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An Appetite For Mushrooms

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If there was one trait that all the peoples of Middle-earth could agree that defined Hobbits, past their furry feet, it was their fine appreciation of food. Bilbo had years behind him of being a connoisseur of fine eatables. From the finest cheeses, aged with the same precious care others might give wine, to the lowliest of sweets, hand pies fried to crisp perfection, their brown, flakey crust giving up gooey, apple sweetness.

Bilbo had been quite accustomed to a Hobbit's schedule of meals, which was to say often. Travelling with a group of Dwarves had been a bit of culture shock in more ways than one and at night when he fell into an exhausted sleep, his belly protested what it felt was a gross lack of food despite the fact that Bilbo ate as heartily as the Dwarves themselves.

He found his dreams haunted by food, remembering the perfect taste of summer's first crop of ripe, buttery corn. His prize tomatoes, fresh from the vine, thick slices served in a saucer with cream and a sprinkle of sugar. And mushrooms, ah, mushrooms, there was hardly a Hobbit in existence who was not enamored. His dreams danced around rich mushroom soup, mushrooms simmered in red wine, or merely sautéed in butter to bring out their earthy flavor.

The dreams eased soon enough and he became accustomed to Dwarf habits. His stomach settled grudgingly into the new schedule, his palate adjusted to what offerings Bombur was able to produce. Never in his life had a meager stew made of thin gravy and mealy potatoes been so delicious. Never had he been so grateful for a bit of salted pork in his bowl, or for charred sausages come morning.

None of the others offered a complaint about the comestibles, all of them eager for whatever was provided and if Bilbo ever felt a wistful twinge for his own dinner table, he kept the thought to himself.

At least until the day they found the mushrooms.

Everyone took a turn helping set up camp; whether it was standing guard, caring for the ponies, or gathering firewood, there were enough of them that some could rest a day while others took up the tasks. Bilbo wouldn't like to be thought of as a shirker and while he knew little about ponies or keeping watch at night, he was more than capable of gathering firewood.

The older Dwarves were more than willing to let him take up the task, settling down with their pipes and their busywork, whittling, perhaps, or in Dori's case knitting on his endless length of scarf.

Ori was a quick lad and eager to help, or Bilbo silently figured, eager for a moment or two away from his brothers. The two of them made their way through the wooded copse around the camp, gathering up armloads at a time to carry back.

Somehow, Ori's easy chatter was soothing, a low familiar sort of drone. He was happy to talk about the day's ride, about his life back at the Blue Mountains, and the proper way to sharpen a quill to a good writing point. Bilbo often nodded his replies, patting at his sweating forehead with the scrap of shirt Bofur had given him. The idle prattle washed over him comfortingly. He might have been on a walking holiday with one of his cousins, gathering up firewood so they might toast their lunch, sandwiches and tomatoes and fat, juicy sausages.

Ah, but that was a thought to set aside and Bilbo tucked it away regretfully even as his mouth watered. It was an excuse, perhaps, for why Ori saw them first.

"We must not be far from a waterfall, I can hear it…oh. What do you suppose these are then, Mister Bilbo?" Ori asked curiously, peering down at the ground.

Bilbo settled another good-sized branch amongst those he'd already gathered, asking absently, "What is what, now?"

"These," Ori set down his bundle of sticks and knelt, leaning in curiously. "I saw something like them in a book once. They are a foongus, I believe it was."

"Foongus?" Bilbo repeated doubtfully as he came over to investigate, since Ori was obviously not going to gather any more firewood before his curiosity was appeased. "I don't believe I've ever heard of anything called a foongus….oh."

All his carefully gathered sticks tumbled to the ground as Bilbo caught his breath at the sight. Scattered over a rotting stump were curly clusters of yellow mushrooms, many of them close to the size of his fist. Bilbo inhaled deeply, drawing in the familiar faint tang of apricots and pepper.

