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A Promise to Keep

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Thorin didn’t know if all hobbits were so inquisitive, or if Bilbo Baggins was the annoying exception. The hobbit seemed fascinated by dwarven customs, and Thorin couldn’t fathom why. It was one thing to be well-versed in the weaknesses of your enemies, but he inquired about the most insignificant and innocuous details, from how they prepared their meals to their different styles of braids.

During dinner, their burglar - if he could even be called that - asked Bofur about the significance of beard length. Bofur offered a paltry explanation on how beards were a source of great pride for dwarves and that removing beards was a sign of shame. Their conversation should have ended there, but, naturally, Bilbo had to ask every question under the sun, from where the practice originated, to the particular events that led to one’s beard being shorn, and the maximum length beards could grow to.

Soon the rest of their company was eagerly chiming in to add lesser known facts and share anecdotes.

To his credit, Bilbo look thoroughly engrossed in the conversation, even pulling out paper and a quill to jot down the more salient facts.

“And the beads you wear, do they have any significance?”

“Aye, that they do,” Balin confirmed. “When a dwarf turns forty, they wear beads engraved with their family sigil. Notable achievements and heroic deeds in battle are also worthy of new beads.”

Thorin watched Bilbo draw his lower lip between his teeth, worrying it in thought. His lips were rosy and pink, and chapped from the dry weather. Despite their rough texture, they also looked remarkably soft.

A jolt of panic lanced through him when he realized that Bilbo’s gaze was no longer on Balin’s face, but meeting his own. He’d been caught in the act of staring, and he didn’t have the faintest explanation for his actions.

Bilbo raised an eyebrow in silent question.

“Why are you so curious about dwarven customs?” Thorin demanded, his voice carrying much farther than he intended. He paused to regain control of his voice, lowering his volume while infusing his tenor with as much righteous suspicion as he could muster. “Are you planning on writing a book?”

Bilbo regarded him coolly. “I might be, yes.”

He paused, the reply catching him off guard. “Did you not consider some of us may not want to be featured in your book?”

“You needn’t worry, Thorin,” Bilbo said in that same aloof voice. “It won’t have mention of you.”

He felt heat creep up the back of his neck. “Good. See to it that it does not.” He lowered his gaze back to his bowl of gruel.

Conversation slowly resumed, and after a few minutes, the tense atmosphere dissipated.

“What about your beads, Glóin?” Bilbo asked. He sounded much more subdued than he had before Thorin’s impromptu outburst. “How come not all of them are silver?”

Glóin stroked a hand over his fiery red beard. “Most o’ these were earned in battle. But this,” he fingered a thin plait adorned with a bead hewn from some type of gemstone, “Is my courting bead.”

“A courting bead?” Bilbo echoed, sounding unsure of himself, as if testing out the phrase for the first time.

“Aye. Crafted and gifted to me by my wife.”

“I didn’t realize you were married.”

“I am,” he puffed out his chest proudly. “My wife has a particularly fine beard, too.”

“So you give your spouse a bead when you get married?” Bilbo clarified.

“The beads are given prior to that, as part of the courtship.”

“And they have to be custom made, or the marriage won’t be honourable,” Dwalin supplemented. Thorin was surprised that even Dwalin was engaged in the conversation. “Courting beads are the only type that don’t use silver as a standard base. They’re meant to stand out.”

“What about hobbits?” Kíli asked curiously. “Do you not give courting gifts?”

Bilbo reclined against a lichen-covered log. “Well, we don’t exactly call it that. We often make flower crowns for our betrothed using flowers from our own gardens, and it’s customary to prepare meals for your beloved. When my parents got engaged my mum wrote my da a love letter. I’ve always thought it would be rather nice to receive one.”

“And is there a hobbit lad or lass waiting for you back home?” Balin inquired.

Thorin’s heart sped up as he awaited Bilbo’s answer. The hobbit took his time answering, and his round cheeks acquired a tinge of pink. “No, no. No one like that for me, I’m afraid.”

