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Set Your Heart On This Far Shore

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From The Miner’s Pick:

WILL HIS MAJESTY FIND LOVE THIS YEAR?

With Durin’s Day just passed and the new year beginning, it’s once again time to place your bets on whether or not His Majesty, King Thorin II Oakenshield, will finally end the solitude of his fifteen-year reign. Will he grace us with a Queen? A Prince-Consort?

You will protest to us that tired old rumor that he is yet pining over a lost love of his youth. We say, that’s as may be, but it has been at least twenty years since any such liaison, and one must at some point move on. An announcement from His Majesty suggesting that it was his Chosen that he found and then lost would put a quick end to our otherwise endless speculations, so why not say so? Unless it was not his Chosen, and merely a passing fling, in which case surely there are plenty of Dwarrow who might yet turn His Majesty’s head and heart?

And indeed, there are. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite candidates for His Majesty’s kind consideration:

[...]

We urge you, our faithful readers, to submit your own candidates! Do you know someone you think would be a good match for His Majesty? Leave your suggestions on our website at www.minerspick.er/royalmatch. Then, we’ll just have to wait and see what the year brings.

--

Dr. Bilbo Baggins
Bag End, Bagshot Row, Hobbiton
Westfarthing, The Shire, Eriador

January 30

 

Dear Professor Baggins:

Your recent works on the history of interaction between the Dwarrow of Ered Luin and the Hobbits of the Shire were sent to me by your colleague, Bifur son of Binur at Ered Luin University, for consideration regarding our upcoming conference.

I am pleased to inform you that I greatly enjoyed all three papers, and feel that they would make a wonderful addition to the conference, which is focused on the historical relations between the Dwarrow of Erebor and our various neighbors and allies. We are also interested in works considering such relationships between the other Dwarrow kingdoms and their neighbors, but have found fewer than we had hoped. We would be pleased to invite you to the upcoming conference, and can offer a full remuneration of your travel and lodging expenses if you choose to attend.

The conference is to be held from September 10-20 this year, and I would of course urge you to take some time before or after the conference to see the sights and enjoy Erebor and Dale, as it is a fine time of year here. I have included our early promotional materials for the conference with this letter, as well as a list of the participants that we have confirmed so far.

Please inform me of your decision regarding the conference before the end of April, so that I can make arrangements.

Hoping for your favorable response,

Dori son of Anri
Professor of History, Erebor University
dori@erebor.edu

Chapter Text

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The House of Durin

December 15 at 9:33am

A quick message from His Majesty this morning:

I would like to thank everyone for your recent concern and suggestions regarding a romantic partner. While I am grateful that so many of Erebor’s citizens wish to ensure my happiness in this regard, I am not currently looking for a romantic partner, and prefer to spend any time away from official duties with my family. As you all are aware, Princes Fíli and Kíli are growing up quickly, and of course I wish to spend as much time with them as possible.

[A selfie of Thorin, mouth quirked up slightly in amusement, flanked by his nephews, who are making funny faces at the camera in a sitting room of the Royal Wing.]

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--

“I am glad to know that you are not above using my sons as a distraction,” Dís tells him at lunchtime, sweeping into the dining room with her husband Eli following good-naturedly in her wake.

“The picture was their idea,” Thorin says immediately, not bothering to look up from the reports he is reading as he eats absently.

His sister takes her seat next to him, sighing. “I’m sure it was. Nevertheless.”

“It’s much better for people to take an interest in how Fíli and Kíli are doing than for them to waste time speculating about my love life,” he goes on, frowning at some of the numbers. Did these match the reports he was getting directly from the mining companies? Those had seemed much more in line with what he expected...

“Or the lack thereof,” Eli puts in, only offering an innocent smile as Thorin finally looks up and grimaces at his brother-in-law. “Well, they aren’t wrong on that point.”

“It hardly matters,” Thorin protests, accepting that he will get no more reading done during this meal with moderate grace. He shoves his reports to the side. “I am not yet old, and have both Frerin and Fíli as my heirs, so it is not as if there is a succession crisis looming.”

“Somehow, I don’t think that’s of great concern to the gossip-mongers,” Dís says wryly.

Thorin grimaces again, and is grateful when his nephews come bounding in, exclaiming that their morning lessons have left them famished, and did they see how many likes their picture got? He does not want to want to discuss his love life (truthfully, the lack thereof) with anyone, least of all his sister.

How can he, when to speak of it would be to admit that all of the most maudlin rumors are true, and that he is still pining over someone, nearly twenty years later? Not that Dís doesn’t suspect as much, but he hardly needs to confirm it.

He shouldn’t still be pining, not over a fling that lasted barely a semester... but he is. That has always worried him more than he is willing to admit, even to himself.

Thorin allows his family to distract him, as he always does, and tells himself (not untruthfully) that he is content.

The knowledge that he might have lost his one real chance to be more than content is something he tries hard not to think about.

--

Dr. Dori, son of Anri
Department of History
Erebor University
Kingdom of Erebor, Rhovanion

April 25

 

Dear Professor Dori,

I apologize for the great delay in my response to your kind invitation; there were some arrangements to make to see if I could be away from my work here for a few weeks in the fall. Happily, I can tell you that I am free and would be honored to attend your conference as a speaker. The topic is, of course, of great interest to me, and the prospect of getting to learn more about your Eastern kingdoms is appealing. I hope that my knowledge of relations here in the Western part of the world will be interesting to our colleagues as well.

Time permitting, I will certainly plan to spend some time both before and after the conference exploring Erebor and Dale, but I can promise you my attendance at the conference itself.

Many thanks for your kind consideration,

Bilbo Baggins
Professor of History, Hobbiton College
bbaggins@hobbiton.edu

--

Bilbo posts the letter without reading it over any more than is necessary to ensure that there are no typos or hideous grammatical errors, and then takes himself home for dinner before he can think any more about it. This is all Gandalf’s fault, he is quite sure. Bifur may have sent his recommendation to Erebor, and probably quite genuinely at that, but Bilbo is quite sure that Gandalf was the one who made the initial suggestion that made Bifur think about it at all. Interfering old wizard.

Of course, he has always wanted to see Erebor, even before-

Even before a very enthusiastic citizen of that kingdom had described it to him so lovingly. Twenty years gone, now, and he still hasn’t forgotten a word of those descriptions, of that deep, rich voice telling him about the wonders of the Lonely Mountain.

But things were not exactly friendly between them in the end, and Bilbo will not lie to himself enough to deny that his reluctance to risk meeting his once-lover has been a large factor in his avoidance of Erebor up until now. But this conference is too good to pass up, and it has been twenty years, and how likely is it, really, that he should run into just one dwarf amongst so many others? That one was not bound for a career in academia, certainly, so it seems unlikely that he would attend a conference such as this.

So telling himself, Bilbo had strengthened his spine and written his acceptance (nevermind that it took him a solid three months to actually make up his mind to go).

The letter is sent, and it is truly unlikely that he will have any trouble with former lovers at all.

Bilbo Baggins does not think about how few of those there have been, in the past twenty years (none), and tells himself that he has been perfectly content with his teaching and his research.

This is not untrue, but also fails to acknowledge how isolated he has become, living alone as he does within the bubble of the Shire’s relative isolation, even today. His research has looked at Hobbit relations with the other races, yes, but largely as a question of historical interest, and only touching briefly on the present.

So, he is quite content, Bilbo tells himself as he sits out on his front bench that evening with his pipe. He will just have a nice little jaunt to Erebor, present at the conference, see the sights, and then be back here safely ensconced in Bag End within a few weeks.

Quite content.

Unconsciously, his eyes wander east, and his toes curl into the grass.

Chapter Text

[Dain Ironfoot]

You’ve got the gossip pages all riled up over here too now, cousin. Can’t you just find someone to bugger and settle down with already?

Tactful as ever, Dain.
And no.

Don’t tell me all the rumors about you still pining are true?

Do we have to talk about this right now? Or at all?
Why are you even paying attention to the gossip pages, anyway?

When they go so far as to ask for “a comment” from me about the state of my cousin’s non-existent love life, I think I’ve got a right to complain!
Not that you don’t need to get laid, of course, but I thought that went without saying.

I think we’re done with this conversation.

Fine. But you really do need to get laid every once in awhile. Nice picture with the lads, by the way. We’ll have to get them together with my boy soon.

That would be good. Dís would approve. Apparently I am using them as a “distraction.”

You are, at that. Is there nothing to be done about whoever you’re pining after? He isn’t dead, is he?

No.

No, he isn’t dead, or no, there’s nothing to be done about it?

Yes.

All right, if you’re going to be an annoying, cryptic bastard then I’ll leave you alone.

So generous of you, cousin.

Ah, get some rest, cousin. Or get laid. That would probably do you more good at this point.

Good night, Dain.

Good night, Thorin.

--

To: Gandalf <gandalf.grey@whitecouncil.net>
From: Bilbo <bbaggins@hobbiton.edu>
Subject: Thanks for meddling

Not.

I know it was you who told Bifur to send that paper of mine of to this Dr. Dori from Erebor University. Now I’m somehow signed up to go traipsing halfway across Middle Earth this fall! I was supposed to be getting back to teaching, not extending my research leave. Unfortunately, Lobelia was quick enough to jump on how prestigious it would be for the College to have me presenting at an international conference, so my last line of defense fell through.

I hope you’re pleased with yourself. I trust that you will at least be there?

Irately yours,

Bilbo Baggins

 

 

To: Bilbo <bbaggins@hobbiton.edu>
From: Gandalf <gandalf.grey@whitecouncil.net>
Subject: Re: Thanks for meddling

My dear fellow, I have no idea what you mean.

However, I’m delighted to hear that you accepted Dr. Dori’s invitation to the conference in Erebor this fall. You will enjoy the conference, and I believe it will be enriched by your material. Lobelia is quite right, of course, and I’m pleased that she encouraged you to go. Research has always been your strength, as you are well aware, and it is high time you started participating in the international conferences.

I would not miss it for the world. Yes, indeed, I believe this trip will be very good for you. And possibly very amusing for me!

Your friend as always,

Gandalf

Chapter Text

“Any upcoming speeches?” Thorin asks Balin as he swipes through his calendar, trying to remember. Surely there was something coming up?

“Yes,” Balin answers at once, knowing as he always does. “There is the opening of the new train line to the Iron Hills, which is on the eighth.”

Ah, that was it - the new meget-malzumunul train. “What was the new time difference on that trip, then? Diesel-powered was about three and a half hours, and now it’s only one?” It was an exciting advance, and was going to vastly upgrade all of their train systems if this line proved as successful as the engineers of the railway company anticipated. Thorin had been following the developments as eagerly as everyone in Erebor, and had been happy to accept when the request came through that he speak at the opening.

“One hour and twenty minutes, I believe,” Balin says, smiling. “I trust you’re confirming that one?”

“Definitely,” Thorin agrees, smiling as well. That speech shouldn’t be difficult to write. “Anything else?”

“There is the upcoming conference at Erebor University,” Balin goes on, consulting his tablet, “Dori son of Anri of the History Department has requested that you deliver the closing keynote on the twentieth.”

“What was the conference about, again?” Thorin sighs, wishing that he could remember these things better. Balin always tells him that there are far too many details for any one dwarf to keep track of and that is why he has advisers and assistants, but Thorin still feels that the King should do better.

“The historical relations between Dwarrow and their neighbors, and how those inform our relations today,” his adviser rattles off, and Thorin’s memory catches up.

“That had sounded interesting,” he murmurs, reaching for the glass of water on his desk.

“I believe Dr. Dori was hoping that Your Majesty would have a unique perspective on the modern relations between dwarrow and other races to share-”

Small, clever fingers undo the fastenings of his breeches, delving into his underwear, seeking his erection that is already heavy and hard with want-

Thorin inhales sharply and spends the next few breaths coughing heavily to get the water back out of his airway as Balin fusses at him, coming over to pat his back sharply.

Idiot! He scowls at himself, shoving the unwelcome memory aside. Of course he didn’t mean it like that.

It is known, amongst a very small, close circle of his family, that Thorin’s ill-fated affair at the end of his time studying abroad had not been with another dwarrow. Balin is one of the few who is aware of that, but he has never spoken of it to Thorin, and certainly Dr. Dori would have no such knowledge. What is the matter with Thorin’s mind lately? Such memories have, unfortunately, been more present of late than they have been for years. He blames the rumor-mongers, who have not dropped the subject as much as he would like.

“All right then, Your Majesty?”

“Balin,” he says tiredly, knowing that his insistence that the older dwarf need not stand on ceremony with him will go ignored, at least during working hours. Sighing again, he nods. “I’m fine. I apologize. You were saying?”

Balin eyes him more knowingly than Thorin is quite comfortable with, but says nothing. “Dr. Dori hoped that you would have a unique perspective on the modern situation that would do particularly well at the end of the conference, when the attendees have had the chance to learn so much about the historical context.”

Thorin takes a deep breath and nods. “That would seem to be the best place for me to contribute. Please inquire with the professor if there is anything in particular he would like me to address.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. That’s all I have on the calendar for September speaking engagements.”

“Very well, I’ll begin preparing both. Thank you, Balin.” Thorin looks back to his tablet, then his computer, wondering what he should work on next.

“You’re welcome, Your Majesty,” his advisor smiles, and then looks pointedly at him over the tops of his glasses. “And I will also remind you that you have dinner with Princess Dís, Prince Eli, and the boys in one hour.”

“Ah, yes,” Thorin says. After only a brief hesitation, he sets the timer on his phone; dinner with his family is something he would prefer not to miss, even if he has a great deal to do.

Balin bows and heads out with a pleased smile, having long since learned the best ways to get Thorin away from his desk at a reasonable hour, an effort heartily encouraged and assisted by Dís. Fortunately for them, bribing Thorin with time for his nephews is an easy success.

And rightly, he reminds himself, pulling up the minutes of the last Cabinet meeting to review so that he can plan the next one. Family, and my people. Those are the important things.

--

Excerpt from an article in The Dale Herald:

Erebor’s New Magnet Train Makes Successful Debut Run to Iron Hills

[...]

While this new magnetic train is obviously a technological game-changer, it is still unclear what some of the broader implications would be. It is easy to daydream about a journey between Erebor and the Blue Mountains that takes only a few hours instead of a few days, but the current political situation is not quite so clear-cut.

King Thranduil, when asked for a comment, indicated that he was not currently interested in revisiting his stance on no train lines either through or underneath the Greenwood, in spite of this notable technological advance. While it is almost certain that Erebor will invest in an upgraded line between here and Khazad-dum following the current routes that go around the Greenwood, we don’t yet know how much the dwarven companies will be willing to spend upgrading other routes. The Minas Tirith line is another likely possibility, but what about the lines running to the Sea of Rhun and Gundabad? Or the lines that run from Khazad-dum going further west and south?

All in all, it seems like a promising upgrade, but how much it will really change travel for most of us in Rhovanion (and possibly Eriador) remains to be seen.

 

Article from the Erebor Daily:

Conference to Examine Historical Relations Between Dwarrow and Other Races

An academic conference at Erebor University will be bringing a greater diversity of outsiders to the Mountain over the next couple of weeks. Organized by History Professor Dori son of Anri, scholars from all over Middle Earth will be presenting their research on how Dwarrow have interacted with their neighbors over the centuries. Obviously, this can be a fraught topic at times, but Dr. Dori insists that learning about the good and the bad alongside each other is one of the best ways to learn from the past.

“When you look at the relationships that went well and also the ones that went poorly in tandem with each other, and over a broad period of time, it becomes much easier to see patterns of thought and behavior and what outcomes they led to,” he explained. “What can we look for, in both ourselves and our neighbors, to encourage the good times and avoid the bad?”

Currently, the conference presenters consist mainly of Dwarrow and Men from several different kingdoms, with some Elves as one might expect. Some less expected contributors include one Hobbit, hailing from Hobbiton College in the Shire, and two Orc scholars, from the Academy in Gundabad. The latter in particular are causing some controversy, for there are of course many Dwarrow who still oppose Gundabad, an ancestral Longbeard city, remaining in the hands of the Orcs. Recent discussions of allowing Orcs to also live alongside Dwarrow in Khazad-dum have stirred up stronger feelings as well.

Lord Azog of Gundabad, who also has strong opinions on this topic, was pleased that some of his people would be presenting at the conference.

“It speaks well of Dr. Dori,” Lord Azog commented to the Daily when we asked his thoughts, “but it infuriates me that such invitations are still rare enough to be news. Gundabad Academy has been established for five decades, and our scholars are no less talented than anyone else’s. It should be a matter of course that we are invited to discussions that match our areas of expertise. If King Thorin and the other Dwarf Lords are serious about wanting a mixed society in Khazad-dum to work, then they are going to have to talk less and hammer more, as you dwarves are so fond of saying.”

His Majesty (who will himself be speaking at the end of the conference), acknowledged that there was truth in what Lord Azog said.

“Regardless of how well Lord Azog and myself get along personally,” King Thorin told us, “his points in this case are valid. I myself agreed to speak at the conference because I feel that there is a great deal to be learned from the past on this topic. We have come a long way, I believe, throughout my father’s reign and hopefully mine, but there are still many improvements that could be made in our relations with our neighbors. I hope that we as Dwarrow do our best to continue learning from those around us, and that they hold enough regard and respect for us to do the same in return.”

We will continue to follow this story with interest as the conference progresses, and will of course give special attention to His Majesty’s presentation at the end.

For more information about the conference, please contact the History Department at Erebor University: www.erebor.edu/history

--

Erebor is stunning.

Bilbo stands in the middle of an arched walkway, green marble cool beneath his feet, and stares around with wide eyes at the vast open space that surrounds him.

Erebor is truly a city of three dimensions, stretching away from him above and below and on all sides. Whole towns’ worth of homes and shops are carved into the walls and ceilings, their lights glimmering a myriad of colors both electric and neon, connected by the almost-delicate looking walkways like the one he stands on. The open spaces in between are pierced with beams of golden light, sunshine from the outside world directed into the Mountain through a series of clever shafts and systems of mirrors.

He doesn’t know if he will ever be able to comprehend the vision and the skill that it must have taken to create something as amazing as this, to take a solid mountain and turn its interior into a city-state of such magnificence.

Some part of him has always supposed that Erebor would be a dim, cold place...but that is the farthest thing from the truth. Perhaps without her people, the Lonely Mountain would indeed be cold and lonely...but filled up with dwarrow, the mountain is bright, warm, ringing with the sounds of Durin’s folk going about their lives.

Bilbo breathes in, and looks, and listens, and feels an ache in his heart that only the Shire has ever made him feel.

Bilbo breathes, and already regrets the moment that he must leave.

Chapter Text

He continues to find more and more reasons to love Erebor in the following days, and the University Library is no exception. The size of it alone is nearly staggering; Bilbo had expected it to overwhelm Hobbiton College’s (respectable but not very large) library, but the collection here at Erebor University easily outstrips that of Ered Luin, and quite genuinely rivals the great libraries of Rivendell and Gondor.

He is even beginning to wonder, as he turns another corner into yet another three-story room filled with books, if it doesn’t outstrip them entirely.

He could spend a lifetime in here, and scarcely regret a moment of it.

Bilbo blames himself for what happens next. He can get quite caught up in his reading, of course, but usually he is actually seated somewhere with a book when that happens. His only excuse for wandering around gaping up at the tops of the bookshelves instead of looking where he is going is that he has yet to see a ladder, and how on Earth is one even supposed to see what is up there, much less get anything down?

He bumps into the dwarf who is bent over a fairly large volume entirely by accident, and only just manages to help him catch the book before it falls.

“Oh, goodness, I’m terribly sorry!” Bilbo babbles an apology, too many years of academic habit leading him to check the book for damage before looking up at the dwarf he so rudely interrupted. “I wasn’t watching where I was going, it’s entirely my- Rin??

Stunned blue eyes go wide as Bilbo’s former lover gapes at him.

“B-Bilbo?”

The dwarf’s low voice is a shock to his system, and Bilbo feels a very uncomfortable mixture of heat and sickness curl up together in his belly. “Rin! I- I wasn’t expecting to run into- I mean- I wasn’t expecting to see you...here....” ...or at all, but he swallows those words down. Silently, he curses to himself. It would be running into him literally, of course, as if he needed to be reminded of how they met-

“I- No. What are you- What brings you to Erebor?”

Bilbo isn’t sure if it is a relief or not, that Rin sounds as stilted and awkward as he himself feels. His body temperature seems unstable, even in the cool, dry atmosphere of the library, and he knows he’s fighting off an unexpected rush of adrenaline, swallowing against the swooping sensation in his stomach that is queasier than he would like.

They had not parted on the best of terms, he and Rin.

“Oh, um. Well, it’s the conference, you see, I’ve been teaching these past- past few years, and doing some research here and there, and they invited me, so I thought I’d come along and- and see the Mountain, you know, and you always-” He cuts himself off, cursing his mouth that won’t stop sometimes when he’s nervous, and bringing up their time together is the last thing he wants to do.

Sure enough, Rin stiffens, and something in his face closes off in a quite painfully familiar fashion. “Of course. My apologies. I won’t keep you.”

“Oh, but I’m the one who interrupted you-”

“It’s no matter,” Rin insists, and quickly replaces the book he was reading on the shelf. “Have a good day.”

And with that stiff farewell, he is gone, sliding around Bilbo and away, disappearing among the stacks back in the direction of the front entrance.

Bilbo stands quite still for a long time.

He looked well, the hobbit thinks shakily, a bit tired, but well. Rin’s beard was longer now, woven into a thicker braid, with a series of small silver beads down the middle. The rest of his dark hair was loose, threaded with some silver, and with only a few simple braids in it; he had never been one for ostentatious hair fashion, unlike some dwarrow. His face seemed more lined than it had been, and there were light shadows under his eyes, but overall he had seemed...well. Seemed fine.

Bilbo was finding the ache overtaking his heart difficult to set aside.

He’s probably gotten married, Bilbo told himself firmly, to someone who could give him what he needed. And that was not you!

Not that Rin was blameless in their break-up, but Bilbo has had twenty years to think about things, and to realize that his own actions at the time weren’t exactly above reproach, and that in the end, they just weren’t a good fit for each other.

Of course, it had felt very differently while they were together.

Enough, the hobbit thought, allowing his annoyance to overtake the sadness starting to make itself known. The conference starts tomorrow, and it’s not like he’ll come back now that he knows you’re here. There’s plenty for me to see and do still today.

He couldn’t help but glance at the book that the dwarf had been looking at, though, as he stepped forward determinedly to continue his exploration of the library: A History of the Blue Mountains.

--

“Oh, pardon me!”

Catching his balance with the ease of long training, Thorin was surprised to find himself blinking down at someone. As a dwarf at Rivendell University, he was hardly used to being taller than those around him.

“It’s all right,” he said, blinking again as he realized that the person he had bumped into must be a halfling.

“I’m so sorry,” the halfling – or hobbit, he had a vague memory that they preferred that term – went on, clutching a book to his chest. “My mother always tells me not to walk around with my nose in a book, but sometimes it’s just so hard to put it down, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Thorin agreed. While not prone to walking around while reading, he certainly had less time than he preferred to for such things, so he could understand the sentiment.

“Oh,” the hobbit said, almost seeming surprised at the agreement (and perhaps Thorin’s lack of annoyance), and actually seemed to see him for the first time. “Oh. B- Bilbo Baggins, at your service.”

Returning the hobbit’s slightly awkward bow, Thorin also felt like saying “Oh,” but refrained. Lively hazel eyes peered brightly out of a pleasant face topped by light brown hair. The hobbit’s body was small and plump, with the unusually large feet of his kind, covered with what (to Thorin at least) looked like a respectable amount of hair.

“Rin, son of Ran, at yours,” he said carefully, using the pseudonym that had stayed with him throughout his many years of study abroad. It was considered important for the Crown Prince of Erebor to know something of the world, but not necessarily for the world to know him at this stage. Life and his studies were simpler, as well, when he was treated as all the other students. Lord Elrond knew his true identity, of course, but he was the only one.

“Well, it is very nice to meet you, Master Rin, though I apologize for the method!” Baggins said, smiling at him and lighting up his lovely eyes even more. Thorin swallowed.

“You as well, Master Baggins,” he replied, proud of his steady voice.

“I had best be getting on now – class soon, you know – but perhaps I will see you again! Have you just started?”

“Yes. Good luck with your classes.” Thorin realized that he hoped he would see Baggins again, and tried to push the feeling aside. He was here for his studies, and in a few months he would return to Erebor for good.

“Thank you!” Baggins sketched a quick bow again, and then went on his way, a cheerful tune whistling from his lips.

The university is large, Thorin thought to himself, it is unlikely that we shall meet again.

