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It's Not a Crush If It's Mostly Hero-Worship

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Three years after the fall of Smaug the Entirely-Vanquishable Slug, so named by Bofur, of the Company

As a dwarfling, excitable and fanciful though he had been, Hamil never could have imagined a moment such as this.  He simply could not have done justice to the ferocious, marrow-deep devotion he felt as he knelt beside his sister and, in the resplendent halls of Erebor itself, pledged his undying fealty to Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain.

He would tell his grandchildren about this day, he knew.  Once he had them, that was – and children, for that matter.  He only prayed the eager trembling of his clenched fists was not visible from the throne.

"Rise, Dára, daughter of Harin, and Hamil, son of Harin.  Erebor accepts your loyalty and welcomes you."  The king's voice was deep and sure, exactly the sort of voice that Hamil, had anyone asked him, would have said a king ought to have.

He and his sister stood, and so he got his first close look at the revered hero of their people.

King Thorin, as the rumors had forewarned them, wore no gold on his person; more subdued metals adorned his thick fingers and the rounded shells of his ears, glittering a well-shined silver as they caught the light.  His clothing was similarly simple, with neither furs nor ornamental armor, but it could not be said that the deep blue tunic he wore was anything less than kingly, so fine was its make.  The king had the broad, sturdy frame of a warrior dwarf in their prime, but he held himself with a regal sort of grace that was unmistakable.  Hamil suspected he could have been wearing a beggar's garb and still looked every inch a king.

The crown he wore was a heavy one, meant to impress not the importance of the wearer but rather the burden of their duty.  His rich black hair, tempered with traces of silver, bore only a few thick braids.  His beard, while a respectable enough length, was not extravagant, nor was it decorated beyond a few plain beads and clasps.

All together, it was not precisely how Hamil would have pictured a king of the restored Erebor, that kingdom of legendry wealth. 

However, he thought it suited this king perfectly well – Oakenshield, the Beggar King, the Blacksmith King – and he meant that with every measure of respect he had in his bones.  This was the king who had borne his people through exile and starvation, who had lowered himself to the dirt to keep them alive.  This was the hero of Azanulbizar; this was the dwarf who had reclaimed Erebor with a company of mere fourteen.  This was the king whose suffering and determination had brought his people home.  He didn't need to bejewel himself with Erebor's riches to prove his place as King Under the Mountain.

That wasn't to say Hamil didn't find the lack of gold adornments strange – it was rather unusual – but he wasn't about to question the clothing decisions of a dwarf who he'd revered since before he even knew what the word meant.

At the king's side was his heir, Prince Fíli with his golden braids, sitting straight and proud in a lesser throne of his own.  He watched everything with a bright, alert gaze.

Hamil was expecting to be dismissed now the formalities were done.  But the king spoke again.

"I knew your father once," he said, his mouth unsmiling but his eyes warm.  "Though he left Erebor several years before the dragon's attack.  Tell me, how does he fare?"

"He is well, Your Majesty," Dára answered, and for once Hamil was grateful that she was the elder of them, for he didn’t yet trust his voice not to squeak and embarrass them both.  "He remains with our youngest sister in the Iron Hills, though they hope to join us and our mother here in two seasons' time."

The king looked amused.  "Yes, your mother.  It was the for sake of her and her axe that he left Erebor in the first place, if I recall.  He was ever tottering after her with a besotted look on his face."

"He still does his fair share of besotted tottering," Hamil said, voice weak but thankfully steady, and instantly wished he hadn't when the king's focused gaze fell directly upon him.  "Um, Your Majesty."

He must not have shamed himself too badly, because the king gave him a small smile.  "I am glad to know that hasn't changed," said the king.  "And I am glad to have met the two of you.  Welcome to Erebor."

Hamil knew King Thorin said such words to everyone who left their homes to join Erebor's multitudes – he made a point of it, in fact – but that didn't stop his stupid dwarven heart from swelling with pride.  He felt it to his bones: this was where they belonged.

The king nodded to them, acknowledgement and dismissal in one.  Then his lips twitched in what might have been a smile.  "I have heard," he said, "that your mother has been eager to see you.  I know better than to keep a mother too long from her children."  He shared a brief, speaking look with his heir, and Prince Fíli looked away with a grin he didn't bother stifling.

