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Tears are Gems of the Soul

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Bilbo blinked himself out of the depths of sleep only to find a dimly-lit room before his eyes. He puzzled over it as he stretched, toes curling under the blanket in delight at the plush softness under… him… wait, what? He bolted upright and very nearly yelped as someone nearby jumped at his sudden move. Light flared, painful to his dark-adapted eyes, and a mirrored lamp brightened the room more than the single candle on the table had.

 

“Thorin, where are we?” Bilbo asked, nearly in a panic as he took in the stone walls around him and the soft bed, an actual bed, upon which he was sitting. Last he remembered… wait, exactly what did he remember? Bilbo racked his memory as he frantically tried to recall limping up to the mountain, or anything about the move, but he couldn’t.

 

Thorin’s hands engulfed his where they clenched at the bedding, and Bilbo's eyes flew up to stare at his beloved… his betrothed? Oh, sweet Yavanna how badly his lonely heart wished for that, but his garbled memories didn’t make much sense at all and he was so confused! “You must calm yourself, my beloved light, or you’ll panic again and Óin won’t be very pleased with me,” Thorin spoke with a low voice, and stroked his hands gently. Bilbo couldn’t help but follow his advice, not when his dwarf used that tone which rumbled so deeply in his chest, and found his breath coming easier than before.

 

“What- what happened? When did I panic? Weren’t we in the tent earlier?” He asked rapidly, and then had to break off as his throat went dry and he croaked the last words. Thorin hastily reached for the tray beside the shaded lamp and poured a cup of water for him from a chipped earthenware ewer which looked like it had lost a fight with a flight of stairs. Bilbo greedily gulped down the room-temperature water and nodded towards the ewer in a request for more. The second cup, though, he sipped slowly so that it wouldn’t come back up; he’d learned the hard way as a faunt to never binge on water… it always came back up the hard way, usually out his nose as well, which always made the event that much more miserable. He’d rather avoid that indignity if he could, especially as he had the suspicion that he’d already made a spectacle of himself earlier.

 

Bilbo shifted up to sit against his pillows and patted the space beside him in an invitation which Thorin didn’t hesitate to accept. His dwarf limped over, surprisingly barefoot, and made himself comfortable at Bilbo's side.

 

“Now, tell me exactly what happened? My memories are a bit… muddled,” Bilbo prompted and snuggled into Thorin’s side.

 

The dwarf explained that the company knew about Bilbo's tears, and that every hobbit could produce them, thanks to Gandalf. Thorin reassured Bilbo that the wizard only shared his knowledge after being threatened by Balin. Worse, to Bilbo's mind, was Thorin’s later admission that the company had collected and disposed of both his red and purple gems… with the exception of one each which they kept for Thorin to experience.

 

He felt both reassured that the dwarves weren’t locking him up to obtain his gems, and also terrified of how this knowledge would change his standing among his friends. Would they see him as an oddity, a freakish creation of the Valar? Would they see him as a walking treasure chest who could refill their coffers anytime they needed extra gems to sell? Or could he possibly, improbably, keep his place in their group and hearts?

 

“Bilbo? Do I need to call for Óin?” Thorin’s worried voice broke through Bilbo's frantic spiral of thoughts, and he jumped as he realized that he’d lost track of everything.

 

He started to shake his head no, but his stomach interrupted with a fierce growl and they shared a chuckle. “It seems that I’m simply hungry,” Bilbo covered his lapse with the handy excuse. Thorin shouted through the small chamber’s partially-open door for a tray of food to be brought and a faint confirmation echoed back to them.

 

Reminded of his odd circumstances, Bilbo gently elbowed Thorin’s side and gestured to the room. “How did I come to be here, and where is here? Are we inside Erebor?” The candle and dim lamp didn’t illuminate much, but the chamber did not appear to be large at all and seemed unadorned aside from the meager furniture which took up its space.