Thorin couldn’t pinpoint why hearing that caused some of the tension to drain from his shoulders. He supposed it was a good thing that Bilbo wasn’t entangled in romance or courtship. If the journey cost him his life, hopefully no one in the Shire would be too devastated. It was the absolution of guilt, he decided, that made him relieved to learn Bilbo was unwed and unattached. And absolutely nothing more.

The conversation about courting customs lingered in Thorin’s mind for days, even though no other members of the company dwelt on it. Bilbo didn’t speak up about it again either, and yet Thorin couldn’t keep his thoughts from returning to it. He grudgingly admitted he was slightly interested in hobbit marriage traditions, if only because they seemed to vastly differ from dwarven ones.

Creating flower crowns for one’s betrothed, for example, struck him as an odd practice. Flowers all inevitably wilted and died, and using them as a symbol for a marriage seemed ill-considered. Courting beads by comparison were a much more sensible choice. Rocks and crystals were strong and durable, and carried a much more positive implication. Though he supposed gathering flowers from one’s garden in order to gift them to their beloved was admittedly rather sweet. Especially given how much hobbits seemed to take pride in their gardens.

He wondered what sort of flowers Bilbo would wish to receive in a flower crown. He knew that different flowers symbolized different things, but he’d never bothered to learn what their meanings were. Flower symbolism was the kind of subject he definitely would have looked on with disdain in the past. It may have been a subject of interest for elves and hobbits, perhaps, but it was inconsequential and frivolous to anyone with a half-working brain.

Despite this, he couldn't stop his mind from wandering.
Bilbo certainly had to have a preference regarding flowers. Would he be partial to flowers that were actually useful - either as food or for medicinal purposes - or would he prefer ones with colourful arrangements of petals that perfumed the air with sweet-smells? Thorin had no clue.

He made a mental note to observe which flowers Bilbo displayed a fondness for.

Unfortunately, as their journey progressed, Bilbo did not exhibit a clear preference to a specific type. Instead, he smiled fondly at every sort of flower or weed they passed. Given that much of their traveling was through forests and glades and grassy plains, Bilbo smiled a lot.

Thorin could not say the same for himself. He was frustrated. Both at the hobbit for his ridiculous appreciation for frankly undeserving plantlife, and at himself. He should have been focusing on the quest at hand, and yet for some reason unbeknownst to him, he couldn’t rid the thought of hobbit courtship from his mind.

“Something wrong, uncle?” Fíli asked. “You’ve been frowning for a long time.”

Amad always said if you frown a lot, your face will freeze that way,” Kíli added.

Thorin’s scowl only deepened.

Adrenaline thrummed through Thorin’s body. His vision swayed, and for a moment everything was distorted; his surroundings a wash of too-bright colours. It was not anger making his heart pound, but fear. “You! What were you doing? You nearly got yourself killed!” He blinked to clear his vision. Bilbo’s face came into focus. He looked apprehensive, his eyes wide and his shoulders hunched.
“Did I not say that you would be a burden?” Thorin’s voice was a dry rasp. “That you would not survive in The Wild? And you had no place among us? I have never been more wrong.”

Before he could weigh the consequences, he gathered the modest form of Bilbo Baggins into his arms. The company broke out into a chorus of whoops and cheers. Bilbo leaned into his touch the way a plant leans towards the sun. Their bodies seemed to fit so well together, his hardened with muscle, and Bilbo’s soft from a life without conflict.

Any other time, he would have been mortified by his actions. Now, he was too relieved to care. Bilbo was alive. He was whole and hale. Likely exhausted, but for the most part unscathed from their altercation with the orcs and wargs. Thorin clutched at him the way a dragon would coil around a hoard of coveted treasures. He felt Bilbo’s heart race even through the barrier of their clothes. His own heart rate had slowed, comforted by the security of having Bilbo in his arms.

The cheers from the company had petered out, and now he could only make out polite coughs, and snickering from his sister-sons.

