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To: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
From: underthehill@hotmail.co.uk
Subject: Booking Confirmation

Under-The-Hill holiday cottages thanks you for your booking!

Hello! Thank you for booking with us at Under-The-Hill cottages! We hope you enjoy your stay with us, and remember, we can’t guarantee good weather, but we can guarantee a great holiday!

The details of your reservation are below, and if there is anything wrong with them, please do not hesitate to get in touch with owner and general manager, Bilbo Baggins, who is happy to help. Please keep hold of this email and present it to us at reception when you arrive, to make your check in a quicker experience. If you have any other questions before you make your way to us, or want to amend your visit or request any additional services, feel free to ask by email or by telephone!

Cottage:
Adults: 1
Children: 2
Pets: 1
Arrival: 10/07/2014
Departure: 20/07/2014

Deposit paid: £124.00
Amount to pay: £126.00

Guest comments: …

Linen and house towels are provided, as is wood for the log burners, but please remember that we do ask our guests to use their own towels when on the beach and in the sea! Pets are welcome, but responsibility for cleaning up their waste lies with their owner, and we ask that noise levels are kept to a minimum!

All the best,

Under-The-Hill

 


 

Thorin hadn’t really wanted to go on holiday.

That was why he hadn’t been on one for over a decade – not, despite what his siblings might say, because he had problems letting go of work and letting other people have control over their own hotel, which definitely wasn’t his entire life, no matter what the opinions of his family might have been on the matter. But stopping Dis and Vivi when they got an idea in their head was near impossible, and as soon as the boys had heard the words ‘surfing’ and ‘holiday’ and ‘Uncle Thorin’, they’d turned wide eyes and pleading smiles on to him, and he was annoyed to learn that he was just as susceptible to them as he had been when they had been five years old and after another biscuit from the jar.

The place he booked, in the end, was in Cornwall. He had never been there before, but there weren't all that many places in the UK good for surfing, and he was told that it tended to get good weather.

So July had seen him packing up his old Land Rover with three suitcases full of shorts and wetsuits, three surfboards strapped to the roof: the boys piled into the back seat at four in the morning, with blankets wrapped around them and pillows under their arms, fully prepared for the twelve-and-a-half-hour drive through Scotland and down the entire length of England. They had audiobooks and mixtapes and all kinds of travel games ready to get the three of them through it, and then inevitably slept through the first eight hours of the trip, leaving Thorin alone and grumpy in the front seat. He wasn’t complaining too much though – with the two teenage lumps asleep, he got full control of the radio, with only the presence of Beast in the passenger seat next to him, staring with interest out of the window.

Of course, eventually the boys did wake up (although he supposed that at seventeen and fifteen they weren’t really boys anymore) and took over control, bemoaning the fact that Thorin’s car was too old to connect an iPod to. But they had CDs full of their favourite music, and fuelled by energy drinks they sang along heartily - Thorin had rather a headache by the time they finally arrived at the small collection of holiday cottages on the coast just outside of Newquay.

A man popped his head out of a window of the first of said cottages as their car pulled up, disappearing only to reappear through the front door almost immediately. The boys piled out as soon as he pulled to a halt, popping open the boot and reaching for their possessions despite the fact that they didn’t know which cottage they were heading to, and Thorin reached over with a sigh to let the now-excited dog jump out as well.

“Well, who is this?” the man asked, crouching down to rub Beast’s head. Despite his name, Thorin’s old dog was just about the friendliest creature that one could hope to meet, and he padded forward, trying very hard to lick at the stranger’s face.

“Beast,” Thorin said, warningly, and the dog glanced back at him, before pulling back and sitting down, content with fussing without licking after his master’s command.

“He’s very well behaved,” the man said, with a smile, and Kili nodded, deserting his brother in their quest to unload the car.

“He isn’t for anyone else – he only listens to Uncle Thorin. It drives Mum up the wall!”

“Is he a retriever?” the man asked, glancing up at Thorin with warm, shrewd eyes that immediately made him want to look away.

“He’s a mutt,” Thorin said, though his voice was more affectionate than critical. “But he’s probably got some retriever in him.”

“He just turned up one day at the castle,” Fili chipped in, his head still half-way in the boot. “About ten years ago, when he was just a puppy. He just followed Uncle around for a week before he caved and let him in.”

The man smiled, but there was a slight frown of confusion around his eyebrows.

“Castle?” he asked, and Thorin cleared his throat.

“Anyway,” he cut in, ignoring the question. “Are you the owner?”

The man stood up quickly.

“Oh!” he answered, apologetically. “I am, terribly sorry. I’m Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, and I assume that you are Mr T Durin?”

“Thorin,” he replied, a little uncomfortably. “And these reprobates are my nephews. Which cottage are we staying in?”

“Oak leaf,” Bilbo said, with a smile, pointing at the nearest cottage. It was just the way that it had looked in the pictures, even in the dim light of the late summer evening, and inside proved to be just the same: Bilbo showed them the kitchen, the bedrooms, the small but serviceable bathrooms. The only thing that he had not expected were the low ceilings: he hit his head on the first doorframe that he came to, only adding to his headache.

“Sorry about that,” Bilbo said, wincing. “But it does serve you right for being uncommonly tall.”

Thorin wasn’t that tall, not really – only just at six foot, and already he was starting to suspect that the boys would overtake him in the next few years – but their host was barely five foot seven, at his reckoning, and he supposed he might seem rather tall in comparison. He blinked, about a coherent a response as he could come up with after being awake for this long, but he was a little amused despite himself.

“What are you here for?” Bilbo asked, just as the boys carried the surfboards through the door. “Ah! That answers my question. Well, we’re no Byron Bay, but this is the best surf you’ll find in the UK, by all accounts, and the weather is set to be fine for your visit! Do you surf too?” he inquired, turning to Thorin once more.

He cleared his throat, but Fili got there before he had to reply.

“He used to go surfing all the time with our other Uncle,” he told Bilbo, propping the boards up by the wall. “They went all over the world. But then he had to come home and work and be boring. Our Mums take us surfing somewhere every year, but now we’re staging an intervention, so he has to start again.”

“Yes,” Thorin managed, finally. “Thanks for that, Fili. I’m sure Mr Baggins is fascinated. But perhaps you could carry on bringing in the suitcases and the food and stop telling him your life story.”

Fili stuck his tongue out at him, grinning, but did as he was told: Bilbo let out a soft noise of amusement from beside him.

“It really is alright, you know,” he said. “One of the nice things about running this sort of thing is the stories that you hear, the people that you meet. The holiday-home-owner’s privilege, I suppose.”

Thorin hummed: he had enough experience to agree.

“But,” Bilbo said, with another smile. “I will let you be – I’m sure you have enough to keep your hands full. Let me know if you need anything, or want directions, or anything at all – my door is always open, and like your dog, I don’t bite.”

And with a wink and a smile he was gone, out the front door, leaving Thorin smiling just a little despite his headache.

The cottage, thankfully, was comfortable, with homey furnishings and warm rugs throughout, scattered across bleached wooden floorboards. As Bilbo promised, the weather for their first few days proved to be fine, warm sunshine making the cool sea far more tolerable. His wetsuits still fit him (though he had to admit that they were a little tighter around the middle now than they had been), and he was surprised to learn that he was still fairly proficient on his board, despite how long it had been: after a few shaky starts, his body seemed to remember the way to move, how to balance, how to feel the water around him, and soon enough he was giving his boys a run for their money – though he felt that their youthful energy far outstripped his own. After a few hours he would quit the sea as the two of them carried on, rolling his wetsuit down to his hips and flopping back in the sun-warmed sand of the beach which the cottages backed on to. He had a whole pile of books that he had bought over the years and had never found time to read to catch up on now, and though the nervous energy that came from ten years of never resting came to him now and again, he had to admit that his sister and sister-in-law had been right – he had needed a change in scenery.

Beast chased them into the sea before retreating back every morning, his tail thumping against the sand as he watched them, and when Thorin eventually made his way back to the shore he curled up next to him, drooling happily over one of the many chew toys that the boys had reverently packed up to bring for his enjoyment.

They hadn’t seen much of Bilbo in those first few days: he had waved at them from time to time from his front garden, where he had been carefully tending his plants, all the hardy sort that thrive on the coastline, but that had been about it. It was on day four when he had first sat down next to Thorin, a book of his own in his hand and rather the most ridiculous bucket-hat on his head to keep the sun off his face.

“Don’t worry,” he had said, with a smile. “I’m not here to bother you, it is just quite nice to read with someone, don’t you think?”

Thorin hadn’t really known what to say to that, but Bilbo had opened his book and laid back in the sand with a contented hum, clearly quite happy with silence, and after a moment or two Thorin had relaxed a little, realising now that conversation was not expected about him. The next day Bilbo had done the same, and the day after that too, only that time he didn’t bring a book, and had just spent several hours playing with Beast and rubbing his belly until the daft old dog flopped down with his head in Bilbo’s lap, staring up at him adoringly.

“Does he normally take to strangers this well?” Bilbo asked, laughing, and Thorin nodded, rolling his eyes.

“He is single-handedly the worst guard dog that I could have asked for,” he replied, reaching over to rub between Beast’s ears affectionately. “I’m sorry to tell you, but you are not special: after a few belly-rubs, he’s anyone’s.”

Bilbo let out a low, entirely unserious cry of grief.

“And there was I, thinking that we had a special bond!”

Thorin liked Bilbo, which was a little odd, because as a rule he found that he didn’t get along well with many people – and he had learnt and accepted, over time, that much of that was more to do with his own problems than the other people, more to do with his own struggles with communication and the anxieties of intimacy. But Bilbo didn’t ever press him for conversation, didn’t speak to him all that often unless Thorin initiated it, and in general seemed content just to let him be, just to be.

It was nice: a little bit of companionship when the boys were out on the waves that did not lessen the cathartic experience of sitting on the sand under the sun with nothing to do, nothing to worry about, for the first time since his father had died fifteen years ago, when he had returned to their old family estate and he had begun the process of converting the old place into a hotel, making the castle into something sustainable, profitable, rather than the gaping maw that had been eating their money and their time for generations. It was something of an ego boost too, he had to admit, when he caught Bilbo looking at his arms one afternoon, still relatively toned for his age – it made him slightly less self-conscious of his own, much thicker body, different now to the last time he had worn his wetsuits.

It was perhaps because of Bilbo’s own calm patience, because of the way that he never pressed Thorin for anything, that he felt more and more comfortable talking, even if it was for only a couple of minutes at a time between long, companionable silences. They exchanged tales of each other’s relatives – Thorin’s sister and Bilbo’s horrendous cousins, the boys and Bilbo’s motley collection of nephews, their parents, their friends, sometimes even their own exploits.

By some point late in the afternoons Fili and Kili would come to join them, throwing themselves down, not seeming to care at the way that the sand matted into their hair, which they had been carefully growing out despite the protest of their school. Bilbo would wince at the sight, before glancing somewhat appreciatively at Thorin’s own hair, far longer than that of his nephews, tied up neatly into a topknot. The boys would be content to sit still for all of ten minutes, before they protested hunger, and boredom, and a need to shower: they’d run ahead to the beach-front showers to get the worst of the sand off whilst Bilbo and Thorin padded slowly back to the cottages along the narrow little track that lead through the dunes and the long grasses, Beast loping along beside them, the evening sunshine golden and warm against their backs.

They tended to part ways at that point: Bilbo would retire to his own cottage, whilst Thorin was left with the mammoth task of feeding two teenage boys who had spent the whole day surfing without even stopping for lunch – he was rather glad that he had come equipped with a variety of easy recipes given to him by Dwalin, each set to serve six people. Those, along with a bowl of popcorn and one of the many films that lined the TV cabinet, tended to satisfy the boys for the evening.

It was rather nice, actually: Thorin tended to fall asleep in the armchair by nine o’clock, full and tired in all the right ways, and would wake up a couple of hours later to find the boys asleep too, tangled up under a blanket on the sofa together.

Most of the time he woke them up and shooed them upstairs: one particularly late night when they were too groggy to go up the narrow stairs, he gave them both piggy-back-rides to bed, remembering fondly the days when they had been little enough for him to carry in his arms.

“Of course, it’s all your fault,” he told Bilbo one afternoon after confessing what exactly it was that the three of them were doing in their holiday evenings, the corner of his mouth twitching up slightly, a little surprised at his own boldness. “If you didn’t pick such terrible films then we wouldn’t be falling asleep.”

Bilbo pretended for a moment to look offended, before dropping the act.

“I have to admit, most of them are left by visitors, so that probably says something for their quality to begin with. If you want a selection of actually good films, then the three of you are always welcome to come around to mine tonight – I can provide popcorn and blankets, and all I ask is that if your nephews fall asleep, then they don’t drool all over my cushions.”