 

“We are indeed inside Erebor. After the company explained their tale, I ordered them to make ready the rooms and then had us moved into the mountain before you awoke,” Thorin stated proudly as he followed Bilbo's gesture and looked around the room with a proprietary gaze. “In their first reports, Dáin’s assayers vowed that the royal apartments remained solid and were untouched by the dragon’s greed, so I had earlier asked Balin to oversee the cleaning of rooms for the company’s habitation- flimsy fabric tents may please elves, but we will only accept stone walls around us for protection, especially with winter’s bite approaching. Our most critically injured have already been moved into the lower craft and guild halls, where the healers have enough room to move, but Nori and Dwalin refused to allow us to be housed there.” Thorin made a face, and Bilbo assumed it was aimed at the overprotectiveness of the two dwarves. “They graciously approved our being housed in the royal apartments, but only if you and I used the back two suites while they took the two nearest the Western Hall doors.”

 

Bilbo smothered a laugh down into something like a giggle. “So you’re not even sleeping in your own bedroom?”

 

Thorin ruefully shook his head. “No, you and I are sleeping in rooms reserved for the few of our cousins who once lived with us in the mountain. Fíli claimed my old set of rooms while Kíli claimed his mother’s. The rest of them paired off, except for Glóin who snores loudly enough that no one else wished to sleep near him now that they had the option and Óin who asked for room enough in which to craft healing supplies.”

 

“If we’re in the royal apartments, then who is sleeping your grandfather’s rooms?” Bilbo assumed that had to feel incredibly awkward, sleeping in a king’s old set of rooms.

 

“No one is- this wing is for the family; the king’s apartments are one level above us. Tradition dictates that they be separated, to discourage an overly ambitious heir from assuming the throne before his time, over the still-warm body of the previous king. Our line never experienced such treachery, but they still observed the old exhortations when they carved and settled Erebor…”

 

“Only because Durin’s line tends to die young, in foolish ventures, lad. Don’t let this proud idiot convince you otherwise,” interrupted Óin as he stomped through the door, one hand occupied with his valise and the other slammed their door fully open to admit Bombur who carried a full tray in both hands. As the dwarf went to sit the tray down on the little table so that he could turn up the lamp, Bilbo's eyes narrowed at it in concentration- it looked surprisingly like the lid from a barrel rather than a tray…

 

Óin rounded on Bilbo as Thorin, the traitor, scooted off the bed to lounge on the chair instead. “Now, Master Baggins,” he began, and Bilbo internally cringed- that was the same tone his mother used when he was in trouble as a faunt, “you are going to sit still and quiet as I look you over to make sure that you’ve not set yourself back any with that foolish stunt. I don’t know what you were thinking, lad!”

 

True to the healer’s command, Bilbo cooperated with every motion and grunt, lifted and flexed his leg and meekly sat still for Óin to press his ear trumpet against his chest and back to listen to his heart and breathing. When the healer finished, Bilbo sighed in relief and reflexively ducked under Óin’s carelessly out flung arm as he dismissed Bombur. Only then did Bilbo get to see that Bombur had used the time Bilbo spent being poked and prodded by Óin to fill two battered plates with some kind of roast meat with gravy and thick slices of bread. One plate, which Óin gently shoved into his hands, even had a small portion of cooked cabbage on it, and Bilbo's chest warmed at the thoughtfulness of his friend.

 

Óin left Thorin to fill his own plate, immune to the irritated glare which the other dwarf flashed his way, and made himself comfortable on the foot of Bilbo's bed without an invitation. “Now, has Thorin told you everything that happened yesterday?”

 

Caught with a mouthful of roast, Bilbo had to chew quickly and swallow. The food went down like a stone and tasted like ashes as his mouth suddenly went dry. “Erm… he’s, well, he’s told me that you lot know how your gems were made, that it was Gandalf who told you,” Bilbo tentatively explained.