When they bumped into each other (less literally) for the third time, however, Thorin realized that the hobbit was deliberately seeking him out, and his own resistance crumbled. They had more in common than he might have thought at first. Long conversations full of wandering eyes and lingering looks soon turned into wandering hands and mouths...and finally, one night, to two bodies wound together in Thorin’s bed.

Chapter Text

Thorin could not help returning Bilbo’s brilliant smile when they met in one of the university courtyards. Classes and study had kept them apart for the day and night after they had lain together, and only now did Thorin realize just how much he had missed Bilbo in that short time.

“Hullo,” Bilbo said as Thorin reached him, still grinning.

“Hi,” Thorin replied, feeling shy and breathless and delighted all at once. He leaned down to greet his new lover with a kiss-

-and startled upright again when Bilbo jerked away, his eyes darting around the empty courtyard.

“Bilbo?” Thorin whispered, uncertain. “Did you not want- Should I have- I apologize if I-“

“No, no!” Bilbo hastened to assure Thorin, but he did not step closer again, his posture stiff. “No, Rin, it isn’t you at all. I-” he lowered his voice, “I had a lovely time the other night.”

“But it was just one night,” Thorin said, wavering between a question and a statement. Something sharp feeling squeezed his heart. He had not supposed that he was being played, Bilbo had seemed so sincere...

“Oh, no!” And now the hobbit did step closer, just a little, seeming dismayed. “It’s not that at all, Rin. Being with you was wonderful and I would very much like to do it again. It just has to be private, that’s all.”

“So, you wish a relationship with me, but you would keep it a secret?” Thorin frowned. The tightness in his chest had eased slightly, but he still felt upset. He was not to kiss Bilbo where any could see, could not hold his hand, could not declare his affections openly?

“Please understand,” Bilbo said, wringing his hands a little, “this is Eriador. I know – I have read, at least – that in Rhovanion and especially amongst dwarves, these things are...done differently. But here, it is frowned upon, you see, two- two males, being together in that way.”

“I do not understand why this would be such an issue,” Thorin said, trying to keep his voice neutral and obviously not succeeding, as the small hobbit hands (hands that had brought him pleasure like he had never known, clever and gentle and merciless...) continued to twist together. He took a deep breath and tried again. “Will we be punished for being open about our relationship?”

“Not- Not as such, no,” Bilbo admitted, but he looked unhappy. “Lord Elrond is not quite as intolerant as some. But word will get around, you see, and while you may be given some leeway, as a dwarf, my...inclinations are not so accepted amongst my fellow hobbits. It might- It might matter, when I go home and begin to look for a position. And some of the other professors here, it may affect how they see me, and my work, and-”

The genuine distress in Bilbo’s voice and eyes convinced Thorin that in this, he would have to set aside his own feelings.

“Very well,” he said to calm the hobbit, and took another slow breath to organize his thoughts. “I am not happy about it, for I would much prefer to be open with my affections, but I do not wish to bring you harm. Our...relations shall remain in the privacy of our quarters.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo breathed with evident relief, “thank you for understanding, Rin.”

But I don’t, Thorin thought. I don’t understand how you cannot want to shout this from the rooftops.

Perhaps his feeling is not as strong as yours, whispered a cautionary voice in the back of his mind.

And besides, murmured another, in a few months you will leave for Erebor, and in time you will be King. Perhaps it is for the best.

--

Dori son of Anri @DrDori Sept 12

Dwarrow and Their Neighbors Conference going well; looking forward to His Majesty’s speech at the end. @KingThorinII #DwarrowNeighborsConf

[2,396 retweeted] [643 liked]

 

Thorin son of Thrain @KingThorinII Sept 12

@DrDori Glad conference going well, looking forward to keynote also. #DwarrowNeighborsConf

[3,458 retweeted] [895 liked]

 

Fláimingur son of Fláim @Fláimin Sept 12

@DrDori what a ridiculous conference, study something useful #DwarrowNeighborsConf #lame

[246 retweeted] [68 liked]

 

Jari son of Jarin @JarHammer Sept 12

@DrDori I’ve learned lots so far, looking forward to the rest! #DwarrowNeighborsConf

[143 retweeted] [76 liked]

 

Lord Azog @azog Sept 12

@DrDori @KingThorinII Interested to hear what His Majesty will say about Khazad-dum. #DwarrowNeighborsConf #Khazaddum

[4,764 retweeted] [967 liked]

 

Ebba daughter of Eiba @ebbing Sept 12

@KingThorinII Can’t believe you’re allowing filthy orcs inside Erebor! #DwarrowNeighborsConf #KhazaddumForDwarves #FreeGundabad

[1,549 retweeted] [760 liked]

 

Malja daughter of Malla @malleablewords Sept 12

@DrDori Excited to hear your work at the Dwarrow and Their Neighbors Conference, good to hear from fellow academics. #DwarrowNeighborsConf

[293 retweeted] [118 liked]

 

Bjarti son of Bjarki @ActorBjarson Sept 12

@KingThorinII About time we paid more attention to the rest of the world. Good on you @DrDori. #DwarrowNeighborsConf #Khazaddum

[2,274 retweeted] [1,455 liked]

Chapter Text

When the knocking came at his door, Thorin said “Come in” without thinking about it. Only in the next moment did he remember that it was probably Bilbo, but then it was too late.

“-ullo there! Just finished up at class and had a little time so I thought I’d come see...you...” The hobbit’s voice trailed off as he saw what Thorin was doing. Thorin paused for half a breath, something uncomfortable rolling through his gut, but then forced himself to continue his packing.

“Rin, what are you- Are you leaving?” Bilbo asked, sounding surprised. “What’s going on?”

“I must return home,” Thorin told him, doing his best to keep his voice neutral. “My father is unwell.”

“Oh,” Bilbo said. “I’m very sorry to hear that. Will he be all right?”

“The doctors believe so, or so my sister tells me, but it is better if I go all the same.”

“Of course,” Bilbo agreed. “Will you- Will you be gone long, do you think? When will you be back?”

Thorin hesitated again, then said bluntly, “I do not expect to return.” It was better to be honest, wasn’t it? “It is nearing the end of the semester, and I was due to return to Erebor at that time anyway.”

“What?”

The dwarf winced slightly, then shoved the guilt roughly aside. The hobbit had not even cared to be honest about the true nature of their relationship, so he couldn’t have taken it very seriously. Surely he knew it could not last, not something hidden and secretive like this whole affair has been?

“Rin, what? You never said anything about leaving at the end of the semester...” Bilbo sounded hurt, and Thorin couldn’t stop himself from taking a quick look at the hobbit. Bilbo was frowning at him, hands clenched at his sides.

“You knew that I was only here studying abroad,” Thorin told him roughly, shoving down the guilt again.

“Yes, but I didn’t realize that you were going to be leaving quite so soon,” the hobbit said. “It would have been nice of you to tell me.”

That was true, but there was nothing to be done about it now.

“Will I see you again?” Bilbo wanted to know then. “How can I- May I write to you?”

Rin, son of Ran, does not exist and has no contact information in Erebor. He could lie, could give Bilbo a false address and let the disappointment happen later once he is well away from here and will never see the hobbit again. But there has been too much falsity in their relationship already, and if he must be cruel, it seems only fair that he at least do it in person.

“I don’t think that would be wise,” Thorin told Bilbo, taking a deep breath and turning to face him for the first time.

A hurt look crossed the hobbit’s face, but it was quickly replaced by anger.

“So that’s it, is it? I’m good enough to have a little fun with while you’re abroad, but not good enough to keep in touch with after?”

“As if you are any better,” Thorin scoffs, “insisting our relations be kept secret, hiding me away in shame!”

Bilbo looked taken aback. “Thorin, I explained why we couldn’t be open about things here! You said that you understood-”

“But I don’t,” he told the hobbit bluntly. “I do not understand how you could find shameful anything that really mattered to you. It is not the dwarrow way.”

“It’s not like I want to!” Bilbo yelled at him, abruptly livid. “Do you think I like living this way? Do you think I like denying a part of myself?”

“But you do,” Thorin cut in quietly. It silenced the hobbit, his face going pale. “You do, and that is not the dwarrow way. I enjoyed our time together, Bilbo, but it is over now.” Even if things had been different between them here...well, he is the Crown Prince. He could not bring a hobbit home to his family and his people.

“So...that’s it? All these- All these months together and you’re just...saying goodbye?” Bilbo’s voice had gone quiet too, the questions just above a whisper. There was something odd about his expression, but Thorin turned away, looking back to his packing.

“Yes.”

“And I’ll never...never see you again, never even hear from you?”

“No.”

There was silence for a long moment, and Thorin forced himself not to turn around again. His hands continued to fold tunics, packing them into his luggage.

“I understand,” Bilbo said at last, in a whisper. Thorin nodded, hoping that the hobbit did understand, did realize that this was never going to go anywhere, and it was better this way.

(Liar, whispered something in his heart.)

“Good-bye then, Rin.” There was a pause, but Thorin could only bring himself to nod again, and said nothing.

At last, there was the nearly-inaudible sound of the hobbit’s bare feet on the stone floor as he turned and made his way out. The door shut almost silently behind him.

Thorin did not see Bilbo Baggins again during his remaining two days in Rivendell. Thorin would never see Bilbo Baggins again at all. He told himself that he did not care. The train sped away from Rivendell, heading east, and Thorin did not look back.

(Something in his heart whispered, Liar.)

--

Bilbo Baggins is in Erebor.

Thorin finds that he almost cannot comprehend it, and must continue to think it to himself over and over again, in the hopes of understanding.

You should have known, the more truthful voice in the back of his head tells him, should have known when you learned there would be a hobbit attending the conference that it would be him.

This is nothing but the truth, and yet still it does not solidify in his mind.

Bilbo Baggins is in Erebor.

Thorin remembers little of their encounter in the University library beyond the shock of it, and little of his quick trip back to the royal quarters. His first clear memory is of being back in the privacy of his own rooms, of letting his knees go weak and staggering to his bed, collapsing onto it with a still wildly beating heart.

That he desperately regrets ending their brief relationship is now beyond even his own well-practiced ability to deny it.

He does not question why his heart has chosen a partner in the shape of a small, plump hobbit professor of history, because he still remembers every single moment of their time together in Rivendell as if it were yesterday, and he knows (knew then and knows now) what bliss felt like. That it was not just their time in bed that made him feel that, but all of their moments together, sleeping and waking, passionate and calm...that should have been proof enough then, evidence that he should have seen and used to keep Bilbo close, and damn the consequences.

None of his own feelings have changed, not really; only he has lost the ability to hide them from himself. He loved Bilbo Baggins then, and loves him still, and may never love another.

It is too late, of course. Bilbo might have moved on, might have married, might have found some way to be with a partner suited to his preferences, even. Even if he has not, Thorin can hardly hope for understanding and forgiveness, not after he is the one who ended things so coldly and abruptly, and refused to keep in touch.

In spite of this, Thorin knows that he must see Bilbo again, and apologize. At the very least, he owes Bilbo Baggins that much.

It might be best to stay away, part of him thinks, best not to trouble Bilbo again. Has he not caused the hobbit enough harm?

But the apology is not optional. That is all that he can allow himself to hope for. But he has, against all odds, been granted a chance to make some small atonement for his callousness, and he cannot let this opportunity go. He will think only of apologizing, and of how to tell Bilbo the truth.

Thorin grips his own hair so tightly that it hurts.

Bilbo Baggins is in Erebor.

Chapter Text

“So to wrap up, because I sense there will be many questions,” Bilbo pauses for the affirmative chuckles that fill the lecture hall, “relations between Hobbits and the Dwarrow of the Blue Mountains have been very positive over the years. In many ways they are more recent than our connections with the Elves and Men of Eriador, but my research and observations indicate that our ties with the Dwarrow are closer and deeper.

“Some issues have arisen, and culture clashes are inevitable, but nothing severe enough to cause a wedge. Our societies have, in the last two centuries, mingled much more than we have with any other race save the Men of Breeland. Intermarriage between Hobbits and Dwarrow is uncommon (although there have been more such marriages than with any of the other races), but other types of connections between our peoples are frequent. Business and trade, not surprisingly, are near the top of the list, but education and entertainment were both areas of growth. There are Dwarrow families starting to live in the Shire with more frequency, and I was not by any means the only Hobbit in Ered Luin while I was doing my research. Television shows and movies regularly cross the border between the Shire and the Blue Mountains as well, and the internet (which has come to the area largely thanks to companies in the Blue Mountains) has helped to make even the Shire less isolated.” Another laugh from the audience, and Bilbo allowed himself a wry smile.

“That is all I have for you today. I’d like to thank Dr. Dori once again for inviting me to this conference, and to say that it has truly been a pleasure to see and spend time in Erebor. It looks like we’ve got about fifteen minutes left, so I’ll happily take questions.”

Applause, hearty and genuine, is quickly followed by a veritable forest of hands being raised. Bilbo does his best to get to everyone, and promises that he can stay after for anyone who doesn’t get a chance in the Q&A proper. It ends up being nearly an hour later before the last dwarf finally leaves, and Bilbo allows himself to slump down into one of the empty chairs with a sigh of relief. His talk went very well, and he’s grateful that so many were interested and had questions, but he hadn’t been expecting quite this much enthusiasm.

“That was an excellent lecture, Bilbo Baggins,” says a familiar voice, and the hobbit looks up to find Gandalf the Grey taking the seat next to him with a smile.

“I’m still quite put out with you, Gandalf,” he says, crossing his arms and refusing to let his own smile show on his face. “Getting me dragged halfway across Middle Earth without so much as a by-your-leave...”

“Now, now, my dear fellow, you said yourself that you are very much enjoying your trip to Erebor,” the wizard said, eyes twinkling.

“So I am,” Bilbo sighs, unable (and unwilling) to deny it. Everything is so different here, the food and the clothes and the music. There are similarities to the Blue Mountains, of course, some things translating across Dwarrow culture in general, but Erebor has its own flavors and styles and feel. The Mountain itself still amazes him every time he sets foot out of his hotel, and he is extremely glad that he is not scheduled to leave immediately after the conference is over.

Even the one run-in with his former lover hasn’t changed that. It was good to see Rin, really, and he thinks wistfully that it might be nice to see him again, to clear the air a little and get back on better footing. Not to try and recapture their relationship, of course, that is quite out of the question, but even to be friendly...

But I can’t imagine that I’ll see him again, Bilbo reminds himself sharply.

“What troubles you, Bilbo?” Gandalf asks then, obviously having noted his melancholy.

“Nothing,” Bilbo says quickly, entirely unwilling to discuss any part of his love life (or the lack thereof) with Gandalf. “Just sorry that I’ll have to leave in two weeks. Not that I approve of your meddling,” he adds pointedly, just to be clear about it, “but in truth I was not excited about going back to teaching.”

“You should be looking for a research position, as I have said before,” Gandalf says, equally pointed. He doesn’t look like he quite believes Bilbo’s deflection, but lets it go in favor of, “You are not terrible at the teaching, but you do not love it and it is not your strength.”

“I know, I know,” Bilbo fusses, crossing his arms over his chest. “And I despise grading. But Hobbiton College cannot afford a research-only professor, and you know this.”

Gandalf raises an eyebrow at him, and Bilbo looks away. This is not a new argument, and Gandalf’s next point – that Bilbo needs to look beyond Hobbiton College – does not need to be said aloud. He isn’t sure he’s ready to think about moving away from the Shire permanently...at least not yet. He has poked at job ads from the other universities, but nothing has quite caught his eye enough to actually apply for. Besides, his current expertise is mainly on Hobbits, and where else in the world would that even be relevant?

They do not rehash the rest of the argument, fortunately, and Gandalf moves the conversation to other topics. They end up going to dinner together and spend a pleasant evening catching up. The shared bottle of wine helps Bilbo get to sleep that night, in spite of all the thoughts swirling through his mind.

Two weeks, he tells himself muzzily. After the conference, I’ve got two weeks to think about everything....

--

“Bil- I mean, Professor Baggins,” says a deep voice from further down the aisle, startling Bilbo.

“Goodness gracious!” he says, one hand juggling the book he was looking through, the other pressed over his rapidly-thumping heart.

“My apologies,” says Rin gruffly, frowning now. “I did not mean to startle you. Do you have a moment?”

“Rin!” Bilbo is more startled by the identity of the dwarf who made him jump than anything. “I- Well, yes, of course.” Rin’s words catch up to him and he can’t help a frown of his own. “And none of that ‘Professor’ nonsense, if you please. You’re hardly one of my students. ‘Bilbo’ will suffice.”

Rin inclines his head, regal as ever, and Bilbo would be tempted to roll his eyes if he weren’t too stunned by the fact that his former lover had, apparently, sought him out again.

They stare at each other in silence for a long, awkward moment before Bilbo clears his throat, sliding the book he’d been perusing back onto the shelf, and clasps his hands behind his back. “What was it that you needed to ask me?”

It comes out a bit more abruptly than he intends, and a grimace flits briefly over Rin’s face before the dwarf looks away. Then he takes a deep breath and actually steps forward, clasping his own hands formally in front of himself. “Bilbo Baggins, I would like to offer you an apology.”

Bilbo gapes at him.

Rin seems to take his silence as permission to continue. “I realize that we did not part on the...best of terms, and that you likely do not wish to see me now. But I owe you an apology for my behavior when we parted in Rivendell. My words and deeds were not honorable; I should have been truthful with you about my departure, rather than trying to sneak away without speaking to you. Nor should I have dismissed you when you did come. For all of this, I apologize. I do not expect your forgiveness, but hope that you will at least accept my words, little and late as they are.”

Bilbo continues to gape for another long moment before finally getting his wits into some semblance of an order.

“It hurt,” are still the first words out of his mouth, unfortunately, admission and admonishment all in one. Rin flinches minutely at this, but stays where he is, steady as the rock beneath his feet. Bilbo cannot take the words back now, so he continues, “It did hurt, I will not lie to you. I- I enjoyed our time together, Rin, and to have you end things so dismissively was not what I would have expected. A little honesty would have been appreciated too. But-”

The hobbit swallows hard, trying to get rid of the ache in his chest and the tightness in his throat. “But I did not do a very good job with being honest either, so it is hard to admonish you for that.”

“You...were dishonest with me?” Rin asks, a frown of confusion furrowing his brow.

“No,” Bilbo says, shaking his head, “not with you. But with everyone else, about us...I was not honest.”

Rin continues to frown. “You had reasons, and good ones even, for keeping quiet about it.”

“Perhaps,” Bilbo says, and cannot help the bitterness that colors his next words, “but mostly I was a coward. I knew – I know better now, but even then I knew – how important honesty and straightforwardness are to dwarrow. To ask you to hide our relationship like that...I should not have asked that of you.”

“But you-” Rin starts, seeming about to begin another round of apologies. Bilbo shakes his head quickly, and holds up a hand.

“I accept your apology, Rin, and thank you for it. We both made mistakes. It was certainly my first real relationship, and the situation was not ideal, attitudes in Eriador being what they are. I would gladly give you my forgiveness, if you would accept my apology in turn.”

The dwarf seems startled by this acceptance of his apology, but Bilbo is hardly one to hold a grudge after being offered sincerely-meant regret.

“I- Of course,” Rin says, blinking. His eyes truly are amazingly blue, Bilbo thinks, then forces the admiration away. While a friendship might still be possible, Rin is hardly still going to be single or interested after all this time.

“It was my first relationship as well,” the dwarf confesses, frowning slightly as if he hadn’t quite meant to say that, then asks tentatively, “Have- Have things improved in Eriador, at all? Regarding such relationships?”

“Not really.” Bilbo sighs. It hasn’t mattered too much, with his lack of real interest in seeing anyone (he very carefully does not think the ‘else’) since he returned home from university. Still, it is disappointing. “Contact with the dwarrow of the Blue Mountains has, perhaps, increased the awareness of such relationships between those of the same gender, but it is very much frowned upon still by Men and Hobbits. Dwarrow are strange in many respects, so it is easy enough to ignore and dismiss it, without the need to acknowledge those of us among Hobbits and Men who are that way as well.”

“Oh,” Rin says, frowning again, though seemingly in sympathy.

“I suppose it is still not so frowned upon in Rhovanion? It seemed that even in Dale I saw a couple of Men holding hands together...”

“Yes,” Rin agrees. “The Men here have largely taken their cue from the dwarrow of Erebor and the Iron Hills over the years. I do not really know how the Greenwood elves approach the subject, but it has at least never been a source of tension between our peoples.”

“Probably just as well,” Bilbo can’t help pointing out, “as you seem to have rather enough of those already.”

“Elves,” Rin mutters, scowling darkly for a moment, then sighs. “You are correct, of course. But there is a great deal of history, and a lot of culture clash to be overcome. We are...attempting to do better, for our part.”

“A couple of the talks so far this week did indicate that,” the hobbit adds encouragingly.

It is enough to bring a slight smile to Rin’s face...which does nothing good for Bilbo’s heart rate. Rin had always been an attractive dwarf (at least to Hobbit eyes), but he looked truly stunning with a proper smile on his face.

How is twenty years not enough time to be over this? Bilbo despairs, smiling helplessly back. How can I still lo- still feel so much for him after all this time?

“Bilbo,” Rin says, swaying ever so slightly towards Bilbo, almost as if he wants to step closer...Bilbo swallows, unable to look away from those sapphire-blue eyes.

“Yes?” he asks, trying not to sound too breathless.

“Bilbo, could we-”

Loud chimes burst out of Bilbo’s pocket, and they both startle back.

The hobbit fishes out his phone, muttering imprecations at technology under his breath and trying very hard not to feel too hopeful about the fond look on Rin’s face.

“You know technology has never been my strong suit,” he grumbles, peering at the screen to see what the blasted thing is making such a fuss about.

Reminder: Erebor Daily interview
30 Minutes

“Oh!” He can’t even blame his forgetfulness entirely on Rin, since he had already lost track of time in the library long before the dwarf showed up. “Blast it all. I’m very sorry, Rin, but I have to go.”

He doesn’t think he is imagining the disappointment on the dwarf’s face, and feels a flutter somewhere in his belly.

“Look, I’m staying at the Red Agate Hotel, just down the road from the University. If you have time some evening – even tonight, I should be in after the twentieth bell – we could chat some more, if you’d like?”

It’s a bold invitation, given that they only just apologized to each other, but relief lightens Rin’s face, so obviously it’s not unwelcome. The hotel is neutral ground, at least, with a nice restaurant and bar in the lobby.

“I really have to go now,” Bilbo says, shoving his phone back in his pocket and forcing his feet to move, but he turns to walk backwards as he goes to keep Rin in sight a little longer. The dwarf turns after him, emotions flashing too quickly over his face to catch.

“How will I find you?” he calls.

Feeling bold again, Bilbo calls back, “I’m in Room 672!”

He turns and flees before he can see what Rin’s reaction might have been.

Don’t get your hopes up, Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit warns himself as he dashes back through the University library in the hopes of still making his appointment on time. The chances of him still being single are slim to none. Even if he is, there are twenty years gone between us now, and he is the one who ended things. He will have moved on. You can be glad if he turns up and wants to spend a couple of hours chatting with you in the bar.

All of that is true, and Bilbo turns his mind to the interview that he is meant to be giving.

The flutter in his stomach does not go away.

Chapter Text

Article from the Erebor Daily:

An Unexpected Journey: A Hobbit’s Visit to Erebor

This is Part Four of the Dwarrow and Their Neighbors Conference interviews in the Erebor Daily. We caught up with Professor Bilbo Baggins of Hobbiton College in the Shire to get his views about the conference, Dwarrow, and being the first hobbit to visit Erebor. Dinna daughter of Gunna was our interviewer for this part.

DdoG: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Professor Baggins.

BB: Oh, it was my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me!

DdoG: Let’s get started with a little bit of your background. You are a Hobbit from the Shire, and as best our researchers could tell, the first to ever visit Erebor.

BB: Yes, I believe that’s true. Hobbits are a very insular people, as a rule, so we don’t tend to stray too far outside the Shire. We have close relations with the Men who live in the area, and more recently with the Dwarrow of the Blue Mountains, but that’s about it! We are fond of food, and pipeweed (of which we grow the best, I do believe), and of generally living good, pleasant lives. Few of us need to leave the Shire in order to achieve those things.

DdoG: Does that make you unusual for a Hobbit?

BB: I suppose it does! I went to Rivendell to attend the University there, which is not common. Most Hobbits, if they go on past grade school, attend Hobbiton College where I now teach, or the college in Bree. I’ve always had a bit of wanderlust, though, and my mother did too. She attended Rivendell University herself, which was part of why I chose to go there. After that, it was easier to look around at the world and see the connections that we have with other people, even they aren’t very visible or direct.

DdoG: That is largely what your research has focused one, is that right?

