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A Respectable Young Consort

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Billa would never be the gentle creature that the hobbits of the Shire had wanted her to be, and that suited her just fine.

Almost a year before, she had left the comfort of Bag End to follow a company of dwarves across Middle Earth – taking part in a quest to reclaim their homeland with them. She had outwitted trolls, broken bread with Elves in Rivendell and riddled in the dark with some form of deformed hobbit. She had saved the king of the dwarves from the pale orc in the Misty Mountains, ridden an eagle, befriended a skin-changer, gained a family, fought giant spiders and broken into an Elven prison. She had helped to kill a dragon, fought in the battle of the five armies and saved the king of the dwarves again – from the same pale orc as before.

At some point during their quest she had fallen madly in love with the aforementioned king, and now she was carrying his child.

No hobbit would ever approve, but Billa found that she couldn’t bring herself to care anymore. She didn’t feel the need to try and be a respectable hobbit any longer. She had found a new life for herself, living inside of a mountain with her adopted family and her intended, and someday she might be a respectable young consort to the king. No other hobbit could say that they had travelled as far as she had, and as far as she knew no other child of the kindly West had ever fallen in love with royalty before – let alone had that love reciprocated.

She had never fit in back in the Shire, and that was because she simply hadn’t belonged there. She knew that now. She belonged in Erebor, at the side of its king.

Billa opened her eyes slowly, her aching stomach having woken her once again. She didn’t resent the pains or the sickness half as much as she had before, knowing that they were brought on by her pregnancy, but it was still inconvenient. She and the baby would have to have words if it kept making her feel so poorly!

She sighed deeply, attempting to shift in the bed but finding herself quite unable to. She glanced down to see a large, muscular arm wrapped around her middle and smiled fondly to herself. Thorin was a solid presence at her back, his face pressed into the side of her neck with his thick hair trailing over her shoulder. One of his hands was splayed possessively over her stomach, and Billa settled her own hand over the top of it. She trailed her fingertips along his knuckles, her smile growing as his fingers twitched in response and he slowly turned his hand over to take hold of hers. She felt him shift behind her, his nose rubbing into the sensitive skin at the base of her skull.

“…morning, amrâlimê.” Thorin greeted, his voice thick and deep with sleep as he entwined their fingers. He pressed a soft kiss to the back of her neck, wrapping his other arm around her and slipping his free hand under her tunic to pat the bare skin of her abdomen affectionately. “Morning, madtithbirzul.” He added with a smile that she could feel against her skin.

Billa squeezed his hand gently in hers before rolling to face him, though she found herself a little staggered by the pure love she found in his sleepy expression. She cleared her throat softly, tilting her face up to kiss the underside of his jaw. “That’s a new one…” She noted, laughing quietly when his hands found their way under her tunic again to stroke her belly dotingly. And to think, she hadn’t been sure that he would want a family… She had been a fool. “…what does it mean?” She asked curiously, raising one hand to rub her knuckles into her eyes wearily.

She wouldn’t admit it, but having Thorin rub her stomach was actually easing her cramps. It was quite pleasant.

Thorin leaned forwards to press their foreheads together, shifting closer to her body and rubbing his feet on hers to warm them. “I am not sure that there is an exact translation into the common tongue, but it means something like ‘little golden heart’. It was what my mother used to call me when I was young.” He shared, smiling kindly at the slight lady in his arms. “Our child will be my little golden heart, in the same way that I was my mother’s.” He decided, kissing the tip of Billa’s nose adoringly. “Except that I hope our madtithbirzul might be better behaved than I was.”

Thorin Oakenshield, were you a naughty child?” Billa gasped mockingly, though she actually was a little surprised. Thorin had been so serious when they had first met, and she had kind of assumed that he had always been that way. She had expected him to be the kind of child who trailed after their parents, quietly doing what he was told. Like her former gardener’s youngest, Samwise. He was a good faunt.

“I was a delight!” Thorin insisted, trying to keep a straight face but failing – grinning widely at her. “Most of the time. Frerin, Dís and I were known for our mischief, before I came of age. Though our mischief usually involved some hare-brained idea of Frerin’s that Dís followed blindly whilst I tried to reign the two of them in. They were always getting me into trouble with our father.” He conceded, shaking his head to himself. It was the first time Billa could remember him bringing up his brother himself, but she didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Billa knew very little of Frerin, but she did know that he and Thorin had been very close – and Thorin had apparently been devastated when he died. Understandably, of course.

“You needed siblings to be unruly? I managed all by myself.” Billa said instead, grinning back and poking a finger into Thorin’s ribs playfully.

Thorin squirmed out of the way with a laugh, taking both of her hands in his so that she couldn’t jab at him again. “Mahal, our child is going to be a terror.” He groaned jokingly, raising one of her hands to his mouth and kissing her palm.

Billa giggled softly at the way his beard tickled her skin, eyes crinkling at the corners in amusement. “Especially with Fili and Kili around too.” She pointed out, laughing when Thorin’s eyes widened in response.

“There is no hope for this child!” He complained in jest, pulling her into his chest and wrapping his arms around her once more. “A feisty hobbit mother and two boisterous dwarven cousins…”

“…and a grumpy king of a father.” Billa teased, nosing the regal dwarf’s cheek.

Thorin tried to glower at her, but even he couldn’t stop smiling for long enough to make it look convincing. He kissed her soundly on the mouth for a moment before pulling away again, sitting up in the bed and stretching both arms over his head. He had gone to bed the night before without a sleep-shirt on, so Billa was free to admire his bare chest as he stretched and flexed and –

“Show off.” Billa sniggered, realising that he was stretching far more than necessary because he had noticed her watching.

Thorin smirked back, climbing out of bed and turning towards the kitchen. “I will stop showing off when you stop enjoying it.” He announced, winking over his shoulder at her before walking away from the bed. “Tea?” He offered as he went, unaware of the way Billa stared at his muscular back as he walked.

She had seen him shirtless plenty of times during their quest, and she had even seen him completely naked before, but it never got old. He was a beautiful specimen of a dwarf. Billa suspected that she would not have been the only hobbit to ever fall for a dwarf if all dwarves looked the way Thorin did.

“Mm, please.” She replied, sitting up slowly and smoothing her tunic out. She pushed a hand through her bedraggled hair and yawned softly, unsure of whether or not she wanted to leave the bed when the fire wasn’t burning. The floor would be ice-cold under her feet, and she was so cosy under all of their furs and blankets…

“Would you like to try the ginger kind?” Thorin shouted from the kitchen, and Billa was sure that she could hear him filling the kettle.

They may have only discovered that she was pregnant the day before, but Thorin had already acquired some dried and fresh ginger, along with some dry foods from Bombur to keep in their private kitchen. He had left to gather some of the things that Oin had recommended whilst Billa had a nap – and had even gone so far as to visit the mountain’s seamstress and commission some looser clothing for his intended. Aforementioned seamstress already had Billa’s measurements, and hadn’t even asked Thorin why she needed anything loose. She probably just assumed that the hobbit was gaining weight – or wanted something more comfortable to wear, for whatever reason.

“Sure, I’ll give it a go… Do you remember how to make it, or should I come out there?” She questioned, knowing that Bombur had written down some instructions for the two of them on how to make the tea. He wasn’t a tea drinker himself, but he had told Thorin that his wife had lived off of ginger tea whilst she was pregnant. Thorin had of course covered for her and said Billa just wanted to try it for its uses in aiding digestion, but they had every intention of telling the company their news soon. They just wanted to inform Dori and Ori first.

“I can manage, I’ve got the note here in the kitchen, my heart. You stay in bed, it’s a little bit cold this morning. I suspect it’s too early to go to the food hall, in any case.” Thorin dictated, the clattering noises informing her that he was getting out the necessary ingredients and cups.

Billa nodded thoughtfully, wondering if they should go to breakfast or not. If they did go to breakfast someone was bound to ask why she hadn’t been at any of the meals the day before, and she was a terrible liar. She really did need to tell her brothers before she saw the company again.

Ten minutes later Thorin had the main fire going, and had brought a tray to the bed. He sat down against the headboard beside Billa, setting the tray down across his lap. On the tray was a small pot of honey, two empty cups, a teapot full of ginger tea and a plate of plain oat biscuits.

“I thought you might want something small to eat now, to test how your stomach is feeling today.” Thorin explained when he caught Billa eyeing the biscuits, smiling as he picked up the tea pot and poured them both a large drink each.

Billa definitely appreciated his thoughtfulness, especially since he was trying the ginger tea with her rather than having the other tea they kept in their kitchen. Billa wasn’t sure how she would have felt if she had to drink the odd new tea whilst Thorin got to indulge in a cup of their preferred leaf.

She leaned down to smell the tea, making an appreciative noise in her throat. It looked a little odd, pale and cloudy in appearance despite the lack of milk in it, but it smelled alright. The ginger had a strong and spicy smell to it, though there was something slightly sweet and citrusy underneath that. “Lemon?” Billa guessed, glancing up at her intended and smiling when he nodded.

“Bombur said that both lemon and honey go well with ginger, as it can be a bit overpowering alone, so I thought we might try that too. I added the juice of half a lemon to the tea, and there is a pot of honey there if you would like that as well.” Thorin elaborated, picking up his own cup and giving it a preliminary sniff.

Billa picked up a biscuit first, deciding to wait for Thorin to taste the beverage before she grabbed her own cup. She nibbled at the edges of the dry baked good, relieved when she felt no immediate nausea. If dry food and small meals were what it took to keep her from feeling sick, she was happy to comply. She just hoped the sickness wouldn’t last too long.

She watched as Thorin took a sip of the drink, his expression unsure as he swallowed and peered down into the cup. “It’s… Alright.” He dictated, shrugging one shoulder and putting the cup back down on the saucer. “Different, but not really a bad kind of different. I think it will probably be quite pleasant with some honey to sweeten it.” He decided, picking up the pot of honey and spooning a very generous amount into his cup.

“Would you put some in mine too…?” Billa requested, finishing her first biscuit and reaching for another.

Thorin nodded, putting a little less honey in hers than in his before sliding her cup across the tray towards her. They both knew that he liked his tea sweeter than she did, but Billa couldn’t help but wonder if the amount of honey he had put in his own cup might make the drink thick. “Are you going to drink that, or eat it?” She inquired, smiling when he rolled his eyes and huffed in amusement.

Amrâlimê.” He scolded mildly, testing his tea again and nodding in satisfaction this time.

“How do you have such lovely teeth? They should be all rotten.” Billa insisted, putting the half eaten biscuit down and picking up her tea cup. She took a cautious sip, blinking in surprise at how pleasant it was. She could definitely live with having to drink the tea regularly, so long as there was some honey on hand. Bombur was right – the honey and lemon complimented the ginger perfectly. She would have to remember that for the next time she did any baking.

Thorin smiled crookedly at her, leaning in to peck her quickly on the cheek. “You think I have lovely teeth…?” He reiterated, one eyebrow raised smugly.

Billa snorted quietly, patting one of his pecs with the flat of her hand. “Oh shush, you.” She hummed, kissing his cheek in return. “Eat your tea.” She ordered, sniggering when he prodded her in the ribs in retaliation.

The two finished their tea and biscuits some time later, and Billa watched as Thorin got ready for a day of examining the mines with Dain. Since Erebor had been reclaimed, they had prioritised readying the accommodation levels, disposing of Smaug and separating out the treasury. The work in the treasury was well under way, and all of the apartments had been taken care of, so they needed a new focus. Dain had argued that they should start looking into which mines were safe and which mines contained the most riches, as Erebor’s biggest source of trade had always been its gems.

Thorin had not particularly wanted to go anywhere near Erebor’s mines or treasury again, but he saw the logic in it. They needed to know which mines could be used again, for the sake of any miners that might come to the mountain seeking work.

“I was thinking, perhaps we could invite your brothers into our rooms for lunch.” Thorin suggested as Billa smoothed out the front of his tunic for him, his gaze following her hands as she attempted to pat down a particularly stubborn crease in the material.

It warmed her heart to hear him say ‘our rooms’, despite the fact that she hadn’t moved in just yet. “Mm… That could work. Ply them with food and tea before we tell them… Might put them in a good enough mood to not overreact.” Billa allowed, scowling at the fabric under her hands and letting out a long-suffering sigh. She had to admit defeat, it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t like the crease was obvious, in any case. She might have to acquire a clothing iron, like the one her father had used to smooth out his shirts in the Shire. “Going to the market to retrieve some ingredients will give me something to do in the meantime.” She added, expression lightening at the thought. She did like the market.

Thorin gave her a look that needed no translation and she huffed, stepping back to glare at him a little. “Thorin Oakenshield, I am quite capable of going to the market alone. I am a month pregnant, not on the verge of giving birth at any moment.” She reprimanded him, folding her arms across her chest and narrowing her eyes in displeasure. She had hoped that he wouldn’t use her pregnancy as an excuse to molly-coddle her – Dori would be smothering enough with Thorin’s assistance. “The baby and I are fine to go shopping unaided.” She persisted, practically stomping to the drawers that she kept her blouses in. She slipped out of her tunic with ease, dressing in her underclothes and a blouse before returning to the wardrobe – where Thorin stood – to get a skirt.

Billa…” Thorin began uncertainly, his expression conflicted as he watched her rummage through their clothing.

She grabbed a pale brown skirt and slipped it on easily, tying the lace fastening loosely so that it didn’t put any pressure on her still bloated middle. “Don’t ‘Billa’ me, you’re being silly. I have been to the market numerous times since I became pregnant, and nothing has ever happened before. Now, shoo, would you? You have to find Ori and Dori before you head off with Dain, to invite them to lunch.” She complained, making a shooing motion with her hands and rolling her eyes when the king did not budge. “I shall be wearing my garter-sheath as soon as I find it, Thorin. I will be perfectly safe, and I will walk slowly to minimise the risk of falling over. As though our currently weightless child might somehow trip me.” She scoffed, shaking her head as she turned away and began to look for her garter. She hadn’t worn it the day before, because she hadn’t dressed all day, so she wasn’t quite sure where she had left it. “Will that make you feel better, my love? Because I am telling you now, I am going to the market whether you like it or not.”

Thorin stared after her with a slightly mulish look in his eyes, but he sighed and heaved his shoulders in a shrug rather than arguing further. “Fine…” He grumbled, moving to the living-area so that he could sit down whilst he put on his boots. “Your garter is in the drawer in the bedside table, my heart. The one at your side of the bed.” He informed her, focussing on lacing his heavy leather boots as she bound over to investigate the bedside drawer.

“Thank you.” She breathed, fishing the garter out and sitting on the edge of the bed to slide it up her leg. She tightened up the buckles to hold it in place, checking that both daggers were there before standing and smoothing her skirt down once more. “Now, quit pouting, it doesn’t suit you.” She ordered with a smile, padding over and kissing the top of his head. “Do you have enough time for me to braid your hair for you…?” She offered, hoping to cheer him up again. She didn’t like fighting with him, but she wouldn’t let him mother her. It wasn’t as though she was eight months gone and ready to pop.

“If it would please you, amrâlimê.” He accepted, managing a small smile as she sat beside him.

Billa smiled back, grabbing her comb from where she had placed it on the table the night before. “It would! Can’t have my dwarf walking around looking unkempt, can I? People will think I don’t know how to look after you.” She defended, reaching up to loosen his messy braids and take out his beads.

She had seen them all before, but there were a couple that she was curious about. Two of them were immediately identifiable as Fili and Kili’s, as the two wore the exact same beads in their own hair. One bead held the rune of Kili’s name and an ornate looking bow and arrow, whilst the other had Fili’s rune and a pair of crossed long swords.  A third bead had his own rune and symbol on it, and matched the bead she still wore around her neck. Thorin also had their engagement bead, and then three other beads that she couldn’t place. Seven beads in total.

Billa brushed his hair through before starting with his engagement bead, braiding it in the intricate courting fashion that he had taught her after they had first gotten engaged. He wore his own name bead, Fili’s bead and Kili’s beads the closest to the front of his face – along with their courting bead. The other three beads then went around the back of his head, starting with a dark blue one decorated with two odd-looking crossed axes. She held it out to Thorin before she used it, her expression inquisitive. “Who’s is this…?” She asked, rolling it around in her palm. “I know the one with the bow is Kili’s, and the two swords is Fili’s… But I don’t know this one.”

Thorin smiled kindly at her, taking the bead and running his thumb along the rune – that was undoubtedly someone’s name. “This is Dís’. It’s not uncommon for dwarven families to wear copies of each other’s beads, as a sign of familial pride. Dís wears one of mine in return.” He explained, seeming unbothered by her questions. He handed the bead back, gesturing to where she could put it. “I usually braid it close to Kili’s, as he reminds me more of his mother than Fili does. Their colouring is very alike, and Dís was once as mischievous and carefree as her youngest son.”

Billa nodded in understanding, picking up a new section of hair to braid. Once that was done, she looked at the other two beads more closely and realised that they were both the same design. One was smaller than the other, and slightly more worn looking, but they had to both be from the same dwarf. She thought about asking, before it dawned on her who they might belong to. If Thorin wore Dís bead, it only made sense to have a bead for Frerin too. Both beads were gold in colour, with a rune and a detailed looking battle-axe engraving that was studded with rubies. Far more expensive looking than any of the other beads – except maybe their engagement bead, but that was supposed to be fancy-looking.

“Frerin’s.” Thorin confirmed when the silence stretched, and Billa realised she had just been staring at the beads in her palm. “You look confused.” He noted, his voice soft and level.

The hobbit shook her head, not wanting to pry. “No, no, it’s fine. I was just… Thinking.” She excused, putting the smaller bead down on the table for safe-keeping whilst she began to braid the other beside Fili’s, where it had been before.

Thorin reached out to still her hand, turning towards her. “It’s okay, really. I know I don’t talk about him, and I probably should. I know about your family… You talked to me about what happened to them before we were even courting. I’ve been incredibly rude, not sharing this with you.” He reasoned, picking the smaller bead up from the table.

“Thorin, you don’t have to tell me anything… I understand. Talking about these things hurts, we don’t have to talk about it if it’s going to make you uncomfortable…” Billa argued, not wanting Thorin to feel like he was obliged to talk about it.

The king shook his head, smiling sadly and moving to face her properly. He placed one hand on her knee, giving it a fond squeeze. “I do want to talk about it… We shouldn’t have any secrets, and Dís says that I bottle things up far too often. I’m not ashamed of Frerin… I shouldn’t hide him from you.” He persisted, closing his fist around the bead in his hand.

Billa nodded slowly, prepared to listen so long as Thorin was prepared to talk. She had to admit that she was curious. She’d heard stories about Thror, Thrain, his mother Lís, Dís and even Dís’ late husband Vili. Frerin was the only member of Thorin’s immediate family that Billa hadn’t been told about. All she knew was that he had died in the fight for Moria, the same day that Thorin had also lost his father and his grandfather.

“This bead-” Thorin began, holding the smaller bead up between his thumb and forefinger. “-was the one that Frerin used to wear in his hair. I was there when he died, and I… Took it. There were so many dead after the Battle of Azanulbizar that we couldn’t bury anyone. There wasn’t time, and we didn’t have enough able-bodied dwarves to dig the graves. So… We had to create a funeral pyre. Everyone who died in that battle was burned together, and I never got to give Frerin the funeral he deserved. I didn’t even get to keep his ashes.” He shared, exhaling slowly.

Billa swallowed thickly, feeling awful for her intended. He had lost three of his family in one battle… A battle he didn’t want to happen in the first place. Thorin and Thrain had both thought the mission for Moria wouldn’t end well, just because of Durin’s Bane. They hadn’t even known that Azog would be there, and they still hadn’t wanted to go – but Thror was king, and his word was law. “…why is it so small?” She asked before she could stop herself, still a little confused. It was so much smaller than it’s duplicate, and so much smaller than any of Thorin’s other beads.

Thorin took a deep breath, handing the bead back to his intended and looking towards the fire. “Because he was forty-eight when he died.” He answered, clenching both of his hands together in his lap.

Forty-eight… Older than her, but she was a hobbit. So, he had been younger than her by dwarf standards… Much younger. Almost a child. “Mahal…” Billa breathed, her heart clenching in her chest.

“He was just nineteen when Smaug attacked Erebor. When we dwarves come of age, we fashion a proper hair bead for ourselves and the closest members of our family. Frerin wasn’t old enough to have such a thing. That bead was more of an unofficial name bead. Something he made himself before Erebor fell, practicing in the forges.” The royal dwarf elaborated, taking the larger bead and looking that one over. The craftsmanship was much better on the large bead, Billa noticed, and the rubies had been cut more skilfully. “I made this bead to match his, after Dís came of age and presented me with her bead… It was my way of coping with the fact that Frerin could never present us with it himself. I made one for her too, though she wouldn’t wear it to begin with. She was so young when he died that she found it harder to handle than I did… I tried to be there for her, but I was mourning too and I have never been very good with words. Not to mention I had just taken over as the heir to the throne, with father gone... I should have been a better brother to them both. I shouldn’t have let Frerin fight in the first place. I should have made him stay behind with Dís… I could have told him that he had to protect her, he would have accepted that. He would have done as I said.” He croaked, clearing his throat and raising his eyes to meet Billa’s once more.

“Thorin… You can’t blame yourself.” She crooned, shifting closer to her intended and leaning their foreheads together. “You were young; you couldn’t have known… If Frerin was anything like you, Thorin, you couldn’t have stopped him. He made the decision to fight, right…? No one forced him?”

“No… Nobody forced him. He wanted to join us… He’d never been in a battle before. He wanted to prove himself.” Thorin admitted, pressing a kiss to the end of her nose.

Billa smiled softly, putting both beads on the table and lacing their fingers together. She squeezed his hands gently in hers, raising one to kiss his knuckles. “He sounds exactly like you, in that respect.” She disseminated, rubbing her thumb into the back of his hand.

Thorin smiled back at that, snorting softly. “I suppose so. We were both foolish, stubborn young dwarves.” He mused, pulling one of Billa’s hands up to rest on the side of his face. “You would have liked Frerin.”

“Yeah…?” The hobbit pressed, cupping his cheek in her palm like he had wanted her to.

“Mm. He had such a good soul. One of the most playful and rambunctious dwarves I have ever met – yes, even more so than Kili. He brightened even the darkest days with his laughter, and nothing ever got him down. He spent more time living on the road than he did in Erebor, but he never cared. He had most of his family, and that was all that ever mattered to him.” Thorin described, his eyes fond as he recalled the few memories he had of his younger brother. “But he wasn’t naïve. He wasn’t blind to what had happened to us… He was just so sure that we would be okay. ‘It’s alright’ he’d say, ‘we’ll fix it’. He would have made a great king one day, he was so clever and charming… Far more charming than I am, that’s for sure. He wouldn’t have had problems negotiating with the elves, or anyone else for that matter.” He exposed, turning his face so that he could kiss the palm of her hand. “And yet he thought I would be the better king. He always said that of the three of us, I was born to rule. I used to look at him like he was a moron and say ‘Of course I was born to be rule – I was born first. That’s how succession works’, but he would roll his eyes and reply ‘That’s not why you’ll be king. You’ll be king because you are a good dwarf. People will want to follow you’. I never took it for the compliment it was until he was gone. I thought he was a fool at the time… Then after he died, I tried to be the good dwarf that he thought I was.”

Billa listened intently, and found that she agreed with Thorin. Frerin sounded like a great dwarf, and she understood why Thorin rarely talked about him. She could see the pain in his eyes, and she could tell that Thorin had loved his brother dearly. More so than their mother or father, Billa would guess. “I think Frerin would be proud of you, you know. You fixed it, just like he thought you would.” She imparted, moving her hand across his cheek and into his hair. “You took Erebor back. After your grandfather died your people wanted to follow you. They could have left for the Iron Hills, or given up hope and settled into human villages, but they followed you all the way to the Blue Mountains and you gave them a life there. Now they get to come back to Erebor… To their home.”

Thorin blinked hard, and his expression alone told her that he had never even considered that. It astounded her sometimes, knowing how little Thorin thought of himself. He had worse self-esteem issues than she did, and she hadn’t grown up royalty! She supposed that could be part of the problem, with people asking so much of him, but he was just so… Good. He was so incredible, and he just didn’t see it. “Come here.” Billa requested, holding her arms open and exhaling shakily when he all-but fell into them. He pressed in close, his own arms moving to wrap themselves around her waist as he buried his face in her neck. “You are so… Great, Thorin.” She told him, her tone firm and full of certainty. “Look at how far Erebor has come already. Look at how much you’ve done. You reclaimed the mountain. We might have helped, but we couldn’t have done it without you. We wouldn’t be here without you. You gave us direction – you inspired us. Hearing you sing in my smial made me walk all the way here for you. I wouldn’t have left the Shire for anyone else, and I don’t think that the company would have left the safety of the Blue Mountains for anyone else either. It was all you, okay?” She concluded, wishing that there was some way that she could convince him – but insecurities weren’t conquered in a day. That wasn’t how it worked, unfortunately.

“Thank you…” Thorin rumbled lowly, not disputing anything that she said. She suspected that he didn’t want to call her a liar, or cause an argument, but she let it drop. She wasn’t going to confront him when he was feeling so fragile, that wouldn’t be fair.

They would work on this, but it would take time. And they had plenty of time.

“Men lananubukhs menu, Billa.” He muttered into her neck, his lips ghosting over her skin.

Billa smiled to herself, rubbing a hand up his back and exhaling softly. “I know, my love…” She cooed, just holding him.

Dain could wait, and so could her brothers. All Billa cared about was making sure Thorin was okay. The last twenty-four hours has been incredibly trying for them both, and they were allowed to feel overwhelmed.

-

Billa returned to their rooms several hours later, weighed down with a wicker basket of food hanging from the crook of her arm. The plan was still to tell Dori and Ori after lunch, and then maybe break the news to the company after the evening meal.

The company were much less of a concern, and she wasn’t even worried about how Ori might react – Dori would be the real problem. Ori had always been quite supportive of her and Thorin, he would probably be thrilled.

Billa hadn’t really wanted to send Thorin away that morning, knowing how shaken he had been, but duty called and nothing the hobbit could say would stop the eldest Durin from going about his kingly business.

At least she could prepare a hearty lunch for him, she thought. That might brighten his day after his trip around the mines. A good meal usually managed to cheer Billa up.

She padded into the kitchen with her basket of goodies, setting it down on the kitchen table and beginning to root through her ingredients. She had managed to acquire a large loaf of crusty bread for her intended and her siblings, but had bought a smaller seeded load of bread for herself. The baker she had gotten them both from had assured her that the seeded bread was high in fibre, which had been exactly what she was looking for. They’d had similar kinds of bread back in the Shire, and they had been just divine. It would taste great, toasted and covered in honey, whilst still being plain enough that it wouldn’t bother her stomach.

For her boys she had bought a very decently priced wheel of cheese, along with several pre-cooked cuts of meat, some eggs and several bottles of fresh milk. The cheese and meat would make nice sandwiches with the fresh bread that she had bought, whilst the eggs could be boiled and sliced for easy finger-food. It wasn’t much, but it was good considering how little variety there was in the mountain at that time. It was winter, so many foods were out of season. The selection would not be amazing until spring returned and some new farms were created around Dale.

However, there was an abundance of flour and oats, as Dain had brought plenty of dry supplies from the Iron Hills.

Billa could still bake.

And she’d already had most of the ingredients for a simple ginger cake in her cupboards, the only thing she had been missing were the eggs. She would have to use honey instead of syrup, which was what she would have used back in the Shire, but that wouldn’t be an issue. It wouldn’t harm the taste or the texture of the cake, and she was sure her dwarves would like it just fine.

She busied herself with preparing the cake, since it would take the most time, only pausing for small drinks or trips to the bathroom. It might not have been hard work, but it kept her hands busy and helped her keep her mind off of worrying about Dori. She had meant what she had said the day before, but that didn’t stop her from feeling anxious about it now that it was happening.

Billa jumped in surprise when she heard a knock at the door, glancing down at the oven before dusting her hands off on her apron and leaving flour in her wake. She hadn’t been expecting anyone for at least another half hour – the cake wasn’t even done yet! The table wasn’t set; the dishes weren’t washed… It was a disaster, by hobbit standards.

She bound to the door despite all of this, not wanting to keep anyone waiting. She pulled it open, relaxing a little when she found Ori on the other side – dressed in his usual knitwear and hugging a book to his chest.

“I’m early, aren’t I…? I’m sorry, Thorin said to come for midday, but I finished sweeping the library and didn’t want to get started on another big job, only to have to stop before I was done…” The meek dwarf rambled, shuffling his feet awkwardly and glancing up and down the hall. After all of their talk of beads that morning, Billa couldn’t help but wonder why the Ri brothers didn’t have their own personalised beads. She would have to ask Thorin later – in case it was a sore spot for her siblings. She didn’t want to say anything that might upset them, hoping to put them in a good mood with her food before they delivered their news.

Billa held a hand up to stop him, smiling widely at her youngest brother. “Ori, it’s fine. Please, come in. You can keep me company whilst I bake!” She offered, stepping aside and gesturing for him to enter their rooms.

She had of course tidied around the apartment after Thorin had left earlier, making sure that everything was put away and the floors were swept so that Dori could find nothing to complain about when he arrived. There were fires burning in the living-area and the kitchen, keeping the apartment toasty warm – more for Billa’s benefit than anyone else’s.

She still wasn’t used to how cold the mountain could get – especially at night.

“Join me in the kitchen. I can sneak you a snack or two before the others arrive, if you like.” She bribed him, closing the door behind him and grinning when he perked up. Ori might not have been a hobbit, but even dwarves enjoyed their treats on occasion.

Billa lead the way into the kitchen, filling the kettle and setting it over the fire to boil without asking Ori if he would want tea – knowing full well that he would, because it was Ori and he was one of the few dwarves in the mountain partial to the drink.

“What is that smell…?” Ori asked as he walked in behind her, inhaling deeply and looking excited as he peered into the pot of boiling eggs hanging over the other side of the fire.

Billa snorted quietly, putting her hands on his shoulders and directing him towards the table. “It’s not the eggs, I can tell you that much.” She laughed, giving his back a pat once he had sat down. “I am baking a cake, but it is not done yet. Would you like an oat cake, and some cheese?” She asked, checking on the eggs before pulling the newly acquired cheese wheel from her basket.

“That would be great, thank you Billa.” The young dwarf answered eagerly, setting his book down on the table beside him. “I must say… You look very well today.” He remarked, eyeing her as she pottered about preparing cheese and biscuits on a plate for him. “You must have needed that rest-day.” He noted, beginning to fiddle with a stray thread on his glove.

“Mm.” Billa hummed in agreement, handing Ori his plate of ‘light’ snacks before busying herself with setting the table. She placed a plate in front of each chair, except for Ori’s, along with an empty tea cup and a set of cutlery. “I’ve been so exhausted lately, I was beginning to feel very downtrodden.” She confessed without lying, filling a pitcher with the milk from the market. She put the pitcher down in the middle of the table with a couple of spare cups, leaving it there for people to help themselves. She began to set the meats and cheese on a large wooden platter, ready to put it on the table when the other two arrived.

Ori nodded in understanding, tucking into a biscuit and watching as Billa retrieved the freshly boiled kettle from the fire and went about making some tea. “I don’t suppose your fatigue could be some kind of… Lady-thing?” He wondered, though he did look a little uncomfortable with his own question.

Billa laughed softly, amused by how close he was. It was a ‘lady-thing’, just not the lady-thing he was thinking of. She hadn’t had that lady-thing in quite some time. “It’s possible. I brought it up with Oin, but he isn’t concerned.” She said, managing to tell the truth again without arousing any suspicion. It was true, after all. She had spoken to Oin about it, and he wasn’t worried – because nothing was wrong, she was just pregnant.

“Oh good. Dori will be pleased to hear that. He was most concerned yesterday… Almost came up here to visit once or twice, but I kept reminding him that you had chosen to stay in Thorin’s room for the privacy. You weren’t to be bothered.” Her brother told her, picking another biscuit up and eating that one too.

Billa smiled gratefully, pouring her brother a cup of tea before doing the same for herself and sitting down beside him. “Thank you, Ori. That was very good of you. I know how… Officious Dori can be sometimes. But I spent the whole day in my sleep-clothes and my dressing-gown, so I would have been very boring company. I doubt Dori would have felt any better watching me nap in front of the fire.”

Officious…! I don’t think I’ve ever heard a better word to describe our brother.” Ori laughed, though he did glance toward the door nervously – like Dori might walk in and catch them talking about him. “He does mean well, though.”

“I know he does. And I appreciate that. He just needs to calm down a little is all. Maybe things will be better once everything has settled and Nori has returned… Oh! Perhaps he will improve when your mother arrives?” Billa suggested, spooning sugar into her tea. She had decided to go for a regular leaf-tea, rather than the ginger kind, since her stomach wasn’t feeling too awful.

Ori shrugged in a non-committal manner, looking unsure. “He managed to molly-coddle me back in the Blue Mountains, even with our mother around. I suppose she does reign him in somewhat, but he spent much of our youth looking after us whilst mother worked to put food on the table. I think he feels like a parent to Nori and I, rather than a brother. He’s been this way ever since our father left.” He revealed, taking the sugar pot when she offered it to him.

Left? I thought he died.” She pressed, confused. That wasn’t what she had heard – none of the brothers liked to talk about their father, but Billa had always gotten the impression that he had passed away. Ori made it sound like he left of his own accord.

