There was mutton and sausage on the table, all skilfully roasted on the grill in the backyard.
There was bread sliced at the right thickness to dip in the sauce to not be too much of a mouthful when bitten, and there were pickled greens that Bilbo had personally cultivated in his spare time in the back garden.
He could pride himself as a successful host that night.
His friends were chatting amiably at his table, the beer was still fresh no matter the suffocating warmness of the August night, and Bilbo was satisfied. Extremely satisfied.
Gandalf was late but he was reliably so. His old friend would show up towards the end of dinner with the fireworks to celebrate the evening. Everyone else had been on time or close enough to.
Bombur was helping him with the last details of the meal while the rest of his guests loitered around his homey kitchen. He could hear Ori, the blossoming little scholar, talking with Thranduil while Bifur was listening intently. Dori, Nori and Bofur were all catching up on everyone’s news. Bilbo thought it was a shame they didn’t see each other as often any more, everyone so caught up in their own lives; it took an elaborate enough excuse, like a midsummer’s party, to get them all together again, so that was what Bilbo put together.
Just as Bilbo was straightening one last spoon of the dining arrangements and preparing to call his friends to the table, the doorbell rang. He frowned; that wasn’t right.
Everyone stopped their actions. It was too early for it to be Gandalf. He had a long record to be on the right time on his watch but fashionably late on everyone else's.
And that ring was right in time for the dinner that was about to start. Not Gandalf then.
Who else? The other invited guests were all already there.
Bilbo searched around the faces in his living room to see if anyone was wiser than him on the subject. He received back many startled expressions.
Ori was very intent at picking a tread in his cotton scarf though. Bilbo raised an eyebrow at him.
With a suffering huff, Bilbo moved to the door; it would be terribly rude not to at least check who was there and politely send them on their way.
He opened his front door and had a moment to look at the two young men on his porch before they threw streamers in his face and yelled, “Happy Birthday!”
All eyes drifted to Ori as Bilbo left to answer the door; if he was fidgeting nervously like that he must know something about who was at the door.
“I think it might be Fili and Kili.” was blurted out by the distressed teenager just as an enthusiastic cry of happy birthday came from the doorway.
Dori frowned in the direction of the front of the house. “Those are Dis’s boys aren’t they?”
“They were trying to invite me to go looking for shooting stars tonight – even though there are no meteor showers forecasted – and I told them I was already going to be at Mr. Bilbo’s party. And I think Mr. Bilbo even asked if I was excited for it the other day when we were all at his library.” Ori let out in one breath.
“Sounds like them to try crashing the party,” Bofur was laughing, “but don’t they know Bilbo’s birthday isn’t ‘til September?”
"But it's not my birthday!" Bilbo was dumbfounded at the sight of the two youngsters at his door. They frequented his library; not as much as Ori but they came by sometimes. Actually Bilbo suspected Ori was the sole reason the two popped up to study there with him. They were Dis's sons, even though Bilbo was not 100% sure of their last name. Durians or something. Why would they even have a fruit name? And they were already tipsy if the beer bottles in their hands could be taken as a sign.
"Has your birthday been cancelled Mr Boggins?" Kili, the taller one, said looking heartbroken.
That was the confirmation Bilbo didn't need.
The brothers tromped into his house.
They were speaking back and forth, each only saying a part of the sentence, until Bilbo was dizzy from just listening. The pair talked right over his attempts to say anything and strolled farther in without even taking off their shoes, to Bilbo’s utter despair.
He started closing the door so he could follow the interlopers when another voice called, “Hey! Don’t go closing the door on me.”
Bilbo watched a man with such vividly red hair he could only be Gimli’s father pull the door open again and gulped; he could see a few other cars pulling up to his drive. Bilbo was rattled when the man gave his hand an enthusiastic shake.
“We can’t be staying by the door all night; let’s head in to the party. Don’t worry about the other’s they’ll find their way in alright.”
And then Bilbo was being dragged further into his house with little more than a whimpered ‘goodness gracious’.
Behind Bilbo followed a man with a visible hearing aid. If Gimli tales were to be taken for true, that must have been his uncle Oin.
Pressed between the two men, Bilbo found himself once more in his living room. His protest about closing the door went unheard off.
Probably it was covered by the banging of that same door, as more people entered his home.
He wished they'd be more careful with it. How would his house survive with such abrupt guests? A glance at the floor showed they were even still wearing their shoes. They were going to ruin the carpets and floors! Bilbo could feel an incipient headache.
When finally the door slammed closed for the last time, there were 17 heads in total under his roof (plus 1 more to come fashionably late). 9 more than whom Bilbo had invited at his Midsummer party.
When a drink was put into his hands, he didn't stop to question it and just drank.
Half the glass gone and Bilbo was sighing, in search of a chair to sit down, commiserating his ruined plans. It wasn't that he lacked the food to feed everyone, even the unexpected guests. Bilbo was famous for spending more time in his kitchen cooking than at the table actually eating - though he could swallow a lot of food himself if he had to be honest - so there was plenty of it; but even his over preparedness would be stretched by almost double the expected guests.
