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~**~

Of course, the neighbors talked when Bilbo brought home a dwarf in addition to a chest of gold almost a year later. They couldn’t not talk about it - about him, with his unseasonably warm hats and his odd, lilting way of speaking and the dirt beneath his fingernails. He carried a giant war hammer but smiled too often to seem like he used it much, which the whole of the Shire did not know what to make of.

It was an unprecedented occasion when their engagement was announced immediately after their return, and their wedding, two months later, was recorded as the strangest in the history of Hobbiton.

Bilbo didn’t especially mind, least of all because his new husband particularly infuriated Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.

(During the wedding reception, with the rest of Bilbo’s numerous relations observing from a polite, if curious, distance, the newly-minted Mr. Bofur Baggins had solemnly presented Lobelia with a beautiful hand-smithed pewter spoon with the decree, “So you can stop stealin’ ours, for fuck’s sakes.” Bilbo’d had to feign a coughing fit over his ale to avoid dissolving into tears of laughter at Lobelia’s expression and Bofur’s genuine confusion that his generosity was so poorly received.)

After the initial hubbub of a dwarf taking up residence in Bag End died down, life continued on, with as much normality as it could. Gandalf had been right - adventure had changed Bilbo indeed, but he was unsure where precisely marriage factored in.

As a lifelong bachelor, sometimes it frightened Bilbo how quickly he grew accustomed to married life. He did not know how empty a bed could feel until Bofur was there to fill it. It was surprising to learn how little he minded tickly whiskers on the back of his neck in the early morning when he was absolutely not a morning person, how it wasn’t much of a stretch to make two plates of supper instead of dining at his solitary table every evening.

“That’s the spot,” Bofur said suddenly, one evening in their warm kitchen. The windows were thrown open to coax the breeze in; inside Bilbo was absorbed in rolling out the crust for savory pasties, and slapping away Bofur’s hands whenever they wandered too near the bowl of filling.

“What’s the spot?” Bilbo asked, setting down the rolling pin and turning to where his husband pointed. It was a spot just outside the formal dining room, a point in the floorboards identical to every other point in the floorboards (save for being partially covered by a rug).

“Is there something I’m failing to see?” he asked.

“That’s the spot where you fell, in front of me and the lads,” Bofur said, eyes twinkling, “after I made you swoon for the first time.”

(Bilbo threw a handful of flour at him, and Bofur smeared gravy on his shirt in retaliation. The pasties did not get into the oven for quite some time after that.)

~**~

It was on the road home from Erebor, pockets laden with hard-won gold, that Bofur began the business of pet names. As these things do, it started innocently enough - “Would you be a dear and hand me that file?” he’d ask some nights, gesturing broadly to the open tool pack as he tinkered over some tiny device or another - and, not long after, escalated to, “Are you cold? Should I get a fire going, sweetheart?” He only used “My lamb” once, only in jest, and did not use it again after Bilbo twitched involuntarily.

The whole silly business culminated in “Darlin’” which seemed to stick and was applied with sincere fondness several times a day - “Darlin’,” morning, noon and night, “Darlin’” at the tea table and in the garden while they picked runner beans and early summer berries, “Darlin’,” sweet and simple and quiet when they kissed good-night.

Bilbo had always been a singularly respectable, and especially sensible Hobbit. Sadly, it seemed that adventure squashed any notion of sensibility clean out of him, for on a warm summer morning when Bofur woke him with a tea-tray and a kiss “Morning, Darlin’,” he blinked the sleep from his eyes, sat up, and murmured, “Thank you, Dearest.”

It was a lucky thing he was not yet awake enough to be properly mortified. Pet names were never part of the grand map for the course of his life and never did he think he would happily refer to someone as his dearest, and, more horrifying, actually mean it.
But he caught the way Bofur’s whiskers twitched, the spring in his step that he carried for the rest of the day, and secretly decided that perhaps being sensible was overrated.

~**~

The pleasant and idyllic life of the Shire suited a dwarf like Bofur, and soon it was a common enough sight to see him smoking his morning pipe in the front garden, taking in the greenery. Neither of them were quite sure how it happened - one morning he was out there, smoking alone, the next he was surrounded by the children of the neighborhood, all wide-eyed and vying for his attention. The tiny hobbit lads and lasses, to put it simply, adored the strange funny man with the whiskers and braids.

