Fili is standing in the light of the setting sun, his profile strong and stately.
“You looked awfully like your uncle just then,” Bilbo blurts out, and regrets it immediately when Fili turns to him with a frown. Oh, dear, that came out wrong, didn't it? He certainly didn't mean anything by it - not to Fili -
“Thank you,” says Fili drily.
“I only meant -”
“No, it’s all right. Just don’t say anything of the kind to Kili, will you? He’s a bit sensitive about it.”
“Er,” says Bilbo. “Right, I wouldn't dream of it.” Is it shameful in Dwarf society to resemble your uncle? Good god, he hadn’t implied some sort of incestuous relationship between Thorin and Dis, had he? He had heard of that sort of thing going on royal families, but really. It was an innocent enough comment, surely. Or perhaps… perhaps Fili meant, don’t make your preoccupation with our uncle quite so obvious to Kili. Bilbo rather thought it might be far too late for that.
“You know, he worked as a smith in the places of Men to provide for his people,” says Balin with a nod to Thorin, who’s overseeing as Kili skins a rabbit.
“Right,” says Bilbo, swallowing. If Balin’s intention was to put the image of Thorin, muscled and sweating, into his mind, then he succeeded - though Bilbo’s not sure what possible motivation he might have for such a thing. Surely he’s not teasing Bilbo for his hopeless… interest? But then again, why shouldn’t he? What a cliché he is, having his head turned by a handsome exiled prince from a foreign land. Like a character in a silly romance. And not the main character, who would probably be some buxom Dwarven maid (whatever they’re called) who was waiting patiently for her love’s return from battle, but a fool put in for comic relief, or a bit of cheap competition.
“It’s not every prince who would do such a thing,” Balin adds meaningfully.
“No, I’m sure.”
“He’s loyal and true.”
“Yes,” says Bilbo hoarsely.
“There are more important things in life than a pretty face,” says Balin.
Honestly! Does Balin think he’s completely shallow? That he’s dribbling after their king like a tween whose brain is in his breeches? Well, he’s… only half-right! “There certainly are,” he says, a little crossly. “There are many other qualities which I - that is, which a person - might appreciate. Many qualities. But there’s nothing wrong with liking a pretty face either, mind you. It certainly doesn’t hurt.”
“No, lad,” says Balin sadly. “Nobody could fault you there.” He looks away, disappointment writ across his features.
Every time Bilbo thinks he understands Dwarves, something like this happens.
“I wish that child would stop staring at the Durin boys,” says Bofur darkly, with a tilt of the head towards Sigrid.
Bilbo clears his throat. “You can’t really blame her,” he points out reasonably. “There aren't many in Laketown who look… like that.” Must be hard for a girl that age in a place like this. Confusing. Who else is she going to stare at? The only handsome Man that Bilbo has seen anywhere around the place is the girl’s father. He pulls a rather disgusted face at the direction of his thoughts.
Bofur gives him a hard look. “No matter what they look like, they don’t deserve to be gawked at,” he says. Bilbo gulps. Is Bofur making a point about Bilbo’s own staring, perhaps? He does try so hard not to be shameless about it, but honestly, there are only so many places for a fellow’s eyes to land, and… no, he mustn't make excuses for himself. If good-hearted, forgiving Bofur thinks he’s going too far, then he must be.
“You're quite right, of course,” he says to his feet.
The Dwarves are taking the opportunity to bathe in the lake, and to comb out their beards and hair for the first time since Beorn’s house. Bilbo would prefer to keep his clothes on, but he’s dangling his feet in the cool water alongside them. Thorin’s hair really is very long, and… soft-looking… and - oh, dear, he’s taking off his shirt.
Mindful of Bofur’s words, Bilbo pointedly turns away.
“Does my form offend you so much?” says Thorin, low. Bilbo startles - he really must be the least subtle of all burglars.