Said nephews were eager to agree, particularly when Bilbo mentioned the collection of Disney films he had amassed as the Uncle and pseudo-Uncle of a variety of younger relatives that often visited him. Thorin found himself feeling oddly awkward as the three of them knocked on the cottage door later that evening, freshly showered and as free from sand as three people who had essentially lived on a beach for the last week could possibly be. Bilbo had opened the door smiling, bringing the comforting smell of popcorn wafting out into the soft, sun-warmed evening.

“Your forehead is red,” Bilbo said, with a small frown, as the boys had pushed through to the living room, leaving just the two of them in the doorway. “What’s wrong?”

Thorin blinked, feeling a flush of embarrassment start to grow on his cheeks, to match his forehead.

“Uncle Thorin keeps hitting his head on the doorframes,” Kili remarked, from where he had already thrown himself down on one of the big, plushy armchairs.

“Yes, thank you Kili,” Thorin said, more embarrassed than annoyed. Bilbo was smiling up at him, with a warmth that Thorin could only describe as fondness, and it made a strange little flutter grow in his chest.

“Yes, well,” he said, avoiding eye contact. “It’s not my fault your cottages are all so ridiculously small.”

Bilbo patted his arm, gently steering him through to the living room. “Watch your head,” he remarked, a little amused, they went through the doorway. “We wouldn’t want you to end up with concussion.”

It was a calm evening, a peaceful one, and even though the boys still fell asleep in front of The Lion King, Thorin made himself stay awake, exchanging quips with Bilbo about the film, trying very hard not to get the music stuck in his head.

It was on their penultimate day that Bilbo finally brought up the remarks that he had caught about the castle, and when he did Thorin did not feel the normal discomfort that came whenever he had to explain to people that yes, his family did own a castle, and no, that did not mean that they were ludicrously wealthy nor were they aristocratic, and had not been for many generations. It had so often led, in the past, to misconceptions, to awkwardness, but when he explained their old-estate-turned-hotel Bilbo had only nodded thoughtfully.

“It’s not that different to me, actually,” he remarked, gesturing behind them to where the cottages lay, hidden in the dunes. “I inherited these back when it was just a motley collection of farm buildings, and most of my infernal relatives on my father’s side wanted me to convert them and let them all live in them, but in the end I decided that the holiday rentals were a much better route – and it is a lot of trouble, but it is very enjoyable, in the end. And your castle sounds beautiful too, by the way, from what you’ve said – I imagine that despite the work, it is a rewarding thing, to see your legacy take on a new life.”

No one had ever expressed it to him quite so clearly before: Thorin could only nod, reaching over to ruffle Beast’s ears, noticing for the first time how dark his skin had been tanned by these long hours in the sunshine.

“You should come and see it sometime,” he said, trying for casual and probably failing. “If you’re ever in need of a holiday somewhere up north. It won’t be anywhere near as warm, but it is beautiful – and I’d be happy to show you around.”

“I’d like that,” Bilbo replied, smiling in that particular and warm way that Thorin couldn’t misconstrue, even if he had tried.

The holiday ended: Bilbo waved them goodbye as they pulled away, his eyes fond, laughing a little as Fili and Kili shouted their farewells out of the back window. They had only reinforced Thorin’s offer as soon as Bilbo had mentioned it, until the man had grinned and agreed, and though Thorin was somewhat sad to have his holiday end, he couldn’t help but feel a little hopeful, that this would not be the end of it.

 


 

Postcard 1

Back reads:
Dear Mum and Mama,
Cornwall is awesome, the sea is really warm and the waves get really big sometimes. The cottage is cool and backs right on to the beach and the owner is really nice, he fusses Beast a lot. Uncle Thorin actually speaks to him, which is kind of weird. He came on a walk with us yesterday and showed us the best places for swimming.
Love you, F & K xxxxxxxx

 


 

 

 

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: Missing toy?
Hullo! Hope you and your boys got home safe and sound. We found a dog toy under the sofa of your cottage: if it is of any importance to you, I’m happy to send it to you.
All the best,
Bilbo

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: Missing toy?
I’m sure Beast can live without one of his thousands of toys, but thanks.
We got home alright, but Kili may have perforated my eardrum with his singing.
Missing the sunshine,
T

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: Missing toy?
He certainly has a voice on him – I could hear him singing from my garden. I enjoyed his rather enthusiastic version of Bohemian Rhapsody the best, personally.
B

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Missing toy?
God, I’m sorry. We’re so far away from everything up here that I don’t think he has ever learnt volume control.
Speaking of which, if you were serious about coming up here, you would be more than welcome – though don’t feel that you have to, just because of the boys. They tend to be quite persuasive when they want to be.
T

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Missing toy?
You know what, I think I will. I’ve been looking for a reason to get away over December, and I wouldn’t want Fili to hit me over the head with a surfboard again…

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Missing toy?
Once again, I apologise. I understand if you never let us come to stay at yours again.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Missing toy?
Nonsense, I’d be offended if you stayed away!

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Missing toy?
I’ll have to bear that in mind. 

 


 

uktripreviewer.co.uk
T. Durin                               
Dornie, Scotland

“Under-the-Hill Holiday Cottages”
4/5 Stars

Scenery just as beautiful as described, hosting of a stellar level, cottage is cosy and well furnished. Staff are friendly and willing to put up with two teenage boys and the stupidest dog that has ever lived. Marking down for the low doors, and the terrible taste in dvds left for guests to watch.

 


 

 

 

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: Review
Thorin, I thought we were friends. I’m hurt, honestly. It isn’t my fault that you are obscenely tall.

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: Review
Nor mine that you are too small.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: Review
I’m perfectly proportioned, thank you. And I already apologies for the films, and let the boys borrow from my collection. What on earth is wrong with The Lion King?

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Review
I’ll let you review that opinion when you’ve suffered through it six times in one week. The boys both sang Hakuna Matata all the way home – and they only sang it louder when I told them to shut it.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Review
I can just imagine. I don’t like to lay blame Thorin, but it is your own fault for being such a grump. An obscenely tall grump. But thank you for saying that my hosting was stellar. I live to please!

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Review
And you did. My sister wants to send her thanks for putting up with us, by the way.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Review
The pleasure was all mine. And I can’t wait to meet your sister after everything that I have heard about her – she sounds like a phenomenal woman! And more than capable of keeping all three of you in check. But I have to ask – is she as ludicrously tall as you boys?

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Review
She’s taller than you, but not as tall as me. And has a mean left hook, so don’t upset her.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Review
I’ll do my best!

 


 

 

 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: durincastles@gmail.co.uk
Subject: Booking Confirmation

Durin Castle welcomes you.

Please print and bring with you at check-in.

Thank you for booking with Durin Castle. Your reservation is below:

Room type: Double bedroom for single use
Additional services: Breakfast
Arrival: 27/12/14
Departure: 02/01/15
Price paid in full: £295.00

Additional Comments: Looking forwards to seeing my former guests! Bilbo.

Check in is from 13:00 on the day of arrival. Check out is at 11:00 on the day of departure. Luggage storage can be provided on request. Amending your booking can only be done within 14 days of your arrival. Refunds can only be obtained for cancellation with 30 day notice.

Please keep this email for your records.

 


 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: durincastles@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: Booking Confirmation

Glad to see it! Mum can’t wait to meet you!

Fee & Kee xx

 


 

 

Bilbo spent several days packing up his cottages before he went away, checking the thermostats and locking everything up carefully. They were not for rent over the winter months (not that many people were interested in coming to the Cornish coast in the bleak midwinter) apart from over the Christmas and New Year seasons, but this year he had already made the decision not to open for those busy couple of weeks before the trio from Scotland had arrived – it was simply too much work over the Christmas period for one, and too tiring too, not when he had family to visit and shopping to do and he wanted to rest, for once. So when he left, setting out in his trundling little Fiat, hoping against hope that it would survive the country roads once he left the motorway in Scotland, he did so with some contentment.

He had been looking forward to his trip, and that excitement only grew as the hours passed, classical music and debates on the radio keeping him focused: it wasn’t just the prospect of a holiday, he had to admit to himself. The thought of seeing the uncle-nephew trio, of whom he had grown rather fond, was also quite appealing.

He always described himself as ‘tootling’ rather than ‘driving’ when he was in his car: it got him to Manchester in a day, where he stayed over with distant relatives for the night, before moving on again early the next morning. Once he left the motorway the scenery became quickly more and more impressive, the hills growing taller and taller, the sky a steely backdrop, weak winter light making everything seem still, and peaceful. The sat-nav, the newest thing in his old car, calmly sent him down one road and up another, the car struggling up the steeper hills, until he finally caught sight of the castle.

Thorin had described it, and of course he had seen the pictures when he had booked, but to see it in person was another thing entirely. Built on a small island just off the shore of a wide loch, connected to the mainland by a wide stone bridge, the castle jutted out of the silver-blue stillness of the water, tall and imposing and quite impossibly beautiful.

He was rather disappointed to note that there wasn’t much snow on the ground as he followed the road down to the valley bottom, as he went along the side of the lake to the bridge: he had been rather looking forward to a white Christmas.

He said as much to Thorin, who came hurrying out as Bilbo pulled up in the courtyard in front of what he took to be the main entrance. He looked well, Bilbo couldn’t help but think, a little less tanned and perhaps more tired, but he was a little pleased to realise that the same flutter bloomed in his chest at the sight of the other man.

“Give it time,” Thorin answered, the corner of his mouth twitching in that not-quite-smile of his. “Listen, before you come in-”

“Is that him?” came a woman’s voice from inside, loud and audibly excited. “It is!”

“Sorry,” Thorin told him.

Bilbo wanted to ask why he was apologising, but then movement from the door caught his eye, and suddenly a whole group of people seemed to burst from inside: there were Fili and Kili, both of them a little taller than they had been last time Bilbo had seen them; there was a tall, dark haired woman with a stern jaw and laughter lines around her eyes that could only have been Thorin’s sister; another woman, with soft, short honey-gold hair and a beaming smile; a tall, rather terrifying looking man in an apron with tattoos running across his shaved scalp; a short, portly man with a long silver beard who looked greatly amused by the entire thing; another man, who looked like Thorin but shorter and stockier, with a few less silver hairs. They all advanced on the two of them with smiles so intense that Bilbo found himself stepping back, on instinct.

It was Thorin’s sister who reached them first, taking hold of his hand in both of hers and shaking it firmly.

“I’m Dis,” she said, with a wicked grin. “And I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. You’ll have to forgive us coming out en-masse like this – the boys’ excitement has rather got the better of us. Now, you’ll have to let me introduce you to us all – I’m Thorin’s sister, as you might have guessed. That’s Frerin, my other brother-” the other man with the clear family resemblance waved, grinning. “This is my wife, Vivi-” the blonde was still beaming, and shot him a wink that he wasn’t sure how to respond to when Dis pointed her out. “Dwalin is the lug over there with the tattoos, he’s our cousin and the chef here, and beardy stood next to him is his brother, Balin. He’s up here for the holidays, he lives in Edinburgh.” The brothers nodded, glancing between him and Thorin. “And of course you know my sons already.”

“Yes,” Bilbo said, quickly, glad that he knew anyone here. The boys, it seemed, had only been waiting for acknowledgement, because they surged forward, wrapping themselves around Bilbo in a sudden and enthusiastic embrace. “Oh,” he said, a little overwhelmed. “It’s nice to see the both of you again.”

Vivi seemed to notice his confusion, because she stepped forward, swatting at her sons until they moved out of the way.

“That’s enough,” she said. “We’re smothering him. Now, you must have been driving for hours, so let’s get you to your room, give you your space, let you relax and take a nap if you like. I’m sure we’ll all get a chance to get to know Bilbo better after he’s settled in. But you’ll have dinner with us tonight, won’t you?” she asked, and he blinked, before raising his hands and shaking his head.

“Oh no,” he said, “I couldn’t possibly impose on a family meal! I’ll wander down to the village, find something there, and-”

“I can’t allow it,” Vivi said with a smile, linking his arm. “And don’t think of it as imposition for a moment. Dwalin always cooks too much anyway, and we’d be devastated if we didn’t get the chance to get to know you better.”

“Well, I…” he trailed off, feeling as if it was impolite not to refuse, but not really wanting to. Vivi must have sensed it, because she smiled, and began to lead him to the castle.

“Excellent,” she said, squeezing his arm. “Now, the boys will bring in your luggage, and I will show you to your room.”

She was as good as her word, and he couldn’t help but be impressed by the surroundings once they had got in from the cold. He would have assumed that it had just been wonderfully preserved had Thorin not mentioned the state of disrepair that it had been in when he had inherited it, and instead he had to wonder at the marvellous restoration that had been done to the arching stone ceilings, the parquet flooring, the great latticed windows. He almost laughed when he saw his room, with its thick rug and actually canopied bed, like something from a period drama.

