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From the Flames

Chapter Text

“So, this is the new English teacher? Looks more like a grocer than an English teacher,” are the very first words out of his new boss’s mouth. The smirk that accompanies it only makes it worse.

He tries to be civil about it, he does. He tries to conceal the annoyance on his face, the huff and litany of protests threatening to spill out at any moment, and most of all just be civil. Bilbo Baggins considers himself a very polite man, very hospitable and welcoming to guests, and most of all very generous. And above all he absolutely hates conflict. He tries not to fight unless the situation calls for it, but usually remaining hidden and unnoticeable is his more better talent. So imagine hearing those words from the man soon to be his boss for the next year and a half.

It takes a while to process that that was, indeed, an insult, and tries his absolute very best to stay calm, composed, and civil. Right, good luck with that Bilbo.

“Come now, Mr. Oakenshield! I’d say he makes a rather fine grocer doesn’t he?” Gandalf says with a little too much levity for the situation.

“Was that supposed to make me feel better?” Bilbo follows through by gracing Gandalf with a piercing look.

Gandalf barks out a laugh instead and slaps Bilbo’s back hard enough to make him stagger forward a bit. “I can assure you Mr. Oakenshield, grocer or not Bilbo Baggins is an extremely capable professor,” Gandalf states with a sudden seriousness. “I promise you, you will not regret having him as a part of your staff.” He winks down at Bilbo who can’t help smiling at that. Suck up.

Mr. Oakenshield doesn’t appear very impressed with that assurance though. He scans Bilbo up and down with disinterest which only further irritates Bilbo. Oh for the love of—!

“You know I could always leave,” Bilbo offers.

This stops Mr. Oakenshield’s scanning and he narrows his eyes at the teacher.

Gandalf has stilled by Bilbo’s side. He opens his mouth to try to calm the soon-to-be raging storm but it’s too late. Once Bilbo Baggins is on a roll, no one can stop him.

“I mean if you’re so adamant about me not looking qualified enough to teach despite having initial experience at two universities—”

Was it his imagination or did Gandalf actually whine?

“—having a bachelor’s and master’s in English and history, not to mention—”

No Gandalf’s whine was definitely getting louder.

“—I am HIGHLY proficient in Westron and Khuzdul—”

“You speak Khuzdul?” Mr. Oakenshield interrupts, his eyebrow quirking up in surprise.

Bilbo nearly bristles at that. Nearly. Remember, he can be civil if he so much dares. “Well of course I know Khuzdul, but what does that matter to you if you don’t deem me as,” he airquotes, “qualified—!”

“Now, now, there is no need to get so ruffled up over all this nonsense,” Gandalf interjects loudly. Thankfully this stops Bilbo’s ranting because he could have gone on for another hour and then where would they all be?

Bilbo releases a frustrated sigh. It’s only 8 a.m. and he’s already exhausted! He brushes back his curls and feels the need to scowl at them for getting so obnoxiously long. How dare them.

He hears a snort and to his surprise Mr. Oakenshield— is that a smile? No, it can’t be. Bilbo knows he’s only met this guy for an entirety of five minutes and already doesn’t like him, but he can’t possibly be smiling. It’s—no, that’s not possible. Apparently he’s so distracted that even Gandalf’s words fly right over him.

“I’m sorry, what?” Bilbo tears his eyes away to look up at him. He forgets how tall Gandalf is sometimes.

Gandalf pretends to be exasperated but its more amusement than anything. “I said, before you come to hate this job so much would you at least try the damn job out Bilbo?”

Bilbo’s face contorts into a withering expression. And how exactly is he supposed to ‘try the damn job out’ when his boss practically hates him!

“I would actually agree with Mr. Gandalf,” Mr. Oakenshield says out of seemingly nowhere.

Bilbo blinks at him, blurting out without thinking, “I’m sorry, but could you repeat that?” To which he receives a very icy death-stare from Mr. Oakenshield.

He hears a sigh beside him and gets a sharp jab in the shoulder. Bilbo kicks the back of Gandalf’s kneecap for good measure.

“Well!” Gandalf exclaims awfully cheerful for someone who just got kicked. “Let’s get down to business, shall we?”

“Yes, let’s,” Bilbo grits out. He smiles politely at Mr. Oakenshield but his eyes are conveying words of ‘I will kill you’ and ‘Call me a grocer again and I will stomp your toes off.’

Mr. Oakenshield blatantly ignores him but his smirk says otherwise.

 


 

Bilbo sighs as he sifts through the pile of papers, reading over each and every term and agreement and blah blah blah. It’s all useless nonsense in his opinion, but Mr. Oakenshield was very particular about the terms and wanted to make sure Bilbo read every single one of them.

He’s not really sure why, he’s only teaching secondary school for Yavanna’s sake. When he asked Gandalf, the older man simply smiled and patted him on the back.
He sighs again at the complicated words and overly used phrases. The English teacher in him can’t help pointing out every grammar mistake in plain sight. Whoever wrote this contract really needs to go back and learn Year 2 grammar at the least.

Eventually he’s had enough of reading and throws the stack of papers on the coffee table. He sinks back in his armchair and pinches the bridge of his nose. This is utter ridiculousness, it really is. Who creates a 12 page contract for a job at a secondary school?

To be honest, when Gandalf first approached him with the job he was a little skeptical. Don’t get him wrong, teaching at a secondary school definitely has its perks. For one thing, he won’t have to work such long hours (not that he has anyone to get home to save for his lovely armchair and books), and the workload will definitely be less.

The only problem though? He’s teaching Year 7 and 8 students. Children. And this is why he’s so much better in a university setting.

He angles his head to glance at the photographs lining his bookshelves and sighs. They’re all of him and his past students, and some with other professors who have now become lifelong friends of his. It’s not like he wanted to quit university teaching. The students were more mature, they could joke easily and not be offended, and dare Bilbo say he may have gotten in on those jokes more than once or twice. He’s not trying to toot his own horn, but he was actually quite good at his job and usually had students lined up outside his door to sign up for his classes.

His first experience was at Greenwood, and while he fiercely loved his students’ passion for learning, things started changing very quickly. With the arrival of the new President Thranduil and Elrond’s sudden retirement, he started instilling all sorts of changes which just didn’t sit right with Bilbo. In time, Greenwood was nicknamed the new ‘Mirkwood,’ and many students started transferring out of school, defacing school property, basically just protesting in any way to get the message across to President Thranduil that he was not liked nor welcomed here.

Bilbo couldn’t take all the chaos, and so he transferred out and got a job at Hobbiton thanks to Hamfast, the head gardener of the university who put in a good word for him. Hobbiton, while very quaint and peaceful compared to Greenwood, was getting boring very quickly. Ironically, he found the students too obedient. Not to mention they just weren’t very interesting, and the professors were nothing but a bunch of gossipers who nitpicked and sniggered at just about every professor there. Bilbo included of course.

Bilbo runs a hand over his face and through his curls. Seriously, his hair is getting ridiculously long. He thumps his head against his armchair to try and gather his thoughts together. What was he even thinking, working at a secondary school? He has no experience with children save for his limited exposure during his student teaching years, and he just has no interest in children to begin with. Maybe it was the prospect of a new job that excited him.

Or the fact that Gandalf literally appeared out of no where and somehow conned him into doing this. Gandalf never made any mention of it, and so Bilbo had just assumed right off the bat that he’d be placed with the Year 10 or 11 students due to his previous experience with older students.

“What do you mean I’ll be teaching children?! Gandalf you never said anything about me teaching a bunch of children!” Bilbo nearly squawks into the phone.

“Are you sure? I could have sworn I mentioned it…” Gandalf trails off. It’s like he’s purposely trying to think about it when deep down he planned this all along.

“No, no no no no NO you never mentioned anything! Gandalf, you know I have no experience with children whatsoever!”

“Oh, come now Bilbo! Think of it as an adventure! You did say Hobbiton was, now what did you say it was again?”

“A bunch of poppy-cock?” Bilbo supplies in a dry voice.

“A bunch of poppy-cock, precisely! And besides, I think Erebor will be a rather splendid time for you.”

“Teaching children?! And how exactly is that supposed to be a ‘splendid time’ Gandalf?!” Bilbo wails.

“It will be an adventure,” Gandalf repeats. “Trust me on that Bilbo Baggins.”

And trust him Bilbo did. That was until he met his new boss and all that trust dissolved like a sugar cube in a cup of tea. His eyes glance back at the contract. Do you choose to pledge your services to Headmaster Thorin Oakenshield and Co.?

Thorin Oakenshield, he scoffs in his head. Contrary to the impression (and snide remarks!) he made on Bilbo, he’s actually heard a lot of things about him. Erebor Academy had been a dying flame, a lost cause as many put it. It was slowly dwindling, with the school funds running low and the headmaster not being, as they say, ‘all there.’ He doesn’t know the full story, just that the previous headmaster couldn’t do his job properly and so his grandson took up the mantle. He brought Erebor back from the ashes, rekindling that flame and bringing in more students than ever. It eventually became one of the top schools in England, all happening within the span of the last 10 years.

And yet, the Thorin Oakenshield who brought Erebor back from the ashes and the one who called Bilbo a grocer just this morning are two entirely different people in his head. He just can’t make sense of it. After all the things he’s read in the news, he’d expect Thorin Oakenshield to be a little humble and not so… well, like that.

Bilbo narrows his eyes at that infuriating contract which will most likely determine his life for the next 9 months. Really now, this shouldn’t be that hard of a decision. You either sign it or you don’t Bilbo, that’s all there is to it.

“Arrgghh! That stupid old man!” Bilbo groans.

 


 

Despite the constant fighting, bickering, and sassing with absolutely no one in particular from the night before, Bilbo finds himself standing in Mr. Oakenshield’s office once again with the 12 page contract in hand. The papers are all neatly shuffled, like they were never pulled apart to begin with (or thrown in the air like a maniac now don’t you dare stare at him like that).

Mr. Oakenshield looks genuinely surprised, as Bilbo had made it quite clear he didn’t like Mr. Oakenshield and vice versa. The fact that he and his boss dislike each other should have been that warning signal in big flashing lights, but of course Bilbo ignored it. Of course he decided to accept the challenge of teaching secondary schoolers and a boss who hated his guts.

Once again, he would like to reiterate that this is all Gandalf’s fault!

“You accept?” The headmaster asks in surprise. There’s a hint of a challenge to his voice.

Bilbo resists the urge to scoff or roll his eyes. Remember, he’s civil. “Yes, I accept the job Mr. Oakenshield.” He sticks out a hand, only because it’s the courteous thing to do. “It’s a pleasure to be in your company, Mr. Oakenshield.”

Mr. Oakenshield eyes the hand apprehensively, then slowly reaches out and grasps it in a strong hold. They both grimace, like a handshake is more of a hassle compared to actual fighting.

“Welcome aboard.. Professor.”

Bilbo’s about to reply when he’s met (more like assaulted) with the deepest blue eyes he’s ever seen. Those eyes throw him off for a second because he wasn’t expecting them to be so.. blue. He nearly gets lost in them and has to shake himself out of his stupor. Stop it Bilbo, this is the enemy! No time to go swooning over a pair of nice rich blue eyes!

Bilbo clears his throat and puts on a sickeningly sweet smile. “The pleasure is all mine, Headmaster.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo rolled his shoulder to adjust the strap of his satchel while juggling the heavy box in his arms. It's not like he has a lot of stuff, just the necessary things one needs in a classroom. And now that he's teaching Year 7 and 8 students, (Yavanna help him) he'll have to be all the more prepared.

But that's not what's got Bilbo on edge and trying his very best not to topple over and look like a complete idiot. It's the fact that Mr. Oakenshield himself decided to escort Bilbo to his new classroom and walk side by side with him. Why he's doing that, Bilbo isn't sure. Normally when people hate each other don't both parties try to stay as far away as possible? He figures it must be a formality thing since he is the headmaster after all, but doesn't he have some underlings to help with that? Isn't this considered grunt work?

It's the deep voice that startles him and almost makes him drop everything. "Are you sure you can handle that?"

"Pardon?" Bilbo blinks between the box and the headmaster. There's no mocking undertone in his voice that would suggest he's making fun of Bilbo's inadequate lack of strength. It's more thoughtful than anything, and maybe even some concern if Bilbo listens hard enough.

"Erm, yes? I think I'm… quite fine?"

Mr. Oakenshield nods at him and stares straight ahead. He's got his hands clasped behind his back in a way that makes him appear very regal, as if he's walking with a purpose. His whole posture demands respect but at the same time repels it. It's a very weird description and the only really fitting one Bilbo's able to come up with.

"Thorin!"

Bilbo's never been good at surprises, so the not-so-manly squeak that comes out of his mouth is completely and totally involuntary. The look he gets from Mr. Oakenshield is a mixture of bewilderment and trying not to laugh though the amusement is clear as day on his face. Bilbo ducks his head and uses his curls to strategically cover the red blossoming across his cheeks. Oh could this get any more mortifying?

"S-sorry," he stutters. "M' not very good with surprises."

Mr. Oakenshield opens his mouth but is rudely interrupted as indicated by the glare he shoots off to Bilbo's side.

"Thorin, are you not going to help the laddie?" The reprimanding voice belongs to a rather short man with tufts of white hair sticking out at odd ends. Bilbo is instantly reminded of Santa Clause and tries not to snort at the image of the man in an obnoxious red suit.

"I think Professor Baggins here is quite capable of handling one box," Mr. Oakenshield grinds out. The force of that scowl could probably make any normal man or woman shrivel up into dust, but it seems to have no effect on the shorter man.

"Nevertheless, it's not good to leave the poor laddie here with all that weight in his arms!" He gestures to the box.

"Um, this laddie here is already 35," Bilbo pipes in. They both turn to him like they forgot he was still there.

"Well then, my apologies Professor." The Santa Clause look alike makes a very gracious bow and smiles when he pops right back up. "Balin, at your service."

"Bilbo Baggins. Um, I would shake your hand but—"

"Oh, not at all! Maybe once your hands are free—" He throws an accusing glance at Mr. Oakenshield "—you can introduce yourself properly."

Beside him Mr. Oakenshield grumbles something about 'lowering the pay of certain advisors.'

"Thorin," Balin chides.

He all but growls and lifts the box right out of Bilbo's arms. He handles it like it's nothing more than a pillow, and that's when Bilbo notices how toned his arms are. Bilbo's not exaggerating when he says those muscles are literally visible through Mr. Oakenshield's shirt and it makes the material stretch so thin. He tries not to gawk and stare because that's just really impolite. Not to mention creepy, especially when it's his boss. Whom he hates.

"Er, you really don't have to do that? I mean It's just one box I think I can manage—"

But Balin waves off the protest. "Nonsense! Thorin here is quite strong, not to worry." He leans in close to Bilbo and whispers loud enough to hear, "He's older than he looks."

Mr. Oakenshield growls again and stalks away. When Bilbo doesn't follow he gets a very curt, "Come now, Professor! I don't have all day!"

Balin winks and nudges him along. "Best get going, it's not advisable to leave a king waiting," he chuckles at his own joke which only he seems to get.

"Uh, right." Bilbo hurries down the hall to catch up with the headmaster. It's from this angle that he also notices Mr. Oakenshield's taut back muscles. It seems the man has muscles all over the place, although from his stocky build it's not that much of a surprise. He's also sporting a long ponytail which Bilbo didn't notice before, interwoven with braids and some intricately designed beads. How interesting..

He almost runs straight into the man when he stops abruptly in the middle of the hallway. He pops out from behind to see what all the fuss is about and sees they're in front of a classroom. Turns out it's Bilbo's new classroom.

"This is…" He points to the room. "Mine?"

"Who else's could it be?" Comes the gruff reply.

Bilbo stares at him, his brow furrowed and mouth hanging open, ready to make some kind of protest or snappy remark. Instead he presses his lips into a thin line and turns to stare at a spot on the wall with a little too much irritation. "I was just asking," he mutters under his breath.

He hears Mr. Oakenshield sigh, probably having had enough of Bilbo for one morning. Although the appearance of Mr. Balin seems to be the real source of aggravation. Before they even met him Mr. Oakenshield was surprisingly… not aggravated. Granted he still looked like that grumpy cat meme Bilbo's been seeing across the internet, but it was probably like a level 5 sort of grumpy that's now been ramped up to a level 20.

"Where would you like me to place your belongings?"

"What?" Bilbo suddenly remembers the box still in his arms. That might also be the cause. Surely having someone lug around a box wasn't very comfortable, even if that person was supposedly strong.

"Here, you can just give that to me I'm sure you have much better things to do—" Bilbo starts to say and holds out his arms to grab the box.

"It is fine." Mr. Oakenshield's voice easily overpowers Bilbo's words and it's enough to startle him. Mr. Oakenshield takes notice of that and clears his throat. "My apologies," he mumbles, "I forgot about your aversion to surprises."

"…Right." Did he just apologize?

They stand there in awkward silence until Mr. Oakenshield reminds him gently, "Your things."

"R-Right. Um." He looks around and spots an empty long table by the windows. "There should be fine," he points.

Mr. Oakenshield strides over and places the box down, his back muscles flexing and then smoothing out now that he no longer had to deal with the box's weight. Bilbo's staring too closely, he realizes, but he can't help it! The man is like a lumberjack! Was he raised by wolves or something?

Mr. Oakenshield spins around suddenly and has his hands clasped behind his back again. "Will that be all?" His face holds all the signs of impatience and 'I really wanna get the fuck out of here.'

Bilbo feels his forehead twitch with annoyance again and, puffing up his chest, "No, that will be all thank you very much Mr. Oakenshield. You can go back to your headmaster duties because I'm sure you have a number of things to do which cannot even compare to helping a teacher carry one measly box. You may go now." He lifts his chin to indicate to the doorway, like Bilbo is so terribly sorry he had to take up so much of Mr. Oakenshield's precious time.

Rather than responding or piercing Bilbo with his already signature glare, Mr. Oakenshield's staring at him curiously and once again Bilbo's privy to the sight of those blue eyes. But then he turns and the blue disappears along with it.

"Well then, I'll leave you to it. Organize the classroom as you see fit, it is yours after all." He walks past him and their shoulders brush just slightly. Whether it was intentional or not Bilbo doesn't know, but for some reason he gets the shivers which he's sure has nothing to do with the room's temperature.

Thorin Oakenshield seems to be a whole other story.

 


 

 It's about a week until Bilbo finally settles into his new classroom. There's still a week of summer left, meaning busy teachers running around trying to straighten out their classrooms and clean up before the return of their students.

It's probably the most stressful yet wonderful week of Bilbo's life. He's met some very interesting teachers, and while they're definitely not as sophisticated as the university professors they're a very happy and social bunch with very interesting beards. Not to mention their names all seem to rhyme with each other's but Bilbo thinks he'll get the hang of it soon. And during that whole week he doesn't catch a single glimpse of Mr. Oakenshield and his face of doom and gloom, so that might also account for Bilbo's good mood.

Balin, who is in fact the advisor and over-seer of all school related events, is the one who really helps Bilbo get settled in and find his way around. He outlines all the classrooms, the tricks to getting around when the hallways are too cramped with students, which lunch days are mystery meat days, etc. He even takes the liberty of introducing Bilbo to all the teachers.

The first person he meets is Balin's younger brother Dwalin, the P.E. teacher for Year's 7-8. He's quite a force to be reckoned with, all those tattoos covering his bald head and wrists. He has a bit of a gruff exterior which instantly reminds Bilbo of Mr. Oakenshield, but he opens up more quickly. According to Balin he has a real soft spot for the kids and is a menace to the older teenagers.

Next is Bifur, Bombur and Bofur. Bombur is head of the cafeteria and oversees all the cooking, while his cousin Bifur is one of the language teachers who teaches Khuzdul. His accent is quite heavy so Bilbo can't understand him very well, but the others are more than happy to translate for him. To Bilbo's surprise, Bombur's brother Bofur teaches English to the Year 9 and 10 students.

"Year 7 and 8 aren't ya? Looks like we'll be collaborating quite a lot! If you ever need anything just ask, always happy to oblige!" Bofur exclaims happily and gives a hearty pat to Bilbo on the shoulder.

Oin is the school nurse while Gloin is the other P.E. teacher for Year's 9-10. Supposedly there's another P.E. teacher but Balin doesn't come back to that and so Bilbo doesn't ask.

Dori teaches art to Year's 9 and above while Ori teaches Year's 7-8 (Ori is also somewhat of a newbie so he and Bilbo have plenty to bond over). Their brother Nori teaches science to the older kids, which surprises Bilbo because he figured all three brothers would stay in the same department.

"Nori's always been the black sheep in our family. He prefers to deal with explosions and that sort," Dori explains. Ori tends to nod along to whatever Dori says.

"Is that everyone?" Bilbo asks.

"Oh, not quite!" Balin replies as they enter the science classroom right next to Nori's. Two men immediately pop out of nowhere and Bilbo nearly gets a heart attack.

"Fili," the blonde haired man says.

"And Kili!" The darker haired one declares with a bit more authority.

"At your service," they say together and bow.

He's a little overwhelmed by their… enthusiasm. "B-Bilbo Baggins. As of today I teach Year's 7-8 English. And history." He almost forgets that, one of the last minute changes to his contract. He's mainly just been an English teacher this whole time. Why he decided to pursue a history degree he'll never know, but picking up two subjects should be interesting to say the least.

"Wait," Bilbo says after a moment, "Have we met before?"

Fili and Kili exchange a glance and both shake their heads.

"Don't think so."

"Can't say we have."

Huh, that's strange. Bilbo could have sworn he saw them somewhere, they look too familiar.

Next to him Balin chuckles. "These two are Thorin's nephews."

Wait, what? Bilbo stares at them. No, these two couldn't possibly—

As if on cue he starts noticing some very similar features, like the shapes of their eyes and the outlines of their noses and how Kili could pass off as a younger Thorin if he tried really really hard.

"Our mum teaches Year's 9-11 math," Fili says, even though Bilbo never asked.

"She's definitely a lot scarier than Uncle," Kili whispers and looks around to make sure neither one are in plain sight. Bilbo can't help chuckling, he feels like these two get in trouble quite a lot.

"Fili and Kili are the other science teachers. Nori's got Year's 9-11, Fili has Year 8 and Kili has Year 7," Balin explains.

"Bugger, I wanted Year 8," Kili pouts.

"First come first serve little brother." Fili pats him on the head and winks at Bilbo. "I also teach Year 9 history and Kili teaches Year's 7-8 math, so maybe our paths will cross."

"That would be nice," Bilbo smiles politely.

"Well then!" Balin claps his hands. "That's about everyone for today. I can introduce you to the others tomorrow if you would like. Wouldn't want to overwhelm you on your first day."

Bilbo nods his goodbyes to the two brothers and follows Balin. For someone of Balin's age he's surprised at how quickly he moves.

"I didn't know Mr. Oakenshield had nephews," Bilbo says once he's caught up.

"Aye. He has a mother and a father too," Balin replies wryly.

"Oh you know what I mean!"

"Well it is a family business after all." Balin rounds a corner a little too quickly which has Bilbo almost skidding face-first into a wall. "It's only natural the whole line of Durin works here."

"I guess that makes sense," Bilbo acknowledges, rubbing at where he banged his shoulder. He wonders what Thorin's sister is like.

As if reading his mind Balin remarks, "I can introduce you to Miss Dis if you'd like. We're not too far from the math classrooms."

"Um, s-sure?" To be honest Bilbo's a little nervous to meet the rest of the Durin family. Fili and Kili seemed alright, but if Miss Dis is anything like Thorin then count Bilbo out.

"Here we are!" Balin's already opening the door and Bilbo doesn't have enough time to prepare himself for this.

"Wait, Balin—" He starts weakly.

"Afternoon Miss Dis! Oh, Thorin."

Bilbo chokes on his next words and prepares to turn himself all the way around and walk away. He can deal with two nephews, but not two siblings no definitely not.

"I have Professor Baggins with me." Balin must have eyes at the back of his head because right as Bilbo's sneaking past he grabs ahold of Bilbo's collar reels him towards the front so they're both standing in the doorway. Drat.

"E-Erm, h-hello there," he nearly squeaks out.

Chapter Text

"So I hear there's a new English teacher."

Thorin picked off a stray piece of lint on his sleeve to try to prolong the inevitable. He knows that tone when he hears it, and it can only mean Dis is up to no good if she's already trying to weasel information out of him.

"Bilbo Baggins if I recall," Thorin responds in an even voice.

Dis hums and continues sorting through the rulers in her supply box. "I also hear he's got some impressive credentials."

"Does he now?"

Dis gives him a look. "Don't pretend like you didn't notice."

"What? I merely asked a question."

"A question that you already know the answer to."

Thorin scoffs. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Fine, suit yourself," she shrugs. It seems like the subject's dropped for the time being, but Thorin knows better because not a minute later does Dis ask, "So did you get his number?"

"Dis."

She puts her hands up in defense. "I'm just asking! Can't a sister be worried for her older brother?"

"No."

More silence.

"And besides," Thorin adds a second later, "I barely even know him. Also I don't think he likes me."

"Are we really chalking this all up to Mr. Baggins?"

"Pardon?"

"Thorin." She waves one of the 12 inch rulers at him. "We all know what a big tsundere you are—"

"A what?"

"—so suck it up and be nice to another human being for once!"

"You realize I have no idea what a tsunder… something is right?"

"Ask the boys," is all Dis says.

Thorin's still confused by the whole concept of a tsunder-whatever when the door opens to reveal Balin and—

"I have Professor Baggins with me," Balin states. Sure enough he's got the professor by the collar of his shirt, who currently has the appearance of a frightened rabbit about to be poached.

"E-Erm, h-hello there." His eyes dart between Thorin and Dis and he gulps. Thorin has a pretty good notion he just met Fili and Kili.

"Professor here had the lovely pleasure of meeting the boys, so I figured why not meet the rest of the family."

Ah, so he has.

"Bilbo, erm, Baggins. As of today I teach… English and history to, erm, Year's 7-8," he mumbles.

Dis smirks right at Thorin as if to say 'see, you do scare people.' She beckons Bilbo closer and they're rewarded with his awkward shuffling. She strides over and does a once-over of the professor, to which Thorin almost snorts because she's so much more taller than him (or the professor's just very short). She bends down and embraces him in a friendly hug.

"Uh, Dis," Thorin starts to say before the professor gets too uncomfortable. It'd be a shame to lose a new teacher already, he really looks like wants to bolt right out the door.

"Oh hush." Dis waves back to silence him. She releases the professor and smiles warmly at him. "Welcome to Erebor, I hope you've settled in nicely. If you ever need anything my door is always open.

The professor gawks at the warm welcoming, clearly not familiar with Dis' over-friendly nature. She's like that with everyone, Thorin wants to say. She's also trying to make fun of me for being a tsun-whatever, he doesn't say.

In his attempt to be friendly and not whatever Dis claimed him to be, what comes out instead is a very brusque, "Mr. Baggins, have you got all your affairs in order?"Well that wasn't what he was going for at all.

The professor looks past Dis and the awe on his face is now replaced with a frown. Dis on the other hand is about two seconds away from clobbering Thorin over the head. "Yes, I have thank you for asking Mr. Oakenshield," he answers in a tight voice.

Balin and Dis look equally disappointed in him but the damage has already been done. They both hold each other's heated gaze until the professor glances back at Dis and his features relax into a smile. "Thank you, I will most definitely seek out your counsel if I am ever in need."

Once they're out of the classroom with the door shut behind them, the professor sparing a glance and wave back at Dis but nothing for Thorin (which was to be expected), Dis throws at least ten different objects at Thorin's head. He almost gets his eyes gouged out with a stapler.

"What. Is. Wrong. With. You?!" She annunciates each word as she punches his arm.

Seriously, what is wrong with Thorin? Maybe he was better off getting his eyes stapled shut.

 


 

It's not that Thorin hates the professor. Yes, he did read through Professor Baggin's resume and yes he was deeply impressed. He was just surprised. He didn't expect someone with such credentials to apply for a job at Erebor, much less someone who came straight from Greenwood.

Let's just say he and Mr. Thranduil weren't exactly on the best of terms, something along the lines of an age old feud he'd rather not get into the details of. Hence his not so fuzzy persona upon meeting Mr. Baggins. And yet, Mr. Baggins was exactly everything Thorin wasn't expecting. He was.. witty, sarcastic, upfront. The moment he opened his mouth Thorin was completely taken aback by his whole everything.

He would also like to point out he did not actually partake in the creation of that damn contract.

"If you are so doubtful of my choice in teachers, then why not create a contract!" Gandalf suggested a week before their meeting with the new teacher.

"A contract?" What in Durin's name would a contract do?

"Yes! Since you are so hesitant to hire him."

"I am not being hesitant," Thorin said defensively.

"You most certainly are Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror—" Gandalf's voice rose at an embarrassing rate and with more grandeur than was actually needed.

"Gandalf," Thorin hissed and glanced around to make sure no one was within hearing range. The whole school did not need to hear his family lineage.

"What is it now, Thorin Oakenshield? Son of Thrain, son of—"

"Enough," he growled. Gandalf only chortled and looked immensely pleased with himself. He was enjoying embarrassing the everliving crap out of Thorin, wasn't he?

"You should be proud of your family line! Th—"

"If you start that up one more time I will throttle your neck," Thorin threatened, stepping up close.

Gandalf raised an amused eyebrow. "I was only going to say, Thorin, that your grandfather, father and the rest of your forbears would be quite proud to see you as the man you are today."

The sincerity of Gandalf's words makes him falter a bit, but if the old man thinks this will convince him into hiring a professor from Greenwood of all places… "Flattery will get you nowhere," Thorin replied dryly.

"And so it shall not!" He barked out laughing and slapped Thorin's shoulder.

Gandalf was an old friend of his father, the two going quite a ways back. He's not sure how they met, but Gandalf has sort of been a part of the family for a long time and if his father trusted him, then Thorin has to as well. Which also goes without saying that yes, the old man may have a point in there despite his kinks and what-have-you's (cursed old man). He brings it up with Balin later that day, who reacts with less grace than Thorin was expecting.

"A what?" Balin's eyes dart up from the paper he's reading at his desk, his eyes peering just over the rims of his glasses. "You want to make a what?"

"You heard me," Thorin said, raising his chin with a hint of defiance.

Balin blinked at him. "I'm sorry, but could you kindly repeat that?" Oh for Durin's sakes.

"You heard me the first time. I don't think I have to repeat myself again."

"Aye, and so I did laddie. But I'm an old man ya see."

"Please," Thorin scoffed, "You are not that old." And then, almost letting that comment fly over his head, "I am not a 'laddie,' I'm 38. Now are you going to write it or not?"

"You were being serious?!" The advisor cried out shrilly.

"Of course I was being serious! I wouldn't ask this of you if I wasn't!"

"It was Gandalf, wasn't it?" Balin took off his reading glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's always that old man, isn't it?" He muttered, rubbing his thumbs over his eyelids. It's then Thorin sees how much Balin has really aged. He often forgets how long this man's been serving his family.

"You know you don't have to do this," Balin sighed. Thorin almost shivers, because it's those same words that bring forth such painful memories, long before he became headmaster and after his grandfather's demise, after everything almost fell to ruin and Thorin had to pick up all the pieces again.

("You don't have to do this, you have a choice! You have done honorably by your family already. You don't have to burden yourself with something like this, Thorin."

The thing is? Thorin almost gives in, it's too easy. But of course that choice isn't up to him, it never was. "There is no choice Balin," Thorin smiles sadly, "Not for me.")

He wonders if Balin even gets the significance of what he just said. He doesn't, as he continues speaking, "If you really don't trust this new teacher then don't hire him to begin with! You don't have to listen to everything Gandalf says!"

Thorin stared at him for a moment. "You just don't want to write the contract, do you?"

Balin huffed and tilted his head up towards the ceiling. "By the graces of Mahal, where did I go wrong with this one?"

"You don't have to make it that long or anything—"

"I mentored you to the best of my abilities, and yet it's still not enough." It's like Balin doesn't even hear him.

"Balin—"

"You could have been so great, you had so much potential—"

"For Durin's sakes Balin would you just listen—!"

About an hour later the contract was finally written (with much complaining from a certain old man), complete with 12 pages containing lots of big words that even Thorin couldn't pronounce.

"Isn't this a little too.. wordy?" Thorin grimaced with the 12 page monstrosity now in his hands.

"It was a contract you wanted, wasn't it?" Balin snapped, eyeing him irritably.

"Aye," Thorin sighed, and waving the contract as he exited Balin's office, "And I thank you very much for creating this. Your services are most appreciated, as usual."

"Good to know I'm at least somewhat useful around here!" Comes Balin's dry remark.

 


 

Which now brought him to his present predicament: Professor Baggins did actually read through the contract, signed it, and now he's already a week on the job and Thorin's not so sure how to process that. For one thing, he should be relieved! The previous teacher before Professor Baggins, Mr. Radagast, was a little, how should he put it? Odd? Eccentric? He was a friend of Gandalf's, so maybe that was to be expected. Gandalf had odd friends all over the place, so when he brought up the hiring of a Mr. Bilbo Baggins Thorin was not as willing the second time around. But then Balin and Dis reminded him constantly of how much they needed a new teacher, Fili couldn't keep picking up extra classes and neither could Bofur despite his experience.

So yeah, Thorin should be relieved, not… whatever this is. Anxious perhaps? Or maybe he's just anticipating the calm before the storm, waiting for Professor Baggins to possibly screw up, endanger the school in some way, turn out to be a criminal, who knows. Thorin could go on and on, but he's not going to. He wasn't exactly all sunshine and rainbows the first time he met Mr. Baggins, so perhaps he should give the younger teacher a chance instead of firing him before the school year even begins.

Right, because giving people second chances is something Thorin is just superb at.

It goes as well as one would think. Thorin tries his absolute best to at least smile at the professor, but usually what comes out is a grouchy, "Professor," to which Mr. Baggins replies with a, "Mr. Oakenshield" in just the same voice, if more grouchy. "Be nice," Dis always hisses at him. Thorin only grumbles away until he admits that yes, he should probably be nicer but no, that isn't going to change any time soon.

One time, Thorin and Dwalin were heading to the cafeteria to grab a bite when Thorin literally ran straight into the young teacher. It was entirely his fault too, not seeing where he was going as he laughed his head off at Dwalin's crude jokes and falling all over himself.

"Oomf!" He hears somewhere at his chest. He blinks down in surprise at a floppy head of golden-brown curls. The owner of that hair lifts his face up and is already apologizing when half-way through he blanches at the sight of Thorin.

Professor Baggins' whole face has stilled, his eyes wide with an expression where he can't quite decide if he should run or snap at Thorin. With his body tucked into Thorin's chest like that he gets a better look at the professor's features. As usual, his curls are falling all over his face with his ears sticking out in an endearing (did he really just think that?) way under that mess of curls. His eyes are a of mix of hazel and blue and he's got a very peculiar button-like nose. In a way, it's quite… cute. Again, did he really just think that?

Beside him, Dwalin clears his throat loudly and that's when Thorin takes notice of his hands on the professor's shoulders, holding him in place which would he explain why he's still pressed flushed against Thorin. He quickly releases his shoulders and glares daggers off to the side of Mr. Baggins' head.

"You should watch where you're going," Thorin grumbles out a little too roughly for his liking.

The indecisive look on Mr. Baggin's face finally takes the form of a frown and his eyes harden with a hidden fire beneath. "Maybe you should be more aware of your surroundings, rather than laughing at stupid jokes like a 12 year old boy."

Dwalin guffaws loud enough that some of the teachers actually turn their heads around. Balin's eyebrow is arched up in question while Fili and Kili are staring at them with fascination. Dis looks decidedly unimpressed.

The young teacher looks extremely pleased with himself. "Ori," he calls out without breaking his gaze on Thorin. "You ready?" Ori appears at Mr. Baggins' side and glances nervously between the two of them. Mr. Baggins stands there for another minute and then walks past Thorin with Ori whispering not as inconspicuously as he thinks he is.

"My god!" Dwalin cries out and slaps his knee. "That was amazing! Thorin, you have keep him! Before you know it every teacher in the school will by rallying behind him!" He laughs again.

When they go up to get their food Bombur whispers to Dwalin, "What was that about?" Dwalin sniggers as Thorin tightens his jaw and glares at the food so hard it'll probably combust. He takes back that comment about the cute button nose, because Professor Baggins is not cute at all.

 


 

The second time Thorin really does try to be nice. Somehow though, the words he tries to get out never come out the way he wants them too. He doesn't normally have a problem with words, because he's the headmaster and it's basically his job to make grand speeches that will leave students hopefully inspired.

It's just that damn professor with the infuriatingly cute button nose who still isn't very cute.

Thorin really doesn't understand why he's so rude to the English teacher. You'd think by now he would have apologized for his ways, try to hold more civil conversations with Mr. Baggins, and then be on their way to becoming good co-workers and acquaintances. Thorin's a good person, really! He tries not to be selfish, or too proud like his grandfather, or let the whole headmaster thing get to his head—so there, he's not a bad person. Maybe it's that stubborn streak about him, refusing to let him give in and just act like a normal person around the teacher. Maybe it is pride. Either way, he doesn't know. He just knows that if he ever wants Mr. Baggins to at least tolerate him, he's gonna have to be less grumpy.

He's heading towards one of the classrooms, something about a broken projector that needs fixing. Thorin's always been good with his hands, having owned a small repair shop back in the day before things like 'headmaster' and 'running a whole school' came about. So naturally, he's the one most teachers call to when things go broken or lousy.

It's been a long day for Thorin, and he's loathe to admit that he's much more stressed out than he really should be. So the forwarded email he received from Balin isn't really read in its entirety, all he knows it that it's one of the English rooms so that's where he's going. That's why he doesn't pay much attention to his surroundings as he knocks lightly on the door and drawls out a, "Hey, I heard the projector was—" Whatever words he was going to say next are lost on his lips, because the moment he steps inside he's met with Mr. Baggins standing on top of his desk, trying to reach for the projector above him but to no avail no matter how much he stretches up on his toes.

"Oh! Thank goodness you're here!" Mr. Baggins says distractedly, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he strains one last time to reach the projector. He gives up with a huff and scowls at the machine. "The stupid thing here just turned off all of a sudden and…" Apparently Mr. Baggins is also at a loss for words as his eyes land on Thorin's dumbfounded figure in the middle of the room. "…won't… turn back on."

"Uh," Thorin blurts out dumbly. His eyes dart between the professor on the desk to the projector overhead. "I can… take a look." He walks over stiffly to the desk and waits by the side. Mr. Baggins doesn't move at first, and then realizing what Thorin's trying to do he quickly scrambles off only for Thorin to take his place. He hoists himself up onto the desk and reaches the projector with no difficulty in comparison to the professor. "What did you say the problem was again?" He asks quietly.

"It.. suddenly shut off. I-I tried turning it back on, first with the remote and then manually but nothing seemed to… work," Mr. Baggins answers. He fidgets with the seam of his sweater with his eyes pointed downward. Great, just great, way to go Thorin you have officially scared off your coworker.

He tries to dissolve the tension in the room by going for a light, "What a way to the start the school year."

At that Mr. Baggins lifts up his eyes, his face is already showing signs of a simmering glower and Thorin is so sure he's screwed up again. But then Mr. Baggin's whole face freezes, as if just registering Thorin's weak attempt at a joke. "Uh, yes," he clears his throat, continuing after a very pregnant pause, "Indeed. Off to a… great start, aren't we?"

"Ah, um, yes," Thorin coughs out awkwardly. He focuses his attention back on the projector, and after fiddling with it for a while he says, "Bulb."

"Pardon?"

"It's the bulb," Thorin repeats as he steps off the desk. "It's gone out. You'll need to replace it with another one."

"Oh, I see," Mr. Baggins nods along like it holds some significance. "I guess I'll have to go out and buy another one then."

"If you talk to Balin, he'll put in a word with the school's repairman and he'll replace it for you." Thorin dusts off his hands before clasping them behind his back, locking them in place to keep him grounded before the nerves take over and he royally screws up what seems to be a very neutral conversation, even if it is a little strained.

"I guess I will then." The professor rolls his lips and bobs his his head up and down.

Thorin really doesn't know if there's much else to say, so he spins on his heels and that's the end of the conversation. He feels like once he exits the classroom and away from Professor Baggin's presence, perhaps he'll be able to breathe better again. He's so focused on reaching fresh air that he almost misses the faint, "Thank you," and nearly walks straight into the wall, dodging it by just a hair. He hears what must be an amused snort but he doesn't really stay to find out because now he really needs some air.

"You're welcome," he rushes out in one breath and closes the door with a little too much force. He quickly marches down the hallway, makes it past the flight of stairs and finally reaches his office, stopping to catch his breath and willing his heart to calm down. He's pretty sure that small bout of exercise had absolutely nothing to do with his physical state right now.

"Are you alright?" Balin asks a little apprehensively.

"Fine. Just fine," Thorin manages out. He takes a deep breath before facing his advisor and forces out a smile.

Balin squints at him, then shrugs and asks, "Did you take care of the broken projector?"

"Yes. Just a broken bulb, that's all. You should be expecting an email from Professor Baggins shortly." For some reason he can feel his face heating up as he speaks.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

No, no he isn't. He really doesn't know if he'll be able to survive this school year.

Chapter Text

Bilbo took a deep breath as he stared at his reflection in the school's bathroom mirror. He looked good, professional even. He had on his favorite cardigan and a nicely pressed button down underneath, his slacks fit just right around his waist (his daily treks to the gym were finally paying off), and his hair was neatly brushed even if it was terribly long and curled all over the place. But oh, did Bilbo not feel good at all. He was a nervous wreck, he barely got any sleep last night and his stomach was doing somersaults and backflips and all sorts of acrobatics that did not sit well with his meager breakfast.

It was the first day of school. And that meant Bilbo would be meeting his new students for the first time. And that meant he'd have to learn quickly what worked and what didn't work in the classroom. And that meant he'd need to adjust his teaching and try different styles. And then that meant—

"Okay, just. Stop it, Bilbo." He closed his eyes and sucked in another haggard breath. He was going to be fine. This was all going to be just fine. This was supposed to be an exciting day! He was never this nervous whenever he was greeted with new university students.

"Bilbo, you are going to be just fine," Gandalf assured him for the umpteenth time that night. He had called to make sure Bilbo was okay and comfortable with his new job, only to be greeted with the sound of a very frantic Bilbo.

"Sure. Of course. I am most definitely going to be fine." Even to Bilbo's own ears he sounded hysterical.

"See, that's the spirit—"

"No, no no no no no no I am definitely not going to be fine." Bilbo took his head in his hands and groaned.

The conversation proceeded in that same pattern for the rest of the night until Gandalf just about lost it and told Bilbo to grow a pair. A pair of what, he's not so sure but he has a very distinct idea.

Bilbo ducks his head into the sink to splash his face one more time and slap his cheeks to get some energy going. He can do this. They're just kids, nothing more. This isn't like he's marching off to battle and putting his life on the line.

The bathroom door swings open just then and, assuming it's Bofur, calls out, "I'll be out in a minute!" The whole morning Bofur, Fili, and Balin had been comforting him and spouting all sorts of reassuring nonsense. Their words could only get so far, but they did help to their own extent. Bilbo lifts his head up and grabs a paper towel to dab his face. He looks in the mirror to inspect his appearance one more time and nearly yells bloody murder.

It's not Bofur who came in. It's Thorin.

"M-Mr. Oakenshield?" He squeaks out.

Said man blinks at him. "Wow. You really are bad with surprises."

Bilbo hides his face behind the paper towel. "I am so sorry."

"You almost gave me a heart attack."

"I think I almost gave myself one," Bilbo mumbles into the paper towel. He slowly turns around to face him and peeks an eye out. "Um, I'm sorry?" He tries again.

"It's… quite alright." His hand is still resting on the doorknob with only half his body through the doorway. He must have just stepped inside like any normal person who needed to use the loo and then froze to the spot when he heard Bilbo's screaming. Wait. That meant…

"People heard me," Bilbo states as the realization hits him. The door is partially open.

"What?"

Bilbo groans into his paper towel. "Oh my god."

"Professor?"

"I think the whole school just heard me," he nearly whimpers. Yavanna, why?!

"Are you sure you're okay?" Mr. Oakenshield asks worriedly. Well of course he's worried, he needs to make sure his faculty is in tip top shape, not crying in hysterics and screaming like they just saw a zombie. There is no way he's concerned over Bilbo's personal well-being.

"Um, yes? Sort of?" Bilbo answers tepidly.

"Um—"

"Do you ever get nervous?" The question popped out of nowhere before Bilbo could even think it through. He wants to scoff at that notion because of course Mr. Oakenshield wouldn't be nervous. He's the headmaster of a very prestigious academy and almost saved it from burning to ashes. There is no way Thorin Oakenshield gets nervous.

Which is why his answer surprises Bilbo and forces him to lower his makeshift of a paper towel cover.. thing.

"Sometimes," he answers quietly. He sighs and shuts the bathroom door, closing off the last of the light so they're only standing under the dim bathroom lights. He leans against the door and crosses his arms. "Is that what's got you all anxious?" He asks, his deep voice resonating in the empty bathroom. It's a little intimidating to be honest, but it seems to have a calming effect on Bilbo's nerves.

"…If I say yes are you going to bite my head off?"

Mr. Oakenshield looks at him funny. "Am I really that scary?" Bilbo's not sure if he should answer, it seems more like a rhetorical question.

"If I also yes to that, are you still going to bite my head off?"

"I think the idea of biting your head off is not as appetizing as you think." There's a heavy trace of amusement in his voice.

"I might be, you never know."

The chuckle that echoes from the man's chest is another surprise. Today seems to be 'discover what emotions Thorin Oakenshield secretly harbors' day, because right after he says, "Would you like to talk about it? I sometimes find that talking helps when one is nervous."

"Um, Mr. Oakenshield—"

"Please, just—call me Thorin. If we are to be working together we may as well get used to calling each other by first name."

Bilbo's quite aware there isn't a clock in the bathroom, and he definitely knows the opening ceremony to welcome the students doesn't start for another 30 minutes so they have some time. Whether or not Mr. Oaken— Thorin, actually wants to spend that time listening to the plights of a mere teacher is beyond Bilbo. Regardless, he does have a point. Talking could do wonders for Bilbo's anxiety at the moment.

"I don't know, I guess…" He leans his shoulder against the wall. "I don't know. I'm supposed to be something of a veteran, you know? And then here I am, completely flustered and totally in the unknown." He laughs self-deprecatingly at the ground. His worries must seem petty in comparison to Thorin's, who has a whole school to run and billions of students to keep in line. Compared to him, Bilbo's worries are just hogwash.

"No I—I get that."

Bilbo brings his head up and is met with the gentlest expression he's ever seen on the man. Then he realizes: it's vulnerability. This is Thorin about to open up to Bilbo. This is—what is this, exactly?

"When I first started my job here, I didn't know a thing about teaching. Much less running a whole school, you know? That was more of my grandfather's thing, and observing rather than doing was something I was much better at." He pauses while he considers his next few words. They're words Bilbo will probably remember for life when he thinks back on this moment.

"First day of work, I was in this very bathroom having a panic attack of my own." At Bilbo's noise of disbelief Thorin smiles and ducks his head. "Yes, yes, I was in your same position. Soak it in, I know it must be hard to imagine." No, what's hard to imagine is that blush overtaking Thorin's face.

"Well, no. I mean yes! No, I mean." Bilbo huffs and starts over. "I mean, yes, it is a surprise. Because you're so, you know, you." Thorin raises his eyebrow. "You know what I mean. You're a resilient, strong sturdy presence here at Erebor. Your teachers quite literally worship the ground you walk on. No seriously, I've actually seen Fili and Kili kiss the ground after you walked away."

Thorin barks out a laugh and it's a nice rich sound, the kind that emanates from the belly of one's stomach and rises all the way up to the chest. Bilbo decides he quite likes that sound. What makes this all the more endearing is that darn blush spreading across Thorin's face at rapid speed.

"I didn't realize my nephews thought so highly of me," he says wryly.

"Well, yeah," Bilbo replies like it's obvious. "Everyone thinks highly of you."

"And you?"

"What about me?"

"What do you think of me?"

It's such a direct question. Most of all it's completely out of left field, and Bilbo doesn't even know where to begin with that answer. He wasn't kidding when he said half the faculty actually worshipped Thorin like a legit king. He's never seen such loyalty in his life. If they were all ever in a life or death situation and death was the only way out, he's pretty sure everyone would follow Thorin to their imminent deaths. He's not kidding, really.

He supposes the reason for this question would be their very obvious dislike for each other from the beginning. Thorin had made it quite clear he didn't think Bilbo was very qualified, and Bilbo was absolutely horrified by his personality. But then there were moments like when Thorin helped carry Bilbo's belongings to his new classroom, or the kindness of Miss Dis that made him remember broodiness wasn't an inherited trait, or when he was laughing that day in the cafeteria with Mr. Dwalin. Yes, he has his good and his bad moments. No, that first impression wasn't the best. But in this moment, as they're standing in the men's bathroom sharing their deepest darkest fears, Bilbo realizes Thorin's just a normal human being. He has his flaws and his worries, and right now he's trying to ease some of Bilbo's worries. So no, Thorin isn't the spawn of Morgorth or Morgorth reincarnated or anything.

"I think… there's more to you than meets the eye," is the answer Bilbo finally comes up with. It's the most thoughtful one he can come up with that isn't a blatant lie but also speaks volumes of Thorin's personality.

It turns out be a satisfying answer because Thorin smiles and it's like Bilbo's whole perspective of the man has changed. Yes, there is so much more to Thorin than he imagined, and yes Bilbo's very eager to find that out.

"That's a very kind answer, considering how I didn't leave the best first impression on you." His smile turns into a grimace and oh how Bilbo would kill to see that smile again. It was such a rare moment.

"You know, my mother always said, 'Life will start out rocky Bilbo my dear. But it's up to you to get over those rocks and find the path again.'" Bilbo smiles fondly at the memory. He really does miss his mother.

"Your mother is a very wise woman," Thorin says softly.

"Yes, she was," Bilbo agrees wistfully.

Thorin looks like he wants to apologize, but then his face softens out and he smiles again. "Perhaps I will use that quote as an inspiration for my students."

Bilbo chuckles. "Perhaps I shall too."

As they stand there smiling at each other and not really saying anything, Bilbo notices this is getting way too intimate and a little more than friendly and clears his throat. "We should ah," he gestures to the door Thorin's blocking.

"Ah, right." Thorin straightens up and holds the door open for Bilbo. "After you."

And then it's like the present comes rushing back and Bilbo is once again put on edge. "Right. Well! Best get this over with then, shall we?" He walks past Thorin and out into the open light. It will certainly be an adventure to remember.

 


 

The first few weeks of school are… interesting, to say the least. After some fumbling, getting the classroom numbers wrong, and tripping just about every other day Bilbo's managed to get in the swing of things. He didn't realize how many Year 7 and 8 students he'd be teaching, but he guesses that's to be expected when one attends such a big school as Erebor. He's gotten to know a lot about his students, like which ones are the troublemakers, which ones are the studious hard-workers, and which ones are having family troubles at home. Call it a teacher's intuition or something.

And surprisingly enough, he's starting to really like his new job. Now that's not to say he hasn't had a few panic attacks along the way. He's had to seek out Bofur's counsel on more than one occasion, and he may have had to break up a fight which was turning a little too frisky in his English class just a week ago but it's really not that bad. There were also many occasions where he was so sure he was going to get fired, but really it was just Thorin doing his job as headmaster as he observed Bilbo's teaching.

"It's because you're the newbie," Bofur explains to him over lunch. "Gotta keep an eye on you, make sure you're not teaching any baloney to the students you know?"

Okay, Bilbo can handle that. What he can't handle is the way Thorin stares at him during those observations. Sometimes it seems like he's more interested in the lesson than the students (or just Bilbo in particular but he could be totally wrong there), and Bilbo's a teacher so he knows a bored student when he sees one.

After the first day of Thorin's observation Bilbo walks up and wrings his hands nervously. "I-I'm really sorry if it was boring. I don't know how interesting these history lessons seem to you but I gather they're quite boring—"

"Professor." But the tone of Thorin's voice is far from annoyance. His eyes are definitely smiling even if his face isn't. Another thing Bilbo's learned about the mysterious Thorin Oakenshield: he speaks through his eyes. If you ever want to tell if Headmaster Oakenshield is lying, just look at his eyes and you'll know immediately. And he plans on keeping that secret to himself thank you very much.

"Trust me, it was not boring in the slightest," Thorin reassures. "I quite liked the lesson. You may need to give me private lessons just in case." He winked. The man just winked at him. And then he… he laughed. Bilbo so didn't blush at that.

His laughter must be a rare thing around here, because from across the hall Bofur and Nori start making all sorts of frantic hand motions at Bilbo and mouthing, 'DID HE REALLY JUST LAUGH?' Thankfully Thorin doesn't notice as Bilbo discreetly signals for them to knock it off because they look like mimes spazzing out to be quite honest.

"Is something wrong?" Thorin takes note of Bilbo's distraction and tilts his head at him.

"Hmm? Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. A fly, I think." Bilbo's smile reaches all the way up to his eyes.

Later after Thorin leaves and Bilbo's ready to head down to the teacher's lounge, Bofur and Nori quite literally assault him and interrogate him about Thorin's out of nowhere laugh.

"I really don't see what the big deal is," Bilbo shrugs. "I've heard him laugh before. Is it really that big of a deal?" He doesn't mention they were in a men's bathroom when this happened. Oh how the rumor mill would fly.

Nori grasps Bilbo's shoulders and stares at him so gravely. "It's the music of angels singing above."

"Every time he laughs, a baby is born," Bofur chips in.

"A puppy dies and goes to heaven."

"That's a bit morbid don't you think?" But Bilbo's comment goes unnoticed.

"Fili and Kili actually behave themselves for once."

"HEY!" Fili pokes his head out of one of the nearby classrooms. Kili's pops out right on top with a scowl to match his brother's.

"Although he does have a point." Fili looks up at his younger brother. "Uncle hardly laughs."

"Perhaps Mr. Baggins here is special then," Kili grins wickedly and suddenly Bilbo finds himself fearing for his life.

"I-I highly doubt that," Bilbo laughs nervously.

"Didn't you say Uncle didn't like you very much upon your first meeting?"

"Well."

"Oh, then you're definitely special laddie," Bofur says with a cheeky grin of his own.

"I am 35, how many times do I have to keep reminding you people?" Bilbo huffs in mock-exasperation. Truth be told, the nickname's actually starting to grow on him.

 


 

In fact, there are a lot of things starting to grow on Bilbo here. As a professor, he remembers being too high-strung and possibly a little strict when it came time for yearly examinations or students rushing to make up extra work. The environment here is so much more different; it's welcoming, friendly, fun. He's more relaxed than he's ever been in his whole life. The only stress he has to deal with is figuring out what to wear that day. He doesn't have to come up with very difficult lessons, and the projects he assigns are fairly easy.

He's also proud to say he's made some wonderful friends along the way. Bofur, bless his soul, has become his agony aunt with a willing ear to listen. Balin and Dori invite him out for coffee sometimes on the weekends, Bombur exchanges recipes with him, Bifur gives him pointers on how to improve his Khuzdul, and Ori will often seek his advice on improving his teaching methods.

And maybe if it weren't for Fili and Kili's daily antics, Bilbo's pretty sure he might die of boredom on those really boring days when his students refuse to participate. At the moment, the two brothers are in a prank war with Nori and Dwalin and occasionally Gloin.

"You're not in on it?" Bilbo asks Oin.

"I usually leave the dirty work to my brother," Oin grumbles in response.

When Miss Dis or Thorin aren't there to scold them, it's usually up to Balin and that's the only excuse he ever needs to leaves his office (if he ever leaves it at all). Bilbo's been there, he's seen the war zone. It's not pretty.

Even now as he's staring at all the paperwork, the messy bookshelves, the papers spilling out from every nook and cranny, he can't help the involuntary shudder that ripples throughout his body. "How do you even have a life?"

"That's the secret to this job: I don't," Balin answers conspiratorially.

"Oh, come now!" Bilbo rolls his eyes. "Surely you have a special someone waiting for you at home. Your life can't revolve around Fili and Kili 24/7."

"Trust me, his life depends on it," comes Thorin's voice. He's propped against the door frame staring down at some papers and Yavanna have mercy is the man wearing glasses?

Bilbo almost whines at the sight because Thorin wearing glasses is… well it's something. It makes the silver in his hair even more prominent, which is a good thing because Thorin is probably the only man on the face of this earth who can pull that off. It's really unfair.

Since that day in the bathroom he and Thorin have been on mutually good terms with each other. They'll exchange a few jokes (Thorin is surprisingly funny), chat over similar interests, small things like that. When you get right down to it and past that brooding exterior of his, Thorin is actually a very sweet man. You can tell by the way he smiles to himself after scolding his nephews for the fifth time that day, when he's laughing with Miss Dis with his arm slung around her, or when he's spitting retorts back and forth with Dwalin.

Bilbo suddenly remembers he's in the way of Thorin's path and hastily moves to get out of his way.

"Sorry! You probably need to talk with Balin. I'll just—" Of course, of course, Bilbo and Thorin do that thing where they're mirroring each other's movements and it's not until Thorin places a firm hand on Bilbo's forearm to move him aside that he starts swooning. Yes, the headmaster just touched Bilbo's forearm, what an eventful part of his day.

"Mr. Baggins?"

"Y-Yes?!" Bilbo jolts and finds the two men staring at him like they're waiting for him to—

"Oh! Right, right! I'll get out of your hair now don't mind me." He hurries out and tries not to trip over his own feet in the process.

 


 

Thorin's still staring after Bilbo with what could be described as a deep admiration. Or fondness, either way he's staring at Bilbo for far too long. He hears Balin clear his throat and has to steel his features.

"You're swooning."

"I am not."

"Uh-huh," Balin acknowledges with a 'yeah right' hidden underneath.

He is not swooning. Thorin Oakenshield doesn't swoon, he chases after what he wants. It's not his fault if he finds the professor more interesting than he should.

"You're still staring," Balin points out.

"Shut up, Balin."

Chapter Text

Thorin can pinpoint the exact moment when he lost his faith in humanity altogether, and somehow it all leads back to his screw up of a family (oh the joys of being the eldest son). He'd say it all began the day his grandfather finally landed himself in the hospital. Thror had been putting off his illness for so long, skipping out on his much needed doctor's appointments and ignoring the pleas of his family. Really, he brought it on himself, and to see him lying on that sickbed all shriveled up like a prune was something Thorin had been expecting for a long time.

The line of Durin was a proud bunch, Thror being the proudest of the proud, and Erebor Academy was his ultimate pride and joy. It prospered greatly under his leadership, and some people would even move to the UK just so they could send their kids here. Ironically, it was that same pride that got the better of Thror, refusing help from his own family and rotting to waste. Then somewhere along the way there was a massive amount of debt and the school was losing money quickly. Kids were withdrawn from school, many teachers quit and moved on, and Erebor Academy soon lost all of its prestige.

Thorin was only in his mid twenties when this all happened, filled with the delusion that his grandfather was still the great man from way back when and would live to see 100. So imagine his surprise when he discovered Thror was the source of the massive debt, squandering away the school's money on Durin know's what until there was nothing left of it. He'd confronted Thror countless times, only to have to him deny any of it when the proof was all there, laid out on the table (figuratively and literally) for all to see. His grandfather promised he would change his ways, get the money back somehow and restore Erebor. But as always, his love for money came first and promises which were once so fulfilling at one point became nothing but empty words. Eventually, old age and the illness caught up to him and he passed away.

Now his father on the other hand, Thrain, tried to ease the money burden as much as he could and restore what little there was of Erebor's reputation. He handled things in a way that was so different from Thror, always making sure there was a little bit of money leftover, always being over-prepared, always thinking before he made any brash decisions. Thrain was careful that way, which was why Erebor started to prosper yet again. He was so close, so ready to fully take on the position as headmaster and leave his old job at the oil mining company. That was also the same year planes started going missing across the Atlantic.

Thrain had to leave for the states when he heard a distant cousin of his was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Everyone in the family was against it, but Thrain would hear none of it, insisting he needed to go and support his cousin.

("I'll be back, I promise! It's just a couple hours away. I'll call when I land, promise!")

The plane never did land, and after weeks of searching only the tip of the plane's wing was found. Whatever wreckage was left was already swept up by ocean, and so closure was brought to all the grieving families.

Apparently that year seemed to be the year of death and destruction for Thorin, because not a month later his beloved little brother Frerin was struck and killed by a drunk driver. The driver got prison for life, and Thorin… Well, his mother, while very much the leader Thrain was, could in no way handle everything. Dis had her own budding family to take care of so it was out of the question that she even have any part in this. Take away two and you're left with one, so if you did your math correctly it was Thorin who had to deal with the brunt of the never-ending shitstorm called life.

By the time he turned 35, he'd somehow managed to pull Erebor back to it's original glory. Now that's not to say he didn't encounter a couple hardships along the way. He's learned a lot of things through this job, like don't trust people too easily (*cough* Mr. Thranduil *cough*), coffee and protein bars are not a sufficient diet (he learned that one after passing out in his office), and don't work through the night only to get three hours of sleep and then work for eight hours straight with no breaks in between (again, learned that one after passing out).

But the most important, the most valuable lesson of all? Second chances don't come and should not be given easily, and promises are meant to be broken. He learned those last two the hard way. To be fair though, one can't blame him for his lack of faith in anything. The world was a cruel place, taking both his father and brother from him, for turning his grandfather from honorable to greedy. Fili, who had dreams of entering the navy, and Kili, who wanted to join the air force since he was sixteen, were forced to obtain teaching degrees due to their changed circumstances. Dis reassured him they were fine, if it was to help the family they'd be more than willing and plus Kili actually enjoyed math and science. It still didn't make it any easier. He had no right to take away their dreams like that. They shouldn't be forced to take on this burden, especially not a free spirit like Fili who would fill in Thorin's shoes with time. Thorin had no choice, whereas the boys did.

Another lesson? Life just isn't fair.

Thorin endured it all for those 10 long years, trying to run a whole school and willing it not to collapse right under his fingers, struggling with the overwhelming guilt of taking away the boys' dreams, and just being a good son, brother, and uncle in general. Thankfully he's had a lot of support along the way or he never would have made it. There was Dwalin's never-ending loyalty and friendship, Dis' kind heart, and Balin who quickly became a mentor and father figure to Thorin in those 10 years. His numerous lectures are not to be missed though.

And everything he's believed in since then? Everything about no second chances, promises are a bunch of bullshit, etc., etc.? Well, little does he know that's all about to be tested by a certain professor.

"You've got that look on your face again."

He didn't even hear Dis stepping into his office. She's leaning against the wall with her arms crossed and a knowing curve to her lips.

"What look?"

"You know, that look." She waves her hands vaguely to indicate. "The one where you brood, feel guilty at just about everything in your life whether it's your fault or not. That look."

Thorin raises an eyebrow. "I do not brood."

"Riiiiiiiight. Should I take a picture to show you?"

Thorin harrumphs and returns back to his work. Except his eye catches Professor Baggin's signature on the nearby contract and he feels that anxiety swell up in his chest again.

"Don't worry so much," comes Dis' quiet voice. "Have a little faith, brother."

Thorin meets her eyes and there's a sadness, some kind of melancholy he hasn't seen in a long while. Dis, his baby sister, the only woman aside from their mother he could ever love, his anchor. Sometimes he forgets she's going through the same thing he is, and 10 years or not Dis still feels that pain as strongly as he does. He pushes his seat back and walks over to her, cupping her cheek and planting a firm kiss on her forehead.

"Mhmm, what's that for?" She hums, tilting her head up at him.

"Nothing. Just wanted to say I love you," Thorin shrugs.

Dis snorts but reaches up to peck him on the cheek anyways. "Love you too big bro."

Maybe for Dis' sake, he will have a little faith in the professor. Only a little of course.

 


 

Thorin's aware of a ringing sound somewhere in his office, but he's not sure where it's coming from exactly. Then again he was also sure he had just seen an elephant not two minutes ago but learned that was mainly just the exhaustion talking. He waits a couple more minutes to make sure there is a ringing sound, which seems to grow louder and clearer as the minutes pass.

"Your phone!" Balin's voice bellows out.

Thorin scrambles about his desk trying to find it under the mess of papers. He swiftly knocks over a pile in his haste to pick up the receiver and has to refrain from groaning once the connection gets through.

"Hello?" He says breathlessly, straightening up his tie and shirt even though the person on the other line obviously can't see him.

"Ah, Mr. Oakenshield. I'm glad my call finally got through to you."

Thorin's hand stops its fiddling and he scowls at the caller ID. Smaug.

"Mr. Smaug," Thorin greets in an overly polite voice, loud enough that Balin comes shuffling into his office uneasily. "What does he want?" Balin whispers. Thorin shrugs and presses the speaker button so they can both listen in on the call.

"I take it you received my email from the last week?" Mr. Smaug asks in that slick voice of his, the kind that radiates arrogance and an ego-filled personality all over the place. Thorin can actually feel it seeping through the speakers and out into the room and he shivers at such a disgusting feeling.

"Ah, yes I did. How could I have forgotten?" Thorin doesn't even try to conceal his sarcasm.

"That is reassuring to know. I was afraid you hadn't when I didn't receive a reply from you," he all but sneers. There's definitely a separate message implied under those words. Thorin has a pretty good notion of what that is, and he intends to hit it right on the nail full force.

"Well, you should be happy to know I am not my grandfather. My advisor, Mr. Balin you remember him? He makes sure to keep track of all my emails and daily tasks, something dear old grandpa didn't seem to appreciate," he sighs sadly and shakes his head. "Mahal rest his soul. I'm sure he'd be happy to see you continuing to take care of us and checking up on our funds. It is always such a pleasure to have you working with us."

He can hear Mr. Smaug grinding his teeth on the other end and smiles proudly at how easy it is to get under the man's skin sometimes. Even Balin can't help snickering.

"Well.. yes, Thror was a.. very good companion." He says that last word with great difficulty, sounding out all the letters and vowels but it just sounds awkward coming from him. Probably because it's a big fat lie and everyone knows Smaug hates the Durin family with a burning passion of a thousand flames. Smaug was the school's tax collector and head of The Laketown Tax Firm, previously The Dale Tax Firm during his grandfather's time. He was a real menace to Thorin's family. He remembers the man always marching into school with his dark pinstripe suits and an ever-present fire in his eerie golden eyes, threatening to tear down the school and take away its funds if Thror didn't pay up. He even had the gall to show up at Thorin's childhood home multiple times. The family had taken it into court to try and request a restraining order against him. If it wasn't for Thrain Smaug probably would have destroyed Erebor, and now Thorin was left to deal with this horrid man. Oh the things he did for this family.

"As usual, I admire your new attitude as headmaster," the tax collector praises in a flat voice. Thorin can practically feel the sincerity overflowing from the man.

"Thank you. And as usual, I admire your promptness. The payment for this year has already been sent to your offices and should arrive within the week. The next installment will be sent in the next few months or so. Is there anything else?"

"No, of course not. I shall be in contact with you again Mr. Oakenshield. Good day," he ends the line brusquely.

Thorin snorts and throws the phone onto the receiver dock. "That's what he gets for picking on my family."

Balin chuckles and rolls his eyes good-naturedly. "I swear, one day Mr. Smaug will come marching into your office with all sorts of threats."

"Nothing I haven't handled or seen before," Thorin huffs. He leans back in his chair far enough so that his head is tilted up towards the ceiling. "Besides, I have more pressing matters to think about."

"Oh, that's right. Tomorrow is the big day."

"Maybe too big for me," Thorin mutters as Balin steps back into his own office.

 


 

It's the first day of school, and with everyone running around getting ready for the opening ceremony and putting the last final touches in their classrooms it's easy to forget those small, insignificant details. Like a certain young professor and where he might be off to.

And besides, Thorin has his own things to worry about too. He has to make the opening speech, greet the new students and reassure worried parents countless times that yes, their children were in safe hands and no, they would not go missing despite the vast halls of Erebor. Thorin is always a bit on edge at the start of every new school year despite making the same speech about meeting new people, be nice, and don't be scared because everyone else is just as scared too! He supposes it has to do with this never-ending dread of his that one day, Erebor may fall in the same way it fell at his grandfather's hands. And this time it'll be Thorin's fault, and by then Erebor may really be on its way to ruin. He hopes he never has to see the look on Smaug's face when (if) that happens.

Dwalin doesn't really have much to prepare and is probably one of the only calm teachers here, so he and Thorin decide to pass the time by sitting out in the hallway near the art rooms as Dori and Ori fuss about. He really needs to take a breather or he's going to freak out at the next teacher who asks if their classroom looks presentable enough.

"Ready for a new school year?" Thorin asks.

"As ready as I'll ever be," Dwalin replies gruffly. They hear a shriek and a crash from the classroom followed by, "Ori, clean that up we only have a half hour!"

"Your boyfriend is as clumsy as ever," Thorin mumbles, smirking at the red splotches on his cousin's cheeks.

"H-He's not my boyfriend!" Dwalin stutters out. Boyfriend or not, he's been crushing on Ori ever since Dori introduced everyone to his much younger brother. Ori had squeaked and blushed furiously when he first met Dwalin, and it was clear the timid brother out of the three was crushing just as hard as Dwalin was. Whether they were both aware of each other's interest was beyond Thorin, but he's played enough of Cupid's messenger to know that they were as oblivious as a piece of wood.

"You sure about that, dear cousin of mine? Because we're sitting in quite a strategic area where both Mr. Dori and his brother are within perfect hearing distance—"

Dwalin clears his throat loudly over Thorin's words and (the bastard) decides to change topics by asking the question Thorin's been dreading this whole time. "Real question is, are you ready for the new year?"

Thorin lets out a long-suffering sigh and frowns at the wall opposite them. It's covered in paintings and drawings from past years, and he finds himself smiling a little at a badly drawn house with a hearty stick figure family and a sun in the corner. If only things were as simple as a child's drawing. "We'll see, I guess," he finally replies. He stands up then, dusting off his pant legs and stretching. "Gotta take a piss, be back in a sec."

Dwalin wrinkles his nose disapprovingly. "Oi! I didn't need to know that!"

Thorin snorts and waves at him. He walks down the hallway towards the bathroom located around the corner at the end of the hall. He passes by the English classrooms along the way and subtly looks into each one, wondering if he'll catch a glimpse of the professor. He's a little disappointed when he passes by Mr. Baggin's classroom to see that it's dark with no sign of life inside. He sighs, rounds the corner and pushes into the bathroom only to be met with a scream of utter terror.

"M-Mr. Oakenshield?" Comes the timid, unmistakable voice of a certain teacher.

What happens next is… nice. Unexpected, but nice in a way. He offers to hear the professor's worries, listening intently and nodding along at all the right places. When you get right down to it, Professor Baggins is rather… human, normal. Which isn't a bad thing at all, just that Thorin always saw him as someone quite brave. Small at heart, but brave, confident, witty, and ready to defend his honor when it needed defending. To hear his worries and anxieties puts a fresh perspective on things, and before he knows it Thorin's revealing his own past anxieties.

"When I first started my job here, I didn't know a thing about teaching. Much less running a whole school, you know? That was more of my grandfather's thing, and observing rather than doing was something I was much better at." He pauses, blinking back his surprise at this sudden confession. He wets his lips and continues on. "First day of work, I was in this very bathroom having a panic attack of my own."

When he looks up Professor Baggins is rather shocked, in awe almost, not quite believing the words out of Thorin's mouth. For some reason this brings a shy smile to Thorin's face and he ducks his head out of embarrassment. "Yes, yes, I was in your same position. Soak it in, I know it must be hard to imagine." He almost regrets teasing Dwalin earlier because his own cheeks are starting to heat up. This is probably what one refers to as 'karma.'

And then somewhere along the way, talking of his nephews kissing the ground after him and "You're a resilient, strong sturdy presence here at Erebor" (he pretends he doesn't feel a swell of pride at that), Thorin asks, without thinking, "What do you think of me?"

Mr. Baggins looked taken aback, unsure how to proceed with his face scrunched up in thought. It's a couple minutes later when he finally replies, "I think… there's more to you than meets the eye." He ends with a small smile and wow, just—wow. Thorin can feel his heart fluttering in his chest. He smiles back at him, but then frowns as he says, "That's a very kind answer, considering how I didn't leave the best first impression on you."

The younger teacher reassures him with a lovely quote from his mother, and Thorin is an absolute knucklehead because turns out his mother is dead and Thorin feels like a complete ass. But Mr. Baggins doesn't seem to take any offense and all is already forgiven, if there was any forgiving needed in the first place. As they exit the bathroom together, Thorin forgets why he even came in the first place. Oh well, it's not like there aren't any other bathrooms around the school.

For now though, he's feeling quite content. Happy even, to have had such a refreshing conversation with the professor. By the time the opening ceremony comes around, Thorin finds that all the nerves and anxiety are gone. He's just talking into the microphone, his words flowing with an ease and confidence that never happened before. Usually he's a shaking mess, but he conceals it so well that no one ever seems to notice except maybe Dis, Balin or Dwalin. The speech finally ends, parents and teachers alike congratulate him on his choice of words, and Thorin is just so content.

A mess of familiar curls catches his eye and he sees Mr. Baggins off to the side with Bofur and Oin, introducing him to parents and other teachers Mr. Baggins has yet to meet. He has a light dusting of red covering his cheeks and button-like nose, laughing shyly whenever Bofur or Oin say something funny. Then he turns and his eyes meet Thorin's and he gives the kindest smile Thorin has ever seen, and more importantly one that's directed at him.

Oh boy. He's fucked.

 


 

Even now, as he's sitting on the edge of his desk still basking in the success of today's opening ceremony, he's not sure why he revealed all that to the professor. Those were private things, private information about him that he hasn't told anyone in a long time, not even his own family. Okay well Dis, Balin and Dwalin know him all too well so maybe they don't count. But still, it's…strange. He's never said this much to a stranger before, especially one he wasn't exactly nice to in the beginning.

But there was something about the professor, something that made Thorin want to spill his guts out to and just be himself and not hide behind that brooding exterior of his. It's a strange feeling, but not entirely unwelcome. Maybe this is a good thing for him, maybe getting to know the professor more will help Thorin to just.. loosen up. He's not an uptight, stick up the butt kind of guy but he can be a little abrasive when the time calls for it. So perhaps someone like Professor Baggins will be good for Thorin and his sanity. This could potentially be a good thing, this—unexpected friendship.

Or not. He might just be seriously fucked but that's on one end of a completely, entirely different spectrum.

Right?

He can't really dwell further on those thoughts because just then Dis comes sauntering into his office (she doesn't even bother to knock at this point). She stands next to him so that their shoulders are pressing and she's practically in his space. He lets out a low grunt at that to which Dis just rolls her eyes.

"Congrats on the speech big bro."

"It's the same one I give every year."

"Yeah, but most years you're a nervous wreck."

"Wow, thanks," he rolls his eyes. "Good to know my family has so little faith in me."

"You're very most welcome," Dis replies in an overly-exaggerated tone. All the playfulness drains from her face suddenly as it transitions to a more serious one. "So what changed?"

"Pardon?"

"You weren't nervous this year." She quirks up an eyebrow at that. "How come?"

"Maybe because I'm just naturally confident like that?"

"Thorin."

"Dis."

They both level each other with their challenging gazes, or as Dwalin likes to call it, 'That annoying brother-sister thing you two do which is really creepy.'

"I'm serious," Dis says with a slight frown. "I'm almost worried."

"Fear not dear sister," Thorin sighs in an over-the-top way, "I am well. You shouldn't be so worried."

Dis' eyebrow arches up further, not quite believing her dear brother's words of reassurance.

"Seriously, I'm fine."

"Just checking," she says after a while. "Wanna make sure my big bro is still in there and not some weird evil twin taking over his soul."

"I think I would know if I had a twin brother," Thorin says, unimpressed by Dis' highly lacking evidence of a conspiracy theory.

"Just saying," she shrugs.

"As usual."

They both snort and hit each other playfully.

Fucked or not, at least Thorin has a somewhat supportive family by his side.

Chapter Text

The first real challenge to Bilbo’s short teaching career at Erebor was, for lack of a better word, challenging. Remember that teacher’s intuition he was talking about? Right, well, it worked. Just not in the way he was hoping.

There’s a young girl in his Year 7 English class by the name of Angelica. She’s a very bright girl, always engaged in the class and never fails to give a thoughtful answer. This class was his last period of the day, so the moment the bell rang all that excitement she had just left as she trudged out of the classroom like she was off to her own execution. Which was strange, considering most students were happy come last period.

Then there are the times she walks in with bruises adorning her gangly little arms. Bilbo first thought they were from recess, as the students who still needed recess were quite rough on the playground. But it was an everyday occurrence, and one day she came in with a black ring around her left eye. Bilbo had immediately reported it to Balin who said he would talk with the school counselor. After that Angelica missed a couple classes due to some meetings with the counselor which Bilbo was more than happy to oblige. He would not tolerate bullying of any sort in his classroom.

The bruises stopped once she started attending class again and so Bilbo felt like he was able to breathe once more. But only for a short period. Three days later they were back and he was about up to here with it. He thought about maybe confronting Angelica, asking her about the bruises, what was going on, did her parents even know about this? He was about to ask her, really. But then he took one look at her and had instead let her walk right past him in that same, miserable state as she did every afternoon when she exited his class. On second thought, a confrontation didn’t really seem like the right approach. It was also possible she could lie and brush it off which Bilbo would in no way accept, which would then lead to him constantly pestering her about it and that would just make the poor girl uncomfortable. He really didn’t know what to do in this situation, just because there were so many ways this could go horribly wrong.

“You think it could be something else?” Bofur inquires. Bilbo needed someone’s advice, and Bofur seemed like as good a choice as any, so naturally he decided to bring it to the English teacher’s attention once last period hit and school was out for the day.

“Honestly? I don’t know,” Bilbo replies, sighing, “I told Balin, he brought it up with the school’s counselor, but nothing seems to be solved and I don’t know how to go about this because I’ve never dealt with something like this before. In uni there are so many students you can barely keep track of them. If they ever had a problem they just sought it out themselves, there was no need for me! I don’t even know if what I’m doing now is right, much less—”

“Hey, hey hold on just a minute laddie!” Bofur waves his hands in a time-out motion to halt the onslaught of words spilling from Bilbo’s mouth at rapid speed. “Just—take a breather, alright?”

Bilbo does as he’s told, only speaking after at least a minute has passed (or two if Bofur hadn’t given him a look). “Bofur, I don’t—I don’t know how to handle this.” He raises a hand to his eyes in the hopes of not giving too much of his stress and weariness away. He still has some dignity left dammit.

“Well, of course you don’t! You think anyone does?” Bofur gives a crooked grin at that, but it’s not his usual lazy smile. It’s a different one, one that communicates things like even someone as experienced as Bofur has difficulty in this area, that no matter how long you’re at this job there will always be surprises. But most importantly: you’re not alone in this. And Bilbo is… slightly reassured.

“Actually,” Bofur interrupts, breaking the moment, “Have you thought about telling Thorin?”

“No? Why would—” Bilbo stops short. Wait, wait that might actually work. In fact that could work! If nothing is getting done, then why not bring it up with the headmaster himself of all people! The more he thinks on it, the more it sounds like a great idea. “Yes, yes Bofur that’s perfect! Oh Bofur you genius!” He exclaims excitedly.

And so Bilbo creates his so-called ‘plan of attack’ if you can really call it that. He waits for one of Thorin’s observation days which finally happens three days later. The moment the bell rings Bilbo marches right over to the man and states, “There’s something wrong with Angelica.”

“Angelica Pergadi you mean?” Thorin asks without so much as a blink at Bilbo’s impromptu statement.

Bilbo gave him a strange look to which Thorin merely shrugged and said, “It’s my job to know my students.”

If they were in any other situation, Bilbo would have found it endearing Thorin knew her actual name. He catches sight of Angelica trudging past and together they watched her walk out of the classroom with a heaviness to her footsteps. There were more bruises on her arm than before, and if Bilbo wasn’t mistaken that was definitely blood and not ketchup on that purple shirt of hers.

“I thought it was bullying at first, but after Balin chatted with the school counselor… I’m getting worried. I can’t help thinking it’s something more…” He trails off and worries his bottom lip between his teeth. He feels a warm pressure on his shoulder and finds it belongs to Thorin’s hand. He follows up the arm and is met with equal concern on Thorin’s face. The man is just as infuriatingly tall as Gandalf, another endearing quality Bilbo would be shamefully swooning over if they were in another situation.

“I have heard about Miss Pergadi,” he begins in a low voice which makes Bilbo almost shiver. “She has math with Kili, and he suspected the same thing at first. I believe we need to have a chat with Miss Pergadi’s parents.”

Bilbo bites his lip harder.

The next day Bilbo, Thorin, Kili, Angelica and her parents are all gathered in Miss Galadriel’s office. This is the first time Bilbo’s met the counselor, and he has to say she’s quite the beauty, clothed in a simple white dress with not a single wrinkle blemishing her elegant features. She has that air of regality about her, much like Thorin whenever he’s walking or talking. It makes Bilbo feel rather inadequate in his over-sized cardigan and old ratty jeans. Even Kili looks like a model in this room full of suddenly very beautiful people, and he’s wearing something as simple as Bilbo!

Miss Galadriel stares intently at each member in the room and is it just Bilbo’s imagination or did she linger on him a tad longer than everyone else? When she opens her mouth to speak it’s like a hush has fallen over the room, her voice commanding the attention of her audience. Kili is in awe himself that his mouth hangs open just slightly. Thorin has to use the hook of his finger to close it back.

“We are gathered here today to discuss the nature of your daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Pergadi.” She gestures gracefully to Angelica who’s slouched down in her chair. “Mr. Baggins and Mr. Kili here are her teachers, and they’ve recently noticed the bruises on your daughter’s arms. Would you both care to explain?”

Both parents look taken aback at the nature of the question, but before they can even get a word in Miss Galadriel continues, “Now please keep in mind we are not accusing you two in any way. We would just like an explanation for this recent strain of events.” The father starts to grow a little red in the face while the mother splutters inelegantly.

Bilbo chooses this moment to kneel beside Angelica’s chair so they’re at eye level with each other. It’s here he notices a small cut slashed across her eyebrow and another near her forehead that’s mostly covered by her hair. He gives a small smile and says in the gentlest voice possible, “Hey, there is nothing to fear here. We’re all just worried about you, that’s all. You don’t have to be afraid to tell us anything, you’re not going to get in trouble I promise.”

Angelica chances a glance at Bilbo and quirks her mouth up just the tiniest bit. “You promise Mr. Baggins?” She asks in a small voice.

“Of course, I promise. We’re your teachers, so of course we care for your well-being.” He looks back at Thorin, Kili and Miss Galadriel as he says that. His gaze stays a fraction longer on Thorin’s when Bilbo notices the awe on his face, the way his eyes are blown back and his mouth is parted just enough to let a sliver of air through. Now Bilbo this is not the time to go getting distracted by a certain headmaster! He mentally scolds himself.

“A-Angelica, dear,” Mrs. Pergardi cuts in, “There’s nothing wrong, right? Just little bruises that’s all, right dear?” She places a hand on her daughter’s shoulder and squeezes. Bilbo doesn’t miss the way Angelica jerks back at the touch and then stills like she got caught doing something bad. Huh, curious. Turns out Kili doesn’t miss it either with the way his eyes are narrowing suspiciously.

“Miss Pergardi, I think Angelica here can speak for herself, don’t you?” Kili raises a challenging eyebrow at her while keeping his gaze cool and steady. It’s a small moment, lasting only a second but it’s in that moment Bilbo sees a lot of Thorin in Kili’s features. It’s amazing what genetics can do these days.

Mrs. Pergardi looks shocked while her husband’s expression is absolutely thunderous. He looked like he was about to blow any second.

“I—” Angelica’s mother begins, then snaps her mouth shut and says in a high voice, “O-Of course. Angela here is old enough, right dear?” She squeezes her daughter’s shoulder again to which Angelica winces, the fingers digging in a little too deep in Bilbo’s opinion.

After that… chaos ensued. There was a lot of back and forth squabbling between the two parties, with Thorin and Kili trying to control the situation, Bilbo comforting a crying Angelica and even coming to her defense when her parents started criticizing her. Oh the nerve!

“I will have you know Angelica here is a very good student!” Bilbo proclaimed loudly over the criticizing, which shut her parents up right away. “She always does her homework, always is on time for class and participates whenever chance she gets! If I’d have to name one problem, I’d say she participates too much which is hardly a problem at all because it is every teacher’s pride and joy to see their student flourish in class!”

Somehow Miss Galadriel handles the situation with such grace and patience that it’s no wonder she’s the school counselor. In the end, Angelica is taken away by Child Protective Services until they can figure out her next of kin while her parents are handed over to the police. All in all, it’s a very exhausting day and Bilbo could really use his armchair and a nice cup of tea right now. Kili makes sure to walk out with Angelica so she has a familiar face to keep her company. Poor girl, she probably doesn’t even know what’s happening. Her whole life is about to be thrown all out of sorts.

Bilbo sighs and rubs his forehead. He’s pretty sure he gained a few more wrinkles today too.

Thorin suddenly leans into his space and warm breath floods Bilbo’s ear. “You did very well today,” he murmurs.

It’s a challenge for Bilbo to stand straight because he’s torn between wanting to rest his head on Thorin’s very… very nice and… expansive chest and *COUGH* trying to act professional in front of Miss Galadriel. So he settles for an awkward position where he’s sort of leaning towards Thorin but not really while still keeping an appropriate amount of space between them.

“Th-thank you. I uh, I hope I did my best.”

“You did, believe me you did.” Bilbo’s graced with a small smile from the older man.

“You handled the situation very well,” Miss Galadriel says. “I was especially impressed by your consistent defending of Miss Angelica.”

Bilbo blushes at the compliment. He had gotten quite righteous hadn’t he? “I-I hope I wasn’t too, erm, loud.”

Thorin snorts. “Nonsense. You did the right thing. You were more of a parent to her than her own parents.”

“I would have to agree with Mr. Oakenshield,” Miss Galadriel nods seriously.

Oh wow, Bilbo really can’t handle all these compliments right now. His face is slowly heating up from the embarrassment, and maybe also the genuine compliment he just received from Thorin. Thorin’s still staring at him with that piercing gaze of his, the blue in his eyes becoming more and more evident. Bilbo’s pretty sure he might implode on the spot.

“Get some rest.” Bilbo jumps at the sound of Miss Galadriel’s voice. Thorin chuckles at the reaction which only has him blushing harder. “You have all deserved it.”

Thorin guides him out with his hand resting on Bilbo’s lower back. He tries not to seem too giddy over this very small and probably insignificant gesture.

“Will you be alright?” Thorin asks with concern. He’s close enough behind Bilbo that he can feel the vibrations coming off his chest.

“U-Um, I’ll be fine,” Bilbo mumbles. If anyone asks, no his ears are not turning bright red so stop asking.

“I am sorry you had to deal with that. I did not mean bring you such.. peril.” Oh, no that won’t do. Thorin’s voice sounds way too apologetic, not to mention worn out and exhausted. He sounds exactly like how Bilbo feels.

“Oh, please there’s nothing to apologize for really,” Bilbo hastily says, twisting his neck around to get a better look at the headmaster. “As a teacher, I am very glad to share in these every day perils. It’s more than a Baggins deserves, really.” He makes sure to throw in a reassuring smile somewhere in that statement. He doesn’t want Thorin to think this is all a burden for him. Angelica is his student too, so technically it’s a shared burden.

Bilbo doesn’t notice Thorin’s stopped walking until the heat at his back disappears. He spins around and ah yes, the staring. It’s happening again.

“Thorin?” Bilbo takes a few careful steps forward.

“You—” He starts and blinks rapidly.

“I’m.. what?” Bilbo stops at a safe enough distance where he can get a proper look at Thorin. The silver streaks stood out as usual amongst his dark black hair which was pulled back into a low ponytail. He had his signature braids running along the sides with two golden beads at the ends. Thorin, it seemed, had a penchant for wearing different colored beads every day. He never repeated the same colors, and they were always etched with that intricate design that looked like a family crest of some sort. Wow, if anyone knew how often Bilbo watched Thorin…

Speaking of which, Thorin was still staring at Bilbo like he had truly done something extraordinary and totally life changing. Last time he checked though, Bilbo was a pretty ordinary guy who just drank way too much tea.

“You’re something else, you know that?” Thorin finally breathes out.

Bilbo can actually feel the wind being knocked out of his chest. This is just—this is just too much, really, with the way he’s staring at Bilbo, peering at him from under those long eyelashes. He’s so caught up in those blue eyes calculating his every movement, facial expression, everything. It’s a riveting feeling that does something to Bilbo’s small feeble heart.

He swallows thickly, unable to tear himself away from those eyes. “I… thank you. I think?”

Thorin chuckles deeply. “It was meant to be a compliment.. akhûnith.” He says the word with such a gentle shyness that’s so out of character for him. It’s.. well, Bilbo can’t really put into words what it is. He just knows his face is akin to that of a tomato and he might possibly die from a lack of oxygen.

“Âkmînruk zu,” Bilbo stutters out in the best Khuzdul he can manage. He hopes he’s putting the accents in all the right places. After proudly proclaiming his proficiency at Khuzdul, it would be quite an embarrassment if he was unable to pronounce the basic words.

“Yamal.” Thorin dips his head low and brings it back up with a reverence that really is only fitting for a king. And he pulls it off so well, Bilbo sighs inwardly.

“So, shall we get going then akhûnith?”

“Oh, now you’re just teasing me!” Bilbo covers his mouth and giggles at the mischievous glint in Thorin’s eyes.

“I think it’s quite fitting.”

“Should I call you uzbad then?” To his surprise Thorin wears a blush that almost matches Bilbo’s.

“Am I pronouncing that correctly?” Bilbo asks innocently.

Thorin coughs and looks away, the red now spreading farther up his face. “D-Don’t be cheeky, Professor.”

Bilbo only giggles harder at his embarrassment.

 


 

“Should I call you uzbad then?”

God out of all the things.. he just had to go speaking Khuzdul! Thorin’s heart had been beating much too rapidly for someone of his age. He was pretty sure he almost had to call the nearest hospital.

“What a cheeky little…” He mutters to himself.

He’s still in awe over how… incredible and amazing the professor is, especially the way he handled Angelica’s situation today. Thorin can remember it so clearly, the way the professor knelt by Angelica’s chair, offering warm reassurances, coming to her aid when her parents started picking on her and spouting all sorts of rubbish like “What an ungrateful child she is! I mean really, always talking back to us, never finishing up her dinner—!” Honestly, Thorin’s surprised Mr. Baggins didn’t get more angry, with the way his face had flared up in indignation and shouting all sorts of words at the Pergardi’s. Very interesting words, which forced Thorin to nudge Kili’s shoulder and cover up Angelica’s ears the whole time.

“Sorry, did you say something?” Kili asks, but it’s directed more towards his steak.

Thorin startles in his seat. Right. He’s supposed to be eating dinner with his family, not obsessing over the professor’s Khuzdul. He clears his throat like he’s got food lodged in his airways and takes a stab at his potatoes.

“Wait, sorry who exactly is cheeky?” Fili and his brother stare at Thorin from a few seats down.

“No one. Finish up your food,” he orders curtly.

“I believe your uncle was talking about a certain profess—”

“Not another word out of your mouth or I will fire you on the spot,” Thorin snarled through his teeth.

Balin rolled his eyes at him from across the table. “Please laddie, you say that every day. You’d think you’d come up with a better response by now.”

“Why—!”

“Aye,” Dwalin agreed from next to his brother. “Poor thing, his whole education gone to waste.” He speared a rather large piece of ham onto his fork and dangled it over his mouth.

If the growing fire in Thorin’s eyes could burn down actual buildings, now would be the time. Trust his own family, his own flesh and blood, to gang up on him.

“Oh, Thorin,” Dis said as she placed another dish of food on the table. “I forgot to mention, but mum wants to know when you wanna meet up for lunch.”

Thorin almost groans, but then he would just get a lecture from Balin and he’s not going to deal with both teasing and lecturing tonight. He’s been so busy with work he nearly forgot about lunch with his mother again. They’ve had to reschedule three times already because of how busy the last few weeks have been.

“Also, she wants to know what our plans for Christmas are,” Dis adds, scooping up some more meat onto Fili and Kili’s plates who dig in enthusiastically.

“Isn’t it a little early for Christmas?” Thorin asks.

"You know Mum, she likes to do these things early," Dis reminds him. 

“And you do realize it’s mid-October, right?” Dwalin says in between chews. He ignores the chastising look from Balin.

Shit. That means he needs to get those Halloween decorations set up around school. And yet another to thing worry about after an exhausting day like today. “Balin,” he sighs wearily, “Make sure to send an email to the faculty about Halloween. There is still much to be done.” He takes a swig of his ale and wipes at the froth on his beard.

It seems his job never ends, whether it be as a headmaster or a son.

 


 

Later that evening, as Thorin walks away to call their mother, Dis sidles up next to Dwalin by the sink and asks, “Is it just me or does Thorin seem lighter than usual?”

“Explain light. Because I’m pretty sure Thorin has at least fifty more pounds of muscle on me,” Dwalin says as he hands a wet plate to Dis.

“I don’t know.” Dis accepts the plate, dries it, then places it on the stack of clean ones. “You know how he is with people most of the time. He barely opens up to them, and you saw the way he acted towards Professor Baggins on the first day.” She accepts another dish from Dwalin and drags the cloth around its circular edges.

“Right,” Dwalin says slowly, but it’s clear he’s not getting the message. “What’s your point?”

Dis sighs. “My point is, he’s being awfully open with our new teacher, don’t you think? Maybe even a little too open for someone like Thorin?”

Dwalin dunks his hands into the dirty dish water and starts scrubbing. A thoughtful look settles over his features as he mulls this over. “You know, I think you’re right. He has been more open, hasn’t he?”

She rolls her eyes when he finally gets it. “Of course I’m right.”

“So.. what? Is this supposed to mean something?”

“I think—I think Thorin may like this new teacher.”

Dwalin shoots her an incredulous look. “You’re not being serious, are you? He’s such a wee little thing!”

“And what exactly does size have to do with this?” She instantly regrets asking that question. She knows where Dwalin’s mind is heading if the cheeky look on his face is anything to go by.

“Hey, you know what they say about small men. Or is it small feet?” He waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“Oh, you’re disgusting!” She groans and shoves at him. “While I’d rather not think about Mr. Baggins’ anatomy—” Dwalin snickers at this “—I really do think Thorin likes him.”

Dwalin’s face becomes serious then. “You think so?”

They both glance cautiously into the living room. Thorin’s whole body is practically sinking into the couch cushions with a certain peacefulness about him, one Dis hasn’t seen in a long time. He has the most relaxed expression on his face, speaking in low murmurs into the phone and chuckling every so often, the sound so bright that it fills up the entire room and maybe even some of the kitchen too.

“I don’t think so,” she says as they both turn back to face each other. “I know so.”

Dwalin throws back another glance at Thorin just for confirmation. “He does seem less stressed than usual. What do you suggest we do then?”

“I’m not sure,” she murmurs to herself. She wrings the dishrag in her hands until there’s no more water left to squeeze out. She fiddles with the wet strands coming loose, twirling them around her fingers and pulling so hard it causes her skin to become a pale white.

“Hey.” Dwalin settles a hand on her shoulder and squeezes. “It’s a good thing, isn’t it? He’s actually being a normal person for once. We should be happy for him.”

Dis snorts at Dwalin’s light-hearted joke. “I know. Believe me, I am more than happy. I just… want to make sure, that’s all.”

“Then do that. Be sure.”

She snorts again and untangles the strands from her fingers, watching the blood rush back to her nails. “Easier said than done.”

“I’m not asking much here,” Dwalin frowns. “Just do what you’ve been doing, that’s all.”

“And that’s enough?” She asks skeptically.

Dwalin shrugs and hands her another plate. “Seems to be working to me.”

“But this is… different. Isn’t it?”

“Not really.”

The thing is, she doesn’t want to meddle or get too involved, but she also wants to be the one to push Thorin, to get him to speak his mind, have a little more confidence in himself. No, that’s not the issue here. Thorin’s always been confident, he’s always been sure of himself, especially when it comes to his job.

When it comes to his personal life though? He’s absolute shit at that. That’s why many of his relationships don’t last long, because at the last second he gets cold feet and bolts the minute things get way too serious or beyond his handling. That’s only intensified ever since he became headmaster, putting his job and the welfare of his family above his own personal life. She and the boys have tried numerous times, creating a profile for Thorin on dating websites, setting him up on blind dates, etc. Nothing’s worked so far, and Dis always thought maybe they were just getting his preferences wrong. Now she sees what the real problem’s been all along: he was never ready. True, Thorin’s never been the open type, and opening himself up and giving away all his insecurities to a significant other is something that makes him pale in horror. But maybe it’s not the thought of opening himself up, but being ready to instead.