BB: Yes. Not surprisingly, there hasn’t been much historical research done about Hobbits, so when I finished at Rivendell, I decided to focus on that. Once I delved into our history, though, I couldn’t help but see more of those connections. The next logical step seemed to be to do more in-depth research about Hobbit relations with the other races.

DdoG: Your latest research looked at those relations between the Shire and the Blue Mountains. Can you tell us more about that?

BB: It was very interesting! Relations between the Shire and the Blue Mountains are a bit more recent, historically-speaking, than our relations with, say, the Men of Breeland. It’s just in the past hundred to a hundred and fifty years that we’ve had closer trade with the Dwarrow. It has been a fruitful trade, though, and our peoples share a love of good food and drink, so Dwarrow and Hobbits do typically get along quite well when we get together!

DdoG: That’s good to hear! Can you give us some examples of things that have crossed over between the two cultures?

BB: I know that the Dwarrow have taken quickly to pipeweed from the Shire! We Hobbits have a society that’s heavy on agriculture, and I think the export of food to the Blue Mountains in exchange for the import of more industrial materials and technology has worked out well on both sides. We only have internet in the Shire thanks to companies from the Blue Mountains! The same can actually be said for Bree, I believe. I know that there have been some interesting cultural projects in the Shire, movies and concerts and that sort of thing, that have been getting backing from Dwarrow, especially in the last few years. There is a small but notable population of Dwarrow who have moved permanently to the Shire. Not too many Hobbits have moved to the Blue Mountains, but there are some, and the interest in each other’s culture definitely flows both ways. There are some on both sides who aren’t enthusiastic about this, of course, but they seem to be in the minority.

DdoG: What brought you to this part of your research?

BB: Well, in one sense, it was just the next stage. I had already looked at Hobbit relations with Men and with Elves, so I wanted to make sure I covered Dwarrow as well. I will admit to some personal curiosity: I had never been to the Blue Mountains before I went there to do my research. I’m very glad I went; I ended up making some good friends.

DdoG: Had you known any Dwarrow before that?

BB: I did know one for a little while I was at Rivendell University.

DdoG: Just one? Were you close?

BB: You could say that. We were- Well, yes, we were. It didn’t work out in the end, and we didn’t keep in touch after, but I learned a lot about Erebor from them. It made me hope that I could see Erebor one day, as well as the Blue Mountains. This conference was what finally got me here!

DdoG: I see! Well, I hope you are enjoying your time here so far.

BB: Oh, definitely. I am very glad I came. Erebor is beautiful, and as an historian, seeing all the similarities and differences between here and the Blue Mountains has been fascinating. Maybe I’ll get to the Iron Hills one day and learn even more! I do hope that I can return to Erebor someday, as well.

DdoG: We will be glad to have you, and any other Hobbits who might be tempted to travel somewhere a bit further from home.

BB: Thanks very much. I think more Hobbits will start to make their way east eventually, especially since we are growing such close ties with the Blue Mountains. I think more travel between the Shire and Erebor will come in time.

DdoG: That is good to hear. Perhaps some of us will venture west more frequently as well.

BB: Much as I call us insular, the Shire really does have a lot of things to recommend it, so I’d certainly encourage your readers to consider us for their next vacation. It would be quite relaxing!

DdoG: Wonderful! Thank you for your time, Professor Baggins.

BB: Thank you for the opportunity.

This interview series will continue tomorrow with Part Five.

Chapter Text

While it is difficult to sneak out past Dwalin and his other guards, it is not impossible. The fact that he has done it so rarely since taking the throne is probably the only thing that really lets him get away with it. Hopefully, his unlocked bedroom door and the easily-found note stating that he is meeting an old friend for a drink and will be back later tonight will be enough to keep his head bodyguard and long-time friend from panicking and trying to hunt him down.

Dwalin is usually good about knowing when Thorin really needs space, anyway.

Simple clothes, a hood, and as much casualness as he can muster serve to get him to the Red Agate Hotel unidentified. His face is, of course, quite recognizable throughout Erebor what with all the social media these days. The gossip rag photographers know better than to push too hard with the Royal Family, but that doesn’t mean they don’t ever try.

Which is why I must be truthful with Bilbo tonight, Thorin reminds himself firmly, swallowing against the strange tumbling-stone feeling in his stomach at the thought of seeing the hobbit again. It was clear from their earlier conversation that Bilbo somehow still does not know who he is, though how he has managed that is a mystery.

The curses directed at his phone earlier, though, seemed to indicate that technology was still not his strong suit. Perhaps he isn’t on any social media? Unlikely, but not impossible. The Shire is still somewhat isolated these days, apparently.

No one stops Thorin or recognizes him as he makes his way easily across the hotel lobby to the elevators. He gets one to himself, another piece of luck, and forces himself not to hesitate before pressing the button for the sixth floor.

He does hesitate outside of room 672, unable to help himself.

We are going to have a pleasant conversation, he tells himself firmly. Perhaps I can ask about his life since I left, and I must tell him about mine. Then I will go back before Dwalin worries. And perhaps we can meet again before he leaves.

The thought is a sobering one. Because Bilbo will leave, won’t he? Once the conference is finished...his home is in the Shire, so of course he will return. Thorin swallows, but forces himself to nod in acceptance of this. Perhaps this time, they can at least keep in touch.

The dwarf raises a hand, and knocks.

“Hullo!” Bilbo greets him, having opened the door quickly enough that Thorin wonders if he was waiting.

“Hello,” Thorin responds, hope rising in his chest.

They stare at each other for a moment, awkward but smiling, and at last Bilbo laughs and shakes his head.

“Would you like to go down to the bar?” the hobbit asks, though he pulls the door to his room open wider. “Or we could- could stay here, there’s plenty of space, and it’s quite a nice room, really, so it’s up to you.”

Thorin’s smile stretches briefly into a grin at the rambling that is still familiar after all these years. He hesitates only briefly over his answer. “If you do not mind, I might prefer to stay here. It will be quieter,” he says, thinking also that there is a chance he will be recognized if they go to the bar.

“Of course, come in,” the hobbit agrees easily, and steps away to allow Thorin in.

If Bilbo would have preferred to go downstairs, he certainly makes no sign of it.

“Would you like a drink anyway? I’ve only got a bottle of wine, I’m afraid, and water glasses to drink it from. It is a Dorwinian, though, so it ought to taste good regardless!”

“Yes, thank you,” Thorin accepts, and tries to ignore that swooping feeling in his stomach again as he watches Bilbo’s small (clever, talented) hands work open the bottle and pour them both some of the rich, dark alcohol.

“Here we are,” the hobbit says, handing him a glass and urging him over to one of the room’s two armchairs. Thorin firmly refuses to let his eyes stray to the bed. Chairs should be safe, at least, even if they are placed rather close together.

Their knees are not quite brushing as they sit down (if only because Bilbo’s legs are shorter), but it would barely take any movement at all for the tips of Thorin’s boots to touch Bilbo’s ever-bare toes. Even that is a temptation, much stronger than he realized it would be, and he has to take a gulp of wine to get his thoughts under control.

“There, all settled,” Bilbo says, obviously trying not to fuss. “It’s quite a nice hotel, really, even if I’m rather more used to having windows. But the metalwork designs make for an interesting change! In the Blue Mountains, they favor mosaics, being not quite as metal-rich as Erebor.”

“Have you spent much time in the Blue Mountains?” Thorin asks, for that seems a safe enough topic.

“More than a year!” Bilbo admits. “It took longer than I was expecting to do the research on my most recent set of papers, you see. But they are finished now, and one of my colleagues there sent them to Dr. Dori, which is how I ended up at the conference here.”

Thorin nods, finding that he is interested. He had wondered how it was the Bilbo came to be here. “I am glad that you came,” he says, then looks down at his wine. It is nothing but the truth, of course, but he had not meant to be quite so open...

Bilbo is both flushed and pleased-looking when Thorin dares to look back at him, though. “So am I,” he admits, holding Thorin’s gaze.

“Ah,” the dwarf says, feeling himself flush. He tries to cover it with another drink of wine, but Bilbo has always been so compelling...it is hard to look away for long. “You are enjoying Erebor, then?”

“Yes,” Bilbo takes a drink of his own. “More than I expected, even. It’s an amazing city, it really is. Your descriptions of it...I have always wanted to come. I grumbled about it at the College and to Gandalf, but the truth is, I’m not sorry I came at all.” He meets Thorin’s eyes again. “I’m even less sorry I ran into you again.”

Thorin swallows, heat beginning to bloom low in his belly. Bilbo sees it, and leans forward...

...then he leans back, his free hand gripping his knee.

“I’m sorry,” he says, taking a deep breath. “I shouldn’t be- It’s been a long time, and I don’t even know if you’re...” available, Thorin fills in, his eyes widening slightly, “...and really it has been too long, but I just...”

“Me too,” the dwarf whispers without meaning too. “And I- I am not...not seeing anyone. Haven’t seen anyone.”

He didn’t quite mean to say that either, but this time it is Bilbo’s hazel eyes that widen.

“Me neither,” the hobbit admits. “And now that you’re here, and we’ve cleared things up, I can’t help remembering...it was always so good, Rin, and so I can’t help thinking about it.” The name is jolting, but the memories of sweat-slick skin and tangled limbs overwhelm it. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make things complicated. It’s too s- Well, it’s been a long time.”

“It has,” Thorin agrees, his voice low. Twenty years. It would be foolish to rush back into anything, regardless of their desires. Regardless of the fact that they are alone, in a hotel room, with a large, luxurious bed just paces away. Hobbits were never ones to skimp on comfort.

Bilbo licks his lips. “We shouldn’t,” he says, in what is probably an attempt to be firm. He sets down his wine.

Thorin makes himself nod in agreement. “It- It would not be wise.” He sets down his glass too.

In silence, they each stare at their hands, Bilbo’s twisted together, Thorin’s clenched into fists.

They look up, and their eyes meet.

Thorin is not sure who moves first, but in the next breath, Bilbo is straddling his lap, hands sliding into his hair, taking his mouth in a firm, hot kiss. Thorin moans and lets his head fall back, surrendering almost at once, helpless as he has always been in Bilbo’s hands...helpless and safe.

The hobbit draws out the kiss for long moments, easing away only dive back in again, and they are both panting and aroused by the time he pulls back.

“Light Above, Rin, please say yes-”

“Yes,” Thorin gasps, even through the renewed jolt of the wrong name on Bilbo’s lips. “Bilbo, I-” His mouth is taken again before he can say more. But he can’t let this go, he has to tell Bilbo...

He makes himself pull back, shaking his head slightly. “Bilbo, I have to tell you-”

“I think it can wait,” Bilbo says, tracing first fingers and then lips along the shell of Thorin’s ear, scattering his thoughts.

“But I- it’s important-” he moans as Bilbo ducks lower, nipping at his neck above his collar. “I’m-”

Bilbo pulls back. “Are you saying no? Because I will stop now if you ask me to.”

“No!” Thorin says hastily. “I mean, I’m not saying no. I want you, I-” Bilbo’s hungry groan and hungrier kiss cut him short. Stubbornly, he pulls away. “But I have to tell you, because I didn’t tell you before. I’m not- not just another dwarf-”

“Is this about the fact that you’re a noble?” Bilbo asks then, huffing. “Because I figured that out about five minutes after we met. You hardly needed to say anything about it!”

Thorin gapes at him, startled. Does he know after all...? Bilbo grins wickedly and takes advantage of his surprise to stand and pull Thorin to his feet as well.

“I asked around once, and everyone agreed that ‘majestic’ was definitely the best adjective to describe you, Rin,” he teases. Small, clever hands tug Thorin toward the bed, and he is helpless to resist them.

But Bilbo doesn’t know, not quite, and it’s important.

“Bilbo, I-”

“Oh, hush,” Bilbo says, laying a finger over his lips. “Look, you’ve said you aren’t seeing anyone, and you’re willing. Are you promised to someone, or something like that?”

“No, I-” Thorin says, worry and confusion twisting on his face.

“Then I doubt there’s much of anything that would make me not want to sleep with you,” Bilbo sighs, and lifts his finger to smooth away the frown. In the next moment, though, the tenderness has been overwhelmed by heat in his hazel eyes, and his hand drops to Thorin’s trousers, palming his erection and squeezing in a way that makes the dwarf’s knees buckle.

He lets himself drop, hands clutching at Bilbo’s waist. He buries his face against Bilbo’s stomach as those lovely hands card through his hair just the way he likes it. It has been so long since he felt this way, so long since he has even felt desire, and he wants...

By the time he lifts his eyes to Bilbo’s, he knows that the hobbit will see nothing but surrender on his face.

“We can talk about it tomorrow,” Bilbo promises, his thumb tracing Thorin’s lips, his hazel eyes dark with want.

“Promise?” Thorin pleads, trying to assuage the shrinking voice in the back of his mind.

“Promise,” Bilbo says. “Now, my dear, what shall I do with you?”

“Anything,” Thorin whispers.

--

“That’s it,” Bilbo murmurs, draped over Rin’s muscular back, his hands working the dwarf’s hard prick with a slow, steady rhythm that is making his lover squirm and gasp and beg in the most delightful ways.

“Bi- Bilbo please, please I need to come, please let me, ooohhhh.” The words trail off into a moan as Bilbo twists his hands, holding to his steady pace. He grins against Rin’s shoulder.

“You will,” he promises, kissing the sweaty skin beneath his lips. “Just like this, I know you’re hungry for it, love, know you need this...” Rin cries out, hips jerking, but Bilbo holds his rhythm, working him higher. Rin is close now, he can feel it. “Come on, love, just a little more, that’s it...”

He can’t help the groan in his own throat as the dwarf finally starts to spill, his back arching hard as the most beautiful noises tumble from his throat. If he hadn’t already spilled himself inside Rin’s sweet, welcoming mouth, Bilbo thinks this might have been enough to push him over. As it is, he’s not in his tweens anymore, though Rin’s noises do rather make him wish that he was.

The dwarf slumps to the bed, and Bilbo has sense enough to slip to the side before doing the same, wiping his hands on the sheets. He must remember to leave an extra-large tip for the hotel cleaners in the morning.

They lay like that for a little while, quiet, catching their breaths. He isn’t sure about Rin, but Bilbo at least is not ready to contemplate that this may have been a mistake.

It didn’t feel like a mistake. Still doesn’t.

Think about it in the morning, he tells himself.

“Can you- Would you like to stay?” he makes himself ask at last, keeping his voice quiet and as neutral as possible. He will certainly not object if Rin wants to stay, but he will not be too upset if he doesn’t.

“I- I would like to,” Rin says, voice low, after a long moment of silence. “But I...I cannot. Not tonight.”

The implication that there might be other nights is, to say the least, encouraging. Bilbo doesn’t stop his gaze from wandering down Rin’s back, over his arse, and down strong legs covered with dark hair.

“Quite all right,” Bilbo says, and means it.

Rin groans quietly then and at last rolls over. His eyes go to the clock on the bedside table, then widen in shock.

“I- I must get back,” he says, sitting up.

Bilbo frowns. “I apologize if I kept you...”

“No, it’s all right,” Rin says, and offers him a hesitant but genuine smile. “But tonight, I must go. When can I see you tomorrow?”

Bilbo frowns thoughtfully. There is something....

“I wanted to attend a couple of lectures in the morning,” he says, trying to get his brain working again, “and there is something in the afternoon...some meeting to do with the conference, I can’t remember what. But I don’t have evening plans, if that works for you?”

“I believe so,” Rin says, already pulling his clothes back on. “Shall I meet you here?”

“Please.” Bilbo gets up too, pulling on his dressing gown and going up on tip-toe to give Rin a kiss at the door. Strong arms close around him and the kiss is returned for a long moment. There is real regret in the dwarf’s eyes as he pulls away.

“Tomorrow,” he promises, finally opening the door.

“Tomorrow,” Bilbo agrees, heart fluttering.

Then Rin is gone down the hall, and Bilbo closes the door. He slumps back against it, toes curling against the carpet, a happy grin stretching over his face.

“Tomorrow!”

Chapter Text

“Your Majesty!”

Balin’s voice startles Thorin out of a rather pleasant daydream, and he jerks back in his chair, covering his surprise with a scowl.

“What is it?” he asks gruffly, shuffling the papers in front of him. “I’m trying to get through these papers-”

“Your Majesty,” Balin says, giving him a look that is both stern and concerned, “you are due in the Small Throne Room in five minutes. Did you forget about the meeting?”

“Meeting? What meeting?” Thorin frowns. There may have been something on his calendar when he glanced at it this morning, he vaguely recalls, but he thought it was the usual Small Court session, and thoughts of both the previous and coming evenings had been...perhaps a bit distracting today.

Balin sighs with exasperation. “The meeting with the conference presenters.”

Thorin freezes. “What?”

Another sigh, and Balin raises an entirely stern eyebrow at him. “It isn’t like you to forget such things, Sire. Did you not look at your schedule this morning? It was decided that since you will be speaking at the history conference as well, it would be good for you to meet with the other lecturers beforehand.”

The bottom drops out of Thorin’s stomach.

Bilbo is one of the conference presenters.

“I-”

“Thorin!” Balin is suddenly at his side, all exasperation gone. “You’ve gone white as chalk. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Thorin chokes out, then forces himself to take a deep breath. “Nothing. I apologize. I just- I don’t like to forget such important things.”

Balin is glowering at him suspiciously now. “If you’re sure...”

He isn’t. What if he pleads ill? The meeting could be rescheduled, he would have time to speak to Bilbo first-

-but after getting back so late last night, there is no way Dwalin will let Thorin out of his sight if he thinks Thorin is ill. His head bodyguard is standing watch outside this room right now, in fact, and delaying things will not help if he can’t see Bilbo.

You are the one who didn’t have enough self-control, he reminds himself harshly. You’ll just have to face the consequences.

“If you’re feeling all right, Sire, then we must leave now,” Balin says.

Thorin swallows hard, then rises from his desk. He will face this now, and hopefully afterwards Bilbo will give him the chance to explain, and apologize.

“Very well,” he says, and follows Balin out.

--

“Have you ever met the King before?” Bilbo asks the dwarrowdam standing next to him as they wait in the receiving chamber outside Erebor’s Small Throne Room.

“I haven’t! Not in person,” she says. She introduces herself as Malja, daughter of Malla, and explains that her work centers around the historical relations between Erebor and the dwarrow of the Orocarni Mountains far to the east. “Of course, many of us follow His Majesty on Facebook and Twitter, so one knows him a little bit that way.”

“Oh,” Bilbo says. “It’s funny, but I never thought about a King have a Facebook account, or anything like that, but I suppose most people do, don’t they? I’m a bit of an odd one out, that way.”

“Are you not on social media at all?” Malja asks, slightly surprised, and Bilbo shakes his head, not quite sheepish.

“I know it’s old fashioned of me...”

“You’re probably better off, to be honest.” She grins. “It’s rather a time sink, after all, though it does have its benefits.”

“Well, perhaps I’ll think about it,” Bilbo mutters. Does Rin have a social media account anywhere? He wonders suddenly. It might be a way for them to keep in touch after he...goes back to the Shire. If Rin wants to keep in touch, anyway. Which he might not. But if he did-

The door opens, and a stout, older dwarf with white hair and a long beard smiles at them. “Thank you for your patience. His Majesty will see you now.”

If Bilbo hadn’t seen Erebor’s main throne room, he would wonder why this one was referred to as the “Small” Throne Room. It is hardly small, especially to a hobbit, and he has of course gotten shuffled to the back of the large group. Exasperated, he begins to work his way forward. His fellow lecturers have been fairly good about not letting his height affect their treatment of him, but sometimes the Men and Elves still struggle with it a little bit. The Dwarrow, at least, are much better about it.

“Scholars, thank you for joining us today. My name is Balin, son of Fundin, and I am Chief Adviser to His Majesty, Thorin II, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King Under the Mountain. Your Majesty?”

“Welcome, all of you. I have been looking forward to meeting you,” says a deep voice. A familiar voice.

Bilbo stops. That sounds like...but no. No, it couldn’t possibly be.

“I will present each of you to His Majesty,” says the Chief Adviser from somewhere up near the throne. “We will begin with those who have traveled from other lands, and finish with our own Ereborian scholars. First is Egren, son of Eedren, Scholar from the Orocarni Mountains...”

There is a low murmur of the familiar-seeming voice, but now it is harder to hear. Bilbo forces himself to take a deep breath and calm down. Many dwarves have deep voices, and now he is not at all sure that it sounds the same after all.

Don’t be silly, he tells himself. What would the King of Erebor have been doing studying at Rivendell University? He makes himself move through the group again, knowing that his own name will be called shortly.

Indeed, just as the last two Men part to let him through, the Chief Adviser calls, “Bilbo Baggins, Professor of History, Hobbiton College, The Shire.”

Bilbo looks up at the King-

-and thinks vaguely that actually having the floor drop away under him might have made his head spin less.

Rin sits on the throne, clad in rich robes and a crown, looking out at the group with those stunningly blue eyes. There is no way to mistake him, no way to suppose that this is a cousin, or even a brother. Not knowing this dwarf as intimately as Bilbo does, the lines around his eyes and the silver in his hair and that sensitive place on his ears that makes him-

The tiniest thread of arousal jolts through Bilbo’s shock, mixing uncomfortably in his stomach. He becomes abruptly aware that the whole room has gone very quiet, and that he is gaping at the King Under the Mountain in a manner and for reasons that he absolutely cannot explain to anyone.

“I-”

“Welcome to Erebor, Bilbo Baggins,” says Ri- No, says Thorin, son of Thrain.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Bilbo manages. He is still staring, and hardly dares to think of what his expression must look like, because last night he was draped over this dwarf’s back, fisting him with both hands until- He fights through it again and pulls the unraveling edges of his respectability back around himself.

“I am not sure that we have ever had one of the Shirefolk in Erebor before,” the King goes on with an unbearably steady voice, and Bilbo almost hates him until he realizes that those blue eyes are fixed very intensely on him, and that the dwarf’s face is quite pale. “I hope that you are enjoying your visit thus far?”

Bilbo doesn’t know what to make of that. “I- I am, Your Majesty. Thank you for asking.”

The King nods, and hesitates, still holding Bilbo’s gaze with something like urgency. The Chief Adviser clears his throat in the next moment, though, and if the King meant to say anything else, the moment is gone.

“Enjoy the conference, Professor Baggins,” he finishes...and then lowers his head an unnoticeable fraction of an inch, letting his eyes drop.

Bilbo bows to cover the sudden redness of his face. Why that cheeky little-! As if Rin had not done just that last night, kneeling at his feet, waiting on Bilbo’s pleasure...

He hurries to the back of the group, keeping his head down, and does his best to ignore the odd looks he is getting, especially from some of the dwarrow of Erebor. He even misses the King greeting the two orc scholars who are present, and he had been curious about that interaction.

Of course, there are other kinds of interaction on his mind now, memories of Rivendell...memories of the night before when the King Under the Mountain had gone down on his knees willingly and let Bilbo slide into his mouth, had moaned for it and sucked so nicely and-

Bilbo is no longer sure if he is shocked, aroused, or (a growing possibility) angry.

Now is not the time or the place for any of them.

He takes a deep breath, straightens his spine, and hardens his image of respectability into armor, keeping his own turmoil of emotions in, and keeping the eyes of the world out. The need for a wall between himself and the world is not a new one.

“Just a dizzy spell,” Bilbo tells Malja when she whispers her concern for him. “I’m fine. It all just hit me all of sudden that I’m actually here, I guess. Funny how things can strike you at odd times, isn’t it?”

She doesn’t look like she entirely believes him, but nods and doesn’t push. That is all Bilbo wants, and he manages to distance himself enough to listen through the rest of the meeting. When it is over and they have left the King’s presence he (not untruthfully) pleads a headache, and excuses himself back to his hotel.

He has a lot of thinking to do, and some decisions to make...including whether or not he is still going to be in his room this evening, when “Rin” will theoretically be coming to see him.

Bilbo swallows, feeling the anger rising in his gut, and doesn’t know what his answer will be.

Chapter Text

“No.”

“Dwalin, I-”

“No. Balin said you’ve been actin’ strangely all afternoon. No.”

“This is an order, Dwalin, you will-”

“No.”

Please.”

That, finally, stops Dwalin in his tracks.

He turns back to Thorin, his scowl dropping away into shock at the expression on Thorin’s face. Pride cost him Bilbo once before; it is not a price he is willing to pay again.

Please, Dwalin. There is something I must do.” It may already be too late, Bilbo might never want to see him again...but if he does not go tonight, then there will truly be no hope at all. Of that much, he is certain.

Dwalin stares at him, clearly disconcerted. Thorin stares back, pleading. After a long, long moment, his bodyguard scowls blackly and crosses his arms over his chest.