There were plenty, Bilbo realized quickly, more than enough to feed the whole lot of them and Bilbo squatted down next to them and ran a tender hand over the silky, furled caps. "These, Ori, my dear lad, are a treat and we are going to enjoy them. Give us a hand and we'll take these back for the Company."

Ori obeyed him doubtfully, mimicking Bilbo as he plucked each golden cap loose at the base. "Is foongus good to eat, then?"

"I don't know about foongus," Bilbo chuckled, holding one close to his nose and breathing in that sweetness. "But mushrooms certainly are. Chanterelles, or old lady of the woods as my mam called them. Tastiest morsel you'll have had since leaving my pantry."

"Chanterelles," Ori echoed dutifully.

"Very good," Bilbo praised him and the lad beamed. "But promise me now you'll not go hunting for any mushrooms on your own. Come and ask me first before you so much as lay hands on them, do you promise?"

"I promise," Ori said, a touch bewildered. "But why—"

"These are a treat, I promise you that," Bilbo said, as sternly as he'd lecture one of his own cousins. "But not all mushrooms are quite as pleasant and you'll end this adventure with your toes up if you start champing on them willy nilly. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir, Mister Bilbo," Ori said with all solemnness and Bilbo was helpless not to smile. Ori was so very much like his cousins, Bilbo thought wistfully, and he clapped him on the back.

"Well!" Bilbo said heartily, for he could already taste the sweet pepperiness of the mushrooms in his memories. If he thought on it any longer, he'd like to be drooling. "Let's get on with it, then. We still have to bring the wood back as well and I'm not sure how to balance the both."

As it turned out, Ori was clever in his own right and had a good-sized empty sack tucked into his belt that was perfect for mushrooms. They filled it to the brim before Ori tied it back to his belt and the both of them gathered up their armfuls of wood, Bilbo with a certain determination for there were mushrooms to be had this night.

The fire was already cheerfully blazing by the time they returned and Bombur had his cooking apparatus hung over it, the pleasant smell of cooked rabbit filling the air.

Despite the wary way he eyed the mushrooms, he was agreeable enough to allowing Bilbo a frying pan of his own and a paring knife, and Bilbo put both to work with gusto. Ori lingered at his side and Bilbo took pity on the lad, sitting him down with a knife of his own and showing him how to clean the mushrooms, slicing them evenly.

To his surprise, Balin joined them, groaning as he settled his bulk on the ground and the easy way he handled them made Bilbo raise an eyebrow, noting that Balin was even careful to slice them at an angle, the better to cook them tender.

Balin offered him a wink, "I've been around a place or two in my time, laddie, and I for one would not be turning away the meal it seems you'll be offering." He cocked a brow at the both of them. "If you're offering?"

"Of course I am!" Bilbo said indignantly. Bombur had silently offered him a flask of oil at Bilbo's request along with a pouch of salt and Bilbo poured a dollop into the hot fry pan, listening to the sizzle with satisfaction before he added the mushrooms. "These will go quite well with the rabbit, I think, and everyone is welcome to their portion."

"Don't be thinking we won't accept!" Gloin called and there was a hearty agreement around the camp. "We've tasted your fare, Master Baggins!"

"Oh, well," Bilbo blushed, stirring the mushrooms with determination. "That's very kind of you. Thank you."

"Keep your thanks, we'll take a full belly," Dori grumbled and another rumble of agreement followed him.

"I think between Bombur and I we'll do quite…oh," Bilbo frowned, though it was difficult to do so with the heavenly aroma starting to rise up from the pan. They'd be much tastier with a noggin of butter but Bilbo was happy to make do, adding a sprinkling of salt to the sizzling pan. "We seem to be two Dwarves short?"

A quick mental count brought him up to eleven, if you excused one wizard and one Hobbit from the mixture. A mutter of names under his breath left Bilbo without Thorin and Dwalin.

"They're off scouting," Fíli said, close enough that Bilbo jumped, startling as the young Dwarf leaned over his shoulder, his nose twitching appreciatively. Not that Bilbo blamed him, the smell of the mushrooms deepened in the heat, rising up peppery and sweet. Still, it didn't keep him from rapping Fíli sharply on the knuckles with his spoon.