Rapturously they listened to his stories about the Lonely Mountain and the terrifying dragon (rather toned down in violence and detail, after Bilbo shot him a particularly stern look). Eagerly they swarmed all over his lap as he tinkered and whittled and produced shining trinkets from his many hidden pockets. The chubby toddler from three doors down the lane had a penchant for tugging on the flaps of his hat, pulling the damn thing over Bofur’s eyes - but still the dwarf remained sweet and patient, leaving the hat where it was and continuing to spin his stories to delighted giggles.

They loved it when he made them toys, but seemed to love watching him fix things even more. One morning a hobbit lass sat, weeping, in a corner of the garden after the wheels came off of her wooden pull-horse, and Bilbo floundered. Children, least of all crying ones, were not his specialty. He stood a few awkward feet away, wondering if he should try to comfort her or go to find her mother, when Bofur came up behind him and placed a sturdy hand on the small of his back. Bilbo stepped back, grateful to be rescued.

“Did your steed throw a shoe?” Bofur asked the girl, kneeling beside her. The girl wiped her red eyes, sniffed, and nodded.
“Well, missy, I’m not a farrier and I don’t have much horse sense but I think I can fix him. What’s his name?” Bofur righted the little painted horse from its side.
“Ted.” The girl’s pointy chin wobbled, and fresh tears threatened to spill over her freckles.
Bofur produced a tiny hammer and one of the numerous little files he kept in his pockets, holding them up for her. “I’ll soon have Ted fixed. Don’t you worry, miss.” It took less than five minutes before the little splintered wooden axle was fixed and the wheel-pegs hammered back into place, and Ted the wooden pony - after a wound-healing kiss on the nose from his little mistress - was soon rolling down the lane behind her.

“That was amazing,” Bilbo told him that evening, when the garden was empty and quiet. Bofur looked at him strangely.
“I fixed something. Hardly amazing.”
“No - don’t be silly,” Bilbo frowned, and try as he might, could not put it into words.
“Heavens, it’s a good thing you’re easily impressed.” Bofur winked, and pressed his lips against Bilbo’s cheek with a smack. “I’d not be in wedded bliss if you weren’t.”

It made Bilbo’s heart ache, in a strange and unforeseen way, to watch his husband with the children. Their garden ritual continued on until Bofur ran out of dwarvish stories and had to beg some of the Hobbit classics from Bilbo, until soon enough it was the two of them out on the bench, and even the grown-up Hobbits passing by stopped by the garden gate to watch and listen in the drowsy sunshine.

~**~

Visitors started to call at Bag End once more. It became easy to overlook his own private ache, after that. Meddling relations aside, it was not long until nearly all of Hobbiton was won over by Mr. Baggins’ strange husband, who could nonetheless be utterly charming whenever he put his mind to it.

In the waning days of summer Bofur chopped sweet applewood and stacked it in neat piles at their hearth’s edge; he made stray boughs into whistles, carved them into miniature dragons and birds and ponies, for word of his skill as a craftsman spread among their neighbors - so much so that soon hardly a day went by before one Hobbitwife or another called on him to buy a birthday gift for one of her many young relations.

Bofur obliged, naturally. Even after long days when Bilbo knew his hands ached, after dinner they’d sit by the hearth and Bofur’s pen knife would flash and leap in the firelight, freeing the figure or the music from the wood. Bofur’s heart was large and warm and he did not say no very often - he always obliged, with a smile and more goodwill than necessary. Bilbo learned that long ago, on a rainy night in a mountain cave. Sometimes he thought it foolish of Bofur, to never say no.

“Where have you been?” he admonished, one night. Bofur closed the door behind him, pipe in his mouth and what looked to be half the village market slung over his back.
It was a simple errand he’d gone to run - apples from the market, chops from the butcher’s. He’d headed off not long after luncheon, and Bilbo had thought nothing of it. He’d be back by tea. They’d have a quiet afternoon, a lovely dinner, and (here Bilbo was not counting his chickens for eggs) an energetic roll in the hay before retiring.