He reluctantly extricated himself from Bilbo. Their embrace ended far sooner than Thorin would have liked, but they couldn’t very well spend the remainder of their quest in each other’s arms. He pulled back, clearing his throat awkwardly.

Bilbo stared up at him, lips slack, and his eyes shining with an emotion that wasn’t there before. Thorin didn’t know how to describe Bilbo’s expression, but it was the same one he wore when he’d witnessed a flower just starting to bloom.

The setting sun shone down on them, and Bilbo’s hair was gilded in aureate light. Thorin distantly thought about how nice the contrast would be between the dull metal of a bead and the bright glints of gold in Bilbo’s hair. Or, better yet, how a jeweled courting bead would complement his bronzed curls.

Thorin tried to expel the image from his mind, but Bilbo’s face seemed almost permanently emblazoned on the backs of his eyelids, and it was the last thing he saw each night he drifted to sleep.

“Have you given any thought as to when you’re going to initiate the courtship?”

Thorin stared sidelong at his adviser, who had sidled up to him with his pipe pressed to his lip. “My what?”

“Your courtship.”

Thorin turned to face him fully. His expression was blank.

“Come now, Thorin,” Balin gave an exasperated sigh. “You’ve been plenty obvious already.”

“Speak plainly,” Thorin ordered. “I’m in no mood to decipher your riddles.”

“Bilbo Baggins of course!” Balin said, far too loud for his liking.

Thorin glanced at the hobbit in question, but he luckily appeared to be fast asleep, along with the rest of their company.

“We’ve all seen how you look at him. The poor lad’s been ogled an obscene amount. I’d advise keeping your eyes off his backside at least until you’ve confessed how you feel.”

“I beg your-what did you-I have no idea-” Thorin cut himself off, horrified to realize his cheeks were flushed an incriminating red. He gulped. “What an absurd accusation,” he tried.

“There’s no need to be ashamed,” Balin chided, before taking a long drag from his pipe. “Bilbo’s already proven his worth ten times over. And to be blunt with you, you could do a lot worse.”

“He’s a hobbit,” Thorin pointed out.

“Yes,” Balin nodded. “I had noticed that myself.”

“I’m a son of Durin. I have obligations to meet.”

“Thorin Oakenshield, your first obligation should always be to yourself. Marry the one you love, and leave political marriages to the elves and humans. You know we’ll follow you to the ends of Middle Earth. No matter who you choose as your consort.”

Thorin couldn’t think up any sort of rebuttal to that. Could it really be as simple as Balin made it sound? He closed his eyes, mentally berating himself. It could have been simple, perhaps, if his feelings were mutual, but how could they be? Bilbo was friendly and cheerful and selfless and kind. Meanwhile, he was a dwarf without even a kingdom behind him.

He told himself that his feelings were useless. They would achieve nothing and serve no purpose. His heart didn’t listen.

After Balin planted the idea of courtship in his mind, Thorin could do nothing to uproot the idea. It grew like a weed, overtaking his thoughts. He found himself frowning less on a day-to-day basis, and his interactions with Bilbo ignited a warmth in his chest.

“Thorin,” Bilbo called out one night.

He was surprised to see their burglar lucid. Thorin was on watch-duty, and had been for a significant amount of time. He vaulted to his feet. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he assured. “But I couldn’t sleep. I thought perhaps I might keep you company?”

“Oh. Yes, very well. That would be acceptable.”

Bilbo’s lips curved into a small smile. The cool night breeze ruffled his hair, disarranging the thin wisps framing his cheeks. Thorin’s hand itched to reach out and tuck Bilbo’s curls behind his ears. “I’ve never seen so many fireflies before,” he commented.

“Yes,” Thorin agreed, unsure of what else to contribute to the conversation. He was talented at rallying speeches before battle; not inane twaddle. Not that he considered anything Bilbo had to say as inane. Or as twaddle. He found himself content simply discussing the weather, or other normally boring topics, with him. Bilbo’s voice had a gentle cadence that was pleasing to the ear.