"Ah, ah!" Bilbo scolded, "Not to touch! These must be properly cooked and no one shall have a taste until it is in a proper bowl with the rabbit! Not even me," he added, a touch mournfully, though it was only fair that everyone wait their turn. It was only after Fíli gave him a wounded look, one that was matched by Kíli's half-muffled snicker, that it occurred to Bilbo he'd struck a prince.

Well, the prince had best learn to keep his hands to himself, Bilbo decided, squaring his shoulders. Cooking mushrooms was a well-thought of skill in Shire and no one, not even a prince, was going to ruin Bilbo's technique.

Soon enough, Bilbo and Bombur were filling bowls, portioning out rabbit and mushrooms. If Bilbo had had a worry about Bombur feeling displaced as their cook, his worries were soon settled for Bombur seemed as eager for a new treat as the others. A single wary bite from each soon morphed into greedy consumption, each bowl emptied with haste.

The last spoonful of mushrooms found its way into one last bowl and Bilbo might have wept in his dismay to realized it was not his own. Cooking was his best skill, portioning was not and Bilbo could only watch, mournfully, as his mushrooms vanished down ravenous Dwarf gullets.

"There were plenty left in the clearing, Mister Bilbo," Ori piped up around a mouthful, wincing as his brother slapped him on the back of the head. He swallowed thickly before adding, "Do you remember the way, I could go with you?"

"No, no," Bilbo shooed him off with a wave, "Have your own dinner. I remember the way." And he might pick a few extras just for himself, Bilbo decided privately, with nary a touch of spite.

"If you see Thorin and Dwalin, you might tell send them back for dinner," Kíli added, swiping a finger across the bottom of his bowl and licking away the last vestiges, for he did not have a relative close by to swat his head.

"Yes, yes," Bilbo muttered agreeably, gathering up the empty sack. If he happened to find Thorin and Dwalin, he'd send them back, certainly. But not without the mushrooms and Bilbo marched off determinedly in the direction of the clearing. If a sackful was enough to feed eleven Dwarves and a wizard, then another sack would be plenty for two Dwarves and a Hobbit.

Or perhaps just enough.

The clearing was easy enough to find and if Bilbo did not have a perfect sense of direction, at least he did have good mushroom sense. There were still plenty of the golden caps scattered about and Bilbo was quick to fill his sack to the brim. Considering that there were still two Dwarves to feed, he wasn't about to take his chances.

Bilbo gave the clearing a hard look as he climbed to his feet, dusting the dirt from his hands. There were still a fair amount of mushrooms about, enough for another night, surely. Perhaps if he cooked these well, Thorin would agree to allow them to be gathered in the morning.

The little flask that Bombur had shared with him still had a good dollop of oil in it, and the salt pouch still held plenty, but suddenly that seemed entirely too simple. Thorin did not seem to be one easily impressed, and the thought of serving up his modest dish of mushrooms before begging for favors made Bilbo frown in dissatisfaction.

Well, that was simple enough to fix, wasn't it? He'd found mushrooms; if he took a moment and looked about, he might find just the thing to take care of that problem. His Took heritage might have sent him flying out the door but it was his Baggins side that knew just the secret ingredient that might tempt a King into allowing a touch of indulgence, at least enough for mushrooms again tomorrow night.

His father's very favorite recipe had been one of the best kept secrets in Hobbiton and it was as simple as adding the proper herbs. If only there were a river nearby, he might find the proper ones growing along the banks, just enough to add a touch of sweet earthiness to the peppery mushrooms.

Ori had mentioned hearing a waterfall earlier, and indeed, Bilbo could hear the roar of water not terribly far away. Where there was a waterfall, there was water. Bilbo supposed it wouldn't hurt to at least look. The sun was still far enough from the horizon that he wasn't about to lose his way; a good thing for surely that would put an end to any boons he might request.