 

Óin looked at him expectantly, and Bilbo hated how his voice wavered as he admitted, “And that you kept some of my other gems.” Óin sighed and reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

 

“Aye, that’s the least of it.” The healer sent a flat look at Thorin, who wouldn’t meet his eyes. Now Bilbo wondered what could have happened if Thorin felt… what? Guilty? Ashamed? Nervous? He’d always had difficulty in reading the dwarf’s face, and this time was no different. Bilbo blamed it on the beard, as he could always read the more expressive bare hobbit faces.

 

“Eat, and I’ll tell you what you need to know,” Óin prompted Bilbo into eating again, though he didn’t taste a single bite through his worried preoccupation. “After you passed out, we explained to Thorin how our gems are created and that all hobbits are capable of such a feat. He couldn’t believe us, as he didn’t witness it like we did. Shocked us in our boots, it did, and I’ve never seen Balin so furious before as when he saw you crying those purple ones; he’d had previous experience with them as a youngling, Balin had, and knew that they didn’t feel the same as your nice blue ones do. He was ready to fling that wizard off the mountainside before having him escorted out of our borders because he thought you’d been foully-spelled to produce them.

 

“Gandalf only explained about the gems and how they’re created to calm our fury, not because he was interfering. For once,” Thorin interrupted with a snort of laughter, which Bilbo and Óin echoed as during the journey they too had grown to know Gandalf's sneaky ways. “You could have knocked us all over with a feather, lad, when we finally understood that we held your tears in our hands. The next day we crushed your red gems into dust which we scattered to the wind, and dumped the purple into the River Running to be washed away, exactly as Gandalf described. Did we perform your rites correctly?” Óin did look uncertain then, and it helped Bilbo's chest unclench from the tight knot that had been tightening as he listened.

 

“You, ah, you disposed of them correctly, yes. But you never should have had them in the first place- they were my duty to look after, as… as they were created from my pain.” Bilbo tried to explain, unnerved by openly speaking of such a sensitive topic with someone who wasn’t another hobbit. Truly, he shouldn’t even broach such a conversation even with another hobbit!

 

Pain was a subject which they studiously avoided as they felt its bite deeply and his people preferred to seek out the cheerful and uplifting instead. Good food, good drink, the warm comfort of having spouse and children close… that is what hobbits preferred to speak about when meeting over a pint and plate piled high with treats. Never pain, never sorrow; those were dealt with at home, behind a locked door, and shamefully disposed of before others could see the evidence. Even his closest and most beloved cousins had never set eyes on the jar of tears and tear shards which he’d collected in the wake of his parents’ deaths, when pain of the heart swamped his spirit and apathy towards his own life, listless neglect, brought pain of the body to join in his misery. Those same cousins had left him, alone and bereft, to deal with his pain as best he could, and he’d gone numb until a pack of dwarves annoyed, shocked, aggravated, and loved him back into feeling again. Bilbo's chest warmed at the thought of his friends even as he readied himself to argue with the healer.

 

Óin forcefully shook his head and thrust his cup of water, refilled by Thorin, at him which forced Bilbo to hurriedly stuff the chunk of bread he held into his mouth to free his hand for the cup or else he’d have had a wet lap. He frowned at Óin but couldn’t complain as he was busy trying to chew the too-large mouthful of dense dwarven bread. “There I’d have to disagree with you, and I think that every one of the lads would as well. You’re our friend and were too ill to look after the task yourself, so it was our honor to do it for you.” Óin squinted at him as Bilbo tried to hurriedly swallow the partially-chewed mouthful so that he could reply and nearly choked himself.

 

“Lad, I think no one has explained to you just what it means when a dwarf calls you ‘friend’, have they?”

 

Bilbo simply shook his head, resigned to more chewing. He couldn’t tell if Bombur or one of Dáin’s dwarves made the bread, but he’d never had a more dense, chewy mix in all of his life, though he could see that Thorin wasn’t having a bit of problem with it. His betrothed had stuffed nearly half of his first slice into his mouth and ate it with as much ease as Bilbo ploughed through scrambled egg. He mentally grumbled to himself about dwarves having an unfair advantage.

