decent hobbit), he couldn’t help but shake the feeling that there had been something he’d been trying to do. Somewhere he’d been going before Bifur had intercepted him. But try as he might, he couldn’t remember, so he shrugged it off. It was just about time to give the princes their lunch anyway, so he made his way back to the infirmary for the rest of the day.


Kíli continued to improve, the next day finding him much cooler, though still warm and delirious. It seemed likely now that he would recover, though what damage the fever had done would only be obvious once he woke up, so Bilbo gave over most of his worry to Fíli’s condition. The older prince still swallowed water and soup, but it wasn’t enough. He was losing weight, both fat and muscle, and if he remained this way for much longer, his recovery would only be more difficult.

Fíli’s state sometimes reminded Bilbo of his own. True, he was unquestionably alive and able to take care of himself, which Fíli could not, but Bilbo felt like he was in a state of stasis. He was waiting for the princes to recover, waiting for Thorin’s alleged temper to cool, waiting for the day he could finally return to the Shire. Erebor was comfortable enough, especially as construction continued, and he was useful there in a way he never had been in the Shire, but it wasn’t home. There had been a time when he had thought, in some very small part of his heart, it might one day be, but that voice had never been very loud, and Thorin’s silence spoke volumes. But as he kept telling himself, Thorin was alive and sane, and those were blessing enough for him. So he waited, neither journeying nor home, neither joyous nor truly sad. Just as Fíli was neither alive nor dead.

It was during one of these times of worry, as Bilbo tried to calm himself down by reading poetry to Fíli, that he remembered where he had been trying to go the previous day. He’d been determined to see Thorin, even if he had to hide out in his room, and somehow Bifur had known and brought him to Bombur! Like his attempts to find Thorin in the throne room, where someone had always seen him before he could get close enough. In retrospect, it seemed odd that Bombur at least wouldn’t know if the mushrooms were edible. Mushrooms native to the Shire must also be native to Ered Luin, and so Bilbo hardly had more information to go off of than Bombur did. It was past time to consider the possibility that he was being watched, he realized, thinking of how Balin knew his schedule so exactly.

“Fíli, this is practice for when you’re king,” Bilbo said conversationally. “If you wanted to have someone followed, who would you choose to do the job?”

Fíli, of course, said nothing.

“Someone capable of being silent, of course,” Bilbo said with a nod, as if in agreement. “It would also have to be someone you can trust, wouldn’t it? Because they would see things no one else has the chance to see, and you don’t want your spy spreading around the information they’ve obtained.”

No response from Fíli, though Kíli coughed.

“Don’t help your brother,” Bilbo scolded the younger prince, even if he did feel a bit ridiculous at the moment. If no one really was watching, well, he was lucky Óin was mostly deaf. “Unfortunately, in this situation, there aren’t many choices. You have to choose someone loyal to the company, but their family obligations are going to be tangled no matter who you choose.”

There was a soft scrape somewhere above him, so quiet he might have imagined it. So he pretended not to hear it, and continued.

“In the end, you would have to choose Nori, even knowing that one way or another, everything he learns will be heard by either Dori or Ori, so you’d better hope they’re on your side,” Bilbo concluded, slowly pouring droplets of water into Fíli’s mouth.

There was another scrape, and then, “How’d you know I was here?”

“You just told me,” Bilbo pointed out, still not looking up. “What’s going on?”

“You can’t tell anyone I told you,” Nori said quickly.

“I won’t,” Bilbo promised, though that remained to be seen. There might be some use in having Nori provide false information, and being able to shake his tails without having to use the ring. Now that he knew Nori was watching, he didn’t want to be caught using it. Something told him it wouldn’t end well.

“Right. Well, the company’s split on something,” Nori said bluntly. “And both sides want to know what you’re doing, when.”

“Why?” Bilbo asked impatiently, setting down Fíli’s water.

“‘S not worth my life to tell you that,” Nori admitted.

Bilbo drummed his fingers on Fíli’s cot for a moment, considering his options. There was probably no point in asking which side Nori came down on, and trying to get information that way. As a professional, he had to agreed with whoever paid better, or was more threatening. In this case, that was probably Dori. “Do they know you’re working both sides?” he asked finally.

“Course not,” Nori told him easily. “Wouldn’t be good at my job if they did.”

Hook, line, and sinker.

“Right. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to see Thorin, since it seems like at least half of your employers don’t want that,” Bilbo decided. It was a gamble telling Nori where he was going, but it was the only way to know for sure that the wily thief was really gone. He wasn’t even sure where on the ceiling Nori was hiding at the moment, so there was no way to set an effective trap for him.

“I’ll have to tell ‘em, and they’ll probably beat you there,” Nori pointed out.

“Not if you tell both sides and let them deal with each other,” Bilbo suggested. “They won’t even know it was you. It will look like a complete coincidence.” He wished he could see Nori. Just a little bit of body language would make deciding what to say so much easier.

“I like the sound of that,” Nori admitted after a brief pause. “It’s what they get for hiring me at the same time without checking to see if I’m already busy.”

“So we have a deal?” Bilbo asked, standing and heading for the door to the main infirmary.

“What do I get out of this?” Nori pointed out, landing with a soft thud on the ground.

“I don’t tell Dori that you were working for Balin at the same time,” Bilbo said simply. “Or vice versa, but I think you’re more afraid of Dori.” He was only guessing at the heads of the conspiracy, but even if he was wrong, Dori was always a potent threat.

Nori hesitated, but only for a moment. “Deal,” he said, extending his hand to shake. Bilbo took it, and then the thief was gone, so quickly that the injured dwarves didn’t even look up at him. Apparently Nori was expecting to catch hell for this, and speed was the only weapon he had to hedge his bets. Not a bad idea.

Unfortunately for Nori, Bilbo had a magic ring, and he slipped it on as soon as he entered the hallway. No one was going to stop him this time.

The halls of Erebor were busier by the day, stout dwarves in armor moving much of the broken stone around to wherever it was most needed. At his height, Bilbo didn’t need to worry so much about bumping into people as he had during previous invisible outings. With the existing crowds, most of the dwarves would brush it off without noticing that no one was near enough to touch them. It had been much more of a worry in Mirkwood, where a sudden touch on the legs would have seemed very suspicious to elves with dwarven captives.

It wasn’t long before Balin appeared, looking slightly frantic and scanning the hall for something. Or, more than likely, for Bilbo. Much to Bilbo’s relief, Balin’s eyes slid right past him, but he didn’t move, apparently deciding that Bilbo would pass through here at some point, so he might as well wait. Between the flow of traffic and the roadblock that was Balin, it might be hard to get past unnoticed. He could always try to find another route, but knowing the dwarves, he would probably just have to sneak past Dwalin. Pressed up against a wall and still unable to slip past Balin, trying the more muscular dwarf didn’t seem worth the risk.