“Don’t suppose you’re plannin’ to tell me what this desperately important errand is?”

“No,” Thorin says, then adds quickly, “not yet. I- I can’t. Yet.”

“Likely to keep you out until the wee hours again, is it?” Suspicion has crept into Dwalin’s scowl.

“I...” hope so, he cannot say, “don’t think so.” Unlikely, even if Bilbo will see him, that he will get an invitation back into the hobbit’s bed tonight. He does not deserve such an invitation.

It is another long moment before Dwalin gives in, his shoulders slumping ever so slightly and his scowl blacker than ever. “Nori is goin’ to follow you until you get wherever you’re goin’. And back.”

Thorin would like to protest this, but knows better. Dwalin has a stubborn streak at least as wide as his own. Nori will no doubt divine far more information from the trip than Thorin really wants his Chief Intelligence Agent to know, but Nori will also keep it to himself if Thorin orders him to. If being King has taught Thorin anything, it is to pick his battles wisely. “Is that really the mountain you want to die on?” Frerin would ask jokingly if he were here.

Fondness for his brother briefly overwhelms Thorin’s terror over possibly losing Bilbo again. The fondness is, however, followed swiftly by relief; it is just as well that Frerin is on a diplomatic visit to Khazad-dum just now.

“Very well,” Thorin concedes to Dwalin’s demand for a shadow, and slips a hand into his pocket to grip the small pouch there, reassuring himself of its presence before hurrying past his bodyguard. Just because he agreed that Nori could follow doesn’t mean that he has to make it easy.

“I hope you’re plannin’ to tell me what’s going on eventually,” Dwalin grumbles, and there is a thread of real hurt under the gruffness.

Thorin pauses. He does not let the jolt of discomfort at the thought of speaking to his family about what has happened stop him, but he does nod. “I will,” he says, looking back just long enough to meet Dwalin’s eyes, letting his cousin and friend know that he is sincere. “As soon as I can, I will.”

Dwalin accepts that, and Thorin hurries on his way.

First, he must apologize to Bilbo, and make things right if he can. Everything else must wait.

--

The knock on his hotel room door comes a little bit later than Bilbo was expecting it...but it does come.

He has been unable to make up his mind about anything, in these long hours of waiting. He alternates between feeling outraged at having been lied to so egregiously, and feeling like an idiot for not having figured things out sooner, for not having known, or put the pieces together, or something. He cannot believe his own stupidity, and it is made worse by how shattered his heart feels. Even if- Even if there had been some small hope, after last night, of rekindling a relationship with Rin, that is surely over now. The King Under the Mountain cannot possibly have an affair with a pudgy hobbit professor, and he certainly cannot allow such a thing to become known to the public! No, it will be over now, without even really having begun again.

Bilbo had hoped never to feel this kind of heartbreak again. This time, he cannot even be sure which of them is more to blame, since it was ridiculous of him to get his hopes up in the first place.

So, he is resolved about nothing upon hearing the knock. When his first instinct is to answer the door, he accepts that as decision enough. He will hear what this dwarf – what Thorin, son of Thrain – has to say. Perhaps a real decision will be easier at that point.

Bilbo unlocks and opens the door, turning away immediately to walk a few paces into the room. He waits until he hears the door close and lock again before taking a deep breath and turning around to face the dwarf he thought he knew.

Thorin is, if possible, even more pale than he was in the throne room this afternoon, and the mixture of relief and terror in his eyes makes Bilbo’s stomach clench unpleasantly. His hands tighten into fists at his sides.

Explain,” he demands, voice low and tight. Whatever promises of secrecy and silence Thorin might ask of him, those must wait. He deserves an explanation first, and he will make no promises about anything until he has it.

Thorin does not explain.

Thorin drops to his knees.

Bilbo feels his eyes go wide.

“I am sorry,” Thorin says, bowing low to him. “I am sorry, Bilbo Baggins, for I have been untruthful with you for an unforgivably long time.” He straightens, but does not rise from where he kneels, only lifts his eyes pleadingly to Bilbo’s. “I have wronged you, and I have given you every reason to doubt my word, I know, but please, in this one thing if nothing else, believe me: I am sorry.”

This is not what he expected, and the hobbit finds that his words will not come. The fear and relief lingering in Thorin’s eyes mean something, but...perhaps they do not mean what he first assumed.

“I would explain, if- if you will hear me out.”

Bilbo nods, still silent, still staring at the dwarf kneeling before him.

“It is customary, in Erebor, for the Crown Prince to spend some time abroad, studying in other lands and experiencing more of the world. My father and my grandfather did so, and believed that it helped them with their ruling. I- I have found it helpful for myself, just as they did.

“It is also customary, however, for this study to be conducted under an assumed name. Inasmuch as we are able to maintain our anonymity in these times, my father thought it would be best to hold to that practice. Thus, I was Rin, son of Ran, to those whom I met while abroad. At Rivendell, only Lord Elrond knew my true identity, and I was held to secrecy with all others, by my King’s orders. We do not have so many enemies these days as we once did, but tensions with Mount Gundabad were higher at that time, and it seemed a wise course to me.”

“I would have kept your secret,” Bilbo cannot help but whisper, pain at this lack of trust sharpening in his chest.

“I know,” Thorin tells him, his gaze steady. “Not trusting you with the truth was one of my many mistakes from that time, and one that I did not truly wish to repeat.”

“You could have told me yesterday,” the hobbit says, swallowing against another tangle of emotion, “when we met in the library. You were apologizing anyway.”

“I was,” Thorin admits, “and I should have. I should have told you last night, but I did not have the courage.” He grimaces, but does not look away. “I can now offer you only apologies. I cannot undo what I have done, and not done.”

“No,” Bilbo agrees, his heart still tight in his chest and his mind whirling. The King Under the Mountain is on his knees, apologizing and begging the forgiveness of a hobbit.

Memories of the previous night return to him, sparked by the dwarf’s words. Thorin had tried to tell him something, had tried to say something important...and Bilbo himself refused to let him in his impatience to get the dwarf into his bed.

“I did not exactly make it easy, last night,” Bilbo allows.

The King shakes his head. “I should not have let you dissuade me so easily. But I wanted- I was worried that you would not wish to be with me after, once I told you.”

That- That does not exactly sound as though Thorin wanted this (whatever this was) to be over. Bilbo frowns slightly.

“You aren’t- You didn’t come to break things off with me?”

Thorin’s eyes jerk up to his with a stricken look. “No! No, Bilbo, I- That is the last thing I want. But I- you deserve nothing from me but an apology, and I would never presume- I couldn’t-” He breaks off with a frustrated shake of his head, clearly finding it difficult to articulate what he wants to say. “I would not dare to presume anything of you. I came to apologize for my dishonesty, and for the way that the truth was sprung on you. I had truly forgotten about the meeting until five minutes before it began, and then it was too late to stop it, or contact you.”

“I-” Bilbo has no idea what to say. He has spent all evening assuming that Thorin would insist that their- their affair must end, and that Bilbo must keep his mouth shut about it so as not to besmirch the King’s reputation. To hear that Thorin doesn’t want to break it off at all, and had meant to tell him the truth in private...of course, nothing has been said about secrecy.

The thought of their…relationship, whatever it was, becoming public knowledge is not exactly a welcome thought to Bilbo, though, so perhaps that is a non-issue regardless of whether Thorin insists on it or not.

Already, he has too much to think about. That will have to be a topic for another day. A scandal of this nature is definitely the very last thing he wants for himself, so he is hardly going to run off to the papers with it.

“I don’t know, Thorin,” he says at last, testing how the name feels on his tongue. “I need- I need time to think.”

Relief (that Bilbo is not rejecting him outright?) lights Thorin’s features, and he bows again before rising smoothly to his feet. “That is all that I can ask or hope for,” he says, “and it is likely more than I deserve. Thank you, Bilbo.”

Bilbo nods, not quite trusting his voice.

“I will wait for you to contact me, should you choose to,” Thorin goes on, and fishes in his pocket before producing a small paper which proves to have a phone number written on it.

“Is this your phone number?” Bilbo asks, blinking in shock. Of course, the King must have a mobile phone, but Bilbo cannot imagine that he hands out the number to just anyone-

“It is,” Thorin confirms. “It will reach me directly, and no others. If- If you decide that you would like to meet again, please let me know.”

“I will let you know no matter what I decide,” Bilbo says at once, frowning slightly again. Thorin may be largely in the wrong here, but nevertheless he is owed that basic courtesy, at least.

“Thank you,” Thorin says again, relief once again briefly easing his features. He hesitates, and then reaches into his pocket once more, holding out a small pouch for Bilbo, who takes it.

“Please do not take this the wrong way,” Thorin says, seeing the frown deepen briefly on Bilbo’s face when he realizes that the pouch contains a stone of some kind, probably a gem, the facets clearly felt even through the pouch.

Bilbo’s knowledge of dwarrow makes itself known, though, and his expression clears. “It’s all right. I understand. Thank you.”

Thorin bows again and lets himself out, having made no demands, barely even any requests, and certainly having said none of the things that Bilbo had expected him to say. The door closes quietly behind him, and Bilbo’s fingers tighten around the little pouch.

Dwarrow give stones and gems in the same way a hobbit might give flowers, to communicate different things, or to emphasize some part of a previous conversation.

Bilbo has to look up the small, clear, teal-colored gem that spills into his hand once he finally opens the bag: apatite. To dwarrow, it symbolizes communication, and promotes a blending of old and new in life.

The hobbit laughs, and then cries a little, and then laughs again. Finally, he takes himself to bed and falls into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

In the morning, Bilbo puts Thorin’s phone number into his mobile. He takes longer about it than he should, hesitating over how to label the contact. ‘Rin’ would be safe, but feels wrong; he has no desire to cling to that deception. ‘Thorin’ feels dangerous, because what if someone were somehow to see….? Logically, Bilbo realizes that this is unlikely, but years of keeping his true preferences hidden successfully have not come from being careless.

In the end, he settles on ‘TsoT,’ using the standard dwarrow abbreviation. He certainly knows who it refers to, but it would not be clear to anyone else, should his phone be stolen, or were someone to peek as he was using it.

Bilbo reminds himself that he is being ridiculous, but does not change the contact.

He does not message Thorin, either.

--

Thorin resolutely does not check his phone any more often than usual over the following day.

(Well, not much more.)

Not enough to attract any more suspicion from Balin or Dwalin. (They suspect enough already, he can tell from their lingering, concerned looks.) He keeps his head down, gets his work done, and even makes it through the evening parliamentary session without noticeable distraction. It helps that several members of Parliament have complaints to make about the presence of Orc scholars in the Mountain, and Thorin must set himself determinedly to defending that decision.

There is still no message when he finally climbs into bed later that night. Thorin breathes through the cold fear starting to curl around his heart, and lays awake for a long time, staring up into the darkness of his bedroom.

He cannot message Bilbo.

He can only wait, and pray.

--

Bilbo stares at the text message icon on his phone for what feels like the millionth time in the last day and a half.

There are only a few days left in the conference, and he cannot afford to be this distracted.

He presses the icon.

--

[TsoT]

I’m free this evening, if you wanted to meet again.
I think we should talk some more.

Of course. Where would you like to meet?

I suppose my hotel room is the most discreet place.

If you are all right with that, it’s fine with me.

I’ll be in after the ninth bell, I’ve agreed to go to dinner with some colleagues.

I’m glad. I will come after that.
Have a good day.

You too.

--

Although a strange feeling somewhere between anxiety and anticipation flutters in his stomach after that, Bilbo feels settled enough to pay attention to the lectures. He is also smart enough to bolt a quick lunch at the University’s cafeteria before heading back to the lecture halls; the first of the two Orc scholars is presenting this afternoon, and Bilbo is certain that hers will be very crowded.

He is right, and it is only by showing up almost an hour early that he secures himself a reasonable seat toward the front of the hall where he will be able to see. Although dwarrow spaces and furnishings are, for the most part, manageable sizes for a hobbit, that does him little good if too many of the Big Folk are seated in front of him.

Scholar Brerzot takes the podium with admirable aplomb, given that her audience is not necessarily a friendly one. University security is keeping out any real protestors (of which there are some outside), but the anticipation in the room has a very different tone than Bilbo received at his lecture. He keeps his own face neutral, and allows himself to be glad that this is proving a sufficient distraction from his personal issues.

“Greetings, fellow scholars,” the Orc begins, her speech clear though with the notable accent common to those whose native tongue is Orcish. Bilbo recalls that referring to it as “the Black Speech” has fallen out of favor with scholars among most races, at least when referencing it as a currently-spoken language. “My name is Brerzot, and I have been an instructor at Gundabad Academy for the last twenty years. My main topic of research has been Orcish relations with the Dwarrow and Elves, and an examination of the history of Gundabad itself, although in recent years I have begun more research relating to the interaction of races within Mordor. My colleague, Scholar Grashnud, has focused on Khazad-dum, and you will hear from him tomorrow.

“Today, I would like to address our relations with the Dwarrow of both Erebor and the Iron Hills in relation to Gundabad. I know that there are many in this Mountain, and possibly many in this room, who would say that we should not be present in Gundabad at all. Ancestrally, this may be true. However, I would argue today that during the past many decades, the Orcish presence in Gundabad is more viable, economically and militarily, than to return it to Dwarrow occupation, and serves as a benefit to our neighbors. I hope that you will give my research some consideration, and that I may continue to learn from yours, as I have thus far at this conference.”

Bilbo keeps his attention politely fixed on Brerzot, but cannot not help holding his breath through the tense silence that follows this introduction. After a long moment, though, a soft murmur runs around the room, and the worst of the tension eases with no open protest or outcry from any of the dwarrow present.

With a curt nod, Brerzot continues her presentation.

It is an interesting one. While there were a number of points that the dwarrow in the room would clearly find argument with, overall her research and the presentation seem sound. She does not shy away from acknowledging the brutality of her people’s past, and equally does not shy from pointing out instances of brutality on the part of the dwarrow either. Moving past the more distant history, her arguments about the slowly-improving relations between the Gundabad Orcs and their neighbors and the benefits of the continued Orcish occupation of that mountain are ones that Bilbo has not heard before, and which do seem to have many of the scholars around him murmuring more in annoyance or thoughtfulness than anger.

“That concludes my presentation for today,” Brerzot says at last, wrapping up just in time for the Q&A, and offers a curt bow. “Thank you for hearing me, fellow scholars. I look forward to the rest of the conference. Please ask me any questions you have.”

The questions that follow are many, and vigorous, though there are surprisingly only a couple that Bilbo would categorize as actually hostile. Brerzot fields all of them, not afraid to be acerbic in her responses when pushed too far, but otherwise meeting civility with civility.

All in all, it gives Bilbo a hopeful feeling, moreso than he would have expected. Although peace has reigned in Middle Earth for quite some time now, it is good to see that there are many who want to keep it that way, and to improve on what has already been achieved.

The feeling persists throughout dinner with Malja and several of her colleagues, who have a great deal to chew on after Brerzot’s lecture, but seem to be accepting the challenge with relish. Bilbo contributes where he can, the dwarrow seeming to find an outsider’s perspective helpful, but otherwise enjoys listening and giving the very delicious food proper attention.

He returns to his room later, properly full, and still in a hopeful, thoughtful frame of mind.

If he finds that he is looking forward to Thorin’s knock on his door, well…Bilbo decides that he is allowed to continue feeling just a little bit of optimism.

--

“If Your Majesty wishes to continue meeting this friend,” Nori’s tone makes it clear how skeptical he is about that designation, clearly having spoken with Dwalin, and perhaps Balin as well, “in private, then might I recommend that we find you somewhere less public than a public hotel?”

“If you have any useful suggestions, I will happily hear them,” Thorin retorts, probably a little bit more sharply than he meant to. Nerves (about seeing Bilbo again, about all of this sneaking around) are not helping his mood.

“I’m sure we can come up with something,” Nori says. “Why is this so important again?”

“It just- it is.” Thorin tells him, still unwilling to say anything about it until he has given Bilbo time to decide what he wants.

They are strolling casually along the street, hoods up, hands in pockets. Since half a dozen other dwarrow around them are doing the exact same thing, there is nothing to call attention to them, and no one seems to recognize that the King is heading (for the third time) to the same hotel in the city.

Thorin hates to think what the gossip rags will do should they learn.

Which is why he is with Nori, and following his Chief Intelligence Agent’s instructions as best he can.

Nori gives him a long-suffering sigh, but otherwise lets it drop. Given that he gets Thorin not only into the inn but all the way up to Bilbo’s floor with none the wiser, Thorin is inclined to forgive him for it.

“I’ll meet you here at the end of the hall no later than midnight,” Nori reminds him. “Text me if you and your friend finish earlier.”

Thorin nods sharply in agreement, then hurries down the hall to knock politely on Bilbo’s door.

The hobbit is quick to open the door and let him in, which is a relief for more than just reasons of secrecy. Bilbo even offers him a small, tentative smile, which Thorin gladly returns, unable to conceal his own happiness that at the very least, Bilbo does not seem to hate him.

“Thank you, for seeing me again,” he says at once, nodding instead of bowing, knowing that the latter will only make Bilbo uncomfortable.

“Well, yes,” Bilbo says, wringing his hands briefly before shoving them into his pockets, as if unable to otherwise keep them still. “Shall we- Shall we sit?” He gestures to the armchairs.

Thorin nods and follows him over, firmly ignoring the memories of what happened last time they sat across from each other here.

“I will answer any questions that you have,” he says when Bilbo seems not to have found his words, “and we may discuss whatever you wish.”

Bilbo frowns, and struggles for words again, and finally bursts out, “I just feel so- so ridiculous, for not having realized, or known, that you are the king!”

Thorin winces slightly, and cannot help but frown at Bilbo’s insult to himself.

“I mean, of course you should have told me, but that in twenty years I never saw a picture, or…or anything! I just-” He cuts himself off, shaking his head. “I’m sorry. I was in a good mood after dinner, earlier, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this.”

“All fault is mine,” Thorin says quickly, “please do not blame yourself. You have said that you are not very active online or with social media, and news from Erebor can hardly make front-page headlines in the Shire.”

“Still,” Bilbo grumbles, though it is clear that these arguments ease his feelings somewhat. After a moment, he sighs. “It will take me some time to really process this, Thorin.”

Thorin nods quickly, understanding (even if his hopes might have been different) that Bilbo will need time.

“I will not press you for answers,” he says, reiterating what he had told Bilbo two days ago. “Though if you are truly uninterested in continuing any kind of friendship with me at all, then I would ask that you tell me as soon as possible.”

Bilbo shakes his head, slowly at first, then more decisively. “No, that is not what I want. It’s not that I- not that I mind you being king, precisely. You’re still you, as far as I have seen. But there is much more to your life than I have known about or supposed. If I- Inasmuch as I ever let myself think about you, I assumed that you were a noble of some sort, but free to live your own life to a large extent.”

“There are duties and responsibilities that I cannot easily lay aside as King,” Thorin admits. “Nor would I want to. This is my work.”

“That- I can understand that,” the hobbit says, nodding. His hands are never quite still, fingers tapping the side of his leg. “I just…well, I am still angry with you, Thorin, but…I can also understand why you didn’t say, either at Rivendell, or at first here. You did try to tell me the other night.”

Thorin shakes his head, but Bilbo waves him off before he can repeat his insistence from the other night that that was no excuse.

“I am still angry, a bit, as I said,” Bilbo repeats, although Thorin thinks hopefully that the emotion in his hazel eyes is frustration, more than true anger. Certainly, it is nothing like the hatred he had feared. “But I- I don’t really want to be angry with you.”

The confession is hesitant, and Thorin carefully does not let a hopeful smile onto his face, keeping his expression solemn. “You have every right to be angry with me, Bilbo, though I will not lie and say that I do not hope for your forgiveness, someday.”

He takes a deep breath, and makes sure to hold Bilbo’s gaze steadily. “If you will accept my word, Bilbo Baggins, then I swear to you that I will speak only the truth to you from now on.”

A strange expression that Thorin can’t quite identify crosses Bilbo’s face, but then the hobbit is looking away and clearing his throat.

“Thank you, Thorin,” he says softly, accepting Thorin’s oath. Something tight in the dwarf’s chest eases at that.

“I- I would like to be friends with you, I think,” Bilbo tells him then, his hazel eyes darting back to Thorin’s before turning away again. “But whether or not there is- Whether there could be…more than that. That is what I don’t- don’t know.”

“There is no question for me,” Thorin tells him, viciously shoving aside the disappointment that tries to cloud his mind. Compelled to be honest for his own part, he goes on, “I have just sworn to speak only truth to you, Bilbo, so I will tell you that I will take whatever sort of relationship you are willing to share with me. My heart, though, would desire much more than friendship from you, and I would wish to honor your place in my heart properly, as I have not done in the past.”

Bilbo’s eyes have gone wide, and his cheeks flushed. After a long, breathless moment, he clears his throat harshly and looks away.

“Well,” he says, clearly flustered. “Well…thank you. I- I don’t have an answer for you, obviously, but it is- It is good to know where you stand.”

Thorin inclines his head again. The words – the truth – that will spill from his mouth if he opens it again, would be too much right now. He has all but admitted his feelings, of course, but even so now is the not the time to state them more explicitly.

Bilbo’s reactions, mixed as they clearly are with his lingering anger and frustration over Thorin’s previous dishonesty, still do much to give him hope.

He asks carefully about Bilbo’s day, and the hobbit gratefully allows him to steer the conversation to other topics. Bilbo’s thoughts about the presentation of the Gundabad Academy scholar today are welcome, and give Thorin some new ideas for his own upcoming speech.

Of course, Bilbo’s mere presence has already altered it significantly from his earliest drafts.

They speak until the alarm he set on his phone goes off just before midnight, and he allows himself to be glad that their conversation flowed well for so long. Bilbo seems more relaxed now, perhaps having recaptured his good mood from dinner.

Thorin wishes, not for the first time in the last few days, that he could take Bilbo to dinner at his favorite restaurant.

Do not hope, he tells himself. You can only have patience, and wait for him to decide.

They say a somewhat stilted goodnight at Bilbo’s door, and the hobbit accepts the small pouch and gem with no sign of misunderstanding this time. Thorin is relieved that he knows enough about dwarrow to know that it is not meant as a bribe, or even a gift, not in the sense that other races would consider the giving of a gem. It is more akin to the Hobbit tradition of giving flowers with various meanings. That Bilbo knows this makes another thread of longing curl around Thorin’s heart, and he forces himself to set it aside for now.

Instead, he allows himself to imagine the little, expertly-faceted piece of rose quartz resting in Bilbo’s palm. Bilbo will either know or look up its meaning: gentle love, peace and calm in relationships, the healing of emotional wounds, and restoring harmony after conflict.

--

Bilbo spends longer than he would like to admit that night digging through the internet and various social media sites for anything that he can find about Thorin without actually creating any social media accounts himself.

The small, light pink gem stays clutched in his hand the entire time.

Chapter Text

[Nadad #2]

namadith! how goes in erebor?
i see the boys are as photogenic as ever

Hello to you too, Frerin.
The boys are well, if spoiled rotten by their uncle.

i must be doing quite a good job at it, haven’t seen them for six months!

Uncles, I should say. It is obviously a joint effort between you and Thorin.

and how is our dear brother? solemn as ever?
looked like he was having fun with the boys at least, in that recent fb post

Well…
Not exactly.
I mean, he was having fun with the boys. But he’s been a little off lately.

????
do tell

He is solemn, of course, but…not sure.
He’s been acting strangely. Balin says the same, so it isn’t just me.
Something to do with this history conference he’s participating in. One of presenters, maybe?

he’s not worked up about the orc scholars?

No, it’s not that.
Plenty of dwarrow are, but not T.
It’s more…I don’t know.
Something personal, but even Dwalin doesn’t really know. Just said he sneaked out one night and then didn’t come home until very late. D was upset, but said he’s worked it out with T and T won’t sneak anymore.

hmm
i’m not much help from over here
could he be seeing someone? best not let gossip rags get wind of that!

Ugh, I know. I think he’s being careful. Nori’s involved, though the bastard won’t tell me anything.
It’s reassuring that he’s so loyal to T, but also extremely annoying

hahahahaha serves you right
if t’s all right just leave it for now?

I think so. He doesn’t seem worse than usual, at least.

keep an eye on him. keep me posted

Of course, Nadad.

love you, namadith!

Love you too, Frerin.

--

Bilbo is able to pay attention (mostly) during the conference lectures and at meals with his colleagues the following day, but dives right back into the online world of the Erebor Royal Family as soon as he gets back to the hotel. Of course, there is far too much material on that topic for it to be a quick study, so he can’t possibly read all of it. He still gets less sleep than he should.