All in all, an average - but very pleasing - day for them.

Except Bofur wasn’t back by tea, nor by the time Bilbo prepared to start supper. He lit the fire in the hearth and toasted up scones and cold chicken as evening deepened, and did not look outside to the lane too often. When he heard the gate creak, he let out a breath that he didn’t know he’d been holding and went to get the door.

“It’s a funny story,” Bofur mused, exhaling a slow gust of smoke. “Went down to the market, lovely day, felt like dawdling. You know how it is. I bought you a currant cake, I know how you love those -” Bilbo rather did, but that was not the point, “- and I couldn’t help but point out to the baker, ‘You’ve a table needs fixing.’ So I fixed it. And then I went to get your apples. Apples, no fuss, save for the bit of a dither when I couldn’t recall if you said green or red.
“Then I was at the butcher’s, we got to talking, he mentioned he had a knife that needed sharpening, and if I wasn’t the dwarf for the job, no one was. So I sharpened his entire set, and patched the bottom of one of his pots while I was at it - he gave me half the case in thanks, and would have given more if I didn’t stop him.”

Bilbo didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say. He knew there was no danger that could befall either of them in the Shire, especially not at the market nor the butcher’s shop. There was no need to worry, and yet here he was, fussing like someone’s high-strung maiden aunt.

There must have been some sign of this on his face, because Bofur’s jovial expression softened. He dropped his packs and bags, sending russet apples rolling across the foyer floor, and took Bilbo’s face between his hands.

“I’m sorry, darlin’, I’m sorry if I worried you, I lost track of the time,” he said. He kissed Bilbo’s brow, then his cheeks. “None of that frowning, I’ll not do it again.”

“You’re not beholden to me,” Bilbo protested, closing his eyes. “I shouldn’t have been worried - you managed just fine before you met me and before you came here -”

“But you worried -”

“You’re more than capable -”

They spoke at odds, cutting each other off into little minced sentences before it was all they could do to not laugh, Bilbo feeling slightly foolish, Bofur slightly chagrined, as the apples sat bruised and the currant cake squashed in its wrappings on the floor.

~**~

They go on through the tawny autumn. Side by side, they pull up the remains of their summer garden and cover the young winter cabbages and tender greens from the first frost of the year. Bofur writes to his brother and gets letters in return about the restablishment of Erebor - of mines reopening and veins of ore being tapped once again, of feasts and forges and the rediscovery of Dwarvish learning, of how their companions fare in their reclaimed Kingdom.
And every so often they receive official dispatches from the King Under the Mountain, which are always met with scoffs from Bofur.

“He had designs on you, you know,” he brings up one afternoon at teatime. In the weak sunlight of early autumn, Bilbo stumbles through the odd, awkwardly-formal phrasing of Thorin’s latest letter and sips his tea.

“Who did?”

Bofur gestures to the letter with his teaspoon. “King Ponce.”

“He never!”

“He absolutely did, I’m not pulling your leg.” Bofur chews his scone. Bilbo knows he has to be careful with their winter baking: Dwarvish diets are nowhere near as rich as those of Hobbits, and his husband is already looking a bit less trim around the middle. “Ever stop and think about the mithril?”

Bilbo has not, in fact, considered the mithril too deeply. “What about it?”

“He had plans on it being a very practical, very shiny engagement present,” Bofur says. Bofur’s own engagement present, by comparison, was meager and humble. “Why do you think all the hurt feelings about your wanting to leave, never mind the Arkenstone? I half-expected he’d jail me for treason when he saw me holding your hand.”

Bilbo sets the letter down on the table, dazed. “He wouldn’t.”

“No, he wouldn’t,” Bofur agrees amiably. “He’d just as soon have me thrown down a mineshaft just to finish the job. Well, anyway, the secret is out. It’s not too late for you to go back to the mountain. I’m sure he’d build you a nice Hobbit-sized throne, if you batted your eyelashes once or twice. Thrones and gold and feasts every other night, you know.”

“Why would I do that?” Bilbo asks.

