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Punch Drunk Courage

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Following the sad passing of Thror the previous winter, Thorin had found it prudent to start afresh. Call it grief, or shame, or fear, or any number of things, but no sooner had his grandfather's body been laid to rest did Thorin Durin decide he would move down south.

He had not reckoned on half his family coming with him, however.

The Durin's were an old family, old and with their roots firmly embedded in Scotland, and before that (centuries before), Norway. They had had wealth and lost it, and gained it again at too high a price in Thorin's opinion.

Now, he and his sister and nephews, and a number of his closer cousins had left the highlands to make their home in the idyllic countryside surrounding Oxfordshire.

Hobbiton the village was called, and when Dwalin had scoffed at the name one of the locals had scolded him soundly despite his taller stature.

Thorin pinched the bridge of his nose as he watched a snickering Dwalin stride by, arms laden with heavy boxes and began to wonder if moving had been the right idea after all.

It certainly seemed as if he had made a mistake when later that very afternoon, still unpacking and feeling tired, hungry, and irritated, he was burgled.

A very strange burglary it was too, for Thorin caught the thief in the act.

A very large cat with long ginger fur, yellow eyes, and a somewhat squashed face swaggered in through the open French doors, hopped nimbly up onto the study desk, and promptly made off with Thorin's ring.

The ring had belonged to his grandfather. It was an expensive item in itself, but made priceless due to sentimental value

Thorin's blood had run ice cold, then burned hotter than a forge flame and he had taken off after the creature with a furious shout.

Miserable little beast!

Thorin had not thought much in hopping the garden fence and following the cat into what was surely his new neighbour's garden, up a small hill to the house, and in through the unlocked backdoor which led to a homey looking kitchen.

He had lost sight of the fiend after it had bolted through the cat flap and he had been in the process of stalking around the room, peering under the large scrubbed wood table for a sign of the thief, when he was very nearly hit over the head with a rolling pin.

Thorin ducked and yelped, trying not to stumble as the impromptu weapon was swung at him again, and held up his hands in a defensive gesture.

"What the hell do you think you're doing!? Get out of my house immediately!"

His attacker was certainly bold, given that Thorin was easily a foot taller than he was and much broader; still he could certainly detect a slight tremor in the rolling pin wielder's voice.

Making sure to look as unthreatening as possible, Thorin kept his hands raised in supplication and eased himself up from the protective crouch he had dropped into.

"I'd much rather ask what the hell you think you're doing, trying to bludgeon someone like that!" He was still angry enough not to be polite to his attacker; he needed to find that bloody cat and this uppity little man was delaying that.

"You've just broken into my home, you lout!"

The grip on the rolling pin had tightened somewhat, so Thorin felt it best to try gentling his tone lest he spend his first day in a new village making himself acquainted with hospital staff.

"I was following the cat."

"Smaug?" Confusion creased the smaller man's brow and he twitched his nose almost comically.

"If Smaug is that great orange beast that looks like he ran headlong into a brick wall, then yes."

The other man scowled and opened his mouth as if to argue, likely offended by Thorin's description of what he assumed must be a beloved pet, but Thorin interrupted.

"He has something of mine. I came to get it back."

"He- oh no. Oh no no- Smaug not again! Bad boy!"

Finally, the rolling pin was set aside as Bilbo turned to the entrance of his kitchen with a sound that was half-exasperated despair, half embarrassment.

Thorin peered over the man's shoulder just in time to see a flick of a puffy ginger tail disappear 'round the corner as the cat recognised his own name and the admonishment in his owner's tone and so skittered away into another room.

The man sighed and rubbed temples, turning back to Thorin with a look now most contrite.

"I am so sorry for this- and um, and for before with the-" He waved his hand indicating vaguely to the rolling pin. "But I mean you did just walk in here without asking and- well… regardless… please forgive me, and my cat. I'm Bilbo by the way, Bilbo Baggins and you are-?"

All of this was said in quite a rush, an oddly charming flush travelling all the way from Bilbo's neck to the tips of his ears as he stuck a hand out quickly for Thorin to shake.

Thorin accepted the handshake feeling rather bemused and gave his name, which led to Bilbo grumbling sotto voce in self-recrimination.