“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Bilbo extended his hand. A single firefly landed on his finger. It’s pulsating glow cast an orange sheen to Bilbo’s skin.

“Yes,” Thorin murmured, never lifting his eyes from Bilbo’s face. “Very beautiful.”

“I apologize if I’m boring you,” Bilbo grinned up at him.

Thorin cleared his throat. “You never bore me.” Had he ever given that impression? “You used to annoy me a great deal. You still do sometimes. But you never bore me.”

Bilbo blinked, before throwing his head back and laughing. His movement upset the firefly, and it hastily departed, joining the others of its kind in a lazy arc. “I’m glad to hear that I annoy you. Much preferable to being found boring.”

Thorin’s lips jutted out in a slight pout. “It was not my intention to insult you.”

“I’m not insulted.” He certainly didn’t look insulted. His eyes were crinkled, and his smile fond. Thorin’s heart fluttered the way it always did when Bilbo directed such looks his way.

“Good,” Thorin managed eventually. “That’s good.”

Bilbo gave a noncommittal hum. “You and I never really talk. One-on-one, I mean.”

Thorin swallowed nervously. His palms were sweating the way they did whenever he and Bilbo were in close proximity. “I’ll have to request that orcs and goblins stop interrupting us.”

“That would be nice.”

He mirrored Bilbo’s grin, and for a moment they stared at each other. Silence stretched between them, only it wasn’t the stilted, awkward kind. Thorin hoped it wasn’t, at least. They spent the moment of quiet watching the other, and cataloguing every minute detail.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Bilbo commented.

“I’m sorry?”

“That the journey is almost over.”

“Ah.” Thorin privately agreed. It had been long and toilsome, and he was both nervous and eager for what reclaiming his home would entail. “I expect you’re eager to return home.”

Bilbo paused. “I… am. I’m just not sure I know where home is anymore.”

“What about Bagend?”

“I miss it terribly of course, but thinking back… it seems so lonely.”

“Perhaps we could visit you. Once everything’s been settled.”

“I would like that.”

“And maybe we could read your book, once it’s finished.” Thorin continued to use ‘we,’ instead of ‘I.’ It was much easier keeping things impersonal.

Bilbo looked momentarily caught off guard. “I thought you didn’t want me writing a book on dwarven customs.”

“Yes, well, that was before I knew what you were like.”

“And what am I like?” He leaned forward intently.

Thorin’s mouth was so dry, speaking should have been an impossible endeavor. “Kind-hearted, brave, selfless. Not afraid to speak your mind. Also strangely concerned with manners and proper etiquette.” He wrinkled his nose to show what he thought of that.

Bilbo’s smile turned shy. “I wouldn’t call myself brave.”

“But you are. Exceedingly so.” Silently Thorin added: also exceptionally beautiful.

“I didn’t know you thought so highly of me,” Bilbo murmured.

Embarrassed, he averted his gaze. “You have many negative qualities too.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“For starters, you’re very inquisitive. Always asking after dwarven customs and traditions.”

“You might not find other race’s cultures interesting, but that doesn’t mean others can’t,” Bilbo huffed.

“I find other cultures interesting,” he protested.

Bilbo arched an eyebrow. “Which cultures?”

“I suppose hobbit traditions are mildly intriguing.”

“Do you even know anything about our traditions?”

“I know how your kind prepares meals for their betrothed. And that they initiate courtship through flower crowns.”

A furrow appeared between his brows. “You were listening, then? That night when we were discussing marriage customs?”

“You were speaking loudly,” he pointed out.

Bilbo pursed his lips in thought. “What about it did you find interesting?”

Thorin fumbled for an answer. He didn’t want to ruin the steady conversation between them, but he also couldn’t risk appearing overeager. “It made me curious,” he admitted with feigned nonchalance. “I wondered if all hobbits prefer the same type of plants, or if they have their own unique preferences.”