The way Bofur sips his tea, long and slow, Bilbo knows to be a stalling tactic. “You’d be provided for,” he says lightly, when he has his answer. “Mithril, and such. A much nicer engagement gift than a set of cookware.”

He’s flippant and just a bit too airy to be entirely casual. It’s there in his dark eyes - Bilbo recognizes it, a faint shadow. Worry.

From his seat, he can see the copper pots hanging from their pegs in the kitchen and the kettle that Bofur hammered and folded and seamed with love and care, can see the brightness that it brings into his home - their home.

Smiling at his husband, he sets his teacup down to take his hand, and simply asks, “Could you go put more water on, dearest?”

~**~

There are moments.

Moments when Bilbo finds the terms of endearment less sweet and more irritating. Moments when Bofur can’t sleep for the stillness of the soil around them, soft and loamy and quiet when he needs to hear the voice of the rock. Sometimes Bilbo nags, sometimes Bofur ignores him.

There are moments when the deep-seated portion of him - the Baggins portion that hasn’t been run out by Tookishness - clears its throat and slyly alludes to the respectable marriages he could have made.

There are moments when they miss each other’s meaning entirely.

“It was a joke, darlin’, if you weren’t so sensitive -”

“Hang on, stop it, no, I hardly think this is about me being oversensitive. I think it’s about you possessing the sensitivity of - of a blunt plow ”

“I’m plenty sensitive! You’ve known me this long, you haven’t complained about -”

“Then perhaps I should start complaining!”

“Then perhaps you should have married a different dwarf! I know one who’d still extend an offer!”

The words ring off the walls. Stunned silence. Over the fire, a pot bubbles over and rain pelts the glass windowpanes.

In this moment, it’s hard to say which one of them feels more wretched.

~**~

Bag End’s corridors grow chilly, the harvest is brought in. They celebrate the Dwarvish new year - in a whirlwind Bofur scours Bag End from top to bottom, makes a feast in miniature, uncorks a flagon of good mead ( “It’s not even luncheon yet!” Bilbo splutters as a mug is pushed into his hands).
Underneath the cloud-quilted moon they toast - to Bifur and Bombur, to their comrades, to Erebor, “To King Ponce!,” to the Shire, to the neighbors and their droves of children, to themselves, to a year ahead together. Bofur kisses him, sweet, sticky with mead, and just right.

“Thank you, darlin’, thank you,” he whispers. They’re both on this side of too drunk and Bilbo has never loved him more

The next morning, ah - the next morning. Bilbo hasn’t been in such a state since the wild summer solstice revelries of his youth, and Bofur...Bilbo knows he’s a sorry sight when he’s had a few too many tipples, but Bofur looks dreadful.

Cotton-mouthed and with heads a-pounding, what a way to start the new year. Nothing like setting a precedent.

Bofur rises and makes the both of them tea and poached eggs, despite being far more worse for the wear. Bilbo blearily amends his thought of the previous night: Now he’s never loved him more.

~**~

And then...there are those moments. Some of them aren’t as bad as others but they’re there, like little souvenirs of hurt feelings, and pile up like dust in the corners long after the fact.

~**~

Belladonna Took’s hand-painted plate, one of the oldest and most treasured of all their family’s heirloom china, is sailing across the foyer to shatter on the door.

“If you - would you stop walking away from me?!”

Bofur turns an abrupt about-face and faces Bilbo. “You’re throwin’ the fuckin’ china at me, why wouldn’t I walk away?!”

That,” Bilbo yells, brandishing another plate, “was my mother’s favourite platter, look what you’re making me do!”

“I’m not makin’ you do anything!” Bofur’s voice rises to match his husband’s. “Are you out of your head? What’s gotten into you?”

“You’re just -” Bilbo inhales sharply. He can’t ever recall being this angry, and it makes him feel shaky and loose on the inside, like a door broken off its hinges. “You’re working too much, I’m trying to tell you that you don’t have to, and you just - walk away, carefree as you please! ‘Och, Mr. Baggins, it’s nothing, you’re just fretting,’ like you’re just - invalidating what I feel - like you’re chalking it up to nothing -”

“I didn’t even know there was something to be invalidated!” Bofur protests, eyebrows diving in a scowl. “I thought you were just -”

Bilbo’s voice grows steely, and very dangerous indeed. “Like I was just what?”