Hamil, after executing his parting bow, tried not to look too hurried as he exited the throne room a step behind his sister.  Swearing loyalty to heroes of legend was all well and good, but the last time he'd seen his mother was three years ago, and some things (very few) trumped even the King Under the Mountain.

Three weeks after his arrival at Erebor, Hamil was finally finding his feet.  At the very least, he no longer got weak knees and a pounding pulse from his stupid, hero-worshipping heart every time he clapped eyes on a member of the Company.  He was still not so sanguine about meeting the royal family with any sort of dignity or grace, but considering how infrequently he caught more than a distant glimpse of them, it was something of a nonissue.

He had been accepted into the ranks of the guards, to his fierce pride.  Dára had taken an apprenticeship under Master Bombur, the Company's architect and the dwarf responsible for heading Erebor's reconstruction.  ("Yes, that Bombur," she had wryly told him, after announcing the news to him and their mother.  "Ya daft nugget.")  They were both kept very busy these days.  Hamil often went to bed after training covered head to foot in bruises and feeling it would be a mercy if his arm would just fall off of its own accord.  He'd never been happier.

He was a guard of Erebor.  Erebor of old, the lost, the Lonely Mountain, lost no more.  He had his king and his kin and his homeland.  It was enough to make a dwarf weepy.

Just when he thought his joy couldn't get any fuller, a marvelous thing happened.  Late one evening, long after his fellow junior guards had retreated for the day, Hamil lingered on the training grounds.  He had been there long enough to miss dinner, but there was a particular shield block that he just couldn't get the hang of and he refused to leave until he got it.

He was pausing to wipe the sweat from his brow when he heard the familiar voice of Dwalin, head and captain of all the guards, echoing down the hall.

"I've let you sit around moping for too long.  Think it's time I kicked your ass."

Hamil winced, feeling instant sympathy for the unfortunate on the other end of that lecture.  As a junior guard he still had very limited contact with Captain Dwalin, but there wasn't a soul in Erebor who hadn't heard the dwarf's reputation.  Among the guards it was both an honor and a nightmare to be chosen to train directly under him.

"I've hardly been moping," another voice testily replied, and Hamil barely had enough time to stiffen in recognition before Captain Dwalin and King Thorin rounded the corner into the training grounds.

He dropped into a bow so fast his spine cracked.  His face was likely bright red as he straightened, and he kept his eyes respectfully lowered.

"Forgive me, Your Majesty!" he said as the pair drew even with him.  "I was just leaving!"

"Peace," the king said with something almost like a chuckle, "we've not come to disturb your practice."  He gestured to the spacious room, empty save the three of them.  "There's more than enough room for all us."

"Oh no– I could never–" Hamil squeaked, and wished the mountain would swallow him whole.

Captain Dwalin seemed to take pity on him.  "This here's Guard Hamil," he told the king briefly.  "One o' our newest.  Promising lad."

Hamil felt sure he must be glowing from the gruff praise.

The king's eyes sharpened.  "Of course, from the Iron Hills.  I remember greeting you and your sister some weeks ago."  If Hamil had been glowing before, surely now he was brighter than the Arkenstone had ever been.  The king remembered him.  "Carry on, Guard Hamil," said the king.  "We won't keep you from your training."

Hamil bowed once more.  Should he make his exit and leave them to their privacy?  The king, now striding over to one of the sparring rings, had implied he was welcome to stay and continue as he had been, but how could he carry on practicing when sharing the room with such exalted company?  But then, how could he leave and turn down the chance to steal glimpses at two such renowned warriors?

He fiddled with his shield, waffling, and again Captain Dwalin took pity on him.

He clapped Hamil heavily on the shoulder.  "Might as well stay, lad.  If you're done with your own practice you can watch ours, if you've a mind to.  Always good for you to watch older fighters train.  That is," he raised his voice and directed a smirk towards his king, "long as it's all right with His Majesty."

"If you want an audience when I trounce you, I've no objection," the king called back.

"Ha!  You'll have to stay now, lad, nothing for it.  I need a witness when I make him eat those words."  And he joined the king in the ring.