The swooping sensation in his stomach every time he sees Thorin’s name or hears the King mentioned today (which seems to be constantly now that his attention is caught by it) is…not troubling, not exactly. It’s not comforting, but not exactly troubling, either.

He tries not to let himself think that the proper word for it is exciting, and doesn’t really succeed.

The most recent picture on the Royal Family’s Facebook page, from a few days ago, doesn’t help: it shows Thorin bent over a table with his young nephews and their father, obviously helping them put together a small mechanical something-or-other, his face soft and eyes bright with love, excited smiles gracing the boys’ faces. The post has a ridiculous number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares,’ and Bilbo must admit to himself that he would probably have added his own, if he had a Facebook account.

But seeing how many people follow the House of Durin page – how many people pay attention to the King and his life – that is a little bit sobering. More than a little. To pursue…well, anything, really, but certainly anything serious with Thorin, would mean opening himself up to that same scrutiny.

That thought makes his stomach quiver in a much less pleasant way.

He has spent so many years hiding parts of himself from the world…and Thorin is constantly in the spotlight, to one degree or another. Is that really something that Bilbo could live with? What would happen when word eventually got back to the Shire?

While being no internet expert, nor exactly looking for anything salacious, it does seem as though the Royal Family retains a fair amount of privacy in their day to day lives. The snippets that they post are deliberate and calculated; allowing their subjects glimpses of their lives without revealing anything that they truly want to remain private. Bilbo knows vaguely that while Dwarrow love their gossip, the celebrity-chasing photographers and reporters amongst Dwarrow are a bit less predatory than those among Men, Orcs, or even Elves. Actual intrusions into the Royal Family’s privacy would be frowned upon in Erebor.

But Bilbo himself is certainly not part of the Royal Family, and any future inclusion in that group is still purely hypothetical. He is also an outsider here, and will have no such respect granted to him.

He is still scheduled to go home two weeks after the conference ends, anyway…and at that point all of this might become moot.

To say that his heart falls at that thought does not quite do the sensation justice – plummet is probably a better word.

Cursing silently to himself, Bilbo finally forces himself to close his laptop, wash up, and curl up (alone) in his bed.

That he wants to recapture his close relationship with Thorin in undeniable, but if it is even to be a possibility, then he will have to figure out what exactly it would mean to be dating the King Under the Mountain. He suspects that being half-asleep will not help with that task, nor with actually taking in any of the conference lectures tomorrow.

Mind spinning, it still takes him longer than he would like to fall asleep.

If his dreams are filled with bright blue eyes and hot kisses, with strong hands and a hopeful smile…well, that still doesn’t answer any of his most pressing questions. It does make him more eager to see Thorin again, though.

They meet somewhere else that following night, which is probably for the best.

“My…head of security suggested somewhere less public than the hotel,” Thorin explains once they are settled in what seems to be a parlor of some sort at the University. “I would rather you not have to deal with any unwanted attention over this, and certainly not before you have made any kind of decision.”

“Thank you,” is all Bilbo can murmur in reply, turning away from the dwarf to survey the books on the walls, his hands clenched behind his back to keep them from nervous movement.

“You are well?” Thorin wants to know, seeming a bit anxious. “Still enjoying the conference?”

“Oh yes!” Bilbo assures him, turning back. That, at least, is a safe enough topic.

“I watched the recording of your lecture,” Thorin says, face lighting with enthusiasm. “I did not realize that relations between the Blue Mountains and the Shire were so extensive. Some of the joint projects you discussed – movies and musical groups and that sort of thing – sounded interesting. I will have to see if any of them are available here.”

Bilbo feels his cheeks flush at the praise, but he smiles anyway. “I’m glad you enjoyed it. I do find it an interesting topic, and some of the joint projects are quite good! I suppose the other Dwarrow cultures might find them interesting as well, even if they are not familiar with Hobbits.”

“Agreed.” Thorin returns his smile, and Bilbo’s heart flutters. He quickly goes back to examining the books. Why must this be so difficult?

Memories of the things he read online remind him.

“Is it…is it difficult, being king?” he asks hesitantly, hands skimming over a history of Erebor and the surrounding lands. “I was- Well, I was looking at some things online, and it seems that you and your family are under a lot of…scrutiny.”

“We are,” Thorin admits simply. He is quiet for a moment, and a quick glance reveals a thoughtful look on his face, contemplating Bilbo’s questions. “It is difficult at times, of course,” he goes on, “both the scrutiny and the work. But I was raised for both, and in truth I do enjoy my work, and am used enough to being in the public eye. I am able to get away when I need time with my family or to be alone, but the rest of the time…I cannot say that it bothers me too greatly. It is part of my job, in the current age.”

“Is it mostly paperwork and public appearances?” Bilbo wonders then, some of his tension seeping away at the openness in Thorin’s answers. (The dwarf is certainly sticking to his word to be honest with Bilbo, as best the hobbit can tell; it is a mark in his favor.)

“Those do form a large part of some days,” Thorin allows with a wry smile. “But there is more to it than that. I work with the legislature, as well as other representatives of the people and companies of Erebor, to make sure that the laws do what they are meant to. It is a challenge, sometimes, to find the right level of protection for all, without also imposing needless restrictions. It is easier, in some ways, to rule over Dwarrow; most of us prefer to mind our own business, moreso than one might say of Men or Orcs, or even perhaps Elves. Still, the laws are important.”

“Can you not just declare things as they ought to be?” Bilbo asks then, curious. “Once you have spoken to the representatives, I mean, to learn what you need to know?”

“In some instances, that is an option,” Thorin says, looking thoughtful again. “But I am no tyrant, and my rule is not absolute, though that was true for some Dwarf Kings of past ages. While there are occasional moments in Parliament when that certainly sounds like it would be preferable,” he pauses to smile at Bilbo’s chuckle, “usually that passes quickly enough. My word is enough for some things, such as making the final decision allowing the scholars from Gundabad Academy to attend the conference.” He falls silent for a long moment, then slowly shakes his head. “No, I believe that we are stronger for having more voices than just mine. There are always things that I would miss, or be ignorant of, even if I were diligent in speaking to many about their concerns. Parliament helps to make sure that all voices are heard, and all issues are raised.”

“You love it, don’t you? Your work, and your people.” Bilbo asks softly then, seeing the brightness of Thorin’s eyes as he discusses his work.

Thorin looks up at him, and very little in his expression changes, which makes Bilbo flush again. But his smile is light and unreserved, and he nods. “I do. To rule Under the Mountain is my privilege as well as my duty.”

Bilbo nods, and steers the conversation to something else, only half paying attention to his own words.

The more they speak, the more it becomes clear that his name is perhaps the only thing that Thorin was untruthful about. In every other way, the dwarf that he came to know and care for as Rin is clearly visible in Thorin.

It makes his heart beat faster, but still he is not sure what decision he might realistically make.

--

The House of Durin
(Public Figure)

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The House of Durin
September 18 at 4:01 pm

His Majesty, hard at work on his speech for the #DwarrowAndTheirNeighbors Conference at Erebor University in 3 days:

[A side picture of Thorin, who seems unaware of the photographer, bent over papers on a desk, pen in one hand. A pair of dark glasses are perched on his nose, and his hair is half pulled back, keeping the front-most strands from falling into his face and exposing his usual braids and the line of his jaw.]

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Comments [124 of 354]

Dagur so Lagur If you’re ready to start looking for love, Your Majesty, I’m yours anytime!!! <3 <3 <3

Elsba do Elspa *discretely wipes away drool*

Jensia do Jensa didn’t know his majesty wears glasses!

Dina do Dona @Vinar so Virfar

Bursi so Musi Something to keep the forge-fire going… ;)

Nyar so Nyrar I’ve seen better

Vinar so Virfar BDB

Vís do Tísi I don’t know, aren’t glasses a little “old fashioned” for this new, modern look the monarchy is trying to foster?

Roda do Rida still can’t believe you let filthy orcs into the mountain bad enough we have to put up with elves

Salmur so Salmundur Erebor is for DWARROW, not all these OUTSIDERS. Same goes for Khazad-dum!

Kárunn do Jórunn can’t believe people still complain about letting in those other than dwarrow in this day and age ridiculous

Manni so Marni Even granting that the royal family aren’t conventionally attractive, His Majesty still looks quite well in this picture.

Gudní do Fanní thx for the updates yr majesty

[…]

--

[Bilbo]

That’s a very…nice picture you have up on Facebook.

Oh. Thank you.
Balin took it before I realized what he was doing.
But it seemed churlish not to let him post it.

You are quite popular with most of your people, it seems.
Not that I can blame them.

I- Thank you.
I am glad that many of them feel that I am a good king.
There will always be those who disagree, of course.

Of course. I’m not surprised that your allowing the Gundabad scholars to come is still controversial.

My hope is that it will make such things easier in the future, in spite of the continued opposition. I believe they are mostly in the minority today, however vocal.

The dwarrow scholars at the conference seem to have been giving them a fair hearing.

Good!

I must admit that I was surprised by the number of marriage offers you received on that post.
Not that you aren’t eligible!
Or don’t deserve them!
It just seems like a bit much, even on all this social media.
Goodness, what would they do if you took one of them up on it?

For the most part, they are not serious, and well aware that I do not take it as such.

For the most part??

There are those to whom my…position is attractive.
But I would never entertain such a notion. My line is secure through Frerin and Fili. It was decided amongst the family that if I were ever to marry, it would be for affection and not politics.
Such things are less needful in this age.

Yes, well. I’m rather glad of that.
Can’t imagine being married to a complete stranger or any such thing!

Neither can I.

Ah.
Well.
Good night, Thorin!

Good night, Bilbo. Sleep well.

Chapter Text

For the first time in many years, Thorin finds himself nervous about an upcoming speech.

Not about the content, in itself. It is a good speech, and he has conquered his youthful tendency towards long and rambling speeches (after much practice and help from his advisors). No, the content of the speech is fine, as is the presentation.

This speech, however, is personal. Not that other speeches he has given were false, or rote. But this one requires him to open himself up both personally and professionally in a way that he has not needed to do before. Given the topic and the events of the past few days, it could hardly be otherwise.

The lecture hall is one of Erebor University’s largest, and Thorin can see that it is packed full. He waits just out of sight while Professor Dori gives his own remarks, breathing to steady his unexpected nerves, and letting his eyes look for Bilbo. It is pointless to try to stop himself from looking for the hobbit, so he might as well do it now while he is yet out of sight of the audience.

“And now, it is my very great pleasure to introduce our closing speaker for this conference. Please welcome His Majesty, King Thorin II of Erebor!”

Applause, and that is his cue.

Thorin takes one last steadying breath, and steps onto the stage, ignoring the strike of lights with long practice. He crosses to the podium, accepts Professor Dori’s bow and then takes his place at the lectern. He sets his papers in front of him, gives a quick glance at his opening lines, and then lifts his eyes to his audience.

By a great effort of will, he keeps his gaze from pausing on Bilbo for longer than a heartbeat.

“Good evening, everyone. I would like to thank you for coming: to Erebor, to this conference, and to my talk tonight. While I know that some rulers prefer other aspects of their work, I have actually always been fond of giving speeches, as any of my citizens can tell you.”

A chuckle runs through the audience, and Thorin allows himself a wry smile.

“Tonight’s speech is a bit different than many I have given in the past, however. Tonight, I have been asked to wrap up the wonderful conference that Professor Dori so ably organized, and that so many of you have spent the last ten days contributing to. I have watched as many of your talks as I was able, and I found them all enjoyable and informative. To try and give a proper conclusion to all of that is a rather daunting task, even for a king.”

Another quick chuckle, but he moves on quickly this time.

“This conference was about the Dwarrow and our neighbors, both near and distant. Some of you have traveled quite a long way to be here, and some are quite new to Erebor. But in some capacity, you have interacted with dwarrow, and we with you. I am glad to know that, and I am glad that all of you have chosen to come.

“I know that attendance for some of you was controversial. Indeed, amongst some dwarrow, the idea of allowing any outsiders into the Mountain, even our neighbors of Dale and the Greenwood, is unwelcome. It saddens me that this is still the case, but it is so. There have been times in the past when our geographic neighbors were not our friends, and in those times, I believe that keeping our mountains largely closed to outsiders was the right choice. But it has been a long time since that was last the case, and we are fortunate that our neighbors here near Erebor have been good friends to us for many years. We have more distant neighbors too, and neighbors of dwarrow cities other than Erebor.”

Thorin pauses and lets his gaze sweep over the entirety of the crowd, feeling the shift and the tension as they guess what he means to address next. With a quick breath, he meets the tension head-on.

“Scholars Brerzot and Grashnud of Gundabad Academy, I would like to thank you for coming to Erebor. Your scholarship was interesting and timely, and I appreciate your attendance in the face of opposition from so many. I hope that you and your colleagues will be visitors to Erebor again.

“Moreso, I hope that our two peoples can come to a fair resolution regarding the city-state of Khazad-dum. The time for a true change in relations between Orcs and the other peoples of Middle Earth has come, and I would suit hammer swings to words, and be among the first to see that done. This change may not always happen fast, and that is to be expected. But we should be taking steady steps in the right direction. I think that most in Erebor know my own views on this matter, but let me state it clearly here: I would see Khazad-dum as a city with both Dwarrow and Orc citizens, with fair and just rule for both.

“As was discussed in more than one talk at this conference, Khazad-dum has a complicated and often tragic history. Founded and created by my line, I do not believe there is any dispute that Durin’s Folk were driven unjustly from its halls by a great evil. Orcs then held those halls as conquerors and despoilers for long ages, and had Khazad-dum returned to Dwarrow hands during that time, then our discussions today might be different. But times shifted, and many Orcs had begun to make true homes in the halls under the Misty Mountains, breaking from the way of life of their ancestors. It was at this time that they were forcibly removed my grandfather Thror, and Khazad-dum returned to Dwarrow exclusively, and we have had tense relations between us ever since.

“Whatever evil will might have driven the Orcs of the distant past, I know of nothing done by that race in this past age which was not done only by their own wills as individual beings of this earth. And for as long as that has been true, then I also know of nothing which truly makes them better or worse than any other of the Free Peoples; some individual Orcs have chosen evil acts, others have chosen good. In this, I certainly cannot say that Dwarrow are any different, nor Men, nor Elves, nor even Hobbits. Indeed, even with much ill-will bent against them, the majority of Orcs have chosen to improve their lives, and have integrated their societies with those of the Free Peoples as much as they have been able and allowed to. In my mind, this speaks against any arguments about inborn evil. The histories of Men and Elves and Dwarrow are not free of atrocious acts, though I hope that we too have moved beyond such things.

“Isolation does us no favors when our neighbors, of any race, are friendly. Were we all at war with one another, as has been the case in past ages, then this would be a different speech. But to all our good fortune, that is not the state of the world that we live in today. We need not all agree on everything; His Majesty King Thranduil will be the first to tell you that he and I agree on very few things, in fact. But we talk to each other anyway, and that is the most important thing.”

At last Thorin pauses, and allows a smile to grow as applause, scattered at first but slowly growing, fills the great university hall. After a moment he raises a hand, and the applause dies away again. He nods in gratitude.

“I must admit that this is a large part of my appreciation of this conference; we are all talking to each other, even if some of it is disagreement. In some places, such as between the Hobbits of the Shire and the Dwarrow of Ered Luin, and between the Men and Dwarrow of the Orocarni Mountains, we have even moved beyond talking to each other, and are going for full-on collaboration. It was a delight to hear of those projects, and I hope to hear of many more in the future.

“I myself have spent time abroad as well, and I know that my life is richer for it. During that time, I made friends that remain friends to this day. Some I have lost touch with, though I was glad to know them. And a few…” he caught a quick breath and with all of his will kept his gaze away from Bilbo, “…a few of them have touched me deeply in ways that they can hardly know. All of these experiences are ones that I would not give away for any sum of gold.”

There is a strange moment of hush in the hall, and Thorin quickly swallows and calms his heart before going on.

“As many of you know, we Dwarrow do love our gold, so those treasures greater than gold we hold onto all the more tightly.”

Brief laughter, this time, and he allows himself another quick smile.

“We have in ages past dealt with each other by violence, to the loss and grief of all. We have a unique chance now, today, to move forward peacefully, and continue to build a world in which none must weep for loved ones lost to needless conflict. I hope that all of you who have come for this conference, and come to hear me speak today, feel the same, and will carry that goodwill with you out into the world.

“Thank you all for coming to Erebor.”

Thorin steps out from the podium and bows slightly…only to straighten in surprise at the thunderous applause that overtakes the hall.

He has hoped that the speech would go well, but had not imagined such a positive response. Smiling, he lets himself look out over the hall, looking at the determined faces of all those present…and at last he cannot keep himself from glancing at Bilbo Baggins.

The hobbit is one of many rising out of their seats, clapping fiercely, with the quicksilver shine of what are probably tears being blinked back in his bright hazel eyes. Gladness and approval shine in his face, and he grins.

Thorin can no more help his own smile from growing into a grin than he could have stopped his heart from beating.

He bows again, covering it as a bow to the hall but meaning it for Bilbo.

--

Bilbo applauds until his hands hurt, and keeps clapping anyway. He also stays on his feet all through Professor Dori’s reappearance on stage, another bow from Thorin, and then the slow calming of the audience.

He scarcely hears the final few remarks of the conference, unable to focus on anything but Thorin. He does not tear his eyes away from the dwarf until the King finally disappears behind the curtain at the side of the stage.

It is not his imagination that those vivid blue eyes seek him out one last time just before Thorin disappears.

Chapter Text

Excerpt from a September 22nd Facebook Post by Dina do Dona, and comments:

[…] Definitely seemed like he had someone specific in mind when he was talking about meeting people and making friends abroad, and he gave /someone/ in the front row a really intense look and a pretty wide smile, not much like his usual public appearances. Don’t know who was sitting up there, but King T wasn’t directing that kind of look at just anyone. […]

[…]

Unn do Runn Totally know what you mean!!

Vinar so Virfar DB wish I could have made it to that speech

Bilvar so Billar Yeah, that smile was really something. Didn’t see who was sitting there, though.

Katla do Tovla I got a look at those seats a bit later, there were a few people sitting there Erla, Bofspori, that hobbit prof from the Shire, and looked like a couple dwar from the Orocarni. Could it possibly be Bofspori???

Wali so Vali Do we have to rehash this tired old gossip again? But thanks for the synopsis of the speech, Dina, very helpful like always

Bilvar so Billar @Wali so Vali but the gossip is the best part!

Wali so Vali @Bilvar so Billar No.

[…]

--

Bjarti son of Bjarki @ActorBjarson Sept 23

Rumors going now that King T’s crush isn’t from Erebor? #kingthorin #crush #themystery

[7,568 retweeted] [2,058 liked]

 

Oddní do Nanní @OddniEnough Sept 23

@ActorBjarson Everyone who saw his speech saying that, yeah #kingthorin #crush #themystery

[576 retweeted] [448 liked]

 

Vinar so Virfar @ClimbingVinar Sept 23

@OddniEnough Not sure how I feel about that! Hard to give up hope after so many years. ;) #kingthorin #crush

[52 retweeted] [95 liked]

 

Dina do Dona @DinaDD Sept 23

@ActorBjarson @OddniEnough he and that prof from the shire had a weird moment at the meet-and-greet, heard from a friend who was there #kingthorin

[5,573 retweeted] [907 liked]

 

Vinar so Virfar @ClimbingVinar Sept 23

@DinaDD REALLY? #kingthorin #crush

[24 retweeted] [20 liked]

 

Dina do Dona @DinaDD Sept 23

@ClimbingVinar Definitely. No one quite sure what was going on there, but something weird. #kingthorin

[3,684 retweeted] [455 liked]

 

Oddní do Nanní @OddniEnough Sept 23

@DinaDD Whoa #kingthorin #crush #themystery

[618 retweeted] [1,357 liked]

--

From The Miner’s Pick:

A FOREIGN FLAME?

Could it be that His Majesty’s broken heart was not caused by a dwarrow? Rumors have been flying after King Thorin’s speech yesterday at a conference that suggest this might be the case! While no one is too certain as to who this foreign flame might have been (or might still be?), some suggestions have been put forward. Our investigation into these possibilities is under way.

Stay tuned, and we promise to keep you on top of this shocking new turn in the long-standing question of His Majesty’s lack of romantic partner!

--

“Thorin, can we talk?”

Thorin pauses over the latest draft of a bill from the Legislature, and takes a deep breath. Dis’ voice is soft with true worry, and he knows that he cannot do that to her.

“Of course, namad,” he says, setting down the papers and rising from his desk.

She gestures to the couch in his office, which is comfortable but not used all that often; he finds it easier to focus at his desk, and most visitors take the more formal chairs that face him there.

Although his heartbeat has risen slightly in anxiety over the questions that he knows are coming, Thorin nevertheless sits down and accepts her hold when Dis wraps her arm around his and laces their fingers together.

“I know that you do not wish to speak about this,” she begins, blunt as is her wont, “but I am worried for you, and I am not the only one. That you will not even speak to Balin or Dwalin about it has left them struggling to know how to help, and me to wonder if it is truly so awful as all that, that you cannot even speak to those closest to you about it.”

“No,” Thorin assures her quickly. “No, it is not…not awful.”

He stops there, struggling to find a place to begin, and this time his sister waits him out patiently. Dis truly does know him best.

“Things are…uncertain, still, and I did not wish to put pressure on…I did not wish to speak of it until things were resolved.” He swallows. “One way or another.” It hurts still, to think that Bilbo might yet leave him, might decide that this isn’t worth the trouble. The rumors are growing and spreading, and Thorin is desperately afraid that he might not be able to shield Bilbo from that.

The knowledge that, if Bilbo accepts him, he will always be under such scrutiny, does nothing to raise Thorin’s hopes.

“I understand,” Dis says, “and if you truly do not wish to speak of it, then I will not press. But I know that we would all appreciate knowing what is going on. That way, we can better be here for you no matter the outcome.”

“I met him at Rivendell,” Thorin blurts out, because suddenly it seems easiest to just begin from the beginning. Her tone says that his sister will not tease him for what he is about to tell her, not if that will make things worse for him. “I met him at Rivendell and we…we had an affair, for several months. But he would not be open about it, and then father became ill, and I…”

He chokes on the words, remembering his actions now with shame and regret.

“You ended it,” she guesses, and nods.

“I ended it, and not well,” he confirms. “I thought never to see him again.”

“But he has come…for the conference?”

“Yes,” Thorin says, then takes another deep breath for the last step. “His name is Bilbo Baggins, and he is a hobbit.”

Dis accepts this with seeming equanimity, meaning that she either guessed it already, or had (perhaps) expected something worse. “And where do things stand now between you?”

“I have apologized, for both my past behavior and the deception of my assumed name, and he has consented still to meet with me. But he plans to return home in less than two weeks, and must decide what- what it is that he wants. He has not been able to be open about his preferences, in Eriador, and so the thought of…”

“The thought of being subject to as much scrutiny as he will be here if this comes out, is distressing,” Dis nods. “Understandable, and especially for one who was not raised to this life, as we were.” She mulls over what he has told her for several moments, and Thorin takes the respite gratefully, letting his own thoughts wander.

“Do you love him?”

He swallows as his sister’s voice brings him back to the moment.

“More than I can describe,” he admits, quietly from a tight throat.

Dis squeezes his hand in understanding, and lets the silence return.

“Your family are with you, whatever comes,” she says at last. “And I would like to meet him, when the time is right.” Thorin feels some of the tension in his chest ease, and nods.

“I would like that too,” he tells her. “I must leave it up to him.”

She agrees. “You must be careful, Thorin. Rumors are spreading, and there are those who will not be kind to an outsider in this position.”

“I know,” he assures her, and frowns. He must think of how to mitigate this, and hopes that Bilbo will accept his help. “I will offer him a more secure place to stay, somewhere in the palace.”

“It will do nothing to quell the rumors,” she muses, “but he will be safer and more sheltered. I think it would be for the best.”

Chapter Text

Bilvar so Billar @Bilarious Sept 24

Any more news about #themystery? #kingthorin #crush

[54 retweeted] [357 liked]

 

Oddní do Nanní @OddniEnough Sept 24

@Bilarious Not that I’ve seen! Frustrating. #kingthorin #crush #themystery

[84 retweeted] [573 liked]

 

Bilvar so Billar @Bilarious Sept 24

@OddniEnough I understand! Heard he might have been looking at @ErlaToRise #kingthorin #crush

[146 retweeted] [395 liked]

 

Erla do Darla @ErlaToRise Sept 24

@Bilarious not me! he was looking near me though #themystery #kingthorin

[86 retweeted] [407 liked]

 

Bilvar so Billar @Bilarious Sept 24

@ErlaToRise didn’t you see who he WAS looking at? #themystery #kingthorin

[24 retweeted] [251 liked]

 

Erla do Darla @ErlaToRise Sept 24

@Bilarious hard to say. Hobbit prof seemed emotional, didn’t notice anything in particular about anyone else #themystery #kingthorin

[1,365 retweeted] [2,455 liked]

 

Bilvar so Billar @Bilarious Sept 24

@ErlaToRise funny I saw him mentioned somewhere else too. #kingthorin #crush #themystery #thehobbit?