“- I thought you were just being touchy for no reason again!” Bofur throws his hands up in exasperation. “I love you to death, you’re my heart an’ soul, but damn if you aren’t the most sensitive -”

“I can’t help that I am the way that I am!” Bilbo shouts. Offhandedly, it registers that there are tears brimming; one or two escape and roll down his face but there’s nothing to be done about it. “Go off and marry someone else, then, someone whose feelings you don’t have to worry about hurting because it’s such an inconvenience! Heaven forbid I get in the way of your work, because it obviously means more to you than this!”

Bofur inhales, drawing himself up. “Maybe I will. Marry someone else.”

“Go find some dwarf, who won’t care if you work yourself to death when you don’t need to.”

“Sounds delightful, I can’t wait.”

“Then go on, get out of my house,” Bilbo snaps. “There’s the door. Go. It’s not as if you’re unused to having a home, anyway.”

It’s as if all the air is sucked out of the room. Bilbo knows the precise moment he’s crossed the line, not only crossed it, but leaped over it and torched everything behind it with dragonfire. Rapidly he blinks, and now he really is crying, because Bofur looks gut-punched - everything’s just drained away from his face, leaving him stunned and gaping.

“Bilbo -”

“Don’t. I - don’t. I can’t.”

“Bilbo,” Bofur tries again.

“I’m going to bed,” Bilbo croaks.

He’s down the hall and in his bedroom before he even realizes he’s walking, like he’s drunk again. He undresses and blows out the light and lays numb beneath their quilts.

~**~

Bilbo jolts awake, and there’s no familiar weight behind him. There are no whiskers tickling the back of his neck. There are no wheezy, rasping snores. There is no snuffling in his ear, no arm over his waist. No big feet to warm his toes on.

His bed is cold and empty and just too big, exactly how it was before he married.

Bilbo feels sick to his stomach with self-loathing. He doesn’t want to know if Bofur listened to him (he doesn’t dare think if Bofur left), but he’s freezing, in spite of the layers of thick blankets and warm flannel pyjamas.

He can’t - he won’t - think about what he’d do if Bofur left.

He won’t - he can’t - think about waking up every day without him. Can’t think about Lobelia sneering at him alone once more at family functions. Can’t think of their garden bench and the children so charmed by his husband. Can’t think of a lonely tea-time. Can’t think of the copper kettle, of a future without smiles and nudging elbows and ribald drinking songs at New Years and a shared bed....a shared home.

Bilbo’s feet move almost on their own, up and out of bed so fast he nearly gives himself vertigo. All of the candles in the hall have burnt out or else sputter and cool in their sconces; it’s dim and he stubs his toe on furniture and floorboards. It’s so quiet in Bag End his heart grows cold with fear that this is really it - that Bofur’s left him, for someone less sensitive than he, someone kinder.

(It would be what Bofur deserves - someone as kind as he is, someone less fastidious and barbed, Bilbo thinks. It’s unfair that someone so warm should be with someone so fussy.)

From the kitchen eminates a dim light - his heart leaps - a lantern on the table, Bofur sitting with his hat off and braids unraveled, piecing something together.

It’s not until Bilbo draws closer that he sees the hand-painted rosebushes on off-white china, run through with cracks and yellow with glue where Bofur has pieced it together. Just as Bilbo pads into the kitchen he brushes paste on the sides of a shattered fragment and slides it into place, and just like that, Belladonna Took’s favourite platter becomes a little less broken.

Bofur’s skilled at whatever he sets his clever hands to doing. He builds, he tinkers, he fidgets and carves. He mends things, and Bilbo knows he’ll brag about being a dab hand at it, too.

He is especially good at mending. He can take a broken, sad thing and make it like new. He can patch worn-out pots and shoe lame wooden horses and always, always soothe whatever rents are fracturing Bilbo’s heart. Thinking back - back to the beginning - it’s what he’s always done.

So very, very good at fixing things, his husband is.

