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Eye of the Beholder

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Rivendell is a gorgeous place, whatever his companions say. Everywhere Ori looks, he finds inspiration—this will make a sweet setting for a quaint tale, and that’s befitting a painting—and he finds himself drifting out of the company after dinner, because they just want to brawl and he wants to see more.

But after a good while of weaving through towering elves and craning his neck to stare at carvings, Ori’s anxious to return to a good book; Elrond’s library is as thrilling as the rest of his home. Given free reign, Ori finds a thick volume of ancient legends, thankfully scrawled in Dwarvish. He pulls it from the shelf, careful of its yellow, fraying edges, and tucks it under his arm, searching for a quiet place to read. The library is just too tall and full of elves, and he can’t help but feel they look at him funny, like he’s supposed to be off in a mine somewhere with an axe instead of a story.

He mostly winds around their guest chambers, avoiding the boisterous talk of his friends. He stops in Bilbo’s room, who’s quietly relaxed across the plump sheets with an Elven map in his hands, but Ori’s barely got the question out of his mouth when Fíli and Kíli come bursting into the room like a pair of cannonballs. They jump on Bilbo’s bed like infants, while the poor hobbit tries to politely shoo them away and protect his precious maps from dirty feet.

Ori shuffles off, unnoticed, and finds, two rooms over, an empty space where he can have some peace. He walks around the wide bed, gripping his book excitedly in his hands, only to stop in his tracks a moment later.

Bofur’s sitting on the floor, slummed against the wall, legs spread out before him and hammer across his lap. He’s picking at it aimlessly, and his hat’s toppled at his side, like it fell of his head and he didn’t even notice. Bofur’s normally so optimistic, so unfailingly cheery, that at first Ori thinks he’s walked into some Elven trick of the light, but then Bofur looks up at him, surprised, and he knows it’s really Bofur, tucked away in some forgotten corner with a frown on his handsome face.

Ori can feel his cheeks heat before he even tries to say, “Hello.”

Bofur, turning a little pink around the edges too, bumbles, “Hi.” Then he tries to smile, but for the first time that Ori’s ever seen, it looks forced, and it just makes everything sadder.

Ori should probably leave. If it was anyone else, he would. But Bofur, of all of their friends, is the one that Ori wants to be happy most of all. It doesn’t seem fair that the person who brings them all smiles and songs should wear such sorrow. He hesitates, fighting the urge to flee, and finally walks up to Bofur, kneeling down between Bofur’s legs.

He puts his own book on the floor and instead picks up Bofur’s hat. He fits it neatly back on Bofur’s head where it belongs. It’s comical as ever, and does make Bofur’s tiny smile grow, but not as much as usual, so Ori sinks back and asks, “What’s wrong?” He’s hushed, even though he can’t hear any of the others, so they probably can’t hear him. They’re having fun tormenting elves; they won’t even notice he’s gone.

Bofur shrugs and says, “I’m fine.” He doesn’t look fine.

“You didn’t have fun at the feast?” Ori tries. They may have made a fuss about the greenery on the menu, but it’s still all been a lot better than travel rations. Tonight wasn’t as much fun as the night Bofur broke out into song and brought them all a little musical to join in with, but it was still filling and good.

Yet Bofur wrinkles his nose and mutters, “Did you see how much Bombur ate?”

Ori chuckles, “Yes.” He expects some brotherly teasing—he puts up with enough of it from Nori and Dori to know how it works—but Bofur just sighs. His whole body slumps against the wall. It puts a pang in Ori’s chest that feels vaguely like being stabbed.

Exhaling bitterly, Bofur grumbles, “I’ll never be that big.”

Ori, startled, tilts his head in confusion, and Bofur’s cheeks colour, his eyes looking away, but he goes on, “He’s the pinnacle of dwarf perfection; huge and thick with hair long enough to loop around his whole body, for goodness’ sake! And Bifur’s got this great mane, and pretty much everyone in our company has magnificent beards—except Fíli and Kíli, but they’re royalty and young—and I’ve just got this stubby little thing.” He yanks at his own beard hard enough that Ori winces like he felt the sting himself. When Bofur looks back at him, it’s with a strange sort of longing. Bofur gestures out towards Ori’s chin, not quite touching, and mumbles, “Look at that pretty thing.” His eyes trail up Ori’s braids, while Ori looks down, blushing furiously. He doesn’t think he’s ever been told any part of him is pretty, and even if it’s not exactly what most dwarves want to hear, coming from Bofur, it makes Ori feel hot. When he does glance back at Bofur, Bofur’s the one looking awkward. He shakes his head and mutters, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be burdening you with this. Especially you.”

“Especially me?”

“You...” Bofur gestures vaguely, drops his hand, then mumbles, hushed, “I don’t want you, of all people, to think of me not only as the funny ugly one, but the whiny, miserable—”

Bofur,” Ori cuts in, shutting the tirade right off, and Bofur, polite as ever, instantly quiets to let Ori talk. “I’d never think of you as whiny or miserable! You’re the sweetest, most delightful one in the company! You’re funny yes, but you’re not... you’re nowhere near ugly.” Then he feels inclined to say, muddling up even worse, “Not that I wouldn’t like you even if you were, but... but...”