[1,691 retweeted] [2,645 liked]

 

Oddní do Nanní @OddniEnough Sept 24

@Bilarious @ErlaToRise I’ve seen that hobbit prof get mentioned too!! What’s his name? #kingthorin #crush #themystery #thehobbit?

[2,648 retweeted] [3,546 liked]

 

Erla do Darla @ErlaToRise Sept 24

@OddniEnough Boggins or Baggins or something, isn’t it? #themystery #kingthorin #hobbit

[2,003 retweeted] [916 liked]

 

Oddní do Nanní @OddniEnough Sept 24

@ErlaToRise wonder where King T could possibly have met a hobbit #kingthorin #crush #themystery #thehobbit?

[984 retweeted] [614 liked]

--

“If I were to agree to- to a relationship,” Bilbo says suddenly, meeting Thorin’s eyes squarely, “that would mean I would have to move to Erebor, wouldn’t it?”

Thorin blinks, startled by the change of topic; they had previously been discussing one of the conference lectures about the Orocarni.

“You would not have to do anything,” he replies carefully, frowning slightly. “Obviously, I would prefer to have you near, but you are and would be free to live wherever you choose.” He pauses, then goes on, “I would not be able to leave Erebor for any extended period of time, if that is what you are asking.”

Bilbo sighs a little, and his shoulders slump ever so slightly. “I wasn’t…well, I suppose I was asking that. Not that we could live together in the Shire, anyway!”

“I am sorry,” Thorin tells him. “I hope that someday things are better there. But I do not wish to give up the throne, and I must be here if I am to be King.”

“Of course you must,” Bilbo agrees, and steps away from him to trail his hand over the slim strip of green marble wall visible between the bookshelves in the University parlor where they are meeting. “And truthfully…I’ve grown rather fond of Erebor myself. But my job is back in the Shire, so I’m not sure what- what I might do.”

Thorin, who has caressed the stone of his mountain in much the same manner, swallows down both desire and aching fondness for the hobbit. He has scarcely dared hope that Bilbo might consent to love him – to wonder if the hobbit might ever love Erebor has not yet been in his mind.

“Bilbo,” he says then, holding onto his courage, “I would like to offer you a guest room in the palace.”

“What?” Bilbo asks, turning away from the wall and clearly startled. “Oh, goodness no, Thorin! That would only confirm any rumors that might be floating around.”

“There are rumors,” Thorin tells him, “and some of them involve you.”

“Oh,” Bilbo says, and looks nervous for a moment before he clears his throat and covers it. “Well, my moving into the palace, even if it’s to a guest room, certainly won’t do anything to dispel them!”

“I fear that soon nothing will dispel them,” Thorin says, frowning in concern. How can Bilbo not see that it will be safer? “The gossip-mongers will be digging for information, and I fear they will find enough to confirm what some are already suggesting. I would feel more comfortable if you were in a place with more security.”

“And how am I to see Erebor then?” the hobbit asks, and Thorin suspects that his indignation is covering a deepening anxiety. “I am here on vacation, after all, and the point was to see more of the Mountain, and of Dale, for that matter!”

“I believe that arrangements could be made,” Thorin starts, but Bilbo shakes his head firmly.

“No, I will not allow myself to be scared into doing something rash. What proof do they have of anything? Has someone seen us together?”

“No,” Thorin admits, but pushes on, “but our first public meeting has caused some comment, and sooner or later someone will put other pieces together.”

It is useless though, for he knows the stubborn look on Bilbo’s face.

“The offer is open,” he says rather than pressing the point further, “at any time, day or night, should you change your mind.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo tells him. “I appreciate it, but I won’t change my mind.”

Thorin breathes, and tries to put away his unease. Perhaps, with the conference over, the buzz will die away soon and it will turn out to not be a problem. Perhaps it might be best if Bilbo goes home at the end of his vacation, at least for a short period, and then there will be nothing to spur further rumors; they can arrange for him to come back quietly.

Much as Thorin hates the thought of being separated, Bilbo will have to go home for at least a short time, even if he ultimately accepts Thorin’s offer of courtship. Perhaps everything will be all right.

--

From The Miner’s Pick:

THE REVELATION

Dear Readers, we come to you today with News.

While not confirmed yet by His Majesty himself, nor by the other party that we will name shortly, our research indicates that there is little question. Indeed, our beloved King’s heart has been stolen by someone from afar, and a reunion of some kind has taken place here within the walls of Erebor.

Records indicate that they both attended Rivendell University at the same time, obviously during His Majesty’s time abroad when he was still Crown Prince. Eyewitnesses here in Erebor, of impeccable character, have confirmed that their first meeting in two decades took place in the Small Throne Room, and was sizzling with tension.

It would seem that for our King, good things come in small packages: Dear Readers, the name of His Majesty’s long lost love would seem to be none other than Professor Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit of the Shire.

That is right, Dear Readers, at long last we have a name. While we know that this news may crush some hearts, let us hope it will also lighten them again. Now, we must all sit back and wait for the (presumably) forthcoming official announcement from His Majesty and Professor Baggins, letting the citizens of Erebor know the state of things, and whether or not we have a Royal Wedding to look forward to in the near future!

--

Oddní do Nanní @OddniEnough Sept 25

@Bilarious @MinersPick says the answer to #themystery is this hobbit, Professor Baggins, from the Shire! #kingthorin #thehobbit

[546 retweeted] [1,574 liked]

 

Vinar so Virfar @ClimbingVinar Sept 25

@OddniEnough WHAT

[32 retweeted] [55 liked]

 

Bilvar so Billar @Bilarious Sept 25

@OddniEnough DB really? #kingthorin #themystery #thehobbit

[156 retweeted] [245 liked]

 

Bilvar so Billar @Bilarious Sept 25

@OddniEnough, just read the article! @ErlaToRise seems like you were right! #kingthorin #themysterysoved #thehobbit

[691 retweeted] [879 liked]

 

Oddní do Nanní @OddniEnough Sept 25

@Bilarious right???? They seem to have done their research. #kingthorin #thehobbit #hobbit

[721 retweeted] [1,173 liked]

 

Wali so Vali @WaliSOV Sept 25

@Bilarious @OddniEnough It astounds me you’re taking the word of a gossip rag on this.

[284 retweeted] [534 liked]

 

Bilvar so Billar @Bilarious Sept 25

@WaliSOV Nope, heard too much about it from other sources. #kingthorin #themysterysolved #thehobbit

[1,001 retweeted] [1,498 liked]

 

Oddní do Nanní @OddniEnough Sept 25

@WaliSOV Astounds me that you can’t see how much it makes sense! #themysterysolved #kingthorin #thehobbit

[646 retweeted] [873 liked]

 

Ebba daughter of Eiba @ebbing Sept 25

@MinersPick how dare you suggest such a filthy thing! @KingThorinII would NEVER pick anyone but a dwarf. #kingthorin #EreborForDwarrow #gobacktotheshire #hobbit

[1,009 retweeted] [964 liked]

--

Bilbo waits to cross a busy street on his way back from a delightful tour of one of Erebor’s historical mine shafts, humming softly to himself. He’ll be back to the hotel soon, and he is looking forward to a delicious supper, and then a quiet evening texting (or perhaps even talking with) Thorin.

“Professor Baggins?” asks a voice behind him, and Bilbo turns, only a little startled. He is the only Hobbit in the Mountain, after all, so it would not be too hard to guess his name.

“Yes?” he asks the pair of dwarves standing behind him.

“Is it true, Professor Baggins, that you are in a relationship with His Majesty?” one of them asks eagerly, pen hovering over paper, and the other raises what Bilbo belatedly realizes is a camera.

But, while a tiny part of his mind is crying Thorin was right!, the rest of him is frozen in shock and horror. He blinks slowly and can only manage a stuttered, “W- What?

The camera flashes.

Chapter Text

Dear Professor Sackville-Baggins,

It has come to my attention that one of Hobbiton College’s own professors, Bilbo Baggins, has apparently engaged in relations of an inappropriate nature. Not only has he done this repeatedly, according to the news reports that I am enclosing with this letter, but he has engaged in these relations with a Dwarf.

It would be bad enough, I daresay, to discover that a professor at a respectable institution such as Hobbiton College had engaged in unnatural relations with another Hobbit. That he should do so with another race entirely is, to say the least, unpardonable.

Given your good reputation, I am trusting that this information was not previously known to you. As an alumna and long-time supporter of Hobbiton College, I also trust that the College will act swiftly and appropriately in this matter, and remove Bilbo Baggins from the institution’s employ.

I think you will understand why neither myself, nor any other alumni, can allow the reputation of our beloved alma mater to be damaged by an unscrupulous individual such as this.

Thank you for your swift consideration in this issue.

Sincerely,
Petunia Chubb

--

Bilbo silences the buzzing of his phone for the third time with an impatient swipe.

He is hidden in the depths of the Erebor University library, and doing his best to forget his unfortunate encounter with the reporter the other day. While he thinks that he managed to project enough incredulity about their question to cover both himself and Thorin, he’s not entirely sure they bought it.

Dealing with Lobelia, however, does not promise to improve his mood. Why she is trying to call him he can’t fathom. He has email for a reason, and she bloody well knows it! The book on the history of Erebor’s trade with the peoples around the Sea of Rhun is much more interesting, and a much better distraction.

He has been keeping himself out of public as much as possible over the last few days, and so far it seems to be working. No one else from any of the Erebor media have approached him. He had hesitantly confessed the encounter to Thorin, who immediately renewed his invitation for Bilbo to stay in a guest suite at the palace. While Bilbo was tempted now, he still wanted to spend a little bit more time in the library here at the University. Figuring that this was enough out of the public eye, he told Thorin that he would consider the offer, but wasn’t quite ready to leave the Red Agate Hotel just yet.

Thorin tried to insist, but still backed down when Bilbo made it clear that he would make his own decisions.

Whether or not this was the right decision he isn’t yet sure, but thus far it seems to be working out.

He takes advantage of the day-end crowds to make his way back to the hotel, having at least taken the precaution of a coat with a hood. While not his usual style, it does make him significantly less noticeable, and most of the dwarves were too busy to notice his feet.

“Best figure out what Lobelia wants,” he mutters to himself once he is safely back in his room, deciding to check his email first.

Sure enough, there is one from Lobelia sitting in his inbox, and he opens it without really glancing at the subject line.

--

To: Professor Baggins <bbaggins@hobbiton.edu>
From: Professor Sackville-Baggins <lsackvillebaggins@hobbiton.edu>
Subject: Notice from the Board of Trustees

Professor Baggins:

I am writing to inform you of the decision of the Hobbiton College Board of Trustees to terminate your employment with the College.

Based on recent news reports noted by many in the Shire and brought to the attention of the College by concerned alumni and members of society, it has been determined that you have broken the codes of behavior laid out by Hobbiton College for all of its employees. The Board of Trustees decided that the violation was great enough to warrant termination.

If you would like to appeal this decision, please see the attachment to this email for the appeal procedures. Please be aware that your appeal will need to provide proof that you have not engaged in any behavior that is contrary to the codes of Hobbiton College.

Please contact me with any questions.

Sincerely,

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins
Dean
Hobbiton College

--

Lobelia,” is all Bilbo can get out when she picks up after the seventh ring. He isn’t sure if it is rage or terror that chokes his voice.

“If you had answered your phone then you wouldn’t have had to get it from that bloody email,” Lobelia snaps, unsympathetic and all too perceptive. “Why else would I call three times if it wasn’t urgent?”

“Lobelia,” he tries again, heart beating fast and hard and uncomfortable in his chest. He feels lightheaded, and sits down. Pacing had helped while he listened to the phone ring, but not now.

She heaves a great sigh. “It’s your own fault for not keeping quiet about it! Too many people complained, and they didn’t just send their letters to me. It quickly got beyond the point where I could do any useful damage control. What possessed you to go lolly-gagging in public about it? What was I supposed to do when it’s all over the front page of an Erebor paper?”

“I didn’t-” Her words register more fully, and Bilbo’s indignation screeches to a startled halt. “I- what? You- You knew?”

He can almost hear her eyes rolling. “Bilbo Baggins, a blind Hobbit could tell that you have no interest in females. When you were an excellent scholar and credible lecturer who just happened to also be a confirmed bachelor with no social life, it was easy enough for me to look the other way and everyone else to remain happily ignorant. But now that you’re engaging in relations with the bloody King of Erebor, it is a little bit harder to overlook!”

“I’m not-” Bilbo chokes that protest off too…since it isn’t exactly true. He is rather engaging in relations with Thorin, isn’t he? Even if they haven’t slept together again since that first time. “Lobelia…what- what am I going to do?”

She is silent for a long moment, then sighs again, much more quietly. “I’m sorry, Bilbo. I don’t know. I’m not sure what sort of proof you might offer for an appeal…and even if you could come up with something, I’m not sure that anyone would believe it. Please, know that if this were my choice, I would never have fired you. The Board of Trustees took the decision out of my hands.”

“I know,” he tells her, and realizes that he knew it even before she said it. While they do not get along, and have never precisely liked each other, there has been a steady level of respect between them for a long time now. He trusts that Lobelia is telling him the unvarnished truth.

Besides, he knows how things work, both at the College and throughout the Shire. They would have taken no chances that Lobelia, a distant cousin-by-marriage, would be able to help him in any way if they truly wanted him gone.

No. His career is over.

“Breathe,” she commands him, able to hear that his breath has become panicked. “You’ll find work elsewhere; some place might even see it as a point in your favor, I suppose. Certainly your King must find you appealing, so you can stay with him. Or they liked you well enough in the Blue Mountains, you said, if it doesn’t work out in Erebor.”

She still speaks the truth, though it only calms him enough to pretend that he is all right.

“Thank you, Lobelia,” he says.

“For what? Firing you?” she scoffs, but then quiets again. “You’re welcome, Bilbo. I’m only sorry I couldn’t do more.”

He nods, forgetting that she can’t see him. She seems to understand anyway.

“I’ll sort out your belongings and accounts here at the College for now,” she tells him. “Just let me know when you’ll be back, or if you’re coming back at all. I assume that your house is settled?”

“Yes, that’s all taken care of,” Bilbo assures her…and hopes that it’s still true, since this revelation about his preferences has undoubtedly spread throughout the Shire by now. “Thanks.”

“Take care of yourself,” she tells him.

“I will,” he promises automatically.

“We’ll speak again later.”

“Yes.”

“Good night, Bilbo.” He can hear the glare in her voice.

“Good night, Lobelia.”

She pauses, but then hangs up.

Bilbo lowers his phone to the desk. He breathes slowly, trying to calm the sickness trying to rise in his stomach. After an interminably long moment, his body decides that tears are acceptable instead.

He makes it the few steps to the bed before collapsing into the deepest, most wracking sobs he has ever known.

Chapter Text

“My dear Bilbo,” Gandalf says with such understanding and sympathy that Bilbo’s carefully-constructed façade of calm crumbles. He even allows Gandalf to hug him, something they haven’t done since he was quite small.

Gandalf is familiar enough with the mores and prejudices of the Shire, so it had not taken more than a few, choked words on the phone the evening before to explain when the other man had called him with an invitation to breakfast. The older man had still insisted that they meet, and even arranged for a private room in the University Library to do it.

So, Bilbo allows himself a few moments of comfort from an old friend, and at last his tears slow again. He fishes for a handkerchief, and fortunately seems to have remembered one on his way out the door of his hotel room. He blows his nose, and dabs at his eyes, though he is certain that they are still quite red and that nothing will really help that right now.

“My dear Bilbo,” Gandalf says again, with such real sorrow in his eyes that it almost sets Bilbo off again, but he pulls in a deep breath and manages to hold steady. “While there are many things about the Shire that I enjoy and admire, as you know, this prejudice is not one of them. I cannot say that I am surprised by the outcome, but I am certainly saddened by it.”

“I’m…not terribly surprised either, I guess,” Bilbo admits, blowing his nose again and still forcing himself to take deep, slow breath. “Not once any kind of real rumor about it went around. But I- It’s just not fair!”

He has to bury his face in his handkerchief again following this outburst, but only for a moment, quickly wiping away the renewed tears.

“As if I haven’t done the College any credit, as if I am not the only professor doing outside research and being invited to international conferences, as if I have done anything concrete to disgrace the College!” He rants, letting his anger over the injustice of it surge to fore. It is an improvement over tears, at any rate.

“I know, my friend, I know,” Gandalf assures him. “It is unjust. Is there no hope of reversing the decision?”

“Lobelia didn’t think so, and she would have told me if there were. No, it is done, and now I have no job, and will be unable to get another one if I return home!”

Few would hire him now, for anything, not with the knowledge public in this way. Perhaps for some out-of-sight job in Tuckborough or Buckland…but he was not going to be someone’s assistant bookkeeper!

He said as much to the wizard, who nodded slowly. “No, that would not be a good choice for you.”

Something in the way he said it made Bilbo stop his pacing and turn to narrow his eyes at Gandalf. “What are you thinking?”

The wizard paused, as if hesitating over his next words, but then met Bilbo’s eyes frankly. “While you may not wish to hear this just now, Bilbo, I would gently remind you of our previous conversations on the topic of your employment. While being fired from Hobbiton College will present a few extra challenges, I think you will find that an honest explanation of the situation to almost any of the colleges and universities in Rhovanion will clear up that issue. You have colleagues in the Blue Mountains who will happily provide you with references, and perhaps some colleagues here who will now do so as well.”

“Lobelia might, even,” Bilbo mumbled, remembering how annoyed she had been with the College’s heavy-handed decision.

“She might,” Gandalf agreed encouragingly. “With your large body of excellent scholarship to your credit, there are many places that might be happy to have a research scholar of your caliber.”

“I…I suppose.” In the immediate, devastating aftermath of his conversation with Lobelia last night, he had not been able to consider that there might be any positive aspect to any of this. Even now, it was a struggle to do so…but Gandalf was not wrong. He had not been entirely happy with his position at Hobbiton College for a number of years now.

And, more recently, he had been largely unhappy at the thought of leaving Erebor.

Maybe…maybe now he wouldn’t have to.

“I need to think about it,” he said, and the wizard nodded.

“It is not a decision to make hastily,” he agreed, “but I encourage you to consider the new potential freedoms that this unfortunate decision may provide you, as well as the injustice of it. Nothing excuses the latter, but for your own sake, it is important to consider the former.”

This was also true, and Bilbo agreed to do so.

“I think…I think I need to talk to Thorin,” he realized slowly.

If Gandalf had been surprised by his brief confession on the phone last night, about either his preferences or his current potential romantic partner, he had hidden it well. Of course, it was likely that he had known of Bilbo’s preferences for a long time, and might easily have seen the same Erebor newspaper article that had caused all this trouble in the first place. The wizard was in a better position than most to know what might be true amongst all the gossip.

“I think that would be wise,” he told Bilbo now, and rose with an encouraging smile. “It happens that this room was open all day, and I made the reservation to match. Feel free to remain here if you choose.”

Conniving old wizard. But Bilbo hugged him again, thankful for his thoughtfulness.

“I’ll call you later today, if things get settled enough,” the hobbit promised before Gandalf left. “Maybe we can get breakfast in the next day or so.”

“I would enjoy that very much, Bilbo Baggins,” the wizard told him with another smile. “Have courage!”

“I’m certainly going to need it!” was all Bilbo could reply.

--

[TsoT]

Thorin, I know we had decided to meet again tomorrow but…is there any chance I might see you today?

I am in meetings until late afternoon, but I may be able to get away then.
Is everything all right?

I’m okay for now.
I’m in the Pink Granite Room at the University, if you’re able to get away after your meetings.

Are you sure you’re all right, Bilbo?

Yes. I’ll tell you more later. Have a good day!

You too, Bilbo. Enjoy the library.

--

Once he is safely inside the University Library, Thorin allows his steps to quicken. Fortunately, the small conference room that Bilbo had named is not too far from the entrance, and he is there within moments, knocking softly and opening the door as soon as he hears Bilbo’s muffled call.

“Bilbo?” he asks, going to meet the hobbit as he rises from his chair, setting a book aside. “What has happened? Did someone harass-”

Bilbo shakes his head. It is plain that something is wrong, though, for his hazel eyes are dull and red as if he has been weeping, and weariness shadows his face.

“Thorin,” he says, accepting Thorin’s hands when he holds them out. “I- Well, there is no easy way to say this, I suppose.”

Thorin’s heart drops, fearing suddenly that Bilbo is bidding him farewell. He had not thought-

“The rumors…the rumors about us made it back to the Shire. I got an email yesterday, informing me that I have been fired from my position at Hobbiton College.”

He cannot keep the horror off his face at this news. “Oh, Bilbo. I am so sorry… I- Is there anything I can do?” They both know that he can’t fix this, though, not for all his wealth and power.

Bilbo swallows hard, obviously fighting back a renewed wave of sorrow. “I wouldn’t mind a hug just now.”

Thorin sweeps him into a tight embrace, holding him close and only humming encouragement when he feels the small shudders of sobs running through Bilbo’s frame. He shoves the guilt sickening his stomach aside; there will be time for that later.

Bilbo’s tears seem to ease quickly, and then by inches the rest of him relaxes into Thorin’s arms, a testament to the fact that, even if only in a small way, he can help the one he loves. He cannot fix the source of Bilbo’s sorrow, but he can at least comfort him through it.

Hope at that thought threads through him, though it does little to ease the leaden weight of guilt in his stomach. He should have known better, should have insisted that Bilbo come to stay at the palace, or insisted that this stay out of the newspapers, at least, whatever people’s speculations might have been…

Bilbo steps back slightly, breaking into Thorin’s spiraling thoughts and forcing him to recall that, even as King, he does not control the press in Erebor, and (generally) does not want to. A different cascade of worry tries to take hold of his mind then as the hobbit pulls further away, but it is only to lead Thorin to one of the larger armchairs in the room. Thorin settles himself quickly, and gladly pulls Bilbo close again when the hobbit hesitantly sits in his lap. He allows himself to hope that his first fear was unfounded. Surely Bilbo would not still seek such comfort from him if he meant to break things off?

They sit silently for a long time. Thorin made sure that he has no other obligations this evening before coming to the University, so he is now free as long as Bilbo might need him. He is glad now that he did so.

He has many questions, about what happened and how and why, but does not give them voice. He is content to hold Bilbo, and let the hobbit tell him when he is ready.

“Lobelia – that’s Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, my dean and a distant cousin-by-marriage – called me yesterday, but I ignored the calls because I was here at the library and had found an interesting book,” Bilbo says at last, his head leaning against Thorin’s shoulder and voice muffled slightly by Thorin’s beard. “So I learned about it first from the official email she had to send, telling me they were firing me for ‘breaking the University’s codes of behavior,’ or some such twaddle. I called her quick enough then, too late, of course.” He pauses to take a deep, slow breath. “We talked for a few minutes. She apologized for not being able to stop it, and didn’t think there was much I’d be able to do to convince the Board of Trustees to reverse their decision. She’ll take care of my affairs at the College, at least, until I can figure out what to do. I spent a lot of the rest of the night crying.”

“I wish that you had called me then,” Thorin can’t help but murmur, his heart aching at the thought of Bilbo weeping alone in a hotel room, and more at his own part in this mess. “This is my fault, at least in part. If I had not-”

“No,” Bilbo disagrees quickly, but his arms around Thorin squeeze a little, as if in thanks for the sentiment. “No, I was the one who was careless. You asked me to take more precautions days ago, and I was silly and refused. And I’m as much to blame as you are, for our- our tryst, just after I got here.”

Thorin huffs a short laugh. Tryst is perhaps the best word for that night, even though he is still hoping for much more than that.

“I met Gandalf here this morning, and we talked. I’m still very upset about it, but as he pointed out, there are some potential benefits. It frees me up to look for a better job somewhere else. Even though I was fired, it was for an ‘offense’ that universities in Rhovanion, or any dwarrow university, don’t see as an offense at all, so it’s unlikely to hurt my job prospects in that regard. Whether or not they’re interested in hiring a hobbit is a different question entirely.”

“I am sure that you can find a good position,” Thorin says quickly. “I have been reading one of your papers, the one about hobbit musical history, and it’s very interesting. You are an excellent writer, and it’s clear that you have done extensive research.”