“No, he walked out on our mother. Gave no reason, just packed his bag and left one night… Nori saw him go. Our mother was still pregnant with me at the time, so I never knew him, but Nori and Dori remember. Dori tells everyone that he died, simply because that is more respectable than hearing that he abandoned us… And he did leave the Blue Mountains that night, never to be seen again, so no one knew for sure that he hadn’t died. All we know is that he willingly abandoned us.” The bookish dwarf disclosed, looking a little uncomfortable.

“Mahal, I didn’t know…” She sighed, reaching up to play with her engagement bead. It finally made sense why Dori was so odd about her relationship with Thorin – and why none of the Ri brothers had partners. They had trust issues. She knew they were all slow to trust, but she hadn’t known why. Now she did.

Ori shrugged again, turning his head towards the main room when the front door opened. He finished his biscuit in a rush, as though Thorin might tell him off for eating before lunch, and Billa shot him an amused look.

“Amrâlimê…?” The king called from the other room, closing the door behind him. Billa thought she heard him stoke the fire in the living-area, before adding another couple of logs.

“In here, sweetheart.” She shouted back, standing from the table and moving to the oven to check on her cake. Thorin padded in behind her just as she put on her oven-gloves and she grinned, turning to face him and raising her gloved hands to grab his face. She steered him into a kiss, beaming against him as he laughed into her mouth. “Good afternoon.” She breathed when they broke apart, wrinkling her nose cutely at the sight of her intended’s pink face.

“It is now.” He replied, turning towards Ori and offering the other dwarf a slightly embarrassed smile. “Hello, Ori… Thank you for joining us for lunch today. Do you know when Dori might be joining us…?” He queried, licking his bottom lip and moving to examine the food platter on the kitchen side. Billa swatted his hand with her oven-glove when he reached for a cut of roast chicken, and grinned when he cast a wounded look her way.

Ori scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly, picking up his tea with his other hand and taking a sip. “I know he had a commission to work on today, but he shan’t be late. Dori has always had a talent for timekeeping… I finished early, so I arrived early. Dori tends to arrive precisely when you tell him to.”

Billa snorted at that as she bent over to pull the cake from the oven. She put the cake down on the side, patting the top to see if it would spring back and nodding to herself when it did. She put the tin on top of a wire rack but did not remove the cake, leaving it to cool as it was. The tin would keep it warm for a little while, so they could enjoy it warm after their lunch – so long as Dori was on time.

And didn’t throttle Thorin once he heard their news.

“That is fair enough… Is there any more tea, my heart?” Thorin checked, peering over his hobbit’s shoulder to look at the cake. “That smells divine… And a little like that tea we had this morning. Is it ginger?”

Billa grinned, removing her oven-gloves before standing on her toes to kiss the regal dwarf’s nose. “It is, well done.” She praised, planting another kiss on his cheek as she passed him to retrieve the teapot. She rolled her eyes a little when he puffed up proudly, looking pleased with himself. Thorin wasn’t the best at identifying different foods or spices, by taste or smell, and had once asked Bombur if a deer supper was beef. Beef! Billa had never let him forget it. “There is plenty of tea, dear. The sugar pot is on the table by Ori.” She announced, picking up the teapot and pouring Thorin a cup. She gestured to the seat beside hers for Thorin to sit down, but he hesitated – hovering beside her.

“Do you need any help…?” He chimed, and there was something in his eyes that told Billa exactly why he was asking.

She rolled her eyes again, huffing and giving him a little push towards the chair in question. “Thorin, I am quite capable of preparing lunch by myself. Almost everything is already done, we are just waiting on Dori.” She insisted, returning to the counter to slice up the crusty loaf of bread and add it to the platter of meat and cheese. She then took the time to cut three or four slices of seeded bread from the smaller loaf for herself, putting them on a separate plate so that she could toast them later.

As if on cue, a knock sounded at the front door and silenced Thorin before he could offer to help again. “If you wish to be of assistance, you could answer the door.” Billa said, laughing a little when she saw the slight terror in her dwarven lover’s eyes. “Go, Dori isn’t going to brutalise you for answering the door, Thorin. Although he might if you leave him waiting.” She joked, shaking her head in amusement as the king bolted from the room to answer the door. She pulled the pan of boiling eggs from the fire, draining away the water and running them under the cold tap for a moment to cool them.

“Dori.” Billa heard him utter respectfully in the other room, and she could just picture him dipping his head in greeting – as he often did.

“Thorin.” Dori said curtly in response, appearing in the kitchen door as Billa moved to pour another cup of tea ready for him. “Billa, good afternoon… Thank you for inviting us for lunch.” He purred, his tone much more pleasant as he walked over and wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a brief hug.

“It was our pleasure, Dori – and it was actually Thorin’s idea.” She informed him, not wanting to take credit. Not to mention it wouldn’t hurt to try and improve the relationship between her eldest brother and her intended. Especially not now that they would be having child together. “Please, have a seat beside Ori. There’s a cup of tea waiting for you.”

Dori said nothing regarding Billa telling him that lunch had been Thorin’s idea, instead letting go of her and sitting down next to his brother. Thorin moved to sit opposite Dori rather than beside him, taking Billa’s seat – but not before shooting her an apologetic look.

Billa shrugged in response, putting the platter of food in the middle of the table and running a hand along Thorin’s shoulder blade’s comfortingly on her way back to the pan of eggs.

Less than a half hour of stilted-conversation later the four of them had finished their lunch and were each enjoying a piece of ginger cake with a fresh cup of tea. Billa took a deep breath when she felt Thorin’s hand settle over her knee underneath the table and she turned to look at him, her heart aching when she saw how anxious he looked. She knew that he felt just as nervous as she did – if not more. Billa didn’t think that Dori would react too rashly, because he loved her, but Thorin didn’t have quite as much faith in the elderly jeweller.

“This cake is really rather delightful, Billa… I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a cake this good.” Dori claimed, oblivious to Billa and Thorin’s discomfort as he finished off the last mouthful of his slice. Ori bobbed his head in agreement, eyeing the rest of the cake longingly where it sat on the kitchen side behind the table.

Billa had only eaten half of her own slice, not wanting to overeat and risk making herself sick once more. She stood, picking up the plate of cake and bringing it to the table. She had moved the now empty platter from the table earlier, so she put the plate down beside the teapot and offered her brothers a small smile. “I am glad you like it… Help yourself to more, if you would like it.” She encouraged, returning to her seat and placing a hand on Thorin’s arm in support. “Would you like the last of my slice, Thorin? I think my eyes might be bigger than my belly – I couldn’t possibly stomach another mouthful.” She crooned, squeezing the muscle in her grip and offering the regal dwarf a smile.

Dori frowned a little at that, glancing to Billa’s unfinished slice of cake as he served himself and Ori another piece each. “I have noticed that you are eating less, Billa… Are you quite alright?” He pried, his brow furrowed with concern. Concern that soon turned to suspicion when he noticed Thorin stiffen in the chair opposite him. “What is it?”

Thorin shifted his chair closer to Billa’s, wrapping one arm around her waist and splaying a hand across her middle – under the table, where Dori thankfully couldn’t see. “We may have had ulterior motives for inviting you here today.” The king confessed, trailing his fingers across his intended’s stomach.

Billa cleared her throat softly, leaning into Thorin’s side and greatly appreciating the soothing way the dark haired dwarf stroked her midriff. “We have some news.” She continued for her lover, knowing that he was the most scared of the two of them – and thinking that Dori would prefer to hear the news from her, anyway. She glanced between her siblings, swallowing thickly and exhaling quietly. “I have been feeling rather unwell as of late, so I took the day off yesterday to rest and… And see Oin.” She explained, resting one hand on Thorin’s knee. “It’s nothing bad! Quite the opposite…” She assured her brothers when both of their faces dropped, wishing she had prepared something to say but knowing that the best way to break the news would be to just… Say it. “…I’m pregnant.”

Ori’s face lit up immediately, and he jumped from his seat so quickly that Billa startled a little. He all-but ran around the table, stopping behind her to wrap both arms around her shoulders and give her an affectionate squeeze. “Mahal, Billa, you had me worried!” He laughed, his voice full of joy and youthful exuberance. “That is wonderful news…!” He exclaimed, remaining draped over her shoulders with her chin resting on the top of her head. “I am going to be an uncle! And I can knit all sorts of little clothes for the baby… I mean, can I knit for the baby? Would you mind???”

Billa laughed softly, a weight lifting from her chest as she placed both of her hands over Ori’s and gave them a relieved pat. “Of course you can, Ori, I would love it if you did-” She began, stopping when Dori cleared his throat loudly. She turned to look at her older brother, the weight returning to her chest when she saw the thunderous way that he was staring at Thorin.

His arms were crossed over his chest, and if looks could kill then Erebor would need a new king. “You got my sister pregnant, without marrying her first?” He rumbled dangerously, the vein in his forehead twitching noticeably.

Ori released Billa to stand up straight, his expression full of confusion. “Does it matter, Dori? Mahal has blessed our sister with a child-” He began, trying to defend both Billa and Thorin from the older dwarf’s wrath.

“Of course it matters!” Dori spat, looking furious. Billa’s heart sank and she glanced up at Thorin uncertainly, though she was unsure what to make of her intended’s expression – which was oddly neutral. “You will need to get married at once – I would rather have waited at least two more seasons for the two of you to be wed, and I would rather have Nori around, but that choice appears to have been taken from us.” Dori continued, pushing away from the table and rising to his feet. Thorin remained seated, but Billa felt him stiffen minutely beside her.

Dori, we are not getting married because I am pregnant! We will get married when we are good and ready and not a moment sooner. Thorin is not going to skip out on me just because I am pregnant now, he will wait. And he will help me raise our child whether we are married or not, we do not need to be wed for this to work.” She disputed immediately, not about to let her brother bully her into getting married. She was sure that she would marry Thorin someday, but she had no intention of rushing. She had a lot to learn before she would be a suitable queen, and she wasn’t going to get married and accept all of that responsibility until she was sure that she was ready.

It wasn’t as simple as just getting married. She wouldn’t just be marrying Thorin, she would be committing herself to the entire kingdom. She needed to be prepared.

“Don’t be ridiculous! It’s unheard of, you can’t start a family without getting married first. The only people who raise families unmarried are those who have been abandoned by their partners!” Dori growled, and Billa recognised the pain in his eyes. She wondered if the Ri brothers’ parents had been married – and whether or not that would have made a difference. Seeing Dori look so hurt derailed her own frustration a little, and she hesitated before answering.

“It’s also unheard of for a dwarf to fall in love with a hobbit, but it happened. I understand that you wish for this to be done the ‘proper’ way, Dori, but I will not force Billa into marriage before she is ready. It is her decision, not yours. And regardless of whether or not we are married, we are welcoming a child into the world and we would like it a great deal if you could be happy for us.” Thorin interjected, saving Billa from having to answer at all. She glanced up at her love, surprised at how resolute his expression was – despite how fiercely Dori was glaring.

Dori seemed to grow in height at that, puffing up angrily for a moment. He obviously didn’t appreciate the implication that he was not happy for them, but what evidence was there that he was? He hadn’t even congratulated them. The white-haired dwarf turned his gaze to Billa, almost like he expected her to scold Thorin for the way he had spoken to her brother, but really… Billa thought he deserved a certain amount of curtness when he was being so unreasonable.

His expression seemed to falter when his eyes met Billa’s and he deflated a little, sighing lowly. “…I am happy for you. Ori is right, this baby is a gift... I just worry for you, sister. I do not want Thorin to leave you alone with a child to look after. Nori, Ori and I would support you of course, but I know that would not be the same as the child having a father in their life.” He muttered softly, and Billa couldn’t help but feel a little bad for him as his eyes flickered to Ori. She rose from her seat, surging forwards to wrap her arms around her oldest sibling’s chest. Dori hugged her back just as eagerly, pressing his face into her hair.

“Thorin isn’t going anywhere, Dori. This is going to be fine. In any case, do you think any member of the company would let him abandon me? Do you think I would let him abandon me? Carrying his child will make me no less capable of running him through if he tries to leave.” Billa promised, giving him a little squeeze and smiling fondly when she heard him laugh against her.

Dori pulled back after a moment, eyeing her closely before patting her shoulder gently. “That is very true… And even if he got away from you, he wouldn’t get away from Nori.” He decided, smiling tentatively at the hobbit in his grip.

“Exactly. There are plenty of people prepared to kill him if he tries to walk out on me. And plenty of people willing to take care of me and this child if, Mahal forbid, anything ever happens to Thorin.” She accepted with a toothy grin, stepping forwards for another quick hug before returning to her intended’s side.

Thorin merely looked amused when she turned back to look at him, and he shrugged slightly when their eyes met. He knew it was true as much as she did – but he didn’t have any intention of leaving her. “I would never throw away a child, or my One, like that.” He insisted, getting up and moving to stand beside Billa. “So if I ever do, you have my permission to kill me – for I must not be myself.” He invited, his expression completely serious now.

Billa blinked a little in shock, but didn’t bother to dispute the statement. Thorin would never abandon her, so no one would need to kill him. And if Thorin saying such a thing put Dori’s mind at ease, then she could leave it be.

Dori seemed to regard the king for a long moment, something not unlike respect in his expression. “I am glad to hear it… How far along are you?” He hummed, directing the last part at Billa – his expression doting as he did.

Billa smiled fondly at him, pleased with how things had gone. All things considered, he could have taken the news worse. He had only asked them to get married – he hadn’t threatened Thorin or acted disappointed with Billa. “Just a month, but hobbits aren’t pregnant for as long as dwarves… We will probably be welcoming this baby within the next three seasons.” She shared, sitting back down again and settling a hand over her stomach.

The others soon joined her, taking their seats once more and returning to their tea and cake. “Three seasons…? Mahal, that is not long at all… How does the babe have time to grow?” Ori remarked, his brow furrowed uncertainly.

“I guess fauntlings just need less time to grow. Probably because they age faster and lead shorter lives than dwarves. But we are not sure how dwarven our child might be, so it could still be longer than three seasons… It’s too soon to tell.” Billa reasoned, not sure what else to say. She was a little worried about that, if she was entirely honest.

What if she was pregnant for longer…? She could imagine that being awfully uncomfortable – she saw how big hobbits got in the Shire and she couldn’t imagine being that big for so long.

Mahal, it was going to be a long year – but at least they would get something wonderful at the end of it. A little one of their own.

Chapter Text

Billa could barely sit still.

It had only been a short few hours since she and Thorin had broken the news of her pregnancy to her brothers, and now they had to tell the company.

They had decided to do it at the end of the evening meal, since it was the only time the entire company ever gathered to eat together anymore. They all lead busy lives, so sometimes they couldn’t make it for every meal – but they did always share the last meal of the day.

Bombur ran the communal kitchens as head chef, and though there were very few dwarves working under him he took a great deal of pride in the job. He would have more kitchen-staff once the caravans from the Blue Mountains arrived, but for the time being he spent a great deal of time in the kitchens making sure that there would be enough food for all of the mountain’s inhabitants. It was astounding that he managed to produce so much food with so little help, but he managed. Billa had visited him many times whilst he worked and usually found him singing some jaunty little song whilst he cooked, at ease despite how busy his job made him. He put a lot of care into every single dish he made, and it showed. He had yet to serve them a bad meal.

Bofur made toys in his workshop and worked simply for the joy of it. It wasn’t as though he needed the money. He loved what he did, and he usually sold his toys in Erebor’s market for a very small profit. He always said that the only reward he needed was knowing that a little-one would be enjoying his work. The toys were very popular, despite there not being any children in the Mountain just yet. Billa figured that most dwarves were buying the toys to take back to the Iron Hills with them, or to keep tucked away until their families joined them. Some of the dwarves from the Iron Hills would be staying in Erebor after Dain left, wanting to move back to the ancestral home of their people.

Bifur also had a workshop, where he put his talents as a carpenter to good use. Like Bofur he had earned more than enough money from the quest to live an easy life, but he wanted to work. It gave him something to do. He was currently only making small things, as there weren’t many people in Erebor in need of furniture, but he was happy to potter around making chairs and mirrors and other such items with the wood he had imported into the mountain. Bifur’s workshop was beside Bofur’s for the sake of convenience, as Bifur sometimes needed someone to translate what he was saying to customers. Not every dwarf knew sign-language, or ancient Khuzdul.

Gloin had been named the head of Erebor’s forges, as the most superior smith amongst them, but had been helping divide up the treasury with some of the dwarves of the Iron Hills as there were few other smiths in the mountain at that time. He had no one to supervise, but that would change when the miners and the smiths returned to Erebor. At that moment in time the only people using the forges were doing so for small projects, the way Thorin had when he was making their engagement beads, so he had little to do except keep the forges lit. Which was not a particularly trying task, when the forges of Erebor were so fine. Not even years of disuse had damaged them, and they had still been in perfect working-order when they had reclaimed the mountain.

Oin was the royal physician, and as such took care of the royal family whenever needed. Whenever the royal family did not need him, he spent his time cleaning and organising the infirmary. Once there were more physicians in the mountain he would help them with their patients, and also teach medicine to anyone wishing to join the infirmary – but for the time being, there was little for him to do. There were very few dwarves in the mountain, and none of them were injured, unwell or infirm. Billa would be his only patient until the dwarves of the Blue Mountains arrived, or until someone had an accident and got themselves hurt. Which wasn’t very likely, considering how sturdy dwarves were as a race.

Not that Oin minded having a break following the hectic weeks after the battle. He had been in high demand for a fortnight after the war, but anyone who had been injured had already gotten better – so Oin could take it easy.

Balin had taken his rightful place at Thorin’s side as royal advisor, making him one of the busiest dwarves in the mountain. He worked more than the king did, and that was saying something. He was always behind the scenes, arranging meetings, drafting documents, sorting paperwork and making sure it went to the right place… Billa didn’t think she had ever met such a hard worker in her life, and she had certainly never met a hard worker who was as happy with their job as Balin was. The elderly dwarf never complained about his work, completely content to chase after Thorin and help run the kingdom.

Fili and Kili were the crown princes, and that meant their days were divided between attending courts for the experience, weapons training, and sitting in the library over dusty old tomes learning the ways of their people. As youthful and mischievous as they were, they were still responsible heirs. They took their princely duties very seriously… Most of the time.

They were known to sneak off on occasion, but Billa would never begrudge them that – even if it did irritate Thorin to no end. They were still young, for dwarves, so Billa figured they were allowed to let their hair down every so often. Being the heirs to the throne couldn’t be easy.

Dori spent the majority of his days in his jewellery shop, crafting the finest necklaces and rings on commission. His work was so fine that he was already getting orders from the Men of Dale and Lake-Town, and a little birdy had told Billa that a certain Elven prince might also be looking to have something made in the future.

And last but not least, Ori ran the library with Billa. Because of this she saw more of him than anyone else in the company, but she didn’t mind one bit. Ori had always been easy company, happy to go about his business quietly and equally happy to talk about his books or drawings when asked. He spent most hours of the day sat at his desk in the library, writing up a detailed account of their quest with accompanying sketches, or knitting in front of the fire in the staff area.

Upon their return, Dwalin would resume his position as head of the royal guard and Nori would continue his work as the spymaster of Erebor.

All in all, things were going remarkably well for the company. They had all landed their dream jobs, and they could finally get on with their lives in their rightful home. It warmed Billa’s heart.

But it didn’t stop her from worrying.

A calloused hand moved to rest on Billa’s knee under the table but did nothing to sooth her jitters, despite the gentle way that Thorin squeezed her leg. He was obviously trying to calm her, and failing. She wasn’t anywhere near as nervous about telling the company as she had been about telling Dori, but it was still a big deal. She felt like she barely got to see most of them anymore, and now she was just going to drop some huge news on them without any warning.

Would they be excited? Would they think it was too soon…? What if they thought Billa and Thorin should get married first, like Dori did? Her brother didn’t need any encouragement.

She just hoped that they could all be happy for her and Thorin. She was anxious enough about the idea of being a mother without anyone disapproving.

“Billa and I have something that we would like to announce.” Thorin began, startling Billa from her uneasy train of thought and making her realise that the meal was almost over. Most of the serving-dishes were already empty, and many of the dwarves from the Iron Hills were already leaving. She had barely even eaten. The company were all still present, however, and Thorin was keeping his voice low enough not to draw the attention of the foreign dwarves at the other tables.

The hobbit stilled a little beside him, eyes flickering to Ori and Dori where they sat opposite her. Ori glanced up from the book that he was reading to offer her a reassuring smile, and Dori nodded encouragingly – his face a carefully composed mask. Billa suspected that he was as worried as she was, though she expected that he was more worried about how the pregnancy might reflect on Billa or their family. In case it made them appear less respectable.

As though starting a family with a king could possibly bring shame to Billa’s name. She almost scoffed at the thought.

The company’s chatter died down after hearing Thorin’s words, and every set of eyes shifted to look at the king and his intended.

“You’re getting married?” Gloin guessed immediately, though his brother rolled his eyes and returned to his food beside him – already knowing the news that Thorin was speaking of. Billa looked away unhappily, not feeling particularly encouraged by that assumption. It only solidified the idea in her mind that they wouldn’t approve. Especially since Gloin looked so excited by the prospect of them marrying.

Thorin half-smiled at that, standing and placing a hand on Billa’s shoulder. “No, no… Not yet.” He assured the ginger dwarf, patting his intended’s shoulder and glancing down at her with a warm look on his face.

Billa met his gaze and swallowed, a little surprised that he had decided to tell them himself rather than leave it to her – but secretly glad too. Breaking the news to Dori and Ori had been trying enough, without having to do it again with the rest of the company. She nodded minutely, letting her future husband know that she was okay with him saying it and smiling sweetly when his expression became even more fond.

No matter what the others thought, at least she had Thorin beside her.

“Billa and I are having a baby.” He shared, keeping his eyes on Billa’s the entire time.

Silence descended over the group for a long moment, and Billa slowly tore her eyes away from Thorin’s to look at the other dwarves. Most of them were staring at her in shock, unsure of what to say or how to react

“Are you serious?!” Kili chirped shrilly, the first to break the silence. He had stopped with his chalice half raised, his eyes almost comically wide and his mouth agape. Fili was sat just as rigidly beside his brother, his expression full of the same disbelief.

Thorin smiled patiently, turning to look at his youngest nephew and bobbing his head in a nod. “I am, yes. Billa is pregnant.”

Gloin spluttered and turned to look at Oin, expecting the other dwarf to share his shock, only to see that he was still wearing the same disinterested expression as before. “You knew!” Gloin accused loudly, going red in the face when his sibling scoffed at him.

“Of course I knew, who do you think told them…? Billa thought she had some kind of food poisoning, the two of them were completely clueless.” Oin asserted, though he did turn to offer Billa an amused look.

Billa felt herself go a little pink with embarrassment, remembering how she has reacted the day before. It's not just... I don't know... Something I ate?

She wasn’t an idiot; she just hadn’t thought that she could be pregnant. There were no records of hobbits having families outside of their own race – or no official records, anyway. There were many who thought that the Tooks had mixed with elves somewhere down the line, but she suspected that was just rumour-mongering.

“What excellent news!” Balin bellowed, looking immensely pleased for them both. Billa relaxed a little in her chair and smiled, raising one hand to place it over Thorin’s on her shoulder. Balin’s approval meant a lot to them both. “The first baby under the mountain, and it’s the king’s too!” The royal advisor continued, puffing his chest out proudly. “This truly is a blessing from Mahal – is this why you left that meeting so suddenly yesterday, lad?”

“It is, yes. I will have to apologise to Bard at some point-” Thorin hummed, frowning softly at the thought. Billa had completely forgotten that she had interrupted a meeting by sending a messenger to fetch the king, and she was just opening her mouth to state that she would apologise to Bard when Balin spoke up once more.

“Leave that to me. I will smooth things over.” He assured them, waving a hand dismissively.

“Hang on, hang on… Are you saying I’m going to have a little cousin?” Kili interrupted, putting his chalice down and looking worryingly excited.

The hobbit laughed softly at his hopeful expression, shrugging one shoulder and offering him a grin. “I guess so, Kili.” She accepted, giggling when the brunet immediately turned to fix his brother with a look.

Fili grinned back toothily, rising from the table with Kili’s help and hobbling over to his uncle. Fili’s knee was no longer in a cast, and he didn’t need his wheelchair any longer, but he still wasn’t very steady on his feet. He was supposed to use a walking stick, but the Durin’s were a stubborn bunch. You couldn’t make any of them do anything that they didn’t want to.

Thorin’s nephews practically tackled him in their excitement, both clinging to him and shouting enthusiastically. “Didn’t know you had it in you, uncle! Congratulations!” The blond prince cheered, slapping Thorin hard on the back.

The king exhaled hard in surprise at the exuberant hug, wrapping his arms around both of his sister’s sons. “What is that supposed to mean?” He asked, though he sounded amused.

“Well, you are quite old…” Kili explained, sniggering when Thorin shoved him out of the hug in retaliation. The young prince latched onto Billa instead, pulling her out of her chair and into his body.

“Careful! I am only ninety-nine years your senior!” Thorin warned, rolling his eyes when Kili held Billa’s back to his chest – putting her between himself and his mother’s brother like a shield.

“Oh Billa, I have so many recipes I can share with you…! My wife has had some very difficult pregnancies, and I know every trick in the book! What foods to make for an unsettled stomach, what tea to brew- wait, is that why Thorin took all of my ginger???” Bombur exclaimed, looking excitable. Bofur sat beside him, smiling widely and wrapping an arm around his younger brother’s shoulders. “And why he asked for so many oatcakes?! I should have known! Mahal, my wife would cuff me for being so dense…” He huffed, shaking his head and glancing up at the hatted dwarf beside him.

Bofur shrugged in a non-committal manner, tickled by his brother’s outburst. “Aye, she would. Your Dunda will have a lot to tell Billa when she arrives… Mahal, Billa, Dunda might just put you off having a child! She has all kinds of horror stories about troublesome dwarflings.” He lilted, smirking lopsidedly.

Usually such a statement might have made Billa worry, but she was in too good a mood. Kili was still clinging to her, practically shaking with excitement and resting his chin atop her head, and the rest of the company all looked so pleased... “I look forward to meeting her, and your flock of children, Bombur.” She insisted, smiling when the round dwarf beamed proudly. From what she had heard, Bombur had a fair few children. More than most dwarves, at least. He didn’t like to talk about them too much, however, since he missed them terribly.

“If either of you have any questions about pregnancy, or dwarflings, please feel free to ask! Dunda has had just about every pregnancy symptom under the sun, and I was there for every birth.” Bombur encouraged, looking immensely pleased. “Mahal, I am so excited… Our children can play together!”

Gloin cleared his throat a little, nodding in agreement. “Aye. I may only have the one lad, but I know a bit myself. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.” He said, shooting his brother a slightly wounded look. He was obviously a little annoyed that Oin hadn’t let him in on their secret sooner, but Billa appreciated the elderly dwarf’s discretion. He was usually a real gossip.

“Thank you, both of you… That’s very sweet. I’m going to need all of the help I can get, I expect. I actually know very little about pregnancy myself, and I certainly don’t know a thing about dwarven pregnancies.” Billa remarked, wishing she had paid more attention back in the Shire. Before she had come of age she’d had no interest in starting a family of her own, so she had never really hung around with anyone who was pregnant. Since coming of age she had only really seen her gardener’s wife become pregnant, and even then she hadn’t been nosey. She hadn’t asked for any details, just checked in with her regularly to make sure she was doing okay.

Thorin gave Billa a doting smile over the head of his eldest nephew, reaching around him to touch her shoulder. “I am sure that you will be fine, amrâlimê. We will figure it out.” He said reassuringly, helping Fili back to his chair when the blond took a wobbly step away from him.

“Are you even old enough to have children, Billa? It’s no wonder you know nothing of pregnancy.” Bofur wondered aloud, though the laughter lines around his eyes told her that he was joking.

Billa huffed loudly, looking amused. “Of course I am! I'm forty!” She exclaimed, blinking when Kili pulled away to give her a funny look.

Everyone had gone quiet, looking more shocked at that than at her being pregnant. Dori, Ori and Thorin were unsurprised of course, having already known how old she was.

But Billa hadn’t even realised that the others didn’t know. They had sometimes referred to her as a child at the beginning of their quest, but after Gandalf had corrected them and told them that she was an adult they had never spoken of it again.

FORTY???” Gloin repeated, looking appalled.

Bifur swore loudly in Khuzdul at the other end of the table, and the others were so shocked that no one even turned to scold the quiet dwarf for such vulgar language.

“I have children that are older than you!” Bombur realised, his expression a little disturbed.

Billa glanced up and down the table, befuddled. Why were they making such a big deal out of this…? She was a hobbit! Forty wasn’t that young… It wasn’t as though she were underage. She was only ten years away from being middle-aged!

“You are all forgetting that Billa is a hobbit...” Thorin tried to say, ignoring the slightly disgusted looks he was getting from his nephews. “…forty would be young if she was a dwarf, but she’s not. Hobbits come of age sooner than we do.”

“Billa came of age seven years ago. She is older than I am, by hobbit standards. Older than Kili, too.” Ori interjected, not even looking up from the book that he had open on the table beside his plate. It was the same large book that he’d had in Billa and Thorin’s rooms earlier, and Billa realised that she had forgotten to ask what it was.

Bofur cleared his throat quietly, shaking his head as if to clear it. “But... Forty...?” He checked hoarsely, turning to regard Billa and frowning softly.

“Were she a dwarf, she would probably be around... Eighty? Perhaps a little older?” Thorin guessed, glancing towards Ori for confirmation. The bookish dwarf nodded, finishing his page before swinging the book shut and raising his head to glance around the group. He looked less confused than Billa felt, but he did meet her eyes and smile in a sympathetic manner.

He had obviously thought this might happen at some point, and Billa wished he would have warned her. She hadn’t realised it would be an issue. “I don't know why you're all making such a big deal out of this...! I'm not a child.” Billa hastened to point out, folding her arms across her chest. A few of the dwarves looked cowed as she met their eyes, though their expressions remained conflicted.

“You are young enough to be Thorin's child, even by dwarf standards.” Gloin responded, glancing to Dori as the older dwarf made an acknowledging noise in his throat. Billa turned to look at her sibling, surprised to see him nodding in agreement. So he thought that she was too young for Thorin too…? Of course he did.

“Are you saying that you wouldn’t have been with your One if she was much younger than you – even if she was still of age?” Billa pressed, a little annoyed with them for acting so odd about it. They were fools for having not realised sooner, and that was their problem – not hers. She wouldn’t have anyone treating her or Thorin any differently. Gloin didn’t answer, and he wouldn’t meet her eyes either. “Exactly. It doesn’t matter. Now, would you all stop looking at me like I’m some tiny faunt who needs protecting? Because there’s actually going to be one of those joining us in the future, we should probably focus on that.” She scolded, rolling her eyes and stepping up to stand beside Thorin.

“You’re right… We’re sorry, Billa, we just… Never thought about it.” Balin excused, sending a warning look around the other dwarves before rising from his chair and moving to stand with the soon-to-be parents. “This is still amazing news. When can we expect your wee-one, anyway…? You don’t look especially pregnant, so I imagine you are not very far along?” He continued, changing the subject back to what mattered – their news.

Billa offered the elderly dwarf a relieved smile, reaching out for Thorin’s hand between them and lacing their fingers together as she answered. She appreciated the intervention, especially as it seemed the settle the rest of the company a little – even if they did continue to send odd looks her way.

-

“...do you think it's odd?” Thorin asked tentatively as he dressed for bed that night, his eyes on the floor and a thoughtful expression on his face.

“Do I think what's odd...?” Billa asked from where she sat on the bed, reading over the letter she had written to Nori and cradling a mug of hot milk between her hands. She didn’t even look up from the scroll in question, chewing slightly at her bottom lip as her eyes raked over the page. It had taken quite some time to write, just because it had taken her so long to figure out what she was going to say. She honestly wished that she could tell her middle-brother in person, but that wasn’t possible. A letter would have to do.

Thorin cleared his throat a little, glancing towards the door self-consciously before shrugging his sleep-shirt on. “That I am old enough to be your father.” He elaborated, hovering by the side of the bed and beginning to fiddle idly with his own hands.

Billa snorted softly, smiling but still not looking up. “I wouldn't be here if I did, dear. And my father was younger than you, anyway.” She joked, raising her eyes to his and pausing when she saw how serious he looked. She hadn’t realised that it was a genuine concern of his, though she supposed that she shouldn’t have been surprised that he was worried after the conversation at dinner. “Thorin... Of course it doesn't bother me. I don't think it's odd at all - and neither will the company once they've had time to adjust. They're just shocked.” She reassured him, rolling the scroll up and setting it down on the bedside table – giving Thorin her undivided attention. She shuffled across the bed until she was sat on the edge, staring up at him with her head tilted sympathetically.

The others must have really gotten into his head.

“But... If you were a dwarf-” Thorin began fretfully, stopping when Billa raised her hand and put a finger on his lips.

“-but I'm not a dwarf, sweetheart. By hobbit standards I should have married and started a family five or six years ago. We marry very quickly after we come of age. My mother and father married within months of my mother being old enough, and they had me only a short year later. I am not too young to be starting a family.” She dictated, moving her hand from his mouth to stroke his bearded cheek. His beard was finally growing out again, and it wouldn’t be long before he could braid it once more. That would be a happy day. Billa was just glad that he had stopped shaving it short out of shame, but she knew how proud dwarves were of their beards and the ornamentation in their beards. It meant a lot to Thorin, so it meant a lot to her.

She was going to ask Fili and Kili to help her make a bead for him. She couldn’t make jewellery, but she could design something simple for her intended. It would be a nice gesture, if nothing else, and she wanted him to have a bead ready the moment it was long enough to braid.