"The new neighbour, of course. What a wonderful impression I've just made on you."

Sighing, Bilbo then beckoned Thorin to follow him. "Come along then, let's go get whatever it is Smaug stole from you."

Bilbo led Thorin out of the kitchen and into a cosy little living room that, had Thorin been in a more amenable state of mind, he might have complimented on appearing very inviting and beautifully decorated.

Smaug was found curled in a protective ball atop his cat-bed, eyeing the two of them warily.

"What is it he's stolen from you?" Bilbo asked conversationally as he strode over to the now lowly grumbling cat.

That disconcerting noise grew louder and morphed into a throaty wail counter pointed with vicious hissing as Bilbo pushed and shoved the irate animal off his bed, avoiding the swiping of claws with what seemed to be the ease of long practice.

It was easy to see why Bilbo needed clarification on what his cat had stolen exactly, for Thorin spied beneath the beast a veritable treasure trove of assorted objects. There were mismatched socks and two soft woollen jumpers, a child's doll, three shiny gold watches, a sparkly looking necklace, a small brass cup, a few cat toys (which were probably not even this cat's property if Thorin guessed correctly), and of course…

"Ah, the ring… there." Thorin pointed it out, unwilling to get too close to the still loudly complaining Smaug.

"Oh, well this is very pretty. No wonder Smaug took a liking to it. I swear he was a magpie in another life you know. He likes things that sparkle best of all."

More likely, a dragon, Thorin thought with a huff. Seeing the cat atop his hoard reminded him a lot of the mythical beings he used to read about in fairytales as a child.

Bilbo plucked the ring from the bed, much to Smaug's displeasure, and held it aloft for a moment in order to admire the play of light on the facets of the stone in the centre of the platinum band before he handed it back to his new neighbour.

"Thank you." Thorin slipped the ring back on his finger and felt some of the tension bleed from his shoulders.

"Forgive me for asking, but why did you leave something that looks so valuable just lying around? - I assume it was lying around anyway and that Smaug didn't pluck it from your hand." Bilbo placated the fluffy menace for a moment, who was now pawing disconsolately at his depleted treasures, before pushing himself to his feet and brushing his trousers free of cat hair.

The tension returned almost immediately, and Thorin felt his lips thin into a grim line as he glowered at his neighbour. "The better question might be why have you not trained your cat not to steal from others?"

Two spots of colour stained Bilbo's cheeks and he frowned in return before answering. "I have tried, believe me. He's been like this since before I rescued him, it's why he was stuck for so long in the shelter you see- he is, well he is getting better- slowly. Most folk 'round here know if something of theirs goes missing, they can just come here and ask if Smaug has it, so it's not usually a problem."

Rambling seemed to be a nervous habit with this man, Thorin noted, and so forced his posture to relax again. Now the ring was safely returned to him he wasn't truly angry anymore, but he'd rather Bilbo not try to defend his cat so.

"I was unpacking and left the ring on my desk while I worked. I suppose it was rather foolish of me to leave something so valuable lying around with all the doors and windows open, but I was not exactly expecting to be burgled, least of all by a cat."

Bilbo ducked his head and nodded, shuffling awkwardly before looking up again and speaking. "I am sorry, truly. How about I invite you and your family over for supper, as a proper apology."

Thorin considered for a moment. He wasn't exactly the most sociable of people, but he knew Dís and her boys would love to meet one of their neighbours. Besides which, he hadn't even began to consider food yet, what with so much unpacking still left to do.

"That would be good of you, thank you."

Bilbo's answering grin was actually rather charming.

 


 

That fateful meeting was to spell the beginning of a tentative friendship between the two, and though Thorin often found himself having to trek up to Bilbo's house in order to retrieve various items Smaug had pilfered, their friendship only grew.

Bilbo was always happy to invite Thorin and his extended family over for lunch or dinner, and in turn, Dís adored having Bilbo as a friend and would invite him over just as often. Fíli and Kíli seemed as fond of Bilbo as they were of any of their family and enjoyed playing pranks on or teasing their neighbour, which Bilbo took in good humour considering he had so many mischievous younger cousins. Balin practically adopted Bilbo as a son, and the likes of Dwalin and Ori found they had plenty in common with him.