He hadn’t really meant to have a nap, but after lying on it for all of thirty seconds he had fallen asleep, only waking some hours later at the gentle sound of knocking at the door. He answered it with crumpled clothes and ruffled hair, smiling when he saw Thorin standing awkwardly outside.

“There’s no need to apologise,” was the first thing he said, smiling as he waved Thorin inside the room. “Your family are lovely – wildly intimidating and a touch overwhelming, of course, but most families are en-masse. It was very nice of them to invite me to dinner, too.”

Thorin’s shoulders slumped, as if he was terribly relieved.

“I’m glad,” he said. “And dinner is what I’m here about – Dwalin says it will be ready in five.”

As Bilbo might have expected, the evening meal for the Durin’s was a sprawling, loud and wonderful affair. Dwalin served up a startlingly wonderful array of food across three courses: Bilbo’s liberal compliments of the food earned him a gruff nod and a small blush, which he couldn’t help but think was rather adorable. These compliment possibly accounted for how frequently he was pulled into the family dining room to join them for meals, and soon enough he gave up protesting, enjoying their loud and boisterous company too much to really to pretend that he didn’t want to be a part of it all.

The family were kind, and curious, asking him a thousand and one questions without ever pushing him too far, and they were always willing to offer stories of their own in turn – particularly stories relating to Thorin, either funny ones or ones showing his best qualities, Bilbo couldn’t help but notice, rather amused at the whole thing.

His favourite parts of the days were not, however, the meals, as lovely and as filling as they might have been. There were instead the quiet, calm moments that he spent with his former guest: Thorin seemed to take it upon himself to show Bilbo around the castle and the small grounds on the tiny island, telling him the stories of the place in his low, quiet voice.

“It is beautiful,” he remarked, one particular afternoon, wandering one of the long galleries, the rain pouring down outside, further diminishing Bilbo’s hopes for snow. “But I can’t help but feel that it must have been made for giants.”

He cast a glance at Thorin, checking to see if he had got the joke: the amused warmth in his eyes rather suggested that he had.

On New Years Eve the weather cleared enough for Thorin to take him around the loch, the two of them setting out in the morning with boots and scarves and hats, following the shingle beaches and narrow pathways through smatterings of pine trees around the entire thing. It took far longer than it should have done, for they walked slowly, often stopping to look at a certain view, a bird in the sky, ripples spreading slowly across the still surface of the water.

“It’s beautiful here,” Bilbo told him, shoving his hands in his pockets and trying not to shiver at the chill wind. “Very different from what I’m used to, of course – but beautiful, none the less.”

“I think so,” Thorin replied, and Bilbo caught his eye without quite meaning to, their shared gaze turning into something long and sweet until eventually the distant sound of a bird calling made them both turn instinctively towards the noise.

“Is that a dock?” Bilbo found himself asking, not quite sure what to say, and Thorin nodded.

“There should be a row boat down there, unless one of us actually remembered to store it away this year, which is unlikely. Shall we look?”

They did, and there was indeed an old row boat there, looking a little worse for wear. It spoke volumes of the quiet solitude of the castle and the little village at the corner of loch that no one had come along and done it any damage, but with Bilbo mentioned that, Thorin had simply laughed.

“Nothing much ever happens around here,” he told him, pulling the oars out from under the seats. “Not any more, at any rate.”

It sounded like there was a story there, Bilbo couldn’t help but think, but he did not pry – Thorin had already climbed down into the boat, slightly unsteady, his hands on the dock to stop himself falling. Bilbo was going to protest – the water would be freezing if they fell in, the boat didn’t look particularly reliable, and he was feeling rather cold – but then Thorin turned to him, his blue-grey eyes the same colour as the flat water where it reflected the cloudy sky above them, eyes warm and affectionate and so entirely a part of this place that Bilbo could not help but be swept up in it, for just a moment.

Thorin reached a hand out to him and he took it, stepping carefully down, sitting immediately, his free hand on the side of the boat, holding on for dear life.

“It’ll be fine,” Thorin told him, taking the seat opposite and guiding the boat out into the middle of the loch, rowing with sure, slow strokes.

Bilbo watched the way that the oars broke the surface of the water: he started at the sudden flicking movement of a trout as it darted away beneath them.

“If we fall in at any point, I’m blaming you,” he told Thorin, who only smiled, just a little. “I’m terrible at swimming, and I’ll probably drown, and it’ll be all your fault.”

Thorin nodded, quite seriously.

“It would be,” he replied. “Except, you know, I’d jump in after you.”

Bilbo rubbed at his nose, trying not to blush.

They were out in the middle of the lake by this point: it was already growing dark out, the lights of the castle lit up, the reflections of it spreading across the lake in long, golden-orange streaks, glowing and rippling against the water, looking more like something from an old story than something of stone and reality.

“You look cold,” Thorin said, his voice quiet, and then the boat rocked a little as he pulled his jacket off, passing it across to him.

It was still warm from Thorin’s body heat: Bilbo wrapped it around himself gratefully.

“Won’t you get cold now instead?” he asked, and Thorin shook his head.

The gaze he shot him from across the boat was warm, and a little amused. He glanced down at the layers of thick clothing he was wearing, definitely more prepared for the cold of a northern winter than Bilbo was.

“Yes, well,” Bilbo said in response. “You’re clearly obscenely overheated as well as tall.”

Thorin took them across to another dock, around the back of the castle, and Bilbo blinked up at the expanse of it, looking so much taller from this angle.

“I didn’t realise we were taking a shortcut,” he remarked, clinging to the side of the boat awkwardly as Thorin climbed up onto the old wooden jetty. He didn’t realise that Thorin was holding out a hand for him for the longest moment, until Thorin cleared his throat and he glanced up.

Thorin’s hand was as warm as his jacket had been: Bilbo found himself holding onto it for just a moment longer than he should have done, savouring that singular point of warmth.

“You were shivering,” Thorin told him, not letting go either. “Besides, Dis would skin me alive if we weren’t back in time for the party.”

The party in question was the Durin family and guests annual New Year’s event, coordinated and planned in excruciating detail by Dis and Frerin throughout all of December. Bilbo had not been aware of the event when he had first booked his holiday, but he had been filled in very quickly on the subject after his arrival. It was Frerin’s own baby, a lavish event culminating in a fireworks display over the lake, and as soon as Bilbo arrived downstairs in the smartest clothes he had brought he found a glass of champagne pressed into his hand, and himself caught up in the revelry.

There was food on every surface, elegant little vol au vents that Dwalin had spent hours creating, tiny cakes topped with puffs of cream, delicate little things that tasted as beautiful as they looked. The antique wood was polished to a shine, candles scattered across the surfaces, the warm glow of them filling the rooms which were otherwise soft with low lighting. The music was a gentle background swell, the cold of the night kept at bay with roaring fires in the hearths, the sound of conversation a welcoming background to the night. Thorin looked rather dashing in a suit, he couldn’t help but think as he caught sight of him from across the room, and the rest of his family were dressed to impress as well, a tall and beautiful family in elegant clothes.

He felt a little out of place in his chinos and dress shirt, but soon enough the good humour of the night dispelled the feeling, and the time flew by.

It was only when the calls came that it was nearing midnight that he realised that he had not actually spoken to Thorin all evening: he glanced around the large room, to see him leaning by the great doors out onto the wide balcony overlooking the lake. His arms were crossed across his suit, his hair braided back, his broad shoulders lowered, looking relaxed. He caught Bilbo’s eye, and he smiled, a small warm thing, intimate and private.

He smiled back, and waved, a little awkward thing.

Thorin ducked his head as his smile grew wider.

They all crowded out onto the balcony for the fireworks display: flutes of champagne were passed around as they counted down the final seconds to the new year. Bilbo had never particularly enjoyed this particular annual celebration (normally it ended up being an overblown disappointment that in the past he had often tried to avoid), but he realised that this year he had: the laughter, the light-hearted conversation, the lack of pretence in the warmth of whole event, it had all added up to a night where no anxiety had set in, where he had had fun, had felt included and wanted and part of something bigger than himself.

Like a part of a family.

They counted down: the fireworks spread out across the sky, the colours reflected in the lake, and Fili and Kili had cheered loudly, both looking a little flushed from a couple of sneaked glasses of wine. Their mothers were laughing at them, expressions warm and a little wary, both of them nodding at each other in a silent agreement to keep an eye on them.

Thorin was standing next to him: they weren’t touching, but Bilbo could feel the warmth of him in the cold night.

“Warm enough?” he asked, his voice low so that only Bilbo could hear. “Or do you need my jacket again?”

The fireworks were still exploding across the still night, and as Bilbo glanced up at him golden light flooded across the balcony, lighting up Thorin’s eyes. He nudged him, gently.

“Quiet, you,” he replied, but Frerin caught sight of them before Thorin had a chance to reply.

“Kissing is tradition!” he hollered, a little flushed himself, and he staggered over, wrapping his arms first around Thorin’s shoulders and then around Bilbo’s, pressing a slightly sloppy kiss to each of their cheeks.

They glanced at each other, when Frerin pulled away, beaming, off to kiss Dwalin’s bald, tattooed forehead.

“It is tradition,” Thorin said quietly, turning to him a little.

“Traditions are important,” Bilbo answered, smiling a little, and he reached up, on tip-toes, one hand against Thorin’s chest to keep himself steady. He had meant to kiss Thorin’s cheek, but the other man turned towards him too, and in the end they kissed each other, at the corner of their mouths, brief and soft, in the shadows of the balcony and the brand new year.

 


 

uktripreviewer.co.uk

Bilbo Baggins
Newquay, Cornwall

“Durin Castle Hotel”
4/5 Stars

A wonderful time! The castle is truly stunning, the family warm and welcoming. The New Years celebrations that they host are a joy to be a part of, and the trip was a wonderful break away from family pressure. I would have given it 5 stars, but the tall ceilings and taller guests made me feel uncommonly small…

 


 

 

 

 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: Seriously?
Not our fault you’re short.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: Seriously?
We’ve covered this already, giant.
And I'm glad to know that I am not the only one who obsessively checks tripreviewer for reviews ;)
But in all seriousness, thank you for a truly wonderful time. I really needed the break, and your place is utterly gorgeous. And you really didn’t need to be so attentive, you know – I know we’re friends, but I worry that I stole you away from your work?

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: Seriously?
It’s fine, Dis only complains that I get under her feet, anyway. Was your trip back okay? It’s a long drive to make without teenagers screaming in the backseat.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Seriously?
I did have to stop off at a B&B – but I blame you all for your lovely send off! I was too tired to make it back all the way in one go – although your mix-tape did keep me going! (Sorry, sorry – your nephew’s mixtape. I believe you…)

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Seriously?
If you honestly think I’m a Proclaimers fan then you have seriously misjudged me. But I’m glad that you’re safe.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Seriously?
You big worrier. Now, are you going to keep to your promise about bringing the boys to me again in the summer? They seemed very certain that they need more practise on their boards.

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Seriously?
We’ll see…

 


 

 

 

 

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: underthehill@hotmail.co.uk

Subject: Booking Confirmation

Under-The-Hill holiday cottages thanks you for your booking!

Hello! Thank you for booking with us at Under-The-Hill cottages! We hope you enjoy your stay with us, and remember, we can’t guarantee good weather, but we can guarantee a great holiday!

The details of your reservation are below, and if there is anything wrong with them, please do not hesitate to get in touch with owner and general manager, Bilbo Baggins, who is happy to help. Please keep hold of this email and present it to us at reception when you arrive, to make your check in a quicker experience. If you have any other questions before you make your way to us, or want to amend your visit or request any additional services, feel free to ask by email or by telephone!

Cottage:
Adults: 1
Children: 2
Pets: 2
Arrival: 06/05/15
Departure: 12/05/15

Deposit paid: £124.00
Amount to pay: £126.00

Guest comments: I always keep my promises…

Linen and house towels are provided, as is wood for the log burners, but please remember that we do ask our guests to use their own towels when on the beach and in the sea! Pets are welcome, but responsibility for cleaning up their waste lies with their owner, and we ask that noise levels are kept to a minimum!

All the best,

Under-The-Hill

 


 

 

 

 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: See?
Attachment: Email: Subject: Booking Confirmation

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: See?
I already can’t wait!

