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Splitting Hairs

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Bilbo looked at the fruit of his labor happily. The pies were cooling nicely and smelled even better than they looked. The feast tonight in honor of Lady Dis’ birthday was going to be spectacular.

Everyone was doing their part, crafting, cooking, preparing instruments, or decorating.

Bilbo’s Shire Pies had been the hit of every other feast, so he had been sure to prepare twice his normal thirty. Sixty pies, in rhubarb, apple, mixed berry, pumpkin, and even a few meat ones, would be carried out at the end of the meal, to be spread out among the gathered dwarves.

Nodding happily to himself, he slapped his hands together to shake off the remains of flour and cinnamon sugar, before he untied his apron and returned it to its proper hook by the door. He snagged an apple on his way out and munched on the treat as he made his way to his quarters in the royal wing.

All the company lived there, except Bombur, who lived near the kitchen, and Gloin, who lived with his family closer to the treasury.

A few passing dwarves nodded to the hobbit under the mountain, but two adjusted their steps to join him on his way. One Zurn, a council member constantly at odds with Thorin, and his brother Zarn, who probably saw this as a chance to persuade the hobbit to their way of view, in hopes that he might influence the king.

It had been tried before.

“Good afternoon, my lords, how can I help you today?” Bilbo’s tone was chipper and polite, perfectly respectable, even as he crunched on the core of his apple.

As he had expected, Zarn began entreating him, “Master Baggins, you know as well as we that the mountain has prospered in the year since her people have returned to her, but surely you can also see how too many have come seeking a part in her wealth?”

Zurn chimed in, “Every day more and more come to the mountain, and none are turned away.”

“Now, that’s not-“ Bilbo began,

Zurn interrupted, “Aside from any exiled or criminal dwarves, of course. But even not counting them , the numbers have grown exponentially.”

“Too many dwarves knock at the gates of Erebor, Master Baggins.” Zarn nodded for emphasis. “Too many.”

Bilbo sighed, “My lords, perhaps you had best bring your concerns up on another day. Today will be the celebration of Lady Dis’ nameday, as you know, and we must all ready ourselves for the festivities.”

The two lordly dwarves nodded solemnly. “Of course, Master Baggins, we were on our way to our own preparations as it was.”

“I must say, your hair has grown long, this past year,” Zurn commented.

“I believe His Majesty might believe that it would look more proper up off your shoulders, I would think,” Zarn added, in an odd tone of voice.

“Ah, yes,” Bilbo replied, running an awkward hand through the shoulder length waves. “It has, hasn’t it. Thank you, my lords.”

And so, the two lords left Bilbo to his own thoughts. He entered his room and washed the last of the flour from himself before facing his hair in the mirror. “You have quite let yourself go, haven’t you, Mad Baggins?” He chuckled to himself and fetched the pair of sewing scissors from his parlor.

It was the work of nearly an hour, but at last, his hair was restored to it’s pre-adventure respectability. And he swept up the mess, adding his hair to the fire, where it burned and left an acrid smell behind.

“This is why I usually toss you in the garden,” he muttered to the singeing locks. “That and it keeps the wildlife away from my tomatoes.’

And with no further thought, he selected his party clothes and dressed for the evening.

***

Fili and Kili had arranged to meet Bilbo before the party and enter together. So, Bilbo approached their rooms, and knocked upon the door. “Boys,” he called out.

“Come in, Bilbo!” Came a shout from Kili.

Bilbo let himself in and turn to close the door behind him, and so missed the reaction of the two princes.

“Bilbo?” Kili asked, sounding very young indeed.

An enraged Fili swiftly added, "Who hurt you, Bilbo?"

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Bilbo cocked his head to the side a little and stared at the two heirs to the throne of Erebor, "Hurt me? Whatever do you mean, Fili?"

It was Kili who responded with, "But your hair?"

"Oh!" Bilbo relaxed with understanding. "You silly boys, I cut my hair because-" he ignored and kept talking over the two looks of stunned horror he received, really they were so young and avoided most grooming tasks with stunning alacrity- "well, I suppose I thought Thorin might prefer it."

