Bilbo hummed a little to himself as he snipped another few curls off, smiling as he tugged on his neatly trimmed hair. He’d let his hair grow much longer than any respectable hobbit would have, though the past several months on the road to Erebor were certainly not respectable hobbit circumstances. He hadn’t even had a chance to cut his hair before his own wedding! Bilbo had last managed a trim at Beorn’s, which had resulted in a rather uneven and messy look, without a mirror or proper scissors. But now, in the luxury of the Royal Quarters within a renewed Erebor, Bilbo had not one but two mirrors to assist him in his task, and his scissors were made of actual silver and boasted wickedly sharp edges.
In the Shire, Bilbo had been quite used to cutting his own hair. True, once Bell Gamgee did it for him when he’d sprained his wrist gardening, but she always did tend to get distracted halfway through anything, and Bilbo had finally ended up with one side of his hair much too closely cut and the other far too long. Bilbo hadn’t been too keen on asking anyone else to do it since, not when he was perfectly capable on his own-
“Bilbo!” Thorin’s alarmed shout nearly made Bilbo cut off his own finger as the hobbit leapt from his chair and brandished the scissors threateningly toward the sound of the cry. The king was standing in the open doorway, his hand frozen on the knob and his blue eyes unusually wide. By his expression, Thorin looked to be in great shock and maybe pain, which did nothing to reassure Bilbo about his husband’s startling entrance.
“What?!” Bilbo demanded, eyes already sweeping his husband for signs of injury. No orcs poured after him into the room, but Bilbo wasn’t convinced of peace yet, and kept his scissors tightly gripped. “What’s happened? Are you hurt?!”
Thorin’s eyes were wide and full of pain, but otherwise he looked perfectly alright. “Bilbo,” he said again, and his voice nearly cracked. The king took one tentative step forward - and when did Thorin do anything tentatively - and reached one gentle hand toward Bilbo.
“What is it?” Bilbo asked urgently, stepping into Thorin’s touch and placing his hand on Thorin’s chest. “My love, what’s wrong? Has someone hurt you? Or the boys?”
Now Thorin’s expression changed to anger, fury simmering just below the surface as his hand spasmed against Bilbo’s jacket. “How can you ask me such a question,” he growled, “when I find… when I find you doing…”
Bilbo lifted his eyebrows, unintimidated by Thorin’s anger but now increasingly concerned. “Er… what?”
Thorin’s gaze intensified, and he gave Bilbo a very stern look. This expression had once intimidated Bilbo on the road to Erebor, but now the hobbit could see the real emotion behind the angry mask. Thorin was afraid, presumably for his family (and not his own bloody well-being for once, Bilbo grumbled internally).
“You must tell me!” Thorin ordered, and his grip tightened on Bilbo’s shoulder. The dwarf swallowed visibly, but seemed to find words once more, flavored with rage. “Tell me, what has upset you so? Who is responsible for this? Give me their name, Bilbo, I will end them, as painfully as you would permit-” Bilbo’s brow wrinkled with greater confusion during this threatening, when Thorin’s face suddenly paled noticeably. “Is it… Is it me? Have I- I didn’t-” Thorin suddenly lurched backwards out of Bilbo’s reach with a very odd expression on his face. It was terribly reminiscent of their Talk about that nasty business on the battlements, during which Thorin had been afraid to even look at Bilbo for fear of hurting him more.
“Thorin,” Bilbo sighed gently, and unconsciously reached up to scratch his curls in confusion, “I’m afraid I don’t-”
“No!” Thorin bellowed suddenly, and lunged at Bilbo’s head. Instinctively, the hobbit ducked, but Thorin never made contact with him. Instead, when Bilbo lifted his head again, Thorin was holding Bilbo’s lovely scissors and glaring at them as much as he glared at Thranduil. Maybe more.
“What in Yavanna’s green hills are you doing?” Bilbo asked, throwing his now-empty hand up exasperatedly. “You storm in here like the whole mountain’s on fire, and then grab my perfectly nice pair of scissors I’ve been waiting to use for months -”
“I didn’t know,” Thorin whispered to himself, flinching back slightly and his eyes still round with shock. “I- this whole time… I didn’t know…” Bilbo looked on in exasperated ignorance while Thorin closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, the scissors clenched in a white-knuckled grip. “Bilbo, how long has this been going on?”