 


 

 

 

 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: Been a while
The weather here has finally cleared up – the snow took until now to melt away entirely. You’d have liked it – it is very picture-postcard. But an absolute pain to live with. Haven’t heard from you in a while, hope everything is alright.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: Been a while
You’re right, it has, and I’m terribly sorry – all my fault. Things have been rather hectic here. My own nephew is living with me at the moment, his parents had to leave the country for work and he wanted to stay in the country for school. I do love having him around, but I have to admit that I am not the best with younger children (he turns ten next month), and so adjusting to cooking for him, doing the school runs, having someone else to be responsible for etc. has taken up rather more of my time than I realised! But I do have an apology to make to you – he has watched Shrek eight times in the last ten days, and now I completely understand your complaints about The Lion King. Eddie Murphey’s voice has started to haunt my nightmares…

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: Been a while
I’m glad to hear that you are alright, even if you are suffering through overexposure to films. I take some delight in your pain, although until you’ve listened to two teenage boys duet Can You Feel The Love Tonight whilst being three rooms apart I don’t really feel like you have the right to complain.
Adjustment to children is never an easy thing, but I have no doubt that you will be doing just fine. How are the cottages?
P.S. The boys were reading over my shoulder, and have already started collecting their favourite Disney films to bring down to watch with your nephew in a couple of months. I feel you deserve fair warning. Steel yourself – Buzz Lightyear is coming.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Been a while
Your knowledge of children’s films is impressive – I can’t help but feel that you’re exaggerating your dislike of them. Dis did tell me that you used to sing the boys to sleep with songs from Aladdin.
I can’t help but feel a little jealous of the snow that you mentioned earlier, by the way – I’m sure it was annoying, but the mental images that I have are just beautiful. The weather here has been tempestuous – storms and the sea wind have led to a few necessary roof repairs, but I promise that you will be without leaks when you get here. Also, I couldn’t help but notice that you put down two pets on your form – have you picked up another stray?

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Been a while
Attachments: IMG001, IMG 002, IMG 003
Aladdin is a classic, I’ll have you know.
Picture one is the boys in the snow, two is the castle after the biggest snowstorm, three is the new addition. Frerin found a little calico cat out on the bridge mid-February – god knows how she got there. We were going to take her to a shelter, but Beast grew attached. She sleeps in his basket now, and wags her tail like a dog – she’d have been heartbroken if she had been left behind (according to Fili).

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Been a while
You big softie :P

 


 

Thorin was not willing to admit that he was looking forward to seeing Bilbo again – at least, not willing to admit it out loud. His head, however, was more than willing to hum contentedly about the prospect in the lead up to their holiday.

The boys had been talking about the prospect of surfing again for months, despite the fact that they had already been on a similar trip abroad with their mothers (Dis had learnt to surf with her brothers, and was perfectly competent on her board, but Vivi had been a pro-surfer in her youth before a shoulder injury had forced her to retire from competition, and was still an impressive sight even today). They were just as excited, Thorin suspected, as he himself was.

The cat was in her travel box, tucked down in the passenger seat footwell – mostly because Beast, who had resumed his own normal travel position in the front seat itself, had protested through means of loud barking whenever they had tried to put her anywhere else.

Their arrival was later than expected, mostly due to Eileen’s persistent yowling requiring regular breaks on the way down to give her a chance to stretch her paws, Beast sat on the ground panting nearby and keeping a close, protective eye on her.

The weather had been particularly rubbish at home the weeks before they had left, and Thorin had been a little concerned that the grey clouds might have followed them all the way down to the south-eastern tip of the United Kingdom: thankfully, the further south they drove the brighter the sky became, and by the time they reached the cottage they were bathed in the golden light of a late summer day. Bilbo was sat out on a newly acquired bench in his front garden when they pulled up, his eyes closed against the sunshine, and at the sight of him Thorin felt something not-unexpected clench in his chest.

“Hey,” he said, as he slipped from the driver’s seat. To his surprise Fili and Kili did not immediately leap out, although he wasn’t quite sure why.

“Hey to you,” Bilbo said, standing and dusting off the legs of his trousers, a little self-consciously. “Good trip?”

“Not too bad,” Thorin replied, and for a long moment they stared at each other, smiling a moment, before Bilbo opened his arms and stepped forward: Thorin did not hesitate, moving towards him immediately.

Bilbo’s arms wrapped around his middle, his cheek resting against Thorin’s chest, only a little taller in stature than Thorin’s shoulder. He hadn’t quite realised just how significant a difference there was in their height until his arms settled around Bilbo’s shoulders, his chin resting on the soft curls of his hair.

“It’s good to see you,” he said, into that hair, and he felt rather than saw Bilbo’s smile against his chest.

“And you,” he replied. “We shouldn’t leave it so long next time.”

Apparently the duration of a hug had been the extent of Fili and Kili’s patience: they half-fell out of the car and ran over, piling onto the hug with yells of enthusiasm. Bilbo laughed under the onslaught of the three Durins, voicing insincere protests at the weight of them all.

They might have stayed that way for quite a while longer had it not been for the combination of excited barking and yowling from inside the car: Thorin untangled himself from the hug to let Beast out, who continued to bark until he had also removed the cat’s travel box, placing it gently on the ground, batting the excited dog away as he unlocked the gate.

“There you go, Eileen,” he said, huffing a little as the cat streaked out, wrapping herself around Beast’s legs and looking at him reproachfully.

“Yes, yes,” he told her, sighing. “I know you didn’t like it, and I’m sorry, but we’re here now, so stop glaring.”

He held open his arms, and after a long moment of consideration the cat slunk forward and allowed herself to be picked up, needling at his arms for only a moment with her claws.

“Eileen?” Bilbo asked, from behind him, and Fili snickered.

“We couldn’t think of a name for her for ages, and every time we were trying to get her to come to us or come for food or anything we’d be saying ‘come on cat’, and then one day Thorin was singing ‘Come on Eileen’, you know, that eighties song? And the cat came right to him. So the name stuck.”

Bilbo glanced at Thorin affectionately.

“Dexys Midnight Runners?” he asked, amused. “An excellent song.”

“Shut up,” Thorin told him, as the cat started to purr. “It suits her.”

“Yes,” Bilbo said, trying very hard not to smile. “I can’t think of a more appropriate pet name than ‘Eileen’. But come in, all of you – I have my own new addition that you need to meet.”

Frodo was curled up on one of Bilbo’s large armchairs reading when the four of them came in, and he looked up with some interest at the new arrivals. He was a slight boy for his age, with a head of dark curls and the largest blue eyes that Thorin had ever seen, and though he was quiet for the first hour or so he soon warmed up, particularly when Thorin’s nephews tried their hardest to get him talking.

Fili and Kili took the young boy under their wing throughout the trip: the ten-year-old looked up to the two of them with awe in their eyes when they asked him to come surfing with them, though Thorin’s nephews were left stumped and impressed when they realised pretty quickly that Frodo was a better surfer than either of them, lithe and surprisingly strong for his size. Thorin spent his mornings out on the waves with the three of them, but like last year he found his energy waning by the early afternoon, and left them to their own fun, trusting his boys. The difference this year, though, was that he did not lie on the beach, but padded down that familiar little path through the dunes and sand grasses back to the cottages, to find Bilbo.

Normally he was out in his garden, pottering around between his sheltered herbs and hardy coastal plants, though on occasion he was sorting out problems with the other visitors: Thorin would wait for him patiently on those afternoons, quite content in and of himself. Beast had quite abandoned Thorin on his holiday, following Eileen around as if concerned that she would get lost in this unfamiliar place: normally the two would come across him at some point, and would curl up around his feet as he sat on Bilbo’s bench, their eyes half-closed against the sunlight.

The easy conversation that the two of them had found in their last two visits had not been a fluke: they fell back into a comfortable rhythm, and Bilbo confessed to him his worries about raising Frodo, his fears about parenthood; Thorin tried his best to comfort him, knowing well the concerns of pseudo-parenthood. On occasion, when Bilbo seemed to get particularly wound up, Eileen would climb up into his lap, as if trying to offer silent, warm comfort.

“I’m afraid that the selection of films has not improved,” Bilbo had told him on their first night there, only the warmth in his eyes betraying his amusement. “In recompense, all three of you are of course welcome to come to my cottage in the evenings for film nights. Frodo and I deliberately bought in teenage-boy quantities of snacks, just in case.”

They ended up there every evening, unsurprisingly. Thorin cooked for them all in thanks, and they ate together around Bilbo’s big old dining table, French windows open to the sea beyond. The boys would run inside to find ice cream and put on Disney films whilst Thorin and Bilbo drank tea out on the porch, listening to the laughing-singing and familiar music waft in from outside.

Soon enough they would join them, the two of them settling into armchairs and smiling fondly at the three boys piled together on the sofa. It was amusing to see the youthful energy of the ten-year-old pitted against the determination of two teenagers: the nights often dissolved into competitive board games and raucous laughter before all three of them fell asleep, often at the same time.

“Thank you,” Bilbo said to him, after Thorin carried Frodo up to bed one night. “I can’t quite manage that, I’m afraid.”

Thorin smiled, feeling that familiar familial affection roll through his chest as he looked down at the sleeping boy in his arms, dark curls a mess across his pale, freckled skin.

“That’s alright,” Thorin told him, his voice low, thinking fondly of his own reprobates. “It reminds me of when my own boys were little enough to carry around – they grow up so quickly.”

His affection for his nephews was tested quite severely one particular evening, when he overheard the two of them in the kitchen with Bilbo, ‘helping’ with the creation of some rather elaborate ice cream sundaes. Thorin found himself entirely mortified by what he heard, groaning in his head.

“Mum and Mama made us promise to invite you to come back and stay with us again,” Fili was saying as Thorin came into earshot, quite seriously. “We all really like you, even Uncle Thorin, and Uncle Frerin says that he’s a grump who doesn’t like anyone.”

Bilbo had made a low sound of agreement, though hadn’t said anything, to Thorin’s relief.

“Uncle Thorin is single, you know,” Kili said next, meaningfully. “Are you?”

Bilbo had choked, and Thorin had hurried away before he had been forced to go in and wrap blankets around his nephew’s heads in an attempt to silence them. The cheek of the two of them - no doubt fuelled by the interest that his family had taken in Thorin finally making a friend - he was still blushing by the time they came through to the living room, though thankfully none of them brought up the conversation.

Bilbo took them to the Lost Gardens of Heligan one sunny day, packing a picnic and brushing off Thorin’s concerns that he was doing too much for them.

“Not at all,” he told him, packing several glass bottles of local lemonade (and a couple of cider for him and Thorin) in the large rucksack full of food that he had made. “Think of all the things you did for me – and all of the time you spent showing me around. This is the least that I can do to repay you, and, you know, I do rather enjoy your company – all of your company.”

Thorin hadn’t known what to say to that, so he had just helped Bilbo out with the stuff.

Beast was very happy with the vast amount of exciting plant life to be found in the sprawling, overgrown gardens, although Eileen was less than pleased with the little cat leash and harness that Thorin was forced to put her in, for fear of losing her among the foliage. The sun was warm on his neck, the boys running ahead in their attempts to help Frodo fill in his ‘Things to Find’ list given to him at the entrance, their good humour infectious.

Bilbo kept pace beside him, and at one point, when Thorin had slid on a muddy section of a steep path, he grabbed hold of Thorin’s hand in an attempt to steady him.

“Clumsy,” he told him, as Eileen had glared at him reproachfully.

He might have been more embarrassed, but Bilbo kept hold of his hand for quite a few minutes longer, and that was enough for him to get over it.

Bilbo would still join them on the beach several afternoons, cheering on Frodo from the shore and bringing down drinks and sandwiches, coaxing all three of them to the shore with the prospect of food: they would eat it quickly before running back out into the waves again, ignoring Bilbo’s protests about resting after eating.

Bilbo burnt his neck on one such afternoon, after the two of them fell asleep in the sand: Thorin was on his back, leaning against the gentle stope of a dune, Beast and Eileen curled up next to him having risked the sand (Eileen had picked up her paws at the feeling of it, looking as disgusted as it was possible for a cat to look, before curling up on Thorin’s stomach in an attempt to escape it). Bilbo, though, had been leaning on his elbows, propped up on his front, and by the time the boys had woken them up several hours later the back of his neck had been red, and quite painful, if his wincing was any indication.

“Would you mind?” he asked, handing a bottle of aftersun to Thorin, who had swallowed, hard, before taking it from him.

Bilbo’s skin had been terribly warm to the touch, though it had cooled as Thorin rubbed in the soothing cream. If he had lingered, for a little too long – well, Bilbo hadn’t complained.

The whole trip was a good one, possibly one of the nicest holidays that Thorin had ever had. Early nights and peaceful sleep, mornings spent with saltwater in his hair and a board under his body, afternoons spent talking with Bilbo on that bench in his idyllic gardens, evenings with the boys, all of them crammed into Bilbo’s living room watching films, eating desserts and popcorn, falling asleep early in the cozy warmth of it all. Sometimes, when their nephews retired early, just Thorin and Bilbo were left, spending a couple more hours alone in their easy intimacy that somehow felt more intense in the darkness of the evenings. Sometimes they would sit out, and Bilbo would point out the stars in the sky; sometimes they would share the sofa, sitting close but never quite touching, and would watch a film together – Bilbo laughed uproariously when they watched a horror film one night, amused by how often Thorin had jumped at the scary parts.