All in all as the weeks drew on, it seemed that Bilbo was worming his way into the hearts of every member of the Durin clan, though none more-so than Thorin himself.

He would never admit it of course, for it had the potential to destroy a perfectly lovely friendship, but Thorin could not deny that the camaraderie he had felt with Bilbo was steadily growing into something deeper.

Bilbo hadn't noticed the tell-tale signs, thank goodness, but his family had, and all of them seemed to have an opinion on the matter. Each urging in turn that he say something about it to their neighbour.

Not a chance!

Thorin was a private man, and quite reserved. He'd much rather keep all this to himself and simply leave their friendship well alone. He did not make friends easily and so to him, this was enough.

This was why it came as such an unpleasant shock when Dís announced they were going to be having a belated house-warming party.

Or a summer party.

Or a neighbourly meet and greet.

Call it what you will, Dís had organised an event so that they could have over as many neighbours as was possible to fit in their house and Thorin was not looking forward to it one bit.

"Will Bilbo be invited?" He asked as nonchalantly as possible at breakfast one morning, and tried valiantly not to react to the snickers and snorts erupting from Fíli and Kíli.

"Of course he will," Dís replied stoutly.

Thorin felt a little better at that. At least there would be one person besides his family that he could talk to.

 


 

The day of the party dawned sunny and clear; all the better considering it was to be mostly held in their large garden and Dís had taken such pains to decorate it so nicely.

Fairy lights and lanterns were strung from the trees, ribbons and garlands festooned every available space.

It was very artfully done.

Dwalin was in charge of the barbecue, Bofur had taken up the mantle of DJ for the evening, and Fíli and Kíli had even mentioned they might have managed to talk an old friend of Bilbo's into letting off fireworks later.

Thorin was in charge of drinks.

Or rather a slight lack of drinks much to his sister's dismay.

Yes, it was a party, and yes, Thorin was happy to let his guests make merry. What Thorin did not want however was for merrymaking to devolve into sheer drunkenness, the likes of which would probably result in some perfect stranger throwing up on their new carpets and furnishings as they raced inside to find a toilet!

As such, Thorin had not been as liberal with the alcohol as others in his family may have been, and the large bowl of fruit punch in the centre of the food table contained less of the stuff than it would have if Dwalin had been left in charge of it.

It was surprising then that when Thorin bumped into Bilbo at the table some hours later that the smaller man was swaying a little, smiling drowsily, and greeted Thorin with a somewhat slurred "Do you always make your fruit punch that strong?"

"What? What no there's hardly any-"

Bilbo giggled.

Nearby Fíli and Kíli cackled.

Thorin glared at them as things started to fall into place. Things like why they had disappeared for a while earlier in the evening under the guise of buying some more food. Things like why they seemed to gravitate closer than normal to their neighbour and make sure his cup was never empty.

And here Thorin naively thought they were just trying to be good hosts.

Thorin ladled a cup full of the fruity confection for himself and gave it a suspicious sniff. Definitely far more alcohol in there than when the evening had started.

Thorin caught his nephews' eyes and Fíli and Kíli wisely beat a hasty retreat… leaving him to deal with an inebriated Bilbo… the scheming brats!

"To answer your question, no I don't usually make fruit punch that strong, my nephews on the other hand…"

"Oh dear." Bilbo swayed again but smiled more.

"Yes."

"I thought p'raps you were gettin' revenge for all the things Smaug stole. Get me drunk and make me look all sh-illy."

"I'm not nearly petty enough to do that."

"He did steal your underwear the other day." Bilbo jabbed a finger at Thorin as if proving a point, Thorin actually grinned despite the slight embarrassment at this reminder.

"Still not that petty… and still rather more concerned about your cat's preferences to be honest."

Bilbo giggled again and Thorin felt it was probably a good idea to get him to eat and drink something. Bilbo nearly stumbled. Sitting him down would be a good idea too.

In short order, Thorin retrieved a chair for him, as well as a plate of food that would be gentle on the stomach, and a large glass of water. Bilbo, incredibly biddable with how tipsy he must be, was happy to follow Thorin's gentle instructions to sit down and try to fill his belly with something other than alcohol.

"Food ish good," Bilbo mumbled around a mouthful.

"You can thank Dwalin and Bombur for that."