Bilbo stood a moment longer, waffling between giving search and simply hurrying back to camp with the prizes he had. In the end, he gave an inelegant snort and turned in the direction of the waterfall. May as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb and with mushrooms in hand, he went in search of another prize.

As it turned out, searching for herbs in an unfamiliar wood was nothing at all like traipsing through the gentle wooded glens that surrounded Hobbiton, or even taking a walking holiday through the well-worn paths of Frogmorton. If not for the unsubtle call of the waterfall, Bilbo might have surrendered and gone back to camp, his shame hidden behind the overflowing bag of mushrooms; certainly his grumbling belly was fond of that plan.

In the end, it was pure stubbornness that kept him going. Perhaps all his time with Dwarves was wearing on him or perhaps he simple wanted one small indulgence on this so-called adventure; whatever the reason, Bilbo pushed grimly on. When he finally found the edge of the river, he very nearly stumbled straight into it and the sight he must have made, his free arm pin wheeling as he caught his balance and the other clutching his precious mushroom bundle to his chest.

Neither ended up in the water and Bilbo sagged back against a tree, rolling his eyes heavenward. Honestly, must everything be so difficult?

It was easier to laugh at himself when there weren't witnesses to his foolishness and Bilbo could only shake his head, giggling like a tween. Unthinkingly, he turned towards the waterfall, absently taking in the sight, lovely as a painting with the sun shimmering through the water and…

Bilbo froze, mouth falling open as he stared for beneath the silvery fall of water stood Thorin Oakenshield, bare as the day of his birth, his face tilted up into the spray. His hair fell down his back in a dark, wet curtain, clinging to broad shoulders and as Bilbo watched, Thorin lifted his arms, scrubbing his closed fist over his scalp. Lather frothed over his fingers until his hair was thick with lather, sudsy lines of it trailing down his back, his wrists.

The bag of mushrooms fell to the ground at his feet, the topmost yellow caps rolling on silently on the mellow grass that lined the riverbank and Bilbo did not notice. His eyes were on wealth of skin laid bare before him, following the winnowing pathways that the bubbles of soap traveled; across the swell of his biceps, down the sleek line of his back and over the hard curves of his backside.

As he watched Thorin leaned forward and set his hands against the rocks, letting the water beat down on his stretched shoulders and back. Thorin stood with his sturdy legs spread, bracing against the force of the falling water. Even his bare feet seemed strong to Bilbo's sight, his ankles shapely enough to catch the eye of many a Hobbit and Bilbo did not seem to be immune.

Bilbo swallowed dryly, all that water before him and his mouth was as parched as drought, tongue clinging to the roof of his mouth as he watched the fall of water dripping from Thorin's parted lips, the tip of his nose. Watched Thorin's tongue dart out, licking at his wetted mouth as if in invitation to drink.

The lather was rinsing away, leaving him glistening bare. From the distance, Bilbo couldn't see scars or bruises, nothing but pale skin and corded muscles and the sleekness of his hair flowing with the water.

Thorin turned, moving as if he meant to sit on the stone ledge, perhaps to enjoy the water or simple to make it easier to wash. It made Bilbo realize he was standing on the shore like a fool, gawping, and if Thorin merely opened his eyes, he'd find he had an unintended audience, one whose trousers more than gave away the direction of his thoughts.

It was less a matter of kneeling than it was flinging himself behind a tree, burying his sweaty face in his hands as he swallowed against the dryness in his throat. Thorin was likely facing him, now, perhaps rubbing those broad, soapy hands over his chest and belly. Of course it would be terrible to look, already Bilbo had grossly invaded Thorin's privacy; really, it was quite unforgivable.

And since he had already managed to be deplorable this day, Bilbo shifted enough to peer out from feeble hiding place, taking in the sight. Bilbo caught his tongue between his teeth as Thorin twisted, and tipped his face up into the spray, let it fall over his face and wash his hair back over his shoulders. It gave him an enchanting view of the strong, curved line of his throat and Bilbo imagined guiltily how it might feel to set his teeth there, wondered at the give of skin and sinew beneath little bites.