Kili dropped the crown he was holding and sat down hard on the floor. "What."

Fili stared at Bilbo for a few more minutes before running from the room.

"Fili?" Bilbo called out after him. "Kili," he began, turning back to the brunet on the floor, "what is all this fuss? I've cut my hair before, you know?" Kili blinked up at Bilbo, looking very much like he might start crying, "And we all must look befitting our station for your mother's party tonight. I won't have any say I'm shaming Thorin with my hair grown long, now will I?"

Kili leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Bilbo. "Who said you shame uncle? You don't, they were wrong! You shouldn't ever cut your hair! Why did you cut it? How long have you been cutting your hair, Bilbo?"

The words spilled out in a torrent, and Bilbo rather thought it was to prevent an actual outpouring of tears that kept the words coming.

"Uncle will be-"

Fili slammed the door open on his return, dragging Thorin in behind him.

"No," breathed out a stunned Thorin. "Bilbo?"

"Thorin," Bilbo smiled in greeting. He started to speak, but was cut off by Kili.

"Someone told him he would shame you with long hair, uncle! And he's cut his hair before, loads of times! What do we do, uncle?"

Kili looked particularly lost, so Bilbo tightened his own arms around the boy, who really was only barely of age, and patted his back in a 'there, there' motion.

Fili choked on whatever he meant to say and fell to his knees, burying his face in his hands.

"What is all this fuss?" Bilbo demanded, spurring a stunned Thorin into action.

"Is this true?" he demanded. "Have you cut you hair before?"

Bilbo pursed his lips at the obfuscation but his three dwarves looked so thoroughly wrecked he answered, "Well, yes. I've been trimming my hair since I was twenty-five or so?"

"So long?" Fili asked in a hollow voice.

"Well, to be honest," Bilbo continued, "I typically cut it three times a year," he ignored the tightening of Kili's grip, "but during the quest and these past several months of restoration, well, I completely forgot. I guess I was just so busy and spending time with all of you that I didn't think about trimming my hair." He smiled fondly down at Kili and looked over at Fili, who was now looking up at him, before looking to Thorin. "Ive never had so many wonderful friends before. It took someone reminding me that it had grown out for me to remember to cut it." Bilbo finished with a smile, hoping the dwarves would return to normal and they could head on down to the party.

Kili started sobbing into Bilbo's shirt. "We love you, Bilbo! You don't shame us! Why did you..." The rest was lost to gasping breaths and heavy sobs.

Fili looked so fragile on his knees, as if something very tiny would crumble him if it touched him.

And Thorin.

Thorin looked angrier than he had been on the battlements.

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"Who convinced you that you needed to take a blade to yourself?" Thorin's tone was steel, his words perfectly forged iron pressed into old forms.

Bilbo blinked at him, dazed by the magnitude of King Thorin preparing for a declaration, or war, or... something dwarven. Bilbo had only seen this King Thorin in charges against pale orcs and burning drakes. And in throes of Gold Madness.

He too a step back from this Thorin, pressing Kili more firmly to him. "No one."

Thorin's look conveyed how little he believed that and how the lie only served to fuel his anger, not dispel it.

"No one told me I should cut my hair. I really see no reason for all this... fuss, or these tears." He looked away from the King and stared at the youngest member of the company. He pulled his pocket handkerchief from his pocket and wiped at Kili's face before looking over to Fili.

Bilbo huffed. This was all quite enough. "That's it. We are going to be late for Dis' celebration and I for one will not have it." He stamped his foot against the rug-strewn stone and reached a hand out for Fili. "Let's get the two of you presentable once again. And then," Bilbo trailed off.

"Bilbo, the celebration can wait. This is a matter of desperate urgency. Fili, fetch Oin, as subtly as is possible." Thorin turned back to Bilbo and his younger nephew. "Bilbo, you must tell me who suggested this, or why you have done, now and before the quest."

Bilbo sighed. "If its that big of a kerfuffle, why did no one tell me you dwarves Ould care if I trimmed the ends or shaved myself bald?"

Kili stopped crying and reeled back from Bilbo in horror. "What? Shave?"

