Dis shoved open the door to Bilbo’s café with particular prejudice. Thankfully, no customers were around to be scared off by her thunderous expression. Bilbo was marking something down in a notebook, a large stack of novels at his elbow. He almost smiled when he saw her, he didn’t look scared at all, instead he looked closer to concern. Dis’s expression gentled; Bilbo was a kind soul, exactly the tonic that her hard-headed brother needed, who was incidentally one of the reasons why her mood was so sour.
“Anything, so long as it’s tasty,” she announced, by way of making an order as she took a seat at the counter.
Bilbo smiled and slid his books away. “Ah, one of those days, is it?”
Dis grimaced. “I think I’ve gone beyond that.”
“Then a triple chocolate brownie it is.”
Dis smiled and watched as Bilbo disappeared into the kitchen, humming a little tunelessly under his breath. He wasn't a man who scared easily, thank fuck, but he was still in danger, just from spending time with the Durins. And he was fully aware of that, Dis had been there when stories had been shared and scars shown. Yet he still chose to keep on letting them in. Dis, for one, was pleased – she was unlikely to ever find chicken pies as good as Bilbo's, or find anyone who made her brother so happy whilst thoroughly challenging him. If there was one thing that Thorin really needed, it was a good challenge.
Bilbo presented her with a couple of thick fudgy brownie squares and Earl Grey tea served in an orange and white cup. The orange almost matched Dis's neck tattoo roses. Bilbo had a brilliant quirky attention to detail. He loved making people smile, Dis had noticed, something she especially approved of when he made such an effort with Fili and Kili.
“So your brother, or your sons?” he asked, stirring his own cup of tea.
Dis snorted and took a vicious bite of brownie. It melted perfectly in her mouth, killing any words for a moment. God, Thorin was not allowed to try and run Bilbo off 'for his own good' – it was bound to happen at some point, her brother was nothing if not predictable.
“Both. My sons are one issue. Thorin is...Thorin is always a problem.”
Bilbo's mouth turned up slightly, acknowledging Dis's words but not completely agreeing with her. He'd make a very good politician. Dis poked a finger at him.
“You can play coy all you want, but I bet you want to drop a brick on him just as often as I do.”
Bilbo's expression cracked with laughter. “Bofur says he should sell tickets when you two are arguing.”
It was Dis's turn to laugh. “You could sell them here.”
“Split the profits.”
They grinned at each other and Dis could feel herself relaxing. No wonder Thorin kept seeking Bilbo out, she hadn't seen him so close to peace since before their father died, maybe even since before Frerin.
Dis stared into her tea for a moment. Frerin. He'd have liked Bilbo; he'd have especially liked the effect that Bilbo had on Thorin. Bilbo's eyebrows raised a little, his face open and expectant, telling her that she could say anything and that he wouldn't throw her out. Dis felt a surge of affection for Bilbo, a smile spreading across her face.
“Has Thorin ever told you about Frerin?”
Bilbo looked a little surprised. “No, he...I get the feeling that's a closed subject, for him. Fili and Kili have told me a little and Dwalin's mentioned him a couple of times.”
Good, Frerin shouldn't be a locked-up memory; he should be living on in their words. It was how most of the Durin clan viewed his passing. Dis wrinkled her nose, thinking of how Thorin seemed to believe that saying nothing would somehow prevent the pain of it. But you couldn't lock away pain like that; it was part of them all forever.
“He'd have liked you a lot,” Dis told Bilbo, stirring her tea vigorously. “He appreciated fruit pies as much as Kili and he loved a good book.”
Bilbo smiled, pleased and tentative, clearly grasping the importance of Frerin and the import of what Dis was saying. “I get the impression he'd have wanted to take me hiking.”
Dis laughed. “Oh yes, he loved that, he was all exercise and ruddy cheeks. He'd come back from a weekend out on the moors and would immediately start laying the table. He was always back in time for a meal.”
“A Durin sixth sense?” Bilbo suggested, amusement rich in his voice.
“Exactly. Frankly it's a miracle that my sons aren't blacklisted by everyone they know. They tend to eat people out of house and home.”
Her sons. Dis's smile dimmed a little, her sons who were so close to danger.
Dis gripped her still-warm cup and let out a breath. The non-Thorin reason that she was so worked up wasn’t something that she talked about, and usually that was fine, she could handle it perfectly. But sometimes, the weight of it all got to be too much and she needed to get out and rage or fuck or something. Talking to Bilbo always proved to be really refreshing, why would this subject be any different? He offered a different grounded perspective and absolutely no judgement. And, God, she needed to talk it out. She breathed in tea fumes, aged ink, and warm pastries, and let the weight of those long-unsaid words slip out.
