It wasn't that Bilbo didn't mind walking the halls of Erebor. Quite the opposite: he thought they were lovely. The stone pillars that stretched until he had to lean back to follow them, the gems that glistened from firelight, the vast caverns that impressed by sheer size alone. No, he adored walking the halls of Erebor and admiring the splendor.
He didn't even mind interacting with the other dwarves that were quickly filling the mountain. He was always met with courteousness and bright smiles for him, the “Hero of Erebor” which, quite frankly, was the most nonsensical term ever. As if he was the only one who'd help take Erebor back. Honestly. But Bofur had gotten the name going, and Nori, of all people, had encouraged it. Even Balin used the term. It was ridiculous.
So it was for none of these reasons that Bilbo didn't like wandering the halls. He enjoyed it. No, it was more what he heard when he walked that left him eager to be anywhere else.
Like words about the wedding.
Any other time, and it would have been a happy occasion. When he'd been asked at first, back in Laketown, the only reason he'd hesitated in responding had been because he'd been so stunned. And of course his dwarf had taken that in all the wrong ways, and so Bilbo had quickly informed him that yes, Thorin, he would marry him, and they were doing it all backwards, exchanging beads and rings and what-not was required by both races and not a single courtship before, and then Thorin had kissed him and things had sort of ended there.
Then the...Arkenstone. Thorin trying to rip his bead from his hair and just missing by an inch. Bilbo had nearly wrenched it from his hair himself, later, alone in a tent before the battle. Gandalf had stayed his hand, and it had been a wise choice, in the end. Thorin had begged his forgiveness and Bilbo had only told him it would be granted if Thorin got better. Which, of course, he did, with minimal long-term damage. The scars across his chest, the way his knee clicked from time to time. None of which Bilbo cared about at all. Forgiveness from both of them had set the wedding on again, which had been a great and cheerful thing. Perfect, everything was perfect.
Except for what he heard in the hallways. And the truth surrounding them.
“No one should marry if it's not in love.”
“It was all backwards, which, of course, with circumstances being what they were, was fine then, but why do it so rushed now unless they're worried about changed minds?”
“A pity marriage, that's what it is. He's marrying out of pity and guilt.”
It was never said in anger. Just conversational gossip, maybe with a tinge of concern or sympathy for their King or their “Hero”. And it was horrible, and Bilbo hated hearing it, and with only a week out from the wedding, it was circulating more.
It was horrible because, of course, it was true.
Whatever they'd had before they'd reached Erebor had been too fragile and too new to last past the pain and hurt and betrayal that was the gold lust and the Arkenstone debacle. Thorin had insisted that Bilbo hadn't needed to be forgiven, but the air between them was awkward and forced. They rarely saw each other – Thorin too busy with helping put Erebor back to rights, Bilbo lending a hand anywhere he could – and when they did, Thorin was tense and unhappy because of the damage that Smaug had done.
But what was worse was that they'd been friends before lovers and intendeds, and now their easy companionship was gone. Bilbo kept second-guessing what he'd say and Thorin would stay silent. If this was how their 'forever' was going to be, Bilbo wasn't quite certain he wanted it now. And he could only imagine how Thorin felt.
It was these types of thoughts that held his attention as he wandered down the halls. There were preparations to do, a few documents to look over, kitchens to aid, and dwarves to greet. A few would be arriving this week, and hopefully, Dis, Thorin's sister, with them. Fili and Kili were beside themselves, and Bilbo had to admit he was looking forward to meeting her. The one bright point lately in his tense-filled life.
That was when he heard it. A conversation between two dwarves as they came down the side hallway together. Bilbo paused, the words floating over him.
“...women that would be suitable? I know that the King has named his sister-sons as his heirs, but still, any children are welcome.”
“Do you hold a grievance with Bilbo Baggins?”
The response was short and aggravated. “Of course I don't! We wouldn't even have the mountain, were it not for him! I'm simply saying that, given the situation, it seems cruel to keep on with this farce.”
Bilbo slid behind a column, reaching for his ring. If it came down to it, he'd put it on, but he hoped they'd turn and go the other way.
“Farce,” the second voice said. “What do you mean?”