“And yes, you are older than me... But we love each other. It is not as though this is one sided, and you lured me in with indecent motives. You fell for me the same way I fell for you. I am your One, and you are my soulmate. It doesn't matter that there are a hundred and thirty-six years between us - it wouldn't matter if there were two hundred years between us. Or it doesn't matter to me, at least. Does it matter to you?” She added, before Thorin could point out the difference between the two of them. She was well aware of how old he was, and it really didn’t bother her. Not one bit. That being said, she supposed the hobbits back in the Shire wouldn’t have approved of their age difference either.

But hobbits didn’t approve of a lot of things.

She really hoped it wouldn’t be a problem for them. She didn’t want Thorin to start acting hesitant with her, just because he thought that the others would disapprove. It was the company’s fault for never asking about her age – they couldn’t start acting high-and-mighty about it when they didn’t care enough to ask in the first place. They had no right. Thorin had asked, and so had her brothers. Their opinions were the ones that mattered.

“...no. I still love you, and I am still excited to start a family with you... The others just... Got to me. They made me think that I might be doing something terrible.” The dark haired dwarf confessed, sitting on the edge of the bed beside her.

Billa pressed into his side, tucking herself under his arm and tilting her head up to kiss his jaw. “Well, you are not. You are a good dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield. You could never take advantage of anyone, and you certainly didn't take advantage of me.” She promised him, sighing softly when he wrapped an arm around her middle and settled his hand over her stomach. She moved one of her own hands to rest over his, tracing circles around his knuckles with her fingertips. “Mahal, I tricked you into sharing a bed with me before we were even courting. If anything, I took advantage of you.” She pointed out with a grin, trying to cheer him up. The king snorted softly in response, fixing her with a fond look and dropping a kiss into her hair.

“That is true… You were after my virtue all along. I should have known…” He sighed dramatically, eyes crinkling handsomely at the corners. “…I fell for it, too.”

Billa sniggered softly, butting their foreheads together gently. “Yes, exactly. And I got what I wanted.” She teased, pecking the corner of his mouth.

“In fairness, I think I got what I wanted too.” Thorin mused, winking playfully. Billa’s stomach erupted in butterflies and she rolled her eyes, ignoring the way her cheeks heated up in embarrassment. He could be such a charmer sometimes – but only with her. He was never as charming when it came to treating with the King of Mirkwood, or the Master of Lake-Town. The only local ruler that Thorin really got along with was Bard, and Billa thought that was because the former bargeman could be just as surly and blunt as her intended.

“A fussy, bossy little hobbit?” She said, moving to sit across his lap now that he had cheered up.

Thorin nodded, not even hesitating. “Exactly.” He agreed earnestly, laughing when the brunette made an outraged noise and elbowed him in the ribs.

“Hey! You’re supposed to say ‘No Billa, you’re not fussy or bossy’!” She reprimanded, though she couldn’t keep the laughter out of her voice.

“I’m supposed to lie…?” He gasped, wrapping both arms around her middle and beginning to nuzzle at the side of her neck lovingly.

Billa giggled wheezily at the way his beard tickled her skin, planting a hand on his chest and pushing him back a little so that she could look him in the eyes again. “I’ve changed my mind! You are not a good dwarf; you are the worst.” She touted, pleased to see how bright and cheerful his expression was. She was glad that she had managed to talk him around – the last thing they needed was for Thorin to return to his mopey old ways. She liked this side of him much better, carefree and smiling openly.

She hoped their baby got his smile, because it really was blinding.

-

It had grown dark and the envoy had stopped for the night by the time the raven arrived.

Nori paused in spreading out his bedroll when the large bird landed on a rock beside him, meeting the creature’s eyes and tilting his head curiously. Billa, Dori and Ori wrote fairly frequently, but he hadn’t been expecting another letter. He tended to get a letter a week from each of them, and the last batch of letters had come only two or three days ago.

Had something happened…? Why was someone writing again already?

Nori blinked when the raven crowed loudly at him, hopping up and down on the spot and flapping its wings impatiently. ‘I have been carrying this blasted scroll for hours, could you please take it?! I need a good long rest! I certainly won’t be taking a reply back tonight, I need to eat and sleep and I will not leave before dawn. I don’t care how important that small one says the message is!’ it cawed in its native tongue, fluffing itself up importantly and scowling as best it could.

At ease, friend. I’m sure my response can wait until you are better rested, thank you for getting here so swiftly. If you see the dwarf beside the fire there, I am sure that a meal can be arranged for you.’ Nori croaked back, imitating the guttural raven language that most dwarves were taught as children. Dwarves had been talking to ravens for centuries and centuries, as it made communicating with each other over long distances much easier. Who had time to hail a ranger and have them pass along a letter…? Not to mention you could not guarantee that your letter would get to it’s recipient, as the ranger might not even bother delivering it if they didn’t think you’d paid enough. This way short messages could be sent by word of mouth, with the raven simply repeating what they had been told. It was very convenient during battles and in other times of need – but the birds were also willing to carry scrolls and letters when the message was simply too long to be relayed.

The former thief reached out to remove the scroll from the holder on the raven’s back, and then removed the holder too so that the bird could rest without the added weight.

The raven shook itself off and made a grateful noise, bowing its head respectfully before fluttering off towards the fire in search of a meal. Nori watched it go before unrolling the scroll, immediately recognising his sister’s cursive writing.

What could Billa possibly have to tell him that couldn’t wait another few days…?

He’d been reading for a while when a large body settled beside him, weapons clanging together as the other dwarf heaved them off of his back and dropped them in a pile beside the bedroll. “Who’s writing to you?” Dwalin asked gruffly, trying to look uninterested even as he leaned in to peer over the spymaster’s shoulder.

Whilst they had not really been close on the way to Erebor, Dwalin often sought Nori out in the evenings when they made camp – or rode beside him during the day. Nori put it down to the fact that all of the other dwarves with them were from the Iron Hills, which he knew made Dwalin uneasy. The balding warrior was slow to trust, and whilst he did trust Dain he did not trust Dain’s people. He only trusted their own people.

No matter the reason, Nori didn’t mind the company – ironic as it was that the head of the royal guard was seeking the company of a former thief.

Dwalin had actually arrested Nori on several occasions in the past, though he had always been a little soft on the middle Ri. Nori had always wondered why, but he wasn’t going to ask. Dwalin wasn’t a particularly talkative dwarf, and he would probably blow it off with a gruff ‘I had better things to do’, anyway. It was hardly as though Nori had been hurting people, anyway. He wasn’t a murderer; he just stole stuff. Dwalin probably had bigger fish to fry.

“Billa…” Nori told him, his brow furrowed as he stared at the last line of his sister’s message.

I hope you can be happy for us.’

The auburn-haired dwarf exhaled slowly, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth – a bad habit that he had picked up from spending too much time with his sister. Pregnant. Nori could only imagine how well Dori had taken that… And oddly, that was the only thing that he was worried about. Whether or not Dori would be giving Billa a hard time.

It was a shock, sure, but he wasn’t angry. He wasn’t even upset.

How could he be…? He was going to be an uncle. He smiled softly at the thought, rolling the scroll back up and sighing quietly. He just hoped Dori was behaving himself – since Nori wasn’t there to try and reign his older brother in. He might have been younger than Dori by some fifteen years, but he felt somewhat responsible for the other dwarf. Nori had always been the one to soften his brother’s hard edges – to stop him from smothering Ori, or to hold him back when he was getting unnecessarily irate with someone. Someone had to.

“Bad news…?” Dwalin pressed, his expression obviously concerned as he regarded the dwarf beside him.

“No.” Nori admitted, realising that he must look quite serious to elicit such concern from the surliest son of Fundin. “Billa is pregnant.” He explained, schooling his face into something calmer and smiling at the royal guard. Now wasn’t the time to worry about Dori – he should be celebrating… Or at least writing a letter back, telling Billa that he was happy for her. He hated that she expected him to disapprove, but he supposed it wasn’t unreasonable of her to be cautious. Nori hadn’t approved of Thorin in the beginning, just like Dori. Now, however…

He thought Thorin was good for her. They made each other better people.

He might not have treated her particularly kindly when they had first met, and he might have taken an unnecessarily long amount of time finding the courage to court her, but he was a decent enough dwarf. He had seen the error of his ways, and he was so obviously in love with Billa that Nori couldn’t really fault him. So long as he never hurt her again, they wouldn’t have a problem.

Dwalin’s eyes widened and he sat up straighter, looking shocked. “Mahal…” He breathed, glancing around to make sure that none of the Iron Hill dwarves had heard – as though there would be some kind of issue with them knowing. “…is it Thorin’s?” He joked, a slight smirk curling up the corners of his mouth.

“I expect so.” The middle Ri chuckled, tucking the scroll into the inside pocket of his tunic. Billa didn’t have a bad bone in her body, and she certainly wasn’t capable of being unfaithful. She loved Thorin just as much as Thorin loved her – it was kind of sickening, really.

And Nori was only a little jealous.

It was hard not to be. He’d never had a real relationship, and he had never met his One. Not that he knew of, anyway. Sometimes it wasn’t immediately obvious that someone was your One – and Thorin and Billa were a clear example of that. They hadn’t fallen in love immediately, and they had barely even been able to speak to each other until she had saved his life. They’d had to get to know each other before they had realised how perfect they were for one another.

And there were plenty of stories of dwarves outright hating each other before they fell in love. Mahal had an odd sense of humour, it would seem, but he was never wrong. Your One was always your perfect partner, no matter how oddly matched the two of you might initially seem.

No one but Mahal could ever have brought a hobbit and a dwarven king together, no matter how beautiful the hobbit or how handsome the king.

“I didn’t know he still had it in him.” Dwalin chuckled, pulling his pack over and opening it. He rummaged inside for a moment before pulling out a silver hip-flask and beginning to divide the contents between their mugs. “They are going to be great parents.” He shared, holding one mug out in a silent offering to the other dwarf.

Nori accepted it happily enough, raising the beverage to his nose and taking a deep sniff. The smell was pungent and strong, not too dissimilar to the moonshine Nori had used to drink back in the Blue Mountains – before he could afford any real alcohol. Whatever it was that Dwalin kept in his flask, it was potent. Nori might have to ask the dwarf where he had gotten it.

“They are…” He accepted, cradling the mug between his hands and staring down into the poisonous looking drink. “And I am happy for them… Which is unexpected. I suppose I should feel… I don’t know… Annoyed, at least. They are not married, and it is awfully soon for them to be starting a family together… But I think they can do it.” He acknowledged, shrugging one shoulder and raising his eyes to Dwalin’s once more. He doubted the other dwarf would understand what he meant, since he was Thorin’s best friend. He thought the sun shone out of the king’s ass.

If Thorin hadn’t fallen so hard for Billa, Nori might have thought that Dwalin was the eldest Durin’s One.

“Aye, I get you. You want to discourage it, because of how Thorin has behaved in the past, but you know they’re right for each other. They are so comfortable together, their relationship seems as natural as breathing… In spite of what they’ve been through.” Dwalin concurred, surprising the former thief. “Mahal made them for one another.”

Nori snorted quietly, tipping his head in agreement. “That was disturbingly wise coming from you, Dwalin. Are you already drunk…?” He questioned, grinning crookedly and rolling his eyes – trying to lighten the mood.

“No, but I should be.” Dwalin groused, though he did manage to smile back. “To Thorin and Billa, and the wee one on the way. Let it have her looks, her personality and absolutely nothing of Thorin’s!” He proposed, raising his mug in a toast.

“Hear, hear!” Nori laughed, raising his own mug and knocking it against the other dwarf’s amicably. He could have worse company for his trip, and at least things were going well back home. Thorin was treating Billa well, according to both hers and his brothers’ letters, and his little sister was going to give him a niece or nephew after he had returned.

He hoped it was a niece.

Chapter Text

To begin with, very little changed for Billa.

Time passed, her sickness improved but did not leave entirely, and no one really treated her any differently. Apart from Thorin, of course, who had taken to stroking her flat abdomen and talking affectionately to their tiny child.

But then she started to show. And show she did.

By twelve weeks, her bump was very noticeable. Thorin put it down to her slight frame and how thin she had been before the pregnancy, and told her that she must just be gaining weight better now. It couldn’t all be the baby. Billa didn’t know enough about pregnancies to know if he was right or not, but they were due a check-up with Oin anyway.

Which was why the brunette found herself outside of Thorin’s main meeting room late in the evening. They had arranged for Oin to come to their room a couple of hours after dinner, so that it wouldn’t conflict with Thorin’s kingly schedule, but the regal dwarf was running late.

And Billa was not allowed to start the appointment without him, because Thorin was adamant that he would be there for every single check-up. He wanted to know as much about the baby as possible.

Whilst that was incredibly sweet of him, it was also mildly annoying considering that he hadn’t actually turned up for their appointment.

The hobbit let herself into the meeting room, knowing that Thorin was only with Dain, and cleared her throat politely when neither of them noticed her presence immediately. “Excuse me… Sorry for interrupting.” She began, managing a small smile when the two dwarves turned towards her. She noticed the way Thorin’s gaze softened when he saw her, and the way his eyes flickered down to her rounded stomach. She was wearing a loose tunic with her favourite doeskin breeches underneath, for the sake of comfort and convenience. She knew Oin would need to examine her, and so there was no point in wearing anything fitted or difficult to take on and off. “But Thorin has… Another appointment. And he’s late.” She explained, clasping her hands together behind her back and staying by the door. She didn’t want to intrude – if the meeting was important they could always reschedule with Oin. It wasn’t like the baby was going anywhere. “If this is important, I can always reschedule for you…? I just wanted to check.” She offered, not wanting Dain to think that she was being rude.

Hobbits were almost never rude… Not intentionally, anyway.

Thorin blinked when he realised what she was talking about, sitting up a little straighter in his chair. “No, no, we’re very almost done… I got distracted and forgot to keep an eye on the time, forgive me amrâlimê.” He answered, beginning to roll up the scroll closest to him. “I am sorry, Dain. I should have told you that I had places to be, I do not mean to cut things short… Perhaps we can speak again tomorrow?”

“It's no problem, no problem at all! Sorry lass, I didn't mean to keep him.” Dain dismissed, flashing a wide smile at their resident hobbit. He looked her over for a moment, and a small crease formed between his brows. His smile faltered as he regarded her uncertainly and Billa stared back at him, worried about the look on his face. She glanced down herself, realising what he was looking at even before he spoke up again. “Lass... Are you pregnant? You're looking very round.” He asked bluntly, glancing between her and Thorin with an eyebrow raised.

“Oh, uhh...” Billa said ineloquently, feeling her face heat up even as she turned to look at Thorin helplessly. The dark haired dwarf shrugged, his own gaze fixed on his cousin. “...yes, actually.” She confessed, knowing there was no harm in telling him. She was surprised he hadn’t found out sooner, really.

That being said, he wasn’t particularly close to anyone in the company and the only time he ever saw Billa was at dinner – when she was sat behind a table, and her bump was not visible.

They should have told him, really. What if he was mad…?

“Thorin, you old scoundrel! You never said!” Dain roared, reaching out to slap the regal dwarf hard on the back. “Why didn’t you say…?!” He bellowed, looking thrilled for them both.

Billa wasn’t sure why she ever thought that anyone could be mad at her for being pregnant, since no one ever was. Not even Dori.

She just always seemed to expect the worst.

“Would you believe that I simply forgot...?” Thorin grunted, sounding winded by the smack. He looked back towards Billa, offering her a relieved smile and holding a hand out to her.

She padded over happily enough, taking the offered hand and entwining their fingers affectionately.

Dain snorted, rolling his eyes and grinning toothily. “Aye, I would. Just like you to leave out your poor cousin!” He allowed, standing and brushing himself off. He pulled Billa into a bone-crushing hug without any warning, squeezing her tightly in his grip. “I never thought I'd see the day...! I'm so happy for you, both of you... Didn't I say things would work out, Thorin? I did!” He roared, nearly deafening the hobbit with his exuberant shouting. “I knew you two were meant to be... Always said it, didn't I? Knew that sickness lark wouldn't stop you. Knew you were stronger than that... And you didn’t waste any time! How far along are you? Five months? Six?” He guessed, stepping back so that he was holding the small lady at arm’s length. He looked her over once more, his expression fond as he took in the curve of her pregnancy-bump. “I remember when my One was pregnant… Those were happy days.” He sighed, patting her strongly on the shoulder.

“Three months, actually...” Billa shared, breathless after the unexpected hug. Dain did not do anything by halves, and he certainly didn’t hold back his enthusiasm.

Billa found she quite liked that about him. It reminded her a little of Kili.

Three??? But you're so big! No offence meant, of course.” The ginger dwarf huffed, tilting his head in consideration. “I’m not sayin’ you’re fat or anything.”

Thorin stood, prying Billa away from his cousin and wrapping an arm around her waist. “Hobbits have shorter pregnancies and slighter frames - her bump just looks larger compared to what a female dwarf at her stage might have.” He explained, smoothing his palm across her middle. “By hobbit standards she’s about a third of the way through her pregnancy… Right?” He informed the large dwarf, looking to Billa again for confirmation.

The hobbit nodded, running her own hand along the swell of her stomach. “About that.” She said in agreement, licking her bottom lip and smiling at them both. “Hobbits are only pregnant for about nine months, or three seasons.” She explained when Dain looked confused, his bushy ginger eyebrows drawn together.

“Nine months… My Oda would have much preferred that to the fifteen months she carried our Thorin! You should have heard her complain those last few months, bless her heart. I don’t know how you lady-folk do it.” Dain chortled, moving back around the table and beginning to pack away the papers that he and Thorin had been working on.

“Your boy is called Thorin…?” Billa checked, surprised. She hadn’t known that – and she really should have, considering how long Dain had been in the mountain already. Then again, Billa could count on one hand how many times she had spoken to the loud dwarf. They didn’t run in the same circles.

Dain seemed to grow in size, standing up straighter and prouder at the mention of his only child. “That he is! Strapping young lad, he is. Named after your Thorin, as opposed to Thorin the first. It’s a good, strong name of the line of Durin… But the first Thorin was a fool. He abandoned Erebor, the greatest of all the dwarven kingdoms!” He huffed, shaking his head disapprovingly at the mention of the former king.

Billa blinked stupidly, feeling like a complete fool. She hadn’t even realised that Thorin was the second of his name… She knew far too little about dwarven history, for someone who was supposed to be queen someday.

“Well, I suppose I should let you two leave! I’m making you even later for that appointment.” The lord of the Iron Hills noted, tucking the papers he needed under his arm and offering them both a toothy smile. “Now, don’t be strangers – either of you! We should all have dinner some time. I feel as though I barely know you, Billa, and you are family! It’s shameful. I’ve been a terrible cousin.” He persisted, raising his free hand to stroke the white stripe in his beard. “Simply unacceptable… Do let me know when you are free! I make a half-decent soup.”

Thorin snorted softly, reaching out to shove his cousin’s shoulder playfully. “Unless your culinary skills have improved since the last time you cooked for me, cousin, I wouldn’t even call your soup passable!” He teased, keeping one arm wrapped snugly around his intended.

“Were there not a lady in my way, I might have to lump you for that!” Dain roared, eyes crinkling at the corners in the same way that Thorin’s did when he was amused. “Off with you, before I decide to teach an old dwarf a lesson.”

Thorin made an outraged sound, though he was smiling just as widely. “Old…?! I am only twenty-one years your senior!” He exclaimed, narrowing his eyes at the shorter dwarf.

“Aye, and don’t you forget it!” Dain practically purred, winking briefly at Billa and making her roll her eyes.

Dwarves.

Billa wrapped an arm around Thorin’s waist, giving him a little squeeze and looking back towards the door. “Come now… We have places to be, as much as I would love to stand here and listen to the two of you squabble all night.” She reminded her future husband, though her mouth did curl up into a fond smile. It was nice to see such a friendly exchange between the two of them – it showed that Thorin and Dain were still family above all else, even if they did each have a kingdom on their shoulders. Thorin could have worse allies, that was for sure.

They would always be able to rely on Dain.

Once they had bid farewell to the ginger dwarf one final time, Billa and Thorin left to meet Oin back at their rooms. She suspected that Oin wouldn’t be especially pleased at having to wait for so long, but there was naught they could do about that except apologise.

“I had wondered, who is ruling the Iron Hills in Dain’s stead…? I assume his son is too young?” Billa inquired as they walked arm in arm, their sides brushing as they walked.

“Oda.” Thorin answered without hesitation, smiling down at his One. “She is a very formidable dwarf, and a good Queen. Dain’s people have no trouble obeying her in his absence.”

“I do not envy her… I cannot imagine trying to run Erebor for any period of time. I couldn’t keep this mountain in one piece whilst you spent several months aiding another kingdom, as Dain is currently doing.” Billa murmured, frowning at the thought. She didn’t doubt that Oda was capable if Thorin said she was, but Billa wouldn’t want to do it herself. She could barely get the company to listen to her sometimes, let alone an entire kingdom.

Thorin smiled warmly at her, leaning down to kiss the top of her head. “I think that you could.” He defended, smiling wider when she paused to stare at him. “But do not fret, Billa. I would not leave you to rule alone until I thought you were ready. If ever I did have to leave, I would make sure that you had Balin and Kili to aid you. Fili would likely have to come with me, of course, but you would not be alone.”

“Kili? That’s hardly comforting.” She joked, only teasing. She knew as well as Thorin did that Kili had all the makings of a fine ruler – even if he could be a little excitable and immature.

Being immature and excitable did not stop Dain from ruling his people.

The king chuckled lowly, shrugging one shoulder and glancing around as they entered the royal wing. Oin was sat on the floor by their door, reading a heavy looking tome in his lap. The elderly dwarf noticed them immediately, narrowing his eyes in displeasure at the two of them as he snapped his book shut.

“Awfully good of you to join me.” He quipped irritably, planting one hand on the stone wall to ease himself up onto his feet.

Thorin frowned, looking abashed. “I am sorry, Oin. I got caught up with Dain, and Billa had to come find me. I did not mean to keep you waiting.” He appealed, raising both hands in a gesture of surrender.

Oin scowled, though the angry lines around his eyes did seem to soften minutely. “Hmph. If I had any other patients I would not have waited, but as it happens I have nowhere better to be.” He huffed, brushing himself off and shifting the book under his arm. “Now, shall we go inside before I die of old age?” He suggested, gesturing to the door ahead of them.

Billa bound over to unlock the door, opening it and stepping aside to let Oin in first. “Thorin, could you put the kettle on, please…?” She requested as she followed their physician to the seated area in front of the fire.

Their rooms had gained a good few plush pillows and throw blankets since Billa had moved in. It looked more like the inside of a smial than a king’s quarters, and that suited them both just fine.

“Of course. Will you be partaking in a cup of tea, Oin…?” Thorin asked as he walked past the two of them to the kitchen, picking up the kettle and filling it from the tap.

“Aye. May as well get a cup of tea and some biscuits from you for my troubles.” Oin agreed, putting his book down on the table. “Now, Billa, how have you been feeling…? The last time I saw you, you said your sickness had been improving.” He averred, clasping his hands together in his lap and offering her a world-worn smile.

“It’s gotten much better.” Billa confirmed, sitting cross-legged in her favourite chair and smiling back at the weary old dwarf. “I don’t even get sick every day anymore – and when I do get sick, it is nowhere near as severe. I rarely throw up; I just feel nauseated. Even then all it takes is a cup of tea and a sit-down to make me feel better.” She relayed, curling her arms around her middle and glancing towards the kitchen when she heard the familiar clatter of Thorin preparing their tea.

Oin nodded, withdrawing a notepad from the inside pocket of his tunic and beginning to make some notes in pencil. “Good to hear, good to hear… Most pregnant ladies find that the sickness abates after a few months, but others have to endure more chronic sickness. Some are sick throughout their entire pregnancy, so you are lucky.” He murmured, raising his eyes to give her a quick look over.

“Dís suffered terribly through her pregnancy with Kili.” Thorin said as he entered the room, carrying a tray laden with tea and a kind of ginger-oat biscuit that Bombur had taken to making for Billa. “She was sick for the first seven or eight months of carrying him. With Fili she was only sick for four or five months, and it was much milder.”

“Aye, I remember that. Made her very difficult to be around, she was always in such a foul mood!” Oin recalled, grinning as he raised a hand to fiddle idly with his beard.

“I can’t say I blame her – I expect I would be in a frightful mood too if my pregnancy sickness was that bad.” Billa defended, shuddering at the thought. She could barely wrap her head around the idea of being pregnant for fifteen months, but it didn’t look like her pregnancy would last that long. Dwarven pregnancies progressed very slowly, and Thorin had already told her in private that a dwarven lady would not be showing so much at just three months pregnant. Or at all, really. She had in turn assured him that most hobbits began to show between three and four months, depending on how curvy they were to begin with and how many children they had already had. She still thought that she was a little bigger than normal, however. She couldn’t recall Bell Gamgee ever looking so big so early – but she was a naturally round young hobbit. Bell had never been as slight as Billa.

Oin tipped his head in acknowledgement, standing and padding over to stand in front of Billa. “I suppose you’re right. Now, can I get a look at this bump of yours…?” He asked, folding his arms across his chest and waiting for her cooperation.

“Yes, of course… Should I stand, or…?” Billa asked, sitting up straight in her chair and glancing over at Thorin where he had taken the seat opposite.

“If you could lie down just there, that would be great.” The physician requested, gesturing to the sofa that he had just vacated. He watched as Billa nodded, moving seats and stretching out across the plush piece of furniture.

Thorin reached over to tuck a pillow under her head for her, earning a grateful smile from the hobbit. “What are you looking for today…?” He asked as Oin knelt beside the sofa, watching closely.

“I am just checking that everything is normal. Because her pregnancy seems to be progressing faster than I am used to, I need to be careful. I am used to treating pregnant dwarves, and at this stage they would not even be showing any kind of bump. The baby would still be too small for that. But, I know what a healthy pregnancy looks and feels like, even if the timescale is a little faster than I am used to.” Oin imparted, rolling up the bottom of Billa’s tunic to expose her bare skin.

If it had been anyone else Billa might have shied away, as she despised being so exposed, but Oin was a physician and the only dwarf in the mountain capable of monitoring her pregnancy. Not to mention she preferred having a physician she knew, as opposed to some strange healer that she wasn’t familiar with.

Thorin nodded his understanding, moving closer to the sofa and placing a soothing hand on Billa’s shoulder. “Is there nothing in the library about hobbits that we could consult…?” He wondered, looking from Oin to Billa and back.

Billa shook her head before Oin could answer, raising a hand to place it over Thorin’s. “I’m afraid not, sweetheart. Ori and I checked – there’s a reason that none of you knew anything about hobbits before you met me. I couldn’t even find any mention of hobbits in your literature.” She disclosed, running her fingers along his knuckles. She knew he worried about her, even if he didn’t like to say so out loud. “I wish I had paid more attention when my friend Bell was pregnant, back in the Shire, but I never expected to be a mother myself. And even if I had paid attention, I wouldn’t know anything that a healer or a physician needs to.”

“It’s fine. If worse comes to worse, we can write to Rivendell. They know hobbits, right?” Oin dismissed, rubbing his hands together to warm them before beginning to feel around the bottom of her bump.

“Yes, they do. Whenever a hobbit was too sick or too injured for our own healers to deal with, we called for an elven healer from Rivendell. Of all the other species in Middle-Earth, the elves of Rivendell know hobbits the best.” She exposed, resisting the urge to squirm as Oin examined her. She’d had a lot of people touching her bump since she had revealed that she was pregnant, but usually they only gave her a little pat or rested their hand on it very briefly. They didn’t press in the way Oin did. “Though I am not sure how many pregnancies the elven healers have been called for. Our own healers and nursemaids are more than good enough to deal with most pregnancies – though I do seem to recall a healer coming from Rivendell to see a hobbit who was three and a half weeks overdue once. They used magic to induce the labour, because the hobbit in question had long since passed her due-date and showed no sign of delivering the baby unaided.”

Inducing labour…? Mahal, elves will never fail to surprise me. If the baby does not want to come out, you leave it where it is.” The half-deaf dwarf huffed, shaking his head in clear bemusement. “There is often a reason why the wee-one is staying put!” He declared, like it was crazy of the elves to intervene. Billa wasn’t so sure. She had only been a child at the time, but the hobbit in question had been a friend of her mother’s. The faunt was perfectly healthy when it was delivered, regardless of the labour being brought on by magic. And that same faunt now had a faunt of his own, she’d heard.

Oin spent another couple of minutes probing her bump and the area around it before he stood, pulling out his notepad once more. “Everything seems to be in order… I only wanted to ask if you are sure of how long you have been pregnant. You are very large, after all. I know I said I thought you were a month pregnant when I diagnosed you, but I may not have taken into account that you are a hobbit, rather than a dwarf.” He exacted, writing something down in the notepad.

“It can only have been three months.” Billa informed him, smoothing her tunic back down and sitting up. Thorin moved to sit beside her, lacing their fingers together between them.

“You’re absolutely sure…?” The older dwarf pressed, looking sceptical when he glanced up from his writing.

Billa glanced to Thorin for help, not sure how to explain. They had only been intimate for the first time roughly three months before, so it wasn’t possible that she could have been pregnant for longer. But how did she say that to Oin…? It was embarrassing, having to share such a personal detail of their lives with the wizened old physician. What happened in their rooms when they were alone should stay between them.

“Yes... It has been around three months since our first time, so the baby cannot be older than that.” Thorin justified, giving Billa’s hand a squeeze and shrugging when she shot him a slightly appalled look.

How could he be so blunt about it? Her cheeks were burning just from the thought of telling Oin!

Oin blinked hard, closing the notepad and looking away pointedly. “Ah, well, I would say I didn’t need to know that, but I did ask…” He grumbled, wrinkling his nose in distaste. “In that case, I would guess that the size of your belly is just a result of your small frame. You do not wear many layers, nor are you as broad or strong-set as a dwarf. I see no need to worry about your size, regardless. You seem to be in perfectly good health.” He pushed on, thankfully not lingering on what Thorin had said.

“Could some of it not be her gaining weight…? Her appetite has improved lately, perhaps she is just putting on the weight she lost on our quest?” The king offered in explanation, watching as Billa leaned forward to take a cup of tea and began adding sugar to it.

Oin made an uncertain noise in his throat, shaking his head as he took the armchair that Thorin had recently vacated. “I would have thought that, if the swell of her stomach wasn’t so firm. If any of it was her own weight, the area would be softer. There would be some padding. She is still a healthy weight, however.” He responded, tucking the notepad away once more. “So, as I said, there is nothing to worry about. We need to stop comparing her size to that of a dwarf, since she is not a dwarf. I think that her stomach only looks so obvious because she has less body-mass and clothing to hide it under.” He revealed, picking up one of the unclaimed cups of tea and a biscuit. “We will keep an eye on it of course, but I see no cause for concern just yet. Billa knows to tell me if there are any unexpected developments, and in the meantime I will try to work out how this pregnancy can be expected to progress. Billa is pregnant for six months less than a dwarf, so I need to figure out when she will hit the usual milestones. When I will be able to hear a heartbeat, when the baby might begin to move…” He disclosed, biting into the biscuit and pulling a slight face. “…do you put ginger in everything now?” He asked, sounding vaguely amused.

“I like the taste, and Bombur has made these biscuits for me because they are easy on my stomach. I thought it was very considerate of him, but he is a parent himself so I shouldn’t be surprised.” Billa defended, picking up one of the biscuits for herself and breaking a piece off between her fingers. “As for pregnancy milestones… I do wish I could be of more use. I would write to my friend Bell, since she has had a good few children, but hobbits don’t communicate with ravens and I know for a fact she would not know what to do with a raven if one turned up on her doorstep. She certainly wouldn’t think to check it for a letter.” She added, frowning softly as she popped the piece of biscuit into her mouth.

“Oh, don’t worry about that. I imagine the milestones are exactly the same, except they happen quicker for you than for us. I will figure out a rough timescale myself.” Oin assured her around a mouthful of biscuit, ignoring Billa’s disgruntled expression upon witnessing his lack of table-manners.

She wasn’t surprised, of course, but she was still a hobbit and she still found it terribly impolite. She had given up trying to make the dwarves listen to her, however. Thorin never spoke with his mouth full or ate with his mouth open, and that was enough for her. He had some manners, at least.

“Alright.” She accepted once she had finished her own mouthful, licking her lips and clearing her throat softly. “I am glad to hear that everything is going smoothly… I know my mother had a very difficult pregnancy – it was part of the reason I was an only child. Most families have at least two or three children, if not more. My friends Bell and Hamfast have five children so far.” She exposed, putting her biscuit down on her saucer so that she could pick up her cup and take a sip of her drink.

So far?! Mahal, and I thought Bombur had a lot of children.” The elderly physician breathed, shaking his head to himself. Bombur was fortunate enough to have three children, and that was a lot for a dwarf. Three was a blessing. Most dwarves didn’t have any children, and those that did often only had one or two. Because that was all they could have. It took one strong lady to have more than that!

“I don’t know if they intend to have any more, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. My mother was one of twelve children. That is a large family, by our standards, but not unheard of.” Billa explained further, putting her drink down and shrugging one shoulder awkwardly. It was strange, thinking about how different their races were. Until she had met the company, she hadn’t even seen having so many children as a privilege. She had used to feel quite sorry for her grandmother for having to go through so many pregnancies, but now that she was pregnant… She could understand why her grandmother had done it so many times.