 

“Help an elf over a mud puddle, or hand him a handkerchief and he’ll call you elf-friend. They used to be the silliest creatures, back before the Greenwood fell into shadow, and loved everyone they met. We dwarves are more guarded with our hearts and far more particular in who we choose but once you’re called ‘friend’ by one, that dwarf will move a mountain to stand by your side should you need him. We take great honor in looking after and caring for our friends, because we collect so few.”

 

The lump in his throat silenced Bilbo this time, as he truly understood for the first time that he was safe- completely safe, secret and all. That knowledge gave him the reassurance necessary to swallow and speak up with a request which otherwise he never could have made. “Could… would you please ask the others to join us? There’s something I must do, and I’d like to have them here if they don’t mind,” he croaked, throat still tight with mingled emotion from Óin’s words and fear of what he planned to do.

 

Óin eyed him carefully, and Bilbo suspected that he’d gone dreadfully pale, especially as he felt rather light-headed at the moment, but the dwarf eventually nodded and stepped out of the room.

 

“I really need a hug,” Bilbo motioned for Thorin to join him, and nearly ordered his betrothed to his side even as he nearly cringed at his own presumption. Their hug was slightly awkward due to the height difference between Thorin standing beside the bed and him sitting on it, but Bilbo didn’t care at all. He burrowed into Thorin’s tunic-clad chest and let himself tremble while strong arms hugged him tight to sturdy warmth.

 

A kiss was pressed to the top of his head. “If it bothers you so badly, you needn’t carry out your plan,” Thorin assured him. The words echoed through to Bilbo's ear where it pressed against Thorin’s chest, and he squeezed tighter for just a moment before he leaned back to look Thorin in the eye. The dwarf obligingly released him, though his hands slipped down Bilbo's arms to comfortingly hold his hands in a firm grasp.

 

“No, I truly do need to do this, and…” Bilbo centered himself and took a deep breath as he did his level best to push away the old fear which threatened to well up again. “I want our friends to be here to witness it,” he stated firmly. He gathered his courage together, tugged on Thorin’s hands to pull the dwarf in closer, and leaned up to press their lips together in their first real kiss.

 

Their lips had barely brushed together when stomping and clomping echoed down the hallway to warn them of the coming interruption, and they pulled apart with a rueful look before the company piled through Bilbo's doorway. Kíli was on his brother’s back, and nearly drove Fíli to his knees with a knee to a kidney, and their tumble tripped up Glóin and Dori. Grumbles could be heard above Fíli’s yelp and Kíli’s cackles along with yelled threats from a yet-unseen Dwalin. Bilbo stood from his bed and shared a fond look with Thorin as everyone found a place to stand and the sounds of fists meeting armored bodies died down to faint shuffles. He tried fruitlessly to tidy up his shirt, horribly wrinkled from being slept in, and had to give it up as lost.

 

Bilbo slipped his hand inside of Thorin’s and felt a reassuring squeeze. “I know that you all overheard Thorin ask me to marry him, and my acceptance,” he started. Most of the dwarves looked curious, though Ori had the decency to appear somewhat abashed for having eavesdropped on their private moment. “In… in the Shire, we have a tradition between betrothed couples, and I’d like for all of you, my friends, to witness it.” Bilbo barely managed to get the words out through lips clumsy with nerves, and he fumbled as he fished his little pouch out from under his shirt. Unfortunately, this meant letting go of Thorin’s hand so that he could dig through to find what he needed, and he missed the warmth and connection that it offered.