“Well, you have to see it, too. How the King no longer holds affections for Bilbo.”
It shouldn't have felt like being stabbed, but it did. An icy sharp pain between his ribs left him without breath for a moment. It only left him all the more able to hear the response.
“Aye, that's true enough. The King's been more and more sour the closer to the wedding it comes. I'd thought he had his eye on a maiden in the Blue Mountains, before Erebor.”
“I hadn't heard that. Minds change, of course, but no one deserves a loveless marriage. It's clear that the King would be marrying Master Baggins because he feels duty bound.”
“Or wishes to have what transpired between them truly forgiven.”
“Aye, or that.”
They turned away and walked the other way. Bilbo didn't move from his hiding place, his ring long forgotten. He found that he was staring at nothing, and quickly shook himself to continue on. He had things to do, like cooking and cleaning-
For a wedding that Thorin didn't even want. Whether because he truly couldn't forgive Bilbo, or because he had someone else he loved but was duty-bound to his promise, it didn't matter. Bilbo knew it was true. Had known it for some time. The tension between them, the painful start-stopped conversations, the lack of anything close to warmth. It was nothing like what they'd had. Nothing like the gentle touches, the easy conversation, the smiles they'd shared. It was all gone.
And all through the day, the thoughts sat with him until, at last, he begged off and returned to their rooms, unable to focus on anything else. He found a small corner of the room, tucked himself down into it, and folded his legs up to his chest. His mind tumbled and spun, his heart getting sicker and sicker with every horrible thought. And, in the end, he knew what he'd do.
He just hated that he'd do it. Or that he had to, that he had lost so much of Thorin's...love, that it had come to this.
The door opened, and Bilbo blearily blinked up, surprised to find Thorin entering. A great deal of time had passed, then. His intended looked haggard and angry but he at least didn't slam the door behind him. “Damned elves,” he muttered. He shucked his royal robe and threw it to the side. A groan accompanied his next clothing removal – the heavy crown that was tossed aside with as little care as the robe – and he moved to his boots. Not once did he call for Bilbo.
Bilbo watched him, fond affection only making his heartache that much worse. His stomach twisted as he slowly got to his feet. The bead brushing against his ear felt heavier than it usually did, and the ring on his finger no longer felt like a secure promise, but rather, a painful pressure on his skin. He blinked the burn in his eyes away as he came up to his still grumbling dwarf. His intended, if just for a few minutes more.
Thorin glanced up from untangling his boots when Bilbo got closer. “Bilbo,” he said gruffly. “I thought you would still be down helping with arrangements.”
Bilbo swallowed hard. He was fidgeting with the ring on his finger, and he tried to find the courage that had let him face down a dragon, had urged him into battle to find Thorin, to keep Thorin safe. His heart still felt lodged in his throat, keeping his voice silent.
Thorin got his last boot off, and it never failed to make him look more vulnerable, more gentle, somehow, standing in his stockings without his heavy and fearsome boots. In the light, he looked softer. A heart of mithril, his Thorin. His beautiful, strong, wonderful Thorin, who wasn't really his. He wondered if he ever had been Bilbo's at all.
When he finally met Thorin's gaze, the dwarf was frowning at him. A look Bilbo was familiar with, and it only brought back the force of the words he'd heard in the hallways. A loveless marriage. No affections. His eyes threatened to burn again, and he cleared his throat instead. “I...” And there went his voice again.
“Are you well?” Thorin asked, and perhaps that was concern in his eyes, genuine concern. It was just enough to give Bilbo the words he needed.
“I won't make you do this. I won't...I won't do that to you.”
Thorin's frown deepened. “Make me do what?”
The words felt like shards ripping through him, leaving him bleeding inside as he spoke them. “Marry me. I, I won't do that to you.”
Thorin went so still Bilbo would have thought him a statue. He looked as if being near Bilbo was the very last thing he wanted to be, and Bilbo felt his heart break just a little bit more.
