“Well, this is awkward,” declares Fíli one night, when they’re camping by the eaves of Mirkwood.
In Balin’s estimation, ‘awkward’ is hardly covering it. Just when the Company had thought they had finally prodded their leader and their burglar past the whole shy avoidance stage of affection and into a much more honest dialogue with one another about their feelings (though, based on all existing evidence, there wasn’t a lot of dialogue about their emotions whenever the two had a moment to spare), they had to run into this problem.
Balin has to admit, it’s not a bad problem to face, considering that the previous ones had been ‘stop viewing each other with obvious disdain’ and ‘talk to each other in a friendly, or at the very least civil, fashion’, ‘make the first move’, and ‘Mahal wept, stop doubting yourselves and start a relationship already’. Now that Thorin and Billie had stopped dragging their heels and were actually very enthusiastically bounding into their (honestly very sickeningly sweet) relationship, Balin had to admit that he’s surprised this hadn’t come up earlier.
And now he and the rest of the Company have to watch as Thorin completely dances around the topic of marriage, dropping hints like anvils to a clearly oblivious Miss Billie Baggins, resident burglar whose current items stolen numbered one gold ring, three pieces of waybread, and the King’s heart.
The problem is, in Dwarven culture, the woman is the one who proposes marriage. Billie, in spite of her stout chubby figure that could put most Dwarves to shame, is no Dwarrowdam. Of course, Balin could not presume to be an expert on Hobbit marriages, but the Shire is in very close proximity to Bree, and at least amongst Men, the men propose marriage. Billie could very likely be waiting for the same. And if there’s one thing this couple is excellent at, it’s waiting for the other to make the first move.
“You know, Billie,” says Kíli suddenly, sending a wink towards his uncle, “our Amad’s favourite story has always been how she proposed to our Adad.”
“Since she’s the only one between her and Indâd and Uncle Frerin who actually got married,” adds Fíli, though in a slightly lower, more conspiratorial voice. “She always talks about the look on our Adad’s face when she gave him a bead made of mithril.”
“And the look on his face when she asked him to marry her.”
“And the look on his face when he accepted and then promptly got dragged back to her rooms.”
Kíli snickers at that, and Fíli makes a face at the remembrance, his ears flushing pink as if trying very hard not to remember anything that could have resulted in his conception.
“I hear Indâd was surprised by the news,” he says.
“Considering that your mother didn’t actually tell me she was getting engaged, yes, I was surprised,” remarks Thorin, and Balin chuckles at how heavily he has flushed throughout the entire conversation. Billie drinks in the words with a smile on her face, her fingers fiddling with the hem of her now very-ruined waistcoat.
Glóin is the next to speak up. “My wife proposed to me with a contract,” he says. “She had it all drafted up and even brought a notary to the proposal. I accepted her on the spot.”
“Not a hard catch, my brother, when perfectly-worded clauses can make him weak,” Óin adds with a wry chuckle, causing Glóin to shove him.
“I’m quite sure her beauty caught my eye even before her penmanship,” he declares, tucking his thumbs into his belt quite smugly, “and her axe-throwing abilities even before that.”
Billie looks between the two of them, an eyebrow quirked. “Your wife proposed to you,” she states.
“It’s common custom, yes,” says Bofur with a sly grin. “Bombur’s wife proposed with an excellent feast. She made the announcement as she was bringing out the main course, and he was hers by dessert.”
“That sounds more reasonable,” declares Billie, “though in the Shire it would’ve been the lad, to prove he was able to provide. That’s why my father built Bag End for my mother. He was always a bit rubbish at cooking. But he did make a nice bouquet, too, so it wasn’t all too out of the ordinary.”
Balin sees Thorin slump a little at the confirmation that he may have to make the first move, and sighs.
The Company places bets. Of course they do. They had placed bets on when the two would get together, after all. Most of the Company had bet on places before the Misty Mountains, Dwalin had bet after it, and Bifur had bet on them not realising it until after Erebor was reclaimed. And Dwalin had won the wager, celebrating it by running through every room of Beorn’s halls shouting that everyone owed him money because Billie and Thorin had finally gotten their heads out of their asses.
Balin had wondered when Thorin would give in to the calling of his One. It had been rather obvious from the beginning that even when Thorin had viewed their burglar as nothing more than a hindrance (a “soft creature of comfort with no worldly experience or utility” as he had scathingly put it) there had been some unconscious attraction between them. Even back then, Thorin would often check to see what Billie was doing, though she often rode at the rear of the Company, joking and laughing with Bofur. If Balin had a coin for every pained expression Thorin had at hearing their burglar’s laughter at something Bofur had said, he could’ve probably bought back Erebor from Smaug, no harm done.