Frankly, Bilbo was tired of not knowing ‘what was going on’, but he mustered enough politeness to say, “I’ve just about finished with my haircut today, the whole thing took me, oh, a half hour or an hour. I wasn’t really keeping track. Thorin, is there a problem?”
Thorin looked oddly devastated by this - were dwarves much faster at trimming their hair? - but he shook his head slightly as he corrected, “How long have you been cutting your own hair? Before today?”
“Oh.” Bilbo wrinkled his nose, and wished for good suspenders to hook his thumbs into while he considered the question. His waistcoat pockets would do in a pinch, though. “Well, let’s see. Certainly since I reached my majority at thirty-three, but I practiced earlier of course-” Bilbo cut himself off, because Thorin had made a terrible, strangled noise in his throat, and looked very oddly as if he might cry.
By the Green Lady, what was going on?!
“Thorin?” Bilbo asked with clear concern, and stepped forward with one hand outstretched. “Thorin, I don’t understand, is this-”
“So long,” Thorin said very softly, his voice full of grief. “Did you… Did you cut your hair on the journey?”
“Of course,” Bilbo replied, frowning slightly. He cautiously, awkwardly patted Thorin’s arm when his husband made another choked sound of grief. “Er, at Beorn’s, I believe, I didn’t get much chance to otherwise, given all the spiders and orcs and-”
“You never said anything!” Thorin said quite suddenly and forcefully, and Bilbo would have taken offense to this implication of Bilbo being at fault for some unknown transgression if Thorin hadn’t looked so distraught.
“I didn’t know, Bilbo, I- I didn’t even think to ask-” Thorin’s grip was actually bending Bilbo’s nice scissors. And with the scissors in danger, Bilbo had heard quite enough of this odd guilty muttering about his hair, without any clue as to what it meant.
“Thorin Oakenshield, what in Arda are you on about?” Bilbo demanded at last, hands perched on his hips firmly. Thorin blinked down at him with plain confusion, and Bilbo felt a shred of pride flare up. See how Thorin liked to be confused for once in this insane conversation.
“Your hair,” Thorin said, with the air of the obvious.
With great strength, Bilbo resisted rolling his eyes. “Yes, I do have hair, I‘m glad you’ve at least noticed that,” he replied in dry humor.
To Bilbo’s shock, Thorin reacted to the playful words as if he’d been slapped. He took a physical step backwards, the slightly mangled scissors clutched to his chest.
“Did the others know?” Thorin asked.
Bilbo was nearly at the end of his patience. “Know what?” he snapped.
“About… the cutting,” Thorin said, the words coming out like broken glass.
Bilbo threw his hands above his head as he gave up. “I have no idea! Quite frankly, I don’t see how a trim of my hair is anyone’s business!”
“I didn’t know,” Thorin said again, and it sounded almost like his apologetic tone, or as near as Thorin ever got to one.
“I don’t know why you would care,” Bilbo began, intending to finish with ‘given that it’s my hair,’ but before he could go on, Thorin let a pained noise escape.
“Bilbo… I don’t deserve you, I knew this when I married you, but please-” and there was a rarity, an actual please , “-know that I do love you. I care for you more than any sum of gold or number of jewels, I love you more than my craft or my throne or my own life. Of course I care about you, and I…” Thorin briefly closed his eyes, looking nearly as wounded as he had after the Battle of the Five Armies, which was really saying something, “I apologize for ever making you feel that I didn’t care for you. I am a disgrace to my name as your husband.”
“Thorin-” Bilbo began in utter shock, but the king turned on his heel toward the door, with Bilbo’s formerly-nice scissors still clutched in his hands.
“I will help you now, I swear,” Thorin said with finality, and then swept out the door.
If Bilbo hadn’t been rooted to the floor with shock from Thorin’s speech, he would have certainly marched after the silly dwarf and demanded a real explanation, but as it was, some little part of Bilbo was far too busy repeating all of Thorin’s beautiful words over and over again. Bilbo knew his husband was no great conversationalist, but that passionate declaration of his love… Well, if Bilbo hadn’t already been head over heels for the dwarf, that would certainly have sealed his fate.
The hobbit scratched his head slightly in bewilderment, and then shook his head and started to march off after his husband, when-
“Bilbo!” came another cry, and someone else crashed into Bilbo’s receiving room.