 

“This is not to be shared around,” Bilbo firmly stated as he made eye contact with each dwarf around him. They all gravely nodded back with not a grin or eye twinkle in sight, and he had to hope that they understood just how momentous and terrifying this was for him. “First, I have to explain a bit about hobbits so that you’ll better understand our tradition. When a hobbit babe is born, its tears are the same as any of men or dwarves- clear and fluid. Its eyes are not ready to produce the correct tears, and actually cannot see color until much later.” Bilbo could see Óin perk up, likely with a list of questions in his head, but the dwarves all held their silence.

 

“As the babe grows into a faunt its body matures but, more importantly, its emotions mature to where it no longer cries from a wish to be fed, clothed, cleaned, or put down for a nap. Its attention also turns outward towards the world around it with a child’s curiosity, and when the body and emotion are both mature enough, the faunt’s tears become like those cried by an adult hobbit.” Bilbo smiled to himself and felt his chest warm as he remembered his own experience. “The first tear cried is always the most special, because it’s shed the first time that the faunt sees the world in color- imagine living in a world of greys, and then one morning you wake up to glorious color! The sky is so vividly blue, the grass a palette of greens, and oh- the impossible colors of the flowers! One cannot help but cry in the face of such beauty, and that very first tear is kept by the hobbit for a very special event.”

 

Bilbo held out the little gem which he’d held shielded with his fingers, and carefully placed it into Thorin’s hastily-lifted palm. “As my beloved, the only one who I wish to marry, I gift you with my first tear as a symbol of all that I am. Because it’s my very first, when my eyes weren’t used to crying the tears which create gems, the gem was formed as they all are- mostly clear and the surging mix of emotion at the time gives it the streaks of colors which run through it.”

 

Astounded, Thorin held the tiny round gem in his hand as if it were as fragile as a soap bubble. In testament to Bilbo's words, it sat against his skin just like a nearly clear opal, with beautifully brilliant threads of color dashed through it. Bilbo watched it glimmer in the yellow lamp light and somewhat smugly thought to himself that it truly was the most magnificent of first gems, if he did say so himself; mostly round, not lopsided or lumpy, with just the perfect amount of color to it, unlike the stories of horribly malformed gems his friends had whispered about as a faunt.

 

The others crowded around, but were careful not to jostle or even touch Thorin, to better see his tiny little wonder. “Leave…” Thorin croaked and had to clear his throat. “Leave the room, now!” he barked when several dwarves appeared as if they would protest the pair being left alone, but all filed out of the door, which they carefully left open. As soon as they were alone, Bilbo found Thorin’s free hand cupping the back of his neck to gently pull his head in so that their foreheads could press together.

 

“My Bilbo, I wish that you could feel your gems as I can- this one gem makes my spirit wish to climb to the top of Erebor and fly with the eagles, it resonates so with wonder and excitement. I humbly accept your gem, and vow to protect this piece of yourself just as I will protect you, beloved,” he stated with such grave sincerity that Bilbo couldn’t help but believe him.

 

Bilbo pulled back just enough to tip his head around Thorin’s rather beak-like nose, and fitted their lips together in the best response he could give to such a vow. Thorin’s hand pulled him in closer to deepen the kiss, but before they could become too lost in exploring each other a throat cleared pointedly from the hallway and they reluctantly broke apart. “Eventually, they will have to stop interrupting us, or I shall be forced to do something unpleasant,” Bilbo panted, short of breath from arousal and highly frustrated with interfering dwarves.

 

“It is our way,” Thorin chuckled, though he appeared similarly effected by their kiss. He stepped back to pull a pouch, similar to Bilbo's though it appeared to be freshly-made if Bilbo judged accurately from the light color of its leather, out from under his tunic and retrieved a very familiar stone. “I didn’t know where you wanted to put this for safekeeping, so I held onto it until you awoke,” Thorin explained.

 

Bilbo eagerly took possession of his little spear of stone again, and couldn’t help the sappy grin which pulled at his lips as he did so. His chest felt two sizes too small as he watched Thorin carefully tuck his tear away in the little pouch, tie it closed, and then hide it away again… Bilbo knew that he made the right decision to give it, as this feeling could only be love, and his smile grew wider at that thought. He took a moment to safely stow the colorful striped stone in his pouch before he pulled himself into Thorin’s arms for another hug. “I do love you, did you know?” Bilbo asked facetiously, and felt Thorin’s body shake as he openly laughed.