“Ever so often I get a message from Smaug – hand written, never electronic, entirely untraceable. It always says the same sort of thing – that he knows how much my sons love each other and aren't they doing well? He never threatens or pushes for anything; he just casually lets me know what information he's hoarding, because one day, I’m pretty sure he’s going to find a truly spectacular way to use that little nugget against us.”
The silence was absolute. Bilbo was frozen, looking at her with wide eyes, then a beat later he reached under the counter and produced an old Quality Street tin. He pulled the lid off to reveal shortbread biscuits embedded with blueberries, biscuits that were all incongruously shaped like cocks.
“I make these for a friend who keeps finding herself dating dicks.” he explained.
Dis laughed, she couldn’t help it, and sank her teeth into a shortbread. It was good; the fruit was tart and a perfect contrast to the soft butteriness of the biscuits. Bilbo dunked one in his tea and ate half of it before speaking.
“Thorin doesn’t know and neither do Fili and Kili, do they?”
Dis shrugged, a well-worn pain twinging in her chest. She was used to it though, it had been there for a long time and she’d learned to live with it. This was her burden to shoulder, for very good reason.
“Thorin would overreact and Kili and Fili would be right at his shoulder and I'm sure Smaug would make sure that the police would be involved,” she replied. “All I have are vague letters, they even seem pleasant to anyone who doesn’t know Smaug or the history between the clubs. And I won’t tell my sons to abandon each other. Do you honestly think they could cut away that part of who they are?”
“Smaug wins either way,” Bilbo realised aloud.
Dis nodded and bit into another biscuit. Either she said nothing, knowing that Smaug was holding a sword over them all, knowing that he’d use it when they least expected it, or she told the boys, split them up, or convinced them to live only as brothers and then they’d be resentful and deeply unhappy, maybe they'd even run away together, and Smaug would have another kind of deeply-wounding victory over the Durins, the bastard. He had it all worked out.
“Thorin carries enough weight as it is. I can carry this one.”
Bilbo looked at her assessingly and refilled her teacup. He didn't say 'bullshit', because the fact that she was here casually spilling her guts was evidence enough against her own words. Well, it was good to unload now and then; she was always telling Thorin that. It was just as good to practice what you preached.
“Do you really think that I'm the only Durin carrying a Smaug secret? That reptile has a claw stuck in each of us, but he also manages to underestimate how stubborn and batshit resourceful we are. So far, his shots have caused damage, but they haven't broken us.”
Bilbo nodded, a corner of his mouth pulling downwards. “When Thorin finds out you've kept this from him...”
“He'll fume and rage and I'll rage back and Bofur can sell tickets,” Dis grinned suddenly. “Like I said, I'm not the only Durin keeping a secret. We all want him to stop trying to carry every bit of our problems.”
She drained her cup with much satisfaction. “You know, you should charge for your services. Eating baked goods is great therapy.”
“Why do you think I make so many?” Bilbo spread a hand towards the kitchen with a curled expression.
“Baking therapy, for you and your customers.”
Bilbo put a pile of his cock-shaped shortbreads into a Tupperware box and sealed it emphatically. “I think you could use these more than Millie.”
He held out the box and when she took it, he squeezed her wrist, so much said in a silent moment. Something prickled in Dis's eyes. Bilbo truly was one of the good ones.
“You're a marvel, Bilbo.”
Bilbo laughed a little, but his expression was bittersweet. “I'm not lying to him, Dis. I can't tell him to stop hiding things from me and then do the exact opposite.”
Dis nodded, that ache in her chest opening up again. She’d rather Thorin didn’t know, not unless he absolutely had to, but she also wanted Bilbo’s relationship with her brother to last. It was a dangerous case of swings and roundabouts.
“Understood, but pick your moment.”
That was really all she could ask. She glanced outside at the dusky skies. Somewhere out there, her sons were intertwined, laughing at the world, and somewhere Thorin was brooding and counting his mistakes, while Smaug was plotting and even in his absence, was getting under their skin. Somewhere, and she knew exactly where, Frerin was buried.
And somewhere else tonight, Dis was going to drink and fuck for a few hours. But not in the café, Bilbo had rules about that. She smirked a little and raised her empty teacup towards him. He was learning that being a Durin not only meant the constant danger of physical harm, but also the weight of secrets, kept from the outside world and from each other. It was a delicate balance that they maintained, delicate but fucking strong, and until that stopped working, it was all they had to keep them from total despair. Of course, Smaug faced the exact same problem. Good.
And she noted, as Bilbo started scribbling something down – a new recipe? - he had learned all of this and yet he was still here, holding his territory. A Durin through and through. Oh, Thorin had better fucking hold on to this one.