It’s a curious thing, she thinks to herself. Perhaps it’s a good thing Thorin decided not to fire the professor. But then what is it about this Bilbo Baggins that has Thorin opening himself up at the drop of a hat? Apparently she’s thinking so hard and so long that Dwalin ends up handing her more plates than she can actually dry and almost drops one in the process.

“Dis,” he huffs. “Stop yer worrying.”

“I’m not. Now give me another dish well you?”

Dwalin rolls his eyes and shoves the next one into her hands. “Don’t drop it.”

“I won’t you big lug. Now give me another one.”

Chapter Text

Despite his initial reassurances to Thorin two days ago, Bilbo does not feel reassured in the slightest. He's tried to convince himself multiple times that it was alright, everything was over and Angelica was safe, but he hasn't exactly been in the most chipper of moods lately. Angelica Pergardi, his own student, was getting beaten (he can't help shuddering at that) on a regular basis. He doesn't know how long this has been going on or whether or not the other teachers noticed, moreover Bilbo feels absolutely guilty even if he was the one to spot it before things got dramatically out of hand. Whether he was too late in coming to that conclusion is something he'll never know, but he still feels guilty regardless.

How could a wonderful, bright, and energetic student like Angelica have such a horrid life? It really was unfair, the way the world worked like that. It then brings Bilbo to the never-ending conundrum of why do bad things happen to good people? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't bad things happen to bad people only? Although, he supposes if bad things never happened to good people it wouldn't give them room to grow. But still, there are some bad things in life that people absolutely do not deserve, especially not a well-mannered student such as Angelica (no matter how much her parents argued that one). Just the very thought makes Bilbo seethe. It sets him in a sort of depressing mood for the next few days, therefore he's not quite that surprised when Bofur tells him Miss Galadriel wants to see him in her office during one of his free periods.

He fidgets a little under her scrutiny and hopes he doesn't make his discomfort too obvious. She has the kind of gaze that can practically see right through you down to your very bones. Not as intense as Thorin's with his blue eyes, but like intense in a totally different way.

"And how are you this afternoon, Mr. Baggins?" Miss Galadriel asks in that warm, slow voice of hers that sounds like thick honey rolling off a teaspoon. Her face shifts just slightly as Bilbo continues to fidget in his seat. He thinks it might be amusement, but he can't tell.

"Um, fine, thank you. And you?"

"I am well. But the matter we are discussing today is not my well-being, Bilbo Baggins."

"Oh. Er, alright?" How exactly does one respond to that kind of question? The way she says it is far too cryptic, and the warm smile on her face totally misconstrues the true meaning behind her words.

"Mr. Bofur has been informing me of your progress," she continues on. "He says you're fitting in quite well with Erebor's faculty."

"I am! It's.. it's a very nice place here," he laughs self-consciously and rubs the back of his neck.

Another warm smile is directed at him. "That is wonderful to hear. And how are adjusting, now that Miss Pergardi is no longer in your class?"

Bilbo stops rubbing his neck. It's not an entirely surprising question, he was expecting it to come sometime. He just didn't expect such a hasty transition in conversation is all.

"Not… good, exactly," he begins reluctantly. "I'm a little out of sorts to be quite honest." If by out of sorts you meant constantly mixing up your English and history lessons and walking into the wrong classrooms like it was your first day all over again.

"And that is completely understandable," she says solemnly. "She is your student after all."

"Well, was," Bilbo corrects without trying to sound too assuming. After the incident, Angelica was taken out of school for an indefinite amount of time while her family situation was being sorted out elsewhere. Balin had warned him that it was possible Miss Pergardi might not return to Erebor anymore, and that was probably what had really caused this depressing atmosphere to settle about Bilbo.

"Even if she is gone, the fact still remains that she is, and will continue to be, your student."

If it were anyone else, Bilbo would have rolled his eyes and said that's a load of poppycock. Instead he's… taken aback by the strong conviction in that one sentence. He opens his mouth but finds he's at a complete loss for words.

Miss Galadriel's face shifts again in what could be a smirk at Bilbo's speechlessness, but at this point he's given up trying to keep track of her different facial expressions. "Do not fret, dear one. She may return to us just yet. Do not lose hope."

Somehow, Miss Galadriel has that effect of making people believe every single word out of her mouth. He took notice of it during their meeting with the Pergardi's and is, quite frankly, still amazed by the sheer power in her voice and the force with which she speaks. With a voice like that, she could move mountains, change the shape of the Earth, defy gravity altogether if she so desperately wanted to! Even if Bilbo's a little skeptical of her words, he can't help feeling a sense of calm and peace, like he just knows for a fact Angelica may actually come back. It does ease his conscience a little by the time he walks out of Miss Galadriel's office.

"Oh, and Mr. Baggins?"

He turns back to face her.

"Do not let moments such as these bring you down. It would be unwise to bring about such a mood upon your students and faculty members, especially with Halloween just around the corner." Her eyes get a certain twinkle in them that sorely reminds Bilbo of Gandalf at times. That's not actually a good thing now that he's thinking about it.

"…Of course, Miss Galadriel," he says finally, and with that he takes his leave.

 


 

The moment Mr. Baggins leaves her office another knock sounds at the door.

"Come in," Galadriel calls out, then smiles brightly at the familiar figure peeking his head in. "Gandalf!"

"My lady," Gandalf greets in that fond tone of his, the one he only reserves for her. Needless to say it makes the smile on her face grow all the more brighter. They both embrace each other in one of those long-lost friends hugs, squeezing the other's sides and arms and relishing in each other's warmth. When they pull apart Galadriel does a once over of the old man, as if to say, 'Is it just me or have you grown shorter?' Gandalf just huffs and shakes his head: 'No my lady. It is only that you keep growing taller until you continue to overshadow me completely.' They both chuckle and hug once more.

"Do you ever brush your hair?" Galadriel asks in affectionate amusement, brushing away a couple loose strands from Gandalf's face. It's a question she never fails to ask whenever they meet after long periods of time, and even though his hair is always tied back it never fails to grow messy. "Your beard could also use a trimming," she hums in slight disapproval.

"My hair is just fine," Gandalf rolls his eyes. Galadriel just chuckles and continues on with Gandalf's grooming, much to his exasperation.

"By the way," she adds as she fixes his beard, "Thank you for taking lead on the young Pergardi's case." She fixes him with a knowing look before he can even deny the very thought of him getting involved. Gandalf may like to keep to himself and play the part of the senile old man, but there's a lot to this old man that many people seem to miss.

"Appearances can be deceiving," Gandalf shrugs, as if reading her mind.

"Only you would know of that."

Gandalf only chortles in response. His twinkling eyes speak more clearly than any words he will ever speak in one lifetime. Galadriel's a little ashamed to say that even though they've been friends for as long as she can remember, she doesn't know much of his comings and goings. All she does know is Gandalf's penchant for helping the innocent and enjoying a nice smoke from my pipe, as he often puts it. Regardless it's enough for her, especially if Gandalf decides to put those thoughts into actions by helping the school in any way possible.

"Well, whether you're involved or not you don't have to say. But—" she lowers her head to show him the full depth of the sincerity in her eyes "—Thank you. I mean it, Mithrandir."

The corner of Gandalf's mouth twitches at the old nickname, his eyes shining with a certain gleam to them. He still doesn't say anything, but Galadriel knows he got the message, knows how thankful she is to him. Not just for little Angelica's case, but for everything he's done in general whether he admits to it or not.

"One day," she murmurs while smoothing down his rumpled clothes (honestly, even his clothes too!), "I will create an extravagant plaque, just for you, outlining your achievements and then hang it up in the school for all to see."

Gandalf throws back his head and barks out a laugh. "Oh, my lady! That is a day I yearn to see!"

"I promise you, it will happen," she says with the utmost seriousness.

"Oh, of course," he nods along, "I will hold you to that promise."

 


 

Halloween, it seemed, was a very big deal here at Erebor Academy. Bilbo was expecting something more like Christmas to be the big holiday, but Halloween was celebrated in just the same way (it does take his mind off Angelica considerably). There were pumpkin-shaped lights along every classroom's doorway, ghosts and witches plastered on the bulletin boards, even a fog machine (courtesy of Bofur and Bifur) was set up by the entrance so that every time the doors opened fog came spitting out. Oh the students couldn't get enough of that one, especially the Year 11 students for some reason. Maybe it was a teenager thing.

"I didn't think you were all so into Halloween," Bilbo remarks to Fili and Kili as they're walking down the hallway, taking in the sight of everything. It was all very orange, that's to be sure.

"Well, yeah," Kili says, confused by Bilbo's comment. "Kids love Halloween, though I 'spect it's all the sugar. You should have seen them on Valentine's Day, they were all hyped up." Bilbo wouldn't know, as the two universities he worked at previously didn't advertise those smaller holidays as much. Christmas yes, and maybe even the occasional Easter but that was about it. It'll be quite interesting to see the other holidays in the upcoming year.

"Ugh, don't even get me started," Fili groans and rolls his eyes. "Remember Peter Vangard? He ate, like, ten—" Fili holds up both hands and wiggles all his fingers "—packs of fun dip. Ten. Can you imagine how fried his brain must have been?"

"I never had the liberty of having Peter Vangard," Kili sighs without a hint of disappointment in his voice. It seems that's a story Bilbo will need to find out about later. He's heard Dwalin and Gloin muttering about a Peter Vangard sometimes, something about him being too rough in gym class?

"Of course he decided to transfer during Year 9," Fili continues, then looks mournfully at Bilbo. "Be thankful you never had to deal with him, the little monster."

Bilbo raises an amused eyebrow. "You know I've been hearing quite a lot about young Mr. Vangard. Is he as bad as everyone says he is?"

"You haven't seen him on the playground then." All three men whip their heads around to find Dori and Ori walking behind them. "He's a little bully, that one! Always likes to mess up the paintbrushes too!" Dori huffs in frustration. Ori nods and adds, "I was subbing in for one of Dori's classes and I came out with two very red handprints on my bum." Kili and Fili can't help sniggering, and even Bilbo finds himself holding back a laugh at that image.

"Oh yes, laugh it up!" Ori sniffs and turns away. "See how you lot like getting handprints on certain areas."

This time all three men do burst out laughing, Fili and Kili holding each other while Bilbo has to use the nearby wall to support himself.

"Oh god, Ori," Kili wheezes out.

"That image will forever be burned into our minds," Fili says in an equally wheezy voice.

Bilbo chuckles and uses his thumb to swab at the tears in his eyes. Oh yes, Ori with handprints on his bum. That is an image that will stay with Bilbo forever.

"You three look like a bunch of maniacs, you realize that right?" Comes a distinctly deep voice right next to Bilbo. He nearly jumps out of his skin, then relaxes when he sees it's just Thorin with an amused tilt to his head. Bilbo is not ashamed to admit he looks absolutely adorable standing there like that, except he's looking at Bilbo a little too mischievously and— Oh.

"Oh, you're teasing again!" Bilbo laughs and whacks Thorin's arm.

The chuckle that escapes Thorin's mouth is a deep, throaty one. "I'm sorry, I could not resist."

"You find sneaking up on me irresistible?"

"In a way, yes." Thorin's eyes are twinkling with so much mirth that it warms Bilbo's heart. He's not certain if it's his imagination or just Bilbo being crazy in general, but ever since he started working here Thorin's become much more loser with his emotions. It's easy to see the headmaster as a very stoic person, and while he does pull off the brooding look quite well Bilbo would much rather prefer to see a smiling and laughing Thorin.

"Mr. Oakenshield you are such a rascal, has anyone ever told you that?" Bilbo tuts.

Thorin throws back his head and laughs. "Many a times, yes. And it's Thorin."

They're standing there talking in their own private little world that Bilbo nearly forgets the other four members of their company. They're all staring at the two of them with earnest curiosity, though it looks more like a smirk on Fili and Kili's faces.

Bilbo clears his throat to bring his attention back to the rest of the group. He hopes to Yavanna he's not blushing right down to his roots. "Right. Well, I'm sure giving me a fright isn't as funny as having two bright red handprints on Mr. Ori's bum."

This sends Fili and Kili into another wave of hysterics. Dori pats his brother's head sympathetically as Ori wails into his hands.

"I should have never told that story!"

"No, you should have told us sooner," Bilbo corrects.

"Are you sure I'm not the rascal here?" Thorin murmurs so that only Bilbo can hear, which he does and finds himself blushing again.

Eventually they all part ways, Kili and Fili heading to their respective classrooms while Ori and Dori depart to the teacher's lounge to grab some much needed pumpkin pie. Which leaves just Thorin and Bilbo standing there in the hallway.

Bilbo hears Thorin shuffle and move a bit closer until their arms are almost brushing. He leans towards Bilbo in order to nudge the shorter man's shoulder with his own, even having to bend at the knees so they're sort of at the same level. Bilbo can feel the loose strands from Thorin's ponytail just ghosting over his ear, and it's enough to make him suck in a sharp breath at the sensation. "You'd better get that pumpkin pie before Dwalin or Bombur finishes it off," Thorin murmurs.

"It's a good thing I had six slices then," Bilbo replies without missing a beat, and maybe a bit breathlessly too.

Thorin doesn't reply to that and, fearing Bilbo said something wrong glances up at the headmaster. His eyes aren't actually focused on Bilbo's face but on his stomach instead. "Mahal, where do you even put all that?" Thorin breathes out in wonder. Bilbo feels the heat creeping up his neck and almost chokes on his own spit. It's not his fault he likes food so much! The Baggins and Took family were known for their love of food and making good hearty meals.

"Mr. Oakenshield," Bilbo decides to tease, "Are you implying that I'm fat?"

Thorin starts coughing violently and has to hit his chest a couple times to dislodge whatever's stuck in there. "N-No, of course not I would never—" But then he stops short upon seeing the leer on Bilbo's face. "That was cruel."

"Just a little revenge for earlier," Bilbo giggles.

"I am quite sure out of the two of us you," Thorin points at him, "Are the rascal,"

Bilbo hums, pleased that he's able to make Thorin Oakenshield flustered with just mere teasing. "Sneak up on me again and that's what you'll get," he sing-songs.

Thorin huffs in mock exasperation. "If I say you look quite nice in that cardigan of yours today, will all be forgiven?"

This time it's Bilbo's turn to grow flustered. It's a simple question made in passing yet it holds so much more significance for him. He looks down at what he's wearing and feels even more embarrassed at his choice of clothing today. He'd forgot to set his alarm the night before and ended up throwing on whatever, resulting in an olive colored cardigan with a blue plaid shirt underneath. He thinks the jeans are from the day before but he can't be sure. Not to mention his hair looks like an absolute mess today, and yet somehow Thorin thinks he looks nice.

He doesn't know where it comes from. Maybe it's some sort of high from the giddiness, or just the fact that it's Thorin. Whatever it is, it gives Bilbo the confidence to say, "I think that's fair enough. And would you mind if I said I quite like the beads in your hair today?" And end with a cheeky smile.

Thorin blinks at him, the surprise clearly evident in his features. And then Bilbo thinks he must have royally screwed up, because now Thorin knows Bilbo's been watching the man and who in Yavanna's name notices tiny things such as beads?! Again, not Bilbo's fault that Thorin has that royal majestic-ness about him.

What stops Bilbo's inward panicking is Thorin's smile. It starts out slow, his mouth curling up but not really reaching its full potential of a smile just yet. And then it grows and grows until his teeth are showing and his eyes are crinkling and oh drat Bilbo's a goner. That's it, he's gone, completely taken by Thorin's gorgeous smile. He hopes someone writes that on his gravestone: Killed by a brooding headmaster's smile.

"Thank you," Thorin rumbles out, "These were a gift from my late father. It seems everyone in my family had a thing for beads."

Bilbo almost breathes a sigh of relief. Okay, so Thorin doesn't think he's creepy, that's a start. "They really are. Nice, I mean! They're lovely, truly lovely. I—I've always admired them. Your ah—" Bilbo gestures to his own head of messy curls to indicate.

Thorin rolls his lips and lowers his head, albeit a little shyly. "Thank you," he says quietly. "Perhaps I shall not be as self conscious when putting them on."

Oh. Oh. Oh dear, this isn't good because Bilbo's quite certain he'll faint if he doesn't stop this conversation or get away from Thorin somehow. Which is also a problem because Bilbo doesn't really wanna leave Thorin's side even if he is feeling a tad faint.

Thankfully (or not), the moment is interrupted by a, "Mr. Baggins?"

"Mr. Elrond?" Bilbo blinks at the retired president of Greenwood standing in the middle of the hallway. He still looks as young and crisp as ever with his long dark brown hair and unblemished skin. "What on earth are you doing here?" He asks cheerfully, stepping up to give the former president a hug.

Mr. Elrond returns it with a chuckle and a pat on the other's back. "Just visiting a friend." Bilbo almost misses the very handsome young man by Mr. Elrond's side, sporting long blonde hair in a half-up half-down style that just reaches his breast bone. He has some small braids right above his ears and his skin is as clear as Mr. Elrond's.

"Mr. Baggins, this is Legolas Greenleaf," Elrond gestures to the young man who bows deeply. "I believe you two know each other. Informally of course."

"We do?" Bilbo tilts his head at the younger man. He would have remembered meeting someone so young and handsome. Wait, Greenleaf… No, it couldn't be, could it? "You.. You wouldn't happen to be related to a Mr. Thranduil Greenleaf, would you?" Bilbo asks slowly.

At Legolas' rather sheepish look Mr. Elrond elbows his side. "His son, actually."

"Pardon?" Bilbo almost does a double take. He inspects Legolas closer and suddenly it's all there. The cheekbones, the hair, even his eyes! He's practically a younger version of Mr. Thranduil himself. "You—he—since when?!" Bilbo all but splutters.

Legolas coughs and fidgets at the sudden attention on him. "Um, since about 20 years ago maybe?"

"O-oh. Well! What a small world!" Bilbo chuckles embarrassingly at his own reaction and rubs the back of his neck. He turns to Thorin then. "Thorin, why didn't you say Mr. Thranduil's son was working here?"

This time Bilbo does actually do a double take because Thorin's face has suddenly turned stony. He's not angry per say, but his soft and gentle expression from earlier has hardened into something Bilbo can't exactly pinpoint. Thorin clears his throat and says in a very rehearsed and mechanical voice, "He only started working here recently. An arrangement I made with his father at the time."

"O-oh." Bilbo glances back at Mr. Elrond who only shrugs helplessly. Legolas looks even more uncomfortable than before. Is there something going on between Thorin and his family?

"Yes," Legolas speaks up suddenly. "An arrangement I am rather quite grateful for, and will forever be in your debt."

"Of course," Thorin replies.

It's maybe an awkward silence for about two minutes, but thankfully Mr. Elrond chooses to break the ice. The man always did have impeccable timing. "Mr. Baggins, I didn't realize you'd started working here at Erebor. Last I heard from your grandmother, you were at Hobbiton were you not?"

"Ah, yes!" Bilbo responds, trying to jump back into the flow of things. "I was for some time! You remember my friend Gandalf, correct? He offered me a job and now suddenly I'm here."

"Of course," Mr. Elrond nods, "Hard to forget such a tall man."

"Yes, very tall." Bilbo turns to Legolas in order to draw him into the conversation too. "What subjects do you teach? I know Mr. Oakenshield said you only started working here but I could have sworn I saw you at the opening ceremony." Now that he thinks about it, he did see a flash of blonde hair for a split second.

Legolas stands up straighter and tilts his chin up. "I teach gym for Year 11," he replies. "I've only been working here for a year, so that's probably why our paths have never crossed." Oh, so he's the other gym teacher whom Balin failed to mention. Does everyone have it out for Mr. Greenleaf or something? Is this not just a Thorin thing?

"I'm quite new myself actually. I just started working.. how long has it been? Three weeks now?"

"About a month," Thorin answers for him. Bilbo turns to him in surprise, to which Thorin decides to stare very intently at the not so interesting walls. "I'm the headmaster," he reminds Bilbo uncomfortably. "It's my job to keep track of my teachers."

"Mhmm, I see." There's a teasing undertone to Bilbo's words which only serves to ruffle up Thorin even more as he shifts from foot to foot and looking anywhere but at Bilbo. Oh god, how cute.

"Well, a month or not it is good to see you so nicely settled in." Mr. Elrond smiles genuinely at Bilbo, and then to Thorin, "Mr. Oakenshield, I hope you never have to fire Mr. Baggins. He is an excellent teacher, you won't regret having him."

Thorin's eyes shift from the wall to Mr. Elrond and he responds, a little too gravely, "Believe me, Mr. Elrond. There are no regrets here." He directs a meaningful glance at Bilbo as he says this.

"Oh—hush," is the only response Bilbo can come up with without getting all his words tangled up. How did this conversation somehow lead back to him?!

Mr. Elrond chuckles at that. "I am glad you think so. Mr. Baggins was one of the finest professors at Greenwood."

Bilbo 'pffts' and waves off Mr. Elrond's compliment. "Hardly. I was one out of many, Mr. Elrond. You seem to keep forgetting that."

"That is because out of those many professors, you stood out the most," he counters back.

Before Bilbo can reply, an unfamiliar voice shouts out, "Oi! Legolas!" It belongs to a rather tall woman who also has long hair, this time waist-length and the shade of auburn. He watches Legolas stride up to her to discuss something, obviously of great importance with the way the woman moves her hands about in an animated way.

"What is it with you people and long hair?" Bilbo muses, mainly to himself. He doesn't think anyone hears him until Thorin snorts and arches up an amused eyebrow at Bilbo.

"I-I'm just saying," Bilbo mumbles to the ground.

Thorin snorts again, then leans in to explain (he seems to have a habit of leaning into Bilbo's space!), "That is Miss Tauriel, she is the other history teacher for Year's 10-11 and our language teacher for Sindarian. And I think Kili is the one who has a 'thing' for long hair."

"What does Kili have to do with this?" Bilbo asks, and without thinking he draws himself closer to Thorin's heat. God, it's like the man is a damn furnace.

"Ah, Kili has a.. what do you call it? Puppy's love?"

Bilbo, without meaning to and already mourning over the loss of Thorin's heat, pulls back in surprise. "Kili has a crush on.. Miss Tauriel?"

"Aye," Thorin nods solemnly. "He is also in competition with Mr. Legolas for her undying love."

"Oh you're joking."

"Unfortunately, I am not."

Bilbo surveys the two teachers and instantly recognizes all the signs of 'puppy love' as Thorin so solemnly pointed out. Legolas, as stoic as he may try to appear, is actually quite obvious in his affections. For one thing he won't stop smiling, or laughing ridiculously when Miss Tauriel makes a joke that probably wasn't all that funny. He purposely stands close to her if it means they get to make any source of contact, and he hasn't taken his eyes off her for a second. Oh dear, Kili really does have some competition to deal with.

"I wish your younger nephew all the luck," Bilbo whispers out of the corner of his mouth.

Thorin scoffs and declares with all the pride of a proud uncle, "He needs no luck, he's a Durin after all! He'll do much better than that gangly-looking prince."

"Yes, well, that gangly-looking prince seems to be sweeping Miss Tauriel right off her feet."

"I wouldn't be so sure, Mr. Baggins."

"Should we bet on it?"

"Hmm, perhaps," Thorin hums as he mulls it over in his head. "Perhaps I shall also draw the others into this bet. Without Kili's knowledge of course."

"Oh of course," Bilbo nods seriously.

"What he doesn't know won't hurt him," Thorin shrugs and smirks.

"My previous statement still stands: you, Mr. Oakenshield, are a rascal."

"Only a little." He pinches his thumb and forefinger together while leaving just a tiny bit of space in between.

"And yet your own loyal company of 13 still follow after you," Bilbo remarks wryly.

"As I recall, you said my company worshipped the ground I walked on."

"Maybe not for long if they knew your true nature."

"All in due time."

They both smile with so much fondness for the other in their eyes, and once again they're back in that private little world of theirs, barely taking notice of the real world around them. They don't notice the way Elrond studies them with great interest, or Kili scowling from afar as he watches his nemesis steal away his beloved Tauriel, or Dis and Dwalin passing by with Dis smirking at the pair and Dwalin rolling his eyes at them.

That's how focused Bilbo and Thorin are on each other, and it's enough to make Bilbo stop and think that this is—this is dangerous waters. It's entirely too dangerous because he's sinking fast without a float to buoy him up and if he doesn't pull out of that water fast enough he may not make it to shore and end up drowning altogether, the water filling up his lungs and hindering his ability to breathe and he won't be able to reach the surface in time. Because it's then that Bilbo realizes two things:

One: this whole 'sinking fast' metaphor is getting way too out of hand.

And two: he might possibly have a thing for Thorin Oakenshield.

Chapter Text

Bilbo stepped into his apartment and sighed at the welcoming sight of it. It's always so good to come home on a Friday night and be embraced by the coziness of your home. It was automatic by nature that he headed into his kitchen, placed the kettle on the stove and took out one of his many mugs from the cupboard. As he waited for the water to boil, he draped his coat and briefcase over his couch's armrest and settled himself comfortably into his armchair. He drew in a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting the warmth and comforts of his home settle over him like a blanket being draped across his shoulders. If there was one constant Bilbo ever had in his life, it was his home. It didn't matter if he changed jobs three times now, or the untimely death of both his parents, or the other changes in his life, because it was always his home that kept him grounded and calm and made him remember that no matter what happened in his life, no matter who left him, his home would always be there for him.

Speaking of home and changing jobs, seeing Mr. Elrond again after so many years had been the most wonderful surprise. It instantly reminded Bilbo of all the things he had loved at Greenwood, before the chaos and student uprisings. Honestly, if it weren't for Elrond's retirement Bilbo probably would have stayed at Greenwood forever. He really did love that place, and it almost reminded him of that family-like atmosphere he often finds at Erebor. And yet, there was still something missing at Greenwood that he couldn't quite pinpoint. Don't get him wrong, Greenwood was lovely and he's still friends with many of the professors to this day, but he always felt a little out of place there, always the odd one out. That only intensified when he got to Hobbiton and realized he had absolutely nothing in common with any of the people there.

He's not sure why, but Erebor is… almost like a second home for Bilbo. Which is quite a silly thing to say, seeing as how Bilbo's only been working there for a month. Maybe it's the fact that he's finally found a play where he just belongs. The people, the students, every single thing about that place just calls out to him. Certain people not including a headmaster with long dark hair and the most magnificent build Bilbo has ever seen. Nope, not at all nope. He hears the kettle whirring and quickly gets up to turn it off. He pours the hot liquid into his mug, inserts a tea bag, and then finishes with two spoonfuls of sugar and about a quarter of milk.

He sighs into the mug and relishes in the steam rising from the liquid's surface. Ah yes, Thorin Oakenshield, a man Bilbo couldn't quite figure out in the beginning and is now like a partially open book to him. There really is so much more to the man than Bilbo thought, and every single damn time Bilbo wants figure out more, go deeper, penetrate (and no he did not blush like one of his Year 7 students at the word penetrate) the layers and layers that make up Thorin Oakenshield. Each time Thorin talked to Bilbo, joked with him, sent a smile in his direction, Bilbo felt like Thorin was shedding off each layer and showing another side of him. And Bilbo was fine with that, he liked getting to know Thorin and dare he even say say flirt a little with the headmaster.

What Bilbo isn't fine with is the sudden realization that he may actually like Thorin more than he realized. It's also possible Thorin may like him too, if the intent staring at Bilbo during his observations in class is anything to go by. But Bilbo doesn't want to assume, doesn't want to jinx things in case Thorin really doesn't have that much interest in him and is just being a good friend. Oh god, if he were to get friend-zoned… Not to mention he has no idea if Thorin swings in that direction or not! Although he's pretty sure Thorin wouldn't mind if he started dating a man, but he could be straight for all Bilbo knows. Bilbo on the other hand has always been the more open type, experimenting in college here and there and having serious relationships with both genders. He's so lost in his thinking that he almost lets his phone ring out and go to voicemail. "Coming, coming I'm coming!" He speed walks into living room while balancing the weight of his mug. He picks up the phone before the last ring gets out. "Yes, hello?"

"…Is this the Baggins residence?"

"Um," Bilbo blinks at the opposite wall where his mum and dad hang above. "Yes? May I ask who's calling?"

"This is Thorin? Thorin Oakenshield?"

Bilbo fumbles with his mug and squeaks when he gets hot tea all over his fingers. "Blasted.."

"I'm sorry?"

"No, no not you! I, um, spilled some tea." He quickly wipes up his hands on his pants and asks, "So! Um, what brings you calling at such a late hour?" He winces at the forced politeness in his voice.

It's silent on Thorin's end, and Bilbo's about to call out in case the connection broke when Thorin speaks up, "I didn't realize 8:30 was considered a late hour."

"Oh!" He startles and almost spills his tea all over again (dammit Bilbo can't you just be normal?). "Well, er, not exactly late but… you're being sarcastic again, aren't you?" Bilbo says flatly when he hears Thorin's muffled snort in the background.

"I really am sorry, truly," he apologizes even those his words hold nothing of the sort. "You're so easy to tease sometimes, I really can't help myself."

Bilbo rolls his eyes. "Yes, so good to know I am easily taken advantage of."

Thorin laughs, and to hear that right in Bilbo's ear is doing very dangerous and unnatural things to his body. "My apologies, Mr. Baggins. I will try to reign it in."

Bilbo makes a 'yeah right' noise which earns another laugh from Thorin. "You still haven't answered my question."

"Ah, yes, right. Um." Suddenly Thorin sounds very awkward, as if remembering why he even called Bilbo in the first place. "I meant to ask you, but I never got a chance to. Um, what are you doing next Friday?"

Bilbo's not kidding when he says he can feel his heart skip a beat, because it actually does (although if it really did he'd have to go seek out a doctor). No, this can't be no, Thorin isn't—this isn't what Bilbo thinks it is, is it?"

"For Halloween, I mean," Thorin clarifies and clears his throat. "I meant for, uh, Halloween. As in the school party? I don't know if Balin told you that or not."

"Oh." Bilbo tries not to sound too deflated at that. Of course Thorin wouldn't be asking him out on a date, silly him. That's what he gets for getting his hopes up. "I didn't know Erebor was holding a Halloween party."

"It's something of a tradition. For the kids, you know?"

"Yes, anything for the kids," Bilbo says with a smile. If it's a little mournful and sad, no one has to know.

"So, would you be free then? To come I mean?"

"You mean as like… a chaperone?" Bilbo asks while idly stirring his tea.

"In a way, yes. But it really is.. quite fun," Thorin ends with what sounds like a wince.

"Ah, I see. Well I'm sure having 100 or so kids running around on a sugary high while teachers and parents try to control them is definitely very fun."

Thorin's guilty grunt is the only response he gets.

"Hmm, you know now that I think about it that idea is starting to sound less appealing by the second."

"I mean… just… please?" Thorin pleads weakly.

"I'll think about it." Okay, so sue him if he's being a tad mean, but Thorin deserves it for all the teasing and sneaking up on Bilbo! He thinks he has every right to tease back. Plus, he kind of likes a pleading Thorin and okay that sounded much better in his head.

"So is that a no?"

"No, but it's not a yes either." Bilbo smiles to himself and sips his tea.

"But you'll—"

"Oh alright, I'm starting to feel guilty now. Yes."

"Yes as in you won't do it or—"

"Yes as in I'll be there next Friday, decked out in kid-proof clothes and probably a hazmat suit."

He thinks he hears a sigh of relief on the other end. "Oh. Okay, well then that's—that's good. And no, really it's not all that bad."

"Mhmm, we'll see," Bilbo hums dryly. It occurs to him then that he doesn't remember ever giving Thorin his phone number, much less his home phone. He vaguely remembers filling out a sheet with his contact info for school-related purposes only but that's about it. Also why 8:30 on a Friday night? Surely Thorin has better things to do. Not that Bilbo's complaining of course, especially if he gets to hear Thorin's voice literally breathing into his very ear, causing goosebumps to rise on his skin and then blush every five seconds at how utterly childish he's being.

"And plus, a lot of the faculty will be there so it really won't be as horrible as you think," Thorin rambles on. If Bilbo didn't know better, he'd think Thorin was trying to convince him to come. They must really be in desperate need of chaperones if that's the case. But if the faculty is acting as chaperones does that mean…?

"Are you going to be there?" Bilbo asks curiously.

"Kinda have to, even if it's just an appearance."

"Oh." Bilbo blinks, and without thinking blurts out, "Then maybe that's all the more reason to come." He doesn't even know where that line comes from. His father would most definitely chastise him for jumping the gun too soon like that, saying something along the lines of That is no way for a Baggins to act! Now his mother on the hand? Oh she would most certainly approve of Bilbo's sudden courageousness. If she knew he was having a thing for a headmaster of a prestigious school she would tell him to jump his bones immediately. Thankfully Bilbo's not as hasty as his mother had always been. There is still some Baggins in him yet, even if it's failing by the minute.

There's a slight pause and then a sharp intake of breath. "Yes, that would—that would be nice," Thorin answers quietly.

Bilbo himself has to take a moment to breathe. He grins into his mug because inwardly, he's squealing with joy like some stupid hormonal teenager (really Bilbo, really?). He can practically feel his parents rolling their eyes from up above.

"So I'll put your name down?" Thorin asks.

"Yes, that will be fine." He hears some rustling from Thorin's end and matches it to the sound of papers being shuffled. He's never really chaperoned anything, but then again Erebor has been full of new experiences and surprises. What's one more thing gonna do?

"You know, I've never actually chaperoned anything before. You sure you want someone like me on your little committee?" Bilbo jokes.

"Of course," Thorin replies immediately, like it's a no brainer Bilbo should be there. "I don't see why not."

"…I think you have way too much faith in me," Bilbo jokes again.

"Well… you have proved yourself on a number of occasions." The sincerity in that one single sentence makes Bilbo stop mid-drinking. He's a little taken aback at this firmly held notion of Thorin's that seems to go beyond just mere chaperoning. And then Thorin continues, "Really, you have. You should… be proud of yourself, you've come a long way."

"I've only been working here a month," Bilbo reminds him.

"And as Mr. Elrond said earlier, you have stood out amongst many."

Bilbo clutches the handle of his mug a little tighter and closes his eyes. He needs to take a minute, because the whole coming to the conclusion thing about Thorin and his very sincere words at the moment are making him feel like a mushy mess of emotions. He knows Thorin isn't teasing or trying to over-flatter him, but it's suddenly become too much to handle and Bilbo feels the need to hide under his bed covers for a while. Dare he say he can feel the 'sinking too fast' metaphor sprouting forth in his mind again.

"Actually, I didn't realize you and Mr. Elrond were such close friends," Thorin says out of nowhere, completely breaking the intimate moment even if it was brief.

"Oh, um, yes, w-we do go a ways back," Bilbo replies, cursing himself for getting so lost in the moment. He hopes his voice doesn't sound too hoarse or reveal any signs of something else. "He was a close friend of my mother, so naturally he took me on as something of a pupil when I started out."

"Is that why he mentioned something about your grandmother earlier?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes he did mention her didn't he?" Bilbo tries to recall their earlier meeting. He can't believe Thorin actually remembered such a minuscule detail whereas Bilbo completely glazed over it.

"After my mother, um, died," Bilbo swallows thickly around the word. It always sounded so ugly and inelegant coming from his own mouth. "My grandmother she—well not to say raise me as I was already living on my own at that time. But she, you know, checked in on me every now and then, brought over some food, made sure I was actually alive and not dying in my bathtub or anything." He realizes he's babbling and hurries on to actually answer the question. "Right, so um, anyways, she and Mr. Elrond continued contact even after.. so yes, she was also close with him. Kept him updated on my life and whatnot." He chuckles quietly to himself, remembering good old Laura puttering about his apartment and cleaning up after him, a grown man with a job and bills to pay. That had been such a low point in his life.

"You know you've mentioned your mother, but you've never said anything about your father as far as I've heard," Thorin comments, and then adding in a rush, "If you don't mind me asking that is! I was just, um, curious because, well." While Thorin continues to stammer away Bilbo suddenly recalls how awful he had looked when he learned of Bilbo's deceased mother. He thinks it's quite sweet how considerate Thorin is trying to be, and he finds himself not minding half as much as he usually does when talking about his parents. Which is strange, considering how Bilbo isn't one to bring up his dead parents on a whim.

"He died when I was in college."

"Ah—oh." That immediately stops Thorin. "I… I'm sorry."

"It's quite alright. It happened a long time ago… not much one can do about it now." He hopes he's not coming off as too bitter, especially when Thorin is so genuinely curious about Bilbo and his family. But it is hard, even if Thorin is the one asking because Bilbo hasn't talked this openly about his parents in a long time. Laura had always been the person Bilbo went to. She had lost her son, and it should have made it all the more difficult to lose a child before her own death. And yet Laura didn't wallow in pity, didn't close herself off from the rest of the world and pretend to be okay like Bilbo. Really, if it wasn't for her Bilbo's not sure what he would have done.

"If it makes you feel better, I too know what it is like to feel loss." That's right, Thorin had lost his grandfather hadn't he?

"Mr. Thror if I recall, correct?" Bilbo asks hesitantly. He's not trying to be too over-sensitive, but he's not sure if it's okay to bring up the mention of Thorin's grandfather either even if it has been 10 years. He's not sure how raw the memory still is for him, whether or not that part of his life is still barging in on his present one.

That's why when Thorin responds, Bilbo wasn't expecting a humorous, "I see you've done your studying."

"Not much, just enough to get by."

Thorin chuckles at that and the somber mood from before seems to dissipate completely. "Perhaps one day I shall tell you all about it."

He brushes it off so dismissively, like it hardly matters and is of no importance at all. It gets Bilbo to straighten up in his chair and exclaim eagerly, "Yes!" And then quickly toning himself down, "I mean, I-I would like that. Very much." He blushes when Thorin chuckles again at his over-eagerness. "Or you could just… tell me now. After all, 8:30 really isn't that late," he adds coyly.

"Is it now? Did I say that earlier?" Thorin muses.

"Yes, I believe you did. And I think it's your turn now."

"So we're taking turns now?"

"Oh yes, those are the rules of the game, didn't you know?"

Thorin's laugh is so happy and infectious that it's got Bilbo laughing along too. And to think he was the reason for that laughter just makes it all the more better.

"So then, shall we begin Mr. Oakenshield?"

 


"I did not."

"Oh you must certainly did."

"Has it occurred to you that maybe that's just my resting face?"

"You mean being naturally grumpy?"

At Thorin's grunting response Bilbo snickers into his tea mug. It's his 4th cup already and his bladder really can't take all the liquid piling up. He's had to excuse himself an embarrassing number of times to use the loo but Thorin doesn't seem to mind, always waiting patiently for Bilbo to return with a smile in his voice. Somewhere along the way, after mentions of dead family members, overwhelming stress, the burdens of life (you get the picture), they started talking about the first day they had met each other. He doesn't really remember who brought it up first, but it had escalated from there and now they were discussing Thorin's so-called 'resting face.'

"You hated me!" Bilbo laughs out into the room, the sound bouncing off the walls and he winces when it echoes back a little too loudly. He really hopes his neighbors don't hate him come morning time.

"I—" Thorin starts to protest. He makes some kind of noise that clearly sounds like giving up all hopes of an explanation. "I was just… suspicious, that's all," he finishes weakly.

"Really? Of little old me?" Bilbo teases.

"Don't try to play innocent here, you thief," Thorin warns. "I saw what you did this morning."

Bilbo laughs again and almost spills his tea, this time not quite caring if some of it sloshes out onto his pant legs. "I told you, it was revenge!"

"And I told you, I can't help scaring you if that is the kind of reaction I get," Thorin counters.

Bilbo flushes red into his mug. Honestly, it's not his fault he gets scared so easily! He doesn't know how it came into fruition but it's stuck with him ever since and he will not be made fun of for it. "Oh… bug off," he mutters half-heartedly.

Thorin laughs for a good five minutes while Bilbo tries not to flush any redder or he may have to open a window in this cold October weather.

"You're the worst."

"No, you mean I'm the best," Thorin corrects with a laugh.

Bilbo can't quite find it in himself to deny that.

 


 

"One thing. One thing you've never told anyone before."

"I hate brussels sprouts."

"No, that doesn't count."

"How so?"

"Thorin, everyone hates brussels sprouts," Bilbo rolls his eyes.

"No, not everyone." At Bilbo's disbelieving silence Thorin clears his throat and adds, "Balin likes them."

"Oh he does not."

"He's not your cousin."

"Yes, but he is my friend and I know him well enough that you are, in fact, lying."

"Fine," Thorin huffs in annoyance and Bilbo giggles.

"Come on, just one thing. One thing no one else knows."

"Well…" Thorin starts and trails off. He leaves the sentence hanging in the air, temping Bilbo to lean forward in his armchair while he waits for Thorin's answer. This is it, this is the moment he's been waiting for, trying to pry off another layer from Thorin and get to know him even more. It's all very dramatic to say the least, as Thorin takes a deep breath in, waits another minute, and speaking in a low voice he replies, "I have a thing for snickerdoodles."

"Oh for the love of—!" Bilbo breaks down laughing. It's only amplified more by Thorin's hearty laugh on the other end. "You ridiculous man!"

 


 

"Is your name really Thorin Oakenshield?"

"What?"

Bilbo only meant it as a casual question, nothing more than that really. Yet the incredulity in Thorin's tone makes him snap his head up and start floundering about for some sort of explanation. Now that he thinks about it, that was a pretty strange question wasn't it? Making your headmaster doubt his own identity?

"I-I mean, it's just that you know.. your last name is Durin isn't it?"

"Yes…" Thorin says slowly.

"But your name it's… Oakenshield?" He says Thorin's last name (if it even is his real name) with a slight hesitation. Even to his own ears, he's starting to realize how ridiculous he sounds. Thorin wouldn't lie about his identity or he would have been taken away by the authorities for crying out loud! Still, it's a question Bilbo's been pondering for a while and he's been too afraid to ask anyone for fear of something like this happening.

"Y-You know what just—never mind that was silly don't answer if you don't feel the need to that was… yeah," he finishes lamely. Internally, he's beating himself over the head with a club and sorely considering relocating to another country.

"Um," is all Thorin can think of to reply. Bilbo doesn't blame him.

"Really just forget about it," Bilbo mutters quickly.

"I mean if you must know…"

"No, no it's fine please that was a stupid question!" He finds himself covering up his face in mortification despite Thorin not being able to see him. He tells himself it helps. It doesn't.

After a while Thorin makes some kind of breathy-like noise. Bilbo thinks it might be a chuckle of some sort but he's too mortified at the moment to find out. "Oakenshield is my middle name, if you must know," he answers.

"Oh." Well then. That's not as dramatic as he thought it'd be.

"Yes." This time Thorin does chuckle.

"So it's Thorin… Oakenshield Durin? That's quite a mouthful."

"Indeed. Hence why I left off the Durin part."

"Huh."

"Are you quite satisfied now, Mr. Baggins?" He asks in amusement.

"I believe so," Bilbo hums thoughtfully. "Is there anything else I should know about you? You know, just to be sure you're not a criminal or anything?"

"My grandfather once worked with the mafia."

"I— what?" Bilbo almost drops his mug at that.

"Kidding, kidding."

"Thorin Oakenshield Durin—!"

"I was kidding for Mahal's sake!"

 


 

Monday morning, much to the dread of the entire population of the UK, finally does come around, and for many that's at precisely 6 am on the dot. And while most Englanders are trudging up the streets, piling up into taxis and buses while only being half awake as they make the morning commute with their 24 oz cups of coffee, Bilbo is in a surprisingly good mood. He really shouldn't be, considering that it's Monday morning and he should really be half dead on his feet right now. Except he's not, and that good mood only amplifies further when Bilbo's eyes catch Thorin's in the hallway. He smiles so shyly at Bilbo he almost bursts into flames on the spot. Needless to say Bofur looked at him strangely and asked if he needed to pay a visit to Oin "Because yer face is turning as red as my granny's bell peppers!"

Bilbo hasn't stopped thinking about last Friday's conversation with Thorin. They had literally talked the whole night, even as Bilbo's clock chimed midnight and he was yawning with half his face smashed into his pillow. He remembers falling asleep around 2 am, and by the time morning came round he found himself blushing and rolling around on his bed squealing like a total git. In fact, the next few days are nothing but shared looks and shy smiles between the two of them. That conversation had been so.. so… everything. It was fun and intimate, like they were old friends catching up for the first time in years, just Thorin and Bilbo listening to the other with great interest and even sharing their own sob stories. Bilbo learned of the sad fate of Thorin's grandfather, his father, even his younger brother Frerin, and how Thorin was forced to grow up so quickly (and in his mid-twenties no less! Bilbo's pretty sure he was still drinking away like a college student). Bilbo in turn told Thorin of his parents, his temporary depression, and how his grandmother practically saved his sorry ass.

The night was a mixture of fun and grief and just pure emotions in general, but one Bilbo would happily repeat again. He's still surprised by how open Thorin was in sharing his grief and memories of his family, much less with Bilbo of all people. It only took a gentle prodding in the right direction, and soon enough Thorin was opening the floodgates. He has a very distinct feeling Thorin hasn't talked to anyone about this in a long time. In a way it makes Bilbo feel like he just won a grand prize or something. He feels a sense of triumph knowing that he's managed to shed yet another layer off Thorin Oakenshield, and he can't help feeling they've become a little more closer for it. But of course Bilbo squashes the idea as soon as it comes because everything is still the same between them.

But it's really not, is it? Bilbo pauses in his grading. Is it different though? Is it really? He wants to think it's different, but they're just futile thoughts nevertheless. Thorin may feel the same way, or he may not. Bilbo sighs and taps his pen against his desk.

"Well, there's no use crying over spilt milk Bilbo," he tells himself.

"You spilled milk?"

Bilbo yelps when he sees Fili and Kili standing in his classroom (when did they walk in?!). Both their heads are tilted at Bilbo with almost similar expressions of confusion.

"I don't see any spilled milk," Kili says.

"Neither do I," Fili adds in.

"I-It's just an expression." Bilbo closes his eyes for a brief second and places a hand over his erratic heartbeat. Does scaring Bilbo run in the Durin family or something? "Anyways, did you two need something?" He's not sure if he's said something wrong because Kili's face instantly turns stormy.

Bilbo throws a questioning glance at Fili who just rolls his eyes. "Kee here is upset."

"I'm not upset!" Kili protests. At that Bilbo and Fili share a silent 'of course you aren't Kili.'

"Okaaay then," Bilbo blinks slowly. "Um, so—"

"Argh it's that damn princeling!" Kili groans in frustration.

Princeling? Bilbo mouths at Fili. Legolas, Fili mouths back. Bilbo nods in understanding. So it has to do with Miss Tauriel, interesting.

"He's taking her out on a date," Kili pouts. He spits out the word with so much distaste that Bilbo has to mentally chant in his head don'tlaughdon'tlaughdon'tlaughDON'TLAUGH.

"O-oh, I see."

"Well, remember we don't know for sure that it's a date," Fili reminds him.

"Of course it's a date! You didn't see them!"

"Kee I was just with you."

"Wait wait," Bilbo holds up a hand to stop them. "You're not sure it's a date?"

Kili starts to talk but Fili interrupts him. "All Legolas asked her was if she'd be willing to accompany him to the teacher's lounge for coffee," and ends with a shrug. "I don't really see how that's a date."

"But it is," Kili insists stubbornly.

"At school?" Fili returns in disbelief.

"It's just coffee. I wouldn't count that as a date or anything," Bilbo interjects. Both men turn to him and he jumps. "I-I mean, well, coffee isn't always necessarily a date. Sometimes it's just… coffee, nothing more," he babbles uselessly.

"You really think so?" Oh there's so much hope in Kili's voice right now. If Bilbo's terribly wrong about this he hopes he doesn't get struck by lightning for it.

"I mean I could be wrong," Bilbo quickly corrects himself. "But I don't think… you should assume anything right off the bat."

"That's what I said," Fili mutters to the ceiling.

Kili considers this for a moment when his face lights up and a devious smile crosses his face. Oh dear..

"Kili—"

"You know I'm pretty sure they're in the teacher's lounge right now," he muses casually to himself.

"Oh boy." Fili eyes his brother nervously.

"I think I might be in the mood for some coffee—" Bilbo and Fili both groan "—at the moment. What do you say, boys?"

"I'm not going to like this at all, am I?" Somehow Bilbo already knows the answer to that question. He has a very bad feeling about this.

Chapter Text

So that bad feeling Bilbo had? It’s about to come to light, and he’s sorry to say he’s a huge contributing factor to this bad feeling of his.

He repeats his previous question—“I’m not going to like this at all, am I?”— a little while later but only gets shushing as a response and sighs to himself. He would laugh at the scene before him but seeing as how he’s also involved really doesn’t make it much better.

All three men are currently crouched (or standing in Bilbo’s case) together by the doorway of the teacher’s lounge. Legolas and Tauriel are inside just a few tables away, not noticing the utter ridiculousness going on before them. Bilbo would also like to thank the ginormous potted plant that’s in the way.

Kili lowers one of the leaves to get a better look. “Look at them, sitting there sipping their damn coffee.”

“Kee,” Fili sighs wearily, “I think Bilbo’s right. I think it really is just coffee.”

“Thank you!” Bilbo says a little too loudly and covers his mouth immediately. Thankfully Legolas and Tauriel stay blissfully unaware.

“Maybe I should get closer,” Kili murmurs to himself.

Fili’s arm darts out to hold him in place. “No don’t you dare, you’re gonna get caught!”

“Maybe I won’t!”

“Oh you must certainly will,” Bilbo cuts in. Of course his words go unnoticed as Kili and Fili bicker amongst themselves. Bilbo rolls his eyes and rests his back against the wall outside. At least this way if Legolas and Tauriel do notice them, only Fili and Kili will be in plain sight.

“No, Kili!” Fili hisses. He tries to grab for Kili’s arm but only gets air instead as his brother slinks further inside. He crawls up to one of the tables and uses the chair to shield him from sight.

“Oh god.”

“I don’t think I can watch.”

Kili smirks back at them in triumph, but it doesn’t last long when his knee bumps against the chair and silence fills the room. Fili springs back from the doorway while Bilbo presses his back flatter against the wall. It’s silent for a brief moment until voices fill up the room again and both men release a sigh a relief.

“That was too close,” Fili whispers and presses a hand to his forehead. He’s in some ridiculous position where he’s rolled onto his back, the side of his body smushed against the wall and his legs sticking up in the air. Bilbo looks like a starfish with his arms and legs spread out against the wall. He’s about to sneak a glance to make sure Kili’s still okay when—

“What are you two doing?”

It’s like slow motion, as Bilbo and Fili slowly turn their heads around at the owner of the voice who’s caught them red-handed in the act. Thorin's standing a little farther up the hallway with his hands on his hips and a befuddled expression on his face. Well, Bilbo can’t blame him. They do look quite silly don’t they? They both shrink in on themselves at having been caught.

“Um,” Fili starts but doesn’t finish. He looks to Bilbo for help.

“Oh for goodness sakes,” Bilbo mutters. He relaxes from his starfish-like position and smoothes out his clothes. “Well, we were, um, heading to the teacher’s lounge.”

“Uh-huh.” Thorin glances between the two of them suspiciously. “And why exactly are we whispering?”

“Wh— Ah, um,” Bilbo splutters for about a minute. Finally he winces and gives in with a guilty, “We’re spying on Miss Tauriel and Mr. Legolas.”

Thorin blinks at him. “Excuse me?”

“If I said this was all Kili’s idea are you going to ground us?” Fili pipes in.

I won’t, but don’t think your mother will.” Thorin’s mouth twitches at Fili’s mumbled, “Great.” Thorin walks over to where Bilbo’s standing and sticks his head out far enough to get a peak inside. He brings his head back and announces, “Kili is still alive if that’s what you’re wondering.”

Really?” Bilbo sticks his head out to see and almost blows his cover with his muffled laughter. There’s a nearby bookshelf which, somehow, Kili has managed to squeeze himself behind. He catches Bilbo’s eyes with a helpless look which he can only interpret as Kili begging for salvation. Well, you reap what you sow.

“So what should we do?” Thorin murmurs. Bilbo whips his head around to reply but leaves his mouth hanging instead. Is it just him or is Thorin considerably closer than before? It’s close enough that Bilbo can feel Thorin’s breath on his face but far enough that Bilbo could escape. Not that he wants to of course.

“Er,” Bilbo stammers. “…You could create a distraction?”

“A distraction! That’s perfect!” Fili whispers happily at the idea.

“A distraction?” Thorin repeats. His eyes have that familiar gleam in them and now Bilbo is starting to see where his nephews get that mischievous side from. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Wait, what are you..?” Bilbo starts to ask as Thorin steps into the room, right in plain view for all to see.

“HEY KILI!”

 


 

The rescue mission is successful and everyone is spectacularly alive. Well, if you count Thorin calling out in a loud voice—“HEY KILI! What on earth are you doing there?”—successful. Let’s just say Kili hasn’t spoken to his uncle in three days and won’t look Miss Tauriel in the eye without his face blooming like a fresh tomato picked straight from the garden.

By the time Thursday comes around Bilbo is hit with the startling realization that tomorrow is Halloween. He’s then pulled back to last week’s phone call, filled with conversations of Halloween parties and brussels sprouts and grumpy resting faces and oh Yavanna does Bilbo have it bad. He’d like to say he’s head over heals for Thorin but that’s just nonsense. He is a Baggins after all, and a Baggins does not rush head first into a situation without at least a little bit of thinking. But then again he is a Took too so who knows what he might do. Tooks could be rather unpredictable.

Thursday starts out rather uneventful. It’s a cold frigid day, a little windy and the sky looking rather nasty. Bilbo thinks the weather forecast called for rain but he can’t be sure. He doesn’t have an umbrella either which is just fantastic. He quickly runs into the school building before anything drastic happens and takes a moment to relish in the warmth. Once he’s all warmed up he heads off to his classroom, saying cheerful hellos to his coworkers along the way.

Now remember, Bilbo said the day started out uneventful. Of course anything can happen over the course of the day, and it all happens at around 11 a.m. He’s preparing for his next class when (Yavanna help him) he sees Fili and Kili crouching by one of the English classrooms from across the hall. Bilbo knows better than to get involved with their antics which usually never end well (for both brothers and the victims). Yet his curiosity gets the better of him, and so he steps out into the hall to see what all the fuss is about.

They don’t notice him behind them until he clears his throat and asks, “What on earth are you two doing?”

Fili and Kili turn simultaneously and wave frantically at him to be quiet. Bilbo only raises his eyebrow in question, to which the brothers answer by pointing at the classroom they’re currently spying on. Bilbo just rolls his eyes. He tries to peer inside to see what all the fuss is about and then freezes, his body caught at this awkward angle where he’s not quite straight but not entirely crooked either. It’s more slanted really, with the way he’s putting most of his weight on one leg while the other hovers just above the ground, his hands clasped behind his back to maintain his balance and his neck tilted just slightly so he can see through the door’s window.

The person inside the classroom is Thorin, who’s pacing along the front. Thorin is talking to the students and holding a book. The students are listening to Thorin. Thorin is teaching a class, is what Bilbo’s mind finally concludes.

“What is your uncle doing?” Bilbo asks while staring dumbly at Thorin’s figure. It’s only when Thorin raises his arm to gesture to the board that Bilbo drops his eyes and breathes in shakily through his nose.

“You didn’t know?” Fili’s question brings his head up. “Uncle teaches English.”

If Bilbo recalls correctly he teaches Year’s 7-8, Bofur teaches Year’s 9-10, which then leaves Year 11— “Oh,” he breathes out in realization. “Your uncle… teaches Year 11 English.”

“Well duh,” Kili rolls his eyes. “He’s a huge English geek, he’s into all that Shakespeare nonsense and tales of love stories and that sort.”

“Oh,” Bilbo breathes out again.

“Yeah, seriously. He can quote whole lines from King Lear,” Fili supplies.

“Oh.”

“Don’t forget all that poetry crap.”

“Oh.”

“You keep saying ‘oh,’ you realize that right?”

“Well, excuse me for being just a tad bit surprised!” Bilbo hisses shrilly at them. “Someone could have at least told me he was the other English teacher!”

“But why does it matter?”

Bilbo’s about to answer but one look at their curious faces is enough to make him reconsider his words. “N-Nothing, nevermind. Just… stop spying on your uncle!”

“But we have to!” Kili says eagerly, and then muttering sourly, “Gotta get back at him for what he did to me.”

“Hey, don’t look at me!” Fili puts his hands up at Bilbo’s cross look. “I’m just the accomplice.”

“Of course you are.” He starts to walk away when both brothers grab his hands.

“Aren’t you going to stay and watch?” Kili asks.

“And watch what exactly?” As if on cue a loud bang and numerous shrieks go off inside. All three peer through the door’s window curiously.

Thorin is… well, he’s covered in white powder for one thing.

“Flour,” Fili clarifies.

“How exactly…?”

“It’s something me and Nori made,” Kili proclaims a little too proudly and points to the ceiling. Hanging above is a popped balloon attached to some kind of contraption to hold it in place. “You see there’s a timer, and when it dings the device pops the balloon and—!” Kili makes explosion noises with the help of his hands.

“And you thought it’d be a good idea to… set it off while he’s teaching,” Bilbo says slowly.

“That would be the point.”

“Yeah! Great idea, right?”

“I would agree, except your uncle is coming this way and he doesn’t look very happy about it.”

“What?” Both brothers say in unison. The door slams open and all three are met with a flour-covered Thorin and a face that just radiates 10 different types of anger (even if it is covered in flour). The excitement from earlier quickly transitions to one of horror. Bilbo guesses Fili and Kili have about three seconds before they’re killed.

“Um—”

“We can explain—”

They both clamp their mouths shut at Thorin’s raised hand. In a very low, dark voice and annunciating each word, “I will give you five seconds before I yell for your mother. And I suggest you make it quick.”

Bilbo’s never seen them move with such speed before in his whole life. Within seconds they’re scrambling up from their positions and sprinting down the hallway. It’s not until they disappear around the corner that Bilbo remembers he’s still in the presence of a very aggravated, flour-covered Thorin.

He slowly faces forward to meet him. “Er. You may have a little—” He waves vaguely at the mess on Thorin “—uh, stuff on you.”

“Really, you think?” Thorin shoots back with a scowl. He growls as he tries to wipe off the mess with his ruined sleeve.

“Um.”

What?” Thorin barks out, then winces at the harshness of his own voice and turns sheepish. Bilbo tries to keep his composure and not startle in shock, because while he enjoys teasing people (people being Thorin, and teasing being to an extent), he’d rather not make Thorin feel any more shitty. The flour covering him from head to toe probably doesn’t help either, but that’s just mere speculation on Bilbo’s part.

He clears his throat instead with a, “I, uh, didn’t know you also taught English.”

Thorin pauses and stares at him. “Did I not mention that?”

“Um, not really no.”

“Huh,” is all Thorin says. He thinks on this as he tries to wipe off the remaining mess staining his clothes. When that fails to work he lets out a long-suffering sigh. “Class is dismissed!” He barks back at his now frightened students. In one swift motion they gather up their belongings and make a beeline for the door. Bilbo almost gets swept up by the masses if it weren’t for Thorin’s flour-covered hand on his arm to guide him out of the way. He can feel the heat radiating from Thorin’s hand and it makes the hairs on his arms and neck stand up.

“Y-You can let go now,” Bilbo stutters out in embarrassment once all the students are gone. He blushes at Thorin’s lingering eyes which are regarding him with a sort of fond curiosity. Oh please make them stop.

Thorin doesn’t let go at first, only loosens his hold on Bilbo’s arm. Finally he does let go and he balls his hand into a fist by his side. Bilbo really can’t find it in him to care that he’s got a big white handprint on the sleeve of one of his best cardigans. That’s what washing machines are for after all.

“You know I really liked this shirt,” Thorin says mournfully.

“I’m sure you can find another one,” Bilbo replies once he’s found his voice again.

Thorin sighs and stares down at his flour-covered self. “I uh, need to go clean up. If you’ll excuse me.” He nods curtly at Bilbo and turns to leave.

Bilbo doesn’t know what overcomes him. He supposes he wasn’t thinking straight, or perhaps that’s just someone else’s hand on Thorin’s massive, muscle-bulging arm but no, no it’s Bilbo’s and Bilbo’s alone.

The headmaster blinks down at Bilbo’s hand with an equal look of confusion.

“I-I can.. help you. Clean up, that is…” Bilbo’s voice dies away and leaves the sentence hanging in the air. His overheating face isn’t making matters much better.

He jumps in surprise at Thorin’s soft, “I would very much appreciate that.”

 


 

Thorin doesn’t know what exactly brought him to this moment. He’s just sort of been in a daze since the prank incident (courtesy of the two excuses he calls his heirs). And the reason for his current haziness?

That would be Professor Baggin’s hand wiping away at the floury mess on Thorin’s chest. Each times his hand moves Thorin has to stop the sharp intake of breath that threatens to spill, instead opting to hold his breath and release it when the professor moves away. If he passes out from oxygen deprivation it’s his own fault. Did he also mention they just so happen to be in the very same bathroom where certain words and looks were shared between them?

“Are you alright?” Professor Baggins tilts his head at him in slight worry. “You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine,” Thorin manages somewhat hoarsely. “I think it’s the… stress. Or relief, one or the other I can’t figure it out.”

He chuckles and continues his cleaning. “I will have you know I did try to stop them.”

“No amount of force can stop them,” Thorin sighs wearily.

“Except for their mother,” Mr. Baggins smirks up at him.

“Yes,” Thorin gives a breathy laugh. “Except for their mother.”

A comfortable silence settles over them, just the professor cleaning and Thorin standing there staring at their reflections in the mirror. The professor almost has his whole nose buried in Thorin’s shirt with how close he’s standing, concentrating very hard on trying to remove the stains. And being the idiot he is Thorin takes that image one step further, and further, and further and— He has to force his mind to shut down at that point.

“You know,” Mr. Baggins starts conversationally, “I’ve just realized something.”

“Oh?” Thorin hums. “And what’s that?”

He waits patiently while Mr. Baggins dips the paper towel under the sink and wrings it thoroughly. “You’ve never actually called me by my first name,” he huffs with each wring.

Thorin scrunches up his forehead at the statement. “I… haven’t?”

“No, you haven’t,” the teacher says with a small smile. He wrings the paper towel once more and starts dabbing about Thorin’s sleeve. “I don’t know,” he shrugs, “Just a thought that came to me.”

“Would you like me to start calling you Bilbo?” Thorin asks slowly.

Mr. Baggins stills at the mention of his name. Even under the dim lighting Thorin can see the slight red in his cheeks. “I-I would. Very much… actually.” He tips his head up to meet Thorin’s gaze head on. “I would… very much like you to call me Bilbo.”

Thorin swallows around a thick lump in his throat. He’s pretty sure Mr. Bagg— Bilbo, is a lot closer than before but it may just be his clouded and delusional mind conjuring up weird thoughts. “Alright,” he answers after some consideration. “I can do that.” At the professor’s expectant look he rolls his eyes and adds, “Bilbo.”

He smiles brightly at that. “There! Much better!” And goes back to cleaning Thorin’s sleeve.

“I didn’t think calling you by your first name would make you so happy,” Thorin murmurs wryly.

“It does,” Bilbo hums. He looks back up at Thorin and repeats in a softer, more affectionate voice, “It does.”

Thorin suddenly has the urge to kiss Bilbo. He doesn’t know how or where or why but he just knows he wants to do it. He’s about to bring his hand up and settle it against Bilbo’s cheek, maybe even use his other hand to cup the back of his neck and draw him in closer, their noses bumping, their breaths intermingling and that adorable blush on Bilbo’s face growing darker—

The moment is completely broken by the opening of the bathroom door and a very sheepish Dwalin. “Uhhhh, I’ll just—” He makes some kind of abort gesture and scurries out.

And now that it is broken, Thorin also notes the too close for comfort proximity with which they’re standing and slowly takes a step backwards, closing his eyes in frustration. He knows he’ll have to deal with Dwalin’s crap later. He opens his eyes and is ready to throw out some lame comment, something to dissolve this weird mood they’ve set themselves in. Bilbo, understandably, looks at a lost for words, his face in total bewilderment and his cheeks flushed right down to the collar of his shirt. He kind of gapes like a fish on land for a moment.

“I… uh…” His face grows considerably darker as he continues stammering and fumbling about for words.

Thorin lets this go on for a minute until he feels like a really horrible person. He saves him from his fumbling by laughing out a, “Thank you, for cleaning my shirt and everything. I hope I don’t make you late for your classes.”

“N-No, not at all no of course not!” Bilbo hurriedly reassures. “It’s—it’s fine. I…” He makes a whine of frustration at his inability to speak. “I’m just… gonna go now, okay?”

“Okay,” Thorin acknowledges with crooked grin.

“Okay.” Bilbo opens his mouth once more but seems to think better of it. He points to the door a couple times and then just gives up with a huff and rushes outside.

Thorin lets the empty silence of the bathroom take over before he starts laughing silently to himself. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen a reaction like that before in his life. “Oh god.” He covers his eyes with his hand and laughs harder.

 


 

Thorin pushes his way out of the bathroom and has to squint now that he’s out under the bright school lights again. He keeps blinking until he thinks his eyes have adjusted, even testing out different blinking patterns until it makes him look seriously ridiculous. He hears a muffled ‘pfft’ to his left and stops dead in his tracks.

Professor— Bilbo is propped against the wall, his back taking most of the weight while his legs are stretched outward so that he’s leaning at an angle. Even though his lips are pursed the corner of his mouth is curled up in a way to suggest he’s laughing at Thorin’s expense. He does have the decency to appear sheepish though.

“I thought you were already miles away by now.” As he suspected, Bilbo does flush darkly and Thorin can’t help preening at the reaction he produced.

“Well, I almost did. But then I forgot something.” Bilbo tilts his chin up with a cheekiness about his features. “You haven’t told me what time to be here tomorrow night.”

Thorin has to collect his thoughts together to remember what exactly is going on tomorrow night because he’s pretty sure… oh right. The Halloween party. He’s about to say 5:30 pm but something stops him from saying just that. He’s not sure what it is, but ten years from now he’ll look back on this moment and think thank Mahal I found the balls to be daring, because the next words out of his mouth are: “Most of the teachers like to stay after school, maybe go out for some dinner and drinks and then come back to prepare.” Bilbo freezes for a split second and Thorin can only guess at the various emotions running across his face. He really hopes he somehow got his more than a little obscure message across (yes, he’s been told he’s not very straight forward now shut it).

To his glee Bilbo’s mouth starts curling up again. “I see.” He bites his lip and oh Mahal that should be so illegal right now. “Are you trying to insinuate something there?”

“Possibly.”

“Uh-huh,” Bilbo nods.

“The event doesn’t start until seven.”

“Seven?”

“Yes, seven.”

“That’s quite a lot of time from the moment school ends.”

Thorin feels a smile tugging at his own lips at the sight of Bilbo’s very suggestive face. He stuffs his hands into his pockets and rolls back and forth on his heels to contain his growing excitement. “I would agree.”

“Oh for fuck’s sakes!” A very familiar voice roars out of nowhere. Dwalin stomps out from one of the nearby classrooms and looks absolutely livid. To Thorin’s surprise (or not), Ori peaks his head out timidly. Thorin will have to question Dwalin on that one later. “Just ask him out already would ya?! Some of us have daily needs to take care of here!” Ori giggles through his hand and sneaks back inside.

Dwalin growls out in frustration (whether at Thorin or Ori he’s not quite sure) and deliberately shoves Thorin out of his path. “If you two nitwits are still out here by the time I’m done I will throw you both in the gym supply closet and lock you up myself!” And with that he slams the bathroom door shut.

“Wow,” Bilbo says after a moment.

“Yeah,” Thorin responds with equal bafflement.

“So, um—”

“I’ll—”

Both men blink and laugh nervously.

“How about this?” Thorin suggests so they don’t have to play the ‘you talk no you talk first’ game. “I’ll.. come to your last period class, and then we can… go from there.”

At that Bilbo’s face immediately lights up with joy. “Okay,” he nods excitedly. “I’ll—yeah! That sounds good!” He pushes away from the wall and starts walking backwards with a bounce to his step. “So it’s a…?”

“Yes,” Thorin chuckles at the implied statement. “It’s.. a date.” The word sounds slightly foreign on his tongue. Hopefully that’ll change sometime in the future.

“Okay.” Bilbo looks like he’s about five seconds from bursting. Thorin on the other hand feels like he might faint from all these different emotions barging their way through his system. “I’ll see you. After last period.”

“After last period,” Thorin confirms with a giddy smile.

“Okay,” Bilbo repeats. He bites his lip and finally turns around, obviously trying to remain composed as he walks down the length of the hall. Thorin has a feeling he’ll be squealing by the time he’s out of sight. At least Thorin knows he will.

Because he’s going on a date.

He hears the door creak open behind him and Dwalin muttering out a, “So were ya able to pull your dick outta your mouth and—”

Thorin makes sure to slam the door on Dwalin as hard as possible. He tells himself he doesn’t take joy in the pained noises on the other end, therefore he supposes it’s only right when Dwalin bangs the door open in retaliation. It hits the back of Thorin’s body hard enough that it could probably make him black out. They both scowl at each other, Dwalin with what looks like the beginnings of a bloody nose and Thorin with a now concussed head and a bruised back.

“Thank you for that,” Thorin says wryly.

“What goes around comes around,” Dwalin snorts. He walks out so that’s he standing beside Thorin. Under the brighter lights of the school’s hallway, Thorin can now see a red mark starting to bloom across Dwalin’s forehead right between his eyebrows. It’s going to be a nasty looking bruise by tomorrow.

“So what was that about?” Dwalin asks. He crosses his arms and gives a pointed look.

“Are you referring to when I smashed a door into your face?”

“I was referring to when I walked in on you two making heart eyes at each other.”

Thorin groans and hangs his head in shame. He blames his stupid idiot heirs. Dwalin would only know that phrase if it weren’t for them and their need to ‘educate the older generation about the makings of the internet.’ He’s disgusted to say Dwalin has a Vine but more disgusted in himself for actually knowing what a Vine is. If anyone asks why he’s re-vined hundreds of baby otter videos, Thorin will deny it right to the grave.

“Can we just please not talk about this right now?” Thorin sighs in the most pained voice possible.

“I think we kinda have to,” Dwalin responds in a no-nonsense tone.

“No, we really don’t.”

“No we really do.”

“Should I ask what you were doing with Mr. Ori then?” Dwalin’s quick to shut his mouth at that and doesn’t say anything else. It doesn’t matter, his blush says everything.

“I won’t say anything if you won’t.”

“You’re blackmailing me,” Dwalin says flatly, the sentence a mixture between a question and a statement.

“I am only doing what is necessary to save my own reputation,” Thorin answers as Balin refers to, ‘with the air of a king about him.’ It’s a running joke in the family, don’t ask.

Dwalin stares at him for a moment. “Fine,” he replies gruffly. “Shake on it.”

Thorin rolls his eyes but sticks out his hand anyways. They pull each other into one of those brotherly hugs, pat the other’s back and pull apart.

“Bring it up with Balin and I’ll kill you.”

“Same to you oh dear cousin.”

Thorin knows he shouldn’t, he really does and he did just make a deal with Dwalin after all. But the thought is too tempting, and as Dwalin walks back to the classroom Thorin calls out, “Send my regards to Ori, and don’t forget to lock the door on your way in!” He tells himself he really doesn’t take joy in the way Dwalin somehow, miraculously trips over the flat surface of the school’s floor. He also definitely doesn’t take joy in the glare sent his way which speaks all the words of, I will kill you you bastard, just you wait.

 


 

From: my idiot bro [12:00 pm]

THE KNUCKLEHEAD IS GOIN ON A DATE W/ THE SHRIMP

Balin blinks and squints at the message on the tiny screen. Even though Dwalin and the boys set up Balin’s smartphone to fit his preferences precisely, even going so far as to make the text as large as possible, he still couldn’t see the darn words. He sighs and slips on his glasses.

“The knucklehead…?” He mumbles to himself. So that means Thorin, but then who’s the shrimp? “Oh, Bilbo.” He nods at the message and slips the phone back into his pocket without another thought. The meaning of Dwalin’s text doesn’t really come to Balin until about five minutes later.

“Wait what?!” He whips his phone back out and stares at the message again. He may not have his glasses on this time but he gets the message loud and clear.

To: my idiot bro [12:06 pm]

WHAT DO’YA MEANM??

Balin glares at the typo. Did he also mention the keys on this stupid phone were too darn small for his stubby fingers, withered with age and experience and no longer fit to be handling something so delicate? As expected, Dwalin’s reply comes within seconds.

From: my idiot bro [12:07 pm]

I KNOOOOOW. I’LL TELL U STORY LTR

“Mahal…” He whispers to himself. Dwalin isn’t pulling his leg or anything, is he? He decides not to bother with that confirmation just yet, as there are more important matters to attend to. He glances up from his phone to regard the rest of the company surrounding him at the lunch table. “Boys,” he says with a slow grin, “I believe it’s time you pay up.”

Numerous groans sound out from each of the members.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Gloin roars out and slams a fist on the table.

“Are you serious?!” Comes Nori.

“That’s too soon! I wasn’t ready!” Dori tries to protest.

“You totally cheated!” Oin points an accusing finger at him.

“Kakhf,” Bifur mutters and reluctantly pulls out his wallet. Bofur and Bombur follow suit in the same depressing fashion.

“I told you boys,” Dis says smugly, “And none of you decided to believe me.”

“Don’t get cocky,” Gloin spits out and tosses a twenty to Balin. “There is still more to come in this development.”

“True, but so far Balin and I are winning while none of you are.” Dis accepts the money from her end of the table and happily sorts through the bills.

“And how are we splitting this, Mis Dis?” Balin asks while sorting through his own growing pile of bills.

“I think fifty-fifty should be equal enough.”

Chapter Text

"You know you really didn't have to be so harsh on them," Ori says once Dwalin returns from his little bathroom excursion. He gets what sounds like a pained grunt in response and when he turns around he gasps at the large, obnoxious red spot overshadowing Dwalin's forehead. Not to mention the traces of dried blood on his nose.

"What happened?!" Ori wails.

Dwalin rolls his eyes as the younger man starts fussing about him. "My idiot cousin," is all he answers.

"That really doesn't say a lot you know." Ori gently presses his fingers to Dwalin's forehead, thankfully not noticing the faint blush staining Dwalin's cheeks. "Oh dear… I hope this doesn't bruise."

"It won't," Dwalin huffs out impatiently. He's very tempted to bat away the small hand from his face but decides to keep his hands to himself, balling them up into tight fists instead.

"I guess that's what you get for teasing your cousin," Ori chuckles softly, rubbing the spot in small, soothing little circles.

"I believe it's called karma Master Ori," Dwalin grunts. He tells himself he doesn't like the feeling of Ori's soft, padded fingers massaging his forehead. Really, he doesn't.

"So it is Master Dwalin," Ori returns in jest. All too soon he draws his hands away and stuffs them behind his back. He takes a small step away from the gym teacher and grins in that natural innocent way of his. Dwalin swears it's not normal for someone to be so.. so… untainted like that. Maybe that's what you get for having an overbearing brother who tries to shield you from the world.

"Are you also here to help out Bofur?"

"Huh?" Dwalin blurts out dumbly.

"Bofur," Ori repeats, blinking at Dwalin, "His students were doing some kind of English assignment involving watercolors. You know Bofur, always likes to be creative, and so naturally Dori had to come and teach Bofur's students the proper way to paint." He rolls his eyes and continues, "Dori said something about an art project gone extremely wrong, but he had a class to teach and I had a free period so I ended up stationed on clean up duty." He ends the rather lengthy explanation with a short grin and bobs up and down on his feet.

"Uh," Dwalin scratches his head. "No, I was just— Actually yeah," he reconsiders. "Yeah, yeah I did come to help out Bofur." He nods in a way that shows his supposed eagerness to help.

"Oh!" Ori claps his hands together and smiles. "That's wonderful! Well, you can start picking up those paintbrushes there!" He points to one of the desks near the back, then turns and starts picking up paintbrushes from the front row of desks. "Don't worry about washing them off just yet. I can do that later, for now just gather everything up and put them all in a pile," he rambles on without sparing a glance back at Dwalin to make sure he's actually working.

In truth, Dwalin's only here after finding the art room devoid of Ori's presence and Dori muttering sourly that he was with Bofur. So yes, his intentions aren't exactly the purest but if it's to see the young art teacher then that's fine too. And the fact that Ori's all the way towards the front while Dwalin's working his way through the back makes an excellent vantage point for his eyes to trail over Ori's skinny frame, taking in the way he walks with a skip to his step, his cropped brown hair and braids flopping about, humming some kind of nursery tune or Disney song, something so innocent. Maybe that's why Dori dislikes Dwalin so much. He sighs inaudibly to himself and picks up the rest of the brushes.

"Oh!" Ori blinks at Dwalin's finished pile. "That was quite fast."

Dwalin makes a noise which sounds like a grunt but could be mistaken for some animalistic-like noise too. Ori giggles at that and Dwalin blushes right down to his beard.

"H-Hurry up with your own pile," Dwalin mumbles, but there's no bite to his tone.

Ori giggles again and does a dorky salute. "Yes sir Master Dwalin!"

 


 

Kili's sulking, that much Fili is sure of. He hasn't stopped sulking either, even after the two of them got revenge on their uncle (Fili would still like to point out it was was all Kili's idea!).

Fili sighs and nudges his baby brother's shoulder. "Kee, if you keep doing that your face is gonna stay like that, and then you'll never have a chance with Miss Tauriel." Ironically this only makes Kili sulk even more.

"S' fine," Kili mumbles and hunches his shoulders. "She likes that stupid princeling anyways."

Fili really feels the urge to roll his eyes but manages to keep himself in check. "All they did was go for coffee. At school. I don't think that's evidence enough that she likes him."

"It could be." Kili hunches over until his chin is resting on the lunch table. "Why couldn't I have nice long hair?" He continues complaining. "Instead I get the scraggly brown hair. And it's not even the nice kind like Uncle and mum's!"

Now Fili really does roll his eyes. He does ruffle Kili's hair in sympathy though. Or pity, either one at this point. "I think you have very nice hair."

"But Fee, it's not like his."

"Remember, we're supposed to hate his father. If Uncle hears you praising Legolas like that he may just take you out of the inheritance. And for good this time."

"You know he says that but he doesn't actually do it," Kili says while tilting his face towards Fili.

"I don't think he has a choice until he gets married and doesn't need our pretty faces anymore."

"….."

"Kee?" Fili pokes his cheek, and when that doesn't illicit a response he uses two fingers instead.

"The princeling has a pretty face," he mumbles.

Fili groans and almost bangs his head against he table. Thankfully Nori saves him from such a fate when he pulls up a seat at their table, sighing, "Now now, what's all the fuss about?" He raises a carefully braided eyebrow at the two brothers.

Fili points to his brother and whispers conspiratorially, "He's having a mid-life crisis."

"Already? Doesn't that only happen when you reach your forties?" Nori plays along.

"You guys," Kili groans.

"Kidding, kidding." Nori raises his hands in defeat. "But what is the problem then? If not a mid-life crisis?"

"Let's just say it involves a certain redhead who teaches history and Sindarian." Fili says this while directing a quick glance at the aforementioned teacher just a few tables away, reading a book in the presence of Bifur. Which isn't weird or anything, considering they're the language teachers and often consult the other when in need of help. Just as Nori mentored Fili and Kili when they first started, Bifur was the one to help out Miss Tauriel. Even with Bifur's thick accent he was able to converse just fine with the teacher, and in turn Miss Tauriel helped him out with his English. It took a lot of convincing from Fili on that one, insisting that "No, she does not like Bifur I mean he's practically old enough to be her grandfather!"

"Aaahh," Nori nods sagely and crosses his arms. "Still haven't talked to the lass?"

"After that disaster? Absolutely not," Kili answers miserably, that disaster being his own uncle embarrassing him in front of the one person who, until now, always saw him as normal. As a result, he hasn't uttered one word to the history/language teacher. Not that he uttered a word to her to begin with anyways

"You know you could just, I don't know," Nori shrugs and pretends like he's thinking, "Talk to her."

Kili throws back his head and gives the most fake laugh, then transitions to an immediate deadpanned, "No."

"Oh come on! You won't know until you try!"

"If he ever does," Fili mutters under his breath.

Nori points an accusing finger at him. "Not helping."

"None of you are!" Kili wails a little too loudly, loud enough that it travels all the way to Miss Tauriel and Bifur's table. Bifur barely notices, but the sound forces Tauriel to break concentration from her book and squint around the cafeteria. She smirks when she sees Kili was the source of the noise, winks at him and returns to her book. This only causes Kili to be filled with even more mortification than before. He buries his head in his arms and whines.

"Was that supposed to mean something?" Nori whispers indiscreetly to Fili.

"I think she did that when he got called out by Uncle the other day," Fili whispers back.

Kili lets out another helpless whine.

"Don't give up just yet!" Nori claps Kili hard on the shoulder and ignores the stink eye sent his way. "You'll get your lass, just you wait."

"But don't wait forever."

"Fili."

 


 

Oin and Dori casually sip their tea in silence as they lounge about in the school infirmary. Even though Oin is very strict with his patients and making sure the state of his infirmary is in pristine shape, washing down every bit and surface and disinfecting each of his tools that it's enough to make Gloin groan out, "If you change that cot's sheets one more time I will have had several more grandchildren by now," there are times when one needs to use it for other needs. Such as drinking tea with a good friend and sharing in the peace and silence. It's only ever a temporary peace and silence though, especially when one works at a place like Erebor Academy with a rowdy faculty such as theirs.

However, it's actually Dori who breaks the silence when he suddenly scowls and says bitterly, "Dwalin keeps hitting on Ori." Oin at least has the decency not to spit out his tea in Dori's face. If it was coming from Fili or Kili or maybe even Nori, he wouldn't be too surprised, but he wasn't even aware Dori knew such a phrase. He swallows down the rest of the liquid with some difficulty and clears his throat.

"It's a little…" Dori taps his fingers against his cup until the word hits him. "Disconcerting." At Oin's inquisitive look he continues, "Not to say that it's bad, but it is worrisome. Trust me, I have never questioned Ori's sexuality, and Nori and I have tried to remain as supportive as possible. And yet…" He glances at Oin for confirmation to carry on, which he gives with a curt nod. "Dwalin might be too…" He taps his fingers again. "Aggressive."

"I think Dwalin is a fine lad," Oin begins carefully, for fear he may incur Dori's infamous wrath whenever it came to his youngest brother. "Ori seems to rather like him."

Dori frowns slightly and takes a sip as he considers this. He brings the cup back to its saucer and asks, "But is Dwalin really the right choice for Ori?"

"I think," Oin begins just as carefully as the first time (he'd really like to not lose Dori's steadfast companionship. They've made a nice little routine of this over the past few years), "That is something for Master Ori to decide."

He almost sighs in relief when the older brother doesn't bash his head in or destroy his infirmary, instead sighing and leaning back in his chair with a contemplative gaze. "Ori is no longer a child, is he?" Oin shakes his head, to which Dori sighs again. "I guess it is to be expected, we must all leave the nest sometime. Ori… yes, Ori, must make his own decisions for himself," he finally decides.

Oin chuckles at the worry still plaguing Dori's face. He gently pats the other man's shoulder. "Don't worry, it will all work itself out in the end."

"Yes. Yes, that is true, isn't it? Best not to over-worry," Dori nods resolutely. Oin's snort goes muffled inside his teacup because regardless of whatever reassurances he tells himself, Dori will always worry for his younger brother. Oin feels the same way about Gloin sometimes, so Dori's not really to blame for his mother hen-like nature.

They return to their previous silence and sip languidly at their tea, one of them a little less worried than before. The other maybe just a tad bit more worried as he watches his friend calmly drink his tea. For some reason or another, Oin has a feeling this isn't the end of this conversation. He also has a feeling Dori may be up to something, and that something might just be incredibly stupid. Dori may be wise in his ways, but the lengths he went to to protect Ori was a little scary at times.

Oh well. As Dori said, best not to dwell on such worrisome thoughts.

 


 

Dwalin feels a chill run up his spine. Not the kind of chill that comes from cold weather or anything. It's the kind that feels like something is creeping up behind you, growing closer and closer, slowly making its presence known and then the moment you're at your most vulnerable, it springs out of nowhere and attacks—

He quickly spins his head around to the point where his neck actually cracks and he winces. The only thing he's met with is the stretch of hallway behind him. Huh, that's strange. He could have sworn he felt something.

"Mr. Dwalin?" Ori's timid voice speaks out. He looks up at the gym teacher anxiously. Dwalin's then aware he has a very sullen-looking frown on and wipes it off as soon as it comes. He knows he's scary, and he knows he can intimidate the crap out those darn Year 10 and 11 students when he feels like it but he doesn't need Ori of all people to feel frightened by him. Then again, judging by their first meeting Ori was already scared to begin with. The moment Dwalin laid eyes on the young art teacher (before he even uttered a single word mind you!) he had immediately gasped and turned bright red with what could only be described as pure fear, plain and simple. It was the single worst reaction of Dwalin's life, and he barely even knew the man at the time.

Dwalin has to catch himself from sighing out loud and revealing his pent up frustration. It's not like he wanted to have the appearance an ax murderer. He also didn't want premature balding, but there was no helping that one. He quickly made up for it with his kick ass beard and whatever leftover facial hair he had left. Not to mention his awesome tattoos, but it seemed not everyone had an appreciation for the finer (or rougher) things in life. Ori included of course.

"Is everything alright?" Ori tries again.

"Yeah, yeah fine," Dwalin grumbles. "I just thought… I thought I felt something. Probably just my imagination though." He's starting to realize how stupid it must sound to the art teacher's ears and clamps his mouth shut.

Instead of thinking he's a total loon though, Ori just smiles and giggles. "That is very strange, Master Dwalin sir."

Dwalin makes a weird noise at the formal title. "J-Just Dwalin is fine, laddie."

"Yes, yes Master Dwalin sir," Ori chirps innocently, although Dwalin's pretty sure it's a different type of innocent compared to his normal one. Regardless, it only serves to fluster Dwalin even more.

"Seriously you don't have to—"

"I'm kidding," Ori laughs and rolls his eyes. "Goodness, you don't need to take me so seriously."

"…Right."

"Oh please don't tell me you're sulking now!"

"Shut it, would ya?"

Dwalin's always liked the way Ori laughs. It's a bright high-pitched sound, one filled with genuine glee that couldn't even compare to a newborn's first laugh. It sometimes surprises Dwalin to hear such a sound from Ori.

"I never got to say this," Ori begins all of a sudden, "But thank you." At Dwalin's confusion he clarifies, "For helping me earlier, I mean. I'm sure you must have been busy and had things to do—"

"Nonsense," Dwalin interrupts before Ori can ramble any further. He tended to do that whenever he got too nervous. "It was no trouble at all. Picking up mere paintbrushes isn't that much of a burden."

"Well, regardless I very much appreciated your help." Later he adds shyly, "Thank you."

Dwalin almost freezes up right there in the middle of the hallway. He has to quickly force his gaze away lest his true feelings be revealed. "S-Sure, any time."

The smile Ori sends him actually does make Dwalin freeze up. He stops just in time to have a door almost slam into his face for the second time that day. He staggers backwards and almost loses his balance completely if not for the small weight of the art teacher to help him regain his footing.

"Oh my gosh, are you alright?!" Ori peaks out from behind and peers up worriedly at him. Dwalin can feel the heat of those smaller hands leaving imprints on his back, burning a hole through his clothes right down to his skin and bones. He clears his throat loudly and straightens up to take the weight off Ori's hands. And he is pretty heavy, a combination of muscle and too much meat.

"Fine, fine," Dwalin mutters. He rubs at his cheeks in hopes of chasing the red away.

The person responsible for Dwalin's almost broken nose (again) looks to be a Year 9 student. "Sorry, sorry!" He apologizes profusely and bows his head each time.

"Really, it's fine. Don't worry about it," Dwalin waves off. The student bows one more time and escapes back into the classroom, whatever he was about to come out into the hall for clearly forgotten for fear of the scary gym teacher.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Ori cuts in. "Because your face is a little red—"

"I am fine."

It's a really, really good thing Thorin isn't here to witness this. Or worse yet, Balin. Those are two nightmares Dwalin is certainly not ready for yet.

 


 

Bofur leans against the cafeteria counter and sighs for probably the tenth time in the last five minutes. Bombur, who's in the kitchen on the other side, finally sets the ladle down and turns from his giant stirring pot. "Something bothering you?"

Bofur sighs again without any explanation.

Bombur shares a questioning glance with Bifur who's dumping out his finished remains in the nearby trashcan. Bifur shrugs and squints at his other cousin in curiosity. Bombur's about ask again but is cut off by yet another one of Bofur's sighs.

[Would you just spit it out already?] Bifur demands and waves his lunch tray impatiently.

"Just," Bofur holds up a hand and closes his eyes, "Give me a moment, would 'dya?" They let Bofur think like that until he finally opens his eyes and says slowly, "I just don't get it."

"Get what?"

"This… thing!" He waves his hand about the air in a vague manner. "Something's not sitting right with me, and I don't like it."

Bifur looks momentarily confused, but Bombur can't blame him. His brother has always been expressive in a not so expressive way, if that makes sense.

[Did something happen?] Bifur asks.

"No, no I don't think so. At least that I know of." Bofur taps a single finger against his chin.

"It could just be your imagination," Bombur says.

"Possibly." Bofur still looks unconvinced by this thing that's in the air which he can't quite describe.

Bilbo walks into the cafeteria just then, grabbing a tray and making his way to the front counter, smiling when he sees his friends all gathered together. "Hey Bombur, Bofur, Bifur," he chirps happily. "What's on the menu today Bombur?"

"I've got meat pies, some pasta, Italian sausages," Bombur recites and ticks off each item from his finger. Bilbo nods along as he contemplates the decisions laid out before him. He opens his mouth to answer but Bofur interrupts with a rude, "For Mahal's sakes I can't think about this when you're throwing food choices in my face Bombur!"

Bilbo furrows his brow at the English teacher. "What's gotten into you?"

"Nothing, nothing," Bofur waves off guiltily, feeling bad for his sudden outburst. "I just.. I don't know, laddie. I've got a bad feeling something's about to come, and that something is not good in any way."

Bilbo blinks at him. "Um, okay. Although I don't think you should jinx it, the Halloween party is tomorrow."

"No it's… it's something else. I don't know." Bofur visibly shakes himself and it's like the last few minutes of pensive thinking never happened. He plasters his usual carefree smile back on. "Anyways! Enough babbling from me, have you decided what to wear tomorrow?"

Bilbo pauses in filling up his paper cup with coffee. "What am I wearing?" He repeats flatly.

"Yeah! You know, for Halloween."

He blinks. "My… cardigan? And jeans? And possibly a tie?"

"No, silly!" Bofur rolls his eyes, accepting the plate of food from Bombur and depositing it on Bilbo's tray. "I meant your costume."

Bilbo turns to him, and his blank face from before slowly changes as the realization of Bofur's words hit him. "I have to get a costume," he says with a certain dread to his words. "I wasn't aware… we were all wearing costumes."

"Well of course we are!" Bofur huffs a bit impatiently. "It's Halloween, what were ya expecting?"

"Um, to be honest I'm not quite sure. I've got a bit on my mind right now."

Bofur stares at him for a moment with a slight worried frown tugging at his lips. "Well.. alright then. Just don't forget to wear it to school tomorrow."

"Right," Bilbo nods slowly. He stands there for a while kind of lost in space, then picks up his tray and walks to a nearby table. From his posture and the way he holds himself he still looks a little out of it, like getting a costume was the last thing on his mind and now he has yet another thing to worry about added to his list. At least that's what Bombur thinks, but he could be totally wrong. He looks at his family and they all shrug as they watch Bilbo fidget for a couple minutes and pick at his food idly.

"Still think it's a calm before the storm?" Bombur murmurs.

"Possibly," Bofur answers with that pensiveness again.

[Maybe] Bifur chimes in.

 


 

"Why is my son not talking to you?" Dis asks from the doorway to Thorin's office.

Thorin pauses in his writing but doesn't look up from the mounds of paperwork currently surrounding him. Earlier on he was very tempted to make a fortress around himself, mainly due to boredom, the other reason to block out all the annoying people one can encounter in a day (which, frankly, is quite a lot). Balin's disapproving glare made him shuffle the papers so that at least his face was in view. "Which son are you referring to and what exactly are you implying I've done this time?"

"This time," Dis mutters, more to herself than Thorin and shakes her head to dislodge whatever thoughts crossed her mind. "Kili. And something about you betraying your own blood? Your youngest heir? The brother of your top most heir? Whatever that means?"

Thorin slowly lifts his head up and raises a very judgmental eyebrow.

"Kili's words, not mine," Dis says in defense.

"Uh-huh," Thorin says carefully. He's not really sure where this is heading.

"So?" Dis crosses her arms and waits for an explanation. She looks so much like their mother right then that Thorin almost cowers in fear. He can remember all the times he, Dis and Frerin had stole from the cookie jar and their mother had caught them, piercing them with her 'I know you took them so which one of you will admit it' gaze.

"Your idiot sons decided to pull a prank on me," he replies in a neutral tone. He makes sure not to emphasize or highlight certain words so as not to give anything away.

"And when do my idiot sons ever not pull pranks on you?" Dis shoots back.

"Touché," Thorin points his pen at her in acknowledgement.

Dis sighs exasperatingly and pinches the bridge of her nose. "Am I really the only mature one around here?"

"You'll not forget me!" Balin cries out from his office next door.

"And Balin," she adds and rolls her eyes.

"It is Kili's own fault. His judgement was blinded at the time, thus I saw the need to take action. His need to get revenge has only further clouded his judgment," Thorin tries to justify. His voice clearly exudes all signs of 'I'm right' and 'don't argue with my decision.'

Dis blinks at him with a very unimpressed face. Finally she says, "You're an idiot," and stalks out of his office.

"I second that!"

"No one asked you Balin!" Thorin bites back, groaning when Balin takes Dis' previous position by the doorway. "What?" He spits out.

Balin rolls his eyes and hands him yet another stack of papers he had to read and sign. "Need your signature for these as well."

"Are you trying to break my wrist?" Thorin huffs while grumpily accepting the papers. He drops them on top of his numerous piles and cracks his fingers before getting back to work.

"Dwalin mentioned you had plans tomorrow evening," Balin states casually after a while.

"Did he now?" Thorin asks with little interest, most of his focus on getting these damn papers out of his hair and beard. He usually makes sure to get all his work done so he's really confused as to why there's all this piled up work all of a sudden. Then again it isn't anything new, nothing he hasn't handled before during his last 10 previous years. Still though, it's annoying.

"Something about a date?"

"Huh."

"With Professor Baggins?"

"Okay."

"Thorin."

"What?" He finally looks up at the sound of his name.

Balin sighs and shakes his head. "Nevermind," he waves at him as he returns to his office. "I'll leave you to it."

Thorin stares after the older advisor in confusion. "Wait, did you say something?" He calls out to him. He hears Balin stop walking and change the direction of his footsteps, leading him straight back to Thorin's office. When he reappears he's squinting down at his phone.

"Miss Galadriel just emailed me. She wanted me to remind you… of your meeting with her that you have yet to…" He squints and brings the phone closer to his face. "Ah, schedule. She wants you to schedule that meeting with her."

Thorin groans and almost bangs his head against his desk. "Can you email her back and tell her I'll try to come up with something as soon as possible?"

"Thorin—" Balin starts to chastise.

"Look, it's not my fault I'm so busy!" Thorin hurries on before Balin can get a word in. "I mean do you see this paperwork?"

"Yes, I do. Contrary to popular belief I am not completely blind yet. But Thorin, you can't keep putting this off forever."

"Technically it's only the third time."

"Precisely my point!"

"She does realize this isn't my first time dealing with situations like these, right? I don't know if her memory's already gone foggy, but this is not my first child-abuse situation."

"Thorin, it's protocol. You know as well as I do that whenever situations like these happen, it is required for all factually to meet with the school counselor so she can sign off on your papers and allow you to get back to work," Balin recites straight from the faculty's handbook. "The only reason she has allowed you to keep working is because you haven't shown any symptoms of trauma or mental breakdowns yet. So I would suggest you meet with her soon before she revokes all your teaching rights period."

"But I'm the headmaster," Thorin frowns.

"Thank you Captain Obvious, but you think that's going to be a sound argument against her wrath?"

"I'm not traumatized."

"It's protocol!"

"Well… protocol be damned," Thorin shrugs off and buries his head in his work. Maybe if he tries to look super busy Balin will leave him the fuck alone. He's considering pushing a rather large stack of papers in front of his face and ending the conversation right there.

"You're being a child."

"I am not. I'm just busy, that's all. I don't have time to talk about my feelings on a situation that I have encountered many times in my career. If it bothers you so much I can always email her back instead."

"By the time you email her back it'll be a month later," Balin mutters.

"And that is why you're my advisor."

When Balin doesn't respond Thorin fully expects him to have given up on any further arguments and stalk back to his office. Instead he's still standing there staring at Thorin with a dead look in his eyes. Thorin stares right back and raises his eyebrow at him.

