The beer in his hand was still somewhat cool, the bottle wet against his skin, a stark contrast with his rising temperature. He was baffled at the sight of Nori walking in front of him.
More so, how was it possible that he hadn’t noticed the man earlier? Had there been that many people in the room? Damn Fili and Kili for involving them all in this situation. For roping Dwalin into it specially! This was not how Dwalin had wanted to start talking with Nori again. Or ever.. he wasn’t sure if he ever wanted to approach the man.
Though the sight sure wasn’t a regrettable one. Dwalin had never realized how much shorter Nori was. Or all around smaller for that matter. In Nori’s defence it was also true that Dwalin had become a regular at the gym in the years that followed high school, and that had been so many years ago. They hadn’t been close enough that they could spot the size difference of their hands around a broomstick in years.
Now though it looked like Nori was power walking to be as far ahead of him as possible. Still, not a regrettable sight. Dwalin didn’t mind a bit.
Nori had put on a nice backside since his teenager days. Not that Dwalin had ever noticed that kind of stuff. But he had noticed. Nori had been a lanky teenager, with freckles covering all the visible skin on both his gangly arms and his long nose, and not much muscle on him. Now he still was a thin thing, but some parts of him were more well defined. His shoulders and ass had filled out finely, and Dwalin felt like an old pervert while enjoying the voyeuristic sight of Nori’s backside.
On one hand, he thought that just looking and admiring from afar wasn’t such a bad thing (and afar he was! Nori was already at the door, gaining more distance from him). On the other, if he were half as brave about this as he was with everything else, Dwalin would have caught up to Nori and stopped him to… talk.
Instead it was Nori who ended up being the one to start the conversation between them again. The redhead slowed down just outside the house, trying to slip his shoes back on without coming to a complete stop. He wobbled precariously for a moment but managed to right himself as Dwalin watched. Nori sent him what probably should have been a quick glance but stretched into an awkward moment and asked, “were your feet always that big?”
Dwalin looked between their feet again for a moment. Nori had his shoes on now but was shuffling in a way that looked like he wanted to get going and continue towards the beach, probably to keep the distance between them, but still hear the answer to his question. He could still remember how Nori’s pale toes had curled the last time he’d been looking and briefly wondered if they were doing it right then, under the cover of his shoes.
“Yes? Or it certainly feels like they have,” Dwalin replied pensively. His feet had probably grown since high school, much like the rest of him, but he didn’t ever recall having feet as small as Nori’s. Nori’s feet probably weren’t even that small; they were just so small looking in comparison to his. “You’ve certainly grown-” Dwalin just managed to cut himself off before saying something like he might’ve back in high school. Whenever they’d been fighting, Dwalin would comment on Nori’s lack of muscles, but ‘-out of some of your scrawniness’ would only set them back into old patterns; Dwalin wanted that even less than floundering through a regular conversation with the smaller man. Another thing that almost popped out of Dwalin’s mouth was something along the lines of ‘-a really nice ass’ but that could get him into even more trouble.
He managed to save himself after a bit of a pause and finished, even if it was a little stilted, with, “-your hair out really long.”
Nori turned a bit, as if to look behind himself to check his hair. And now Dwalin was looking at Nori’s hair; all of those pretty red strands tied into a braid long enough to brush that fantastic ass. Dwalin almost missed his shrug.
“I don’t notice so much with it tied back.”
The other man seemed to remember then that he wanted to keep walking and started down the path towards the beach. With one last quick tug to his shoes, Dwalin made sure to use his long stride to keep up with the shorter man.
The path from the house to the beach wasn’t very long, a paved walkway surrounded by fresh grass, and Dwalin took a moment to consider how Bilbo had managed to get his hands on such a house. Close to the lake, even if the beach was made of pebbles, it must have been worth a fortune.
Some tongues of fire were already visible rising up in the evening to greet the first faint stars above. Somebody must have gone ahead and started a bonfire. Impatient partying people, that lot.
Where Bilbo’s property ended was clear as the manicured lawn ended and gave way to more wild vegetation while the paved walkway had a couple of steps down to a gravel path. Nori’s quick gait was fast enough that he reached some of the bigger rocks that surrounded the beach first, but Dwalin sped up his last steps and they both reached their destination together.
Everyone was gathered around the bonfire. Just outside the circle there were makeshift tables, filled with the food that they had brought down from Bilbo’s place and a few more empty plates that were probably for him and Nori. Most people seemed to be happy with that but Fili, Kili and their friend Ori seemed to be trying to roast something else over the fire. Dwalin chuckled, he was sure they’d just end up setting whatever they were trying to cook aflame if they didn’t let the fire die down a little first.
As quick as a weasel, Nori left one of the beer bottles on the table and picked up a bottle opener to go with the other fresh bottle still in his hand. Instead of staying at the table to choose his share of the food, Nori ducked directly on the cover with other people that Dwalin didn’t recognize. There was a man with long dark braids Nori sat close to, and looking cozy and that made something clench in Dwalin’s gut. Was that Nori’s..? Well, in that case Dwalin could presume that Nori didn’t disdain male company, but then if he was already taken…
With a sigh, a very quiet sigh, Dwalin deposited the extra blankets he had carried and grabbed the abandoned bottle for Thorin. Dis could remain sober for all Dwalin cared. Somebody should be left in charge of her sons and he sure wasn’t going to play babysitter to anybody that night. Not even to himself. He was in the mood for that kind of bender where one would be left the morning after not even remembering their own first name.