After the incident with the trolls, Thorin had started to view her with a bit more respect (“she’s still an inexperienced gentlehobbit but I will admit she is quite clever”), but friendship only really truly came around after Billie saved him from the Goblins and Wargs in a pine clearing at the edge of a cliff. Balin had watched as Billie helped Gandalf and Óin nurse Thorin back to health after his too-close encounter with the Wargs. She seemed every bit as determined to hide her feelings as Thorin was, this much was obvious, but Balin knew that Dwalin had won the wager as soon as he saw Billie stroking Thorin’s hand in the low light of Beorn’s main hall, her expression undeniably tender.
Now that Thorin had answered the call, though, Balin has to admit that it proves him a Durin through and through. Their line has had a tradition of falling beard-over-boots in love; it wasn’t a Durin courtship if it didn’t start out a bit whirlwind, rather like taking a Giant Eagle for an unexpected joyride. Already suggesting marriage mere weeks after starting the relationship clearly suggests that Thorin has fallen down a very steep, slippery slope into love, and Balin is all too painfully aware, with each step closer to Erebor and its memories of light and laughter, that Dwarves can only ever love once in their lifetimes.
It’s a good thing, then, that Billie is Thorin’s One. There really isn’t anyone else Balin knows who gets quite as much enjoyment out of verbally sparring with their leader as she seems to.
“— Don’t be ridiculous, Thorin, what in Arda would I do with those gems? I’m completely rubbish with jewellery, as you know.”
“I am, indeed, painfully aware of that, as you did misplace the hairpin I made you at Rivendell —”
“I thought we agreed that that was an accident. As it was an accident, I assure you.”
“It would be a good indicator to any Dwarf who met you that you were spoken for —” There’s a thump in the darkness, probably Billie’s hand connecting with Thorin’s forearm.
“That was a token of friendship, as you said at the time, so I’m not going to let you insinuate you were romantically interested in me back then, as you were not.” A huff of laughter. “And besides, I don’t know how any Dwarf could look at it and say, oh, it’s property of Thorin Oakenshield, as it was in the shape of a flower, and last I recalled your house wasn’t symbolised by a flower.”
For once, Balin is grateful that the forest is so dark that he can barely see his nose in front of him, much less Billie and Thorin. Chances are, he’s probably helping her over all the roots on the forest path before them, and they’re probably arguing while holding hands because that’d be exactly the kind of thing they would do.
“I shall have to rectify that sometime, I think, with some new beads and braids for your hair. Perhaps once we are out of this infernal forest, I will weave some family beads into your Shire curls.”
“Are you trying to be romantic again?” wonders Billie, and Balin hears a small shuffling and the squelching of lips against skin. “You utter cinnamon bun.”
“I still do not see why you need to name me after your desserts.” Thorin’s voice comes out as almost a whine.
Billie chuckles. “But how else am I going to gauge how sweet you are being to me at any given moment?”
Balin has to smile a little to himself. The gifting of family beads is a proposal of a sort, though quieter, more subtle. Too subtle for Billie, perhaps, as she had been raised to see meaning in bouquets, not braids and beads.
And even then, Thorin is not likely to act on such promises until Billie cleaves to him. Which could, given her inattention, not happen until Erebor is reclaimed.
Balin makes a note to tell their bookkeeper, Glóin, what his wager is.
Had this been any other circumstance, Balin would have balked at Nori’s suggestion. Of course Nori would advocate the quickest and most unorthodox method of proposing in Dwarvish culture.
But Balin is exhausted and waterlogged from hours spent in a barrel, and the fish stench isn’t helping matters much. Climbing out of a toilet, though, had to be the worst indignity he’s suffered throughout the entire Quest, with ‘being stuffed into a sack by a troll’ and ‘trussed by a Giant Spider’ coming in as a collective close second.
“Just put him out of his misery already, Bils,” the thief is suggesting to Billie as she sits, red-nosed and clutching a mug of tea as if her life depends on it, wrapped very thickly in a rough woolen blanket at the bargeman’s dinner table. “Take him for a little tumble.”
“A little —!” Billie punctuates the almost-exclamation with a sneeze. “What for?”
“If you want his braids in your hair, tumbling him would be the quickest way to it.” Nori winks.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not tumbling him like this.” Billie’s voice is thick and nasally, which certainly suggests that something is wrong with her. “I look a frightful mess and I feel horrid.”
Balin moves to stand by the window, where Thorin is looking up at the old Dwarvish windlance mounted on the bell-tower, a relic of a time gone by. The shadow of the past weighs more heavily on Thorin’s shoulders than ever, now that they are so desperately close to their goal. Now that Erebor and the dragon are within reach, their thoughts must turn from reaching the Mountain to destroying the dragon within.