They both armed themselves with two sparring swords apiece, wooden things made to break before dwarven bones ever would.  Neither of them seemed to pay him much mind one way or another, so, recognizing this as the chance of a lifetime, Hamil stayed.  He did so tentatively at first, sticking to his own corner of the room and keeping up a halfhearted pretence of practicing his shield-work while he stole glances at the two whirling figures.  But soon enough his shield lay abandoned and his boots had dragged him closer and closer, until he was standing just outside the ring and gawking like a dwarfling.

Captain Dwalin he'd already seen in action, and that had been a privilege, but watching him now against a fighter of his own caliber, it was obvious he'd been holding back before.  Here he was as the stone itself, something inexorable and brutal, each blow backed by devastating power.  Even in a simple spar he was nothing short of ferocious.

But it was the king that Hamil couldn't tear his eyes from.  Like a hurricane, he and his swords were in constant motion, striking like lightning then spinning away just as fast, only to attack again a moment later.  He kept low to the ground as he danced – for Hamil could call it nothing other than a dance – and he ducked and blocked half as often as he attacked, so swift was he.  His eyes were quick and intense as he watched his opponent, constantly on the lookout for a way to press an advantage – and when he found one he pressed it mercilessly.

Both fighters were lightly panting, fierce grins stretched across their faces, when the captain caught Hamil watching.  Dwalin took a long step back, narrowly avoiding a slash across the chest from his king, and called out, "Guard!  Catch!"  Then he threw his left-hand sword straight at Hamil.

Hamil, by some miracle, managed to snatch it by the hilt.  He looked at it, then to the captain and king.

Captain Dwalin laughed.  "As your captain, I order you to join me in defeating this opponent."  He charged for another attack, and the battle resumed.

Hamil stared numbly for a moment.

"C'mon, then," Captain Dwalin grunted at Hamil as he deflected another whirling attack.  "I've only one sword now, he's got two.  He'll best me in a minute like this!"

"Less than a minute," King Thorin said, his eyes narrowed and his smile small and sharp.  And though Hamil could never have imagined raising a sword against his own king, spar or not, he vaulted over the ring's fence and fell into a stance.

"Good lad!" the captain roared.  He was getting pressed closer and closer to the fence under the king's onslaught.  With only one sword and against so swift an opponent, he had no time to attack, only defend.  Hamil, wondering if this was truly his life or if he was but dreaming, lunged forward and, in a battle-ready crouch his mother had taught him, swung his sword at Thorin Oakenshield.

The king caught it with one of his own and let the blow glance harmlessly into the ground, then followed up a split second later with a return strike.   Hamil barely blocked it in time.  His heart was pounding in his ears, and he knew he would last only seconds against the full focus of the king.  But then Captain Dwalin was there, rushing at the king's other side and pulling that focus back to himself, and thus the fight continued.

Between the two of them, they managed to keep the king busy enough that he couldn't press a serious assault against either one of them – though Captain Dwalin, as the much more experienced fighter, bore the brunt of the attacks.  Hamil held his own, but only just, and he suspected that had the king truly had a mind to he could have knocked him out of the fight in an instant, before the captain could swoop in to save him.  But for some reason he didn't.  He softened his blows just enough that Hamil could keep up without getting his sword jarred right out of his hand, yet he did not coddle.  Three minutes into the fight, Hamil was already drenched in sweat, and he knew he had bruises forming beneath his clothes.  His breath was harsh and noisy in his ears.

Eventually, after what felt like an eternity to Hamil's trembling muscles, a lucky blow from Captain Dwalin sent one of the king's swords flying.  The king danced out of reach, his stance ready, his eyes bright as they darted from Dwalin to Hamil to the dropped sword three feet away, close enough to lunge to.  He kept his other sword stretched out.

"Go for it," Captain Dwalin grinned.  "I dare yah."

By the flicker of his gaze, it was obvious King Thorin was considering it.  But then he laughed.

"Guard Hamil," he said, voice deep and confident.  "As your king, I require your aid in defeating this enemy.  Stand with me!"

And well, really.  There was no way Hamil could do anything else after hearing the call of his king.

King Thorin darted forward, and Hamil was only a few seconds behind him.  Together they pressed their attack.