"What?"

"You know it's funny. Funny, how you won't talk to a school counselor about your feelings but you'll talk to Professor Baggins about your whole childhood history." And with that Balin spins around and walks out, leaving Thorin completely and utterly flabbergasted, and maybe even a little red in the face too.

 


 

Later that day, somewhere not on Erebor's campus.

"I hear Erebor is hosting their annual Halloween party tomorrow."

"Is that so?" The man leans back in his chair and folds his hands on top of the armrests. "Interesting… and is he going?"

"I believe so, as he is a part of Erebor's staff."

"I see… make room in my schedule for tomorrow then."

"Yes, sir. Would you like me to cancel your appointment with Mr. Elrond?"

"Yes, do that. Elrond won't mind, we can meet any time."

"Of course sir," the man's assistant nods. He scribbles something in his planner, shuts it promptly and exists the office to make a few phone calls.

Chapter Text

Bilbo always knew Halloween was one of those big, commercialized holidays where parents were getting a run for their money (and probably creating a fortune for all those dentists and heart doctors) as their kids devoured way too much candy until there were toothaches, stomachaches, and sugary highs in their midst. And yet somehow, Bilbo did not make the connection between Halloween and costumes. Costumes were probably the most important part of this whole holiday, and somehow Bilbo had just bloody forgot. Hence why Bilbo is currently sitting on the floor by his closet trying to scrounge up something. That something being nothing, of course.

Bilbo sat back to observe the overall destruction of his closet, from the way his shirts and sweaters hung lopsided on the hangers, to the piles of clothes on the floor, his mismatched shoes and he could have sworn he just saw his other loafer but now it was paired up with his slipper, basically just the whole mess in general. There wasn't a single thing Bilbo owned that could possibly be used as a costume. Nothing, nada, zilch.

It was kind of ridiculous, seeing as how Bilbo owned every other weird article of clothing there was. He had an ascot (seriously who owns an ascot anymore?) he received from a distant cousin of his, a waistcoat from his grandfather Mungo (what was this, 17th century England?!), the most hideous pair of breeches he had ever seen (he's pretty sure his dearest cousin Lobelia had given it to him as a 'fashion statement' or whatever that meant). Did he also mention he had a pipe? His closet had the most strangest things, and the only reason he hadn't thrown any of it out was because he hadn't found someone to recycle the gifts to. He also maybe just doesn't have the heart to be so cruel and throw away these obviously thoughtful gifts.

Bilbo sighed and tugged at his hair, the curls gone messy and awry from brushing a hand through them multiple times in exasperation. He really wasn't sure what he was going to do about tomorrow. He glanced at his clock on the bedside table and sighed when 10:30 pm glared back at him.

He supposes the real reason for this whole mess was… Thorin. And that blasted date. It had distracted Bilbo so much to the point he just forgot about all other responsibilities in his life. And to be honest, Bilbo's not even sure if it is a 'real date', but Thorin had confirmed it with that awkward, amused smile while Bilbo tried not to dance and scream down the hallway until he was out of Thorin's view. He may have done a jig or two but that's for his eyes only. Which reminds him: what is Thorin going to wear tomorrow? Or does he even dress up at all? Maybe it's just a half-ass costume that doesn't get in the way of his headmastering? Bilbo has to wrench himself away from thoughts of Thorin in a pirate costume or he's never going to find his own costume. He frowns at the demolished closet, knowing it'll be a terrific way to wake up the next morning tripping over his socks or something.

"I hate Halloween," is what Bilbo's basically decided.

 


 

He ended up throwing together the stupid ascot, waistcoat, breeches, and yes the pipe, in what he hoped was a nicely coordinated outfit. He also dug out a pair of suspenders from the far reaches of his closet and threw it in with the outfit. If anyone asked, he was either a country bumpkin or an English gentry from the 17th century.

"That's a rather interesting outfit," Bofur comments as he holds the door open for Bilbo. He nods his hello to the other English teacher and walks into the building. The moment he steps into the front lobby he's assaulted with way too much orange and black, not to mention the fog machine which he completely forgot about. Bilbo shuts his eyes and mouth as the fog sprays in his face, coughing and waving away at the smoke until it diffused and moved elsewhere.

"I almost forgot about that," he coughs. Somehow when Bofur comes up next to him he's completely unfazed by the fog.

"I think Bifur installed another one near the administration offices," Bofur says. Bilbo snorts at the fog pulling up Bofur's mustache and hair, then bringing it back down into its usual lopsided fashion.

"And what are you supposed to be?" Bilbo asks curiously, eyeing Bofur's outfit. He's got a very interesting hat on, the kind with warm wool on the inside and two flaps sticking out at the sides. His brown jacket has some fur lining, and Bilbo's almost afraid Bofur will overheat from the amount of layers of clothing he's wearing. He's got a large belt with some pouches hanging from the hooks, and to top it all off he's got a toy hammer in his hand.

"I'm a miner!" Bofur waves his arms about and does a little spin, ending with a bow and taking off his hat with a flourish.

"A miner huh?" Bilbo repeats in amusement. Well that would explain the hammer.

"Yeah! Bombur, Bifur and I all coordinated as miners," he says proudly.

"I can't wait to see their outfits then," Bilbo laughs, returning Bofur's bow with one of his own.

The day proceeds on like that. Bilbo will chat up other faculty members lingering about the halls, asking about their costumes and vice versa. Fili and Kili are Batman and Robin which Kili seemed particularly sore at. Maybe because he had to be the one wearing green, yellow and red spandex (Bilbo did make a point of asking Kili about Tauriel and Legolas' costumes, which only caused him to blush rather profusely). Bilbo does get a peak at Bombur and Bifur's outfits which are both in the same fashion as Bofur's, consisting of cloaks and fur-lined jackets and way too many layers. He almost ran at the giant toy spear in Bifur's hands. Dori, Ori and Nori are all dressed as sheep (ironically enough Nori is the black one), Oin is Dr. Frankenstein while Gloin is the monster, Dwalin is, of course, a motorcyclist, and Balin is the 11th doctor which Bilbo had laughed at. He couldn't take Balin seriously with a bow tie and a fez on top of his head. Balin only huffed and sniffed, "I think bow ties rather suit me." Bilbo had agreed very solemnly, not wanting to offend his dear friend any more than that.

Thankfully no one seems to judge or sneer at Bilbo's costume, all of them praising his choice of clothes and how well-suited he is to dress the part of an Englishman. Oin even asked him where he could find a waistcoat like that which Bilbo was more than happy to pass off to him. He tried to do the same with the rest of the outfit but Oin only seemed interested in the moss-green waistcoat.

He's a little sad to say he hasn't seen Thorin's outfit yet, as that had been the one part of his day he was looking forward to the most. Well, that and the date they're supposed to go on and stop it Bilbo you're blushing. His students' costumes totally make up for it though, and he can't help the large smile stretching across his face at the sight of his students excitedly asking one another about their costumes and the Halloween party later that evening. He does his best not to think about a certain student missing out on this holiday tradition but well, there isn't much that can be done about that one (still no word from Angelica, unfortunately). During all of his classes he indulges them a little with cheesy Halloween music and bucketloads of candy. He doesn't get one thing done that day but he's willing to let it slide, something he never would have been able to do with his uni students.

He almost regrets giving them so much candy, now having to deal with the heap of candy wrappers littering his poor floor. He stoops under a table to grab at one snagged by the chair leg, not quite getting it within his grasp while he strains to reach it.

"Knock, knock."

Bilbo yelps as his head comes into contact with the table and winces when it screeches obnoxiously against the floor. Great, now his poor floor is going to have some very unattractive marks on it. He slowly scrawls out from under the table and throws a sheepish glance up at whoever had to witness that little embarrassing sight— oh, joy. It's Thorin.

"Er, hi," Bilbo waves awkwardly with the hand not holding his bruised head.

"Did I scare you?" Thorin's deep voice rumbles in amusement.

"A little," Bilbo admits grudgingly. He crawls the rest of the way out and blushes at Thorin's outstretched hand. He tentatively places his fingers in Thorin's palm, watching the much larger hand curl around his smaller one and pull him up so he's at eye level with Thorin's shoulders. He can't help wondering what it'd be like to hold hands all the time, then remembers his own hand is currently very sticky from the numerous candy wrappers he had to pick up. He's about to pull it away but Thorin's fingers close tighter around Bilbo's at the action. He looks up and is surprised to find Thorin with this unsure smile on his face. His mouth twitches nervously every now and then, torn between wanting to curl up into a full smile and leaving it the way it is. Then he realizes Thorin's only being fidgety because Bilbo hasn't responded yet, hasn't made any movement or sound to confirm that this is okay and Thorin isn't being a huge creep or anything.

It's rather cute now that he thinks about it, and he can't help biting his lip and quirking up the corner of his mouth at the same time. He squeezes Thorin's fingers gently and starts swinging their arms back and forth. He knows they're not telepathic or anything, but hopefully this will somehow get across words of Yes, this okay and I like it when you smile, especially when it's directed at me, so please smile a little bigger please do it for me.

Thorin ducks his head and laughs then, and Bilbo can see the way the red is creeping up Thorin's neck and wrapping itself around the base, slowly curling up and consuming his cheeks and stopping just at his ears.

"Please don't tell me it's last period already," Bilbo jokes nervously. He really hopes he didn't let the time get away from him because that would be just mortifying and he's not even prepared for their little date yet!

Thorin shakes his head. "No, not yet. Just…" He peers up shyly from under his eyelashes. "Wanted to see the Englishman everyone's talking about."

Bilbo laughs and presses the back of his other hand to his mouth. "Oh dear. Am I the infamous Englishman now, is that what everyone's calling me?" At Thorin's teasing smile he laughs again. "I hope everyone realizes I literally threw this all on at the last minute. I'm lucky I was able to find these things in my closet."

"That ascot does suit you," Thorin muses quietly.

There's a slight pause at the comment. Thorin tilts his head at Bilbo in question, whose face gradually starts heating up to the point where he's considering tugging his ascot loose just so he can breath a little. Bilbo makes a noise of embarrassment and covers up the rest of his mouth with his hand.

"That was… I… I was not ready for that," comes his muffled words against his hand.

Thorin's eyes widen, and then he throws back his head and laughs. "Should I have warned you then?"

"Yes, actually!" Bilbo says with a sour look. "A little warning would have been nice! Also, what are you wearing?" It's only then Bilbo notices what Thorin's wearing and it's… well, it's something, and it's a very grand something.

He's completely clothed in an elaborately designed chain mail shirt which just reaches his knees and is secured with a large belt, complete with a heavy fur coat (what is it with the fur coats today?), brown moccasin-like boots and leather fingerless gloves which extends all the way to his elbows. Today he's chosen a pair of silver beads to match his rather grand outfit, and his hair is hanging lose and spilling all over his shoulders compared to his usual low ponytail. Bilbo never realized how long Thorin's hair actually was, and now he can clearly see the silver strands of hair acting as a soft highlight against his dark black. Honestly, he looks like something out of those old Norse mythology books.

Thorin follows Bilbo's roaming eyes and he grimaces. "A little too much?"

"Not exactly… but what are you?"

"An Icelandic warrior?"

Bilbo blinks at the very specific title Thorin's chosen for himself. "Interesting," he nods. "Was it something you just happened to have in your closet?"

"Not exactly," Thorin winces and tugs at his coat a little self-consciously. "Dis bought it," he finally sighs.

"That's nice of her."

Thorin rolls his eyes. "Yes, if you count me dying of heat stroke as her performing an act of kindness."

"Oh stop it!" Bilbo chastises, but his giggle breaks the stern act. "Be thankful. Not many of us have such kind siblings."

"Are you sure about that? Because kindness is hardly a word I would use to describe her."

The bell rings then and both men sigh at the interruption. Unfortunately Thorin pulls his hand away and crosses his arms as if to shield him from something. Bilbo leaves his hand hanging limply by his side. It aches for the warmth of Thorin's fingers curling around his again. He folds his hands together to try and preserve that warmth before it disappears completely.

"Time to get back to work," Bilbo sighs sadly.

"Yes, time for work," Thorin murmurs back. He smiles ruefully at the broken moment.

"Well, we still have tonight."

Thorin's smile becomes a little hopeful at that. "Indeed, we do."

"Are you still picking me up from my last period class?"

"I am. Make sure your class doesn't run late."

"I'll try not to," Bilbo smirks. They smile one more time at each other, and at Bilbo's urging look Thorin sighs and exits the classroom quite reluctantly. This is going to be a very long rest of the day, isn't it Bilbo?

 


 

Legolas stared at his phone, certain he was reading the text message wrong. He shakes his head and starts the sentence over again, and sure enough the words are all there, same as five minutes ago when he first received the text. He'd ignored all those calls before, but if he's receiving texts now that means it must be seriously urgent.

"Mr. Greenleaf?" He tears his eyes from his phone and stills. Headmaster Oakenshield is just exiting one of the classrooms, regarding Legolas with a certain curiosity. He shuts the door behind him, walks up to Legolas and stops at a respectable enough distance. "Everything alright?" He asks in a tone where his concern isn't quite bleeding through but suggests he should still ask anyways.

"Um," Legolas stares back down at his phone. "I—" His throat closes up for a moment and he grinds his teeth together in frustration. It's just words, nothing more. He shouldn't be getting this thrown off or irritated over it. It's not his problem to deal with.. not really at least.

"Mr. Greenleaf?" The headmaster repeats again, this time with a little less patience than before. "Am I not needed or…?"

"It's my father," he replies in a hurry. From the corner of his eye he notices the headmaster go incredibly still. "He said—he said he's coming to visit," Legolas continues. "Um, tonight that is, at the Halloween party. I know you two aren't on the best of terms, and believe me when I say I don't want to see him as much as you do but you know him. Once he makes up his mind—"

"Yes, yes I know about your father's behaviors all too well," Mr. Oakenshield cuts in gruffly. He sighs and scrubs a hand over his face. "Well, it's not as if I can tell him no, that would be quite rude of me. Also you are a part of the faculty, so by association technically he is allowed to come to this event."

Legolas grinds his teeth harder at that.

Mr. Oakenshield raises an eyebrow at the action but doesn't comment on it. "True, I am not particularly fond of your father's presence." He pauses for a brief moment, and his mouth twitches when he continues, "I would rather be in a barn full of cow shit but that's just my preference. He is your father, so really it is up to you whether or not he should come."

Legolas feels like his teeth might break under the force. That's fine, a cracked tooth would be the least of his problems right now.

"At least think on it," Mr. Oakenshield says. He keeps his eyebrow raised at Legolas as if expecting a response. When he doesn't get one he huffs and leaves him to his own thoughts.

Legolas finally lets his jaw go slack and rubs at his chin. He expected Mr. Oakenshield to be a lot more aggressive than that. In fact, Legolas would almost say the headmaster was trying to be… encouraging? Is that the word? He sighs and slips his phone into his back pocket. This was not how he imagined his day going.

 


 

Tauriel scribbles something in her planner for next week's schedule while occasionally glancing up to make sure her students are working their way through their 'history of Halloween' packet. She taps her pen against her chin at the scribbled mess outlining each block for next week. She erases it and starts redoing the schedule all over again, deciding it looks too messy and maybe bit too intimidating for her Year 10 students.

"Miss Tauriel!" Grace calls out from the third row. "There's someone at the door!"

"Thank you Grace," she smiles warmly at the student. She pushes away from her desk to go and open the door, her warm smile immediately transforming into one of amusement. "Why hello there Mr. Kili."

Kili offers an awkward wave and smile to match. "Hi. Um, do you have any, uh, extra world maps? Particularly 18th century maps of Spain?" The way he says it sounds like he's reading off a cue card. If Tauriel didn't know any better she'd say the science/math teacher actually rehearsed those lines.

She leans against the doorway and crosses her arms, eyes pointed to the ceiling while she pretends to think. "18th century maps of Spain? I think I should have a couple lying around."

"Okay," Kili says. He leaves it at that and drums his fingers anxiously against his thigh. Tauriel can't help the way her eyes roam over Kili's figure, finding herself suddenly very interested in those red, green and yellow spandex hugging itself around his body. She's almost sorry she didn't choose a more revealing looking witch costume.

"So what does Robin need 18th century Spanish maps for?" She asks once her eyes stop at Kili's masked face. She notes the way he fidgets under her scrutiny and smirks.

"Er, Fili needs them. Um, I had a free period so that's why, you know, I'm…" He flounders and makes all kinds of weird hand motions when the word doesn't immediately come to his lips.

"That's why you're… here?" Tauriel supplies.

"Uh, yeah. That."

Tauriel purses her lips and looks down to keep herself from laughing. "There should be some in the back closet." She jerks her head towards the back of the classroom.

"O-okay, thanks," Kili mumbles. As he walks past she notices some red curling around his ears.

Kili fumbles around in the closet while Tauriel not so discreetly checks him out. The spandex does make his ass appear very… well-defined. He pops back up and waves the map in his hands. "Got it," he says with a small smile.

"That's good," Tauriel nods seriously. "I'm sure this will make saving the world a much easier task now that you won't get lost."

Kili's smile grows larger and he ducks his head. "I'm sure 18th century Spain will be very happy to see me." He says this while peering up at Tauriel with laugh lines around his eyes and cheeks.

"In those spandex, how can they not be happy?" It's amazing how her students don't pick up on her blatant flirting and teasing.

Kili ducks his head further and chuckles to the ground, the red becoming more prominent around his ears. Tauriel wants to reply, say something cheeky to try and draw out more embarrassed reactions from the science/math teacher, but she's interrupted by Legolas' stiff voice from the doorway.

"Tauriel." There's a strange seriousness about the gym teacher's posture (even if he's dressed as a cowboy), like he just got word that some family member of his died. That thought expands further in her head and she frowns.

"Um, Mr. Kili I'm sorry but—" She stops when she sees Kili's warm smile has now been replaced with a tight-lipped one. He gives a curt nod to the two of them and quickly exits the classroom, purposely walking around the sides of the room to avoid Tauriel and slithering past Legolas' frame.

"Sorry," Legolas says without a hint of remorse. "Was I interrupting or..?"

"No, not at all," she responds in a clipped tone. She tightens her jaw to try to keep herself grounded and composed, or she's gonna do something terribly stupid in front of her students and possibly get fired from her job. She faintly remembers that pair of knuckle dusters she received from Mr. Dwalin tucked into the side drawer of her desk, you know for emergencies and that sort. From the corner of her eye all her students are staring in wonder at the scene before them.

"Class, keep going through the packet until the bell rings," she smiles a little too serenely at them. They all jolt in their chairs and glue their eyes back to their work as she follows Legolas out of the classroom.

To any passerby, it might seem like they're having a stare down in the middle of the hallway. That's a complete lie of course, because even though their faces remain blank its their eyes that betray them, filled with so much heat and irritation for the other. It's Legolas who finally breaks the tense cloud of silence that's fallen over them.

"My father is coming to the Halloween party tonight."

Tauriel doesn't visibly react to this, but inside that heat grows like a furnace that's about to explode at any moment.

"I already informed the headmaster."

"And what did he say?" She asks in a low voice.

"He said he doesn't have a choice in the matter. That it's.. up to me," he says that last part with some hesitation.

"So… what? You're just gonna let him come?"

Legolas sighs at her irritated tone. "Tauriel…"

"No, don't Tauriel me." She gets up close and points an accusing finger in his face. "You need to do something about this Legolas. Because if you're not going to deal with his shit then that means the whole school will have to, and I'm pretty sure Erebor's faculty would rather not deal with that."

"What do you expect me to do then?!" He hisses angrily.

"What you should have done long ago." Tauriel pierces him with her heated gaze before promptly stepping back and forcing her classroom door open. "Fix this," she snarls and slams the door shut.

Legolas lets out a long-suffering noise and feels the need to punch something. He wonders if Tauriel still has those knuckle dusters in her desk. His phone beeps again and now he really is considering those knuckle dusters.

"For the love of Eru and all that is holy…" He reaches into his back pocket and sees yet another text from Bard, confirming for the umpteenth time whether an early dinner with his father tonight will be acceptable or not. Obviously not, but Legolas doesn't exactly have a say in the matter. The fact that Tauriel isn't even invited, much less mentioned, just makes matters worse.

Fix this.

And how, exactly, is he supposed to fix this?

 


 

Kili's pretty sure there's nothing worse than having the girl you like see you in red, green and yellow spandex. He's also pretty sure there's nothing worse than having that stupid princeling see you in red, green and yellow spandex. Sitting in the guidance counselor's office—whom you've known since you were a runt and should basically be like family at this point but still scares the bejesus out of you—in red, green and yellow spandex though? That might be a close third. And it really shouldn't be that mortifying (or scary), considering how Miss Galadriel's been working at Erebor for so long. Still though, this was just plain awkward. He thinks the scrutiny he's under right now is a major contributing factor to the awkwardness too.

"Uh, so, Happy Halloween?" Kili tries as a way of dispelling this horribly awkward atmosphere.

"A Happy Halloween to you as well, Mr. Durin."

He really hopes she won't be calling him 'Mr. Durin' the whole time, especially when he's in a very unflattering suit of spandex and he can't exactly take himself seriously at the moment. Then again, Miss Galadriel's in a poofy Cinderella gown so they're pretty much in the same boat.

"I like the costume by the way. Are you supposed to be Robin?" She arches up a perfectly plucked eyebrow at the costume.

"Er, yeah. I kind of.. lost. Fili's in a much cooler Batman costume with a lot less, you know, tightness." He plucks at the spandex and watches it rebound against his skin.

Miss Galadriel nods in understanding. "I see."

"Ah, yeah."

She doesn't let the silence hang in the air for long, because the next moment she's asking, "And how are you doing?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Without Angelica present in your class anymore I mean."

"Oh. Um, wow, that's a little—"

"Straight to the point? Yes, I know. But there's already one Durin avoiding me and I'd really like to not have to chase another one down."

They both blink and stare at each other. Contrary to popular belief, Miss Galadriel isn't actually some dainty little woman who prances around like an elf all day. Sure she's graceful and pretty, but she's also a force to be reckoned with. She could be blunt and to the point when she wanted to be, which is why a lot of parents have some mixed feelings when it comes to the guidance counselor. For Kili though, it saves time from a lot of fumbling around for explanations.

"Yeeeeaaaahhh," he drawls out unhelpfully. He feels like he's getting into dangerous territory right now. "Um, sorry about Uncle. He can be a bit—"

"Stubborn? Hot-headed? A smart aleck? Any of those adjectives fitting your description?" She smiles innocently at him, but he can tells it's more forced than anything.

"Uhhhh I guess?"

Miss Galadriel 'hmphs' and moves around in her seat a bit, adjusting herself accordingly so she can lean back and cross one leg on top of the other. For reasons Kili can't explain, the Cinderella costume makes her look a whole lot sharper. "At least I've got one of them," she mutters to herself.

"Come again?"

"Nothing." Another innocent (yet obviously forced) smile.

"Okay. Um, well if you must know I'm… fine? Like I'm not… traumatized or anything?"

"That's good to hear."

"Shouldn't you be jotting this down or something?" Kili can't help asking. He notices she's got no sort of writing material out, not even a pen in her hand. Isn't this against protocol or something?

"Not necessary. Unless you want me to, that is."

"Um, no that's—that's fine. Does that mean we're done here then?"

Her shoulder twitches slightly. Kili guesses that might be her own form of a shrug. "If you want it to be done, then yes. We are done."

"Oh.. okay." He's not sure whether to stand up or not until Miss Galadriel lifts her chin in confirmation. "Okay," he repeats again as he moves away from her desk and starts toward the door. "So I'm… gonna go now."

"Alright."

He falters a bit when she fails to put up much of a fight, but it's a good thing he's really great at pestering people. "Like, really gonna go."

She raises her eyebrow. "Alright."

"I'm leaving now."

"Alright."

"I'm… actually leaving now."

"Goodbye Mr. Kili."

"Seriously?! That's it?!" He throws up his hands and gives her a look of utter confusion.

She keeps her eyebrow raised. "Was there something more you wanted to say?"

"Well… no. Maybe. I don't know," he sighs at last and flops back down in his seat. "I just… I don't know. I haven't really… no one's… I don't know. No one's really talking about it. And I don't really… like that." He slumps farther down and sticks out his lower lip like a five year old.

"Have you not talked about this with your uncle?" It's here that Miss Galadriel does get a notepad and pen out (from where, Kili's not sure).

"Not.. really. I don't exactly know how to bring it up in conversation, especially when it's been like a week already," he mumbles. He avoids her gaze by playing with his spandex some more, stretching the material so far back it actually makes an audible snap.

"Well, that is what I'm here for."

"But is that enough?" At that he brings his eyes up to meet hers. "Is this really enough?"

She holds his gaze for what seems like an immeasurable amount of time, finally responding, "For now, yes. But I think you should consider talking with your uncle. And perhaps even Mr. Baggins."

"Mr. Baggins?" He echoes back in confusion.

"You'd be surprised." She doesn't elaborate any further beyond that. And this is why Miss Galadriel confuses the hell out of him sometimes, because now he's forced to come up with his own conclusion on what she really means!

"Patience, Mr. Kili," she says as if sensing his moment of frustration. "Why don't you just talk with me first? I believe this is a discussion that is quite long overdue."

"Yeah… yeah I—okay," he sighs. He squirms around and tries to get more comfortable in his chair. This is going to be a long talk after all.

Chapter Text

"Hello?" The voice on the other end answers.

"Hey Sigrid, it's me."

"Da!" Sigrid exclaims, and then in a worried tone, "You alright? Everything okay?"

Bard chuckles and shakes his head. Trust his eldest daughter to never stop worrying over him. Even before his wife passed she was always the worry-wort. "Not to fear darling, everything's fine. I will be home a little late tonight though, so could you—"

"Get dinner ready, make sure Tilda and Bain do their homework and put them to bed? Already on it, Da."

Bard chuckles at that. He suddenly wants to be with his daughter wherever she is, ruffle her hair a bit, maybe even pick her up and twirl her around like the little girl she clearly no longer is. He has to get rid of those thoughts though if he actually wants to get his work done instead of dropping everything and rushing home to see this children. "Thanks Sigrid. I'll be home as soon as I can, alright?"

"No problem, just get your work done. And don't let that stupid Thranduil—" She says his name with smug disgust.

"Sigrid."

"—Run you to death like a dog. Alright?" She ends with a cheerful innocent lilt to her voice. Bard knows better of course.

He sighs and sneaks a peak at the closed door to Thranduil's office. "Of course, of course. Now go, get back to whatever it is you were doing. Don't let your old man hold you up."

"Yeah, yeah." He's pretty sure she's rolling her eyes at him. "Bye Da."

"Bye darling." He hangs up the phone and sighs once again. Yeah, it'd be nice to not come home exhausted everyday no matter how much he tried to convince himself. He leans against the wall outside in the hopes of drawing out some more free time for himself before he had to meet with Mr. Thranduil. He really shouldn't be complaining. This was a very good, very high-paying job! In fact, Bard was surprised when he heard of the salary he'd be receiving. If he knew how well this job paid, he would have applied for the position of 'university president's assistant' ages ago! His own children (well more specifically Sigrid) had been skeptical of this new job he'd be taking, but he's been working here for about three years now, earning a shit ton of money, and he was no longer in danger of losing his house. So yeah, life was good. Except you know, there's just one tiny, little, insignificant problem.

He forces himself away from the wall and closes his eyes to gather his bearings together. He re-opens them with a deep breath, then knocks twice before entering the man's office.

"Sir?" He pushes his way inside and is instantly met with the beady eyes of a deer's head staring back at him. His boss also has a weird thing for woodland creatures, particularly deer. Don't ask, because god knows Bard knows the answer to that.

"Ah, Mr. Bard. Glad to see you're finally here."

Right. Just one little… problem.

"I'm sorry sir. Am I late?"

"Considerably," Thranduil sighs like he's disappointed or something. Not that that's a new thing or anything, because it seems like Thranduil is always disappointed with him whatever it is.

"Sorry sir, I'll be sure to fix that."

"Fine, fine," Thranduil waves off in a bored tone.

Yes, you see, that one little problem Bard was referring to? It's his boss. Because he's actually, really, incredibly hot. Like hot to the point where Bard has to pull his collar back a bit before it strangles him completely. And Bard isn't the first person to think such thoughts. Every single student at Greenwood, girl or boy, professor or not, all thought Thranduil was hot. His skin was a pale, milky white that would have looked weird on some people but looked absolutely gorgeous on the president. His fingers were long, nimble and delicate, the kind of fingers not really suited for hard work and yet there were callouses on each tip. Oh, and did Bard also mention they were both about the same age and Thranduil didn't have a single age line whereas Bard looked like a legitimate old man if he didn't try hard enough?

And his hair, oh god don't even get Bard started on his hair he could talk for days about that goddamn hair. Just like his pale skin, his hair was a very pale blonde that reached all the way to his hips. It was usually thrown up in a tight bun or a long braid trailing down his back, but there were some days where the president just let his hair flow out. And no matter what the weather, no matter how stressed the president seemed sometimes, his hair always stayed straight. Bard's not sure how or why but it just does. He's inquired enough times to know that Thranduil doesn't straighten his hair or even own a straightener. It's just… always straight. Sometimes Bard even imagines himself winding that hair around his wrist, letting the smooth, silky strands fall through his fingers like a golden waterfall. He is not ashamed to admit this obsession with his boss' hair. Maybe three years ago sure, but now he's just sort of used to this obsession of his.

But Thranduil's good looks are the least of his problems. It's maybe like a fourth of his problems. Because the real problem here?

"Mr. Bard, if you continue to zone out again then maybe this time I will have to fire you," Thranduil's words cut in like a sharp knife forcing its way through a piece of stale bread.

The real problem is that his boss is a legitimate dickhead. Arse fart. Pig-headed stag. Yes, that last one's Tilda's favorite.

That's basically the reason for Bard's constant exhaustion: his boss is the biggest dick in the world with not a single care for his coworkers. Oh yes, he may have the good looks and the hair and the skin and what have you, but when it came right down to it He. Was. A. Dick. Hence the infamous 'Mirkwood rebellion' as students liked to call it. There still were 'rebellions', but they were mini ones and not enough to cause the president too much stress, though it was the leading cause of it. They were pretty much reduced to petty pranks, and Bard's learned that no amount of assemblies or punishments was going to stop them.

"Sorry sir, I'll try to be more attentive." One would think Bard would have cracked under the pressure from the sheer dick-headed-ness that is Thranduil, but just like his obsession with Thranduil's hair, Bard can't find it in him to care anymore. At this point he just needs the money and maybe his daily dose of Thranduil's hair. See, there are perks to this job!

"Did you manage to get ahold of my son?" Thranduil asks in a slightly less piercing tone.

"I did, if you call Legolas ignoring me as 'getting ahold of your son.'" He barely notices Thranduil's steely gaze and continues on. "Although he did finally respond to one of my texts. All he said was 'yes.'"

"Yes," Thranduil repeats rather blandly. He blinks a couple times. "That's… that is good."

"I would think so, yes. The reservation is booked, Elrond has been informed so everything should be in order."

"Good, good," the president responds distractedly. He strokes a finger over his chin and taps it a couple times. He does that a lot when he's thinking.

"Is there anything else?" Bard tries not to sound like he's bored just standing there, but it comes out anyways and another steely gaze is directed at him. Oh well, you can't win them all.

"If there is, I shall contact you as always. And hopefully you'll reply faster," Thranduil sneers at that last part.

Bard sighs and has to refrain himself from rolling his eyes like his teenage daughter. "Yes sir." He does his usual bow, glances one more time at the stupid deer and takes his leave. Once he shuts the door he finds himself sagging against the opposite wall. This is pretty much a summary of his everyday life with Thranduil, and it drains every ounce of life and energy from his very soul. It would definitely explain the premature grey hairs starting to make its home in Bard's once jet black hair.

He takes out his phone and fires off a quick text to Legolas, not that he'll reply or anything but Bard's pretty sure he does read his texts.

To: dickhead's son [1:45 pm]

ur father cont. to be the ultimate dick head. i really think he should win dick head of the yr award. also, reservations hv been set ill text u the location ltr.

He snorts at the message before hitting send. Whenever Bard's patience has run thin, whether it be dealing with Thranduil's shit or—no, usually it's Thranduil's shit, he texts some kind of update to Legolas who responds maybe 10% of the time. Therefore Bard does his best to make the messages as interesting and sarcastic as possible. See most normal people would advise against texting their boss's kid complaining how much of a dick their father was, but seeing as how Legolas and Bard shared that same sentiment it really wasn't a problem. At least it gives them something to bond over whereas Thranduil's basically failed at all communication with his estranged son. He can't fathom how a parent could grow so estranged from one's child, but it's not really Bard's place to pry, especially when his boss thinks his worth is that of a piece of grass.

He only really knows the basics: some kind of scandal started around Legolas and someone by the name of Tauriel, Thranduil blamed Tauriel, Legolas got angry, they both quit and now were seeking employment at the prestigious Erebor Academy. Bard's tried to find out using other ways that didn't involve conversing with his dickhead boss or dickhead's son, but everyone's pretty tight-lipped about the situation. It's almost like it's taboo to mention it here, like when people refrain from saying Macbeth backstage of a play. Bard thinks the whole thing is just ridiculous because it happened more than a year ago, but then again he himself doesn't even know the full specifics of the situation.

He's considered asking one of the janitors, someone by the name of Alfrid who usually seemed to know just about everything and anything that occurred at Greenwood. Except he's kinda creepy, and even though it's his job to clean every single nook and cranny within the university he was always found lurking around the corners. At times it looked more like he was spying than cleaning, and so most people tended to avoid the janitor altogether. Well, Bard doesn't blame them. He's got the weirdest unibrow known to man and something of a porn-stache. But Bard needs answers, and Alfrid the creepy janitor was his best option at the moment.

Better than his dickhead boss at the least.

Bard lets out an aggravated noise and pinches the bridge of his nose. Who was he kidding, trying to act all James Bond? He's an assistant, not… whatever this is. And whatever it is, he's going to stay the hell out of it because he has a good stable job, three mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay off. He didn't have time to go worrying about his boss's already broken relationship with his son. That should be the least of his worries right now.

And yet somehow, it seems to top off everything else on his current list of worries.

 


 

3:40 pm was what the clock on the wall read. The school day ended at 3:45 pm, so that meant five more minutes. Just five, measly little minutes until Thorin appeared in Bilbo's classroom and whisked him away for their date. But that also meant five more minutes of agonizing waiting.

3:41 pm. Okay, make that four minutes. Bilbo sighs and glances back at his students. Their heads are all ducked together whispering and giggling and pointing at each other's costumes. One girl, Sarah Jane, giggles a bit too loudly when someone pokes at her witch's hat and she's instantly shushed by her table. Bilbo can't really find it in him to reprimand them, not when there's now three minutes until the bell rings. Oh Yavanna, could these last three minutes drag any longer? It's like the hand on the clock is deliberately moving slower and slower to the point that it just tortures Bilbo to no end.

The clock still reads 3:42 pm.

Bilbo has to stop himself from letting out a long-held in sigh of just pure and utter frustration. He couldn't do this. Three minutes may not seem a lot to some people, but when you're a teacher time is everything. You could do a lot in three minutes, like cram in the last few bits of your lesson plan, fix the homework assignment before students went home completely confused, even send out an email to one of the teachers before they left for the day. To a teacher, three minutes was equivalent to a good twenty minutes.

3:43 pm

Bilbo spun around in his chair and blew out some air through his puffed up cheeks. Two more minutes. Just… two more.

"Excuse me, Mr. Baggins?"

He almost groans at the sound of his name. "Yes, Bobby?" He tries not to sigh out.

"The pencil sharpener isn't working!" Bobby pointed to the little machine sitting on top of the bookshelf.

"Probably because you need to empty out the pencil shavings, stupid," came Kevin's voice from a few tables over.

"I'm not stupid, you're stupid stupid!" Bobby countered, his lower lip already starting to tremble.

Kevin rolled his eyes. "Nice comeback. Did your mom teach you that one?"

"Oh my gosh Kevin!" Sarah Jane gasped. "You can't just say things like that!"

"Shut up, I'm not the one wearing a witch costume," Kevin sneered.

"ENOUGH." At Bilbo's threatening voice all three students clamp their mouths shut. Kevin mutters away about god knows what while Sarah Jane happily continues on with her work. Bobby's pulled his face into something of a pout.

Bilbo clears his throat and walks over to Bobby. "Here, all you have to do is—" He pops out the container from the sharpener "—And then just—" He dumps out the contents and inserts the container back into its empty slot "—There! See, simple as that! It was just jammed, that's all. Next time check to make sure the container's empty, alright?"

Bobby pulls his attention away from Bilbo's little demonstration and nods. "I got it. Thank you Mr. Baggins!"

"No problem," Bilbo smiles back. Bobby returns to his seat, but Bilbo doesn't miss the way he and Kevin stick out their tongues at each other.

"Boys."

They both duck their heads and ignore each other for the remainder of the— Bilbo's eyes widen at the new position of the clock's hands. 3:44 pm. One more minute. He holds his breath as the hand ticks away, slowly going past each number, bypassing the half-way mark, and finally, finally, making a full complete path around the circle.

The sound of the bell ringing is like the most beautiful music to Bilbo's ears. He watches his students pack up their belongings, clean up their desks and put away their supplies and exit the classroom in one massive jumble of a mess. He can't even chastise them for not following in a straight line, he's just so damn happy. And the sigh he finally releases is definitely not one of frustration.

He chuckles to himself as he makes his way around the desks, picking up extra pencils and erasers and other supplies his students have left behind in their haste to go home. He dumps the poor abandoned supplies in a large tin can in case students come looking for them, hearing the plink plink plink as each item hits the base of the can. Once he's done he looks up and gazes out the window a little dreamily, imagining this and that and what have you's, and he's staring for so long he almost glazes over the reflection of someone standing in his classroom. Even before he spins around he knows exactly who that reflection belongs to. It's not hard to identify those broad shoulders and long black hair after all.

"Hi," Bilbo greets a little shyly.

"Hi," Thorin greets back while chewing his bottom lip. Bilbo can tell Thorin's trying really hard not to smile but failing anyways.

"You're here." Immediately after he says that he ducks his head and tugs at his curls self-consciously. Wow, way to state the obvious there Bilbo.

Thorin chuckles at that and this time he lets his smile out full force, the one Bilbo loves where he shows all his teeth and his cheeks are a tad on the rosy side. "Yes, I am here." He takes a cautious step forward and Bilbo meets him halfway until they're standing with just a foot of space between them.

It's clear they're both thinking the same thing, or something along the same lines at least. Bilbo swings his arms back and forth while Thorin fiddles with the numerous rings on his fingers, neither one not really knowing what to do as this was all new for both of them. Sure Bilbo's gone on dates before, and he has no doubt Thorin has either, but he's a bit rusty on how to go about this and what to do and at what point should they hug or kiss or— will they even kiss? He's not sure on that either, but the very thought of kissing Thorin soon plants itself firmly in Bilbo's mind, the roots and leaves taking shape and growing and growing until they're so far into this metaphorical dirt Bilbo's somehow conjured up and… yeah, he needs to stop with all these metaphorical images or it'll drive him insane.

Thankfully it's Thorin who finally does something. He closes the gap between them so they're standing toe to toe and he smiles down at Bilbo. "Should we get going then, Mr. Englishman?"

Bilbo rolls his eyes so hard it hurts, but inside he feels stupidly giddy and just perpetually happy. God it's like he's drunk or something, but not the drunk where he can feel that bitter aftertaste in his mouth and his stomach is rolling and sloshing about in all sorts of directions. It's the kind of drunk where you can't get enough of this giddy happiness that you literally show every symptom (minus the bitter aftertaste and unstable stomach) of being physically drunk. It's a strange feeling to say the least.

Bilbo clears his throat and does his best to feign at least some professionalism. "Yes, I am quite ready Mr. Icelandic Warrior."

Thorin groans and shoots him an unimpressed look. "Just letting you know that once this is all over I am going to to burn this damn coat."

"What a shame, and I quite liked it too!" Bilbo stretches a daring hand outwards and runs his fingers through the thick fur material. It almost felt real if he hadn't known it was a costume. He's absently touching the coat here and there that he doesn't quite notice what's going on at first. A quick glance up tells him Thorin's eyes are watching him, following the lengthy journey of his fingers up and down the fur. He doesn't he miss the way Thorin audibly swallows or the slow rise and fall of his chest. It's a reaction Bilbo saves for a later time and in a different place, preferably not in the very classroom where he teaches 11-12 year old students.

Bilbo slowly pulls his hand out the fur (and maybe even accidentally brushes Thorin's chest along the way) and casts an innocent smile upwards. "It really is nice. It'd be a shame to throw it out so soon."

Thorin visibly startles like he was stuck in some reverie and blinks rapidly. "Ah, yes uh—" He clears his throat loudly and straightens up his shoulders. "Yes, I guess it is nice," he declares stiffly. "I'll… take your words into consideration."

Bilbo snickers. That's another reaction he'll have to jot down.

He doesn't think twice about taking Thorin's hand and resuming their little hand holding and swinging from earlier before they were so rudely interrupted by the bell. "Good. So, shall we get going then?"

Thorin's eyes linger on him for a moment longer before shaking his head with a chuckle. "You sure you're not the tease here?" He twists their hands around so he can intertwine their fingers and get a better grasp on Bilbo's much smaller hand. His thumb rubs over the patch of skin between Bilbo's knuckles, inserting itself in that tiny little crevice and pressing the spot gently. Despite the fact that Bilbo's whole hand is covered by Thorin's, it's that one tiny spot that radiates off the most heat, like it's leaving its imprint right there for Bilbo to remember. Well, not that Bilbo would mind having a mark from Thorin.

"Most definitely," Bilbo responds with as much seriousness as he can muster.

"Of course you aren't," Thorin rolls his eyes. "Go, gather up your stuff." He gives a gentle squeeze before releasing Bilbo's hand.

Bilbo's never moved more quickly in his entire life, gathering up his coat and brief case in one swift motion and then flurrying back to Thorin's side. "Done!" He chirps.

Thorin arches up a highly amused eyebrow. "That was fast."

"Time is of the essence."

"Then we'd best get going. We'll need as much time as possible."

 


 

Bilbo always suspected Thorin came from money. It's not that he blatantly showed it off in school or anything, it's just a vibe Bilbo often gets from the headmaster. That doesn't mean he's still a little surprised when he takes once glance at Thorin's car and almost does a double take. It's one of those luxurious looking white cars with what Bilbo's sure contains dark leather seats inside and that infamous 'new car' smell.

"I know, I know," Thorin sighs like he's seen this reaction one too many times. "It's a little much, isn't it? Especially for a headmaster?"

"I mean…" True, it is… a lot. He's not exactly sure how much money Thorin makes in a year or what his money situation is like, but he gathers it's quite a lot as well. "It's not.. a bad thing necessarily," Bilbo starts carefully, "Some people might be into the more.. sporty looking cars!"

"I'm guessing you're not one of them?"

Bilbo finally rips his eyes away from the car to grin lopsidedly at Thorin. "I'm more of a simple man really. But change is always good."

Thorin's body grows more relaxed at that.

"And it is a nice car," Bilbo adds. "What kind is it by the way?"

"I believe it's a Nissan."

Bilbo's not really sure what that means. He was never much of a car person like some of his other college buddies, and his father didn't really care all that much to teach him about them. He turns back to the car. "Are those… expensive?"

"On my salary, not really," Thorin shrugs, and then realizing what he just said he frantically tries to correct himself. "I mean—!"

"Thorin." Bilbo turns back to him. "It's fine, really. I'm not one of those people who get petty when someone makes more money than me."

"O..Oh." Thorin blinks at him.

"I mean you didn't think I wouldn't notice, right? That you might possibly come from money?" Bilbo gives him a really? kind of look.

Thorin sighs again, and with some difficulty responds, "It's just… some people… don't always have the best intentions if you know what I mean."

"Well, yes. There are actual assholes out there but I can promise you I am not one of them. I mean I can be an asshole some of the time but that's only when my cousin Lobelia's in town!"

"The one who steals your spoons?" Thorin asks amusedly, something they had spoken about during their phone conversation.

"Yes, that one." Bilbo can already feel himself growing sour at the thought of his dirty cheat of a cousin touching his wonderful silver spoons that his mother left behind. He has to keep them under lock and key now whenever she comes to visit. Which is usually never, but still, better safe than sorry.

"Not to worry then. I won't be stealing your spoons."

"You'd better not," Bilbo warns. "Especially if you're going to be having dinner at my house and—oh!" He quickly covers up his mouth. "I… I'm so sorry I didn't… I just assumed…" His eyes widen at the meaning of his words and he can feel his cheeks heating up rather quickly. The fact that Thorin is just staring at him open-mouthed doesn't make this much better. Oh god, he's probably scared off the poor man now, and they haven't even left for their date yet! He has to fix this somehow or else Thorin will think he's some crazy lunatic with attachment issues who says 'I love you' by the second date.

Bilbo slowly lowers his hands from his mouth to say something, but all that comes out is just plain old air.

"You… want to invite me to dinner? At your house?" Thorin blinks slowly as he tries to process this through his mind.

"Um." Bilbo rakes a shaky hand through his hair. "Maybe?"

"I would like that," Thorin replies immediately, and this time it's his turn to blush and stammer. "I-If you'll have me, that is.. not now, of course!"

"Oh, no certainly not now!" Bilbo waves off.

"No, not.. now. Later! Of course, but not.. now."

"Yes… later."

They both stare at each other and then look away in embarrassment. Well. At least Thorin's not too turned off by the idea of dinner at Bilbo's apartment.

"Um, we should probably—"

"Oh, yes yes you're absolutely right! I'm getting hungry anyways."

It's a good ten minutes of awkwardness as Thorin clumsily opens the passenger side's door and Bilbo skirts around him to slip inside. There's also a lot of stumbling and bumping into each other without trying to get too close. Once Bilbo's securely inside Thorin jogs around to the other side and slips in himself. Without knowing it they both inhale and exhale at the same time, mostly to get rid of the nerves plaguing them. Bilbo gets a mouthful of that new car smell and just an overwhelming amount of leather in general.

They're finally able to face each other without growing too red in the face.

"So, where are we going Mr. Oakenshield?" Bilbo asks.

"It's Thorin." At that Bilbo rolls his eyes. "And have you ever heard of Rivendell?"

"Oh!" Bilbo sits up straighter and smiles. "Yes, Mr. Elrond, you remember him? He—"

"Yes, I know," Thorin cuts in, chuckling, "He owns the place, which is why I chose it in the first place. Figured it'd, you know, be a good starting place."

Bilbo laughs at that. Just the thoughtfulness that went into planning this date… Most of the men Bilbo's dated in the past wouldn't have ever considered something like this. Could this man get any cuter?

"Is that.. okay?" Thorin asks hesitantly. His mouth is already curving down into a frown. "If you'd rather go someplace else I'd be more than happy to drive wherever."

"No, no it's fine! I haven't actually been there in a while, not with my grandmother at least. It'll be good to see the place again."

Thorin's mouth curves back up again. "Good." He starts the engine and murmurs, more to himself than Bilbo, "Good, good."

 


 

Rivendell isn't very far from Erebor, maybe about a thirty minute drive which gives them just enough to time to chat, eat, and then chat some more. The restaurant is in a quaint little town right near the riverbank, located next to rows upon rows of small shops, boutiques, antique stores, etc. There's a stone bridge for people to stroll along during the spring time when everything was in full bloom, and in the summer time people could be seen on paddle boats and bicycles, the air filled with not just the heat of the season but the laughter of children and their families. Bilbo's almost sad they can't sit outside and enjoy the view.

Thorin must have noticed him staring longingly out the car window as they drove past, because right as he pulls into a side parking space he tugs on Bilbo's coat sleeve (which Bilbo can't help finding endearing as fuck). "We can always come back. If you want."

Bilbo's eyes travel from Thorin's hand on his sleeve all the way up to his face. It's there he's met with a startling amount of honesty in Thorin's eyes, its deep blue never wavering and keeping a firm hold on Bilbo. He didn't realize Thorin would want to come back here with him when they hadn't even gotten through their first date yet. Then again, Bilbo had already invited Thorin over to his home for dinner so there was that too. He sits up straighter in his seat. "I would very much like that," he says earnestly.

They smile at each other, both just a little more confident and daring than before.

It's about a ten minute stroll to the restaurant, as Thorin had parked a little farther up ahead due to the lack of side parking. Later, Bilbo will find out Thorin had done this on purpose so they could walk around the town and admire the sights in this October weather. For now though, Bilbo remains blissfully unaware of Thorin's inner motives and is perfectly content with just watching the movement of the river nearby, the tree branches swaying in the light breeze, the jingling of numerous wind chimes set up by the shop fronts. It's such a calming atmosphere, and the fact that Thorin is walking beside him, so close their shoulders brush with each movement, just makes Bilbo all the more happier.

What can he say? He's a simple man who takes pleasure in the simple things in life.

Before he knows it, they've already reached the entrance to Rivendell and Bilbo can feel his stomach churning with the need for food. Thorin, ever the gentleman, holds the door open for Bilbo with the most mushy-looking smile he's ever seen on the man. If only Bilbo could see his own equally mushy smile. It would make them quite the mushy pair.

"After you," Thorin gestures politely into the restaurant.

Chapter Text

When Bilbo steps inside it's like a whole other world. Rivendell is one one of those places that appears smaller on the outside but is actually much larger on the inside. It has a high dome-like ceiling that's always reminded Bilbo of the Sistine Chapel or something, and in the center of the restaurant behind the hostess' station was a winding staircase made of mahogany leading up to the second and then third floor. There were large glass windows, tall paper lamps located around doorways and small crevices near the tables, an assorted array of potted plants, and one of those Japanese slate fountains, the kind made of bamboo that tips back and forth in a melodic fashion. Elrond, with his vast fascination with nature, has structured the place to look like a forest almost. Seriously, the only thing Rivendell's missing is some waterfall cascading off the third floor and into the little Japanese fountain. Rivendell was something of a personal sanctuary for Elrond, at least that's what his mother always told him (something to do with his wife?). And Bilbo's pretty sure the restaurant has only grown more spacious since he was last here, which was… how long has it been? He only ever went to Rivendell with his parents, and then later his grandmother. Of course that stopped once his parents passed, but now good old Laura was stuck in a nursing home which made outings with her just a tad bit difficult. It was getting harder for her to get around, her legs and hands aching with the arthritis spreading through her bones.

Bilbo has to tear himself from such depressing thoughts. There's no use dwelling on them when he already knows the inevitable outcome, and it may end up coming sooner rather than later. He almost walks into a giant plant, one of those tall ones with the braided stem. Thank god for Thorin who cups a firm hand around Bilbo's side and steers him away, only for Bilbo to stagger right into Thorin's chest. He raises an eyebrow down at him. "Okay?"

Bilbo's all too aware of many things, like the way his ears are burning up, the red in his cheeks, and the fact that he's practically being hugged by the older man. He nods jerkily. "S-sure." He really does want to pull back, as he's not intending to stay in this position forever but Thorin really is so warm. Eventually they do have to pull apart. Thorin's arm snakes back around to his own side while Bilbo pushes himself upright. He distracts himself from the curious stares by straightening up his jacket and fiddling with that stupid ascot still around his neck, while Thorin thumbs through the ends of his braids. They kind of just stand there awkwardly until Thorin clears his throat and makes his way to the hostess' station. It's from here Bilbo can see the hosts smirking and whispering in hushed tones. Oh god, they really must have made quite the scene.

Thorin turns around and beckons Bilbo over, and they follow the hostess to a more private area that's separated from the rest of the restaurant by a beaded curtain. There aren't many people here as there are in the main room, save for a few in very professional looking suits. One table looks at them funny. Do they really look so out of place here? He's about to ask Thorin, and that's when he sees why they've been getting weird stares ever since entering the restaurant: they're still in their Halloween costumes.

"Oh…"

Thorin's halfway through pulling out a chair when he glances up at Bilbo's declaration. "Something wrong?"

"You…" Bilbo points at Thorin. "You're still wearing your coat…"

Thorin draws his brow together at that. He follows the direction of Bilbo's finger to see for himself, and his eyes widen at the sight of his 'Icelandic warrior' costume still on him. He looks back up at Bilbo, then back down at himself. "You're right," he says finally, "It appears we forgot to change."

"Will that… be a problem?" Bilbo peeps, fidgeting uncomfortably now that he's more aware of their clothes. Somehow, Thorin doesn't seem as mortified or embarrassed as Bilbo right now.

Thorin shrugs and turns to the hostess. "Will this be a problem?"

"Not at all sir. As Mr. Elrond often says, we do not discriminate against our customers in any way."

Thorin appears very satisfied with that answer and faces Bilbo again. "And there's our answer." He nods at the hostess who takes that as her cue to leave their menus on the table and return to her station. Bilbo still hasn't moved from his spot, still too embarrassed at how definitely out of place they currently look. He's forced to move when Thorin waves him over to the seat pulled out for him, shuffling over and quickly sitting down before anyone can get another look at his clothes. Thorin walks around to the other side and plops down a little forcefully, glaring when the table from before gives him a disapproving look. He opens up his menu and peruses over the items as Bilbo continues to fidget in his seat. He keeps playing with his ascot, adjusting the buttons on his waist coat, tugging at his curls, doing anything to distract himself from the growing heat in his cheeks.

"Stop fidgeting," Thorin murmurs to his menu. "You're shaking the table." Bilbo jumps and bangs his knee against the table, which jostles and earns a few more disapproving looks. He offers a very incoherent apology, causing Thorin to snort and say, "Don't worry. I'll start hitting people over the head with my axe if they ask any questions."

Bilbo's eyes bug out at the mention of the word 'axe.' He searches Thorin's body for this aforementioned weapon but turns up empty. "What axe? You have an axe?" His voice raises frantically.

"Relax," Thorin rumbles out. "It's a toy axe, and it's safely put away in the car." His eyes peer up to meet Bilbo's while still keeping his head bent down, a strong glimmer of amusement clearly evident in those striking blue eyes of his.

"O-oh. Of course it is, right." Bilbo buries his head in his menu to avoid Thorin's teasing gaze. He's made himself so small the point that only his ears are sticking out. He wouldn't be surprised if steam started rising from his ears, like in those cartoons when the character accidentally eats something spicy.

He hears Thorin breathe out a chuckle. "Hey." He nudges Bilbo's foot until the younger teacher finally peaks his head out from his menu. "I told you," he says, suddenly serious, "I will defend your honor if it comes down to it."

Bilbo lowers his menu a bit and chances a small smile. "Will you now?"

"Yes, I will. I'm your Icelandic warrior in furry armor, currently dying of heatstroke."

This finally causes Bilbo to laugh. Thorin smiles in triumph and nudges his foot again. Bilbo rolls his eyes but decides to indulge him a little, and what was just simple nudging and prodding here and there has become an all out war of footsie. They try not to jostle the table and annoy the other customers any more than they probably already have, but Bilbo finds that he's not paying much attention to their judgmental staring. What he does pay attention to is Thorin, and how his eyes crinkle around the corners, the way his mouth is curled up in a crooked grin, his eyebrows waggling and teasing at Bilbo as he tries to win this footsie war of theirs. Needless to say it warms Bilbo's heart, and he can't stop the dopey grin on his face even if he tried.

"Enjoying yourselves, are we?" Elrond comes striding up to their table with an amused quirk to his lips. He smirks as the two of them rush to straighten up and compose themselves. Thorin does his best to steel his features, but he's trying so hard to the point where it makes him look almost constipated. Bilbo's shaking shoulders don't really help much either.

"Ah, Mr. Elrond," Bilbo coughs out. He smiles up innocently at the man. "Sorry, we were, ah, just talking."

"Yes, I can see that," he responds wryly. He looks at Thorin from the corner of his eye who seems to be concentrating quite fiercely on his menu. He returns his gaze to Bilbo and asks, "Are you two ready to order yet or should I give you some more time?"

Bilbo's face turns bright red at the heavily implied meaning under Elrond's words. "S-Some more time would be, erm, lovely. Thank you."

Elrond smirks again. "I shall leave you to it then." He bows his head and slips through the beaded curtain to the other side. Both men wait about a minute until they start snickering, like they just got caught doing something bad and were now in serious trouble.

"Oh god, we are such children," Bilbo wheezes. Thorin chortles and presses the menu to his mouth.

Bilbo would almost say he feels bad for the other customers, but once again, he really can't find it in him to care all that much.

 


 

"Why English?"

Thorin's in the middle of slathering up his bread (with an obscene amount of butter in Bilbo's opinion) when Bilbo asks the question. Thorin pauses and raises a sharp eyebrow at him.

"It's just…" Bilbo fiddles with his own piece of bread as he tries to elaborate further. "I always thought you were more of a math or science person, you know with your family and all. With the exception of Fili of course." He picks at the bread's crust and watches it crumble into tiny little flakes on the table cloth. He hears Thorin's chair scrape back and he's afraid he must have pissed off the headmaster somehow with such an intrusive question, but it's just Thorin leaning back in his seat with a thoughtful expression on his face.

"Why English," he hums to himself. He twirls the knife in his hand with a skillful ease, only stopping when he stares right at Bilbo with a gaze that makes him want to hold onto his bread for dear life. He has to stop himself if he doesn't want to demolish his food completely and leave even more work for the poor staff. Thorin resumes his knife twirling, asking instead, "What do you like about English?"

"Me?" Bilbo points to himself. "I…" He finds his mind devoid of all possible answers because he's totally ensnared by Thorin's blue eyes, the color seeming to grow sharper and clearer the longer he stares at Bilbo. He swallows thickly and focuses back on his now squished up bread. What does he like about English? "Well, there are a number of things," Bilbo starts off, "For one thing, there are so many different categories of literature, like British literature, American literature, modern literature, and so on and so forth. And then you've got poetry, dramas—I mean it's such a broad category in comparison to other subjects."

"Such as?" Thorin inquires.

"Well, um." Bilbo clears his throat nervously, now suddenly aware of the heavy scrutiny he's under. "I mean, take math for example: it's the same basic concept throughout, which is just learning about numbers and formulas. There's not a lot open for interpretation, and you have to stick to such a rigid teaching style. With English you can go in any direction, interpret things however you like. There's no rules, no formulas, you just analyze and read and learn. You can make arguments against your claims and justify why this author said this or why this author said that. I suppose that's why a lot of students struggle with the subject." He smiles to himself, remembering his own analyzing struggles all throughout high school and college, always growing frustrated when he couldn't figure out the context of this poem or the true meaning behind that sonnet.

"I mean you can't teach a student to analyze," he continues on, "Sure you can hone their skills and give them a hundred examples, but it's really all up to them. You can't do that with math, or even history for that matter. History is just straight up facts, you can't really argue anything there. Actually I don't even know why I decided to major in history, maybe I just thought it'd be easy enough to handle with a double major and—" Halfway through he realizes he's rambled on for at least a good ten minutes. "Oh dear," he says embarrassedly, "That must have been terribly boring for you, I'm so sorry you should have stopped me. I tend to have a bit of a motor mouth when I'm, um." He almost says 'nervous' but leaves the sentence hanging at that.

He expects to find a very bored out of his mind Thorin, but what he gets instead is Thorin resting his chin on the palm of his hand, listening intently and watching Bilbo in that same fashion he does when making his observations. His eyes haven't left Bilbo's face once. "It's fine," he says earnestly, "I like listening to you talk."

Bilbo blushes at such an honest statement. "You mean you like listening to me ramble."

"I like listening to you talk. There's a difference between talking and rambling."

Bilbo rolls his eyes. "Right. Now what about you? You still haven't answered my question yet, Mr. Deflector."

"I was not deflecting," Thorin protests with a smile.

"So then out with it. Why English?"

"For all the reasons you just said," Thorin answers simply.

Again Bilbo blushes. "Y-You're deflecting again."

"Am not." His smile widens considerably.

"Are too."

"Am not."

 


 

Thorin stared at the professor, not quite believing the sight before him right now. Should he have seen this coming? Perhaps, as Bilbo had hinted quite a couple times at his affinity for food and eating slightly larger portions compared to normal people. But this is—this is more than just 'slightly larger portions.' This is like five times what Thorin normally eats, and Thorin's been known to eat a lot (at least when he's not stressed and losing his hair by the second). Due to Bilbo being something of an honorary member here at Rivendell, Elrond had told them they could just order whatever, everything was on the house. And so they proceeded to do just that, Thorin ordering a small appetizer for the both of them, a steak with a side of veggies and potatoes and maybe some dessert if he wasn't too full afterwards. Bilbo had asked to order at least another appetizer, three more entrees for himself with every side of food imaginable, even a main course meal, and now he was asking for another bowl of soup. Their waiter had looked quite frightened by Bilbo's black hole of a stomach. Thorin doesn't blame the poor lad. He looks on as Bilbo happily sips at his soup, not really noticing this inner freak out Thorin's having.

"Should I have brought you to a buffet instead?" Thorin jokes lightly.

"Hmm?" Bilbo looks up with half his spoon in his mouth. He swallows down his soup and dabs very politely at his mouth. Somehow Bilbo still has the most impeccable manners despite his enormous appetite.

"I mean, I know Mr. Elrond said we could order whatever but…" Bilbo cocks his head at him and his curls swish along with the motion. Thorin really does love those curls. If Bilbo ever decides to cut them all off Thorin's pretty sure he may cry, maybe even give his hair a funeral or something.

"I'm not trying to imply you're fat!" Thorin quickly explains. Bilbo just keeps his head in the same position. "It's just… do you even have enough to eat? Do you want more should we…?" Thorin babbles on. While he knows Rivendell has plenty of food stored away, he's afraid Bilbo might eat its whole storage and still be hungry. He's getting worried because this is supposed to be their first date, and despite how much Bilbo's already eaten Thorin doesn't want him starving because Rivendell ran out of food or something. Will he have to take Bilbo to another restaurant, maybe a small cafe elsewhere?

Bilbo's head returns to its upright position, and Thorin's surprised when his cheeks suddenly flare up. "Oh goodness! I'm so sorry I didn't…. I…. Ah…" He keeps gaping uselessly, and then he… squeaked? Was that what it was? Thorin's not too sure, either way Bilbo makes some kind of adorable sounding noise and ducks his head out of embarrassment. Thorin can't help chuckling softly at that, then remembers he should probably say something before the poor teacher died of overheating.

"I am merely worried you don't have enough to eat, that's all," he admits gently. "I don't want you starving on our first date. It would be rather… mortifying on my part, that I wasn't able to supply enough for you."

"Ah… right," Bilbo nods dazedly, "Thank you for… worrying over my well-being." He ducks his head even further, drinking his soup with a lot less enthusiasm than before.

"Bilbo."

"Hmm?" He still isn't looking up at Thorin.

Thorin reaches over to wrap a hand around Bilbo's wrist. He tells himself he isn't laughing (on the inside of course) at the way Bilbo startles in surprise and turns an even darker shade of red.

"I just want to make sure you have enough to eat. I'm glad you're enjoying the meal though." He gives a little squeeze of reassurance before letting his fingers glide off Bilbo's wrist, only to have them intertwined with Bilbo's fingers. He slots each of his fingers in between Thorin's until both their hands are folded over each other's completely. Bilbo has to shift their hands to get a better grip each time, since Thorin's hand is so terribly large in comparison. Thorin looks up from their hands and is met with a shy smile and rosy cheeks.

"I like food, what can I say?" Bilbo laughs quietly.

Thorin laughs and rubs his thumb over Bilbo's. "Yes, I realized. It seems I'll have to make some.. adjustments concerning future plans."

"Adjustments?" Bilbo's eyes twinkle. "Such as?"

Thorin just hums lazily in response. He has a lot of future plans for them. At least that's what he's hoping, if this date is any sort of indicator. "You want some dessert now? I'm in the mood for cake."

Bilbo straightens up at that and smiles. "Cake would definitely be nice."

Even when the plates are taken away and their dessert is finally served they still keep holding hands, only letting go when the other has to use the loo or stretch his arms a bit. Thorin's always worried every time they let go because it really is such a nice feeling, having someone's hand in yours, to have that gentle warmth seep through from the other person's body to your own and give you that fuzzy feeling inside. Thorin only hopes it means the same thing for Bilbo as it does for him, but Bilbo never fails to catch his hand in between his, lace their fingers together, rub a thumb over Thorin's knuckles or trace the intersecting lines across his palm. He realizes he doesn't get enough hand holding in his life and makes it his life mission to make a hand holding a thing between them. No one ever should ever have a life devoid of such wonderful human contact. He also doesn't miss the sappy smile from their waiter and almost blushes right down to his roots.

"What time is it?" Bilbo asks in between bites. His tongue flicks out to lick the icing off his fork in some fancy swivel and then retreats back into his mouth (Thorin tells himself that doesn't look sexy as hell).

Thorin glances down at his watch with some difficulty. He's embarrassed to say it takes him a little over five minutes to actually figure out what the time is, as his eyes keep drifting upward, too distracted by Bilbo sucking his fork dry. And he's pretty sure the professor isn't even aware of what he's doing to Thorin's sanity at the moment.

He clears his throat with a, "5:00 pm. We should probably start heading back soon." Bilbo nods and hurries off to finish the last of the cake. On their way out, they thank Elrond one last time for the free meal and then make their way back to the car.

 


 

The sky's grown considerably darker, its pale blue from before now painted with streaks of red and orange to give it that sunset-like atmosphere. The shops are already starting to turn on their lights, causing the riverside town to glimmer and hum with a faint orange glow. It reminds Thorin of fireflies for some reason, like they're walking through a thick burly forest and their only source of light are the tiny glowing insects. It's a warm feeling that brings to surface a whole bunch of childhood memories for him. He can remember all those cool summer evenings when he and his siblings went firefly hunting, with Thrain and his mother in the background, cheering them on as they each raced to catch the most fireflies and then bringing their jars to their mother for judging. Althea always claimed they were all winners in her eyes, making Thrain bellow out a hearty laugh at their little impatient faces. They would all go inside afterwards to drink some lemonade, maybe even lounge around on their front porch as they drank in the night air. Sometimes Thror and Miriam would join them on those nights. It was what one would call the 'perfect family moment.' For Thorin, it's one of the more happier memories he likes to keep under lock and key, reminding him of easier times when everything was still okay, when everyone was still alive.

"You know, it kind of looks like fireflies."

Thorin almost trips over his own feet at the comment. He blinks down at Bilbo who's also stopped walking, smiling kind of bashfully at his all too random comment.

"Yeah, you know fireflies? With the way the shop lights are all turning on?" Bilbo elaborates. He flicks his wrist and twirls his hand to gesture at the shops around them. Thorin just continues blinking stupidly. "I don't know," Bilbo shrugs off, "It was just a thought that came to me. You're right though, we should definitely come here again."

"Do you have memories of fireflies?" Thorin blurts out suddenly.

"I'm sorry?"

"The…" He can't seem to get past the sudden lump in his throat. It takes him a while before he can say, "The fireflies. Do you… remember playing with them? As a child?"

"Oh!" Bilbo brightens up at the explanation and chuckles, probably at some long-lost memory. "My cousins and I, we'd always chase them around the yard. My one cousin Drogo, you remember him? I think I've mentioned him. Anyways, he always seemed to have a knack for catching them. He had at least twenty in one jar, I swear. He would never tell me his secret to catching them no matter how many times I asked. And he seems to have passed on his hidden talent to his five year old son. I don't exactly know if 'catching fireflies' is a gene you can pass on but— Thorin?"

"Hmm?"

"…You're staring at me."

"Am I?"

"Yes you… are you alright?"

"Mhmm, fine fine. Continue, you were saying something about firefly genes?"

"Genes that have to do with catching fireflies," Bilbo corrects and carries on, listing off thousands of cousins and second cousins that somehow tie in with catching fireflies. Thorin smiles dopily the whole time, because inside he's currently a pile of love-sick mush and feelings. Does Bilbo even know? Is even aware of the significance of his previous words and what they hold for Thorin, of what they've now done to him?

They go through interludes of chatting and comfortable silence, talking about everything and at the same time nothing at all. Bilbo divulges him with other stories about his family, Thorin offers some snippets of his own, and somewhere along the way Thorin feels for the second time the urge to kiss Bilbo, this time without the bathroom setting and someone (*cough* Dwalin *cough*) barging in to ruin the moment. You'd think being out in the public eye for all to see would really spoil the mood for Thorin, but surprisingly, that's not it at all, not even remotely close. It's the timing, figuring out when and where and how to actually go about doing this, because he wants to do this right and remember this moment for all eternity if humanly possible. He admits that maybe it was a good thing they hadn't kissed yesterday in the bathroom. After all, who wants to share an intimate moment with someone in a men's bathroom of all places? But yesterday had felt more like a spur of the moment kind of thing, like he could just jump right in and do it. Now he actually has to worry about things like timing and other pesky annoyances.

"…and I have to tell you— oh! I almost forgot!" Bilbo stops and turns to Thorin with a slight bounce of his feet. Thorin angles himself so he can give his full attention to the man. It's not that he's never noticed, but compared to him Bilbo really is such a small thing, only reaching up to his shoulder. He's suddenly trying to map out at what angle he needs to bend over to kiss him. Thankfully Bilbo bobbing up and down on his feet in what could only be described as nerves distracts him from getting too deep into those thoughts.

"Thank you, for tonight," Bilbo smiles warmly. He has a blush to match the now reddening sky. "It was really, truly lovely, honest. And as I said before I would very much like to do this again, but it seems you've already made future arrangements yes?" He cocks his head in a knowing fashion as he says that.

Thorin rolls his lips to suppress what will surely be the most giddy-sounding noise on earth. It would definitely make Dwalin puke out his own guts, and Dwalin can be pretty mushy too when it came to a certain art teacher. "Yes, I've got quite a few future arrangements in mind," Thorin plays along. "Number one being that we return here of course."

"Oh?" Bilbo arches up an eyebrow. "And what would be number two?"

"Hmm, can't say," Thorin shrugs. "It's supposed to be a surprise you know."

"Is that just your way of saying you haven't thought very far ahead yet?" Bilbo teases.

"Oh no, I've thought about it quite a lot Mr. Baggins," and he takes a step forward, close enough that he can breathe right onto Bilbo's head, continuing, "I've thought about a lot of things concerning you."

"Is that so?" Bilbo murmurs. Suddenly the air around them has grown quiet. Thorin can't even feel the October breeze or hear the wind chimes, not even the rush of the river. It's like time has frozen in place just for this very moment.

"Indeed." Thorin steps closer, and Bilbo has to tilt his head farther up to properly look Thorin in the eyes. He lets one hand slip into Bilbo's and the other to ghost over his cheek. He waits to see if Bilbo will protest or push him away but he gives no such indication, allowing Thorin to close that tiny gap of space and fully cup Bilbo's cheek. He uses his thumb to brush along Bilbo's cheekbones, trace the flow of his blush, rub against his nose. His other fingers play with the curls framing Bilbo's face, the golden brown now tinted with soft hues of orange and red reflecting from the sky. Thorin's not sure how his own hair must look like, but with his dark black it must be a weird contrast.

Without realizing it, Bilbo's got his other free hand tangled in Thorin's wild mane, using his fingers to comb through the dark mass streaked with an embarrassing amount of grey. Thorin's never been self conscious over his grey hair, always wearing them proudly like the 38 year old man he clearly was. But if there was ever a moment he was embarrassed he'd say this would be the one. He grimaces at the same time Bilbo's fingers land themselves on one of his braids. He feels the hand falter there and make a movement to draw back.

"You can touch, akhûnith," Thorin half whispers. He smirks when Bilbo blushes darker at the nickname. "I just… hope the grey's in my hair don't bother you as much."

Bilbo shakes his head quite resolutely and tightens his grip on Thorin's braid. "Nonsense. I've—I've always thought the silver rather suited you."

"Silver?" Thorin echoes back.

"Yes, silver," Bilbo repeats dreamily. His hands pluck at a grey hair near Thorin's temple and wraps it around his index finger. "Silver."

"I've never really thought of it that way."

"Well." He lets the strand go loose and pats it down with the rest of the hair. "Now you can."

Thorin chuckles and presses even closer if that's possible. He lets his forehead rest lightly against Bilbo's, the other man pushing up on his toes to gently press back. "I guess that's not so bad."

"No, not at all," Bilbo whispers and pushes up farther. Thorin's worried he's putting too much strain on his back and neck, and so he wraps a firm arm around Bilbo's waist to hold him up. Bilbo yelps and latches onto Thorin's neck as he's lifted about an inch off the ground.

"For someone who eats a lot you're quite light," Thorin murmurs amusedly.

Bilbo shoots him an unimpressed look, but it breaks all too soon when he giggles and bumps their noses together. "My family's been known to be quite small."

"Oh? Well, better for me then."

"How so?" Bilbo inquires.

"Better for me to hold you of course." He can't help squeezing Bilbo's sides gently.

His hair gets tugged in retaliation. "Better for me to do things like this. And don't squeeze me, I'm quite ticklish you know." The younger man squirms in Thorin's hold.

Ticklish too? Thorin's definitely going to have some fun with that one. "I'll save that for later," he decides. "After all, I have some rather pressing future plans I need to get a head start on."

"Mhmm. Hey, Thorin?"

"Hmm?" Their lips are about a centimeter apart at this point. They're both breathing in each other's breaths like it's the only source of oxygen between them. Which, technically it is if you don't factor in the whole 'trees release oxygen we release carbon dioxide' cycle. See, Thorin knows a little bit of science, even if it is lacking.

"What were those future plants you needed to get a head start on exactly?" Bilbo murmurs. He uses his hold around Thorin's neck to lift himself up a bit so they're sort of at eye level.

Thorin adjusts their bodies accordingly so they can fit more comfortably around each other, responding, "Well, it goes something like this Mr. Baggins," and presses forward.

Chapter Text

Bilbo doesn't really remember his first kiss all that much. He knows he was at that awkward stage of fourteen when it finally happened, when he was still growing into his new body and trying to get past the crack in his voice as puberty slowly consumed him. He had hair in places he didn't quite like, his limbs were too long, and for some reason his feet grew more than his actual body height. He does remember certain details about the kiss though, like how there was just too much tongue and saliva and everything was so bloody wet. He knows it happened with his childhood friend Primula, now currently married to his cousin Drogo. He also knows Drogo had been quite torn up about it, but thankfully with a little communication everything was sorted out between them, and Drogo continued to pine after his dear Primula. That's basically all Bilbo remembers. It's quite sad actually, because you're supposed to remember those 'first moments' in your life, like your first kiss, your first love, your first anniversary. Those are the important memories, and somehow Bilbo can't remember one stinking kiss. Then again, he's pretty sure his first kiss can't even compare to the one he's having right now.

Because this kiss is… electrifying. He can feel tingles going through his toes, up and down his spine, into the depths of his finger tips and reaching all the way back to his lips. He can feel the pulse of their lips and the warmth of their bodies, the way Thorin's long locks frame Bilbo's face and casts a shadow over them. It's such a warm feeling, blooming in Bilbo's chest and making his heart swell with… love? Affection? Maybe it's a little too soon to call it love, but the feeling is very similar, very much mutual and very much returned.

Thorin moves his lips against Bilbo's in a rhythmic fashion, his tongue flicking out every so often to swipe at Bilbo's lower lip. He makes a soft gasp at that and presses in closer, using his hand to curl around the base of Thorin's head and make a home amongst his hair. He strokes the skin there with his thumb and preens a little at the way Thorin shivers under that small touch. He doesn't know how long they stay like that, because—and as cheesy as this may sound—it really does feel like time has stopped all around them. They're only focusing on each other, honing in on the other's presence and mapping out the contours and angles of each other's bodies. While Bilbo is short, maybe still slightly pudgy around his waistline and too soft around the corners, Thorin is a literal pillar of stone hard warmth. It's all muscle underneath his clothes with not a single soft spot. His shoulders are broader than Bilbo expected, and his waistline doesn't have that extra skin hanging loose like Bilbo. And should he even mention those bulging arms? It's only when Thorin makes a soft nip at Bilbo's lower lip does he pull back and plop Bilbo down, only to tug him close so he can rest his chin on top. He can feel Thorin nose his way through his unruly curls and breathe in deeply. Bilbo really hopes he remembered to bathe the night before.

"Mhmm, Thorin?" Bilbo murmurs contentedly. He settles his face in the fur lining of Thorin's coat and lets his arms hang loosely around the other's waist. "That was a very nice future plan of yours."

Thorin chuckles softly and buries his nose deeper. "I'm glad you approve." He presses his hand flat against Bilbo's back and rubs up and down. "But as much as I want to stay like this—with you—we do have a more pressing future plan at the moment."

"And what's that?" Bilbo asks coyly. He sincerely hopes it's another kiss, because he could get used to those.

Thorin chuckles again, but it sounds more rueful than what Bilbo was expecting. To his disappointment Thorin pulls back, and the warmth he was cherishing in so much disappears along with him. At Bilbo's pout Thorin indulges him by pressing a light kiss to his forehead. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to spoil the moment but we do have a Halloween party to chaperone," he murmurs against his forehead.

Right. The… Halloween party. Of course. How could Bilbo possibly forget.

"You really know how to sour the mood, don't you," Bilbo mutters.

"Fear not," Thorin says with a roll of his eyes. "You forget something: I am the headmaster."

"Meaning?" Bilbo sighs exaggeratedly.

"Meaning, akhûnith, that we don't necessarily have to stay the entire time."

"What— oh." Bilbo smiles wickedly as the realization dawns on him.

"Yes," Thorin nods along with a wicked smile to match.

"Well then. Maybe you didn't sour the mood after all Mr. Oakenshield."

They share another smile and continue onwards, hand in hand, walking at a much brisker pace to reach the car. Bilbo finds himself even more eager than before to get back to school.

 


 

Dis nods as she adds the last finishing touches to the gym. Finally, after days of preparation, everything was done and put in place. The decorations were up, the snack tables were set out, the game booths in place, everything was ready. She stands back to take in the rest of the gym, watching in amusement as the costumed faculty members made their final adjustments here and there. Dis herself is dressed up as Frankstein's wife, and yes, she has the hair and everything. She's had Kili take at least twenty pictures of her, Oin and Gloin all together.

Dis always loves the parties at Erebor. When she was a young girl, her father would take her up on his shoulders and walk around this very same gym. She always felt like she was flying, gliding through the air and observing the decorations through the eyes of an awestruck child. Frerin could be found walking hand in hand between their parents, and Thorin would often tag along after Thror, asking gazillions of questions and following their grandfather "Like a loyal puppy," Miriam always chuckled. For Dis, that's one of her favorite memories at Erebor.

These parties acted as a sort of stress reliever for everyone, allowing the teachers to let loose from the responsibilities of grading papers and teaching students. They seriously do wonders for Thorin, as they're one of the few school-related things that actually gets him to relax from his headmastering responsibilities. Thorin doesn't like to admit it, but he enjoys these parties just as much as the next faculty member. He could always be found playing with the Year 7 and 8 students, joking with his Year 11 class, helping out at the game booths with Dwalin, even attempting face painting with Dori and Ori.

But this year, Thorin seems more relaxed and happier than usual. The reason?

"Are you helping or are you snacking? You need to pick one," Thorin says to Professor Baggins from nearby.

Mr. Baggins merely shrugs and picks at one of the pretzel bowls on the snack table. "Can't I do both?"

"Those are for the kids. And you just had five plates of food an hour ago."

"I have a fast metabolism. Didn't you notice?"

"I did. Now leave the food alone."

Mr. Baggins grumbles a "Yeah, yeah" and gets back to work, but not before Thorin comes up next to him and nudges his shoulder. They both share a look, smile shyly at each other and then duck their heads. And this isn't the first they've done this either. This is probably like the fifth time in the past 10 minutes since they've arrived to help out. They think they're being totally discreet but it's like a painful soap opera for all to see. She and Balin have already shared enough looks to say they're both very tempted to just grab the snack bowls and watch the whole thing play out. What makes this whole thing even funnier is how hard Thorin's been trying to keep their date under tight wraps, despite EVERYONE in this school knowing about their goddamn date. Well, sooner or later they'll all have to say something and then he'll probably find out about the… bets.

"Hey, mum?" She's pulled away from the two lovesick dorks when Batman comes walking up to her. She smiles at the tufts of blonde hair sticking out.

"Hey Fili, what's up?" She ruffles his hair once he gets a bit closer.

Fili responds by slowly bringing out a crumpled ten dollar bill. "I suppose I lost the bet," he says sheepishly.

Dis blinks at the piece of worn out paper in his gloved hand. "You too huh?" She murmurs wryly. She takes the bill in her hands and turns it over.

"Kili said he'll come by with his money later."

"Hey." She grabs his arm and looks around to make sure no one's watching before carefully slipping the bill back into his hand. "Just give me a five later, and we'll say it's you and your brother's share. Okay?"

Fili's face brightens up at that. "Serious?"

"Very."

"Sweet. Nori's gonna be so pissed when he finds out."

"If he finds out. And watch your language."

"Right, right." Both mother and son smile deviously at each other.

"Speaking of teachers," Dis starts suddenly, "But have you seen Legolas around?"

"Can't say I have. You could probably ask Tauriel though, I'm sure she would know," Fili suggests. As if on cue Tauriel walks right by holding a bag of balloons that still had to yet to be blown up.

"Oh, Tauriel!" Dis calls out.

The history/language teacher stops and backtracks. "Miss Dis," she nods.

"Just wondering, have you seen Legolas? He's supposed to chaperone tonight but I can't seem to find him anywhere."

At the mention of Legolas' whereabouts Tauriel's face shifts into something Dis can't quite read. "He's having dinner with his father," she responds in a tight voice. "He might be a little late, but he should arrive within the hour."

"Oh." Dis tries not to sound too surprised at that. Legolas was meeting with Thranduil? She shares a surprised look with Fili. "Well, that's fine. As long as someone's picking up his shift."

"He asked me to sub in for him. I hope that's alright."

"Of course," Dis says politely, "As long as he comes that's fine with me."

"Right. Will that be all then?" Tauriel asks rather stiffly.

"No, just.. get those balloons blown up," is all Dis can think of.

"Legolas is having dinner with Thranduil?" Fili hisses once Tauriel's out of hearing range.

"Trust me, I'm as surprised as you are," Dis murmurs back.

"Do you think Thorin knows?" Fili asks. He looks around at the mention of his uncle.

"Can't be certain. Probably, but don't ask just yet."

"Yeah, yeah.. sure."

It seemed this night was going to be full of surprises.

 


 

"Order whatever you'd like Legolas. I am paying after all," Thranduil said to his son from across the table. The only acknowledgement he receives is a dismissive grunt. Bard starts panicking when Thranduil's face tenses up as if ready to strike in battle, but it slowly dies away to his usual non-caring face. Bard shares a look with Mr. Elrond standing before them. Maybe it's time we order? Elrond's face seems to share that sentiment.

"Shall I get a bottle of wine for you three?" Elrond suggests lightly. "We have that red wine you love so much Thranduil."

"Mhmm, that would be nice actually. My thanks, Elrond." They both bow their heads at each other in thanks. Elrond flurries off to grab the wine, which left the three of them to sit in what could only be described as the most awkward silence of Bard's life. And he's been through a lot of them, more than he could actually count since coming onto this job. Speaking of, why, of all the places, must he be here right now? What purpose is there for him to sit in on this horribly awkward dinner between estranged father and son? Just… why?

"Bard."

"Hmm?" He glances up at the sound of his name to see Thranduil staring very icily at him. Oh sweet Eru what has he done this time?

"Ada," Legolas says in a warning tone.

Amazingly enough, whatever insult Thranduil was surely about to say is quickly tampered down by this son's scorching gaze. Instead he clears his throat with a polite, "Bard, I was only going to ask if you could check the time, please." He directs the 'please' at his son who smirks.

"Uh, sure. It's—" He glances down at his watch "—5:30 pm. Legolas, do you need to get back or…?"

"Not to worry, I have informed Tau—" He clams up rather abruptly in the middle of his sentence but manages to recover with a smooth, "I have informed the faculty I will be late. They have enough chaperones for the party so we can stay as long as we like."

"Excellent," Thranduil beams, which he actually doesn't because his face pretty much stays the same throughout. Bard's learned how to tell the difference between Thranduil's myriad of voices. Legolas on the other hand, who is considerably more expressive, looks about two seconds from pummeling his father into the nice hardwood floor. He shakes himself as if to get rid of his budding anger and returns his attention to the menu.

Bard squints at the younger man. For a moment, Legolas was going to say 'Tauriel' but had stopped himself just in time before invoking the wrath of his father. He figures Thranduil must have noticed but his goddamn face shows no sign of it. If there's one glaringly obvious fact Bard's managed to pick out from this utter mess of a situation, it's that Legolas obviously has some feelings for Tauriel. Whether the feeling's mutual on her end Bard doesn't know, but he has a distinct feeling it's not.

He finally got around to meeting with Alfrid the creepy janitor, which turned out to be more substantial than he'd originally imagined. The janitor hadn't asked for anything in return, only that Bard 'use this knowledge with care', whatever that meant. So basically, this is what Bard's learned in the past day: The students, in an attempt to get rid of President Thranduil once and for all at Greenwood, managed to capture a very incriminating photo of Legolas and Tauriel. At least that's what it looked like on the surface. Thanks to today's inventions of photoshop and just really good cropping skills, the students made the photo appear as if the teachers were caught in an inappropriate position (Bard really doesn't have to elaborate any further), when in reality Legolas was helping Tauriel lift a heavy box. How the students turned lifting a box into a complex sex position Bard doesn't know, but it spread like wildfire throughout the school. Thranduil found out about the whole ordeal, automatically assumed it was Tauriel's fault for damaging the innocence of his son, and Greenwood's reputation was on the brink of tarnation. Thankfully Thranduil's staff destroyed the photo before it went beyond the four walls of the university, but the damage had already been done. Tauriel's good name was all but destroyed and was quickly dismissed by the university, Legolas went with her much to the disapproval of his father, hence why they were now at Erebor thanks to the great kindness of Headmaster Thorin Oakenshield himself. Apparently there's some inner feud going on between Mr. Oakenshield and Thranduil but Bard's not getting that into it.

So, yeah. It's a lot to take in. And now the real question is: what in Eru's name is Bard supposed to do with this information? True, it was his own curiosity that got the better of him, and maybe he has some inner desire to patch up the relationship between father and son but that's besides the point! Because this is information Bard now has to live with for the rest of his days at Greenwood. It's also possible he will be killed, fired, and then killed again if Thranduil ever finds out. It's a very good thing Bard puts on a mean poker face.

He tries to distract himself from these inner thoughts of turmoil by staring at Thranduil, the dickhead of beauty himself. He's let his hair hang loose for the occasion, leaving more room for it to glow under the dim restaurant lights. His pale skin was caught in a much lighter glow that didn't stand out too much against his blonde hair. Now his clothes, oh god. He's currently dressed in a dark pinstripe suit that fits his form perfectly, hugging his body in all the right places and angles. Bard can whole-heartedly admit he's stared at Thranduil's ass at least five times since reaching Rivendell. Seriously, there is no shame on his part. Legolas appears just as professional, with his usual braids by his ears, a neatly pressed white button down shirt and grey slacks. Bard… not so much. He's wearing some old navy blue button down that's far too wrinkly in comparison to Legolas', and the slacks he has on are one of his longer ones that he needs to roll up at the ankles. At least he remembered to brush his hair. Then again, he wasn't aware he'd be joining the Greenleaf duo for dinner, only finding out just an hour before the meal itself. Like he said, he has no idea why he's even here at all.

Thranduil's broccoli is only mere inches from his mouth when, halfway through the unbearably awkward meal, Legolas suddenly calls out, "Ada?" He pauses, then licks his lips and gently sets the fork down. He gives his full attention to his son by folding his hands on the table and raising an expectant eyebrow. His food remains forgotten for the moment, but Bard's eyes don't leave that piece of broccoli once because now he's suddenly jealous that a freakin piece of broccoli almost touched those gorgeous lips.

"Are you… really coming to the Halloween party tonight?" Legolas asks carefully. Oh dear. Bard can already see where this is heading.

"I am," Thranduil answers. He kind of leaves it at that, which Bard can see is making it harder for Legolas to carry on with his line of questioning.

"Is there… a need for you to be there tonight?"

Thranduil's face doesn't change, but his eyebrow arches up higher.

"Because I don't find it all that necessary. Especially when.. Mr. Oakenshield will be there tonight."

The president's forehead twitches at the mention of Mr. Oakenshield's name, but again, his face stays exactly the same.

"Ada," Legolas sighs tiredly, "What I'm trying to say is—"

"If you do not want me there tonight," Thranduil suddenly cuts in loudly, making both Bard and Legolas jump, "Then you need only say so."

"Of course, Ada but— I'm sorry, come again?"

"Yes, do say that again sir please."

Thranduil's eyes dart to Bard's face with a sharp intensity. Oh, had he said that out loud?

"Are you.. are you being serious right now, Ada?" Legolas asks. Honestly, even Bard can't quite believe it himself.

Thranduil's eyes return to his son with a look of exasperation in them. "Must I repeat myself again? Has your hearing really gone out so quickly for someone of your age?"

"No, no of course not," Legolas hurries on. "I was just.. surprised, that's all. I thought you wanted to be there."

"I was also under that impression, but it appears Mr. Bard here must return to his family."

"I do?" Thranduil shoots him another grazing look. "Er, yes, I do actually! I need to.. put my kids to bed. Right."

Legolas doesn't exactly buy Bard's weak excuse, but he's willing to take whatever he can get right now. "I'm sorry to keep you from your family."

"Ah, it's fine. My eldest, Sigrid, is very good at watching over the house for me. But I should.. probably head home soon. It's not good to leave them alone for too long, especially on a Friday night."

Legolas laughs softly at that. "Yes, that would not be good." They share a look of mutual understanding and resume eating. Thranduil hasn't actually moved or spoken in the last few minutes which Bard brushes off at first, but when he finally looks up he sees why: Thranduil is staring at him. No, not Legolas, but Bard. And it's not one of his icy death stares that Bard's gotten so used to, it's not his disapproving stare, or his bored stare, it's just… a stare. Bard hasn't classified this one yet because it's his first time seeing it.

Bard clears his throat before calling softly, "Sir?"

Thranduil startles in his seat, earning a curious look from Legolas and an even more curious look from Bard. He brushes off the sudden action with a string of incoherent words and picks up his broccoli again.

Okay… that was strange?

 


 

The gym is quite impressive, that's for sure. It was lit up with pumpkin shaped lights and neon ghosts stuck to the walls, fake spider webs (with dangling spiders!) hanging from the rafters, orange and black balloons filling up the expanse of the floor, and far too many fog machines. Whenever Bilbo passes by Bofur he gives him a mock-weary look. Bofur just shrugs happily. He has a feeling fog machines aren't just a Halloween thing, but he's not about to ask now.

Bilbo really has to hand it whoever's on the decorating committee because it really is quite festive. Unfortunately, it's all about to go to waste as the gym is now a complete mess of kids running in every single direction possible.

"I'm sorry," Thorin apologizes suddenly.

"Oh, for what?" Bilbo asks, smiling as a couple kids chase each other around with glow in the dark silly string.

"For, um, forcing you into chaperoning," Thorin answers guiltily.

"If I recall correctly, I only wanted to come if you were going to be here. And you are, so no apologies needed!"

Bilbo and Thorin have taken refuge by a nearby wall in the hopes of not getting sprayed with the silly string. Kili and Nori, who are manning the prize table, thought they would make good prizes and have been handing them out like free candy. Balin swears up and down that he did not approve of this, but surprisingly Thorin had let it slide, chuckling, "It's fine Balin. Let the kids have their fun." What's even more surprising is how.. at ease Thorin is. The tense knot that's usually found in his shoulders has completely relaxed, and he's smiling more than Bilbo's ever seen before. Seriously, he won't stop smiling, especially at Bilbo. Not that he minds or anything of course.

"You look happy," Bilbo points out.

"Do I?" Thorin hums, and proceeds to flash a smile at Bilbo.

"Yeah, you.. you do. Not that that's bad or anything! It's just.. it's nice, to see you so relaxed." His face softens out at that last part. There's something incredibly heartwarming about seeing a happy Thorin.

"The Halloween party is… one of my favorite times of the year," Thorin admits somewhat bashfully, his cheeks growing just a hint rosy. When he looks up to gaze at the sea of students his eyes twinkle so fondly. "My parents… they would always take me and my siblings to these school events. You could say I grew up at Erebor in a sense. Honestly, I was here more than I was at my actual home," Thorin jokes.

Bilbo can imagine it, a tiny little Thorin, running around with his dark hair swishing about, playing with a younger version of Miss Dis and their brother. He can't help chuckling softly at the conjured up image. "I would have liked to see that. A mini Thorin Oakenshield."

"Oh Mahal, no," Thorin laughs, "You really wouldn'twant to."

"Oh I'm sure you weren't that bad."

"My sister calls me the king of broodiness. That has not changed since I was about ten."

Bilbo tries very hard not to snort at the image of a brooding ten year old Thorin.

Thorin scowls at him but it holds no real heat to it. "You just imagined a ten year old me brooding, didn't you?"

"If I say yes, are you going to bite my head off?" Bilbo shoots back with a cheeky grin.

"I'm pretty sure I said your head wasn't that appetizing," Thorin replies, raising a humorous eyebrow in return.

"And as I said before my head could be appetizing."

"I think your lips are more appetizing."

Bilbo almost loses his balance on the wall. He stares wide-eyed at Thorin with the reddest cheeks imaginable, gaping and blinking quite stupidly. That cheeky bastard. He points a warning finger at Thorin. "Now that was not cool."

"What can I say? I take pleasure in catching you off guard."

"Yes, yes I do recall you saying that at one point."

"You should appreciate it. It only shows my affection for you."

"Oh really? Does it now?" Bilbo replies dryly.

"Really." Thorin smiles and shuffles over closer. Bilbo sighs quietly at the heat radiating off Thorin's body, and he finds himself drawing closer to it until he can just rest his head against Thorin's shoulder. He nuzzles against it and breathes in deeply. Thorin's coat smells of… well, Thorin basically, but it's all the smells that make up Thorin. He always smells faintly of pinecones for some reason, or some other kind of scent that hints at something nature-like. Bilbo isn't too sure how he smells most of the times, but he can guarantee he smells like a sweaty mess under the layers of clothing he's wearing right now.

From down below, Thorin's pinky finger reaches out to loop shyly around Bilbo's. They both glance at each other and chuckle softly. Ironically, Bilbo feels very peaceful and content even if they are surrounded by screaming children on all sides. Maybe it's because Bilbo's sole focus isn't on watching the kids, or keeping an eye on Fili, Kili and Nori, or just his chaperoning duties in general. Maybe it's because the one thing taking up Bilbo's focus at the moment is Thorin, who's pressed against his side, breathing in and out in a relaxing fashion. Honestly, Bilbo could probably stay like this forever if he so desired. He wouldn't mind it actually. Unfortunately the peace doesn't last long, because Thorin's body stiffens up all of a sudden and his breathing has became a bit labored. Bilbo's own body is jostled by the action and he looks up to see what's wrong.

"Thorin?" When he doesn't get an answer he follows Thorin's line of sight. Mr. Greenleaf has just entered the gym, but he's not alone. Standing beside him is a man with dark hair and a scruffy beard by the looks of it, and… is that Mr. Thranduil? "Oh dear," Bilbo mutters to himself. He chances a peak up at Thorin. As he suspected, his expression is just as stony as the first time Bilbo had met the younger Greenleaf. "Thorin," Bilbo tries again. He tugs on Thorin's coat, and when that doesn't work he digs his fingers into Thorin's hair and pulls on his braid.

"Ow!" Thorin yelps. He whips his head back and scowls at the perpetrator.

"Stop glaring like that. You'll only get more frown lines if you do so," Bilbo says. He reaches up to tap Thorin right on the forehead. "And look, they're already gone see?" He takes Thorin's chin between his fingers and directs it toward Legolas. Sure enough, both Mr. Thranduil and the scruffy looking man have disappeared from Legolas' side.

"Huh, that's strange," Thorin muses to himself. He flexes his jaw involuntarily.

"Yes, yes I know. Now are you done glaring?" Without turning his head completely, Thorin's eyes shift to Bilbo's face and he raises an eyebrow. Bilbo rolls his eyes and has to force Thorin's face back to look at him. "Are you done glaring?" He repeats with a little more force.

This time it's Thorin's turn to roll his eyes. "Yes, Mr. Baggins," he sighs. "Now can you please let go of my face?"

"Only if you stop glaring and actually enjoy yourself. It's Halloween, please don't go concerning yourself over whatever it is the Greenleaf family has done to you in the past." Thorin's about to protest but Bilbo shushes him immediately. "And yes Thorin, I've noticed. I'm not that stupid. I mean for crying out loud even Balin didn't mention there was a third gym teacher here."

