By the time his alarm sounded, Thorin was already wide awake, staring at the bars of sunlight shining across an unfamiliar ceiling. He let the machine chime for a moment, then reached over to turn the thing off—and cursed as his nightstand collapsed.
He rolled over to survey the damage, then realized it wasn't a nightstand next to his bed at all, but an overturned box that had previously held his bedsheets. Muttering under his breath, he stuck one hand into the cardboard crater to find the 'Off' button on his alarm.
Once that was taken care of, he stood up and walked out of the bedroom. The next room served as a sort of kitchen-dining-room-living-room area—though it was too disorganized at the moment to really qualify as any of the three.
Dís was sitting on the kitchen counter, still in her pajamas and digging through a bowl of cereal. She looked up as he walked in. "Oh, you're up." She held up her bowl. "I started unpacking some of the kitchen stuff."
Thorin peered into the box at her feet, which was still about ninety percent full. "Thank you. I have no idea how I'd have managed to unpack that one bowl and spoon by myself."
She took another bite of her cereal, ignoring his comment. "So, are you ready for your first day at work?"
He glanced at the small mountain of boxes taking up most of the living room floor. Dís had offered to help him move into the new apartment and get settled, but they'd only finished bringing all his belongings up before taking a break for pizza and wine, and they'd both fallen asleep before unpacking anything.
"I think I'll have to find something to wear first."
"Oh, right." Dís set down her cereal and hopped down from the counter. "I know your suit was in one of these boxes…"
"I could have this all unpacked in a minute."
She gave him a look as she started examining some of the boxes. The whole pile wobbled dangerously. "I thought you said you weren't going to use your powers anymore. We're not back at home. This is the city," she gestured out the window, "and anyone could see you."
Thorin moved to help her with the boxes, following her gaze outside the window. His apartment had a view of the street and was high enough to obscure a view of the sidewalks. Anyone in the building across the street who decided to look in would have to be intentionally focusing on his window.
But this was the city of Dale, and anything could happen. That was partially why he'd accepted the offer to work at the city's newspaper, The Daily Star. It was certainly a change to reporting from a small town like Ered Luin, where he'd grown up.
He finally found one of the boxes labeled Clothes and carefully extricated it from the pile. "Do you know where the box cutter is?"
"Vaguely." Dís stepped back and scanned the mess of discarded tape and packing paper. She started back towards the kitchen area. "I think I might have used it to—shit!"
Thorin looked up at the sound of plastic sliding across the floor. "Are you all right? Did it cut you?"
"I'm fine. But I kicked it under the fridge." She lay down on her stomach and peered underneath. "Ugh. I think I kicked it all the way to the back. Do you have a broom handle or something?"
"No need." Thorin walked over and lifted the fridge a few inches off the floor. "Can you reach it?"
Dís gave an exasperated sigh and grabbed the box cutter. "You couldn't even go twenty-four hours, huh? Man, it is filthy under here."
"I'll put it on my list of things to clean." One his sister's arm was out, he lowered the fridge back to the floor. "And don't tell Balin."
When he'd decided to move to the city, his guardian had made him promise to keep his abilities secret, telling him that he'd find plenty of excitement in other ways. That had meant no flying, and no using his enhanced strength or speed.
Though some of his other abilities weren't so easily avoided. He'd had no idea the city would be so loud, and with his enhanced hearing, he knew it would be a while before he learned to tune it out completely. It was one of the reasons he'd barely gotten any sleep last night.
"Here, I think your work clothes are in this box." Dís walked back to the pile and started opening one. "And I'm not going to tell Balin about any of your rule-breaking. I think he has his hands full as it is."
When she'd left to help him move in, Dís had left her sons at Balin's house. The last time Thorin had seen them, they'd both been fully immersed in something called "The Floor is Lava Challenge." Dís had advised Balin to nail all his furniture to the floor before leaving.
"All right, first try." She pulled one of his dress shirts from the box and grimaced. "Yeah, we definitely should have unpacked these last night."