His eyes were not his to command, drifting lower, taking in dark, hardened nipples, peaked against the chill water and the sodden curls of his chest hair. Beckoning him ever downward, past the hard, flat plane of his belly, lingering at his navel and--

"Enjoying the scenery?" Growled low behind him and Bilbo's squeal of surprise might have been heard back at the Shire except for a quick, large Dwarven hand clapped over his mouth.

"Easy, lad, I caught you with your trousers up," Dwalin said dryly. "No need to alert his Highness over there. He's surly enough these days."

Bilbo only stared up at him, still muffled by Dwalin's hand and surely his eyes were close to tumbling loose and falling to the ground, wide as they were. A prickling hint of watering ached and Bilbo blinked rapidly, swallowing hard as excuses tumbled about in his mind, none of them very reasonable.

Bilbo couldn't even quite remember why he'd come down here in the first place, much less an explanation as to why he'd been snooping about, peeping out from behind a tree like a sniggering tween caught watching the ladies hanging their underthings on the clothesline.

Whatever excuse he might have sputtered out, Dwalin didn't seem very interested in hearing it. Instead, he crouched down next to Bilbo, his bulk hidden by the broad tree trunk but only barely. He peered around the other side with an appreciative grunt. "Aye, still as fine as I remember. Thorin always did catch the eye, in clothes or out of them."

"You--" Bilbo squeaked out, swallowing hard, throat clicking dryly. All the wetness seemed to be some scant distance away, dripping from the handsomely naked Dwarf that Dwalin was staring at with very much the same interest as Bilbo had. Again, Bilbo swallowed, working up enough moisture in his mouth to say, primly. "It's hardly polite of either of us to be sneaking about watching him as he bathes."

Dwalin guffawed aloud and it was probably only the rush of the waters against the stone that kept Thorin from hearing it. "Is that so, burglar? If you're so proper, lad, why are you skulking behind trees then?"

"I was...only looking for Thorin," Bilbo tried. "For both of you! Kíli said I should tell you…you might wish to know…dinner is ready! Mostly ready," he amended, giving his scattered mushrooms a mournful glance. He scarcely would have believed an hour ago they'd be the second loveliest thing he'd see today.

"Aye, tell him about dinner. Instead, I catch you feasting on him as if he is dinner." Dwalin chuckled. "Look then, if you've a mind to. I'll not spread your secrets."

"I'm not--" Bilbo protested, weakly, only to meep out a half-muffled sound of surprise as Dwalin took his chin in two broad fingers and forcibly turned his head. Thorin was still facing them, only now he was looking down, those wet ropes of hair clinging to his shoulders and arms and Bilbo swallowed heavily as he watched Thorin rubbing lather over his chest, white suds dripping thickly from his hands, trailing down his belly, his thighs and...oh.

"He's a right sight, isn't he?" Dwalin whispered low, against Bilbo's ear. "Isn't he? Handsome, as Dwarves go. Not sure what Hobbits might think, though I might have a guess on that. You like the sight, burglar?"

"I...yes," Bilbo finally sighed, leaning back against Dwalin's solid weight as he watched Thorin work the soap against his thighs. Strong, thick legs, as stout and furred as any Hobbits and Bilbo might have moaned when Thorin crouched, rubbing briskly at his feet.
Bilbo's own toes curled to watch it, the play of muscles in his thighs and calves as he moved smoothly. He would never guessed Dwarves could move with such fluidity, such easy grace, but Thorin moved as smoothly as the water itself, his hands smoothing the sudsy bar back up his thighs and between them.

"Aye, you like it," Dwalin murmured, his breath hot and soft against Bilbo's cheek. "Like it enough to stay and watch. If I hadn't come across you, what might you have done?"

"N-nothing," Bilbo stuttered, biting his lip as a large hand settled against his belly, thick fingers slipping between the gaps of his buttons, petting lightly. Tugging him and he toppled back lightly into Dwalin's lap without a protest, his eyes still on Thorin, washing between his legs with perfunctory ease.