“Fíli?” Bilbo replied, and said intruder rushed over with the same fear in his eyes Thorin had shown.
“You’ve cut your hair? You’ve been cutting your hair for years?” Fíli asked, and at Bilbo’s confused but affirming nod, Fíli gasped tragically and then flung himself around Bilbo in a tight embrace.
“Ow, ow! Armor, Fíli, that hurts!” Bilbo managed, and his nephew hurriedly stepped back a pace or two, wringing his hands in front of his very stabby plate armor.
“Thorin stormed by,” Fíli explained without prompting, “He said he was going to destroy something and held up a pair of scissors-”
“ What! ”
“-and then he told me why, and Uncle Bilbo, why didn’t you-”
“He can’t just destroy those perfectly good scissors, I rather like them!” Bilbo interrupted with a huff as he tried to move past Fíli.
“No!” Fíli said with surprising vehemence, and Bilbo found his way blocked. “We will get through this together, Uncle Bilbo. You should have told us, we can help-”
“What, help with cutting my hair?” Bilbo asked in complete confusion.
“Of course not!” cried Fíli, who now looked hurt by the very suggestion.
“Then what in Yavanna’s greenery-”
“Bilbo!” shouted yet another dwarf, and Dori, Ori, Bofur, Bombur, and Glóin suddenly burst into the room with wild-eyed expressions of concern.
Bilbo sighed. “Yes, yes, I was cutting my hair! Why does that matter to any of you, may I ask?!”
Dori clapped his hands over his mouth, but tears began escaping his eyes despite his efforts to muffle his sobs. “You dear thing,” he got out, and then had to sob onto Bombur’s shoulder.
Bofur took a few steps closer to Bilbo, his eyes soft and full of pain. “Bilbo,” he said very quietly - unusual for Bofur - “You could have come to us. To me. You know we wouldn’t ha’ turned you away-”
“Is it homesickness?” Glóin interrupted with gruff authority. “Are yeh longin’ fer somethin’ from home? A person? Yer food?”
“I can make more Shire food!” Bombur exclaimed immediately. “I know we don’t always have a great many vegetables, but I could whip somethin’ up I’m sure-”
“Thorin said this had been going on for a very long time,” Ori volunteered quietly. “I don’t think homesickness would cause someone to cut-” Dori wailed loudly at the word, so Ori rolled his eyes and backtracked, “-to do something like this, anyway, would it?” Ori asked with a sad look over to Bilbo.
“I cannae believe we never noticed!” Dori sobbed, and then Bilbo found himself subjected to a bone-crushing hug somehow worse than Fíli’s sharp embrace.
“Dori!” Bilbo gasped, “Too tight!” He was released almost immediately, but before he could even refill his lungs, Bofur slung an arm around his shoulders and patted him roughly.
“We’ll get through this, don’t you worry-” the miner began with warm reassurance.
Bilbo scowled as fiercely as he possibly could, and threw off Bofur’s arm, ignoring the hurt look on his friend’s face. He raised his pointer finger and planted his other hand on his hip, ready to demand an explanation for all this utter foolishness, when there was yet another shout of his name, and Kíli, Balin, Óin, Bifur, and Dwalin all tumbled into his room at nearly the same time.
“Has Thorin told the entire mountain about my haircut?!” Bilbo cried in protest.
Balin hurried forward, his eyes moist as he patted Bilbo roughly on the shoulder. “Laddie, we all just want to make sure you’re alright here-”
“Come on, Uncle Bilbo, let us help you!” Kíli interrupted desperately, his expression as earnest as Bilbo had ever seen it. “Help us understand what you’re going through, maybe we could-”
Bifur nodded and said something very fast in Khuzdul that Bilbo didn’t quite get - something about loyalty? - and the others near enough to hear him through the din of the whole Company in a frenzy nodded emphatically.
“It’s not Thorin, is it?” Dwalin said very gruffly, arms bulging in a vaguely threatening manner.
“Whoever caused this, I can find them,” Nori said lowly, fingering a knife with intent eyes - hang on, when had Nori come in? Bilbo frowned slightly, but Nori ignored his confusion and continued darkly, “I will make them pay for whatever they did or said to you.”
“You could ha’ come to me, lad!” Óin boomed. “I’m quite confidential, you know, and I would have checked up on you good and proper before it came t’ this!”