"There is nothing you could have ever done to warrant such a decision, Bilbo," Thorin entreated.

"It was just a little thing, someone saying how you'd prefer my hair shorter, and-"

"No. Never, Bilbo. I..." Thorin seemed to fold in on himself a little. Bilbo thought Thorin looked as if his heart might be breaking.

"Thorin?" he stepped away from Kili to touch his hand to Thorin's arm. "Thorin, it's alright. I don't understand why you're upset."

"You are a shining citizen of Erebor, shameless in all ways, Bilbo," Thorin spoke slowly but sincerely, "To learn that my own people think so ill of you, and that they would use our... our friendship as a means to try and bring shame upon you..."

"Shame?"

***

Thorin's heart was a stone lodged in the depth of his boots, tripping this feet, and flooding him with fear. Someone in his mountain had made his Bilbo feel shamed, in Thorin's own name. How could he possibly remedy this?

He had planned to offer his first overture of courtship at the feast in his sister's honor, in part because it would silence her constant pestering to wed the hobbit, but it would be impossible now. And even more troubling, was the thought of how much injury his One had visited upon himself for the past twenty-five years.

"Bilbo," he asked hesitantly, "you spoke of cutting your hair before. For years and... You know we think of you as the best member of our company, aye? And we all love you, you are a dwarf-friend, and seen as kin to most of the company."

Bilbo smiled at him, still seeming confused, had no one ever cared at his cutting before? "Thorin, of course I count you all as my very dear friends. I don't see what that has to do with my hair."

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"Of course we care, Bilbo." Thorin couldn't find any other words.

Bilbo had cut several finger-lengths of hair from his head, had spoken calmly of shaving it, and had disclosed his history--half a lifetime--of cutting his hair.

The only solid point in that whole, world-shattering speech was that the presence of the company had been a staying factor, had mitigated his disturbing need to trim his hair for a considerable length of time. Comparatively.

Thorin's fingers were shaking. Bilbo had been harming himself for two and a half decades.

And he had missed every sign. It was a moot point that Bilbo hadn't trimmed his hair on the quest. He had seen how his hobbit had flourished in their company and in belonging.

Had Bilbo been so lonely before the company that their rowdy companionship had been soothing? Were not hobbits kind to their own? “Bilbo, your hair… Did the other hobbits…” This was very difficult to say. “Did they insist upon the length?”

Bilbo chuckled and dragged a shell-shocked Kill over to his brother, where the two clung to their hobbit like limpets. “I should say so! Why one day Bell Gamgee commented that if I didn’t tidy myself soon enough, she’d fetch her own shears to do the job for me!” Bilbo laughed quietly.

Fili cursed the hobbit woman’s name and her entire race in accented Khuzdul. As well he should, that any should ever seek to harm Bilbo. Or his reputation.

“I’ve always been a bit of a wild soul, I get it from my mother and the Took side of my family tree. But Bagginses… We need to have a certain level of respectability and if we don’t hold to those appearances… It didn’t take much for the hobbits to view my father differently, once he wed my mother. And then when I came along, a season too soon. Well. Before I began to cut my hair at twenty five, it was my father who sheared the pair of us, insisting that at least in this we would honor traditions.”

“Your adad?” Fili asked, seeming more thoughtful and less hurt. “He cut your hair when…”

“Well, not until I was seven, Hobbits believe a child younger than that should be left to roam and root where he may, like a dandelion, to show his nature best, before any trimming or replanting. Best to know just what sort of bloom your seed is before you put him in the wrong bed.”

The dwarves got tangled in the gardening metaphor for a time before Thorin returned to his initial question, “Who was it that urged you to trim your hair?”

“Why does it matter?”

“Because your honor is mine, Bilbo, to defend and uphold. You saved my life from from Azog, twice, riddled with Smaug and sent him to his destruction, and forgave me my sins against you. Surely, you know I hold you in the highest of esteems and you are very dear to -“

“It was just a little thing, really,” Bilbo interrupted, appearing flustered. “A comment on his you’d prefer my hair off my shoulders.”