Just when Bilbo was wondering how long it took Nori to alert both factions, Dori appeared. He made straight for Balin, the polite smile on his face too perfect to be sincere.

When Dori said, all good manners and breeding, “Might we have a word?” Bilbo knew that this would likely be his only chance. The second Balin turned, looking exasperated but having no choice but to heed the words of another member of the company, Bilbo darted forward like an arrow loosed from a bowstring. He wished he could signal Dori in some way to thank him properly for the distraction, but that would have to wait until later.

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing,” Dori said, stopping Bilbo in his tracks. He had passed the two dwarves, but their conversation was still audible, and something told him he should hear some of it.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Balin replied tiredly. “If that’s all you wanted to say, there are many matters that require my attention.”

“Using my own brother to spy on Bilbo!” Dori accused him as if he wasn’t doing the exact same thing. Apparently Nori had decided it was safer to throw in his lot with Dori than to wait and see what would happen. “As if Bilbo was some Mirkwood elf and not a member of the company!”

“There are many dwarves who know little of Bilbo around, and though Dáin clearly approves of him, word does not always spread the way we might like it to,” Balin pointed out, rubbing his temples. “He might find himself in a situation where he needs protection, and we all have our own duties to see to. We were all too careless about his safety before, and we all know what came of that.”

“A spy is not the same thing as a guard,” Dori said flatly. “And I would have thought you would know by now that our hobbit can take care of himself perfectly well. Especially wearing such an obvious sign of Thorin’s favor!”

Definitely a little hypocritical, Bilbo observed wryly. But then, Dori could always claim that Nori was just keeping his eye on the opposing faction for him. How exactly had he become the center of dwarven intrigue? No wait, scratch that, becoming Thorin’s closest confidant during the dragon-sickness had basically guaranteed it. To say nothing of-

No, Bilbo decided, that was enough of that. None of that really mattered, especially whatever Dori thought was an obvious sign of Thorin’s favor. How could such a thing be real, when he hadn’t seen him since the battle? No, the longer he stayed here, the likelier his plan was to fail. Clutching the acorn in his pocket for luck, Bilbo continued on his way toward Thorin’s chambers.

It wasn’t a particularly long walk, but every step seemed fraught with danger. The first obstacle had been dealt with, but Dwalin, Bofur, Bombur, and Bifur were all still out there somewhere. They couldn’t see him, but they could still get in his way. He found himself regretting not asking Nori if he had a fully developed spy network to send information along. If so, they might all be waiting for him.

Turning a corner, Bilbo nearly walked straight into Bofur. Unlike Balin, the miner seemed to just be going about his business, but he patted his chest as if he’d felt the air displacement from Bilbo’s sudden stop. Their eyes met for one heart-pounding moment, but then Bofur was whistling a likely-inappropriate tune and walking away. Bilbo choked back a sigh of relief. This was becoming more stressful than looking for the Arkenstone in a dragon’s den.

When Bilbo finally reached the door, yet another unfortunate surprise was waiting for him. Dwalin stood outside, beefy arms crossed over his chest and looking none too pleased. He couldn’t just open the door while invisible. It would be too obvious, at least with Dwalin right there. He needed yet another distraction.

While Bilbo dithered about, looking for something to attract Dwalin’s attention, he missed the way Dwalin’s eyes accurately tracked most of his movements.

“I know you’re there,” Dwalin said finally, freezing Bilbo in his tracks. “I don’t know how you do it, maybe hobbits can just turn invisible. Would explain why Gandalf picked you to be a burglar. But I can hear you shuffling about.”

Apparently the chunks taken out of Dwalin’s ears hadn’t dulled his hearing at all, and this was a quieter hallway than the one he’d encountered Balin in. The royals needed peace and quiet somewhere, he supposed.

“I have to see Thorin,” Bilbo said, deciding that pretending he wasn’t there wasn’t going to do any good at this point. “Whether he wants to see me or not.”

“The king is busy,” Dwalin said, not unkindly. “Rebuilding a kingdom nearly two centuries gone isn’t the work of a day.”

“Well, so am I!” Bilbo pointed out. “We’re all busy! Everyone seems to want me for something, and Fíli and Kíli actually need me if they’re to get the care they need to keep clinging to life. But here I am, and I won’t leave until I’ve seen Thorin.”

The corner of Dwalin’s mouth twitched with the hint of a smile. “Don’t tell my brother.”

Bilbo started. “What?”

“Inside, quickly. But don’t tell Balin,” Dwalin repeated, opening the door just a hair. ‘Don’t tell someone’ seemed to be the theme of the day, but who was he to argue with that?

On silent feet, Bilbo pushed the door open the rest of the way and slipped inside. Dwalin closed it behind him, but Thorin, sitting at his desk with a monumental stack of parchment, didn’t even look up at the sound. Up close, the dark rings under Thorin’s eyes stood out like bruises, exhaustion written in every line of his face. Maybe Dori was right. It didn’t seem like Thorin was sleeping at all, as cheerful as he’d looked the day before. Then again, if anyone was used to functioning on as little sleep as possible, it was Thorin.

“You’ll work yourself to death at this rate,” Bilbo scolded him, slipping off his ring.

Thorin’s head snapped up instantly, his exhaustion quickly replaced with surprise. “Bilbo,” he breathed, saying his name like a prayer. It set Bilbo’s nerves jangling, like they were back on Raven Hill again. “You finally came.”

That was enough to raise his eyebrows. “‘I finally came?’” Bilbo repeated in confusion. “I’ve been here nearly every day since the battle, and every time I was told that you were not ready to see me!”

Thorin frowned, the furrows in his forehead deepening. “I have been asking for you since returning to the mountain,” he admitted. “My kin have all given me the chance to apologize for my wrongs, and you deserve the same, but Balin said you were not ready to hear it.”

They stared at each other for a moment in confusion as the implications of their differing stories caught up with them, before a sharp knock sounded, and they both instinctively turned toward the door.

“Hide,” Thorin ordered, shuffling his parchments around to muffle the sound.

With a short nod, Bilbo dropped behind the desk and eased himself under the nearby couch. After signalling to Thorin that he was covered, he slipped on the ring, just in case.

“We will discover the truth of this,” Thorin assured him softly. Then, in a voice meant to carry, he said, “Enter.”