"Oh, nothin' at all?" Dwalin mocked, so softly, "You wouldn't have joined him under the water? His cock would be more than a mouthful for the likes of you even soft. You wouldn't want a taste of it?"

It would, Bilbo saw, the soft bulk in Thorin's cleansing hand was still larger than any Hobbit he'd ever tasted, and Bilbo wondered dazedly at the taste, all clean skin and soap at first, then the slickness of salt rising at the tip for him to suck away, the feel of Thorin hardening in his mouth while the two of them were beneath the heavy fall of the water.

Bilbo parted his lips automatically at the soft brush against them, and tasted heavier salt, sweat and skin as Dwalin pressed his thumb between them. Thoughtlessly, Bilbo sucked, prying lightly at the nail with the tip of his tongue as Dwalin chuckled hoarsely behind him.

"Like that idea, do we?" Dwalin growled, "I'd watch that bit of scenery. You've a pretty mouth and he's a right sight when he comes."

The implication of that, Dwalin could only know that if he'd seen it and, oh, Bilbo bit down on the thumb in his mouth, worrying at the knuckle even as Dwalin cursed low, a broad arm circling Bilbo's waist to grind him down into Dwalin's lap. Against his backside, Bilbo could feel the hard press that was not a knife or a belt buckle and he bit harder, tasting the thinness of blood as Dwalin rocked up against him.

"Pretty mouth and sharp teeth!" Dwalin hissed, cuffing Bilbo lightly on the back of the head, then harder until he finally let go, all his desperate moans tumbling out into the air around them. "Thorin might not want to chance that bite!"

"I wouldn't, I would never--" Bilbo babbled aloud, blinking against the dryness of his eyes as Thorin once again tipped his head back against the flow of water. He raised his hands, combing through the dark, sopping strands of his hair and in that moment, he was utterly bare to Bilbo's greedy eyes. The thickness of his thighs, legs spread as he braced against the heavy fall of water, the weight of his cock, quiescent between them, large enough to fill both of Bilbo's hands if he ever dared to cup it in them. The length of it nestled against the softly furred balls and Bilbo's dry mouth watered to think of tasting him, sucking him as he'd sucked Dwalin's thumb. Watching as Thorin tipped his head back in an entirely different pleasure.

Behind him, Dwalin grunted low, Bilbo's hips caught in a strong grip as Dwalin worked him in his lap, shifting him, rubbing hard against his backside even through their trousers. One hand fumbled around and Bilbo bleated out a shocked cry as the hard heel of a hand pushed against his own hardened cock, the length of it bound tightly behind his trouser placket.

"No, you wouldn't bite, not him," Dwalin groaned. "You'd let him fuck your pretty little mouth, your pretty little arse, wouldn't you. You'd let him have you any way he liked, wouldn't you?"

"I--" Bilbo's breath caught, words faltering as Dwalin dragged his hand upward, grinding Bilbo's trousers against his cock, all pained, lovely friction matching the heat against his backside.

"You would," Dwalin insisted, "I'm not blind, the none of us are. You'd fall to your knees if he gave you a pert look."

Beneath that waterfall, on his knees before Thorin, his hands on soap-soft skin? Bilbo thought feebly that he might. Or better yet, in the softness of a bed, he might allow any number of things, shred away the last bits of his respectability in a hot wash of pleasure and sweaty need, until the thick salt of semen was heavy on his tongue and sticky on his thighs. He might, oh, he might.

Through narrowed eyes and the tangle of his lashes, Bilbo watched as Thorin stepped out from the water, glistening wet and dripping, scenery, Dwalin called it, yes, gorgeous scenery that begged to be besmirched and instead, Bilbo bit his own tongue, his gaze on Thorin as he finally gave in to the brutal insistence of Dwalin's heavy palm and came, spilling into his own trousers in a sticky rush.

Behind him, Dwalin groaned and huffed against his ear, finding his own pleasure, the fingers of his other hand surely biting bruises into Bilbo's hip as he held him in, jerking and shaking beneath Bilbo until he collapsed back to his elbows with quivering, akimbo limbs.