“Don’t put yourself down, lass, you’re lovely,” says Nori.
“I’m a drowned rat,” sniffles Billie, and then sneezes. That grabs Thorin’s attention, and he crosses to where she sits at the table, a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Is something wrong, Billie?” he asks.
“Does Óin know how to treat a cold?” asks Billie, her voice small and miserable. Thorin rubs soothing circles into her back as she leans against him, his expression full of the same worry that she had worn during her vigil at Beorn’s.
“I can call for him. Perhaps we ought to find you a place to lie down,” says Thorin. Nori waggles an eyebrow at Billie, who sends him a withering look in return.
“That would be lovely,” says Billie. “And maybe some more tea too, my cinnamon bun.”
“I will see what I can do,” promises Thorin, as one of the bargeman’s daughters leads Billie over to a little bed by the hearth.
When their burglar is tucked in, and Thorin has pulled up a chair to sit by her side, she smiles sweetly up at him, and rests her hand over his.
“I’m sure it’s just a cold; there’s no need to stay.”
“You tended to me when I was injured. I am merely returning the favour.”
“Cinnamon bun,” declares Billie, and Balin can hear the syrup in her voice even across the room. “When I get better, will you —”
“Anything,” Thorin interrupts. “Billie, I would give you anything you want. I will stop at nothing to make you happy.”
She smacks him lightly on the arm. “I wasn’t finished, you silly, sentimental Dwarf. I just wanted to you to tell Bombur to make me a cake, because today’s my birthday, but I’d rather have the party late.”
Balin isn’t quite sure whether to chuckle or sigh, especially at the winded expression on Thorin’s face.
Balin has never run for his life quite like this.
He has done his fair share of running on this Quest, of course, but this was quite literally life or death. The Dragon Smaug is hot on their tail, the very sound of its slithering scales a promise of fire and death, the roar in its voice screaming of murder. Balin himself has just ducked into an alcove, but Billie and Thorin are still running down the hall and the Dragon has just poked its head around the corner, its chest glowing with the promise of death.
“Billie! Follow Balin!” Thorin screams, and Billie promptly veers towards the alcove. The flame in Smaug’s breast climbs higher.
“If we get out of this alive, we are getting married, Thorin Oakenshield!” Billie screams, her expression wild as she whirls around to face Balin, who raises an eyebrow at her as he leads her down the smaller hallway.
“Was that so hard, Billie?” he asks.
“I could’ve been better with the timing,” she admits, scuffing at the floor, tossing a glance over her shoulder at the rapidly dimming opening to the alcove and the stench and heat of fire coming through. “I didn’t even hear his response.”
Balin chuckles, and remembers how deeply he has loved within these very halls. “He’s been trying to convince you since before we entered Mirkwood, lass. He’s not going to say no now.”
And when Thorin does rejoin them, he doesn’t say a word about her proposal. But all the same, his hand does not leave hers for the rest of the night, and Balin reckons that has to count for something.
They just have to get out of this alive first.
When Balin sees Billie enter Thorin’s tent after the battle, his smile is tentative.
“He’s sleeping,” he says. “The healers say he’ll live, but the recovery process will be slow.”
Billie nods, pulling up a chair by Thorin’s bedside, her fingers falling into that familiar stroking rhythm from Beorn’s house. Thorin’s eyelids flutter.
“Billie,” he croaks. “Billie, forgive —”
“Silly Dwarf,” she rebukes, with a small smile on her face. “You weren’t yourself. There is nothing to forgive.”
Thorin huffs in amusement, one hand struggling to reach out to her. Billie helps it along, pressing it against her cheek and leaning in. Balin has the feeling he’s intruding, and turns his back to them to face the tent’s entrance.
“Yes, but — I meant your proposal — when the Dragon — I did not give an answer.”
“That’s quite all right, we hadn’t figured out if we were going to survive the dragon at the time,” Billie reasons.
There’s another low rumble that might be interpreted as a chuckle through all of the bandages wrapped around Thorin’s torso. “I should give you my answer, then,” he says.
“Good, because I find it unfair to make me have to ask you to marry me in the first place, as I certainly haven’t been raised with that kind of expectation in mind,” declares Billie.
“Patience, âzyungâl,” murmurs Thorin. “I will marry you.”
And then there’s the sound of kissing, which Balin takes as his cue to step out of the tent. The field outside is low with smoke from battle and funerals alike, and people move about rather dazedly as if still unsure that all of this has happened.
Dwalin sidles up. “Have they…?” he asks.
Dwalin grins widely. “Pay up, nadad,” he declares.