Spotting Thorin and Balin on the other side of the gathering, Dwalin joined them. Thorin greeted him more warmly than usual when he saw the two bottles. Dwalin handed him one, still lightly dripping, but when his cousin recognized the hurtful absence of a bottle opener his eyes settled into his patented scowl. “You have forgotte-”
Dwalin interrupted him before the situation could worsen and dangled his swiss army knife keychain in front of Thorin. “Don’t worry my friend, you’re not going to be left with a dry mouth. Here, let me.”
The caps were removed promptly and Dwalin could finally sit down to enjoy his first beer of the night. No need for food if he planned to get wasted.
Both Dawlin and Thorin had a couple of good swigs from their bottles before Thorin noticed his cousin’s mood.
“I thought my nephews had roped us into coming here to celebrate. You were alright with that on the way here, why do you look so sour now?”
Thorin was right, Dwalin hadn’t really known who or what the party was for but it was the season for parties and he had just wanted a bit of fun, particularly with how things were at work.
He gave an unamused huff and said, “The problems you try to run from always have a way of finding you again.”
“What sort of problems could you possibly have on a night like this? The only thing that could be is not having enough alcohol and cheer,” Thorin swept his beer bottle out in a gesture to indicate the night around them. It was quite nice. The temperature had just dropped the day before from sweltering to comfortable and the sun was kissing the horizon of a cloudless sky, once it set they’d have a gorgeous view of all the stars, more than the one already showing. All around them there was happy conversations and laughter as people ate and drank. Somehow even the fire seemed particularly merry.
“Old ones,” Dwalin answered, not quite managing to avoid looking towards Nori again. Old problems from high school that shouldn’t even be problems. He hadn’t even liked Nori for most of their years there. Dwalin hardly wanted to admit the small things that had changed his opinion of the troublemaker right at the end of their last year. Old problems that were suddenly coming back into his life. Like he needed them.
Balin’s gaze sharpened on him and Dwalin hid behind his beer as he took another drink. He and Thorin were usually confidants but during that first summer after high school, when Dwalin was the most conflicted about everything, Thorin had gone traveling abroad with his family and Balin had been the only one left to bear the brunt of his anguish. Though Thorin had had plenty of Dwalin’s agonizing too through university, as they had shared rooms, and then through many of the years afterwards; like one could ever get rid of such a close cousin, you were stuck with them.
Dwalin’s brother was always a bit too quick and turned to look at the rest of the party.
“Isn’t it interesting where you can see people you know? I remember Dori from my class in high school. You don’t forget someone like him...” Balin pursed his lips as if thinking and then asked, “wasn’t his brother in your grade?”
Dwalin gave a non-committal grunt as Balin popped a handful of chips in his mouth. That bag must have probably come from the children’s secret stack under the bullet seat of their car.
Beside him, Thorin let out a sigh, “More of this?”
“You’ve already finished yours?!”
Actually, it was Dwalin who had spent his time musing about how long ginger hair had grown in the past years instead of drinking his beer, like he had intended to… and that train of thought didn’t make for a happy Dwalin at all. He sipped again from his surviving bottle, “this time you can go on your own to pick up another.”
Groaning at his cousin’s unwillingness, with an “oh c’mon!” almost spat out, Thorin rose to his feet and headed towards the house. Dwalin’s loud voice followed him with a “bring me more!”
Taking advantage of the empty blanket Dwalin lay down, his bulk occupying it wholly, beer in hand and a sigh leaving him.
“I know that sound, and that face too,” Balin commented from somewhere outside of Dwalin’s line of sight, “so I guess that the infamous Nori is the lanky ginger?”
Sighing again Dwalin said, “oh no, you sank my battleship.” as he rolled to face his brother and cutting off the sight of the very source of his turmoil.
“He is not bad looking. Not at all. A bit on the thin side for my taste, but that’s just what I like.”
Dwalin’s eyes got wide as saucers. “Since when do you..”
“I might be old-” Balin munched on another chip “-er than you, but I still have eyes and can appreciate beauty when I see it. Their whole family is certainly appreciable,” and smiled smugly.
Finishing in a long gulp his beer, Dwalin rose on his elbows “I hope Thorin will return soon with more beer ‘cause I really need one.. never took you for such a sly fox..”
Was that his brother confessing that he didn’t appreciate just dainty ladies but also well rounded dainty men with a shared past? It would have explained some holes in the image that Dwalin had of his brother. Even if Dwalin had been open about his sexuality since university era, Balin had always been the more private and cunning one. So cunning that some of his affairs had been proper trysts it seemed. But they weren’t together now. Dwalin wondered what might have happened between them and if his family was doomed to complicated relationships with the Rivers.
Dwalin’s unfocused gaze was on his brother until it was interrupted by a sudden cold feeling against his neck.
“WHATTHE?!” he turned in time to see a chuckling Thorin that had an opened six pack under one arm and a single can in the other hand.
“Are you scandalizing your brother?” Thorin passed him the same beer as he sat down again on what little free cover survived Dwalin’s lounging.
“On the contrary, I’m the one leaving him speechless,” Thorin handed Balin a can and they both cackled; Dwalin, still lost in wonder, lay between them. They were going to start teasing him now but that was almost preferable to the direction Balin had been trying to take the conversation. If he was unlucky, and he clearly was this evening, his brother would find other ways of bringing up his red-headed problem very soon.