The morning brought with it a dull ache behind the eyes and a fat, fuzzy tongue. The couch no longer seemed a sleeping place of great worth. The thin zip on the stained cushion had left a red crease on the cheek of the fair man who had, only hours earlier, pushed against it as though it were the softest of pillows.
Across the room stirred a black cat, copper eyes wide and indignant at the hint of movement. It stretched, claws out then back in, before curling around itself once more with its back to the tiresome intruder.
An empty glass stood tall on the worn table before the couch, a reminder of what had been. The wine that had once sloshed inside was gone, leaving a scabby red stain at the base.
The man stretched awkwardly, earning a low growl from the cat.
“Alright, alright. I’m leaving. My apologies.” His tongue was a lolling slug against his teeth.
He stood, tugging his corduroy pants up before straightening his socks. The presence of the socks on his feet was a true sign that Bilbo Baggins had drunk far too much. If he were sober, the socks would have been carefully rolled off and dropped into a washing basket. There was nothing as frustrating as waking with socks that had sought freedom from their foot enslaver in the night.
Before moving, he took a final look around the room. It was nice, he supposed. A bit crummy in places – the curtains could do with a wash and airing and the couch needed to be reupholstered but overall it was comfortable. Clean, too, despite the occasional stain.
Bilbo shuffled towards the closed door, wondering where he had put his shoes. What did I get up to last night? I remember the bar… and the cello… The door opened. For a moment Bilbo wondered if it had sensed his presence, like those in supermarkets and airports. This thought was dismissed by the entrance of an unfairly tall man.
“You’re awake, then.”
Oh. Oh yes. Now I remember.
“I am. Thank you for the use of your couch. I – I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you.”
“How would it be an inconvenience?”
For heaven’s sake, don’t make this anymore awkward you giant git. Bilbo’s thoughts were exceedingly more confident than his words.
“I just meant that I hope I haven’t made a nuisance of myself. Staying here. Drinking your wine.”
“I invited you.”
Bilbo let it rest, seeing no future in the current conversation. He chose a new path.
“I had a nice time. I didn’t expect to – I mean, I thought it would be different. But it was...”
“Yes. Nice.” The taller man looked displeased with this but said nothing. He stood in the doorway, his large frame hindering any light that tried to creep into the room.
“Well, I had best be off. Must get back to the real world, brush my teeth and all that. You haven’t seen my shoes, have you?”
“By the front door.” He still didn’t move.
Bilbo was unsure of what to do. He felt awkward enough as it was. First the cat’s displeasure, then the socks, now this. A man like Bilbo Baggins simply wasn’t equipped to deal with... well, whatever this was. He rocked back on his socked heels and cleared his throat.
“You know, Thorin, I am small but not so small that I can get past you when you block the door like that.”
Thorin glanced down and dropped his chin a little, as though to smile. Instead he stepped back, offering an open palm that swept the air before them both. “My apologies.”
Oh dear gods above. This man. Bilbo humphed, though not with much meaning, and stepped past into the hallway. His shoes were, indeed, by the front door as was his umbrella and his well-worn navy peacoat.
As he bent forward to slip into his shoes, he felt the blood leave his brain in a great draining. Never again, vino rosso. He almost smiled his thanks at his shoes for their elasticised sides and lack of laces. He wasn’t sure where Thorin was. He wasn’t game to look.
Bilbo straightened, reaching for his coat. Thorin stood resting against the papered wall, his arms folded across his broad chest. “Pardon?”
“Last night. It was nice.”
“Y-yes. Yes, we agreed on that already, Thorin.”
Thorin shook his head, his long hair brushing against his cheek. “No, you said it was nice.”
With a sigh, Bilbo turned to face Thorin. He held his hands out by his sides, palms open, and said “And you disagree?”
“How would you describe it then, hmm? What sort of lingo are you arty types using these days?” Bilbo blamed the bitterness of his words on the bitterness in his mouth. He needed a toothbrush.
Thorin chuckled, the dark noise of it rumbling towards Bilbo. Ah, there it is. Such a reward for so much awkwardness. “I don’t know any other arty types, as you say, and I hope to keep it that way.”