Thorin frowns slightly at that. He looks like he's trying to consider his next words, offer some kind of an explanation. Instead he settles for prying Bilbo's fingers off his chin. His own hand takes the place of his chin and he squeezes for some extra reassurance. "You're right. I'm… I'm sorry. I didn't mean to act all, you know…"

"Broody?" Bilbo completes for him.

"Yeah… that," Thorin admits grudgingly.

Bilbo snorts and squeezes back. "It's fine. I'm not going to pry or ask too many questions if that's what you're wondering. I do just want to enjoy this night though."

"Yes, yes of course," Thorin replies hurriedly. He closes his eyes for a brief second, only opening them when he's taken a deep enough breath to settle himself.

"Better?"

"Yes, much," Thorin sighs. They go back to leaning against the wall (and each other) as they watch the children. After all, they are still chaperones.

 


 

Legolas, much to both his and Bard's surprise, is quite thankful that his father managed to sneak in, then sneak back out without causing any sort of ruckus. He did get a few wary stares from some of the teachers, but both men left before anything of the sort could happen. He feels like he can breathe a lot better again. He decides try and search out Tauriel, tell her the good news and pray he hasn't completely ruined her night. He'd hate it if she spent all this time worrying over something that didn't need worrying to begin with. Seriously, he was expecting his father to put up more of a fight, not use his assistant's kids as an excuse. Well, whatever. Legolas is just thankful.

He does finally find her, after bumping into numerous students and the occasional teacher and let's just say he's not all that happy. He scowls at the sight before him, of Tauriel and the younger Durin, talking and laughing at Eru knows what. She won't stop snorting and swatting at Mr. Durin's arm, her eyes lighting up with pure joy every time he talks or makes her laugh. Legolas isn't more than at least a few feet away, and she barely even notices him. She only notices him.

He's so tempted to walk over, grab Tauriel's arm and take her away from him but he… he can't. He just can't do it, can't make himself walk that extra few feet, tell her the good news and maybe take the time to make her laugh instead of him. He starts walking backwards, sparing one more glance at the pair before spinning around and stalking over to another corner of the gym, away from her sight and anyone else's. He tells himself he's fine, that it doesn't matter, but those kinds of thoughts are futile, especially when you had to watch it play out before you.

"Oh, there you are!" It's Miss Dis who finds Legolas in one of the gym's corners, trying not to appear as moody as he may feel at the moment. She plants her hands on her hips and stares him down. "I see you finally made it! Tauriel has worked quite hard on your behalf, so you should thank her when all this is over."

"…Of course," he responds back. At the mention of Tauriel his eyes drift back to them standing on the other far side of the gym. Even from so far away, he can clearly see them having a much better time than he is at the moment.

"And since you did miss your shift, I'm gonna need you to stay after to help me clean up," she adds.

"Of course, anything you need." Mr. Durin doubles over laughing at something Tauriel said.

"I gather it'll be quite late by the time we finish. Think you can handle it?"

"Um.. sure? I mean I guess?" Tauriel leans down to whisper something in his ear. Whatever it was, it makes him laugh shyly to himself.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm sorry?" Legolas finally rips his eyes away from them to hone in on Miss Dis.

She's squinting at him, as if trying to get a read on what he's thinking. It makes him feel oddly uncomfortable. "You've barely looked at me the whole time I've been talking to you," she observes.

"I apologize. I find myself a little… distracted tonight." From the corner of his eye Mr. Durin touches a strand of Tauriel's hair, who doesn't seem to mind the invasion at all. In fact, she looks pleased that he's touching her hair.

"Mr. Greenleaf?"

"I'm sorry, I'm feeling a bit faint. I'll be here later to clean up of course." He nods his head at her, barely registering her look of confusion. He slithers along the wall until he's finally out of the gym. If he doesn't get outside soon, he's going to punch something. Or someone, which would probably be worse.

And he really, truly thought this night was actually going well.

Chapter Text

Bilbo's aware of many things at the moment. He's aware that it's a Saturday morning, probably some time around 8 o'clock if he's judging from the brightness of his room and the fact that he never fails to wake up around 8. He's aware that he's in his bed with his warm knitted blanket, the one his mother left for him and still continues to use to this day. He's also aware of the mismatch of clothes he has on. He's in a pair of pajama pants, but he still has his ascot hanging lose around his neck from the night before and his costume shirt. Those are all the things Bilbo's aware of currently, and it takes him a bleary moment until last night's events starts rushing back to him full force. He remembers things like the hand holding in his classroom, the date at Rivendell, the 'why English?' question, the kiss, the Halloween party, Thorin and Bilbo escaping from chaperoning duty to walk around the school's hallways, the shy looks they sent each other, Thorin walking Bilbo to his car, the second kiss of the night. God it's like a dream that's only just hitting Bilbo, and he's pretty damn sure it was a very good dream too.

Bilbo spends the better half of the morning replaying last night's events and grinning like a total loon alone in his bed. He doesn't get out of bed until about 9:30, telling himself he needed to take a shower at the very least. Thankfully the hot water does wonders for his mind and body, and then he's finally moving along, bumbling about his apartment like he normally does every weekend. He changes into comfier clothes and his patchwork robe, sets a kettle on the stove, even gets some reading done before his tea is ready and the bread is done toasting.

He sighs contentedly as he sips at his tea and munches on his jam covered piece of toast. He doesn't mind the weekends, as they've always been a time for Bilbo to catch up on school work, do chores, meet up with friends, give his cousins a call, you know that sort of stuff. He's always busy, always doing something until it just turns into too many things and before he knows it the weekend's over and Monday's already here. He never really gets a chance to sit around, relax in the early morning sunshine and take in the peacefulness of his home. There's always something that needs to be done. But at the moment, he can't be bothered to do anything at all. He's perfectly fine sitting at his kitchen table doing absolutely nothing. Seriously, he should do nothing more often. Instead of rushing to clean up the dishes and change into more work-friendly clothes, he slowly gets up and takes his time washing the dishes rather than just sticking them in his junk of a dishwasher. He stays in his robe for the whole of the morning, only changing when he has to get the grocery shopping done, and even that's a more peaceful commute than usual. He's not jogging to the bus stop and tapping his foot impatiently; he's taking in the scenery, the fresh air, the hustle and bustle of London life all around him. It's such a wonderful morning. Nothing can really sour his mood or break him from this dream-like reverie. He's that happy.

When he gets back to his apartment, it's 2 pm and he hasn't done a single productive thing all morning besides the dishes. Does he care? Not particularly. The first thing he does do at least is start a laundry load, make himself another cup of tea and then read some more. Of course that's when things start to sour over. As he's flipping through a page of his book, there's a sentence that catches his attention for a brief moment: "And what are we supposed to do now, Eleanor?! We can't go back to the way things were before!" He doesn't pay any mind to it at first, it's just one of those cheesy romance novels that Bilbo indulges in from time to time when he can't find anything particularly decent to read. But then the line keeps repeating itself, over and over in his head like a broken record and suddenly the peace is breaking all to soon and things quite literally come crashing down on him.

Maybe Bilbo's just ignorant, too caught up in this bliss to even understand the now forthcoming seriousness of the situation. Because now comes the most important question in this whole thing: What are Bilbo and Thorin supposed to do now? Where are they supposed to go from here? Because as Gale states to his dear Eleanor, they can't go back to the way things were before. One kiss (or two plus the hand holding and sort of flirting) was all it took to change things. They can't go back to being just friends, or even flirty friends for that matter. But then again, are they even boyfriends? He would think so, if they've already been on a date, shared two kisses and have made 'future arrangements' as Thorin claimed, but it's been a while since Bilbo jumped back into the dating scene! He has no idea how to go about this anymore. Someone literally has to tell him what's going on and what's happening next, lay out all the steps for him because as much as he tries to play the coy and flirtatious type, Bilbo's actually quite helpless when it comes to dating.

Well, this is one way of ending a rather peaceful morning.

 


 

Dwalin is a dead man.

That's the first thought that comes to mind when he wakes up not in his own bed or room. Well he's on a bed, it's just… not his. He's in a small loft. It's a nice loft, but he doesn't recall having any friends that own apartment lofts. Although there was this one guy, Tim he thinks? He was very artsy, very into the recreational stuff if you get his drift. Dwalin's pretty sure he's not with this Tim guy, so Tim is out. After thinking long and hard for approximately five minutes, he gives up. His mind is completely blank. He has no idea who the small nice loft apartment belongs to. He looks around the place, forcing his mind to at least remember something from the hazy fragments of last night but he honestly has no idea. He knows he didn't have a one night stand or anything (trust him, he's checked thoroughly), so he won't have to make a run for it. He's still got his biker costume clothes on, so he never went home and went straight from the bar to wherever this is. As tradition, he and some other faculty members went out to get some drinks before returning to chaperone the Halloween party. That's where he was supposed to go after the bar, but he didn't. The question is why though? What made him skimp out on chaperoning duty to come back to wherever this was?

It's not until his eyes land on a very familiar looking knitted scarf that he thinks: I am a dead man. Slowly, ever so slowly his eyes drift over to the sleeping bundle of warmth curled up by his hip. He would recognize that floppy brown hair, those freckles and that skinny frame anywhere. Ori makes some snuffling noises in his sleep. His hands are curled up into fists by his face and his whole body keeps radiating toward's Dwalin's warmth. It's an endearing sight to say the least, but as Dwalin repeats:

He. Is. A. Dead. Man.

Has he been waiting for this moment his whole life, to wake up beside the art teacher, curl around his smaller sleeping form and act as the big spoon? Of fucking course he has. But the problem? Ori has the most over-protective brother known to man, and he will kill Dwalin if he ever finds out. The good thing is he already has one brother's approval, but it's going to be a lot more difficult to get the other one's.

("You… you're serious?" Dwalin eyed the science teacher suspiciously. It's not that he doesn't trust Nori, it's just, well… yeah, he doesn't fucking trust Nori.

"Of course I am. When I am ever not serious?" And then Nori reconsiders, "You know what, don't answer that."

"So… you're not going to punch my head in? Throw me off the side of a cliff? Even try to kill me in a freak accident?"

"You're mistaking me for my brother, Dwalin," Nori deadpans.

"You can't blame me for that! Not when you're related to Dori of all people!"

"When you've lived with him for 40 something years, you get used to it," Nori shrugs, and then smiles, "But yes, you have my blessing to shag my brother."

"Mahal, you did not just say shag." Dwalin makes a face of disgust. He's starting to see how bad of an influence the boys are on Nori, rather than it being the other way around.

"How you're going to get my brother's blessing though, I dunno."

"Wow, gee thanks for your help. Just so helpful, Nori."

"Hey, I'm already partially disowned by my family!" Nori puts up his hands in defense. "So I'm basically out of Dori's radar. Now dear little Ori? That's a different story.").

Seeing Ori's sleeping body must have jolted something in Dwalin's memory, because now he distinctly remembers the bar, Gloin, Bofur and Bifur leaving to grab their coats, and then just as Dwalin was about to finish off the rest of his beer and join the others Nori and Ori walked in. It was definitely a strange sight to see Ori, the skinny art teacher that he was. He looked rather out of place in the bar despite not being in his sheep costume anymore, and boy was that the cutest thing Dwalin had ever seen all day. The others had sent him questioning looks but he just waved them off, telling them he'd join them back at school later. Nori and Ori proceeded to take the vacant seats next to Dwalin, and before he knew it Nori was long gone and it was just the two of them talking about Mahal knows what. They were at the bar for maybe three hours, three and a half if Dwalin was really paying attention. 5:30 was soon rolling around the corner, and both men were reluctant to relinquish their seats and leave the bar to go chaperone when they were already so tipsy, Dwalin maybe just a tad more than usual.

It was actually Ori who suggested they go back to his place and continue the drinking there. They then proceeded to finish off a whole bottle aaaaaand then somewhere along the way they collapsed in Ori's bed and slept it off. Dwalin doesn't remember anything more than that, but he gathers the details will start to hit him once he sobers up more. Ori snuffles and Dwalin is once again hit full force with the entirely deep shit he's in right now. Should he wake the lad up? Make them coffee or something? Escape back to his place before anyone notices? He's not sure, but what he does know is that in times of crises, your family will never fail you. Right?

"Balin," Dwalin hisses into his phone as he climbs down the ladder from the loft.

"Dwalin! Where in Durin's blazes are you?!" He hears a door slam and shut in the background. "I'm just going over to Thorin's now for breakfast—"

"I need you to cover for me."

"Pardon?"

"You heard me," Dwalin hisses a bit impatiently. He looks back up to make sure Ori's still sound asleep.

There's a slight pause before Balin responds, "You realize I haven't seen you all night right? That I stayed up, waiting for you? Did it ever occur to you that maybe I was just a little worried? Hmm? Did it?"

Dwalin almost groans, but he's certain the sound would wake up Ori. Do they really need to deal with this right fucking now? "For Mahal's sakes, Balin, I am not some teenager who—"

"Well you're certainly acting like one," he cuts in sternly.

"Can you just—please? Cover for me, or something? I need to… deal with some stuff."

"And what stuff would this be exactly? Or is it something you can't quite tell me?"

"Oh come on, don't be like that," Dwalin sighs wearily. Seriously, of all the times now is certainly not one of them.

"What do you expect!" At Balin's raised voice Dwalin winces and pulls his phone back a hair. "We're brothers, we tell each other things! If you're in trouble somehow I need to know—"

"What makes you think I'm in trouble?"

"Maybe if you'd just tell me what was going on—!"

"Ergh, Dwalin? Who are you speaking with?"

"Shit," he mutters. He glances up at a yawning Ori who's rubbing his eyes in the hopes of chasing away the last remnants of sleep. "Sorry," Dwalin grimaces, "Did I wake you?"

"Mhmm, s' okay," Ori mumbles. He waves a limp hand at Dwalin.

"Um, okay. I'll just…" He points to his phone.

"Sure, sure," Ori replies easily. He sends a sleepy smile down to Dwalin and disappears back under the covers.

Dwalin takes a moment for himself before returning back to his phone. "Balin?"

"….."

"Hello?" He calls out nervously. "You still there?"

"….What…have you done?" Balin finally says at last. He annunciates each word, every single one filled with dreaded horror.

"Er…" Dwalin supplies unhelpfully.

"You know what, nevermind. We'll talk when you get home. Just…" Balin sighs and makes a noise. "Do what you have to do."

"Okay… thank you, brother," Dwalin says that last part earnestly.

Balin sighs out a "You're welcome" and then hangs up the phone.

Okay, so at least Balin isn't ready to kill him just yet. But Dwalin still repeats: he's a dead man.

 


 

When Tauriel comes out of the shower, she finds Legolas sitting at the table glaring daggers into his coffee mug. She rolls her eyes and smacks the back of his head, making him almost crash right into the table. "Was that really necessary?" He asks tartly and rubs the back of his head.

"Very," she replies back and plops herself down into the chair opposite him. He grumbles something and goes back to glaring at his mug. After sharing an apartment with Legolas for a year already, Tauriel's gotten to know a lot about his little habits. She knows he's an early to bed early to rise person but he has to have his coffee if he can fully function, he's kind of a neat freak which has taken some immense adjusting to since Tauriel is so used to living in a pigsty, is very particular with his possessions, and he only looks like that when something is pissing him off. She gathers it must have had to do with the dinner with his father. Hell, she would be pissed too if she was forced to eat a meal with a father she hated. Actually she did get pissed, just yesterday in fact.

When he grumbles again Tauriel can't help smiling a bit. Legolas… is like a brother to her. He's always been there for her, sticking up for her when all of Greenwood was against her, defending her honor when she became the subject of utter humiliation, even helping her find a new apartment to get that fresh new start she needed. Naturally he was the first person she went to when she needed to find a roommate to split the rent, and it ended up becoming a nice solution for the both of them. Legolas had evicted himself from his own home and was in need of a new one, and Tauriel just needed a supportive friend who didn't think she was whoring the university president's son. The support she's gotten from him has touched her in ways she couldn't even imagine. He really is like the older brother she never had. Oh, and let's not forget his borderline overprotectiveness when it comes to her. That's also part of the reason she got angry the other day, when he had interrupted her and Mr. Kili's little thing going on. Honestly, it was just harmless flirting and the dirty looks he and Mr. Kili sent each other literally made her want to shove Legolas out the window with her knuckle dusters. Sometimes she just needs breathing space, and Legolas could be… suffocative, when he wanted to be. But she knows he's just doing his job as the big older brother, nothing more.

"…Stupid… just stupid…" She hears him mutter.

"What's stupid?" She asks.

"Hmm?" Legolas looks up, clearly unaware that he was muttering the whole time they've been sitting together.

Tauriel rolls her eyes and reaches over to tap the rim of his mug. "You keep saying 'stupid.' What's stupid?"

"….It's nothing," he finally replies. He gets up rather abruptly and brings his mug over to the sink.

She tilts her head at him. "What is with you? Did you not have enough coffee this morning?"

Legolas turns his back to her so she's unable to see his face. He flips on the faucet's tap and starts rinsing out his cup. "Nothing, nothing at all."

"Really?" She gets up and slowly walks towards him. His ears perk up at the sound of her footsteps but his back still remains facing her. "Because you came home pretty late last night."

"I had to help Miss Dis clean up the gym."

"I waited up for you." She stops once she's right behind him. She's close enough that if she wanted to, she could twist her body around to look at his face.

Legolas' back stiffens up at her presence. "And I thank you for your thoughtfulness."

"You didn't even say goodnight to me."

"I was tired."

"That's quite a lame excuse."

Legolas finally spins around to face her. She's totally unprepared for the angry pair of eyes staring her down, right on the brink of bursting into flames any moment. "Well, when you've been cleaning a gym for three hours that kind of thing happens," he snarls.

Tauriel almost jerks back at the force of his voice, but she holds her ground and just blinks unimpressed at him. "I did something, didn't I?"

"Why would you say that?" Legolas' back faces her again. He stretches his arms out to lean against the sink's counter. She's very tempted to place a hand on his back, try to soothe out the tense line of his shoulders and get him to relax. She must have really pissed him off if he's feeling this high-strung.

"Legolas," she begins gently, "You have to tell me if I've done something. I know you, I can tell when you're upset especially if it's with me."

"I'm not—"

"Yes, you are. Stop denying it."

Legolas' shoulders sag as he releases a heavy sigh. He twists his neck back so he can see her face. "You like the younger Durin, don't you?" He asks quietly after a moment.

Tauriel can feel a slight blush on her cheeks. "Why are you bringing up Kili all of a sudden?"

"No reason." For some reason he smiles sadly at her. "But you like him, right?"

"I mean…" She looks down and plays with the sleeve of her bathrobe. "He's nice," she responds with a shy smile. "He's very nice. And he's funny, playful, loves to joke around… and," she glances back up at Legolas, "I think he likes me too."

Legolas nods stiffly. "That's good. That's—that's good. I'm glad you two get along so well."

See? There's that overprotectiveness she was talking about.

"Hey," she knocks his shoulder lightly. "Kili is a good man. He can be a bit of a trouble maker, but I can tell he really cares for me. You don't have to worry so much about him."

For a split second Legolas' eyes become pained, like Tauriel's words were a punch to the gut or something. That pain is soon gone and replaced with.. something else. She can't identify this emotion, but she thinks it might be a numbness of some kind.

"I'm glad." His smile appears forced, but she can tell he's trying really hard to be genuine.

"So… no more dirty looks?"

Legolas breathes out a chuckle and shakes his head. "Was I that obvious?"

"Legolas," Tauriel rolls her eyes, "When is your overprotectiveness ever not obvious?"

"Yes that's—that's true," he chuckles. He fully twists his body around so he can reach out and squeeze her arm. "If he ever does anything… let me know?"

"Of course," she nods seriously. "You know you're the first person I would go to, right?"

"Right." He squeezes again and releases her arm. He gives her one last smile before exiting the kitchen and going back to his room.

In a way, Tauriel feels much lighter now that they've gotten past this little obstacle. She really does feel like she can breathe better again.

 


 

"Da?"

Bard startles from his sleep. He sits up immediately but the crick in his neck and back stops him halfway. He groans and scrubs a hand over his face.

"Da?" Sigrid's face pops into view.

"Hey sweetheart," he greets, his voice still rough with sleep. He's able to crack his neck, but for some reason he can't move the rest of his body. It's like he's trapped under something. A quick glance around tells him he's in the living room, so he must have fallen asleep on the couch again. That would explain a lot, as his youngest always liked to pile a bunch of blankets and pillows on top of him whenever he fell asleep here.

"What time is it?" He asks.

"Well… it's ten. But, um…" Sigrid tilts her head at him. "Why is Mr. Thranduil sleeping on our couch?"

"What?" Bard furrows his brow at her. "Sweetheart what are you—" Something shifts beside him and his whole body stills. His eyes slowly glance down and sure enough there's his.. boss. Sleeping on him. More specifically, he's curled around Bard like a cat. Well, that would explain the two wine glasses he saw earlier on the coffee table. But… why is his boss at his house, asleep on his couch, right next to Bard?

It takes him a minute but then he remembers: Thranduil had drove Bard home last night after dropping off Legolas at Erebor, which was weird because usually Bard is the one who drives Thranduil around when he needed to get places. Thranduil had insisted he drive instead, even offering to drop Bard off at his house, and then just as he was getting out of the car he noticed Thranduil looked kind of… like a kicked puppy who got rejected by its owner. Well, he guesses that's to be expected when you realize your own child actually, truly hates you and just didn't want to be in your presence anymore. He was really surprised when Thranduil failed to put up much of a fight. They pretty much spent the whole car ride in a kind of forlorn silence, Bard felt bad, and before he knew it—

"Would you like to come in for some coffee?"

Thranduil's head whips up in surprise. "I'm sorry?"

"I mean—!" Bard blushes and starts fumbling around for an explanation. God, it must sound like he's trying to get in his boss' pants or something. Not that he would mind, but he does work with the man. "It's just… you look like you could use… a companion?" He offers weakly.

Thranduil's eyes narrow at him. "I don't have companions."

"Look." Bard places his hand on roof of the car so he can lean inside. "I know this is… hard. Trying to accept that your son… you know. And I figured… you could use some company."

"Some company," Thranduil echoes back.

"Yeah, company. You know when two people get together and—"

"I think I know what the word company means." Thranduil glares at Bard like he just insulted the man's intelligence. After a while his face smoothes out and he asks, "You wouldn't happen to have anymore wine, would you?"

"I have the cheap store bought stuff," Bard shrugs.

"Perfect."

What was supposed to be a short visit turned into two hours of Bard listening to Thranduil talk about his son and nothing but his son. Which Bard didn't mind, he's always been told he's a good listener by his children. It was in that moment that Bard realized: Okay, so maybe Thranduil's not such a big dickhead after all. Maybe he's just a worried father who truly loves his son and just doesn't know how to talk to him anymore. And then somewhere along the way they must have passed out from the wine hence the position they're in now.

Thranduil's stirring body brings his attention back to the matter at hand, and he makes the sound of a very pained man about to deal with a whole lot of shit. Sigrid can only offer him a sympathetic wince. How exactly was Bard going to explain this one?

 


 

How do Saturday mornings go in the Durin household? Well it goes a little something like this: Dis is usually the first to wake and can be found banging around in the kitchen (it's her own form of a wake up call for the boys), Thorin will be the second to come down, help with breakfast, maybe start the laundry sorting, and then Fili and Kili will come stumbling downstairs all bleary-eyed thinking they're in another dimension. They may be grown men with well-paying jobs, but that doesn't mean they don't stay up late playing video games and Mahal knows what guys their age do these days. Balin and Dwalin might join them for breakfast as they live three apartments down from them, and if not they'll usually join the family for lunch or something. Thorin's family lives in one of those multi-floor apartments, the kind with flour floors if you count the landing, and then three separate floors for each of them, complete with their own individual bathrooms, mud rooms, kitchens, etc. They really only have separate floors in case one of them has visitors over or just need a little privacy in general, but most of the time they all hang out on Dis' floor since she's right above the landing. They always make it a point to eat together, and then they're free to do whatever it is they need to do. Again, most of the time they're seen lazing around Dis' floor, only ever retreating back to Thorin's or Fili and Kili's floor when she starts nagging at them to get off their lazy butts and do something productive.

Mornings are usually quite peaceful, as everyone's still waking up and getting past that extra barrier of sleepiness. Once afternoon hits, things start moving along. Thorin always has mountains of work to do, so he'll sit at the kitchen counter and try to finish that off, Fili and Kili might go meet up with Nori or another one of their gazillions of friends they always seem to have, and Dis is preoccupied enough with doing the chores. Thorin only gets relieved from duty once Dwalin starts hounding him enough, but a 'relieve from duty' is more just going up to Thorin's floor or back to Balin and Dwalin's place and watching TV. They're far past the age to go bar-hopping anymore, Thorin already 38 and Dwalin going on 36. Do most 38 year olds still go bar hopping? Sure, but Thorin's job has aged him quite enough (both physically and mentally), so things like bar-hopping don't exactly appeal to him as much as it did when he was, say a uni student. Dwalin might go with Gloin and Bofur or something, but even he's starting to tone it down a little. They're not really all that young anymore.

That's why when Dwalin doesn't come to check up on Thorin like he normally does, he's a little confused and maybe just a tad worried. It's past the usual time he comes over, and he didn't even show up for breakfast. Only Balin came.

"Where is the lug head?" Thorin asks Balin, who's sitting at the kitchen counter next to him drowning in his own pile of work.

"No idea," Balin shrugs off. "I don't even think he came home last night."

"Wasn't he at the Halloween party?"

"Actually, I don't think I saw him last night," Dis says as she enters the kitchen with a basket load of laundry. She sets the basket on an empty chair and starts sorting through the clothes.

"He wasn't there?" Thorin asks.

"I might have just missed him, but as far as I could tell I didn't see him," Dis answers. She separates a pair of pants stuck together.

"Balin?" Thorin turns to him.

"Like I said laddie, no idea."

Thorin narrows his eyes at his older cousin. "For someone who seems to know everything, this is very strangely out of character for you."

Balin shrugs again. "He's a grown man, I don't need to keep an eye on him or hold his hand every step of the way anymore."

Even Dis pauses in her laundry folding to look over suspiciously at Balin. "Are you alright?"

"Fine. Why do you ask?"

"Because you're normally more… you know…" Thorin looks to his sister for the right word.

"Worried?" She supplies.

"If I was worried, I'd be waking up all of London. But as you can see I'm perfectly fine." He flicks up a paper and slaps it down on his finished pile with a little more force than necessary.

Thorin and Dis' eyes meet, silently communicating with each other in that way all brothers and sisters do.

What's up with him?

No idea. You should ask.

No you ask.

You practically work side by side with each other. Ask him.

You work with him too!

You're the oldest. Dis raises a challenging eyebrow at him.

Just cause I'm the oldest doesn't mean I have to ask. Thorin's eyes are practically screaming at this point.

Sure it does.

Does not.

Does too.

"I can hear you two thinking from over here," Balin interjects loudly.

Thorin clears his throat and shuffles through his papers while Dis carries her finished laundry basket back to the mudroom. Traitor.

"You could just ask me you know," Balin says.

"Ask what?"

"Stop playing dumb, you know what I mean."

"I can assure you I don't."

"Fine. Should I ask how your date with Mr. Baggins went?"

Thorin splutters and almost falls right out of his chair. "I'm sorry?"

Dis peaks her head back into the kitchen. "Oooh yes do tell us! I want to hear all about it!"

"Were you listening in on us?!"

"No," Dis sniffs defensively, "I just happened to be near the door, that's all. And don't change the subject Thorin."

"I didn't even tell you I was going out with him!"

"You didn't have to. It was already quite obvious," Balin mutters under his breath, loud enough for Thorin to glare at him and for Dis to snort.

"I thought we were talking about Dwalin. How did this suddenly come back to me?" Thorin grumbles.

"Changing subjects," Dis sing-songs in an annoying voice.

"Stop it, both of you," he warns. They both roll their eyes at his glare. When did his glares stop having effect on them? At least they still work on the boys from time to time.

"Should we even mention the cuddling?" Dis sighs to Balin who chuckles darkly.

"What cuddling?" Thorin looks between the both of them.

"You two were like watching a soap opera, I swear," Dis says with a shake of her head.

"You were honestly more amusing to watch than Dori chasing after Gloin for pushing him into the water tank," Balin adds to the commentary.

"We weren't cuddling, we were just standing near each other. I don't understand how that constitutes as cuddling," Thorin protests. He wills his cheeks not to grow red at the memory of them—ahem—standing quite, er, close. Together.

"And does Mr. Baggins laying his head on your shoulder constitute as just standing near each other?"

Thorin nearly crushes the pen in his hand with how tightly he's gripping it. He growls at the both of them, but the red on his cheeks probably isn't helping matters.

"Awww look at him!" Dis tries to poke his cheeks but he bats her hand away repeatedly. "Look at him Balin. He's blushing," she coos.

"Aye, indeed. A scowl with a blush to match. How fitting," Balin remarks dryly.

"….I hate the both of you," Thorin grumbles and gathers up the rest of his paperwork.

"And where are you going?" Balin asks.

"To my own floor, where I won't be subject to this harassment," Thorin growls out. He slams the door shut behind him and stomps all the way up to his floor.

Conclusion? He hates his family.

His phone buzzes in his pocket just then and he's really considering not answering it. He has a pretty good feeling who it is. But of course Thorin, being the mature older brother that he is, decides to at least look at the message. You know, just to see if it warrants his attention or not. For all he knows, it could be the school calling with an emergency or something.

From: Dis [12:30 pm]

You cant avoid this forever. You WILL hv to tell us abt it eventually.

To: Dis [12:32 pm]

no i dont

From: Dis [12:33 pm]

Yes u do.

From: Dis [12:34 pm]

Oh and another thing: does this mean u two r making it official? like r u guys a couple now?

To: Dis [12:36 pm]

of course we r. what makes u think

Thorin's fingers stop typing mid-sentence. That is… a surprisingly good question, as he much as he hates to admit it. They did go on a date, share a kiss (or two), hold hands, the whole shebang thing. So are they official? Does this… make them a couple now? Thorin's not sure. In all of his relationships, he never really had to specify if they were 'a thing.' It just kind of happened, and then Thorin and whoever he was dating at the time would go from there. Of course it's been while since he went back on the dating scene, and force of habit told him he didn't really need to do any specifying or explaining or anything. He always just assumed everything, but then again not a whole lot of his relationships were that serious. It was more just date for a couple months and then they would break up. Most times it was due to Thorin's lack of communication and feelings in general, which he was fine with, it's who he is, and he's not going to change that for anyone. But the idea of him and Bilbo making it official? Of actually being that serious couple? Well, he's going to have to get rid of a lot of his old habits, number one being of course his lack of communication.

He erases his previous message and starts the text over.

To: Dis [12:41 pm]

ill get back to u on that one

From: Dis [12:42 pm]

Dont wait too long.

Chapter Text

Thorin's used to not having what he wants. It's not that Thorin doesn't think he—well, no, he doesn't really deserve half the things in his life. He's always thinking the worst is going to happen, that happiness is temporary, that everything he's worked so hard to gain will just slip through his fingers and will be lost to the wind forever. It's why a lot of his relationships haven't really worked out in the past, why he spoils his sister and nephews rotten but never does anything for himself. Losing three family members and then having one hell of a responsibility thrust onto your shoulders can do that to a person.

His significant others always complained he was never affectionate enough, always too closed off and never willing to share his burdens with the other. For Thorin, his past relationships were as temporary as the fleeting happiness he's made himself to believe in. He never shared anything because he didn't want to get too attached and then suddenly lose them. Well in the end he did lose them, but it wasn't because of some disaster but because of himself instead. He always pushed them away when things got more serious than he could handle. Eventually he just gave up on having a serious relationship altogether and threw himself into his work. After all, he didn't have the time nor the energy to try and keep up his end of a relationship. They were always so messy, complicated, and sometimes the other was too needy and asked more than what Thorin could give them. He might also have some serious trust issues when it came to others outside his family and friend group. Just the idea of giving himself up completely to another person makes him want to run away with his tail between his legs. Like seriously, who wants to look vulnerable in front of someone who wasn't family or friend? It's the scariest fucking thing in the world.

And then along came Bilbo Baggins, who broke down almost every single barrier and rule Thorin's ever had. He's told Bilbo his whole sob story, shown him sides of himself he's never shown or known about until meeting Bilbo, even kissed him. Twice. Thorin would have never imagined himself in a million years doing this, and if someone had told him beforehand he would have just laughed in their face. This isn't who Thorin Oakenshield Durin is. Thorin Oakenshield Durin is sturdy, reliable, responsible, a hard worker, and maybe just a tad prideful. He doesn't smile or trust easily, doesn't laugh whenever he feels like it, certainly doesn't blush either, and flirting? Who would have known he was such a smooth talker half the time? Like he said, Bilbo brings things out in Thorin, things he made sure to bury so long ago. Maybe it's that honest, easy-going nature that's constantly surrounding Bilbo. Either way, there really is something about him that makes Thorin… want to be a normal human being he guesses.

Still, that doesn't mean he's scared of all these new emotions and feelings and the prospect of an actual, serious relationship with the man. Hence why he hasn't really contacted Bilbo since that revelation on Saturday which broke all thoughts of peace for him. The younger teacher had sent Thorin at least five texts and called three times over the course of the weekend so far. Thorin responded to two of those texts and didn't pick up the phone at all. Dis claims he's avoiding Bilbo, but he's not. Really. Thorin is just preparing himself, that's all. He needs to gather his bearings together and figure out what to do next. He can't just jump headfirst into these things after all. These kinds of situations require some serious thinking and okay maybe Thorin is avoiding Bilbo but he has sufficient reason to do so! Sort of.

Thorin's phone buzzes and sure enough it's another text from Bilbo.

hey, when you're free could we talk? maybe meet up or something? i know you're probably busy with your headmastering and stuff but i'd really like to talk. so… call me or something?

Thorin just groans into his hands. Great, now he feels guilty for making Bilbo believe something which isn't entirely false but not entirely true either. Yes he did have some work to do, but he finished it all yesterday in his attempt to ignore his conscience pestering him to call Bilbo and talk this whole thing out. Now it's Sunday and Thorin still hasn't done anything and he's still avoiding Bilbo. So what is he doing instead? He's hiding on his own floor to avoid Dis' looks of disappointment and the boys who have been trying to wrangle information out of him all weekend.

He hears his door rattle just then and Thorin groans again. He knew he couldn't avoid his family forever. He's almost resigned himself to his fate but thankfully it's Dwalin who comes strolling into the room.

"Where have you been all weekend?" Is the first thing Thorin asks.

Dwalin grunts at him as he deposits his spare key into the dish bowl on the nearby table. He falls onto the couch beside Thorin and throws an arm over his eyes. "Was I really gone for that long?"

"You didn't even come over for dinner."

"I was busy."

"Is that so?"

"Yeah, it is." Dwalin peaks an eye out from under his arm.

"What?"

"Nothing," Dwalin shrugs. "Just heard you're having boyfriend troubles is all."

Thorin makes an aggravated noise at that. "Bilbo is not my boyfriend."

"Please," Dwalin snorts, "You and Bilbo are two of the most lovesick idiots in the whole school. He is totally your boyfriend. Or at least he will be."

"I haven't even asked him out!"

"Yet. You haven't asked him out yet."

"Yeah, sure okay. And what about Ori?"

Dwalin immediately straightens up at the sound of the art teacher's name. "Ori? What about Ori I haven't done anything with Ori what did you hear about Ori?"

Thorin slowly raises his eyebrow.

"Er, nevermind. Just—forget what I just said," Dwalin grumbles and sinks back down into the couch cushions. That's new. Thorin knows Dwalin gets pretty flustered whenever his crush on Ori is brought up but that was like beyond flustered. That was like he was trying to hide something he felt guilty about and didn't want anyone to know—

"Oh my god." Thorin's eyes grow wide. "Oh. My. God."

"What?" Dwalin looks over at him in confusion.

"You did not," Thorin whispers in horror.

"I did not what?" Dwalin asks impatiently as the look on Thorin's face grows more horrified.

"You," Thorin jabs a finger into his chest, "Made a move on Ori."

The only response he gets is Dwalin's bearded face bursting into flames.

"OH MY GOD YOU DID SLEEP WITH ORI!" Thorin all but yells. He starts bouncing on the couch like a little kid eagerly waiting to receive his Christmas presents.

"MAHAL—!" Dwalin frantically looks to the door in case someone comes barging in.

"YOU SLEPT WITH HIM?!" He repeats again.

"THORIN WOULD YOU JUST SHUT YER YAPPER?!" Dwalin throws a hand over Thorin's mouth before he can get another word out. What ensues next is some struggling and falling over each other as Thorin tries to escape from Dwalin's death grip, but of course the gym teacher cheats in every way possible.

They have to take a second to catch their breaths afterwards. Dwalin keeps looking at the door, but so far no one has come barging in throwing questions in his face. Thorin on the other hand has tons of questions and he isn't going to take no for an answer.

"If I drop my hand," Dwalin begins in a low voice, "Are you going to keep shouting yer big fat head off?"

Thorin shakes his head resolutely.

"Okay." His friend waits a moment before slowly pulling his hand back.

Thorin rolls his eyes and bats the rest of Dwalin's hand out of the way. "You slept with Ori," he whispers with a devilish grin.

"I didn't sleep with him," Dwalin hisses. "I mean we did sleep together but we didn't sleep together."

"You didn't get in his pants you mean?" Thorin asks.

"NO you lug head I didn't get in his pants," Dwalin answers, like the thought of shagging innocent little Ori is a disgusting thought even though Thorin's pretty sure Dwalin dreams about it in his sleep. "We just… slept together. That's all."

"So no kissing?"

"NO."

"Not even a blow—"

"Are you done?"

"Not quite," Thorin grins. "So have you two told Dori yet?"

"By Durin's beard NO he would kill me!"

"What did Ori say about this?"

"He just…" Dwalin sighs and throws his head back. Thorin leans in closer. "He said… he said it was nice." There's no mistaking it, Dwalin's mouth did just quirk up affectionately.

"Ahhhh," Thorin nods in understanding. "I see how it is."

"Yeah, so… yeah," he stutters and rubs at his cheeks.

"So are you two a thing now?"

"We're… gonna see where it goes from here," he answers honestly. He gets this dreamy look on his face and sighs at whatever thoughts crossed his mind just then. The spell is broken when he turns back to Thorin. "What about you and Bilbo?"

Thorin frowns at the sudden change in topic. "I don't know. I haven't—I don't know."

Dwalin lifts only his head up to stare at him. "What do you mean you don't know? It's either a yes or no Thorin, there's no being wishy washy here."

"You think I don't know that already?" Thorin glares, then immediately drops it and sighs. He covers his eyes with his hand. "You know I'm crap at this stuff."

"I know. Why do you think we're all surprised with how well you're getting along with the professor?"

Thorin drags his hand over his forehead and through his hair. He grimaces when it gets caught in one of his many tangles, and he has to tug a few times before his hand can make the full rake through his hair.

"Thorin."

He doesn't answer him.

"Hey, listen." Dwalin bends forward a bit so he can meet Thorin's eyes. "Take it one step at a time, a'ight?"

Thorin grunts.

"A'ight?" Dwalin repeats.

"Sure, sure," Thorin finally sighs out. Dwalin doesn't look too convinced but he doesn't press any further than that.

They sit in silence like that, both of them taking comfort in the other's presence. Thorin and Dwalin have always been close, so close to the point where people often mistake them for being a couple. They've always sought out each other's counsel whenever their families were being annoying or they just needed someone who wouldn't joke about their insecurities. Thorin was always the one to listen and pick apart Dwalin's silence, while Dwalin was always blunt and to the point with Thorin. It's a friendship that's lasted for more than a decade, and for that Thorin is thankful.

And Dwalin's right: he'll just need to take it one step at a time.

 


 

Taking it one step at a time is translated quite roughly to, 'don't look at your phone until you can find a way to talk to Bilbo like a normal person.' Or just still avoiding Bilbo, but Thorin likes to think it's the latter. By now, Bilbo's texted him five more times and called six. Thorin could only listen to the first three out of the six voicemails, each one more frantic than the other. He didn't bother checking the other three calls, but he can assume it's the same message throughout. Thorin really should just respond, but he can't. He doesn't know how, which is, quite frankly, absurd, considering the ridiculous amount of flirting he's been doing with Bilbo. If he's become such a smooth talker during this past month, what's stopping him now?

So he does the one thing he's best at: hiding on his apartment floor in the hopes of avoiding reality and the responsibilities he so obviously has. He wishes he hadn't finished all his paperwork, as he's always found work to be the best distraction. Of course his phone chooses to go off at that very moment, and he starts panicking at the sight of Bilbo Baggins flashing across his phone screen. And then like the idiot he clearly is, he hangs up on Bilbo rather than just letting his phone ring out, so now Bilbo knows Thorin is avoiding him and oh for fuck's sakes Durin what the fuck is wrong with you?! In the end Thorin switches his phone off and flings it to the far side of the room. It's an old smart phone, it'll survive the damage. And if it does break, he can always get a new one, change his number, maybe even move to a different country and no one will ever hear from Thorin Oakenshield Durin again! Perfect.

Or not.

He smothers his face into his couch pillow and groans for like a century. Bilbo is going to hate him. He's probably livid with rage, probably doesn't want to speak to Thorin again, probably thinks Thorin has been leading him on this whole time and now he's dropping him like a sack of potatoes. A very cute sack of potatoes if Thorin might add but that's really not the point now is it? Mahal, he is such an idiot. He wishes he had things figured out like Dwalin and Ori, who have clearly already discussed the finer points of their own relationship with only some difficulty. Like seriously, Thorin's dealt with worse. He's had to face off Smaug on a number of occasions in the past, and let's not even get started on that stupid Thranduil. So how is Bilbo, a cute, short, former university professor, any different? Obviously he's not a pain in the butt like the latter two, so really that should make things so much easier for Thorin. And yet it really really doesn't.

"THORIN!"

If possible, he wills his body to sink further into the couch. Is he not able to get a break around here?

"THORIN YOU BETTER OPEN UP RIGHT NOW OR I'M GONNA SHIT THROUGH YOUR DOOR."

He imagines Dis quite literally 'shitting through his door' and then thinks better of it. He drags his body off the couch and only opens the door halfway, using his body to block out most of the doorway so she can't barge her way in. Not that she would have any trouble trying. She is a Durin after all.

"You're going to shit through my door?" Thorin asks unimpressed. "Really?"

"Shut up and take the damn phone." Dis tosses it to him which he catches easily.

"Who is it?" He asks her as he holds the receiver up to his ear.

"I think you'll find out soon enough."

And soon enough it is, because not a millisecond later Althea's voice comes booming from the other end. "THORIN OAKENSHIELD DURIN WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?!"

He actually jumps and almost drops the phone. He looks to Dis for help but she just shrugs unsympathetically. You're on your own brother, she mouths to him. He waves frantically for her to come back and stay but she slinks back to her own floor, leaving him to fend for himself against the obvious rage of their mother. Could this day get any worse?

He gulps and slowly holds the receiver back up. "Um, hello mother."

"Want to tell me where you've been?" She asks right off the bat. Nope, not even a hello, just a where the hell have you been. That's his mother right there.

"Um," he looks around the room just to be sure, "At home? On my apartment floor?"

"Really now?" She asks skeptically.

"Er, yes? Where else would I be on a Sunday afternoon?"

"I'm not so sure," her clipped voice responds, "Because I have called your cell phone at least three times in the past hour and you have failed to pick up each time."

Well shit. Looks like those other three calls weren't actually from Bilbo. "Oh… um, I can explain that."

"You better, starting now." He thinks he hears the faint noise of a stopwatch being set in the background and holy shit Althea really is timing him.

"M-Mother, please!" Thorin protests. "Seriously just… give me a moment, alright?" His voice grows weary towards the end and he sighs. This really isn't a conversation he wants to have now, but what better way to get everything off his chest than to tell his own mother?

The only response he gets is silence on Althea's end, and then the stopwatch beeps and there's a rustling noise, like she's moving away for a moment. "Alright," she says once she returns, "What is it? You're not usually this distressed, and I know when you get distressed. You are my son after all."

Thorin snorts and plops back down on the sofa, this time with a sigh of relief now that his mother had calmed down considerably. "Do I really sound that distressed?"

"Absolutely. Now spill. What's wrong?"

He grimaces up at the ceiling as he begins with the most stereotypical line ever: "Well, there's this guy…."

 


 

Despite his rather… lengthy conversation with his mother yesterday, he still hasn't contacted Bilbo. At all. Her advice, while just as sound as Dwalin's, doesn't actually force him to go confront the man and spill out his feelings. By then Sunday's already gone and now it's Monday and Thorin doesn't exactly have a plan of action. He can't exactly run away if he happens to bump into Bilbo because first and foremost he is Thorin's co-worker, and it's Thorin's job as headmaster to adhere to all the needs of his teachers. Running away doesn't exactly make for a good image. Thankfully, Thorin doesn't spot Bilbo anywhere in the vicinity and he does make it to the sanctuary of his office without incident. It's only when he shuts the door that he's able to breathe a sigh of relief. The great thing about being headmaster? He can avoid people by staying cooped up in his office and claim he's swamped with work all day. That is until it was time for him to teach his Year 11 English class. That's when Thorin might have to come up with a plan, but for now he's just going to ignore his problems away and focus on getting through at least part of the school day.

It doesn't last very long. Partially because he can't focus on his work, his mind too preoccupied with the English/history professor, his golden brown curls, his button nose, the feeling of his lips against Thorin's as they kissed the first time leaving Rivendell, the second time as Thorin walked Bilbo to his car. The other reason is because just as he's leaving for his class, Bilbo comes barging into his office, plants his hands firmly on Thorin's desk and stares him down with an intensity Thorin's only seen when they had first met. Balin comes rushing in after him and looks on helplessly between the two of them.

"It's fine, Balin," Thorin assures him, "Just close the door behind you on the way out." Balin nods and does as he's told. Bilbo hasn't moved from his position, leaving Thorin to awkwardly maneuver his way around his office so he can gather up his books and other teaching materials.

"Did you need something?" Thorin asks as he's digging through his filing cabinet for last week's English tests.

"Oh I sure as hell need something," Bilbo retorts. Thorin's too nervous to turn around, so he remains with his back angled away from Bilbo as takes his time sorting through the different filing compartments. How badly has he pissed off the shorter man exactly?

"Thorin."

He finds the tests and shoulders the drawer closed. "Yes?"

"You've been avoiding me."

Wow, way to hit the nail on the head there. Right, definitely not the time for jokes. "I was busy," Thorin merely shrugs. He still can't bring his eyes to meet Bilbo's, because he knows once he looks he'll be frozen to the spot by the pure anger that's waiting for him there.

"Oh please do not use that excuse, especially not on me."

Thorin can feel his fingers shaking under the force of that voice, and he tightens his grip on the stack of tests in his hands. He hears some shuffling movements and suddenly Bilbo appears in his field of vision, takes Thorin's face in his hands and forces his eyes towards him, very much in the same fashion as when Thranduil had appeared at the Halloween party for a brief moment.

"Stop. Avoiding. Me." Bilbo puts special emphasis on each word as he says this. Thorin gulps at the sharpness of those eyes, staring at him with that wild fire he's been on the receiving end of one too many times. "I…" He starts but Bilbo pins him down with a sharp look. "No excuses. I just want your honesty, that's all. Please, don't—don't lie to me, Thorin." His whole face pulls itself down into a frown, and his next words sends quite a punch to Thorin's stomach. "Please…I don't like being lied to. Especially not by someone who I thought I had a connection with, who I thought shared… similar feelings. Please don't make me doubt that, because I know you felt something too Thorin. So please, don't lie to me?" He pleads.

Mahal, it feels like his heart is being squeezed right out of his chest. Just the pained look on Bilbo's face, the worry in his eyes and the set of his shoulders is enough to make Thorin break down rather than hold his ground like he normally would. "I'm sorry," he blurts out, "You have to understand I'm not used to this kind of thing. I don't know what it's like to be in a serious relationship and do serious relationship… stuff. I have no sense of what I'm supposed to do because oftentimes people expect so much from me so I've stopped dating altogether. Then I met you and you're the first serious thing I've experienced in a long time, but I'm used to pushing people away and closing myself off because bad things tend to happen to those around me. And I really really like you and the thought of losing you to something because you were associated with me doesn't— Bi-Biblo wha arsh youu—"

Bilbo stops his rambling by pressing Thorin's cheeks in so he's making some kind of fishy face and spouting out squished up words. He spits more than he actually talks. "You know, you look kind of ridiculous like this. Maybe your face should be like this all the time," Bilbo snorts. He finally releases Thorin's cheeks and pats down the red splotches. "Sorry," he chuckles when he takes note of Thorin's wince. "You wouldn't stop talking, and it was either that or kiss you and I think you really would have ran if I did something like that."

"I think I would have preferred it if you did," Thorin mumbles. He sighs and places his hands on top of Bilbo's which are still holding his face. "I really really do like you. Please don't doubt that. I just… I haven't done this in a while."

"Yes, I can see that," Bilbo hums back. He swipes his thumbs in small circles across Thorin's cheeks. "Lucky for you, I am very much the same way. So… I wouldn't mind us, you know, fumbling through this. Together. If you'd like."

Thorin breathes out a laugh at the awkward shyness of Bilbo's words. He bends forward to place his forehead on Bilbo's. He feels the man push up and nuzzle against his forehead, his curls tickling Thorin's face that it's enough to bring a smile to his face. "I guess that's a good thing then."

"I would hope so. Especially since I've been calling and texting you like crazy this past weekend." Bilbo raises a pointed eyebrow at him.

Thorin groans at that. "I know and I am… sorry. Really. I just didn't know to address the topic." He releases his hands from Bilbo's so he can bring him into a full hug. Bilbo squeaks as his face gets smothered into Thorin's chest, but with some adjustment he's able to fit himself into the crook of Thorin's neck. The sensation of Bilbo's curls against Thorin's collarbone is a ticklish yet comforting feeling. Ticklish for obvious reasons, but comforting to know that Bilbo is actually real, is actually pressed into Thorin's warmth and isn't going anywhere, at least not for the time being.

"So," Bilbo says after a moment. "Does this mean we're a thing now?"

"A thing?" Thorin draws back a little so he can peer down into Bilbo's face.

"Like, you know.. a couple," Bilbo finally clarifies. There's a faint red around the tips of his ears. Thorin really just wants to reach out and feel the heat of that blush, trace the swirls of his ears and the smoothness of his earlobe. He thinks he might be developing an ear fetish or something. Or just a Bilbo Baggins fetish.

"I don't know," Thorin answers, "Are we a couple?" Bilbo frowns at him. "I know some people have a thing for labels," he quickly clarifies before there's another misunderstanding, "And if you don't like that sort of thing that's okay with me. Whatever you want to call us… it's fine with me. I'm not too particular about that kind of stuff."

Bilbo nods as he mulls this over in his head.

"But if you'd like we could be one. You know, a couple. You could be… my boyfriend if you wanted. Unless you're not into the whole labeling thing then that's fine," Thorin babbles away.

Bilbo answers him by reaching up to press a quick kiss to his cheek. "I can be your boyfriend," he murmurs before pulling back with a shy smile. "As long as you'll be my boyfriend."

"I would very much like to be your boyfriend," Thorin states firmly.

"Okay then," Bilbo smiles, "We're boyfriends."

"Yes, we're boyfriends," Thorin chuckles in confirmation.

"Also, I don't mean to pry but why the pickiness over labels?" Bilbo asks curiously.

"No idea. That's a relationship I'd rather not get into right now."

"Of course, of course. Wouldn't want to spoil the moment."

"It would be quite the mood spoiler. Actually, do you think I could get that kiss now perhaps?"

Bilbo face turns very very red at that. Thorin smirks and bends down to kiss the red away, reveling in the way Bilbo scrunches up his whole face in embarrassment. "Is that a no?" Thorin murmurs as he kisses the left cheek. "Or a yes?" And then kisses the right cheek.

"Th-That's not fair," Bilbo mutters embarrassedly.

"How so?" Thorin asks as he pecks the tip of Bilbo's nose.

Bilbo tries to glare at him, but with his red cheeks and ears it's only making him more adorable than angry. Thorin wouldn't dare say that though, not if he wants to look like a fish again. "Your height. It's annoying."

"Is it? I've always found it quite advantageous in some situations."

"To you maybe," Bilbo scoffs.

"I think I can make it advantageous for you as well," Thorin grins suggestively. He bends further down until their lips are just brushing, making Bilbo's breath catch in his throat at the action. Thorin smirks before closing that gap and pressing their lips gently together. There's no tongue involved, no teeth clashing in heated passion or anything. Just the two of them simply kissing, moving their mouths together and breathing each other in. When he pulls back Bilbo's lips chase after him to give him one last peck. He sighs contentedly and leans his body into Thorin's. "That was nice."

"It was." Thorin brings his arms around, one hand on Bilbo's back and the other cupping his hipbone. "Still is actually," he murmurs into Bilbo's curls.

Bilbo hums back in response. They stay like that for a long while, swaying to the rhythm of the other and breathing in sync. Bilbo smells of honey, tea and soap, a strong contrast to Thorin's more woodsy smelling cologne. Thorin always smells like the outdoors, but Bilbo smells more homey. It's a very Bilbo smell to say the least.

A knocking at the door is what interrupts them. Bilbo glares at the sound while Thorin laughs at his… boyfriend. Right, that's a word he's gonna have to start getting used to.

"Come in Balin," Thorin calls out. He's assuming it's Balin at least, and it's proven right when the advisor sticks his white head in.

"Sorry to, er, interrupt," Balin starts ungracefully. It's strangely uncharacteristic of him.

"It's fine." Thorin realizes he and Bilbo are still clinging to each other and rocking back and forth. He clears his throat and loosens his hold around the teacher to give him some breathing room. "Is something wrong?"

"Well, er, you know that class you had to teach?"

Thorin blinks at him. Oh, he did have a class to teach didn't he?

"The one that started 20 minutes ago?" Balin continues on with a grimace.

"Ah, that one." Beside him Bilbo snickers.

Balin's eyes bug out at Thorin's lack of a reaction which he waves off. "Balin, relax. I'm assuming someone is subbing in for me?"

"Well, yes, thankfully Fili had a free period but you should probably—"

"Oh that's great," Thorin interrupts, "I'm sure Fili can handle it just fine. He is an excellent teacher after all."

"Thorin, I don't know if your brain has gone soft but your nephew teaches history and science. The other one teaches science and math if you've forgotten that too," Balin adds dryly.

"History, English, to-mae-to, to-mah-to, it's all the same," Thorin shrugs off.

"No it's really—"

"Ah, don't worry Balin!" Bilbo interrupts. He steps away from Thorin's embrace and smiles at the advisor. "I'll make sure he gets to his class on time."

Balin gives him a suspicious look but Bilbo just keeps on smiling innocently. Finally the advisor sighs and waves at them. "Fine, fine. Just get him to class is all I'm asking."

"Absolutely," Bilbo nods seriously, which disappears the moment Balin shuts the door behind him. And the smile he directs up at Thorin is far from innocent.

"Am I really getting to my class on time?" Thorin asks wryly.

"Oh no, you are getting to your class," Bilbo replies. He reaches up to fix the collar of Thorin's button down, smooth out the creases and brush off some imaginary dust on his shoulders. "Eventually," he shrugs.

"Hmm," Thorin hums, "Does this mean I'll be getting that fourth kiss?"

"Possibly," Bilbo returns with a cheeky grin. He takes the collar of Thorin's shirt and drags him down, this time Thorin the one straining to reach Bilbo rather than the other way around. Not that he minds, it's an adjustment he can get used to. And he does want to.

"Well then Mr. Baggins," Thorin murmurs as he bends farther down, "What are we waiting for?"

 


 

Fourth kiss or not (and there was a fourth one and it was as spectacular as the first three), Thorin still had a class to teach, and Bilbo was not remiss in ushering him out so he could actually get some teaching done, however brief it was. His body halts just as he steps out of his office, causing Bilbo to stumble right into his back.

"Ouch. You really are like a brick wall," Bilbo mumbles from behind.

Thorin barks out a laugh, almost startling himself at the rich sound coming out and filling up the air. He's been laughing a lot lately too, all thanks to Mr. Baggins here of course."My apologies," he says as he turns around to kiss where Bilbo rubs at his nose. "I probably should have given you more warning. But I wanted to ask: could you wait for me at the end of the day?"

Bilbo crosses his eyes as Thorin pulls back from his nose. "I can. But what for?"

"Coffee," is all Thorin answers. He squares his shoulders to straighten up his stance and clasps his hands behind his back. Suddenly he's feeling nervous and he's not sure why. This was coffee, not a full on date. Just… coffee. Thankfully, it's Bilbo's bright smile that eases off Thorin's nerves, gets him to relax and remember that it was all okay, they're taking this slow and steady and most of all they're going to do this right. Well, as much as they can. Relationships aren't all sunshine and rainbows after all.

"Coffee sounds wonderful. Of course I'll wait for you," and Bilbo reaches up to kiss Thorin on the cheek. Now this is something he could really get used to.

He's about to respond with a kiss of his own, is so close to catching Bilbo's lips between his and savoring his taste, maybe even nip along his bottom lip—

"Thorin!"

"Wha— Oh, mother." He's not even surprised to see Althea marching towards them, her heels clicking sharply against the floor with each step. His mother can be known for her rather dramatic entrances.

"Wait, mother?"

Chapter Text

"Thorin!" The first thing Bilbo notices is her hair. It's a bit long, at least long for someone of her age. She looks to be about in her late 60s, early 70s at the latest. Her hair reaches just past her shoulders, pulled back in one of those messy braids with flyaway's all around her head. It's a healthy mix of grey and blonde, enough grey to show her real age and enough blonde to make her appear younger than she actually was. Her face and nose look quite familiar, all sharp features with not a hint of roundness about them. It's not until she gets closer that Bilbo starts to see some extreme similarities.

"Wha— Oh, mother." Thorin (much to Bilbo's chagrin) pulls back from what was surely going to be a wonderful fifth kiss. He doesn't look very surprised to see his—

"Wait, mother?" Bilbo splutters. He gapes at the older woman quite unprofessionally. "You… mother…." He points between the two of them. Thorin just gives a helpless shrug.

Mrs. Durin shoots him an amused look and sticks out her hand. "Althea Durin, please to meet you."

"Ah, yes!" Bilbo shakes himself out of his stupor and grasps her hand. "A pleasure! To meet you that is! I'm Bilbo. Bilbo Baggins, at your service. I teach English and history, kind of new as of this year, used to be a professor but you know how things go… I'm so sorry, I'm babbling aren't I?" He's vigorously pumping their hands up and down but Althea doesn't seem to mind in the slightest. She looks more amused than anything. He laughs nervously and finally drops their hands. From the corner of his eye Thorin coughs to hide what is surely a laugh at Bilbo's own expense.

Well, that's one way to impress your new boyfriend's mother. And of course Bilbo's cheeks flare up at the word 'boyfriend.' Yavanna, it's like he's in secondary school all over again and he and his friends won't stop laughing over the word butt.

Thorin raises a curious eyebrow at him before turning back to Althea. "Mother, it's good to see you. I didn't realize our lunch date was today."

"It's not actually." At Thorin's confused look she continues, with some exasperation, "Goodness, can't a mother come and visit her own son? Is that too much to ask?"

"You realize we just talked on the phone this past weekend right?"

Bilbo turns to him in surprise. "Oh? So you had time to chat with your mother but not me?" It comes out harsher than he expected, rather than as a light-hearted joke only meant to tease Thorin.

Thorin makes an interesting noise, somewhere between a helpless whine and a cough, and then blushes. "I told you… I was busy," he explains lamely.

"Oh obviously," Bilbo nods seriously.

Another interesting noise with the addition of a darker blush. Oh Bilbo is so not letting him off the hook for this. He's going to enjoy teasing him for… maybe another week? Three days if Bilbo's feeling generous enough? He hasn't quite decided yet, but he can tell this will definitely be fun. Perhaps he can even get Balin, Fili and Kili to join in.

"I told you I was sorry about that," Thorin grumbles and fiddles with his rolled up sleeves.

"I know you're sorry, but don't expect me to let you off the hook that easily."

Thorin mutters something under his breath.

"I'm sorry?" Bilbo cups a hand around his ear. "You're going to have to speak up."

He glares at Bilbo, saying in a louder voice, "I said I will make it up you."

"So that's why you're asking me out for coffee?" Bilbo teases. He grins devilishly at the way Thorin chokes and turns an even deeper shade of red. He starts chuckling to himself, only to realize that Althea is still standing there, watching the whole spectacle before her with deep interest. Basically she just witnessed her own son flirting with his coworker, if the look on her face is anything to go by. Wow. Nice going there Bilbo. That would certainly explain why Thorin looks he wants to bury himself underground and never come out into open light again. Bilbo might just join him on that little excursion.

He clears his throat to try and regain the professionalism he lost ages ago since meeting Althea. Probably isn't going to be of much use at this point, but he may as well try. "Well! Um, it was very nice meeting you Mrs. Durin. I do actually have to get going though, classes to teach and then some… Right! Er, goodbye then! Nice meeting you! Again!" He waves awkwardly at her and quickly spins on his heels, not even bothering to glance back at Thorin or wait for Mrs. Durin's reaction. He'll text Thorin later if he has to, but right now he needs to make his escape because that was the very opposite of composed and professional.

Seriously, what a great first impression. Maybe he'll just go die and dig his own grave now.

 


 

Althea Durin looks back at her son who's clearly avoiding her gaze as much as possible. Even at 38 years old it's such a ridiculous sight, with the way he fidgets uncomfortably, keeps rubbing at his cheeks self consciously (like she doesn't already notice that stark red blush) and playing with the ends of his hair. It reminds her of all those times when she'd interrogate him about his current relationship at the time, asking him all sorts of intruding questions that only a mother can really ask, making him blush and stutter his way out of the conversation but to no avail.

"So," she starts off, "That was Mr. Baggins I presume?"

Thorin groans and hangs his head in embarrassment. "Yes," he mumbles to the ground.

"Oh, stop your fretting!" She says as she smacks his arm lightly. "He seemed like a very nice man. Interesting, but nice."

"Ah, yes. That's one way to describe him I guess," Thorin chuckles softly. He smiles, but she can tell it's more to himself than anything. It's a smile she's seen on her own husband so many times, whenever she'd do something as simple as humming to herself while drying the dishes, or swaying her hips from side to side as she hung up the clothes on the laundry line outside. It's the kind of smile you can't actually control. It comes out of nowhere, normally just from thinking about the person or staring at them as they performed simple, everyday actions. It's the smile that says, 'I love you, and every little thing about you. I don't know where you've been for most of my life, but I'm glad I get to spend these last so and so years with you.' That's the smile that's slowly consuming Thorin's face and making his eyes light up with pure joy. It's a smile she's recognized all too often on Thrain, even Dis and Frerin, but never on her eldest son. Thorin was always too closed off, never expressive enough with his emotions to get that kind of smile. His closed off demeanor was what often drove away so many of his past partners, and there were some good ones in that bunch too! But this is different, so different from anyone he's dated in the past. Call it a mother's intuition, but she can tell this Mr. Bilbo Baggins will be that exception.

"Well, there's this guy…"

"Thorin." At her serious tone Thorin's smile disappears and he frowns at her. She wraps her hand around his arm and squeezes. "Don't let this one go," she says firmly.

"Mother—!" His cheeks flare up.

"I'm serious here Thorin. Please, don't. I've only heard so much about him from that one phone call, but after seeing you two it's clear he's more than just a fling. So I'm going to say this again: don't let him go." She lowers her head and eyes him in that knowing way of hers, the one that drives her kids and grandkids crazy to no end.

As she predicted, Thorin does roll his eyes at her. "Yes, mother," he sighs and pats the hand on his arm.

She tightens her grip on him and stares him down. "I mean it Thorin. Don't screw this up."

"I will… wholeheartedly try not to," he blinks in surprise, clearly caught off guard by Althea's statement.

"You'd better not. I think I like this one," and she winks suggestively, fully taking delight in the pained groan from her son.

"For Mahal's sakes mother."

"Hush child. Now, are you going to take me out to lunch or not?"

 


 

For the rest of the day Bilbo remains flustered and basically just the definition of a scatterbrained teacher. He stumbles through his lesson plans, writes the homework on the board wrong at least five different times, and he almost ends up teaching Bofur's class instead of his own. He's already had enough professors like that in one life time to make him vow to never be like any of them. All of that kinda tends to fly out the window once you meet your new boyfriend's mom.

God, boyfriend. He still can't get used to that word. He and Thorin are boyfriends. They're together. They're in a relationship.

Truthfully, Bilbo hasn't actually dated anyone since his college days. He was in one serious relationship for a while, extending all the way from his final year at college to a couple months after graduation with a nice lad named Kent. But then Bilbo got the job at Greenwood, Kent received a job offer in Wales, and as things go they fell apart and couldn't keep up the long distance relationship. It was an especially hard time for Bilbo, as he had just received this wonderful new job and had to start off his first year at Greenwood in a sort of mini depression. That was also right around the time his mother started to get sick if he recalls correctly. It was a very new low for Bilbo that's to be sure, and he admits he was a bit torn up over it, maybe went through a couple tear-filled movie sessions with bucketloads of ice cream by his feet like the stereotypical breakup that it was. He never knew if he and Kent would be that couple to stick it out and make it past the long distance barrier, then relocate to a more rural part of the UK, buy a house and have like ten kids. Sure they exchanged all the 'I love you's' and had their little anniversaries and what not, but Bilbo's not certain if he ever really fell in love with Kent. It was definitely hard for both of them, once they realized they just didn't have that spark anymore and were forced to go their own separate ways. Kent was a good guy, the ideal guy actually, which was probably why Bilbo was so torn up over it. To lose someone like him was to lose that ideal dream life Bilbo's always wanted, always yearned for.

And then his mother's illness grew worse, causing her to wither away and follow in his father's path, and Bilbo just kind of… was. He went to work, went home, went to work and then home again. That's all his life ever was. He could deal with his father's death, as he still had his mother and the potential of a life after graduation. But losing Kent, and then his mother not a year later was something he couldn't deal with. The cold, harsh reality of life came crashing down on him and made him realize life wasn't always all sunshine and rainbows. There wouldn't always be the perfect husband/wife, the white picket fence with three kids and a dog, the stable job or any of that. Life just didn't work out that way, a lesson his grandmother often reinforced into "That nut of a brain" as she always said. That part of his life was long gone, and he just had to deal with it. It made quitting Greenwood and moving onto Hobbiton much easier, and he carried on life as always. It wasn't until he had finished one dreadful year at Hobbiton that Gandalf showed up, out of nowhere like he did, and approached him with a new job at Erebor Academy. He didn't particularly enjoy the prospect of teaching children, and then there was that broody boss of his he had to deal with. But then again, things couldn't really get that much worse, right?

It didn't actually, because Erebor turned out to be the best thing for Bilbo, the best thing in a very long time in fact. He had finally found something stable, something to keep him here and now it looked like he was about to lose someone else in his life when he was still just getting to know them. Hence why—an hour before he was supposed to confront Thorin—he's sitting outside on a lonely looking bench, having a mild panic attack as he contemplated all of this (of course this was before he found out how equally new and foreign this was to Thorin, and how he had handled the situation in the only way he knew how: fumbling along in that clumsy manner of his).

So as Bilbo's sitting here on this very run down, probably-about-to-break-at-any-moment bench, he asks himself: is this the ideal life he's always yearned for? Probably not. He's thirty-five, he's had three jobs including this one, not to mention he's a bit late to the whole marriage and kids thing but maybe that's what life is all about, just finding his way until he did find what he was looking for. At least he thinks this is what he's been looking for this whole time. He has a great job, great friends, and a potential… guy. But Thorin had made the message quite clear if this past weekend is anything to go by. If Thorin's been actively avoiding him, then what's the point of even trying to fight for the guy? Oh he could surely feel Belladonna swooping down to smack him upside down on the head. If she was here with him right now she would tell him to fight for the man he's so clearly crushing on. She would tell him to follow his heart, to stop thinking so much and just go for it! Screw practicality! Bungo… not so much.

He stares down at the phone in his hands—been staring at it for a good twenty minutes actually. This was silly, really, and there were a number of things that could go so very wrong with this plan. It's very possible Kent wouldn't even remember Bilbo, probably purged their relationship right out of his mind altogether, not to mention this would be the most awkward phone call in history but Bilbo really feels like he needs to do this. He feels like he needs to confirm, once and for all, that this wasn't all some huge mistake, that he was doing the right thing. He slowly scrolls through his list of contacts, finds Kent's name, and then clicks call.

"Hello?"

Bilbo sits up straighter on the bench. "K-Kent!" He squeaks out. "H-How are you? It's Bilbo! Erm, Bilbo Baggins?" Wow. He wants to throw himself in front of a bus. Right now. Preferably a large double decker bus.

"Bilbo!" Kent calls out in a surprisingly happy voice. "Is that really you?!"

"Ah, yes," Bilbo chuckles shyly. He always forgot how upbeat Kent was. "Yes, yes it's me. How are?"

"I'm good, I'm good! Wow, it's… it's so great to hear from you Bilbo. Really."

"It's good to hear from you too. How's Wales?"

"Oh same old, same old," he sighs dramatically. "It's wet, it's rainy, then again when is it not in the UK?"

They both laugh.

"Actually, Kent there was a reason I called you."

"Sure, sure."

"Um, well…" Bilbo hems and haws, not really sure how to proceed with this line of questioning because how the bloody hell are you supposed to ask your ex-boyfriend this? Thankfully Kent waits patiently as Bilbo takes his time sorting through the right words he wants, finally coming up with, "Why do you think we grew apart?"

He hears Kent choke on the other end. "I'm sorry?"

"It's just…" Bilbo blushes and fiddles with his cardigan sleeve. He's already starting to regret this, but he's already come this far hasn't he? "We… we grew apart."

"Right…" Kent says slowly.

"Obviously because of the distance," Bilbo hurries on, "And you know what they say about long distance relationships but I always thought—I mean—do you think we could have done it?"

"Done what?" He asks quietly, but from the tone of his voice he already knows where this question is going.

Bilbo takes a deep breath before saying, "Beat it. Beat the odds I mean. Because you know we were… that couple. We were the couple everyone talked about, the one everyone wanted to be like. I mean I always thought… I don't know. I'm sorry, I don't know what I'm saying or why I'm calling you out of the blue like this you probably think I'm so strange for doing this." He hangs his head in pure shame and embarrassment. That's it, he wants to die.

Kent breathes out a laugh which only serves to make Bilbo grow more flustered. Great, now his ex thinks he's some kind of lunatic. Excellent.

"Bilbo," Kent chuckles out, "You don't need to be sorry. Seriously, it's fine, that's what I've always liked about you." He chuckles again when Bilbo makes an embarrassed-sounding noise.

"Yes, well… yes."

"But to answer your question: I always thought we would too."

Bilbo's heart stutters in his chest and he lifts his head up. "Y-You did?"

"I did. But then… we had our own separate lives ahead of us. I think we just got so busy, and we didn't think to put any effort into our relationship. I'll admit, a part of it was my own fault."

"Oh," Bilbo blinks. Well this wasn't what he was expecting at all. "No—no, no Kent I'm not trying to blame you! I just… I just wanted to know if we would.. oh blast it," he mutters.

"No I know, I know what you meant Bilbo but hear me out." Bilbo gives him a moment to get himself together. He hears Kent inhale deeply, then exhale out with a, "I should have put more investment in our relationship, especially if I really did want a shot at making this work. And I know you tried, and I did to but I should have done more. To keep you. I should have worked harder but I didn't. And I am sorry for that. I really did love you Bilbo."

"I…" He wants to say it, he does. He wants to say that he loved Kent as well but he can't because that would be a complete lie, wouldn't it? Even though Kent was the ideal guy for Bilbo, he wasn't his true love. Now Bilbo on the other hand? Apparently he was the love of Kent's life. He feels like things just got a whole lot more complicated than he anticipated.

"Bilbo," Kent calls out softly. "It's alright. You don't have to feel obligated to say it back, it's fine."

"But—"

"You were my first love Bilbo, not going to lie. But then again, it was puppy love. We both had no idea where we were going with our lives or how either of us would fit into the equation, we didn't have a set plan and most of the time it felt like we were improvising things. But I still loved you Bilbo. If I had worked harder, maybe this could have worked."

Now this right here? This was definitely not what Bilbo was expecting. What was supposed to be a simple confirmation of feelings and what not has now turned into some kind of long lost confession that's just coming out now. Why had Bilbo never known about Kent's feelings? Or was Bilbo just that ignorant?

"And what about now?" Bilbo asks. Yes, what about now?

"Now? Well, now I've got a great job, and— oh! Did I tell you? I'm getting married!"

"What?! Kent that's… that's fantastic! You should have just led in with that instead of letting me ramble for half of this conversation!" Bilbo jokes lightly. Deep down he feels a twinge of something. Not sure what that something is, but he thinks it might be a jealousy of some sort. Which is absurd because he and Kent have already gone their separate ways and didn't Bilbo just admit to himself that Kent was the farthest thing from his first love, although he was quite close? Feelings could be so complicated sometimes.

"Oh stop. Now you're just feeling sorry for yourself again!" Kent laughs, then steels himself and continues in a much more sincere tone, "Bilbo, I may have found my happy ending but that doesn't mean you won't find yours."

"Oh… um, thank you?"

"I mean it. I mean that's why you called, isn't it?"

Well that was quick. Kent's always been the perceptive type. "Er, well… I just wanted to confirm something…"

"And did you confirm it? I don't know what it is you're looking for exactly, but I know you wouldn't have asked me something like this if you weren't."

"….I'm sorry. I feel like I've just taken advantage of you," Bilbo apologizes and hang his head, this time in guilt.

"Honestly, how many times do I have to tell you to stop saying sorry!" Again Kent laughs.

"Ahh, sorr— force of habit."

"It's quite alright. I hope you found what you were looking for though."

"Yes I—I think I did. Thank you Kent, so much. And good luck with everything! Give my regards to your fiancee."

"Of course! Same goes for you too! You take care of yourself, okay Bilbo?" When he ends the call Bilbo feels slightly reassured. Knowing that Kent has a fiancee and is happily engaged pulls some kind of weight off Bilbo's chest.

Back when he was still a naive college graduate, he always pictured what it'd be like to call Kent months later, see how things were going, and more importantly if there were any lingering feelings between the two of them. If there were any, Bilbo would have happily gotten back with Kent, and if not, Bilbo would let it go once and for all and never look back. Bilbo doesn't know why it took him this long to call, but he's glad he did it and got the answers he needed. The moment Kent started pouring out his feelings to Bilbo, saying he had loved him all those years ago, really made Bilbo realize that Kent just wasn't the one, he never was. It did bring a certain dread to Bilbo's heart though, as there was still that inkling of what if. What if Kent did love him, after all this time? What if Bilbo was making a horrible mistake, choosing Thorin over Kent when Kent was so obviously the ideal choice? After all, Kent didn't avoid his phone calls and texts like a certain headmaster, didn't doubt his credibility upon their first meeting… but he also wasn't Thorin. Thorin, who did drive Bilbo crazy in the beginning and now made him feel giddy and tingly in a way Kent never could, who made him act like the very definition of a teenager crushing oh so hard. Basically, Bilbo just wanted a reason to go after Thorin and fight for him and now he has it. He doesn't have anything to tie him down, doesn't have any excuse to not go after Thorin. Because he is going to go after him, and he has quite a lot of things to say to said man when he does go after him.

And so Bilbo did, storming straight to Thorin's office, ignoring Balin's protests and staring the headmaster down with eyes brimming with fire and passion and just the need to set things straight, because Bilbo just gave up a part of himself to come and do this and he's so not backing down now.

So yeah, screw that propriety.

Which currently leads him to the state he's in now: totally scatterbrained but also very happy. This is a very big step for them, and they're going to do this. Together. This idea of doing something together… well, it makes Bilbo smile dreamily and block out the rest of the world. This, along with deciding to work at Erebor, is probably the best decision Bilbo's ever made. He would thank Gandalf for giving him this opportunity but that would only fuel up the guy's ego. Then again, he probably already knows. Infuriating old man.

The sound of the bell literally comes out of nowhere, making Bilbo jump a mile high in his chair while his students snicker at him. He blushes profusely and mumbles something about getting to class and stop dilly-dallying. His students file out, talking animatedly and laughing about this and that and then all those sounds stop in a sudden hush. Bilbo thinks maybe they've all left, but from the corner of his eye he can see most of them are still present. He looks up and inhales sharply. There's Thorin, in all his glory, standing in the doorway of his classroom while his students are gathered around the headmaster, kind of in awe at his presence and maybe just a tad speechless. They all say quiet, polite hello's as they walk past and stare at him as if he's some sort of a famous actor. Thorin responds back with an equally polite hello and sends a helpless look to Bilbo, who watches the whole scene pan out in amusement. It's not everyday you get to see your new boyfriend being treated like a celebrity.

"You could have helped you know," Thorin grumbles once the students all leave. He shuts the door behind him and walks up to Bilbo's desk.

"But I liked watching you struggle," Bilbo mock pouts.

Thorin rolls his eyes at him. "I'm sure you did."

"Also, consider that as punishment for leaving me hanging this whole weekend," Bilbo says with a lift of his chin. He leans back in satisfaction as Thorin makes a wordless noise at that.

"…I said I was sorry for that."

"I know. But you will have to make it up to me eventually."

"Is coffee not enough?" He asks in what is clearly an honest question. The genuine worry on his face almost stops Bilbo from teasing any further, but he figures the man deserves at least some teasing for standing him up this weekend. Only some of course.

Bilbo crosses his arms and pretends to think on this. "Coffee's good and all, but there is a limit to how much I can drink if that's all you intend on doing."

Thorin's mouth twitches, and he slides around the desk until he's in front of Bilbo's chair. "So then what would you prefer?" He asks in the same teasing voice as Bilbo's.

Bilbo angles his chair so he's facing Thorin and leans forward a little. "Hmm, I'm not so sure. Got any ideas?"

Thorin just stands there and tilts his head at him. Bilbo smirks at him the whole time, only faltering when Thorin bends down to place his hands on both of Bilbo's armrests, boxing him in so that he can't escape. It forces Bilbo to lean back in his seat and gulp at the close proximity of their bodies. Bilbo only has to spread his legs for Thorin to step between them, get closer, and— Oh for heaven's sakes Bilbo where in the world is your mind going right now?! He gulps again at the growing leer on Thorin's face. He wills himself not to turn into a pile of mush under the sharp gaze of those deep blue eyes, but it is kind of hard. He's been captivated by them since day one, and he's so sure that if he stares into them long enough he'll become like one of Medusa's many victims: turned to stone and never to breathe life again.

He tries to focus on other things, like how horribly quiet his classroom has become, the erratic rhythm of his heart beating its way out of his chest, the sound of the clock ticking on the wall, the tick tick tick growing louder and louder each second. Suddenly Thorin moves and Bilbo shuts his eyes on instinct. In one swift motion he's gathered up into Thorin's arms and he squeaks in surprise. His body is jostled a little by Thorin's shaking shoulders.

"You… you're laughing at me, aren't you?" Bilbo mumbles to the ceiling. He's thankful Thorin can't see his red face, but he has a feeling the stupid oaf already knows.

Thorin's shoulders continue to shake. He holds Bilbo tighter and he can feel the way Thorin's grumble of a laugh reverberates throughout his own body. "I'm sorry. Was I teasing you too much?" At Bilbo's grunt Thorin laughs even harder.

"Oh stop it you big oaf!" Bilbo tugs on his ponytail and snickers when he gets the man to yelp in pain.

"That wasn't very nice," Thorin says into his ear.

"Think of it as punishment for not only teasing me but for—"

"Yes, yes, I know." He can practically feel Thorin rolling his eyes at him. "For standing you up this weekend, I know." He sighs loudly and pulls back from the embrace. Despite their little teasing earlier, Thorin's face is now full of remorse and guilt and just so much brooding in general.

"Oh my god, Thorin," Bilbo laughs in exasperation. "I told you it was alright. You know I'm not really mad at you, right?"

Thorin's frown deepens as he runs his hands up and down Bilbo's arms. "I know, but… you were mad."

Bilbo sighs and places his hands on top of Thorin's. "I wasn't mad per say. I was… worried, yes worried let's say that." He nods in approval at his choice of words. "I was worried, because you know there was this guy I liked, I thought we had a connection and I thought I got all the signs right, but then he ignored my calls, my texts, gave me lame excuses and suddenly I'm thinking: well! I guess that means he wasn't the one for me, maybe I'm better off alone. And then somewhere along the way I gathered up my courage, thought 'Blast it all!' and decided to put all my energy into making this work." He squeezes Thorin's hands and looks him straight in the eye to show him honest he's being. Maybe he left out some more crucial bits in the whole 'gathering his courage' part—like a certain ex-boyfriend—but he figures he can save that for a later time and not break down Thorin's slowly crumbling confidence right now.

Thorin chews on his bottom lip in an unsure manner. He obviously still feels guilty with the way he keeps glancing away. Honestly, how ridiculous can this man get? Bilbo rolls his eyes and knocks Thorin's forehead with his own, which successfully gets him to look up with a shocked pair of eyes.

"You're ridiculous," Bilbo huffs affectionately.

"I'm sorry for… being ridiculous."

"You should be. It's your ridiculousness that got you into this situation in the first place." Thorin winces, but even he knows it's partly true. "Did you really think I didn't like you?" Bilbo asks quietly.

Thorin shakes his head fiercely. "No I—!" He stutters and fumbles and the sight is so endearing Bilbo has to lower his head so Thorin doesn't see his quivering mouth. Being the horrible person that he is, he lets this go on for so long until Thorin just gives up in a huff and buries his face in Bilbo's chest. He blinks down in surprise at the dark mass of hair practically covering his body like a very fury blanket.

"Please just… tell me you're not mad," comes Thorin's soft-spoken words. He's so quiet Bilbo almost misses his words completely.

He sighs and runs his hand through Thorin's hair, smiling at the way his fingers instantly hook onto the silver strands. "No Thorin, I'm not mad. I was just worried and concerned that I'd missed out on an important part of my life. But I didn't."

"What do you mean?" Thorin lifts up his head so that only his eyes are showing.

"Mhmm, nothing really," Bilbo replies a little too cryptically. "I'll tell you some other time."

"What—"

"Hush, Thorin. Just be thankful I chose you is all I'm saying."

Thorin's eyes crinkle in confusion. "I… thank you?"

"You're welcome. That was actually a compliment, you should be honored."

"I guess?"

Bilbo laughs and kisses his hairline. Thorin's still clearly confused, but it's okay. Bilbo chose right, even if he did have that moment of doubt. Everything will be okay, they'll be okay, and they'll get through this relationship together.

"Actually," Thorin says, breaking the spell of the moment, "I think you'll be retracting that compliment with what I'm about to tell you."

"Mhmm, I really doubt that," Bilbo hums as he buries his nose in Thorin's hair. He gets that nice waft of pinecone that's just so intoxicating coming from a man like Thorin.

"No seriously."

"Sure Thorin."

"I mean it Bilbo!"

"Uh-huh."

"Bilbo!"

"Alright alright," Bilbo huffs impatiently. He pries himself out of Thorin's hair so he can face him. "What is it that's got you all muddled up now?"

"Um… you remember that coffee we were supposed to get?" Thorin asks in a meek voice.

"Yes…"

"Well, we're still going, it's just…"

"Yeeeeees?" Bilbo prompts.

"Mymothermightbejoiningus."

"Come again?"

"I'd rather not…"

"Thorin!"

"My mother might be joining us, alright?!" Thorin says at last.

About a minute goes by.

"….Come again?"

"I mean she just wants to get to you know you—"

"Thorin, she thinks I'm an idiot!" Bilbo cries out shrilly.

"No she doesn't."

"No she does!"

"She thinks you're very interesting!"

"Says who?!" He pushes himself away from Thorin, stands up and starts pacing in a frantic line across his classroom.

"Bilbo…"

"Since when did this become meet the parents?! Didn't we confirm we were boyfriends just this morning?!"

"I think you're… taking this the wrong way," he says carefully.

"Thorin, she's going to test me! This is going to be like a police interrogation!"

"I really think you need to—"

Bilbo points a deadly finger at him. "Don't tell me I need to calm down Thorin Oakenshield Durin because I will freak out if I need to!"

And freak out he will, because all that talk about wanting the ideal, peaceful life? Complete and utter nonsense. Especially now that's he committed himself to Thorin Oakenshield Durin and his force of a family.

He should really call Kent back and ask him to reconsider that fiancee situation.

Chapter Text

"I think my children think I'm fucking your dad."

Legolas nearly spits out all his coffee in Bard's face. He settles for making dying animal sounds instead as he chokes and tries to find his voice again. Because what.

"I'm sorry?"

"My children," Bard repeats in a flat voice, "They think I'm—"

"Yes yes, I heard you the first time Bard!" Legolas waves him off before he can say fucking his dad again. That's not a phrase any child wants to hear about their parent. Ever.

"I'm just saying."

"And what is that you're saying exactly?"

"That I'm—"

"Okay okay!" He's pretty sure Bard's just teasing him now, but the deadpan look on his face isn't enough to go on.

Bard shrugs. "You asked for it."

"Yes, that I did," Legolas acknowledges, "But for the love of Eru did you need to scar me in the process?" Bard's still got that deadpan look on his face. On the other hand, Legolas is having an internal freak out over the meaning of Bard's words because what?! When Legolas agreed to meet up for coffee with Bard (and during his lunch break too!) in this hole in the wall cafe that's literally a hole in the wall, this was not what he was expecting at all. Furthermore, why on earth did he agree to coffee? They're not even that close really. Still though, it feels like he should ask anyways. "So uh… what exactly happened?" He asks hesitantly. He's afraid where this question might take him but Bard's already opened the floodgates, so how bad could it be?

"Nothing really." Bard takes his time stirring his coffee, even though it's black and there's really no point for him to be stirring. He's obviously trying to prolong this. "After the Halloween party, I invited him in for a drink."

"A… drink." Right, because things always end well with 'Hey! Wanna come in for a drink? I've got some coffee, which is really just an excuse for me to get in your pants!'

Bard puts a hand up as if to stop whatever train of thought is going through Legolas' mind. "I know how this sounds, but hear me out."

"Okay." Legolas leans back and gets himself situated for this train wreck of a story. "I'm listening."

"You told him not to come to the party!" Bard simply says, as if that serves as any sort of explanation.

"If I recall correctly, he said you had to go home to your children which you went along with."

"That is—!" Bard starts to go on the defensive but then deflates immediately. "Only partly true. But you implied it!"

"So this is my fault?" Legolas raises his eyebrow.

"I wouldn't say this is your fault necessarily… but you should have seen him! He looked like a kicked puppy!"

"Is this what you do then? Take in strays?" Legolas asks dryly.

"Not the point. He looked upset, and as a parent I know how it feels when your child suddenly doesn't need you anymore. Thankfully I've got three, but he only has you. Take some responsibility here."

Alright, now that's a little unfair, but Legolas can see where he's going with this. The only sign of guilt he actually gives is a twitch of his mouth.

"And then I felt bad," Bard continues on, "So as I said, I invited him in for a drink! Nothing happened, all we did was talk and I guess we fell asleep somewhere along the way. Next thing I knew, I woke up and we were kinda.. sleeping together."

"Uh-huh…" Legolas tries to process this but finds he really can't. Because what.

"My eldest daughter was the one who found us like that. It's easier to explain things to her because she is the eldest. My other kids though…" Bard sighs and scrubs through his beard. "Well, you know how kids are like," he finally shrugs. "Anyways your dad stayed for breakfast, and then I had to kick him out before things got more awkward—" He ignores the muttered "And this isn't?" from Legolas "—and now my children won't stop questioning our relationship and Tilda thinks we're getting married."

"Is she going to be your flower girl?"

"Stop that, that's not the point. But if I were to remarry, then yes of course Tilda would be the flower girl."

"Good to know."

"Whatever you're thinking, stop it."

"Only making a mental note, that's all. But what were you planning to accomplish by telling me all of this?"

"I needed a friendly ear to listen," he deadpans.

"We're not friends though," Legolas frowns. Last time he checked, he and Bard were just two people who happened to get along due to a mutual dislike of his father. Now suddenly they were discussing… other things and he's afraid Bard is getting confused over the nature of their relationship, because there really isn't one. Bard is entertaining in his own ways, which is the only reason Legolas responds to Bard's weekly text updates about maybe twenty percent of the time. Bard argues it's actually less, but Legolas tries to pride himself on his quick reflexes.

"Like father like son," Bard mutters.

"Like who?"

"Nothing, nothing," Bard waves off, then fists through his hair rather aggressively. "I don't know what to do," he says, more to himself than Legolas.

"You're the one who invited him in for a drink."

"He was sad, and alone. I'm sorry for being a human being."

"None taken, but still. You should have kicked him out when you had the chance."

"He was lonely!"

"He's not lonely, he just likes to sulk."

"Is this your way of lending a friendly ear?"

"I thought we already discussed our nonexistant friendship."

"We don't have a friendship, we have a relationship," Bard corrects by pointing his tea spoon at him. "There's a huge difference."

"A relationship implies that we have a connection." Legolas waits a beat before saying, "I don't want a connection."

"I'm not asking you to be my best friend and answer your phone at 3 am when I'm having issues with your father," Bard rolls his eyes. Well at least they've got that covered.

"Then what are you asking for exactly? Because if it's advice you're looking for I can't really help you there. I don't know my father anymore than you do," he points out.

"At least I see your father."

Legolas' fingers catch at his cup's handle, making it almost topple and spill out his coffee across the table. Thankfully with his ultra fast reflexes he stops his cup just in time. He looks up at Bard and narrows his eyes at him.

"Just saying," Bard shrugs off. He brings his cup to his lips but it's obvious he's smirking at the way he's managed to fluster Legolas, who conceals his emotions just nicely except for that little mishap with the coffee cup.

"I thought this was about you and my father," Legolas says. He wraps his hands around his coffee to calm him down because again, what. He doesn't get flustered this easily.

"It is, but seeing as how you're his son you're very much involved in this," Bard replies back.

"I do not concur with that statement at all."

"Mhmm, too bad. Now what do I do?" When Legolas' eyes bug out at him Bard quickly says, "Kidding, kidding, you know I'm kidding."

"You'd better be. I'm not getting in between whatever issues you're having with my father," Legolas responds in an icy tone.

Bard rolls his eyes and rests his chin on the palm of his hand. "Still amazes me how much you two hate each other."

"Gee, I wonder why," Legolas responds dryly.

Bard stares at him for a moment, making him feel fidgety and just a tad uncomfortable, kind of like the night of the Halloween party when Miss Dis had stared him down. Finally he leans back and flings his one arm across the back of the chair, sighs dramatically and looks out the window. "You two are ridiculous," he states.

"You mean my father is," Legolas corrects.

"Maybe more so than you." Bard looks back at him as he says this.

Legolas scoffs. "I resent that statement."

"Please. You resent practically anything that has to do with your father."

"Speaking of anything to do with my father—" Legolas leans forward and folds his hands on top of the table "—Can I ask you something, just to clarify?"

"Shoot."

"There really isn't anything… going on between you two? Right?"

"Define going on."

"I think you know what I mean. You're not that old for Eru's sake." Legolas raises a pointed eyebrow at him.

"Say that to the grey in my hair," Bard snorts. "And before I answer your question, are you saying it's a bad thing if I were to have some sort of relation with your father?"

"You have a relation, it's called being my father's assistant. Anything beyond that is… well, it's beyond that. But no, I don't really enjoy the idea of you and my father being anything more than a boss and an assistant."

"So we can't even be friends?"

"By all means, be my guest. If you can get him to 'be your friend' I'd say that's a feat within itself. But anything beyond friendship, even just acquaintances, isn't exactly my cup of tea."

"And why's that?" Bard asks in what can only be a challenging voice. And this is why Legolas enjoys Bard's presence: he's got spunk, and he's not afraid to dish it out, least of all to people like his father.

"Come on, think about me for a moment," Legolas gestures to himself. "Do you know how awkward this would be for me?"

"I thought you didn't want to concern yourself with matters involving your father." At Legolas' slightly caught off guard posture Bard smirks.

Thankfully, Legolas has a good recovery time. "You're right, I don't want to concern myself with these matters. And if we are to continue this relationship as you so clearly put it, I'd prefer it if you didn't get with my father and make the situation anymore uncomfortable than it already is."

They both stare at each other. Bard remains cool and composed while Legolas appears smug and unwilling to back down anymore than Bard does. Eventually Bard half-shrugs and says, "Fine. Friendship it is."

"Good."

"Good."

"Fine."

"Excellent."

Another stare down.

"You just have to have the last word, don't you?"

"I have three kids, one is a teenager and the other has a growing attitude each day. I kinda have to have the last word if I wanna survive in my own home."

"Fair enough."

 


 

"Oi! Dis!" Gloin hisses from the doorway of her classroom.

Dis rolls her eyes at his attempt to be discreet. "Yes Gloin?"

"Is it true?! The rumors I mean!"

"What rumors?" Dis asks as she marks off a wrong answer on the pack of math tests she's grading. That was such an easy question too, her student should not be getting that one wrong. She may have to talk with her tomorrow if it continues to be a concern.

"You know, the rumors. Fi and Ki overheard them from Bofur's classroom!"

"Overheard who?" Again an easy question that's marked wrong. Has this student not been in Dis' class all year?

"Thorin and Bilbo! Didn't you know they're going to get coffee with Miss Althea?"

Now that gets Dis' attention. Her grading pen hovers over the paper while she slowly looks up at Gloin. "Bilbo's meeting my mom?" She asks incredulously.

"Apparently they've already met this morning!" Gloin explains. He steps into the classroom and shuts the door behind him. "Balin saw them!"

Dis puts her pen down and faces Gloin completely. "No way."

"Oh yes way!"

"What happened?!" She almost squeals like a teenage girl. "Did Balin get the whole conversation?!"

"No, unfortunately," Gloin sighs sadly. "All he saw were the two shaking hands and then the professor rushing off in a hurry."

"Damn. But they're going out later?"

"Aye. And for coffee. I'm guessing your mother must have arranged that one," Gloin winks at her.

Dis groans. "Stop. This is my mother we're discussing here."

"My apologies Miss Dis," Gloin says without a hint of remorse. She almost misses the quick wink from him but elects to ignore it. She'd rather not figure out what's going through his mind right now.

"I wonder which cafe they're going to," she ponders.

"Probably the closest one to Erebor. Er, what's it called? Moria Cafe is it?"

"That one? Oh surely Thorin can do better than that," Dis wrinkles her nose in disapproval. She never really liked Moria, not enough open space and sunlight for her. She prefers the Iron Hills Cafe, or Esgaroth if it wasn't in such close vicinity of The Laketown Tax Firm. She's had more encounters with Smaug than she'd actually like, but hey, the coffee's good either way.

"Moria's not so bad," Gloin tries to reason with her.

"It's underneath a shop, like literally underground. Do you know how creepy that it is?" Dis shuffles away the math tests to grade for later. Surely her students can wait another day or two to receive them back. Besides, some of these grades aren't all that great. She may have to give out some extra credit assignments or curve the whole test altogether if it comes to that.

Gloin peaks over her desk and raises an eyebrow at the big 45 circled in red. "That bad huh?"

"I swear to Durin, these Year 11 students just don't seem to care anymore," Dis says with a gloomy shake of her head. This is why she's always hated teaching the Year 11 students: their minds are already checked out before the school year's even begun.

"Ahh well, you know what it's like. They're moving onto the next stage of their lives, of course they're going to slack off a bit," Gloin brushes off a little too flippantly for Dis' taste.

"Are you just saying that because you were like that at their age?"

"Perhaps," he says sheepishly. He swings behind him to pull up one of the chairs and drag it closer to Dis' desk. When he plops down he says, "Despite my laid back outlook on life, I did come here for another matter."

"You mean there's more in this romantic development?" Dis leans forward eagerly.

"No no, nothing of that sort! All I know is all that I told you."

"Oh," she frowns disappointedly.

"Well don't look that put off!"

"Sorry, sorry." She shakes her head to dislodge the frown, smiling instead, "So then what brings you here?"

Gloin winces and scratches his head. "Er," he begins uncomfortably, "It has to do with my wee lad Gimli." He runs a hand through his burly ginger beard and tugs at it. "It seems… we've lost our babysitter. Again," he grumbles.

"Oh Gloin!" Dis cries out.

"I know, I know," he sighs ruefully.

"What is this now? Your fifth one?"

"Sixth."

"Ouch."

"I hear ya lassie," he sighs again. He sags down in the chair and continues running through his beard.

"And what did Galea say?"

Gloin shrugs. "She's at her wits end by this point. If we don't find another babysitter soon, I might have to cut my hours here at school."

"No, no absolutely not, the kids love you! They say gym is their favorite class!"