However incredible sparring against the king had been, sparring alongside him was a thousand times more so.  This was what it meant to be a dwarf, Hamil thought to himself, swept away by the thrill.  It was to stand behind their king in battle (despite the friendly spar it actually was) and wield his weapon in his name.  It was fire in the bones, it was the song of the stone in every thrum of his heart.  It was also very possibly an experience being inflated by the bias of a young dwarf with a deep-rooted case of hero-worship, but Hamil didn't care.  This was a memory he'd hold dear for the rest of his life, no matter that years later he'd probably be privately embarrassed by his own inner, over-the-top enthusiasm.

Dwalin, with his single sword, was not to last long against the both of them.  He wasn't quick enough to block both the lightening-fast strikes from his king and Hamil's slower, clumsier attacks, and more and more of their blows began to land.  Just when it looked like the king and Hamil (they were a team, a unit, oh Mahal he couldn't wait to tell his sister about this) would triumph, Captain Dwalin gave a particularly complicated swing that knocked Hamil's sword straight out of his hand and into the air, hovering in the perfect place for the captain to snatch it for his own.

By the time Hamil had even processed what had happened, looking down at his empty hands, King Thorin had lunged low, taking advantage of the captain's very brief distraction to sweep his feet out from under him.  There was a moment's scuffle, then it all ended with the king crouched above the captain's fallen form, holding a practice sword to his throat.

"Match to us," King Thorin said quietly, his chest rising and falling in tight, controlled pants.  Hamil near wriggled with delight.  Us, he'd said, even though all Hamil had contributed to the final skirmish was to get himself neatly disarmed.

"Aye," Captain Dwalin agreed readily.  He clasped forearms with the king and let himself be yanked to his feet.  "You learned that last trick from your husband."

King Thorin smiled, the warmest Hamil had ever seen from him, a soft and tender thing that crinkled the sides of his eyes.  "He does have a particular knack for toppling over his opponents."

Hamil had heard of Consort Baggins – it was impossible to live under the mountain and have not – but he had yet to lay eyes on him, as the hobbit was currently visiting his homeland and wasn't due back for at least another month.  Hamil, like everyone, had been told all the tales of Consort Baggins' heroism, how he had singlehandedly rescued the Company from an elvish prison, and had faced and even spoken to the cursed dragon.  How he'd saved King Thorin from Azog the Defiler in the Battle of Five Armies, how he'd dealt the killing blow when the king, thinking Azog defeated, had relaxed his guard long enough for the coward to leap up and strike at his unsuspecting back.  Consort Baggins had thrust himself between blade and king, and then, protected by his shining mithril armor, had knocked Azog off his feet and driven his own sword deep into the Defiler's throat.

But most frequently, Hamil had heard tales of how the hobbit had won the king's heart for his own – for if there was one thing dwarves liked better than a good battle tale, it was a battle tale with a hearty romance at the end.  Though the dwarves of the mountain revered their king, they adored the one who had stood by his side in war and in love.  Even Dára, who usually thought herself above such things as obsessive hero-worship, could be heard at times enthusing over the hobbit and recounting his deeds.

Yet for all the tales Hamil had heard, he still had no idea what a hobbit looked like, save that their feet were larger than a dwarf's.  At this point he was too embarrassed to ask anyone.  He privately decided hobbits must be very ferocious warriors for one to have accomplished such feats and proven worthy of the king.  Also probably very tall, if they had such big feet.

There was some lingering warmth in King Thorin's eyes as he turned to Hamil.  "A good fight.  You do your captain proud."

Surely there was only so much joy one dwarf could hold before he burst.  Hamil felt he was pushing the limit.

"Aye, a fine showing," Captain Dwalin said.  "Even though His Majesty," he jabbed a thumb at the king, "pulled that traitorous move and turned my own against me.  I won't be forgetting it," he promised darkly.  The king looked unperturbed.

The pair left shortly after.  As they did, Hamil heard Dwalin's voice faintly saying, "See?  Told you sparring would be better than sitting around moping some more and missing your burglar."  The king's reply couldn't be heard, but Dwalin's answering shout of laughter a moment later was loud and clear.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Hamil darted through a different exit.  He didn't stop until he'd reached home, found his sister, and forced her to listen to every detail of the entire encounter that he could remember.  He was never going to forget this day for the rest of his life – and, if he had his way, neither would she.