 

“And I love you as well, my light,” Thorin murmured above him just before he dropped a chaste kiss to Bilbo's forehead.

 

“You’ve called me that before, your light, what does that mean?” Bilbo's forehead furrowed as he tried to think over all possible reasons for the pet name, but to his consternation no ideas came to mind.

 

Thorin moved one hand from holding Bilbo's back to instead run fingers through Bilbo's hair, gently untangling the strands as he did so. “Without light, where we live is as black as pitch, and can be quite deadly unless one is able to see one’s way. A light can be the difference between life and death, even knowing if the air is safe to breathe in a deep tunnel, or between being lost and being found, inside the mountain. Just as a lamp lights our path, our spouse is our light in life and guides us safely through the decades. That is why we call them our lukhudel, or most brilliant of lights; sometimes the thought of their husband or wife is the only reason why a dwarf has survived what should otherwise have killed them.”

 

“That is so beautiful,” Bilbo whispered, struck by both the practicality and poetry in the reasoning of dwarves. “Can you teach me more of your language? I’ve heard the others speak it before, they quit guarding their tongues around the time that we escaped from the goblins, but I cannot grasp it- it’s not like Westron or Sindarin.”

 

“If that is your wish, then I’ll ask for tutors once more dwarves return to the mountain; the ones who teach the younglings will be among them, and they would be the most suitable for what you seek,” Thorin then thoroughly astonished Bilbo when he pulled back and dropped to one knee, a grunt of pain not fully muffled as his injured knee bent more than it had previously been forced to. “Anything you wish I will strive to make happen, as I can never repay the pain that I’ve caused you, the pain that I felt when I held your red gem in my hand. I will spend the rest of my life with you as my first thought, my first priority even before this mountain, as we would not have our home if not for you. I will spend the rest of my life working to repair my flaws and make myself a better husband for you, this I vow.” Thorin brought Bilbo's hands to his mouth and kissed the back of his knuckles, and it felt far too ritualistic for Bilbo's comfort.

 

“You, ah, don’t need to vow anything, love, as I’m sure that you’ll be a fine husband. And I’ve already forgiven you for your actions that day, so you have no reparations to make,” Bilbo tried to reassure him, but by the stubborn jut to Thorin’s jaw, he could see that the dwarf was determined in his ideas. Slightly more experienced in dealing with Thorin and his moods, Bilbo sighed and decided to shelve that particular argument for another day when they both weren’t still aching from mostly-healed wounds.

 

He was startled out of his thoughts as Thorin stood from the floor with a stumble and grimace, and Bilbo ducked under his arm to help support his bad side as he carefully straightened out an uncooperative knee. Together they shambled stiffly over to sit on the edge of Bilbo's bed and shared a rueful laugh at themselves- they did make quite the pair.

 

***

 

Four days later, Bilbo sat back as he watched Thorin pace, handful of parchments for his secret project in his hand. “Please sit down before you make me dizzy. He’s your kin, love, I don’t think he’ll abandon you or laugh at your proposal, so you don’t need to worry,” he tried to reassure Thorin, but only received a grunt in reply. Bilbo breathed deeply and refrained from throwing something heavy at his betrothed’s head. He was fairly certain that it wouldn’t hurt the dwarf, but it wasn’t in his nature to spuriously break items, no matter how vexed he became.

 

Ready to stand and force the issue by giving Thorin the option to either sit down or step on top of him, Bilbo's threat was stayed by the arrival of Dáin followed by Balin and Fíli. When Thorin sat to his side, Bilbo gently kicked out to his left and nudged his dwarf’s shin; he sent a fond but exasperated look when all Thorin did in return is shuffle his mysterious collection of odd-sized cuttings of parchment and remain silent.