“You don’t have to go through life picking up and fixing my messes,” Bilbo says, voice hoarse. Bofur looks up, the first indication that he notices Bilbo standing in the kitchen doorway. Another shard of china turns over in his fingers.

“And if I want to?” Bofur asks, cautiously.

“It’s unfair of you to - to do this for me,” says Bilbo. A lump of solid lead has suddenly materialized in his throat; he can’t speak around it. “You shouldn’t have to fix the things I wreck or leave broken. Not the garden fence, not the china, not our -” He swallows. “Not our marriage.”

Bofur’s face softens, and his shoulders relax. “No, no, darlin’. Nothin’s wrecked nor broken.”

“I’ve been terribly cruel to you,” Bilbo says weakly. “Those things - I never should have said those things to you again.” Eyes downcast at the floor, he sighs. “Once in that awful cave was enough. You were far too kind to me back then, too.”

“What’s past is past,” Bofur points out. “I’ve long since forgiven you for that, even if you haven’t. And I said some choice things tonight, too. We’re equally to blame.”

“You deserve better, someone who makes you happy. Not - not gluing together a plate because you think it’ll make me happy -”

“I deserve someone who I love, even if he sometimes says the wrong things, and even if he’s too thick to forgive himself when he does so. That would make me happy....but you do care an awful lot about the bleedin’ plate, I figured,” Bofur chides him gently, which makes Bilbo huff despite himself.

“I’ve always hated the damn thing.. It’s uglier than a warg-scout’s bare ass, but my mother loved it so I kept it.”

Eyebrows climbing, Bofur sits back in his chair. “Well, if that’s how you really feel about it, it’s a bit late.”

“No,” Bilbo agrees, “I don’t think I can get rid of it now, even if I wanted to.”

Slowly, their eyes meet across the kitchen. The coldness that’s tinged the air seems to warm some, and before he knows it, he’s giggling, giggling so hard he can’t control it. Some of the tension seeps from his spine, and it feels amazing, like he can breathe again between spurts of runaway giggles.

“You daft, darling creature,” Bofur says, tossing a puzzle-piece of china to the side and standing. His grin, though lacking most of its customary cheek, is back. He crosses the room in quick, quiet strides, and pulls Bilbo against his chest.

When they kiss, Bilbo cries a little, which makes the both of them laugh. What a sight they must look standing in the kitchen in the morning’s small hours, in pyjamas and with hair unkempt, laughing and kissing in turns! When they kiss it’s as if they’re mapping out a new definition of tenderness, like they’re trying to touch deeply enough to smooth over the little cracks they’ve placed on each other. When they kiss, they smile against each others mouths, wet and wonderful.

“I’m sorry, I love you,” one of them breathes. They can’t tell which. “Forgive me, please, I love you, love you, love you.”

There are more words, but they’re soon lost in the space between their mouths. It’s like going mad together. Bilbo tears up, his nose runs, and he doesn’t care as long as those lips are on his, as long as those hands are firmly on his shoulders. When they break apart, Bofur holding Bilbo so very close, they can’t stop grinning at one another through the hazy mire of tears and emotional exhaustion.

“I’d very much like you to take me to bed now,” Bilbo says, allowing himself to sag against his husband. “It’s very hard to sleep without you there, and so very cold. I...never want to sleep without you again. It doesn’t feel right,” he says, all in a rush. It’s rather embarrassing to voice. His cheeks are probably bright pink.

Leaning in to plant one more firm, warm kiss on his forehead, Bofur smiles against his skin. “Good thing I’m knackered, so I shall never again deprive my sweet husband of his personal heater. Lead the way, darlin’.”

In the morning the memory will be there and the argument, fresh between them, will still smart. In the morning there will still be jagged portions missing from Belladonna Took’s platter and tiny chips lost to the cracks in the floorboards that they’ll never find. Never again will it hold a lamb roast without leaking mint sauce all over the table, and the glue will dry an unappealing brown-yellow that only serves to highlight the fractures.

In the morning, it’ll find its way back onto their sideboard next to the good candlesticks, and Bilbo will know that the cracks will not break them, and fragile things may fracture but never shatter, despite what he may think.

But tonight, they go to bed.