"Hmm, will do… later." Bilbo lapsed into silence as he diligently ate the morsels Thorin offered him and sipped at the glass of water to try to combat the effect of the alcohol in his system.

The party was slowly starting to wind down. Quite a few of the guests had gone home already, and night had well and truly drawn in. Above them, the moon shone and the stars were only outmatched by the multitude of tiny twinkling lights and lanterns that now lit up the foliage in the garden. Down the far end, away from anything flammable, Glóin had lit a small bonfire, and some of their guests were cooking marshmallows, apples, or sausages, anything they could find that would cook well on an open flame.

Despite Thorin's initial misgivings about such a large gathering, he found that the day had actually been quite enjoyable. He'd met a few more of the neighbours which had pleased Dís immensely, and now that the number of people were dwindling, the atmosphere felt almost cosy… warm.

"Could we dance? The music sounds lovely now, nice n' slow."

Thorin started at the sudden question, fought to keep a blush from his cheeks at the idea of Bilbo wishing to dance to a love ballad with him, and tried to remind himself it was only the alcohol talking. "Later maybe, when you can stand without tripping over your own feet."

"Ah," a small crease appeared between Bilbo's eyebrows and he looked as if he were trying to puzzle out a very difficult problem. "That- that may be a few hours yet."

Thorin shook his head, a small and private smile irresistibly tugging at his lips.

"Thank you for inviting me." Bilbo mumbled at length.

"You’ve already said that this evening."

"Hmm, thish punch is strong."

"Already said that too." There was no denying the warm, fond smile he felt curling his lips now, and Bilbo returned it in full. Though Thorin doubted the man even knew what they were smiling about at this point.

There was a moment when Bilbo seemed to gravitate a little closer to him, and Thorin wondered in concern if Bilbo might be about to fall out of his chair, but he righted himself quickly enough at the sound of Dís's voice.

"I believe my sons owe you an apology, Mister Baggins." Dís was marching over to them with a firm grip on both boy's arms, and Thorin smirked to see how chastised they looked. A lesson learnt then, good.

Fíli and Kíli apologised profusely for spiking the punch with more alcohol and encouraging Bilbo to drink so much of it, but Bilbo waved off the apology with a soft laugh.

He really shouldn't. He'd want that apology come morning, Thorin thought. The hangover probably wouldn't be pretty to behold let alone live through.

Dís seemed to be of the same mind and shooed her sons away as she gave Bilbo a speculative look.

"I think you'd best go and get some rest, dear." And to Thorin added. "See him home safe, yes?"

He could do that of course, but Bilbo lived alone (barring one crotchety kleptomaniac cat), and if he took ill during the night…

"It might be better he stays here, Dís."

Dís cast another glance at Bilbo, saw the way he was listing to one side, grinning broadly at the two of them, and nodded firmly. "Yes, definitely… and those sons of mine are getting a right earful come tomorrow, make no mistake."

"Balderdash, I'm perfec-y- perfectly capable of staying home alone drunk. Done it before." Bilbo made as if to leave his seat, but a firm hand on his shoulders from both Dís and Thorin kept him in place. 

"Not tonight. We're technically responsible for this and we'd feel better if you stayed."

Dís's voice was gentle but firm and Thorin had to bite back amusement as Bilbo actually pouted.

"Oh, very well then."

 


 

An hour later the party finally ended and the family tidied up what they could before retiring to bed.

Bilbo, though by no means completely sober, was at least able to walk without stumbling and speak without slurring too much by that time.

Thorin walked him to the guest bedroom door and handed him one of his own shirts and a pair of Ori's pyjama bottoms for him to sleep in.

Bilbo smiled and shuffled his feet; Thorin cleared his throat awkwardly feeling the weight of the silence.

"Thank you, for all of this."

"You're welcome."

"And um, thank you for asking Bifur to go check on Smaug for me."

"He likes cats… and probably least likely to get mauled."

Bilbo chuckled, Thorin smiled.

"Shame we never got to have that dance." There was something a little strained in Bilbo's voice now.

"Ah, well the song was…"

"I would have liked to dance with you to that song- I-" Bilbo huffed and ducked his head with a grimace, seemingly speaking to the borrowed pyjamas in his arms. "I actually- I like you a great deal you know."