Billa didn’t think she would ever love something as much as she loved the life growing inside of her, and it had only been three months.

Thorin stared at her with his mouth agape, astounded. “Your grandparents had twelve children…? Mahal! My mother had three children, but she paid dearly for it. That your kind can have so many young… It’s astounding. It really is no wonder that you fell pregnant so easily.” He breathed, raising a hand to rub at the back of his neck.

“Yes, well, unfortunately my mother had some issues when it came to having children of her own so there is no guarantee that I will be able to have as many faunts as my grandmother did.” Billa clarified, not wanting Thorin to think that she could have twelve children. Maybe she could, she didn’t know, but it wasn’t a sure thing. She might only be able to have one babe, like Belladonna.

Thorin curled an arm around Billa’s middle, tucking her into his side and turning his head to kiss her hair. “Billa, I would be happy even if you only gave me the one child. Just one babe is a blessing, and I will forever be grateful to you for giving me the chance to be a father. I don’t care if we have one babe or a hundred, I will love our family no matter what.” He insisted earnestly, offering her a blinding smile when she turned to face him on the sofa.

She could feel her face heat up with a blush at his conviction, flattered and more than a little moved. “Well… Good. I’m… I’m glad to hear that.” She murmured softly, abashed.

“You say your mother had issues…” Oin piped up, sounding thoughtful. “…is that something you think we need to worry about?” He asked, wondering if whatever had ailed her mother could be hereditary. If that was the case, he would need to know about it.

“I honestly don’t know.” She confessed, turning her attention back to Oin and exhaling quietly when Thorin gave her a gentle squeeze. “She didn’t like to talk about it, so I don’t know a great deal. I only found out that she had issues because my father told me so. I had been asking why I didn’t have siblings, like the other children, so he took me aside and asked me to please drop the matter. He said that my mother struggled to carry me, and that she couldn’t go through it again. He said it made her sad, so he would appreciate it if I stopped bringing it up. I obeyed, of course. I never meant to make her sad, I was just curious.” She said, thinking back to how serious her father’s face had been during that discussion. Serious and sad. It made her wonder what had been wrong, but there was no one to ask anymore. Not unless any of her mother’s family knew, but she was hardly going to write to the Shire after being out of touch for so long.

Dear Grandfather, sorry for disappearing without telling you or without saying goodbye. I am just writing to ask why my mother only had one child, because I am incredibly nosey. Oh, and I’m pregnant. Sincerely yours, Billa. P.S. Hope you aren’t too mad at me!

She would rather avoid that confrontation, even if it did make her a coward.

“Then I suppose we shall just have to be vigilant.” Oin accepted, looking thankfully unbothered by her lack of knowledge. He ate another biscuit before speaking again, his beard flecked with crumbs. “How are the others treating you…? I heard you had a small confrontation with Dori the other day.” He asked, changing the subject with a slight smile.

Billa groaned at the question, puffing herself up indignantly. “My brother seems to think that I am incapable of carrying my own basket around the market! Can you imagine??? I thought it might be nice shopping with him, but he was such a chore! He wouldn’t let me carry anything myself, and he practically growled at anyone who got too close to me. He is being completely ridiculous.” She huffed, folding her arms across her chest and scowling fiercely – or as fiercely as she could, being so small and so round-faced.

Oin snorted in amusement, smiling wider and shaking his head slowly. “I heard you screamed at him, in the middle of the market.” He told her, laughing when she nodded proudly.

She wasn’t ashamed. She tried to be polite as often as possible, but sometimes the dwarves needed a good ear-chewing. Being polite never got through to them. “I did, and I’d do it again. I took my basket back, gave him a good telling off and left! Serves him right, he has no right to be so overbearing. I am pregnant, I am not an invalid.” She protested, narrowing her eyes slightly at Thorin when she noticed how quiet he was being on the matter. There was no doubt in her mind that her intended agreed with Dori – especially when he looked away pointedly to avoid her gaze. “I am not even pregnant enough to warrant this kind of behaviour. I can still carry heavy-loads, right Oin? Not that my shopping basket is heavy anyway.” She continued, rounding on Oin – trying to make a point.

The elderly physician looked deeply amused, despite how uncomfortable the conversation was making Thorin. “Aye, lass. You’re safe to continue moving around as normal for at least a couple more months – even with your pregnancy progressing so quickly.” He accepted, trying not to grin when Thorin huffed and frowned at him. “Being a little more careful might not hurt, but you are more than capable of carrying a shopping basket – that’s for sure.”

See, Thorin? I can shop just fine. You can stop worrying about my trips to the market now! I will be going to the market again tomorrow, but I think I am going to ask Fili to accompany me this time. He won’t try to mother me, and I do like having someone to talk to whilst I shop.” She reasoned, nudging Thorin gently in the ribs.

“I will worry no matter what Oin says, amrâlimê. It is not that I think that you are incapable, I just worry. All it takes is one inconsiderate dwarf to not look where he’s going and push you over hard enough to hurt you or our babe…” Thorin defended, taking one of her hands in his own and raising it to his mouth so that he could kiss her palm. “If you fell and landed on your stomach, on Erebor’s hard stone floors…”

“…it wouldn’t be great.” Oin finished truthfully, shrugging when Billa sent a scowl his way.

“I’ll be fine. Mahal, you dwarves do like to fuss!” Billa averred, withdrawing her hand from Thorin’s lips but giving him a gentle pat on the cheek in response to the kiss. “I’m not made of glass. Unless someone pushes me from a height, or down a set of stairs, I’m sure there won’t be a problem. We’ve been living in the mountain for more than four months now, right? No one’s tried to hurt me yet, and I’m sure that won’t change.” She persisted, groaning when Oin and Thorin exchanged a look. “Mahal save me from the stubbornness of dwarves.” She muttered to herself, picking up her unfinished biscuit and settling back into the plush sofa.

She had already had this argument with Thorin. A couple of weeks before he had asked her if he could assign her a bodyguard, some stranger, for the sake of her safety! Like she was in some kind of danger, just because she was pregnant! He could be just as ridiculous and overbearing as her brother at times. She wore her mithril, she wore her garter sheath, and sometimes she wore Sting at her hip too. She couldn’t be any safer if she tried, she wasn’t going to let some stranger tail her! It wasn’t necessary. She barely ever did anything alone anyway; she was a very social creature. She was always with a member of the company, no matter what she was going.

Unfortunately for her, the very next day, she discovered that Fili and Kili were no better than their uncle.

The two of them had been walking her to the forges to work on a bead for Thorin, since they had finally found a day that all three of them were free, when another dwarf accidentally bumped Billa’s shoulder as he passed.

Hey!” Kili barked, moving to face the dwarf and squaring his shoulders threateningly. Billa frowned softly, stopping to turn and watch the youngest Durin. She raised one hand to gently rub the shoulder that the stranger had bumped into, since it had hurt a little, glancing at Fili with a question in her eyes. Fili looked less than impressed, staring past her and shaking his head when he felt her eyes on him.

The dwarf in question, one of Dain’s dwarves that Billa had never seen before, paused when he heard Kili shout at him. He puffed himself up, looking irritated at being called out. “What?” He snapped back, folding his arms across his chest.

“Watch where you’re going, troll-spawn!” The young prince spat, putting a hand on the hilt of his blade. “Khagun menu reliku pembu rukhas!” He growled, and whatever he had said was enough to make the other dwarf recoil. The Iron Hills dwarf took a threatening step forward, and that just wouldn’t do!

Billa stepped up next to Kili, tugging on his arm hard enough to make him turn back towards her. “Kili!” She admonished loudly, looking very cross. She saw the other dwarf do a double-take at hearing Kili’s name, eyes flickering between her face and the prince’s face before he dipped his head respectfully.

“Apologies.” He muttered gruffly before all-but fleeing the scene, his face flushed red under his wiry black beard. Clearly he hadn’t realised who Billa and the others were, but she wasn’t going to let Kili off of the hook just because the stranger had left.

What did you just say?” She demanded, pulling on Kili’s sleeve again when he avoided her gaze.

Kili made an indistinct noise in his throat, raising his other hand to scratch at his head and looking cowed. “Uhh…”

“He told him that his mother procreates with orcs. Or more specifically, that she populated a whole orc village.” Fili explained with a slightly smug smile, which only got bigger when Kili made a distressed noise and tried to swat at the blond. Fili stepped back easily, even with the walking stick he now had to use.

His knee had completely healed, but it got stiff sometimes and he had to carry around a cane to use when moving on it became too cumbersome. He must have been having a bad day, since he was using it already and it wasn’t even lunch time yet.

Fili!” Kili spluttered, cringing when Billa made an obviously angry noise.

Kili! Is that kind of language necessary?! What would your mother say?” The hobbit scolded, planting her hands on her hips and tapping one large foot in agitation. She was the perfect picture of a disapproving mother – even if Kili wasn’t her dwarfling.

The young prince seemed to deflate a little, scowling down at his feet and going red in embarrassment. “He could have hurt you, or the baby!” He tried to argue, though it was obvious from his tone of voice that he knew that reasoning would not work on Billa. “It wouldn’t kill him to watch his step.” He mumbled, casting a look down the hall in the direction that the other dwarf had fled.

Regardless, you shouldn’t have been so rude! It was an accident! What kind of impression does it give off if you’re walking around Erebor swearing at strangers? I know your mother raised you better than that!” Billa reprimanded, not about to let him get away with being rude on her behalf. She could take care of herself, thank you very much! She didn’t need anyone else fighting her battles, she had said as much to Thorin and Oin the night before.

“But- Fili-”

“Don’t look at me. You dug your grave, lay in it. You know she’s right, mother would be furious.” Fili chuckled, looking immensely amused by the situation. Billa shot him a disapproving look that went ignored, not approving of him mocking his sibling – even if Kili was in the wrong. There was no point in making a bad situation worse.

“…please don’t tell uncle Thorin. If you tell uncle Thorin, he’ll tell our mother and I… I value my life. I want to keep my blood inside my body.” Kili pleaded, scuffing his boot along the floor unhappily.

“I won’t tell him if you promise to never do that ever again.” The brunette bartered, raising one hand to grab his chin and force him to look down at her. “I understand that you all worry about me, but I can handle myself. That dwarf bumped into me accidentally. If he had done it on purpose I wouldn’t mind you getting annoyed, I’d be annoyed too, but you can’t penalise everyone who accidentally touches me! That’s hardly fair.” She disseminated, staring hard at the brown-haired dwarf.

Kili sighed quietly, bobbing his head in a reluctant nod. “…alright.”

Billa’s expression brightened immediately and she smiled, releasing the young dwarf’s face. “Alright then. Now that’s settled, shall we continue to the forges…? That bead isn’t going to make itself!” She chirped, prepared to act like nothing had happened – so long as Kili behaved himself.

“You’re right, that’s why you need us.” Fili quipped, giving Billa’s shoulder a gentle shove and sniggering when she swatted him back.

“Oh, shush. You agreed to help.”

-

Thorin almost always woke first in the mornings, as a king’s working day began long before a librarian’s did. Not to mention Billa needed more sleep than him to keep up her strength. He imagined carrying a growing child drained a great deal of your energy – and he had witnessed as much himself. Billa might not have been even half way through their pregnancy, but she did seem to grow quite fatigued in the evenings.

Sometimes she even grew fatigued during the day and had to have a nap after lunch, though that usually only happened if she pushed herself too hard in the library.

That morning, however, he wished he hadn’t woken up so early. An unexpected letter from his sister had his stomach tied up in knots.

‘To my darling brother, who I am not at all angry with,

I cannot believe that we have been back in contact for almost four months and you have failed to mention that you are in a committed relationship. Do you not trust me with this information? I had thought we were closer than that! That you would not tell me that you have found your One, or that you have gotten her pregnant, is a grave insult indeed! I should not have had to hear this news from my sons – who, by the way, will also be getting a good ear-chewing for only mentioning it now. I hear that she is a hobbit. Really, Thorin, a hobbit? I have met hobbits before. They are small, fussy, gentle creatures who rarely wander further than the closest human settlement. I would never have thought that kind of lady would appeal to you! That being said, I wasn’t ever sure that any kind of lady would appeal to you. You always have been an odd one, you never wanted to pursue a relationship here in the Blue Mountains… Though I suppose that could just be because you hadn’t found your One. And now you have. Supposedly. Can someone who isn’t a dwarf even be a dwarf’s One? I suppose it doesn’t matter. That is Mahal’s business, not ours, and I will trust your judgement; I know you are not one easily fooled. But, I still know barely anything about her. Fili and Kili tell me she is very young – how young? What does she look like…? Is she able to give you a good ear-chewing when you are being unreasonable? I hope so. My sons seem very fond of her, from what I could gather. That, at least, is something.

Anger aside, I am happy for you brother. I hope she brings you a great deal of joy, because you deserve it. I just wish you had told me, so that I wasn’t surprised when Fili mentioned her in passing in his letter. I wrote back immediately to ask who this ‘Billa’ was, but he seemed less eager to explain once questioned. I think he realised that he had gotten you in trouble. How long has she been pregnant…? How long have you known her? And most importantly – how long have you all been hiding this from me?

You wound me, Thorin, truly you do. I expect answers.

Your loving and only slightly seething sister,

Dís’

Thorin sighed deeply as he finished reading, raising one hand to rub hard at his face. He was a fool for not mentioning Billa to her sooner – but he had never known how to bring it up. He had wanted to, truly he had, but he had no way with words. He didn’t know how to explain what they had.

The eldest Durin glanced over his shoulder to where Billa was still asleep in their bed, her face slack and her soft pink lips parted as she breathed deeply. His eyes raked over her shamelessly, pausing briefly on her rounded stomach where he could make it out through the blankets. He smiled slightly at the sight before returning his gaze to the scroll in his hand, wondering what on earth he could send back to his sibling. Dís was not Dain – a simple ‘it slipped my mind’ wound not suffice. And she was very obviously furious with him.

So much for Fili and Kili staying quiet, he thought. Thorin had tried so hard to keep the news from his sister whilst he figured out how to tell her, but it had all been for naught. Now she knew he had lied to her, and she had every right to be angry about that.

He supposed he would have to start from the beginning. He would explain how he had met Billa, and how he had come to fall in love with her. He would tell her how brave and loyal and infuriatingly stubborn Billa was… He would make Dís understand how he felt, and hopefully that would stop her from killing him when she finally made it to Erebor in the summer.

In the very least, it might stop her from taking out her anger on Billa. Thorin would hate for Dís to arrive in the coming months and treat Billa unfairly for something that wasn’t Billa’s fault. She didn’t know that Thorin hadn’t told Dís about her. She would probably be mad if she knew. Rightfully so, of course, since hiding their relationship made it seem as though Thorin had something to be ashamed of.

He wasn’t ashamed of Billa – he was just scared of his sister.

To my loving and rightfully seething sister,

I would like to start this letter by saying that you have every right to be angry at me. I am sorry for hiding Billa from you, I merely feared that you would disapprove. You want answers, and I shall give them to you.

When I began our quest for Erebor, so many months ago, Gandalf told me that I would need a burglar for our mission to succeed. He argued that we would need someone quiet and light on their feet to retrieve the Arkenstone from under Smaug’s nose, since it seemed unlikely that we could kill the beast ourselves. We were few in number, so I could not deny the wizard’s logic. Stealing the Arkenstone back and using it to prove my worth to the other dwarf-lords seemed like a sound idea. Once that was done I could call on the other dwarves for aid, and send an army after that wretched drake. Gandalf asked me if he could pick the burglar in question, since he knew someone that he said would be perfect for the job. I agreed, without knowing what I was signing up for, because I am not very bright. Gandalf wanted to hire a hobbit. A hobbit. You can imagine my surprise, sister, when he told me this. But, he was a notoriously wise old fool, and I gave him the benefit of the doubt. It was a good thing I did, too. Without him I would never have met the love of my life.

My first impression of Billa was exactly what you would expect. Small, fussy, gentle… But incredibly beautiful. At first I was stupid and shallow, and I assumed she was a child due to her youthful appearance. I told Gandalf that I would not take responsibility for a child on my quest – I did not want to drag someone so young into all of those dangers! Not to mention I didn’t think she was capable of fighting or fending for herself when I first met her, which I cannot be blamed for. She had never even wielded a sword before, and initially she was adamant that she would not join us. She had never even heard of Erebor, and the mere thought of dying on our quest caused her to faint! She did not strike me as the brave sort. I should not have been so quick to judge her.

I will not lie to you; I was terribly unkind to her at the beginning of the quest – even after she pledged her services to me. I thought her fickle and incapable, and I treated her uncharitably as a result. How she managed to overlook this is still a mystery to this day, but she did. I will not regale you with every detail of our travels, for that would make an absurdly long letter. I will, however, tell you that Billa is the strongest, bravest, most loyal creature that I have ever met. Many people say that they cannot remember exactly when they fell in love with someone, for it happens so subtly, but that is not the case for me. I fell in love with Billa in a dark, dingy cave in the Misty Mountains.

We had just survived a rather frightening encounter with a collection of Stone Giants, and I had almost died saving her after she fell from the edge of the cliff. In my anger and fear I acted cruelly towards her, and that night she decided to leave us because of this. Bofur tried to stop her, since he had grown very close to her on the quest, but she told him that she would rather die than put any one of us at risk again. I believe her exact words were – ‘what would be the point in reclaiming Erebor if its king was lost saving some stupid little hobbit girl? I’d rather be eaten alive by wargs on the way home than have one of you put in danger trying to protect me’. She thought I was asleep, so she was unaware that I was listening, but she said it with such conviction that I realised what a fool I had been. I had been shunning her, acting as though she would never be one of us when she was actually the most loyal and the most dedicated of us all. She was prepared to sacrifice her life, without any of us knowing, so that I would never put myself at risk saving her again. That was when I fell in love with her.

That same night she saved me from Azog the defiler. That gentle, beautiful hobbit – who had never killed a thing in her entire life – threw herself in front of the pale orc to save my life and she succeeded. After that she proceeded to save me from giant spiders, the elves of the Mirkwood, myself, and then Azog again. It was her actions that saw the pale orc killed at the end of the Battle of the Five Armies. Without her, I would not be here today. I would never have reclaimed Erebor – Mahal, I wouldn’t have even made it to Rivendell if she hadn’t saved the Company from a group of trolls at the very beginning of our journey. She is a wonder, and I cannot wait for you to meet her. I know that she is not a dwarf, and I know that she is not what you wanted for me, but I hope you like her.

In answer to your earlier questions, she is forty years old. By hobbit standards, that makes her around Fili’s age. I know that she is incredibly young, but I cannot find it within myself to care. I love her, and she loves me. Nothing can change that. As for her appearance, Billa has curly brown hair and large brown eyes. I could wax poetic about the way she looks, but you would only accuse me of having gone soft in the head, so I shall abstain. You can see her beauty for yourself when you arrive - or I can send a picture, if you wish. Young Ori has done many sketches of her in the past. And yes, she is capable of giving me a good ear-chewing. She often does. Just the other day she scolded me quite thoroughly for fussing over her, since she insists that she is perfectly capable of looking after herself – pregnant or not. I know she is capable, of course, I just worry. You know as well as anyone does that I can get quite fretful at times. She has been pregnant for just over three months now, and is getting rather large already. Apparently hobbits have much quicker pregnancies than dwarves, so we can expect our child in about six or seven months. I met her shortly after our quest began, when travelling through the Shire. It feels like a decade has passed since then, but I suspect it has been little more than a year. Last but not least, I have been actively hiding her from you ever since we began exchanging letters again. It was not my intent to ‘hide’ her, as I am not ashamed of her, but I was a fool. I was afraid, and I put off telling you for as long as possible. I am sorry.

I hope you can find it within your heart to forgive me, sister.

Your remorse-filled brother,

Thorin Oakenshield’

“What are you writing?” A tired voice asked from behind him, and Thorin turned to see his stunning intended climbing slowly from their bed. She was wearing one of his favourite sleep-shirts, one that showed off a generous portion of her collarbone, and rubbing her eyes muzzily. Thorin smiled warmly at the sight of her, putting his quill down before standing and walking to meet her.

“Just a letter, my love.” He answered honestly, wrapping both of his arms around her and drawing her into his chest. She made a distinctly pleased noise at the contact, pressing her face into his bare chest and sighing as she curled her arms around his middle. “Good morning, azyungel… How are you and our madtithbirzul on this fine morning…?” He inquired, pressing a kiss into her hair.

Billa raised her head, rising onto her toes to kiss him softly on the mouth. “We are a little hungry.” She answered with a bright smile, her eyes still heavy with sleep. “You are in an awfully good mood… What did I miss?” She asked, eyeing his face closely.

Thorin laughed quietly, drawing out of the embrace and taking one of her hands in his own. “Nothing, Billa. I was just thinking about how much I loved you.” He confessed, deciding that now was not the time to tell her about his sister’s letter. He had to feed his hobbit first, and then when she was a little more awake they could talk more in depth. “Now, shall we get some breakfast…? We still have some of that seeded bread that you like in the kitchen, shall I cook some eggs to eat with it?” He suggested, leading the way towards the kitchen with their hands still entwined between them.

Billa coloured noticeably at hearing him say what he was thinking about, blushing all the way to the tips of her pointed ears. Thorin wasn’t sure there was anything more beautiful in the world. “Oh…” She breathed, sounding pleased – and maybe a little confused. “…yes, that sounds good.” She murmured, raising her free hand to push her bedraggled hair out of her face.

Thorin wasn’t quite sure why he had been so worried about telling Dís. No one who met Billa could hate her, and he was sure that his sister would be no exception. She might be mad at first, but that wouldn’t last. It was like she had said in her letter – she was happy that Thorin had found someone.

She would be even happier when she met Billa and discovered how much of a delight she was, Thorin was sure of it.

Chapter Text

“What on EARTH were you thinking???” Billa demanded, her voice pitched high with anger. Thorin had only heard her raise her voice to him this way once before, and that had been when he was sick. Which meant that she must be really, really mad at him – and he couldn’t say he blamed her.

He only wished he hadn’t been such an idiot. Of course Dís was mad at him for hiding Billa, and of course Billa was mad too. He almost wished he hadn’t told Billa about the situation with his sister, but that wouldn’t have been fair. He shouldn’t lie to her; she was his One. She had every right to know, and every right to be furious.

She would have found out eventually, whether he told her or not, so it was better for Thorin to tell her himself. She’d be angrier if she found out from somebody else.

“You don't know my sister, Billa-” Thorin tried to reason, despite knowing that it would do him no good. He wanted to explain why he had tried to hide their relationship, but like with Dís he didn’t think his reasoning would matter all that much to Billa. The fact of the matter was that he had hidden her, no matter the reason.

“You're right, Thorin, I don't. But from what I hear, she is a very honourable dwarf - so why didn't you tell her? Are you ashamed?” Billa bit back, pacing up and down the length of their room with one hand repeatedly rubbing at her stomach.

Thorin’s eyes traced the movement, his expression full of concern. He shouldn’t have stressed her out, it probably wasn’t good for her or the baby. “No, of course not! But I was afraid that she would disapprove-” He argued, staying in place as she stalked up and down in front of him. He blinked in surprise when she cut across him again, unused to seeing her so agitated. She rarely interrupted people, she thought it was rude.

“So, you are ashamed! You are embarrassed that you settled for some silly little hobbit, and you decided to hide it from your sister!” She summarised, raising her free hand to rub at her face wearily. It was late, and she was already dressed in her sleep-clothes and dressing-gown. She was obviously very tired, but that didn’t mean that Thorin was going to get out of this without a good scolding.

Billa, that's not fair.” Thorin disputed immediately, hating to see her so upset. He wasn’t ashamed of her, and he didn’t think she was silly, she just didn’t understand his reasoning!

“You're right, it's not fair. It's not fair on Dís, and it's not fair on me. I wasn't aware that you had to hide me!” Billa agreed, pausing in her pacing to fix him with a frankly poisonous glare.

The king almost cringed at the sight, taking a cautious step back and watching as she resumed her fitful circuit of the room. “I am not ashamed of you, Billa, I just know that not everyone approves-” He asserted, trying his hardest to explain himself.  He deserved her wrath, he knew that, but he still didn’t want her to think that he was embarrassed to be with her. That wasn’t the case. Which was why he had to make her understand his reasoning.

Why is this the first I am hearing of this? Who doesn't approve? What are you keeping from me?! If your kingdom doesn't like me, I feel like I should know!” The tiny brunette caught on, stopping again to stare at him across the room.

Well, that might not have been the best thing to bring up at that moment in time. Proving once again that Thorin could not speak well under pressure.

“Billa, it does not matter to me if the kingdom does not approve, I still love you.” He reassured her, taking a step towards her and frowning when she immediately took a step back.

She looked so wounded, her big brown eyes glistening wetly despite the anger in her expression. “So it's true, then? They don't like me?” She pressed, sounding crushed.

Thorin could always trust himself to make a bad situation worse. This was why he needed people like Balin and Dís in his life. “It's not about them not liking you, Billa, it's about you being an outsider. As far as I know, they do not dislike you. They just think that I should be marrying the daughter of some dwarven noble.” He explained, deciding not to try and move towards her again. She was obviously keeping some distance between them on purpose, and he didn’t want to make her any more uncomfortable or stressed than she already was.

“They think I'm not good enough for you.” She realised, glancing down at the hand that she was using to rub soothing circles into the swell of her stomach.

The dwarven king exhaled slowly, raising a hand to push his hair out of his face. “In short, yes, but they are wrong.” He said honestly, knowing there was no way to backpedal now. He’d already put his foot in his mouth, it was hardly as though he could make the situation any worse.

“I can't believe this... Why did you never say?” Billa breathed, moving to lean against the closest wall and cradling her stomach with both arms.

“Because I knew it would upset you!” He replied, trying to smother the overpowering self-loathing he felt for himself at seeing Billa so distressed. There would be plenty of time to hate himself for opening his stupid mouth later, he had to calm his One down. In all honesty, it bothered Thorin a great deal that a lot of the dwarves in the mountain did not approve of Billa. Dain might like her, but he couldn’t stop his people from looking down on her. Dain was the only reason Thorin even knew that some people did not approve, since Nori was gone and Thorin no longer had anyone to tell him what was said behind his back.

But at the end of the day, Thorin intended to marry Billa whether the other dwarves approved or not. He didn’t even care if his own people from the Blue Mountains did not approve, because Billa was the love of his life. She was his One, and nothing would change that.

He had been a fool and he had tried to shield her from the issues that plagued his own mind, which was part of the reason that they were in this situation.

“And that means I shouldn't know??? What kind of logic is that?! I've been walking around, ruining your reputation, without even knowing! I could have been working on making them like me, if only I had known.” Billa choked, shaking her head to herself and giving her middle a little squeeze in her arms.

Thorin sighed, taking another cautious step towards her and holding his hands up in a hopefully placating manner. “It doesn't matter to me if they disapprove, amrâlimê.”

She scoffed softly at him, watching warily as he approached but making no move to avoid him this time. “Well, it matters to me! And if it didn't matter to you, you would have told your sister about us the moment the two of you began to write to each other! So don't lie to me, okay? I won't have it.”

“It's not as though you've told your family about me!” He groaned, frustrated – and realising a moment too late that he really should not have said that. What was he thinking?

Thorin Oakenshield...” Billa murmured, straightening up with an incredibly closed off expression on her face. “...that is where we differ. I would never hide you. When I sent Nori to retrieve my things from the Shire, I gave him several letters to pass on to what family I have left. In those letters, I explain that I am not coming home, because I have fallen in love and wish to stay with my future husband. I'm also leaving Bag End to my favourite cousin, as I have no intention of ever returning.” She whispered, letting her hands fall down to her sides and clenching them into fists.

Billa... I'm sorry, I didn't know...” He apologised, internally cursing himself and his stupid mouth. Of course, she wouldn’t hide him, he should have known that she had written to her family about him. He knew that she had been planning to give away Bag End, but he hadn’t realised how honest she was with her family about why. He was an idiot.

Billa turned away from him, her eyes swimming with tears as she padded towards the door. “You didn't ask. Now, if you don't mind, I think I will spend the night with my brothers.” She said coldly, pulling the door open with a shaking hand.

Thorin felt his heart drop. No. “Amrâlimê-” He began, but she wouldn’t even let him talk.

Don't. I have a lot to think about, and I think you might too.” She rebuked sharply, stepping out into the hall and slamming the door behind her. She was going to walk to her brothers’ apartments in the middle of the night, dressed only in her night-clothes and dressing-gown.

Mahal, he couldn’t let her do that! It wasn’t safe. If he had to he would escort her to her family’s rooms, but he would much rather she stayed in their rooms. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, and he certainly hadn’t wanted to drive her away.

Billa hadn’t even got to the end of the hall in the time it took him to catch up to her, her shoulders shaking weakly as she tried her hardest not to cry.

“Billa, please, just listen to me...” He pleaded, gently catching hold of her arm to stop her.

She stopped but did not turn to face him, sniffing wetly and shaking her head. “I think you've said enough.”

Please. What I have to say won't take long, and if you still want to stay with your brothers afterwards then I will let you. I will even walk you there myself, and I will not disturb you again tonight if that is what you want, but... Please, hear me out.” Thorin begged, ignoring the way his pulse was roaring in his ears.

“Fine... Fine. But don't think for a moment that you are off the hook. I don't think I've ever been this mad before, what were you thinking???” She huffed, turning towards him and rubbing a fist into her watering eyes.

“I wasn't thinking.” He admitted, knowing that nothing but complete honesty would get him out of this situation. He couldn’t keep lying to her. “I was trying so hard to protect you, from my sister, from our people... And I was trying to protect myself too, by not telling you. I knew this would hurt you, which was why I never wanted to say, but I was a fool. I should have been honest; I know that now.” He confessed, shaking his head at his own stupidity and sighing deeply.

Billa stared levelly at him, listening intently but staying silent all the while. Thorin couldn’t tell if what he was saying was helping, but it needed to be said either way.

“Billa, I love you more than anything in this world, and nothing will ever change that. Not Dís, not the other dwarves, not even Mahal himself. I will love you to the end of my days and into the halls of my ancestors. I am not ashamed of you. Yes, I fear my sister's disapproval, but only because I want her to love you too. I do not think you are silly, or unsuitable to be my consort. I think you are brave, and clever, and beautiful, and the best queen Erebor could ever have. There might be dwarves who disapprove now, but we will make them change their minds. And if Dís disapproves then we will have to change her mind too, but I am not going to hide you. And I am not going to lie to you, either. I promise. This will never happen again...” He insisted earnestly, giving her arm a soft squeeze in his hand. “Please, don't stay with your brothers. Our room will be so empty without you.” He beseeched, his own eyes beginning to sting.

Silence stretched between them for the longest time, and Thorin was not sure what to make of Billa’s expression. She still looked so hurt, but she looked confused and uncertain too. Like she didn’t know what to do anymore.

“...okay. I won't go, but... You're sleeping on the sofa tonight.” She decided after several minutes of neither of them speaking, reaching up to pat the hand on her arm. “And… And this isn’t the end of this, Thorin. You have to be honest with me. I can’t… Walk around this mountain in a state of blissful ignorance, thinking my life is perfect when it’s not.”

“That is fair, of course. Thank you, my heart.” Thorin breathed, unbelievably relieved. The last thing he had wanted was for her to leave their rooms, she was already so tired and it wasn’t safe for her to wander the mountain alone. “Tomorrow I will find Balin, and the three of us will discuss what can be done for our public image.” He insisted, picking up one of her hands and raising it to his mouth so that he could kiss her knuckles dotingly.

Billa’s expression seemed to ease a little and she nodded slowly, turning back towards their room. “Alright… And what will we do if we can’t make the dwarves like me?” She wondered aloud, glancing over her shoulder at him as she padded back inside.

“I don’t know, amrâlimê, but we will figure it out together.” The king assured her, following her into their rooms and shutting the door behind them.

“Right answer.” She responded, the smallest hint of a smile on her face as she walked to their bed. She rolled up one of the many fur blankets from the bed and scooped it up in her arms, carrying it to her intended where he had stopped by the sofa. “Here. If you need any more, let me know.” She hummed, handing him the fur and leaning up to kiss him gently on the cheek.

Thorin dipped his head in thanks, kissing her cheek in return and offering her an apologetic half-smile. “Thank you. Good night, my heart.”

-

It seemed like a decade had passed since the last time Nori had been in the Shire, but it did not look any different. Rolling hills, leafy trees and green grass seemingly untouched by winter… It was probably still a little cold up in Erebor, but the spring sun was pleasantly warm and the flowers were already blooming in Hobbiton.

It was almost disturbingly peaceful, but he could see the appeal.

“Good luck.” Dwalin rumbled unexpectedly from beside him, stood with his arms crossed as their envoy got ready to leave in the field behind them. They had spent the night in the field, waiting for morning so that Nori wouldn’t have to wake anyone up when he arrived in the Shire.

The middle Ri brother had sent a ranger ahead with a letter to forewarn the hobbit looking after Billa’s smial, not wanting to take him by surprise. They didn’t want a repeat of their first time in the Shire, when Billa hadn’t known they were visiting and the other hobbits had all gathered outside of her home like the nosey neighbours that they were.

Nori turned to raise an eyebrow at the balding warrior, his hands resting on his hips. “With what do I need luck…? They are peaceful folk; I am sure I will be fine.” He dismissed, shrugging one shoulder and looking towards Billa’s home. He remembered where it was, but his sister had written some directions down for him just in case he got lost.

Thorin had gotten lost twice on his way to Bag End, after all.