"Aaah, that's good to hear. But you know, I am getting a little old. Maybe it's time to hand it over to the younger ones." Dis frowns at that. Gloin and Galea, while not quite as young as they'd like to be, have been new parents as of six years ago. They'd been trying to get pregnant for ages, and when that didn't seem to work Galea decided to go back to school to pursue her master's degree while Gloin decided to work full time at Erebor. It wasn't until she hit 39 and Gloin was already in his 40's did they strike the jackpot, and now they were gifted with a cute little red-head boy named Gimli. But as they say, looks can be deceiving, and boy was that child a handful. Fili and Kili were quite mischievous growing up, getting into trouble here and there until Dis was sure she'd aged to the point of being a grandma. Compared to Gimli though? They don't even come close, not even a close second. Even Oin, with his vast amounts of patience, has started getting more grey hairs because of it. And with Gloin and Galea's busy schedules, they were in need of someone who could babysit Gimli full time on the weekdays, pick him from up school when neither one were available to, sometimes watch him at night if they were really desperate. But again, Gimli isn't the most angelic child, and while they were doing their best as parents, let's just say Gimli may need a little more discipline in certain areas. If you need proof, try fishing out Dis' favorite scarf from the trash. She's still a little sore over that.

"Oh stop being so dramatic. Dwalin isn't that much younger than you, and Legolas is still a newbie here. He's doing well, but he still needs some work and Dwalin can't do it all—" Suddenly Dis gasps and she reaches over to grasp Gloin's hands.

Gloin jumps in his seat. "Er, everything all right there Miss Dis?" He eyes her warily.

"Gloin," she says seriously, "I think we just solved your problem."

"We did?"

"We did. Come on!" She springs out of her seat, completely forgetting she still has Gloin's hands in hers. "Sorry, sorry!" She apologies when he stumbles into her desk and almost knocks all her things down. She carefully guides their hands around the desk, and when she's fully out of the way she tugs Gloin along to find the younger gym teacher.

 


 

Thorin wouldn't say he's a bad boyfriend. Like sure, there is the whole issue of trusting his partners and sharing half his load with them or whatever couples call it these days. He's not that sure on terminology, but he knows he's not that horrible. He is trying to be better (as of an hour ago), so there! See, progress! He's totally not hiding out in the gym with Dwalin as his boyfriend freaks out by himself. Totally, absolutely not doing that at all. He's just doing the good boyfriend thing and giving Bilbo some space, that's all.

"You're horrible," Dwalin states.

Thorin gives him a withering look. "Hey, I'm trying here."

"Thorin." Dwalin stares right at him. "You just told your boyfriend, as of an hour ago, that you were all going out for coffee with your mother. I'm not really sure how good of a boyfriend that makes you, but if I was the lad I'd be dumpin' yer ass on the next doorstep. Not to mention you left him all alone."

Thorin's face withers even further if that's possible. "Thank you for that Dwalin. Always loving your support on the matter." And in his defense, Bilbo was the one who said he just needed some time to relax and shooed off Thorin to go and finish his work! Like he said, totally not a horrible boyfriend at all.

Dwalin gives hem a hefty pat on the back. "That's what I'm here for after all." Just for good measure he adds, "Laddie," and barks out a laugh at Thorin's scowl.

"You know I really hate you right now, you know that right?"

"And I love you too."

"Um."

Both men turn to the source of the voice simultaneously. Legolas stands a little farther away from where they're perched on the bleachers, his arms overflowing with pinnies and other miscellaneous gym equipment. He stands there staring blankly at them.

"Ya need something kid?" Dwalin asks.

"…Not really." Legolas gives as much of a shrug as he can with all that stuff he's carrying.

Thorin clears his throat and shrugs off Dwalin's hand which is still on his back. "Do you need some assistance with that, Mr. Greenleaf?"

Legolas blinks at him. Thorin thinks there might be some slight surprise in his eyes, but Legolas is known for being rather emotionless when it came to people who weren't Miss Tauriel. "I think I can manage, Mr. Oakenshield, but thank you," he responds back politely. He adjusts the pinnies and equipment in his arms and continues past them to the small storage room near the bleachers.

As Legolas busies himself with storing the items away inside, Thorin murmurs to Dwalin, "Shouldn't you help him?"

"He can handle himself," he murmurs back.

"Aren't you supposed to be his teacher?"

"Technically Gloin is."

"Well Gloin isn't here. Now go help him," Thorin orders.

"He's a big kid, he can take care of himself. Also, since when do you give me orders?" Dwalin asks like the idea of Thorin giving him orders is such a ridiculous notion. Really, so ridiculous right?

"Um, since I'm your boss. Now can you please go help him?"

"You know, as my boss aren't you supposed to be working, or teaching your English class, rather than hiding out in my gym?" Dwalin points out in that annoying way of his.

"I have a free period, I think I can afford to relax a little," Thorin retorts.

"Mahal," Dwalin gasps and places a hand on his chest. "Thorin Oakenshield, relaxing?" He makes a scandalous face at that.

"Yes Dwalin, I am relaxing," Thorin rolls his eyes.

"Wow, that professor really has changed you huh?"

Thorin opens his mouth to throw another retort in Dwalin's face but finds that he is, annoyingly, quite right. Normally Thorin would never take time out of his busy schedule to skimp out on office work or anything, but he does have a free period so he's going to make the best of it. And besides, he already took time out of his day to pay a short visit to Bilbo, and he was late to one of his classes, so it's not like he was going to be productive today anyways.

"And according to Balin," Dwalin continues on, "You still have piles of papers in your office."

Thorin gives him a look. "Since when does Balin keep you updated on my work life?"

"Since he's my brother you dimwit."

"Thank you Captain Obvious, I believe I got that from the same last name you two share."

"You're still a dimwit."

"And you're an idiot."

"So how's the date going for ya?" Dwalin smirks when Thorin clams up and starts spluttering nonsense.

"How did you know about that?!"

"You have two very mischievous nephews who have a habit of eavesdropping and butting into their uncle's love life."

Thorin gives him a horrified look, then groans into his hands. He's been doing that a lot lately now that he thinks about it. "Why am I related to any of you?" His muffled voice asks to no one in particular.

He feels Dwalin slap him a little too hard on the back. "You don't pick and choose your family."

He peaks a weary eye out. "In this case, I really wish I did."

"Then you should go back in time and give the sex talk to our ancestors."

"Oh if only. Will I have to show them how to slip on a condom?"

"Probably."

"Gross, then I'm dragging you back with me."

"Um."

How long has the young gym teacher been standing there exactly? Legolas appears even more awkward than before, although Thorin doesn't blame him. How often do you walk in on two teachers, more specifically your coworker and your boss, talking about condoms? Today just really isn't his day.

"You know, you have some really bad timing kid," Dwalin points out.

To both their surprise, Legolas arches up an eyebrow at the comment. What surprises them even more is when he opens his mouth and more than three words actually come out. "I think that might explain all the bad luck I've been having lately." Was that… was that supposed to be a joke? Thorin and Dwalin share a quick glance with one another.

All three of them kind of stare at each other for a while, not really knowing what to say because Legolas just spoke more than three words and Thorin and Dwalin are still a little dumbfounded. Who knew the princeling could talk? Legolas clears his throat and nods his head at them, and just as he's walking away the gym's doors slam open and in come Dis and Gloin. Wait, no, actually Dis is dragging Gloin in with this expression of sheer determination on her face.

"Um, hey?" Thorin greets, but Dis ignores him and goes straight to Legolas instead. Gloin sends them both an apologetic look for whatever's about to happen.

"Miss Dis," Legolas greets politely. He looks between her and Gloin, and it's clear he's just as confused as Thorin and Dwalin.

"Mr. Greenleaf, I have a proposition for you." Dis pulls hard and Gloin comes stumbling forward. "How good are you with children?"

He tilts his head at her. "Pardon?"

"Children, Mr. Greenleaf," she emphasizes with some exasperation. "You know, those little people who are 3 feet tall and speak gibberish?" She lifts her hand up to about her kneecap to indicate the height.

"Um."

"Right, well, since you're incapable of forming actual sentences—" Thorin and Dwalin snicker at this while Legolas sends them a quick stink eye "—Let me make my proposition clear: Mr. Gloin and his wife are in need of a babysitter."

"I see," Legolas nods slowly. It's obvious he still doesn't quite get what's going on. Again, Thorin doesn't blame him. Sometimes it's best to play dumb when his sister suddenly gets an idea in her head. It tends to avoid a lot of damage that way.

"They would like to hire you as their babysitter."

Four different reactions happen all at once. Gloin whips his head sharply at Dis with a, "Wait when did we discuss this?!" Legolas' face goes through at least five different emotions before returning back to his normal blank expression, although his cheeks have gone a little red. Dwalin chokes on his spit and has to his chest a couple times while Thorin nearly falls off the bleachers. Dis on the other hand remains perfectly calm the whole time.

"M-Miss Dis," Legolas begins clumsily, "I, uh, appreciate the offer but I don't think—"

"Oh no, I don't think you really understand what I'm asking you here," Dis interrupts. At her strict tone Legolas immediately shuts himself up. Good call there kid, Thorin tries to telepathically send to him. "You see, Gloin and Galea are two of the most hardworking people on the face of this earth. Probably more hardworking than my idiot brother, although he tends to drive himself into the ground with the amount of work he does because he can't keep track of his time or his health for that matter, therefore he's an idiot." Thorin looks ready to protest but thinks better on it. Dwalin just guffaws loudly, and Gloin looks like he wants to sink into the earth and become one with the gym floor. "And as much as they love their son, their busy schedules don't really give them a lot of leeway here. Galea does't finish her schooling until next Spring, and Gloin can only do so much before he goes insane, which requires them to find a babysitter who can watch their son full time, pick him up from school, the normal babysitting duties. Seeing as how you only have one class to teach, I figured you would make the perfect candidate to do this. Oh, and did I mention Gloin and Galea have gone through five babysitters already—"

"Six," Gloin reminds her faintly.

"My apologies," she says to Gloin, then to Legolas, "Sorry, six babysitters, and they're starting to become desperate here and Gloin has already started considering options which I just can't fathom—"

"Alright alright already!" Legolas puts his hands up to stop this god-awful explanation. His eyes dart between Dis and Gloin (who really looks like he might faint) and then up to Thorin and Dwalin who both give him helpless shrugs. As much as they want to help him, there really isn't much they can do in this case because when Dis wants something she gets it. It's how she managed to squirm her way out of all possible punishments during their childhood. Thorin's still a little sore about that.

Legolas takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "I will… consider it."

"Shit," Dwalin mutters and holds onto Thorin's arm for dear life.

Dis' eyes narrow sharply at him. "You'll consider it?"

Legolas looks frantically at Thorin and Dwalin again.

Fix it fix it FIX IT! They mouth at him.

"Um, I mean I'll… do it. I'll do it."

Dis' eyes return to their normal shape and she smiles so serenely at Legolas, as if the last couple of minutes never even happened. "Wonderful!" She says happily and turns to Gloin. "And there's the solution to your problem!"

Gloin forces a nervous smile at her, and when she looks away his face grows horrified. As Dis starts explaining the basics of the job to a very anxious Legolas, Thorin murmurs to Dwalin, "See? Not that horrible after all."

Dwalin snorts at that. "All you Durins are menaces anyways, so it doesn't make a difference to me."

Thorin actually shoves Dwalin off the bleachers and cackles loudly when he falls onto the floor with all the grace of a cow. Karma will probably hit him soon, but as of now he's going to take joy in this very moment.

 


 

As the school day starts coming to a close Bilbo's mental state only grows worse. He can't seem to focus on any of his lessons at all, and Bofur nearly came close to calling Miss Galadriel to pull him out of class.

Well, it's not everyday you get a boyfriend and meet his mother, all in the same day because why wouldn't you want to space out these things? Why not rush everything along if that's the case! They might as well move in together, or better yet: Why don't they get married next week! Bilbo's head starts spinning at the word 'marriage' and he has to shut his mind down if he wants to survive the next hour. He still has his last period class to teach, so for now he's just going to take advantage of the few extra minutes he has and try to at least calm down a little. He tries to focus on that giddy, happy feeling he was experiencing earlier, when he and Thorin finally got past the misunderstanding and established themselves as a couple with very mutual feelings. It doesn't work, as his mind won't stop reeling of what if I mess this up and his mother hates me and I'm banned from dating her 38 year old son and I can't get her approval and oh Yavanna this is so not going to go well. He still doesn't know whether to be mad at Thorin, but it's been a crazy day for all of them and if he knows Thorin well enough, the man is probably feeling a little nervous too.

Thankfully, it's the knock on the door that pulls Bilbo out of his tumultuous thoughts. Expecting it to be either Bofur or Fili, he beckons them in without looking up from his work. They're supposed to meet with Bilbo to coordinate their schedules together, something about last minute sub changes or something along those lines. Instead, he gets the younger Durin standing in the middle of his classroom studying all the hung up art work. They'd just read The Bell Jar, and while it is a personal favorite of Bilbo's, he's not really expecting the students to get the vast symbolism behind the book. Hence why there's twenty something pictures of literal bell jars all around his walls. Maybe he should choose an easier read for next time. Well, that's what happens when you make the transition from uni to secondary school students.

"Did you need something, Kili?" Bilbo asks. He eyes the science/math teacher over the rims of his reading glasses, taking note of the slight drumming of Kili's fingers against his thigh, or the way he keeps dragging a hand through his unruly dark hair that was probably very similar to Thorin's at one point.

"Hmm?" Kili turns away from the drawings to stare at Bilbo. "Oh!" He says as if just remembering. "Fili sent me with a message: he'll meet with you tomorrow if that's okay."

"Sure, sure. I'll shoot him an email later with more details." Bilbo writes down the reminder on one of his sticky notes and pastes it on his desk's calendar, along with fifty other post it notes reminding him to do things. And people wonder how he's able to keep track of everything. When he looks up Kili's still there, this time staring quite fiercely at a drawing of a house. There's nothing special about it really, it's just a house, with accurate proportions and very straight lines, meaning the student who drew it did it with a certain precision. There's a stone path leading to a maroon-colored mailbox, and a wooden fence going around the perimeter of the house. There's a small garden right beside the house, filled with purple and pink and all sorts of various colored flowers. There are some v-shaped birds in the sky that's shaded a very light blue, and of course the stereotypical sun in the corner of the paper (you'd think for Year 7 students they'd know better that the sun does not just 'hover' in the corner). Again, there's nothing particularly striking about the drawing. The student definitely made sure to capture all the details and make it as realistic as possible, but again, nothing special. What does make it stand out from the rest of the drawings is the one lone stick figure with a bundle of dark curly hair on top of its head, and that's when Bilbo starts to understand.

He clears his throat, speaking in a quiet voice, "Angelica has a good eye, don't you think?"

He hears a cracking sound, like two sharp objects being smashed together, and he sees that Kili has flexed his jaw rather tightly. "I like the garden." He gestures to the vibrant patch of green.

"Reminds me a little of my mother's," Bilbo states, his eyes crinkling fondly as he tries to remember Belladonna's garden, filled with the same bright colors, along with an assortment of vegetables and fruits. Her tomatoes were the prized winners every year. Bilbo keeps a small pot of tomatoes right on the balcony of his apartment, just for her. His grandmother always complained he didn't have enough green in his home.

"Have you heard anything about her?" Kili asks. He still keeps his eyes on the picture.

Bilbo sighs heavily. It's not that he wasn't expecting the question, what with the way the conversation was going. Still, it doesn't make it any less painful to discuss. "Unfortunately, no. Miss Galadriel and Balin and I have been emailing back and forth. All I know is that she's staying with her aunt for the time being, but it's not permanent. Her aunt lives in Ireland and is only going to be in London for Yavanna knows how long."

Kili winces at that. "So… nothing's been settled yet?"

"As far as I know, no," Bilbo answers. "I don't even know if she'll be coming back to school."

They both take a deep breath simultaneously. No other words are exchanged as they continue staring at the drawing, because there really isn't much to discuss. Bilbo considers it a few times, figures maybe talking it out with Kili might do… something. After all, he has no idea what the science/math teacher's been thinking this whole time, how much he worries over Angelica or whether he's seeking counsel. He opens his mouth so many times but nothing ever comes out. Instead they stay where they are, taking in the heavy silence of it all.

Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words ever can.

Chapter Text

When Kili came to deliver Fili's message to Bilbo, he wasn't expecting them to stare depressively at a drawing of a house in forlorn silence. It's a house for Durin's sake, it shouldn't even be that depressing! But as they say, a picture can speak a thousand words. At least that's what Kili tells himself as he continues staring at it, trying to find whatever message is hidden underneath the layers of color, whether Angelica was trying to communicate to someone of the situation with her family. Even now as Kili thinks back on it, he wants to beat himself up for missing all the damn signs. It was so obvious, and what did he do? Nothing. He basically did shit. Don't get him wrong, he's thankful Bilbo caught it just in time, but still. How could he have missed the signs?

Since that conversation with Miss Galadriel on Halloween, Kili's been sort of apprehensive of Bilbo for a while. Of course he'll still chat him up in the hallways, he'll stop and talk for a while if Bilbo needs his help or if it's the other way around. He hasn't been avoiding the English/history teacher, he's just… a little nervous whenever he's in his presence. It's like he wants to bring up the subject of Angelica, talk it out with someone like Miss Galadriel had suggested but he always chickens out at the last second. He thought about talking to Thorin once, but as his uncle had his hands full with running a whole school, Kili thought it best to leave him alone. He would talk to Fili or his mom, maybe even Balin or Dwalin but they weren't there. They didn't meet with the Pergardi's, they didn't see the way they treated her, humiliated and belittled her in front of her own teachers. Kili had remained tense the whole time, and if not for his uncle's comforting hand on his shoulder he might have punched Angelica's father right then and there. Thankfully Bilbo saved them all the trouble by scolding Angelica's parents and shouting some very interesting words at them.

Now would probably be the moment when Kili starts pouring out his feelings to Bilbo, but when he looks over at the man he finds that he's just as entranced as Kili is. And so they stare at the drawing together, and Kili finds that he doesn't quite mind the silence. Kili's the guy who talks non-stop and can't sit through a play for the life of him, but in this case it feels totally natural to just stand here and stare at this drawing of a house with the red mailbox, colorful garden, the birds and everything else.

"I never got to tell you this, but I thought the way you handled the situation was very well done."

Kili's eyes shift over to Bilbo in surprise. Did he handle the situation well? He doesn't recall, only that he just really wanted to punch Mr. Pergardi square in the jaw.

"Really, you did," Bilbo nods earnestly. His face softens out as he offers a small smile. "I mean you know, better than me at least."

Kili blinks, and then realizing that was a joke chuckles and says, "I thought you handled it just fine."

Bilbo rolls his eyes. "Oh yes, because cursing out your student's parents is always the way to go."

"If it makes you feel better, you spoke very eloquently."

"I am an English teacher, mind you. It's kind of my job to be eloquent."

They both laugh and then silence takes over them again, but it's not the kind that fills the air with dread and way too much angst. It's a companionable silence, a silence that says, 'I know, I get it. You don't need to say anything more because I get it.' That's the great thing about silence sometimes, how it can speak and communicate so much to another person in the same room as you. And Kili… he really feels so much better, now that he's found what he needed. He can see, right then and there, how much Bilbo has really thought about this, how he hasn't really forgotten what happened because how can you, when something like this happens? Sure you can move on and find closure but you never really forget, not really. It makes him glad to know that to Bilbo, Angelica Pergardi wasn't just another one of his many students. Hell, he still has that drawing of hers hanging up in his classroom. If that doesn't say anything, Kili's not sure what does.

"I uh," Kili juts a thumb to the door, "I should probably get going. Bell's about to ring soon."

Bilbo takes a quick look at the clock and startles at the time. "Oh! Yes you'd better get going, wouldn't want you to be late for your own class."

Kili's already starting towards the door when Bilbo says this. He twists his body around, opens his mouth and responds, "Don't worry. I'm not my uncle," and then gives a cheeky wink before exiting Bilbo's class. Just for good measure, he pops his head back in and adds, "Also, have fun with my grandma! You'll love her." When he walks back out he cackles to himself the whole time. He couldn't help it, the opportunity was too good to pass up. He'll probably get an earful for this later but as he always like to say, youth is an infinite well.

 


 

Bilbo just kind of blinks and stares after Kili. Even when he's gone and the bell rings and the students come filing in for last period, he's still staring at the spot where Kili once was.

Because how on earth did—

Well, no, that's a stupid question, of course he would know. If he recalls correctly, Fili was the one who had to sub in for Thorin when he was late, which most definitely meant Fili told Kili everything. But the other question is, how on earth did he know about Bilbo meeting Mrs. Durin?! And just like that, the subject of his coffee date with the Durins comes rushing back to him and he's in full panic mode all over again. Unfortunately (or fortunately) he doesn't have much time to panic because he does have a class to teach. He doesn't know if he should pray for the class to drag on or if he should pray to get it over with. Either way, last period is soon here and done and then he's left alone, standing by the chalk board with not a clue what to do next. Well, he supposes the next logical thing would be to pack up his belongings and get ready to head out, right?

He walks over to his desk and starts packing away his papers, his books, his ancient Macbook that he still refuses to replace, and his other supplies. He slips on his coat and knitted scarf (courtesy of Ori), and then he just… waits. Thorin did tell him to wait after last period, didn't he? Or did Bilbo hear him wrongly? Maybe he should go to Thorin's office instead? But then Thorin might come looking for him while he's out and they'll get all confused and—

"Bilbo, you need to shut up," he sighs to himself. He uses the palm of his hand to knock his forehead a couple times, attempting to shut up his blasted mind but to no avail. Has he already mentioned all the ways this endeavor could go horribly wrong? Probably, but he does feel the need to reiterate that thought. He takes a deep breath before straightening up his shoulders, marches right up to the door and wrenches it open. There's no point in worrying by himself in his own classroom, so he might as well wait outside and face Thorin and Mrs. Durin head on like Belladonna always taught him. Sometimes Bilbo wishes he had more of his mother's Tookish side, rather than an imperfect balance of both Took and Baggins. Sometimes he was more of a Baggins than a Took, and other times it was the other way around. Right now, he's feeling less of a Took and even lesser of a Baggins.

About five minutes go by before he sees Thorin and his mother striding towards him, and it strikes Bilbo then how… beautiful they are. Honestly, they look like supermodels right out of a catalogue, walking confidently, clothes and hair in perfect condition, all straight and tall and just the very definition of power. Now that he thinks about it, the Durins really are like a regal family of some sort. If Thorin told him he was secretly British royalty, Bilbo wouldn't be all that surprised. He could be a lost prince for all Bilbo cared and he still wouldn't be surprised.

"Bilbo!" Mrs. Durin calls out. She steps right in Thorin's path and grabs Bilbo's hands. "Lovely to see you again."

"Ah, yes! Lovely to see you again as well, Mrs. Durin," Bilbo laughs nervously, not really expecting the sudden contact. It kind of reminds him of his meeting with Miss Dis on that first day.

Behind her Thorin rolls his eyes. "Mother, do you think maybe I could greet my own boyfriend first?"

To Bilbo's amusement, Mrs. Durin rolls her eyes in much the same fashion as her son. "You could wait your turn. Bilbo here isn't some toy that only belongs to you."

At the phrase 'belongs to you' both Bilbo and Thorin blush. They stare at each other, then cough and look away. Mrs. Durin doesn't understand at first, but one quick glance at the two of them is enough to make her sigh and mutter, "You two are like a bunch of teenagers, honestly."

Bilbo's not sure what to say to that. Thorin only clears his throat, and after a bit of fidgeting on his part he steps up closer to Bilbo so that Althea isn't in his line of vision anymore. He's about to ask what's wrong when suddenly a burst of blue is presented before Bilbo's eyes. "These are… for you," Thorin says embarrassedly. He scratches the bridge of his nose while keeping his gaze to the side.

Bilbo blinks down at the flowers before gingerly accepting them. If Bilbo recalls correctly from his scant knowledge of flowers, these are forget me nots. He gently touches one of the petals and is surprised to find it so soft, moreover so blue. Bilbo can't even remember the last time he received flowers on a whim. And who said chivalry was dead? He smiles and looks back up at Thorin. "So what's the occasion?"

"Think of it as an apology bouquet," Thorin replies sheepishly. He finally gazes back down at Bilbo. "For, you know, springing all of this on you so suddenly."

"That is… the sweetest thing anyone's ever done for me actually," Bilbo blurts out. It's totally worth it to see the blush on Thorin's face grow darker. It's now spread all the way down to his neck, making him look quite endearing under that mess of dark hair. And the fact that he keeps trying to appear more stoic than he actually is.

"Yes, well… yes," he coughs out.

"How did you even find time to buy these?" Bilbo dips his nose low so he can sniff at the flowers.

"I had some free time."

"He actually sent me out to go and buy them." They both jump at the sound of Althea's voice. She pops her head out from behind Thorin and smirks. "He told me they had to specifically be forget me nots."

Bilbo furrows his brow at her. "Why specifically?"

"You know!" Thorin interrupts loudly before Althea can get a word in. "Why don't we just head out now? Moria won't stay open forever." He sends a quick look back to Mrs. Durin, who seems to get the message and nods. "Of course dear. Give me the keys, I'll go start the car."

As Thorin and Althea go through the process of exchanging keys, Bilbo can't stop glancing suspiciously between the flowers and Thorin. It's not until she's gone does Bilbo ask, "So what was that about?"

Thorin's body gives a sudden jerk at the question, but he brushes it off by pretending to fiddle with his cuffs. "What was what about?"

Bilbo rolls his eyes. "The forget me nots. Why the specific need to buy them?"

Thorin stops his fiddling. In fact, it looks like he's stopped breathing altogether. Ever so slowly he lifts his head up, and once again his face has become a very dark shade of red. "I—" He starts but can't seem to finish. At Bilbo's prompting look he sighs and grumbles, "You're going to think I'm an idiot."

"I already do. Now out with it."

He makes a noise of protest.

"Thorin."

"They'rebluelikemyeyes," he finally responds in a rush.

It takes Bilbo a moment to separate out the sentence in his head, and when he does he can't help thinking how fucking adorable this man is—this man who towers over Bilbo's Year 7 and 8 students like a giant monolith, this man who tries to appear stoic and professional but is actually a giant goofball, this man who literally makes Bilbo melt inside and make him like a pile of goo—yes, this is the man whom Bilbo's come to fall very hard for, who got him an apology bouquet the color of his eyes. Bilbo gazes fondly at the forget me nots and twirls the small bouquet in his hands. "They are quite blue," he acknowledges. Without really thinking, he takes a single flower from the bouquet, reaches up on his tip toes and tucks the flower into one of Thorin's braids. He makes sure to slip the stem through all the interwoven strands of hair so that it really looks like it's meshed together with the braid. He stands back to observe his little handiwork and nods. "And the blue definitely suits you," he adds later.

It seems Thorin has once again stopped breathing, only inhaling sharply at Bilbo's spoken words. He reaches up slowly to touch the flower, gently taking each of the petals in his fingers and rubbing them softly, as if he's touching a newborn baby for the first time. The way he handles the flower is so tender that it almost takes Bilbo's own breath away. He has to remind himself to breath after a couple seconds or he'll surely faint at the sight of a blushing Thorin carefully handling this tiny blue flower in his hair. Suddenly, Bilbo's reminded of a Disney princess rather than the whole British royalty image he had conjured up before.

"Um… thank you," Thorin says softly. The corner of his mouth arches up just so, and his eyes are lit up in a way that Bilbo knows it means he's honestly touched by the compliment.

"Y-You're welcome," Bilbo stammers and offers a shy smile of his own.

Thorin's half smile turns into a full out smile and he ducks his head. His eyes wander up and they're filled—no, flooded, with so much happiness. It's practically spilling out of his eyes and seeping onto the floor in piles of just pure happiness. There's so much of it, more than Bilbo's ever seen before. He can't help it, he just has to kiss that goofy smile off Thorin's face and share in this infectious happiness with him.

And it is very infectious.

 


 

Unbeknownst to the two love birds currently making out in the middle of the hallway for all to see, there's quite the audience just around the corner, watching the scene play out before them while not being totally discreet, try as they may.

"Stop pushing Kili!" Fili hisses.

"You stop pushing!" Kili hisses back.

"You both better stop pushing or I'll push you two."

They both lower their heads. "Sorry mum," they grumble in unison.

"Oi, Nori! I think you owe me another twenty!" Bofur whispers.

"I thought you betted against them!"

"I changed my bet."

"You can't just change bets!" Dori protests.

"If we don't change our bets we're all going to be bankrupt," Gloin grumbles. He shoves a ten into Dwalin's smirking face.

"Maybe we need to set some rules?" Ori suggests timidly.

"We did set rules, until a certain someone—"

"Don't look at me!" Nori scowls at Dwalin. "Not everything is my fault!"

"Most of it is," Dori mutters under his breath. Oin and Bifur nod along, much to Nori's disbelief.

"Guys, guys!" Fili whispers frantically. He waves at them to be quiet. "I think they're coming this way!"

All at once, the teachers scramble up from their positions and start searching for hiding places. Fili, Kili, Bifur and Bofur take refuge in Bofur's classroom, Gloin and Oin dive into the nearby men's bathroom, Dis and Dori walk at a brisk pace down the hall while Dwalin, Ori and Nori duck back around the corner and try to find the nearest classroom.

(Later, Bilbo will comment that he could've sworn he heard something. Thorin will pretend to have no idea what Bilbo's saying, all the while thinking, I may have to hold our monthly faculty meeting just a little bit earlier.)

 


 

The drive to Moria Cafe isn't as awkward as Bilbo was expecting, although that might be because he's stuck in the back seat while Thorin and Althea are up front, chatting about topics from the weather to the most recent events occurring at school. Bilbo can't help smiling here and there, opting to stay out as he listens to their conversations instead. It kind of makes Bilbo reminisce for a while of conversations between him and his own mother, sometimes talking about serious things and then jumping onto topics he had no idea they'd gotten onto. For some reason, it makes him think of that time when Bungo had first gotten sick. Bilbo was home for the holidays, helping his mother bake her famous Christmas pie while his father was stuck in bed, trying to sleep off whatever he had (at the time they still assumed it was some nasty lingering fever). There was soft music flowing through the room as they worked quietly side by side. He thinks it might have been Frank Sinatra or a slow Beatles song, but it was something soft, something they could hum to. They weren't doing anything special, just… chatting and baking. They discussed the news, debated the effects of wool vs. cotton, talked about their favorite literature, just random things in general. That's the best type of conversation actually, where there's no sensible structure whatsoever and things just flow in whichever direction they please. And then Bungo came stumbling out, kissing Bilbo first and then Belladonna, and then the music transitioned to a more exciting tune and Bungo started spinning Belladonna around, much to her disapproval ("Bungo! For heaven's sakes you're still sick you daft—!"). Bungo only ignored her, twirling her more and more until they were laughing and stumbling around the kitchen. Bilbo remembers laughing so hard he almost got a tummy ache. That was probably the happiest his father had ever been, and the happiest he would ever be again. It wouldn't be until after Christmas that Bungo's 'fever' grew worse, and he would be confined to his bed for the rest of his days, growing paler and skinnier and definitely not the man Bilbo knew him to be.

"Bilbo?"

"Hmm?"

Thorin's staring at him from the rear view mirror. "You okay?"

"Ah, yes yes I'm fine! Sorry, what were you saying?"

Thorin continues staring at him until Mrs. Durin turns back and says, "We've just arrived, dear."

They all get out without another word (Thorin does send him a few curious glances) and head downstairs. Moria Cafe is located under an antique shop, making it one of those hole in the wall type cafes that's literally been around for ages. The atmosphere's a little dim, not as bright as Bilbo'd like it to be, but usually these hole in the wall places are the ones that are the most authentic, which is proven right when Bilbo takes his first sip of coffee and stares down at the cup like he was just given the keys to the city of London.

"Are you sure this is coffee?" He asks while glancing between Thorin and Mrs. Durin in shock.

Althea throws back her head and laughs while Thorin chuckles, "Yes, that is coffee you're drinking Bilbo."

"You've got to be joking. This isn't coffee, this isn't even close."

Althea leans in and whispers conspiratorially, "That's because all you youngsters these days don't know where to find true coffee."

"I would actually concur with that statement. Ori, poor lad, actually got me coffee from Starbucks one morning." He shakes his head sadly at the memory.

"Speaking of, I've heard Ori has grown quite fond of you Bilbo," Althea comments.

"I've heard he's fond of other things too," Thorin mutters into his coffee cup.

Bilbo sends him a strange look. "What?"

Althea smacks her son's arm with a, "Oh hush" while Thorin rolls his eyes. "I'm sorry dear, you were saying?" She says to Bilbo.

Bilbo narrows his eyes suspiciously, continuing, "Yes, well.. Ori's rather easy to get along with so I suppose we've— no wait, what is it that Ori's so fond of?"

Thorin groans. "I promised not to tell."

"Right, because you've already told everyone that's not Balin or Dori," Althea snorts.

Bilbo stares at his boyfriend in mock disbelief. "Mr. Oakenshield, have you been gossiping?"

"It's not like I'm the only one who does it," he grumbles in response.

Bilbo leans forward on his elbows and points his finger between the two of them. "Alright, spill it. Both of you. I wanna know what's going on."

Althea also leans forward, smirking, "What do you know about our dear Mr. Dwalin?"

"Other than he's scary upon first meeting but is actually an old sap when it comes to kids? Not much," Bilbo admits while sipping his coffee. It's probably not the best timing, because the next thing Mrs. Durin says almost makes his coffee squirt right out his nose.

"How about Dwalin and Ori's little crush on each other?" Thorin's mother asks with a wicked grin.

"I'm sorry what?" He couldn't even mask the shock on his face if he tried. Dwalin and Ori? That's got to be the biggest— well, no, technically Dwalin is a huge sap for anything cute, specifically his Year 7 and 8 kids, but Ori? Who knew Dwalin was his type!

Thorin nods along in agreement. "Seriously, it's true. They've been pining for each other since Ori was hired."

"Really?"

"Trust me, I didn't quite believe Thorin either when he first told me," Althea says.

"Oh my god… wait then what about Dori?!" Anyone who knew Dori knew of that little (or not) overprotective streak of his whenever it came to his younger brother. Bilbo's also heard of Dori's infamous strength but has yet to actually see it in action.

"That's kinda the problem right there." Thorin leans back in his seat with a wince. "Nori is apparently okay with the whole thing, but Dwalin hasn't exactly told Dori yet."

"Oh dear. Well, I wish the poor man good luck then. He's going to need it."

"You know, I think Dori might actually be okay with it," Althea cuts in.

Thorin shoots her an incredulous look. "You're not being serious, are you?"

"Hey, call it a mother's intuition," she shrugs.

"I don't know," Bilbo says uncertainly. "I don't mean to doubt your mother's intuition or anything, Yavanna knows my mother knew things I wasn't completely comfortable with, but I really do think Dori would beat Dwalin up if he found out."

"They would have a show down in the gym," Thorin adds.

"Oh stop it, both of you! Contrary to popular belief, Dori will not beat up Dwalin."

"Mother." Thorin gives her one of those 'come on' expressions. "Do you even remember what happened three years ago?"

"Oh yes, that did happen didn't it?" Althea says as if recalling it for the first time.

"What happened three years ago?" Bilbo asks.

"You might look at Dori in a different light if you knew…"

"Thorin, Dori's my friend. I don't think I'll see him as any less as— wait what exactly happened?"

"Um."

 


 

"That was actually… not as bad as I thought it would be," Bilbo finally admits.

Thorin rolls his eyes at him. "Of course it wasn't. I told you it wouldn't be."

"Well excuse me for worrying! I don't know if you know this, but usually you meet the parents much much later than, oh I don't know, an hour?"

Thorin pauses on his trek up the stairs. He lowers his head and mumbles guiltily, "Yes I… I realized that. Therefore I hope you'll… accept the apology bouquet."

"I already did you idiot." Bilbo lifts up the bouquet to indicate.

Coffee with Althea Durin was probably the most normal thing Bilbo's ever experienced. They laughed and joked, discussed embarrassing moments from Thorin's childhood ("Mother please— Bilbo not you too!") and talked about all sorts of things. Of course there were a couple times where Bilbo found trouble answering certain, more specific questions ("So how did you two meet? What was your first impression upon meeting my son? Probably very grumpy and put-off looking, right?") Bilbo had answered her many questions to the best of his ability, leaving out certain details that would probably get Thorin a good chastising later, but his answers seemed to satisfy Althea. He reckons if and when their relationship gets more serious, she'll be wanting those other details, but that will be for a later time and date. There was one particular question that threw Bilbo off a bit. Somehow they had gotten onto the topic of Bilbo's massive family tree, and Thorin and Althea were both listening intently, asking questions in all the right spots, and then sometime later—

"So will you and your family be doing anything exciting for the holidays?"

Bilbo, who had ordered two slices of pound cake already, was in the midst of digging into his third one (he almost died laughing at Thorin's reaction) when he almost dropped his fork, making quite an unattractive noise against his plate. "H-Holidays?" He repeats dumbly.

"Yes, you know like Thanksgiving and Christmas and such? You have such a large family, so I just assumed you'd be doing something rather grand for the holidays."

Well that's… a fairly reasonable answer. Most people would assume that, if they had as large a family as Bilbo's.

"Oh um… yes, well," he starts off awkwardly. He tries to figure out a good way to answer this because he really is so unprepared for this question. Off to the side he sees Thorin watching him carefully, making him more nervous than he really should be. "Well," he starts again, "The holidays are rather… well, they're more simple affairs in my household. Which is strange you know? Big family and all… anyways, usually for Thanksgiving I spend some time with my grandmother—"

"The one in the nursing home?"

Bilbo looks at Thorin in surprise. "Um, yes the—the one in the nursing home. Yes, that one." A set of worry lines appear on Thorin's forehead, but he plows on, determined to get through this already long-winded answer. "Yes she's… she's been in a nursing home for quite some time, so I often visit her, bring her some food I cooked up at the last minute and then we watch the Thanksgiving specials together on TV." He pauses to scratch his nose as he thinks of this next answer. "Christmas is… definitely more quiet. I go back to Derbyshire to, um, visit some family members." He kind of leaves the answer at that, making for a rather awkward five minutes of silence. He takes a small bite of his pound cake and prays to the gods above that at least someone chooses to speak up. For the past hour and a half Bilbo's been giving much lengthier answers, always filled with vivid descriptions even if he was just talking about his favorite food, so for him to just stop at that is probably a little confusing for both mother and son.

"So I take it you'll be visiting your grandma again this year?" Comes the soft question.

Bilbo jumps in his seat, again glancing at Thorin in surprise. "Er, yes I-I will. I mean she is quite lonely, all alone in that nursing home of her's so… you know…"

Thorin squints at him for a good long minute, enough to make Bilbo blush and look anywhere but at Thorin. He concentrates on poking as many holes in his pound cake as he can, but he can still feel the tiny hairs on the back of his neck stick up. The man's always had such a powerful gaze, so focused and sometimes quite fierce without him realizing it. Bilbo's almost tempted to go and excuse himself for a breath of air, anything to get away from that terribly concentrated gaze. The already wilted flower in his hair does soften the gaze a little.

"Well I think that's lovely," Mrs. Durin cuts in with a warm smile. "I'm glad you take time during the holidays to go and visit your grandmother. She's very lucky to have a grandson like you!"

Bilbo chuckles self-consciously at the compliment. "Th-Thank you, I try."

They changed topics then, which made Bilbo feel slightly less on edge. He has no doubt Thorin's figured everything out by now or at least sort of get an inkling for what's going on. Bilbo's told Thorin enough about his family history to understand that in the ways of family, Bilbo really doesn't have anyone. Sure he has his gazillions of cousins, little nieces and nephews here and there but he has no immediate family to speak of. The only person left in his life is his grandmother, Laura. Everyone else is long past the age of just plain old dead.

It was already edging close to five by the time they all realized they had spent far too long at Moria. The owner's given them quite the number of stink eyes in the past hour and a half.

"I can drive you home," Thorin offered as they stepped back upstairs. It had already grown dark out, with the only source of illumination being the street lamps at every corner.

"Oh, no it's fine!" Bilbo quickly waved off. "Look, there's a bus stop. I can always—"

"Absolutely not," Mrs. Durin stated in a tone that Bilbo really couldn't argue with. "We would never make you wait alone in the dark for a bus. Thorin will happily drive you home." And with that she hopped into the passenger seat and closed the car door behind her.

Bilbo looked to Thorin for confirmation who just shrugged. "What she said."

About an hour later (if they didn't get caught up in all that traffic and "Really Thorin I can just take the bus! This is rather unnecessary!") they had finally made it back to Bilbo's apartment, and now Thorin was doing the gentlemanly thing of walking Bilbo to his front door, like they really were in some cheesy rom com or something.

Chivalry so wasn't dead.

"Thorin don't be ridiculous, the elevator's right there!"

The man was already climbing up the first three steps as Bilbo said this. "Bilbo, relax. You live on what? The third floor?"

"Fifth actually." Bilbo stood by the foot of the staircase, his arms crossed and foot tapping impatiently as he waited for Thorin to come back down because this was ridiculous! Even if Bilbo much rather preferred going up and down the stairs (waistline, remember?), he was pretty sure Thorin wasn't actually going to walk up five flights of stairs when they could easily take the elevator that was sitting right there on the side.

Thorin paused on his way to the sixth step and turned around. Bilbo was already starting to make his way to the elevator, waiting for Thorin to follow behind him when he said, "Fifth floor it is then."

Bilbo whipped his head back to see Thorin continue his trek up the stairs. "Wait, Tho—orin!" He was already disappearing onto the second floor, leaving Bilbo no choice but to clamber up after him. "You know the elevator's right there, right?!" Bilbo called out after him. He at least wanted to give Thorin one more chance to change his mind.

And ten minutes later…

"Can I just remind you—"

"Like you've already done six times?"

"Can I just remind you, that you really didn't need to walk me all the way up?"

Thorin starts laughing exasperatedly. "Bilbo—"

"Especially not up five flights of stairs!"

"It's not a problem, really," he reassures for the umpteenth time.

"Well… it's a problem for me!" Bilbo finally pouts when Thorin still refuses to budge. Honestly, how stubborn can a person be?

Thorin throws back his head with another exasperated laugh. "Can't you just let me walk you up these five flights of stairs? Please?" He asks, more to the ceiling than to Bilbo.

"I'm just saying," Bilbo grumbles and quickly walks past Thorin.

Thorin breathes out a satisfied noise and follows after him. They finally come to the last set of stairs, and before Bilbo knows it they're already at his little green door with the rusty looking knob.

"It's rather… green," Thorin comments.

"I'll have you know I painted it myself."

"The building manager let you do that?"

"Um." Bilbo scratches his head, grimacing a little at how damp his curls feel under his fingers. Now how on earth was he supposed to explain this? "Let's just say… I stroke up a deal with the building manager and he kind of lets me do whatever I want?"

"Somehow I highly doubt that."

At Thorin's skeptical look Bilbo sighs, pleading, "Next time, please? I don't feel like spending ages explaining how I came to inherit a rather nasty fortune with no idea what to do with it except save it for a rainy day."

"That's why your door is green?"

"What's wrong with my door?!"

"I'm just saying, you could have painted it something else. Like red."

Bilbo snorts at the image of a red apartment door. "That would look hideous. Not to mention just plain obnoxious."

"And this isn't?" Thorin gestures to the door.

"Would you stop picking on my door?! I'll paint your door green if you keep this up."

Bilbo squeaks as Thorin suddenly draws closer to him. He lowers his head so they're eye to eye with each other, smirking, "I wouldn't mind really, if you painted my door green."

Bilbo rolls his eyes. "And who was the one bashing on my color of choice earlier?"

"I'll admit, it's a rather outlandish color but it's not horrible."

"So now it's okay?" Bilbo pulls back—just to see what Thorin will do—and sure enough Thorin brings his face closer to his. "Why hello there," Bilbo murmurs, chuckling when their noses bump slightly.

"Hello," Thorin murmurs back.

"Rather close there aren't we?"

"Maybe I like being close."

"Hmm, surely no complaining there." Bilbo licks his lips and leans closer.

Thorin smiles and angles his face, mouth now inches away from Bilbo's. Hot breath spills out across Bilbo's lips that it's enough to make him shiver involuntarily.

Just to be cheeky, Bilbo asks, "What are you planning there, Mr. Oakenshield?"

Thorin inches closer, saying innocently, "So remember that apology bouquet, for suddenly thrusting my mother onto you?" He glances down at the bouquet still in Bilbo's hands. "Right, well, think of this as an apology kiss, you know for insulting your door."

"Ah, I get it now. Well then by all means, carry on. It's going to take quite a lot of apology kisses before I forgive you. I'm rather fond of that door you know."

Chapter Text

Thorin smiles the whole way through the kiss, and he can even feel Bilbo's mouth curling along with the action. He takes the professor's face in his hands, tilting Bilbo's head back so he can deepen the kiss and really get more of that taste known as Bilbo Baggins. He feels Bilbo's gasp through his mouth when his tongue lazily circles the inside of Bilbo's cheek. He admits it's a rather daring move, but hey, it is an apology kiss after all.

He hears something drop, presumably the bouquet of flowers, and suddenly Bilbo surges upward and grabs the collar of Thorin's jacket. This time it's his tongue that's the culprit and oh how that tongue is doing very dangerous things to Thorin's mouth right now. He inhales sharply and almost gets lost in the various movements of Bilbo's tongue. If he doesn't hold onto something right now, there's a serious chance he might go tumbling back down the stairs and that wouldn't be comfortable for either of them, so he takes his one hand off Bilbo's face and grips his hipbone, not too tight to the point of bruising the poor professor but enough to communicate that Thorin is enjoying this thoroughly. Apparently Bilbo agrees as well by the way he gasps and fists his hands in Thorin's shirt. He smirks against the man's mouth and decides a little revenge is in order. He intertwines his tongue with Bilbo's and the younger man gasps again, which allows Thorin further entrance into his mouth. Bilbo makes a sort of whining noise, and suddenly they're staggering backwards into that blasted green door, getting really into this kiss.

Has Thorin mentioned this is a really great apology kiss?

"B-Bilbo," Thorin breathes out.

"Hmm?" Bilbo hums distractedly as he wraps his arms around Thorin's neck.

"M-My mother… she's…" Thorin cuts off his own words when he decides to hoist Bilbo up a bit.

"God, Thorin don't—don't bring up your mother at a time like this," Bilbo says with some difficulty.

"I know, I'm sorry but… she…" Thorin swipes his tongue aggressively across the roof of Bilbo's mouth. The response he gets is absolutely wonderful, with the way Bilbo arches up his back and clings onto Thorin tighter. It's a couple more minutes until they're able to pull away without chasing each other's mouths and getting right back into it (not that either of them are complaining). They pull apart with a gasp, the puffs of air almost visible between their mouths with how heavily they're breathing. Not to mention their faces are flushed, clothes rumpled beyond measure and Bilbo's hair seems to be sticking up in an odd way. That one might be Thorin's fault.

"That was… a very good apology kiss," Bilbo pants. "Also, that flower is still in your hair," he giggles.

Thorin chuckles in between breaths. He reaches up to touch where the flower should be, finding it wilted and not as full as it had been earlier. He still can't believe it lasted the whole day— shit… no wonder his mother had been staring at him strangely. Oh well, not much he can do about it now.

It takes a while for things to catch up with him and for the real world to set in, and once it does Thorin's face becomes heated all over again because they just made out against Bilbo's door. He's not sure if anyone was around to really witness that, but so far he doesn't see anyone so he guesses they're in the clear. Then again, if Erebor's faculty is known to be a snooping bunch, who knows what Bilbo's neighbors are like.

"Hey." Bilbo knocks lightly on Thorin's forehead. "Okay?"

"Ah, I'm okay. Just… thinking unnecessary things at the moment."

"Oh dear… you're not going to avoid me all week again are you?" It's meant to be a light-hearted joke, but there is some wariness in Bilbo's tone.

"No!" Thorin protests immediately. "I… well… we did just… make out against your door… so…" He leaves the sentence hanging and waits for his words to catch up with Bilbo.

His face is confused at first, and then it just flares up so unexpectedly that Thorin almost feels bad for pointing something like that out. "You're… You're kidding, right?" Bilbo squeaks out.

Thorin winces. "I'm afraid not."

Bilbo blinks a few times, then huffs out a helpless laugh and rests his head against Thorin's chest. "Oh dear… it seems I'm going to be answering quite a lot of questions later."

Thorin smiles and tries to pat down Bilbo's curls. "At least we weren't caught by any students."

"That might be better than the people I call 'neighbors' here," Bilbo mutters. At Thorin's chuckle he lifts his head up. "You're being surprisingly nonchalant about all of this."

"Can't really bring myself to care about other things at the moment," he hums while pressing a kiss to Bilbo's hairline. The hand in Bilbo's hair keeps sweeping through the curls, feeling the softness of each curl and the way it twists back up no matter how much Thorin pats it down. He lowers his head so their foreheads are bumping, saying, "But I really do need to get going."

Bilbo huffs in mock frustration. "Always the fun sucker, now aren't you?"

Thorin raises an eyebrow. "Fun sucker?" He repeats playfully.

Bilbo's face turns an interesting shade of red at that. "I-I didn't mean it like that!"

Thorin laughs at Bilbo's pouting face, unable to resist placing another kiss on the man's hairline. "You're adorable," he murmurs.

"And you're ridiculous. Now didn't you say you needed to get going?"

"And who was the one who called me a fun sucker?"

"I told you, I didn't mean it like that!" Bilbo protests, his voice rising at Thorin's teasing.

"Alright, alright," he chuckles, feeling bad for the poor man's slowly heating face. "I'll drop it. For now at least."

"Oh how wonderful of you," Bilbo says dryly.

"I am wonderful actually, so wonderful that you can't resist giving me another kiss."

"I think you're exaggerating a little."

"Who, me?" He points to himself. "Never."

"So in addition to insulting my door, now you're just being a sarcastic asshole."

"I'm your sarcastic asshole now, don't forget that."

To his surprise, Bilbo's features suddenly turn serious. "You are mine now, aren't you?" The way he says it implies he's still a little unsure, still not totally confident in this idea that they are in fact together, and for hopefully a very long time but well, that issue can come later.

Thorin smiles softly, hopefully in a way that shows Bilbo he's not turning back, not now when they've already come this far, and hugs him closer. "Yes, yes I am," he responds softly.

The way Bilbo's eyes light up is probably the best response yet. He blinks a few times, as if not quite believing what Thorin's said, and then he giggles and hugs Thorin so tightly he feels like his insides might burst from these overwhelming—but surely not unwelcome—feelings. "Yes, yes you are mine!" He laughs happily.

Thorin can't help it. He lifts Bilbo up and starts spinning him around, laughing at the gleeful squeal bubbling up from Bilbo's stomach. He doesn't even care if they're disturbing all the neighbors, because this is a moment he wants to remember forever. This is a moment he wants to take in, jot down all the details and really remember everything because Thorin honestly doesn't remember the last time he was happy. He doesn't. What makes this even more interesting, if not more confusing, is how simplistic this all really is. They just made out in the hallway of Bilbo's apartment building, and Thorin's the one getting giddy about spinning this little man around. It's definitely confusing to say the least, but then maybe life is meant to be confusing and indecipherable and full of all these wonderful, confusing little moments.

And he's.. okay with that. He's okay with this whole 'going into the unknown, making it up as we go along' thing. Normally when he's in relationship, he needs structure, needs to know exactly what to do next or he'll just fail miserably and fuck up the relationship early on, rather than much later. He's actually enjoying this, not knowing what's to come, not having to wait an immeasurable amount of time before 'taking the next step' as they call it. He doesn't know if they're moving too fast or moving too slowly, if they're not being as serious as they should be. He knows nothing, and he's okay with that. And then another epiphany hits Thorin: maybe this is what a true relationship is. He doesn't have much of a basis to go on because of all the other relationships he fucked up, but if this is what a true relationship is like then…

That's okay.

 


 

Time is such a strange thing. You could be reading a book one minute, getting lost in the vast plot and the characters in this strange new world, and then you look up and it's already time for afternoon tea. You could be five years old, running around aimlessly in your backyard with not a care in the world, and then in the blink of an eye you're 35 with no clue what you're doing with your life (strangely, that seems to be the ongoing occurrence in Bilbo's life). What was it Theophrastus said again? Something about time being the most valuable thing a man can spend? Well, something along those lines, but he has a point, even if he is from a civilization long past modern times. At least that's what Bilbo thinks as he's scrolling through his smartphone, smiling at a text he received three minutes ago. He's still trying to come up with a cheeky response and is now five minutes overdue with this reply. See, this right here is a perfect example of the strangeness of time! Just this morning Bilbo was grading his English and history assignments for the week, actually doing something productive when his phone buzzed. He was a little irritated at the slight distraction, and normally he would have ignored it in favor of getting his work done but he had been sitting in this damn chair for so long, therefore a break really was in order. Of course, picking up the phone was the first mistake, because the moment he saw Thorin Oakenshield in the little notification bar, he just couldn't help himself. They talked for about two hours until Thorin had to leave because he did have actual headmaster work to do, and now they were texting like there was no tomorrow.

Wherever the time went, Bilbo hasn't got the faintest clue. Then again, time has been springing forward ever since the, ah, kiss by his green apartment door (and boy does he have snooping neighbors). About two and half weeks have gone by during this month of November. Only two and half weeks, and Bilbo and Thorin have already gone on numerous dates. They returned to Rivendell Restaurant, this time not in their Halloween costumes. They went to the movies where Thorin, his asshole of a boyfriend, learned of Bilbo's aversion to scary movies and now won't stop pestering him into seeing them. They went shopping, even spent a weekend morning just walking aimlessly through a park, feeding the ducks, throwing a frisbee and talking about the most normal things. They do all those stereotypical date things, but it's the stereotypical ones that are often the best. They'll also meet up for lunch in the cafeteria, sometimes even take lunch in Thorin's office with the inclusion of a couple kisses in between bites of food ("Could you keep your hands to yourselves please?" Balin had grumbled after catching them for Yavanna knows how many times).

Bilbo has no idea where the time has gone, but it's time well spent nevertheless. Not only is he happy beyond measure, but Bilbo also doesn't feel like he has to try too hard or over-do things, doesn't feel like he has to fake it half the time. He finds himself not growing overly flustered when things don't go according to plan, or feeling like he has to go consult a 'relationship for dummies' manual for all those times when he really had no idea what to do. Because the other really great thing is that Thorin is also in the same boat, and they're basically just being clueless dorks together, probably drowning in this boat rather than staying afloat and keeping the course. Things with Thorin are natural because they don't feel the need to fake anything or out-do the other like it's a contest. They really have no idea what they're doing, and it's great. This, in Bilbo's opinion, is time very well spent. Some might call it time well wasted due to the lack of structure concerning their relationship, but well, some things you just can't be that anal about.

Of course, when you're strangely happy for weeks on end people tend to question your motives and send you very confused looks. Which is… fine. That's okay. Except you know, when you work with people who thrive on everyday gossip.

"Ah, Bilbo," Bofur begins with an uncharacteristic wince in his voice, "I know they say, er, happiness is bliss and all but—"

"Wha?" Bilbo's in between bites of his sandwich, staring at his friend who keeps fidgeting in his seat.

"It's just, well…"

Oin rolls his eyes from next to Bofur. "What Bofur is trying to say, is that you've been strangely happy lately.

Bilbo lowers his sandwich a fraction.

"Not that that's a bad thing laddie!" Bofur rushes on. "It's a good thing, being happy and all!" He looks to Oin who gives a quick nod. "We've just… well, we've never seen you so happy before."

Bilbo blinks at the two of them.

"Quite happy actually," Oin adds.

"And, you know, Thorin seems to be quite happy too!" Bofur nods his head vigorously.

"What does Thorin have to do with any of this?" Bilbo asks curiously. To his surprise Bofur and Oin freeze up, as if realizing they made a mistake in mentioning Thorin.

"Well you know," Bofur drawls and scratches his head, "Thorin doesn't ah… he doesn't really smile quite that often."

"Nope, never," Oin adds in.

"I think you and Nori mentioned that to me at one point," Bilbo says. He keeps eyeing them suspiciously as he eats his sandwich. Where exactly is this heading?

"It is true though." A solemn expression crosses Oin's features. "Thorin, he… well, I gather you know what happened with his family?"

Bilbo nods slowly, still not sure where this conversation was heading.

"He hasn't really been the same, not since Frerin died. I mean it was bad enough when Thrain passed."

"Aye," Bofur agrees in the same solemn manner. He leans in towards Bilbo, saying, "Not sure if you know this, but some of us like Oin, Balin, even Bifur, have been around since Thror was headmaster. Of course the rest of us came much later, but by then Erebor was already in ruins. That's why we were so excited when Thrain was passed the torch! And then you know, Thrain passed, and next thing we know we've got this hot-headed young man taking up the position."

"Did a good job though."

"Aye, of course! Don't get us wrong, Thorin is a great headmaster. Maybe not as forthright as his father, but still great! We never doubted him for a second."

Bilbo smiles at that. He always knew Thorin inspired such loyalty in his coworkers. Like he said at one point, they would all literally follow Thorin to their deaths if that was the only way out.

"But that hot-headedness kind of… I don't know, died?"

"Not really died, just fizzled off I think. He was already dealing with so much, and then he had to go and lose a third family member. Three deaths in the family can take a toll on your mental health after all."

"That's why Nori and I were freaking out when Thorin laughed," Bofur explains. "It really is that rare to hear him make such a noise, and whenever he does it's totally out of the blue."

"Completely unexpected."

"And now the guy just won't stop smiling."

"Kind of creepy almost."

"Just a wee bit, but it is a nice change from his usual broody seriousness."

"Don't worry, I've been on the receiving end of that 'broody seriousness' one too many times already." Oh yes, Bilbo can still remember clear as day those first few weeks of school, when they just couldn't seem to talk to each other like normal human beings. To his surprised amusement, he found out it was really just Thorin being socially constipated and unsure how to handle this new force in his life. And, Thorin had grudgingly admitted, most of his social constipation may have stemmed from his hatred for Greenwood. Speaking of, Bilbo still has to find out what that's all about.

"In fact, I'd say this all started when you two started getting friendly with one another." Bofur gets this twinkle in his eyes which he shares with Oin.

Bilbo shifts a little in his seat, but not so much that it would give away his discomfort. "Er, well, he is rather… nice." Bofur and Oin share another twinkly-eyed moment. "Once you get to know him of course! He's not all that… broody."

"Still, it's a curious thing, how your presence has managed to change even his normal facial expression," Oin says as he cards through his beard thoughtfully.

"Ah, yes," Bilbo laughs nervously, "Curious indeed." Coincidentally enough, it's at this moment that Bilbo's eyes catch a familiar dark-haired man speaking with Ori. They're by the cafeteria's coffee machine in what seems like a serious conversation. Thorin's got his arms crossed, nodding here and there as Ori rambles along, fiddling with his usual oversized shirt sleeves. After a while Ori bows and nods his head multiple times, then excuses himself from the conversation. Thorin's body starts shaking, which Bilbo later identifies as a sort of fond chuckle. He turns his head a fraction and that's when their eyes catch each other's. Bilbo blinks a few times while Thorin just stares, as if the two are holding some sort of stare off across the cafeteria which, technically, they are. Thorin's eyes light up and he offers a small smile. Bilbo, without thinking, raises his hand to give a shy wave, and then they return to what they were previously doing.

"See what I mean?"

Bilbo looks at the two men across from him who are smirking knowingly. Well bloody hell, they just saw the whole thing didn't they? He clears his throat loudly and goes back to devouring his sandwich.

Bofur leans close to Oin and whispers, "See that? They were—"

"Stuff it, both of you," Bilbo warns. He sends them a glare before going back to his sandwich. All the while, he tries to ignore their curious and annoying gossiping.

So what if Bilbo's been, as Bofur and Oin call it, strangely happy? Because he is, and he can't help it if most of it has to do with the dark-haired, towering man made of bulging muscles and was probably raised by wolves. He's happy, something Bilbo hasn't been in quite some time. Sure he was content, always sticking to his normal routine and just being himself, but now he's more than content. He might even be beyond happy, but as of now he can't quite think of a word that's fitting of this situation, so for now he's going to use happy as the leading adjective.

Still, he can't help recalling their conversation from earlier about Bilbo's presence being a sort of curative for Thorin's attitude. Was Thorin really all that different before they met? He knows the man was a bit curt, quite fierce with his glaring and didn't seem all that tolerable of much, and even if their first meeting wasn't spectacular Thorin had adjusted rather nicely in Bilbo's opinion. It took a couple of weeks until that first day of school hit, and then things just… changed. So maybe Thorin's demeanor changed from icy glaring and curt responses to hopeless teasing and some flirting in between. That doesn't mean it was all Bilbo's doing! Or does it?

"Mr. Baggins."

Bilbo yelps at the close voice. He turns around and blushes when he comes face to face with a stomach that is surely very toned and very chiseled underneath that light blue button down shirt. He gulps and forces his eyes upward, landing right on Thorin's highly amused, smiling face. As if his eyes weren't blue enough, now they're further amplified by the blue button down which Bilbo is so tempted to grab ahold of, bunch the fabric in between his hands and let his fingers trail up and down that wonderfully chiseled chest. Oh, blue really is his color, Bilbo thinks dreamily.

"My apologies Mr. Baggins," Thorin says with a fond twinkle in his eyes. "I didn't mean to frighten you, but I wanted to discuss some room changes for the following week. I'm sure Bofur here has discussed this with you?"

"Ah," Bilbo clears his throat so his voice doesn't come out sounding inappropriately, erm, husky.

"Yes, I've met with Bofur and Fili individually."

"Excellent. Perhaps we could take some time now to make the final adjustments to your schedule?" Thorin suggests.

"Sure, that sounds good," Bilbo nods and starts making room for Thorin at the lunch table. It's a reasonable enough request. Bilbo, Bofur and Fili have been working to match their schedules to each other's, especially with all the last minute changes starting to hit, and Thorin, being headmaster and all, was the one who approved of such schedule changes while Balin sort of took care of the rest.

He's almost cleared a space for Thorin when the man says, "I was actually hoping we could take this to my office."

Bilbo looks up and almost smirks at the innocent expression on Thorin's face. Well. If that's the case then it's very clear Thorin is in no mood to talk about scheduling changes. Or he does, with a few added ideas here and there. Those ideas being kissing of course.

"Unless you're still eating lunch.."

"No, no no I'm actually quite done!" Bilbo exclaims, maybe a bit too eagerly as he jumps up from his seat and starts gathering his lunch tray together. He sends a stink eye to Bofur and Oin to try and shut up their blatant snickering. Bilbo's starting to think maybe he and Thorin aren't as discreet as he'd like them to be. He throws out the last of his trash and heads back to Thorin, who's waiting quite patiently by the table. Thorin smiles before turning and walking out, Bilbo trailing just a few feet behind. Again, he ignores the staring and whispering from the faculty members and did Kili and Tauriel just give him a thumbs up sign?! And are Dwalin and Gloin actually waggling their eyebrows at him? Much less in a very inappropriate and suggestive manner! Bilbo whines inwardly to himself, all the while blushing like mad as he tries to step up the pace and leave this god-forsaken cafeteria. Yeah, definitely not discreet at all.

"I think our coworkers are trying to send us a message," Bilbo grumbles once he's side by side with Thorin.

"Hmm?" Thorin deliberately brushes his hand against Bilbo's in an attempt to loop their fingers together in a loose hand-hold. "What kind of message?" He hums as he curls his pinky around Bilbo's.

Bilbo smiles shyly as he slots his fingers in between the spaces of Thorin's fingers. The back of his hand presses lightly against Thorin's, and strangely enough that small source of contact proves to be a great distraction, the heat spreading through Bilbo's body and making him tingle with a sort of giddy excitement. "The kind that involves many inappropriate gestures."

"Is that so?" Thorin hums again. "Well, just ignore them. They tend to be a rather meddlesome bunch."

"You think they know?"

"Know what?" Thorin opens the door to his office and gestures for Bilbo to step in first.

Bilbo, still holding Thorin's hand, leads him inside the room. They're greeted first by the waiting area for parents. It consists of a couple chairs and a coffee table piled with magazines, as with most typical waiting areas. Beyond the waiting area is the door to Thorin's office, while Balin's office lies along the side wall not that much farther away. When there's no in the room save for Thorin and Balin, they usually have this open door policy. Supposedly it's to get rid of all privacy and make for a more social environment, but really it's just to shout across the room when they're too lazy to go walk the few extra feet to each other's offices. Bilbo takes a peak inside Balin's office, smiling when he sees the usual tower of papers littering the place. He's relieved to see the advisor isn't in, meaning he's most likely out and about doing advisor-like duties. Meaning he and Thorin basically have free reign to do whatever they want.

"You know, about us," Bilbo replies as they walk into Thorin's office.

Thorin sighs at that. Bilbo doesn't blame him, as Thorin's the one who has to deal with them on a daily basis. "It's highly probable."

Bilbo hops on top of Thorin's desk while he waits for the man to shut the door and come over. He's always so fascinated with Thorin's office, especially now that he really gets to look around and take everything in. It's always like he's seeing a part of Thorin's life that not everyone is privy to. There are some trinkets and what are likely souvenirs lining Thorin's shelves, his desk, even some kind of wooden statue sitting on top of his filing cabinet. It's got long hair and pointy ears, wielding a bow and arrow of some sort. He also has quite a lot of pictures, mostly family photos, some baby pictures of whom Bilbo presumes are Fili and Kili, even some photos of when Thorin was younger. There's a black and white one that always catches Bilbo's eye. It's more towards the back of the office, often cast over by shadows so it's not usually easy to spot it, but Bilbo's already grown accustomed to picking out the many details in this photo. It's an old photo, that's for sure (I mean it's black and white for heaven's sakes), with three young children in the center and four adults in the back. Bilbo recognizes two of the children as Thorin and Dis by their similar dark hair. The third one, who has blonde hair almost similar to Fili's, stands on the left of Thorin with Dis on Thorin's right. He's smiling and has his arm thrown around Thorin's shoulders while Dis is clinging onto Thorin's arm. It's obviously Frerin by the looks of it. Bilbo can make out two of the adults as Althea and Thrain, and he guesses the other two are Thorin's grandparents. They're all standing in front of a house, with a wooden porch encircling the building and two lounge chairs sitting on it. There's a tree off to the side with a little swing set, along with other miscellaneous toys in the background. What Bilbo loves most about this photo is Thorin, with his messy dark hair and what looks like a tiny braid along the fringes. He's not exactly brooding, but he does look quite serious for a 12 year old. Dis' hair goes up to her shoulders, her bangs messy and disarray, while Frerin's hair is even more of a mess. The way they're clinging to Thorin is actually quite cute. The adults appear more serious, especially Thror with his ever-piercing gaze. Sometimes it feels like his eyes are following Bilbo around the room. Thrain and Althea appear more content and not as serious, although Thrain is leaning more towards the serious side.

He's too distracted by the photo that he jumps a little when Thorin steps in between Bilbo's legs, placing his hands on either side so he can lean closer to Bilbo. Thorin smiles as he knocks their foreheads, a gesture that's slowly becoming familiar to them. Bilbo pushes his forehead against his, sighing contentedly as Thorin brings a hand up to cup the base of Bilbo's face. His thumb brushes along the edge of Bilbo's chin, lightly stroking the skin there and playing with the few curls that are really in need of a good cut. Bilbo in turn settles his hands along Thorin's waist, finally able grab hold of that wonderful yet very distracting blue shirt. He takes his time stroking the skin there, feeling the hard lines of his stomach (even through his shirt!) with not an ounce of pudge. Some things are just entirely unfair.

"Don't mind them," Thorin murmurs. He leans closer to peck Bilbo right on the nose. "They may be a bunch of hooligans, but they're a good lot. I couldn't ask more from them."

"I know," Bilbo sighs and pushes himself up to peck the side of Thorin's chin. "But that makes me wonder: are we that obvious?"

"Hmm, not sure," Thorin murmurs into Bilbo's hair. He buries his nose in Bilbo's curls and inhales deeply. "Is that a bad thing?"

"No it's fine, just… well, not used to it I guess," Bilbo chuckles. He squirms a little at the way Thorin keeps nosing through his hair, his breath upon Bilbo's head making him all the more ticklish.

"I can try to reign it in a little, if that's what you'd prefer."

"Mhmm, it's fine. I get to hear all the nice compliments anyways."

"Compliments?" Thorin hums in question.

"Oh yes, tons of them. Well not compliments exactly, more like everyone saying I've changed you or something along those lines."

Thorin pauses in his trek through Bilbo's hair and pulls back a fraction. Dammit, those eyes never cease to amaze Bilbo. The deep blue hues consider Bilbo thoughtfully, taking him all in in one quick sweep. "You have changed me, in a way," Thorin responds quietly.

Bilbo pulls back a bit. "I have?"

"Indeed." Thorin leans back in, this time only gently knocking Bilbo's forehead. "You have, more than you'll ever know."

Bilbo blushes at the quiet honesty coming forth. "I… alright, well… what is that supposed to mean exactly?"

"Exactly what it means," Thorin simply answers.

"That really doesn't answer my question though," Bilbo frowns.

"All in due time," Thorin chuckles softly. He kisses each of Bilbo's reddening cheeks, then ends with a kiss on the forehead.

Bilbo squeezes his eyes shut at the feeling of those traitorous lips pressing against his cheeks, the warmth and wetness almost seeping through his skin and burning a hole right through to his bones. He's still not use to this type of kissing that Thorin is so fond of. For some reason, he always liked to kiss Bilbo's cheeks whenever he started blushing like mad. It's endearing in its own ways, but also terribly embarrassing for Bilbo.

"Oh… stop that, now," Bilbo mutters and swats lightly at Thorin's arm.

"I can't help it when you look so adorable like that, akhûnith."

"I—!" Bilbo feels the red spread from the tips of his ears all the way to his toes. Another new thing? Thorin thought he was cute of all the vast descriptions out there, and he still liked to use that blasted nickname with him. Bilbo may be short, but for Yavanna's sake he wasn't that little!

Thorin laughs at the slight pout on Bilbo's face. "I'm sorry, I'm teasing again aren't I?" He's still laughing, but Bilbo (as usual) can't find himself getting mad enough over simple teasing. If Thorin's laughter was as rare as Bofur, Nori and now Oin all claimed, then Bilbo was willing to bring out that laughter whenever he could, even if it was at his own expense.

Bilbo rolls his eyes. "Yes, you are teasing again but… well, I guess a little teasing's okay sometimes," he says with a flippant shrug.

"Well then, I'm very glad you approve Mr. Baggins," Thorin says, the mirth still deeply-etched within his voice.

Bilbo hums back a reply, deciding to shut up all talk by kissing Thorin and running his hands through that luscious hair of his. Bilbo may have a slight obsession with Thorin's hair, it's almost jet black strands streaked with that beautiful silver Bilbo is always so captivated by. Thorin claims they're more grey than silver, but Bilbo just thinks it makes Thorin look more mature, more wise beyond his years despite him being a total sap.

Thorin chuckles deeply at Bilbo's eager kissing. He presses forward, leaning his hands on the desk as he kisses the breath out of Bilbo. They stay like that for a long while, kissing and drawing back only to take some needed breaths, and then plunging right back into it.

Bilbo whines in protest when Thorin breaks the kiss completely.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Thorin gasps a little, still out of breath. Bilbo gives him some time to get his breathing back in order. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stop, but a thought just occurred to me."

Bilbo raises a pointed eyebrow at him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Thorin continues to apologize. "I know, bad timing I know. But um… Thanksgiving is about a week away, so… well, are you still going to visit your grandmother is what I'm asking."

Just to be sure, Bilbo takes a peak at the nearby calendar. Indeed, Thanksgiving is actually coming up soon, meaning Bilbo will need to start on that cooking he usually does for him and his grandma. He glances back at Thorin and again raises a pointed eyebrow. "You know, you keep asking me that but my answer is still the same: yes, I am going to visit my grandmother."

"I'm just wondering," Thorin says a bit defensively.

"I know, but you keep asking which I still can't quite understand."

"Nothing, just… I wanted to know, that's all." Thorin shrugs and leaves it at that.

It's true, Thorin has been constantly asking Bilbo about his Thanksgiving plans for the past two and half weeks, and his answer, as usual, remains the same every bloody time. He hasn't got a clue as to why Thorin keeps asking, but he is a bit curious nonetheless. The only problem is that whenever Bilbo asks Thorin about it, he either clams up like he's doing now or just changes topics completely. Well, Thorin will have to tell him eventually if Bilbo keeps being a bugger about it. There's only so much a person can take after all.

"You know, you will have to tell— ah!" Bilbo's sentence gets broken off by his untimely gasp, caused by Thorin who's gone back to devouring his mouth again. "Th-Thorin…" Bilbo tries to get out but fails when that traitorous tongue of his makes a quick sweep through Bilbo's mouth, and all thought is immediately lost as they resume their previous kissing.

Should they be doing other things, like actually figuring out this scheduling business so they can put it behind them and get on with their lives? Probably. Do either of them care? Not particularly. Because at this moment Bilbo, and he gathers Thorin as well, are both so very, very happy. If Bilbo had known such happiness was possible, he would have stopped pursuing that 'perfect life mentality' a long time ago and settled for this right here, a man who, yes, did in fact avoid his phone calls and texts, but is desperately making up for it in his own ways.

So yes, Bilbo is very happy, thanks for asking, and he intends to keep it that way. But well, as they…

Happiness is fleeting.

Chapter Text

Legolas wasn't sure why he was doing this. For one thing, he hasn't actually, really spoken to the man save for those awkward meals they were forced to attend, and those were only every once in a blue moon. But still, no idea why he was doing this. This was a bad idea in and of itself, and it was sure to explode in his face before they even exchanged hello's. He doesn't know why he let Bard talk him into this, and he's seriously regretting taking the assistant's advice/not advice right now.

Today, much to the dread of Legolas, was his very first day on babysitting duty, and he still can't bring himself to get out of his car. He had actually arrived early, and then realizing he was far too early (an hour early to be specific) he drove around for a bit and was now back at Gloin's house, still just 20 minutes too early. Before that, he was slightly panicking because how the fuck is he supposed to watch a child? Most would be quite surprised, as Legolas basically taught children for a living so this really shouldn't be a problem. But unbeknownst to most, Legolas had to make the transition from teaching twenty-something year old's to sixteen year old's, so he's still only just getting used to the job. It took him a while to actually find one, taking him almost one whole year after he quit Greenwood—and he had quit quite a long time ago, before even Bard decided to officially work there full-time rather than just come in at odd hours of the day (something to do with his kids?). And then through some miracle that he still can't quite explain, Mr. Oakenshield had contacted both him and Tauriel about a new job opening at Erebor Academy. To this day, Legolas still suspects Thranduil played some sort of role despite his deep-rooted hatred for Mr. Oakenshield and his family. The story's an old one of course, the kind where no one knows what exactly happened and who started what or whose fault it actually was. It's a tedious thing, really.

So Legolas, in his haste to get rid of these un-needed nerves, was about to call Tauriel, then realized he couldn't because he hadn't actually told her. Part of it is because everything happened so fast and before he knew it the day was here and he had no time to really consult her. Another reason might be that as he was about to tell her, he had found a note on the fridge written in her sloppy handwriting, saying she was going out with Kili for a while and not to wait up. So… Tauriel was out. He could call Elrond, who was an old friend of the family but the man would just drone on and on about Eru knows what, so Elrond was also out. And then he called Bard, the only the other person who might be able to give Legolas some sound advice.

And oh how wrong he was, because their conversation hadn't even started when Bard asked, "Wait, why are you calling me?"

"Because you have kids?"

"Well, yes, that is true but isn't this something you should really be asking your father?"

Legolas narrowed his eyes at that. "And why would I even think to consult his advice?" He sneered into the phone.

"Because… he's your dad?" Bard answered, like he almost wasn't sure about the notion of Thranduil being Legolas' father.

"Still doesn't mean I should go and consult his advice."

"I still think he'd be better suited to this than me."

"You have three kids!"

"And yet I'm still learning, everyday, how to figure them out. Honestly go talk to your dad, he probably has more words of wisdom to impart than me."

So that basically left Legolas with no other option than to call his father, the one man he couldn't actually talk to without the both of them growing terribly awkward. Oh, this was such a terrible idea.

"Hello?" Came the normally neutral yet icy tone of his father.

"Um, Ada? It's me…"

A short pause, and then, "Legolas?" The astonished way he breathes out Legolas' name implies he's just as surprised.

"Hi, er, yes it's me. I just… I…." Legolas rubs at his forehead, feeling the urge to bang it against his car's window, maybe even honk the horn obnoxiously a couples times. God, when did talking become so difficult? "You know what, just—nevermind. I don't… I don't know why.. I—"

"Legolas," comes Thranduil's voice, this time firmer, making him sit up straighter in his seat like he was being called to attention. Thranduil waits a bit before quietly asking, "What is it?"

"I…." Legolas blinks, still a little shocked by the force of his father's voice just now. He hadn't used that tone with Legolas in a long time, not since he announced his resignation at Greenwood and Thranduil had just stared at him, this quiet anger hovering about his frame and a sharp pain in his eyes.

("Legolas.")

He swallows around the sudden lump in his throat and tries again. "I… I'm officially a babysitter now, did you know that?"

"A babysitter?" Thranduil echoes back in disbelief.

"Yeah… I, well, one of my coworkers has a six year old son. Apparently he's… quite the handful."

"And you're… a babysitter," Thranduil says slowly, still trying to grasp the meaning of Legolas' words. If their relationship wasn't so broken, they'd probably be quietly laughing about how ridiculous this whole situation was. Contrary to popular belief, Thranduil wasn't always the man he is now. There was a time when he laughed, not long ago, but that slowly deteriorated with the death of Legolas' mother, and then Legolas choosing Tauriel over his father. Thranduil only grew more bitter and closed off, not even cracking a smile or his eyes lighting up to signify he was happy. And Legolas would be lying if he said most of that hadn't come from his resignation. Well, some things you just couldn't take back, no matter how hard you try.

"Yeah, I'm—I'm a babysitter," Legolas laughs, maybe a bit hysterically if he listens to himself hard enough. God, how had he even found himself in this situation? Oh, right. He was guilted into it.

"You do realize you have up to zero experience with children under the age of 10, correct?" If he isn't mistaken, that is definitely amusement in his father's voice, even if it is faint.

"Yeah, well, we're about to find out aren't we?" Legolas snorts.

"Is this… a part of your paycheck?"

"It'll be part of a paycheck. Which one, I'm not exactly sure."

"You'd better be compensated for this fully," his father mutters.

"Ada, please. It's not like I'm dirt poor."

"You've taken to watching over a child! I'm not sure whether to fear for his life or yours."

They both… laugh. Well, more like chuckled or a soft gasp in Thranduil's case, but they… they laughed together. At a joke. That Thranduil made. It's like they both realized what just happened, because all too soon the laughter dies on both their lips and it's back to silence once more. Well.

Thranduil clears his throat loudly. "Well… then, make sure not to… kill your coworker's child."

"Ah, I won't. I'll… I'll be careful. I mean I teach teenagers, so how hard can a six year old be?"

"Oh you have no idea," Thranduil says, almost reverting back to that lighter tone from earlier but then he catches himself. He clears his throat again with a soft, "I'm sure you'll… do fine. You're a very social person, if that's one thing you got from your mother."

Legolas almost stops all breathing at that. In the past, he'd always been careful to avoid bringing up his mother, for fear of that sad look crossing his father's eyes whenever she was mentioned. So for him to even bring her up, and on his own, was a first for even Legolas. He has to take a few minutes to actually breathe, finally replying, "Um… thank you. I… think?"

"…You're welcome."

"Um, hey—" Legolas makes a quick glance towards his watch "—I do actually have to… go. You know, babysitting duties."

"Ah, of course."

"So um… I'm gonna go. But uh… thanks. I think."

"You're welcome. Again."

There's not much else to say beyond that, so before the conversation gets more awkward (or emotional) Legolas ends the call. He stares down at his phone for a while, shakes his head, and then heaves himself out of his car. Well, time to face the music. Or the six year old demon with ginger hair, but hey, take your pick.

 


 

Even though the call ended five minutes ago, Thranduil's still staring at his phone screen, this little bit of surprise and maybe even wonder present in his eyes. Bard hadn't meant to stay for the whole thing, but they were in the middle of setting up Thranduil's schedule for next week (and on a Saturday of all days. Did he not know Bard had a life of his own, complete with three rowdy children?) when his cell phone rang and it turned out to be his son on the other end. He was probably just as surprised as Thranduil was, because he hadn't expected Legolas to actually take his advice. And then the unexpected happened: Thranduil laughed. Like, okay, it wasn't a full on laugh but it was a laugh, make no mistake about that. And Bard just couldn't help staring, because he had never seen an emotion like that cross the president's face. Of course he went back to his usual icy and monotone demeanor, but that was… that was progress! Man, if Bard knew something like this would happen he would have prompted Legolas to call his father ages ago.

Bard, while not all that keen to interrupt this moment, still has a job to do, and he clears his throat to get Thranduil's attention. "Um, sir?"

Thranduil blinks a couple times and then slowly looks up, as if just registering Bard for the first time even though they've been talking for about an hour already. "My… my apologies," he says a bit unsteadily. "What were you saying?"

"Nothing, just… I mean, do you still want to go over the details of your schedule or…?"

He blinks.

"You know your… schedule? We were talking earlier and—"

"Ah, right." Thranduil closes his eyes, and when he re-opens them they're filled with that razor-sharp focus that's always present. He's now back to the usual Thranduil, the one who barely smiles and doesn't let these moments of wonder faze him easily. Damn, and Bard really did enjoy that almost vulnerable expression. You really don't get to see the president like that everyday. "Yes, yes let's—let's do that." He tucks his phone away and picks up the papers scattered about his desk. "Now, where were we?"

As they continue the menial task of setting up Thranduil's schedule, Bard finds himself growing more and more distracted. It's not like he keeps checking his phone or is expecting a message from someone. It's because of what's currently sitting in front of him, long flowing locks and those damn cheek bones and that milky skin and everything else. As usual, Bard can't help obsessing a little over Thranduil's hair, but it's a different feeling somehow, because now he can't help feeling more aware and self-conscious of the man's presence. And Bard has…. tried, not to you know… think too much about his boss. After all, as Legolas said things were awkward enough, no need to go screwing things up because they happened to share a rather intimate and… strange—yes that's the word—moment. As Bard made sure to point out to Legolas: nothing happened. All they did was fall asleep on Bard's couch after a couple sips of wine, shared breakfast (which was a very awkward affair), and then it was over. It wasn't like they slept together and had a one night stand or anything. So then why does he feel himself grow more fidgety whenever they're together? Or checking out Thranduil more than usual? Or better yet…

Why did he constantly feel Thranduil's eyes on him, yet whenever he turned to look at the man he was already focused on something else?

Bard just doesn't understand anything anymore. And then he just saw Thranduil laughing and it's like… what. He can't even put this thing into words because he has no idea how to comprehend it! After three years of checking his boss out and feeling only slightly attracted to him (damn personality got in the way of it all), suddenly everything's changing and happening too quickly for Bard to even make sense of anything. He doesn't have time to figure out what in Eru's name is going on because he has no idea how to, well, identify any of it. Is this like… a crush? Some kind of pining for a man who's totally way out of his league? Or is this just some kind of 'I wanna fuck you so bad and get rid of this sexual frustration and then let's never discuss this again'? Or maybe it's all three?

And then there was the dead wife he was still clearly in love with…

"Bard."

"Huh?" He blinks at the very man currently destroying his whole well-being.

This man is also staring at him with annoyance written all over his face. "Were you even listening?" He asks irritatedly.

Bard sighs. "Yes sir, I was."

"Well then…" He makes an exasperated shooing motion with his hand. "Get to it then."

Bard bristles at that (tries not to show it, but he still bristles) before rising from his seat and slamming the door shut behind him.

Yeah, okay. Maybe this isn't a crush, pining, or a sexual frustration of any kind, because Thranduil Greenleaf is still a fucking douchebag.

Oh, wait. Douchebag. Now that might be a better contact name. He pulls out his phone and starts texting Legolas excitedly with his new discovery.

Douchebag King it is.

 


 

"Thorin for the last time yes, I am still visiting my grandmother who, yes, does currently reside in a nursing home, for Thanksgiving."

"I'm just asking!" Thorin's voice echoes back from the other end.

Bilbo rolls his eyes, taking special care to keep his phone tucked in between his ear and shoulder as he unlocked his classroom door. He steps inside, flicks on all the lights and sighs at the vast emptiness of it. Yes, Bilbo is aware of the fact that it is a Saturday morning, and he is aware that he's at school, which is currently empty and devoid of all students. But this isn't anything new for Bilbo, as this was something he often did even when working at Greenwood and Hobbiton: coming in on a weekend morning to get his work done. There were some other teachers roaming about Erebor's hall with the same goal in mind. Gloin and Dwalin were here to scrub up the gym floors (something about a few nasty falls gone wrong this week?), Bofur was coming in later, Nori had his hands full with cleaning up the science labs, Dis has apparently been in since six am doing Yavanna knows what, and of course Thorin and Balin were up in their office doing their own work. Turns out it wasn't a rare occurrence to see at least some of the teachers milling about on a Saturday morning.

"And anyways, don't you have your own work to do?" Bilbo asks. He places his belongings on one of the student's desk and makes his way to his own. It's a bit more cluttered compared to its usual messiness. Not to say that Bilbo is a messy person, but when things get hectic he tends to be a messier person than usual. This was the last weekend before Thanksgiving, and while it isn't a exactly considered a holiday by most Englanders, Erebor was one of the few schools that did recognize it and was generous enough to at least give the students three days of break before returning the day after. Bilbo had quickly learned during his time here that Erebor took advantage of every holiday, whether it was recognized as a national holiday in the UK or not. Although Bilbo thinks it's just an excuse for the teachers to party, get drunk and then come in hungover the next day. Then again, Bilbo's whole family isn't that much different. If you knew Bilbo's family, you knew they always liked a good party with good food and good alcohol, so they weren't all that reluctant to take advantage of something like Thanksgiving either.

The Halloween decorations were still up, but instead spiders were replaced with turkeys and pilgrims, more pumpkins were added, even some hand-drawn leaves were thrown in. Of course this meant teachers were in a bit of crunch (no pun intended) to get their lessons done and sort of cram everything in, and while it was pure torture for the students it was even more torture for the teachers too. Students often forget that. Not to mention report cards would be coming out soon and oh dear there really is so much Bilbo needs to do. Although he gathers Thorin and Balin have an even bigger load. He can just imagine Balin's messy office now, and Thorin's is probably becoming a tornado-wrecked scene as well.

"I am doing my work Mr. Baggins," Thorin insists.

"Well then get to it Mr. Headmaster," Bilbo orders. He takes off his scarf and drapes it over his chair. "We've all got things to do, and I'm sure you can ask me about my Thanksgiving plans for the umpteenth time later."

"Fine, fine," Thorin finally decides. "I will pay you a visit later though."

"Yes, now please go, finish your work."

"Such a responsible boyfriend," Thorin huffs good-naturedly, and then hangs up.

Bilbo smiles at his phone before placing it on his desk and getting himself situated. He had a long day ahead of him if he actually wanted to get his work done. He takes out his red marking pen, cracks his fingers a bit and looks down at the first pile of papers that needed grading.

"Alright Bilbo, let's see how fast you can work."

 


 

"Feeeeeeeee."

Fili blinks once, twice, and then slowly turns his head to where he thinks the source of the sound is coming from. A familiar head of dark hair peaks out from under Fili's desk and waves. Most people would probably scream at the sight of someone just chilling under their desk, maybe even hit the perpetrator over the head and run away as fast they could. Fili's just more concerned over how Kili managed to get under there without him noticing. It goes to show he needs to get his priorities straight.

"How long have you been there?"

"Not long," Kili shrugs. He crawls his way out and settles his back against Fili's desk. "I've been hiding from mum, if you must know."

Ah, well. That makes sense. Since Fili and Kili were technically the next in line for Thorin's 'throne' (inside joke, don't ask), their mum made it a point to bring them to school at least once or twice a month on the weekends, just to get them used to the workload a headmaster has to deal with at times. Before, they had dreaded it, preferring to sleep in and then wake up eons later in the later afternoon, still in their sleep clothes and figuring out how to spend their next late night out. Now that they're slightly older and slightly more mature, they've learned to just go with it and stop complaining. Well, at least Fili has. Kili still finds room to complain and will do anything to get out of these monthly weekend endeavors, but mum has stopped falling for Kili's tricks ages ago. He may still be the 'baby' of the family, but he's lost claim to a lot of those privileges, something Fili can't help laughing at whenever he sees his brother pouting and muttering, "My puppy face worked on you before."

"So?" Fili reaches out to ruffle Kili's hair. "What happened this time?"

Kili makes a face at that. "Science experiment gone wrong, let's just leave it at that."

Fili also makes a face. That didn't sound good. "With Nori?"

"Nori managed to escape. I on the other hand got caught in the cross fire." Kili leans forward and whispers, "Maybe it's from all that MI-6 training he did back in the days."

Fili rolls his eyes. There's this widely circulating rumor that Nori was this infamous criminal back in the day. No one knows what exactly he's done; some thinks he stole from the rich, others think he was some kind of terrorist against the British government. And then somewhere along the way of this vastly fabricated story, he was supposedly recruited by MI-6 or some sort of secret agency for his skills, later escaped because he was tired of living a double life, and was now currently in hiding by pretending to be a science teacher at a prestigious academy, where he would have the protection of the Durin family's good fortune. At least that's what all his students think. And Kili, but Kili's always been a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Many of the students often seek out Ori and Dori for their input, but they just smile away and tell them to get to class before they're late.

"You still actually believe that?" Fili asks.

"Think about it!" Kili starts bobbing up and down excitedly. "That would explain how stealthy he is, and how he seems to just know whenever his students don't do their homework! It's like he's got a.. a…"

"Sixth sense?" Fili supplies amusedly.

"Yeah! I mean come on, you have to admit it's a little curious how he's able to do that."

Okay, Fili can admit to that. It is rather curious, how Nori's past remains this deep secret and no one, not even his own brothers, seem apt enough to bring it up. Fili knows almost everything about each faculty member, like how Oin used to be an army doctor, Dori was some kind of body builder back in the day which Fili still can't quite believe, Bombur used to be head chef at a five star restaurant, and Nori… well, he's a man of mystery. But it's not Fili's place to pry, no matter how curious he is.

"So lemme get this straight: you and Nori created a 'science experiment' whatever that means, you got caught, and now you're hiding under my desk before mum or Uncle catches you. Am I hitting the nail here?"

"Basically," Kili replies with a flippant shrug. He even has the audacity to give a cheeky smile.

Fili sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I'm not going to get in trouble either, am I?"

"Maybe for letting me hide out here, but I doubt it."

"Kili, I don't want our xbox— wait, hold on." Fili digs around in his back pocket to find his phone buzzing like crazy. He puts the phone on his desk and presses the speaker button. "Hello?"

"Fili, this is your dear mother calling," Dis' voice rings out in the room.

Fili freezes up. Kili mouths the word shit and dives back under the desk.

"H-Hey mum. What's up?" Fili tries to clear the stuttering out of his voice.

"Oh, nothing much," she says, dangerously sweet and maybe borderline crazy. "Just searching for your idiot younger brother. You haven't seen him, have you?" The way her voice dips low at that last part makes Fili shiver. He hears a small squeak from underneath.

"Last I heard, he was with Nori. Why?"

"Mhmm, just wondering," Dis hums. "I'll talk to you later, okay? If you see him, give me a call."

"Sure mum."

It's not until Fili ends the call that both men release a huge sigh of relief. Kili peaks his head out again and gives a thumbs up, to which Fili scowls and smacks the back of his brother's head.

"Ow."

"You better go and apologize to mum before I get the brunt of it all!" Fili hisses, like Dis might be standing outside the classroom listening in on the whole conversation. His mother knows things, okay?

"Oh come oooon," Kili begs with wide eyes. "Please, come on just do this for me brother."

"Go hide out in your girlfriend's classroom or something!"

"Tauriel's not in today," he pouts.

"Then sorry, I can't help you." Fili swivels his chair around and goes back to grading.

"You suck," Kili mutters. He grunts as he stands up and brushes himself off. "Now where am I supposed to go?"

"I don't know, cafeteria?" Fili asks with a flick of his pen.

Kili groans and scratches his head. "Do you think Oin would kill me if I broke into his infirmary?"

"As long as you leave it the way it is."

"Don't tell mum. Or Oin."

"Got it." Fili gives a wave limp as his brother slips out the door. He only hopes he can make it out there alive.

 


 

Dwalin sits back on his knees to observe his handiwork. So far? The gym floor still looks like utter crap and it's not even the afternoon yet. He groans loudly, the sound echoing throughout the spacious gym and reverberating against the walls. This sucked ass.

"More cleaning, less groaning," Gloin grunts from a few feet over. He's desperately trying to get rid of the scuff marks by the bleachers, but to no avail. No amount of bleach and chemicals could get those marks out, for they were there long before Dwalin and Gloin became the new gym teachers.

Oh, and did Dwalin mention the machine they were using had broken down while in the middle of cleaning? And how they had no idea how to fix it, meaning it would stay broken until Monday morning when the repairman came? They obviously wouldn't be on their hands and knees performing such laborious work if it hadn't, but here they were. Again, Dwalin repeats: this sucked ass.

"I think you missed a mark," Dwalin points out.

'Shut the fuck up' is written all over Gloin's face. He throws the wet rag he was using at Dwalin, who manages to dodge it but still gets sprayed with some droplets.

"Fuck off," Gloin says darkly.

"Ooohh, do you speak that way around your wife and child?" Dwalin taunts.

Gloin ignores the comment and holds his hand out. "Rag."

Dwalin rolls his eyes and shoves it into his hands. He makes sure to get Gloin's hand as soaked as possible, but the ginger-haired gym teacher doesn't seem to care, as he goes right back to scrubbing like there's no tomorrow. Dwalin just sighs and leans back on his hands, his legs still folded up and probably cramping by this point. To be honest, they're both a little irritated, especially with the machine broken and their joints aching from long hours of kneeling and bending over. Dwalin may be younger than Gloin, but he's also getting up there in his years. And really, who wants to go to school on a Saturday morning when they spend eight hours a day, five days a week coming to this place? That's right, no one.

"Where's blondie? Shouldn't he be helping us?" Dwalin asks.

"Galea had a last minute change with her classes, so he's watching over Gimli," Gloin huffs out.

Dwalin raises a curious eyebrow. "Oh? So it's his first day huh?"

Gloin grunts in response.

"Think he'll be able to handle it?"

"Who knows. I'm just thankful we found someone, even if he is temporary."

Dwalin snorts, then stretches out his legs from underneath and wiggles his feet a bit. He starts whistling a tune, one that Dis often claims is just another one of his dirty French songs that he picked up during his time abroad in Paris. Dwalin's always considered himself a simple man, never really asking or seeking much. His parents always complained about his low aspirations for life, how he didn't have 'big dreams' compared to Balin. But like he said, he doesn't need much. He studied abroad for a bit, had a few odd jobs here and there, opened a repair shop with Thorin for a while, and now he's working as a gym teacher. Maybe he's not the richest or most successful man alive, but honestly, he could give a rat's ass about that. As long as he's making enough money to survive, he's pretty okay.

"D-Dwalin?"

And maybe a significant other who will love him for he is. Other than that, he's good.

Dwalin turns his head and grins a little. He beckons the skittish art teacher over with a jerk of his head. "Hey, I didn't know you were coming in today," he says when Ori gets closer.

Ori shakes his head. "I wasn't, not originally but…"

Dwalin tilts his head at him. "But…?" He prompts.

Ori suddenly blushes and twists his scarf nervously around his hands. Not that Dwalin's complaining, it's an endearing sight and Ori looks absolutely adorable like that, but he is a little confused as to why he's suddenly grown all embarrassed.

"Ori?" He jumps at the sound of his name. "You okay there?"

"Are you serious?" Comes Gloin's incredulous voice. He stares right at Dwalin like he's grown another head or something.

"What?" Dwalin asks.

Gloin rolls his eyes. "Don't you get it you lumphead? The lad's obviously here to see you."

Dwalin blinks at him, then faces Ori to see the lad has only grown more red in the past three minutes. He starts scuffing his toes against the floor, and his eyes keep darting between Dwalin and the ground nervously. For the record, Dwalin would just like to repeat that he is a simple man. And simple means… he might also be a little simple-minded, if you get his drift.

He pushes himself off the ground with a grunt and walks over to Ori. When he gets closer, the art teacher squeaks and lowers his head before Dwalin can even get a chance to say something. He snorts at that, then places his tattooed hand on Ori's head, making the younger man jump slightly at the contact.

"You could have just said you were here to see me." He ruffles Ori's hair and smiles at how easily it gets messed up.

"I-I was getting to that," Ori mumbles embarrassedly to the ground.

"Uh-huh, sure you were," Dwalin smirks.

This finally gets Ori to look up with an indignant huff. He puffs out his cheeks, insisting, "I was! Honest!"