Eventually, though, the holiday had to end, and Thorin felt more regret at their parting than he had either time before. They had to leave early in the morning, but Bilbo and Frodo woke up to wave them off, and when the boys were exchanging their farewells and promises to keep in touch Thorin drew Bilbo to one side, a hand on his arm that he couldn’t quite bring himself to move as they spoke, low and quiet.

“Do you have plans at Christmas?”

Bilbo shook his head.

“Nothing yet – it’ll just be me and Frodo, I think. By the sounds of things, his parents won’t be able to make it back to the UK for it this year. He’ll be a little disappointed, but hopefully I’ll be able to make things special on the day.”

Thorin nodded, taking a small step closer, so that Bilbo was looking up at him, those green-grey-blue eyes open and curious, warm with the knowledge of what was shared between them.

“Why don’t you come up to us again?” he asked, and Bilbo smiled, a wide and beautiful thing.

“Sure you’re not sick of me?”

Thorin grinned.

“Ridiculous notion.”

Bilbo bit his lip, glancing over at the boys quickly before looking back at him. “I’ll talk to Frodo about it, and if he wants to, then I think we will.”

It was the most Thorin could hope for: he knew that, from now on, Bilbo’s charge would always be a priority in his life, just as Fili and Kili were in Thorin’s. He understood, and respected it, and his heart warmed just a little at it.

“Promise?” he asked, and Bilbo nodded, resting his hand on top of Thorin’s for just a moment.

“Promise.”

 


 

 

Postcard 2

Back reads:
Dear Mum and Mama,
The weather is great, and the sea here is awesome again!! We’re already getting so much better on our boards, Bilbo says that he can see a real difference. We’re going to be better than you two next time we go away! You wanted an update on Uncle T and B – nothing has happened (thank god, bc that would be gross) but last night we came out and Bilbo was showing Uncle T the different constellations and Uncle T was BLUSHING. HA!
Love you loadsssssssssss. F & K xxxxxxxx

 


 

Postcard 3

Back reads:
Uncle Frerin,
You were so wrong, Uncle Thorin and Bilbo just keep staring at each other and smiling a lot. It’s gross. YOU OWE US A FIVER EACH, THAT WAS THE BET.
Love, F & K xxxxxx

 


 

uktripreviewer.co.uk

T Durin
Dornie, Scotland

“Under-the-Hill Holiday Cottages”
4/5 Stars

Would have been perfect marks had it not been for the copious amounts of Disney that I was forced to suffer through at the hands of the owner…

 


 

 

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: Review
Haha. You think you’re so funny.
P.S. I’ve had Tale As Old As Time stuck in my head ever since you left…

 


 

19:27                     05/09/15
To: Thorin
So I’m guessing one of the boys put your number in my phone?

19:32                     05/09/15
To: Unknown number
I’m guessing so? Who is this?

19:33                     05/09/15
To: Thorin
Oh, sorry! It’s Bilbo :)

19:40                    05/09/15
To: Bilbo
Sounds like something that they would do. Everything okay?

19:41                     05/09/15
To: Thorin
It is, though Frodo is rather sad that you all have gone – he really loved having you all here.

19:42                     05/09/15
To: Thorin
Thanks again for how great the boys were with him. I really appreciated it.

19:47                     05/09/15
To: Bilbo
No need for thanks, they had a whale of a time. Even if Frodo is a far better surfer than either of them.

19:53                     05/09/15
To: Thorin
He’s just had more practise!

19:59                     05/09/15
To: Bilbo
Tell that to Kili, he’s still sulking.

20:03                     05/09/15
To: Bilbo
It was another great trip, by the way. Though you didn’t have to spend all that time with us.

20:11                     05/09/15
To: Thorin
But why wouldn’t I, when I enjoy myself with you so much?

20:19                     05/09/15
To: Thorin
With all three of you, I mean.

20:20                     05/09/15
To: Bilbo
I think that is the first time anyone has ever said that my company is enjoyable.

20:22                    05/09/15
To: Thorin
I can’t believe that. J

 


 

 

“Hello?”

Bilbo swallowed. He had been working up the nerve to call Thorin for hours, but now that he heard his deep voice, slightly tinny down the phone line, he found his confidence was faltering. What if this was all in his head – what if their friendship was just a temporary thing, one that only worked when they were together, one only for brief holiday moments? They had been texting for months, always funny, short exchanges (though they had been quite regular in their frequency), but neither of them had crossed that next line and called each other before. 

“Hi. Um. Yes,” he faltered, all those thoughts running through his head, and Thorin’s low sound of confusion only made him feel worse.

“Bilbo?”

“Yes!” he replied quickly. “Sorry, I, um… I dialled by accident, sorry about that. But how are you doing?”

He hung his head, a little ashamed at himself for the lie, but unable to think of anything better to say. Luckily, Thorin didn’t seem to take too much offense to it. He let out a low, half-amused, half-annoyed sound.

“I’m well – just about recovered from the boys’ rendition of the entire soundtrack of Frozen. You’d have thought that teenage boys wouldn’t be into Disney princesses as much as they are, but apparently I’m wrong.”

Bilbo laughed, softly. He had missed them, he realised now, more than he had perhaps let himself notice: the living room seemed just a little too big with only the two of them in it now, everything just a little too quiet.

“I think it is nice that they haven’t lost that spirit of childishness yet. We’re a long time grown up.”

Thorin murmured a low sound of agreement.

“That we are.”

Their conversation stalled for a moment: Bilbo could feel the low tension begin to build in his chest again, and he turned on the spot in his kitchen, trying to think of something – of anything – to say, to make this new foray into a deeper, more consistent relationship work, because damn, he wanted it to work.

“The sea is beautiful today – I can see it from the window,” he said suddenly, as the view came into sight and he stilled, feeling just a little calmer at the long stretch of water outside, familiar and a little part of home to him.

“It is incredibly blue, brighter than I’ve seen it for a very long time. The three of you would have loved to be out on it – Frodo is over the moon.”

Thorin let out a sound of appreciation.

“It sounds incredible: there are clouds over the mountains here, those thin and hazy, misty clouds. It’s grey overhead but the sun is breaking through here and there, and lighting up the hillside like gold. It’s wonderful.”

Bilbo smiled, his hand clenching on the kitchen countertop.

“The place is quiet since the three of you have gone, you know,” he said, not knowing that he was going to until the words were already out of his mouth. “I think Frodo is missing you all quite terribly.”

“Are you?” came the reply, and his breath caught in his throat.

To be honest?

“I am, as it happens.”

Thorin hummed, a contented sound, a low and gentle thing that made something warm light up in Bilbo’s chest.

“We miss you, too,” he replied, his voice affectionate, genuine, and Bilbo smiled, feeling calmer now, padding away from the kitchen and into the living room, curling up on the sofa and pulling a blanket over his legs, cradling the phone in the crook of his neck and closing his eyes, letting the knowledge that, at least in phone terms, Thorin was not that far away wash over him, comforting and reassuring.

“So what have you been up to today – back to work?” he asked.

“I was up with the dawn to help Dwalin with the bread – he’s an excellent chef, but he always makes me help him with the baking,” Thorin told him, and Bilbo smiled, his eyes still closed.

“Do you enjoy it?”

“I like the kneading. It works out the tension, you know?”

He huffed a quiet laugh.

“I don’t, but I can imagine – like gardening for me. What did you do after that?”

“I went for a run around the lake – I’m trying to get fit again, the boys are starting to show me up. And after that there was a window that got stuck, it must have warped in the rain, so I had to sand that down. It’ll probably need replacing soon, but that’s a job for another day.”

Thorin’s voice was low and familiar, the kind of voice that a person could bask in, if they felt so inclined – as Bilbo was. Thorin told him about what he had done for the rest of the afternoon, the little mundane tasks that made Bilbo feel as if he was a part of Thorin’s normal life, and in turn he shared the details of his own day as well – the visit from the plumber, the pruning he had done to the wisteria that grew around his doorway, the walk he had taken along the beach.

With his eyes closed he could pretend that Thorin was here, sitting beside him with the sound of seagulls outside, or that he was with him, in front of a roaring fire.

“It was nice, talking to you I mean,” Thorin said, in the end, when their conversation was winding down. “Could we do it again, if you don’t mind? Texting, emails, they are fine, but…”

Bilbo smiled. He knew exactly what Thorin was getting at.

“But it isn’t the same, is it?”

“No,” Thorin replied, and then, hesitant, as if he was still a little hesitant: “I like hearing the sound of your voice.”

“Me too,” Bilbo said, his chest tight. “Me too.”

 


 

 

 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: durincastles@gmail.co.uk

Subject: Booking Confirmation

Durin Castle welcomes you.

Please print and bring with you at check-in.

Thank you for booking with Durin Castle. Your reservation is below:

Room type: Twin bedroom
Additional services: Breakfast x2
Arrival: 12/12/15
Departure: 22/12/15
Price paid in full: £345.00

Additional Comments: Frodo couldn’t wait any longer…

Check in is from 13:00 on the day of arrival. Check out is at 11:00 on the day of departure. Luggage storage can be provided on request. Amending your booking can only be done within 14 days of your arrival. Refunds can only be obtained for cancellation with 30 day notice.

Please keep this email for your records.

 


 

 

 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: fililionheart@gmail.co.uk
Subject: CAN’T WAIT! :D :D :D :D
Attachment: IMG023
Bilbo and Frodo!
Uncle Thorin said that you were coming up to visit again sooooooooon! Fee and I can’t wait! Frodo, there isn’t any good surfing where we are but we can’t wait to show you around the lake, and the mountains, and my cousin Dwalin says he’ll let us borrow his quad bikes so we can show you all the cool stuff around here!
From,
Fee & Kee
P.S. Eileen is already so much bigger! The vet says she might actually have some wildcat blood in her – and she keeps jumping on Uncle Thorin’s shoulders from shelves all the time and scaring him, it’s awesome. We attached a picture for you!

 


 

13:14                     12/10/15
To: Thorin
I’ve heard that Eileen has taken to attacking you. Are you still alive?

13:22                     12/10/15
To: Bilbo
Only just.

13:23                     12/10/15
To: Thorin
Did the big bad monster chase you out of your own home?

13:28                     12/10/15
To: Bilbo
Give the creature time, and it might just try it.

13:31                     12/10/15
To: Thorin
Can’t wait to see how big she has gotten by December!

13:40                     12/10/15
To: Bilbo
Seems a long way off still.

13:41                     12/10/15
To: Thorin
I hope it goes by quickly.

13:52                     12/10/15
To: Bilbo
Me too.

13:54                     12/10/15
To: Bilbo
I blame Cornwall for being so far away.

13:56                     12/10/15
To: Thorin
That’s right, blame geography.

13:58                     12/10/15
To: Bilbo
I’d blame you, but you pout too much.

13:59                     12/10/15
To: Thorin
I do no such thing!

14:02                     12/10/15
To: Bilbo
You do so.

 


 

 

 

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: no subject
Attachment: IMG054
You can see from this just how much stuff Frodo is determined to pack for the visit…

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: no subject
Is that a bird cage?

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: no subject
Don’t ask…

 


 

 

Frodo was fidgeting in Bilbo’s car the whole way up to Scotland, which once again they had to do across two days: he was practically vibrating by the time the castle came into view, as excited as Bilbo had ever seen him to see his two friends again. Any nervousness that Bilbo might have been feeling about whether two teenagers would be as patient with an eleven year old in their own home was dispersed when they pulled up and the two of them came running out, grinning.

They span their young friend around, promising to show him all the exciting and secret places around the lake and in the forest, to take him out on the lake in one of their boats, even to find him a dry suit that would fit him so that they could go scuba diving in the lake. Frodo was beaming within minutes, leaving Bilbo standing by the car, smiling fondly.

The boys took off, Fili and Kili determined to show him around the castle, Frodo’s eyes wide at its size. Bilbo was only alone for a moment before Thorin came out of the front door, wiping his hands on a rag, dressed in old work clothes, his hair pulled up to the top of his head in a bun.

“Hey,” he said, smiling across the courtyard at Bilbo. “You’re here earlier than we expected.”

Bilbo rolled his eyes.

“Frodo had me up at the crack of dawn, he wanted to get on the road as early as we possibly could. My hands are practically shaking from the number of coffees that I’ve had.”

Thorin had reached him by this point, and Bilbo smiled, gesturing up at Thorin’s hair.

“You’ve got-” he said, reaching up. “Here, let me.”

Thorin ducked his head, and Bilbo stepped closer, pulling the few shavings of wood from those salt-and-pepper strands of hair. “You’ve been busy this morning, huh?”