“Oh it definitely differs. Some are very particular.”

“What about you? Do you have a favorite?”

“To be truthful, I don’t. I suppose I have a fondness for belladonna, but only because it was my mother’s name. I find all plants beautiful in their own way. It seems unfair choosing between them.”

That answered a question that had weighed on his mind for a considerable amount of time.

“What about you?” Bilbo wondered. His eyes homed in on Thorin’s face as awaited a reply. “Do you have a favorite type of gemstone?”

After a bit of pondering he answered, “I’ve always liked jasper. It’s strong. A stone of endurance, perseverance and tenacity.”

“Would it be appropriate for a courting bead?” There was an odd note to Bilbo’s voice, and the hobbit’s dark blue eyes seemed to focus on some faraway fixture.

Thorin hadn’t considered using jasper as a courting bead. Truthfully, he hadn’t put much thought into courting beads at all. He had never met a dwarf or dwarrow in his youth that evoked any romantic feelings in him, so he hadn’t had any reason to dwell on courting beads and marriage. “Yes, I suppose. It also represents healing and passion, which are important in any relationship.”

“What about you personally? If someone fashioned you a courting bead out of jasper, would you like it?”

“I would like anything, so long as it came from the right person.”

Bilbo licked his lips. “Ah. Right. Um, it’s late. I think I’ll rejoin the others.” He made a vague gesture with his hand. “Get some rest, and all that.”

“Yes. Of course.” Thorin was thankful Bilbo had already turned away. He wasn’t able to staunch the disappointment contorting his face. He wondered what he’d done to ruin the conversation. Perhaps he’d bored the hobbit with his talk of courting beads and jasper. But then, hadn’t Bilbo been the one to bring them up?

The night air, which had felt soothing only a minute ago, now left him chilled to his core.

Courting Bilbo would have been absurd, and for more than one reason. However, that didn’t mean Thorin didn’t entertain the idea on occasion. And by occasion, he meant everyday. His heart was heavy with the knowledge that Bilbo would soon return to the Shire, leaving the adventure (and Thorin) behind, but he continued to dream about a life with Bilbo.

He imagined that a life at Bilbo’s side would be happy and warm, filled with gentle caresses and loving smiles and frequent laughter. It was completely unattainable, of course, but then, most dreams were.

He would never court Bilbo, would never formally propose, because he knew it would only lead to heartache. Still, he often found himself stooping to pluck flowers from the ground, and spent his few fleeting solitary moments weaving the stems together. It was strange how his hands, which were adept at the finest metalwork, struggled with making flower crowns. After days of practicing, he was finally able to make a half-decent circlet, but he doubted it would be enough to impress Bilbo.

And anyway, flower crowns were only part of hobbit marriage traditions. Bilbo had also said preparing a meal as an integral part. And he’d mentioned love letters. Thorin was no poet. He could read and write, but he’d never had a predilection for inventing flowery verses and lavish descriptions. What would one even include in a love letter?

He thought of the bronze sheen that the sun had left on Bilbo’s skin. The tiny freckles that were hidden along the nape of his neck, and traveled beneath the collar of his shirts. His russet curls, the sweet scent lingering on his body from the floral soaps he’d insisted on bringing along on their journey. How his laugh was possibly the most beautiful sound to ever grace Thorin’s ears. How gentle his uncalloused hands were. How his eyes appeared brown in most lighting, but were revealed to be dark blue upon closer inspection. There many words to describe his feelings for Bilbo. Bilbo was his mudùmel, his kurduwê, and his gêdel. His comfort, his heart, and his joy of all joys. None of these translated well into the common tongue. The Westron words were weaker, less emphatic. Khuzdul may sound coarser on the tongue, but their endearments flowed like poetry.

There really was no other way to encompass his feeling in any language but his mother tongue. There were no Westron words that could aptly explain how while he’d always prided himself on metalwork, Bilbo had forged a longing and a love so great in him, it would rival anything he could ever hope to craft. He didn’t know how to explain his reluctance in falling for Bilbo. It was an inconvenient, uncomfortable itch beneath his skin. It had been entirely unpreventable, and it was an all-consuming type of love.