“Sure, they’re not going to try and kill you, but they still don’t like strangers.” Dwalin pointed out, gesturing subtly to a hobbit farmer very obviously staring at them from the next field over.

“Well, I sent a letter ahead to warn them of my arrival. They know to expect me; it’s not like I’m wandering in uninvited.” Nori averred, ignoring his friend’s concerns. They were hobbits, what could they possibly do? Odds were they would just stare a bit and leave him be. He was a big, scary dwarf after all. Not as big or as scary as Dwalin, of course, but that was exactly why Dwalin wouldn’t be joining him whilst he dealt with Billa’s business for her.

Dwalin would take the envoy and carry on to the Blue Mountains, which was just a short few days away now. Nori would wait in the Shire for Dwalin to return with the caravans from the Blue Mountains, which would include his mother. He was pretty excited to see her again after so long apart, but he needed to focus on the task at hand.

Billa had trusted him to take care of her home and her belongings, and he wouldn’t let her down.

Dwalin huffed quietly, looking annoyed as he glanced over his shoulder at the dwarven soldiers packing away the tents and organising the few caravans they had between them. Nori was taking an empty caravan with him into the Shire, for Billa’s belongings, but they would get more caravans when they joined up with the dwarves of the Blue Mountains. “Alright, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” The youngest son of Fundin muttered, frowning deeply. “You think you can get everything wrapped up here within six or seven days?” He checked, eyes flickering between Nori and the hobbit-hole with the green door that they could just about make out in the distance.

“Are you kidding? ‘Course I can. I’ll probably have everything packed away in the caravan within three days.” Nori snorted, moving to pat one of the sturdy ponies that would be pulling the caravan. “After that… I’ll either stay in Billa’s place until you arrive, or find somewhere to camp in the area. I don’t know, it depends on whether or not that cousin of hers wants to move in immediately.”

“Well, aren’t you lucky? Few days of rest before we head off again… I, on the other hand, will be sleeping in that shitty little tent every night on the way to get Princess Dís – and every night on the way back to Erebor, I expect.” Dwalin complained, looking irritable. Nori couldn’t blame him, considering that they had only just reclaimed Erebor and barely had a chance to enjoy it before heading out again. But, they had both volunteered.

“Quit with the belly-aching, we’re practically half-done now. Just a few more months before we get back to Erebor.” The red-haired spymaster insisted, rolling his eyes. “Keep an eye out for my ma, alright? Let her know that I will be joining you guys when you reach the Shire. I explained as much in my letter, but she’s a worrier. She might think I’ve died or something unless you tell her otherwise.” He added, not wanting his mother to get the wrong idea. “Her name’s Eira, and you’ll recognise her because she looks more or less exactly like Dori. Just… Female.”

Dwalin bobbed his head in acknowledgement, turning as one of the dwarven soldiers called out that they were ready to head out. “You’ve got a raven, send me a letter if anything happens.” He said in farewell, leaving without another word.

The raven in question was perched in the window of the caravan, eating the cracker Nori had given it for breakfast. The former thief glanced to the bird, sighing quietly before climbing into the front-seat of the caravan and taking the reins to steer the ponies.

As expected, Nori earned a good few stares as he led the ponies along the thankfully wide walk-ways of the Shire. He nodded politely to everyone brave enough to meet his eyes, but he found that most of the hobbits ducked their heads and looked away when he looked their way. They were definitely much more passive than Billa, who he was sure would stare-down anyone who dared to stare at her for a prolonged period of time – dwarf or not.

By the time Bag End came into view, there were two young-looking hobbits waiting on the front porch for him. One of them seemed vaguely familiar, red-haired and a little portly. Nori thought he had seen the halfling before, even though he wasn’t sure why. Billa was the only hobbit he had ever spoken to; he knew that for sure.

“Good morning, Master Dwarf!” The ginger halfling called, sweeping off his straw hat in a show of respect.

Nori raised a meticulously braided eyebrow at him, surprised. What a cheerful, surprisingly friendly fellow. “Good morning…” He replied, bringing the ponies to a halt and climbing off of the front of the caravan.

“My name’s Hamfast, Hamfast Gamgee. I’m Mistress Baggins’ gardener, and housekeeper. I’ve been looking after Bag End whilst she’s been away.” The rounded hobbit explained, fiddling with the rim of his hat and smiling a little nervously

Ah. Nori had seen this hobbit before. He had been the one to hold off Billa’s neighbours with a rake the morning they had left for their quest, and he had obviously been very fond of Billa. Nori could remember the two of them hugging before the company had left. “Yes, of course.” The dwarf accepted, tying the reins for the ponies to Billa’s front gate. He very much doubted that they would try and wander off, but it was better to be safe than sorry. “I’m Nori.” He introduced, dipping his head. If he had been speaking to dwarves he would have listed his titles and family ties and such, but he doubted hobbits would care for it. They might think he was boasting or trying to sound important. He didn’t need to make these hobbits like him, but it would be easier if they did.

Hamfast nodded, glancing at the brown-haired hobbit beside him. The other hobbit had a round face, not unlike Billa’s, and the same curly dark hair. He was shorter than the gardener and had a slighter frame, but there was a certain softness to him that Nori knew meant he was wealthy – again, like Billa. There was definitely some familial resemblance there. Hamfast elbowed the other male gently, nodding encouragingly.

“I’m… Drogo Baggins. Billa’s cousin. Second-cousin, technically, but… Yes.” The brown-haired hobbit introduced himself, looking unsure.

“It’s nice to meet you.” Nori denoted, heading up the stone steps towards the porch and holding out two letters to the hobbits in front of him. “I have letters for you both, from Billa… And another letter for someone named Gerontius Took?” He told them, having left the third letter in his bag. He would have to find out who this Gerontius was and deliver the letter another time. Maybe on his last day, after he had finished with everything else.

“That would be Billa’s grandfather, Master Dwarf. If you like, I could take it to him? I work on his garden a couple of times a week, so I can make the trip up there. He wouldn’t mind being disturbed, not for news of Billa. He’s been very worried.” Hamfast offered, putting his hat back on and tucking his letter into the back pocket of his slightly grubby-looking trousers.

Drogo made a noise of agreement in his throat, having already opened his letter and started to read it – his eyes fixed on the parchment in his hands. “We’ve all been worried… We shouldn’t have been surprised that Billa decided to go off gallivanting, she always said she wanted to, but none of us actually expected her to leave after her parents died.” He murmured, not even raising his head to look at Nori as he spoke.

“Well, I can promise you that she is quite alright. Happy and whole.” The dwarf replied, eyeing Billa’s cousin for a moment before returning his gaze to Hamfast. He wasn’t sure he liked the way Drogo said ‘gallivanting’, like Billa had done something incredibly stupid, but he wasn’t going to comment on it. It wasn’t his place to. “And please, Hamfast, call me Nori. None of this Master Dwarf business.” He insisted, offering the round gardener a smile. “If you could take the other letter for me, I would appreciate it a great deal. I have a lot to take care of here, and I don’t really know my way around the Shire. I might get lost.”

“It is no problem, no problem at all!” The ginger halfling insisted, tucking his thumbs into his braces and smiling kindly. He still looked a little nervous, but he was being perfectly amicable. “Any friend of Billa’s is a friend of mine, so I am happy to help. And if you need any help around Bag End, or any help loading things into your caravan, do give me a holler!” He continued, sounding completely sincere.

Nori could see why Billa was friends with this particular hobbit. The dwarf nodded in acknowledgement before turning back to the caravan, retrieving the third letter for Gerontius Took before handing it to Hamfast. “Thank you. I should be fine, but I will let you know if I need anything.” He promised, raising a hand to stroke at his beard.

“Good, good! I have stocked the pantry for you, so there is food for your stay… How long will you be with us, do you know?” Hamfast asked, taking the other letter and tucking it into his pocket with his own letter.

Nori was glad that neither of them had questioned his authority when it came to taking Billa’s belongings, but Billa had said that a signed letter from her would be proof enough for them. Evidently, she had been right. “A week at most, but probably only a few days. Billa gave me some instructions about what she wanted done, and about what she wanted me to take from her property, so it depends on how long that all takes.”

“Why didn’t she come herself?” Drogo interjected, glancing up from his letter and looking confused. “It says in her letter that she has chosen to stay in that… Mountain… Because she fell in love. But why did she not come back to Bag End herself…? Surely that would have been easier, and then she could at least say goodbye in person.”

“Master Drogo…” Hamfast said warningly, glancing from the other hobbit to Nori and back again. “I don’t think it is our place to question Master Nori about such things… I am sure Billa had good reason to send him in her stead.”

Nori frowned softly, not sure what to say. He didn’t think Billa would appreciate him telling them the truth – that she had stayed because she hadn’t wanted to leave whilst her relationship with Thorin was still so new and uncertain. If he told them that, they might wonder why Billa had chosen to stay in the first place. Why leave the Shire for a relationship you aren’t sure of?

Then he realised what he could tell them. He knew hobbits were quite family orientated people, so if he told them that she was pregnant… They wouldn’t question her not making the trip. It wouldn’t be safe for someone who was pregnant to travel so far. And they didn’t know that she hadn’t been pregnant when he left, because they didn’t know how far away Erebor was.

“Billa planned to come with me initially, but discovered she was pregnant shortly before I left.” He lied, clasping his hands together behind his back. “Of course she did not want to put her child at risk by going on such a long journey, so she asked me to take care of it. I am sure you understand, being parents yourselves.” He appealed, knowing that the both of them were fathers. Billa had once mentioned that Drogo did not visit very often anymore, because he was starting a family, and Nori was sure she had also mentioned Hamfast having several children of his own.

Hamfast’s face lit up immediately and he turned to look at Drogo, beaming widely. Drogo stared back at the gardener with wide eyes, but he too was smiling – which made him look even more like Billa than before. “Good gracious! What wonderful news!” The red-haired hobbit chirped, looking immensely pleased.

“That is… So good to hear.” Drogo breathed, and if Nori was not mistaken then it looked as though he was even a little choked up. “I am sorry for questioning you. You must understand that we hobbits… We don’t go on adventures. And when Billa refused to court anyone, because she wanted to travel, it made her very unpopular with most of the Shire. And as her family… We were worried that she might never find happiness. Her parents supported her decision to put off courting, but even they were worried that she might get lonely. Most hobbits marry and start families shortly after they come of age, and it was unusual that Billa did not… But to hear that she has not only fallen in love, but is starting a family too… It is wonderful.” The brunet excused, and Nori found himself liking the hobbit a little more for his honesty. He had, of course, heard plenty from Billa about what the Shire thought of her but it was nice to hear that her family still supported her. Even if she was over the other side of Middle-Earth. “Her grandfather will be so glad to hear that she is alright, even if she has chosen not to return home… And even if she is with a dwarf now.”

“Not that there is anything wrong with dwarves!” Hamfast piped up, elbowing Drogo gently.

Drogo startled, blinking for a moment before looking up at Nori and realising what he had said. “Oh. Of course not, I only meant that we expected her to marry a hobbit someday – if she was going to marry anyone.” He amended, smiling sheepishly. “Hamfast, could you please show Master Nori inside…? I shan’t be long, but there is something I must do before I forget.” He said, turning and leaving without another word.

Nori watched him go with a raised eyebrow, not sure what had just happened.

“Don’t worry about him, Master Nori. I expect he has gone to tell his wife the good news.” Hamfast assured him, pulling a key from his pocket and moving to unlock the front door to let them both in. “Here in the Shire, we usually arrange gift baskets for those with a faunt on the way. I imagine Master Drogo will want to send a gift back with you, to compensate for the fact that we cannot congratulate Billa in person… Speaking of which, I shall be telling my own wife later so that we can put something together.” He mused, opening the door and stepping aside to let Nori in first.

The former thief nodded his understanding, padding inside and glancing around as he did. Bag End looked no different to the last time he had seen it, which was a testament to the care Hamfast had put in to looking after Billa’s home. After a year of being uninhabited, Nori had expected the hole to at least be a little dusty – but it was absolutely spotless. “I am sure Billa would like that a great deal.” He imparted, taking off his cloak and hanging it by the door. A couple of Billa’s coats and aprons still hung there, waiting for her to come back for them. Billa had asked Nori to bring a few items of clothing back, but most of it would be left behind. Billa had told Nori that she was happy to let Drogo sell it on to someone who needed it more, since there was no point in bringing back all of her clothes when she had new ones now. It would just take up much-needed space in the caravan.

Still, it felt odd knowing that Billa would never see many of her possessions again. She wouldn’t even see Bag End again, and that did make Nori feel a little sad for her. He knew how fond she had been of her childhood home, but she had a new home now.

“I have made up the guest room for your stay, but I am sure Billa would not mind if you wished to use the Master bedroom instead. It is not as though she is here to use it herself!” Hamfast said, wiping his feet quite thoroughly on the doormat before closing the door behind him. “You have no idea how relieved I was when I received your letter that you were on your way here, on Billa’s behalf. It has been so long since she left that we had all thought that something unspeakable might have happened to her.” He sighed, padding towards the kitchen and gesturing for Nori to follow. “If you would like to come this way, Master Nori… Could I interest you in some tea?” He offered, smiling kindly over his shoulder.

“Please… It has been months since I last had a cup of tea!” Nori accepted gratefully, following Hamfast to the pantry.

Hamfast gasped, looking genuinely horrified on Nori’s behalf. “That just will not do…! I could not go even a day without a cup of tea. Billa’s father, gods rest his soul, drank tea like it was water.” He huffed, retrieving a jar of dried leaves from one of the shelves before gesturing back to the half-full pantry. “I wasn’t sure what you dwarves ate, so I just bought a bit of everything… I hope it is enough, but if not there is a market every morning down the end of the road. Some folks might stare a bit, but they won’t turn away your coin.” He shared, returning to the kitchen with the tea-leaves. There was already a fire burning in the kitchen, and a pot of water boiling there. Hamfast had clearly thought of everything when getting Bag End ready for Nori’s arrival.

“It looks like more than enough food to me, thank you Hamfast.” Nori hummed, sitting down as the ginger halfling pottered about making tea. “I hope that you did not pay for this yourself – I am happy to reimburse you, if you did.”

“Nonsense. A friend of Billa’s is a friend of mine, I’ve said as much already. I have known Billa and her family for as long as I have been alive, I am happy to help.” The ginger hobbit persisted, carefully measuring the tea leaves into a small wire strainer for their drinks. “Now, why don’t you tell me what Mistress Baggins has been up to on her travels…? I will make us both some tea and some toast in the meantime.”

Nori smiled lopsidedly at the kind halfling, having to resist the urge to roll his eyes in amusement. Hamfast might think that rude. “Alright.” He accepted, wondering where to start.

Chapter Text

When Nori first arrived in the Shire, he thought that he liked it. Quiet, calm, peaceful… If not a little boring. But it was nice enough.

One trip to the market was enough to put him off of the place though, and make him eternally grateful that the Company had hired Billa in the first place. He couldn’t stand the thought of her staying here, having heard the way the other hobbits talked about her.

Billa’s hobbit-hole was nice, but there wasn’t an awful lot for Nori to do when he wasn’t packing or sorting her belongings for her. He liked his books, like Ori and Dori, but Billa didn’t exactly have many books that he was interested in. Most of her books were about gardening, or elves.

What on earth was Billa’s obsession with elves?

But within a few days of entering the Shire, Nori had exhausted Billa’s book supply. He had nothing left to read, and nothing left to do when he took breaks from shifting furniture into the caravan. He would go out to feed and brush the ponies once a day, but that never took more than an hour. So, he decided to walk to the market. See the sights, maybe buy a few knick-knacks to take back home with him for the others… Maybe see about getting some sesame cake, since Billa had recommended it in her latest letter. Apparently one of the other hobbit-lasses at the market made a damned good sesame cake. Better than mine! Billa had said. And Hamfast had said the hobbits wouldn’t turn away his coin, even if they did stare a bit.

Nori could put up with staring.

And honestly, when he first got to the market he found himself having a good time. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm without a cloud in the sky. The sesame cake had been good, and he had found a stall of knitted knick-knacks and balls of yarn that he knew Ori would have loved. He bought a few colourful balls of yarn for Ori, and was thinking about buying a knitted toy for Billa’s baby when he heard someone talking behind him. This shouldn’t have been too suspicious, since the market was full of hobbits going about their business and talking among themselves – but these people were whispering. Or trying to, at least. They didn’t know that Nori had incredibly good hearing.

Whispering was always suspicious, when you were a spy.

“Did you hear? That's one of Billa's dwarves. I hear she has a whole harem of them - I knew there was something strange going on with that girl.” A huffy voice muttered from behind him, completely oblivious to his eavesdropping.

Years of spy-work and thieving had taught him not to stiffen or react when he heard such things, and he managed to keep his expression neutral as he picked up a tea-cosy from the table in front of him. It was made to look like a flower pot, with beautifully crafted flowers decorating the top. Nori knew Ori would love it, and it looked about the right size for his brother’s favourite pot.

Even if it didn’t fit his favourite pot, they had so many tea-sets between them that it was bound to fit one of them.

Another hobbit lady tutted in response, and Nori could practically picture her rolling her eyes. “Always refusing to marry or start a family... I suppose she didn't want to be tied to just one person. I never would have thought that the daughter of Bungo Baggins could turn out so... Promiscuous. Her father would turn in his grave!” She scoffed, and it took all of Nori’s self-restraint not to turn around and give them both a good ear-chewing. “Though, with a mother like Belladonna…”

He listened as the two ladies walked away, breathing deeply and evenly as he fished a few coins from his coin-pouch and paid for the tea-cosy. He figured there was no point in buying a toy for Billa’s baby, since Ori would likely knit one himself – and Nori wouldn’t want to deprive his brother of that joy.

He would love the tea-cosy though.

When Nori, Ori, Dori and Billa had been planning to return to the Shire as a group, Billa had said that they would have to find somewhere else to live – because the other hobbits wouldn’t understand that they were family. They would think Nori, Ori and Dori were some kind of harem of hers, even though they were related.

Apparently, they had come to that conclusion even without Billa returning.

It was sickening, hearing them say such unkind things about his sister. What had she ever done to deserve their scorn? They were rude, and judgemental, and Nori saw no reason for it. Billa was a good person. One of the best that he had ever met.

Nori took a deep breath, walking to another stall with his head held high. This stall was filled with fake flowers, made from various different materials. Porcelain, silk, wool, and even paper. Billa would have liked this stall. He wondered vaguely if she had ever made anything like this herself, but he doubted it. She couldn’t knit, he knew that much, though she could sew. Nori knew for a fact that she had used to sell baked goods at the market, so he doubted she made much else.

“I didn't want to believe Lobelia when she said that Billa must be eloping with one of those dwarves, but it looks as though she was right. What has to happen to a girl for her to stoop that low? She must have no self-esteem.” Another shrill, feminine voice insisted from nearby – saying the word ‘dwarves’ like it was the dirtiest curse word she knew.

“Shameful is what it is. Sullying the Baggins name by lying with those greedy creatures.” Someone replied, and Nori turned his head just enough to look at the group of ladies closest to him. They had their heads bowed and their hands over their mouths – like that would stop anyone else from hearing their hateful words – but they didn’t even have the decency to lower their voices. Nori supposed that they didn’t actually care who heard.

One of them glanced towards him, but apparently didn’t notice him watching them. He was awfully good at being subtle. “I hear she's pregnant by one.” A lady in a frilly-looking hat shared, shuddering in clear disgust.

Nori did his best not to roll his eyes, turning his attention back to the flowers in front of them. “How did you make these…? They’re lovely.” He questioned the stall-owner, gesturing to the paper flowers and hoping to distract himself.

But he heard one of the other ladies respond anyway. “And to think she turned away my son! He had a lucky escape - there must be something wrong in that girl's head. Can you imagine a half dwarf child…? The poor… Thing.”

“My father taught me, they’re just folded paper. You don’t even need any kind of glue.” The kindly looking stall-owner answered cheerily, though there was a false-tone to her voice. Nori saw her eyes flicker past him to the gossiping women, and was pleased to note that she looked uncomfortable. Like she disapproved. “We do sell a small instruction book to teach people how to make some simple flowers and animals, if you are interested in learning?” She added, pulling a book from under the table for him to see.

Nori took the book from her, flicking through it briefly. It was a nice-looking book, almost pocket sized, and the instructions seemed easy to follow. Maybe it would give him something to do when he was bored – he did have deft fingers; he was sure he could pick it up. And Dori might like it too, once Nori returned to the mountain. “I’ll take one. Along with one of these, please.” He accepted, picking up a fabric flower crown – comprised of fake lavender and some kind of fake dainty white flower. He knew that lavender were Billa’s favourite, Ori had told him as much, so he figured she would like it. And that way he had found a gift for each of his siblings.

Once he had paid he decided to leave, walking quickly back to Bag End before he could hear any more gossip. He felt faintly nauseated, his purchases tucked under one arm as he closed and locked the front door behind him.

He couldn’t stop thinking about what the other hobbits had said all night, and he was still thinking about it when Drogo and Hamfast dropped by the next day.

He spent a good few hours wondering if he should say something to them, and wondering if that would be insensitive of him, but he couldn’t help it. He just couldn’t get it out of his head.

“Do you believe what I have told you about Billa? Please, be honest with me. I have to know.” Nori eventually asked, his stomach in knots. He doubted they believed the lies that those ladies had been spreading, but he had to check.

Hamfast startled visibly, pausing where he was sifting through which books Billa was keeping and which were being left. He was sorting the books into crates, since he had wanted to help, using a list that Billa had written for Nori. “Of course, we do, Master Nori. Why do you ask?” He asked, sounding so sincere that Nori believed him immediately. Hamfast seemed like an honest hobbit, and Nori knew he was fond of Billa. He wouldn’t believe that she was anything except the good person that she was.

“Because I was at the market earlier, and I heard some ladies saying some truly awful things about Billa. Spreading rumours about where she is and what she is doing, none of which were true.” Nori shared, picking up and examining one of the books that had been sorted into the box that Billa was keeping. It was some kind of elven fairy-tale book, and Nori grimaced at the sight. He wasn’t sure how much Thorin would like Billa reading elven stories to their child – though he supposed Billa hadn’t even known she was pregnant when she wrote the list of belongings that Nori was supposed to collect. She had written it before he had left the mountain, so she must have some kind of sentimental reason for wanting the book. Maybe her mother had read it to her? That would make sense.

And no one could begrudge her that, really. Dwarves were just as fond of their families as hobbits were, if not more.

The portly gardener smiled a little nervously, waving a hand dismissively and returning his attention to the books in front of him. “Oh, I wouldn't worry about that, Master Nori! You know how lady-folk like their gossip, they don't mean any harm.” He excused, blinking in surprise when Drogo scoffed at him.

“Why are you making excuses for them...? You know full well that neither my wife nor yours would ever talk of anyone in such away - least of all Billa. After all she has been through, they ought to be more respectful. An orphan, at her age… Belladonna and Bungo would be furious if they could hear how some of their friends and family speak of their daughter. It's despicable.” Drogo complained, looking annoyed. “And I'm sorry that you had to hear it, Master Nori, but there's no stopping them. Billa tried her hardest to appease them when she lived here, but they were never happy. When she was here they called her a spinster, and now she’s gone they call her a strumpet. I’m afraid they’ll never have anything nice to say about her, and I suspect it would have been the same even if she had stayed and married a hobbit. I'm glad she's moving on with her life, the Shire was never good enough for her. I hope that mountain of yours treats her better.” He muttered, not raising his eyes from the patchwork blanket that he was folding to fit neatly into a wooden crate.

Hamfast looked a little cowed, but nodded in agreement. “I’m going to miss her, and I know the missus will too, but I suppose this is for the best. The Shire was sucking the life out of her. As sad and as awful as it is, she only really had me, my wife, Drogo, his wife, and some of her mother’s family. Most of her father’s family wanted nothing to do with her, because she was so ‘odd’… It wasn’t fair.” He conceded, eyes flickering down to the hefty looking book in his grip. “Her parents never would have stood for it, had they still been around. But… I feel as though they would be happy now, knowing that she has met someone and started a family of her own. Mistress Belladonna would be so proud, she always wanted Mistress Billa to follow her dreams and go adventuring.”

Nori managed a smile at that, glancing to the empty space on the wall where the pictures of Billa’s parents had used to hang. Both pictures had already been packed away, ready to take back to Erebor. He felt like he would have liked Billa’s parents, from what he had heard of them. They sounded like good people.

And really, Hamfast and Drogo were right. It was awful that some of the hobbits had been so unkind to Billa in the past, and still thought poorly of her apparently, but things were better now. Nori knew Billa was happy, that much was obvious from her letters. In Erebor she was surrounded by friends and family, all of whom cared a great deal for her.

“She will be happy in Erebor.” He confirmed, without a trace of doubt in his voice. “She will never want for anything ever again, and we will take care of her.” He said, half-hoping that it might put Drogo’s and Hamfast’s minds at ease.

Hamfast shot Nori an approving look, continuing to make his way through the well-stocked bookshelf. “I am glad to hear that, Master Nori. Now, shall we continue…? These boxes will not pack themselves, and I can only stay until supper. My wife is making pie tonight, and not even helping here could make me miss that!” He exclaimed, drawing a laugh from Nori.

Drogo, however, nodded his understanding – pie must be very serious business to hobbits.

-

After another few days, and a rather awkward encounter with Billa’s grandfather, Nori was ready to leave the Shire. He had moved everything that Billa wanted to keep into the caravan, and put everything else in the storage room – so that the hole was ready for Drogo and his wife to move in as soon as he was gone.

All they would have to do is decide what happened to everything Billa had left. Maybe they could use it themselves, or pass it on to other family members.

“I’ve never seen Bag End this empty.” Drogo shared, stood in the main room with his hand resting on the fireplace. “Because Billa and I are so close in age, my parents used to bring me around to play with her when we were young… I even stayed over sometimes, when my mother and father had business to attend to.” He sighed, his expression a little melancholy.

Nori wasn’t really sure what to say. He liked Drogo, but he had only known the hobbit for six days. He was hardly qualified to comfort him. He made an acknowledging noise in his throat, so that Drogo knew that he was listening, moving to follow the brunet as he walked further into the hobbit hole.

“Belladonna was always considered a little odd, though not as odd as Billa. She was a good person, just a little unconventional. She was always willing to lend an ear to anyone who needed it… And Bungo… Well, he was a regular hobbit. He liked his tea, and his food, and his books… He used to read to Billa and I, sat in his favourite chair with Billa on one knee and me on the other.” Drogo continued, undeterred by Nori’s lacklustre response. “Even after Belladonna and Bungo died, Bag End was so full of life… Billa took good care of it. It feels so… Wrong, seeing it like this.”

That made sense, at least. Nori supposed it was weird for Drogo, having known this place his entire life – even if it hadn’t been his home. But now it would be his home. Hamfast would be helping Drogo move in the next day. “It won’t look like this for long.” Nori pointed out, clasping his hands behind his back. “You’ll be living here, and you can make new memories. It’s what Billa wants.”

Drogo paused in the doorway to the storage room, looking over the few pieces of furniture and crates of clothing left inside. “…you’re sure Billa will be happy, with this dwarf of hers?” He checked, fiddling with the buttons of his fancy fitted waistcoat.

“I am.” Nori answered without missing a beat, thinking about the last time that he had seen Billa. He had been sitting in the back of the caravan, waving goodbye to his friends and family on the day he’d left.

Billa had been all wrapped up in Thorin’s old fur coat, her cheeks flushed pink from the cold. Thorin had been stood close beside her, one arm wrapped around her shoulders – his hand rubbing at the top of her arm to warm her up a little. Just before the caravan had rounded a corner and they had disappeared from view, Nori had seen Billa turn her head to smile tearfully at Thorin. She had been crying a little, since she was worried about Nori leaving, but Thorin had reached up with his spare hand and cupped her cheek. He had leaned down to kiss her each of her eyelids in turn, wiping away her tears with his lips. She smiled wider, her shoulders shaking with laughter as she ducked her head out of his reach to stop him.

If anyone ever asked, Nori would say that he found their affection for each other sickeningly sweet – but it was nice. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen two people more in love than his sister and Thorin.

“What’s he like?” Drogo entreated, turning around to face Nori properly.

Nori wasn’t sure exactly what Drogo meant, since he had spoken a lot about Thorin since his arrival. Perhaps Drogo wanted to know what Thorin looked like? The former thief reached into the inner pocket of his cloak, withdrawing a leather-bound notebook that he used mostly to make notes about any interesting things he discovered during his day-to-day life. He was a spy, after all. Documenting his ‘findings’ was in his nature.

Mahal, almost the entire first half of the notebook was full of his observations about Billa from their journey – since he had always kept a close eye on her. First out of interest, then out of protectiveness when they grew closer. Dori, Ori and Billa all knew about the notebook, and none of them minded. Nori wasn’t doing it to be intrusive… Most of the time.

But the reason he had gotten it out was because he knew he had a picture of Thorin somewhere. Something Ori had drawn that had ended up in Nori’s possession. Nori actually had quite a large collection of Ori’s work, since his sibling so good at drawing. He had at least four drawings of Billa amongst his belongings.

“Here.” Nori hummed when he found the drawing in question, offering it to Drogo so that he could have a look. The detailed sketch showed Billa and Thorin sitting together outside of Erebor, before it was reclaimed, enjoying their last meal before Durin’s day. Billa was tucked into Thorin’s side, smiling at something and holding a bowl of stew - dressed in her clothes from Lake-Town and her boots, with her hair intricately braided. Nori only had the picture because Billa was in it, since he didn’t make a habit of carrying around pictures of the king, but it was a nice picture of them both. Thorin’s eyes were crinkled at the corners, in the way that they did whenever Billa made him smile, and his expression was incredibly fond. “This is Thorin. He’s a good dwarf, and he looks after her. Well… They look after each other. He was a miserable bastard before he met her, and she makes him happy.” He explained, putting the notebook away again.

Drogo took the picture, frowning softly. “Wow… Billa barely looks like the fauntling I grew up with.” He imparted, looking surprised. “But I can tell that it’s her. Her face is the same, it’s just the hair, and the clothes… And the shoes.” He breathed, the corner of his mouth turning upwards into a smile. “We won’t tell anyone that she wears shoes now.” He joked, running a finger along the shape of her hair.

Nori smiled back, shrugging a shoulder nonchalantly. “She doesn’t most of the time. We were climbing the mountain that day, and the terrain would have sliced her feet to ribbons.” He defended.

“I see… I’m surprised she let her hair grow out like that, she used to cut it short. Her father didn’t approve, but she didn’t care. She said long hair was inconvenient.” The hobbit mused, glancing up from the picture to meet Nori’s eyes. “But… She looks happy. Could I… Could I please keep this? I don’t have any pictures of Billa. Her grandfather has a painting of her from when she was very young, but we don’t have any pictures of her as an adult.” He requested tentatively, his expression hopeful.

Nori liked the picture, but he had a lot pictures of Billa – thanks to Ori and his fixation with drawing the things he loved. Teapots, bookcases in the library, his siblings… If Ori liked it, he would draw it. But Drogo didn’t have any pictures of Billa, and it was unlikely that he would ever see her again. “Of course.” Nori allowed, smiling lopsidedly at the shorter male. “Once Billa’s baby is born, we will probably have a few paintings done of the two of them. I am sure that we can arrange for you to get one, if you would like?” He offered, knowing how disappointed Drogo and Hamfast were that they would never meet Billa’s child. At least this way they could still see it.

Drogo’s eyes glistened and he smiled widely, reaching out to pat Nori’s shoulder. “Thank you… That would be wonderful. Please, do tell Billa to write. She might not live here anymore, but we would love to hear from her. We will certainly want to know the moment that baby of hers is born!” He exclaimed cheerfully, turning away and wiping subtly at his eyes.

Nori pretended not to see.

“I will make sure to tell her as much.” He promised, watching as Drogo stepped into the storage room to grab an empty frame that was resting on a dusty old table.

The hobbit opened the back of the frame, slipping the drawing inside before closing it again. He eyed the picture again for a moment, nodding approvingly before tucking the frame under his arm. “Are you sure that you have everything…?” He wondered, padding further into the room and running his hand over various pieces of furniture.

“I have everything Billa wrote down for me.” Nori insisted, leaning against the wall. He would be leaving as soon as Hamfast turned up, since Drogo was adamant that Nori couldn’t leave without seeing the gardener again. Nori was happy to wait so that he could bid the portly hobbit farewell, but he had to wonder what was taking the red-head so long. Hamfast seemed very good at time keeping, and he had always turned up on time or even early whenever they had arranged to meet before.

Drogo stopped when he reached something covered with a faded looking sheet at the back of the storage room, tilting his head as he regarded it. He pulled the sheet off, revealing a beautiful- looking crib, covered in flower engravings. “…Billa didn’t want this?” He questioned, running his fingers over some words that Nori couldn’t quite make out from the other side of the room. It looked as though something was written on the headboard.

Nori frowned uncertainly, straightening up and walking over to get a better look. The crib was incredibly good quality, almost as good as something Bifur might make. Once he got closer he could read the inscription - ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’, carved in a nice cursive handwriting not too dissimilar from Billa’s. “It wasn’t on the list.” He justified, wondering if Billa had forgotten about it. She had written the list before she had found out that she was pregnant, so maybe she hadn’t thought she would need it. Now

“It was her mother’s. I think Gerontius had something like this made for each of his children, when they were born. And I’m pretty sure Belladonna used it for Billa when she was young too, because I’m sure I’ve seen it before… It looks expensive, I’m not sure why Billa wouldn’t want it.” Drogo marvelled, folding the sheet into a neat square before putting it down on a nearby crate. “Maybe she forgot? She probably hasn’t looked at this in years.”