Thorin’s cheeks were a little pink.

“Yeah,” he said, rubbing at his face. “Everything warps this time of year.”

They stared at each other for a moment longer, before Thorin glanced away, at the back of Bilbo’s car, blushing just a little.

“I can’t see a kitchen sink,” he remarked, idly. “Or the bird cage, which is a pity. I was rather looking forward to hearing Frodo’s justification for bringing it along.”

Bilbo rolled his eyes.

“Luckily I managed to convince him that it wasn’t entirely necessary. Bugger has already run off though, leaving me with everything that he did decide we need.”

Thorin laughed, and reached for him, squeezing his shoulder just a little awkwardly.

“Don’t worry, you’ll always have me,” he said, and Bilbo smiled.

“I do hope so.”

Frodo settled in quickly: the normally shy boy seemed to ease into life at the castle without any of his normal awkwardness, adjusting to the collective mass of Durins with a confidence that Bilbo found himself envying, at times. The boys were as good as their word when it came to showing him around: the three of them got covered in mud half the time when they were out, and one particularly memorable afternoon they came home and tackled Thorin to the ground when he complained about them messing up the floor that he had just finished polishing, rolling around until he was covered, too. Bilbo had just stood in the corner, laughing, refusing to come to Thorin’s aid and encouraging the boys all the more until even Thorin couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Perhaps he should have expected it from the north of the UK in December, but it rained at least once a day, often more: a cold, sleeting rain that didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm and happiness of their collective charges in the slightest. On those days it came down the heaviest the three of them played hide and seek in the attics, or explored the old cellars, telling each other ghost stories (although Bilbo was quite glad to realise that the older two boys never took it far enough to genuinely scare Frodo).

On one such afternoon they brought down a box of photo albums they found, interrupting Thorin and Bilbo in their quiet cup of tea on one of the wide window seats with them, and the five of them eventually spread themselves out over the rug in front of the fire in one of the large rooms, looking through terrible old photographs of Thorin with a half-hearted Mohawk, Dis in neon legwarmers, Dwalin with a full head of hair right down his back and the biggest leather jacket that Bilbo had ever seen wrapped around him. Soon enough the rest of the family joined them, brought in by the loud laughter, and joined in, telling Bilbo as many stories as they could, competing to embarrass each other as much as possible.

“I don’t think this is fair,” Thorin huffed at one point, when discussions of his nineties fashion choices entered the equation. “Bilbo wears a waistcoat now, and we’re not taking the piss out of him.”

“That,” Dis remarked, wrapping a consolatory arm around Bilbo’s shoulders. “Is because he looks rather fabulous in his waistcoats, as I know you agree Thorin.”

Thorin didn’t reply, his face going a little red.

It was nice: almost like they were part of a family. Bilbo and Frodo were, he often felt, like two loose threads, unconnected and often left with the uncomfortable feeling of being alone: like this, it was as if they were a part of a tapestry much larger than they were, an important part of a pattern, something needed and wanted.

From the glow in Frodo’s eyes, it was obviously that he felt the same.

The promised quad bikes were a huge success, drenching them in mud, though it didn't seem to bother them at all. Trips out on the lake were a little difficult in the rain, as far as Bilbo was concerned: the boys seemed to have no such compunction. They had found an old drysuit of theirs in their wardrobe that would fit Frodo, and they gladly took him out snorkelling for practise – Frodo was determined to try scuba diving, but Fili and Kili both wanted to ease him into swimming in such cold water and in such different gear and lighting than he was used to. Bilbo fretted a little from the shore as he watched the neon green lines of their snorkels above the water, worrying despite knowing that Fili and Kili were responsible lads despite their antics, and that they would never have let anything happen to Frodo – he supposed that was just a part of the whole in loco parentis gig. He’d never really thought that he would end up being a parent, but he had settled into it with surprising ease.

“C’mon,” Thorin said, holding a huge golf umbrella over the two of them, nudging Bilbo gently. “You’ll do yourself damage, worrying like this. Let’s go for a walk – we’ll stay by the lakeside, you’ll still be able to see him.”

Bilbo nodded, his stomach twisting a little but knowing that Thorin was right: he kept an eye on the water at all times as they made their way along the shingle beach, only relaxing a little bit each time he heard Frodo break the water, laughing. The day was grey and oddly still, the wind having disappeared early that morning and leaving only thick cloud and heavy, fine rain, settling in around them, making the whole world seem strange and intimate, as if there were nothing beyond the spread of these mountains: only the narrow little valley, the long loch, the glow of the castle lights and the distant blur of the village. There might have been nothing else right now but this, no one else but them, hidden and safe and warm still, despite the weather.

“You’re getting damp,” he commented, when he glanced over, realising that Thorin’s entire left side was exposed as he covered Bilbo entirely. “Move it over, I’m sure we can manage to cover the two of us well enough.”

Thorin smiled, a small and soft thing.

“I don’t have a thick enough jumper to lend you my coat if you get cold today,” he told him, and Bilbo nudged him sharply, grinning despite himself. He couldn’t think of a witty enough retort, but he linked his arm through Thorin’s, drawing them closer so that they both stayed dry as the low mists sank down from the mountains and wrapped themselves around them like a ghostly, cool blanket, Thorin’s body a warm line against his own. They walked in silence after that, every now and again smiling and glancing at each other, not drawing apart as the rain sheeted down around them.

Frodo was full of excited stories of the fish that he had seen beneath the waters of the lake when the boys made their way back to shore, so different to the ones he was used to. It made Bilbo’s heart warm to hear his happiness, and to see the way that Fili and Kili were beaming proudly at him, as if he were their own little brother, a third member of their inclusive little party.

“And Fee says that we can practise with the scuba stuff in the shallow water tomorrow!” Frodo concluded, and Fili glanced across at him, smiling a little bashfully beneath the faint scattering of facial hair that he had only just started to grow.

“Only if that’s okay,” he amended, and Bilbo nodded.

“As long as your careful,” he told them all, before feeling incredibly old.

The long day swimming in the cold had obviously taken it out of Frodo: he fell asleep on the armchair in the Durin’s own family living room early that evening (and no, Bilbo was not trying to overthink the fact that they had been invited to spend the evenings with the family every night on their visit). Thorin carried him off to his room again, just like he had in Cornwall, and Bilbo tried not to let his heart melt at the sight of the two of them.

They disappeared through the door, and when Bilbo looked back he realised that Dis was watching him, thoughtfully.

She didn’t say anything, but there was a knowing look in her eyes that he wasn’t quite sure what to do with.

He had enjoyed his last visit, but this one was even more fun than the last time: the presence of a ten-year-old boy seemed to make everyone act like a child, particularly Frerin, who seemed to struggle to be a grown-up at the best of times. He joined in on the pranks that the boys would routinely start to play whenever the rain got too heavy and forced them to stay inside for too long: they turned into terrors, screeching as they slid up and down the corridors having sock races, trying to convince Dwalin to make them cookies, occasionally attempting to lock Bilbo and Thorin into wardrobes and small rooms together – and always acting completely innocent of motives afterwards, Frerin in particular putting on the most angelic and unconvincing expression that Bilbo had ever seen – and he had a lot of nephews.

Bilbo would have complained about it, but after he found himself roped into a very successful mission to sneak away as many of the little chocolates to be left on pillows from the housekeeping cupboard as possible, he decided that it might be a touch hypocritical. 

“Do we have to go?” Frodo asked on their last night, as Bilbo tucked the yawning boy into sleep. “I like it here.”

“But you like it back home too, don’t you?” Bilbo asked, and Frodo nodded, sleepily.

“Then we have to go back too, see? But we can come back, you know – and maybe they will come to visit us again, as well.”

Frodo nodded, his eyelids sinking, and Bilbo sat awhile by the side of his bed, stroking his messy curls from his forehead, wondering a little wistfully what it might have been like if he had owned cottages up here, or Thorin had inherited a castle somewhere down south.

Frodo didn’t cry, when they left, but he looked like he might, particularly when Fili and Kili presented him with a present: a photography of the three of them that Dis had taken and they had printed in secret, safe in a wide wooden frame on which they had painted their names, and as many stars as they could fit in.

Bilbo hugged everyone goodbye, and Frodo did too, but when it came to Thorin he held on just a little longer than he probably should have done, his hands around Thorin’s neck, touching the softness of his hair, their bodies pressed so close together that there was no space between them.

It still didn’t quite feel like enough.

 


 

 

 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: fililionheart@gmail.co.uk
Subject: COME BACK!!
Dear Bilbo and Frodo
We miss you already! Beast sat at the door and whined for an hour after you left, and Uncle Thorin has been stomping around the place even more than normal (Bilbo come backkkkkk, he’s much less grumpy whenever you’re around). We’re trying to convince everyone to come down on holiday next time we come to yours – it has been years since we all went somewhere together, and Mama keeps complaining that Uncle Thorin is hogging you all to himself. Would that be alright? If we booked another cottage? Beast always seems happier in the sun and Eileen keeps trying to swim in the lake so we think she’ll like it too. And we know Uncle Thorin would be happy if we did.
Love,
Fee & Kee

 


 

 

uktripreviewer.co.uk

Bilbo Baggins
Newquay, Cornwall

“Durin Castle Hotel”
4/5 Stars

Unfortunately, it rained for over half the time that we were there, and the owner couldn’t do anything to stop it. Very disappointing service. On the plus side, he also knows all the words to ‘Everybody Wants to Be a Cat’ from The Aristocats, and is willing to sing it on demand. Plus, he looks quite dashing in the rain, so there is that.

 


 

 

 

to: disdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: underthehill@hotmail.co.uk

Subject: Booking Confirmation

Under-The-Hill holiday cottages thanks you for your booking!

Hello! Thank you for booking with us at Under-The-Hill cottages! We hope you enjoy your stay with us, and remember, we can’t guarantee good weather, but we can guarantee a great holiday!

The details of your reservation are below, and if there is anything wrong with them, please do not hesitate to get in touch with owner and general manager, Bilbo Baggins, who is happy to help. Please keep hold of this email and present it to us at reception when you arrive, to make your check in a quicker experience. If you have any other questions before you make your way to us, or want to amend your visit or request any additional services, feel free to ask by email or by telephone!

Cottage:
Adults: 4
Children: 2
Pets: 2
Arrival: 05/07/16
Departure: 20/07/16

Deposit paid: £215.00
Amount to pay: £230.00

Guest comments: Can’t wait to come down and see your place after we’ve heard so much about it – and this time we’re bringing the whole family! Love, Dis and Viv xx

Linen and house towels are provided, as is wood for the log burners, but please remember that we do ask our guests to use their own towels when on the beach and in the sea! Pets are welcome, but responsibility for cleaning up their waste lies with their owner, and we ask that noise levels are kept to a minimum!

All the best,

Under-The-Hill

 


 

 

 

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: disdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: Holidays J
Balin and Dwalin have agreed to look after the hotel for us so we’re booking a full family holiday – for the first time in years. And you should know where we’re going… to see Bilbo!
(Also, could that last review have been any more flirty? If you haven’t replied to it I might have to disown you as a brother).

to: disdurin@gmail.co.ukt
from: durin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: Holidays J
Do we not consult each other on these decisions anymore?

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: disdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: Holidays J
No, because you’ll only protest. You just want to keep him all to yourself, don’t you?
Also, don’t think you can deflect and avoid answering about that review. Dashing in the rain, are you? And here was I thinking that Bilbo had good taste…

to: disdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Holidays J
Shut up.

to: disdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Holidays J
WAIT. Who the hell is WE? We’re not bringing Frerin, are we?

 


 

“I can only apologise,” Thorin said, the moment that Bilbo picked up the call. It was only half in jest – there was a real note of seriousness in his voice.

“For what?” Bilbo replied, sounding slightly confused – a surprisingly cute sound, Thorin realised now, trying hard not to smile.

“For the prospect of an entire hoard of Durins appearing at your doorstep.”

Bilbo laughed.

“It’ll be lovely,” he said, sounding as if he hadn’t grasped the situation at all, which Thorin supposed he hadn’t – it was impossible to know the stress of his siblings until you were forced to deal with them en-masse. Which he supposed Bilbo had done, on a couple of occasions now, but still…

“You’ll regret saying that when we’re all here,” he told him, settling down into the window seat in the gallery, the window overlooking the mountains and the lake, the sky stretching out into the distance. He realised, a little late, that he was facing south, looking away in the direction that Bilbo was.

“Not at all. I love your family,” Bilbo replied, sounding terrifyingly genuine.

Thorin smiled, rubbing at his chest.

“Then you are indeed a rare and valuable discovery.”

Bilbo huffed, a low and affectionate sound.

“Rare and valuable am I?”

Thorin considered taking it back for a moment, but Bilbo’s voice was warm and full of good humour, and he found that he didn’t want to.