Thorin glanced at the wrinkled fabric, then turned to the clock on the stove. He had half an hour before he had to be at work, and he still had to map out his route to the office. The last thing he wanted on his first day was getting lost in the city.
"All right, I'm going to find the iron and get these ready." Dís jumped to her feet, nearly stepping on the box cutter again. "You fix yourself something to eat."
"Right." He placed the razor on the counter, then took out another bowl and spoon. As he ate, he tried memorizing the route to The Daily Star on his phone. Before he knew it, Dís was trading his empty bowl for a fully ironed suit and urging him to get ready.
"Nervous?" she asked once he was dressed and standing by the door.
"Not very." Thorin straightened his tie. "I'll be fine as long as I can find the place."
She smirked. "Sure you don't want me to walk you there?"
"I said I'll be fine," he replied with a glare that had no real heat behind it.
"Right." Thorin took them from the outside pocket of his briefcase and put them on. He had 20/20 vision, but these were a specially designed pair that helped him with his tendency to see through walls.
"Great. That really adds to the look of 'dorky reporter,'" Dís said with a grin. "No one's gonna notice you now."
"Hopefully." He set his briefcase down and swept his sister into a hug. "Thank you. For everything."
She hugged him back. "I'll try to get some more stuff unpacked today. But you'd better go now, or you won't have time for your five-block 'I have no idea where I'm going' detour."
"Shut up." He released her with a smile. "I'll see you tonight."
"Good luck!" Dís waved goodbye as he grabbed his briefcase again, then shut the door behind him.
The streets of Dale were already bustling with activity, and Thorin had to divide his attention between checking the map on his phone and watching out for others on the sidewalk. He'd had years of practice to tune out the multitude of sounds coming from every direction, but it still took most of his focus to keep from knocking into someone.
Fortunately, The Daily Star was only a fifteen minute walk from his apartment, and was a straight enough shot that it didn't leave much opportunity for a five block detour. In no time, Thorin had reached the massive building with a large, gold star on the roof.
He looked down at his phone to check the email saying what floor the office was on. Having grown up in a such a small town, the thought was a little strange to him. He'd been thousands of feet up in the air before, but the thought of a building stretching that high—
Someone yelped as they collided with his elbow, and Thorin looked up in time to see a shorter man stumbling back, his cup of coffee spilling all over his sleeve.
"I-I'm so sorry, are you all right?" He held out a hand, but there wasn't much he could do as the rest of the cup's contents splattered onto the sidewalk.
"I'm fine." The man quickly took off his coat—which was a muted red, Thorin noticed with absent interest. "Probably should have been watching where I was going."
"It was my mistake. I should have been looking as well."
"Don't worry about it." He gave him a quick, awkward nod, then hurried into the building.
Thorin grimaced. That was one way to start the day—by almost giving his coworker third degree burns.
He walked into the lobby and paused a moment to find the email and gather himself. He was supposed to meet the editor-in-chief, one Mr. Gandalf Gray, on the eighteenth floor in...three minutes.
"Great." He hurried over to the elevators, just managing to fit in with six others as they crowded inside. After a few minutes of awkward shuffling to let out some people at the sixth, tenth, and twelfth floors, he finally reached his destination.
The eighteenth floor was one large, open space filled with desks, some of which had as many as three monitors on them. Overhead were what seemed to Thorin to be an excessive amount of television screens displaying different news stories.
At the back of the area was an office walled in by glass panes, and Thorin assumed this to be the editor-in-chief's office. He made his way across the area, dodging a number of people who were hurrying about.
He knocked on the door (gently, since he always had to be careful around glass) and stepped inside. "Mr. Gray?"
The man sitting at the desk looked up and smiled. "Please, call me Gandalf." He wasn't at all what Thorin would have pictured a big city editor-in-chief to look like. His hair was gray streaked with silver, but his blue eyes carried a youthful twinkle. He spoke at a relaxed pace, a stark contrast to the flurry of activity outside his office.
As the door swung closed, though, the noise outside became muted. Thorin glanced at the glass walls and wondered at the soundproofing—one of the perks of being editor-in-chief, he supposed.