"Alright, alright, no need to get yer panties in a twist. Now what'd you want to talk to me about, huh?" He ruffles Ori's hair again, not really caring if he's making it more messy. Ori obviously cares by the way he pouts and blushes even more. Has he mentioned how endearing Ori looks right now?

"Aaah, Dwalin." Gloin stands up and holds up a hand to halt the conversation. "I uh, I gotta go. Dis just texted me, wanted me to help her out with something. So uh…" He gestures awkwardly to the door.

"Um, okay? Sure, just… go then, if you need to go?" He's confused by Gloin's sudden weirdness. Come to think of it, how did Gloin even know Ori was only here to see him? They weren't… they weren't that obvious, were they? It's not like Dwalin's informed anyone of his interest in Ori, save for Thorin and Nori and he's pretty sure Ori said he wasn't comfortable telling other people yet. He stares suspiciously at Gloin's retreating figure. It couldn't be… could it? He hasn't really figured it all out from a bit of blushing and hair ruffling, has he?

He shakes his head and returns his attention to Ori. No point getting all worked up over something, whatever that something was. He clears his throat. "So?"

Ori's face scrunches up in confusion, then flattens out when he remembers. "Oh! Yes, I wanted to tell you: so I spoke to Thorin about our, you know… our thing…" He flaps his hands about, which is his way of letting Dwalin fill in the word for himself without Ori actually having to say it aloud. Dwalin doesn't really mind, because he's not sure what to call their new relationship either. "And he advised me that I should just break the news gently, yet sternly, to Dori so that he'll get the message and there won't be any misunderstandings." Ori bites his lip anxiously. "You think that's… okay?"

"Sure, that sounds good to me," Dwalin shrugs. He might be a little too relaxed compared to Ori, but words were never really his strong point. He kind of just grunts and make noises when he wants something. At least that's what Balin says and continues saying, every time Dwalin clams up whenever the subject of the day after Halloween is brought up. He does feel a pang of guilt that he hasn't even told his own brother yet, but technically he and Ori aren't official, they haven't really 'declared' anything and they're still just taking baby steps, compared to Thorin and Bilbo's more daring steps. So, technically, Balin isn't totally out of the loop. "I'll be with you the whole time, so if you get the jitters half way through I'll be there," Dwalin reassures. He makes sure to grin, but it comes out more lopsided than he's hoping.

Ori just chuckles and reaches up to peck Dwalin's cheek. He chuckles even more when Dwalin's face goes all splotchy and red with embarrassment. He still isn't used to this type of affection, but like he said: baby steps.

 


 

Thorin stares at paper in his hands. He closes his eyes, re-opens them, and then glances over the words again. Still the same, no matter which way he turns the paper or how many times he reads through that same sentence, over and over again until it makes his head spin and his chest ache with anxiety.

"This… isn't possible." He looks up at Balin with wide eyes. "This isn't possible," he states again, as if saying it a second time will erase whatever words are currently taking up the space of the paper. Because this isn't possible.

Balin sighs and takes the seat in front of Thorin's desk. He almost breaks his reading glasses with how hard he tugs them off. It's clear he's just as confused, just as stressed and certainly just as anxious as Thorin's feeling right now. "I don't know laddie," he finally sighs out. He rubs the corners of his eyes. "I don't know. When I got this fax today, I…." He's at a loss for words, something Thorin doesn't see too often when it comes to the advisor.

Thorin grips the paper tighter, tight enough that it'll probably have indents and creases and maybe it'll be torn right down the middle if Thorin manages to control himself for a couple minutes longer. He takes a cautious breath in, holds it, and then lets it slowly. He needs to compose himself, get himself in order and not lose his cool, not until he can figure out all the details and how in the hell this happened. Because it's not possible.

"Balin," Thorin begins in a dangerously low voice, "Call Laketown's office. Get someone, anyone, on the line. I need to speak to whoever was in charge of this, and then get that damn slug on the line as soon as possible." He nearly does rip the paper in half when he says that last part. Get it together Durin, get it together.

Balin looks him over for a minute, only moving when Thorin growls, "Now Balin!" The advisor springs into action, taking out his cell phone and pressing buttons and making calls at lightning speed. He hears Balin's office door shut, signaling he'll need absolute, total concentration if he's to get his job done.

Thorin sags back in his seat. He counts to ten in his head. He starts pacing his office. He looks at that damn piece of paper again. Finally, he returns to his chair and just sits there, staring into space as those words get thrown around in his head, mixing and jumbling together like someone put all his thoughts in a blender and mashed it up into one big giant mess.

And boy was this one big giant mess, a mess he certainly didn't need, not when the holidays were near and he was just starting to get his life together. Not when he'd finally found that happiness he needed. Just… not now, of all the times. Why did it have to be now?

 


 

From: The Laketown Tax Firm

To: Mr. Thorin Oakenshield

…..We regret to inform you that the past payments you've made to Laketown's office has not been received, and are now long overdue. If you do not forward these payments immediately, we will have to send someone to your office to….

….If you do not comply with our requests, please call your lawyer…

Chapter Text

"Hello?" Thorin says once he's shut the door behind him.

"Hey," Bilbo greets softly.

"Hey yourself," Thorin greets back, a smile present in his voice.

"I tried calling you earlier, but it said your cell was turned off."

Thorin frowns. He had turned off his cell, but only because he had been dealing with other matters. "I'm sorry, I was discussing work-related stuff with Balin. Boring stuff, as you know." Bilbo chuckles at that. "I only just turned it back on now. Why is something wrong, was that why you called earlier?" Thorin's already running through a list of worst case scenarios in his head and oh god what kind of boyfriend does this make him now? What if it was an emergency and Bilbo needed him? What if he was the only person Bilbo could call, and his freakin cell phone was turned off at the one time he needed him most? What if—

"Ah, no, nothing's wrong!"

Thorin feels his anxiety deflate considerably.

"I just… well, this might sound a bit silly but, erm…" Bilbo kind of fumbles his way through his words, adding some miscellaneous phrases here and there that it's enough to make Thorin laugh, and not one of those short laughs that lasts a millisecond, but a real, genuine laugh, one that springs right from his heart and the depths of his belly.

"Mahal, it really is so good to hear his voice." Thorin laughs even more when he hears what sounds like embarrassed noises on Bilbo's end.

"Oh for goodness sakes, you're acting like you haven't seen me in ten years," Bilbo huffs.

"Mhmm, kinda feels like that." Thorin rests his head against the wall and closes his eyes. He's currently standing in the middle of the hallway outside Dis' floor, the only place he could actually get some privacy and have a nice, quiet moment to himself. He needs whatever few minutes can get, because it's these few minutes that will count the most to him. And right now Bilbo's voice is the perfect remedy for that. It's like a soothing hum to Thorin's ears, replacing his stress with not only calmness, but a warmth that spreads throughout his body and seeps right into his bones. He feels like he can almost forget all his worries and problems just by hearing this one single sound, because Bilbo's voice is comforting and… it feels like home. Not that Thorin would outright tell Bilbo this of course, because not only are they still incredibly new to this, but Thorin still has to deal with issues that clearly aren't going to disappear any time soon.

"Now you're just being dramatic."

"Funny, my sister tells me that every day," Thorin murmurs.

"Well your sister's right about a lot of things."

They continue talking for a while. Or more like Thorin listening while Bilbo rambles about this and that, but once again Thorin is lulled into that sense of calm. It's kind of strange, how a person's voice can somehow lift one's spirits up. Becoming headmaster has sort of made Thorin become averse to phone calls. Phone calls are… too business-y, too formal and sometimes there's just a lot of screaming and ignorance on the other end and most of all stupid people. Mostly he just tunes them out and pretends to listen, but in this case he's hanging onto every word Bilbo says, listening intently as he talks about his plans for the day, the book he's currently reading, complaining about his favorite cardigan that now has a hole in it… they're simple things really, but Thorin is more than happy to just listen to him talk.

"…You know it's just occurred to me that you haven't spoken a single word," Bilbo says.

"Hmm?" Thorin snaps his eyes open, and he has to blink a bit to adjust to the lighting in the hallway again. It takes him a minute to realize Bilbo is actually directing something to him. "It's fine, I like listening to you talk."

"Now that just makes me feel like I talk all the time and never let you get a single word in."

"You're a better story-teller than I am. Actually, have you ever considered writing a book?"

"Okay now you're just making fun of me."

"No, I mean it!" Thorin pushes himself off the wall. "I'm sure your family tells you that all the time."

"Maybe my younger cousins, but certainly not some of the other people I call my 'family,'" Bilbo scoffs.

Thorin's noticed this for a while, but it seems like Bilbo isn't particularly fond of his extended family. Of course there's a few Bilbo often talks about, like his cousin Drogo or his Took cousins, but other than that Bilbo doesn't really mention much about his other family members. If he does, it's usually to complain about Lobelia and her knack for stealing silverware, or to grumble about what a materialistic bunch some of them are. He doesn't give too much away, but Thorin's got a pretty good idea of what most of them are like, and they don't seem to be the big, warm family that Thorin's more accustomed to. In fact, Thorin would almost say Bilbo prefers to be alone rather than in the presence of said family members. He's tried to ask questions wherever he could, but Bilbo would get all tight-lipped and change the subject. Thorin's too afraid to push half the time, and as much as he wants to get to know Bilbo more, he doesn't want to lose him just because his curiosity got the better of him.

"Nevertheless, I think you should consider it. Maybe a children's book, just to start off simple."

"And do tell me, what exactly would this story be about?" Bilbo hums dryly.

"I don't know… dragons hunting for gold?"

Bilbo snorts at that. "Dragons hunting for gold?" He repeats.

"Or hoarding gold, whichever you prefer," Thorin shrugs, even though he knows Bilbo can't see it.

"That sounds like the most ridiculous plot I've ever head!"

"It's a children's story, so of course it's going to be ridiculous," Thorin reasons out.

"Oh of course. And anyways, where would I even find the time to write a book?"

"It's not like you'll be writing a novel."

"I'll consider it, okay?"

Thorin ducks his head and smiles at the light bout of laughter coming from Bilbo's end. Has he also mentioned how much he loves listening to Bilbo's different variations of laughter? "Please do, because I put a lot of thought into it."

"I'm sure you did. I'll put you in the acknowledgements section, how about that?"

"As long as I get a share of something, I'll be fine."

"Excuse me but I am your boyfriend. That's the only share of anything you'll be getting."

Thorin chuckles, and without thinking blurts out, "That's quite a good share."

"Sorry did you say something?"

"Nothing, just that I should get a fourteenth of the earnings from your new children's book," he brushes off easily.

There's a suspicious silence on the other end, but it's gone in a moment. "Well then, enough about me, as much as you claim how great of a story-teller I am. Now what about you, how's your day been?" Bilbo inquires.

"Long, it's been… it's been a long morning so far," Thorin answers a bit wearily. He'd rather not talk about his day, as much as he wants to talk to someone about what's going on. He decides to change topics before they start delving too much into his very long and arduous morning. It wouldn't do to spoil the good mood they've managed to set themselves in.

 


 

When Thorin walks back inside he's surprised to find Dis standing by the door, as if she was waiting for him the whole time. It's actually kind of creepy now that he thinks about it. He drops the smile he was previously wearing by hiding it with a cough. He raises an eyebrow at her. "Uh, hi?"

"Did you two have a good talk?" She asks.

He pauses in closing the door and turns back to her. "Were you listening?"

"No, but the smile on your face says it all," she points out.

Thorin coughs again, this time louder and a bit more violently as he tries not to blush and completely give himself away. Then again this is his sister, the one person aside from Dwalin who happens to know everything and anything. Again, slightly creepy.

"I take that as a yes," she smirks.

"What do you want?" Thorin sighs. He shoulders his way past her and heads into the kitchen. He hears some thumping noises from upstairs and figures the boys are up to their usual antics, whatever those are.

"So have you told Bilbo?"

"Told him what?" He reaches up to grab a glass from the cupboard. He can sense Dis is still somewhere behind and decides to use that to his advantage. His face is still red and it's irritating.

"Thorin."

"What?" He twists his neck around at the tone of her voice. It's a perfect match for the look on her face, which is a mixture of weariness and exasperation. Although the latter is probably Thorin's fault. He tends to play dumb to avoid these kinds of things.

Dis crosses her arms and pins Thorin down with the sternest expression possible. "Are you ever going to tell him about Smaug, or are you just going to wait until you tell the rest of the faculty members?"

Thorin feels his jaw lock in place and turns back around. "I'll… I'll tell him. Just not now."

"Your definition of 'telling him later' is basically waiting until the last second."

"Oh my god, Dis." He sends a glare off his shoulder. "I'm not some 12 year old kid who needs hand-holding. I think I can handle my own relationship problems, on my own."

"Really? Because from your previous relationships, you're not exactly Mr. Smooth or anything, and Bilbo won't be any exception to that." He hears her step closer, but she's still far enough away that Thorin has ample room to breathe and make his escape at any time.

He flips the faucet on and settles for glaring at the water instead. It slowly trickles down into his glass, taking its own sweet time like it was in no rush to be anywhere. The plumbing on Dis' floor is absolutely atrocious. Every time Thorin offers to fix it or call for a plumber, she just declines and says it doesn't bother her in the slightest. The water doesn't come out fast enough, sometimes Dis needs to do two cycles of laundry and the shower pressure in her bathroom? Don't even get him started on that. It's always bothered Thorin to no end for some reason, and right now it's only worsening his mood. Maybe the crappy plumbing is supposed to be some kind of metaphor for Thorin's life: no matter how hard he tries, he'll always be too slow, always too late to realize when something is wrong and by then, he's already screwed up.

"Hey."

He startles at how close her voice is to him. She's now leaning against the sink next to him, with her elbow resting on the edge and her head propped up on her shoulder. When did she move closer?

She pokes his arm. "You're brooding again."

He groans to the ceiling. "Mahal, you're so annoying."

"Mhmm, and you like to brood. A lot," she hums and continues poking his arm. "I think as you grow older it gets worse."

"Wow, thanks for that," he says tartly. He feels something cold and wet run over his hand, and when he glances at it he sees his glass is filled all the way up to the top, the water toppling over the sides and creating little ripples down the glass.

It's Dis' hand that reaches out to the turn the faucet off. A moment later she's toweling off his hand, gently wiping away the water even when it's completely dried off. "You know," she starts quietly, taking the glass out of his hands and setting it down on the counter, "Compared to Frerin, you were always the one who kept more to himself." Her hand takes the place of his glass, and she slips their palms together until both their hands are grasped in a sort of hand-shake. She takes her other hand and places it right on top. "I've also noticed that you've become more open when you're around Bilbo." Her eyes dart up to meet his. "And I'd like for it to stay that way."

"I'm… I'm trying, okay?" Thorin says with some difficulty. Great, now he's getting all choked up over his words.

"I know you are, I know," she says gently, "But you have to understand that being in a relationship is like having a conservation: it takes two people."

"You don't think I know that?" He shoots back, then winces at his unintended harshness.

Dis pats their hands. "It's like I said Thorin: it takes two people to have a conversation." She slips out of Thorin's grasp and leaves him by himself in the kitchen. His hand still floats in the air with only the faint traces of her touch to remind him of her words.

He lets out a long and frustrated groan to no one in particular. He stares back at the abandoned glass on the counter, water still flowing down the sides and creating a small little pool around the bottom of the glass. He stares at it for a long time, not even sure what he was looking for at this point. As an English teacher, it's kind of his job to find the symbolism in every bit of literature he comes across, but right now the never-ending metaphors are kind of annoying him. He finally grabs the overflowing glass and places it carefully in the sink. He leaves it like that for the next unwilling victim to take care of.

 


 

Bilbo thinks it's kind of silly how they only have school on Monday and Friday, and then there's just three days of peaceful bliss in between. He'd prefer it if they had, say, maybe Wednesday to Friday off but no, no instead it's Tuesday to Thursday and that hardly makes any sense at all. He really needs to have a word with whoever is creating these schedules.

But as dear Ori pointed out, "But Bilbo, isn't it better to just suffer on Monday and then come back all refreshed on Friday from the break?" Or as Nori said under his breath, "You mean come back on Friday from a three day-long hangover?"

So yes, Bilbo supposes there are pros and cons to each. Not that he'll be going out to bars and drinking his brains out, oh no, he's far too old for that now. Plus, there's his grandmother to think of and he still has yet to make that wonderful meal she always loves. Laura was quite fond of the typical American Thanksgiving meal, consisting of turkey slathered in gravy with the mashed potatoes, cranberries and stuffing on the side. Bilbo thinks it's more of a precursor to any old Christmas meal really, therefore he doesn't quite understand the way Americans differentiate between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Well, if it makes people like his grandmother happy than he doesn't really see the problem.

"Good morning Mr. Baggins!" Two of his Year 8 students greet in unison.

Bilbo smiles and waves at them in the hall, but not without telling them to get to class. He may have eased up now that he's no longer in a uni setting, but he can still be strict when he has to be. He takes the stairwell up to the second floor, going two at a time as is his habit, and when he rounds the curve to get onto the second set of stairs, he sees Dis walking down towards him.

"Morning Dis!" Bilbo calls out.

"Morning Professor," she greets back.

It's supposed to be a simple passing along the stairwell, nothing more, so Bilbo's surprised when Dis calls out his name just as he's reached the second floor. He uses the railing to spin himself back around. "Yes?"

Dis is standing on the landing right below him. There's a slight furrow between her eyebrows, along with a set of worry lines etched deep into her forehead as she stares up at him. She opens her mouth, but it looks like she's changed her mind halfway, saying instead, "Have you spoken with Thorin lately?"

"Er, I talked with him this weekend… why, is something wrong?" He releases the railing and takes two steps down.

Dis really looks like she wants to say more, but she just presses her lips into a thin line and shakes her head. "Nothing, just curious." She sends a strained smile up at Bilbo before walking the rest of the way downstairs, her head of black soon disappearing around the corner and her footsteps becoming nothing more than faint echoes.

Bilbo stares after her confused. Well that was… strange. And unexpected. He shakes his head and walks back up again. Did something happen with Thorin for her to ask that? He doesn't recall there being anything wrong when they spoke last weekend, and Thorin would have told him… right? Well, no matter. He can ask Thorin later, or if he can, find Dis and figure out what her sudden pensiveness was all about. It was almost like she was about to tell him something important but just couldn't seem to get it out. Maybe it was out of loyalty to her brother?

"Oh! I'm so sorry, so terribly sorry I didn't see where I was going— Gandalf?!" Bilbo splutters at the taller man whom he bumped into.

Gandalf looks down at Bilbo, confused at first, and then his face lights up upon recognition. "Bilbo Baggins!" He proclaims jovially. He grabs Bilbo by the arms and draws him into a bone-crushing hug, only releasing him when Bilbo lets out a few strangled noises. "Bilbo Baggins, I've never been so glad to see anyone in my life!" Gandalf laughs out.

Bilbo lets out a bemused laugh at Gandalf's reaction. "Well that's quite an exaggerated greeting. You act like you haven't seen me in ten years."

"It kinda feels like that," comes a deeper voice, one that's much more smoother than Gandalf's.

Bilbo peers around Gandalf and almost releases a small gasp at the sight. Thorin is behind him, which Bilbo was able to figure out easily enough from the voice, but he's not dressed in his normal attire of slacks and a button down shirt that's usually rolled up at the sleeves. Instead his hair is gelled back into a tight ponytail, this time no braids present save for one small one that's barely visible and ends in a dark blue bead. He's clad in a black suit, a matching black waistcoat and a light grey button down underneath. It's a completely different look than Bilbo is accustomed to. Not that it's a bad thing or anything, although it is very different. All in all though, Thorin looks rather…. sexy, for lack of a better word. He glances back at Gandalf to see that he's quite formal too, dressing in an all grey suit (his favorite color it seems) and some kind of fedora on top of his head.

"A-A bit dramatic, don't you think?" It's meant to be a light-hearted quip in response, but it feels like he's directing it more to the overly formal clothes the two men are wearing. And it is rather dramatic, because it seems like they're attending some very important business meeting at a very important business place, not running a school and… whatever it is that Gandalf does. Bilbo still has yet to figure that out.

"Special occasion," Gandalf winks at him.

Beside him, Thorin clears his throat with a polite, "Gandalf, would you mind heading down to my office first? I need to take care of a few things first."

"Oh of course, of course! Take your time, we have the whole day to go over things. And Bilbo!" He takes Bilbo hands and gives a good hearty squeeze. "We should go out for coffee soon, catch up. I would absolutely love to hear how things have been working out for you, although from what I've heard you seem to be adjusting quite nicely. But no matter, we can discuss these things later! I'll give you a call later my boy!"

Gandalf doesn't even wait for a reply before disappearing like a breeze in the wind. Bilbo is left a bit dazed from it all, as with all things involving Gandalf and his mysterious ways. Gandalf tends to pop in and out of Bilbo's life whenever it proves convenient, and he never really stays around for long. He still has no idea what Gandalf actually does for a living, save for the fact that he loves traveling and can often be found at times when you least expect it. He's kind of like that long-winded fairy godparent in a sense. At least that's the description Belladonna always used.

He feels a warm hand on his shoulder which helps to steady him considerably. He sends a bleary smile up at Thorin. "Hi."

"Sorry, was that too much?" Thorin squeezes his shoulder.

Bilbo shakes his head. "Ah, no, just unexpected that's all."

Thorin chuckles. "Yes, well, Gandalf is unexpected like that." He seems relaxed for the most part, but upon closer inspection Bilbo can see the way he's holding himself is… different. His posture is too rigid and tense, as if he's trying too hard to appear more relaxed than he's actually feeling, and if Bilbo stares hard enough he can see an underside of worry overshadowing his face. It's not until he reaches Thorin's eyes that he thinks: There's something wrong, because every so often the blue ripples and fades, like there really is something hidden underneath that's struggling to reach the surface.

"Thorin—" Bilbo opens his mouth but is interrupted by Balin's voice coming from behind him.

Thorin's eyes look ahead to Balin, and it's from this angle that Bilbo can see the blue solidifying into something hard and tense. His shoulders grow more rigid as the advisor gets closer while his face contorts into some unrecognizable expression. If Bilbo didn't know any better, he'd almost say Thorin was acting like he was expecting bad news or something.

"I just got a call." Balin comes to a stop beside Bilbo, but he doesn't acknowledge Bilbo's presence, let alone smile at him like he normally would. What in the world is going on? He glances between the two of them and notices they're having some kind of secret exchange with their eyes. Eventually Balin nods and says, "I'll leave you to it." It's only then that he finally acknowledges Bilbo with nothing more than a quick smile and is already off on his way.

Bilbo doesn't wait before asking, "What was that all about? Thorin?" He tugs on the sleeve of Thorin's suit.

He visibly startles and blinks down at Bilbo. "Ah, Bilbo I… forgive me, I'm a little distracted," he responds in a thick voice. His eyes do that thing again, and it's obvious now how hard he's trying to conceal something.

"What's going on?" Bilbo pushes on.

Thorin doesn't answer. He glances down at his feet, looks up, looks down again. Bilbo just waits patiently, because whatever it is Thorin wants to say, it's obviously troubling him and he doesn't want to push Thorin into something he's not comfortable with yet. That's something Bilbo's come to learn during the course of this short but very wonderful courtship: you can't push people. Sure you can prod and poke at them, try to get them to say whatever it is that's on their mind but in the end, it's up to the person themselves to decide that. Bilbo can only do so much before Thorin deems it ready to confess whatever troubles are bothering him.

"I…" Thorin's lips remain parted around the first word. He still can't get it out.

"Hey, hey." Bilbo reaches up to cup Thorin's face. "Look don't… don't strain yourself, okay? It's fine I just… I'm here, if you know, you need me or whatever. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, okay?"

Thorin's face visibly crumples under Bilbo's hand. The facade he was hanging onto before has completely broken down, revealing a man who's been put under way too much stress and pressure than is really necessary. He probably hasn't had a single moment to relax since whatever this is began. "I'm sorry," he finally whispers. "I want to tell you, I really do but there's just so much going on right now and I… I'm dealing with a lot right now. And it has nothing to do with us, I promise," he quickly adds.

Bilbo allows a small smile at that. Okay, well at least their relationship isn't in any danger, that's good. He places a hand on Thorin's shoulder to hoist himself up, giving himself more of a balance so he can kiss that brooding frown off Thorin's face. He can already feel Thorin start to relax slightly, already closing his eyes and letting his shoulders sag for that one brief moment of peace.

"Thank you," Thorin breathes out once Bilbo pulls back.

"You're welcome. It looked like you needed it."

"Just a little." Thorin smiles, but unfortunately his face grows serious again. He sighs. "I will tell you once things have… settled down. I promise."

"I know you will." Just to poke some fun he adds, "And besides, you're communicating this time. It's not like you're avoiding me. Or my texts. Or my calls. Or—"

"Oh my god are you ever going to let that go?"

Bilbo giggles and pats Thorin's cheek. "Already have, dear. Now shoo, Gandalf's probably wondering where you've gone." When Thorin doesn't say anything right away, Bilbo starts getting antsy and frowns. "W-What?" He asks nervously.

He surprises Bilbo by bending down to kiss his forehead. "Thank you," he murmurs ever so gently.

Now that's just not fair, the way Thorin can just… do things like that. It's kind of frightening how easily a simple 'thank you' can make Bilbo's whole body freeze up and his face turn a bright, glaring red. Then again, maybe it's not the words themselves but the person who says the words that grants that kind of effect. "Y-You're such a sap," he stammers. "I almost preferred it when you were being all… you know." He waves his hand vaguely in the air.

"When I was being all…?"

"Broody and serious."

Thorin arches up an eyebrow.

"You make it look sexy," Bilbo explains.

"Sexy, huh?" He muses.

"Well, at least when you're wearing a suit." Bilbo's eyes roam the length of Thorin's body. "Very sexy," he nods in confirmation.

"Is this your way of saying I should wear suits more often?" Thorin smirks.

Bilbo smirks back and pretends to fix Thorin's waistcoat, although it's more of an excuse for his roaming hands to touch and feel and do whatever they please.

"Like what you see?" Thorin asks in a low voice.

"Quite." Bilbo can't help the wolfish grin that takes over his face. Hey, it's not his fault if the man in front of him is dressed for the cover of Vogue or something!

"Oh, damn," Thorin mutters all of a sudden. "Hold on, I'm sorry." He reaches into his suit's pocket and pulls out his cell phone.

"Is it Gandalf?" Thorin makes a noise at the back of his throat. He takes that as a yes.

"I'm sorry," he winces. "I do need to go."

Bilbo rolls his eyes at the guilt-ridden expression on his boyfriend's face. "Thorin for goodness sakes, it's okay. Go, alright? Don't keep Gandalf waiting."

Thorin looks ready to apologize again, but his phone starts buzzing repeatedly and he groans. "I promise, I will make this up to you." He gives a quick peck to Bilbo's cheek and hurries towards his office. Bilbo's eyes follow Thorin's figure all the way down the hallway until he disappears around the corner and down the stairwell.

He sighs deeply. For some reason, he can't help feeling a bit… what's the word, twitchy? Anxious perhaps? Yes, that's it, he can't help feeling a bit anxious. He's not upset or anything, after all Thorin has his own issues and as much as Bilbo wants Thorin to confide in him, sometimes you just need to give people their own time and space before they can open up to you, simple as that. It's something he learned from watching his parents over the years, seeing their love blossom and grow because of the sheer amount of trust they placed in each other. So Bilbo's going to do just that with Thorin. But it still doesn't erase this bad feeling Bilbo has, like maybe Thorin's not faring as well as he lets on. He knows Thorin's under enough pressure as it is, and he also knows Thorin is doing his very best to keep Erebor afloat and not have it drown and die out like it did the first time. But if whatever it is that's going on grows worse, there's a chance he may just crack and… Bilbo doesn't want to finish that sentence, doesn't even want to think about what may come after. He does know one thing though: if anyone can handle it, it's Thorin Oakenshield. He did it once (actually three times) before, so this should be nothing more than a piece of cake to him.. right?

 


 

"You know this isn't healthy," Gandalf remarks.

Thorin's eyes shift from the laptop's screen to the old man sitting in front of him. He raises an eyebrow. "And what would you know about 'healthy' exactly?"

Gandalf crosses one leg on top of the other and folds his hands on top. "Well, let's just say I know an obsession when I see one." His tone implies he's had experience with… whatever this situation is. Because Mahal knows Thorin knows.

Thorin leans back in his chair and squares his shoulders, purposely making himself larger in the face of this ridiculous notion. "You think I'm getting obsessed?"

"I think you're… worrying too much," Gandalf clarifies.

"So now I'm worrying?"

"I've talked with Balin, and he says you haven't stopped checking since this all began." Gandalf raises a pointed eyebrow at him.

Thorin eyes the laptop briefly, then angles his chair away from it, just to prove he's not as obsessed or worried as Gandalf claims. "I'm just confirming. That's all it is."

"Thorin." Gandalf leans forward. "I've seen what obsession does to people. Hell, your grandfather—"

"I am not my grandfather," Thorin states firmly, if not a bit too forcefully. Because he's not his grandfather. He's… he's Thorin Oakenshield, that's who he is.

Gandalf lowers his head and eyes Thorin in that knowing way of his. "I never said you were, Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror." Thorin rolls his eyes at that. "But you must understand, I've been through it once. I am merely stating my observations, that's all."

"I know you have, but so have I," Thorin reminds him. While Gandalf may be an old friend of the family, he hadn't seen Thror's obsession up close and personal like Thorin had. Thorin was there, always there, each and every day. He saw the way Thror broke down, bit by bit until he'd completely deteriorated into a lifeless, hollow shell stuck in a hospital bed, his skin as pale as the white bed sheets and the walls of the room. Thorin's seen it all, he doesn't need someone to lecture him about it.

Gandalf's gaze stays put on him, still measuring and assessing Thorin's words like he doesn't fully believe him. After what seems like an indefinite amount of time, his features relax and his expression returns to his usual one, the one where he's all twinkly-eyed and probably planning some sort of mischief in his head. "Well, if you say so," he shrugs flippantly. "Now, about those police reports I managed to obtain…" He pulls a file out of nowhere and plops it down on Thorin's desk. "As of now, these are all the details the police has at the moment."

Thorin picks up the manilla-laden folder and starts perusing over the notes. He ignores all the tiny details he's already aware of and feigns nonchalance at the things he had no idea about. It's not a big file, but there's enough here that Thorin understands just how serious this whole thing is, and is gradually becoming.

"I wasn't aware Smaug was also wanted in the states," Thorin says casually. There's a paragraph about the FBI further down the page.

"Apparently this isn't the… first altercation Smaug has gotten himself into. I'll leave it up to your imagination." Gandalf kind of leaves it at that, which in any case doesn't really serve as a satisfying answer for Thorin.

"Just curious, but how did you get ahold of this?"

There's that annoying twinkle in Gandalf's eyes again. "A friend of a friend," is all he answers.

Thorin stares at him. "Was any of it legal?"

"Mostly."

He highly doubts that. He goes back to perusing the file.

"If you're that worried about legality, I can assure you—"

"I don't want to know," Thorin says without looking up.

"Don't trust me?"

This time Thorin does look up. Gandalf is obviously trying to see if Thorin will still place his trust in him, but he's playing off the question and being too flippant about it. He's not looking for a direct kind of reassurance or asking Thorin to flower him with petty, meaningless words. He wants Thorin to play along.

"Getting unconfident there, don't you think Gandalf?"

Gandalf chortles in response. "I'm just confirming, that's all it is," he repeats Thorin's words.

This is how Thorin and Gandalf have always done things. They don't act like best friends, don't sugarcoat their words or offer compliments, but instead offer mocking words with the same hidden message underneath: I may not like or trust you all that much, but I'm willing to do it anyways because you're a sly bastard and we need each other's help. That's been the basis of their relationship for years now.

"So then." Thorin tosses the file back on his desk. "What's our next step?"

 


 

"Thank you for coming over, I know it's last minute and all," Gloin says as they make the walk up to his house.

"Not at all.. I am getting paid after all," Legolas replies.

Gloin barks out a laugh at that. The moment they reach the house's entrance, the door bursts open and a flash of red that's about three feet tall comes barreling into Legolas' legs, almost making him topple over at this very small force.

"Le~go!" Gimli lifts his face up, revealing wide eyes and a wide toothy grin to match.

Legolas' mouth twitches. "Hello… Gimli."

"He's been waiting all afternoon, ever since he heard Lego was coming over." Galea appears in the doorway with an amused smile playing at her lips.

"I can… see that." Legolas clears his throat and awkwardly pats Gimli's head. He still isn't really used to the whole affection thing. Also the nickname, that's… that's a little strange.

"Momma got me a new toy!"

"Oh…?" Legolas tilts his head in an attempt to be interested.

"Yeah! It's a dwarf, come on I'll show you!"

"Um, okay…" Legolas mumbles as he gets pulled along by the six year old.

"You two have fun in there!" Gloin calls out after them.

Galea laughs along side him. "Oh dear, I hope he doesn't hate us too much."

Gloin 'pffts' and throws an arm around his dear wife. "Nah, it's like he said! He's getting paid."

"Hey." She jabs her elbow into his chortling side. "Make sure to thank Dis for this. We owe her."

He rolls his eyes. "Yes dear."

Chapter Text

Thanksgiving comes and goes, as per usual. There's no big celebration (of course there isn't, why would there be?), no big feasts or fireworks or whatever. Well, unless you're a part of Bilbo's family or you work at Erebor, then yes, there is a huge celebration. He gathers right now, somewhere along the green hills of Derbyshire, fireworks are going off and neighbors are shouting complaints from across the riverbank. Aside from that, there's just the few corny Thanksgiving specials meant to appeal to the American population of the UK, as well as some local bars and restaurants near Bilbo having 'Thanksgiving deals.' Overall the three day break goes by in a whirlwind of dull events, duller than the changing leaves and the early darkening of the sky and just uneventful events in general. The streets of London remain the same, save for the few drunkards wandering around in the dead of night, proclaiming (and very loudly too) how great Thanksgiving is and how there should be more Thanksgivings. It's all very amusing for Bilbo at least, and he says so to his grandmother who chortles, "Well, you're only young once. Or as I like to call it, you're only an idiot so many times before you realize how idiotic you actually are." Bilbo laughs at that, and then tries to ignore the pain in his chest when Laura starts coughing and wheezing halfway through. He's afraid she may puncture one of her lungs these days, maybe even actually cough one up with how much her body shakes violently in bed.

According to the nurses, her back's been feeling a lot better, she can actually walk down the hall and back before her hips and ankles start acting up, and she isn't complaining too much about the food anymore. The violent coughing isn't normal though. Her nurse told him it had only started up a couple weeks ago.

"Well is it serious?" Bilbo had asked. He's a bit irritated that no one thought to inform him until now.

"We had a doctor come by and check on her when it first started, but we're going to run more tests just in case," the nurse assured him.

"And.. what? People just failed to notify me of this?"

"Mr. Baggins," the nurse starts carefully, "Your grandmother wanted us not to tell you until we were absolutely sure of what was going on. She expressed quite some concern over this." She winces. "You have to understand that it is a part of our patient-confidentiality agreement."

"Right, right… of course, of course I understand. My apologies for getting all… riled up."

"Not at all Mr. Baggins, we understand that this is a very difficult situation. Laura's quite a favorite here amongst the nurses." The way she's saying it is just all wrong. She was acting like Laura was going to pass in the next day or so and thought it best to express her condolences before it was too late. He almost challenges her to explain the meaning behind her words, but he doesn't have the heart to. She's just doing her job, and she probably didn't mean anything by it. It does set him in a sort of pensive mood for the next few hours though.

"What's wrong?" Comes the grainy voice of his grandmother, whom he thought was supposed to be asleep ages ago.

Bilbo lowers the book he was reading and smiles at her. If it comes out more strained than usual, well… that's to be expected. "Nothing, just thinking that's all."

"Like father like son," she says in a quiet hum. "Always thinking too much."

Bilbo smiles to himself. He traces his fingers along the title of his book, gliding over each and every letter and curve until he reaches the last letter, and then starts all over again. The book, once a beautiful, hard-covered thing painted the most brilliant shade of maroon, complete with intricate gold lettering that spiraled and curled, has now become battered and faded, pages creased with age and some questionable stains along the edges. It's torn in some places, bent in others, but it's not so beat up that it's only barely hanging onto the binding. Maybe it's not in the best condition, but it's still here, still useable and it isn't going anywhere as long as Bilbo will allow it. That's the thing with books: no matter how old they get, you can still find a way to read and keep them.

"Is that that old fairy tale book?" Laura inquires. She lifts up her head to get a better look.

"Grimm's Fairytales," he replies, still smiling down at the book.

"That old thing?" She asks incredulously. "I can't believe it lasted that long."

Grimm's Fairytales was a long time favorite of his father's. It probably wasn't the most appropriate read for a 10 year old, but Bilbo had been curious as he pulled the wide book out of the dusty corner of his father's office. Two hours later, his parents found him sprawled out on the hardwood floor, already intrigued by those dark, twisted stories brought forth from the minds of the Grimm Brothers themselves. It was also the last Christmas present he received from Bungo. Since then, Bilbo took it upon himself to take special care of his father's books, and later his mother's when she passed. Now they were lining his shelves and piled in high stacks for later reading.

"Always got your head stuck in a book," Laura mutters fondly.

"'Remember Bilbo: the world is not in your books and maps. It's out there, waiting for you. Don't you ever forget that.'" He grips the book tighter and looks up at her. "Mum always used to say that, remember?"

"Your mother—" Laura huffs as she manages to sit up. Bilbo moves to help her but she waves him off. "Your mother," she starts again, "Could never sit still enough to read a book."

Bilbo settles back in his chair once Laura's found a comfortable enough position. "I think the only books she owned were cookbooks, and that was about it."

"Bungo was always the more literary type out of all my children. Your aunts and uncles teased him relentlessly."

Bilbo laughs at the memory, although it sounds more hollow to his ears. Memories, he'd learned over time, were the brain's worst enemy, as well as its best friend. Of course some memories made you laugh and reminisce about the good old days, while others… others weren't as happy. The worst kinds of memories were the ones you just couldn't stay away from no matter how hard you tried, because memories are always there, always buried under yet another layer of memories and miscellaneous facts.

"Bilbo." Laura takes his hand in her wrinkly one and squeezes as best as she can, but it's nothing more than a faint push and pull of tired out muscles. Again, Bilbo tries to ignore the dull ache in his chest. "Bilbo, try to enjoy the holidays this year, alright?"

But I can't, he doesn't say out loud. He nods anyways, because it's his grandma and because it's her, he can never say no to her. And if that gut feeling of his is correct, he also knows Laura probably won't last until the New Year.

This brings a smile to her face. "Good, now read me a story. I'm in the mood for something a bit eerie at this time of night."

Bilbo chooses The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs. It's about a boy and a girl, prophesied to be together but constantly torn apart by the girl's evil father. Time and time again though, the boy prevails and in the end, he gets to marry his beloved princess. It's kind of romantic if you get past all the morbidness that is Grimm's Fairytales. It's always been Bilbo's favorite, but when he finishes it and puts Laura to bed, he ends up hating himself for choosing that one. Out of all the other stories he could have chosen, he chooses the one most similar to his own parents' love story.

He reads Cinderella afterwards to cheer himself up. It's also morbid, but the girl gets the prince and the evil step-sisters get their eyes gouged out by pigeons. It cheers him up considerably.

 


 

Bilbo knows from the moment he flicks on the light that he'll be greeted by an overwhelming sight of books. He'll see his bookshelves starting to cram up with the influx of books, a small stack by the foot of his couch, one lying face open in the kitchen if he remembers correctly, and then there's the stack on his bedside table that still needed attending to. He has more books than he sometimes knows what to do with them, but he always gets around to them eventually. "Remember Bilbo: the world is not in your books and maps. It's out there, waiting for you. Don't you ever forget that," his mother always reminded him. Funnily enough, he can still hear those words echoing in his head, like some grim reminder to stop being gloomy and get over himself. Right, if only.

Reading became something like a coping mechanism for him, after Bungo died. That's all he ever did really. He would lock himself up in his father's old study for hours, reading whatever caught his interest for that day and only coming out to eat and take care of other needs. When he returned to uni after the holidays, he dove into his studies and got all straight A's on his exams. He did try other hobbies like knitting, cooking, even exercising, but in the end he always returned to his books. After all, as Bungo always said what mattered most was the story, not whether the story was real or fictional, or if it made sense or held any historical accuracy. At the end of the day a story is just a vast description told by someone to entertain and educate an audience.

He looks over at his parents' portraits, side by side even in painting form. Bungo Baggins was a literary scholar who immersed himself in books and history and never went any farther beyond that. His world quite literally resided in his books, and the only real adventure he ever had was pursuing and marrying one Belladonna Took, who very much preferred to stay out of books and actually participate in the adventure known as life. Most supported the relationship like Laura and Mungo, while others were completely against the match-making. Bungo's aunts and uncles chastised him for choosing a less than proper girl, while Belladonna's parents worried she was choosing a man who would hold her back from her own dreams. In the end, things worked out whether both families approved of it or not. So you see, their story really is quite similar to The Devil and the Three Golden Hairs. You know, minus the whole 'going into the underworld thing,' but it's pretty close. Bilbo's always viewed his parents as the perfect soulmates, so to have one part taken away from the whole was almost like taking a part of Bilbo away.

Of course with time Bilbo got better, he coped, he learned to deal with it and move on. Books were no longer an obsession, but a way to past the time and relieve stress. He still didn't enjoy Christmas as much, but his mother always brought him around eventually. She always did, whether it was to coax him out of his room and tell him to actually enjoy the holiday season, or just to take his mind off the fact that Bungo wasn't coming back no matter how many of his books Bilbo read in his free time. He almost started actually liking Christmas again, but then Belladonna passed and Christmas just… became another one of those family gatherings he had to attend every single year. To him it was just another day, but filled with presents and overbearing family members who wouldn't stop asking if he'd found that lucky lady (or lad) and if not, would he be interested in this or that person who Bilbo would just absolutely love. Basically it was all a ploy to get into his back pocket and share in those wonderful riches his parents had left behind for him. So yes, Bilbo is rich by default and every year his family members wanted a taste of that. At least he had Laura who was the literal embodiment of a guard dog, but now even she was fading and Bilbo would soon be left to fend for himself again. And people wonder why Bilbo's always such a humbug come Christmas time.

He drops down heavily into his armchair, tosses Grimm's Fairytales onto the coffee table and lets his body sag and become one with the chair's fabric. Just like with the rest of his apartment, this armchair was old and ratty and he loved it. It was also one of the few possessions he took with him from his family home in Derbyshire. He almost groans at the thought of going back to 'The Shire' for the holidays. The good thing was that he'd be staying with his cousin Drogo and his adorable little son. That's it though, that's the only good thing Bilbo's looking forward to this Christmas, and every Christmas before that and beyond. He really only goes for Drogo and Prim and all his younger Took cousins, but that's honestly about it. The rest of the time he'll be forced to mix and mingle with those other family members he dreaded seeing every single year, one of them being Lobelia and her blasted annual Christmas party. Sometimes having a family could be so draining.

He hears something hit his window. Nothing too forceful like a ball or a rock, but it's light, almost like— ah, rain, the forecast did call for rain tonight. He can hear the light pitter patter of droplets hitting his window pane, growing lighter and heavier at different intervals and eventually creating a steady rhythm that he can relax to. It makes up for the empty quietness in his apartment considerably. He leans his head back and lets out a long, slow breath. He doesn't want to go to work tomorrow even if it is just for one day, but at the same time he can't stay stuck in his apartment forever, letting thoughts and memories of the past consume him and drive him mad. But it always happens, every single year as the holidays grow nearer. He finds himself completely and utterly exhausted from remembering so much when he doesn't even want to in the first place. He doesn't want to think about his parents, or books, or his family home in Derbyshire or anything even remotely resembling Christmas. What he does want is to skip over Christmas completely, fast forward to New Year's and just start fresh.

Unfortunately life doesn't really work that way, and instead of relaxing in his armchair he finds his mind racing with all the lists of things he needed to get done. He had to finish grading, buy presents, send in a report to Thorin, figure out what was going on with Thorin…

Bilbo blinks up at the ceiling. Was it too late to call Thorin? He glances at the clock. 11:30pm. Okay, probably. He takes out his cell phone anyways.

 


 

Three days of drinking and partying has eventually caught up with all of them, and now all Thorin wants to do is sleep and have a few peaceful, stress-free hours of bliss. It's not that he didn't enjoy these wonderful three days of relaxation… if he had time to relax at all. Like sure, he went out drinking with Dwalin and the guys, he took Fili and Kili out for dinner, even spent the day with his sister, but mentally? His mind hasn't stopped racing, and it's always elsewhere focusing on things not family-related. He really has tried to shut his mind down and just relax, but after a while he grows fidgety, finds himself needing to plan plan plan and work work work. He's constantly stressed and worried, he hasn't stopped checking the account (which still isn't an obsession thank you very much) and he feels like he always has to be on his toes in case something happens again. And as much as he's tried to conceal it, people have noticed. People meaning Dis, who had finally put her foot down and called everyone to a family meeting.

("Dis, it's 11:30 at night," Thorin tried to protest.

"Think that's going to stop me? Think again brother."

"Dis the boys are already—" His protests went unheard.)

Truthfully, everyone in the family already knows of the situation. They have a basic idea of what's going and they've been told not to tell anyone just yet, but they haven't really gone into all the details. In a way, Thorin guesses it's a good thing they're discussing this now. At 11:30 pm.

Balin and Dwalin share a couch, Kili sits in a chair while Fili is on the ground near his feet, Dis is trying to distract herself by cleaning up around the kitchen, and Thorin stands by the window, staring out pensively into the dead of night. He watches the rain tap tap tap against the window, watches it drench the outside world and contribute more to this gloominess settling over the room. Words like tax fraud and call your lawyers and unreceived payments keep rolling around in his head, digging their way into his mind so that he won't be able to stop thinking about them. No one's really spoken yet, as no one's sure what to even say in a situation like this. The piece of paper lies on the coffee table, right smack dab in the middle for all of them to see. Thorin hasn't ripped up the paper yet, but he's damn well near it if he looks at it one more time.

It's Fili who finally speaks up. Thorin would applaud him for taking charge if they were all under different circumstances. "So… no one's been able to get a hold of Smaug?" He asks carefully.

"No," Balin scowls, but he drops it as soon as it comes. Let's just say the name Smaug has become an offensive term for them all. "No one's heard or seen Smaug in three weeks. Supposedly he was going away to visit family, but when his assistant failed to get a hold of him, well…"

"Things went to shit?" Kili finishes for him.

"Basically," Balin sighs wearily. He rubs at the dark rings under his eyes. He hasn't got a decent night's rest in days, not since the letter was faxed over to his office last week. Thorin hasn't gotten much sleep either, as they've been staying up late each night trying to come up with a solution and get a hold of that damn slug themselves. Nothing's worked so far, and while Gandalf has sources (questionable sources) in all sorts of places, they're still stuck in the same rut. Not to mention this will also impact the teachers, which Thorin figures he better bring up soon if they can't resolve this issue quietly and without too many problems.

"Did his assistant say anything else?" Dwalin eggs on.

"Balin and I went to go meet with her." Everyone turns to Thorin in surprise, and even Dis has stopped her puttering around the kitchen. This is the first time he's actually spoken since they all gathered. He clears his throat self-consciously. "It was clear she and some of the other employees had no idea what was going on when they had sent that letter." He sends a quick glare to the paper before continuing, "We scheduled a meeting with Laketown's office, and we soon came to the conclusion that we weren't exactly the first people this had been… done to," he ends on a sour note.

"You mean there's more?" Fili asks.

"Oh yes, it's not just us," Balin says. "Other schools, universities, even small local businesses in the area have also been a part of this scam, and Smaug has been getting away with it for months now." There's a loud clatter in the kitchen, and they all turn to see Dis fumbling with the plates and other various kitchenware. She winces sheepishly at them. Thorin looks at his nephews, who both nod and go over to help their mother.

Smaug, that foul, ugly, greedy slug, has apparently been scrounging away schools' and companies' tax dollars for himself. According to the files Gandalf somehow managed to pull from Smaug's office, he would scrape off a small sum first, something that wouldn't be noticeable, and then he would continue taking more and more until there was nothing left of the tax money. He would then ask one of his employees whom he'd obviously bribed to send out a letter—the exact same letter Thorin had received—informing them Laketown did not receive the money at all and to call immediately. He's not really sure how the rest works out, but he has a feeling a lot of it had to do with bribes and pure blackmail. The police were still sorting out the rest of the files, and now even the FBI had gotten involved in the case. No one's really sure what's going to happen next, only that when Smaug is caught, he'll have to pay quite harshly for his crimes. The police and Gandalf have assured Thorin and Balin multiple times that Erebor Academy would not be held accountable for something that was clearly not their fault, and hopefully they would be compensated for the amount of tax money they spent and lost.

Thankfully Thorin, being the type who worries about these things (well nothing like this but something quite similar), had made sure to create a separate savings account, complete with extra funds and interest and more money than Thorin knew what to do with. It was only supposed to be used for a rainy day, only if the school was in dire need of money or if they had gotten themselves into another situation like Thror's. Thorin and Balin never had to dip into that savings account, and so they just kept adding more and more until it was practically overflowing with money. So in a way, Erebor Academy is quite secure and they don't really have anything to worry about. But that doesn't mean they can all just sit back and relax as the police take over. They may have gotten lucky, but there were other schools and businesses out there that weren't. They were all suffering for Smaug's crimes, and until the slug was found, nothing could be done about this grand scheme of a mess.

Of course this only made Thorin more stressed out, not to mention paranoid. He's been checking the extra savings account practically everyday, almost every hour if Balin hadn't stopped him. Not to mention those judging looks he gets from Gandalf. He keeps thinking Smaug, with his ever present resources, might have the routing info to that extra account, maybe already has a hold of it and they just don't know it yet. He can't stop checking over their banking history to make sure the amount of the money that's in there is the amount of the money they put in, that nothing has been withdrawn without Thorin or Balin's say-so or that there's any discrepancies within the account. Every time he passes an ATM machine, he goes straight to it to see if the balance really is the same, even though he knows he just checked on his laptop three hours ago. That's how paranoid Thorin's become, and even now his fingers itch to get ahold of his laptop, just to confirm that those same figures stare back at him each time. He'll probably end up changing their account info later, make sure it's a hundred times more secure so that no one, not even Smaug, can steal away their savings.

Believe it or not, Thorin worked his ass off to earn all that money. Ever since he became headmaster, he made a promise to himself that he would never, ever, become the person his grandfather ultimately became in the end. Just like Thrain, he would make sure there was always a solution, always a back-up plan in case things went wrong. It's always been Thorin's goal to make sure Erebor Academy was financially stable and could recover as smoothly as possible if a situation like this came up. He's not about to lose everything now because one greedy man couldn't just appreciate what he had. And NO he's not getting obsessed, no matter how many times Gandalf points it out. He just.. wants to make sure, that's all.

"So we're not being accused of tax fraud?" Kili asks once he and Fili return to the living room.

All eyes are on Thorin now. "No, no we're not," he answers quietly. He even allows himself a small smile, just to reassure everyone that no one's being accused of anything, except the man himself who was responsible for all of this. The boys at least share a quick look of relief, Dwalin and Balin smile briefly at each other, and Dis comes right up to Thorin and takes his hand in a firm grip. She squeezes and Thorin squeezes right back. For just this one moment, he almost feels like everything's okay, like everything's going to be okay, and that they'll all get through this in one piece. That's the hope at least.

They all jump at the sound of a phone echoing throughout the room, but it's not the one from the landline. In fact, it sounds much closer, like it's coming from somewhere behind him. Oh, wait. That's his cell phone. He reaches behind him to grab it and inhales sharply at the caller ID. Bilbo. He had… well, not to say completely forgotten about him, but his mind has been a bit preoccupied as of late. Not too preoccupied that he couldn't find time to text Bilbo here and there, or call him briefly to see how he was doing before leaving to take care of some Smaug-related business. He doesn't want there to be a repeat of last time, not when he and Bilbo are finally starting to get the hang of things.

He kind of stares at the screen for a while, lost in some daze where he doesn't remember how to actually use a phone. He almost lets it go to voicemail if not for Dis' hand on his wrist to pull him out of his reverie. She rolls her eyes at him. "Thorin, I think we can all handle ourselves without you for ten minutes. Now stop making puppy eyes at your phone."

He blushes at the knowing look on her face. A quick glance around the room tells him the rest of his family all have the same look, if not slightly more exasperated. He takes another breath before clicking the green answer button. "Hey, give me a moment alright?" He murmurs. He heads out the door—all while ignoring everyone's smug looks—jogs down the two flights of stairs and exits the building. The rain's gotten a bit heavier, so he makes sure to stay under the little overhang of the entrance. He holds the phone back up to his ear. "Back."

"Hi, I was just—wait, is this a bad time?" Bilbo's probably referring to the short break from earlier.

"No, it's not. Well no, okay, I don't want to lie but yeah, it's a bad time. Not a bad time as in you interrupting in the middle of a serious thing, just.. a bad time. In general," Thorin babbles.

Bilbo chuckles, but it sounds more weary than Thorin's expecting. "I know what you mean."

"Bad day for you too?" Thorin asks lightly.

"Something like that.. maybe I'll tell you about it some time."

Thorin chews on his bottom lip. "You could… tell me now. I do have some time, believe it or not."

"What, when it's almost midnight?"

He winces. Okay, so it's a bit late but that never stopped anyone right? "Believe it or not I was actually… sort of up when you called. So you're not really interrupting anything."

"Thorin, we have school tomorrow."

"And yet you called first," he points out.

Bilbo grinds out a defeated noise, then sighs and mutters, "I just didn't want to… be alone tonight."

Thorin rests his body against the pillar of the overhang. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," Bilbo sighs. There's a rustling noise on his end, like he was settling down comfortably into a chair and getting himself situated. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure. And I promise I won't bite your head off." Bilbo snorts. "But yes, you were saying?"

There's a short pause, and then in a quiet voice that's almost like a whisper, "Do you ever… just feel like you're going through the motions sometimes? Like you really want to participate and be a part of it but then you… you just can't?"

Thorin furrows his brow. Where was this coming from exactly? "Sometimes," he begins carefully. "Not all the time, but sometimes."

"Well… good to know I'm not the only one," Bilbo replies in an honestly relieved tone.

"No, you're—you're not. Trust me, you're not," Thorin hurries to reassure.

Bilbo hums in response. The line grows silent for a while, but Thorin finds it's a nice kind of silence, with the rain coming down all around him and Bilbo's soft breathing emanating from the speaker. He closes his eyes and lets his head droop a bit, allowing these sounds to wash over his mind and bring him into a nice calm.

"You haven't fall asleep, have you?" Bilbo asks, low and wary like he was afraid of startling Thorin from whatever trance he'd put himself in.

Thorin, eyes still closed, chuckles, "Not yet. Close, but not yet."

"Oh dear, it is getting quite late isn't it? I should let you go, shouldn't I—"

"Bilbo." That stops his rambling. "As I said before: I am perfectly comfortable with listening to you talk, or not talking at all. Your presence is remedying enough."

Bilbo makes a noise that sounds very close to embarrassment, but Thorin doesn't pry. He's not tired, just in that state where he could fall asleep but is also perfectly content with standing here in the rain, eyes closed, listening to Bilbo breathing and talking and being Bilbo in general. Therefore, he won't try to tease him. Yet.

"If I recall correctly, you said I should write a children's book. Since you love listening to me talk." Later he mutters, "Old sap."

"Actually, I think I've come up with an excellent title for your potential children's book."

"Oh yeah?" Bilbo murmurs wryly.

"Yes, I think you should call it The Lonely Mountain."

 


 

They don't talk about Bilbo's whole 'going through the motions and never really living' thing. In fact, they completely gloss over the subject and never come back to it. Thorin attempted to numerous times, but in the end, they always returned to light quips and teasing here and there. They of course had to cut the conversation short, as tomorrow was, unfortunately, still a school day and sleep deprivation wasn't on Thorin's to-do list at the moment. When he slips back inside he decides to stop off on Dis' floor, just to see if everyone's managed to get themselves to bed, maybe even chastise the boys if they were still up. He still doesn't understand how they can sleep at impossible hours of the night and still be up to function the next day. Thorin would need at least twelve cups of coffee if he were to even open his eyes properly. He tries not to think how age really has caught up to him.

He expects everyone to be asleep, lights off and not a single breathing soul in the room, but there's someone sitting on the middle of the couch with his knees drawn up to his chest and his chin perched on top. The only light in the room is the lamp on the nearby table, which creates a dim halo around the frame and further illuminates the figure's dirty blonde head of hair. Thorin almost does a double take because for that one split second, he nearly mistakes the figure for Frerin, with his goofy smile, that infuriatingly messy hair that always refused to stay put, his gangly limbs that would often latch onto Thorin just to annoy him… He shakes his head and blinks through the hazy field in his vision. It's only Fili. Of course it's Fili, who else could it be?

"Fili?" He calls out softly. Fili jumps anyways. "What are you doing up?" He gingerly sits down next to him so as not to jostle the couch cushions too much.

Fili hugs his knees tighter and puffs out his one cheek. "Couldn't sleep."

Thorin frowns. "It's almost 1 am you know."

Fili's toes wiggle in response.

"Is something… is something bothering you, Fili?" He asks after a while. He folds his hands together and twiddles his thumbs. Dis often teases Thorin for being more of a mother hen than her, but in all actuality, he improvises half the time. He honestly has no idea how to really, well, be a sort of father figure for the boys. Dis assures him he does a fine old job all on his own, and he tries, he does, but in the end he feels like it's never enough. Not to get too drawn into memories of the past, but the boys' father left when Dis became pregnant with Kili. Thorin's never forgiven him for that because who the hell leaves their own wife and child? Although at the time, Dis was quite young when she first had Fili. Not terribly young, but young enough. Either way, that wasn't any excuse. Kili's kind of impartial to whole thing, just because he's never met his father and doesn't really care at this point ("I've got Uncle Thorin, he's my daddy!" Was his usual phrase as a child). Fili was… well, like any child he was hurt, angry, and just didn't understand any of it. It took a while for Thorin and Dis to bring him around, and even now Fili's still a bit sore over the subject of his father. Thorin can empathize, as he's still sore over his own father. And grandfather. And brother. Maybe it was some kind of rite of passage into the Durin family: You had to lose your family members and be in emotional turmoil for the next ten years or so of your life. They should make that a tradition actually.

Fili tucks his face further into his knees and shakes his head. Thorin smiles a bit at the way his blonde hair flops about with the motion. He has to resist reaching out and ruffling his hair, a gesture he's pretty sure would embarrass not only Fili, but Thorin as well. He likes to leave the more affectionate stuff to Dis anyways. "I don't know, I guess I'm just worrying over nothing," Fili mumbles into his knees.

"Is this about Smaug?"

"Partially." The way his voice cuts off indicates that there's more to it than that, so Thorin waits patiently while Fili gathers his thoughts together. He's always been the thoughtful type compared to Kili's more… act first than think type, if that's how you want to put it. As a child Fili was serious, quiet, but also curious and never failed to question things. Sometimes he would go overboard with the thinking, but it always showed a maturity in his age that other children just didn't have. It's kind of why Fili chose the path of the science/history major, which made Thorin very proud to know that not everyone in the family was obsessed with math and science.

"Christmas is almost here."

Okay, wasn't what he was expecting but he can go with that. "I think Dori wants to hold dinner at his place this year," he muses lightly. "Nori will probably set fire to the oven, maybe even burn down the whole house in the process. Wouldn't be surprised."

"Kili will probably get involved in it somehow," Fili joins in, this time in a slightly lighter tone.

"Your mother will be pissed."

"She'll ground him until New Year's."

"She'll ban him from all video games."

They both laugh. Just a small, quiet intake of breath, but it's enough for them, has always been. They stay like that until Fili's body starts drooping and eventually nods off against Thorin's shoulder. Thorin grins at the chance to finally ruffle Fili's hair. He thinks about leaving him on the couch with a blanket and a few pillows, but before he knows it habit's kicked in, and he's already lifting his older nephew into his arms and carrying him bridal style all the way up to the third floor. When he places Fili's body on the bed, he's struck again with how much Fili really does look like Frerin. If you change the shape of Fili's eyes, make his face longer and add a few laughter lines, then he really could be a younger Frerin.

He gets in one last look before sneaking off the bed and making his way back downstairs to his own floor. He holds back a groan each time his back aches and creaks with each step, but it's worth it, it's always worth it for the boys.

Chapter Text

Time is, once again, a very strange concept to Bilbo. In the blink of an eye November soon passes into December, Erebor makes the transition from pumpkins and turkeys to elves and St. Nick's, there's tinsel hanging off doorways and mini Christmas trees in the corners and Bilbo ignores it all. With just three weeks shy of Christmas, he finds himself growing more and more… distant. He goes to school, assigns homework and projects to his students, hangs out with his fellow faculty members, goes on the occasional date with Thorin and he still feels like he's too far away from everything. Again, he would just like to reiterate that he does not hate Christmas, he just doesn't enjoy it very much. There is a difference between hating something and not enjoying it. For example, Bilbo doesn't hate the look in his younger cousins' eyes when they open their gifts on Christmas day, or the fireworks on Christmas Eve, or the good food and cheer and most importantly the good alcohol, but Bilbo can only enjoy these things for the sake of others, never for himself. It's depressing and he hates it, but it is what it is, unfortunately.

He splutters and almost trips over his feet when a string of tinsel comes barreling into his face.

"Ah, sorry Bilbo!" Comes Bofur's apologetic voice from somewhere up top.

Bilbo pushes the rest of the glittery stuff out of the way. Dori is on the ground holding a good length of tinsel while Bofur's up high on a ladder, but with the way he's positioned Bilbo's afraid the English teacher might fall and crack his dear skull open. He grimaces internally. Maybe Christmas really does bring out the worst in him…

"What… what are you doing?" Bilbo asks at last. He jumps when two sets of eyes land on him simultaneously. "W-What?"

"Why, it's tinsel!" Bofur shakes his length of the tinsel.

"I can see that, but that still doesn't explain what you're doing," Bilbo gestures to the whole scene.

"We noticed you didn't have any Christmas decorations up," Dori explains.

"So you're… decorating my doorway?" Bilbo says slowly.

"And your classroom!" Bofur adds. He points inside. "Take a look! I think we did quite a good job if you ask me."

Inside…? Bilbo leans part of his body over the threshold and peers in. Everything's dark, which is to be expected since he left it that way. He leans back out and stares at the two men. "I don't get it."

"Just wait laddie."

As if on cue, colors start popping up out of nowhere that, upon first glance, seem to be in a completely random fashion. It takes him a moment to realize that the colors are actually creating one long, colorful row that extends from one side of his classroom all the way to the other. By the end of the path, the colors start blinking in patterns that make Bilbo's eyes hurt just from watching them.

"They're…"

"Lights!" Bofur finishes as he hops down the ladder's steps. He throws an arm around Bilbo's shoulders. "Neat, isn't it?"

"Nori helped us connect all the wires," Dori says.

"But—why?" Bilbo splutters.

"Laddie, your classroom is as bare as Kili's beardless face," Bofur says.

"It was honestly quite depressing to watch," Dori agrees.

Bilbo gapes at the two of them, then at his now illuminated classroom. He's honestly at a loss for words. Should he be angry, because they touched his classroom without his permission? Or perhaps touched by the fact that they took time out of their day to do this? He has no idea, but it does bring a heartfelt smile to his face because he sees now how… valued he is here. If he were still at Greenwood or Hobbiton, no one would be doing this for him, absolutely no one. It's another reminder of how much Bilbo's come to love Erebor.

"God, has it really been one school term already?" Bilbo murmurs to himself.

"Come again laddie?" Bofur asks.

Bilbo shakes his head and a sends a watery smile to the both of them. "Thank you, I… thank you, really. Of course I'm a little ticked you didn't think to ask me first—" They visibly shrink at this "—But… thank you. Honestly, thank you. Really. Have I said thank you yet?"

Bofur barks out a laugh and tugs Bilbo closer. "I think we get the message loud and clear!"

"You should see what else is waiting inside." Dori smiles and flicks on the lights.

Bilbo gasps. "Oh my god is that a train?!"

 


 

Thorin stares at the figures on the screen. Still the same. Good. He breathes out a sigh of relief. The bank account is still in tact. Nothing's been taken out, there's no discrepancies, no nothing. Everything's still there.

"No matter how many times you check, the money will still be there," Gandalf reminds him.

Thorin ignores him and closes his laptop.

"You should take up a hobby, something to get your mind off that awful restlessness of yours," he suggests in a light tone.

"I have hobbies, but thanks." He moves his laptop aside and starts taking out some files. "Any word from your FBI friends?" He sets out pile after pile on his desk. When he looks up, the usual playfulness that could be found in Gandalf's features has been replaced with a more grave expression. He raises a single eyebrow.

Gandalf's voice drops a notch when he leans forward and states, "They've found Smaug."

Thorin almost misses that completely. He blinks, rolls the sentence around in his head, nearly repeats those same words out loud just to confirm if Gandalf's lying or not. Of course one look at his face tells Thorin he's not.

"Where?" His voice nearly cracks. He tries to swallow it back down.

Gandalf leans back in his seat. "You know, for a clever man he's not very intuitive at all." He starts carding through his beard and hums. Thorin waits, although he might rip the beard off the old man's face if he doesn't start explaining soon. "You'll laugh when you hear where the authorities spotted him."

"Oh please, do tell," Thorin gestures to him. "I've got all day."

Gandalf doesn't seem to take notice of his blatant sarcasm, as he continues on with, "Really, it is so amusing. He didn't get very far though." He pauses (probably for dramatic effect if Thorin knows the man) before saying, "Supposedly he's in Belgium."

"Belgium," Thorin echoes back in slow disbelief. "The man is in… Belgium."

"Well of course! That's what I just said didn't I?" Gandalf harrumphs and tugs at his beard. "Hard to believe someone like Smaug could be so foolish," he mutters to himself.

Thorin would have to agree. Smaug is a man of resources, and from all the research Thorin's done these past few weeks, the former tax collector has quite a large sum of money and then some waiting for him. But seriously, of all the places he had to choose Belgium?

"Belgium is… quite close."

"Quite," Gandalf agrees, then sighs, "I suppose Smaug's arrogance caught up to him in the end. Probably thought he'd be safe when he was only just a stone's throw away." He shakes his head.

"Why do I get the feeling you're more disappointed than happy?" Thorin asks, more amused than anything by Gandalf's… disappointment if that's what you wanted to call it.

"Just thought he'd put up more of a fight, that's all," he shrugs in response. "Now!" He claps his hands together and the moment's gone. "Those friends in high places I was talking about? They've talked with the Belgium government and they are more than happy to hand over Smaug."

"And then… what?"

"I believe that's up to the FBI to decide."

"The British forces won't be dealing with Smaug?"

"Well it's not like our own British forces has much use for him, now do they?"

"Gee, I wouldn't know," Thorin replies dryly.

There it is again with the incomplete answer. Honestly, if this was anyone else Thorin would be more suspicious, but it's Gandalf and the man always seem to keep his word no matter what. Gandalf's job seems to be a mystery to the better part of the universe, but frankly Thorin doesn't care all that much. He's helped the school more times than Thorin can count, which is all he really needs from him. What he does for a living is his own business. Plus, his father always said that if things went south, just call Gandalf.

"So it's settled then? The authorities will catch Smaug, he'll be sent off to the states and… that's it?" He can't help the skeptical rise in his voice, because this all sounds way too easy. Smaug hasn't even been gone long and suddenly they've found him just lazing around in Belgium?

"I see you doubt me," Gandalf says.

"It's not that I doubt you, I just think it's too easy."

"If it makes you feel better, the authorities have already set up surveillance around Smaug and— Ah, about time!"

Thorin furrows his brow at the sudden declaration. "Gandalf?"

The old man holds up a finger to shush him. A moment later his phone appears and is pressed up against his ear. "Hello? Leroy!" His face lights up at the mention of 'Leroy.' "I was beginning to wonder what was taking so long. Ah, so you have? Well this is for good news, I'll be sure to relay it back to my friend. Yes, yes, and do tell Gloria I said hello." He laughs at whatever joke Leroy is telling. "Oh of course, I wouldn't miss it for the world. Yes, yes, and thank you again, I owe you one! Oh nonsense, it's the least I could do. Absolutely. Take care now Leroy! Send them all my love!" When he ends the call, his mouth curls up slowly into a triumphant sort of grin. "It appears luck is in our favor today, Thorin Oakenshield."

"I'm guessing something happened?"

Gandalf's grin grows larger. "They've just apprehended Smaug."

 


 

"You know we've gotta stop meeting like this."

Bilbo stops and looks up. Admittedly, he was a bit distracted by his book to notice Dis walking towards him. Also he's got a sandwich hanging out of his mouth, so not only is his concentration on reading and walking up the stairs at the same time, but he's also got to make sure he doesn't drop his whole lunch either. It's smoked turkey, so it'd be quite a shame if it were to just go to waste.

"Di-sh." He blinks and takes his sandwich out. "Ah, Dis," he clears his throat and waves awkwardly with the hand holding his sandwich. "Fancy seeing you here. Again."

She smiles and takes a step down. "You look busy there."

He gives her a sheepish look. "I kind of forgot to eat lunch… also I'm at a very crucial chapter in my book right now." He holds up the cover for her to see.

"The Old Man and the Sea?" She reads off the cover.

Bilbo shrugs. "I like Hemingway occasionally."

"Funny, Thorin says the same thing."

Bilbo laughs at that. He can only imagine. Maybe it's an English teacher thing.

"Actually, speaking of Thorin." Dis takes another step down. "We haven't really talked about my brother yet." When Bilbo doesn't respond she clarifies, "You know, since you're dating him and I'm supposed to give you the 'If you hurt him I'll punch you in the face' talk?"

"Oh.. I-I wasn't aware you had to… do that." Suddenly Bilbo feels himself paling slightly under the math teacher's gaze. It's not that he fears Dis, but the woman could be quite a force of her own when she wanted to be. Especially when Fili and Kili were up to something, which was usually… all the time.

She rolls her eyes. "Relax, I'm not actually going to punch you in the face."

"That's… good to know I guess." He shifts from foot to foot. Despite her words, he's not entirely sure she won't do something to him. Honestly, he should have seen something like this coming, if not sooner. After his little coffee date with Thorin and his mother, there was no question the rest of Thorin's family didn't know about their budding relationship. Balin obviously knew from the numerous times he walked in on them kissing in Thorin's office (something Bilbo learned to ignore over time), Dwalin would sometimes send him strange looks, Fili and Kili would make their sly jokes here and there to hint at it, and Dis… Dis hadn't really said anything yet. In fact, this was the first time she was making any indication of it. He also knows just about every single teacher in this school knew of his relationship with the headmaster himself. How they figured it out, he hasn't got the faintest clue (later he'll find out Dwalin was the one to spread news about their date at Rivendell, thus starting a war with Thorin).

"But you still want to… talk to me?" He asks uncertainly.

"More like advise you really."

"Oh… um, okay." He places his book under his arm and continues eating his sandwich in long, slow bites. He needed to prepare himself for whatever was going to happen.

"If you haven't already guessed, Thorin isn't exactly the master of relationships." She pulls her face down into a grimace, but then it pops back up again as she continues, "He's never stayed in one relationship for long, and if he does, he'll usually end it by the time things get really serious. I think the longest he ever went was a month."

"So are you saying he's… going to break up with me soon?" He's pretty sure the answer's no, but he can't help feeling a little something at her words. It's nothing extravagant, just the small thought here and there pulling at the fringes of his mind. It's already been discussed between the two of them that Thorin was definitely no 'master of relationships' and neither was Bilbo for that matter, so of course they were going to do their best and try to make it work. And yet those few words are already setting some doubts in Bilbo's mind, however small they may be.

It must show on Bilbo's face, because Dis waves her hand as if to dispel whatever thoughts crossed his mind. "Not trying to scare you off here, I promise. But there is a point to all of this." She chews on her lip. "Needless to say, we're all pretty psyched for Thorin here. Dwalin and my sons won't stop embarrassing him into oblivion, and Balin's already scarred for life by your little office endeavors." Her face grows sour at the thought of 'office endeavors' while Bilbo blushes slightly in embarrassment. Yeah, he figures they may have scarred Balin. "We can all see how happy you make Thorin, is what I'm trying to say."

His sandwich is only inches from his mouth when he pauses and blinks in surprise. "Oh. I… well, thank you?"

"I do have one thing to ask of you though, if you don't mind."

The seriousness in her voice forces him to lower his half-eaten sandwich. He makes sure to give her his utmost attention as he awaits her next words.

"Just don't hurt him. That's all I'm asking you here," she says at last, her voice growing quieter as it nears the end of the sentence.

Hurt him? Bilbo could never fathom hurting someone like Thorin. He doesn't say that of course, because who knows what may come in the upcoming months? If Bilbo knew anything from experience, it was that things often happen unexpectedly. Of course that didn't mean Bilbo would go out of his way to intentionally hurt Thorin. "I won't," he says with what he hopes is enough conviction for the woman. "I—"

"Please don't say you'll promise or anything," she rushes out over his words. "Please just… don't promise something that you can't keep."

He shakes his head, but the motion jostles his book a bit and he has to readjust it under his arm. "I wasn't going to, believe me I wasn't. I think I know as much as the next person how empty promises can be sometimes." Wow, the spirit of Christmas is really bringing out the worst in Bilbo now.

"I know I'm asking a lot here—"

"You're not." And then he adds, "And that's something I can promise you."

Dis' face, which was previously clouded with too much seriousness and maybe even a brief flicker of pain if Bilbo looked hard enough, has now cleared up into a more relieved expression. "That's a good promise," she says with a small smile.

Bilbo chuckles. "I think so too." He goes to rub the back of his neck, but then remembers all too late that he's still got the book under his arm. He feels it slip out from underneath and watches uselessly as it topples down the stairs. He winces at the sound of the spine crinkling and cracking each time it bounces off a step, and by the time it finishes its little descent he's pretty sure his face is one of pure horror. Books are his ultimate pride and joy, so to see one fall clumsily down the stairs is really hurting his pride as an English teacher. He turns his head up at the sound of Dis' high-pitched laugh echoing towards him.

"Wow. That's like, the exact same expression Thorin makes whenever Kili drops a book."

Bilbo stares forlornly at the poor book hanging off the step. "I almost wish I dropped my sandwich instead," he mumbles.

"Oh no, you don't want that," Dis says as she walks past him to pick up his book. Bilbo meets her half way and carefully takes it into his hands. She laughs again when she sees him inspecting every inch of the book and flipping through the pages to make sure it isn't completely destroyed. "You English teachers," she shakes her head.

"Hey." Bilbo points his book at her. "Books are sacred."

"That's only something an English teacher would say," she points out.

"Make fun all you want, but you'll believe me once you see the state of all your math textbooks by the end of term."

"I'll take your word for it. But hey, Bilbo." She reaches up to touch his forearm. "Thank you. I can tell how much you really care about him."

Bilbo almost drops his book all over again. He flushes a bright red, stammering, "S-Sure. It's no problem, really I… yeah. Alright." He smacks the book against his forehead and groans.

He feels her give a reassuring squeeze to his forearm. "Hey, the fact that you're getting embarrassed shows just how much you care. That gives me some hope believe it or not."

"I'm glad my embarrassment is giving you hope," he mutters sourly.

Dis gives a final squeeze before sliding her fingers off and walking the rest of the way down the stairs. Bilbo sighs once her footsteps get farther away. Maybe they really should stop meeting up like this. In a way, he is kind of glad he was able to get Dis' sort of approval. He's pretty sure he made a somewhat good impression on Mrs. Durin, and probably everyone else's as well from the way they keep giving him these shrewd looks in the halls. He shakes his head, opens up to his doggy-eared page and marches back upstairs.

Durins.

 


 

Tauriel blinks down at the small, unassuming package sitting on her desk. It was nothing more than a small green box, no larger than a pad of sticky notes, with a quaint red bow tied right on top. Judging by the colors, she can assume it's a Christmas present of some sort. She looks about her empty classroom, but everything is as it should be or how she thinks she last left it. There's nothing out of the ordinary at all, nor are they any traces of an intruder lurking in the shadows of her room. She glances back down at the package.

"Oooh, is that from your secret admirer?"

Tauriel rolls her eyes at the sound of Legolas' teasing voice coming from the side. She has had a few 'secret admirers' in the past, but they always turned out to be her Year 11 boys, all innocent-eyed and 'But Miss Tauriel I love you.' Legolas never let her live that down, but to be fair, he's has also had his fair share of secret admirers. All her Year 11 girls wouldn't stop fawning over his luscious golden hair.

"I bet it's from Jonathan," Legolas teases.

"Oh shut up." She punches playfully at his arm and swipes up the package from her desk. She turns it over in her hands a couple times, and when she deems it not a threat, she pulls on the ribbon and watches it unravel by itself. She lifts off the cover.

"A rock?" Legolas peers over her shoulder to get a better look. "You got a rock from Jonathan?"

Tauriel turns to him. "You are never going to let that Jonathan thing go, are you?"

"No~pe!" He pops the 'p' as obnoxiously as possible, also making sure to get right in her face as he does this.

She's very tempted to shove his face out of the way, but it's nearing the holidays and she told herself she would at least be a little nice this coming Christmas. She carefully takes the rock out and cradles it in her hands. It's not one of those typical rocks you find along the pavement, but instead a smooth rock, all rounded and shiny like the ones you buy from those tacky gift stores. She can obviously tell it's not one of those, not from the minor cracks here and there and the scratches along the surface. There are runes inscribed on the rock, but she can't make out what it says. She figures it's Khuzdul, meaning she'll probably have to go to Bifur for a translation.

"Oh hey, this fell out." Legolas bends down to pick up a small folded piece of paper by Tauriel's feet. It probably fell out when she took apart the box. "Probably from Jonathan," he mutters as he pops back up.

This time Tauriel does shove his face away. "Go fuck yourself," she spits out good-naturedly.

"Ooohhh, better not say that in front of your students," Legolas mocks. He unfolds the paper and starts skimming through the words. As he gets farther down the paper, his teasing demeanor slowly starts to disappear that by the time he's read through the whole thing, he's frowning in a sort of disapproving way.

"What is it?" Tauriel asks warily. From the look on his face it can't be good. She takes the paper from his hands and is surprised to find how easily it slips right through his fingers. She shoots him a questioning look before shifting her attention to the words on the paper. "Oh, it's from Kili!" She chirps excitedly. A smile crosses her lips when she gets to the bottom.

An early Christmas present for my dearest Tauriel. If you want to know the meaning of the runes, you'll have to figure it out yourself ;)

"Wow, he even drew in a little winky face," she snorts to herself. She shakes her head at the pure sappiness just emanating from the paper. Seriously, it feels like the whole room has gotten sappier because of it. "I wonder what these runes mean," she muses as she flips the stone over again.

"Probably something like 'I love you' or whatever."

She glances up at the sound of Legolas' voice, which definitely has a hint of disapproval underneath all that stoic-ness he's trying to convey right now.

He shrugs off her suspicious glare. "I'm just saying. He is your… boyfriend after all." The way he says boyfriend gets all garbled and tangled up at the back of his throat.

Tauriel tries to ignore it, instead clearing her throat and agreeing, "Yes, he is my.. boyfriend." An awkward silence seems to fill up the air the moment she says this. Legolas does his best not to seem fazed by whatever it is that just happened, but it's obvious he's bothered by something.

After a while Legolas finally speaks up. "It is a rather nice rock." And then he smirks, "I don't think Jonathan would have been able to find something as nice as this."

"Oh would you just—!" Tauriel feigns throwing the rock at Legolas, who ducks on instinct and makes pretend-scared noises. Whatever happened a moment ago is completely forgotten by Tauriel in her haste to punch the ever-living shit out of Legolas. Even Legolas forgets it, but only for a brief moment, which is proven when he leaves her classroom and the image of the rock is brought forth to his mind.

He stops in the middle of the hallway. Sweet Eru he was never going to get over this, was he?

About a month and a half ago, Legolas told himself he would support Tauriel's new relationship with Kili and try to be the supportive best friend that she needed. Right, well, that was a month and a half ago and Legolas still feels a slight twinge in his chest every time he sees the two of them walking out of the building at the end of the day, or even when he just spots one of them in the hallway. Of course there were things to distract him, like planning out new games for his PE students, his meet-ups with Bard which weren't too sufferable, and not to mention babysitting little Gimli who was quite a small force of his own. Actually, contrary to popular belief Gimli wasn't as menacing as everyone claimed him to be. After an hour with the child, Legolas found Gimli wasn't that hard to handle. You just had to make sure he was adequately played with and fed and then you were good to go, simple as that. Gloin won't stop gushing over how his 'wee lad Gimli' practically follows Legolas like a lost lamb. It's sort of… endearing. In its own way. But the concept of him being a shepherd while Gimli was his lamb was still a bit foreign to him. Overall though, Gimli was more than manageable and Gloin and his wife were happy.

So yes, Legolas' hands are filled as it is with all the other things he had to attend to in his life. So then why oh why was he still torn up over Tauriel? He was supposed to support her new relationship, not sulk and be miserable over it (admittedly, he had spent those first few weeks watching every soppy romance movie he could get his hands on. Not his best moment). Suddenly an idea strikes him. It's a bad idea actually, now that he thinks about it but… things didn't go too terribly the first time he acted of his own volition, so what would be the harm in doing it a second time? Or he could just go to Bard, but Bard wasn't exactly the person he was looking for at the moment.

"Eru, I must be stupid," he mutters to himself. He clicks on his cell phone (fully aware that it's the middle of the school day but it's not like he's got any other classes to teach for the day!), taps some buttons and then presses the phone up to his ear.

"Hello?"

He sucks in a breath. "Hey, it's—"

"Legolas! I-I wasn't… expecting you… wait is something wrong?"

He smiles to himself. Trust his father to always rush to the worst case scenario. They say the mother is often the worry-wort, but in reality, it was actually Thranduil. Every scrape, cut, and fall probably gave Thranduil more heart conditions than the average obese person, and that was saying something.

"No Ada, I'm fine."

"Oh." He can actually feel his father relax through the phone, all fight or flight responses slowly disappearing as he came back to his present surroundings. "Then, why did you call?" He asks more calmly.

Now that the question's been thrust upon him, Legolas finds himself having difficulty saying the damn thing out loud. And then the regret sets in and thoughts of why the fuck didn't I just consult Bard on this? What made me think this was an actual, good idea in the first place?

"Legolas?" His father calls out, worry settling back in his voice. "Are you still there?"

Before he can lose his nerve, he blurts out, "Ada, have you ever dealt with unrequited love?"

About two, maybe three minutes pass before Thranduil responds with a soft, "Yes, I have, more often than wont in my lifetime."

"Really?" He tries not to let the small bit of disbelief slip into his voice, but it's hard to imagine someone like his father facing unrequited love. There's no question that his father is handsome, almost seemingly ageless compared to other men in their forties. He's seen the way both students and professors alike eyed his father back at Greenwood, and boy were they not discreet at all.

"Did I never tell you?"

"Hmm?" He lifts his head. "Tell me what?"

"The story of how your mother and I met?"

"You mean… Naneth?" Legolas says slowly. If this is what he thinks it is, then this would be the second time his father has freely chosen to talk about Legolas' mother in front of him.

Thranduil hums in response. "Your mother, Theresa… she was quite difficult to woo, did you know that?"

"No, I-I didn't." Legolas jumps when he hears a group of students pass, and decides to take refuge by the wall so he doesn't cause some kind of traffic jam for the whole school.

"Oh yes," Thranduil sighs out fondly, "Your mother was a force of nature herself. She always played hard to get whenever I was around. At first I thought, 'Hmm, maybe that's her way of showing affection?'"

"And was it?"

"She got herself a boyfriend three weeks later, so no, probably not." There's a whisper of amusement on Thranduil's end, which surprises Legolas because wasn't this supposed to be a story of unrequited love?

"So… what happened?"

"I thought she didn't want me. Obviously I was miserable, and it seemed no matter what I did I couldn't find myself to move on from her." A short pause. "But you know, love is a very funny thing."

"You got her back in the end." It's more of a statement than a question, but it's pretty obvious where the story's going at this point.

"Oh of course I did, but for a while I didn't think I would." Another pause. "Love always has a way of… finding us. It doesn't matter the shape nor the form, because in the end love is love."

Legolas doesn't know what to say to that. He had asked for a story on broken hearts and getting friend-zoned, but instead he gets… this. Not that this is a bad thing, but he hasn't received a talk like this from his father in ages. When was the last time Thranduil had tried to lecture Legolas, tried to make him understand the values of the world while Legolas remained ignorant to it all?

"Always remember that, Legolas." Thranduil concludes his little talk on a hushed note. Legolas on the other hand still hasn't responded, because he really has no clue what to say. Does he… tell Thranduil of his own love problems? Does he end the call right here? What on earth do people do in these situations? Thankfully, Thranduil decides to take charge on this one. "Ah, Legolas I'm sorry but I have to get back to work."

He literally feels like he just dodged a huge, emotional bullet there. "No, of course I understand!" He finally responds, the sentence coming out strangely high-pitched. He clears his throat. "I'll, um… talk to you?"

"Yes… later. I will talk to you… later."

"Yes… er, later."

"…Later."

Legolas nearly bangs his head against the wall, but then that would just look odd in a hall full of roaming students and teachers. Was there ever going to be a time when he could talk to his father properly? You know, without all the awkward pauses and 'pretend affection?' Were they forever doomed to be like this?

"Hey loser!" Tauriel comes striding down the hallway and waves at him. "Let's go get food, I'm starving!"

He chuckles at the hungry face she makes. "I think Dori brought in some of those donuts for the teacher's lounge!" He shouts back. He tucks his phone away and puts on a face that he hopes doesn't give too much of himself away. As he gets nearer to her, Legolas can't help noticing how… well, beautiful Tauriel is. Her long auburn hair that curls along the ends, the little freckles adorning her cheeks, her sharp face, those green eyes that sometimes appear brown if you look at them under a certain lighting… everything about her is so striking to Legolas. And then it hits him like a sock to the gut: all of that will never be his. It doesn't belong to him. Right now, it belongs to the younger Durin and there's nothing Legolas can do about that. Tauriel may be his friend, but she's way out of Legolas' reach. He can never truly touch her (metaphorically of course). He can only ever be within reach, and that's just something he'll have to accept over time. It was her decision to choose the younger Durin, not Legolas' as much as he wish it were.

"What?" Tauriel asks once they're a few feet away from each other. "Is there something on my face?"

He uses this final moment to take her all in, then shakes his head and forces out a smile. "Nothing. Now come on, I want those donuts Dori brought in before Bombur eats them all."

 


 

When Thorin sees Bilbo, it's a few hours after the authorities have officially caught Smaug and started airing it all over the news. He's walking down the stairs to grab a late lunch when a familiar mop of unruly curls starts bobbing up and down in his direction.

"Bilbo?"

Before Bilbo looks up, he makes some kind of exasperated expression and mutters something like, "Again, really?" But then his eyes widen and he blinks up at Thorin in surprise. "Thorin."

"Hey." Thorin jogs down the few steps to meet him. "Sorry, did you say something?"

Bilbo scrunches up his forehead, and then it smooths out upon realization. "Oh no, sorry I was just.. talking to myself," he laughs and rubs the back of his neck sheepishly.

Thorin quirks up his mouth into a half-grin as he watches Bilbo squirm, often looking up and then ducking his head whenever their eyes make contact. He's two steps taller than Bilbo, so he can make out all these little features that may seem insignificant upon first glance, but to Thorin these are the features that make up Bilbo Baggins. For example, his head is more golden-brown near the crown, but when you travel farther down his head the color becomes lighter at the curls. His shoes, a pair of worn-down brown leather loafers, keep bouncing up and down on the heels, and sometimes one of his shoes will tap out some off-beat rhythm with no identifiable pattern. His fingers keep twitching restlessly at his sides in an attempt to keep them busy. Thorin could go on for ages, but if he did even he would start to get annoyed with himself.

He clears his throat. "Where are you heading?" Ah, and there are those eyes that seem to change color depending on Bilbo's mood. Sometimes they're a dark grey, and other times Thorin can find hints of a dark greenish brown beneath the surface. They're ten times more intriguing compared to Thorin's plain old blue eyes.

"Oh, I'm just… you know—" Bilbo points his finger up the stairs "—going up."

"Ah," Thorin nods.

"And… you?"

"Going down. It seems time got away from me and… well, I missed lunch," Thorin admits with some embarrassment. He knows he's one for losing track of time, but he didn't notice how much time he lost since Smaug was caught earlier.

Bilbo chuckles. "Well that makes two of us."

"Busy day for you as well?" Thorin asks politely.

Something ripples across Bilbo's face for a split second, but it's gone before Thorin can even identify the emotion. "Something like that," he replies, his voice hinting that there's definitely something he's not telling Thorin.

Thorin furrows his brow, searching Bilbo's face for wherever that emotion went but he can't seem to find it anymore. Even though he's been up to his eyeballs with the whole Smaug thing, it doesn't mean he hasn't forgotten that Thursday night, standing in the rain and listening to Bilbo's unidentified worries. They still go on their dates and have lunches in Thorin's office, but Bilbo can get a little distant at times. Not distant in the sense that he's ghosting Thorin or whatever, but distant in that his eyes will get this far away look in them, and his face will remain perfectly blank until Thorin calls out to him and pulls him back to the present time. Wherever Bilbo's been 'going', he hasn't said a single thing to Thorin about it and… it worries him. He doesn't remember Bilbo being this distant when they started dating, and he's almost afraid that Bilbo, as absurd as it may seem if they're going on these past few months, is starting to get tired of Thorin. He almost voiced these thoughts out loud to Dwalin one day, but he had to stop himself because Bilbo wouldn't really be tired of him after only being together for a short time… right?

"Do you ever… just feel like you're going through the motions sometimes? Like you really want to participate and be a part of it but then you… you just can't?"

Thorin's eyes widen. "Bilbo—" He starts to say.

"Hmm?" And just like that, Bilbo seems to be back to his normal self.

Thorin leaves his mouth hanging because he has no idea where to start with all of this. Should he go nice and easy, or just get straight to the point with Bilbo? Should he wait till they're in a more private location? Is this even a good time?

"I… I like your cardigan today," he blurts out lamely. Wow.

Bilbo pulls at the hem of his cardigan to see for himself. To be fair, it is a nice cardigan. It's a dark moss green with a dark grey button down underneath. It suits Bilbo fairly well and wow did Thorin really just use Bilbo's cardigan as a way out?

"You mean this old thing?" Bilbo pulls it farther down, revealing more of his shirt buttons hidden underneath.

"Yeah it's… it's nice."

"Well… thank you."

"You're welcome."

They stand in painful silence like that. Bilbo keeps picking at his cardigan while Thorin eyes the ceiling with so much discomfort. Has he mentioned words aren't exactly his strongpoint?

"Hey, Thorin?"

He glances back down. "Yeah?"

This time it's Bilbo's mouth hanging open with nothing come out. He's on the verge of saying something, but then he licks his lips and says instead, "I like your beads today."

Thorin reaches up to touch the aforementioned beads. Since Christmas is near, he decided to wear a pair of maroon-colored beads to get in the spirit of the holidays. It's a nice shade of maroon too, nothing too gaudy but also not too bland either. "Th-Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Another painful silence.

"Well I should—"

"Yeah me too."

To both their horror, they step in front of each other's paths at the same time and start mirroring the other's movements. After a bit of awkward fumbling, Bilbo snakes himself around Thorin and manages to slide past. They both turn back to stare at each other, this time Bilbo a few steps higher than Thorin.

"I should—" Bilbo points behind him.

"Yeah, I should too."

Thorin hurries down while Bilbo hurries up. It's not until they're both at a considerable distance from one another that he realizes: he has absolutely no idea what that was, only that it was the most awkward experience in his life to date. It was almost similar to their interactions in the beginning, when they still had no idea how to talk to each other and Thorin would just fuck everything up because he had the speech of a two year old. He doesn't dwell too much on it though, because it's probably nothing more than the stresses in their lives getting to them and they're most likely tired and on the verge of breaking. At least… he thinks so. Right?

Chapter Text

Bilbo cringes as he walks up the steps, still listening to Thorin's footsteps traveling down the rest of the stairwell until the only sound left are Bilbo's own footsteps. God, that was the most awkward exchange ever. In fact, what even was that? Thorin had obviously wanted to say something, with the way his eyes widened and the words right on the tip of his tongue, but in the end he just changed subjects by complimenting Bilbo's cardigan… which was probably one of the oldest articles of clothing he owned in his closet. And then Bilbo had wanted to ask Thorin about that little thing he still couldn't and still had yet to tell Bilbo, but of course he did the same thing: he chickened out and complimented Thorin's beads.

What were they, tweens still in secondary school? It's not like they were still in those beginning stages of flirtations and insinuations. Just last week they had met up for a quick lunch before both going their own separate ways, so Bilbo has no idea what happened between then and now. They obviously both had something they wanted to say, which shouldn't have been that much of a problem.. right? After all communication was something they both needed to work on, especially for Thorin which the man himself had admitted numerous times. So then what was it? What was it that had prevented the two of them from speaking whatever it was that was clearly bothering them?

It occurs to Bilbo just then that it's been weeks since that day in November, when Thorin had broken down without actually telling Bilbo what was wrong. And Bilbo left it alone, he gave Thorin his space and tried to be supportive in any way but it's been weeks. Christmas is three weeks away and Thorin still hasn't spoken a word to him. It always changes too. Sometimes the weariness will show on Thorin's face, and some days he hides it so well that Bilbo has to question whether there was anything wrong in the first place. Playing the part of a supportive boyfriend turns out to be quite frustrating at times, but he does it regardless because that's what couples do. They support each other.

By the time Bilbo reaches his destination, he has no idea how he got here in the first place. All he knows is that his feet carried him back down the stairwell and now he's standing in front of an office door. What he needs… he needs something, that's what. He just needs to get everything out of his system, and if the events of five minutes ago were a big enough hint, it seemed Thorin wasn't going to be that something. He raps his knuckles on the door three times and waits.

"Come in."

He pushes his way past and for a moment, he sees blue everywhere. He almost mistakes the eyes for Thorin's, but the color's off. It's not the right shade of blue, and after a bit of spastic blinking he finds light blue eyes the color of the sky staring back curiously at him. Not to mention the long hair and very feminine-looking features. Definitely not Thorin.

"Mr. Baggins. It's been a while," comes the thick, rich voice. Again, also not belonging to Thorin.

He clears his throat and straightens up his shoulders. "Miss Galadriel."

"Come in, please." She gestures gracefully to the pair of seats usually reserved for worried (or abusive in Angelica's case) parents. "Take a seat."

He sucks in a rather haggard breath and does as he's told.

"Now, what seems to be on your mind?" She asks once Bilbo's seated.

 


 

"So, you remember that premonition I had?"

Bombur eyes his brother from the kitchen. It wasn't rare to find Bofur leaning against the cafeteria's counter and talking to his brother while he worked, but sometimes Bombur just wanted that peace and quiet when he made his food. Was that too much to ask? Then again as Bofur always said, "It's not like you're working back at that restaurant! You're making chump food for kids! You think they'll notice if the chicken is grilled 'just so' or if you put a dash of spices in the soup?"

"You had a premonition?"

"Of course I did!" Bofur huffs indignantly. "Way back in October, remember?"

Bombur almost laughs because his brother seems honestly offended that he can't remember something that happened all the way back in October. "Oh!" He almost drops the chopping knife on the kitchen floor. "Yes, you said… something about a bad feeling?"

Bofur snaps his finger at him. "Exactly!"

"So? What about it?" Bombur chops up the onions and pushes them aside with his knife.

"I think it's passed now that I think about it."

"Really?" Bombur hums, but he's more focused on chopping up the peppers right now.

"I don't know, it was strange. You know that bad feeling lasted all the way through to November? I almost didn't enjoy Thanksgiving break because of it!"

Bombur glances up at his brother. "You were bothered by it that much?"

"Very," Bofur nods solemnly. He can't tell if his brother is joking or not.

"And now it's…" He waves his knife in the air. "Gone?"

"Pretty much, yeah… I don't know. Maybe it's only gone temporarily?" Bofur scratches his head in thought, but he only succeeds in ruffling up his hair.

"Should I be worried?"

Bofur thinks on this, and then he shakes his head. "Nah!" He waves off. "It was probably nothing to begin with anyways."

"Well… alright then," Bombur replies reluctantly. His brother's musings may be strange at times, but if it was something serious… He shakes his head. No, Bofur was just being strange as usual.

"Anyways! Mind if I take a slice of this pie?" Bofur points to the mini pies sitting behind the glass display.

Bombur nods. "But take from the ones in the back!"

"What?! But everyone knows those are the old ones!" Bofur protests.

"Take it or leave it," Bombur shrugs without much care.