A few days later found Hamil cheerfully trotting his way down the mountainside towards Dale.  His mother needed a particular type of ink that could only be found in the human markets, so he had volunteered to come on his next day off.  It wasn't a long walk, and the weather was fine, so he hardly minded going.  Truth be told, he hadn't stopped grinning since his spar with the king and Captain Dwalin, so his mother probably could have asked him to stroll all the way into King Thranduil's halls and he'd have done it with a ready smile.

He found the inks he needed easily, but he spent a few more hours in the markets anyway.  Dale had greatly recovered in the past three years and was fast becoming a hub of widespread trade.  Merchants from all over gathered there in the warmer months, which made it a very pleasant place indeed for a fellow with a bit of spare coin in his pockets and smile in his heart.

He even bought some hair clasps for his sister, despite how last time she'd seen him she'd told him to 'leave her alone until he could stop beaming like a foolish dwarfling, and for Mahal's sake stop being such an embarrassment to the family'.  He knew she was just jealous.

When he was done, he found himself exiting the city gates and heading towards Erebor the same time as a small, honey-haired creature heavily-laden with a bulky pack.  At first glance Hamil thought them to be a human child wandering off on their own, but a closer look (and closer consideration of their worn but sturdy travel gear) showed an oddly beardless face that bore the years of maturity, if not quite the height for it.  They had a smaller, softer build than the average dwarf, though they were only a little shorter.  The tips of their ears, which slipped shyly out from within their riotous, travel-mussed curls, were pointed like an elf's, but an elf they clearly were not.

Hamil decided the wee thing was of a race he'd never heard of, one of the merchants come to share in the wealth of Erebor and Dale, and left it at that.

"Hello," he said, feeling friendly and willing to spread his goodwill.  He gave a cheery bow.  "Hamil, son of Harin, at your service.  You bound for Erebor?"

The stranger returned his bow.  They had an open, pleasant face, with an appealing hint of something sharper in their eyes.  "Bilbo, son of Bungo, at yours and your family's.  And yes, Erebor is indeed my destination – and, I take it, yours?  Shall we walk together, then?"

"Don't see why not," he agreed, and side-by-side they set off.  "Have you been on the road a long– oh, is that a marriage braid?  But you don't have any beads?"

Bilbo-son-of-Bungo fiddled with a thin though obviously still dwarven-style braid which had been tucked away inside those curls, just behind his ear.  It had no proper bead or clasp but was held together by a small piece of uncolored string.

He gave Hamil a conspirator's smile.  "It is.  Don't tell anyone, but I take my beads out when I travel.  If there's one thing I've learned it's that the road can be terribly unpredictable.  I'd hate to lose them along the way."

"Are you a dwarf?" Hamil asked, wondering if he was simply very odd-looking for their kind and not another race at all.

"Oh no," Bilbo assured, "just married to one.  The biggest sap-heart you've ever seen, so of course he gives me a pair of the most irreplaceable, sentimental beads he could possibly manage.  The great lunk."  He said this with such a teasing, affectionate curl of his lips that Hamil, an unabashed romantic like any good dwarf, could feel his heart glowing with sympathetic warmth.

"Sentimental beads?" he repeated, knowing it could only mean one thing.  "He gave you a family bead?"  A dwarf in love usually made their own beads for their intended, but, if they wanted to honor them far beyond the standard courtship, they could instead give the bead of family member who had already passed on to the Halls of Waiting.

Bilbo hummed an affirmative.  "Yes, his mother's and his brother's.  I understand it's something of a big deal in dwarven culture, and really I appreciate the thought, but can you just imagine if I lost one on the road?  All it takes is one careless moment during an unexpected bandit attack and there you have it, irreplaceable family history lost in a moment."

Hamil stared.  Then, unable to help himself, he fell into great, booming laughter.  Bilbo watched him with a pleasant, bland patience, waiting out his mirth, but there a glint of matching mischief in his eyes.

"Appreciate the thought!" Hamil managed eventually, gasping for air.  "Your husband gives you two family beads, and you appreciate the thought!  Oh Mahal!"