"You must be the new reporter." Gandalf stood up and walked around his desk. "Welcome to the team, Mr. Durin."
Thorin shook his proffered hand. "Thank you. How did you know I—"
The door opened, flooding the room with noise again. Thorin turned to look at the newcomer and inwardly cursed. It was the man he had bumped into at the entrance.
Evidently, he recognized him too, and sent him a wary glance before turning to Gandalf. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."
"Not at all. Thorin, this is Bilbo Baggins, one of our reporters."
"Nice to meet you," Thorin said, hoping his words didn't come out too stilted.
"Again." Bilbo shook his hand.
With the sunlight streaming through the window on the opposite wall, Thorin could now get a good look at him. There were still a few light stains of coffee on the sleeve of his dress shirt. The light illuminated a few streaks of copper in his curly brown hair, mussed up in a style that he would have considered sloppy on someone else, but on Bilbo it was almost...attractive.
"Anyway," Bilbo said, releasing his hand and addressing Gandalf once more. "I just finished up that story about the renovations at Buckland Park, but there are a few points I want to address—"
"Yes, I'll be sure to take a look at that," Gandalf said. "Why don't you show Thorin around the office, introduce him to some of your colleagues?"
"I have that Greenwood press conference at eleven," Bilbo said, not very apologetically.
One silver-streaked brow rose, as if to highlight the fact that it wasn't even nine in the morning yet.
"But I'm sure that I could find time to…" He frowned slightly. Thorin was sure he should have been offended at his attitude, but he was a little more concerned with the cute way his nose scrunched up. "All right, then. I can give you a quick tour."
Gandalf nodded with a smile, as if to say, That's what I thought. "And I'll be sure to take a look at your story."
"Thank you." Bilbo left the office, not bothering to hold the door as he exited. Thorin made to follow him, narrowly dodging a woman as she rushed past with an armful of folders.
Bilbo stopped in a relatively calm part of the room, next to what Thorin assumed was his own desk, given the coffee-stained coat draped over the chair.
"Right. So, this is the newsroom. My desk is right here, over there is Bard—" He pointed to a grim-faced man sitting nearby, who waved. "His son is interning here as a photographer. I believe the desk next to his is empty, so you can take that one."
Thorin nodded. This place was much bigger than the newsroom of his old job, but there was something comforting about being part of that organized chaos again.
"We have a coffee station over there, which…" Bilbo took a breath, then apparently decided not to make a comment about it. He gestured to the other side of the room. "Down there are the bathrooms. And I think that's it."
"Thank you. And I want to apologize again for what happened downstairs. I didn't—"
"It's not a problem, really." He lifted the stained sleeve of his coat. "This will wash right out."
He turned at the sound of the new voice, and grinned. "Ori. It's good to see you."
"I didn't know you were starting work today." He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around him.
Thorin hugged him back. It was through Ori that he had first learned about this job. And he expected one of the reasons Dori had been so enthusiastic about his moving to the city was that someone could keep an eye on his younger brother—despite Ori being in his mid-twenties.
"How do you like it so far?" he asked, stepping back.
"Well, I haven't really started yet." Thorin turned back to Bilbo to introduce him, but he'd already sat down and was busy typing away. "I'd better get settled, though. Once I've unpacked everything, you should come over for dinner sometime."
"Sure thing. If you ever need anything, my desk is over that way." He pointed towards the row near the windows. "I've got to get back to work, now. I'll see you later."
Thorin nodded goodbye, then walked over to his desk and sat down. He glanced over at Bilbo, who was reading something and absently chewing on the tip of his pen. He turned back to his own computer, adjusted his glasses, and got to work.
By the time he got home, Dís has managed to unpack most of his things, though there was an abandoned, half-assembled Ikea dresser in the middle of the living room. Ironically enough, none of the kitchenware was unpacked either, so they decided to order in again.
"So, how was your first day?" Dís asked as she opened her carton of noodles. "You expose any secret government conspiracies?"
"I'm working my way up to it." Thorin leaned against the counter next to her. "I did see Ori."