At this rate, Bilbo was going to need another drink after this one if he kept downing them like this.
It was a good thing that Fili and Kili had thought the party was for Bilbo’s birthday. Dis had brought a nice bottle of wine as a gift that Bilbo would probably later regret not taking more time to savour. Fancy wines like that weren’t really Nori’s thing but he could admit it was quite nice.
Seeing that the smaller man was starting to get a touch overwhelmed by the unexpected guests, Nori and Bofur had taken Bilbo and the wine to another room while Dori started directing everyone down to the beach. They were lucky that no one else was using the big fire pit there that night. They could trust that Dori would get everyone settled with everything they needed, even if all the guests had to pitch in and make a couple of trips for food, drink, firewood and blankets.
The bottle of wine was finished between the three of them, though mostly between Bilbo and Nori, while the two friends reassured their host that his house would be fine and everything was taken care of and the party wasn’t ruined. When he was sufficiently placated, the trio began to make their own way to the beach. All three of them were laughing when they got there; Bofur had been exaggerating his movements as they picked their way through the big rocks at the edge of the beach and quacking in imitation of a duck. Bilbo had only managed to look disapproving for a moment before he dissolved into giggles with them.
Once there, the first thing Bilbo noticed was that one of his good tablecloths was stretched out over a particularly big rock that was serving as an impromptu picnic table, somebody mistaking it for a beach cover evidently. To keep all their efforts of calming Bilbo down from going to waste, Nori and Bofur helped Bilbo free the cloth and Nori volunteered to take it back up to the house.
Even if there was a bit of nice wine in his veins Nori could feel its effect only on the tip of his tongue, where the flavour rested in harmony with his taste buds. Nori’s feet were steady walking back to the house with Bilbo’s precious doily thing, too frilly in Nori’s opinion to cover a table. Prickly little old Bilbo… So prickly in fact, that one of his many house rules was that shoes were to be left at the door.
Carelessly throwing the tablecloth over his shoulder, Nori bent down to take off his own. It was the right thing to do even if nobody was there to tell on him. Or so Nori thought.
When he rose again, loafers in hand and cloth still haphazardly perched on his shoulder, Nori was greeted by the most magnificent sight that the house could offer.
Dwalin - even if Nori wasn’t supposed to remember a high school rival’s name - was standing there, three bottles of beer wedged between the meaty fingers of one hand and more covers hanging from the other arm. Muscular tattooed arm.
Nori had a moment of bewilderment before regaining enough presence to blurt out one of those silly things that someone says in front of an… enemy-turned-crush?
“Bilbo doesn’t want people wearing shoes in his house!”
The words to turn it into a joke stuck in Nori’s throat when Dwalin turned his focus towards him. The big man’s eyes flicked down to his feet and Nori couldn’t quite stop his toes from curling self-consciously.
“I didn’t know. Sorry.” Dwalin looked back to Nori’s face before turning to put the beers back on the counter and reaching down to take off his own shoes. Nori watched for a moment before looking away, he didn’t want to be caught staring, and watched the condensation drip down the bottles instead.
“Bilbo says he doesn’t like the dirt track into the carpets but the windows he leaves open must be just as bad,” stringing words together was much easier when Dwalin wasn’t looking at him. Had it been like that when they were in high school?
Dwalin had picked up his shoes now and was standing up again, “I didn’t know that you knew him so well.”
“It sort of happened, you know.. You live, move on, meet people,” Nori moved his free hand in the air to better show the flowing of life while the other waved around his shoes, unbalancing Bilbo’s cloth that started sliding from his shoulder. A quick motion saved it from falling onto the floor, but if Nori was hoping to make a good first - not first - impression he was sure he had just lost his chance thrashing around like a monkey.
So much for years passing and erasing the bad memories. Nori sighed. “And those people are fussy sods who can’t stand a dirty spot on their doilies.”
Said doily ended up getting the brunt of the explanation, squeezed and twisted in Nori's hands as he mimed wringing someone’s neck. Then Nori suddenly remembered Dwalin's presence right in front of him. He was watching him and maybe violence against innocent table clothes was not the best way to impress your long time crush.
Gingerly Nori put it down on the table, smoothing out the wrinkles with such an innocent face like he hadn't just assaulted the cloth. Those few steps had brought him even closer to Dwalin and Nori could feel it in the thrumming of the blood in his veins, rising up at the risk to make his cheek turn red. He couldn't let that happen. Not in front of Dwalin!
“We should go back to the party! Need a hand with the beers?” as quick as a lightning, Nori took two of the beers with the hand not occupied by the loafers and turned around to head to the back door.
The sound of footsteps that were not his own followed him outside.
There's fire and beer and chats. And maybe a revelation.
(Mention of BalinDori. Blink and you'll miss it!)
Life happens so this chapter took too much to be ready. I'm sorry!
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.