He forced himself to stand as tall as he could, and he jutted his chin out to keep it level. “No one should be trapped in a loveless marriage, Thorin. You, you deserve to be with someone that you...you love,” he said softly, and, because he couldn't look at Thorin, not anymore, he turned to the ring on his finger. Off, it had to come off, and he stubbornly began pulling it off. “And it's not me that you love. I know it, you know it, the whole mountain knows it. I won't be the one that keeps you from finding someone else, someone who hasn't betrayed-” No, he couldn't even finish that. He refused. He felt as if he'd die if he had to say it.
The ring came off, and he held it out to Thorin, his free hand going straight to the bead. His fingers trembled as they touched the tie, and he kept missing his grip on it. The dwarves could knot their hair and undo it, but Bilbo's curls hadn't allowed for it. Thorin had taken a strip of his coat to use as a tie, and he'd given it to Bilbo with that grin that he lived for-
“Here, take it, I need both hands,” Bilbo said, trying desperately to undo the tie with only one hand. He offered the ring forward again, then glanced up when Thorin still had not taken it. “Thorin, I need both-”
And then he stopped.
Because Thorin looked as if he'd been gutted, staring at Bilbo in the sort of horror one reserved for watching a loved one die. Bilbo swallowed. “Thorin?” he asked hesitantly.
Slowly Thorin reached out and took the ring, and Bilbo tore his gaze away, his other hand going to the tie. The bead that would go to someone loved, someone that wasn't Bilbo.
His left hand was suddenly pulled away, and Bilbo stumbled a little into Thorin at the unexpected tug. In a slow and careful move the ring was slid back on, and the cool metal no longer burned. It felt like it had when Thorin had shakily placed it on his hand a few months ago.
Bilbo blinked. “Thorin?” and he hated that it came out as a question, but after days, weeks, of not knowing what to say, of knowing that it would all come down to this, it was impossible to understand what was happening.
Thorin kept his eyes to Bilbo's hand in his, both of his hands wrapped around Bilbo's smaller one. “There is no one else whom I would want to give this to,” he said, so quietly that Bilbo almost couldn't hear him. “Be it ring or bead, I would give it to no one else. It goes only to the one I love.”
It was everything he wanted to hear and everything he couldn't believe. “Don't do this,” Bilbo said. “You don't have to continue with marrying me out of, out of pity-”
“I would never marry for 'pity' or 'duty' or even 'obligation',” Thorin said, almost angrily. “If anyone has a worry about their intended marrying for that reason, it would be me worrying for you, as the gossip around the mountain has successfully also concluded.”
Bilbo stared. “Thorin, they're speaking of you marrying me, not-”
“Then they speak of it in both manners, for I have heard how you remain only because I begged you to, and your pity will not let you leave.”
It made sense, in a way, that the words Bilbo had been hearing in the hallways for so long had not just been about Thorin's potential lack of love, but rather, the other way around. He had always applied them to himself, because he had known his depth of love for Thorin, and he had never questioned it. But perhaps...
Perhaps Thorin had felt his own depth of emotion and thought they were speaking of Bilbo being the one to remain in a loveless marriage.
“There's no one else?” Bilbo couldn't help but ask. “That you would marry?”
Thorin looked stunned. “There never has been,” he finally said. His hands went from Bilbo's hands to gently framing the hobbit's face. “I have no right to ask you to stay with me. I have been selfish, and the fact that the rumors have gone this far, have reached you in such a manner that you thought to give me the ring and bead...” He looked ill.
Bilbo finally dared to reach out, his hand desperate to have some part of Thorin to hang on to, to touch after what felt like months without it. Thorin let out a breath that reflected the relief on his face. It only continued putting the shattered pieces of Bilbo's heart back together.
“You are loved,” Thorin said, and his eyes shimmered with unshed tears. “Bilbo, you, you are so loved. And by no one more than me.”
“We don't talk anymore,” Bilbo said, and he couldn't believe he was arguing when he had everything he could have wanted right in front of him. “We haven't had a full conversation in weeks! How are we-”
“I have feared speaking because I worried that I would make a mistake, that I would hurt you even more than I already have.” Thorin gave a snort of disgust. “My words have not been worth speaking.”
It was almost enough to make Bilbo laugh or cry, and he wasn't quite certain he wouldn't do a little bit of both. “I didn't say anything because I...I didn't know how. I was afraid that I would make a mess of everything.”