Bilbo, letting his mischief seep now into his smile, gave a happy little chuckle.  "Well, I do appreciate it. But only consider the stress of being responsible for them every day!  Even in Erebor I'm constantly fiddling with my braid, making sure the beads haven't slipped off, and as for traveling–!" he huffed.  "No sir!  I'll keep them nice and safe in a pouch 'round my neck, thank you very much."

"You know," Hamil grinned as his chortles subsided, "touching your marriage braid in public is a sign of honoring your spouse."  He gave Bilbo a knowing look.

"Is it?" Bilbo said with an innocence that he was beginning to recognize as not-to-be-trusted.

"Aye, as I think you already knew.  Your husband is fortunate in your love.  But it's funny – I hadn't realized there were any non-dwarves living under the mountain.  'Cept Consort Baggins, of course.  But I haven't lived here very long," he confided.  "I don't know very many people yet."

"That so?"  Bilbo gave him a small smile, still with some lingering laughter around the eyes.  "Did you come here with family?"

"My sister, aye.  My mother was already here," he told him, as happy as any young dwarf to chat on about his family.  "She came over with Lord Dáin, even fought in the Battle of Five Armies, did you know?  Afterwards she decided to stay and help with reconstruction, and now she's an advisor to one of the advisors of the king!"  He puffed up proudly at that.

"An advisor to an advisor to the king?  That's quite a privilege."

"That it is.  The rest of us wanted to join her sooner, but my father still had commitments in the Iron Hills, and my younger sister and I were too young to travel alone.  My older sister and I decided to wait until I came of age, and my father and younger sister are coming as soon as my father's contract is up."

"And has Erebor been to your liking so far?"

"To my liking–!" Hamil barked in laughter.  "You could say that!  Never thought I'd live to see the lost kingdom reclaimed.  And with Thorin Oakenshield on the throne!"

"By the skin of his teeth, I hear."

"That only makes it more inspiring!" Hamil defended.  He eyed his companion warily.  He had liked the little fellow so far, especially after learning he was married to one of his kind, but he wouldn't stand for anyone disparaging his king – and most of all not when that king was King Thorin.

"Don’t look at me like that!" Bilbo laughed, holding up his hands.  "I promise, I'm very properly in awe of the dwarven ingenuity and gumption and sheer audacity it took to take back Erebor!  No need to challenge me to a duel for King Thorin's honor, or whatever dwarvishly over-the-top notion you've taken into your head."  He had a fond smile as he said this, so Hamil decided not to get offended.

"Well, good.  You're a nice little thing.  I'd hate for there to be discord between us."

"I quite agree, though I protest being called 'a nice little thing'.  But I'll let it slide in the name of our newfound truce."  He gave Hamil a little grin.  "King Thorin is quite something, isn't he?"

Hamil returned his grin with one that was likely far too goofy.  "Aye.  Like some sort of legend out of the old tales."

"He must be glad to know he has such a stalwart champion."

Recognizing he was being teased, Hamil smiled ruefully.  "As if any other dwarf here wouldn't defend him to their last breath.  What we owe him… I don't know if an outsider can completely understand.  No offense meant, of course!" he added hastily.

Bilbo's grin had slipped into something softer.  "Don't worry, I'm not offended.  It's more than just getting back a mountain, or the mines, or the gold, isn't it? It's reclaiming a home and heritage, the chance to make Erebor a place of pride and safety for all dwarves.  That's certainly nothing to sneeze at."

"Well, maybe an outsider can understand a little," Hamil allowed, feeling a little burst of affection for the chance-met stranger.  "I never saw Erebor as it was, but my parents both did, and I grew up on stories of it like everyone else.  To know that the dragon wasn't truly the end of this era of our culture is enough to put a fire in every dwarf's bones!"

Hamil's fervor took a sudden check when he realized Bilbo's eyes had turned suspiciously shiny.

"Oh, Mahal," he said, flustered.  "Did I do something to upset you?"

"Oh don't be absurd," Bilbo told him, blinking away the shininess and beaming up at him.  "It's only that I've been away from home for quite some time, and you just now reminded me of my family and how much I've missed them, the silly things.  Oh dear me, who'd have thought I'd live to become so sentimental over a bit of dwarvish enthusiasm."