“You’re probably right. She never mentioned a crib, but I know that she hasn’t gotten a new one. They don’t even have a room for the baby just yet.” Nori postulated, knowing it was too late to send a raven to Billa to ask. He would be leaving within the next few hours, and she wouldn’t respond for at least a day or two because of how long it took the ravens to return to Erebor each time.

“I think you should take it. I mean, even if she doesn’t want it, there must be someone else who can use it in that mountain – right? And if she does want it, but forgot, she’ll be so relieved that you brought it… I’d hate for you to leave it here if she does want it. I wouldn’t ever use it myself, I’m not really related to her mother or her grandfather so I don’t think I have the right. I’d just have to return it to Gerontius.” Drogo reasoned, and Nori knew he was right. Even if Billa didn’t use it herself, she might choose to give it to someone else – but it was a family heirloom. If Billa had wanted sentimental things such as her father’s favourite chair and her mother’s nice crockery, why wouldn’t she want a crib that had been passed down through the family?

She must have forgotten.

And there was still room in the caravan, anyway. “Yes, I’ll take it. She should get to choose what happens to it, even if she doesn’t use it for the baby.” Nori decided, smiling when Drogo moved to grab one end of the crib – silently offering to help the dwarf move it. Nori grabbed the other end, moving through the hobbit hole with the wooden piece of furniture.

Ten minutes later he had the crib secured in the back of the caravan, beside a sizable gift basket from Drogo and his wife Primula. And whilst Nori was surprised by how big the gift basket was, he wasn’t surprised that he had been given it to pass along to Billa – since Hamfast had already told him that it was customary to prepare a gift for expecting mothers. Many of the gifts inside the basket were wrapped in brown paper with ribbon, so Nori couldn’t tell what they were, but he expected they were mostly toys and clothes for the baby. Or ‘fauntling’, since that was apparently what hobbits called their young.

Drogo wiped his brow with a handkerchief, having gotten a bit hot and bothered moving the crib with Nori. He tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket when he was done, pulling out a pocket-watch and checking the time. “I wonder where Hamfast is… He’s never usually late. Perhaps I should go see if he is home…” He huffed, looking mildly annoyed. He was no longer carrying the picture frame, having put it down on the mantelpiece as they passed through the hobbit hole.

“That won’t be necessary, Master Drogo~!” Hamfast lilted, as if on cue, as he rounded the corner. He was pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him, laden with various baskets and gifts. Nori raised an eyebrow, shocked. “Sorry I’m late! I received a letter from the Thain this morning, asking me to pass along a gift basket from the Took family for Mistress Billa… I had to retrieve it, then return for the one Bell and I prepared… Bell wanted to add something at last minute, so I left her to it.” He explained, stopping the wheelbarrow beside the caravan and beaming widely. “We also prepared something for you, Master Nori. Just food and such, for your journey home. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, and we didn’t want to send back all these gifts for Mistress Billa without doing a little something for you! That would be awfully rude.”

“I should have realised the Tooks would want to send something.” Drogo snorted, stepping forwards to help Hamfast unload the gifts. The largest basket was filled with books, blankets, wrapped packages and a couple of letters. A small tag hung from the handle, letting Nori know that this basket was from ‘The Took Family’. Nori knew that meant Gerontius and Billa’s aunts and uncles, since he had met the Thain of the Shire a couple of days before.

It had been one of the most awkward encounters of his life – which really was saying something. He would definitely be giving Billa a mild ear-chewing for not telling him that he grandfather was the ruler of the hobbits. That kind of information would have been very helpful!

Nori put that basket beside Drogo’s, smiling to himself. He honestly couldn’t be happier to see so many gifts for Billa, because she deserved it – and it would show her that her family and friends still cared. He wouldn’t tell her about the gifts until he got back, so that it would be a nice surprise.

Hamfast passed Nori the next basket, a knowing smile on his face when he spotted the dwarf’s pleased expression. “Here. This is for Mistress Billa, from Bell and I. There’s a letter in there too, please tell her to keep in touch. And you keep in touch too, Master Nori!” He proposed, clapping the broad dwarf on the back.

Nori grinned, putting the gift from Hamfast with the others. “We will write when we can, Hamfast. The only problem is that we have to send the letters with rangers, and you know how they can be.” He replied, rolling his eyes at the thought. Rangers. “Not to mention the journey from Erebor still takes months by horseback.”

It would be much easier if the hobbits could figure out how to use ravens, but Nori knew that was a lot to ask. Not to mention they couldn’t exactly give the hobbits ravens of their own, since the ravens only worked with dwarves, meaning Hamfast would only be able to write if someone wrote to him first – so that he could attach a letter to a returning raven. And the raven might not hang around after delivering the letter, as the hobbits had no way of asking the raven to stay. They couldn’t speak to ravens the way dwarves could.

Billa was an exception, of course, since she was the intended of the king. The ravens would serve her happily, even though she couldn’t talk to them. Nori was under the impression someone else had to instruct the raven where to go, since Billa couldn’t. Probably Thorin or Dori.

“Even rangers can manage a letter a year!” Hamfast pointed out with a jaunty little wink, making Nori laugh. There was simply no refusing him.

“That’s very true, Hamfast. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Good! Here, this is for you. Cakes, pastries, bread… Just some baked goods to enjoy on your way home!” The cheerful hobbit revealed, handing over the slightly smaller but no less full basket of food. “Think the missus might have even snuck some pie in there for you.”

“Thank you, you’re too kind.” Nori avowed, hooking the basket on his arm before taking Hamfast’s hand and shaking it heartily. “Thank you, both of you, for your help and hospitality. I will be sure to tell Billa how great you have been. And I will be sure to let her know who has sent the gift baskets along, of course. Please, do thank her grandfather for me. It was very kind to send a gift.” He declared, moving to Drogo and shaking his hand just as vigorously.

If he thought they would have taken it, he would have paid them for being so kind – but he already knew that they wouldn’t take his money. Hamfast hadn’t let him reimburse him for the food, so he doubted very much that they would accept any kind of monetary gift. Especially considering that both of them had been left money or property of some kind by Billa.

He honestly hadn’t expected to like either hobbit half as much as he had, but he would keep his promise to write to them every so often. They were good people.

“It was no trouble, no trouble at all!” Hamfast persisted, red in the face from all the praise. He was far too humble for his own good, Nori had worked out that much already.

Drogo patted Nori’s arm once his hand had been released, looking a little pink himself. “No need to thank us. It’s like Hamfast has been saying – a friend of Billa’s is a friend of ours. Take care of her, alright? And give her our love when you see her.”

“I will. Now, I am afraid I must get going. If I don’t leave soon, they might send someone after me, and the last thing the Shire need is a bunch of dwarven soldiers stomping through.” The middle Ri excused himself, closing the back of the caravan before padding around to climb into the front seat with his basket of food.

“Gods, can you imagine? Maybe we should allow it, just to see Mistress Lobelia’s face!” Hamfast laughed, leaning a little on his wheelbarrow and wiping the back of his hand across his forehead. “I am kidding, of course. Goodbye, Master Nori, you take care now.”

Both hobbits stood on the path, waving until Nori had disappeared from the borders of the Shire. Once he was gone, Drogo turned to Hamfast with a small and slightly sly smile.

“So, do you have to be a dwarf to get special treatment around here…? How come I’ve never been treated to one of Bell’s pies?” He joked, straightening out his fine jacket and glancing down the road – back towards Bag End. “I mean, we’re practically neighbours now, surely that counts for something?”

“Oh dear, have I never even invited you over for dinner??? Gods, you must think me so rude! That won’t do at all.” Hamfast huffed, looking genuinely concerned. “How about you, Mistress Primula and little Frodo come over for dinner tomorrow, after we’ve gotten you moved in? I’ll need to check with the missus, but I’m sure she won’t mind! And our children can get acquainted, I’m sure they’ll be firm friends in no time. My Samwise is a good boy, and he’s not too much older than your lad.” He gushed, taking his hat off and smiling uncertainly.

Drogo rolled his eyes a little, which wasn’t awfully polite, reaching out to squeeze Hamfast’s shoulder. “I was just playing with you, Hamfast, but that sounds delightful. The sooner Frodo starts making friends, the better!” He chuckled, leading the way back towards Bag End. “Now, shall we have some tea and discuss our plans for tomorrow?”

“That sounds right nice, Master Drogo, right nice indeed!”

Chapter Text

Nori had thought that he would be excited to be reunited with his mother after so many months away, but it would appear that things weren’t quite that simple.

When Nori rode to where he was meeting the envoy, he was delighted to see the vast number of caravans that had joined them. Their people were returning to Erebor with them, and that was wonderful.

So why, then, did Dwalin look so grim?

The red-haired dwarf halted the caravan of Billa’s belongings beside the royal guard, who immediately swept him into a tense hug. Which was far too out of character for Nori’s liking.

“I’m so sorry.” The bald warrior murmured gruffly, patting Nori strongly on the back.

The middle Ri felt his blood run cold, his optimistic mood gone in a heartbeat. “What…? Why? Is my mother…?” He breathed, trying to conceal the wobble in his voice. Her last letter had only been a week before – but a lot could happen in a week. Was she okay? He wasn’t sure quite what he would do if she wasn’t. Dori and Ori would be distraught.

“Your mother…? She’s fine lad, it’s… Well-” Dwalin began, drawing away and letting his arms drop to his sides. He looked stressed, that much was obvious, and was that a bruise on his jaw?

Master Nori!” An unfamiliar but agitated sounding voice shouted from close by, leading Dwalin to flinch and step back almost fearfully.

Nori might not have met the princess before, but he knew that Dwalin feared and respected her in equal measures. And Nori liked to think himself an intelligent dwarf – he could put two and two together. The bruise, Dwalin’s odd attitude… Princess Dís must be on the warpath. And Nori had heard enough about her to be wary of that.

“Oh Mahal…” Nori breathed, glancing to Dwalin one last time and appreciating the sympathy he saw in the other dwarf’s expression before turning towards the irritable dwarven princess. “Princess Dís, I presume?” He purred, schooling his face into a guarded smile and clasping his hands behind his back. “What a pleasure.”

Dís huffed softly, her brow furrowed as she stopped in front of him. Up close she looked remarkably like Thorin, though that could have everything to do with the fact that female dwarves often dressed like males when they had to leave their mountains – for safety. The princess was dressed much like her brother, decked out in blue and silver but wearing a pair of heavy looking battle-axes on her back. Thorin was more of a swordsman himself, but Dís was known for her prowess with an axe. Much like Frerin, before his untimely death.

She held herself much like Thorin, with her shoulders squared and her back straight. She had the same strong nose as him, like any true Durin, and the same high cheekbones. She had similar pale blue eyes, though hers were more almond shaped than her brother’s. And unlike Thorin, Dís had a truly enviable beard. It was beautifully styled and braided, divided into two intricate braids and studded with beads befitting her status and prowess in battle. Her hair was braided into the mohawk braid that she always wore, though four smaller braids framed her face – two on either side. At a glance, Nori recognised Thorin’s bead, Kili’s bead and Fili’s bead, though he did not know the other. It was safe to assume it was the bead of her late husband, whom Nori had only heard of from Thorin and the boys. Until the quest for Erebor, he hadn’t met any of the royal family – only heard of them. Which was ironic, really, considering that their families were related distantly on his mother’s side.

Dís was a picture of dwarven beauty – stocky, broad shouldered with wide hips and thighs thick enough to crush a man’s skull. Nori had heard of the royal’s good looks, but he had not quite believed it until then.

After all, she was a princess and one had to say good things about princesses. And Thorin might not have been unattractive, but nor was he considered the most desirable by dwarven standards. Too tall, beard too short and plain, hair too untamed… A little leaner than most liked, too. Nori’s own family had been blessed with good-looks, but that was all due to their mother. She too was a picture of dwarven beauty, and many dwarves had tried to win her heart over the years.

The princess narrowed her sharp blue eyes at him, tilting her head a little to one side in a gesture that reminded Nori of the King. “I was told you were a sarcastic creature, but false pleasantries aside I believe that we have much to discuss. I have heard that you and your brothers adopted this halfling that my fool of a brother is going to marry.” She said in a most matter-of-fact way, sending a pointed look Dwalin’s way.

Like it was somehow his fault.

Nori knew from Billa’s letters that Thorin had failed to tell Dís about his intended until rather recently, so he supposed she had every reason to feel a bit irate, but Nori wouldn’t let anyone speak poorly of his sister. “Hobbit, and yes. Billa is our sister.” He corrected, offering the most charming smile he could muster – despite how uneasy Dís made him feel. “I would love to discuss family with you, princess, but would you mind if I were to seek out my mother first? I have not seen her since before I left Ered Luin, and I have missed her dearly.” He half-lied, polite as ever, wishing to see his mother before the inevitable confrontation with Dís. He was not at all looking forward to discussing Billa with her, since he barely knew her, but it would have to be done. He could hardly ignore her for the entire trip, that would not make a good impression – and Billa was his sister, so any impression he did make might reflect poorly on her if he was not careful.

Dís narrowed her eyes further for a moment, suspicious, before her expression softened and she nodded her head in agreement. “Of course, never let it be said that I do not understand the desire to be with one’s family. Perhaps we could talk when we make camp tonight?” She accepted, her posture relaxing minutely.

“That would be fine, thank you.” He insisted, dipping his head respectfully and turning to look at Dwalin. “I trust my mother is here somewhere, Dwalin?” He checked, since he hadn’t spotted her as he had approached the envoy.

Dwalin glanced between Nori and Dís before bobbing his head, raising one hand to rub at his bruised jaw a little wearily. Nori would have to ask how he had obtained the injury when they had a moment alone. “Aye. I spoke to her, like you asked. She's somewhere near the front of the caravan, riding in a brown wagon with some other old folk.” He imparted, waving his hand in that general direction.

“Thank you, friend. I will catch up with you and Princess Dís later tonight.” Nori called as he walked away, leaving Billa’s belongings with the balding warrior. There was no use in trying to navigate the caravan around all of the other dwarves when it would be perfectly safe where it was.

And in any case, the caravan would only slow him down. He wanted to find his mother as soon as possible, and give her a damned good hug.

-

Billa was at the end of her tether. Her back hurt, she was tired, and her ankles were killing her. She just wanted to go back to her room, run a hot bath and forget about all of her problems.

But life was not that kind, and neither was Balin, apparently.

“Your pronunciation is too soft. Khuzdul is a... Sharper language than Westron. You need to work harder at getting the accent right, or no one is going to take you seriously.” The eldest son of Fundin criticised, peering at her over the top of his glasses.

Billa groaned loudly, burying her face in her hands. Ever since Thorin had told her that some of the kingdom disapproved of her, she had been trying her hardest to be better. Balin had been teaching her dwarven history, etiquette and language a couple of times a week – and for the most part she didn’t mind the lessons. She knew she had to learn, she had to prepare for becoming the Queen of Erebor, but she was having a bad day.

She was exhausted, and in pain, and after six weeks of lessons she was frustrated by how little Khuzdul she had learned. It was too slow-going, and far too complicated. It even had different aspirated and unaspirated stops! There were prefixes that had negative intonations, prefixes that had lesser or higher meanings – like izbad versus uzbad… Westron wasn’t half as complicated, Billa was sure. A lord was a lord, no matter how important they were. Khuzdul had a word for a high lord and a lesser lord, and it would be a grave insult to call a high lord an izbad instead of an uzbad.

“I am trying! It is no wonder that only dwarves can speak this primitive drawl when it is so impossible to learn! I am trying my hardest, but I feel as though I haven’t learned anything since we started.” Billa stressed, dropping her hands back onto the table and scowling at the dwarf opposite her.

“Peace, Athanu men, you are doing better than you think... It is a difficult language. Some dwarflings know the common tongue before they know Khuzdul.” Balin sighed, sitting up straighter in his chair and taking his glasses off to polish them.

Don't call me that.” The pregnant brunette snapped, stretching her legs out beneath her and wincing when her ankles popped uncomfortably.

Balin paused, raising his eyes to meet hers and tilting his head. “Call you what?” He asked, as though he didn’t know what she meant. It was a little patronising, and it was rubbing Billa up the wrong way.

“Don't call me your queen, I am not queen yet, and I may never be if I do not learn this accursed language! I shouldn't find it this difficult, my mother managed to teach me some very basic Sindarin when I was just a faunt!” She huffed, angrier at herself than she was at him. She was the one who wasn’t getting the hang of it, it wasn’t really Balin’s fault – although he could be a little more sympathetic.

The royal advisor smiled very smugly, put his glasses back on and stood up – eyes twinkling. “You will be fine, Billa. I think this would be a good place to end this lesson, we shall pick it up again tomorrow. Get some rest.” He assured her, walking around the table and offering her a hand to get up.

Billa ignored the extended appendage, eyeing him suspiciously as she braced her hands on either side of the chair and eased herself to her feet. The weight of her ever-growing bump had been putting quite a bit of strain on her joints, and her ankles began to really hurt if she did too much walking. She had spent most of the day in the library, eaten dinner with the company, and then come for her lesson with Balin in the evening – so she had already been tired when she had arrived.

Which probably hadn’t helped her mood, really.

She spent the entire walk back to the royal wing wondering if she had perhaps been a little too rude to Balin – but the way he had smiled still irked her. It made her feel like he knew something that she didn’t, and she didn’t like that very much.

“...and then he said 'peace, Athanu men, you are doing better than you think... It is a difficult language', like that was supposed to make me feel better! I told him not to call me his queen, since I wouldn't ever be queen if I couldn't learn the bloody language, but all he did was give me this weird look and tell me that we were done for the night. I know I was being unreasonable, and I should apologise, but I just... I feel like I'm not making any progress, and he's not helping! A bit of reassurance wouldn't go amiss...” Billa recanted to Thorin as they got ready for bed, rubbing a circle into the swell of her belly with one hand.

Thorin frowned thoughtfully, taking a sip of his nightly tea and watching her as she climbed into the bed beside him. He had been in meetings all day, attempting to gather enough supplies for his coronation, so Billa hadn’t seen him much. He hadn’t even attended dinner that evening, far too busy. The dwarves from the Blue Mountains would be arriving in another couple of months, and the coronation ceremony would happen shortly after – since Thorin had wanted to wait for his sister to arrive before he was crowned. A coronation involved a large feast, of course, and Dale had only just begun planting their own farms. They couldn’t provide for Erebor yet, so they would need to get food from the Woodland realm and the Iron Hills. “Did he teach you what 'Athanu men' meant, my heart?” He questioned.

“What? No, he didn't.” Billa hummed, not sure why Thorin was asking. What did it matter? Her point was that she felt as though she wasn’t learning anything, and Balin was being weird about it.

“Who did?” The royal dwarf pressed, putting his tea down and reaching out to tuck the blankets around her – one hand lingering on her stomach for a moment, almost as though he was reassuring himself that it was still there.

Billa thought about it for a long moment, her brow furrowed softly. “Well... No one, I suppose. I just... Everyone calls you 'Thanu men' or ‘Thane’, and I knew those. They’re both forms of the word 'king', just one has a possessive pronoun, so I guess I just... Assumed that 'Athanu' was the female equivalent. I mean, Azbad and Azbadu are the feminine of Uzbad and Uzbadu, right? I know those, Balin taught me those during an etiquette class…”

“Billa, you figured out a Khuzdul word you weren’t familiar with. Without any help. You are doing fine. I know that it is frustrating, but you are making progress. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for you – dwarves always learn Khuzdul in their youth, and they do say that it is easier to learn a new language as a child. You are trying to learn a completely unfamiliar language, that is nothing like your own. It will take time. It might even take years, and that’s fine. The etiquette and the history lessons are more important, as no dwarf will really expect you to know Khuzdul. It’ll just be nice once you can speak it, since it will mean that you can understand the people around you.” Thorin mused, a kind smile lighting up his face as he gave her stomach one final pat and turned to reach for the book on the bedside table.

“...oh.” She murmured, realising her mistake. Balin had looked smug because she had learned a Khuzdul word without him, not because he knew something that she did not. Really though, he could have just told her and prevented a great deal of aggravation. Strange old dwarf.

Thorin folded the book open in his lap, holding it with one hand as he wrapped his free arm around her back. “As for apologising, I'm sure Balin knows that you didn't mean any harm. He won't be angry with you, he knows you're under a lot of pressure at the moment - physically and mentally. And if you do want some reassurance from Balin, you should just ask. Ask him how he thinks you’re doing, or if he thinks you’re making enough progress. He is an honest dwarf, he will answer. For what it’s worth, I think you are doing well. It has only been a month and a half, my heart, you can’t expect to be fluent already.” The dark-haired dwarf reassured her, pressing a kiss into her hair.

She nodded slowly, feeling foolish as she scooted closer into his side. He was completely correct, of course. She hadn’t been attending the lessons for very long, and learning a new language didn’t happen overnight. The brunette glanced at the book in Thorin’s lap, tilting her head to get a look at the front cover. It was written in Khuzdul, that much was obvious, but she recognised the dwarven word for princess in the title.

“That’s new.” She remarked, hoping for a distraction. The two of them had taken to reading aloud to one another every night as a way to wind down before bed, and Billa found it very relaxing. Not to mention she knew that Thorin liked to talk to her bump, and it was sweet watching him read to their unborn child. “I haven’t seen this book before.”

Thorin smiled fondly at her, running a finger down the first page. The paper looked worn and well-read, but not mistreated. The book was old, though still in good condition. “I found it in my sister’s old room. I don’t suppose she would mind us borrowing it, it is only a fairy-tale book after all and she is much too old for that now.”

“But we are not?” Billa joked, elbowing him gently in the ribs.

Thorin rolled his eyes in a most unkinglike manner, poking her side lightly where one hand rested. “We may be, but our babe is not. I thought it would be a fitting choice for something to read our child… Certainly more interesting than that recipe book you chose to read the other evening!”

“Hey! This baby might only be half hobbit, but even a half hobbit has to have a healthy appreciation of good food. I was playing to my audience.” She retorted, though her tone was soft and teasing rather than annoyed. It was ridiculous how thoughtful and sweet Thorin could be at times, for someone who had once been so closed off and surly towards her. When she had first met Thorin, she never would have thought that this was where their relationship would go.

It had never crossed her mind that they might someday end up together, even if she had found him attractive from the offset. And had she even considered that she might someday carry his child, she would have given herself a thorough scolding for having such fanciful thoughts.

“If you don’t want me to read the fairy-tale, I don’t have to.” Thorin remarked in all seriousness, beginning to trace idle patterns on her skin with the hand that wasn’t currently holding the book. Billa knew it was her turn to read, and she expected Thorin did too, but she wasn’t going to deprive him of the chance to read to the baby when he so clearly wanted to. Bless his heart.

Billa reached out to gently pat his knee, raising her head to kiss his jaw lovingly. “You read your fairy-tale, sweetheart. What’s it about?”

“A dwarven princess, named Thkona. It was Dís’ favourite as a child. The princess gets kidnapped by a dragon for being so beautiful, but the dragon underestimates her. She is unarmed, but resourceful, and she ends up killing it with a mithril hair pin when it lets its guard down. Forces the pin through the dragon’s eye, into its brain.” He explained, sounding excited now that she was showing an interest. Billa snorted softly, shaking her head in amusement.

Lovely.” She enunciated, shooting him a playful smile.

“It is a great story. It encourages female dwarves to look out for themselves, rather than relying solely on their families. Thkona returns to her kingdom with the dragon’s head, and her father is so impressed by her achievement that he steps down from the throne and makes her queen in his stead. She leads her people with strength and intelligence, and the kingdom prospers.” He persisted, flipping to a picture of the mighty princess herself – stood atop the dragon’s face and wielding the hairpin like a dagger.

Billa couldn’t deny that it sounded like a heroic tale indeed, though maybe a little inappropriate for a young faunt. A little hobbit girl would never aspire to kill a dragon – most hobbit fairy-tales consisted of handsome princes saving perfect princesses. But then again, for all that Billa enjoyed fairy-tales, she supposed the dwarven way was better. Encouraging a little girl to forge her own path was better than telling her to wait for a rescue that might never come. “That does sound great. I’m sure the baby will love it.” She allowed without commenting any further on the slightly dark nature of the story, resting her head on Thorin’s shoulder and blinking drowsily.

She was absolutely exhausted – which was probably why Thorin had thought to take over her turn to read, the sly thing.

Little more than half an hour had passed, with Thorin’s melodic voice washing over her as he read, when something most alarming happened.

Billa shot upright, wide-awake all of a sudden. Thorin stopped reading, visibly startled as she rolled her night-shirt up and placed her hands on her bare belly.

“Billa…?” He questioned uncertainly, a note of panic in his voice. The hobbit raised her eyes to meet his and smiled blindingly, reaching out to take one of his hands and place it on her belly.

Something had moved. She wasn’t sure what had brought it on, but it had never happened before. Thorin glanced from her stomach to her face when nothing happened immediately, his expression still mildly concerned. “Billa, what’s wrong-?” He began, though he paused when he felt a soft flutter under his hand. It might not have been much, but it was definitely something – and it was new. He stared at her bump for a long moment, eyes wide, before looking at his intended once more. “Was that…?” He breathed, his voice hoarse and full of wonder.

“I think so!” She affirmed, placing both of her hands over his to hold it in place. “The baby moved!”

“That’s never happened before!” Thorin declared, looking so damned proud that it put a lump in Billa’s throat.

“They must like your voice.” Billa decided with another warm smile, kissing him soundly on the mouth before raising one hand to wipe at her slightly damp eyes.

Thorin laughed breathlessly at her deduction, smoothing one hand over her stomach and putting the book down on the bedside table with the other hand. Once the book was out of the way he put both hands on her stomach, leaning down to kiss the spot where he had felt the baby move. “Is that true, madtithbirzul, or is your mother telling tales…?” He crooned dotingly, startling again when there was another small movement under his hands.

Definitely your voice.” Billa confirmed, giggling quietly and placing her hands over his once more. It felt bizarre, having something move inside of her – but it also felt right. It proved that there was something else alive in there, and that was so reassuring. “She loves her daddy’s voice, just like her ‘ma does.”

Thorin sat up once more upon hearing that, his eyes still wide and full of happiness. “She?” He repeated, to be sure that he had heard correctly.

“I think so.” Billa hummed, raising one of Thorin’s hands to her mouth and kissing it softly. “A strong little girl – like Thkona. That must be why she moved, she liked hearing you read that story.” She sighed happily, holding Thorin’s hand against her cheek and tilting her head into it as she watched him adoringly.

“I hope you’re right.” The dwarven king imparted, stroking a thumb along her cheek – his eyes crinkling at the corners.

-

So, tell me about this hobbit.”

“You’re going to have to be more specific. What exactly do you want to know? Billa said that Thorin hid her from you – against her will, by the way – but he’s not hiding her anymore. Surely he has told you enough.” Nori guessed, raising an immaculately styled eyebrow at the regal dwarf sitting on the opposite side of the campfire.

His mother swatted his arm gently, her brow furrowed in disapproval. “Nori! Less of the sarcasm, it is a most unattractive trait!” She scolded him, though her tone was relatively mild. She was too relieved to have him back to give him a proper telling off.

“Sorry, Ma.” Nori allowed, casting Dwalin an exasperated look – and earning an amused snort in response.

Eira was a dwarf to be reckoned with, even in her old age. Being two hundred and forty didn’t make her any less formidable, and she was happy to remind anyone and everyone of that fact when the need arose. She was still beautiful too, having aged incredibly well – and anyone who looked at her knew she was Dori’s mother, because Dori looked almost exactly like her. He did not look a thing like their father, though Nori did to an extent.

Dís looked tickled when Eira interjected on her behalf, but did not comment on the interruption. “Ah, yes, because my brother gave an honest picture of his One – he did not wax poetic about her at all.” She quipped in response, and Nori couldn’t help but smile at that.

That, he supposed, was fair. Getting a different account was what he would have done too, had he been in her position.

“You know, Nori dear, I wouldn’t mind hearing about this halfling too.  She is to be my daughter, after all. Your family is my family.” Eira interrupted again, earning further exasperation from her middle-son.

“I suppose that is true enough, Ma. And please, call her Billa. She is a hobbit, and they don’t much like the term halfling. They consider it an insult, since it implies that they are half of something.” He explained, not wanting his mother to accidentally cause offense. The Company had used to call her a halfling too, before they found out that she didn’t like it. If anything, Nori admired Billa for putting up with being called a halfling for as long as she did – since she made no attempt to correct them for the longest time. Mahal only knew that he wouldn’t have put up with being called a racial slur on a regular basis.

Dís blinked, visibly surprised by what Nori had said. It obviously hadn’t occurred to her either. Billa had played it down when she had first told them too – it wasn’t until Nori’s trip to the Shire that he realised just how offensive it was. He hadn’t used the term himself of course, but Hamfast had mentioned some young hobbits that got in a bit of a scuffle with some ‘tall folk’ over being called a halfling.

“I suppose that makes sense! I know some dwarves who are very sensitive about their heights, and I doubt they would like to be called half of anything. I hear hobbits are awfully small too.” Eira remarked, sounding interested rather than annoyed at being corrected.

Nori smiled fondly at that, pulling his journal out and fishing out a picture to show his mother. “She is rather short, and slight too.” He accepted, offering her one of the many sketches that Ori had gifted him. “She is rather human-like in shape, except for the height of course. And the feet. Nowhere near as broad as a dwarf.”

“Mahal! She is small. Smaller even than our Ori.” She hummed, withdrawing a pair of glasses from inside her cloak and sliding them up her nose. “And not even a single whisker! How bizarre.” She noted, pulling the sketch up closer to her face for a better look. “She’s no dwarf, but I suppose she is rather comely.”

“I think so.” Nori concurred, smiling to himself when he noticed Dís trying to get a sneaky look at the picture. He pulled out another picture, passing it to the princess without a word. “She might look different to us, but you can’t blame Thorin for falling for her. And he certainly wasn’t the only one who was interested in her, that’s for sure.” He asseverated, sending a sly look towards Dwalin as he did. Dwalin coloured noticeably, averting his eyes pointedly.

Dís did not miss the exchange, glancing between them both with clear suspicion before clearing her throat softly. “I suppose there is something oddly… Charming about her appearance. If you like them that soft.” She commented, far too dismissively for Nori’s liking, before continuing. “She has lovely looking eyes, I’ll give her that. So long as this picture is accurate, of course. However, I care little for how she looks. All I care about is whether or not she makes him happy. She could be an elf for all I care, he can marry whomever he likes – so long as she is good for him.” She conceded, studying the picture once more. The picture Nori had handed her was of Billa in Beorn’s garden, smiling openly and holding some form of flower. Ori had labelled the flower in question, but it meant nothing to Nori – even if it had been important enough for his little brother to note down. “He deserves to be happy, and that is all I want for him.”

Nori couldn’t help but feel a swell of admiration for the princess at that, cocking his head at her. How could he argue with that…? Dís wasn’t intentionally snubbing or insulting his sister, she was just worried. And honestly, Nori worried about Billa’s health and happiness just as much. He was a sibling himself, he knew what it was like. If anything, Dís would have had every right to disapprove of Billa for her race – because a dwarven king should marry another dwarven noble. But she really didn’t seem to care about that, because she loved her brother.

“Then you will like my sister just fine.” He declared, managing a genuine smile for the dwarven princess. “Billa is good, and kind, and pure of heart - and no offence, but she is entirely too good for your brother.” He informed her, pulling off his cloak when he noticed his mother shivering. He draped it around her shoulders, pressing a quick kiss to her cheek.

“Nori, dear, I’m fine-” Eira began to protest, but Nori held up a hand to stop her.

“It’s fine, Ma, I’m not cold. It’ll serve you better than me.” He told her firmly, smiling fondly at the elderly female dwarf. He would do anything for his mother, and it had always been that way. He had only turned to a life of crime in the Blue Mountains so that he could help keep the family afloat. Eira and Dori had worked, of course, but with their status their jobs weren’t the best paid. And they needed the best for their Ori, the little dreamer who wanted to be a scribe. Without Nori’s thieving, Ori would have had to accept a normal job like their mother and brother.

And then where would they be? They had only been invited on the quest because Balin had known Ori through the scribe’s guild.

“I beg your pardon…? What do you mean, too good for my brother?” Dís interrupted, looking awfully haughty all of a sudden.

Perhaps Nori could have phrased it better, but he wasn’t going to lie for Thorin’s sake. He knew for a fact that Dori felt the same way, if not Ori too. Nori and Dori had discussed it at length. “Well, if I'm entirely honest, I never wanted Billa to be with Thorin. I thought that Bofur might have been a better match, and he has always been awfully fond of her.”

Dís seemed to grow in height, despite being sat down, looking distinctly offended. “I don’t understand. She's engaged to the King, there is no greater honour - and my brother is a good dwarf. He is her One, she should be with no other.” She disputed, making Nori snort softly. Dís didn’t even know Billa, and she was defending the hobbit’s right to marry Thorin anyway.

“He is her One, and he is a good dwarf most of the time, but what use is honour when he breaks her heart?” The spymaster agreed, retrieving a flask from a pocket in his tunic and unscrewing the cap. It was some kind of moonshine that he had tried in the Shire, and he had become rather fond of it.

“What? I’m still not sure I understand. He would never leave her, he is not that kind of dwarf.” She persisted, looking both confused and annoyed.