As Balin stepped inside, giving the room a quick once-over as if looking for someone only to be pinned by Thorin’s gaze, Bilbo realized he was glad to find himself on Thorin’s side again.

Chapter Text

“Balin, why are you keeping our burglar from me?”

From under the couch, Bilbo grimaced. It was comforting to know that apparently Thorin was as much a victim in this conspiracy as he was, but he really could do with a bit of tact. More than a bit, really. How was he supposed to be king if he still couldn’t manage to be more diplomatic?

Balin froze in place for a moment, then sighed deeply. “Has Dáin been on his nonsense again?”

“Dáin has spoken of nothing except for repairs, and what preparations need to be made to move the settlement in Ered Luin,” Thorin replied, eyebrows raised. “Of what nonsense do you speak?”

That surprised Bilbo. Apparently despite his claims that he would set everything to rights, Dáin had been stopped at the door. What had Balin told him, to make Dáin take a step back?

Balin grimaced. “Oh, very well,” he said with an exasperated sigh. “Yes, we have been trying to keep the two of you from seeing each other.”

“Who is ‘we’?” Thorin asked. “And why?”

“There are those of us who believe that your charge into battle, your apologies, all of that, is proof that the dragon sickness has been purged from you, never to return again,” Balin began, rubbing his temples. “And then there are those of us who know that running toward your death is just instinct at this point.”

It was a sentiment Bilbo had a hard time disagreeing with, though he couldn’t see what that had to do with him.

“What are you trying to say?” Thorin asked, glancing in Bilbo’s direction.

“That I doubted whether or not you were truly well, and I wanted to make sure of it,” Balin explained, looking away. “Bilbo bore the brunt of your dragon sickness, and it was clear to all that you considered him part of your hoard. Separated from the gold, separated from Bilbo, would you get better? Would you get worse? Either would suggest that you weren’t fully well.”

Thorin nodded slowly, looking far calmer than Bilbo would have been under the circumstances. In the end, the entirety of the company had forgiven him, but half of them didn’t trust him, and Bilbo had just gotten caught up in the middle. Well, perhaps they’d been trying to protect him too, but that was incidental. When it came down to it, was a week enough time to judge Thorin’s stability? Was there any reason Bilbo hadn’t been allowed in on the secret? Or in some small part of Balin’s mind, had he thought that maybe every part of the hoard should be sent away for good, just to be safe?

“So, it was a test,” Thorin surmised, looking down at his hands as if remembering the horrors he had wrought with them.

“Yes,” Balin admitted, squaring his shoulders. “Though we also wanted to prevent Bilbo from being added back into your hoard. In hindsight, perhaps we were wrong about that, but if you need to be away from this place, away from the gold, I would not want you to force yourself to stay. You’ve done so much for your people, reclaimed the home the dragon stole so long ago. You’ve earned the right to rest, if you need it. Even though your condition hasn't changed, I would still suggest it.”

Thorin gave Balin a wan smile. “There’s still work to do before that day comes,” he pointed out, running a hand through his hair. “Work that might have been easier with Bilbo’s help.”

Even from under the couch, he looked unspeakably tired to Bilbo. How had Thorin looked so relaxed before? Had it been an act? Or was it impossible to work up the energy for worry or anger in the light of day when night was given over to guilt and fear?

“Fair point,” Balin allowed with a soft chuckle. “Though in what capacity? Unless Dáin told him, he still doesn’t know what you meant by giving him that mithril shirt.”

Thorin’s blush only added to Bilbo’s confusion.

“If I am allowed to see him now,” Thorin began with a meaningful look at Balin, “I will make that clear.”

“I shan't prevent it,” Balin agreed. “And I suspect it is already too late to try,” he added, glancing over at the couch, causing Bilbo to retreat further underneath even though he was completely invisible. “You have less than an hour until you’re needed elsewhere, do try to make the best of it.”

Balin’s footsteps receded, though Bilbo waited until his footsteps were no longer audible to remove the ring and wiggle out from under the couch.

There was an embarrassed silence following Balin’s departure. Despite the fact that they had a lot they needed to say to each other, now Bilbo couldn’t find the words. Thorin was right there, looking at him with an expression he couldn’t read. Should he apologize first? Was there anything he really needed to apologize for? Thorin hadn’t been avoiding him, after all. But did that mean he wasn’t angry?

Bilbo opened his mouth to speak, having no idea what he would say, when Thorin beat him to it.

“I imagined what I would say when I finally had the chance, and now none of the words feel adequate,” Thorin admitted, looking unusually vulnerable as he broke the silence. “I have lied, I have mistreated you, I have led you into terrible peril… and I am truly sorry for all of it. I still don’t know why you stayed for the battle instead of fleeing at the first opportunity, especially after how I treated you.” He bowed his head, as if expecting the executioner’s blade.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bilbo insisted, crossing the room toward Thorin as if pulled by an invisible string, and Thorin immediately looked back up at him. “I was glad to share in your perils, and there is nothing to forgive. You were not yourself.” Though the contrition in Thorin’s voice helped. “You aren’t angry at me?”

“Angry?” Thorin let out a choked laugh. “For what? For saving my life? For trying to bring me to my senses? No, you have done nothing to earn my anger. If anyone has the right to be angry, it is you.”

“You aren’t angry that Dáin is calling you Thorin Bagginshield?” Bilbo asked, finally allowing himself a small smile.

Thorin snorted at that. “It is an honor to bear the name of Baggins, even if it is one I don’t deserve.”

Bilbo suddenly found it hard to breathe. Dwarves, he had to remind himself, did not have proper surnames, or at least not ones that they shared with the world. More than likely, Thorin just didn’t understand what he was saying.

“That reminds me,” Bilbo began, feeling the back of his neck warming with a blush. “Balin said something about what you intended by giving me this.” He tugged on a section of the mithril shirt, where it peeked out around the collar. “What did he mean?”

Now it was Thorin’s turn to redden and turn away. “Do you know much about mithril?” he asked.

“Well no, only that apparently it does in fact make it much harder for orcs to stab you,” Bilbo joked, though Thorin did not laugh.

“It was the source of the wealth of Khazad-dum, the great kingdom of Durin,” Thorin explained. “After that kingdom was taken by Durin’s Bane, there was no other source for mithril in all of Middle Earth, and even when it was relatively plentiful it was highly prized. As a result, after the Arkenstone, that shirt is probably the most valuable thing under the mountain.”

The mostly healed bruise on Bilbo’s back throbbed. “And you gave it to me.”

