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In Unexpected Places

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Working the front desk at a bowling alley offered an excellent opportunity for observing people. If ever put under question, he would deny it, but in truth Bilbo had long since started making up stories about the patrons and how they connected to one another. It was a harmless little pastime that made the otherwise rather boring job a bit more bearable. And in some rare but brilliant occasions his little theories were even proven right.

Take for instance the Durins.

They had been coming in every few weeks for the past year or so he had been working there, and he'd heard they had been regulars long before that. It took him a while to decide whether their association was familial or professional, and finally settled on both. There were a rough dozen of them at any one time, from portly white-bearded gentlemen to two lanky teenagers who could be nothing but brothers, and enough resemblance shared among the rest as well to have Bilbo imagine a family business of some sort.

And then there were the two he didn't have to guess or suspect about.

'Thorin Durin' was the name that stood on their reservations, and the man himself... Bilbo Baggins might be long past his twenties, but he was not made of stone. Tall, dark and ridiculously handsome was only a start; the addition of piercing blue eyes and a deep velvety baritone had on more than one occasion made Bilbo feel grateful for the cover offered by his tall desk. Because while it was convenient in his current financial situation, being unattached had certain drawbacks.

Not the least being the fact that the embarrassingly attractive Thorin Durin was part of a matched set. His other half, Dwalin, last name never in evidence, was even taller and broader than Mr. Durin, precisely in the way that was guaranteed to make Bilbo's knees go a bit wobbly. Heavily tattooed, bearded, with a long tail of dark hair hanging down between his shoulderblades, he wore a near-perpetual scowl – except when he looked at Thorin.

There were times when Bilbo felt he shouldn't be watching. Those two shared both the affectionate sniping and the easy intimacy of a long-married couple, which made Bilbo feel vaguely guilty about his daydreaming, but he reasoned with himself that he lusted after them both in equal measure, and what stayed in the privacy of his own head would hurt none. Besides, his nights were often cold and lonely, and surely there was no harm in imagining himself a warm body or two for a bedmate, when the best he had in truth was an electric blanket.

So it went on as the months passed. The Durin crowd would come in, spend a loud, boisterous evening with a good deal of snacks and drink while Bilbo stole covert glances at Thorin and Dwalin with all the self-consciousness of a teenager before going home to his empty flat where books lay open and untouched wherever he had abandoned them and where he vacuumed his armchairs more often than sat down in them.

This state of matters could have continued indefinitely.

Yet it came to an end late one evening with Thorin Durin himself standing at the front desk, looking somewhat discomfited and asking when Bilbo would be off work.

‘Excuse me?’ Bilbo shot back, a good all-purpose retort if there ever was one. Because what he thought he had heard just couldn’t be right. He glanced across the lobby where Dwalin-no-known-last-name was standing with his beefy arms crossed in front of him, looking oddly expectant. Surely he could not have been that wrong about those two. ‘I’m sorry but–’

Thorin waved off his questions. ‘Never mind. Getting an answer was not specified in the wager.’ The corners of his eyes crinkled with a sudden rakish grin, and it was monstrously unfair of him to direct such an expression at Bilbo. ‘That should teach my nephew not to bet with me.’

Bilbo looked past him to see the blonde teenager waving at him across the lobby. ‘Oh,’ he said, feeling oddly disappointed. ‘I didn’t mind,’ his treacherous mouth let slip.

‘Is that so? Then it’s a good thing I’m not in the habit of asking things I don’t mean.’

Blue eyes regarded him with a dangerous intensity. Bilbo blinked. ‘Then you two are not together?’ he nodded slightly towards Dwalin.

'Does it bother you if we are? Only please say it now and not in the bedroom.'

Well, Thorin Durin did not dance around the point, now did he? ‘No,’ Bilbo said quickly, ‘if it doesn’t bother him, it doesn’t bother me.’

‘Why would it bother him?' Thorin asked, his face quickly taking on a more serious cast. ‘You think I would suggest what I just did without his say-so?’

‘I barely know either of you,’ Bilbo countered, ‘I don’t know what to think.’

‘Then you should know Dwalin has been ogling your pretty self since the first time he saw you. Only he's convinced that you're straighter than an I-beam and I'll only make a fool of myself.'

Bilbo snorted. 'That’s a fine one coming from someone who looks like he could bend steel with his bare hands–' he stopped to think for a second. ‘Actually, let’s prove him you’re not a fool.’ He waved a hand to catch Dwalin’s attention.

Dwalin's face was unreadable as he marched to the desk and took his place – as Bilbo always thought it – beside Thorin. 'Yes?' he said curtly.

'I don’t believe we’ve ever been introduced. Bilbo Baggins.’ Bilbo held out a hand.

‘Dwalin Fundinul, at your service.’ Dwalin’s firm handshake rather engulfed Bilbo’s own hand, making his insides do an utterly ridiculous backflip. Because that particular pair of big, strong hands had featured in more than one absent-minded ‘what-if’ in the past few months.

‘Pleased to meet you. Now, your better half here–' Bilbo nodded at Thorin– 'just made me a rather interesting offer.' He looked up, and up, to meet Dwalin’s eye.

‘I take it you didn’t refuse, then?’

‘I didn’t accept, either,’ Bilbo countered. ‘How about this: I’ll be off in an hour. You two buy me dinner and we can discuss it.’ He pulled a card from his wallet and scribbled his number on the back. ‘I have Thorin’s number on file, and I’ll call you from this one– ‘he slid the card over the counter– ‘when I’m done here.’

Thorin flipped the card over and quickly scanned the printed side. '"Editor-in-chief?" But what–'

'A long story,' Bilbo interrupted with a shake of his head. 'And one best told with a full stomach. So?'

'The dinner's on me,' said Thorin. 'You pick the restaurant.'

'You might live to regret it,' Bilbo smirked. 'I might have an expensive taste.'

'I think you have an excellent taste,' Dwalin chuckled. 'We’ll see you then.'

Bilbo watched them go, his whole body buzzing with a heady mix of relief and expectation. It was going to be a long hour, but such luck was worth some waiting.

Perhaps adventures did sometimes come to those who thought they were getting nowhere.