“Ori, I’m practically a stick—”

“So you’re trim! That’s okay! I happen to think your body is perfect.” He’s saying too much, but the floodgates open right out, and Ori blurts all in one fell swoop, “You’re fit and compact and strong, and you always have your hair braided so nicely, and you have that great mustache and an adorable smile, and your eyes are so handsome, Bofur, you really have no idea. And you’re sturdy; when I’m standing next to you, I always feel safe, because you’re smart, too, and I know you can fight when you want to but you’re also clever enough to run and hide when needed, and you’re just this wonderful balance of everything—if you were a character in a tale, you’d be everyone’s favourite, I’m sure, because you’re dynamic and... and enthralling! B-but then they’d be missing out, just reading about you, because you’re so beautiful, and I’ve always thought that, really, even before we left, I used to treasure the toys you made for me and I wanted a little dwarf one that looked just like you with your strong face and sexy body—oh! I didn’t mean that, no, I did, but I mean, I shouldn’t have said it and—and—” And now he’s rambling, having totally muddled up, and somehow he winds up finishing, “And the only reason I never told you how hot you were before is because I never thought I’d have a chance with you, and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of the world’s handsomest dwarf.”

As soon as Ori’s finished, he drops his face into his hands, shoulders hunched to try and shield him from the outside world, which he just messed up far too much to ever face again. His nose sticks between his palms, fingerless gloves turning his world temporarily black, fingers tight together so he won’t accidentally peak through them and see the laughter come back to Bofur’s face.

He can feel warm hands on his wrists, and Bofur gently tugs his hands away. If it were anyone else, Ori wouldn’t relinquish, but he’s never been able to turn down Bofur’s charm, so he lets his last shield be stripped away. Bofur’s looking at him, mystified, and asks dully, “You think I’m hot?” He says it like it’s sheer insanity, but Ori nods.

Since all the damage’s already done, he mumbles, “I think you’re beautiful inside and out.”

“Really? You?”

Ori nods again.

Suddenly, the same old Bofur comes crashing through, because he blurts, blunt and bewildered, “I think you’re beautiful!”

It’s Ori’s turn to mumble weakly, “Me?” He must’ve heard wrong.

But Bofur says, “Yeah.” Then, “You wanted a... a ‘chance’ with me?”

“Yes.”

“Can I kiss you?”

Ori blinks. Then he smiles in spite of himself, can’t help it, and he almost laughs, because it’s just so Bofur to ask something like that, and Ori squeals like an excited mouse, “Yes!” The word’s barely past his lips when Bofur grabs him by the braids and pulls him in, ducking back and tilting so their noses don’t crash together, their mouths fitting into one another instead.

Ori, at first, is a little scared, trembling with trepidation but unsure of himself. It seems surreal, and he has so little kissing experience, all from long ago when other young dwarves were just practicing for the bigger, stronger men they wanted. Ori prefers it like this, with another man who’s smaller like him, warm and well-fit, but he doesn’t know quite what to do with his tongue and his lips and he stumbles through it, messy and dizzy. Bofur’s fingers slip back into his hair to steady him, and that helps. Bofur’s tongue makes its way against his, and he just tries to follow, pushing back when Bofur prods at him, lips opening and closing and saliva getting everywhere, his making him embarrassed and Bofur’s making him squirm. Before he knows what’s happening, he’s made a wanton moan into Bofur’s mouth, and Bofur pulls away from him just enough to break the kiss.

But Bofur still keeps their foreheads together, rubbing their noses and nuzzling into Ori’s face, so affectionate and melodious and pleasant. They’re stuck like that for a moment, fingers running through each other’s hair and beards while they cuddle on.

Then Ori can’t take it anymore, and he lunges in for another round, psyching himself up to do it better. He throws himself against Bofur so hard that Bofur loses balance, sliding sideways without the room to go backwards, and Ori goes with him, pressing their mouths fiercely together.

Bofur jerks away from him a second later, crying out, and springs back up, rubbing his back and looking down. Ori, spotting the book that must’ve dug into Bofur’s back, quickly grabs it up and mumbles, “Sorry! I came here to read.”

“Oh.” A sheepishness comes over Bofur’s face, all the misery of earlier completely gone. “And instead you found me moping here. Sorry about that.”

Ori can’t help but chuckle, “But I’m glad I did.” Bofur grins.

With that glowing smile firmly in place, he grabs at Ori’s hips, gently tugging him over, and Ori lets himself be dragged out of Bofur’s lap, nestled, instead, at Bofur’s side. He spreads his legs out along Bofur’s, their feet touching, and he places the book down in his lap while Bofur throws an arm around his shoulders. Ori wants to kiss more, but also wants to reads, wants to snuggle, wants to do just about everything with Bofur now that he knows he can, so he settles for this. He leans his head on Bofur’s shoulder and holds out the pages so they can both read.

Two pages later, he chucks his legs over Bofur’s lap, and Bofur kisses his forehead. The hat goes tumbling off again, but this time Bofur stuffs it onto Ori’s head, and Ori pulls it over his blushing face while he laughs, delighted beyond words.