Thorin stared at him, then a surprised laugh escaped him. After that, he couldn't seem to stop chuckling, and Bilbo found his own laughs filling the air. It was ridiculous, so stupid, and absolutely more than Bilbo had hoped to have. He would take ridiculous and stupid over heartbreak.
“We are a pair,” Thorin finally said when the last of his mirth had died away. “Well matched, I suppose.”
“I like it that way,” Bilbo said softly. Thorin gazed at him, fondness and affection so obvious it was almost painful to look at. His thumbs gently caressed Bilbo's cheeks, an absent-minded gesture that left Bilbo warm inside. As if he were a treasure that Thorin could not help but touch.
“I love you,” Thorin whispered. “And so help me, I will spend the rest of my life proving it to you and to everyone, if you will let me.”
There were a million witty things that Bilbo could have said, he supposed, but all that came out was, “Please?” and then it didn't matter, because Thorin was kissing him for the first time in far too long, and the final pieces of Bilbo's heart put themselves to rights.
For the rest of the week, it seemed that a strange set of coincidences had Bilbo and Thorin running into each other in the hallways. It always ended with a quick kiss and a smile, with more than one dwarf all but waxing poetic over them. It left Bilbo feeling as if his face would start hurting, his lips always turned up into the broadest of grins. They quickly became one of the best parts of his days, the “coincidental meetings” they shared, and never once did Thorin forget or leave him disappointed. There was such love in Thorin's eyes that Bilbo wondered how he'd missed it before. Perhaps because he'd been afraid to even look before, in fear that he'd see something else.
The wedding went off beautifully, of course. Ale flowed and praises were sung and great cheers arose through the mountain. Bilbo sat next to Thorin, his thigh pressed against his husband's, Thorin's hand wrapped around his.
Their day off together, their single day of newly wedded bliss, was well spent in each other's company. Given the nature of their friends – and frankly, what they'd figured Fili and Kili would lead – they'd pulled a prank of their own. Bilbo found himself bouncing up and down on the bed, fully clothed, and making the most indecent of moans that Thorin fought not to laugh at. When Thorin wrenched their door open, revealing Fili, Kili, and the majority of the Company all but leaning against the door, the sudden shrieks and flailing were well worth it. Only after the others had left, faces red and a few laughing, did they actually decide to disrobe. There were very little moans, in truth, only soft whispers and promises and terms of endearment shared between their lips.
Dis was everything that Bilbo had hoped she would be, and he knew he'd found a fast friend in her. She seemed to be of the same opinion, and Fili and Kili lamented the day they'd met.
There were still words spoken in the hallway about him and Thorin. It seemed gossip was as much a part of a dwarf's life as it was a hobbit's. But these days, they all seemed to say the same thing.
Bilbo paused, voices up ahead quiet and obviously engaged in a private conversation. Yet his ears still heard the words.
“Disgusting, is what it is. The way they make eyes at each other all the time! Honestly.” A heavy sigh, followed by a wistful tone. “I wish I had someone the way King Thorin has his husband.”
“You and me both. They're just so in love, it's nearly enough to make a grown dwarf ill at how sickeningly sweet it is.”
“That's what I was just saying!”
“They're so lucky to have each other.”
“They truly are. To only be so lucky myself.”
Their voices drifted beyond hearing, but Bilbo stayed where he was. A slow smile curled his lips up, and then he continued on his way, back to his original destination.
Thorin was already there, eyes on his paperwork. Bilbo climbed up onto the desk, startling his husband, then took Thorin's lips with his before the dwarf could so much as protest. Not that Thorin was protesting much, if at all. A ringed hand cupped his jaw while the other ran through his hair and brushed past Bilbo's bead.
Thorin slowly blinked into awareness when Bilbo let him go. “Not that I'm complaining, but what in Mahal's name was that for?”
“Because I love you,” Bilbo said, and Thorin smiled that insanely beautiful smile of his, as if he had so much love for Bilbo that he didn't know how to handle it.
It wound up leading to another kiss, with a whisper between them. “And I you, my one and my only.”