“Thank you, Thorin,” Bilbo says, and raises his head to give the dwarf a small smile. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it. But my expertise is as you say, mainly about hobbits and our culture. While I’m sure I could turn my hand to other topics, I’m not sure any university far from the Shire will see me as an asset, even if they don’t care who I might be in a relationship with.”

Thorin can’t help but feel hopeful about the “in a relationship” part of that. “I think you sell yourself short.”

“Well, we’ll see. I’m not badly off financially, in any case, so I can do for awhile without work until I sort things out.”

“And are…are we one of the things you need to sort out?”

“Yes,” Bilbo says simply, holding Thorin’s gaze. The dwarf holds him a little closer, hoping that means something good. “Thorin, I would like to accept your offer of a guest room in the palace, and I would like to meet your family.”

Thorin feels himself grin, wide and bright. “Bilbo!” He swoops in to kiss him, forgetting until the hobbit’s muffled yelp that they have not been intimate this way since his revelation some days ago.

He starts to pull back immediately, but Bilbo’s hands dart up into his hair and hold him still, deepening the kiss just a little and reassuring him that he hasn’t made a mistake.

“I- I care very much for you, Thorin,” Bilbo says when they finally part. He rests his forehead against Thorin’s. “I can’t- can’t make you any final promises, but- Well, at this point, I would like to make any decisions about us with a full knowledge of what kind of life I would be deciding about, and I can’t do that without knowing more about your life and your family.”

“That is all I ask or hope for,” Thorin replies quietly.

Chapter Text

To: Bilbo Baggins <bilbo@baggins.net>
From: Drogo Baggins <drogo@baggins.net>
Subject: Recent News

Dear Cousin Bilbo,

So, they announced that you wouldn’t be a prof here anymore in class this morning. I went to see the dean about it afterwards, and she explained what was really going on, since the announcement was deliberately vague. Not surprisingly, since the College has talked you up for a long time as their star professor, and they wouldn’t want to admit to letting you go over something as trivial as this.

Anyway, I’m just writing to let you know that I don’t care who you’re in a relationship with, and all the busy-bodies here in Hobbiton can stuff it. I’ll make sure your house is still being looked after, just like we arranged, and let me know if you need me to do anything or send you anything. I can’t say as I understand the appeal of men myself (Primula agreed to a date finally, btw!), but that doesn’t matter. There’s plenty of nations that allow relationships between anyone, and they haven’t collapsed into ruin no matter what the small-minded gossips here in the Shire think. I can’t see why it would be any different here.

I’m using this email in case your college email gets closed, I wasn’t sure about that. I’ll make sure this one stays active; I’m the only one who really understands how the family network runs anyway, so it’s not like anyone else could deactivate it even if they want to.

That’s all, I’m afraid. Call or email if you need to talk.

Your cousin,
Drogo

--

Bilbo wakes up still feeling tired, and accepts that regardless of how comfortable his new accommodations are, that will probably be true for at least a few more days.

The guest rooms that Thorin had shown him to last night are not especially large, but they are very lavish, even by Bilbo’s standards. The green marble walls are inlaid with mosaics made of at least semi-precious stones, and in a few cases what seem like actual rare gems, at least to Bilbo’s admittedly inexpert eye. The hangings are rich of both fabric and color, and the metal fixtures throughout are inlaid or gilded with gold. The bed is one of the most comfortable he has slept in, and the linens were fine and soft.

He appreciates the workmanship, but the very nature of his surroundings works too well to remind him of where he is…and why.

At least you’re closer to Thorin, now, he reminds himself firmly. To be outed and then fired because of it was awful…but it gives him the opportunity to pursue the relationship that he has wanted for so long. His mind is not yet made up on whether or not this will work with Thorin long-term, but he is determined to figure it out and make the right choice.

A servant (and isn’t that a strange experience!) brings him a hearty breakfast a short while later, with an accompanying note from Thorin saying that he would join Bilbo in an hour, and would he be up for meeting Thorin’s family then?

Bilbo is grateful for both the food and the time, knowing that he can face things much better on a full stomach. Thorin had done him the kindness of bringing him straight here the night before, not pressing for an immediate meeting. He had only briefly met Nori, the royal family’s Chief Intelligence Agent, who had gone to retrieve Bilbo’s belongings discreetly from the hotel. That was one responsibility that Bilbo had been glad to delegate.

The hobbit eats, washes up, and dresses in his best clothes before chancing a quick look at his email. He fears he will be flooded with nasty missives from various acquaintances back in the Shire…and is pleasantly surprised to find only one, entirely supportive email from his cousin Drogo. Although he is still a student at Hobbiton College, Drogo is sensible and has a good head on his shoulders, so Bilbo had left him in charge of his affairs while he is away on this trip. He types back a reply, thanking his cousin and wishing him well on his upcoming date.

Undoubtedly the censorious emails will come in turn, but it is a relief to know that at least one family member does not think less of him for his preferences.

The next knock on his door is Thorin, only a few minutes after his stated hour and looking both fond and exasperated simultaneously.

“I must apologize in advance,” he says, his voice a low rumble as he steps inside to greet Bilbo. “My nephews are very excited to meet you, and I was only just now able to get away.”

Bilbo’s stomach flutters strangely. He has seen only the brief glimpses of Thorin’s siblings and nephews that the royal family allows on social media. To think that he will be meeting them in person in just a few minutes is nerve-wracking, moreso because Thorin’s nephews are still so young, an aspect of potentially joining this family that has only just occurred to him.

“I hope that they like me,” he mutters, wringing his hands a little. “I don’t have much experience with young children, I’m afraid. I’m not very good with them.” This isn’t entirely true; he can entertain children over short periods of time with no trouble, as he has yet to meet one that doesn’t love to hear a good story or two. But his few attempts at baby-sitting in his tweens had convinced him that children are not for him.

“They will like you, and it will be fine,” Thorin says firmly, taking his hands and pulling Bilbo’s eyes back up to his with the sheer strength of his belief that this is so. “It is not as though we will ask you to begin baby-sitting this afternoon. Or ever, in fact, if you don’t wish to. I hope that you like them and will wish to spend time with them, but responsibility for their care lies with my sister, her husband, their tutors, and, to an extent, myself.”

This reassures Bilbo some, and he takes a deep breath. “I hope that I like them too. I- I want to like your family, Thorin, and I want them to like me.”

Thorin smiles, his whole face lighting up as it does when he is truly happy. “I see no reason why you, or they, will not.” He pulls Bilbo into a strong embrace, and Bilbo rests comfortably against him, taking courage from Thorin’s warm presence, just as he did in the library yesterday. He feels stronger with this dwarf, feels that together they might tackle almost anything.

That may be a dangerous feeling, Bilbo thinks, but he clings to it as they separate and he follows Thorin out of his room.

--

Thorin largely does not feel nervous as he opens the door to the royal quarters and gently draws Bilbo in after him. He meant it when he told Bilbo moments ago that he sees no reason why his family and his love will not like each other.

There is still the smallest hint of anxiety, though, despite his best efforts.

He feels a twinge of guilt over his relief at the fact that Frerin is still in Khazad-dum. He desperately misses his brother, and wants him to meet Bilbo, but Frerin is by far the most outgoing of the three of them, and the rest of the family will be enough for this meeting. He will call Frerin and speak to him today, though, if this goes well, and work out a way to get him home soon.

Fili and Kili are, miraculously, sitting together on the couch in the front receiving room, holding each other’s hands in a mutual effort to keep still. Dis sits with them, a smile hovering around the corners of her mouth, and Eli stands to her left, one hand resting on the arm of the couch, his face welcoming.

“Bilbo,” Thorin says, smiling first at the hobbit and then at his family, “this is my family. My sister, Dis. Her husband, Eli, and their sons, Fili and Kili. Our brother Frerin, as you may know, is on a diplomatic visit to Khazad-dum at this time, but I hope that he may come home soon.”

“It’s very good to meet you,” Bilbo says, his own smile just a bit hesitant, but otherwise warm.

“Dis, Eli, boys, this is Bilbo Baggins.”

Fili and Kili are practically vibrating now, and send twin pleading looks at their mother. Dis just manages to hide her smile, and says, “Be polite,” before nodding. They spring up together and cross the room at a quick walk before stopping and bowing in unison.

“Fili-”

“and Kili-”

“-at your service!”

Bilbo seems a bit bemused by this dramatic greeting, but smiles and bows in return. “Bilbo Baggins at yours and your family’s. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Fili and Kili.”

There is the slightest hint of a question after their names, and Bilbo’s hazel eyes slide toward Thorin in uncertainty.

“Behind these doors, amongst family and friends, we do not use titles,” Dis answers his unspoken question, rising and coming to stand behind her sons. Eli follows, and they both bow politely as well, before Eli holds out a hand.

“Thorin hasn’t spoken about you as much as he should have,” his brother-in-law says with a grin, “but what he has said has made us very excited to meet you. We’re glad you’re here.”

“Ah,” says Bilbo, returning the handshake and blushing ever so slightly in embarrassment. “I guess it’s the same for my part, but everything he did say about his family was…well, I can tell he has wonderful family, and I’m glad.”

Thorin feels himself flush, and grimaces at all of them. This earns him a knowing look and a chuckle from his sister. He has been trying to give Bilbo time to make decisions without pressure, and to keep his family from getting their hopes up over a relationship that might not last.

“Are you going to stay here in Erebor, Mr. Boggins?” Kili asks then.

“Kili, we talked about-” Thorin begins, but Bilbo shakes his head, cutting off the gentle reprimand. The hobbit crouches down a bit to be at the boys’ eye level, his face serious.

“I want to be honest with you, all of you.” His eyes flick up to Dis and Eli as well. “I have not made any promises to your uncle yet, except that I want to continue to get to know him, and now his family. I like Thorin a great deal, but this would be- well, it would be a very different sort of life from what I am used to. I have to make sure I can be happy here before I make any promises. Does that make sense?”

Thorin is unsure why Bilbo thinks he is bad with children. Kili pouts a little at not getting the answer that he wanted (he had been the most excited about possibly getting a “new uncle”) but he nods truthfully. Fili nods too, looking thoughtful.

“It would be bad to be unhappy,” he says solemnly, “so it’s good that you’re thinking about it. But I hope you’ll be happy here!”

“I do too, Fili,” Bilbo says, straightening up and smiling warmly at the boys. “I hope I’ll be happy here too.”

“I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have about marrying in,” Eli offers with a wry smile. “I come from an extremely minor noble house in the Iron Hills, so it was a big change when Dis and I announced our engagement. I was familiar with a lot of the etiquette and that sort of thing, but the public scrutiny took some getting used to.”

Thorin sends his brother-in-law a grateful look, one that is echoed by Bilbo. Eli might make it a habit to tease him regularly, but he has truly become like another brother to Thorin.

“I will certainly take you up on that,” the hobbit says, looking a bit relieved at the prospect of being able to learn more about the situation he might be accepting, should he choose to stay with Thorin.

“You should also know that, as far as the Erebor public and press are concerned, anyone who is a member of the royal family is accorded a certain amount of respect and privacy,” Eli continued, turning to walk on Bilbo’s other side as they follow behind Dis and the boys back over to the sitting area. “That definitely applies to those who marry into the family as well. I can’t vouch for what foreign press might do elsewhere, but here in Erebor you have a right to tell anyone who is pushing too much to back off, and they will listen.”

“I’ve been looking at your social media over the past couple of weeks,” Bilbo admits with another slight flush of embarrassment. “I assume all of those posts are decided on ahead of time, and it didn’t seem too bad.”

“No, that can even be kind of fun, sometimes,” the prince says with a grin, though it fades again a moment later. “Things are going to be more difficult for you, whether in interviews or on social media, I’m afraid, because you are not a dwarf. Most people here won’t care, but some will.”

Bilbo shrugs. “There are many back home who disapprove of my…potential choice of partner. It is a similar kind of thing.” Thorin can hear the pain in his voice, and wishes once again that there were something he could do.

Eli nods. Dis gestures Thorin and Bilbo onto the loveseat, sits herself on the end of the couch nearest them, and puts the boys back in the middle of the couch. Her husband sits across from them in one of the armchairs. Thorin scoots close to Bilbo, who smiles at him and leans against his shoulder.

“Enough about that,” Dis says when her husband starts to speak again. “You can chat about press releases and interview tactics later. Right now, we are here to get to know Bilbo, and he us.”

“We could tell you about our new project in class!” Kili pipes up.

“By all means,” Bilbo says, gesturing for the boy to go ahead.

They all talk for the better part of an hour. The boys make sure that such basics as favorite colors (green for Bilbo, red for Kili, yellow for Fili), favorite foods (Bilbo insists that he can’t choose, cake for Kili, meat pie for Fili), and favorite rock (green marble for Bilbo, agate for Kili, and amethyst for Fili) get covered. Dis carefully steers the conversation around the topic of Bilbo’s employment, to Thorin’s relief, but manages to wheedle out of him the fact that he writes fiction, poetry, and music in his spare time.

“I didn’t know you wrote music,” Thorin says, blinking down at Bilbo.

“Well, it hasn’t really come up,” Bilbo hedges.

“But you’ll sing a song for us later, right?” Kili insists.

“I could probably manage a song or two,” the hobbit agrees, apparently just as unable to resist Kili’s wide, earnest eyes as everyone else is.

“And a story?” puts in Fili hopefully. “It’d be fun to hear a new story that we haven’t heard before.”

Bilbo’s agreement this time is even quicker and more relaxed. “I do enjoy telling stories. My younger cousins always enjoyed them.”

“That will have to wait, however,” Dis says, rising. “It’s time for lunch now, and then back to work and school for the four of us after.”

“Oh,” Bilbo says as they get up and follow Dis into the dining room where servants have begun to set out the midday meal. “Do you and Eli work, then?”

“We do,” Eli says, nodding. “Dis is a Master Engraver for a local jeweler, and I work at one of the mining companies. My department is structural engineering, making sure that the mines are safe and well-supported.”

If the topic is distressing Bilbo, he gives no indication as they sit down and receive their first plates of food. “How interesting! My apologies if that was a rude question. I guess I had assumed that being royalty was its own job? Ooh, this is delicious.”

“It is for me,” Thorin agrees, smiling over the hobbit’s enthusiasm for the food. “And Frerin, as my heir, works as an ambassador. But Dis and Eli have fewer duties related to the throne, so they can and prefer to have regular jobs.”

“Would- Would I be able to do that too?” Despite the slight hesitation, Bilbo seems to be aggressively not thinking too hard about his own current lack of employment. The sight of it makes Thorin’s heart ache again, and he has to swallow down anger at the idiots in the Shire who have caused so much hurt to the one he loves.

“I don’t see why not,” Dis answers Bilbo. “If you decide to stay with Thorin, there will be an uproar for a time, which might make things a bit difficult, but once that has died down it shouldn’t be an issue. Our mother worked at least part time once I was old enough to be with our tutors for part of the day.”

Bilbo nods, looking thoughtful again, but turns his attention firmly to his food. Thorin has the joy of watching his family discover exactly how much hobbits can eat despite their smaller stature, and spends the whole second half of the meal doing is best to conceal a grin. Bilbo winks at him, which certainly doesn’t help.

“I am afraid that I too must do some work this afternoon,” Thorin tells Bilbo reluctantly as they walk back toward the hobbit’s rooms.

“I understand. I’m grateful that you all could take the morning off to spend with me.”

“I am as well. I can and will take more time off as needed, but if you will be all right this afternoon, then there are some things I should see to.” He does actually have an official amount of personal leave that he can take, a practice that his father had instituted in an attempt to make sure that even the King had enough time and attention for his family.

“I’ll be fine,” Bilbo assures him gamely. “At least I know I’m safe from reporters or anyone like that here. I can probably get through one of the books I brought along and haven’t had time to start yet!”

“Then I will be back in a few hours to bring you to dinner, if that’s all right,” Thorin says, smiling. He hates to leave Bilbo alone, knowing how isolated he must feel right now, but some of his paperwork is urgent and he has the one meeting that could not be rescheduled.

“That sounds wonderful,” Bilbo says, and goes up on tip-toe to press a quick kiss to Thorin’s mouth before disappearing back into his rooms with a grin.

Thorin doesn’t fight the smile that curves his mouth, even as he lifts one hand to touch his lips. Delight and remembered heat curl through him, and though he reminds himself sternly that he is waiting for Bilbo to decide what he wants, well…

He still can’t help but feel glad that Bilbo is now staying much, much closer.

--

[Aunt Mirabella]

Bilbo, dear, just wanted to say that I was very upset to hear about the College’s decision.

If anyone gives you trouble, you just let me know.

That includes your Baggins relations!

Thank you, Aunt Mira, that means a lot.

Drogo emailed to say he didn’t care and was happy to keep looking after things. Haven’t heard from anyone else as yet.

Will you be staying in Erebor then? It’s awfully far away, though I suppose you might prefer that just now.

Not sure yet, but I’ll let you know once I do.

I love you, Bilbo. Your parents would have been fine with this, you know. They loved you.

I know. Love you too, Aunt Mira.

Chapter Text

Thorin takes a deep breath, then touches the call button.

It rings a few times, then a groggy voice answers. “’llo?”

“Good morning, Frerin,” Thorin says, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice.

“Ah. Morning, Thorin. This had better be good. ‘S too damn early.”

“I did text you last night as a heads-up,” the older dwarf reminds his brother.

“I know, and I’m assuming it’s important, or I’m going to hang up and go back to sleep. It’s two hours earlier here.”

Though he had intended to ease into the conversation, urgency suddenly overtakes him, and Thorin blurts out, “Frerin, I’d like you to come back to Erebor for a little while, if they can spare you.”

That wakes his brother up. “I- Well, sure, I can come back. But why the sudden urgency?”

“There’s-” This is still harder than he anticipated, even though he knows Frerin will like Bilbo. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

There is a beat of silence, and Thorin can hear the grin in his brother’s voice when Frerin speaks again. “Aah, so that’s what’s going on. I saw the rumors blow up online, but I wasn’t sure how much to make of them. That hobbit prof, right? I’ll have to give Dis an earful – she promised she would keep me updated!”

Thorin sighs. “As you say, things changed rather suddenly just in the last couple of days. I was trying to give him time away from any spotlight to make some decisions, but that has become impossible. It-” He swallows down a fresh wave of guilt and vague sickness in his stomach. “The rumors got him fired from his job in the Shire.”

“Oh, Thorin,” Frerin says, undoubtedly hearing the guilt. “That’s shitty of them, but it’s not your fault. Eriador is pretty close-minded about some things, and the Shire is supposed to be particularly insular that way. I hope he finds a better job somewhere else, whether he decides to stay with your grumpy self or not.”

Thorin can’t help but smile, and be relieved that Frerin as always has understood him without him needing to say too much. “I am much less grumpy with him around,” he admits.

“And no one could offer better praise of him than that!” Frerin crows, laughing. “I’m excited to meet him, Nadad. I’ll wrap things up here for now and let you know when I can get on a train. Might be a couple days yet.”

“That’s all right. I just…I’d like you here. Dis and Eli and the boys have met him, and you should too.”

“I will. Love you, Nadad.”

“Love you too, Nadadith.”

--

Against his better judgment, Bilbo tentatively pokes at the Royal Family’s Facebook page in the morning.

He closes the window a scant minute later, flushed simultaneously with shame, outrage, and unwilling mirth. While the apparent brewing firestorm of rumors about himself and Thorin are definitely bringing out the worst in some, others are either supportive, or at least so far over the line of awful that they cross into true ridiculousness so that Bilbo can’t help but laugh.

It confirms that his first instinct was correct, though, and he vows to stay away from anything resembling social media for at least the next few days, if not longer. Not for the first time, he is immensely glad that he has no social media accounts of his own.

There are a shocking number of emails in his Hobbiton College inbox, however, that he isn’t quite sure how to handle. That email (not yet deactivated, apparently) is publicly available on the College’s website, so he shouldn’t be surprised that people have dug it up. Several are obviously shaming missives from fellow hobbits. While it is tempting to fire back a few pointed replies of his own (what does he have to lose, after all?), he restrains himself with an effort and firmly deletes them without reading. He has heard all of it before, if not directed specifically at himself.

The others seem to be…media inquiries, at least nominally. Based on the names, Bilbo doubts that many of the websites or newspapers are especially legitimate. He knows that The Miner’s Pick is the Erebor gossip rag that published his name in connection with Thorin’s, and the rest seem to be other gossip rags or worse. Should he delete those as well? There are a couple that sound like they might be more legitimate, but he’s not familiar with them, and reluctant to look them up on the internet to check.

His hand hovers over the button, then decides that maybe he should check with someone first. Responding is definitely right out, but he’s not sure whether it’s good to keep track of this kind of thing or not. Eli will know, hopefully.

After skimming for anything actually important, he logs out of the College email. It’s just as well I haven’t been teaching the last few semesters, he thinks resignedly. At least I’m not in the middle of a class and having to leave students hanging.

That sets off another wave of melancholy, and Bilbo forces himself to open up his resume.

It is not as neglected as it might have been; his research leave in the Blue Mountains and his conversations with Gandalf over the last several years have prompted him to keep it reasonably up to date, even if he never actually sent it anywhere for job-hunting. Still, the latest developments must be accounted for, and he has a couple of new papers to add to his list of publications, as well as his presentation at the conference here.

It feels good to be accomplishing even a small step towards finding new work.

When he moves on to the next step, though – actually checking for job postings at several of the Rhovanion universities and colleges – Bilbo hesitates.

While it feels very important that he should find work again as quickly as possible…is that truly his top priority right now? Financially, his is still perfectly well-off, so money is not a true concern. While he dislikes the idea of being unemployed, and in the long-term will definitely need to find good work again, there are things that he can do to occupy his time usefully in the meanwhile and he…

Well, he is really here to make a decision about his relationship with Thorin. Whether he will stay and (possibly…probably?) become a part of the Erebor Royal Family, or go. That too is a vitally important decision for his future, and it will affect the issue of a new job. If he does decide to stay, and to be with Thorin, then he will not want to look for any job that is far from Erebor.

Yet, the thought of not doing any kind of job hunting sits ill at ease in his mind and stomach.

A compromise then, Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit tells himself firmly. You can research one history department per day at the nearby institutions. But mostly, you need to try and figure out this thing with Thorin.

So, he goes from Erebor University’s front page to their library catalog, rather than the History Department’s page. Finding several volumes about Erebor history and especially the history of the Royal Family, he notes them down and decides to check with Thorin later about borrowing them, if there is a way for guests to check out books.

Then, steering carefully away from social media, he looks to see what relevant information he can find online.

--

It is Bilbo’s phone ringing that interrupts him about three hours later. Remembering what happened last time he ignored a phone call, he hurries over to the nightstand to at least see who it is.

Hamfast Gamgee

Bilbo hesitates, but only briefly, and answers it with a cheerful “Hello, Hamfast!”

“Hello, Mr. Bilbo,” Hamfast says in his usual way, gruff but kind. “Just got done talking to Mr. Drogo, and thought I should give you a call.”

“Oh?” Bilbo says, his stomach fluttering uncertainly.

“Mr. Drogo explained what happened at the College, and said he’d come to make sure everything was okay with your house, and to ask if I minded to keep doing the lawn and garden.”

“Ah,” says Bilbo, still unsure where this is going.

Keeping to his own pace, Hamfast goes on, “I told him the College is free to do as they see fit, even if the rest of us can’t see too much reason for it. I’ll be happy to keep doing the lawn as long as you need me to, Mr. Bilbo, and don’t worry your head about it.”

“Oh,” Bilbo says again, beginning to feel a bit silly, but the relief is sharp. “Thank you, Hamfast, I appreciate it.”

“Don’t figure as it’s anyone’s business but yours and this dwarf of yours, if any of these rumors is even true.”

“Well,” Bilbo hedges, but Hamfast doesn’t seem to be expecting an actual answer this time.

“You just let me know if you need anything else done about the place, Mr. Bilbo, and I’ll see to it. I’ll see as no one bothers it none neither. Me and Bell are close enough as to keep an eye on things.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo tells him, finding his voice firm this time. “I will definitely let you know if I need anything, and I appreciate your sharp eyes as well as your green thumb.”

“Well,” Hamfast clears his throat, apparently a bit uncomfortable with so much open appreciation. “That’s only me doing as I should, Mr. Bilbo. I wish you the best of luck with everything.”

“Have a wonderful day, Hamfast, and say hello to Bell and the children for me.”

“I will, Mr. Bilbo. Good-bye.”

--

It is late in the afternoon before Thorin is able to get away, and he is delighted to get back to the family rooms in the royal wing and find that Bilbo is already there with the rest of his family. Dis and the boys are bent over a model of some kind at the work table, while Eli and Bilbo watch from the couch.