 

Dáin, finally, broke their stalemate. “If you only wanted to sit and stare at my sculpted good looks, cousin, I can have my son send over a painting with our next shipment of food,” he taunted, and finally received a reaction from Thorin.

 

At last aggravated enough to look up from his study, Thorin fixed a glare at his cousin. “Dáin, you look like one of your boars tried to eat your nose and didn’t like the taste… that’s not the definition of chiseled, that just means your wife is charitable.” Dáin sputtered as he tried to yell in protest but only ended up laughing at the all-too-accurate jibe. Balin looked down at the table and covered his mouth with a hand to hide his mirth while Nori openly howled, face red.

 

“Thorin, why did you call us all here?” Bilbo tried to redirect the conversation before it went too far out of control. The dwarves could spend hours insulting each other in the name of fun, if left to their own devices, and if Thorin did not get to the point of the meeting then Bilbo would take himself off in pursuit of a more enjoyable way to pass the time… a nap, perhaps.

 

“I have had an idea which I wish to hear your opinions on before I order the work done,” Thorin finally stood from his chair and laid the handful of parchment scraps on the table. He paused in thought. “Though the Arkenstone has been the symbol of my family’s right to rule, it has also been at the heart of too much division, both inside the seven kingdoms and outside of them. Even when we sought to retake our homeland, greed and hidebound tradition kept the envoys from even the smallest offer of aid unless we possessed the King’s Jewel, and that is unacceptable. When Smaug first attacked, we were left without aid, and that too is unacceptable!” Thorin thundered before he slammed his fist onto the table. Bilbo nearly jumped out of his skin, and received a somewhat sheepish smile from Thorin who made every effort to calm himself.

 

“What I propose is an alliance between Erebor, the Iron Hills, Mirkwood, and Dale once it is rebuilt- I plan to have the Arkenstone broken down into four pieces which will be mounted into medallions to link our kingdoms.” Thorin took his seat to shocked silence and Bilbo could suss out a tiny little smug smile around the corners of the dwarf’s mouth.

 

He knew that he was gaping but couldn’t gather enough of his wits to stop… Thorin, who had launched their insane quest and set them after a dragon for the sake of that silly jewel, now proposed to destroy it and hand out the pieces? Bilbo thought to himself that he’d need to find Óin to check Thorin over for major head trauma, for this had to be some kind of waking hallucination! Finally Nori and Balin managed to get their mouths working and nearly shrieked their objections at Thorin in one unintelligible mess, over top of each other. Dáin simply stared down at the table with a very intense face.

 

“Thorin, I can’t accept,” Dáin’s booming voice easily cut over the mixed squabbling and silence fell over the room again. “Lad, I did you an injustice earlier by not honoring the request you made at enclave and that’s a shame I’ll bear ‘till I rest in the halls with the rest of our kin. I’d rather sign a contract of allegiance between the Iron Hills and Erebor pledging our support as long as an heir of Durin sits on both thrones- that will be the forfeit to satisfy my honor.”

 

There was a sharp intake of breath to Bilbo's left. “Dáin, any debt you may have owed was more than repaid when you came to our rescue; we don’t need a contract between us to assure assistance in the future.” Thorin waved his hands as if to shoo the very idea away, but Dáin interrupted.

 

“Despite my own feelings, Thorin, it’s also for the best politically: if we follow your idea, there’d be a coalition of one kingdom of elves, one kingdom of men, and two kingdoms of dwarves… that kind of imbalance would only prove disastrous over time as the others could accuse us of colluding together against them, and differences and politics would tear the alliance apart from the inside. Besides, we’re too far away to visit regularly for assemblages, and that would slow progress. It’s better that Erebor stands with Mirkwood and Dale, with the three of you living so close together, and the Iron Hills will stand at your backs if you need us.”