“You know you are.”

“Oh shush.” Now Bilbo sounded embarrassed, and he laughed a little, amused at the reaction.

“My sister keeps teasing me about that review, by the way,” he said, not wanting to make him feel any more awkward, even if it was through compliments. “You shouldn’t call me things like ‘dashing’, it only ends with family mockery.”

Bilbo laughed. “But you were so dashing, holding that umbrella for me.”

Thorin didn’t know how to respond, or how the situation had been flipped: first Bilbo had been embarrassed, but now he was in the same boat, feeling entirely flustered at the thought that Bilbo found him dashing, when all he had been trying to do was keep them both dry and warm in the middle of a Scottish downpour. If anything, it had been Bilbo that had looked good that afternoon, his cheeks flushed from their walk and stray drops of rain caught in his curls catching the light after it had ended and the sun had come out, making everything seem bright, and smell fresh. It had taken Thorin’s breath away, for just a moment, looking at him in that new and beautiful afternoon, the earth beneath them damp, the wind catching their raincoats and making them shiver.

He fisted his hand in the fabric of his shirt, as if doing so would stop

“You're blushing, aren’t you?” Bilbo asked, and Thorin could tell that he was smiling.

“No…”

“I can tell when you are,” Bilbo told him, and Thorin heard him moving around, as if he had stood – he wondered, for a moment, if he was going outside, to sit at that bench that he found that he had missed in the months since he had last been down to Cornwall.

“You don’t know me,” he replied, petulant and joking.

“Don’t I?” came Bilbo’s response, surprisingly serious, and Thorin swallowed – they may have only met a handful of times, it was true, but their easy intimacy made it feel as if they had known each other much longer, made sharing so much of himself far easier than it had ever been with anyone else. There was no fear, with Bilbo, only that impossible assurance that left him feeling comforted, as if he were a part of something, something that was just between the two of them.

“Shut up.”

Bilbo laughed.

“It will be great to see you again though – honestly, Frodo has been so excited since I told him about your booking, I don’t think it has quite sunk in that he’ll still have to wait a few months until he gets to see you all again.”

Thorin nodded, before realising that Bilbo wasn’t able to see him.

“My boys can’t wait, either. And that reminds me – they want to know if Frodo has ever seen the Star Wars films.”

Bilbo made a considering sound.

“I don’t believe so.”

“They declared that it would be a travesty if he hasn’t. Don’t worry – there are six of them, and a new one that they have bought on DVD and have been watching it over and over for the last couple of weeks. So we won’t be wanting for any material to entertain us.”

Bilbo laughing, teasingly. “We won’t have to resort to any horror films again then? Shame.”

Thorin huffed.

“Shut up. It wasn’t scary, I’m just not very good with jumpy things.”

Bilbo’s reply was warm, amused. “Don’t worry, next time I’ll hold your hand and keep you safe.”

Thorin swallowed.

“Will you?” he asked, the room feeling suddenly very close despite its cavernous size. It was an innocent enough question, he thought, but at the same time he knew that it meant something quite a bit more.

“If you like,” came Bilbo’s response, a little hesitant, curious, as if he was trying to work out what Thorin really meant.

“I think I would, if it is all the same,” he said, his voice a little hoarse.

There was a moment of quiet between them, and Thorin wondered for a moment if they had been cut off, before he caught the sound of Bilbo exhaling down the line. He pulled his upper lip between his teeth, worrying at it, suddenly nervous.

“Are we…” he trailed off, not sure if he was really ready to ask what he wanted to.

“What?” Bilbo asked him, but he shook his head.

“Nothing.”

“No, go on?” Bilbo sounded curious, concerned, and Thorin’s chest felt suddenly surprisingly tight.

“No, it’s… it’s fine. It probably is something that should be talked about face to face, anyway.”

Bilbo made a considering sound.

“That makes sense. But you know, if it makes you feel any better in the interim, I think we are – we are whatever it is that you don’t want to say right now.”

Thorin rubbed at his cheeks, which were suddenly very warm.

“That’s… that’s good.”

“Yeah,” Bilbo replied, and Thorin took some comfort in the fact that he sounded just as flustered as he himself was feeling. “Yeah,  it really is.”

 


 

 

 

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: A confession…
Despite mocking you for picking up strays pets, we may have inadvertently done the exact same thing.

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: A confession…
Tell me more?

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: A confession…
Attachment: IMG901, IMG902, IMG903
She was just such a gorgeous little thing. She’s a fully grown tabby according to the vet, but she’s really small even if she is an adult! She turned up outside one of the cottages meowing, and the moment she saw Frodo she leapt into his arms, at which point we were both lost. I’ve attached a picture – look at her!

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: A confession
You’re obviously besotted. Look at your expression in the second picture, you look like an overly proud hockey mum.

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: A confession
You can’t blame me! She’s stolen my heart. I can’t wait for you all to meet her – and for her to meet Beast and Eileen. I hope they get along…
Actually, would I even be allowed to bring a cat to the castle?

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: A confession
Pets aren’t normally allowed, but I think for you we would be willing to make an exception, as long as she stays in the family apartment with us and our pets (only because Vivi is very protective of the furnishings).

to: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
from: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: A confession
Bless you. And rightly so, those furnishings are beautiful. I’m sure you’ll fall in love with her, and she’ll end up sleeping curled up on your bed like I’ve heard your two do – isn’t she just the cutest?

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: A confession
Not quite as cute as her owner.

 


 

17:09                    16/04/16
To: Thorin
Frerin keeps sending me requests for the cottages. Am I really supposed to take him seriously in regards to the gold plated cutlery? 

17:11                    16/04/16
To: Bilbo
I would suggest ignoring everything that my idiot brother says to you.

17:13                    16/04/16
To: Thorin
Noted. But I did get the chocolates for the pillows. If only because I still feel guilty for eating so many of yours when I was at the castle.

17:22                    16/04/16
To: Bilbo
That’s alright, I’m just going to up the price next time you book to make up for it.

17:25                    16/04/16
To: Thorin
Was that a joke? My god, calm down Thorin. You’ll exert yourself.

17:29                    16/04/16
To: Bilbo
Shut up.

17:31                    16/04/16
To: Bilbo
Btw, Dis agreed in regards to the cat. Does she have a name yet?

17:34                    16/04/16
To: Thorin
Frodo called her Bramble. Speaking of which, she’s just curled up on my toes, which is rather lovely.

17:36                    16/04/16
To: Bilbo
Ha, Eileen would be more likely to claw at mine. What are you up to?

17:38                    16/04/16
To: Thorin
I was reading, before your brother interrupted me with his daft request. Did I tell you that he also asked for a complimentary box of condoms?

17:42                    16/04/16
To: Bilbo
God, and I’m meant to be sharing a cottage with him.

17:50                    16/04/16
To: Thorin
I doubt he’ll get many takers around here, unless his tastes run to retirees and zimmer frames.

17:53                    16/04/16
To: Bilbo
I wouldn’t put anything past my brother.

 


 

“I’m looking forward to seeing you next week, you know,” Bilbo said, half way through a conversation, a little out of the blue: they had been talking about the weather forecast, both of them keeping their fingers crossed for weather as good as that they’d had the last time the Durin’s had descended on the Cornish coast; they’d come to that from Bilbo’s assurances that all the cottages were ready, that they were going to have a good time, and that he wasn’t even slightly intimidated at the prospect of an entire brigade of Durin’s arriving all at once. Their conversations had started up again almost as soon as Bilbo had left the castle at the end of the previous year: they spoke now every few days, curled up in their respective homes, their voices soft and familiar to each other.

“Me too,” Thorin said, after a heartbeat; then, a moment later, as if he had to work up the nerve to say it: “I’ve… I’ve missed you.”

Bilbo swallowed: it had been months since they had seen each other last, though it didn’t really feel like it, not when they had been speaking on the phone almost every night, Bilbo often falling asleep on the sofa mid-way through conversation, staying up far later than either of them should have done, as if they were teenagers again rather than middle-aged men with jobs and responsibilities to keep.

“And I’ve missed you,” he answered, without hesitation, for even though it not feel as though it had been as long as it had, it certainly did not feel a short enough time not to miss Thorin, that little smile that crept across his face, those warm mountains-and-clouds eyes, the heat of his body when he stood close to Bilbo.

“Frodo has too, you know – all of you,” he added, sensing rather than hearing Thorin’s smile down the line. “He asked me this morning if I thought he had grown too much for you to give him piggy back rides. And he has grown taller, you know, but I’m pretty sure that you won’t have a problem for a good few years yet.”

Thorin laughed, mumbling his agreement before snorting, as if remembering a joke.

“You never know,” he remarked. “I’m getting weak in my old age, apparently.”

Now it was Bilbo’s turn to laugh: older they most certainly were, but old? Not at all. When he had been twenty Bilbo had thought that his forties would make him feel decrepit: on the contrary, he wasn’t sure that he had ever felt better. But he supposed that was what being happy, being secure, and having an unexpected but wonderful young boy and cat in his life would do to a man.

“Ha!” he said, rubbing at his nose. “Who told you that?”

Thorin made a half-amused, half-disgruntled sound.

“I was daydreaming when I was kneading bread with Dwalin and didn’t do a good job. He’s decided that we need to start lifting weights again, or else I won’t be able to do any of the odd jobs around here anymore.”

Bilbo shook his head, forgetting for a moment that Thorin couldn’t see him.

“I can’t imagine that happening, somehow,” he remarked, just as Bramble swaggered into the room, glancing around imperiously before jumping up on the sofa and deciding that Bilbo’s lap was the perfect place for a nap.

“I don’t know, my arms aren’t nearly as defined as they used to be,” Thorin said, half-laughing, clearly not really caring all that much – though there was a little part of him that sounded curious, as if he was wondering if Bilbo would.

“Well, I saw a few of those pictures from when you were a bit younger you know,” he said, perfectly happy to dispel any concerns that Thorin might have had in that regard. “And I happen to think that you look better than ever.”

“Even with a pudgy middle and grey in my hair?” Thorin asked, his voice just a little smaller than before.

“I think you have a lovely middle.” Bilbo told him, immediately. “And there is nothing wrong with grey hair – I’ve got a few of my own coming in around my temples, you know.”

Thorin laughed: his voice sounded just like himself again, as if his moment of fear had been banished by the comfort in Bilbo’s voice.

“I’ll have to look for them, next week,” he said, and Bilbo could almost imagine his grin. “Make myself feel better.”

Bilbo was smiling: he buried his head in the sofa cushions for a moment when his grin became too much for him, his cheeks aching.

“So you’ll be paying close attention to me then?” he said, his voice a little muffled by fabric. “I feel flattered.”

“It’s an unfortunate side effect, I’m afraid,” Thorin told him, trying to sound serious and failing.

“Of what?”

“Of you.” Thorin’s voice was quiet now, softer, and Bilbo stroked the soft fur between Bramble’s ears, still grinning.

“What about me?” he asked, more teasing than through any real need for compliments, and Thorin snorted a quiet laugh down the line.

“You… just you,” he mumbled. “Being you.”

Bilbo had to swallow a rather sudden lump that appeared in his throat.

“That’s rather adorable, you know.”

There was a rustling from the line, a quietness for a moment: Bilbo could almost picture Thorin, running his hand through his hair and glancing out the windows over the lake, wondering what best to say.

“Shut up,” came Thorin’s reply, his voice soft and low and a little amused, full of affection and, perhaps, even emotions that Bilbo didn’t quite dare put a name to, not yet.

“I can tell that you’re blushing again, you know,” was what he said instead, and Thorin mumbled, trying and failing to come up with some kind of response.

“At least I don’t leave ‘dashing in the rain’ reviews,” he threw out in the end, making Bilbo grin all the wider.

“I can’t wait to see you,” was his reply, though he hadn’t meant it to be.

“You’ve already said that,” Thorin told him, though he didn’t exactly sound unhappy with the repetition.

“Yeah, I know,” Bilbo said, swallowing. “But it is true.”

“Well, I can’t wait to see you, and Frodo, and the new addition as well – whose name, I am guessing, is settled as Bramble?”

Bilbo nodded, petting said cat.

“Of course, it is a good name for a big lazy cat that does nothing but sleep in the sun all day.”

“I wonder how Eileen will respond to that,” Thorin remarked. “But Bramble will do as a name, I suppose.”

“Right,” Bilbo retorted. “Because Eileen and Beast are such amazing things to call animals.”

“Hey, it suits them!” Thorin exclaimed, clearly determined to defend his odd naming choices until the end. Bilbo just shook his head, turning his face to the window, where the evening sunlight was pouring in, warm and golden.

“You’re daft,” he told him.

“Yeah, probably,” was the response, before a moment of silence settled over them, soft and unassuming.