It took long moments for Bilbo to realize he was blinking up at the sky, the puffy clouds incongruent above him. He scrambled back up, frowning in dismay to see Thorin already had his trousers on, sitting on a handy outcropping of stone to comb out his hair.

He'd had his view, Bilbo supposed dismally, and it had been handsome indeed. Now his view was of a lazily smiling Dwalin and how that seemed so terribly perilous, Bilbo wasn't certain.

"Ah, ahem," Bilbo coughed, twisting his hands nervously. Honestly, this sort of thing was easier at the Shire, when you needn't worry that offending your quick afternoon tumble would end up getting you beheaded. "I wasn't---that is--"

"Supper's close to ready, isn't that what you said?" Dwalin offered him a smirk. "Be off and have some. I'll tell his Highness. Seems I'm in need of a wash."

"Yes, of course," Bilbo said hurriedly, brushing his hands over his trousers nervously, testing for any seeping dampness or stains. He'd have to do his own washing up soon enough but now did not seem to be the best of times. Still, Bilbo lingered, uncertainly. Beheadings aside, Bilbo was not fond of hurt feelings nor lingering resentment, and he bit his lip, worrying it between his teeth before saying, a touch weakly, "Dwalin--"

"Be off, I said," Dwalin said impatiently. "Unless you're planning on giving me that show after all?"

"Of all the crass--!" Bilbo huffed indignantly, raising his chin, "Fine, then, you can tell his....his Highness that there is supper. I'm afraid the lot of you will have to do without a show!" He snatched up his sack of mushrooms and stormed away, not bothering to even glare at Dwalin for his mournful sigh of, "Ah, a pity."

From now on, scenery will consist of trees, hills, and little rivers, Bilbo told himself fiercely. Not waterfalls or anything that was beneath them, and mushrooms would taste just as fine with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt.

That, and Kíli could seek out his uncle on his own if he was so eager for Thorin to be fed.

He ignored the low throb in his belly that begged to differ. Likely it was just his stomach growling for its meager portion of supper and that was that.

None of the others seemed concerned or interested in the length of time he'd been gone, though Ori did kindly sit with Bilbo and help him slice mushrooms again. The mindless chore of it kept Bilbo's attention from where it ought not to wander, kept his thoughts from lingering on sleek, wet skin and large hands upon him.

Instead, he cooked up a second batch of the mushrooms, his belly's grumblings rising to a constant rumble as the bright golden caps mellowed beneath the heat, softening and browning and their lovely aroma rose in the air.

Bilbo was only just plating them when Thorin and Dwalin walked back into camp. No, Thorin might walk with a confidence that gave voice to his linage; Dwalin swaggered into camp and the broad wink he sent Bilbo's way made heat swamp up his cheeks in a way that had nothing to do with the cook fire.

Defiantly, Bilbo added a share of the cooked rabbit to their bowls and offered them with a low mutter of, "Here."

Dwalin caught his bowl before it could tumble into his lap, his smirk widening. Bilbo ignored it as he handed a bowl to Thorin, who took it with a frown and a nod, nudging the mushrooms dubiously with his fork. Perhaps he decided that they seemed acceptable, or perhaps Thorin simply believed that none of the others would allow Bilbo to poison him. Either way, he forked up a bite, chewing methodically and with what Bilbo thought seemed little enjoyment.

A trifle uncertainly, Bilbo took a step back, then another, trying to ignore the rising tightness in his chest. What had he expected Thorin to say, he scolded himself fiercely. Had he thought to preen under Thorin's flattery for his meager offering, had he expected a warm glance or even a smirk? It was hardly as if they had shared a moment, or at least not one that Thorin was aware of.