Thorin nodded. “And I gave it to you, at a time when I feared being robbed by my own kin. Balin and the others all knew what it meant, even if I lost the courage to say so when you did not seem to understand. And I am certain that when Dáin heard of it, and that you used the shirt to save me, he drew his own conclusions.”

“Thorin,” Bilbo said, his heart pounding in his chest. “Did you, according to some bizarre dwarven custom, propose to me?” Even saying it sounded ridiculous, but Thorin seemed to be dancing around the subject. What other meaning could such a gift really have?

“I did,” Thorin agreed, finally meeting his eyes again. His gaze was steady, but hard to read. He wasn’t overflowing with love, or aching with regret. Thorin was just watching and waiting to see what Bilbo would do, with the caution of someone trying to approach a wild animal.

“And did I, by accepting it, agree?” Bilbo asked.

“You did, though I would not hold you to-” Thorin began, but Bilbo put up a hand to interrupt him.

“And did I, by throwing myself in the way of a blade meant for you and showing the shirt to everyone who hadn’t known about it, tell all of the dwarves of the Iron Hills that I had agreed?” His voice cracked near the end of the sentence. Whatever his feelings might be, this is not how he would have chosen to become engaged. Where were their damned contracts now, where every detail was neatly written out and enumerated? Or was that something to be saved for the wedding night?

“You implied it, but I haven’t made an official announcement,” Thorin replied firmly. “I told Dáin to ensure you were treated as kin, but I gave him no details. It remains little more than a juicy rumor. One that I do not expect you to honor, and that Balin did not want you to know about. You would have been able to leave with fewer complications.”

“He didn’t want me to know that I’m engaged to you?!” What was worse, Thorin looked remarkably okay with that. Resigned at least, his expression still far too guarded. That wasn’t helpful at all!

“As I said-”

“Thorin!” At some point, Thorin had gotten up from his desk, and between that and Bilbo’s unconscious approach, they were nearly touching. It was distracting in a pleasant sort of way, but there was one thing Bilbo needed to know before deciding if letting Thorin distract him was okay. “Did you mean it?”

Thorin started. “What?”

“Did you mean it?” Bilbo repeated, a little more slowly. “Would you do it again?”

“Of course,” Thorin replied, eyes wide as if surprised that Bilbo would doubt his intentions. “I love you. I would ask as many times as I had to, though it might be hard to find something as valuable to give for a second proposal.” He smiled self-deprecatingly.

Bilbo’s breath caught, his heart pounding almost painfully. He said it so easily, the dumb dwarf. He didn’t have years of hobbity restraint to fight through, didn’t have to tell himself that it was okay to want something that wouldn’t make sense to his neighbors. Though Thorin too now bore the name of Baggins, it didn’t weigh him down. Not in the way ‘Oakenshield’ had. It made Bilbo want to be just as honest, no matter what it might cost him. His respectability was already torn to shreds, so it hardly mattered what he said or did now. Following his heart and running out of Bag End had been a sound decision. It was obvious then that he should follow his heart more often.

“Then, I see no reason to change my answer,” Bilbo told him matter-of-factly, though he felt his cheeks warm. “Though you’re going to have to explain such things to me in a timely manner from now on. I don’t want to find out from Dáin that we got married without my knowing.”

“Bilbo…” Thorin stared at him with so much wonder, as if he couldn’t believe his own eyes and ears. Maybe he couldn’t. They had betrayed him before, after all.

“I… love you, Thorin,” Bilbo finally admitted. “If you didn’t want to see me again, I was going to try to just be glad you’re alive and well-”

“Only because of you, my brave, loyal hobbit,” Thorin interrupted, smiling warmly.

Bilbo had always felt that Thorin’s smile, when turned up to full intensity like it was now, was like looking into the sun. He couldn’t look away, but looking directly at it was almost painful. It was no wonder then that his eyes, such a piercing pale blue, had always reminded him of the sky. ‘The color of possibility,’ the unnamed poet had written, and Bilbo found himself agreeing. There were thousands of possibilities suggested in those eyes, an adventure all their own. An adventure he’d run out of Bag End in search of, if he was being completely honest.

“You seem lost in thought,” Thorin observed, his smile undimmed.

“I was just thinking of a poem, from a book Balin gave me,” Bilbo admitted. “The second verse seems written for you.”

“Tell me,” Thorin said, almost an order. After a look from Bilbo, he added, “Please.”

“The unknown cloudless sky,
Like pale sapphires
The color of possibility.”

Surprisingly, Thorin gave a short laugh. “It was written for me. My father wrote that poem for my birth,” he admitted. “He always said that my eyes were ‘mingalaz,’ that is, of the sky. A strange thing for a dwarf.”

Bilbo started. “Your father wrote that? And wait, Thorin, did you just teach me something in khuzdul?”

“My consort can’t be ignorant of our language,” Thorin pointed out, toying with one of Bilbo’s curls. “And I know you’ve been curious to learn.”

His thoughts stuttered to a halt. It had slipped his mind that marrying Thorin meant marrying a king. The raven crown, a familiar sight during Thorin’s sickness, sat on the desk, and he had not been wearing it when Bilbo had encountered him in the hall. It must sit heavily on his head, a reminder of the dragon sickness he shared with his grandfather. But then, being Thorin’s consort would just mean helping and supporting him as he tried to carry that weight. He could do that, couldn’t he?

“Bilbo?” Thorin was watching him curiously, his head at a slight tilt, almost reminding Bilbo of the ravens.

Bilbo shook his head lightly to clear it. He could do it. There were all sorts of things they would have to work out, but they could be left for later. “You’re going to leave dealing with the elves to me, aren’t you?”

“As you wish,” Thorin replied with a smirk, as if it had been Bilbo’s idea.

“Well I can’t leave it to you, now can I?” Bilbo asked, pulling Thorin’s head down by his thick braids and lightly tapping their foreheads together as he’d seen the other dwarves do with each other, noticing the way Thorin’s breath hitched. “I saw you lollygagging and dillydallying on your way to meet Thranduil, remember.”

“Only because I heard Dáin and Balin shouting the day before, and when neither of them would speak to me of it, I suspected foul play,” Thorin argued, leaning into the gesture so that their noses touched. It was definitely more intimate than Bilbo had expected, realizing only then that he was probably being incredibly forward. Not that Thorin seemed to mind.

“What does that have to do with dawdling on your way to meet Thranduil?” Bilbo pointed out, Thorin’s scent filling his nose and leaving him breathless. Maybe he shouldn’t have gotten so close. It was hard to think straight, especially now that everything was out in the open.

“I hoped I might see you,” Thorin admitted, his eyes half-lidded. “And then decide if Balin was right, and you really didn’t want to see me.”