Thorin's mouth had gone rather dry, his heart hammering against his chest. "You're still drunk."

"No- I'm really not- not that drunk anyway. Well-" Bilbo broke off and offered Thorin a very bright and very clearly false smile as he opened the door to the guest bedroom and stepped inside. "I think I know your answer to all this anyway so- goodnight, Thorin."

Thorin tried to gather himself together to reply, but in the time it took to collect his thoughts and part his lips to speak, Bilbo had shut the door in his face.

 


 

Thorin spent the better part of the night awake replaying the moment in his mind and repeatedly burying his face in his hands and groaning. He should have said something!

No it was better he hadn't, Bilbo might still have been drunk despite his claims and then where would they be?

Should he go back to Bilbo's room and try to explain himself? Explain he felt the same way?

No, definitely a bad idea at the moment…

 


 

Thorin felt he could barely keep his eyes open the next morning as he stumbled downstairs.

He had raced to Bilbo's room as soon as dawn had broken, but his nerve had failed him before he'd even lifted a fist to knock on the door. Bilbo might be feeling unwell and waking him to ask if he'd meant what he said the night before would be selfish.

Besides, Bilbo might regret what he said and not meant it and Thorin was too much of a coward to face rejection this early in the morning.

Bilbo might have already left and now things would be awkward between them if he remembered… He valued their friendship and that would be terrible…

Thorin paused at the entrance to the kitchen.

Bilbo sat at the table with his head in his folded arms and a glass of water and uneaten plate of toast in front of him.

Tentatively walking in and taking the seat opposite him, Bilbo seemed to know who was there despite not looking up.

"'m sorry."

Thorin's stomach dropped and he swallowed hard before replying. "There's no need to apologise. You were drunk. I know you didn't mean what you said-"

"No."

"Pardon?"

"'m not sorry I was drunk and said those things. I'm sorry I meant them-"

Thorin wondered if maybe he was actually awake after all. His heart was beating a little too loudly and a little too wildly for him to be asleep though.

"What was that?"

"I'm sorry I said all that and made things awkward."

Bilbo finally lifted his head from his arms and Thorin's heart clenched to see that the other man's expression was wretched and his eyes were rather bloodshot. He had a feeling this wasn't due to lack of sleep or a hangover however.

Bilbo continued, voice somewhat hoarse, and Thorin's surprise melted into affection as he realised he was rambling again. "I know it must have shocked you, probably appalled you… well maybe not appalled I know you're- but it's made things difficult and I never wanted that. I value your friendship and I'm just hoping that this at least is salvageable. And if you need me to stay away for a while, I shall. I'll do my best to keep Smaug away as well so you don't have to-"

Thorin's warm hand atop his own stopped Bilbo's near incoherent stream of words sufficiently enough.

"Have you ever noticed how quickly you talk when you're nervous?"

Bilbo scowled. "I-I have as a matter of fact and it's rather rude to bring it up when I'm trying to-"

"It's quite endearing, but it usually means others can't give you answers to important subjects you've brought up." Thorin smiled a shy and reassuring thing.

"Oh."

"Yes."

"Then-?" The hopefulness in that single word was all the encouragement Thorin needed.

"Then I would like to say that I like you a great deal too. I would have liked to tell you last night, but I was concerned over how much you had had to drink and if you might have really meant what you said. I wanted to wait until we were both able to speak properly about this, but I don't think I explained that and hurt you."

"I- didn't really give you the chance." Bilbo's cheeks were very red and Thorin could not help the silly grin stealing over his face.

"We could both work on communication together."

"If that was meant to be flirtatious, I'm afraid it was terrible."

"… Should probably work on that too."

Bilbo laughed, before promptly hissing and clutching at his head.

Thorin handed him the pain relief he had intended to use himself and added. "We could also work on some revenge for my demon nephews."

Bilbo swallowed the tablets with his water and took a bite of toast before pulling a face of disgust. It was cold. He would make them both some more in a moment, but first…

Standing, he shuffled to Thorin's side of the table and bent to brush a kiss against his temple.

"Unfortunately, I think we might actually have to thank them for this instead."

Thorin grinned and leant up to press a kiss of his own to Bilbo's cheek. "They're going to be insufferable."