“Nadad,” Dis pauses long enough to greet him when he joins her at the table.

“Namadith,” he replies fondly, watching as her steady hands help the boys put together what appears to be a model of the new meget-malzumunul train. They will have to take a trip on the new line soon; with the drastically shortened time, it will be all the easier for them to visit Dain and his family in the Iron Hills. Hopefully, he might be taking Bilbo for introductions as well.

“How are you, boys?” he asks then, and they chorus “Good, Irak’adad!” without looking up from their model. Thorin grins fondly at them, and goes to join the others.

With a nod and a smile for his brother-in-law, he greets Bilbo, who accepts a quick hug. Thorin can feel the warm, happy smile on his own face, and although the hobbit’s return smile is a little bit shy, it is just as warm.

“Eli was just giving me a run-down of the social media happenings from the last day or so. I poked your Facebook page very briefly this morning and quickly realized that was a bad idea.”

“Ah,” says Thorin, settling fully onto the couch next to Bilbo and giving the other dwarf a nod of thanks.

“I learned that one the hard way as well,” Eli admits, also settling back. “When things are relatively calm, I do check things myself to a certain extent, but when anything dramatic is happening we all let our publicist handle it.”

“It seemed like that would be safer for my mental health, certainly,” Bilbo mutteres.

“And if someone must wade through the muck, it only seems fair that it should be someone who is getting paid for it,” Thorin puts in. The royal family’s publicist is an extremely competent dwarf named Dagní daughter of Bergní; she works exclusively for them, and iscompensated appropriately for the amazing work that she does.

Bilbo chuckles at that and nods. “It did seem like it would take a long time to even glance at all of it.”

“Since Thorin had other commitments today, I met with her earlier this afternoon,” Eli goes on. “She said that rumors have now spread that Bilbo is no longer staying at the Red Agate Hotel, but that no one is able to find him at any of the other hotels in the city (or Dale), which is causing rampant, correct speculation that he is now staying at the palace, though no one can confirm that. The, ah, radio silence from Thorin about all of this is just adding fuel to the fire, as he has always been quick to issue denials before when questions about his romantic relationships came up.”

Bilbo winces, and Thorin is quick to shake his head. “No, please do not blame yourself, Bilbo. And do not feel any pressure from the rest of Erebor. This is your decision to make, and we will all wait for as long as you need to make it. I discussed it with Dagní, and I do not wish to issue a false denial only to retract it later, or the other way around. I knew that it would do nothing to quiet the rumors, but I would be honest with my people, and right now there is nothing that I am willing to say publicly. When the time comes, whatever your – and our – decision, I will be clear at that time.”

“All right,” Bilbo whispers, hands clenching together tightly.

Thorin tentatively covers the smaller hands with one of his own, and is relieved when Bilbo immediately curls their fingers together.

“It just seems like this causing so much extra trouble for you,” the hobbit begins tentatively, but stops again at the immediate headshakes he receives from all three adult dwarrow.

“There was no question, once Eli and I knew we wished to be together,” Dis puts in from the work table. “What was a little extra attention and aggravation, when the result was that I could be with the one that I love? For us, it is worth it.”

Thorin nods quickly in agreement. Bilbo turns hazel eyes up to him, searching, and Thorin holds his gaze openly, letting Bilbo see that he means it. Some extra work or even trouble is nothing, if there is even a chance that Bilbo might stay with him and be happy.

The hobbit looks down at their joined hands, and nods, hesitantly at first, but then with growing confidence. “All right. Then I’ll give you my decision as soon as I can while-” he cuts off Thorin’s barely-thought protest with a wry, knowing grin, “while still taking as much time as I truly need for it.”

Thorin can’t help but smile back, and squeezes Bilbo’s hand tighter. Bilbo sighs, and leans against his shoulder, and Thorin can feel the tension draining out of the hobbit.

He takes a moment to meet Eli’s eyes over Bilbo’s head, questioning. Eli shrugs slightly, indicating that whatever Dagní had told him in the publicity debriefing, there isn’t anything too awful or too unusual being said. He can live with that.

If the whole of Erebor were to suddenly decide that they did not approve of their King being with an outsider, Thorin is not sure what he would do. But it won’t come to that, or they would already know. No, as long as he is honest about whatever does end up happening, most of his people will be or become fine with Bilbo. Some never will, but there would always be someone who was discontent no matter who he chose to marry.

Getting ahead, he scolds himself, but it is hard to generate pessimism (even for him), with Bilbo tucked close at this side, their fingers still entwined.

They stay that way as Bilbo asks about his email and the media inquiries he has gotten.

“I didn’t reply to any of them,” he assures them quickly, “that didn’t seem wise, somehow. And I’m not sure too many of them were legitimate newspapers or what have you anyway. But there will be real interviews to do, won’t there? How can I tell which requests I should respond to?”

“Dagní can teach you what to look out for, and give you a list of media outlets you might want to consider speaking with, whether you stay here or end up somewhere else,” Eli explains. “If you do decide to stay, and are comfortable with it, you could provide your password to her, and just let her handle everything as well. You’d have an email here too, of course, which she could help you monitor.”

“Would I have to have my own social media accounts as well?” Bilbo doesn’t look especially excited at this prospect.

“That would be something that Dagní could advise about,” Thorin puts in, “and would run for you, really, if she determines that you should have them and you aren’t interested. I don’t have any separate from the official House of Durin profiles, but Dis, Eli, and our brother Frerin do have personal accounts that they use sometimes. Generally, we all clear any potential social media posts with her before they go up online, if she doesn’t make them herself. Having learned from her, we know better these days what she will and won’t approve of, but she sometimes sees potential pitfalls that we don’t, or can suggest something that we wouldn’t think to post.”

Bilbo nods, looking both relieved and thoughtful.

The six of them eat together again. It is a merry meal, and only Frerin’s absence is an ache in Thorin’s heart. If his brother were here too, as he hopefully soon will be?

He has never dared dream that his heart and family might feel so complete.

“Well, boys, you have classes in the morning, so we had best be heading towards baths and bed,” Dis declares once they have had dessert and the chance to work on their model a little bit more.

“But Amad,” Kili protests, “we’re almost done!”

“And you will still be almost done tomorrow,” she says firmly, and Fili (old enough now to know that he won’t win an argument with his mother), shepherds his younger brother along.

“Come on, Kili. If we go to sleep now, we could get up a little early and do some in the morning before school.”

“Oh all right,” Kili sighs. “Good night, Uncle Thorin! Good night, Bilbo!”

Thorin hugs them both tight.

“Good night, boys,” Bilbo returns, smiling at them as Eli picks up an already-yawning Kili and takes Fili’s hand. Dis follows after them, and the door to their family suite is closing behind them.

Thorin knows that it is not only a last, knowing look from Dis that makes him hyper-aware of the fact that he and Bilbo are now completely alone mere paces from his own rooms, but the look doesn’t help. He turns back to Bilbo.

“So,” he begins, then must pause to clear this throat.

“So,” Bilbo agrees, his tongue darting over his lips quickly. He shifts ever so slightly closer.

“We could-” Thorin casts about the room. “I could show you…more of the Royal wing.”

“Mm,” Bilbo says neutrally.

This time it is Thorin who can’t stop himself from stepping nearer. “There are a number of interesting architectural features, as it is one of the oldest parts of the city.”

“Naturally,” Bilbo agrees, his mouth quivering. “And do any of these interesting architectural features happen to be in the King’s chambers?”

“Some of them,” Thorin says, his voice low. “There was an early school of architecture which felt that all parts of a chamber should be formed out of the mountain.”

“I see. Including the furniture?” They are almost touching now.

“Yes,” Thorin agrees.

“I shouldn’t think that a stone bed would be very comfortable,” Bilbo whispers, his eyes dark with want.

“It has a very, very good mattress.” Thorin doesn’t even know how he has enough breath to get his voice out as more than a growl, but he manages. Barely.

“Well then, I think we had better start our tour there, don’t you?” Bilbo asks.

Thorin can only answer by seizing him close and kissing him madly.

Bilbo gives as good as he gets.

Chapter Text

Bilbo takes in absolutely none of the King’s chambers as he and Thorin stumble through them on the way to the bedroom; they had practically fallen through the outer doorway and Thorin actually kicked it shut behind them. It is a good thing that dwarrow build everything very sturdily, or that would not have ended well.

But beyond that, Bilbo has absolutely no room in his mind to focus on anything other than Thorin.

They strip each other clumsily, hands fumbling, and their clothing probably suffers some casualties in the form of ripped ties and lost buttons. But getting the feel of bare skin and coarse hair under his hands, and the strength of Thorin’s body against his own is too important. They are both aroused already, and it is with mutual groans of pleasure that they press close, kissing again and finally naked. Thorin steps back, tugging to keep Bilbo close, and they tumble together onto the bed.

Thorin was not lying about either the bed being made of stone, or his mattress being very, very good.

They shift, sliding together delightfully as Thorin uses his strength to maneuver them more fully up onto the bed, Bilbo laying atop him.

“What do you want?” Bilbo murmurs into their kiss, and Thorin groans, his hands groping along Bilbo’s back and arse, seemingly unable to stop moving.

“In me,” he says, his already deep voice a low rumble that Bilbo can feel. “Please, Bilbo, it’s been so long…”

“Ah, mmm,” is all Bilbo can manage with that image in his head. He does fumble lubricant out of the right bedside drawer when Thorin correctly interprets his inarticulate sounds as a question, his own words breathless but still there.

Well, Bilbo will just have to address that problem.

Thorin’s heat, tight around his fingers, is better than his memories. He finds the patience to go slowly, though, because it is clear that Thorin has not done this in just as long.

If he allows himself to feel smug over the minimal amount of time it takes to reduce Thorin to incoherency, with just his fingers, well. He thinks that he is probably justified.

The sounds they both make when he finally slides his aching prick inside are indescribable.

“Bilbo,” Thorin pants, the one word he can still get out clearly, “Bilbo, please.

Pressing sloppy kisses to Thorin’s mouth, Bilbo lets himself go, thrusting hard and fast and deep, and Thorin wails in pleasure beneath him.

Too much, Bilbo thinks trying desperately to hold on, but he has wanted this so much, and now Thorin is here, beneath him, around him, panting his name and asking for more…

It is too much, for both of them. Bilbo comes first, orgasm taking him by surprise even though he knew he was close. Thorin follows a few breaths behind, though, with a moan so deep it is a feeling more than a sound against Bilbo’s heaving chest.

It takes another long moment before he can summon the strength to pull out and slide off Thorin so that the dwarf can breathe a little bit easier. Thorin is quick to roll to the side and pull him close again, though, half-mumbled thanks and praise spilling from his lips.

“You were amazing, Thorin,” Bilbo whispers, brushing tangled strands of long, dark hair away from Thorin’s face, stroking his beard, “you always are. Absolutely wonderful.”

Thorin hums, and Bilbo snuggles closer, tucking his head under Thorin’s chin. He has always liked how it feels to be held by this dwarf.

If either of them had even entertained the thought of continuing any tour of Thorin’s rooms, it is long gone. Holding each other tightly, they slip into sleep.

--

Thorin wakes up in his own bed, with Bilbo sprawled out next to him, one arm flung over Thorin’s waist and his face buried half in his pillow, half in Thorin’s hair.

Thorin knows instantly that he wants to wake up this way every day for the rest of his life.

He rolls over, pulling Bilbo into his arms and burying his face against the hobbit’s neck, breathing in the scent of them that lingers on his skin. Bilbo shifts and mumbles incoherently, starting to wake.

Thorin breathes, and tries to keep tears of longing and hope from forming in his eyes.

“Mmmthorin?” Bilbo asks, one hand coming up to thread through the tangle that has become of his hair. Thorin hums agreement, but doesn’t lift his head just yet, still fighting for control of himself.

“You all right?” is the next question a moment later, notably more coherent.

“Yes,” Thorin manages. “Yes.”

Bilbo’s hands shift, gently coming up to frame his face, and making him tilt his head back so that Bilbo can see. Thorin isn’t quite sure what his expression looks like just now, but a rapid succession of emotions (surprise, uncertainty, fondness) pass over Bilbo’s face. The hobbit lets out a breath, then leans down to kiss him.

Thorin kisses back, opening to Bilbo when he deepens the kiss, feeling himself relax back into languid content. Bilbo huffs a laugh, and slowly pulls away.

“I would- It would be wonderful, to always wake this way,” he confesses, unable to hold the words back anymore. Emotion flashes rapidly across Bilbo’s expression again, but he lands on a warm, tentative smile.

“It would,” he agrees.

Thorin pulls away long enough to reach into his bedside table for the small pouch he has been keeping there for some time now.

The ruby, glittering crimson, spills out into Bilbo’s palm. The hobbit sucks in a breath; it is a large stone, expertly cut and flawless. In the language of stones, it means love, passion, protection, and (sometimes) royalty.

Thorin bites back the words that hover on the tip of his tongue, knowing that the stone speaks them well enough for now, while Bilbo is still thinking.

“It’s- It’s beautiful, Thorin. Thank you.” Though clearly not ready to make any declarations in return, Bilbo still clutches the stone close, meeting Thorin’s gaze again with no hesitation. “Thank you.”

“Anything for you,” Thorin allows himself, and surrenders happily when Bilbo responds with a demanding kiss.

--

[Frerin]

getting on the train today, nadad
should be home by tonight

Good!
We'll all be waiting for you.
Have a safe trip.

i will

--

It is late in the afternoon before the panic attack hits him.

Bilbo gets himself down to the floor, managing to get his head down even as he starts to hyperventilate.

The plush, intricately woven rug beneath his legs and hands does nothing to help.

I am sitting in the Royal Palace of Erebor. I woke up in bed this morning with the King Under the Mountain, who wants to court and, probably, marry me. I lost my job over it, and may not be able to really go home to the Shire ever again.

It all sounds rather…unbelievable, when he thinks about it like that. Like something that could not possibly be happening to Bilbo Baggins, but only to someone much more grand and important than he is.

The ruby he had been contemplating as he crossed the room winks red fire at him from the floor, spilled from his hand in his effort to sit down before he fainted. Bilbo is no expert on gems, but he understands enough of dwarrow culture to know that that stone is the closest that Thorin could get to a declaration of love and perhaps even an offer of marriage without saying the words out loud. It hadn’t frightened him this morning, when they were curled up together in Thorin’s bed.

It is frightening him now.

What am I doing? Do we even really know each other well enough for this? We- We spent time together at University, certainly, but that was twenty years ago. And now? We haven’t- haven’t lived together, haven’t-

They have talked. They have discussed their needs, their hopes, their goals. Thorin wishes to be king, to be a good king, for many years to come. Bilbo wants to continue his research and writing. In this day and age, these are not incompatible…if Bilbo stays in Erebor.

(Bilbo slides his hand across the carpet, to find the green marble of the floor. He is no dwarrow, but he knows that he has already come to love this stone and the mountain it forms, and that this love started before he met Thorin again.)

They have spent time together, and time together with Thorin’s family. Bilbo is certain that they could become his family too, with time (and maybe not very much of that), even if they aren’t quite there yet. He has family that he loves in the Shire as well…but with his parents long gone, there is no one with whom he was truly close in the same way. No one he would call immediate family.

Calling Thorin is not a conscious decision, but his phone is in his hand and he is listening to the third ring before he realizes what he has done. Thorin answers the call before he can hang up.

“Bilbo?”

“Thorin,” Bilbo says, and the name is a bit more of a gasp than he had intended.

“Bilbo, what’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing,” he says, trying to get himself under control. “That is, I’m not hurt, or anything. I just- I just thought ‘I’m in the Royal Palace of Erebor’ and it was…a bit much, suddenly.”

“Bilbo,” Thorin says again, and there is pain and guilt clear in his voice, which is not what Bilbo wants. Before he can get his mind to cooperate, however, the dwarf murmurs, “Hold on.” This is followed by a moment of conversation that Bilbo can’t hear, as if Thorin has covered his phone, and he takes a moment to breathe and try to marshal his thoughts. Undoubtedly he has interrupted some kind of important meeting, and he feels his own guilt stir at that.

“All right,” Thorin says then, voice clear again.

“I’m sorry,” Bilbo blurts out. “You’re busy and-”

“And it is nothing that cannot wait a few moments, especially for you,” Thorin insists, voice firm now. Bilbo swallows, and nods, and then remembers that the dwarf cannot see him. “You are feeling overwhelmed. Can I help?”

Bilbo takes another breath. “Help me…help me remember what decision it is that I am making right now.”

“Well,” Thorin says, sounding as though he is trying not to be confused, “you are deciding if you would like to stay in Erebor and if you would like to stay with me.”

“Yes,” Bilbo agrees, to ease that confusion. This would probably be a better conversation to have in person, but…in a strange way, it is easier to sit here and stare at the wall. Easier just to think and speak, and not to look or touch. Maybe this is the way he has to have this conversation. “And Thorin, that is my answer. Yes. I do- I do want to stay, and I do want to stay with you.”

He hears Thorin’s gasp and goes on quickly. “I would be lying to myself and to you if I said otherwise. But there is more to it than that, isn’t there? We haven’t- haven’t lived together, and have only just begun getting to know each other again. I want to stay, but I don’t know yet if I can.”

Thorin takes in another audible breath, but his next words are calm and sure: “You are right.”

That agreement – that understanding – loosens much of the knot in Bilbo’s chest.

“You are right,” the dwarf repeats. “Much as I believe I am sure of what I want, and much as you know that you want to stay, there is more to it than what we have yet experienced together. I apologize for this morning. I know that it- it was too much.”

“No, Thorin,” Bilbo shakes his head. “No, you were just doing what you promised: being honest with me. And I appreciate that a great deal. It’s- It’s not as if I think this won’t work between us, I just…just need a bit more…time, and- and evidence, I suppose, to be sure about it in my own head, as sure as you are.”

“Of course, Bilbo. I mean it when I say take as much time as you need. And in truth, I need more such evidence myself – it is a process that we must share together. That you are here, making an effort to know me, and my life, and my family, before making any final decision, makes me immensely happy. I wish only that I could do the same for you.”

Bilbo swallows against the pang in his heart at this generous and very Thorin-like sentiment. “That’s… Well, I wish that you could too.”

But the reminder of the Shire brings not just the fear and grief of loss, but also the reminder that he does still have support, amongst closer family and friends, so maybe Thorin can at least meet them someday.

And he has other support here, as well. Eli and Dis have been kind and generous, just as much as Thorin, much beyond any need to be polite.

“All right,” Bilbo says into the phone, taking a deep breath of his own. “All right. So, right now, the question that I am deciding is…?”

“Right now, I would like to court you, openly, and to be truthful with the people of Erebor about the current state of things between us, which does not have to be a sure answer from you about whether or not we will be together long-term. That we like each other, and are working to get to know one another better will be more than enough, as far as I am concerned. Being open about it will also give me some of the leverage I need to make sure that you are not harassed, so that you need not necessarily hide in the palace all the time.”

Slowly, Bilbo finds himself nodding. It will mean more attention, and presumably more time in a spotlight, than he is really going to care for…but he also reminds himself again that he has support. He need not undertake that new challenge alone. He also suspects that any time actually in the spotlight that Thorin might need to ask of him will be kept strictly to a minimum, unless he himself were to request more. And maybe being in public and being in the spotlight aren’t always going to be the same thing. He hopes not.

“All right,” he says again, firm this time. “I agree to a public announcement, and whatever else courting involves.”

“It is mainly our term for dating,” Thorin assures him, amusement coloring his voice. “In past ages, it was a more formal process, but today it mostly just means a romantic relationship that is…being taken seriously, I suppose, rather than something casual.”

“Okay,” Bilbo says, and tells himself that he can do this. “I do have one request in return, however. I want to move in with you, at least for a few days. I know- I know that sounds sudden-”

“I understand,” Thorin assures him. “Since the physical side of our relationship is not new to us, it is the sharing of space over a longer period of time that we should be sure is compatible. I agree that would be wise, and we can see to that this evening. The rooms that you are currently in will remain yours for the duration, however, if you ever want your own space.”

“Thank you, Thorin,” Bilbo says quietly. He feels, abruptly, more at ease than he has in days. The panic is gone. This will not all be a smooth road, but he feels more confident now that they are heading in the right direction, and together.

“Of course, Bilbo,” Thorin responds, just as quiet.

He does not say “I love you,” but Bilbo hears it anyway.

--

It is only a few minutes until the boys’ bedtime, and they are eagerly gluing the last pieces of their train model into place, when the door to the family suite opens and Frerin walks in.

“Uncle Frerin!” Fili and Kili chorus excitedly together, though Thorin notes that their hands remain steady on their work. Dis is teaching them her own skills well.

“How have my favorite nephews been?” he asks, striding over to greet them first. They get their hands free and tackle him with hugs.

“We’re your only nephews, Uncle Frerin,” Fili points out.

Frerin grins at him. “Doesn’t mean you can’t be my favorites!”

“Did you bring us presents?” Kili wants to know. “Did you bring us candy?”

“I might have managed to smuggle out a thing or two,” he tells them, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “but it might have to wait until tomorrow, when we can sneak away from your amad.”

Dis, standing right next to them, clears her throat and raises an amused eyebrow.

“Ok!” Kili agrees, and she sighs.

“You got here just in time to say goodnight,” she tells her brother. The boys, naturally, begin to pout, but Frerin easily satisfies them with promises of playtime and stories of Khazad-dum on the morrow.

“We’ll be back shortly,” Eli says, greeting Frerin with a hug before following his wife and sons.

“No hug for me, nadad?” Frerin wants to know then, turning to Thorin with a grin. He shares the same pale-gold hair as Dis and Fili, and wears his beard braided into many tiny braids twisted together. His eyes are blue like both his siblings, and he stands only an inch shorter than Thorin.

Thorin returns the grin, rising to embrace his younger brother gladly, and they hold tight for a long moment. Frerin has been gone more than either of them would like over the past few years; he enjoys his diplomatic work, and has confided to Thorin that Khazad-dum is beginning to feel like a true second home, but still hates to be away from his family for such long stretches.

“Now,” Frerin says, pulling away, “I believe there is someone else I should meet.”

Bilbo has also risen, and pads softly over to them now, looking only the faintest bit nervous. Several days in the company of Thorin’s sister and her family have eased many of his worries about meeting those Thorin is closest to.

“Nadadith, this is my partner, Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo, this is my younger brother, Frerin son of Thrain.” Thorin watches with amusement as Frerin accepts Bilbo’s firmly offered hand for a shake, before pulling the hobbit into a hug.

“I have not seen my brother look so happy and relaxed since we were much, much younger,” Frerin tells Bilbo firmly when the hobbit pulls back sputtering. “If even a fraction of that is thanks to you, then you deserve more hugs than I can give you.”

Thorin sighs.

“You know it’s true,” Frerin says, rounding on him.

“I apologize,” Thorin says to Bilbo, ignoring his brother. “I believe I forgot to mention that he can be a little overwhelming.”

“Thorin, everyone in your family is ‘a little overwhelming,’ including yourself,” Bilbo retorts, but he is smiling and does not seem tense at all. “I honestly can’t tell if it’s because you’re royalty, or if that’s just how you are as people.”

“Hah!” barks Frerin, amused. “I like you, Bilbo Baggins. Melodrama does rather run in the family, I’d say, and I’m not sure proximity to the throne actually has much to do with it. Magnifies it on occasion, but we’d still be a dramatic bunch even without that.”

“And speaking of drama,” puts in Dis as she and Eli rejoin them, the boys now safely tucked into bed, “you’ve arrived just in time for that as well.”

“Oh?” says Frerin, looking intrigued. “Do go on, dear namadith.”

“As of this afternoon,” Thorin says, trying to keep his voice steady even though his stomach is fluttering with the memory, “Bilbo has agreed to an official, public courtship between the two of us. I’ll make a formal statement about it the day after tomorrow, to the whole Mountain, and we’ll be announcing the time of the statement online tomorrow.”

“Ah, I see,” says Frerin. “Stringing ‘em along a little bit more? Given the current avalanche of rumors already rolling, that should be entertaining.”

“Serves them right,” Bilbo mutters. “If they can’t mind their own business, then they’ll have to wait until we’re good and ready to share ours!”

“That’s the spirit!” Frerin applauds, and Eli nods in agreement as Dis laughs. “Now, the last food I had was a disappointing lunch on the train. You can fill me in on the details while I eat.”

Now, Thorin thinks to himself as food is prepared in the family kitchen, a task that Bilbo takes over without even thinking about it, producing a quick but filling meal for Frerin and a late-night snack for the rest of them.

Now, he thinks again as they sit around the kitchen table, laughing and strategizing in equal turns.

Now, he thinks, looking at his family, now, everything is perfect.