Hamil patted him warmly on the back.  "We're almost to the gates now, so you'll see them soon enough, I imagine."

"We'll be lucky if they don't storm down here themselves as soon as one of them spots me!  The road back was far kinder than I'd planned for, so I'm a bit earlier than expected."

They reached the bridge shortly after.  Hamil nodded companionably to the guard at the gate, and she waved him in without challenge.  Her eyes grew wide as fists when they landed on Bilbo.

"Oh!  Welcome home, Your–"

"Hello!" Bilbo interrupted loudly.  "Yes, thank you, no need to make a fuss!  We'll just slip inside."

Hamil could tell there was something strange about the exchange, but since the guard didn't prevent Bilbo from entering the gates he decided it was nothing to get overly concerned about.  He likewise paid no mind to the noisy bustle happening up on the wall above their heads, because Erebor was a busy place and noisy bustling was often the norm.

"You've been a very enjoyable walking companion," Bilbo said, patting his arm as they made their way down the empty, vaulted hallway that led into Erebor.  "I'd be very pleased if you came along to tea one of these days and told me more about your family."

"Oh!" said Hamil, surprised but happily so.  "I mean, thanks, I'd like that too."  He grinned.  "You're a nice little thing, Master Bilbo."

"Ha!  Cheek from a dwarf, I'm shocked.  I'll have you know–" he broke off suddenly, his attention obviously caught by a loud, yet-unseen commotion coming from the other end of the hallway, where twin stairways led to higher and lower levels within Erebor.  "Well.  I suppose it was too much to hope that someone wouldn't tell him right away.  Still, I was going to try to surprise him."

"Surprise who?" Hamil asked, trying to see what had caught Bilbo's attention and put that resigned, fond look on his face.

"My husband, of course."

There was a dwarf striding down the upper staircase, unrelenting and swift enough that those trailing behind him had to jog to keep up.  It didn't take long to recognize him as the king, even from so far away.

Later, Hamil would look back and be embarrassed that he didn't put it together right away.  Now, he just frowned like a lack-wit and asked, "Who's your husband then?"

Bilbo gave Hamil a deeply amused look.

There were shouts coming from some of the dwarves following after the king, drawing Hamil's attention just as King Thorin reached the base of the stairs and started down the hallway towards them.  Not deeper down into the mountain like Hamil had expected.

"The king's coming this way!" he hissed to his new friend, wondering why Bilbo was just sitting there with the brightest grin on his face Hamil had ever seen instead of looking properly awed and flustered.

The king, 20 feet away, broke into a jog.  Hamil had absolutely no idea what to do in this sort of situation except press as far out of the way as possible.

"Oh dear," Bilbo said musingly, watching the king's approach.  "He really is quite ridiculous, isn't he?  Running like that.  You dwarves and your complete lack of embarrassment in displaying your affection.  Great big saps, the lot of you."

Hamil had only time to process his own bewildered outrage that someone could see the sight of King Thorin, who had the most regal bearing of any dwarf in their time, running with kingly determination and then call him ridiculous.  Before he could manage anything more than spluttering, that very king had stopped directly before them and, without a word, swept little Bilbo into his arms, hunching over him and holding him close.  Hamil may as well have not been there at all for as much notice he was given, and this suited him very well because he was currently gaping like a fool.

"Bilbo," King Thorin breathed.  His face was buried in Bilbo's neck, hidden partially by his curls, but Hamil could see enough to know he looked like someone had come along and breathed new life into his entire being.

"I'm here, you silly old thing.  I've hardly been gone that long, have I?"

"Long enough," Captain Dwalin muttered darkly from behind the king, having followed him down, but that didn't stop the huge grin spreading across his leathery face.

"No more Shire trips," the king said, still not releasing his captive.  It was not a demand but something very near a plea.  Hamil could see his hands clutched tightly on Bilbo's back.  "Not unless I come with you."

"Don't be absurd," Bilbo protested, "you're the king, you can hardly–"  That was as far as he got before the king pulled back from the hug just far enough to cup his face and silence him with a tender, passionate kiss.