And they had seen each other, if only for a moment. That moment had convinced Bilbo to take action, had led to where they stood now, Thorin’s braids wrapped around his hands like reins. Not that Thorin seemed to mind, and something about them had always fascinated Bilbo.

“What did you decide?” Bilbo asked. His tongue felt thick and sluggish in his mouth. Did he really want to hear Thorin’s answer? He was too warm, his skin feeling too sensitive. Even the light touch of Thorin’s breath against his face sent heat flooding through him.

“That Balin might just be wrong,” Thorin replied, his voice barely more than a murmur. “I bribed Nori to get everyone out of the way, and Dwalin to let you in if you tried to come.”

Even with his thoughts muddled, Bilbo had no trouble believing that Nori had played all sides of the fence. He was just glad he hadn’t been forced to pay the tricky thief for the pleasure. He was the only one in this with no share of the treasure after all. What did he have to offer?

The heavy bells that announced the hour clanged somewhere in the deep, reminding Bilbo that he should check on Fíli and Kíli, and Thorin likely had responsibilities he was neglecting. But it was so hard to move with Thorin’s glazed eyes staring at him so intently. They had been through so much, hadn’t they? Would a little indulgence be so wrong?

It wasn’t so easy to defeat the Baggins in him. “I have to tend to Fíli and Kíli,” Bilbo admitted, unwinding Thorin’s braids from his fists but struggling to take his hands off that broad chest.

There was no disappointment in Thorin’s expression at those words, only a softening of the corner of his eyes. “Let me accompany you,” Thorin suggested. “I have never been able to see them before nightfall.”

Bilbo started, remembering something. “When I saw you before, you looked so relaxed. I wondered how that could be, with Fíli and Kíli barely hanging on to life.”

“I knew they were in your care,” Thorin admitted. “And you would not give up on them, even if everyone else did. I should know. I am afraid for them, and they are always my first concern at the end of the day, but there is nothing my worry can do for them that you can not. To do my duty to my people, I must trust that you will do everything you can, and try not to think about it until my tasks are done.”

It took some doing to fully separate, especially after that little admission. Neither of them really wanted to, having spent so long within arms reach before without stepping any closer, but they could hardly go out into the hall glued together. Or maybe they could, Bilbo mused as he led the way, Thorin just behind him. Their presence together already attracted attention, and more than once the bows to Thorin covered whispers of the word ‘Bagginshield.’ If they had been openly affectionate, the Iron Hills dwarves just wouldn’t have bothered whispering, he suspected. If they encountered Dáin, he certainly wouldn’t.

Tauriel was waiting in the infirmary, looking a little unsure of what to do when they entered. Thorin stiffened behind Bilbo, apparently unaware that his nephews were regularly visited by elves, but what did he expect really? Tauriel had been the one to protect Kíli when he had fallen, the one to carry him back into the mountain when it was discovered that he was still breathing. She wasn’t likely to just leave after that.

“Any news?” Bilbo asked, a little more cheerfully than necessary, with a subtle jab to Thorin’s ribs.

Tauriel hesitated. “I believe… Fíli may have opened his eyes for a moment.”

“Really?” When Bilbo reached Fíli, the dwarf was as silent as always. Thorin was already filling a goblet with water for his nephew, though he drank with no more animation than usual.

Tauriel nodded. “Kíli made a sound, and Fíli turned toward him. His eyes flickered open, just for an instant, before turning back and closing them again.”

Thorin snorted, smoothing a section of Fíli’s hair. “How like him, to only hear his brother in pain, even as he lies unconscious.”

But it was something. A small something perhaps, but Bilbo wasn’t one to discount the value of small somethings. Especially as he mopped Fíli’s brow and found Thorin’s hand settling over his.

Chapter Text

Waking up on a cot in the infirmary was enough to make Bilbo wonder if the last week and a half had only been a dream. Just the thought of it made his heart ache, after the progress Fíli and Kíli had made, as well as his own with Thorin. If it had all been a fever dream, his mind fleeing his body to escape the pain, it had been an awfully coherent one.

Bilbo tried to roll over, noting that although he could do it without pain, he met some resistance. Warm, hard resistance. Hairy resistance, he found after reaching behind him.


Memories of the previous night came flooding back. He had spent the entire afternoon with the princes and Tauriel, in the hope of catching Fíli in another brief conscious moment. It had involved a lot more poetry reading, which thankfully had been enjoyable enough for Bilbo and Tauriel even without the princes responding. She wasn’t at all familiar with dwarven poetry, but like Bilbo was eager to learn. Tauriel wasn’t naturally an academic, but if an elf had ever been born who couldn’t manage some poetry, Bilbo hadn’t yet met them.

Not long after the evening meal, Thorin had returned, Balin apparently having given up on managing his schedule as tightly for the time being. Bilbo had expected him to be stiff and cold with Tauriel around, but apparently her care for Kíli had softened him toward her somewhat. They did have her to thank for protecting Kíli when he fell, after all. Not to mention the eager audience she proved to be when Thorin’s contribution was to tell some of Fíli and Kíli’s favorite bedtime stories from when they were young. It could only help that Thranduil had banished her, even though she admitted that her King had made several hints that she would be welcome to return. She hadn’t, and Thorin couldn’t dislike someone who ignored Thranduil’s goodwill.

They had decided to take the night in shifts, though Bilbo remembered protesting that Thorin needed his sleep almost as much as the princes needed to be awake (and Óin insisting that Fíli would wake up when he wanted to and there was nothing they could do about it). But Thorin was the king and this was his mountain, so he had insisted on taking the second shift, allowing him a nap on a cot during Bilbo’s shift, and promising to return to his room during Tauriel’s shift.

Apparently he had not.

“Thorin!” Bilbo hissed, nudging the sleeping dwarf in the ribs with his elbow. “You have a bed you should be sleeping in.” Tauriel, he noted, was studiously looking away.

Thorin just muttered something sleepily in Khuzdul and wrapped an arm around Bilbo’s waist, pulling him closer. It wasn’t terribly comfortable, considering that they were lying on two cots pushed together, but that really wasn’t the heart of the problem.

“That arm is still broken,” Bilbo hissed, unwilling to roughly handle the arm around him. “You need to be careful with it.”

“Then don’t move,” Thorin replied, his voice rough from sleep.