Glóin snorted. “With your hearing, you couldn’t keep a secret from an elf!”
“Eh? What’s a shelf got to do wit’ it?”
“-need a friend-”
“-a listening ear! Bilbo, I would always have-”
“And she wasn’t alone at all! In fact-”
“-not that you would know it, Bilbo,-”
“We always worried about you alone in the mountain-”
“GIVE HIM SPACE!” Thorin roared from where he’d appeared in the doorway, and the Company suddenly quieted their frantic chattering as a tiny circle of empty floor appeared around Bilbo.
For a blessed instant, the hobbit took a deep breath in the ringing silence. Then he broke it with a spectacular bit of hobbit posturing, and the forcibly calm phrase, “Thorin, where are my scissors?”
The empty-handed king looked dismayed by the question, maybe pained, but so far the only thing Bilbo understood here was that Thorin may have destroyed his lovely silver scissors. Thorin would be in for much discomfort if he had actually gone through with the act.
“The scissors are gone, Bilbo,” Thorin said firmly. “I only took them to help you.”
“Help me?” Bilbo repeated, laughing shortly in angry disbelief. “How, exactly, do you think that is helping me? And why have you gone off and told the whole of Erebor that I’ve been cutting my hair to- and why do you all keep flinching?!” Bilbo interrupted himself frustratedly.
“Can you blame us if we don’t like to hear how you’ve… You know…” Glóin said with a meaningful look.
Bilbo threw his hands up. “No! I do not know! Why can’t I trim my hair in peace?”
“Bilbo, we just want to get you the help you need,” Balin said soothingly.
“If you don’t want to talk to us, there are dwarves trained to counsel others with sickness of the mind-” Fíli began quietly.
“Sickness of the mind ?!” Bilbo repeated with scathing surprise, so much so that the present members of the line of Durin physically flinched back. “Do you think I’m mad simply for cutting my hair? You’re the ones who’ve gone mad if that’s your indication of sanity, by- by Yavanna’s foot curls!”
“No one thinks you mad,” Balin said comfortingly. “We just know that the mind can be twisted by past trauma or loss-”
“How is the state of my hair any indication of my state of mind?!” Bilbo shouted in complete frustration, when the answer suddenly occurred to him. He stilled with his mouth half open and one finger halfway into a scolding position as he froze in thought.
Oh, he thought very softly. Maybe his hair was an indication of his state of mind. The hobbit looked around the room with new eyes, noticing the very long hair on every dwarf in the room, on every dwarf he’d ever seen in or outside of Erebor. The painstaking task of maintaining intricate braids and beads in their long hair and beards. The fact that Bilbo had never even heard of a dwarf shaving a beard or trimming hair before.
“Oh,” Bilbo said aloud. He felt a bit foolish now, but clearly the rest of the Company hadn’t quite caught onto the cultural difference yet. Bilbo cleared his throat awkwardly. “Er, you do realize, of course, that cutting my hair is very normal to me?”
The dwarves all looked newly broken by this news, and Bilbo huffed at his poor wording. “No, no! I- What I mean is, in the Shire, practically everyone keeps their hair short. I’ve kept my hair close-cut since I was a fauntling, when my mother cut my hair for me-”
There were multiple cries of outrage, and Bilbo had to give them a stern look before they began to speak ill of his mother. “And,” he continued pointedly, “she did a fine job of it. We hobbits don’t consider our hair to be particularly important. We cut it whenever we feel like it. We rarely braid it or decorate it, excepting some parties and such special events when one might want a flower or two… The point is, I’ve done myself no dishonor in my culture by getting my curls out of my face.”
Silence filled the room, before Ori tentatively spoke up, “So you’re not… shaming yourself? Hurting yourself on purpose?”
“No! Good heavens, does cutting hair cause dwarves pain?” Bilbo asked with sudden fear. What if their hair was like an odd limb? Did cut hair feel like a lost finger?
“Not physical pain, no,” Balin said slowly, and Bilbo felt his shoulders drop with relief.
“It is the highest dishonor,” Thorin said quietly, his eyes slowly regaining some of their light. “Shorn hair is…”
“...Bad!” Kíli suggested eagerly when Thorin’s pause grew too long.
Thorin shot his nephew an unimpressed look. “Yes, thank you,” he said flatly, as Kíli gave an unaffected shrug.