Hamil, who had been busy making some very surprising realizations very quickly, blushed from the roots of his hair to the bottom of his beard.  He'd been walking and chatting away with Consort Baggins!  Consort Baggins had invited him to tea!  He was one foot away from where Consort Baggins was being deeply, intimately kissed by King Thorin!  It was too much to take in at once.

The kiss went on for long enough that Hamil, pointedly looking away, began to despair of ever getting his blushes under control.  He'd probably have been more embarrassed about showing off to his king just how beet-red he could turn, had his king had any attention to spare.

"That's enough, stop hoggin' him!" one of the other dwarves hollered, and Hamil realized with a jolt that it was Bofur, of the Company – and that, in fact, at least half of the Company now surrounded them, more joining by the second, matching grins on their faces.  "We all missed Bilbo too!"  And he swept Bilbo into a back-cracking hug of his own.  King Thorin, despite having his husband – husband! Bilbo was the king's husband! – so unceremoniously snatched from him, beamed warmly upon the pair.

Bofur dropped a smacking kiss right on Bilbo's mouth before passing him along to Dori, who lifted him straight off the ground with his hug.  And so on it went, until Bilbo had been heartily squeezed, pecked with kisses, or had his forehead gently knocked together with every dwarf present.  Hamil was feeling a bit dizzy just watching it.

Just as he was looking for the easiest way to slip past the group and leave them to their happy reunion, he felt a sturdy hand grab him by the shoulder.

"Guard Hamil."

"Your Majesty!"  Hamil would've bowed but there was a king's hand on his shoulder.  Instead he gave an aborted jerk of his upper body and hoped his beard managed to hide the worst of his blush.

"I take it you accompanied my husband?  My thanks.  I would have sent an escort to Dale had I known he was on his way here."  He gave Bilbo a look of lighthearted reproach.

"You'd have sent an escort all the way to the Shire had I let you get away with it," Bilbo threw back from where he was thoroughly smothered in Glóin's arms, voice slightly muffled.  "The merchants I traveled with were perfectly adequate and got me here much faster than expected."  He wriggled free of his prison enough to smile at Hamil.  "I'm sorry I didn't mention earlier who I was – I'm afraid once I realized you didn't know, I was bitten by a spot of mischief and couldn't help myself.  I hope you're not upset with me?"

"Of- of course not Your Highness," he stammered, "I just apologize for– I mean I'm sorry that– I must have sounded like such a–"

"You sounded just fine, so that's quite enough of that.  And I meant it about coming for tea."

"It's at four," Bofur whispered noisily to Hamil, a twinkle in his eye.

The king reclaimed his consort, tucking him into his side and digging his nose deep into the top of his hair.  "You've been from my side for far too long," he murmured.

Bilbo, looking pleased and tender and just the littlest bit pink about the ears, patted him on the ribs.

"I'm back now."

"And a good thing, too," Captain Dwalin cut in.  "All o' us were getting sick of this one's moping."

"I wasn't moping," the king said in what must have been an automatic response, because he didn't seem to be paying attention to anything besides smelling his husband's hair and keeping him firmly within his hold.

"Forgive me, Master Hamil," Bilbo laughed, "I'll have to speak with you more later.  I've apparently got a great big sap of a king to look after for a bit."

The captain grinned.  "Aye, for all our sake – and don't come out until he's been plenty 'looked after'."  This was met by knowing grins and raucous laughter from all sides.

"You lot are terrible," Bilbo said, not looking very bothered by this and in fact beaming happily at all of them.  "Yes yes, I'm very glad to be back with all of you, Bifur that is a lovely new flower in your beard, yes Kíli I missed you especially, now if you all could excuse us for a bit Thorin and I have a bit of catching up with each other to do– Bofur don't you dare open your mouth, that goes for you too, Nori…"  And with that he bundled off – or perhaps was bundled off by – his king, the pair heading towards the stairs as the rest of the Company, still chuckling, milled after them and broke off into smaller groups to go their own ways.

Soon enough Hamil was standing alone, feeling vaguely like he'd been smashed over the head with the captain's war hammer.

He sank to floor, head thunking against the wall.

He, without a doubt, was the luckiest bastard to walk Erebor's halls.

Dára was going to be jealous for years.