Bilbo sighed in exasperation, but he couldn’t escape without jostling Thorin’s arm, so he stayed where he was. Thorin really did sound tired, probably worn out from worry. He might claim that he could rest easy knowing that Fíli and Kíli were in Bilbo’s care, but it had to always be at the back of Thorin’s mind. The previous night had just been the first time he had truly allowed himself to feel it, with no mountain of work to bury himself behind, and no meetings with diplomats to look forward to where looking anything but perfectly at ease was a disadvantage.

“Did anything happen during the night?” he asked Tauriel, hoping that maybe being unable to sleep would encourage Thorin to seek greener pastures.

“Kíli’s fever seems to have faded,” Tauriel reported. “He asked for water, but fell right back asleep. Fíli moved a little, but he didn’t wake up.”

Not very different from every other day Bilbo had spent watching them. Kíli improved slowly, and Fíli remained the same. That he had woken up for just a moment before didn’t necessarily mean he was still in there. It hadn’t been reasonable to assume that maybe the three of them spending the night watching him would somehow change something. That wasn’t how healing worked. But, if Fíli really could hear them as he slept, Bilbo hoped the lad was happy at the attention, anyway. Happy that they hadn’t given up on him yet.

“I suppose worrying never did make anything happen faster,” Bilbo muttered, mostly to himself. At least they were showing signs of recovery. He had watched illness take his parents in a long, slow decline. He had never given up, but in the end they had. There was a part of him that was unwilling to lose another patient.

A knock on the door sounded, reminding Bilbo that the main infirmary was just on the other side of the wall. What would the wounded dwarves be muttering now, seeing Thorin enter the night before and not seeing him leave, even if it was his nephew’s sickroom? Or was Nori already spreading word of their ‘reconciliation’ around the mountain, troublesome spy that he was?

“I’ve got breakfast for the lads,” Óin announced, entering without invitation. He carried a tray with two bowls of soup balanced on it, which Tauriel immediately accepted from him. “You’ll have to find your own- Thorin didn’t sleep here, did he?”

Bilbo nodded, shifting slightly to show that he was trapped by Thorin’s broken arm. “Even though he promised not to.”

“You’re not doing that arm any favors,” Óin tsked, prodding Thorin’s splinted arm. “And you know how many foul things can be in the air with so many injured around. You’re only just recovering yourself.”

“I will recover better without your nettling,” Thorin muttered, tightening his grip on Bilbo.

Óin tsked again, switching to nudging the arm with his ear trumpet. “At least let Bilbo go. He’s work to do, even if you’ve finally decided to put your health first.”

The reminder that keeping Bilbo trapped was preventing him from caring for his nephews was apparently what Thorin needed to hear. Slowly, grudgingly, the broken arm shifted with a grunt of pain, and Bilbo was free again. He rolled off the cot immediately, crossing the room to take a bowl from Tauriel.

“How did Thorin sleep?” he asked her softly. “I’d heard he hadn’t been sleeping well lately.”

“As untroubled as Fíli,” she admitted, dripping soup into Kíli’s open mouth.

That decided it. “Let him sleep here,” Bilbo suggested to Óin. “I think being near Fíli and Kíli makes it easier for him.”

Óin toyed with his beard for a moment, thinking it over. Then he nodded. “Don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, except for the risk of his cuts getting infected,” he admitted. “It’s why we put the lads together, after all.”

Bilbo could think of another reason. He was here too often. If Thorin had overslept, the members of the company who thought it would be better for them not to meet would have had their work cut out for them. That was probably the real reason Thorin had only been able to visit at night before. It seemed a little cruel to let the lads get caught up in something like that, though.

“Can you try to keep away anyone who comes looking, at least for a few more hours?” Bilbo asked. Judging by the constant dark circles under his eyes, Thorin could definitely use the extra sleep. Now that he had decided to actually get it, he was as much Bilbo’s patient as Fíli and Kíli.

“What was that now?” Óin asked, holding his ear trumpet up to his ear.

“I said-” Bilbo began, then stopped when he saw the look in Óin’s eyes. He had heard, but for the sake of plausible deniability, he was going to pretend he hadn’t. That should buy Thorin a few hours at least. “Nevermind.”

“If you want your breakfast, make sure you come get it soon,” Óin said, leaving the room. “Your legs work so I won’t be bringing it.”

Once the door had closed behind him, Tauriel turned to Bilbo with a confused glance toward the door. “I don’t understand.”

“Just don’t shout to anyone that Thorin’s in here and we should be fine,” Bilbo said with a shake of the head, testing the soup on his wrist to make sure it was cool enough. It smelled strongly of mushrooms, making Bilbo smile to himself. Apparently Bombur was wasting no time making use of the ‘tunnels full of mushrooms’. Satisfied that he wouldn’t scald Fíli’s throat, he tipped the bowl slightly, starting a steady drip of soup. Fíli swallowed it easily. More easily than usual, Bilbo noted with some satisfaction. Maybe it would be his stomach that woke him up before anything else did.

When the bowl was empty, Bilbo set it aside and started unwinding the bandages around Fíli’s torso. The unconscious dwarf shifted slightly under his touch, something he hadn’t done before. Another encouraging sign, though changing the bandages of wiggly dwarves was harder than with one who lay still. Maybe Fíli’s constant sleep and Kíli’s fever had been blessings in disguise. It had forced them to lie still and recover, something which he doubted they were very good at, if Thorin was any indication.

The wound across Fíli’s chest had closed more quickly than Kíli’s, helped along by lack of infection and his complete stillness. It was little more than an angry red line now, held in place by Óin’s straight, even stitches. When Bilbo prodded it gently, Fíli’s stomach muscles contracted on reflex. They had done that before, but the reaction seemed stronger than usual. In the course of one night, Fíli had become far more responsive to stimuli.

Was it possible-?

Bilbo and Tauriel had a peaceful morning caring for their charges, Kíli even opening his eyes a few times, though thankfully his mind was too muddled from his prolonged fever for him to try flirting. That wasn’t something Bilbo needed to be anywhere near, and he doubted Thorin would be feeling charitable if he woke up to that. He was sleeping so deeply, the lines of his face smoothing out so that he looked younger. It made Bilbo want to reach out and touch that face, but he resisted. This was an infirmary, and a certain standard of behavior was required.

When the door banged open, Dáin appearing with as much noise and destruction as his war boar might have, Bilbo decided that this too was another area where dwarvish manners fell hideously short.

“Master Baggins, have you seen-” Dáin began, with an urgency that died the instant he spotted his sleeping cousin. His panic was replaced almost instantly by slyness, then covered up with his normal cheerfulness. “Takin’ a bit of nap, is he?”

“He’s been working himself to death,” Bilbo replied, trying not to snap at the dwarf lord. He knew Dáin would do everything he could to help, even if his entrance had definitely woken up Thorin. “It finally caught up with him.”