If he could not express these thoughts, perhaps he could break them down into a simple list. When the rest of their company was suitably distracted, he accosted Ori for paper and ink.

You are beautiful, he wrote.

He paused. He wasn’t sure if his feelings were at all reciprocated. And if that was the case, spouting off about Bilbo’s inner and outer beauty would likely be unappreciated. He drew a line through his first sentence.

Perhaps instead of laying his heart bare, he could merely make impartial observations than anyone would agree with.

-Not ugly

He was sure there wasn’t a soul in middle earth who would disagree with that assessment. Bilbo was far from unpleasant. Although everyone had their own unique tastes and preferences, Bilbo was lovely enough that no one could honestly refute such a statement. Thorin secretly thought he’d be content devoting an entire day to simply watching Bilbo. He continued his letter, jotting down everything that came to mind.

-Cute toes
-Wide feet
-Speech is extra polite when actually angry
-Eyes crinkle when smiling
-Gentle hands
-Loves gardening
-Eyes like gemstones

That last point may sound a tad poetic, but as a dwarf, Thorin had an intimate knowledge of precious stones, and Bilbo’s eyes were unarguably as lovely as them.

“Uncle what is this?”

He peered over his shoulder to see Fíli at the same time Kíli prised the letter from his grasp. He tried to snatch it back, but Kíli had already darted out of reach.

“Give me that!” His cheeks radiated heat.

His accursed nephew's tried in vain to hide their snickers. “Is this a love-letter? For Master Baggins?”

“No!” he cried, then hesitated. “Yes.” He fought the urge to wring his hands. “Is it bad?”

“It's alright. I think most children could do better.”

Men an urtag menu,” Thorin hissed. His sister-sons only laughed at his threat. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to destroy it anyway.” Burn it in tonight’s fire, perhaps.

“Can we read your second draft too?” Kíli asked.

“There won’t be a second draft.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not actually going to...” his voice trailed off.

“You’re not going to court Bilbo? Why not?” Fíli raised his brows in surprise.

“It was a stupid, childish fancy,” Thorin dismissed in what he hoped passed for a bored voice.

“Oh, but uncle, you have to!” Kíli insisted.

“If you don’t, we will,” Fíli vowed.

Thorin took a step back at this. “You wish to court Bilbo too?”

“What? No! We’ll tell him about your feelings.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“We would.”

“I forbid it.” Thorin knew he was fighting a losing battle. His nephews didn’t respect him the way they should.

“Give him the letter, uncle,” Fíli warned, his lips twitching despite his valiant efforts to keep a straight face. “Or you’ll force our hand.”

Each sluggish thump of Thorin’s heart pumped anxiety into his veins. He paced aimlessly outside their campsite. He’d requested Bilbo meet him after dinner, but the hobbit was taking ages.

His hands clenched around the flower crown. The flowers were starting to look rather wilted, mainly due to how he'd twisted and toyed with the circlet in an attempt to distract himself. His love letter burned a hole in the pocket of his trousers. If Bilbo took much longer, he was going to entirely lose his already waning resolve.

“Hello, Thorin,” Bilbo greeted.

Thorin flinched at the sound of his voice. “Here!” Panicking, he thrust the sad excuse for a flower crown in Bilbo’s face.

“Oh. What’s this?”

“A, er, flower crown. I do not have a garden of my own to pick flowers from, so I picked them from the forests along our journey.” Thorin decided to leave out that the first plants he'd picked had given him a horrible rash which was still partially visible on his arms. “I made you dinner as well but I,” he gulped, “burned it.” He hoped Bilbo would not take that as a sign that their marriage was going to end disastrously too.

Bilbo laughed. He looked so at ease. Thorin wondered if he even realized he was being proposed to. “How about we leave the cooking to Bombur?”