“Oh, yes, very offensive,” he says, still averting his eyes, and lets out a strangled laugh. “You needn’t tease me, Thorin, I was only trying to be polite.”
Thorin doesn’t reply. Bilbo imagines he’s probably too amused. He squeezes his eyes closed in embarrassment. Arrogant Dwarf! The sooner he can hand over the damn Arkenstone and hurry back to the Shire and shut himself away, the better.
As it turns out, of course, he does not hurry back to the Shire after handing over the damn Arkenstone. First there are the petty matters of madness and death threats and negotiations and orcs and goblins to sort out, and then… well… he decides to stay just a little longer.
He can't leave without seeing Thorin wake up.
He misses the actual moments of awakening - he’s halfway through a game of tavla with Tauriel when Ori finds him.
“He’s woken, he’s asking for you,” says Ori breathlessly.
“Kili?” says Tauriel, leaping up. Ori looks at her apologetically.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “The King. He’s asking for you, Master Baggins.”
Bilbo finds his way to the makeshift infirmary in something of a daze, not quite aware of putting one foot in front of the other, yet somehow never stumbling. His pace quickens when he sees Thorin, eyes open, colour beginning to return to his cheeks (though some of that colour be mottled purples and blues from the beating he took). He rushes forward and takes the sight in greedily, eyes blurring with unshed tears.
“Master Burglar,” Thorin says, his voice a rasp. “I was hoping you would not have departed for your armchair and hearth just yet.” Bilbo shakes his head mutely. “I must beg your forgiveness.”
“No, none of that,” says Bilbo, his face as close again to Thorin’s as when the King last asked his pardon. “That’s behind us. Besides, any wrong you’ve done me, you make up for it by living. If you hadn't - that’s the only thing I wouldn't have been able to forgive.”
“I can’t begin to deserve your friendship, Bilbo.”
As Bilbo opens his mouth to answer, a tear drops from his cheek and lands on Thorin’s. He brushes it away with his thumb, and then - he can’t help but lean in, just this once. It’s only for a moment, and then he’s pushed away.
“I’m so sorry. I overstepped. Your Majesty,” he says awkwardly.
“No, none of that,” says Thorin, echoing his own words, “but I cannot bear your pity.”
“My pity? You can’t truly think that, can you?”
“When we first met, I did hope… can it be true? You can overlook my hideousness?”
Bilbo laughs wetly, although it’s hardly the time for such a joke. “A near-impossible task, but I think I can manage it,” he says. Thorin looks - not amused. Hopeful, perhaps.
Bilbo looks down at him - the eyes he’s had to force himself many times not to gaze into; the lips he’d forbidden himself from kissing for so long; the golden skin under his hand; the soft, glossy hair spread out beneath. “Thorin,” he says disbelievingly. “You must surely realise that you're the most attractive… creature, of any kind, I think I've ever laid eyes on?”
“You mean you've grown to see my inner beauty?”
“Well, er… not exactly. I mean, I have! But also, your outer… attributes… were rather obvious at once.” He frowns down in confusion at the beautiful, living Dwarf laid before him. “I think we may be talking at cross purposes, Thorin. Do you think we could start from the beginning?”
“News of Kili?” asks Tauriel when Bilbo returns. He nods.
“The healers say it oughtn't to be long now,” he reassures her. “Another day at most.”
She breathes out a relieved sigh.
“There is another piece of news that might interest you,” he adds.
“What is it?”
“I have learned that he is absolutely stomach-turning to look at.”
“Yes. The entire line of Durin is, apparently. They say it’s a wonder there was ever a line. The enticement of ruling over Erebor was all that allowed them to multiply. And when Erebor was lost...”
“What can you be talking about?”
“I regret to inform you, Tauriel, that as far as their own people are concerned, we are in love with two of the ugliest Dwarves ever to walk Middle Earth.”
And they sat and laughed until their eyes were red and their voices were hoarse. Indeed, it was long before they heard a joke so wonderful again.