"Fine, fine," he sighs resignedly.

 


 

"When were you ever going to tell me about Smaug?" Galadriel curls her mouth up in an attempt to be humorous, but she can't help feeling a bit ticked that Gandalf never thought to consult her. Especially when it was going on in her own backyard.

Gandalf twirls the fedora in his hands — it seems fedoras are the new 'thing' for him. Last year it was umbrellas, and the year before that? Bowties. Which Galadriel thoroughly dissuaded him from. Well, eventually.

"You know I never told you about Smaug," he points out, his voice already taking on that chastising hint that Galadriel despised.

"You didn't have to. I already knew." She crosses her arms and stares him down in silent accusation. She'd managed to catch Gandalf as he was leaving Mr. Oakenshield's office, waiting patiently by the wall outside once her meeting with Mr. Baggins was finished.

Gandalf leans against the wall opposite from her, angling his body so that he's facing her but also blocking out any eavesdroppers from behind. "And how did you know?"

"You know not everyone likes to remain isolated from the real world," she says pointedly.

Gandalf scoffs. "My dear lady, I am not isolated."

"Says the man who doesn't own a TV in this day in age." It's been an on-going argument between the two of them for ages now. Yes Gandalf loves to travel, thus not making him 'isolated', but the man still refuses to buy anything that even remotely resembles modern-age technology. The only thing he agreed to buy was a smartphone, but other than that it's all he has. He does have a laptop, but supposedly it's a requirement for his 'job', whatever that may be.

"Your point?"

"My point is that you're old and decrepit. That's my first point."

"Hmm, I see. And your second?"

"People watch the news Gandalf."

"Oh, it's on the news already?" He asks innocently.

She shoots him a scathing look.

"You were the one who said I was old and decrepit."

"Smaug has been making headlines ever since he was caught earlier today," she says instead, opting to ignore Gandalf's last comment. She knows when she's lost a fight, but pride—a trait not entirely uncommon to the rest of the world—can sometimes get the best of her.

"I didn't think it would have made headlines so fast."

"Oh of course, my dear Gandalf," she mocks. "Almost everyone in the area knows of Smaug deserting his own people. It's been all the rage at Esgaroth."

Gandalf blinks at her. "You're upset with me."

Galadriel only hums back in acknowledgement.

"But you're not usually one to—"

"Gandalf, what I'm more upset about is why the rest of Erebor doesn't know about this," she cuts in sharply, the accusation all there, clear as day.

He deflates a little at this, but he doesn't let it stop him. "Thorin's family knows."

"And the rest of Erebor don't?"

"We had only agreed to tell everyone if the situation got out of hand, and clearly it hasn't. Smaug's been caught, and Erebor will slowly work to recover some of the money it lost. There's nothing more to be said."

"Well." She pushes herself away from the wall and leans forward, hissing, "Not everyone else feels that way."

"Now let me ask you this." Gandalf's eyes twinkle, but it's not mirth that's got them shining in that annoying way. "Are you speaking on behalf of Erebor, or is it yourself?"

"Both," she replies without missing a beat. Her eyes remain hardened at him, but eventually they give way to more saddened ones. She heaves out a sigh. "Gandalf, you could have told me."

"I know."

"You should have told me."

"I know."

"Everyone else should have—"

"I. Know." He reaches forward and grabs her wrist. She doesn't react at the action, but she doesn't pull away either. He squeezes. "I know. I should have told you, you're absolutely right. But what would you have me do now?" He lowers his head as he says this.

As infuriating as it is to admit, Gandalf is, as usual, right. It's done, it's been over with and there's nothing Galadriel can really do but to stand here fuming at him. Even if they informed the rest of Erebor, what difference would it actually make? Did the teachers have a right to know? Absolutely. But when you think about it, they weren't directly affected by this. Yes, there was a definite possibility that the teachers could have gotten cuts on their salary, maybe even fired to save some money, but everyone knows Thorin Oakenshield wouldn't have allowed that. He's definitely made precautions for situations like these because he cares about Erebor as much as his father and grandfather had, even though Thror had gone a little crazy towards the end.

"So, would you have me keep this a secret from everyone then?"

She feels his fingers slip from her wrist and retreat back to his side. "I believe that is for Thorin to decide. After all, Thorin Oakenshield is not answerable to anyone but himself."

She arches up an eyebrow. "That's not exactly a reassuring answer."

"It's the best one I've got."

They hold each other's gaze. There's a tiny smirk on Gandalf's face, probably because he already knows he's won this battle, while Galadriel is trying not to let on how right Gandalf is.

"You know," she says eventually, "Not everyone likes being left in the dark." Her mouth twitches, but this time it's not from being ticked off.

There's a glint in Gandalf's eyes, and then he lowers his head and chuckles to the ground. "No no, you're right I…" He looks up. "I'll have to remember that not everyone likes being, as you say, left in the dark."

Galadriel's mouth finally curls up into a small smile. "I won't be as forgiving the next time you pull off something like this."

Gandalf nods. "Understood."

 


 

Thorin checks on the bank account one last time—and for the final final time mind you now kindly shut up Gandalf—before closing his laptop. He rubs the backs of his eyes and leans back in his chair. He can feel an oncoming headache approaching, already starting to settle around the back of his head and the ridges of his eyes like a constant throbbing. He knows it's from all the stress he's had to deal it with these past couple of weeks, but for Mahal's sakes did it have to be now of all times? He cracks one eye open to stare at the calendar on his wall. Christmas is fast approaching, something he's completely forgotten about if not for the constant reminders of all the gaudy decorations set up around school.

The Smaug situation, after weeks filled with much unneeded stress, has finally been settled and done for. Thorin, Balin and Gandalf only had to make a brief court appearance last week, and then the man was handed over to the FBI for further dealings. Of course Laketown still had numerous schools and businesses to recompense, so there was still that issue to deal with, but other than that Thorin can officially say he's never been more relieved in his entire life. But now that all the Smaug drama is over, it seems all other present events are finally starting to catch up with him. Christmas is now a week and a half away, and Thorin has yet to buy a single present for any of his family members. He's also supposed to help Dis with their share of the cooking for dinner at Dori's. Dwalin and the boys had offered but after last the time which will go unmentioned, Thorin had offered instead. He wasn't about to put Dis through that torture after all.

And then… there was still the issue of Bilbo that needed solving. The awkward encounter in the stairwell must have done something, because now there's this cloud of unspoken things hanging over both their heads. It hasn't affected their relationship to the point where they can't talk to each other or stand to be in the other's presence, but he thinks they can both sense that there's definitely something wrong in the air. Sometimes their conversations are filled with more awkward silences than comfortable ones, always an empty gap that's left there amidst real life and phone conversations. The dates and lunch rendezvous' in the office continue, but they've become less and less with time. It's not that all conversation has become stilted, but it is getting more difficult to uphold a conversation when there's this thing between them. And no, Thorin is not being a coward by not saying anything. He's just… giving Bilbo a chance, see if he'll say anything and if he doesn't, Thorin will steer clear of whatever it is that's been causing him to grow more distant the closer Christmas gets. Again, Bilbo isn't necessarily distancing himself, he's just diving into his thoughts more and taking longer to resurface.

He opens his eyes. The throbbing's grown worse, but it's not from the headache. It's a different kind of throbbing sensation, the kind where you know something's behind you and the hairs on the back of your neck stick up because there's this unknown presence looming over you. He gulps. Obviously there's nothing behind him but a wall, but he knows what will be there when he does turn around. Slowly, he angles his chair back to see the corner of a picture frame peeking out of the shadows. That one tiny corner is the only visible part of the picture, while the rest is covered in the shadows cast over by the walls of Thorin's office. He had actually found this spot by accident when he first started rearranging his office and filling up all the empty spaces with his own possessions.

Thorin was still a newbie at the time, only a month on the job when things were gradually (but not completely) calming down and he decided: he needed a change of scenery. When Thrain took the job temporarily, he hadn't thought to change up the office at all, and neither had Thorin when his time came. This office continued to stay in the shadow of Thror, and eventually Thorin got sick of seeing the same pieces of furniture stuck in the same positions for years on end. So one weekend he came in bright and early, with sweats and a ragged t-shirt, hair all tied back in a bun and cleaning supplies in hand, and set to work. It took almost the whole day by the time he finally got around to putting his possessions up. He thought he was done, but then he saw something glinting in one of the packing boxes. One glance was enough, because right after he saw what was inside he stumbled back in shock, like there was some deadly snake inside and if he didn't get away fast enough he was sure to be bitten. He almost knocked everything off his newly equipped bookshelf that didn't look like years of dust had exploded all over it.

It turned out to be that damn photograph, the one of his whole family standing in front of his childhood home. He'd completely forgotten about it too, because if memory served correct it was supposed to be buried in a photo album somewhere in the depths of an attic. To this day, he still has no idea how it got in there. The only conclusion he's come up with is that it must have gotten mixed in with the moving boxes when Thorin, Dis and the boys moved to their new apartment. And then Thorin, without thinking, probably found the empty box without checking to see if anything was in it. Actually, he was surprised to find the frame was still holding together, not a single crack or dent to be found.

He had carefully picked up the photograph, taking care to rub away the piles of dust that's made its home in all the little niches. Once he managed to rub off a good portion of it, he was able to get a better look at the image. He's pretty sure he was about twelve when this photo was taken, or somewhere in between that range of a 'brooding ten year old' and 'Stop fixing my hair mum! I'm not a child!' He's stuck in the middle, as he always is despite the fact that he's the eldest and Frerin is in fact the middle child. They all kind of look ridiculous, with their messy hair and goofy smiles and Thorin trying to appear more grown-up than he was actually was. He was obviously trying to match his grandfather's demeanor behind them, all stiff shoulders, head held high and staring straight at the camera like he was preparing for battle. His grandmother and parents are definitely not as battle-ready as Thror is, but Thrain was always his own form of serious.

He remembers this day. Miriam was always complaining that they didn't have enough photos of the children, which was a complete lie to begin with but Thror indulged her anyways. They showed up at Thorin's home the next day with a professional photographer in hand. Althea had rushed about, trying to make Thorin and his siblings look at least somewhat photo-worthy while also trying to find a suitable enough outfit for herself. Thorin just did what he was told, standing still as his mother brushed out his hair, put in little braids and patted down his dusty clothes. Dis complied once she saw her big brother doing it, but Frerin… well, he was never one for rules and being proper. Instead he had ran back outside to escape their mother's pestering. Althea's face had immediately turned a bright hot red - she was fuming, and with the last minute photo shoot it was obvious Frerin's little stunt wasn't exactly doing wonders for her stress levels. Dis hid behind Thorin while their mother stomped after Frerin, but Thror caught her by the arm and said, "Althea, it's a family photo. They're normally supposed to depict a disastrous moment in the making." And then he belted out a hearty laugh and ushered everyone outside. In the end, the photo did turn out to be a success and it was yet another memory to frame on the wall.

That night, Thorin and his siblings went out to see if they could spot any fireflies. They returned to the front porch distraught when they couldn't find anything, and not even the promise of mum's famous pink lemonade could bolster their moods. Miriam tried telling them it wasn't time for fireflies yet, but they forged on, determined to spot at least one of the little lightning bugs. And for a time, that was how the rest of their childhood went on. Not just the fireflies, but Thorin being obedient, Dis following his every move until she learned to grow out of following her big brother's footsteps, and Frerin goofing off and never taking anything seriously. Frerin was always like that, something that annoyed his father to no end at times. From choosing a university to deciding on a career, Frerin was always more carefree about those things compared to Thorin. His carefree nature could be a sore spot for some people, but for Thorin it was refreshing, even if he never let on and pretended to be indifferent about it. After all, Frerin didn't have the burden of being the eldest child, and Dis was spoiled as hell by their parents.

Frerin was always the person Thorin strived to be, but never really could because of his responsibilities as the eldest. As Dis stated, Frerin was always more vocal, more expressive of his feelings and didn't think much of it when he had some die-hard opinion that he wanted to get out. Thrain often complained about Frerin's lack of tact in many social situations, but Thorin soon came to understand that Frerin wasn't lacking in tact at all. It wasn't like his younger brother went around hurting others without having inherent knowledge of this. That was just the way he was, and he wasn't going to let things like structure and order and rules hold him down. For Thorin, it was always something that's been ingrained into him since young. No, his parents and grandfather didn't turn him into some emotionless slab of rock, but he was always told that one day, he would have to grow up a bit faster than others. Not that Erebor was some multimillion dollar business that would collapse without the Durin family name, but it was still a huge responsibility nevertheless. And in a way he did grow up faster than most, but he may have taken that a little too literally. But Frerin was always there, whether it was to cheer him on or to remind him that sometimes, having emotions was okay.

It's why he took Frerin's death so hard. Yes, Thror and Thrain's death were traumatic enough, but Frerin's was what really broke Thorin in the end. And no, he didn't go through a depression, didn't drink himself into oblivion and he certainly didn't shut himself away from his family and friends. He just… didn't have it in him to try anymore. Promises were stupid, second chances were equally as stupid, and everyone always left Thorin whether it was his own doing or not. Hence the obscure spot for the photograph. By having the majority of it covered by shadows, it prevented Thorin from being constantly reminded that the only remaining people alive in that photo was himself, Dis and Althea. Depressing, isn't it?

But right now, for whatever strange reason Thorin feels the need to see Frerin's face. Just a quick glimpse, that's all he needs. He takes a deep breath before pushing himself out of his chair and making the slow shuffle to the wall. His hands shake as he carefully lifts the frame off the hook and stares down into the eyes of his dead brother. Days like these were rare and didn't come often, but when they did occur, he just needed to be reminded of Frerin's presence.

He brushes a thumb over Frerin's blurry features, using it to trace the shape of his face, his eyes, the way his hair sticks up at every single angle. He sighs deeply. Some days he wished he could be more like Frerin, rather than the person who silently bears it all and doesn't know how to properly speak his own feelings. It would definitely help him more with this thing going on with Bilbo, that's for sure.

Because the person he is right now can't do anything for Bilbo.

"A bit too depressing for the holiday season, don't you think?"

Thorin nearly watches the photograph fall to the ground and land in a crash. He closes his eyes and waits for his heart to settle.

"Sorry," comes the sheepish apology. "I didn't mean to—"

"It's alright Fili." Thorin opens his eyes and angles his body forward again. He allows himself a small, reassuring smile.

Fili's lingering in the doorway with a hesitancy about his frame, like he's not sure if he's allowed to be in here or not. It's proven when he points to the door and says, "I did knock."

Thorin sets the photo flat on his desk and beckons his nephew in. Instead of taking a seat though, Fili decides to remain behind the chair. He places both of his hands on the chair's back and stretches his arms out.

"Something on your mind?" Thorin decides to start off. It wasn't everyday his nephews came in— well no, that's a lie. They did come in here just about everyday, but usually it was to hide from Dis or just to bother Thorin. So to see one without the other is a little unnerving, as the boys are practically sewn together at the hip.

Fili inhales, then blows out a puff of air towards the ground. He keeps his face tilted down but lets his eyes wander up to meet Thorin's. Fili definitely got the gene for blue eyes. Granted they're not as blue as Thorin's eyes, but they're a scarily good match for Frerin's color. Thorin almost has to close his eyes again, for fear that if he stares long enough they might be Frerin's staring back instead. He's not going to deny the pain that entered his heart when he looked at Fili sometimes. After all Fili's the spitting image of his late uncle, and it doesn't really ease off the pain when Thorin's been thinking about his own little brother for the past twenty minutes.

Fili's jaw tenses up, as does the rest of his posture but he holds his ground well. "I guess we're both a little mournful today," he chuckles bitterly.

Thorin frowns. "Mournful?" He repeats as he sits down.

Fili rolls his eyes. "I saw you staring at Uncle Frerin again."

Thorin neither denies nor confirms this, but he knows Fili's already figured out the answer for himself. He would have attempted to dig his way out if it was Kili maybe, but Fili? That boy's too smart for his own good.

He looks down, asking quietly, "You know about the photograph?"

"Mum told me." Fili winces. "Please don't tell her? She'll kill me if you do."

"I won't." In an attempt to lighten up the mood, he jokes, "And she'll probably end up killing me first anyways." It gets a half-hearted laugh out of Fili, so he considers that a win.

"You know I always wondered why the pictures of him started to magically disappear around your house."

Now it's Thorin's turn to wince. "You also knew about that?"

Fili shrugs like it wasn't that hard to deduce. He pulls the rest of his body straight up and folds his arms across the chair's back, causing him to lean forward on the chair. If Fili were maybe 15 years younger, Thorin would be reprimanding him about the proper use of chairs and how it might tip over if he continued to place all his weight on it. But Fili's not 15 years younger and his feet actually do touch the ground this time.

"I was always asking mum, 'Hey, what happened to Uncle Frerin? Why isn't he in Uncle Thorin's house anymore?'"

Thorin swallows around a particularly thick lump in this throat. "And… what'd she say?"

"That Uncle Frerin was going away for a while." He stares directly into Thorin's eyes. "And he probably won't be back in Uncle Thorin's house for a long time."

He can't tell if Fili's referring to the missing photos or his missing uncle at this point. He clears his throat, but it feels like the lump is only growing larger. "You were always smart for your age," he gets out with some difficulty.

"Maybe too smart," Fili mutters. He picks at the chair's fabric.

Thorin wants to disagree, but he knows where his nephew's coming from. Being perceptive from a young age does have its downsides. For one thing, it made it harder to hide things from Fili because he almost always seemed to know when you were lying. He was already having his suspicions about Santa Clause at seven years old, and by the time he was nine he'd ousted the whole myth completely. It ruined the whole 'magic of Christmas' thing for everyone, knowing that a little nine year old had officially stopped believing in the mythical man who snuck down chimneys and flew all over the world in one night in a sleigh pulled by reindeers. Dwalin will never admit it, but he was probably the most upset out of all of them. And Thorin too, but he distinctly remembers Dwalin being way more torn up over it than him.

"Is that why you've been down lately? Because you stopped believing in Santa Clause at nine years old?"

Fili snorts at that. "Uncle, please. An overweight man who can climb down chimneys without getting stuck doesn't exist."

"But it's Santa. You could have at least pretended that you still believed in him, rather than crushing all our hopes and dreams."

"Personally, I think mum was actually relieved I found out on my own."

Dis actually was. Dammit. Thorin shakes his head. "Too smart for your own good," he mutters good-naturedly.

"I think I get it from you," Fili remarks in passing.

Probably, Thorin doesn't say. I wish you didn't sometimes, he also doesn't say. Sometimes, Fili's more like Thorin than he'd like him to be. They've both got a sort of quiet aloofness about them, but with Kili constantly by Fili's side it never lasted very long, something that Thorin's eternally grateful for. It was the same with Thorin and Frerin when they were younger, but of course that died the instant Frerin died.

"Try not to be too like me," Thorin grunts as he gets up from his chair. He makes his way around the desk to Fili, who furrows his brow at his uncle.

"What?" Fili asks with a nervous quirk of his lips.

"Nothing." He banishes all self control and goes for it: he ruffles his nephew's hair.

Fili grimaces as hair starts falling into his eyes and over his ears in an unruly fashion. Thorin continues anyways, because no matter how old Fili gets this will never get old for Thorin.

"Did something happen in the past five minutes?" Fili asks, still grimacing.

Thorin chuckles and finally stops his ruffling, still keeping his hand on top of Fili's head. "Not in particular."

"Well… alright then," Fili replies, confused by his uncle's strange behavior.

Thorin moves his hand down to cup the back of Fili's neck and guides him towards the door. "Come on, the next period is about to start soon. You'd better get going before you're late for your own class."

"Right. Because that never happened to you at all." Fili smirks at Thorin's blushing face.

"That was one time," he protests weakly.

"Bet it was worth it." His tone is suggestive enough to make Thorin feel even more awkward. At the time it was so worth it, but now that he's under fire with the relentless teasing from his family, he's starting to regret it a little.

"Enough." Thorin gives him a warning look which does make Fili shrink back, but it's not enough to erase the smirk on his face. "Come on." He nudges his nephew's shoulder. "Get to class. Your students will start wondering where you are."

"Yes Uncle," Fili sighs dramatically. He throws in one more smirk before shrugging off Thorin's hand and walking away.

Thorin crosses his arms and slumps against the door frame, shaking his head as he follows Fili's back all the way down the hall. Fili doesn't get into the teasing as much when he's not with Kili, but his smirks are enough to set Thorin's face aflame with embarrassment. Maybe he's more like Frerin than Thorin thought.

"Thorin?"

He snaps his head to the left at the sound of his name. "Oh, Bilbo—" He stops short when his eyes take in Bilbo's appearance. He doesn't look like a wreck or anything, but there's something wrong. His cheeks and nose are flushed, his eyes are glassy and his mouth is quivering. He keeps biting his bottom lip to stop it, but if he bites any harder Thorin's afraid blood might start spilling out.

"Bilbo?" He pushes himself away from the door and takes a step closer. "Bilbo what's wrong?" He asks, tone growing more worried when Bilbo starts shaking. His hands hover by Bilbo's arms, just in case the man doesn't want his touch.

"I—" All that comes out is a quick series of hitched breaths, and then Bilbo just breaks down completely. Tears stream down his reddening face, his shoulders bunch up and broken gasps escape his mouth. "I-I-I…" He digs the heels of his palms into his eyes, but it's no use. The tears just spill out along the sides and create a mini waterfall down his arms. He shuffles forward into Thorin's open arms and buries his soft cries into Thorin's chest.

"Sssh, ssh, it's okay. It's okay, take it easy," Thorin murmurs into his hair. He digs his hand in between Bilbo's shoulder blades and massages the skin there, rubbing up and down in what he hopes is a soothing action. The other hand he places on Bilbo's lower back, his fingers tapping out a steady beat as he rocks their bodies back and forth. On the outside, Thorin appears calm, cool and collected, as if people come crying into his arms every day. On the inside though? He's freaking out. His head is running through a million different solutions, trying to figure out what will best calm down Bilbo, what's the appropriate thing to say in a situation like this, and most importantly: what the hell happened?

Thankfully, Thorin seems to be doing something right because Bilbo's shaking withers down into sniffling and hiccups. He releases a breath of relief, then pulls back to get a better look at Bilbo's face. His eyes are redder around the rims, and his nose is all runny and his cheeks are splotchy but Mahal help him Bilbo doesn't look any less beautiful. Probably not the most appropriate thing to think about in a situation like this, but it's true. No matter what state Bilbo is in, whether he's emotionally stable or not, Thorin thinks he will probably always find this man beautiful, puffy red face and everything. He makes a mental note to confess this to Bilbo at a later time and date, when he's not on the verge of another breakdown.

"Okay?" Thorin brushes the curls back from Bilbo's face. He tucks them behind his ears, but the shorter curls unfurl again and pop back out. He continues nonetheless.

Bilbo uses his sleeve to wipe up his tear-streaked face. He nods. "Okay," comes the hoarse, muffled voice.

Thorin cups the back of Bilbo's neck and brings him forward so their foreheads are pressing. Bilbo's breath stutters out, but in a more relaxed way as he pushes back lightly against Thorin's forehead.

"You sure?" Thorin asks. He can feel the warm pressure pulsating along his forehead, which helps to alleviate that oncoming headache from earlier.

Bilbo closes his eyes and breathes deeply. It takes a while for him to open his eyes, but Thorin remains patient as he watches those eyes slowly open to reveal a newfound determination layered on top of his previous grief. He steels himself for whatever Bilbo's about to say, but it's definitely not what Thorin was expecting at all.

"Would you like to meet my grandma?"

Chapter Text

Thankfully, Bilbo didn't get the call during the middle of his lesson. If he did, he's not sure how he would have reacted in front of all his students. Maybe it would have been better if he did, because then he'd be working hard to conceal his emotions and actually focus on teaching. It would have been a good distraction, but alas, things don't always work out the way you want them to.

Life could be so frustrating that way, he thinks as he's sitting in the passenger seat of Thorin's white Nissan. The man kept throwing worried glances his way, which Bilbo was thankful for but he'd much rather prefer it if Thorin kept his eyes on the road instead of making sure Bilbo didn't combust into shaking and a puddle of tears again.

He hadn't really explained much, only asking if Thorin wanted to meet Laura and that was that. He hadn't given a single thought to any of the ensuing consequences that might follow, like what would happen to Bilbo's remaining classes for the day? Or what if there was an emergency at Erebor and Thorin was needed back there immediately? He hadn't thought of anything, and he's starting to wonder if it was really alright for Thorin to just drop everything and go and meet his grandmother with him. They would most definitely get in trouble with Balin when they returned, but it wasn't like he could fire them because technically that was Thorin's job, and if Thorin was coming with Bilbo then technically he was condoning this, and technically

"Do you mind if I put on some music?" Bilbo asks loudly over his thoughts. He needs something to fill up the silence, as conversation isn't exactly an option right now. Not that that was a bad thing, because even if they did start talking Bilbo would have no idea what to say. But he didn't want the silence either.

"Sure, yeah." Thorin gestures to the radio. "Choose whatever you want, I don't mind. Oh, also…" Thorin reaches over Bilbo and pops open the dashboard. "I've got some CD's in here too." He pulls his hand back and settles it back on the steering wheel.

Bilbo, out of curiosity, starts sorting through the pile of CD's. They look like they were just thrown in there at the last minute or something, with the way some are piled in stacks while others are lying around in a very disorganized fashion. Going through Thorin's CD's feels like learning yet another side of Thorin. One that involves Baby Mozart apparently.

Bilbo holds up the CD. "I didn't know Baby Mozart was still in these days."

Thorin's confused at first, but when he glances over he groans and throws his head back. "Please, no, if you still love me you won't judge me for the Baby Einstein collection I have in there."

"There's a whole collection?" Bilbo digs his hand through the rest of the CD's and sure enough, there are various Baby Einstein CD's scattered throughout. It's quite amazing how many there are. "How many do you even have?" He asks as he picks up Baby Bach.

"They helped Fili and Kili sleep whenever there were long car rides, alright?" His voice sounds very pained and embarrassed.

"Still, this is quite a lot of—" Bilbo pauses. He blinks rapidly as Thorin's words finally hit him.

"Yes, yes, I know it's a lot," Thorin sighs, obviously not noticing the mental breakdown Bilbo's currently going through. "Let's just say it's been a while since I've cleaned this car out and—"

"You love me?" Bilbo chokes out.

"Yes alright I get it! I— wait what?" Thorin does a double take. "What?"

"You said… you…" Bilbo points dumbly between the two of them with his mouth hanging open, the Baby Einstein CD's clearly forgotten for the moment.

Thorin repeatedly glances from the road to Bilbo.

"You said… if you love me, you…" He watches as Thorin's face slowly takes in his own words, and then he freezes up in the driver's seat.

"Th-That was a… figure of speech…" Thorin explains weakly. His face is about twenty different shades of red, and Bilbo almost feels bad for pointing it out but he couldn't just let something like that slide! Because if this is what Bilbo thinks it is and they're really doing this now of all times, then isn't the first 'I love you' supposed to be important? Isn't it supposed to signify an important change in the relationship, that things are becoming more serious between the couple? At least that's what he always thought.

"So… you don't love me?"

"What?" Thorin's eyes flip through states of panic to forced concentration. It's obvious he's trying to formulate an answer in his head whilst also attempting to drive in a straight line and not cause a car accident. He squirms in his seat. "I… that's not that I meant I… I just…"

Okay, maybe Bilbo's boxing Thorin into a corner and maybe that wasn't exactly a fair question but is it really so bad to be curious? And it's probably about time they discuss where they both stood with each other, because as far as Bilbo knows this is definitely more than a simple fling. Things have been serious since day one and it's been going forward ever since. But then there's the whole maybe I don't want to know part because what if this is just one whole fling to Thorin? What if he and Thorin aren't even on the same wavelength and this whole time their words have held different meanings for each other? What if Bilbo's been reading all the signs wrong? After all, lack of communication is how most relationships tend to fall apart.

"I don't love you," comes the quiet confession.

Bilbo's heart stutters in his chest.

"No, wait that didn't come out right," Thorin mutters to himself. "I mean," he starts over, "I don't love you."

"Yes, Thorin I-I think I got the message loud and clear so you don't need to say it a second time please," Bilbo rushes out before his voice can break any further. He curls his fingers into his palms, not really caring if his nails are digging in too deep and damaging his skin. His mind and heart are damaged enough from that confession.

"No, Bilbo you're not getting it," Thorin says, oddly calm. Then again why wouldn't he be? He just admitted that he didn't love Bilbo, so why wouldn't he be calm?

"I already told you I got the message Thorin." Dammit, his voice is breaking.

Thorin covers his hand with his own and slips his fingers underneath Bilbo's. It helps to relieve the pressure digging into his palm, but the last thing he wants is a pity-gesture from Thorin.

"That's not what I meant," Thorin explains slowly, before Bilbo can think to pull his hand away.

Bilbo finally looks at him. "Then what on earth—!"

"I feel something for you, but I don't love you." Thorin's eyes meet his and… oh. Oh. OH.

Bilbo blushes.

"I mean obviously I feel something for you," Thorin shrugs like it's a well-known fact. He faces forward again. "I feel very strongly for you Bilbo Baggins," he murmurs, eyes all lit up with this quiet affection, and from the looks of it he's even trying to hold back a smile.

Bilbo just stares at him, because Thorin has confirmed one, if not two things mushed together in the same sentence: that while he's not quite sure if he loves Bilbo, he still feels something that's very, very close to love itself. And that's… that's enough for Bilbo. It's enough because Bilbo feels the same way. He too feels strongly for Thorin, and that's enough. Does he love Thorin? Yes, it's very possible that he might actually, really love the man but he's pretty sure he'd be shouting it from the rooftops if he did.

It goes to show that they still have a long way to go before admissions of 'I love you' are exchanged, which is fine. They're in this together, they've already decided that. It's all fine.

 


 

"I… feel strongly for you too," comes Bilbo's shy admission. His fingers curl around Thorin's until their hands are laced together properly.

Thorin swallows thickly and works to fight down a smile, but his mouth keeps twitching so it's no use trying. He doesn't look at Bilbo because you know, nerves. It was hard enough gathering up his courage to confess what he just said, and he only hopes he got the message across. Like he has repeatedly stated, words are not his strongpoint but he's trying. He's trying to be more like Frerin, because today feels like that kind of day and if he wants to honor his little brother then so be it, he'll honor him. Maybe he won't always be like this, but who says he can't sometimes be like this? Why not be a little spontaneous sometimes? It never harmed anyone as far as Thorin knows! And maybe these words aren't enough, and they most certainly won't be enough in the future but it's more than he's ever said to a past partner of his, so there. Progress. He's happy and he's proud. It's the least he can do for Bilbo, since he hasn't been able to do anything for him lately.

He tries to erase that last depressing thought, instead settling back in his seat with a newfound relief in his chest. He won't dwell on that right now, because right now is good. Bilbo feels the same way, more or less, and it's good. Great, in fact. For this one brief moment, everything is good.

"So, Baby Einstein huh?"

Thorin groans, followed by a defeated-sounding laugh. "You're not going to let that go, are you?"

"Thorin there's a whole collection in here!" Bilbo uses his free hand to gesture to the messy dashboard which, yes, he knows needs a bit of cleaning.

"So I've had this car for a while, so what?" Thorin sniffs defensively.

"Baby Einstein," Bilbo murmurs to himself. He shakes his head and chuckles. "Who knew what a caring uncle you are?"

"Make fun all you want, but remember you were the one who said I was a caring uncle."

"That I did, that I did," Bilbo chuckles lowly. He squeezes Thorin's hand and stares out the window.

Thorin squeezes back and returns his attention to the road ahead. They still have at least thirty more minutes until they reached the hospital, especially with this kind of traffic in the middle of the day. Then again, it wouldn't be London without it.

"Turn right," Bilbo directs.

Thorin turns the steering wheel without too much trouble, or as best as he can while driving one-handed. It's definitely not safe and he's lectured the boys enough times to always keep both hands on the steering wheel, but he's making an exception this time. Hand-holding is very important after all, and if they get into a car crash because he didn't follow his own rules well, at least they'll die holding hands (as morbid as that sounds).

"You know you can let go of my hand. I won't be offended if you do," Bilbo says.

"It's fine. I like holding your hand after all."

"I think it would be more effective if you used both hands instead of one." Bilbo shoots a pointed look at Thorin's lone hand resting at the bottom of the wheel.

"I can multi-task." Thorin circles his thumb over Bilbo's, feeling all the little creases and lines etched into the patches of skin.

"Multi-tasking surely isn't going to get us out of a ticket." Bilbo's voice is meant to be reprimanding, but Thorin can already hear the smile wavering out.

He wiggles the tips of his fingers, smiling to himself as he makes another turn, this time more jerky than the last but he manages. They remain that way for the rest of the car ride, no music or talking. They just hold each other's hands, squeezing, wiggling their fingers, tracing patterns along the other's skin. In a strange way, it makes up for the lack of noise in the car. That is until a fat droplet of water splatters against the windshield. It starts off as a few drops here and there, and then the whole windshield is covered in round, watery dots. Thorin flicks on the windshield wipers.

"You think we'll get any snow this year?" Bilbo asks into the silence.

Thorin spares a quick glance at him. His eyes are following the trail of water running down the passenger's window. He looks genuinely curious as to whether or not they'll have a white Christmas this year, and rather than saying something crushing like, 'I doubt it' Thorin says, "It's possible, but I wouldn't expect much."

Bilbo smiles. If it's a little wistful, he doesn't point it out. "I would like to see some snow this year."

Thorin can understand that. Being in a country that rains more than anything can be a bit disappointing at times. He's lucky that where he grew up, he got to see some flurries every once in a while. Sometimes he'd wake up to a light dusting of powder along the grass, but it was always chased away by the late day's drizzle.

"Does the Shire ever get any snow?" Thorin inquires.

"Not often. Although there was this one time…" Bilbo goes off on one of his little tangents, something about the time he was babysitting his little nephew Frodo and suddenly flurries started falling down all around them. Thorin smiles at the conjured up image in his mind. Bilbo probably looked beautiful that day, with his curls haloed by a ring of snow, and his cheeks and nose flushed after playing with little Frodo all day. His eyes might be looking up towards the sky, and his eyelashes will become encrusted with white and when he blinks, the snow will melt against his flushed cheeks. Suddenly Thorin hopes they might get a white Christmas this year.

"It could happen this year," he says once Bilbo's done.

Bilbo hums back in response, but he sounds doubtful.

Rain continues to fall all around them, but Thorin tries to imagine it's snow instead. Instead of driving through wet streets and passing by wet pedestrians, he imagines the roads are covered in snow. Shop windows are dripping wet because of the snow, not the rain. Pedestrians are using umbrellas to shield themselves from the snow, not the rain. He wants to imagine it's snow because deep down, he believes this is yet another thing he can do for Bilbo. If Bilbo hopes that it'll snow this year, then Thorin will do his best to hope too.

 


 

Bilbo remembers seeing snow for the first time. Not in Derbyshire, no of course not. It hardly snowed in the UK, what with the country always raining half the time. So his parents decided to give him a little treat: they took him to the states. That was also the first time Bilbo met Gandalf, who was staying in a big place called New York City at the time. His parents took him to Central Park, where he gasped with that childlike wonder at the sight of three feet of snow before him. He and his parents spent half the day making snow angels and snow forts and having snowball fights. What made their little vacation even better was when they got snowed in for three whole days, meaning they had to miss their flight back home. It was the best Christmas Bilbo ever had, and probably the only one worth remembering. Because the day Belladonna died felt like a small part of Bilbo had died along with her. And just Christmas in general.

Pneumonia, the doctors said. If she continues to take her medication, she should be just fine, was what they said. And of course Bilbo's personal favorite: Sometimes these things have complications.

"What kind of complications?" Bilbo had asked, body shaking with fear and grief but most of all, anger. Anger because the doctors had failed to see this coming. Anger because he himself hadn't seen it coming. Anger because his mother had left him alone. Once again Bilbo was left alone and this time, Belladonna wouldn't be there to pull him out of it.

He'd only been back in Derbyshire for a week when he woke up in the middle of the night to violent coughing from the room over. Ten minutes passed and it still wasn't going away. Bilbo had hopped out of bed, hastily slipped into his patchwork robe and nearly burst through his mother's bedroom door, finding blood on the sheets next to her pillow and a pile of equally bloody tissues on her bedside table. He had carried her bridal style all the way to his father's old car, still sitting there in the driveway with branches and twigs and leaves covering the whole of it. It hadn't been used much since he died. Bilbo was almost afraid it wouldn't start.

He remembers carrying his mother all the way from the parking lot through the hospital doors, shouting at someone, anyone, to come and take his mother who now had a blood dribbling down her chin and onto her white nightgown. It all happened so fast, and it was only after the doctors told him she'd passed that Bilbo thought: her body was so light. He hadn't realized how much weight she'd lost since he came home, or felt the way her wrists were too sharp and bony in some places, when they should have been plump and full in that healthy way like most healthy people's were.

Bilbo was too numb to hear what the doctors were saying. Words like too much fluid entered the lungs and we couldn't get it out in time flew right over his head. To him, they were all excuses. Good for nothing excuses meant to appease Bilbo, but they didn't because Belladonna was dead. She wasn't supposed to go like this, to die from something so petty like pneumonia.

Belladonna always said she wanted to travel more after Bungo died, but her heart stayed with him in that lonely home, with empty halls and rooms and only the past's memories to keep her company. He always thought she would spend the rest of her life continuing her youth's adventures, but instead she held a broken heart in her hands and succumbed to a disease in the same way his father had. At the time, he wondered if he too would follow such a fate. Probably, judging by the way his father and mother went. His only hope was that he wouldn't die with a broken heart, or better yet: alone.

That's the thing about loneliness. It's always right around the corner, always creeping right by the fringes of your vision just waiting to attack and when it does, there's no stopping it. Loneliness can become a constant in your life if you're not careful enough, and that's exactly what happened to Bilbo. He was too careless, too sucked into his own depressing state to realize that the loneliness had already settled in around him. Sure he had his colleagues at work and the one or two students who invited him out for a drink or a meal, but deep down Bilbo knew he was lonely. He saw it in the way he came home to his apartment, greeted by nothing but his books, the portraits of his parents and that feeling he called 'home' but couldn't really call, because while he may have attempted to place that feeling in his apartment, it wasn't really home. For a time it was enough, but then he came to Erebor and met all these wonderful people and Thorin and now he's starting to wonder if the definition of home has changed for him that much in these past few months.

The lonely feeling that was always there in the depths of his heart? It went away. He forgot about it because he had slowly and finally found a place that made him feel like he was home. But of course it was only temporary, because every year without fail these memories returned to bite him in the ass, and he was once again reminded of the loneliness that would forever be ingrained in him. His grandmother helped him through that of course, and just when Bilbo was finally starting to get back on his feet, life knocked him back down again. It always did.

"You haven't said a word since we got here," Thorin murmurs by his side.

Bilbo attempts to smile, but his mouth just curls back down again. "There's not much to say," he murmurs back. There really isn't, because what are you supposed to say when you're in a hospital?

They had reached St. George's about ten minutes ago, and after having a nasty row with one of the nurses who thoroughly insisted that Thorin stay in the waiting area—

("Only family members are allowed to visit Mr. Baggins! And seeing as how Mr. Oakenshield here is not a family member—"

"He is my SIGNIFICANT OTHER!" Bilbo had shouted while pointing at a blushing Thorin. "Is that a familial enough relation for you?!")

—they were finally granted permission by one of the doctors to wait outside Laura's room. She was still in surgery and had been for a while, so it would probably be another hour or two before Bilbo got to see her. He remembers this apprehension, this 'feeling on edge' thing that came with visiting hospitals. He's already done this twice, and to think that he'll have to do it a third time… He winces when his back hits a sharp edge of the chair. Same old, plastic and uncomfortable chairs too. Some things just never change.

Thorin must have noticed his reaction, because he chuckles lowly under his breath with a, "Yeah, I hate these chairs too."

Bilbo's about to ask what he means, but then he sees the expression on Thorin's face, the remembrance and pain and just memories in general flickering like projections on a screen. Thorin's done this before. He's seen it all, knows the routine and what to expect. It's like a painful sock to the gut for Bilbo, because how could he have forgotten the losses in Thorin's own life? First his grandfather who, if Bilbo remembers correctly from all the news articles and hints dropped here and there by Thorin, had so many health complications that Thorin and his family probably ended up living at the hospital. His father who didn't even get a hospital stay because there was no body to begin with, and then his brother…

He balls his fists up. This isn't all that new to Thorin, is what he's trying to get at.

"My mother died at 3:26 am," Bilbo blurts out. Why that suddenly decided to come out of his mouth, he has no idea, so he stares straight ahead at the white walls across from him, feeling his heart thud thud thud so loudly that it's pulsing through his ears and down to his fingertips. It's a very specific time to remember he realizes.

From the corner of his eye Thorin's hand twitches. He decides it's a safe place to keep his eyes at, rather than looking directly into Thorin's face and seeing what kind of reaction he has. He hears a slow inhale from Thorin, and then, "I almost went a whole week without going home, until I was ordered by hospital security to leave." His fingers drum nervously against his thigh.

"You were ordered by security to leave?"

The drumming stops abruptly, like he's not sure if he should confess this next part. It starts up again when Thorin admits, "Apparently I looked like a murderer and I was scaring the staff and visitors."

Bilbo lets out a quick sound that might sound like a laugh, but he manages to cover it up with a cough before it can get that far. He coughs some more and pretends to clear his throat to get rid of whatever's stuck down there. "I uh… I didn't think that was an actual thing."

Thorin hums in agreement. "Neither did I."

Bilbo finally dares a glance up, and then snorts when he sees a spark of amusement lighting up Thorin's eyes. Thorin chuckles, Bilbo's snorting turns into giggling, Thorin's chuckles get deeper, and soon they're both dissolving into full-out laughter with their bodies violently shaking in their plastic chairs. They get a few questioning looks from doctors and nurses, some from patients, and one nurse even shushes them because they're being "Quite inappropriate for men of your ages! You are in a hospital, gentleman." She turns her nose up and stalks away.

They feel guilty, but one glance at each other is enough to set them off into another fit of giggles.

Bilbo knocks Thorin's shoulder with his own, but he ends up leaning too far into it until his face is plastered against Thorin's chest. "Sssh, ssh, we're in a hospital. We're not supposed to be laughing," he whispers through the giggles.

Thorin responds by wrapping a lose arm around Bilbo's waist and resting his chin on top of Bilbo's head. His laughter dies down into muffled chuckles that filter through his nose, but it's clear neither of them have finished their little bout of hysteria.

"Oh god," Bilbo breathes out once they've both managed to calm down. "I haven't laughed that much in a while." He tilts his face up. "Thank you for that." And he genuinely means it too.

Thorin smiles down at him. "You're welcome." Bilbo smiles back. He gently nuzzles up into Thorin's chin, who chuckles and lowers his head to kiss Bilbo's hairline. "You're very very welcome," he repeats again.

It's a few minutes later until Bilbo blurts out his second confession of the day, this one just as random and unexpected as the last: "I don't like Christmas."

"Oh?" Thorin murmurs in surprise.

"I don't hate it," Bilbo hurries on, "Trust me, I'm not like a Mr. Scrooge or anything." He doesn't say any more than that.

Some of Thorin's fingers slip under Bilbo's cardigan (and of course Bilbo has another shirt underneath now kindly get your mind out of the gutter), gently circling the clothed skin near his hip as a way to prompt him forward. Bilbo squirms a bit from the unexpected contact, but after a while he settles into it.

"My father died around Christmas time." The gentle movement stops. "I told you he died when I was in college," Bilbo continues, "But I didn't specify when. That's why…" Thorin's fingers move again. "That's why I'm not as… me, during the holidays. Sorry, does that make sense?"

"It makes perfect sense," Thorin reassures.

"No, seriously Thorin." Bilbo, as much as he doesn't want to, pushes himself away from Thorin so that they're both looking at each other.

"And I'm serious too, Bilbo."

They hold each other's gaze. Eventually Thorin hesitantly opens up his arms, to which Bilbo rolls his eyes and returns to his previous position against Thorin's chest. Thorin also resumes his massaging from earlier.

"I mean you didn't think I wouldn't notice, did you?"

Bilbo can only squirm in guilt.

Thorin hugs him tighter. "I was really worried about you these past few weeks. I thought I… I thought I did something wrong."

Bilbo squirms again. He hadn't meant to worry Thorin so much. In fact, he hadn't even realized how out of it he must have seemed whenever they were together. Bofur and Balin had been worried for some time, but Bilbo always bounced back eventually that they didn't need to dwell on it too much. And he did notice the looks he would get from Thorin every now and then, but the man never said much of it. This is probably the first time he's voicing his concerns aloud, which… okay, not to say that Thorin should have acted in a certain way or anything, but he could have always talked to Bilbo about this. Then again, Bilbo can't place all the blame on him. After all, he hasn't been as proactive either in the communications department.

"To be fair, I was worried about you too," he mumbles into Thorin's chest.

"Me?" Thorin repeats incredulously.

Bilbo swats at his chest to get his point across, causing Thorin to cough out an oomf! "Yes, you." He twists around in Thorin's hold, but not enough that he'll have to pull away again. "You with your brooding and… all that." He waves his hand lazily to indicate.

Thorin raises a half amused, half perplexed eyebrow at Bilbo's lack of articulation. "All that?"

"Yes, all that. Because you—" He jabs an accusing finger into Thorin's chest "—Have yet to tell me what is going on with you."

Thorin's confused at first, but then the beginnings of slow realization start to take shape in his eyes, eventually softening out to reveal pain, stress, and even relief. Everything that's happened to Thorin in the past few weeks is finally coming out and revealing itself, whether it's through his eyes, the mixture of emotions crossing his face, or even the way he holds himself.

How long has he been holding it in?

"It's quite a long story," Thorin grimaces.

Bilbo twists his neck back to glance down the hall. Still no sign of Laura which, yes, does worry him but there's no use worrying over what could possibly be nothing that serious, right? He turns back to Thorin. "I think we've got some time."

Thorin's still trying to hold himself together, but eventually his whole body sags and he lowers his head in weary defeat. It's clear his emotions are slowly winning over him, and from the expression on his face he's not too happy about that.

"Hey." Bilbo tries to catch Thorin's eyes, and when he does, he finds himself not knowing what to say at first. The first thing that comes to mind is, of course, reassurance, but it would be useless to say something like, 'I can handle it' or 'You can tell me anything, it's okay' because it's really not that simple, is it? Because Bilbo can't handle it with the emotional state he's in right now, and it obviously won't be okay. He wants to be honest, but not brutally honest. He also wants to be reassuring, but not spout pretty words that won't amount to anything.

So instead he says, in a tentative voice, "If you show me yours, I'll show you mine?"

 


 

Dis has always known her brother to be dedicated to his job. He practically lived and breathed it, and dare she even say it made up every single microfiber of his being. Even as a child, Thror inspired that work-ethic in Thorin, so much to the point that he actually found the idea of following granddad to work fun. Frerin of course thought the whole thing was dull, while Dis didn't mind as long as there were promises of parties in the gym later.

So when she found out Fili was subbing for Thorin again, not to mention he was no where to be found in the school, she couldn't help thinking that something had happened to him. For a man so obviously dedicated to his job, it was strange to find his presence so lacking, and in the very place he worked too.

"Where is my idiot brother?" She asks Balin, not even bothering to knock on his door as she forced her way inside.

Balin's eyes dart up from over the rims of his glasses. "You mean he didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

Balin lifts his head up. "He's at the hospital with Mr. Baggins."

Dis falters in her steps. "The hospital?" She echoes back, the worry and apprehension already starting to settle into her bones. Why in the world were they at the hospital? Had something happened?

"Aye," Balin nods. He slips off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "And Thorin doesn't usually disappear like this without a few hours notice. He quite literally walked out of the school with Mr. Baggins in tow. I only received word an hour ago that they're at St. George's." He shoots a weary look at Dis, but she can tell it's not aimed at her and more at her idiotic brother.

"Huh, that's strange." Dis tilts her head in thought. "Thorin wouldn't normally do that."

"No, no he wouldn't," Balin sighs. He slips his glasses back on. "I swear, that professor really is doing a number on him."

"Surely not for the worst?" Her voice has a playful lilt to it.

Another weary look is directed at her, this one actually meant for her. "I have very mixed opinions on the topic."

"Only because you happen to have the worst timing," Dis smirks.

"It is certainly not my fault that every time I need the lad he's got his hands preoccupied with Mr. Baggins," Balin grumbles.

Dis laughs at that. She can almost feel Balin's pain. Almost.

"Well, not all of us are so lucky."

"Hardly."

"Still, it's good to know Thorin hasn't passed out in a ditch somewhere," she smiles.

"Wouldn't be a first," Balin mutters under his breath, but still loud enough for Dis to hear.

She barks out a hearty laugh. No, no it would not be. Although it wasn't so much a ditch but more of a nice, well-rounded hole if that's what you wanted to call it. Now that's a story for another time.

 


 

Sometimes, Fili forgets how different Year 11 students are compared to his Year 8 and 9 students. Teenagers are surprisingly mature for their age. Well, surprising to Fili at least. When he was a teenager, he was definitely not that mature. He was maybe slightly more mature than Kili, but together, they were an unstoppable force. Eventually detentions became a normal, everyday occurrence in their lives, and instead of mum or Uncle walking in with anger written all about their frame, they would just sigh and ask, "What did they do this time?"

In his defense, most of the time it was Kili getting them into trouble. Not that Fili never had his fair share of bad ideas, but he was just less likely to get caught red-handed in the process.

He'd like to say he and Kili have grown up, but the truth is they're still just as troublesome as they were in their teenage years, especially with Nori in full support of their daily shenanigans.

"Hey, Thorin have you seen— Oh, Fili." Bofur nods at the history/science teacher. "I didn't realize you were subbing for Thorin today."

Fili, who's right in the middle of packing up his belongings, waves his hand in the form of a lazy 'hey'. "It was a last minute thing."

"Huh, no kidding," Bofur says, more to himself than to Fili.

Fili looks up at him in question.

"No it's just… well, I had to do a last minute sub-in for Bilbo as well."

"Bilbo's out too?"

"Oh yeah, and your brother's girlfriend had to take Bilbo's history classes too."

Fili furrows his brow in confusion. That's strange. He didn't know both Bilbo and Uncle were out.

"Do you know where they went?" Fili asks. He doubts it, but it's worth a shot.

"I think Balin said something about a hospital? I'm not really sure on his exact words."

Fili packs up the rest of his things and circles his way around the desk. "You don't think anything's happened to them, do you?"

"Not sure," Bofur shrugs a bit too carelessly. Shouldn't he be more concerned over this, or is Fili just working himself up over nothing?

"Ah, stop yer worrying lad!" Bofur slaps his back with enough force to make Fili stagger forward "If yer Uncle's with Bilbo, I'm sure everything will be fine. He's more resilient than you think," he winks.

Fili readjusts himself. "Yeah, but— Wait, how'd you know about Tauriel and Kili?"

Bofur gives him a 'come now' look. "As if they're any less obvious than Thorin and Bilbo."

"True," Fili acknowledges. Pretty much everyone knew about Kili's little crush on Tauriel, and if you were watching them during the Halloween party two months back, it only became even more obvious. Plus, Uncle Thorin and Bilbo weren't the only couple being spied on by Erebor's faculty.

"Oh, now that I'm here…" Bofur waits as Fili locks up the classroom for the day. "Did you need a ride to…?"

Fili goes very, very still. It's a good thing his back is still facing the English teacher, because he's not sure what kind of expression he's making right now. He takes a steadying breath, rolls his shoulders and slowly himself turns around. "Yeah, I… that would be great, Bofur," he says in the most even voice he can manage.

"Of course laddie." A few steps later, Bofur asks quietly, "Have you told Thorin about it yet?"

Fili grimaces at the mention of his uncle.

Bofur chuckles. "Well, in your own time laddie." He smiles and leaves it at that. The great thing about Bofur is that he doesn't push unless he has to, doesn't ask much and doesn't judge, something that Fili's been eternally grateful for these past few Christmases. Truthfully, he and the English teacher weren't close in the beginning. Fili only really got to know Bofur through Nori, the two being old college buddies and all. Bofur was also the one who offered up his home whenever Nori was having troubles with his own family. It was purely coincidental that Bofur, of all people, was the one who found out about Fili's little secret, and now every Christmas he offered his services to help. It was more than Fili could have asked for.

"Hey, Bofur?"

"Yeah laddie?"

"…Thanks. As usual."

"You're welcome, laddie. As usual."

 


 

Bilbo remembers seeing snow for the first time, the memory still as clear as day in his mind. He remembers the cold and the heavy puffs of air that came out whenever he took a breath, that feeling he got in his chest when he had been running around for too long but still pushed himself onward because one more lap around Central Park wouldn't kill him. But most of all, he remembers that vivid white all around him. He had never seen anything so white before in his entire life. What made it all the more enchanting was the silence that came with it. The only thing he could hear was his heavy breathing and the soft fall of snow as it came down all around him. And then when he looked directly into the sky, all time seemed to slow down to that one, single moment.

He didn't have a specific word for it at eight years old, but now at thirty-five he does: haunting, the silence was haunting. Beautiful, but haunting. That's kind of what it feels like as he's standing here, with Thorin by his side holding his hand, the doctor talking to the both of them and using all sorts of large, technical terms that Bilbo could really care less about. His voice is dull and vapid and it disrupts that haunting feeling Bilbo is trying to concentrate on right now. Instead of listening to the doctor, he pretends the white hallways and long sweep of doctor coats are all part of a snowy landscape, that the light hum of the hospital machines is actually just the snow falling down around him. It's not the best and certainly not the most accurate image, but dammit, if Bilbo wants to see snow then Yavanna help him he will see snow.

"Bilbo?"

Tiny spots of light dance around in his vision as he blinks his way past them.

"Bilbo?" Thorin's voice becomes louder and clearer around him, along with all those other noises that could be found in a hospital. Snow fades back to white-washed hospital walls, and silence becomes nothing more than that incessant beeping noise that just never seemed to go away. It's rather annoying.

Bilbo blinks some more, then slowly shifts his eyes over.

"Are you alright?" Thorin asks. His face is scrunched up in worry.

"Mr. Baggins, would you like to sit down perhaps?" There's the doctor's voice again, dull with a hint of doctorly concern.

"I…" He glances between the two of them. Is he alright? Does he want to sit? He doesn't know.

"Bilbo?" Thorin calls out again, this more gently. He squeezes Bilbo's hand.

"I think… I need to go home." He says this while keeping his eyes trained on the wall in front of him. It's white, very white.

From the corner of his eye can he make out the jerky up-and-down movement of Thorin's head. "Sure, yeah. I can drive you back—"

"No, I…" Bilbo swallows thickly. "I need to go home."

Silence.

"I think I need to go back to Derbyshire," Bilbo finally clarifies.

Chapter Text

It's another hour before they can see Bilbo's grandmother. Which means another hour of sitting here in these plastic, uncomfortable chairs. Which means another hour of Bilbo staring into space while Thorin continues to fret over him.

He hates this feeling of helplessness, this idea that no matter what he does he won't be able to help Bilbo, because there's nothing Thorin can really do. If he could, he would try to magically improve Bilbo's grandmother's health, maybe even make her a few years younger so she could get more time with her grandson. Unfortunately, he's not some fairy god-mother or wizard. He's just a person who can't seem to do anything for his own boyfriend. Later he'll realize he was being too hard on himself, because there really isn't much a person can do in a situation like this. But for now, he's suddenly painfully aware of his current uselessness.

He's so deep into his own miserable state that he almost misses the soft-spoken, "Thank you."

He blinks in surprise at Bilbo, who hasn't spoken a word since the news was delivered to them.

"Y-You're welcome," Thorin starts to say, but then he grows confused at Bilbo's words because why on earth is he being thanked? He hasn't done anything. "Wait, why are you thanking me?"

Bilbo blinks once, twice, then slowly moves his gaze over to Thorin. His eyes are still a little hazy-looking, but they seem to have cleared up now that he's speaking again. How long that'll last, Thorin doesn't know, but he hopes to make it last as long as possible.

"Thank you for… well, just being here."

"Oh."

"And… thank you for telling me all that. About Smaug and everything. I'm glad you told me in the end," he says earnestly. He offers a weak smile, which is probably more than Thorin's going to get out of him but for the moment, it'll do.

"Um, you're welcome… I guess?" Thorin scratches his cheek self-consciously. Truthfully, he's always imagined how this would go. He created a number of different scenarios in his head, all of them ending in either happy relief or just disappointed anger. He went through a number of reactions that Bilbo might have produced, some realistic, others hoping, and then there were those that just seemed highly unlikely because if Thorin has truly gotten to know Bilbo during his time at Erebor, then he'd know that Bilbo would never make that kind of reaction. Being thanked though? Probably the farthest thing from Thorin's imagined scenarios. Then again, Bilbo didn't really have time to properly react, because right then a doctor had come up to them, obviously fresh out of surgery from his tired and worn-down appearance. Everything else after that is kind of a blur for Thorin, but some good did come out of the surgery, even if it would only be for a limited amount of time.

Laura Baggins had suffered a heart attack. Thankfully she had arrived just in time to be prepped and readied for surgery, but that was when the complications started. Not only was her heart slowly giving out on her, but so were her lungs, her stomach, and just about every other organ in her system. According to the surgeon, her organs had started failing all at once and her body was shutting itself down. Through some stroke of luck from the gods above, her body had somehow redirected itself and its organs were back to prime condition. Well, as prime as they could get after almost completely malfunctioning to the point of obliteration. They're still not sure what happened, but they were able to revitalize her heart and lungs without too much trouble after that. Breathing would become a difficulty for her from now, but if that's all Laura Baggins managed to come out with, then Thorin would say she's one very lucky woman. But alas, luck doesn't last forever.

Yes, Laura came out of the surgery partially whole and partially healthy, and she would be able to continue staying in the nursing home with a portable oxygen machine but there was no telling how long that would last. Right now, Laura was living on borrowed time. No one knew if she was going to suffer another heart attack or if her lungs would give out on her again. Her body's very weak, and if and when she did suffer another heart attack or organ failure, there would be no springing back from this one. The doctor only gave her two weeks.

("She's been having some breathing problems for a while, so I'm not really surprised," Bilbo had said in a tight voice.)

She's currently resting in bed sleeping it off, so it would be a while before they could finally see her. He managed to escape for a little bathroom break earlier, and then to update Balin on what was going on and that it was very possible Bilbo wouldn't be in school the next day. Maybe he's being a bit abusive of his position as headmaster, but it's kind of his job to make sure his faculty is in tip-top shape, so he considers this a good use of his position.

"I think I need to go back to Derbyshire."

Thorin feels his chest tighten up at those words uttered only just an hour ago. He still doesn't know what Bilbo's trying to say, and it's been eating him up alive ever since. What does he mean he has to 'go back home'? Is he intending to take a few weeks off from work to go recuperate in his hometown? What on earth is Bilbo trying to say? What isn't Thorin getting?

He clears his throat to get Bilbo's attention, beginning awkwardly, "Er, when you said you needed to… go home… did you mean…?" He eyes Bilbo nervously.

"It means… I need to go home," Bilbo simply answers.

That's not really the answer I'm looking for. Thorin swallows. "Yes, I know, but… I mean…" He doesn't know how else to continue without being too intrusive, so he only hopes Bilbo will catch the meaning of his words, even if they are less than coherent.

Bilbo's face softens in understanding, although it's a wonder how he even understood Thorin's stammering to begin with. His body remains angled towards Thorin, but his eyes cast themselves down towards the floor, obviously deep in thought once more. Thorin's almost afraid he's pulled himself into another trance when his eyes shift back to Thorin's face, this time filled with the answer he was clearly trying to formulate in his mind.

"They say she only has two weeks."

Thorin nods slowly. "Yes, I remember that."

"And, well… she shouldn't spend her last remaining days stuck in a nursing home. It wouldn't be fair to her."

Thorin's eyes widen. Oh, so that's what he meant. "So when you said you needed to go home, you meant…." He trails off, but the message is there, loud and clear.

Bilbo smiles sadly. "She should be around her friends and family when the time comes." His eyes glance back down.

Mahal, just looking at him is enough to make Thorin's whole body ache with pain for the man. He never thought the day would come when he would have to see an expression like that. It kills him in every way possible, and the worst part of it all? There's nothing Thorin can do about it. He can't fix an ailing old woman with newfound breathing problems, and he certainly can't fix Bilbo's dread over the coming holidays. So then what can he do, if he can't fix the two problems that need fixing the most?

"At least she'll be around people she cares about," is the only response he can come up with. He's never felt more inadequate in his whole life, but after saying that, he's pretty sure he's brought himself down to a whole other level that's just way beyond something like 'inadequate.'

"I'm sorry, that was… that was lame," Thorin apologizes. He almost hangs his head in shame.

There's a burst of bright sound next to him. It's short, but there's no mistaking it: it was a laugh.

Bilbo's eyes, which were previously sad and empty, are now crinkled at the corners, and his mouth is actually turned upward into a smile. The sound even surprises Bilbo by the way he stops so suddenly, but then he just gets right back into it. Thorin on the other hand is growing very concerned, because he's not sure if this is Bilbo finally losing it.

"I… are you alright?" Thorin asks when the hysteria doesn't turn into violent crying.

Bilbo nods shakily. He gets out one last chuckle followed by a few calming breaths. "I'm fine, I'm fine. But your face…" He points at it. His mouth is already quivering again.

"My… face?" He jerks back in surprise when Bilbo pokes one of his cheeks.

"You're brooding again," Bilbo explains. His index finger is still hanging in the air where Thorin once was.

Thorin gradually pulls himself forward again until his cheek is touching Bilbo's finger. He gets poked a few more times.

"Thank you Thorin, really," Bilbo says after a while. He stretches out the rest of his fingers until they're cupping Thorin's cheek.

A warm blush spreads across Thorin's face, and he looks down in embarrassment. He really didn't think he was doing anything worth thanking, but Bilbo seems to think otherwise. He squirms awkwardly in his seat. He can still feel the weight of Bilbo's eyes on him, which only serves to darken his growing blush.

He jumps at the sound of a new voice entering the picture, and when he looks up it belongs to one of the nurses attending to Laura's room.

"Mr. Baggins, your grandmother's awake. Would you like to see her now?" She asks kindly.

 


 

Bard's pen is stuck on the page of his planner from which he was writing. He can see the ink slowly start to bleed out around the pen's tip. It's his favorite pen, as his children pulled all their money together to buy it for his birthday. It's rather expensive too, meaning if he doesn't continue writing or lift his pen off the page, the ink will bleed through onto the next page and Bard kind of has a pet peeve about that. It's not that he's purposely doing this. There is a reason why he's currently sitting stock still in his chair and in the midst of wrecking the page of his planner.

It was a day unlike any other. Bard helped his children pack their lunches, kissed them all goodbye, then watched as Sigrid drove them all to school as he himself got ready for work. Unfortunately he got stuck in the everyday traffic known as London, so by the time he arrived at Greenwood he only had a few minutes to spare. He could see some of the professors tsk tsk at him as he hurried past, but the only thing on his mind was getting to Thranduil's office before he was chastised, again, for being late. And again, it's not his fault that he's often late to work. Greenwood isn't exactly a 5 minute commute from his home, which is located more in the suburbs than the city itself.

He managed to slip through the office door with a minute to spare, and he was only given one disapproving glare from Douchebag King for being late. He counts that as a win of sorts. It wasn't until they started going over Thranduil's schedule for the next few weeks that all hell broke lose (at least in Bard's mind).

"Are you doing anything special for Christmas?"

"Not much, sir. Probably walk around London to look at the lights, the kids and I will make dinner, things like that," Bard replied without looking up from his writing. He doesn't pay any mind when Thranduil doesn't continue, as he figures his boss was probably attempting to make conversation and, seeing as how it wasn't really going anywhere, decided to drop it and return to the safer topics of work. And then came the words that opened the floodgates and unleashed the devils of Hell. At least in Bard's mind.

"Would your family perhaps be interested in joining me then?"

"Joining you for what?" Bard asks distractedly. He scribbles some more notes along the sides of the page. Okay, so maybe this is partially his fault for not understanding the question, but Thranduil has a really busy schedule ahead of him once the New Year is over and Bard is determined to sort it all out so he doesn't have it hanging over his head during the Christmas break. He wants the chance to relax with his kids too.

Which is why when Thranduil simply responds with "Christmas", it takes Bard a while to really soak in what his boss is asking of him.

His scribbling comes to an abrupt halt. Five minutes go by, then ten, and then he finally lifts his head to stare in bewilderment at his boss. He's not joking in the slightest, in fact he's completely serious. And Bard would know when he's joking, which is usually… never. Which means he is completely serious.

He opens his mouth but it just hangs there uselessly. Eventually his whole jaw goes slack, and his eyes keep blinking rapidly as he tries to wrap the question around his head.

"You… I'm sorry?" He splutters out.

"Christmas," Thranduil repeats again, this time not as confident as the first time for some reason. In fact, his voice almost seems to waver as he says, "I was wondering if your family… would join me for Christmas."

"Why?" Bard can't help blurting out. He's not trying to be rude or anything, but seriously why?

Thranduil's face turns stony.

"I mean don't you have.. family?" Bard tries to correct himself. "Surely you wouldn't want your assistant and his family to join you on Christmas. That would be a little, um…" He can't think of a fitting enough word.

Thranduil gives him a strange look. "It's a Christmas party," he states blankly.

"O-Oh." Bard feels his heart rate decrease considerably. "I… oh. Um, thank you for… the invitation. I will…" He clears his throat. "I'll talk to my children about it, see what they think," he says more smoothly.

Thranduil continues to stare at him to the point that he's starting to feel uncomfortable, not to mention the way his cheeks feel slightly warmer. He's a little embarrassed at his overreaction, but how else was he supposed to take it?! Furthermore, he didn't even know his boss held annual Christmas parties. It's not his fault he misinterpreted the question so badly that he thought Thranduil actually wanted to spend personal time with Bard and his kids!

Needless to say, he kind of feels like an idiot.

"Will um, will Legolas be coming as well?" Bard asks as a change of topic.

For a split second, Thranduil's eyes light up and his mouth twitches, but he steels himself before it can get any farther. "Yes, he is actually," he replies in quiet delight. His mouth twitches again. No matter how hard Thranduil tries to tamper it down, Bard can tell how much the president is actually looking forward to seeing his son, and on Christmas too.

Bard picks up his pen again and pretends to focus on his schedule-planning. "It'll be nice to see him again," he remarks casually.

"Yes, it will," Thranduil agrees softly.

He's tempted to look up and see what kind of expression the man's making, but he also wants to give him a private moment too. Well, one quick look couldn't hurt, right? WRONG Bard, that is the WRONG ANSWER, because the moment Bard lifts his eyes up he almost drops his whole planner. He's also pretty sure his jaw made a sort of popping sound as it went slack in shock for the second time that day.

Thranduil's mouth had finally decided to twist itself up into an actual smile. Small, but it was a smile nevertheless. His eyes were shining with happiness, and the normally tense lines that could be found around his eyes and mouth had smoothed out to reveal tiny creases here and there. It gave off a more natural look for Thranduil, revealing not only his comfort but more evidence of his true age. They weren't necessarily wrinkles, just… creases, like laughter lines or something. It was hard to describe them, but Bard can wholeheartedly say they looked very good on the president. Definitely made him look more his age, which makes Bard feel all the more better about his own slowly disintegrating image.

Everything about him was practically glowing, even his goddamn hair and skin! And Bard knew he was staring, he did, but it was really hard not to when 'cold and icy' was what typically made up Thranduil Oropherion Greenleaf.

Eventually he does have to snap his jaw shut and pull his eyes away from this rather miraculous and rare image. Thranduil, thank god, remains blissfully unaware of Bard's blatant gawking.

At least as far as Bard knows, because what he doesn't know is that Thranduil is a clever man who often prides himself on his ability to read people without them noticing. What Bard doesn't know is that Thranduil didn't have to look to feel the weight of his assistant's gaze on him. What Bard doesn't know is that while he was watching Thranduil, Thranduil was watching Bard in his own way.

What these two men don't know is that this whole time, they've been watching and taking note of the other's actions and little quirks.

 


 

Nori eyes the gym teacher in disbelief. "Have you really not told my brother yet?"

Dwalin shifts very minutely. "No, not yet," he grunts out reluctantly.

Nori blinks. "So you've been shaggin' my little brother since Halloween—" He ignores Dwalin's bouts of protest "—And Dori still has no idea?"

Dwalin shrinks back in guilt.

"Not to mention you're coming over to our place for Christmas dinner," he adds with a raised and very pointed eyebrow.

"Alright, alright!" Dwalin throws up his hands in defeat. "You're right, alright?! I still haven't told your older brother anything, but can you blame me?!"

Nori's about to argue but stops. "No, no actually I don't blame you. There's still a possibility you will die."

"Great, just great," Dwalin laughs, slightly hysterical. And when he means slightly, he means slightly, because Dwalin son of Fundin doesn't get hysterical. He also doesn't scare easily, worry about unnecessary things and basically become Thorin Oakenshield. And yet here he is, scared, worried, and most of all just plain scared because there's a highly good chance Dori will not be as happy about the prospect of his youngest brother 'shacking it up' as Nori put it with someone like Dwalin, because Dwalin is the person everyone's parents warn them about. Dwalin is the guy you normally steer clear of for fear that he'll bite your head off or skin you alive or whatever else people come up with upon first meeting him.

He's not the guy you want to introduce to your parents. Or better yet, your overprotective older brother who's insanely strong and will most likely kill you on the spot.

"Oi, you okay?" Nori pokes Dwalin's arm. "You don't look too good."

Dwalin ignores Nori's question. He looks at the ceiling and groans. "I'm a dead man," he mutters, and not for the first nor last time.

"Probably," Nori agrees.

"Dori's going to kill me."

"Probably."

"And then he's going to kill me again."

"Probably."

Dwalin scowls at Nori, who shrugs and says, "Hey, you're the one dating Ori. You should have thought about that before you started shagging—"

"I haven't even—!" Dwalin glances around before lowering his head and whispering, "I haven't even touched Ori."

"YOU MEAN YOU HAVEN'T—!"

Dwalin slaps a hand across Nori's mouth. "Shaddup you idiot!" He whispers frantically, then hangs his head in embarrassment. "Yes, I know we haven't… we haven't gotten that far yet, okay? We're just taking our time, taking it slow. Surely you know the meaning of that."

Nori removes Dwalin's hand from his mouth. His eyes have this mischievous glint in them that Dwalin really doesn't like. "Or you're both virg—" He gets cut off by Dwalin's unimpressed face. "No you're right, who am I kidding? You've definitely lost your virg—"

"Can we drop this topic now?" Dwalin hisses.

Nori rolls his eyes. "Come now Dwalin, we're both adults." He smirks. "Things like sex and virginity shouldn't bother you." He makes sure to place special emphasis on those words.

"It only bothers me because it's coming out of your mouth," Dwalin says tartly.

"Bet you wish it was Ori's mouth," Nori mutters under his breath.

"What was that?"

"Nooooooothing," Nori drawls out with an innocent yet very devilish-looking smile. How he manages to combine the two, Dwalin hasn't a clue.

Dwalin stares at him. "You scare me sometimes, you know that?"

"Bet I don't scare you as much as Dori."

Dwalin groans at that. No, no he doesn't. Dori is definitely ten times scarier than Nori, and he still doesn't know how he's going to break this news to the art teacher.

He's a dead man. Has he mentioned that already?

 


 

"Oh goodness, you should have seen Bilbo! You would have laughed at him, running around with a red bucket on his head and wearing nothing but a dish towel around his waist."

Thorin has to hide his laugh behind a cough, but it comes out sounding too much like a laugh. Bilbo side-eyes him regardless, even though he's making a conscious effort to seem indifferent about a five year old Bilbo running around with a red bucket and a dish towel. He really hopes there are pictures, he'll have to ask later when Bilbo isn't in the room.

Upon first entering the room, he was surprised to find Laura already struggling to sit up even though she just had a pretty life-threatening surgery. She waved off Bilbo and the nurse's help, but in the end Bilbo did have to help her a bit. He was also surprised to find her talking, and not just in that usual, rough voice everyone had when first waking up from surgery, but in actual, full sentences. Granted she did sound a bit raspy because of the lung problems, but other than that she seemed perfectly fine. Thorin nearly questioned the doctor about it because this did not seem like a woman who almost died.

He could tell Bilbo seemed a little surprised too, but he went right along with it, laughing and teasing with his grandmother and acting like everything was okay. Thorin knew though, he could see the way Bilbo's eyes stiffened with pain for brief moments, and then they would pretend to light up whenever Laura made some kind of joke or muttered about how everyone didn't need to keep pampering her. So Thorin went along with it too. He put on his best smile, said all his pleasantries and pretended like everything was okay.

It was a little strange at first, but after a while he got into it. Bilbo had introduced him to Laura as his friend, which Thorin didn't mind. Best to tell her in a more appropriate situation, but it did take a lot of his willpower to not blush under the knowing smirk of one of the nurses (she was there when Bilbo went on his little tirade in front of almost every single person in the hospital). He's pretty sure Laura had noticed his uncomfortableness and was slowly coming to her own conclusions about their relationship, but she still hasn't pointed it out so neither will Thorin. For now, Thorin will just listen to the endless stories about Bilbo doing this or Bilbo doing that as a child. It's very therapeutic, and he can see that Bilbo is slowly starting to unwind from the day's stress and fall into this new lull.

"Oh, and let's not forget the time—"

"Grandma please," Bilbo rolls his eyes. "I don't think Thorin wants to hear every single story about my wild childhood." He looks at Thorin who smiles reassuringly back at him. He hopes Bilbo doesn't think his grandma is boring Thorin. He's very far from boredom actually, and if possible he'd love to stay longer to hear more of her stories. He finds himself wanting to know more about Bilbo's childhood, what he was like, if he always had a passion for literature even at such a young age. There's so much Thorin wants to know about Bilbo.

"Well he'll hear all of it eventually," Laura says.

"Eventually?"

She doesn't get a chance to explain as Bilbo is called away by one of the nurses, most likely to fill out other tedious paperwork that's often involved when you're at a hospital. Thorin never thought the day would come when he would have to fill out hospital paperwork, but his time came. He just didn't think it would involve his baby brother.

"So, how long?"

Thorin perks up. "Pardon?"

Laura rolls her eyes. "Oh, don't play dumb with me. I may be old, but I still know things."

"I… don't think I understand," he tries to explain politely.

"I am talking—" Laura has to take a breath at this point "—about you and my grandson."

Thorin's eyes flicker over to Bilbo right outside. The paperwork will probably keep him occupied for a while. His eyes return back to Laura. "Are we that obvious?" He asks sheepishly. There's no point in pretending now, not when Laura's most likely figured out everything for herself. She's got that shrewdness about her that's so similar to Bilbo in some ways. It's really amazing what genetics can do these days.

To his amusement, Laura scoffs. "I've got at least 60 years of experience on you. I can at least tell when my grandson's smitten with someone."

Thorin chuckles shyly and lowers his head. "He's smitten with me, is that right?"

"If it's not obvious to you then Yavanna help us all," Laura mutters good-naturedly.

Thorin lifts up his head enough to look at her. "You know, you remind me a lot of my cousin."

"I hope that's a compliment."

Thorin laughs. "It is, it is, I promise."

Laura smiles, but it's gone immediately as she settles back against her pillows. She studies him for a while before asking, "So I'm guessing my idiot grandson told you about his little plan?"

"His.. plan?"

"To go back to Derbyshire."

Oh. That plan. They must have discussed it when Thorin had to leave for another bathroom break. "Yes, Bilbo did mention it…" He stops when he notices the slight grimace on Laura's face. For a second, he's afraid she might be getting another heart attack or there's something wrong with her breathing tubes. "Mrs. Baggins?"

She turns her head to the window and grumbles, "Has it ever occurred to him to ask what I want?"

That's… not what Thorin was expecting, but it's better than having another heart attack. "Do you… do you not want to go back?" He asks.

Her mouth arches up in a reminiscing sort of way. "Derbyshire is wonderful, don't get me wrong. In fact, I've quite missed the place. Haven't been back since my legs stopped working properly." She sends a quick glare down to said legs. "It'll be good to see everyone, but…" She sighs deeply. "I don't think it's a good idea."

It's another few minutes until she continues, "It won't do any good for Bilbo, that's for sure." Her eyes soften. "I'd hate for him to be back in his old home after all."

"His old home?" Thorin furrows his brow. What did his old home have to do with any of this?"

She turns back to him with a sad smile. "Too many memories," she explains in an equally sad voice.

"Well, I think I can officially say this: I hate paperwork," Bilbo states as he walks back inside. He flexes his wrist and fingers to show them.

"Isn't paperwork a part of your job?" Laura asks.

"Yes, but it's nothing like that." As Bilbo starts listing off a number of reasons why hospital paperwork is severely different from school paperwork, Laura's eyes catch Thorin's. She winks at him.

He offers a small smile in return, but he can't help thinking back to their conversation that was literally only seconds ago. He hadn't thought of that before, of what going back to Derbyshire might mean for Bilbo. Both his parents were dead, his father died around Christmas and now he was going back to the one place that would bring back the most memories for him. And on Christmas.

He still tries to remain focused on the conversation, nods at all the right places and responds with all the right things, but thoughts of Bilbo and Derbyshire and Laura keep rolling around in his mind. Eventually it all just sticks there like glue, and by the time he knows it he can't stop thinking about it. Of course he knows Bilbo has to go back home, it's best for Laura and like he said earlier, it wouldn't be fair if she had to spend her remaining days in a stuffy nursing home surrounded by dying old people everywhere. She needed to be with people she loved, Thorin knew that. But he also knows that Bilbo and Derbyshire just won't end up well. In fact, he'll be downright miserable. And Thorin… he can't exactly allow that.

He blinks in surprise. Where on earth did that thought come from? He can't 'allow that'? Now Thorin sounds like more of a parent and less of a boyfriend. He grips his thigh tightly to get his thoughts under control. Since when did he start becoming like this? He knows Bilbo's changed him and brought out things in him that he's kept hidden for so long, but when did Thorin become so… possessive? Manipulative? He's not sure what the right word is, but he's never really felt like this before. Then again, he's started feeling a lot of things since Bilbo came along into his life, so should it really be this surprising?

Bilbo's currently deep in conversation with Laura. Something to do with work he thinks. He's not sure, he's only caught some snippets here and there.

He watches Bilbo talk the whole time, the way his hands will move along with the conversation, how he'll brush back his curls with a practiced ease, or how he'll cross and uncross his ankles depending on how comfortable he wants to get. Thorin watches him for nothing other than just wanting to watch him, this man who's slowly crept his way into Thorin's heart, made a home there and is now invading Thorin's space to the point where he can't breathe (in a good way of course). Bilbo is the kind of guy Thorin never thought he could or would have, and certainly not for this long either. He never imagined how steadfast their relationship would become, and while it's still a bit daunting in some ways, Thorin's slowly come to realize how much he's grown into it and learned to be steadied by it. For the first time in a very long time, he's found something that he might just be able to hold onto for longer than a few months.

 


 

He's gotten a total of fifteen calls and thirty texts since he reached St. George's. Some are from the faculty members, but most are from his family. He'd say a majority of the texts are from Dis and Balin, and a few from the boys. Dwalin doesn't text much (have you seen him text? Because he types like a newborn), but there's at least three from him. Thorin will probably have a lot of explaining to do once he gets home, but his whole family interrogating him is the farthest thing from his mind at the moment.

"Thank you for driving me home," Bilbo says quietly.

"You're welcome." He smiles, but it's useless because Bilbo probably can't see it within the darkness of the car. They've been sitting here for about ten minutes already. Why they're just sitting here in darkness, Thorin has no idea, but he thinks it rather fits the mood they're both in.

The moment they stepped foot out of St. George's, the smile that'd been plastered across Bilbo's face had dropped so suddenly. He'd brought his hand up to cover his eyes, probably in an attempt to get himself under control now that they didn't have to put up a show for Laura, because deep down they knew the reality of things wasn't so pretty. It also didn't occur to Thorin until halfway through their visit that Laura was in more pain than she was letting on. He had excused himself out of the room to check on his phone (and make sure Erebor wasn't burning down without him) when one of the nurses stopped him and asked, "How is she doing?"

"Oh, she's doing fine." He looked back over his shoulder when he heard laughter filter out into the hallway. "She's quite energetic for someone fresh out of surgery," he commented. When he faced the nurse again he was granted with a very pitiful look, as if she knew something that Thorin didn't.

"Well, I hope she isn't overexerting herself. It was a tough surgery after all. We'll probably have to up her morphine dosage once visiting hours are over." After that Thorin made sure to pay special attention to her.

It had been a long day to say the least, and he was quite eager to go home and hug his family, maybe even give them a rare 'I love you' without sounding too mocking or condescending in that joking way they've always shared. Teasing and annoying the hell out of each other was usually their prime way of showing affection, but sometimes a simple 'I love you' could go a long way too.

"I guess I should… get going," Bilbo says. He gestures to his apartment building. "I wouldn't want to take up your time any longer, I'm sure you have a ton of things to do and your family's probably worried about you."

"You didn't take up my time," Thorin says.

"But.. aren't you in trouble?" There's a tinge of guilt in Bilbo's voice.

"Bilbo, I'm kind of the boss. The only 'trouble' I'll get is a berating from Balin for not giving him an earlier notice. I've already notified him that you had a family emergency, and seeing as how I'm your significant other, I don't see any problem with the situation."

Bilbo whines in embarrassment. "Please, just… let's just forget about that, okay? I was already having a rough day to begin with and I was about up to here—" He raises his hand to indicate "—with everyone."

"Well, you did announce it loud enough for the whole hospital to hear," Thorin reminds him.

Another whine of embarrassment. "Alright, I'm just going to leave now before this teasing gets any further—"

"Wait, wait Bilbo—" Thorin laughs as he makes a grab for Bilbo's hand. "I'm sorry, I couldn't resist."

"You never can." Even in the dark Thorin can tell the shorter man's rolling his eyes at him.

His hand remains on top of Bilbo's, but he knows that eventually Bilbo will leave, go into his apartment building and try to sleep off the day's events. Except Thorin doesn't want Bilbo to leave, as selfish as it may seem. He doesn't want Bilbo to leave because Thorin knows he probably won't be able to sleep. There's also a chance Bilbo may not come in tomorrow, or for the rest of the week, and there's a definite, very high possibility that this may be the last time Thorin sees for him before he leaves for Derbyshire with Laura. Christmas isn't that far off after all.

"Don't go," Thorin blurts out without thinking. He feels the tips of his ears burn.

There's a short pause, no doubt Bilbo trying to comprehend the meaning of those two words. He chuckles a bit nervously. "Thorin, you do realize this is where I reside, right?"

"No, I… I didn't mean it like that." Thorin twists his hand under so both their hands are laced together. "I… please, don't…" He huffs in frustration. What was wrong with him? It's one thing to think it, but it's a completely other thing for him to just blurt it out and get into some long, overwhelming conversation about it.

"Don't what?" Bilbo prompts gently.

"Don't go to Derbyshire."

Bilbo's hand tenses up.

"I-I know you have to bring Laura back, I get that," Thorin hurries to say so he doesn't sound like some selfish, insensitive jerk, "But… I don't think you should… go." He makes a noise at the back of his throat. Why can't he ever be articulate? Did Mahal like giving Thorin pain?

"Thorin, you know I have to," Bilbo replies quietly. His fingers are quivering slightly against Thorin's.

"But…" Thorin grits his teeth and looks out the driver's window. He needs to do this right, and getting frustrated over his lack of articulation isn't going to help matters. It's not Bilbo's fault he can't ever talk properly whenever the time arises. He exhales slowly through his nose. "You hate Christmas," he states in an even voice.

"Yes, I know."

"And you're going back to your childhood home."

"Yes."

"You can't even stand Derbyshire."

"…Yes."

Thorin whips his head back around. "So do you really think it's a good idea for you to go to the one place you can't stand? The one place that will just make you miserable and depressed when you should be happy and celebrating with the rest of your family?" He winces at his own bluntness, but it's the only way he can get it all out without stammering his whole way through. If Laura won't say it, then Thorin will, and believe it or not he cares very deeply about Bilbo's well-being. No one should have to suffer through Christmas, and especially not alone.

In one swift motion, Bilbo's arm shoots out of the darkness and makes some kind of motion. Next thing he knows, there's light all throughout the car and it's making Thorin's head spin. After some squinting and blinking rapidly to adjust to the new lighting, he finds an unexpected glare directed right at him.

"Then what would you have me do, Thorin?" Bilbo asks, the sentence rising along with his voice. "I'm not going to leave my grandmother alone here to die!"

Thorin frowns. "That's not what I'm asking you to do Bilbo."

"Then what are you asking of me? Because last time I checked this wasn't your call to make." His eyes harden themselves at that. There's a flicker of anger in them, but it's on a low burn, still simmering right underneath but any second now that anger will ignite and burst out of his system. It's only a matter of how long, and how much Thorin is willing to push until he himself gets pushed back.

"And also, since when do you tell me how to run my life? Since when do you get to decide if I'm 'mentally stable' enough to handle going back home?" Thorin's about to protest but Bilbo just runs right over him. "Because last time I checked, you're clearly in no position to tell me how to do things when your life is a wreck as it is! I mean I'm not the one with blatant trust issues, doesn't call or text back and certainly doesn't keep something as big as almost losing half the school's funds to himself!" By the time he finishes his little soapbox speech, his body is quaking all over.

Deep down, Thorin knows Bilbo doesn't really mean that. The man's under a lot of stress, and he's obviously spouting out things he doesn't mean, but it still doesn't make it easier for Thorin to take. He can be understanding to an extent, but he's also not some punching bag for people to use at their convenience. He has his limits too.

"I get it, you know?" Thorin begins, dangerously low. "I know what you're doing, and I get it, I really do." He pauses. "But you don't get to throw my own faults around like that and use it to your advantage. They're not yours to use when it's convenient, so don't think you have some claim over me."

Bilbo squeezes—or more like takes Thorin's hand in a death grip—and violently pulls him forward so they're eye to eye with each other. Ah, and there's that anger, clearly not staying put on that low burn setting anymore. "Then don't tell me how to run my life until you can get a handle on your own," he spits out vehemently. He wrenches himself away from Thorin and slams the passenger door shut behind him. He stalks around the front of the car, all the way up the building's steps and disappears inside.

Thorin remains unmoving, his hand still tingling from how tightly Bilbo was grasping it. His cheeks are burning, but it's not from embarrassment as much as he wishes it were. He closes his hand into a tight fist and slumps against his seat.

And this is why he doesn't push.

Chapter Text

It's past dinner time when Fili hears the jingling of the lock on the floor below. Next comes heavy footsteps, which are easily identifiable as Uncle Thorin's. No one can stomp as loud as him, and half the time he's not even trying to stomp. Once he finishes his ascent up the first flight of stairs, his feet pause outside. There's a bit of shuffling, and then the door creaks open and in walks Uncle. He looks tired and worn down, but Fili's careful not to point it out, something he had to learn from being such an observant child. Mum always said it wasn't nice to point things out, that sometimes he had to stay silent if he didn't want to hurt his new friends. But with Kili by his side, his little brother always made sure Fili had friends and was included in everything. Hence the whole 'sewn together at the hip' thing.

So instead he says, "Dinner's waiting for you. Mum said to just heat it up."

He gets a grunt in response.

"Also, Mum said she wants to talk to you later when you're free," Fili adds. He smirks when he hears Uncle fumble with the plate of food, followed by a groan.

"Can't it wait till tomorrow?" He grumbles.

"You know she won't take no for an answer."

"Yes, I know all too well," Uncle sighs wearily. Whether it's from the day's events or Mum's sometimes over-pushy behavior, Fili doesn't know, nor does he ask as Thorin fumbles some more around the kitchen. Once he's done, he comes to sit next to Fili on one of the counter stools and eats in silence. The only noises are the clinking of silverware and soft chewing noises.

Fili returns to grading the pile of history papers in front of him. He jumps when he feels a hand suddenly ruffle his hair.

"Thank you for subbing for me today," Thorin says, strangely earnest.

Fili shrugs. "No big deal. Not like Year 11 students are that hard to teach anyways."

"I know, but still: thank you." He brushes back a few unruly curls from Fili's face before withdrawing his hand.

Fili touches one of his curls a bit self-consciously. No matter how old he and Kili got, Uncle always kept up the hair-ruffling thing. Kili, being the literal epitome of a puppy, didn't mind, but it always made Fili a bit embarrassed. Not in a bad way or anything, just… well, it was nice to know someone was still around to do that, even if Fili was a grown man.

"Sorry," Thorin apologizes after taking note of the way Fili's holding himself. "I know how you feel about—"

"It's okay," Fili rushes out. He looks at his uncle. "It's… it's your thing. There's nothing wrong with that." He swallows and looks down, then adds, "Besides, if you stopped now Kili would be upset."

Thorin breathes out a chuckle at that. "Aye, he would," he murmurs.

Fili waits a bit before asking the question he's been itching to ask since Thorin walked in. He knows Uncle won't get mad or necessarily angry, and even if he does it's not like Fili will cry and go hide in his room as if he were still 13 years old. He's a grown adult after all. No need to get… scared.

"So… where'd you and Bilbo go today?" Fili asks hesitantly. To his surprise, Thorin's mouth curls up into what seems like a bitter-looking smile. Well, better than being mad he guesses.

"St. George's," Thorin responds evenly. To any normal person who didn't know his uncle like Fili did, they wouldn't have thought twice about the lack of inflection in his voice. Fili on other hand knows better. He knows Thorin's purposely doing that so Fili won't be able to pick up what's wrong, but if they're both being honest with themselves, then they both know Fili will figure it out in no time. They also know that if Thorin really, truly didn't want to be found out, he would have gone to someone else. Dwalin would nag, but eventually he'd give up and leave the issue alone. They might even have a grunting contest. Kili wouldn't last more than five minutes with Uncle, Mum would dig a little too deep, and Balin would just look at Thorin with those eyes of his until he caved or something. It's not that he actively seeks out Fili's counsel when something's wrong, but they know that out of anyone, Fili's the least likely to give him a ton of grief. Or at least not too much.

"St. George's as in the hospital?" Fili frowns. Bofur had mentioned something about a hospital, but he didn't think it was actually true.

"We're alright, nothing happened," Thorin reassures. He twirls the fork in his hand a couple times, something Fili can't help smiling at. He and Kili were always so enraptured by that as kids. They never ceased asking their uncle to teach them. Kili was convinced Thorin was some medieval warrior from his storybooks.

"But… something did happen," Fili pushes on. Carefully of course.

"Yes, something did happen." He twirls his fork again and sighs. He doesn't elaborate any further, meaning the subject's either been dropped or he's just taking his time in answering.

Fili continues to stare at his uncle. There's a good chance he may not actually tell Fili what had happened, so maybe… maybe this was a good time to tell Uncle? He's kept his secret long enough, and as Bofur keeps hinting at, it's probably high time he did tell him. Fili's been hiding it for so many Christmases already, but this is the first Christmas that it's really starting to, well, affect him. It's finally hitting him that it's happening, and he's pretty sure Uncle has noticed it but just chooses not to push, because that's the kind of person Uncle is.

"Um, Uncle?"

"Yes?"

The words don't come to him like they should. His mouth is open, he's ready to finally confess and yet the words don't come. They stay stuck in the back of his throat, just lodged there unwilling to come out. But Fili doesn't want the words to stick there and become one with him. He doesn't want to keep it all in, because the longer he does then the harder it'll be for him to confess. He might be an old man by the time he finally does, and he doesn't want that.

"I'm sure whatever's going on it'll… it'll clear up," Fili says stiffly. He doesn't know where those words come from, but he guesses it's better than just sitting here gaping like a fish.

Thorin hums back in response, and that's the end of all possible conversation for them. He keeps eating, Fili keeps grading. Eventually Thorin finishes up, places his plate and utensils in the dishwasher and heads out the door with nothing more than a mumbled "Good night." Fili stills sits there and focuses on his last bit of paperwork, but at this point he's not even paying attention to his corrections, so he gives up and decides to head up to his floor and sleep it off.

"Did you tell him?!" Kili calls out the moment he steps into his own bedroom. Their rooms are separated by a shared bathroom in the middle, and for some reason Kili insists on keeping all the doors open so they can shout across to each other.

Fili groans and falls onto his bed. "Nooooo."

"Fili!"

"I know, I know!" He shouts back. He throws an arm across his eyes.

He hears Kili's feet putter across the bathroom tiles, across the carpet of Fili's room and then they stop by the foot of his bed. His leg nudges Fili's, who kicks back just a little harder in retaliation. Kili uses this as an excuse to fall on the bed next to his brother with an exaggerated oomf!

"Get off my bed," Fili groans out.

"You're gonna have to tell him soon," Kili says, ignoring Fili's last words.

"There'll be other chances," Fili mumbles.

Yes, he'll have another chance to tell Uncle. After all, Christmas is only a week and a half away.

 


 

It's the week of Christmas. Erebor will have two official days of school, and then classes will be dismissed the day before Christmas Eve. This is normally one of Thorin's favorite weeks. He gets to see all the students bouncing and jittering with excitement for the holidays, talking about the presents they hope to receive and all the food they get to eat. It's an exciting week for everyone. And Thorin's excited. Really, he is. He'd just… be more excited if Bilbo were here with him. Knowing that he's not in his classroom teaching or simply sitting at his desk doing paperwork and grading feels a little out of place. Bilbo's made his mark here at Erebor, so it is really so wrong to think that?

He wasn't sure what he was expecting. A phone call? Too direct. A text? Too informal. An email? Perhaps, as it seemed like the safest bet. A message sent through Balin? Not as unexpected as he thought.

"Mr. Baggins just notified me that he will not be in school for the rest of the week, nor will he be in next week!" Balin had shouted across to Thorin's office, a day after the whole hospital fiasco.

Did it hurt a bit that Bilbo had told Balin instead of Thorin? Yeah, it hurt like a bitch. Was it understandable? Yes, because Thorin had pushed when he wasn't supposed to and look what happened. He supposes this is what couples call 'the first real fight'. He's not exactly sure what people do in this situation. He thought about texting or calling Bilbo to try and clear the air between them, but he was also torn between wanting to give the man his space. His space that Thorin so clearly invaded, his space that Thorin had deliberately pushed into and now he was facing the consequences for his actions. It helps (marginally) knowing that Bilbo would have done this anyways regardless of their fight. Laura needed to be with her friends and family in her final moments, so of course Bilbo would have needed to prepare for the three hour journey back home.

At least Bilbo would have said goodbye before he left, Thorin thinks bitterly. Maybe Thorin could have come over to help the two pack and get their things settled. Thorin could have even done some apartment-sitting for Bilbo! There's a lot of things Thorin could have done, but he can't. Why? Because he quite literally fucked everything up, that's why, and he doesn't know how to tell Bilbo this without fucking everything up all over again. Also, Bilbo's in Derbyshire, so it's not like Thorin can just pop by either.

Thorin has to refrain from sighing out loud, because his students are taking their final exam before the holidays and Thorin really shouldn't be thinking such inappropriate things. He has duties to perform, and constantly thinking about Bilbo Baggins and how badly he fucked up is not at all professional. He grinds his teeth together and starts tapping his pen against his desk in an anxious fit, then stops because he has to remind himself, again, that his students are, in fact, working hard to finish their exam and Thorin making loud noises isn't helping.

He looks at the clock. Five more minutes. He wants to throw himself out the window and end his misery. Thankfully, five minutes go by surprisingly quick so there's no need for Thorin to do that even if he so desperately wants to anyways, because why not end his suffering now so he doesn't have to face Bilbo after the New Year? In fact, why doesn't he just avoid Bilbo forever? He could resign his post as headmaster, hand over all his responsibilities to Dis and Fili, and then he can move to some tropical island and live a peaceful, stress-free life. You know what, he's going to do that right now. He'll hand in his resignation papers to Balin right this very second.

Seriously? Is he this depressed that he'd resort to something like this? Has he really sunk this low? Also, when did he suddenly get so dramatic?

"Are you brooding again?" Dis pokes her head into Thorin's classroom.

Thorin slumps down in his seat. "Maybe," he mutters to the ceiling.

"Would this happen to be about Mr. Baggins' sudden disappearance from school?" She teases.

"He didn't disappear." Somehow, it still feels like he did.

"He left pretty abruptly."

"I'm sure he had ample reason to," Thorin sighs.

"Oh please, don't act like you don't know the real reason why."

"Honestly, I don't think I do," Thorin blurts out without thinking.

There's a suspicious silence on her end. "…Did you two get into a fight?" She asks slowly.

"What makes you say that?" That came out way more defensive than he wanted it to.

"Well for one thing you're brooding. Again."

"In your mind I always brood."

"Will he be around for Christmas?"

Thorin sighs loudly. "Don't. Know."

"So you two did have a fight."