“I also have this.” Thorin unearthed the now rumpled letter from his pocket. “In Khuzdul it sounds poetic. I tried translating it to Westron but the language was… clumsy.” Inelegant and awkward, the descriptions didn't translate well. "So, instead, I chose to write a list enumerating the qualities that I-”

“Thorin.” Bilbo curled his hand around his wrist, raising his arm and positioning it so that his face rested in the bowl of Thorin’s hand. “I already know what you're trying to say. Or, at least, I think I do. I hope I do.”

Thorin wet his lips with his tongue. “And what is it you think I'm trying to say?”

Bilbo rocked back and forth on his large, well-groomed feet. “That you love me? Assuming it’s not some prank. Fíli and Kíli told me earlier you were going to propose.”

“Did they now.” His face twisted into its usual scowl, before smoothing out. His irritation left as quick as it came. “Do you have an answer? To my,” he could scarcely squeeze the word out, “proposal?”

Bilbo reached into his pocket. His hand emerged with what could only be a courting bead. Made from jasper, Thorin immediately noted.

“I had a little bit of help,” Bilbo admitted shyly. “Most of it was my work, though!”

He searched Thorin’s face for a reaction, and whatever he saw must have satisfied him. He stood on his tip-toes and began to weave the bead into Thorin’s hair with careful, reverent hands. The act of braiding hair was intimate, and even though Bilbo only used a small section of his hair, Thorin still shivered. Once Bilbo had finished, he stepped back to admire his work. Thorin lifted the braided strand of hair to eye-level to better inspect the bead. On it was an engraving of an acorn.

“Oh, Bilbo,” he breathed. “It’s perfect.”

Bilbo positively beamed. “To be honest, I was getting tired of waiting for you to make the first move, but I figured that being descended from royalty, it would be best if you were the one to initiate things.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” he agreed.

In truth, Thorin wasn’t sure how their marriage was going to work; whether Bilbo would stay full-time with him in Erebor, or if they’d only reunite occasionally. As future king, Thorin was going to have obligations, and he knew Bilbo missed his home at Bagend. Whatever happened, they would make it work. He knew of some plants that thrived in shadow, and he could arrange a garden for Bilbo to tend to within the sanctity of the mountain. He was sure that Bilbo would like that. For a suspended moment, everything was perfect.

And then Bilbo took a second look at the love-letter. “Hang on, Thorin, does this say what I think it says?” He peered closer at it.

Oh. This was not good.

“‘Not ugly.’ Did you seriously write ‘not ugly’ in a love letter?”

“I-I did not wish to appear too enamoured,” Thorin stammered. “It would be unseemly to come across as desperate.” He’d also been wary of rejection, of having his love spurned or even ridiculed. What would a hobbit want with a dwarf who had been cast out from his own home, had a virulent temper, and was susceptible to gold sickness? How could he be expected to save face if he poured his heart into the letter and described in detail how breathtaking and beautiful and wondrous he found Bilbo?

To his surprise, Bilbo tipped his head back and laughed. “‘Not ugly,’ he says. Oh, Thorin. I feel I should be offended, but somehow this just makes me love you more.”

Love. Bilbo loved him. He confessed so easily, as if it cost him nothing.

Thorin’s mouth clicked with dryness. His throat felt desiccated all of a sudden. “I love you too,” he choked out.

Bilbo laughed again, the sound as sweet-natured as everything he did. “I knew that already, but it’s nice hearing you say it.”

“We’re getting married,” Thorin said dumbly.

“We are,” Bilbo confirmed with a fond smile. He leaned in on his tiptoes to plant a kiss against Thorin’s mouth. Thorin curved an arm around Bilbo’s waist, hugging their bodies together. Thorin fell into Bilbo, fell in to the kiss, and everything else ceased to exist. Bilbo kissed the center of his mouth, then the corner, and then his jawline, before dragging his lips to Thorin’s ear. And then, in a perfect rendition of Khuzdul, Bilbo whispered, I promise myself to you.