“To cut one’s own hair is seen as…” Balin paused for a moment, stroking his own beard in thought, before changing his approach slightly. “When some dwarves are troubled by dark thoughts, they feel a need to hurt themselves in some way, by cutting, bruising, or burning their skin. Cutting one’s hair is under the same category, and while no dwarf should be considered less for this kind of sickness, you must understand how the family would want the afflicted dwarf to seek help.”
“You thought I was hurting myself and suffering from depression,” Bilbo rephrased, and shook his head slightly, smiling. “I have my troubles, my friends, but hurting myself is not one of them. I’m sorry to have worried you so much, but I assure you, I’ve only been getting my hair out of my eyes.”
“We’re just glad t’ hear you’re not puttin’ yourself in danger!” Bofur said heartily, and that seemed to be a cue for the rest of the Company to resume their normal loudness. Bilbo received a lot of hugs and well-wishes, as well as orders to report to Óin for evaluation anyway, even if hobbits ‘supposedly don’t care one whit about their visible honor’. A few dwarves cited various duties they had abandoned to check on Bilbo, and now left with a lot of head-knocking and waving. Others wandered back into Bilbo and Thorin’s kitchen, where Bilbo kept famously delicious treats stocked in various cupboards. Finally, only Thorin remained in the room with Bilbo, and the hobbit quickly went to take his husband’s hand.
“As silly as this turned out to be, I’m glad you were worried about me, my love,” Bilbo said warmly.
Thorin’s eyes softened, and his lips twitched into a half-smile. “I’m always worried about you.”
Bilbo laughed a little, but continued more seriously, “I’m more worried about you. Why did you think you were at fault for me hurting myself? Well, not that I was, but from your perspective.”
Immediately, Thorin’s soft expression dropped back into a stony scowl. “It would have been my fault.”
The hobbit showed his skepticism with one raised eyebrow.
Correctly interpreting his husband’s expression, Thorin sighed through his nose and tried to be more verbose. “I hadn’t noticed you in pain or struggling with such things before. If-”
“Well, in your defense, I’m not,” Bilbo pointed out.
“Yes,” Thorin agreed slowly, “But I didn’t know that when I saw you- when I-” Thorin looked away, but his grip on Bilbo’s hand was tight. “If you were suffering and I hadn’t noticed, I thought it might be because you were hiding it from me. That you didn’t trust me, or worse, I had- I had fallen back into the gold sickness and not noticed it about myself-”
“Gracious greenery, no!” Bilbo interrupted, horrified, and turned to cup Thorin’s jaw with his free hand. “Thorin, if I had some grievance with you, or Valar forbid, you fell back into madness, then I would be helping you through it! Do you think I wouldn’t come to you if I was hurting? We are married, for Yavanna’s sake, we both had to wear those ridiculous robes and I nearly fainted when we went out to greet the people. I’m quite certain you were there for that, and that means I trust you and love you, you ridiculous dwarf.”
Thorin looked slightly ashamed. “I may have… come to the worst conclusions first.”
“Worst conclusions indeed,” Bilbo snorted. “How didn’t you already know that I trim my hair to keep it short?”
“I…” Thorin grimaced slightly, apparently embarrassed, before admitting, “I thought hobbits simply didn’t grow enough hair to wear it respectably long.” Thorin’s eyes slid over Bilbo’s whole form, and he added somewhat cheekily, “You certainly have very little elsewhere.”
Bilbo obligingly pretended to be offended, which was rewarded when his antics drew a full smile from Thorin. But before Bilbo could continue reassuring Thorin of his wellbeing, there was a yelp and then a crash from his kitchen.
“Oh dear,” Bilbo sighed, even as Fíli suspiciously shouted ‘Everything’s fine, Uncle Bilbo! No need to come in here or anything! ’
“Do you need assistance?” Thorin asked, a smile tugging once more at his lips.
“Maybe with the bodies,” Bilbo muttered as he marched toward the kitchen, enjoying the surprised burst of laughter filling the room behind him.
“Oh, and Thorin,” Bilbo added, pausing in the doorway to the kitchen, “If you think you’ve gotten away with destroying those perfectly lovely scissors, you are dead wrong.”
Thorin’s expression performed a complicated series of changes, landing somewhere around worried, and Bilbo snickered to himself as he went to go berate his dear nephews.