 

Balin nodded wisely and sent a significant glance at Thorin. Bilbo watched his betrothed’s face smooth into a look of resigned acceptance. “If that is what you wish, then I’ll have Balin and Ori draw up the contract.” Thorin picked up the bits of parchment and shuffled them before he laid them back down in front of him again. As his beloved grimaced down at his hard work in dismay, Bilbo could now see that they contained detailed sketches and diagrams for Thorin’s proposed medallions. “Though it does mean that I’ll need to think up new cuts for the Arkenstone and alter the medallions’ settings… do you have any jewelers among your soldiers? I have an engraver in my company who can etch the decorations, and we have a gold smith, but I would ask to borrow a jeweler or two if you have any.”

 

“I have four: one master, his two apprentices, and one journeyman. You may borrow them all while we’re still here, and keep the journeyman while you’re at it. She needs to do her trials before the guild can review her mastery and helping to set up your craft spaces once again would give her experience that she can’t find in the Orocarni or our own halls.” Dáin tapped rhythmically on the table with his short, stubby fingers, and Bilbo's eyes were drawn to several that were crooked- broken long ago and healed slightly out of alignment. He grimaced to himself- only idiot dwarves went out of their way to avoid healers!

 

A hand calmly reached over and squished Dáin’s fingers flat onto the table to still the drumming, and Bilbo's eyes followed the arm up to see Balin with a chastising look on his face. Dáin snorted and tugged his hand free as he stood. “If that’s all, cousin, I’ll send them to your work rooms in the morning. Need to get back to my troop, where they actually respect me,” he glared playfully at an unimpressed Balin, “and those idiots may just bring down your mountain if I leave them alone too long.”

 

Thorin stood, limped around the table, and gave his cousin a hearty embrace which included a round of back slaps hard enough to make Bilbo flinch in sympathy. Dáin then left, his own limp extremely evident, and Bilbo frowned in confusion. “Was he injured too?” He hadn’t heard anything about Dáin or his troops, but then he hadn’t directly asked either.

 

“No worse than any of us were, lad; bruises and a few breaks, couple rattled heads.” Balin looked at him curiously in return.

 

Bilbo's forehead furrowed as he mentally reviewed Dáin’s gait against Balin’s claim. “If he wasn’t injured in the battle then why is he limping so badly? And why does he clunk?” he scratched behind his ear and turned to peer at Thorin, who smiled widely at him in amusement. Bilbo ignored Nori’s snickers and pointedly raised his eyebrows at his love who obviously knew the answer and was withholding it purely to vex him.

 

Seconds passed and Bilbo maintained his expectant look while Nori laughed himself under the table and Balin sighed at their antics, but Thorin didn’t break eye contact or lose his infuriatingly smug expression until Bilbo had enough. He suddenly grinned widely enough to expose teeth and then kicked out with his toes rigidly together and cheerfully frogged Thorin right in his calf. He carefully avoided the knee, but took amusement from Thorin’s startled yelp as the dwarf reached down to rub at the knotted muscle.

 

“Fine, you win! For being soft creatures, your feet are like iron,” Thorin swore, but Bilbo could see the affection lurking in his expression as he straightened. “As a youngling, Dáin was dared to run through the breeding pens, and a temperamental old boar charged him. Pinned him up against a support and crushed his lower leg before the handlers could kill it; the bones were too badly mangled to be saved, and the healers had to amputate the leg just below his knee. He’s walked with a forged iron leg ever since, and that’s what you hear,” Thorin finally explained.

 

“Oh, thank you for explaining” Bilbo breathed softly as he tried to imagine walking with a chunk of iron attached to the end of his leg. His estimation of Dáin increased, though his estimation of dwarven common sense fell sharply- to nearly lose a life, and to actually lose a limb, on a dare was idiotic!

 

But still, Bilbo thought as he sent Thorin an appreciative look, dwarves may not have the sense the Valar gave a hobbit, but he absolutely adored his dwarf- faults and all.