“It’s about time,” Dáin admitted with a hearty laugh. “He’s always taken too much on himself.”

“If I don’t, no one else will,” Thorin grumbled.

“Och, there are dependable people all around you,” Dáin disagreed, patting Thorin’s shoulder. “Some of them handled that wretched woodland sprite this morning, for example.”

Thorin groaned. “I forgot about that,” he admitted, rubbing his eyes. “How did it go?”

“Fine, fine,” Dáin assured him. “More importantly, are ya reconciled with your Bagginshield?” He winked, and Bilbo had to look away. As well-meaning as Dáin was, these dwarves really did have appalling manners. He was going to have to do something about that.

“His name is Bilbo,” Thorin said, his jaw set stubbornly.

“And also right here, thank you very much,” Bilbo observed tartly.

Dáin gave a short laugh. “So, when is the wedding, cousin?”

Tauriel turned toward them in surprise. “Oh, are congratulations in order?”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Bilbo rushed to assure her. Then noticing Thorin watching him, said, “Well, sort of, I mean-”

“Don’t be shy now,” Dáin said with a laugh, clapping Bilbo on the back. “Half the mountain knows already. More than half, if I’ve done my work right!”

“Please tell me you haven’t written to Dís,” Thorin said, sitting up and rubbing his temples.

“You mean you haven’t?” Dáin asked, thunderstruck.

“It seemed hasty without first talking to Bilbo, and thoughtless while Fíli and Kíli are in the infirmary,” Thorin pointed out, and Bilbo realized he was talking about his sister. Fíli and Kíli’s mother. Yes, judging by what he knew about this family, she likely wouldn’t have taken that well at all.

“You mean amad would kill you if she knew,” Kíli observed weakly, his eyes half open, his mouth twisted in a smile.

“Kíli!” They said his name as one, quickly crowding around his bedside.

“It was just a scratch,” the young dwarf protested, apparently amused by the intensity of their reaction.

“An infected one,” Bilbo replied firmly, squeezing Thorin’s good hand to intercept whatever harsh chastisement he was readying. Looking up at the dwarf king, he realized he needn’t have bothered. Relief was radiating off Thorin, becoming a warm smile, though he didn’t release Bilbo’s hand, opting instead to lace their fingers.

“Is Bilbo going to be our new uncle?”

Bilbo nearly cracked his neck whipping his head around. Everyone else followed suit, though more slowly. The voice had been Fíli’s. Cracked from lack of use, weak and whispery, but Fíli’s. His expression matched his brother’s: tired and wan, but with a smirk that told Bilbo his suspicion was probably right.

“And the first thing I’ll do as your new uncle is suggest a punishment for pretending to still be asleep,” Bilbo scolded him, letting Tauriel handle Kíli for the moment. Fíli immediately looked sheepish. “When did you wake up?”

“Yesterday,” Fíli admitted, smiling weakly up at his disapproving uncles, the rotten prankster. “When I realized Tauriel was here, I pretended to go back to sleep.”

“Why?” It was Thorin who asked, his joy at both nephews being awake clearly dampened by the deception.

“I wanted you to be there,” Fíli admitted, looking away in embarrassment. “But I wanted you to get some sleep, so I waited.”

It was incredibly hard for either Bilbo or Thorin to argue with that, considering how little time Thorin had been able to spend with them, but Kíli found a way.

“You sure you just didn’t want to get a bit more sleep before you have to get back to work?” Kíli asked, earning a nudge in the ribs from Dáin.

“Don’t think you’re safe now, lad. Wound mostly healed, fever gone, you’re in better shape than Thorin these days! About time to put you to work, as I see it,” Dáin suggested, eyebrows wiggling in a way that made Kíli pale.

Bilbo shook his head lightly, turning back to Fíli. He had always been the more questionable patient. They might as well try a few things while Thorin was here to help. “Try sitting up.”

Fíli did his best to obey, muscles straining to obey him, but in the end he flopped back on the bed, his face red from exhaustion. “How long have I been asleep?” he gasped as Thorin helped him into a sitting position, one hand coming to rest on his chest wound with a wince.

“A week and a half,” Bilbo replied matter-of-factly. “Not long enough to starve, but what little nutrition you’ve gotten has gone toward healing that gash in your chest, and even that needs more time before you can start running around again. The muscles were cut, and they don’t heal quickly.”

Fíli was smart enough to accept this, letting his uncle lower him back down without complaint. Kíli on the other hand felt the need to test it, flopping around on his cot like a flipped turtle until Tauriel put her hand on his chest and suggested he stop, lest his wound reopen. Despite his cavalier attitude, even Kíli wasn’t willing to risk another infection.

“But you’ll be here to take care of us, won’t you, Uncle Bilbo?” Kíli teased, and Fíli laughed.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Bilbo admitted, his chest hurting when he saw the way their faces fell. Oh, he was already in far too deep. “I’ll need to send word back to the Shire. I left before settling any of my affairs.”

“Oh, well that’s easily done!” Dáin declared, reminding Bilbo that he was still in the room, despite his uncharacteristic quiet. “Thorin’s gotta write Dís, and the Shire’s on the way.”

Thorin nodded. “Bring me your letter tonight and your kin will have it within a fortnight.”

It was far faster than traveling there himself, but finding time to write the letter was another matter entirely. Thorin had wasted enough of the morning, and was soon dragged off by Dáin on kingly business. Ordinarily that would have guaranteed quiet, but Fíli and Kíli being awake changed that completely. First they had to be fussed over by Óin, a task made much harder by their desire to be up and about. Neither of them could sit up without help, and even that hurt, but it didn’t change the fact that they’d been bedridden for more than a week and knew it. Gloin’s help ended up being necessary to keep Kíli in place for his examination, even with Tauriel speaking softly in his ear.

Eventually, Fíli and Kíli wore themselves out and fell back to sleep, though a healthier sleep this time. With Tauriel and Óin assuring him that they could manage, Bilbo returned to his room to write. A few short lines sufficed, both to his gardener and to the Mayor, explaining his circumstances in the barest possible detail. Despite that, the bells were tolling the dinner hour by the time he finished. Apparently so much time spent with dwarves had made common hobbit civility less than second nature.