“I wish next week would come sooner,” Bilbo said, eventually, when he remembered that, at least with Thorin, he felt safe enough to voice the way he was feeling, over and over again.

“Yeah,” Thorin told him. “Me too.”

 


 

It was three cars that pulled up to the cottages this time, and a whole lot louder a series of greetings when Bilbo and Frodo came outside to welcome their friends. For they were friends now, relationships sealed over what now amounted to years of companionable holidays to each other’s homes.

“We’ve missed you two,” Vivi told him as she pulled him into a warm embrace. “And we’re so glad to finally be here, after so long.”

It was a slow, gorgeous summer, the kind where every day feels endless and warm. Bilbo normally tried to give his guests the space that they needed, but with the Durin’s there was no such concern, for they welcomed him in to their plans, such as they were. Now the three boys were joined by a whole host of adults in the water every day, and Bilbo gasped to see the skill on her board that Vivi had, long discussed but never seen by him, her grace and strength and the sheer joy on her face as the waves rose up to meet her. Bilbo spent his mornings attending to the work that needed to be done, joining them for lunch on the beach – for whilst Thorin hadn’t press-ganged his nephews to eat, their mothers did so, making them all spend at least an hour on the sand together.

Bilbo often stayed, after that, and knowing that the boys had supervision he had the chance now to walk along the sand with Thorin, showing him the long walks through the dunes, along the beautiful headland, that he had come to know and love over the years. He felt younger than he had in a long time, taking Thorin to rock pools full of tiny flickering shrimp and delicate little crabs, showing him the small caves, hidden away from the world. They picked up shells as they went, small ones that shimmered like pearl and much larger ones too, spiny and rough to the touch: he arranged all that they found in patterns along the walls of his garden, a small homage to the beach spread before them.

Long, lazy evenings were spent on the beach together, bringing thin jumpers and blankets down to accommodate for the cooler night air: often Frerin would light bonfires from the driftwood, and Bilbo brought down marshmallows for them all, Frodo’s eyes widening in delight at the chance to re-enact the campfire activities he had so often read about. To Bilbo’s surprise, he also produced a guitar one evening, pressing it into Thorin’s hands with a wheedling gaze until Thorin relented, playing low, simple songs that seemed to flow through the night and the smoke of the fire, wrapping around them with a comfort that no number of blankets could bring.

The embers of the wood caught the upward draft of the flames, flickering in a column above them before slowly burning out, like small stars in their own little world.

“I didn’t know you played the guitar,” Bilbo whispered to Thorin, from his customary position beside him, and Thorin smiled, his face lit by the firelight, nodding, his eyes on the strings beneath him.

“He plays the harp too,” Dis whispered from next to them. “Our mother taught him, many years ago – he’s rather good, too, though he would never admit it.”

Bilbo laughed, a low sound, happy at the little insight into Thorin’s life – every new thing that he learnt about the other man filled him with a full and wonderful joy that he hadn’t known was even possible to feel.

It helped, as well, that Thorin could play a rather excellent version of The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’, singing along in his lilting accent, glancing occasionally over at Bilbo with a small, silly smile on his face, whenever he reached the part about walking a thousand miles just to be the man who came to the door, making Bilbo feel as if those words had been written just for him.

They cooked long barbeques on the beach in the evening too, Frerin monitoring the grill with a wicked grin, throwing teasing glances at his family every time they warning him in jest not to incinerate their food. He was a light heated man, Bilbo couldn’t help but think, always ready to laugh and quick with a joke, unoffended by his family, clearly used to them. Frodo had already warmed to the man on their visit to Scotland, but he seemed to enjoy his company even more now, for Frerin always seemed to have a story to tell, a song to share, some interesting fact to add to the conversation that Frodo listened to and seemed to inhale with wide, fascinated eyes. He was always willing to talk to Frodo about his schoolwork, the things that he did for fun, the books that he was reading, and Frodo lit up whenever he was asked to tell the group as a whole about whatever new thing he had learnt of late, about his own stories and experiences. Dis and Vivi too took the boy under their wing, and one afternoon after noting their absence Bilbo wandered up to the cottage to find Frodo and Dis sat in the garden together, Frodo reading aloud from his own book of stories that he had written and normally kept quite secret.

The treated him, in short, like family, in all the right ways, and it filled Bilbo with a warmth that he had no name for.

Most evenings the surfers retired by ten, sleepy and full of food, to a long and peaceful night in bed: Thorin though, would often stay out later with Bilbo, the two of them sat together with cats and dog lying on the warmed stone of Bilbo’s patio, quietly talking, gentle with each other. One night, Bilbo took Thorin’s hand, without quite realising what he was doing, and from then on that became another part of their peaceful little routine, the two of them sat out hand-in-hand beneath the stars, their heads close together as they spoke, or else with eyes closed, breathing slowly, as they enjoyed a comfortable silence.

Despite any misgivings that they might have felt on the subject, Eileen and Bramble seemed perfectly content with each other, after a slightly frosty first couple of days. Bramble, normally lazy and content to sleep her day away, padded after the other two pets with a slightly bemused expression on her slightly squashed face, as if intrigued to see what they were up to. Often they were to be spotted in the dunes behind the cottage, rolling in the long grass, whilst Beast watched over them, his mouth wide as he panted in something that could easily be mistaken for a grin, his tail thumping against the sand.

Not all days were spent as such, of course: Bilbo was convinced to show them around Newquay and Truro, and even to go with them to the Eden Project, which he hadn’t been to in years. Frodo, educated in Cornwall, had of course been there on a school trip almost every term, and so showed them around with great authority, pointing out particular trees and telling stories as they went.

“And my friend Pippin climbed up on the walkway here,” he would say, grinning from the memory, “And then he hooked his knees around the railing and dangled down, and made our teacher scream!”

Fili was perhaps the most changed of any of them, Bilbo couldn’t help but think not long into the holiday, though he did not want to ask why: it turned out that he didn’t need to, for in the end the young man came to him, when the others were still surfing, looking tense and nervous. Bilbo had just let him be, sitting out with him on the beach with chilled bottles of water, until he had finally asked him if everything was alright.

It turned out that Fili had finally decided to go to university after a couple of years spent working at the Castle with his family: he was due to start a course in Architecture in Edinburgh in the autumn. His nerves, it seemed, came from fears that his family would have preferred him to stay and continue the family business, and Bilbo was confident enough that this would not be the case that he encouraged Fili to talk to his mothers and Uncles about it, to get reassurance from them. He tried to comfort as best he could, and it seemed that it worked, for by the time that they were through Fili was smiling again, and hugged Bilbo quickly, his hair still damp from the seawater.

“Thanks,” Fili told him, quite sincerely. “You’re a great uncle, you know that?”

Bilbo hadn’t been certain if Fili was referring to him being a good Uncle to Frodo, or to Fili himself: either way he had been incredibly touched, and had squeezed the boy back, feeling the same sort of wash of love that came over him whenever he had such a moment with Frodo.

“And you’re a wonderful young man,” he told him. “And it is an honour and a privilege to know you.”

Fili had blushed at that, and had run back down to the sea, picking up his board as he went.

He hadn’t thought all that much on it until a couple of days later, when they had been wandering through the narrow streets of Truro, having just shown them all the impressive cathedral that dominated the small place. Thorin had turned to him, the two of them lagging behind the rest of the group, and had nudged his shoulder appreciatively.

“Fili told us about the advice you gave him,” he whispered, so that the boy wouldn’t hear. “Thank you – he is good at hiding his fears, and I’m glad you convinced him to talk to us, so that we could tell him how much we support him in whatever he wants to do.”

It had been Bilbo’s turn to blush then, and rub at his nose in embarrassment.

“It was nothing,” he replied, and Thorin shook his head.

“No, it wasn’t,” he told him, low and certain.

Other than that, all seemed peaceful: Thorin too was enjoying his break, for all the teasing ribbing that he was getting each night from Frerin, which he knew was only coming from a well-meaning place and did not particularly offend him. His… affection for Bilbo had not gone unnoticed by his family, after all, and he was rather sure that Frerin was surprised that he returned to the cottage that the two of them were lodging in every night. But he had never been the sort of man to rush into things, rather moved with the slow and steady pace of the mountains in which he had been born.

“Move too slow though,” Frerin remarked, when he said something similar. “And you’ll be apt to lose something quite special, I think.”

He thought on that for some time the next day, distracting him from the surf until eventually Dis had paddled over to him, both of them sat on their boards in a slow moment.

“You seem distracted,” she said, and he shrugged.

“Just… thinking,” he replied, and she darted her eyes to the shore, to the line of small cottages, to the distant figure of a man fussing an old family dog, laughing as it kept trying to lick at his face with no master there to tell him off for it.

“Thinking,” she replied, her voice full of meaning, and he rolled his eyes at her.

“You know how we told Fili that whatever he chose to do, we would love and support him?” she said, after a moment of silence. “Well, that goes the same for you – whether it involves not doing anything at all, or something that might require our services as a babysitter for Frodo whilst you take that wonderful man out somewhere for the evening.”

She reached across the gap between them, pressing a warm hand to his forearm, and he nodded, sighing.

“I know,” he replied, and she smiled, before splashing him.

“Good,” she said, with some finality. “Just something to bear in mind.”

It was, and Thorin felt something settle inside himself at her words, something certain that had before been hesitant, something warm and full of hope. It was time, he felt now, without doubt and with a clarity that he had not known in many years: time to reach for something that he wanted, something that was just for him.

And so, later that evening, when he had pulled a face at Dis across the fire and she had stood up with an exaggerated yawn, ushering the rest of them from the beach, and the two of them were by themselves, he finally swallowed down any lingering nerves he felt – though there were few of them left at this point – and brought up the question.

“I know this might be a little forward,” Thorin said, breaking the silence, his voice a little hoarse. “But I was wondering, whilst I was here…”

He hesitated, and Bilbo, watching him carefully, nodded encouragingly. His gaze was knowing, expectant, as if he already had predicted what Thorin was going to say but did not want to push him too hard, did not want to make him commit to something that he was unsure about.

“Yes?” he asked, his voice calm, and quiet.

Thorin swallowed.

“Would you like to go out to dinner with me?”

Bilbo nodded, again, looking out to sea, the surf lapping at the sand, all gold and blue and pink light on the horizon, the colour of it casting a gentle light on his face, making his strange grey-green-brown eyes look impossibly warm.

“Like on a date?” he asked, and Thorin bit his lip.

“That… that was what I was thinking.”

“You know that isn’t forward at all, right?”

“Is that a yes?” he hazarded, comforted by the teasing lilt to Bilbo’s voice, the softness in his tone, the relief and happiness impossible to ignore.

And then Bilbo smiled, wide and full of joy, something bright and brilliant that lit that impossible flutter in Thorin’s chest into something quite wonderful.

“Of course it is, you ridiculous man,” he told him, before leaning over, his hand cupping Thorin’s jaw, slow and steady, giving Thorin time to back away – but he didn’t, didn’t want to, and he leant in instead, closing that small gap between them until they were – finally – kissing, the taste of sea-salt and homecoming on their lips, the sense of homecoming, of possibility.

 


 

uktripreviewer.co.uk

T. Durin
Dornie, Scotland

“Under-the-Hill Holiday Cottages”
5/5 Stars

The cottages, as always, are well kept, and the weather was fantastic for our visit. The kids had a great time, as did the pets and the brother. The owner is accommodating and always willing to help. The fact that he agreed to let me take him out on a date boosted it up to five stars.

 


 

 

 

to: bilbobaggins@outlook.co.uk
from: tdurin@gmail.co.uk

Subject: Booking Confirmation

Durin Castle welcomes you.

Please print and bring with you at check-in.

Thank you for booking with Durin Castle. Your reservation is below:

Room type: Rooms in the family quarter?
Additional services: Breakfast x2, piggy-back-rides for nephews, multiple walks around the lake, watching Disney films with aforementioned nephews, any number of neck rubs.
Arrival: Whenever you like
Departure: Whenever you like
Price paid in full: Putting up with my family and deranged pets

Additional Comments:

Check in is from 13:00 on the day of arrival. Check out is at 11:00 on the day of departure. Luggage storage can be provided on request. Amending your booking can only be done within 14 days of your arrival. Refunds can only be obtained for cancellation with 30 day notice. Kissing may be mandatory.

Please keep this email for your records.

Love,

T

 


 

15:16                    02/08/16
To: Thorin
I’ll take you up on that, but only because of the neck rubs.

15:18                    02/08/16
To: Thorin
And maybe the mandatory kissing.

15:22                    02/08/16
To: Bilbo
Looking forward to it already x

 


 

 

uktripreviewer.co.uk

Bilbo Baggins
Newquay, Cornwall

“Durin Castle Hotel”
5/5 Stars

Alright, fine. Five stars it is this time.