Somewhere throughout their back-and-forth banter, Dis had crept into his class without him noticing. Now she's perched on the side of his desk, fixing him with her 'we need to talk' look, which means there really is no way for him to escape and they're actually going to have this conversation now, the one Thorin actively avoided on the night when everything fell to pieces. Thankfully she didn't try to corner him the next morning, but he knew it was going to happen eventually.

"Does it look like we had a fight?" He asks.

She lowers her head by a fraction. "You tell me."

He stares at her. He's about to ask what she means by that, but due to that inherent bond all siblings seem to share, he slowly starts to understand what she's asking him to do: she wants him to figure it out for himself. But that's ridiculous, he almost says, because what's there to figure out? They had a fight, Thorin said unnecessary things, Bilbo god mad at him (and rightfully so) and then that was that. What more is there?

Another glance at Dis' face tells him he needs to search harder, to go beyond the facts and get down to what really happened. And so he tries to think back to that night, tries to recall all the details and what exactly provoked Bilbo into doing what he did. It was definitely Thorin's fault, there's no arguing there. Bilbo had every right to be mad at him, which is something that Thorin's already accepted and taken the blame for. Only… well, now that he thinks about it, was it really all his fault? He's not denying that he screwed up or anything. Sure, he could have chosen a better way to say the things that he needed and wanted to say, but most of what he said were good, solid points. And it's possible Bilbo may have… overreacted. Of course Bilbo had a right to react the way that he did, and Thorin did push his limits. But someone needed to say something! He knows Laura wouldn't have, because the woman just didn't have it in her anymore. She may not have directly stated it to Thorin, but deep down, he just knows Laura wanted him to be the one to break it to Bilbo. Why else would she have told him about Derbyshire? She may have even known that Bilbo would have reacted like this—or something to similar to this—and probably wanted him to because if she had been the one to tell Bilbo, he would have kept all his emotions under lock and key until he was alone and out of sight.

But then comes the big question: was this whole thing some grand misunderstanding? Had they totally and spectacularly misunderstood each other, even going so far as to call this a 'fight'? Was it a really just one big miscommunication that had lead them to this state of not talking to each other?

"Well."

Thorin jumps. He almost forgot his sister was still here.

Dis hops off his desk and spins around on her heels so she's facing him. "It looks like you've found your answer."

Thorin stares down at his feet. "Did I though?"

"Hey." Her feet step into his line of vision. She uses the crook of her finger to lift his head up. "Remember what I said about being in a relationship?"

He doesn't.

"It's like having a conversation: it takes two people."

"Conversation is a little one-sided at the moment," he winces.

"Then you'd better do something about that." She taps the bottom of his chin and smiles. "And besides, you're not as big of a knucklehead as Frerin was. You'll figure something out."

"Care to tell me how?" He asks hopefully.

She snorts. "You'll figure it out," she reemphasizes. "You always do."

 


 

"Bilbo Baggins, come here."

He startles at the sudden order. He tears his eyes away from the sentence he was reading to stare at his cousin's wife and longtime childhood friend. She's got an expression that really reminds Bilbo of the one his mother often used whenever he was in trouble. He slowly puts down his book and makes his way over to Prim.

"Er, yes?"

She crosses her arms. "Put on an apron. You're helping me bake this stupid pie."

He blinks. "What?" Did he hear her right?

"You heard me." A flash of determination fills up her eyes.

"I… um, okay?" He continues staring at her as he walks around her and into the kitchen. Most of the baking supplies are out, and there are two large circles of dough that had yet to be flattened and pressed.

He squeaks in surprise when a pair of small hands shove him towards the messy work station.

"Come on, come on! I don't have all day!" Prim thrusts one of the aprons into his hands.

Bilbo hurriedly slips it over his head. Prim helps tie him up and he does the same for her. Soon they're both working side by side, aggressively pushing the dough with all their strength until Bilbo's arms felt like wobbly jello. He's careful not to get flour on his face as he wipes his forehead with his arm. He doesn't remember baking being this hard.

"Prim?"

"What?" She barks out. She's already started shaping her dough. Bilbo hasn't even properly flattened his out yet.

"Why are we baking a pie four days before Christmas?" He asks carefully. He really doesn't want to be beaten over the head with a rolling pin and left for dead.

"Don't be ridiculous. This is for Christmas Eve."

Ah, that's right. Drogo's family had this strange tradition of eating all the Christmas desserts on the night of Christmas Eve. Whatever was left would be brought over to Lobelia's as dessert. This meant that Prim, and sometimes Esmeralda and Eglantine if they weren't too busy, was tasked with baking all the desserts, if not most of them. Drogo usually whipped up his famous gingerbread cookies which tasted absolutely divine, but Prim was always the one left baking until she had passed out on the couch. Hence why Bilbo was here, because not only was he supposed to help her (Esmeralda and Eglantine were off doing last minute Christmas shopping), but he was also here to act as an instigator in case things got too messy between her and Drogo. And to watch over Frodo, as it was crucial that Prim got her eight hours of beauty sleep before Christmas Eve, because the time that she should have spent sleeping was spent baking instead.

"And!" She huffs as beats down the dough a bit too violently. "Everything needs to be—" She beats the dough again "—perfect." Bilbo actually flinches back for fear of his own life.

Has he also mentioned that Drogo's mother is a little insane? Don't get him wrong, he adored Fosco and Ruby! Fosco never failed to engage Bilbo in interesting topics, and in his opinion, their discussions were always quite entertaining. Ruby was a wonderful lady too, but she was also a bit… how should Bilbo put this? A perfectionist? One of those old-fashioned mothers who was still hell-bent on the 'ways of the old' as people often called it? Something like that. Either way, she could be a handful, but not as much as Lobelia. She was definitely more tolerable than Lobelia, but for Prim, Ruby was Bilbo's Lobelia. Prim couldn't stand Drogo's mother, which was often why she was so stressed whenever Christmas Eve came around. Ruby also had something of a filter problem, as in, whenever there was something to point out or criticize, she always made a show of it.

"Have you, um… you know? Tried talking to Drogo about it?" Bilbo suggests timidly.

"Talked to him about what?" She asks in a dangerously high-pitched voice. Okay, yeah, maybe Bilbo should have just left it alone.

"Nothing," he mutters.

Prim whines loudly in exhaustion. She's given up on shaping her dough properly without beating it down all over again. It's clear the stress is already starting to hit her.

"Hey, hey." Bilbo lays his rolling pin to the side to go and comfort her. He uses his cleaner hand to rub her back. "Come on, you're Primula Brandybuck! You can do this."

She looks at him with dead eyes.

"Seriously, you can do this! You manage to do it every year without fail and every year you impress Ruby. I mean just last year she said your cranberry pie tasted sweeter than the year before that!"

She sighs.

"And besides…" Bilbo swallows and averts his gaze. "If I can come back to Derbyshire every year without fail, then you can bake a pie," he adds quietly.

Another sigh, this time more pained than exhausted, followed by, "Oh, Bilbo." Prim takes both his hands in hers and she squeezes tight, ignoring the fact that his hands are oily and covered in flour.

He sends her a strained smile. "It's alright, really. Just trying to give you a reason to fight, that's all."

"Oh I have a reason, don't worry," she says confidently, despite her two second breakdown just a moment ago. "It's you that I need to worry about."

His brow wrinkles in confusion. "Me?"

"Well, it's not like this is the first time." She drops their hands and returns to her dough.

"Wait, wait, hold on, what do you mean by that?"

She bites her lip nervously, like she's not sure how offended or hurt Bilbo will be with what she's about to confess.

"Prim," he says sternly. She refuses to look at him. "Come on, you know me. I'm not going to be mad." He leans a bit into her space so he can get her eyes to meet his.

She bites her lip harder. "As much as you like to think you are, you're not very good at hiding your emotions." Their eyes finally catch each other's. "You know, with your father and Christmas and everything."

No matter how many years or how old Bilbo gets, when you put Bungo and Christmas in the same sentence it never fails to strike a chord in Bilbo's body. And it's only gotten worse now that Laura's here, slowly dying but trying to act like everything was okay and that the world will still turn regardless of whether or not she's still around. And yes, she's right, the world will still turn but for Bilbo, his world will have completely stopped. His world will have imploded because of all the feelings he's kept inside these past few years, and then the moment it does implode, it'll destroy everything in its path.

He rests his back against the countertop and lets himself slump down a bit. He hugs himself around the middle, glances up at the ceiling and tries to blink past the wetness forming in and around his eyes. "God, when did this day start to suck?" His voice cracks near the end.

"Now you see how I feel," Prim sighs out. She nestles her head against Bilbo's shoulder. Slowly, they slump down together until they're sitting on the floor, Prim all curled into his side like a cat and Bilbo's head resting on top of Prim's.

"Look at us, we're a mess," Bilbo laughs after a while.

"Yep." Prim pops the 'p' at the end. "But you know what's the great thing about messes?" She turns her head up towards him. "Messes always clean themselves up eventually."

"Uh, I'm not interrupting something am I?"

They both look up to see Drogo staring down at them with a slightly worried expression on his face.

"Drogo!" Bilbo opens up his arms. "My cousin!"

Prim waves her husband over. "Come over here and cuddle with us as we contemplate the meaning of life."

"I'd rather… not?" But Drogo comes over anyways. He sits on the other side of Bilbo. Prim gives a little cheer. "So um… what are we talking about now?"

"Meaning of life. Messes. My father. You know, that sort of stuff," Bilbo lists off casually.

"Ah," Drogo nods in understanding. "Wait, are you two drunk?"

"Good idea, we should break out the wine!" Prim moves to get up but Drogo reaches across Bilbo to stop her.

"It's not even night time yet!" He wails.

"Eeeeeexactly," Bilbo drawls out.

"Oh come on, live a little!" Prim waves off her husband's spluttering protests.

Drogo shares a look with Bilbo as Prim searches the cabinets for any source of alcohol. "This is the farthest thing from a good idea and you know it."

Bilbo thinks on this, then responds, "One drink."

Drogo gives him a withering look. "You know it won't just be one drink."

Bilbo shrugs. "Frodo's with the Gamgee's right now. What's the worse that could happen?"

"Gee, I don't know," Drogo says dryly.

"Found it!" Prim shouts in glee.

"Oh Yavanna, save us all," Drogo nearly sobs.

Bilbo accepts the wine glass from Prim and passes the other down to Drogo. "One drink," he repeats again. He holds out his glass to Prim but sees she's already downed a whole glass and is pouring out another. He turns back to Drogo, who now looks like he's questioning why he married this woman in the first place.

"Or two."

 


 

As predicted, one (or two) glasses of wine usually turns into more, and by around 5 pm Prim is giggling like mad while Drogo is passed out on the kitchen floor. Bilbo on the other hand feels adequately sated.

"How are you not—not—" Prim falls onto Bilbo's lap and starts laughing her head off.

"How am I not what?" Bilbo asks in amusement. He brushes some hair out of Prim's eyes.

"How are you not…" She trails off.

"Prim?" He bends over her.

"DRUNK!" She screams like she just reached an epiphany.

Bilbo winces. "Ah, well, I am feeling a bit tipsy."

"Not sssssame as dru~nk!" She points a finger at him.

He bats her finger away. "Yes, not the same as drunk." He looks over at Drogo to make sure he's still alive, which he is by the slow rise and fall of his chest. Thankfully no one's puked yet.

"Oooohh ssssss phone!" Prim holds up what is definitely a phone, and what looks quite similar to Bilbo's in fact. Wait..

"Prim, give that back." Bilbo tries to grab it but somehow, Prim's pretty quick for someone who's drunk off her ass.

She scurries off Bilbo and crawls towards a passed out Drogo.

"Prim, come on, give it back you're going to break it."

She shakes her head. To his horror she starts pressing random buttons.

"Prim." He holds out his hand. "Prim, give it back. I am seriously going to kill you once you're sober enough."

Thankfully she stops, but her mouth starts forming into the shape of a small guilty 'o', like when you do something wrong and you know it's already too late to do anything about it.

Bilbo feels his stomach drop. "Prim, what did you do?"

She covers up her mouth, followed by a muffled, "Uh-oh." She carefully puts his phone on the floor.

Bilbo crawls over to pick it up. One look at the screen is enough to tell him.

"PRIM!"

 


 

Food shopping for Christmas is usually a hectic time for Thorin's family, since they always tend to leave it till the last minute, and usually after school too.

"BOYS! PUT THAT TURKEY DOWN RIGHT NOW! IT IS NOT A TOY FOR YOU TO TOSS BACK AND FORTH!" Dis shouts down the frozen meats aisle.

Dis also tends to be a bit crabbier after a long school day.

Several people jump and give her terrified or disapproving looks, but she ignores them all as she stomps towards the boys. Fili and Kili both look like a pair of deer caught in the headlights. Their stances say they're ready to bolt at any second, but this isn't school and they can't exactly sprint to Thorin's office or to an obscure cleaning closet to escape their mother's wrath. In this case, it would only do more harm than good.

Thorin would feel bad, except it's hard not to when there's a giant, oversized turkey stuck in between them. The boys send him pleading looks, but he shakes his head. Their mess, their clean-up.

"Oh you're horrible," Althea murmurs beside him. She hands him three jars of cranberry sauce.

He places them all in the shopping cart. "They need to learn someday," he shrugs.

They both share a smirk.

If it weren't for Althea, they probably wouldn't start food shopping until the day of Christmas Eve. She was always the one to rally the family into getting things done early before the big holiday rush. As a family, they would all go grocery shopping the weekend before Christmas. Thorin, Frerin, and Dis loved it, because while the adults did all the busy work, the kids were allowed one hour to roam through the aisles and pick their favorite candies. It was something like a Christmas treat for the kids. Sometimes, they would even create contests to see who could find the weirdest, grossest, or even most disturbing type of food. Frerin usually won those contests.

Althea nudges his shoulder. "Want to go pick a candy while I watch the kids?"

Thorin snorts and nudges her back. "As long as you don't yell at me again for picking the candy with the highest sugar content."

They push the cart side by side. Althea keeps one hand on the handle while hooking her other arm through Thorin's. "You always liked to push to see how far you could get with me. Of course you grew out of that once you hit twelve. Frerin… not so much."

Thorin laughs at that. While he did have his moments here and there, Frerin was normally the one to test the limits with their parents. The only difference between them was that once Thorin hit the ages of the twelve and thirteen, he realized that pushing beyond the boundaries that people set around themselves wasn't exactly a good idea. He always made a point of backing off when the time called for it, which in some cases was good, others… not so much.

He grips the handlebar a little tighter than necessary. Everything always came back to Bilbo, didn't it?

"Thorin?"

"Hmm?"

"Is that your phone that's buzzing?"

He feels around in his coat pocket. "Hold on, lemme get that. It might be Balin or Gandalf." He stays behind and leaves Althea to push the cart. He's been expecting this call for a while, as it had to do with the finalization of the Smaug situation and how to go forward with it now that it was finally done and over with.

He only gets a quick glimpse of the caller ID, but he sees a capital 'B' so therefore assumes it's Balin.

"Hey, Balin. Any word from Gandalf?"

"….."

"Hello? Balin?" He tries moving to a different location to see if he can get a better connection.

"…"

"Balin?" He stops near a section of frozen vegetables. When he still doesn't get a response, he frowns and looks at his phone. "What the hell—" He stops mid-sentence when the screen lights up to reveal the caller's name. He can feel all the color drain from his face, all the heat disappear from the tips of his fingers to the soles of his feet until he was nothing more than frozen statue meant to portray Thorin Oakenshield. Or that was just the cold from the frozen foods section talking.

He blinks a few times, still not totally sure of what he was seeing. Yes, there was a letter 'B' in the name, Thorin hadn't imagined that. Except the 'B' didn't quite belong to Balin's name.

"Oh shit," he mutters. He quickly puts his phone back up to his ear. "Bilbo?" He calls out frantically. At the mention of the other man's name, the line ends abruptly and Thorin is left with nothing more than the empty sound of static filtering through. Oh, and a whole shelf of frozen peas to his left, that too.

He sighs and puts his phone back in his pocket. He feels like he just wasted an opportunity.

 


 

"PRIM!" Bilbo tries to make a grab for her leg, but again, she's way too quick for someone who's clearly drunk off her ass, and Bilbo's left lying outstretched on the floor with his phone somewhere on the side.

Prim giggles and saunters away, but she doesn't get very far because the moment she exits the kitchen she collapses onto the hardwood floor outside. The noise makes Drogo slur out some unintelligible words, but otherwise continues to remain passed out.

Bilbo thumps his head against the floor and groans. "Priiiiiiiim I hate you!"

The only response he gets is her high-pitched laughter.

"Seriously Prim!" He points his finger in the air. "I really really reaaaaaally hate you!" Christ, the alcohol must finally be getting to him because the next thing he knows, the kitchen has become a whole lot darker and there's a blanket on top of him. His head feels slightly heavier than usual too.

He opens his eyes groggily and tries to remember the last thing that happened, except the only thing he remembers is screaming to Prim that he hated her and—

"Oh Christ," he mutters, followed by a long and well-needed groan. Right, how could he have possibly forgotten? He rolls around on the floor some more. He wants to kick himself for panicking like he did, but what was he supposed to say?! Thorin was obviously expecting a call from Balin, not Bilbo!

"Young man, how long are you going to lay there like that?"

Bilbo stops his rolling around. "Grandma?" He calls out timidly. He forces his body up into a sitting position.

Even while stuck in a wheelchair with breathing tubes stuffed up her nose, Laura still looks as intimidating as ever. All she has to do is a raise a single eyebrow and Bilbo will forever be at her mercy. Which she does.

"So?"

He squirms nervously on the ground. "So…?"

"Care to explain?"

He takes a quick glance around at his surroundings. There are two empty wine bottles where Drogo's body used to be, although he gathers Laura found many more. His phone is turned face down, another cringe-worthy reminder of Prim's drunk stupidity and Bilbo's everlasting bad luck. He gathers the dough he and Prim were previously working on has now hardened, meaning they'll have to spend the rest of the night starting from scratch. He's also pretty sure his eyes are bloodshot, his clothes are wrinkled and most likely have wine stains, and his hair is definitely more messy than usual. There really is no lying his way out of this one.

"We may have had a few… drinks?" He grimaces. Even to his own ears, it sounds like a weak explanation.

Laura's eyebrow stays arched up. "You think you did or you know you did?"

"Um, I know I did— that we did! We did…"

"Speak up boy."

He straightens up at that. "Okay, okay! We had a few drinks, that's all! Maybe more than we should have—"

"Maybe?"

"—We definitely had more than we should have!" Bilbo corrects himself. "And, um, we lost track of time. Actually what time is it?"

She blinks ever so slowly at him. "Almost seven."

"Ah, I see.. well I guess we'd better get ready for dinner—" Bilbo starts to gather up the blanket in his arms.

"Drogo ordered a pizza."

"Oh." He sits back down again. "Um… is there any left?"

"Fridge," she answers tersely.

Bilbo hums weakly in response. God, he feels like he got caught sneaking out to a party in the middle of the night. Only this time he has to deal with Laura's wrath, not Belladonna's. Bungo, while he did have his moments, was always too kind to yell at Bilbo. Sometimes, he still can't believe Bungo is Laura's son.

Laura finally sighs and breaks her sharp gaze on Bilbo. "Bilbo, darling, what in Yavanna's name is going on?"

He feels that old teenage protest start to well up inside him. "Grandma please, we were just drinking! It's not like we—"

"I mean I expected this from Prim, but you?" She says that last part as if out of all people, she didn't think Bilbo would fall victim to such inappropriate behavior.

He throws her a disbelieving look. "Seriously?!"

"Act like a teenager, get treated like one."

"I'm thirty-five!" Bilbo nearly wails.

"Then stop acting like some love-sick teenager who thinks his world's ended!" Laura runs out of breath by the end, and when she tries to take a deep breath she ends up hacking up mucus instead.

Bilbo scrambles to his feet. He rubs her back and bends down to check the levels on her portable oxygen tank, but so far everything seems okay. It takes a while, but eventually her coughing becomes nothing more than hitched breaths. He continues to rub her back in soothing motions, waiting patiently until she managed to get most of her breathing back under control.

"You okay?" He asks in a quiet murmur.

She nods.

He nods too. "Sorry, I shouldn't have yelled," he mumbles guiltily.

She shakes her head and grabs ahold of the hand on her back. "I'm sorry…. too," she wheezes out. She smiles apologetically at him.

Bilbo attempts to smile back, but a shuddering gasp escapes his mouth instead. He tucks his chin into his chest and tries to breathe normally, but now it feels like he's the one in need of an oxygen tank.

"Oh, my dear boy…" Laura twists around in her seat. She takes his face in his hands, not even minding the tears now streaming down his face.

He slumps down and buries his head in her lap. He feels her bony fingers run between his shoulder blades and through his hair. This is ridiculous. Just a moment ago Bilbo was the one soothing Laura, not the other way around.

"Oh my boy, my dear, sweet boy," Laura murmurs. Her voice sounds as broken as how Bilbo feels.

Bilbo tries to wave her off. "I'm sorry, just… just give me minute."

She swats his hand away, then bends over him despite her aching back. "Take all the time you need," she whispers into his hair.

"I don't think it'll ever be enough," comes Bilbo's muffled sobs. "It won't be enough, it'll never be enough…" He can feel the force of his sobs rack through his body. He wants to stop, but he can't. It feels like ever since he reached Derbyshire, he hasn't been able to stop.

God, he doesn't want to be here. He doesn't want to be here, in Derbyshire, to see his grandmother die in the very same house his parents wasted away in. He can't do this, not for a third time. Not again.

And for the first time since he arrived in Derbyshire, he finally realizes something: he can't do this alone. He needs Thorin.

Chapter Text

Bilbo doesn't remember how long he stays with Laura that night, watching over her sleeping form to make sure her body keeps rising up and down like it should. He also doesn't know how many times he puts the palm of his hand up to her nose (probably too many times now that he thinks about it). He just knows that when he wakes up, he can hear birds chirping and see those early morning rays trying to make their way past the curtains.

He stretches out his body in the armchair by the corner. He can feel all his joints and muscles cracking and popping as he flexes his arms above his head and tries to make his legs go as far out as possible. When he's sure he's stretched every possible part of his body, he relaxes back into the cushions and closes his eyes for a bit. Bilbo's made a morning ritual out of this ever since he and Laura returned to his old childhood home. Every night, he watches over Laura in the ratty, floral-covered armchair he moved from the living room to the guest room, and every morning he wakes at about 7 am, does his little stretches and closes his eyes to get ahold of his emotions for the day. This is the most important part of the ritual, because if Bilbo wants to ensure he doesn't have a mental breakdown that day, he needs to put a tight leash around emotions such as 'sadness' and 'depression' and keep them under lock and key, only ever letting them out once the day is done and Laura has gone to bed. Three days ago doesn't count, because he still blames the alcohol for making his emotions run high like that.

Oh, and let's not forget the phone incident. He still hasn't chewed Prim out for that yet, and because of her, he can't even look at his phone properly without hearing Thorin's voice finally realizing that the person he was talking to was not, in fact, Balin. Oh, and that Bilbo panicked and ended the call before something more disastrous had happened. Yeah, there was also that.

He exhales slowly, then finally lets himself open his eyes once he's secured his emotional stability. It's still not entirely stable, but it'll have to do for now. Usually it starts to even out by afternoon time, as that was usually when he and Laura paid Drogo and his family a visit. Needless to say it was Bilbo's favorite time of the day, and the only time when he didn't feel like hiding in his old bedroom or his father's study.

He checks on Laura one more time before quietly making his way around the bed and out the door. He winces when he steps on a particularly creaky part of the floor, but Laura's body makes no movement at the disturbance and so he tiptoes onwards. He only releases a sigh of relief once he's far enough down the hallway and out of hearing distance. So far, she hasn't figured out that Bilbo's been sleeping with her for the past few nights and obsessively checking her body for signs of life. She probably already knows, but if she doesn't bring it up then neither will Bilbo.

He's about to continue down the hall when a hint of pink catches his eyes. He angles his body just a little to the right, and that's when he sees it. Now, most people wouldn't think anything special about a doorknob. After all, a doorknob is a doorknob, nothing more to it than that. Except this one isn't.

For one thing, the whole knob is painted a pale yellow instead of the usual rusty color found on most of the doorknobs in this house. Protruding out from the knob are what look like teardrops, all shaded in varying tones of pink. The color starts out as a yellowish-white from where the teardrops protrude, and then the color fades into a light pink which grows darker and darker the farther you go up. Each teardrop is intricately detailed with lines and creases and folds, making them look almost similar to petals on a flower. That's actually what the doorknob is designed to be: a flower. And if your eyes travel farther down, you'd notice a long green stalk going out of the doorknob all the way to the end of the door. There are also little green leaves and thorns coming out of the stalk, which are just as equally detailed as the flower petals.

Bilbo can't help the wistful sound that escapes from his mouth as he stares at the design.

"Mother, what on your earth are you doing?!" Bilbo's feet skid over to Belladonna's curled-up form on the ground. From the way she's positioned it looks like she's trying to steady her weight against her bedroom door, and for a second, Bilbo's afraid she might have collapsed and hurt herself.

"Mother?!" Bilbo calls out again. It's only when he gets closer that he realizes she's perfectly fine. In fact, she's not even leaning against the door but is instead sitting on the ground with her legs folded under her. And is that a painting palette in her hand?

"Oh, Bilbo." Belladonna smiles up cheerily at him.

"What… what are you doing?" He asks, a little out of breath.

"Painting of course," she simply answers.

He stares at her. "Painting…" Bilbo repeats slowly.

She nods. "The doctor said it's good to get some movement every now and then, and I couldn't stay holed up in my room forever."

Bilbo feels something crumple underneath his feet and he looks down. There are piles of old newspapers surrounding Belladonna, along with various bottles and tubes of paints and different kinds of paintbrushes, all laid around haphazardly that it makes Bilbo's anxiety levels rise just a little.

"But, why…?" He glances around distractedly at everything. It's obvious why she's doing this, but… why?

She gives an airy laugh and beckons him towards the ground. "Come here."

"What?" He blurts out stupidly.

She waves him down. "Come here," she says again, this time more insistent.

Bilbo slowly bends his knees until he's at eye-level with whatever he's supposed to be looking at. "Okay, I'm down here. Now what?"

"Use your eyes. Look around you."

He does, but all he sees is a door.

She sighs exasperatedly. "Look closer."

"Mom, I still don't— Oh."

She laughs when he finally gets it. "Now do you understand?"

He nods. "You're painting. You're painting a flower." It's not finished, but there are already three petals painted in and half of a stalk, and knowing Belladonna, she'll probably spend weeks making the flower as detailed as possible.

He turns to her and smiles. "I didn't know you were painting again."

To his surprise she ducks her head self-consciously, something he didn't think he would ever see again after the death of his father. Belladonna isn't a woman who normally gets embarrassed, but when she did, it was usually due to Bungo and his ridiculous romantic gestures. That didn't really tend to happen anymore.

"Just following the doctor's recommendation," she answers without looking at him. There's a light blush on her cheeks.

He turns back to the half-painted flower. "It looks nice Mom, really."

"Well… I figured this place needed a little bit more of a spark."

He purses his lips and looks down. From the corner of his eye, he sees she's absently twirling her brush into the paints. He grabs ahold of her wrist to stop her before she mixes all the colors into one ugly blob.

Her fingers go slack around the brush and it falls onto the newspapers. She lets out a shuddering breath. "I think your father would be quite disappointed with the way we're doing things around here," she says quietly.

Bilbo squeezes her wrist in response. He can't think of anything to say to her, because her words hold so much truth in them. Bungo would be disappointed that they've become nothing more than lifeless figures in their own home. He didn't build this place for that purpose.

"I think… I think Dad would be happy you're painting again."

They both stare at each other.

"You think so?" She asks. He doesn't miss the hopeful rise in her voice.

"Yeah, I do," he answers earnestly. He picks up the paintbrush and slips it back in between her fingers again. "Come on, you'd better finish it. I think Dad would be more disappointed if you didn't."

She chuckles at that. "Yes, alright."

He presses a hand to one of the petals, now faded with some of the paint chipping off. It had taken his mother three weeks to paint it. Normally when she got started on a project, whether it to be knitting or baking or even painting, she always got right into it. She didn't let things like life slow her down, and normally she would have finished them within the week. Unfortunately at that point, that was when the Pneumonia started to kick in. It wasn't anything serious at first, but it was slowly weakening her body to the point that she could only do physical activity in short bursts. She would get tired and lose her breath easily, and things that were once so easy and simple for her to do became so much more harder. It still didn't stop her from finishing that flower though, and when she finally did finish, Bilbo never felt more proud in his life. He had just come back from visiting Drogo and Prim when he heard a short burst of laughter down the hall. At first he thought it was a scream, but when he found her, she was sitting against the opposite wall with the brightest smile imaginable. And then he saw it: the flower was done, and it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. The colors were so vibrant, and the details really did make one think it was an actual flower. He had joined her on the floor a few minutes later, and together they stared at that flower for a long, long time. He doesn't remember how long they sat like that, but he knows it was one of those memories you cherish and keep forever. To him, that memory symbolized Belladonna's perseverance, that she wouldn't let an illness stop her from enjoying the things she loved. And he knows that somewhere up there, Bungo was definitely just as proud.

And it's with that same perseverance that allows Bilbo to take the knob in his hand, twist it, and push the door open. He flips on the nearby light switch and steels himself for whatever greets his sight, but it's nothing more than an empty bedroom filled with Victorian-style furniture and memories of the past.

The room is still just how Bilbo remembers it. There's the large, wooden canopy bed with the patchwork comforter, two matching side tables on either side, a chest in front of the bed that Bungo's father had designed as a wedding gift for his son and new daughter-in-law, a large dresser near the window, and as he often said as a child, 'The biggest walk-in closet known to man!' The room isn't that fancy or anything. There's a couple pieces of art and various family photos adorning the walls, but all in all it's really quite a simple bedroom. And that's what Bilbo's always loved about his parents: their simple ways. Sure, Bungo had his extravagant romantic gestures from time to time, but they really were quite a simple family. Despite the enormous wealth that came with the Baggins family name, they never let things like that get to their heads. His father was always keen to remind him that money wasn't everything. It had its convenience, as it allowed their family to have a roof over their heads and warm food to be put on the table, but money was just money.

"What's important are the relationships you make in life, my dear boy. Money can't buy you those kinds of things." Bungo had said this while staring at Belladonna, his eyes softening affectionately as she hummed out a sweet melody. It was then that Bilbo truly understood the meaning of soulmates, because the vast wealth in Bungo's bank account was nothing compared to the love he held for his dear Belladonna.

"Love conquers all, just remember that son."

Bilbo's grip tightens on the doorknob. It's the first time in a very long time that Bilbo's decided to willingly step foot into his parents' bedroom, and of course the first thing he has to think of is the idea of soulmates and love. It sets a bitter taste in his mouth, especially since he's all but ruined his chances of finding his own soulmate.

He walks back outside with a heavy sigh and an equally heavy heart. He can't do this, not today. He doesn't want to think of Thorin even though he knows he can barely get by like this on his own. He shuts the door behind him and turns around, but he stops halfway.

"I didn't know you were awake yet," Bilbo says.

Laura slowly wheels herself down the hall. "I only just got up," she says, her voice still hoarse from sleep.

Bilbo meets her halfway. "Should I put on some breakfast for us?"

"Please. I'm starving," Laura grumbles good-naturedly.

Bilbo laughs at that. He takes ahold of the wheelchair's handles and pushes her the rest of the way down the hall. There's no time to be thinking about Thorin and love and soulmates. He has to take care of Laura. Family always comes first.

And besides, it's Christmas Eve. There's a lot to prepare for the big day tomorrow.

 


 

It's hard to believe how quickly the holiday season comes and goes. Three days ago Bard was still at Greenwood trying to finish up any last minute work, and now it's Christmas Eve, just one day before the big holiday. Bard honestly doesn't know where the time goes.

"So we're really going to your boss's Christmas party tomorrow?" Sigrid asks skeptically. She's still in disbelief about that.

Bard shrugs. "He did invite us." Truthfully, he's still in disbelief too.

"And you actually accepted?"

Bard sighs. This is the sixth time she's asked that, and she's asked the question in at least three different ways already.

"Hey, I'm just asking here! Because last time I checked you didn't like your boss," she reminds him.

"Well last time I checked, you, Tilda and Bain were all for it. So I don't see what the problem here is," he retorts. When you get sass from your teenage daughter, you have to hand it right back to her. It's kind of an unspoken rule amongst parents.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to go. But I still can't believe you're okay with this— Oh hey, Da look at that! Bain would love that!" She tugs his arm and points him towards what looks like one of those quirky collectible shops. She looks up at him. "Can we go take a look?"

"Sure darling." He lets his eldest pull him along into the shop. Sigrid, despite being the eldest and the one usually responsible for her siblings, tends to leave things till the last minute a lot. One of them being Christmas shopping which, as everyone knows, is usually the one thing you don't leave till the last minute. Most parents would be annoyed or ticked off, but Bard doesn't really mind. He still needs to get a few presents for Tilda and his own parents, so he doesn't really have much room to complain when he's just as bad sometimes. At least he's already got Sigrid and Bain's gifts.

He was kind of surprised when Sigrid decided to drag him out of bed bright and early to take him to this riverbank town, dubbed The Last Homely Village if he remembers correctly. And it is rather homely, what with all the rows of shops and its friendly shop owners. He hasn't been back since October when he had to attend that painfully awkward father-son dinner at Rivendell. Sweet Eru was that painful, just painful.

They decide to stop for a break in a modest-looking cafe called Celebrian. He's a bit overwhelmed when they're immediately greeted by a pair of dark-haired twins behind the counter. Not to mention a young girl who's working the register. She's probably their little sister if he's going by their looks. Sigrid is of course smitten with the twins. She's not outwardly flirting or anything, but there's a lot of eyelash-batting and giggling and hold up are they checking her out now?

"Okay!" Bard says a little too loudly. "Thank you for the drinks and the… food. Oh, keep the change," he directs to the little girl. He grabs Sigrid by the shoulders and guides her to one of the tables by the windows.

Sigrid rolls her eyes once they take the seats opposite from each other. "Da, you don't need to go into 'over-protective-father' mode. We were just talking."

"Yeah well, I didn't really understand where all the 'talking' was going at that point," Bard grumbles.

"I'm almost eighteen, you know that right?" She eyes him over the rim of her coffee mug.

He twirls his finger at her. "You can look at aaaaaall the boys you want after you leave for uni."

She shoots him a wry look. "Wow, how generous of you Da."

"I am generous. Much more generous compared to… Was it Krissy's father?"

"Kaitlyn's," Sigrid corrects.

"Right, Kaitlyn."

"Actually speaking of Kaitlyn…" Sigrid starts getting into some scandalous thing Kaitlyn's father did. Bard's only half paying attention, nodding absently here and there and making the appropriate 'Oh's!' and 'Ahh, I see's!' It's halfway through Sigrid's story when another customer enters the cafe. At first he doesn't pay any mind, but then one of the twins points to their table and the man turns his head in their direction. Bard squints his eyes at the man's face, and then they widen upon recognition.

Bard stands up to greet him once he reaches their table. "Mr. Elrond, Happy Christmas Eve."

Elrond places a friendly hand on Bard's shoulder in greeting. "And a Happy Christmas Eve to you too Bard," he says warmly. "And who might this young lady be?" He smiles kindly upon Sigrid, who blushes and stands up.

"This is Sigrid, my eldest," Bard says.

"Nice to meet you sir," Sigrid smiles politely.

Elrond puts his hand on his chest and bows.

"Are you a friend of my Da's?" She asks curiously.

Elrond chuckles. "Something like that."

"We share a mutual friend," Bard explains to her. He doesn't miss the knowing look she gives him.

Elrond doesn't seem to miss it either. He raises an amused eyebrow at the terminology.

Bard decides they need to get off this topic like right now, because Elrond is the type who can just read people from a single gesture and get their whole life story or something. He clears his throat. "So, um, busy morning for you?"

His eyebrow falls back into place. "Not too busy yet. I won't be closing the restaurant till lunch time." He points towards the counter. "I actually came to see my children before things started getting too hectic."

Bard ends up doing a double take without meaning to.

"You mean you own the place?" Sigrid appears ten times more impressed than when they first entered the cafe.

Elrond nods. "In a way." He points to the counter again. "Arwen, my youngest, often works the register. Elladan and Elrohir are my twins, they're the real owners of this place." Elrond grows quiet for a moment, but then he smiles and clasps his hands behind his back. "The cafe is named after my late wife. It was actually a gift from my boys. I had absolutely no idea they'd bought this place."

Bard's known about Elrond's late wife from the few times they've talked and the little slips Thranduil's given here and there. He's always figured that's why Thranduil and Elrond get along so well, and also why Bard doesn't seem to mind Elrond's company whenever he visits Greenwood in his spare time. The dead wife factor is the one thing all three of them seem to share. Maybe they should form a club.

"That was very thoughtful of them," Bard comments in an attempt to weave the conversation away from Elrond's wife. "Now if only my kids were so thoughtful." He sighs sadly.

Sigrid rolls her eyes. "Yes Da, lemme just buy a cafe for you. I'm sure I have the money to spare."

Elrond's laughter rings out. "Of course it's the thought that counts, not the gift itself."

"See Da? Mr. Elrond gets it."

Now it's Bard's turn to roll his eyes. He hooks an arm around Sigrid and tugs her in for a quick kiss on the head. Suddenly he feels the urge to go home and do the same for Tilda and Bain too. After all, he knows all too well what it's like the lose the love of your life.

Unlike most teenagers who would typically push their parents away and grumble about receiving affection in public, Sigrid giggles and reaches up to kiss Bard on his lower cheek. When he glances back at Elrond, he sees the man is distracting himself by picking something off his shirt. Bard almost thanks him for giving them a private moment.

"Well! I should probably be off now. Christmas Eve or not, I still do have a restaurant to run. Bard, as usual it was nice seeing you again."

Bard smiles. "You too, sir."

"And I'm assuming I'll see you and your family at our, ah, mutual friend's place?" His eyes sparkle in amusement.

Bard makes an unidentifiable noise at that. "Ah, yes. We will…. see you there," he replies awkwardly.

Elrond smiles, but he can tell there's a hint of a smirk behind it.

Five minutes after Elrond's left and they've taken their seats again, Sigrid takes a sip of her coffee and murmurs, "Mutual friend, huh?"

Bard nearly chokes on his coffee.

"You could have just said his name you know. It's not like it's some huge secret or anything."

Bard stares down into his drink to avoid his daughter. Yes, why did he have to skirt around the topic and call Thranduil a 'mutual friend'? There wasn't anything to hide. Thranduil was his boss, and Bard was his assistant. There's nothing more to it. It's not like they were… together. Or anything.

"If you're still feeling uncomfortable about that morning—"

"I'm not," Bard answers quickly.

"—Don't be. Tilda and Bain may have their little conspiracy theories, but they're honestly just joking."

"Well I'm not, because— wait what?" Bard frowns in confusion.

"Seriously, they're just joking," Sigrid carries on. "And they don't expect anything."

"Expect anything?" Bard repeats slowly.

"I mean if they really were expecting something, wouldn't they be asking more serious questions? Not things like 'So when's the pretty man coming back'?"

That's a favorite question of Tilda's. Bard's pretty sure she has some kind of a crush on Thranduil. It's either that, or she just really wants to play with his hair and put a thousand braids in it.

Ever since 'that morning', Bard's not really sure what the thought process of his kids have been. Tilda won't stop asking about the pretty man and when he'll return (at one point she was convinced he was an angel sent for Bard, whatever that means), and Bain keeps asking if he likes guys now. Sigrid's been keeping the questions to a minimum, which he's thankful for, but he's always been worried about what his kids would think. For one thing, he didn't want them to think he was suddenly dating again. Bard made it a rule that if he were to ever start seeing someone, he would tell his kids and make sure they were okay with it first. After all, he didn't want them to just assume anything. Bard's always prided himself on how open he and his kids are with each other. They didn't keep any major secrets from him other than 'Bain stole the last cookie while you weren't looking!' And if they were having any troubles at school, whether it be with a certain class or a school bully, they always came to Bard for help.

He figures he probably should have made things bit more clear concerning his and Thranduil's actual relationship (which is still nothing more than a boss and an assistant!), but that was before his kids found them cuddled up asleep on the couch! So of course they're going to make a whole bunch of assumptions based on that!

"Well I'm glad… that's the case," Bard says, slightly more relieved than before.

"It is the case," Sigrid reassures him with a smile.

Bard smiles back.

"Oh and… Da?"

"Yeah darling?"

She reaches over to take his hand. "You know you get to be happy, right?"

He furrows his brow. "I am happy. Why wouldn't I be happy?"

She gives him a look. "Being happy doesn't mean spending your every living breath with us."

"I like spending my every living breath with you guys."

"You know what I mean Da."

"No, I really don't darling." Really, he doesn't.

She squeezes his hand. "I'm saying that you can see other people, man or woman. You know we don't mind, as long as you're happy."

"I'm always happy, regardless of whether I'm in a relationship or not." He leans forward a bit. "Listen, sometimes people don't need to be in a relationship to be happy."

She nods. "I know that."

"And I am happy, regardless of what you may think. You, Bain and Tilda are my pride and joy. Even if I'm single for the rest of my life, as long as I have you guys, I'm happy."

Sigrid looks down at that. "I know we make you happy, but Da…." She looks back up. "We don't want you to be single for the rest of your life," she says sadly.

"Hey, hey. Single or not, I'll still be happy. I promise you that."

"…Really?" When she says it like that, she really does look younger than she actually is. It makes Bard's chest hurt for him to see her like this, because Sigrid is… well, she's Sigrid, and Sigrid isn't most teenagers. In fact she's not a teenager at all, but more of a mini adult stuck in a teen girl's body. Bard sometimes has to ask himself if she's really that much younger than him, because most of the time it seems like she's the adult of the house. The death of her mother may have played a part in that sudden maturity, but Bard's only grasping at straws here. And he admits, life hasn't been all that fair to Sigrid. She didn't get an opportunity to stay a kid for long, something that Bard will probably regret for the rest of his life until he can make up for it with the wedding of her dreams or something. So to see her like this is different. Not bad different, but different in that it's heartwarming to see her be a kid for one rare moment.

"Really really."

 


 

"Fili's not gonna say it, and he'll probably kill me if he ever finds this out but it's killing me from the inside out and I don't know how much more of this I can take."

Despite the rather worrying confession that Kili just blurted out, Thorin doesn't make any type of visible reaction. Instead he crosses his arms and nods calmly at Kili to continue, even though calm is the last thing Thorin feels right now. Because you know, when your youngest nephew suddenly drags you out of the comforts of your home and into the freezing cold with an expression that quite clearly says please don't ask I'll explain everything once we're in complete isolation from everyone, it's hard not to be alarmed and start panicking inside. Thankfully, Thorin's mastered the art of appearing calm and stoic.

Kili sucks in a nervous breath. "Okay, so… you know how Fili's been acting a little strange lately?"

Thorin nods. He wasn't aware that Kili noticed it too. Then again, Kili probably notices everything when it comes to his older brother.

"Alright well… this isn't the first time."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean…" Kili's face does this weird kind of contortion, like he's almost going to be sick or something. Except it's not the type of nausea that comes from physical sickness, but from having to reveal something that's just so bad it literally makes one sick to their stomach.

"Kili?" Thorin calls out gently. "What do you mean by this isn't the first time?"

"Every Christmas Fili goes and visits Dad!" Kili's whole body tenses up and he squeezes his eyes shut. His hands remain in tight fists by his sides, and his shoulders are all bunched up around him as if to shield himself from whatever verbal blow Thorin grants him.

Only Thorin doesn't have one, because he's still trying to process what Kili's just told him.

"Fili… visits Noth?"

Kili nods stiffly.

"And you said every Christmas?"

"It… started about five years ago," Kili admits timidly.

Holy shit. Thorin grabs onto the nearby pillar of the overhang for support. Five years ago?

Kili shifts from foot to foot. He's in that state where he's trying to relax his body but doesn't know if it's safe enough to do so without Thorin exploding everywhere.

"Please don't be mad at Fili," Kili pleads.

Somehow, Thorin still has the ability to look a bit miffed that Kili would think that. "I won't get mad at him."

Kili's body actually deflates in relief.

"But why didn't he say anything to us?"

"Come on, you know how Mum feels about Dad."

Thorin frowns at that. "What happened between your parents was a long time ago. I would think your mother would be a little more civil with Noth."

"Uncle, even you still have hard feelings towards Dad."

His frown deepens. "I do not." And then a thought occurs to him. "How has Fili been getting to Northampton this whole time?"

At this, Kili's body tenses up again. "Er… Bofur's been driving him?"

"Bofur?" That's unexpected.

"Believe it or not, Bofur's great at lying." Kili's face turns sour at the admission. "That's how Fili's been able to get back and forth without anyone noticing."

"Remind me never to let you hang out with Bofur then," Thorin mutters. He scrubs a hand through his beard. That would definitely explain why for the past five Christmases, Fili would go out for extended periods of time but would somehow always come back just in time. Thorin always figured he just needed some time for himself, but he never would have expected something like this. And the last time he checked, Fili wasn't all that close with Bofur. Then again he was pretty sure Fili had no idea where Noth was residing, but turns out Thorin was wrong about that too.

"And tell me: how did you two find out where your father was staying?"

Kili visibly shrinks under Thorin's stern expression. "Um, you'll have to ask Fili about that one." Thorin raises an eyebrow, to which Kili puts his hands up in defense. "I'm serious! That's all I know, promise! Fili was the one who told me where Dad lives."

"Alright, alright. I believe you." He's about to ask his next question when he feels something cold hit the back of his neck. He jumps and looks around him, then looks up at the sky when he feels something hit the bridge of his nose. For a split second, Thorin almost thinks they're flurries, but they're coming down too quickly to be that.

Kili follows his uncle's gaze up. "Oh, it's raining."

Thorin inhales deeply. If his breath stutters a bit on the way out, Kili doesn't notice. He's torn between wanting to think the droplets are flurries and wanting to see them as nothing more than rain droplets, because if he thinks they're flurries then Bilbo's flushed face and snow-covered hair will be brought forth to the surface, and Thorin can't think about Bilbo right now. He refuses to let his thoughts stray to Bilbo, not now when Christmas is just a day away. He doesn't want to think about how unhappy Bilbo might be, or how he's trying so hard not to cry knowing that Laura could pass at any moment. If he lets his mind wander down that rabbit hole, there's no telling how long it'll take Thorin to come out of it.

The fact that his family keeps sneaking looks at him isn't helping either. They're all acting like he's going to fall apart and break down crying at any second, like he's this fragile piece of glass that, if not handled correctly, could break and splinter into a million pieces to the point that it'd be impossible to put back together. Thorin wants to scoff at such a ridiculous notion, because it's not like he hasn't been broken down before. This isn't the first time that a part of Thorin has chipped away, and it's certainly not the first time that he's had to piece himself back together. He's used to being broken down and put back together, even if it is a messy process from start to finish. The only difference is that this time, Bilbo's alive and breathing and Thorin doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. He doesn't know anything anymore actually.

"We should probably head back inside," Kili murmurs beside him.

Thorin nods mechanically. Yes, they should go inside. They should go and be with the rest of their family, celebrating the rest of Christmas Eve and preparing for the big feast at Dori's. This isn't the time to be depressed and think about his own failings when things were going so good between him and Bilbo. He can't think about those things. He needs to focus on his family and this thing with Fili that needed dealing with. There's no time for Bilbo, not now.

And it's not like Thorin's got the courage to call Bilbo up. What would he even say? 'Hey babe, miss you and wish you could come home'? Bilbo didn't have a lot to say either when he just so happened to call Thorin three days ago, although he's starting to think that was more of a butt dial than anything. Call him what you want - coward, scaredy-cat, unworthy of being a Durin - whatever you want, but at least he has the decency to know when he's lost something and let it go. How long he'll be letting Bilbo go, he doesn't know, but he's pretty sure it'll be quite some time before he can lay claim to Bilbo again.

God, lay claim to him? Since when did Thorin start thinking things like this? He's not some weird old guy with a bondage fetish. He's just Thorin, a guy who's already in so deep with a man whom's he not sure still likes him.

"Uncle?" Kili's holding the door open for them. "You okay? You've been standing there for a while."

"Oh? Have I?" Thorin hums distractedly. His eyes are still focused on the light drizzle coming down all around them.

"You sure you're okay?" He hears Kili shuffle his feet.

"Yeah, I'm okay," Thorin replies after a while. He finally tears his eyes away and smiles at his nephew. "Come on, we should go. Your mother is probably getting suspicious."

Kili groans at the mention of Dis. "That reminds me, I haven't even told Mum yet…"

Thorin chuckles at the pained expression gracing his nephew's features. It's easy to say he and Fili have witnessed the full wrath of Dis, but in all actuality they really haven't. Not yet at least, and Thorin can't decide if he wants to see that in action or not.

"It's alright, I'll handle your mother," Thorin says as he ruffles Kili's hair.

"Really?!" Kili's face brightens up.

Thorin pats the back of Kili's head. "Think of it is as an early Christmas present."

"Aw, Uncle you're the best."

He chuckles again. For now, he'll hold off on the whole 'Dis exploding in action' thing. Well, he did say for now.

 


 

Bilbo gets the call during afternoon tea with Bungo's parents. They'd decided to come a bit early which Bungo and Laura had been absolutely ecstatic about. Frodo was also excited to see his grandparents, rushing into Fosco's arms and peppering both his grandparents with eskimo kisses. Of course the early visit of Bungo's parents has Prim seething and constantly on edge, but Bilbo has to say she's putting up a good show. He is slightly afraid that she might just crack under the pressure and bash everyone's heads in with the serving tray, but so far she's holding out very well. A little too well actually.

He finally corners her in the kitchen as she's preparing the next round of tea and a plate of cookies and sandwiches, which is taking suspiciously longer than it really should. He's also well-aware that her knuckles have turned a very pearly white.

"How long are you going to hide out in here?" He asks with his hands on his hips.

All the blood rushes back to Prim's knuckles as she finally unclenches her hands and stretches out her fingers from that deadly grip. She hangs her head in obvious weariness. "I can't do this Bilbo, I can't. If Ruby mentions one more time about how the tea is brewed a little on the—"

"Hey, hey." Bilbo walks up to her and holds her face in between his hands. He snickers at her pouting lower lip. "You're going to be just fine, I promise. And besides, what's a little critique now and then? That's just her way of saying she likes the tea and you can make room for improvement, that's all!"

"I highly doubt that," she says flatly.

"No really, it is."

They both turn at the sound of Laura wheeling herself into the kitchen. She raises her eyebrow at the two of them. "Primula Brandybuck, are you really getting scared now?"

She sighs. "Not scared, just sorely beaten down."

"Well then get back up." Laura waves her hands in an upward motion, gesturing for Prim to literally 'get up'. "Ruby Bolger is nothing more than an old woman stuck in her old ways. Are you really going to let her, an old woman, beat u down like this?"

Prim sighs again. "No ma'am."

"Then get to it."

Prim rolls her eyes good-naturedly. She picks up the teapot and tray of food with a little more bounce in her step. Bilbo smirks at the newfound confidence Laura's placed in her. If there's one thing Laura's good at, it's pep talks.

"Well that was easy," Laura says, and rather smugly too.

Bilbo shakes his head. He's about to make a comment about it when the buzzing of his cell phone interrupts him. His eyes catch Laura's, who waves him off with a, "It's okay, take your time," and sits there patiently with her hands folded in her lap.

"Bilbo, hey buddy!"

Bilbo can't help the full-out smile that unleashes at Bofur's jovial voice coming through the line. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't happy to hear from him. He feels like he left Erebor without saying a proper goodbye and wishing everyone a happy Christmas. Well, that's what happens when your grandmother is dying and you want to avoid a certain headmaster.

"Happy Christmas Eve Bofur. Wasn't expecting a call from you."

"Aw come on, when you say it like that it makes me look like I'm a bad friend! Also, Happy Christmas Eve to you too lad."

Bilbo laughs. "No, no, you're a very good friend." He looks back at Laura and decides to angle himself away from her curious eyes. "So, how are things on your end?"

"Exhausting," comes Bofur's dramatic huff of a response. "Bombur's going mental with the cooking. Thinks he's on The Great British Bake Off or something." Bilbo snorts at that. "No seriously! Absolutely mental. And then Bifur's no help at all…"

Bilbo listens to Bofur's ramblings with the widest smile possible. He honestly regrets leaving without saying a proper good-bye to everyone.

"…And then I gotta drive Fili all the way up to Northampton tomorrow, which— Ah, um… yeah." Bofur hems and haws far more than necessary, and it's so awkward that he really can't fault Bilbo for cackling into the receiver.

"Oi!"

"Sorry, sorry," Bilbo apologizes through his stifled chuckles. "Do I even want to know what you're up to?"

"No, you don't," Bofur replies firmly, meaning the topic's done and over with. "Just… promise you won't tell Thorin, alright?"

Bilbo's chuckling comes to an abrupt halt. Laura gives him a strange look.

"Bilbo? You still with me laddie?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm here. Sorry I just… sorry." Bilbo closes his eyes briefly to get his mind back in order. He doesn't know what suddenly came over him. It was as if merely mentioning Thorin's name somehow triggered something in Bilbo, made him freeze up with the realization that… that what?

There's a worrying silence on Bofur's end. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," he reassures, but his voice hitches towards the end and it comes out sounding all high-pitched. "And don't worry, I won't… tell him or anything." When he glances up, he catches his grandmother staring at him.

"Ah, thanks Bilbo you're the best! Thorin might have my head if he knew."

They exchange a few more words and talk about their plans for the big day tomorrow, and Bilbo tries to prolong it for as long as possible so he doesn't have to deal with the questions Laura surely has for him, but Bofur is in fact busy and does in fact have a lot to do, so eventually Bilbo lets him go.

"Well, we'd best get back out there. They're probably wondering where we are," Bilbo casually says without looking up. He puts his phone away and adjusts his cardigan, does anything to avoid looking at Laura. Whatever her assumptions may be, they can wait for another time because Bilbo does not want to discuss it whatsoever. Unfortunately, things don't always tend to work out in Bilbo's favor when it comes to his grandmother. They never do in fact.

He tries to snake himself around the wheelchair to grab the handles and push Laura out of the kitchen without too much eye contact and talking, but Laura stops Bilbo by merely placing her hand on top of his.

"Grandma—" Bilbo nearly whines before she can go off on another one of her tangents.

"Bilbo Baggins, I never thought you to be a whiner." She lowers her head and stares at him with eyes brimming with the knowledge of an old woman beyond her time. They're eyes similar to Gandalf's (and even Miss Galadriel's) in that they always seem to know everything and can see right through people. Bilbo hopes to acquire this skill one day, maybe when he's old enough and has seen enough of the world.

"Only when I have a nosy grandmother," Bilbo sighs fondly.

She pats his hand and for a moment looks down at the kitchen floor. Her eyes soften. "I'm sorry you have to be here," she confesses quietly.

Bilbo feels his mouth twist downward. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Bilbo." She looks back up and her eyes do that thing again. "I think we both know that out of all places, here isn't exactly what you had in mind."

"I can assure you that here is exactly where I want to be." He's pretending to play dumb, he knows that, but for Yavanna's sake it's Christmas Eve. No need to go spoiling the mood with the one obvious fact that he doesn't want to admit out loud.

"And I can assure you that it's not," Laura counters back.

Bilbo comes around the front to kneel before her. "What do you want me to say, hmm?"

"Well for one thing, you can stop acting like a love-sick teenager who thinks his world's ended," she grumbles.

"You know, I'm pretty sure you said something like that to me a few days ago."

"I did, in fact. Exact same words." She gives him a light tap on the forehead.

"I never got to ask: what do you mean by a 'love-sick teenager'?" He tilts his head questioningly at her. For some reason, those words had bugged him for a while until he'd passed out in the guest room's armchair for the night. He completely forgot about the whole thing the next morning.

"Have you called Thorin recently?" She asks, completely out of left-field that it leaves Bilbo totally blindsided.

"I… what?" He splutters.

"Thorin."

"I've… I've been busy, you know that." He switches knees to give his other one a break.

"Well you've barely mentioned him at all since we arrived here," Laura points out.

"I…. don't really know what to say to that," Bilbo says in all earnest. He really doesn't.

"You should give him a call, ask him how he's doing. I quite miss the fellow," she carries on without him, acting as if they've been talking about Thorin this whole time and Bilbo's the one who isn't keeping up. But then she raises an eyebrow at him, all silent accusation like it's Bilbo's fault Thorin hasn't been around despite the fact that he's all the way back in London with his own family.

"…Alright?"

"It's a shame." Her eyebrow remains in place.

Bilbo sighs, but it's less fond and more impatient when she doesn't elaborate further. Whatever she's trying to get at, it doesn't seem to be reaching Bilbo in the slightest. "What's a shame?" He asks eventually, knowing that she wants him to ask just for the sake of asking. And annoying him.

"He didn't get to see us off before we left." She shrugs at her grandson's bemused expression. "It's a shame, it really is."

"Grandma, you'll see him when we get back." Even as Bilbo says that, the words don't feel right in his mouth.

"Will I though?"

"Of—" Course, Bilbo's about to say, but instead his mouth sets itself into a thin line and he looks away from her. Truthfully, he doesn't know if she'll see him again. Partly because her health is deteriorating, and partly because Bilbo has no idea where he and Thorin stand at this point. They haven't talked about any of this at all, and the problem is that neither one of them are brave enough to step up to the plate and pick up the damn phone. There are days when Bilbo's had enough of this radio silence, but then he can't get his body to move towards the landline or to even simply grab his cell from his back pocket. It's hard, and he's pretty sure all those online journal articles never discussed what to do when something like this happens. He doesn't have this well thought out script containing all the right things he needs to say to Thorin, because life doesn't work out that way. When you become an adult, everything really does become so hard and so much more complicated. No one ever tells you or prepares you for things like the downfall of a relationship. You just have to improvise half the time, and even that doesn't always work out. Seriously, adulthood can suck ass sometimes.

"Well, even if you don't, I'm sure Thorin will understand," Bilbo says with a tight-lipped smile. He's not sure if that's the best answer, but it's the best one he's got which isn't a complete lie and actually holds some weight of truth.

Chapter Text

Thorin is 38 years old. He's not terribly old or anything, but he's getting to that point where he's starting to settle comfortably into his life and this routine that he's made for himself. He's got his life just about figured out, more or less, and he's not stuck in some midlife crisis so he's got that going for him. What he's trying to say is that this is it. This is his life, and it's going to stay that way for the next thirty or so years before he keels over on his way to his deathbed. At least that's what he's been telling himself since he managed to get Erebor back on track and bring the school to its full potential once more. For a long time, this was his life, and he never thought to achieve any more than that. He has a supportive family, a loyal faculty, and wonderful students that he gets to see every day of his life. He never asked for anything more than that because he didn't want to ruin what he already had. So what if he was 'getting up there' and still hadn't settled down with a family of his own and a few kids? So what if he was still living with his sister and two nephews? He didn't need all those other things, even if he couldn't help thinking about them from time to time.

And that's when Bilbo Baggins decided to come along and fuck up Thorin's entire life plan. Instead of settling for the life he already had, Thorin found himself wanting more, wanting not only Bilbo Baggins himself but an actual, possible future with the short, curly-haired professor. Thorin didn't want comfortable and secure. He wanted that uncertainty and the whole 'not knowing what's to come' thing, because that's what a future is. You're not supposed to know what's going to happen next, which is what makes life exciting and just a little bit more adventurous. Everyone's always so concerned with the future and constructing their life down to a tee. No one ever wants that adventure anymore, because their biggest worry nowadays is what's next, what's next! And then came the possibility of all possibilities, granted in the lovely form of Bilbo Baggins.

That's what he's thinking as he's standing there, with all this warmth and affection flooding through his system and just the need to be reach out and take this opportunity for what it is, because if Thorin knows himself, then he knows that if he lets this go he will never forgive himself. If he lets this go, he'll spend the rest of his life asking what if? And he doesn't want that. He doesn't want to go through life with enough regrets to last into the next lifetime. This is what he wants, he's already decided that.

Now if only he could actually say all this out loud, rather than standing here dumbly in the freezing cold while the lights and heat from inside tempt him to come in.

Fili nudges his shoulder. "Uncle," he hisses while ducking his head to the side, "What are you waiting for?"

Yes, what is Thorin waiting for? After coming all this way, wasn't that him basically stating to the universe that he was done waiting? Wasn't that the big 'fuck you' he was trying to send to Mahal and the forces above which govern this earth? He's done waiting.

So he takes a deep breath, stares resolutely ahead, and says, "So I know I'm a little late…"

 


 

*Many hours earlier*

"So it seems you've been helping my nephew escape to Northampton every Christmas." It's not really an accusation, but he's pretty sure Bofur gets the message loud and clear even if it is through a cell phone.

It seems he has. "Ah…. Thorin." Bofur titters. "Happy Christmas… mate?"

"Happy Christmas Bofur," Thorin says wryly. He really didn't want to have to do this on Christmas morning and disrupt Bofur's time with his own family, but he figured this conversation needed to happen sooner than later.

"So uh… you know, huh?"

"Kili told me."

"Ah." Silence, and then, "Look, mate, I was just doing your nephew a favor, and it was totally, purely by coincidence that he came to me and asked. Come to think of it, I don't even remember how Noth came up in the conversation but—"

"Bofur." That stops the English teacher's ramblings. "Thank you."

"I mean sure, should I have told you? Yes, I— wait, what?"

"Thank you," Thorin repeats again.

Bofur still seems to be trying to wrap his head around what just happened. "I.. you're welcome?"

Thorin peaks his head around the corner of the kitchen, far enough away that his family can't hear this conversation but close enough for him to see everything that's going on. Dis is seated on the couch cradling a mug of hot cocoa, smiling softly as she watches Fili and Kili on the floor by the tree opening up the remainder of their presents and setting aside the ones for Thorin and Dis. There's a quiet joy in her eyes. It's soft and barely there, but it's there, and it warms Thorin's heart a little to see her so content.

He pulls his head back. "I owe you one Bofur," he says quietly.

"Aw, no Thorin seriously, it's no big deal. I just did what any normal person would have done."

"I know, but still: I really do owe you. You didn't have to do that for Fili, and yet you did. I'm grateful for that you know." He smiles when he hears an excited outburst from the boys and Dis' laughter gently ringing out.

"Shucks Thorin. If I was a lass I'd be blushing from head to toe already."

He chuckles. "Happy Christmas Bofur," he says warmly.

"Happy Christmas to you too Thorin." They hang up on that.

"Thorin?" Dis steps into the kitchen. "Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine." He smiles and presses a kiss to his sister's cheek. "Happy Christmas Dis," he murmurs before pulling back.

"Well you're awfully sentimental right now." But she returns the gesture with a kiss of her own, her lips smacking obnoxiously against his cheek. "Happy Christmas brother."

When they look at each other, there's so much shared between them that Thorin wouldn't even know where to start. There's love and happiness, but also grief and sadness for the ones who weren't here to celebrate another Christmas with them. Their Christmases have grown increasingly smaller since Frerin's death, only because Frerin was the one to always go all-out and make Christmas as over the top as possible. He would do the most ridiculous things. Once, he built a whole railroad track around their family home, starting at the very top of the staircase and ending in the family room around the Christmas tree. Althea eventually told him to take it apart, but for that one day, everyone could forget the grief that had consumed them for those past few years.

"Uncle? Mum?" Fili holds up a pair of presents, still wrapped neatly with the bows attached and everything. "Are you going to open your presents or not? Because I'm pretty sure Kili will if you guys don't."

"Hey, I have some self control!"

"Barely."

Kili responds by throwing a balled up piece of wrapping paper at Fili. It lands right in the middle of his face.

"You're lucky it's Christmas," Fili says.

"Or what?" Kili asks in a playfully challenging voice.

Fili takes the wrapping paper and throws it back at him.

"Okay, okay, let's not mess up the place anymore than it already is," Dis says before things get too out of control and the boys start tossing the Christmas ornaments at each other.

Thorin settles onto the couch next to her. He accepts his share of gifts from Fili and even more from Kili. "Should I be worried or…?"

Kili rolls his eyes. "Come on, we're not that bad."

"Really? Because last year you gave Ori a—"

"Oi, oi!" Kili gives his brother a silencing look. "One time. And I just wanted to see what his reaction would be. Also, let's not forget what you did to Oin—"

"Oh hey, Mum this one's for you!" Fili ducks under the tree to grab one that's near the back. He sends a quick smirk to Kili before handing the gift to Dis.

Dis eyes her sons and shakes her head. "Don't want to know," she mutters. Beside her Thorin laughs.

"You'd better make sure Dwalin doesn't get word of whatever it was you did to Ori," Thorin says.

"Or Dori," Fili adds.

"Then you'd better keep your mouth shut," Kili hisses.

"Don't want to know," Dis repeats again, this time louder. That gets the boys to shut up.

Overall, it's a great start to a rather festive day. They open the rest of their presents, the boys try to suffocate the other with wrapping paper and turn the empty present boxes into makeshift swords and shields, Dis just rolls her eyes and somehow doesn't lose all patience (but she does tell them that if they don't clean up the mess, there'll be no dessert waiting for them at Dori's), and Thorin watches it all. Dis laughs so hard she nearly snorts hot cocoa onto her new scarf, and the boys continue fooling around until the door unlocks and Althea, Dwalin and Balin all come bustling in with even more presents. They exchange hugs, kisses, brotherly pats on the shoulders and for a moment, everything is as it should be. They're all here as a family, or what's left of them, and they're happy. They're smiling and laughing and throwing light-hearted jabs at each other, Althea is fawning over her grandsons while Dis and Dwalin are in some heated discussion over something and Balin is brewing more hot coca and warm drinks for the family and everything is as it should be.

And yet, there's something missing. There's always something missing these days. And it's got nothing to do with the lack of Frerin's goofy smile, or Thror's content staring or Thrain's hearty, deep-throat laughter. No, Thorin knows that's all missing. It has been for so many years now, so he's gotten time to get used to it and just cherish what he has left.

No, what's missing is—

"Oh, Thorin come here!" Althea beckons him over with her new charm bracelet dangling around her wrist. It was a combined gift from Thorin, Dis and the boys. Over the past year, they had each collected a charm that was supposed to be a reminder of each one of them. Slowly, the bare-bones bracelet bloomed into a tangled and heavy mess of charms, all jammed together until there was barely any space left by the time December came around. But they all managed to squeeze one more in before wrapping it up and putting it in one of those nice, velvet jewelry boxes. Kili had joked that it was a heavy reminder of them all. Althea had said it was a good weight to keep and hold for as long as she lived.

"What is it Mother?" Thorin asks. He can't help surveying the mess around her and the boys. "You're going to clean this all up, right?" He directs to Fili and Kili.

Both nod and throw a few, "Yeah, yeah's" in his direction, but they're too busy flipping through their new collection of comic books and video games to notice.

"You spoil them," Thorin says.

"They're my grandchildren, of course I'm going to spoil them," Althea answers with the lofty air of a proud grandmother.

He chuckles and dips low to kiss his mother's cheek. "So, what'd you want to talk to me about?"

"Oh, that's right! I almost forgot and left it at home, but thankfully I remembered on the way out," she rambles away as she bends down to pick up a box by the foot of her chair. It's rather large, covered in silver wrapping with a red bow tied on top. When she pushes it into Thorin's hands, he sees it's only big because of the box and not because of the weight of whatever's inside. It's not too heavy, and when he shakes the box he hears something soft instead of heavy rattles.

"Is this… for me?" He inquires.

"Most certainly not!" She beckons him closer and smiles like she's about to share the most deadliest secret yet. "It's for Bilbo." She taps a single finger against the box. Her smile widens when she says his name. Thorin on the other hand can feel his stomach dropping and twisting into all sorts of complicated knots, until he forces down a gulp of air and tries to get his body to function properly again.

"What, um… what is it?" He asks, clearing his throat.

"You'll just have to see when he opens it," she winks coyly.

In any other situation, Thorin would have found it amusingly troubling to try and figure out what was in the box, but at the moment, he just finds it troubling. How is he supposed to explain this to Bilbo? Should he even give this to Bilbo? Or should he just tuck it away under his bed like a young adolescent trying to hide his collection of adult magazines?

"I'll… make sure to give it to him at a later date," he responds. It's only a half-truth though, because he doesn't know when he'll see Bilbo next that's not after the New Year.

"I hope he likes it. I spent a lot of time picking it out."

"I'm sure he will." Thorin tucks the box under his arm. Well, it's not like he'll find out until after the New Year anyways.

 


 

It's late. In fact, it's far too late for it to be 7 am. Bilbo knows this, can see it in the way the room looks all too bright and the way the light touches all the pieces of furniture. Actually, he's not even in his old family home. He's not in the ratty, floral-patterned armchair like he should be when he wakes up, and Laura isn't sleeping away in the guest room's bed. Laura isn't even in the room.

Oh, right. Everything comes back to him as he takes in the soft sheets tucked all around him and the unfamiliar pictures lining the walls. He and Laura had ended up staying at Drogo's place far longer than necessary. It was edging towards 9 pm when Bilbo finally realized the time, and at that point Laura was sagging in her wheelchair like a wilted flower. Thankfully, Prim saved the day and suggested they just sleepover. After all, if they had space for Drogo's parents then why not house Bilbo and Laura too? Plus, they could all spend Christmas morning together and Frodo was positively brimming with excitement at the prospect of more guests, so really, it wasn't that troubling for either parties.

He almost starts to panic when his hands drift over the sheets, because he's not supposed to be sleeping in a separate room. Laura isn't supposed to be alone. But then he remembers: Prim had silenced all his protests with just one look, saying, "Don't worry about Laura. Drogo and I will take shifts. And besides." Her eyes raked over the length of his frame. "Your body looks like it hasn't slept in a proper bed in weeks. So go," she ordered with a shove towards one of the spare guest rooms, "We can handle this. Get some sleep, or I'm sending Frodo in to wake you up at 5 am tomorrow morning."

Granted, it was the best sleep he'd had since arriving in Derbyshire and setting foot into his old family home. He almost wants to sleep longer, but he can feel the intruding rays of the light telling him that it was a new day and he needed to get off his lazy ass to go interact with his family. With a groan, he tosses the sheets to the side and rolls up into a sitting position, grimacing when his toes meet cold hardwood. It's a nice relief when his feet finally find the warm slippers by his bed. He tucks them in and sighs contentedly as the warmth slowly starts to fill up all the empty spaces. He wiggles his toes to get some feeling in them, and then he pushes himself off the bed and shuffles his way out the door and into the hall. Drogo's home is almost an exact replica of Bilbo's family home with just a few modifications here and there. Where there should be a study is just another storage room, and in place of the kitchen is a rather spacious toy room for Frodo while the actual kitchen itself takes the place of a spare guest room in Bilbo's house. Other than that and a few other changes, one could almost mistake this home for Bilbo's.

He hears a gleeful outburst down the hall and hurries towards it to see what all the fuss is about. He almost bumps right into Fosco, who drags him in for a short hug and a "Happy Christmas my dear boy!"

Bilbo smiles back at the older man. "Happy Christmas." He pokes his head out to see everyone else sitting around the Christmas tree in the living room.

"Uncle Bilbo!" Frodo nearly shrieks. Ruby startles at the sound while Laura attempts to hold back a no doubt hearty laugh. The boy almost barrels right into Bilbo's legs, but he stoops down in time to catch Frodo in a teetering hug. Thankfully, Fosco's hands on his back are there to steady both their weight.

Bilbo chuckles into his ear. "Happy Christmas Frodo."

Frodo pulls back to smack a wet kiss against Bilbo's cheek, but he hardly cares for the leftover saliva in the shape of a mouth. "Happy Christmas Uncle Bilbo!" Frodo says cheerily. He smiles from ear to ear.

Bilbo ruffles Frodo's hair and lets him drag Bilbo in with the rest of the family. He greets them all one by one, first a hug for Drogo and kiss on the cheek each for Ruby and Laura. Prim comes bustling out of the kitchen at that point. Her eyes rake over him in the same manner as the night before, and apparently likes what she sees by the approving smile on her lips.

"Much, much better," she says before pulling him in for a tight hug.

Bilbo throws back his head with a laugh. "Thanks, I think."

He doesn't miss the way Laura's curious gaze lingers on their little interaction. He hopes she doesn't ask him about it later, because then he'll be forced to explain all those sleepless nights spent worrying in an uncomfortable armchair and checking for vital signs. It's Christmas, so his ability to lie to his grandmother's face has decreased significantly.

"Come on, you need to open your own share of presents too." Prim gently pushes him towards the tree, which is still surrounded with a few presents here and there.

"Oh, Prim but your presents—"

"Don't worry," Laura cuts in with a reassuring wave of her hand. "Dear Drogo and I took a lovely drive back home to collect the presents and the rest of our belongings."

"Oh yes," Drogo says, but there's a tartness to his tone that Bilbo doesn't understand until he explains, "And we even got to see dear cousin Lobelia along the way. What a nice treat that was." He rolls his eyes at Bilbo.

"Oh?" Bilbo says with feigned interest. "And what was she doing this time? Trying to steal Mother's silver spoons again?"

"I think she was aiming for the knives this time," Laura muses.

"That woman is going to be the death of us all," Prim mutters into Bilbo's ear, who snickers lowly under his breath.

Drogo joins them together on the floor by the tree, which is a safe enough distance from Ruby's prying yet disapproving eyes. Here they can talk and gossip freely about Lobelia and her upcoming party, which would most certainly earn them each a scathing look from Ruby. Believe it or not, the woman can actually tolerate Lobelia and her arrogance.

"Hey, there's a lot of things even I don't understand about my mother. Her tolerance for Lobelia is one of them," Drogo says when Bilbo brings it up.

"Still, not many people can." Bilbo settles his back against the wall nearest the tree. Drogo sits next to him while Prim sits on the other side with her back facing the room. Frodo is absently playing with his new firetruck on the side, which should keep him preoccupied for the next thirty minutes or so.

"I swear, I'm pretty sure Otho's parents forced him into marrying that woman." Prim hands Bilbo his first present.

"Supposedly, Saradoc says Lobelia wasn't always this bitter," Drogo says.

"How good is that intel exactly? Oh, Prim this is beautiful." Bilbo gasps at the moleskin planner lying unwrapped in his lap. It's beautifully detailed around the edges and has a Bilbo Baggins written in cursive across the top left hand corner.

"That one's from Frodo."

"Oh wow." Drogo leans in to get a better look at it. "You think Frodo could get Daddy something this nice?" He smirks coyly up at Prim, who rolls her eyes while Bilbo shoves wrapping paper in his face.

"Stop, you're making me uncomfortable," Bilbo laughs.

This doesn't stop Drogo of course. "Daddy could really use a new planner." He makes a puppy face and even throws in a few whimpers.

"That's not cute dear."

"Oh, that's from me!" Drogo says as Prim hands the next present to Bilbo. He points at his loopy writing on the box. It turns out to be the loveliest pair of black leather gloves, something Bilbo's been meaning to buy ever since his own pair got worn down by a combination of weather and time.

He ends up loving all his presents of course. Prim gives him one of those rare fountain pens, he gets an assortment of teas from Ruby, a biography on the Bronte sisters from Rosco, and a watch from his grandmother which he didn't know she'd had time to buy (when he asks about it later, she merely stares at him and says, "You know I do have friends Bilbo."). Unfortunately, they can't spend the whole morning lazing around by the tree engaged in idle chatter. By the time afternoon hits, everyone's up and moving to clean up the remainder of the mess in the living room and kitchen. Prim and Drogo seek out Frodo to try and get him in the bath, while Ruby and Fosco retire to their guest rooms to rest up for a bit. Bilbo and Laura decide to use this time go out for walk, just to get some air before rejoining everyone for teatime because as much as Bilbo loves Drogo and his family, it was starting to feel awfully stifling in there. They're back in less than an hour.

"Fancy seeing you two again," Prim jokes. She opens the door wider to let them step past.

"Oh, we just couldn't stay away," Laura plays along.

"Hope Drogo didn't miss us too much," Bilbo says.

"There may have been some tears."

"You know I can hear you!" Drogo's voice calls out from one of the rooms.

"He's just trying to toughen it out," Prim whispers over her shoulder as she closes the front door behind them.

"No seriously, I can actually hear you guys!"

"Yes Drogo, we are all very well-informed of your sense of hearing," Laura shouts back.

Bilbo settles into this easy, back-and-forth thing with his family. He settles into having a good chat and a laugh during teatime. He settles into Frodo's vastly, over-exaggerated stories of the many adventures he's encountered with his friends. He settles into it all with a forced smile and an easy demeanor, because behind it all, memories of Bungo's sick body and carrying Belladonna bridal style with blood on her white gown are trying to push its way past the barrier Bilbo has set around himself. The memories are constantly there, just brushing at the forefront of his mind and Bilbo has to use every inch of his willpower to push them back down and remember to respond when he's supposed to.

If he wants to look the part, then he needs to play the part.

And then of course there's Thorin, the most obvious one out of all his troubles. He doesn't know how long he can let this stalemate go on between them, because it's Christmas and like all couples, they're supposed to text each other flirty, mushy love-messages and call to wish each other a Happy Christmas. They're not supposed to stay in this constant radio silence. But Bilbo's scared. He's scared that he might have ruined everything between them, he's scared his harsh words might have set something off in Thorin and now the man won't talk to him, and he's just plain scared. There's no other way to describe this other than scared, because, well, he is! Of course he should pick up the phone and just apologize because this was a stupid fight to begin with! Thorin was only trying to help and Bilbo had lashed out, something he had slowly come to admit to himself as he spent these past dreary days in his family home with nothing other to do than to go over that stupid fight over and over and over again in his head. He had overreacted, and Thorin—

"I get it, you know? I know what you're doing, and I get it, I really do. But you don't get to throw my own faults around like that and use it to your advantage. They're not yours to use when it's convenient, so don't think you have some claim over me."

Thorin had been so quiet when he said those words. But it wasn't the obvious anger and pain hidden underneath those words that made Bilbo cringe with guilt every time he thought about them. It was the understanding; it was the pure and simple fact that Thorin knew what Bilbo was going through and yet still somehow found that extra push to tell Bilbo off for what he said. He hates himself for not understanding when Thorin himself has understood this whole time.

Thankfully, little Frodo and his many stories keeps Bilbo on his toes long enough to stop thinking about his dead parents and Thorin. Instead, he'll think about one or the other in short bursts. He thinks of his parents when Ruby uses her napkin to wipe at a spot on Fosco's mouth, and he'll think of Thorin when Drogo tries to be all flirty and suave and Prim dismisses nearly all of his attempts with the exception of the age-old mistletoe trick. Frodo groans in disgust and Bilbo plays along by covering the lad's eyes.

He'd like to say he's handling it just fine, but he isn't. Maybe better than usual, but with Thorin added into the mix it's definitely a bit harder. But he's handling it, and for now that's enough.

 


 

"You utter cheeseball."

Kili raises an eyebrow, except when your girlfriend isn't in the room with you it totally defeats the purpose of raising an eyebrow for nothing other than the added effect. He raises it and keeps it raised nevertheless. "Cheeseball? That's a new one."

"Well, it took me a while but I finally figured out the message on this rune stone," Tauriel declares happily.

"Oh yeah?" Kili drawls into the receiver. Sweet Mahal, he will never stop finding his girlfriend's intelligence sexy. Just to make sure, he takes a quick peak through his and Fili's shared bathroom. No Fili. Good, that means Kili can be as sappy as he wants without the extraneous teasing from his older brother.

"Return to me," she recites back like she's reading the stone right now. "God, you're such a cheeseball."

"I'm a pretty great cheeseball though, you have to admit that."

"Not as great as the time you were spying on me and Legolas in the faculty's lounge."

Kili half-groans, half-laughs. "Please, can we not bring that up in the New Year? I'd rather not dwell on my past failings."

"I'm going to make it my resolution to constantly bring it up."

"You're cruel."

"And you love me, admit it."

Kili's about to respond with another retort, but he changes his mind instead, just to be cheeky. "Yeah, I do actually."

As expected, Tauriel goes silent. She'd obviously been joking, but Kili's not joking in the slightest. Holy shit, he's actually admitting that he loves Tauriel. Holy shit.

He's not sure how Tauriel's going to respond to this sudden and way too casual confession now that Kili's thinking about it (oh well, he can think of all those grand, romantic gestures later), but when she does it's, "What do you mean by 'return to me'?"

"What?" Kili blurts out.

"The runes. On the stone," she says like she's talking to a primary school kid.

"Oh… uh, how do I explain this?" Kili racks his brain for something, because he had this perfectly planned out in his head but now he's starting to think it won't make sense. Oh well, here goes nothing. "My mum always tells me I'm reckless. Even now, she still tells me. And it's true: I am reckless. I'm reckless with a lot of things, and… well, love might be one of them. Sometimes, I love too fast and too hard without thinking about how I might turn out on the other end. And then there are times when I'm just plain reckless, which I've… already said." He clears his throat awkwardly. "But, um, despite the recklessness I want you to… always return to me. No matter what. Even if I'm reckless and do things that drive you up the wall, I always want you to return to me… no matter what." By the end of his little spiel, his heart is beating so fast he's afraid he's going to throw it up onto the floor.

After an extremely stressful silence, Tauriel finally says, "You are the biggest cheeseball." And then she laughs.

Kili laughs too, but it's still laced with the jitters of having made the biggest confession to a girl he's only dated for less than six months but has had the biggest crush on for ages. "I hope it's not too cheesy?"

"Oh it's cheesy, but it's a good amount of cheesy. Promise."

Kili smiles at that. It turns absolutely wicked when he says, "Your turn."

"My turn for what?"

"Oh come on! I just made the cheesiest, most terrifying, heart-stopping confession and you're not even going to return the favor?"

"You'll get spoiled if you get too many Christmas presents," Tauriel replies, voice smooth and slick like fresh wine being poured into a glass.

Oh, two can play at that game. "As they say, the more the merrier."

"Oh, honey, your ego's bleeding out," Tauriel coos.

 


 

"Legolas! Happy Christmas, what brings you about here?" Galea slips through the door and out onto the front stoop. She wraps her bathrobe tighter to shield herself from the frigid Christmas air.

Legolas gives her a small smile. "Happy Christmas to you too Mrs— Galea." He ends the sentence on a sheepish note. It took her weeks to finally get Legolas to call her by her first name, but every now and then he would slip up and refer to her as 'Mrs.' He's been getting better though.

She crosses her arms and tucks her hands into the crooks of her elbows. Legolas takes note of her obvious discomfort and decides to get straight to the point. "Um, I have… gifts."

She perks up at that.

"Um… here." He holds up the gift bag he was carrying and passes it over to a bemused Galea. "There are some cookies in there for you and Gloin. And um… a gift for little Gimli. Nothing extravagant or anything, but… I hope he'll like it nevertheless."

She blinks down at the more than modest gift bag. She wouldn't have thought it was one, because it really is so modest looking. She sends an awed smile up to him. "Oh of course Gimli will love it! That boy adores you to the ends of the earth, of course he'll love it." She shakes her head and glances back down at the no doubt carefully wrapped packages tucked inside. When her eyes catch the circular edge of the cookie container, she looks back up and says, mildly teasing, "I didn't know you could bake Legolas."

A hint of red rises to his cheeks. He coughs and turns his head slightly to the side to avoid her gaze. "My mother was very adamant I learn how to bake," he admits sheepishly.

"And good thing too. Gloin can't even crack an egg without splattering it all over the floor."

It gets a snort out of the usually placid and stoic gym teacher.

"Would you like to come in?" Galea asks. "I mean as much as I enjoy talking out here in the blinding cold…"

"Ah, no, no, I'm fine. I only just came to deliver these gifts after all." Legolas turns to leave, but its Galea's rolling of her eyes that stops him.

"Oh come now, no need to act like a stranger." She opens the door wide enough for two people to step through. "You've been watching over my wee Gimli for weeks now. It wouldn't be right if you just left like that." Her eyes are filled with warmth and something akin to motherly affection. "After all, you're practically family at this point."

Legolas blinks rapidly at her. "I…" He opens and closes his mouth. A mixture of disbelief and awed hope passes over his face. "I don't know what to say," he says at last.

She opens the door wider. "Just say you'll come in and share a box of these cookies with us already."

Legolas looks like he wants to say more, but with Galea staring expectantly at him, he has no choice but to shut up, nod, and follow her inside with the compliance of a lamb trailing after its shepherd.

It's not until they're all seated in the comforts of the family's living room, eating cookies and dunking them in their tea cups with little Gimli making fwoom fwoom noises with his new toy plane, does Legolas come to a startling conclusion that's brought forth by his father's own words, uttered not so long ago when Legolas was still pining uselessly after Tauriel:

"Love always has a way of… finding us. It doesn't matter the shape nor the form, because in the end love is love."

Oh. So this is what Ada was talking about, Legolas muses to himself. His mouth curls up slightly when Gimli sets up his army of toy soldiers around the plane, giving them orders and pretending to be a drill sergeant of some kind.

It's definitely an 'oh' moment for him, because never in a million years did he think this is what he'd find in the end. When Thranduil had uttered those words, Legolas figured maybe his father was talking about finding someone who would and could actually return his feelings. He didn't think about… well, this. This is something new and totally, totally not what he had in mind. And yet it's here, and Legolas is beyond content and for the first time, he's not wishing Tauriel were by his side as a girlfriend. For once, he's okay with her being by his side as a friend.

This is a pretty great way to start off his Christmas day.

 


 

Thorin still hasn't figured out a plan on how he's going to strike. Bofur's already got the message that there's no need for him to accompany Fili this time, so he's got that part figured out. The rest is still a bit… under construction. For one thing, travelling to Northampton by car takes almost two hours, but Bofur claims he can get there in an hour, sometimes an hour and a half due to his 'quick thinking behind the wheel', whatever that means. He has nothing that even remotely resembles a plan, and he's starting to panic because it's already noontime and Fili hasn't left yet and Thorin's just sitting here feeling like an earthquake is going through his body. The last time he was this unprepared for something, it was his new relationship with Bilbo and look how well that turned out.

Turns out he doesn't have to torture himself for very long, because his opportunity finally arises in the form of Fili himself.

"Hey, do you mind if I head out to see Bofur for a bit? He just texted me with an SOS," Fili asks Dis, who evidently happens to be sitting right next to Thorin on the couch.

"Sure sweetie," Dis replies without a second thought. It occurs to Thorin just how badly they've missed all the signs.

"I should be back around late afternoon. I want to make sure Bofur and Bifur haven't killed Bombur yet." He makes a face.

"Try not to get yourself killed out there. We all know how high maintenance Bombur can get in the kitchen." She sticks her cheek out for a quick peck from Fili.

"Hey, listen I think I'm going to go with him," Thorin says, all hush-hush to Dis once Fili's out the door. At her questioning look he explains, "I, uh… I could use… some air…" He tries to fumble around for a good excuse, but the more he fumbles the more Dis becomes suspicious of what he's trying to do. "I… it's, you see…" And then an idea strikes him. He clears his throat and tries to redirect his words in a more gloomy direction. "You know with the whole Bilbo thing…" He trails off with a heavy-laden sigh.

A light bulb seems to go off in Dis' head, because the transition her face makes from suspicion to realization is instantaneous. It's actually quite comical, and Thorin would be sniggering if he weren't trying to sneak off to Northampton at the very moment.

"Oh! Oh of course, Thorin of course! Go, go get some air. Come back whenever you're ready, alright?" She shoos him off the couch and out the door without another word. He wonders when he became such a good actor, only that's the thing: he's not even half lying. There is some actual truth to what he's saying, and he could use some air to get his thoughts in order! That tends to happen when you think about stuff like this on the one day you're not supposed to.

He kind of feels bad for pulling such a cheap card like that, but if it makes his plan run all the smoother, then well, no harm no foul, right (little does he know that when he does finally return to London, Dis chews him and Fili out for a very, very long time)? He figures she'll explain everything to the rest of the family, so for now he doesn't dwell on the consequences. Right now, he needs to dwell on something else.

He catches Fili just as he's exiting the building. "Fili!" He jogs out the door after him.

Fili turns around and nearly stumbles in surprise. "Uncle?" He's clearly caught off guard, and maybe even a hint of guilt is present, because he certainly wasn't expecting to be confronted or whatever it is he's thinking Thorin might do. But he's a smart boy, and Thorin can already see the wheels turning in his head so there's no need to beat around the bush here.

"Fancy a trip to Northampton?" Thorin asks casually.

Fili freezes. Horror flits over his face, like that way it does with children when they know they're about to get in trouble and they're just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

There's a long stretch of silence before Thorin decides maybe he should say something, because Fili really does look like a frightened child. He sighs. "You're not in trouble if that's what you're wondering."

"So then what is this?" Fili asks. He's on the defensive, which is never a good thing when you're trying to talk about something important. And it's Christmas, so Thorin would really like to avoid all fighting right now. He's had enough fighting for one lifetime.

Thorin's face softens. He takes a careful step forward, two more, and then he's standing right in front of Fili. "You could have told me," he says quietly. "Or better yet, your mother. You know she's better at handling these things than I am."

"She's fine with things up to a certain point," Fili says with a pointed dip of his head.

"What happened with your parents is their own business. And this isn't between them, right?" He raises an eyebrow.

Fili averts his gaze to the side. "You and Mum would still make it your business," he mutters.

"Now, that's not true—"

"Uncle." Fili faces forward again. "You hate Dad."

"And you're saying you don't?" The question holds no more heat than an ice cube in a freezer; it's a simple question, one that Thorin finds himself curious to know because out of all people, he'd figured Fili would be the angriest of them all. He remembers Fili being so confused the day after Noth left for good. That confusion stayed till his next birthday, Christmas, and then one day Fili just stopped being confused. Confusion soon transitioned to a pent up anger that came in short but deadly bursts. It didn't matter who he directed his anger at, whether it be fellow classmates at school, Thorin, Dis, even Kili whom Fili swore to protect when his baby brother was still such a little thing. And in time it did get better, but Thorin and Dis always knew that Noth leaving had left a heavy emotional impact on Fili.

So yeah, if Thorin and Dis have reason to hate Noth just a little more than necessary, then that's why.

Again Fili averts his gaze, this time downwards. He scuffs his shoe against the pavement. "I never said I didn't hate him. Also…" His eyes wander up. "What makes you think I actually go and talk to him?"

"What, you don't?"

"No," Fili sniffs, still defensive.

"I don't understand." Thorin's brow creases in obvious confusion. So then what the hell has Fili been doing these past five years?

Fili chews on the inside of his cheek, pondering over whether he should do this or not. He finally releases his cheek, sighing, "It's probably better if I just show you."

 


 

Thirty minutes later, Thorin finds himself sitting in the backseat of Bofur's car holding onto the handle grip for dear life. Fili's sitting beside him and staring out the window moodily. How he's not fazed by Bofur's driving, Thorin has no idea, because Bofur's driving is, well…

Bofur glances up into the rearview mirror. "Everyone alright back there?"

Fili grunts out a noncommittal response. Thorin nods and tries not to let the fear show in his eyes. Bofur nods back and stares straight ahead.

At first, Thorin didn't understand why they still needed Bofur's assistance in getting them to Northampton. Thorin insisted many times that he could drive and that it wasn't a problem whatsoever, but Fili had merely stared him down, eyebrow raised and said, "If you drive us, there's no way we're getting there and back without Mum getting suspicious."

"I know how to get to Northampton," Thorin replied, slightly vexed by Fili's lack of faith in him.

"Uncle, if you can get lost in a Tesco's, then I don't think I trust you to get us all the way to Northampton without taking at least three wrong turns along the way." So that was the end of that conversation, and next thing he knew he was sliding into the back of Bofur's car, no questions asked as he and Fili shared some kind of secret exchange through their eyes.

"I hope you haven't had anything to eat in the past hour," Fili muttered as he slipped in beside Thorin.

"What do you mean?" Bofur revving his car to life had interrupted Fili, so he didn't have time to give Thorin a proper answer. It's okay, because thirty minutes later Thorin finds his answer.

"Oh god, we're going to die," Thorin murmurs, half in hysterics as Bofur nearly runs through a red light. It's not the first time he's said that, nor is it the first time Bofur's done that.

Has he also mentioned Bofur's driving is just crazy, dangerous and definitely out of control RECKLESS?

"At least he gets us past the tolls," Fili murmurs back. He barely even flinches when Bofur takes a rather sharp turn. Thorin cringes at the harsh mix of screeching wheels and the gravelly road beneath them.

"I can see now how you've been getting there and back in such a timely fashion," Thorin grates out wryly. He feels his teeth clacking with every untimely bump and harsh turn.

Fili shrugs. "You get used to it after five years."

"Really, is that so?" Thorin's whole body goes rigid when Bofur comes to an abrupt stop behind another car. It's way too close for Thorin's comfort.

"It's okay, we'll survive. We always do."

"Somehow I highly doubt that."

They do survive, because sometime later—Thorin doesn't know how long, because he's too wrapped up in trying to survive and make it there and back in one piece—they finally reach Northampton, somehow still breathing (or just barely in Thorin's case) and very much alive.

"Welcome to Northampton lads," Bofur announces.

"See? We survived," Fili says.

"Just barely," Thorin breathes out shakily. He tries to settle back into his seat and relax his white-knuckled grip on the handle bar, but Bofur almost runs through another red light and takes way too long to recognize that yes, that is indeed a pedestrian crossing up ahead and those are pedestrians walking across the street and oh god

"Relax, Uncle." Fili tries to give a reassuring smile, but even Thorin can see the tight way his mouth curves upward and how it's not actually a full-on smile like it's supposed to be. When he looks down, he can see the hand in Fili's lap is as white-knuckled as Thorin's.

"Five years huh?" He keeps his eyes trained down.

Fili unclenches his hand, but not even a second later it clenches up again when the car jerks forward. "Well, this will probably be the last year," Fili mumbles. He scowls out the window.

Thorin doesn't know whether he should ask or wait till Fili 'shows him'. He doesn't have to wait long, because a few unbearably sharp turns and three traffic lights later, Bofur parks the car along a short neighborhood street, not too far from town.

Thorin peers out the window, looking at the rows of houses packed closely together with only a few feet of space in between. "Is this it?" He asks.

To his surprise, Fili snorts, "No. From here, we walk."

Thorin whips his head back around. "Why—"

"Just follow the lad, Thorin," Bofur interrupts. He jerks his head towards Fili, who's already sliding out of the car.

Thorin catches Bofur's eyes briefly, but then thinks better of it and exits out his side. He'll get all his questions answered eventually.

 


 

"Don't look at me like that! You know you have to go to Lobelia's!" Prim hisses at Bilbo's puppy-dog eyes. She checks to make sure Frodo hadn't heard in case he goes blabbering to Ruby about it, but for now, he seems quite preoccupied in his bath toys.

"Prim, come on please." Bilbo presses his folded up hands to his chin and sticks out his lower lip further.

She rolls her eyes. "Bilbo, you know that's not up to me to decide." She scoops up a pail full of water and carefully dumps it over Frodo's head. She smiles at his squeak of surprise. "If you really don't want to go, just talk to Laura about it."

Bilbo's face returns to normal at that. He crosses his arms over his chest with a huff, although it looks more like a pout in her opinion. "You know I can't do that. She'll just look at me with those sick eyes of hers and I'll be a goner. I can't."

"Then think of it this way." Prim grabs the soap from the dish and gently rubs it across Frodo's back. "You're going to Lobelia's for your grandmother, not for yourself."

Bilbo hunches over on his stool. "I don't know if that makes it better or worse," he mumbles.

Prim glares at him with a pair of murderous eyes.

They've been going at this for a while now. Frodo had somehow got himself dirty again (everyone blames Drogo for it, although he'll deny it to the grave), so Prim, with nothing more than exasperated fondness for her son, had to clean him up once more. Bilbo saw this as an opportunity to get away from everyone and just take a moment to breathe, because despite the short walk he and Laura took earlier, he still felt like he was suffocating under the weight of everyone's presence.

"I thought you were supposed to be helping me," Prim says once the simmering between them goes down.

"What, like you actually believed that when I so eagerly volunteered to take Drogo's place?" Bilbo hands her the nearby loofah anyways.

She accepts the loofah. "I was wondering why you were so eager."

Frodo's splashing fills up the silence. Prim hums softly as she cleans around Frodo's fingers, while Bilbo absentmindedly waves his hand around in the bathwater. Every so often he'll fill up one of Frodo's toy pails and then empty it out again.

"You didn't just come here to talk about Lobelia." The unspoken did you? sits between them.

Bilbo watches the tiny ripples in the bathwater, taking his time in formulating a reply. "I think I'm an idiot," he says after a while.

Prim pauses. "Well I already knew that—" Bilbo glares at her "—But what's making you finally admit this?"

He purses his lips. He did have something planned to tell Prim, because there's only so much a human being can keep pent up inside before he explodes. The only question is: where does one even start?

He takes a deep breath. "I think—"

Bzzzzzzzzt. Bzzzzzzzzzt.