Thorin flushed a ruby pink from his forehead to his mustache, and below his beard besides, not that anyone could tell through the thick, dark hair.

“I…”

“I thought they were speaking of how I had become… More dwarf-like, with long hair, and that if returned to my hobbit respectability, it would… reflect better on you.”

Thorin blinked dumbly at the hobbit.

“Bilbo?” Fili asked. “Do you mean to say that, you thought cutting your hair was the best way to get your hair off your shoulders?” The golden-haired prince looks bewildered.

“Well, obviously. What other way is there?”

“Braids!” Kili shouted.

“Braids?” Bilbo parroted, nose crunching in confusion.

“Uncle could put his braids in your hair… The council’s been hinting at it for months…” Fili chimed in. “They probably meant for you to….”

“Oh,” Bilbo responded, having only just realized he had missed something bigger than he’d thought. Perhaps the deafen melodrama hadn’t been a case of too much for for too little strain after all. “Sweet cinnamon.”

“I had intended… Tonight…” Thorin began.

“What do braids mean, for dwarves?” Bilbo interrupted.

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“What do they mean?” Thorin repeated slowly.

“Yes. To dwarves?”

“Everything,” murmured Fili.

“Status. Honor,” added Thorin.

“Courtship status or interest, and craft mastery or apprenticeship,” Kili said.

“Rank, wealth, position,” rattled off Fili, almost mechanically.

“Respectability?” Bilbo queried.

“And more.” Thorin’s words were final, his voice dull, the words seeming to fall from his tongue without his consent.

“Oh.” Bilbo blinked down at the dark-haired prince hugging him tightly. The pieces were stating to come together. “And… And what does hair mean to dwarves?”

“The same. And more.” Fili moved to stand beside his uncle, who seemed to be going slightly pale as his Durin blue eyes focused on the hobbit.

“It is the sacred part of us. It… is connection to our people, to our maker… to loose it, is akin to injury. But worse.”

“To cut your own hair…”Thorin’s voice was ragged now. “I believe it would be similar to a hobbit slicing off the tips of their ears.”

“No!” Bilbo gripped Kili to him tightly in shock as horror washed over him. “I didn’t! I would never… I…” Tears welled up and he gave in to the wave of emotions he couldn’t stomach.

“Bilbo,” Kili cried, hugging the hobbit tighter as he wept.

“I never meant that. To hobbits…” Bilbo sniveled, “hair isn’t… it isn’t like that. Trimming your hair is like, changing your wardrobe. You… I didn’t… Oh, Thorin, I am so sorry.”

Thorin moved at this apology, bracing a hand on either side of Bilbo’s face, fingers careful to not catch the ends of the honey curls that framed it.

“I know.” Thorin brought his forehead to rest on Bilbo’s and silence slowly descended on the group, as Bilbo’s tears finally subsided.

“But how will you braid his hair now?” Kili asked dejectedly. “There’s hardly enough left!”

“You’re never cutting your hair again, Bilbo!” Fili dded vehemently. Bilbo opened his mouth to rebuke the command, then recalled his own horror at the thought of anyone slicing their ears and decided to conceded to this one dwarven eccentrism.

Thorin’s fingers were ghosting over Bilbo’s fringe now, a delicate touch. “You wanted to braid my hair?” Bilbo asked.

Thorin nodded.

“What would that mean?”

“That you had accepted my offer of courtship.”

“Your offer of… But! You… You’ve never made me an offer of courtship.”

~~~*~~~*~~~

It took two hours to smooth the whole debacle out—mithril shirts and other deeds aside—and to explain dwarves courtship to Bilbo. The conversation had a small detour into the concept of Ones. Apparently hobbits didn’t have them, which made everyone sad until Bilbo declared, “That just means I get to choose, you know.”

The hope on Thorin’s face was enough to hurry the rest of the explanation along.

Eventually, the four arrived, very late, to Dis’ birthday, a short crown of braids circling Bilbo’s head, and a braid done in a very unusual style, on either side and down the back of Thorin’s head.

There was much celebration as the couple announced their new courtship to the people, and Dis allowed the tardiness to slide once she had the full tale from her sons.