"Oh, has he still got the…" She gestured to her forehead, referencing Ori's rather questionable haircut.
"It doesn't look that bad."
Dís shrugged. "Agree to disagree. Did you meet anyone new? Any cute coworkers?"
"I—" His thoughts immediately strayed to Bilbo, and he stopped himself. "I met a few of the other reporters. I didn't make the best impression, though." Thorin stabbed at his fried rice with his chopsticks. "Before I'd even walked in the door, I bumped into one of them and spilled coffee all over him."
Dís winced in sympathy. "Yikes. Was he okay?"
"More annoyed than anything, I think."
She pushed a large piece of broccoli to one side of her mouth so she could speak. "You know, this could actually work out in your favor. No one would suspect the office klutz to secretly be an alien with superhuman powers."
Thorin nodded sarcastically. "So keeping my secret means I knock over one thing per day?"
"Something like that. All I'm saying is, you'll need to have your ass covered somehow. You slip up even the tiniest thing, and someone's going to catch it." Dís slipped her cell out of her back pocket. "People always have their phones on and ready to record these days."
"I'll...think about it." The last thing he wanted was any sort of negative reputation in the office—or really draw attention to himself at all. That had caused enough problems back home.
"I'm sure you'll figure something out," Dís said. "Speaking of which, can you take a look at that dresser? I've read the directions about five times and I swear they're written in a different language."
He chuckled. "Yeah, I'll get to it sometime this week."
She stretched her legs backwards, propping her elbows against the counter as she gazed out the window. "You know, Balin wasn't too sure about you coming out here."
Thorin looked up. "What? Why?"
"Well, for one, you're no city boy. And he wasn't sure if you'd be able to handle it, with your…" She made a vague encompassing gesture with one hand. "You know, he just didn't want you getting overwhelmed."
"I'll be able to tune it out." He set down his food and crossed his arms, leaning backwards against the counter. "I promised him I would keep a low profile."
"I know. And I told him that you're a grown man, and that you can handle things yourself."
Thorin glanced over at her with a small smile. When they were younger, he'd always been the one looking out for her, but it was nice to know that she had his back as well. "Thanks, for that."
Dís shrugged, but she was smiling as well. "Well, who knows? If you make it in the big city, maybe he'll let me move here too in a few years."
He followed her gaze out the window, to the winking orange lights of passing cars reflected on the windows. Thorin didn't have any plans other than keeping a low profile, but he couldn't help but think this was the start of something different—something bigger than himself.
It wasn't until the next week, after sifting through a pile of articles and paperwork and Ikea dresser instructions that Thorin finally found some real time for himself. He dug out a pair of sweats and a hoodie and decided to go for a jog around the city. It would be a good opportunity for him to get acquainted with the area, and let off some of the stress of the past week.
The sky was cloudy when he set out, the tall buildings only casting a greater shadow over the streets. The sidewalks were still busy, though, so Thorin headed for Buckland Park, where he would be able to move more freely.
The shade of the trees added another layer of darkness to the path as Thorin picked up his pace.
Although the last week had been hectic, it had been easy to find a rhythm in it all—a new normal. A couple days after helping him move in, Dís had gone back to Ered Luin, and Thorin had said goodbye to the last tie to his old life. But there was still stability in his new home, shaky as it was. He was a little more adaptable than most.
Across the park, the squeal of tires sounded—not an unusual noise for a city, but Thorin looked up as it was followed by the screech of grinding metal. A shocked scream sounded, then more.
He turned around, scanning the trees, but they blocked his view of whatever was happening. Thorin took off his glasses and focused his vision, and was able to see about a dozen people fleeing in his direction. Beyond them was a large truck skidding through the grass, dangerously close to tipping over.
Thorin took a step forwards, then paused. Common sense told him to run along with everyone else, to let emergency services handle whatever happened next.
A sharp bang like a gunshot sounded, and that was enough to spur him into action. Whatever happened next, he could not stand idly by or run away when there were those who needed his help.
He stowed his glasses away and ran towards the sound.