Nori took a long drag from the flask, sighing and wiping his hand across his mouth. He put the flask away again, ignoring the longing look Dwalin sent his way as he did. “I never thought that he would leave her. Even before she became pregnant I knew he would never willingly leave her, because I can see the love in his eyes whenever he looks at her. But in the time they have known each other, Thorin has said and done some terrible things to my sister. I may have forgiven some of it, but I will never forget it. He has already broken her heart once, and if he does it again I may have to kill him. As is my right.” He asserted, glancing between Dís and Dwalin – daring either one of them to disagree.

Dís did not reply immediately, turning to look at Dwalin uncertainly – a question clear in her eyes. Dwalin nodded in response before averting his eyes to his feet, looking uncomfortable.

“Thorin mentioned that he had acted unkindly towards her at times, but he did not go into detail. Was it truly that bad?” The dwarven princess shared after another moment of silence, meeting Nori’s eyes.

“During the battle, Thorin accused Billa of being reckless and forbid her from fighting with us. He shut her away in their rooms and forced Kili to guard her.” Dwalin offered, sounding embarrassed on Thorin’s behalf. Nori knew that Thorin’s madness had been harder on Dwalin then on most of the company, because Dwalin was his best friend – and often felt responsible for taking care of the king. But how could you save someone from themselves? Dwalin couldn’t bring Thorin back into his right mind – none of the dwarves could. If it hadn’t been for Billa, they would have lost the eldest Durin. Either to his madness, or to Azog during the battle.

He took his armour off on purpose before the battle, for Mahal’s sake! The dwarf had obviously had a death wish.

What?!” Dís exclaimed, sounding absolutely appalled. There was no greater dishonour, to a dwarf, than forbidding them from joining a battle. Billa had helped them to reclaim Erebor, and it was as much her right to defend it as it was theirs.

“None of us know exactly what he said to her on the way to their room that day, not even Kili, but it was enough to hurt her so badly that she considered leaving Erebor indefinitely. She actually intended to return to the Shire after how he treated her during his madness. I tried to ask Billa what was said, numerous times, but she would never answer. And she is an incredibly honest creature, so that is worryingly out of character for her. I suspect she wanted to protect him from our wrath.” Nori added, thinking about her crushed expression and flushed cheeks when Thorin had told her she could not fight – and the listless look in her eyes when he saw her again after the battle.

“What else did my ignoramus brother do to hurt her?” She huffed, handing the drawing back to Nori and folding her arms across her chest.

Nori could talk for hours about everything Thorin had done to slight his sister during their quest, but he would give Dís the short version. He didn’t want to get the king in too much trouble, he just wanted the princess to see his side of the story. “He frequently told her that she wasn't one of us, and for a great deal of our quest he doubted her loyalty. He called her soft, and gentle, and a child... I believe he even went as far as to call her a nursemaid the first time they met. Which was quite the insult, considering that she is a hobbit of very high standing.” He shared, tucking the picture back into his journal and holding his hand out to his mother for the other drawing. She gave it back without any further prompting, watching as he put it away.

Mahal... And she forgave him, for all of this? I am not sure if that makes her incredibly stupid, or incredibly kind.” Dís exhaled, looking incredibly annoyed.

“Kind.” Dwalin interjected, picking up a stick and beginning to poke at the campfire idly.

Dís turned to look at him, both eyebrows raised into her hairline. Dwalin continued to avoid her gaze, looking sheepish as he toyed with the burning logs. “You speak as though you know this for a fact.” She observed, narrowing her eyes a little at him.

The balding dwarf cleared his throat softly, his expression disgruntled. “I do. I travelled with her for just shy of a year, and we all got to know her very well. Thorin was not the only one to ever hurt her feelings.” He said with a shrug, tossing the stick into the fire when he noticed that it was beginning to burn.

“As it turns out, most of us were not very good at interacting with the opposite sex.” Nori defended, blinking with his mother huffed and scowled a little at him. “I said most of us, not all of us, Ma.” He corrected, not wanting to annoy the elderly dwarf. She had raised them well, after all, and none of the Ri brothers had insulted or hurt Billa during their quest.

“What did you do?” Dís wondered aloud, still watching Dwalin closely. The royal guard spluttered, his face turning dark red as he struggled to answer her.

Nori took pity on him, deciding to answer on his behalf. There was no point in hiding it from her, since she would probably hear it from Balin, Thorin or Billa when she reached the mountain. All she would have to do is question what the wooden bead in the hobbit’s hair was for. “He watched her bathe, without her consent.” The former thief explained, shrugging when Dwalin shot him a betrayed look.

“You what?! Why would you do such a thing? Have you no honour?!” Dís hissed, reaching out to cuff Dwalin upside the head.

Dwalin, to his credit, took the hit without complaint. He didn’t even flinch. “I didn't think. I was stupid. I thought I wouldn't get caught, and it had been a long time since I had seen a pretty lass.” He confessed, raising one tattooed hand to rub at the darkening patch of skin. Dís must have one hell of a right hook to bruise Dwalin that easily.

“You were attracted to her?” The princess questioned, flexing her hand and smiling when Dwalin watched the movement fearfully.

The balding dwarf nodded, shifting slightly further away from her – and closer to Nori, as though the spymaster might protect him. Which was not going to happen. “I was, but at the time Thorin hadn't shown any interest in her. The moment he did I shut away any attraction I felt for her, and I haven't thought about her that way since. She is Thorin's. I knew she was not my One, I never felt that way for her.” He answered honestly, and Nori did respect him for that. He could have brushed it all off with some false bravado, but he decided to tell the truth instead. The middle Ri had never heard him talk about this before, so it was interesting to say the least.

“I hope she beat the shit out of you for spying on her.” Dís snorted softly, the tension easing from her shoulders. Dwalin’s honesty had clearly won her over.

“She didn't. Thorin offered to cut Dwalin's beard for her, but she didn't want any harm to come to him. We still gave him a good beating, of course, but that was before she asked us to leave him be.” Nori hummed fondly, proud of his little sister.

“Then she is far more merciful than any of you deserve... And frankly, I can't wait to meet her. Mahal be blessed for designing a creature patient enough and kind enough to handle my older sibling.” Dís praised, turning to stare into the fire with a small smile on her face.

It was high praise indeed, from the princess of Durin’s folk.

Chapter Text

“How are you today, sister?” Dori entreated as he approached, setting a tray laden with tea and a variety of finger cakes down on the table. “It feels like an age has passed since the last time you came to the family apartments.” He sighed, shaking his head slowly as he began to spoon sugar into each cup.

“Don’t be overdramatic, Dori, it’s only been about four months since I used to live here.” Billa scolded mildly, though she was smiling fondly at him. He might have been a colossal pain, but he was her brother.

The white-haired dwarf narrowed his eyes slightly at her, looking exasperated as he pushed one cup towards his sister and picked up the other. “Regardless, you never come to the family apartments anymore. You barely seem to leave those stuffy royal rooms as of late.” He criticised, sniffing pointedly and taking a long sip of his drink.

Billa sighed back at him, rolling her eyes and ignoring the disapproving look she got for it. “There is reason for that.” She pointed out, picking up her own tea and drinking half of it in a few eager gulps. Dori always made the best tea, and she wasn’t quite sure how. She was certain that he used the same leaves as her, but it just always tasted better the way he made it. “I take most of my lessons with Balin in our room now. Oin has recommended that I try to rest as much as possible, so unless there is anything I can do in the library I do tend to stay in the royal wing.”

Dori’s expression softened noticeably at that, and he reached a hand across the table between them so that he could pat her knee dotingly. “Is your back still giving you grief…?” He pressed gently, tilting his head at her.

“And my joints, too.” She confirmed, settling one of her hands on top of his and giving it a squeeze. “Oin is growing concerned about the size of my stomach. It’s becoming a bit of a hindrance.” She elaborated, putting her cup back down and using her free hand to rub circles into her abdomen. “I love this little faunt, don’t get me wrong, but she’s moving past the stage where I can call her ‘little’.” She mused, grinning down at her sizable bump. “And we’re not even two full seasons in just yet, so we’ve still got more than a season of growing left.”

“And Oin thinks you’re growing too fast, considering we’ve got another… Sixteen or so weeks?” Dori concluded, frowning softly.

Billa nodded, continuing to stroke at her stomach – and smiling a little when she felt something turn under her hand. Like the baby was rolling over. It might have only been two weeks since the first time they felt her move, but Billa liked to think that she could tell what their little faunt was doing whenever she moved. “That’s the long and short of it.” She accepted, releasing Dori’s hand so that she could pick up her drink again.

“What do you think…?”  He faltered, his brow creasing in that fretful way that Billa knew very well.

The hobbit exhaled softly, taking a steadying sip from her cup. She’d been trying not to put too much thought into it, because it scared her, but she could hardly lie. “Honestly…? I don’t know what to think.” She replied, her smile faltering. “I can’t deny that I am bigger than I probably should be, but… But this has never happened before. Ori and I have been scouring Erebor’s records for any kind of… Whisper of a half dwarf child, but… There’s nothing. Not a thing. We’re flying blind.” She confessed, placing the cup on its saucer with a shaking hand. “But… But this is my faunt, and I don’t care if things get a bit hard because it will be worth it in the end. I’m seeing Oin again in a few hours, and we’re going to figure out a plan of action. In case things get worse.”

Dori smiled slightly at that, but the crease in his brow remained. “Alright. Would you mind if I joined you…? For my own peace of mind.” He requested hesitantly, and the genuine fear in his eyes was enough for Billa. This wasn’t just Dori being a mother hen, he was scared.

“You’re welcome to come along, of course. I was intending to spend the next couple of hours with you anyway, so you can walk me there once we’re done catching up.” Billa assured him, standing and moving to sit beside him on the sofa. She tucked an arm around his middle, leaning her head against his shoulder in the hopes of helping him feel better. She knew she should probably try to spend more time with him, but he had his shop now and she lead a rather busy life as the future queen of Erebor. “Now, tell me about these cakes.”

Her older brother pressed a kiss to her temple, exhaling quietly. “Thank you.” He murmured, resting his head on hers for a moment before taking a deep breath and sitting up straight again. “These are cinnamon and oat, with an icing drizzle.” He shared, his voice back to normal as he pointed to a couple of flat-looking slices of cake. “It’s more like a sweet bread than a cake, but it’s very nice. A stall at the market sells it, Ori and I have already eaten half of it between us and we only bought it yesterday. I saved a few pieces for you, though. I know how you like your baked goods.” He explained, giving her leg a little pat.

“That was very thoughtful of you… Thank you.” Billa hummed, smiling warmly. She would have to keep an eye out for the stall in question if the food was as good as Dori said – since Thorin might like it too. He had a much bigger sweet tooth than she did.

Dori made a dismissive noise and flapped his hand in response, blowing off her praise. Don’t be silly, the gesture said. “This one has pieces of candied fruit in it, and some form of thick icing on top. I will be honest, I don’t know an awful lot about this kind of cake. I got it from Dale since, you know… Dwarves don’t use fruit much in cooking.” He continued, gesturing to a different cake. “I thought you might like it, but I haven’t tried it myself just yet. And if you do like it, you’re welcome to take the rest to your rooms with you later. There’s still three quarters of it left in the kitchen.”

Billa laughed quietly at his comment about dwarves and fruit, knowing that all too well. Honestly, most dwarves wouldn’t even touch any vegetables beside potatoes. It was only because of her that the company ate vegetables or fruit. She liked to think that made her a good influence, especially as several members of the company had found healthy foods that they actually liked as a result. Thorin would eat anything she would, but it turned out that Fili was particularly partial to roasted parsnips. He had stolen one from Billa’s plate once, just to annoy her, only to eat it and discover that he really did enjoy the taste. Kili, even more surprisingly, liked sprouts! And that really was shocking, since Billa knew a fair few hobbits that didn’t even like that particular vegetable. It was an acquired taste – her own mother hadn’t even been a fan, but Billa and her father had always liked them.

“Now, don’t say that! You might like it too, in which case you should keep some too. I suspect you won’t be able to get Ori to try it, you know how he is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some for yourself.” She dictated, knocking her shoulder into his side affectionately.

Dori smiled back at her. “You’re quite right, of course. If I do like it, I’ll make sure to put some aside for myself. I promise. But there truly is no hope of getting Ori to eat any, though. He took one look at it after I bought it and shuddered. Actually shuddered. Bless his soul.” He said with a snort, shaking his head to himself.

Billa laughed again, not doubting that for a moment. Ori might like cake an awful lot, but he wasn’t a fan of most fruit or vegetables. Give him a plate of chips any day, but Mahal forbid anyone try to feed him any real healthy food.

The two of them spent the next few hours carefully talking around their worries, neither of them addressing the Oliphant in the room until it was time to head out and meet Oin. Billa could tell Dori was still anxious from the tense set of his shoulders as he walked arm in arm with her, his expression a carefully neutral mask. Billa wanted to reassure him, but honestly, she was feeling just as nervous – and she knew she wasn’t as good as at hiding it as he was.

When they eventually reached the royal wing, Thorin and Oin were already sat inside with a pot of tea resting on the table between them. Thorin perked up when he saw Billa enter, though the hobbit didn’t miss the way the king’s eyes flickered to her brother uncertainly. Dori’s grip on her seemed to tighten minutely for a moment, but she ignored it. Dori and Thorin needed to get used to being around each other, since they were practically family already. It might not have been official, since Billa and Thorin weren’t married just yet, but that didn’t make it any less true.

“Sorry we’re a little late, we had to take it slow.” Billa apologised as she entered, more to be polite than anything else. She couldn’t help it, and anyone with half a brain knew that – she was very heavily pregnant, after all.

Thorin rose to his feet in one smooth movement, walking over to meet his intended despite the obvious displeasure rolling off of Dori in waves. “We haven’t been waiting long, my heart, there’s no need to apologise. How are you feeling this evening?” He pressed, placing one hand on her cheek and tilting her head up so that he could kiss her gently.

“Stiff and full of cake.” She reported with a small grin, reaching up to put her spare hand on his shoulder. “And you…?” She queried, blinking up at him.

Thorin seemed to get busier and busier as the weeks went by – some days Billa only got to see him in the morning before he left their rooms and at night before they went to bed. A king’s work never seemed to end, though Billa had always known that would be the case. It wasn’t ideal, but needs must. Hopefully Thorin would have more spare time once the dwarves had settled into the mountain and they had more allies to help them. At that moment, they only really had the Mirkwood and the Iron Hills, because Dale was not yet in any state to help them – not that that stopped Erebor from aiding the town of Man whenever they could, of course. Their relationship with Dale was certainly better than their relationship with Mirkwood, regardless of how little Dale could offer them in their current state. Lake-Town could perhaps be called an ally too, but not an important one. The Master was a selfish man who Thorin did not like dealing with, and all Lake-Town had to offer trade-wise was fish.

They could certainly survive with or without those living on the lake.

Billa almost looked forward to her appointments with Oin, because Thorin never missed one. No matter what his kingly duties asked of him, he refused to let it get in the way when it came to monitoring her pregnancy. He wanted to be as involved as possible, and he wanted to be as much help as possible. He was constantly asking Oin for advice, even when they didn’t have an appointment.

“Better now.” Thorin answered without hesitation, his face lighting up with an affectionate smile – but doing nothing to hide the bags under his eyes. But Billa was trying to do something to ease her intended’s weariness, talking to Balin and Fili behind the king’s back to try and get him a day off.

It was slow going, but Balin was confident that they could find the time to give Thorin a break. They just had to arrange a day when there wouldn’t be any important meetings, so that Fili could cover anything else – like council matters and organising the royal guard with Dwalin. Things that Billa and Balin were sure that the heir to the throne was capable of doing unaided!

“Thorin, Oin.” Dori greeted the two dwarves, his voice a little tense as he stared up at Thorin from where he still stood beside Billa.

“Dori.” Thorin responded with a respectful nod of his head, pressing one last kiss to the top of Billa’s head before heading back towards the sofa. “I trust that you two have had a pleasant afternoon?” He hummed, having known that Billa intended to visit Dori.

Billa nodded happily enough, giving Dori’s arm a gentle squeeze before releasing him and walking into the sitting area. She tucked herself into her favourite armchair, taking a cup of tea from Thorin with a nod of thanks. “Oh yes, we had a lovely time. As my father would say, there’s nothing a good cup of tea can’t solve. And any cake is just a bonus, really.” She insisted, smiling when Dori’s frown eased and he shook his head in amusement at her.

“Your father and I would have been friends, I think.” Dori chuckled, sitting down on the sofa closest to his sister and casting Thorin a none-too-subtle look as he did.

Thorin either didn’t notice the look, or he ignored it, because he did not acknowledge the other dwarf’s pettiness. Instead he sat on the arm of Billa’s chair, which he probably would have done anyway, and began to rub a hand up and down the hobbit’s back. “Help yourself to a cup of tea if you would like one, Dori, the pot is still hot and there’s plenty to go around.” The regal dwarf offered courteously, watching as Billa sipped at her drink and sighed in satisfaction.

Oin glanced between Dori and Thorin, looking thoroughly tickled as he did. “Well, chilly family relations aside, shall we get started…?” He chortled, his usual notebook already open in his lap and a half-finished cup of tea at his side. Billa could just make out some notes that the physician had made, and realised that he and Thorin must have been discussing the pregnancy before she arrived.

She could make out the words ‘dwarven baby?’ and ‘severe joint ache’ written down on the page.

“Of course.” She allowed, not commenting on what she had seen. She knew Thorin was worried about her, they had discussed it at length on several occasions. It was no surprise to her that he had begun to air his fears to Oin, probably in the hopes that the elderly dwarf could offer him some kind of reassurance. Billa only hoped that Oin had some good news, as she was sick and tired of being so worried all of the time. She could deal with the pain, but she could not deal with the uncertainty – it drove her mad, not knowing what to expect.

“Now… You and Thorin wish to discuss how we are going to move forward.” Oin prompted, tapping a pen against the page restlessly. “And what we are going to do in the event that things… Take a turn for the worst.” He continued, the smile slipping from his face as he glanced at Dori uncertainly. He obviously wasn’t sure if he should say such things in front of Billa’s brother, but Billa had already forewarned him. It was why he was there.

“Yes.” Billa accepted, putting her tea down on the table and resting a hand comfortingly on Thorin’s thigh. She glanced up at him, sighing quietly at the sight of the soft frown on his face. She knew all too well how much he hated having this conversation, but they had to. It wouldn’t help them to hide from the issue and go in unprepared.

Thorin cleared his throat roughly, setting his own hand over hers and shifting uncomfortably. “I’m not going to lie, I don’t want to talk through some kind of… End of days plan. I don’t even want to think about that. We’re not discussing what to do if it comes down to… Billa or the baby. Because we are not going to let it get to that.” He stated firmly, almost glaring at Oin – as though the physician would dare to suggest such a thing.

Billa opened her mouth, about to gently argue that maybe they should think about that – just to cover all of their bases – but one look from Thorin had her closing her mouth again. Maybe discussing that would be too much.

It wasn’t like she was sick, she was just in pain. They didn’t need to talk about her mortality when she might not be in that much danger.

Oin puffed himself up, looking offended by the mere implication. “Of course not! Billa is a strapping young lass, and we have food and medical supplies aplenty. This is not childbirth in exile, on some roadside. We will take care of her.” He huffed, scowling fiercely. “We’re here to talk about what we are going to do if the pregnancy gets any harder. At the moment, Billa’s size… It’s a real concern.” He carried on, still tapping his pen insistently. “I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this, and I think… Perhaps Billa is struggling, and perhaps she is so big, because the baby is more dwarven than we predicted. Maybe the baby is a dwarf, growing at the rate of a hobbit.” He said in a slightly calmer voice, turning his gaze onto Billa instead of Thorin.

Billa rubbed her free hand along her stomach, frowning a little at the thought. It was possible, she guessed, but what did it mean? She wasn’t built to carry a dwarf baby. From what she had heard, dwarf babies were quite big – compared to faunts, anyway. And Billa was much smaller than any dwarf lady, they had already established that.

“What does that mean for Billa?” Dori interjected, his eyebrows drawn together in concern.

Oin sighed a little, glancing from Billa to Dori and back. “Honestly? I don’t know.” He replied, raising a hand to stroke at his beard. “I don’t know enough about hobbits to predict how Billa’s body will handle this. If the baby does continue to get bigger, then the back-ache and the joint pain is bound to get worse. I don’t know how else it might affect her. At a guess, I could say that if she grows too large she might end up confined to her bed within a month or so. But I really don’t know.” He confessed, looking deeply displeased by his own lack of knowledge in the area. “I’m sorry, Billa. I wish I had more to tell you.” He added, speaking directly to her once more.

Billa felt her heart drop a little at the thought of becoming that weak, and she couldn’t find the words to respond. What was there to say? She didn’t know any more than Oin, she couldn’t dispute him – and if it came to it, she would have to go on bedrest. That was indisputable, her pride be damned.

Thorin huffed unhappily beside her, beginning to worry his bottom lip between his teeth. “Then what do we do?” He stressed, looking even more tired than he had before. “Thinking that the baby might be dwarven doesn’t help us, especially if we can’t know for sure. How are we supposed to prepare if we don’t know Billa’s limitations? What if our baby gets so big that it makes Billa really sick? Then what?” He beseeched, reaching out to touch the engagement bead in Billa’s hair as if to reassure himself that she was still sat there beside him.

Billa reached out to catch his hand, lacing their fingers together. “Sweetheart, this isn’t Oin’s fault.” She murmured, raising his hand to her mouth so that she could kiss his knuckles. Her heart was pounding in her chest, but she wasn’t just going to let Thorin lay into the royal doctor. She knew Thorin was right – it did seem bleak when they couldn’t know anything for sure – but they couldn’t blame Oin. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know what would happen, because it was new territory. This hadn’t happened before.

Thorin blinked down at her, looking so obviously scared that it made Billa’s chest hurt further. “I just… I want to be able to do something. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I thought you might say that.” Oin interjected, staring down at his notepad and letting out a rumbling sigh. “Which is why I decided to discuss the possibility that we… Could call on Rivendell.” He disclosed, looking less than happy about the idea. “We have said before that we might write to the elves if we need to, and I do think that we need to. Billa told us that the elves in Rivendell know hobbits, and I’m sure they know a great deal more about Billa’s limitations then I do. Even if they can’t tell us anything about half-dwarven children, I’m almost certain they can still help.” He confessed, putting the pen down and picking his drink up instead. “But… Before, we only discussed writing to Rivendell. I’m not sure that would be enough. I would like to ask them to send a healer. I might not like elves, but… I will not deny their prowess when it comes to healing. If anything does go wrong with Billa, an elf’s magic will have more chance of saving her than I will.”

Billa blinked in surprise, glancing from Oin back up to Thorin. It shocked her to hear such a suggestion from the wizened old physician, but she understood his reasoning. And whilst Billa did not like Thranduil, she had no negative feelings towards any other elf. She wouldn’t mind having an elf around, if it ensured the safety of her unborn child. She only hoped that Thorin felt the same.

“I think that would be sensible.” Thorin agreed without a moment’s hesitation, though the hard line of his mouth told Billa that he wasn’t entirely thrilled with the idea. In a way, she understood why. Thorin had despised elves for most of his life, and that wouldn’t change overnight, but Rivendell had never slighted him. He had no reason to dislike them, especially considering that Lord Elrond was nice enough to house and feed them on their journey. “And there might not have been a half-dwarven child before, but there have been half-elven children. Rivendell is full of healers and scholars, they will be the most well-informed when it comes to this kind of thing.” He reasoned, giving Billa’s hand a gentle squeeze before releasing it and standing. “I shall write to Lord Elrond at once. If I send the raven tonight, it should be able to reach Rivendell with enough time for whoever they send to catch up with Dwalin’s envoy.”

“Do you think that Rivendell will help? After we left without thanking them in our journey?” Dori checked, his expression dubious. He had been oddly quiet throughout their conversation, listening silently and nursing his tea.

Billa cleared her throat quietly, raising a hand to scratch at her braids. “It wouldn’t hurt to ask. And I did leave them a letter, when we left…” She divulged, knowing that she had kept that piece of information to herself for their entire journey. Dwalin had told her that she couldn’t say goodbye, but that would have been rude… And she had wanted to thank Lord Elrond for his hospitality. She had only kept it a secret in case it made the company mad. They had all made their feelings about elves very clear, and she hadn’t known them especially well at the time. She hadn’t yet started standing up for herself.

“You did?” Thorin asked with a smile, padding over to his desk and taking a seat.

“Of course, I did. It was awfully nice of Lord Elrond to take care of us the way he did, when we had nothing to offer in return.” She huffed, folding her arms across her chest. “Dwalin told me I couldn’t say goodbye, he mocked me for suggesting that I should – but it would be impolite not to! So, I returned to my room and wrote a letter to Lord Elrond before I gathered my belongings and met the others.”

Dori chuckled quietly, shaking his head slowly. “I should have known… You took so long to get ready. I didn’t even think twice about it at the time, Ori and I had bigger things to worry about… That was when Dwalin caught us teaching you how to braid your hair.” He remembered, reaching out to pat his sister’s knee through her skirt.

Billa nodded in confirmation, flashing her sibling a smile. “It was, yes. Hopefully my letter for Lord Elrond will have helped… And we can always promise payment to whoever aids us, of course.” She suggested, turning to look over her shoulder at her intended.

“Naturally. I wouldn’t ask them to do it for free. Promise of payment, lodging and the opportunity to peruse Erebor’s library. That should be enough… And if not… Then we’ll cross that bridge when we get it. Thranduil has healers too, I suppose, even if they are not as superior as those beneath Lord Elrond.” Thorin agreed absent-mindedly, already writing a letter at his desk to the elven lord as he spoke.

“You would call on Thranduil for aid?” Oin reiterated, sounding incredulous.

Thorin heaved his shoulders in a shrug, dipping his pen into the inkwell and licking at his dry bottom lip. “If I had to. And he owes it to us, in a way. After the grief he gave us before the battle, it would not hurt him to lend us his healers once more. I am not against reminding him of that, if it comes down to it.” He acknowledged, pausing with his pen hovering over the parchment – clearly considering what to write next. “Especially seeing as I gave him those jewels, out of the goodness of my heart. But, hopefully it will not come to that. I would hate to strain our relationship with the woodland realm, and I would much prefer to leave Billa in the hands of one of the best healers in Middle Earth.”

-

“Peculiar.”

Hm? Bad news, my friend?” Gandalf asked over the rim of his wine glass, his eyes both curious and concerned.

Lord Elrond glanced up from the scroll in his hand, shaking his head slowly. “No, I shouldn’t think so… I just hadn’t been expecting to hear from King Thorin.” He shared, picking up his own wine and taking a sip as his eyes raked over the message from the dwarven king. “He sent a letter a couple of weeks after the battle, once he had recovered, informing me that Erebor had been reclaimed and thanking me for translating that map of his… But I hadn’t expected another letter after that. It is hardly as though we are acquaintances.”

“What is it that he wants?” The Istar probed, his brow furrowing further. Elrond had said that it wasn’t bad news, but perhaps that just meant that it wasn’t bad news for him. Lord Elrond was a good elf, but Thorin’s problems were nothing to do with him. It wasn’t as though the two were allies, even if they were on reasonably good terms.

“It’s Lady Billa, the hobbit you employed.” The lord of Rivendell answered, passing the letter to Gandalf once he had finished reading it through. “Apparently, she is pregnant. Did you know? I would have thought it would have come up by now.” He said, returning his glass to its coaster and folding his hands together in his lap. Gandalf only shook his head in response, looking stunned as he gave the letter a once-over. “I should have liked to find out under more cheerful circumstances. Thorin fears that the pregnancy is too much for her, and is requesting that I send someone who knows hobbits to help. He must be desperate, to call on elves.” He remarked, though his tone was light and teasing rather than offended.

Gandalf managed a small smile at that, setting the letter down on the table between them. “Come now, there must be at least one elf in this valley willing to travel to Erebor for several months. Just think of the opportunity! Thorin has quite clearly stated that whoever aids them will be allowed unrestricted access to the mountain’s library. There will be books there that even you have not read!” He pointed out, glancing towards his hat and staff where they rested against his bed. He and Lord Elrond were talking in one of Rivendell’s many guest rooms, and had been enjoying a good nightcap before Lindir had arrived with a rather irritable raven and told the elven lord that he had a message. Gandalf hadn’t minded, but now that he knew the contents of the letter he was glad that his visit had coincided with Thorin’s call for help. It had been a good five or six months since he had been in the mountain himself, and he had left Nori and Dwalin quite some time ago. A wizard could not predict when he would be needed elsewhere, after all.

“A tempting offer indeed.” Elrond mused, the corner of his mouth quirking up into a half-smile. Gandalf knew as well as Elrond did that plenty of elves would give their right arm for that kind of information, since dwarves were so secretive, but they would have to find an elf that could be trusted. Billa was going to be the queen of Erebor, and they could not send just anyone to attend to her. “Not to mention that from an academic point of view, a half-dwarven child could be very interesting indeed. There has not been a single half-dwarf in recorded history, and I have never heard anything but rumours about half-hobbit children.” He noted, beginning to run his finger along the rim of his glass until it made a soft resonating noise.

“You are quite right, my friend. I do, however, understand Thorin’s concern. Whilst strong in spirit, hobbits are not the strongest race physically – and a dwarven child might be more than Billa’s body can bear. If anyone can do it, I believe Billa can, but it wouldn’t hurt to send someone just in case there are complications. Thorin has said that she is already very large, and it’s causing issues for her. I can only imagine how frustrated she must be, she is a fiercely independent creature… I might just visit myself.” The wizard considered, raising a hand to stroke his beard thoughtfully. “I would hate for something to happen to her, after I was the one that sent her off to Erebor in the first place.”

“Oh, I completely agree with you, Mithrandir. I will be sending someone. I have dealt with many pregnant hobbits in my time, as have a large number of the healers here. And we have delivered children with mixed parentage too. We could help, I am certain of it. The hard part is deciding who to send. I can think of at least two dozen healers qualified enough for the job, and I know that at least half of them would jump at the opportunity to see inside a dwarven kingdom. It is not often that we are welcomed with such open arms.” He murmured, picking up his glass once more and taking a small sip from it.

Gandalf cocked his head at his old friend, eyes crinkling at the corners as he smiled. “But you have already decided. You wish to go yourself, do you not?”

Lord Elrond chuckled lowly, acknowledging Gandalf’s words with a regal bob of his head. “I won’t deny that the idea appeals to me. I met Lady Billa, and I found her to be an incredible young creature. I could tell when she visited that Thorin held some kind of feelings for her, and he was not the only one among his company, but I never would have predicted this. A dwarven king, beginning a family and ruling a kingdom with a hobbit. I have heard of dwarves falling for Men, and there have even been whispers of dwarves falling for Elves too, but hobbits?” He answered, almost rolling his eyes when he saw the way that Gandalf puffed up indignantly – as though the elven lord had meant to insult hobbits with those words. “There is nothing wrong with hobbits, of course, they are a fine race – it is just an odd pairing. I would like to see how it works. Perhaps this will usher in an age of more tolerant dwarves, less likely to shun outsiders. It makes me curious.” He confessed with a small shrug, placing the wine glass back on the table and beginning to drum his fingers on the polished wood between them. “And there is the added intrigue of what could be the first known half-dwarf child in history. I would be interested without the promise of payment, and without being offered the opportunity to study Erebor’s library.”

“Then what is stopping you?” The grey Istar pondered, his brow furrowed in clear confusion.

“Not a great deal, if I am honest. Rivendell will keep without me, and I trust my children to take good care of it in my stead. I only wonder how welcome I would be. They asked for a healer, they will not be expecting me.” Elrond pointed out, offering the wizard opposite him a lopsided smile.

“Your healing talents are far superior to anyone else in Rivendell, and it would be immodest of you to suggest otherwise. And don’t you think that the king of the dwarves would appreciate the very best that Rivendell can offer…? This is his queen we are talking about, after all.” Gandalf insisted, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “It could be an adventure. You and I, riding to Erebor to visit my good friend Billa… She would be very pleased to see you. She has always shared her mother’s interest in elves, and I know for a fact that her mother used to speak Sindarin. I feel as though you and Billa would have a great deal in common, now that the quest is over and she has the time on her hands to speak to you in greater depth.”

Elrond sighed heavily at that, knowing what Gandalf was trying to do – and knowing that it would be useless to resist. In any case, a trip away from Rivendell might not be the worst idea. It had been so long since he had last been on an ‘adventure’, after all. He rose from his seat, feeling Gandalf’s eyes on him as he padded to the door and pulled it open.

Lindir stood in the hall outside, still close at hand in case Lord Elrond should have need for him. The brown-haired elf turned his head to regard Elrond as the door opened, smiling politely at the lord of Rivendell. “My Lord?”

“Lindir, could you please send my children to my room?” Elrond requested, both hands folded behind his back. “And have someone make sure that my horse is adequately prepared for a long journey. I intend to leave for Erebor tomorrow – Elladan and Elrohir shall watch Rivendell in my stead, and Arwen may tutor the new healers whilst I am absent.”

“Of course, will you be needing any guards to aid you on your travels?”

“I shouldn’t think so. King Thorin has said that there is an envoy of dwarves passing through the area, and I will have Gandalf with me even if we cannot catch up with them. I trust that we will be just fine.”

Lindir excused himself with one last nod and an obedient bow, turning and walking down the hall to fetch Elrond’s three children for him.

Elrond turned back to Gandalf once the other elf had disappeared around the corner, smiling easily at the sight of the smug look on the wizard’s face. “I think we both have packing to do, my friend.”