Bilbo waited, holding the gaze of the other man. Then it was too much. “Well? If not a nice evening, what was it?”
Thorin pushed off the wall and stepped forward, cradling one fist in his hand as though he were about to crack his knuckles. “You’re the wordsmith, Bilbo Baggins. Surely you can find a more suitable word than nice.”
He regretted ever admitting to Thorin that he spent a great deal of his spare time writing. In fact, he was starting to regret ever making eye contact with Thorin at his art exhibition some months ago. Nothing good had come of it, he was sure.
“Shall we examine the evening? I saw you at my nephew’s graduation performance…”
“I happen to like the cello, thank you very much. Kili is quite handy with a bow, I’m sure the whole audience agreed.”
“I spoke with you, walked you outside…”
“I thought you were leading me to the taxi rank, I should point out.”
“We went to a bar, enjoyed a bottle of red on your recommendation…”
“Which I am suffering for now, I assure you!”
“The bar closed, you invited me to your house…”
“Out of politeness! I didn’t realise you lived so close.”
“And you readily accepted my invitation to instead come to mine. We drank more wine, we listened to Yo-Yo Ma on your insistence…”
“You own his records! I was excited – I always get excited when I have been drinking!”
“Then you kissed me and confessed that you’ve fancied me for such a long time before falling asleep on the couch.”
Bilbo’s mouth parted in astonishment. “I - I what?”
Thorin stepped closer. “Is that what you call a nice evening, Bilbo Baggins?”
The blood returned to Bilbo’s brain with a flush of great warmth. He couldn’t speak for a moment. Thorin waited, smiling a little… no, smirking.
“I don’t remember that. I’m sorry, Thorin, I just don’t remember.”
“So you deny it happened. I see.” A frown settled firmly on Thorin’s face, soon mirrored by Bilbo’s.
“I don’t deny it, exactly. I just… I just wish I could remember it happening. If I did then I am sure I would find a much better word than nice to describe our evening.”
The black cat softly pattered into the hallway, posing itself by its master’s legs carefully. Copper eyes stared at corduroy legs, unimpressed. Thorin sighed.
“Should I blame the wine, then?”
Truth? Oh damn it. “No! No, the sentiment is sincere. I just wish the circumstances were different. I mean, I know we don’t know each other that well. We’ve just met, really, a few months ago. Every time I see you I end up making you angry or vice versa and to be honest I don’t understand why you choose to sculpt when you have such talent with a brush and I’ll never forgive you for favouring Far from the maddening crowd over Tess…”
“Bilbo –“ Thorin interjected. Bilbo ignored him, certain his heart was drained of blood for it had all pooled in his cheeks in his embarrassment.
“It would have been nice to have spent a little more time with you before you discovered that I like you much more than I possibly should. I don’t even know if you like men… well, I don’t know your preferences. You see, I have such an aversion to all things awkward and this, ha, well this is very awkward. You understand?”
Bilbo drew his lips tight and thin against his face. “No?”
“No. I don’t understand. But don’t explain, please. Please, don’t explain.”
Silence filled the room. Thorin’s face was blank; he averted his eyes to the cat, which had caught his shoelace. With a sad nod Bilbo thrusted his hands into his pockets, comforted by the presence of his house keys and wallet. He thought of speaking, but thought again and turned towards the door.
“If I could describe the evening we spent, I would say it was about time.”
Bilbo froze. Breathe Bilbo, you idiot. A warm hand rested on the shoulder of the navy peacoat, foreign yet so very welcome.
“Yes, definitely about time. I thought I’d grow old waiting for you to admit that you like me.” Thorin stepped closer, softly pulling Bilbo back against his chest. “I suppose it is my turn, now.”
A whisper snuck past Bilbo’s lips. “Your turn for what?”
A soft, warm kiss touched Bilbo’s hair. A strong arm, furred in black hair, embraced him.
“My turn to tell you that I fancy you too, you fool. Stay for breakfast?”
The cat slinked away, annoyed by the humans and their quiet mirth. He couldn’t bear such nonsense any longer.