Suddenly, Bilbo was heartily sick of himself and he quickly gathered up his own bowl and settled down with it. The mushrooms were as lovely as he'd imagined they would be, cooked to tenderness and peppery-sweet on his tongue. The flavor matched subtly with the rabbit's gaminess and Bilbo ate with determination, savoring every bite and if his eyes seemed to wander from his dish, if they drifted in the direction of hair that still hung in damp ringlets, curls that gleamed like dark silk in the setting sun, well. Hobbits were creatures of appetite and his taste for Dwarf did not yet seem slaked.

"This is good, burglar," Dwalin grunted. He, at least, ate with relish, shoveling in great mouthfuls and chewing with little groans of appreciation.

"I only cooked the mushrooms," Bilbo demurred, casting a hasty glance at Bombur.

"It is good," Thorin said, suddenly, and Bilbo blinked his surprise, mouth working slowly. As he watched, Thorin took another bite, licking away a droplet of juice from his lower lip.

"I…thank you," Bilbo said, a touch weakly. He firmed his voice when Dwalin cast him a knowing look, his eyes alight with amusement. "There's still a fair amount of them in the clearing, if we have the time—"

"We should gather them come morning," Thorin said, as if unaware he was even interrupting. "And add them to our stores."

"Yes, precisely what I was thinking—" Bilbo broke in, eagerly. Mushrooms for a few days, then, that was more of a kindness than he'd hoped for.

"There's a place nearby that we might wash up afterward," Thorin continued, "If you prefer a chance to bathe, Master Baggins."

"Yes, I know," Bilbo said, unthinkingly, and then bit his tongue so abruptly that he had to stifle a yelp of pain. Oh, stupid, stupid, why not confess you'd been spying on him, fool, and worry about two Dwarves considering beheading him today.

Whatever suspicious Thorin might have cast his way were neatly distracted by Dwalin of all people, chortling loudly, and Bilbo could taste his own heart. He wasn't about to confess, was he, in front of Thorin and everyone, he couldn't possibly—

"Aye, clever thinking, lad, that anyone might want a bath on this road," Dwalin chuckled. "I think all of us might like a chance to wash the stink away before we can chew on it." He nodded at Balin, calling cheekily, "I b'lieve I can see your aroma from here, brother, and I tell you, you're not a daisy!"

Suddenly, Dwalin had the attention of a scowling King and an offended brother, and neither of them seemed to notice the wink Dwalin sent Bilbo's way. Over the sudden squabbling of other Dwarves joining the argument, many of whom protested they didn't smell as bad as all that and others who declared they most certainly did, there were none to notice Bilbo sinking down with his bowl, head bowed.

It was entirely possible he owed Dwalin a debt of gratitude for that particular rescue.

Much relieved, Bilbo finished his dinner quickly and cleaned his bowl, settling into his bedroll just as the argument settled into resentful grumbling. He was drowsing in his blankets, already resigned to dreams that would have him waking to a branch in his trousers, when the scrape of boots close to his head jolted him awake.

A heavy hand laid over his chest kept Bilbo from rising and he lay in his blankets, heart pounding, as Dwalin leaned down close to his ear to murmur, "Suppose we'll see tomorrow what scenery you're hiding beneath those clothes."

Bilbo swallowed thickly, considering. Tomorrow, the lot of them would be by the riverside, all of them stripped down. Dwalin likely would as well and perhaps Thorin would again, taking advantage of the cool waters while he could. Not one Dwarf but two to catch his eyes, all wet hair and skin, the shift of their muscles as they lathered on clean soap.

"I suppose you might," Bilbo croaked out and the white flash of Dwalin's teeth as he grinned was as good as a promise.

Bilbo curled up in his bedroll, burying a different sort of hunger around his mushroom-filled belly, the taste still lingering pleasantly on the back of his tongue. He did not imagine a different taste, did not allow himself to think of lips and tongues, of soap-sweetened skin and slick hair.

Hobbits were known for their love of food but Dwarves, it seemed had different tastes. If Bilbo was to teach them of a love for mushrooms, it was only fair he learned something of their ways.

Even if their only common ground was a certain sort of appetite for a dark-haired King, Bilbo thought he might take to the lessons well.