Shaking his head in disapproval, or perhaps in amusement, Bilbo made his way to Thorin’s chamber with his letters, amazed by how easily he gained entrance. No hulking dwarves stood guard, trying to bar his way. Was Thorin not inside, or-

Bilbo nearly collided with Bofur for the second time in as many days, stepping back in a hurry. Bofur was one of the dwarves who had been involved in deceiving him and keeping him from Thorin, and it stung. Bofur had always been a particular friend, his easy friendliness and understanding keeping him motivated during some of the more difficult times. He had stepped back, unless intervention was needed, and so Bilbo had rarely seen him during the last week and a half.

Bofur at least seemed aware that he should be guilty, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment. He didn’t say anything immediately, settling for clapping Bilbo on the shoulder.

“Don’t miss your books so much any more?” the miner asked with a cheeky grin.

“I’ve read them all,” Bilbo pointed out. “Erebor’s library has new books.”

“Never heard of crumbling books being called new before,” Bofur replied, setting off down the hallway with a wave. “Sure there’s nothing else?”

“Well it’s certainly not your manners,” Bilbo said with a grin of his own, before knocking on the door to Thorin’s office.

“Enter,” Thorin called, the deep furrows in his brow smoothing out as he looked up and saw who it was. He set down his quill, apparently in the middle of working on his own letter.

“I can come back later if you like,” Bilbo offered, noting both the half finished letter and the uneaten tray of food on a side table. Not that Thorin forgetting to eat was anything unusual.

“Stay,” Thorin quickly insisted, setting the letter to one side. “Have you eaten yet?”

“Even if I had, I wouldn’t turn down another meal,” Bilbo pointed out, setting his letters on the table and taking the heavy tray, setting it on a larger table and gesturing for Thorin to join him. There was too much here for one person anyway. “I’m not convinced you’ve been eating regularly.”

“I eat,” Thorin insisted, though judging by the way he tucked in, he hadn’t been eating nearly enough. Yet another thing that would have to be remedied.

When the tray was empty, the distant sound of the bells tolling the hour made Bilbo glance at the door, as if Thorin’s next appointment was waiting outside.

“What is it?” Thorin asked, noticing the direction of his gaze.

“Oh, I’m just surprised we haven’t been interrupted yet,” Bilbo admitted, turning back to Thorin sheepishly.

“Dáin cleared my schedule for the rest of the evening,” Thorin replied, reddening slightly.

“Really? Dáin did?” The meddling old dwarf. Something told Bilbo that Dáin didn’t have Thorin’s desperate need for sleep in mind, either.

Thorin nodded. “His reason was crude and difficult to translate,” he admitted.

Now it was Bilbo’s turn to flush. “I think I can guess,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. It was true that he had to be ready for the full truth to be out in the open sooner rather than later, but getting used to Thorin’s cousins speculating on… intimate matters was something that would take doing. Not that hobbits didn’t do the same, but they were generally more subtle. Well, the Bagginses anyway. All bets were off with the Tooks.

“I’m surprised you let him do it,” Bilbo said, still flushed, to dispel the sudden awkwardness. “The old Thorin would have worked through the night just to prove him wrong.”

Thorin snorted. “The old Thorin did not have a broken arm that throbs whenever Dáin is being particularly unreasonable.”

The arm in question was still in a sling, carefully splinted, and a reminder that whatever Dáin thought, Thorin was in no condition for anything particularly vigorous. Not that he’d been thinking of anything of the sort.

“How very convenient,” Bilbo observed, raising his eyebrows. “Does it hurt whenever Thranduil is mentioned as well?”

Thorin winced as if in pain, and on instinct Bilbo rose from his chair and started forward, until he saw the flicker of amusement in Thorin’s eyes. By then, he was trapped in front of the teasing dwarf, one hand caught securely in Thorin’s good hand.

“Don’t make jokes like that,” Bilbo scolded, very aware that he had initiated it in the first place.

“My apologies,” Thorin said, brushing his lips against Bilbo’s fingers and sounding not at all contrite. The rough hair of Thorin’s beard scraped against the sensitive skin, sending heat spiraling through him.

“Oh, if that’s how it’s going to be…” Bilbo closed the remaining distance, scarcely aware of what he was doing. Somehow he ended up in Thorin’s lap, gingerly avoiding the broken arm. Thorin’s earlier playfulness was gone, replaced by a still watchfulness. He was just waiting to see what Bilbo would do, his breathing suddenly made shallow by the tension in the air. Had Thorin always been this compliant?

Emboldened, Bilbo reached for one of Thorin’s braids, running his thumb across the intricate pattern on the silver bead. Even sitting on Thorin’s lap, their faces mere centimeters from each others, he couldn’t help but wonder if the patterns meant anything. Or perhaps he was just distracting himself with the thought. Thorin was maddeningly warm, but he was still injured, and definitely not careful enough to avoid hurting himself again.

Thorin’s good hand found its way into Bilbo’s curls, his deft fingers gently massaging Bilbo’s scalp. His breath hitching, Bilbo moved his exploration to the rough hair of Thorin’s beard, allowing himself a small smile when Thorin’s hand froze for a moment. He was tempted to run a careful finger along the mostly healed scar bisecting Thorin’s eyebrow, but suddenly it felt like there wasn’t enough room. Their faces were too close, possibly due to the strong hand in his hair pushing him forward ever so slowly. As if he wouldn’t notice!

Bilbo closed the remaining distance, scant as it was, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. The kiss started gentle and tender, but it couldn’t stay that way for long. Not after so much distance and yearning, feelings expressed in everything but words, quickly heating their kiss with need. Bilbo found his hands wandering, exploring the sharp contours of Thorin’s jaw, to the softer curves of his large ears. The rough scrape of beard against his face only served to further inflame him, and when they broke apart at last, they were both gasping for breath.

“If I were to say that I am willing to risk the arm-” Thorin began, a hopeful expression in his eyes.

“I would say that I don’t want to explain to Óin why it broke again,” Bilbo replied with a breathy laugh. “I’m not leaving. You know that, right? We have all the time in the world.”

Thorin smiled, relief practically pouring off him. “We do, don’t we?”

There was no more kingdom to reclaim, no more dragon to slay. No more years of wandering and wondering. It was as if a great weight had finally lifted from Thorin’s shoulders, as if he had only just realized what he had accomplished, with no dragon sickness putting a film over his eyes. For the first time since Bilbo had known him, and probably even longer than that, it looked like he could finally see the world of possibility that his father had seen in his young eyes.

Mingalaz,” Bilbo murmured, remembering the khuzdul word Thorin had used to describe those eyes.

Thorin’s smile only grew, the corners of his eyes softening with unspeakable tenderness, and it was a long time before they could tear themselves apart. After a few more kisses perhaps, a few more tolling bells, a few more promises of what tomorrow might bring, and every other tomorrow, until the end of their days.