Chapter Text

Dwalin turned as he heard the sound of a pony running hard to catch up with the front of the envoy – ever aware of any strange noises or movements in their formation. He and Princess Dís usually traveled at the front of the group, flanked by a group of the more trusted Iron Hills dwarves.  Nori traveled in the middle of the formation, gathering gossip from the dwarves of the Blue Mountains and keeping an eye on his mother – who had been put in the center of the envoy with the other old folk, children and even a pregnant lady or two. It was safest there, where anyone attacking would have to break through a couple of hundred other dwarves to reach them.

A rather harried looking messenger was coming up on Dwalin’s left, his pony visibly struggling from its run to the front of the group. Dwalin slowed slightly to help the other dwarf catch up, waving a hand at Dís to get her attention.

The dark-haired princess tilted her head in consideration, looking as confused and worried as Dwalin felt.

“Master Dwalin, Princess Dís.” The messenger greeted with a dip of his head, slowing down when he reached them. “I come bearing news from the left most side of the envoy.”

“Speak. If it was important enough to send a messenger instead of passing a note through the guards, then speak with haste.” The regal Durin urged, one brow raised as she regarded the other dwarf.

He swallowed noticeably at the scrutiny, glancing down anxiously before fixing his eyes on Dwalin – who seemed the least threatening of the two. “We believe someone may be following us. Earlier this afternoon a scout reported two tall-folk riding horses in our direction, but they were quite some distance behind us and we decided to just keep an eye on them. We assumed that their proximity was coincidental, and they were merely travelling in the same direction as us. They are catching up to us now, running at quite some speed – they appear to be heading straight for us. There are only two, but we thought you should be aware.” He said in a rush, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

Dís made an acknowledging noise, turning to look at Dwalin. “Is that anything to worry about…? You know these lands, is anyone actually mad enough to attempt an attack on us? There are several hundred of us, and only two of them.” She asked the captain of the guard, glancing in the direction of the alleged followers.

“We passed by Rivendell a day or so ago, so they could be elves?” Dwalin theorised, before heaving his shoulders in a shrug. “Could just be checking up on us, I think this still counts as their land. But no matter who it is, they’re not really a threat. At best, they might be able to hit a guard or two, but our numbers would overwhelm them. And odds are they ain’t interested in fighting us. They’re either keeping an eye on us as we pass through, or they’re travellers looking for help.”

“And what should we do if they are in need of help?” Dís wondered, tousling her pony’s mane affectionately between the ears.

Dwalin shrugged again, pulling a water-skin from his belt. “If they want directions, we can give ‘em some. If they need food, or supplies… Then it depends.” He shared, taking a large gulp of water. “If they do get any closer, have some guards escort them to us. Armed guards, so they know who they’re dealing with. I won’t have them thinking they can take advantage of us, we’re not some helpless travellers. Then the Princess and I will take it from there, assess whether or not they are a threat.” He decided, talking directly to the messenger that time.

The messenger nodded his head, glancing at Dís uncertainly for a moment before bidding them both farewell and trotting off back towards the left.

“Do you take joy in making people uncomfortable?” Dwalin asked after the messenger had gone, casting Dís a wry look.

“Only males.” She replied without missing a beat, flashing him a toothy smile.

He snorted in response, shaking his head as they continued forwards. It was almost nice, travelling with Dís. She might have been formidable and a little frightening at times, but she was practically his family – just like Thorin was, and just like her boys were. He almost felt as though he understood her better now, too, after travelling with Billa for so long. She wasn’t a chore, like he had used to think, she was just strong and independent. He could imagine her and Billa becoming close friends – though he wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

The two could probably rule Erebor if they put their minds to it, should Thorin ever step out of line. Poor Thorin.

It was later that day when the travellers reached them, but Dwalin saw them approaching long before he heard the uncomfortable murmuring of the guards – far taller than every dwarf they passed – and recognised them immediately.

Mahal.” Dwalin breathed, raising a hand to rub at the crease in his brow.

“What…? Who is it?” Dís asked, turning to look in the same direction and frowning softly. She raised an eyebrow, glancing to Dwalin uncertainly. “Is that… Tharkûn?” She checked, expression unsure.

Dwalin realised that she had probably never seen Gandalf in person before, but most people knew about Gandalf the grey – and Dís obviously knew that the ‘legendary’ wizard had helped them on their quest. “Yes, they call him Gandalf in the common-tongue. And the elf beside him is Lord Elrond.” He clarified, glancing up at the darkening sky before signalling for the group to halt. They may as well set up camp for the night, since Gandalf and Elrond must have some reason for seeking them out.

Her eyes widened, and she looked to the two again as they grew closer. “Of Rivendell…?”

“The very same.” He confirmed, jumping from his pony as the closest guards began to check the perimeter. It wasn’t an ideal place to stop, but it was big enough for the envoy and they had enough guards to keep a close watch on their surroundings.

Dís hopped down from her own steed, adjusting her fur cloak and tucking a curl of hair behind her bejewelled ear. Whilst she couldn’t wear too much jewellery traveling, that hadn’t stopped her from adorning her ears in all manner of piercings and chains. Since they were less likely to come out, and thus less likely to get lost. “Well, we’ll have to roll out our best welcome-mat.” She quipped slightly, offering Dwalin a sardonic smile. Her expression sobered only a moment later and she sighed, squaring her shoulders as they waited for the wizard and the elf to reach them. “I had hoped for as little trouble as possible on this trip, but that may have been too much to ask.”

Dwalin grunted in agreement, but was saved from answering when Gandalf and Elrond came to a stop in front of them. “Gandalf, Lord Elrond.” He hummed as politely as he could, though even he recognised how tense and unhappy he sounded.

“Well, is that any way to greet a friend? Why so grim, Dwalin??” Gandalf wondered, seeming perfectly at ease as he dismounted and brushed off his robes. “Are we setting up camp? Good, good… I’ve been wanting a smoke for the last few hours, but have you ever tried to pack a pipe whilst riding a horse at full speed? Quite impossible, I assure you, even for a wizard.” He barreled on, cryptic as ever. “Oh, hello!” He remarked when he spotted Dís, sweeping his hat off respectfully. “Princess Dís, I presume? My, you do look like your brother! But not as stubborn, or foolhardy, I hope! It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Lord Elrond followed close behind the greying wizard, merely looking amused as he bowed his head in acknowledgement to the two dwarves. “Lord Dwalin, Princess Dís.” He greeted, patting the side of his horse in an absent-minded manner.

“And you are just as peculiar as my brother told me you would be. It is nice to know that he told the truth about some things.” Dís responded, eyeing the wizard sceptically as he chuckled. She shook her head slightly in bemusement, turning her attention to Lord Elrond. “Gamut sanu yenet, Lord Elrond. I must admit that we did not expect to see either of you, and whilst this is a… Pleasant surprise, is something the matter?”

Gandalf and Lord Elrond turned to look at each other, both their faces full of surprise. “You were not expecting us?” Gandalf reiterated, pulling his pipe from inside his cloak.

“What’s going on?” Nori asked, seeming to appear quite from nowhere – attracted by Gandalf’s and Elrond’s appearance, no doubt.

“Ah, Nori, it’s good to see you again! I trust your business in the Shire went without a hitch?” The Istar said with a wide smile, clapping his hands together.

Nori bobbed his head in a nod, exchanging a befuddled look with Dwalin. Dwalin only shrugged in response, clueless as to what was happening. “It went fine, thank you… But I’m sure you didn’t come all this way just to check that Billa’s relatives didn’t rob me blind, so why are you here…? Are you just passing through?”

“Thorin did not say that we would be joining you?” Gandalf checked, withdrawing a leather pouch of tobacco and beginning to pack it into the bowl of his pipe.

Lord Elrond held up a hand to Gandalf, a thoughtful look on his face. “Mithrandir, it occurs to me that he probably has not had the time to write to them since he wrote to us.” He pointed out, turning to watch as a couple of guards started to build a fire pit – and some began setting up an array of tents to house them all for the night. They moved efficiently, one group of guards making sure the area was safe as the others prepared the camp.

“Gods, you’re right! Goodness, we must have scared you, sorry about that.” The elderly man huffed, lighting his pipe from a flame at the tip of his finger. He held out the pipe to Lord Elrond in a silent offer, who shook his head in response.

“Okay, can somebody please explain what is happening here? You are joining us…? And Thorin knows?” Dís interjected, pinching the bridge of her nose between two fingers – in a gesture reminiscent of her brother.

Elrond turned to look at her, smiling apologetically and dipping his head. “Apologies, Princess Dís. Your brother sent me a letter yesterday, requesting aid from Rivendell. I can show you, if you would like?” He explained, turning to his horse and retrieving the letter from one of his saddle-bags.

“If you wouldn’t mind, please.” She hummed, smiling briefly at a guard who came to take her pony from her – to tie it up for the night. She caught sight of another guard doing the same for Dwalin nearby, receiving a pat on the shoulder from the broad dwarf for his troubles. Nori, on the other hand, must have left his ponies with his mother and Billa’s caravan.

“Thorin has requested aid from you…? What’s happened? Is something wrong in Erebor?” The auburn-haired dwarf assumed, watching closely as Dís took the letter from Elrond – recognising Thorin’s seal on the paper.

Dís’ brow furrowed as she read the letter, and she caught her bottom lip between her teeth. “No… Well, something is wrong, but it’s nothing to do with Erebor. It’s your sister. Thorin says that Oin is concerned about her size, and she is in a great deal of discomfort… So, they want a healer who knows hobbits, to help monitor her pregnancy.” She exposed, looking concerned. “But calling on elves? No offence meant, of course, I’m just surprised. This is unlike the Thorin I grew up with.” She breathed, glancing to Elrond – to make sure that the elf hadn’t taken her words the wrong way. Dís was a dwarf, and as such she wasn’t especially fond of elves, but she didn’t hate them the same way that Thorin did. Or had used to, anyway. No elf had ever slighted her, she had no reason to despise them.

“No offence taken, Princess, I said much the same thing to Gandalf.” Lord Elrond answered with a smile, his expression mildly amused.

“If Thorin was worried enough to call for outside help, something must be really wrong. But… Billa hasn’t mentioned any of this in her letters. She said the pregnancy was going fine, she was just suffering from some joint-pain and fatigue.” Nori interrupted, looking fretful. Dís felt for him, because she understood his concern as a sibling – and as a mother, she also knew how difficult pregnancy could be. She only hoped that her brother was just being a mother-hen, and the hobbit was actually okay. Dís had endured Thorin’s smothering throughout both of her pregnancies, and he would only be worse with a child of his own. He could be exaggerating, but calling on elves did make it seem serious. That wasn’t something that Thorin would do lightly.

Gandalf reached out to pat Nori’s shoulder, his pipe hanging from the corner of his mouth. “I suspect Billa was probably just trying to stop you from worrying, Nori. But either way, this is not life or death. It doesn’t say that she is weak, or infirm, just that they would like an expert opinion.” He reasoned, in an attempt to soothe the middle Ri brother. “Oin may be a fine physician, but he had never even met a hobbit before I introduced you all to Billa. And a hobbit is very different to a dwarf, as I am sure you have noticed by now.”

Still… I can’t believe she didn’t say. I shall have to write to Dori, and find out just how our little sister is doing. He wouldn’t lie about it, but I never thought to ask. I expected Billa to be telling me the truth.” Nori muttered, nodding gratefully as another guard approached with his caravan and ponies. He had left them behind in a rush, but he still needed to keep them close by – lest any of Billa’s belongings fall into the hands of a poor and desperate dwarf.

“Well, regardless, the two of us shall be joining you on the journey back to Erebor. I suspect that Thorin meant to inform you that we would be coming, but I doubt there has been enough time for our answering raven to reach him yet. He didn’t expect for Lord Elrond to come himself, and he didn’t know I would be coming too, but we have let him know in our letter.” Gandalf hummed, sitting down once the campfire was going and setting his hat down on the floor beside him.

“I see… Well, then, I guess we can find the room and provisions for you to join us! I don’t suppose you brought a tent for yourselves, did you? We may have a few spares, but none big enough for those of your stature.” Dís allowed, taking a stool from a guard and setting it down near the wizard. She may have lived on the road before, but that didn’t mean she had to get dirty sitting on the floor when she didn’t have to. “Would either of you like a seat?”

“We did bring a tent, yes. We also brought our own food, so you needn’t worry about that.” Lord Elrond responded, accepting a stool from the guard and almost rolling his eyes when Gandalf flapped a hand at the dwarf – turning away the offer of something to sit on. Gandalf always travelled light, so Elrond suspected he was used to going without such comforts. “Thank you.”

“Enough lembas to last an age!” Gandalf stated, blowing out a stream of smoke – that changed into a very familiar looking dragon and flew a loop around the campfire before dissipating.

Dwalin frowned at the smoke-dragon, squinting at it for a long moment before sitting cross-legged on the floor beside the princess and turning his gaze to the smoking wizard. “Just lembas? Do you not need any dried meats? We left Erebor with whole caravans of the stuff, and we still had to pick up more in the Blue Mountains before we left.” He huffed, taking a water skin from his belt and uncorking it.

“Not at all. We make lembas specifically for long journeys, it is quite possible to live on waybread alone. And some elves prefer not to eat meat, in any case.” Elrond explained, shaking his head as he did.

Dwalin narrowed his eyes again, looking sceptical as he took a swig of water. “Hm. I have heard of waybread before, but I thought it was nonsense. A food that lasts months without expiring, tastes good and can sustain even the largest of the tall folk? Seemed fanciful to me. Like some exaggerated form of the tooth-dullers we give soldiers.” He said, wrinkling his nose at the thought. Tooth-dullers, as many dwarves had come to call them, were a kind of hard cracker that took a long time to expire – so long as they were kept dry. Most soldiers kept them for long journeys or battles, wrapped in a waxy-kind of paper and tucked inside their bags or cloaks. They were disgusting, and biting them always felt like you might break a tooth. Or your jaw. And they certainly weren’t filling, the way lembas was supposed to be.

But they were cheap to produce, and light to carry. Lighter than bread, dried meats and other such foods.

“You are welcome to try one, my friend. Maybe then you will believe us. I myself am quite fond of lembas, though we do only really use it for travelling. It does taste good, but why would we eat it in our own homes when we can have fresh food instead?” The elven lord offered with an amused little smile, glancing back to his horse – which was standing obediently where he had left it, chewing at the grass under it’s hooves.

The balding dwarf seemed to go a little red at being called Elrond’s friend, and he glanced to Dís uncertainly – who hid an equally amuse smile in the collar of her cloak before shrugging at him. “…suppose you’ve got a point there.” Dwalin murmured gruffly after a moment, seeming embarrassed.

Maybe travelling with Gandalf and Lord Elrond wouldn’t be such an unpleasant affair after all.

-

“Billa, sweetheart, what are you doing?” Thorin called from the other room, making Billa turn to glance over her shoulder.

The hobbit stood with her hands braced on the kitchen side, an apron barely covering the swell of her stomach as she struggled to navigate the pokey space between the kitchen table and the oven. The kitchen had never seemed small when she was a regular size, it had just been cosy, but now it was an issue.

“I’m making dinner, my heart. Did you think I would go through all of the trouble of getting us a couple of days off, and then expect you to eat in the communal dining hall? No, I am making my intended a good hobbit meal. If the hobbits back in the Shire heard how little I cooked for you, they would be appalled.” She answered, taking a moment to breathe deeply and rub at her stomach before straightening up again. The baby had become a lot more active in the last week or so, giving her a sound kicking if she stayed still for too long. It made it hard to rest, so she had been trying to keep on her feet as much as she could – without wearing herself out, of course.

It was a challenge, to say the least.

Thorin padded into the room just as she was bending down to light the oven, raising an eyebrow when she winced. “And would the other hobbits expect you to be cooking when you are this heavily pregnant?” He asked, wrapping an arm around her middle and helping her to straighten up once more.

Billa made an indecisive noise, not sure how to respond when the regal dwarf herded her into a chair. “I thought not. I’ll take care of dinner.” The king insisted, pressing a kiss to the top of her head before glancing at the ingredients assembled on the kitchen surface. “…what are we having?”

“Thorin, no, I can do it-” The pregnant hobbit persisted, beginning to stand again.

Thorin rolled his eyes at her, putting both of his hands on her shoulders and gently pushing her back into the chair. “Billa. I can cook. You’re supposed to be relaxing too, and I am not about to watch you struggle around the kitchen, because you’re too proud to admit that you need some help. If you want, you can cut some vegetable at the table, but I’ll do the rest. Just tell me what to do.”

Billa puffed up irritably for a moment, about to snap at him for saying that she was too proud – but he was completely right. Her ankles were sore, and the baby was kicking, and she could do with a sit down. She deflated visibly, sinking back into the chair and crossing her arms across her chest. “Alright, fine. Can you bring the chopping board, a knife and the vegetables to the table for me?” She breathed, reaching back with one hand to untie her apron. She removed the apron, hanging it over the back of the closest chair and sighing – placing a hand over her fidgeting child.

Her intended smiled widely, bringing over the requested items and placing them on the table for her. He then dipped down to kiss her gently on the mouth, his expression warm. “Thank you.” He crooned, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear for her. “Now, what should I do?” He questioned, picking up the discarded apron and slipping it on over his own head. He secured the knot easily behind his back, before tucking his hair into a neat ponytail with a leather tie.

Billa just stared at him for a moment, taking in the sight of the large, muscular dwarf wearing a floral apron that was far too small to cover his broad chest. She almost laughed, but she couldn’t help but think that he looked quite comely. It was very… Domestic.

“Billa?” Thorin pressed, raising an eyebrow at her.

“Sorry, sorry… Err… You need to score the meat. We’re having honey-glazed lamb and vegetables.” She coughed, feeling her face heat up as she sat up straight and reached for the closest potato. She began peeling, managing to waste as little potato as possible – from years of practice back in the Shire. When her mother had first started teaching her to cook, she hadn’t been very good with knives. Her vegetables were always uneven when she cut them, she always lost great chunks of potato when trying to get rid of the skin, and she usually managed to nick herself once or twice with the knife if she wasn’t paying enough attention. Decades of cooking, coupled with the years she had lived alone, had made her into a pretty good cook. “Just lightly cut a diamond pattern into the surface of the meat – it helps the marinade soak in. Once that’s done, you’ll need to make the marinade and the glaze. I’ll let you know how to do that once the meat it cut. I got the butcher to remove the bone, since I’m not much good at that, so that’s one thing already out of the way.” She explained, putting one peeled potato aside and starting on the next.

“How big should the diamonds be?” Thorin requested, washing his hands at the sink – since he was about to handle uncooked meat.

“Hm? Oh, I don’t know. Not too small. About an inch wide?” Billa guessed, shrugging. She blinked when she caught sight of the exasperated look Thorin sent her, rolling her eyes at his need for specifics. “It doesn’t need to be perfect, Thorin. It’s a slab of meat, not one of those geometric patterns that you dwarves love so much.” She snorted, laughing when he shot her another dirty look.

Thorin dried his hands on the tea-towel, shaking his head to himself as he picked up a large knife and began to meticulously slice at the meat on the side. Billa watched him for a moment, amused by the concentration on his face as he used the knife to measure out each line before he cut it. It was endearing. She returned her attention to the potato in her hand, putting it down with the other peeled potato when it was ready and pushing the peelings into a neat pile on the opposite side of the chopping board.

She glanced up when Thorin cleared his throat, smiling fondly at him. “What’s next?” He asked, putting the knife down and moving to wash his hands again.

“Next you can prepare the marinade – but can you grab a couple of oven trays please? One for you and one for me. The lamb will need the biggest one we have, but the other one is just for the vegetables. Anything will do.” She hummed, smiling wider when Thorin did as he was told and handed her one of the deeper oven tins. She picked up a carrot, beginning to peel that whilst she talked. “Thank you, honey. Now, you’ll need the oil, the herbs, a couple of cloves of garlic, lemon rind, seasoning, a little bowl, and the brush I use for egg-wash. They should all be on the side, I had everything set out ready.”

“Lemon rind?” Thorin asked, picking up the lemon and looking at it – his expression unsure.

“Oh, right. Bring the lemon and the little grater over, I’ll do that. You can dice the herbs and the garlic whilst I do. Both need to be cut up really small, alright? We don’t want any big chunks of garlic, it’ll be too… Potent.” She explained, putting the carrot to one side and holding out a hand for the lemon. Thorin surrendered the yellow fruit to her without complaint, followed by the grater. Billa figured that it was better for her to grate the rind, because Thorin might be a bit heavy-handed if he had never done it before – and they didn’t want any pith in their marinade.

“Alright, I can do that. And what comes after that?” He prompted, grabbing a smaller, clean knife and beginning to cut up the rosemary first.

“Then we mix the rind, oil, herbs, garlic, salt and pepper in a little bowl. That’s all we need for the marinade. Once everything is all nicely mixed together, you can brush it over the meat and roll it up. Tie it with the twine in the kitchen drawer.” Billa instructed, grating the lemon skin with the finest side of the grater – pausing every so often to brush the rind off of the grater with the back of her finger so that it didn’t build up too much.

Thorin stopped to raise an eyebrow at her, head tilted in confusion. “…tie it?” He said, to be sure that he had heard her correctly.

“Yeah. The meat is kind of flat, because it’s been cut off of the bone, but we’re going to roll it back up like it’s on the bone again. And you know what? I’m not sure why. This is a recipe my mother taught me, and I never thought to ask why it’s got to be tied up. Maybe it keeps the marinade in? Makes it moist? I don’t know. It could just be so that it fits in the pan better, because that will not fit in a pan as it is.” She allowed, shrugging and putting the grater down when she was done. She stood slowly, scooping the rind up in her hands and padding over to put it in the bowl beside Thorin.

Her intended shot a mildly scolding look at her, and she raised her hands in a gesture of surrender – retreating to her chair once more. “I suppose that makes sense. Seems complicated, though.” Thorin accepted, adding the chopped rosemary to the bowl and working on the cloves of garlic.

“It would, to someone who has only ever cooked over a fire.” Billa teased, laughing when he narrowed his eyes playfully at her. “I suppose everything was burned or undercooked? It must be strange, eating food that’s seasoned and well-cooked.” She continued, huffing another laugh as he threw the closest tea-towel at her.

“At least cooking over a fire is simple. This is a lot of work.” Thorin groused, adding the garlic to the bowl and picking up the bottle of oil.

Billa smiled, wiping the lemon juice from her hands with the tea-towel. “Sometimes the things worth doing are hard work, sweetheart. You of all people should know that, reclaiming a lost kingdom was quite the ordeal.” She pointed out, throwing the tea-towel back to him – and sniggering when it hit him in the back of the head.

Thorin chuckled, grabbing the tea-towel and putting it down on the side. He poured some oil into the bowl in front of him, adding a good amount of salt and pepper to the mixture before using the brush to stir it together. “I suppose you’re quite right.” He hummed, offering her a look that was so unbelievably fond that it left Billa wondering what he was thinking about. Because it couldn’t be what she had said about his kingdom.

Billa felt her cheeks warm again and averted her eyes, returning to peeling and chopping the vegetables. “These potatoes will need part-boiling before we roast them, but the parsnips and carrots are ready to go in the oven once the lamb has been cooking a while. The meat needs maybe two and a half hours to cook – but it never hurts to get the vegetables ready in advance. After two and a half hours we need to take the meat out, add the honey glaze and then put it back in the oven for another half an hour. We can have some tea in the other room whilst we wait, or read for a while… Just, kill a couple of hours.” She rambled, in an attempt to brush off her own embarrassment.

“I could do with a bath.” Thorin dictated as he spread the marinade across the meat with the brush, putting the brush down when he was done and retrieving the twine.

“Alright, there’s plenty of time for that, and I can read whilst I wait-” Billa agreed, putting the carrots and parsnips in the oven tin but leaving the potatoes on the chopping board – since they needed boiling before they went in the oven with the other vegetables.

“-join me?” He requested, flashing her a smile once he had finished rolling and tying the meat. He moved the meat into the tin, before sliding the tin into the oven so that it could begin to cook. He washed his hands before turning around to face her, smiling wider and holding a hand out to help her up. “Please?”

She had been pregnant for around six months, and they had been together for at least eight or nine months now, but she still blushed. Maybe it was her old hobbit sensibilities – or maybe it was just the fact that she was madly in love with him. She took his hand with a smile, fighting back her embarrassment. “Of course, I think a nice bath might be exactly what my poor joints need.” She averred, letting him pull her to her feet and leaning up to kiss him on the jaw.

“That was what I thought.” He admitted, making her smile wider and blush darker.

Her sweet, foolish dwarf.

Less than twenty minutes later, Billa found herself relaxing in a hot bath – sat between Thorin’s legs in the water as he worked the knots out of her back with his hands. It felt amazing – and if there was ever a reason to let Thorin help more often, it was this. She knew, rationally, that she had to stop insisting she was okay all of the time – but it was hard. Up until the quest, she had spent years learning how to look after herself. Learning how to be independent, after a life under her mother’s wing. She had lost both of her parents, and her extended family were insisting that she should have a guardian of some kind. She had wanted to prove them wrong, because she was an adult even if she was a lady, and she didn’t need anyone taking care of her.

But, really, sometimes it was okay to let someone take care of you. She still maintained that not taking a guardian had been a good idea – especially considering that no guardian would ever have allowed her to go on the quest – but she could let Thorin take care of her sometimes. And her family too, she supposed.

Though that wouldn’t stop her from letting Dori know whenever he crossed a line.

Which was often.

Mmm… Thank you. For helping with the cooking, and for this… I’ve had a lovely evening.” Billa breathed, leaning back in Thorin’s arms.

The dwarf king let out a rumbling laugh, pressing a kiss to the side of her neck – his beard wet and surprisingly soft on her skin. “And we’ve not even had dinner.” He pointed out, using one hand to gently tilt her head back before picking up a wooden jug from the side of the bath and filling it with water. He doused her hair, careful not to get any water in her eyes and running one hand through the brown curls to make sure the water got all the way through her thick hair. “So, that is high praise indeed.” He chuckled, putting the jug down once it was empty and picking up the honey soap that Billa was so fond of – working a lather up between his hands. “How is our madtithbirzul today?”

Billa exhaled slowly, smiling when Thorin began to wash her hair for her – gently rubbing his fingers into her scalp as he did. “She was a little restless earlier, but I think she’s alright now. Maybe it’s the water…? I don’t know. She’s stopped kicking my bladder, at least.” She cooed, feeling weightless and comfortable in the warm bath, propped against Thorin’s chest. “Maybe she’s asleep.”

“At least she’s calmed down.” He imparted, kissing her shoulder and smiling into her skin. “Do you think that we should begin thinking about names for her…? It’s not long now. Another… What? Three months, if we’re right about it being a hobbit pregnancy?”

“Hm… I don’t know. I mean, sure, we could think about names, but I don’t know about choosing anything. I think we should meet her, before we decide on anything for certain. I’d hate for her to be stuck with something that didn’t suit her, because we decided too early and were set on a particular name.” Billa shared, licking her lips and letting her eyes fall closed.

Thorin’s hands stilled for a moment, before continuing to work the soap into her hair. “You know, I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right. Dwarves tend to choose a name in advance, and it’s always a family name… But meeting our baby first, and then deciding… That sounds good. I think that’ll work. In the meantime, we can just think about names we like, but nothing has to be set in stone.” He mused, rinsing his hands in the water beside him. He picked up the jug again, beginning to very carefully rinse her hair of soap – using one hand to shield her forehead from the water as he did.

“Exactly… I heard some dreadful names back in the Shire, and every time I thought about them I would always wonder what their parents were thinking when they named them. I don’t want anyone to think that about our faunt.” She reiterated, smothering a yawn with her hand. “Mahal, I think I’m going to fall asleep if I become any more relaxed...”

The dark-haired dwarf laughed quietly, using several jugs of water to make sure her hair was completely soap-free before handing her the soap and moving away slightly. “Here. I’ll wash my hair whilst you finish cleaning up, and then we can get out. Change into our sleep-clothes and sit in front of the fire. Does that sound good?” He suggested, kissing her cheek and reaching for his own soap. It was made with nettle and rosemary, or something similar, but that barely mattered to him. It smelt fine, and it got him clean. That was good enough. He wasn’t a fancy-soap kind of person, but he did like the way Billa smelled when she used her sweeter soaps – especially the honey one. It had become very familiar to him.

Eating in our sleep-clothes?” Billa half-protested, her expression dubious.

Thorin shrugged, beginning to soap up his hands to wash his hair. “What’s the harm in that? We’ve bathed, there’s no point in changing into fresh clothes when we’re only going to wear them for another hour or two at most. It’s wasteful. And we’ll be more comfortable in our sleep clothes. You will be more comfortable, amrâlimê.” He argued, scratching hard at his scalp to make sure he got a good deep clean.

Billa frowned softly for a moment, pausing where she had been washing beside him. “Well…” She began, and Thorin knew he had won. Probably by saying that it was wasteful to put on clean clothes for so little time – especially since Billa didn’t like wearing the same clothes repeatedly without cleaning them. She had detested how little she could change her clothes on the quest. “…alright. Since we’re not going anywhere, and the company are on orders not to bother us.” She conceded, grinning slightly at the last part.

Thorin responded with the most innocent look that he could – pretending that he didn’t know what she was talking about. He definitely hadn’t told everyone not to bother them, for anything less than an emergency…

They deserved a break! He wasn’t going to apologise for that.

Chapter Text

Billa swallowed thickly, fiddling with her hands as she waited anxiously in the entrance hall. Practically every dwarf in the mountain had gathered at the mountain’s gates, ready to welcome the dwarves of the Blue Mountains.

Excited chatter filled the hall, but Billa could feel her insides twisting nervously. She would be meeting Dís today. Thorin’s sister. The formidable princess of Erebor, who Thorin seemed to fear enough to hide their courtship initially.

She was terrified.

Thankfully, Thorin had decided to spare Billa for a few hours. He was stood at the front of the crowd, in all his kingly attire – ready to welcome his people at long last. It was a proud moment for him, and Billa wished she was brave enough to stand at his side, but he had offered her an out and she had taken it.

He knew she was scared, and he had told her that she could spend some time with Nori and organise her belongings from the Shire before he introduced her to his sister. It would give her a few hours to sort her head out, and she appreciated that.

Not to mention she had really missed Nori. It had been a weird few months without him, and she needed a huge hug.

She’d even missed Dwalin. It was weird, not having the big lout around. She reached up to touch the wooden bead he’d made her at the thought, exhaling softly to herself and managing a smile.

She was going to see her brother and one of her best friends – it didn’t have to be a bad day. And Nori had been travelling with Dís, he might be able to offer some advice about how to talk to her.

Maybe he had been buttering her up. Billa hoped so.

The hobbit blinked and glanced up as the gates began to open, a row of guards playing a welcoming fanfare as the first of the caravans approached the mouth of the mountain – lead by Dwalin, Nori and a dwarf that could only be Dís in between them. She was dressed like a male dwarf, but Billa had heard from the others that most female dwarves did that when travelling, for the sake of their safety.

It was why many of the other races believed the myth that there weren’t any female dwarves.

Dís stood tall and proud, her strides purposeful as she entered. The family resemblance between her and Thorin was uncanny. She had the same long, straight nose as him, and similar pale blue eyes. Her beard was thick and long, split into two detailed braids and littered with beads. Billa recognised many of them as the kinds that dwarves wore when they were of high status and partook in difficult battles.

Balin had been schooling her in what the more common beads meant – so that she could recognise them on the dwarves of the kingdom. Thorin was supposed to wear similar beads, for propriety’s sake, but he didn’t like to wear too much decoration after his gold-sickness. He didn’t wear earrings or rings either, and Billa didn’t blame him. She knew he lived in fear of relapsing, and she had to admit that she shared the sentiment. It didn’t hurt to be careful.

The female Durin’s hair was pulled up into a mohawk braid, much like the kind Thorin sometimes styled Billa’s hair into, but with four smaller braids – two on either side of her face. Billa immediately recognised Thorin’s bead, Kili’s bead and Fili’s bead. Thorin’s and Kili’s beads were side-by-side, whilst Fili’s rested beside a bead she didn’t know – but Billa recognised a marriage braid when she saw it, so she knew that it must have belonged to Dís’ late husband.

Dís was stocky and broad-shouldered, but noticeably shorter than her brother. Perhaps even a whole head shorter. She smiled widely as she reached Thorin, forsaking formality and strong-arming the king into a hug.

Brother.” She greeted him, her voice surprisingly breathy and full of joy.

Thorin smiled back just as fondly, patting her strongly on the back. “It is good to see you, sister.” He insisted, and Billa fidgeted, glad that a good few dwarves stood between her and the family reunion. She didn’t want to be a part of that just yet. From what she had heard, Dís could be scary.

Billa jumped when an arm wrapped around her shoulders unexpectedly, turning her head to see Ori smiling sheepishly. He mouthed ‘sorry’ for startling her, giving her a gentle squeeze before looking back in Nori’s direction. She managed to relax a little, knowing that Ori meant to reassure her, and glanced to Dori on her other side. She was unsurprised to see him staring at Nori, practically vibrating with the desire to rush over and say hello.

She looked back to Thorin and Dís as they pulled apart, and Thorin spread his arms wide in a welcoming gesture.

“Welcome, everyone! It is wonderful to see that you all arrived safe and sound. Tomorrow, a large banquet will be thrown in your honour, but tonight you may get settled in. There are guards here to direct you to your assigned quarters, and food in your rooms. Please, make yourselves at home. I will see you all in the food-hall tomorrow evening.” He called loudly to the group, smiling widely as those at the front of the crowd cheered and clapped, filling the hall with a cheerful cacophony of noise.

The new arrivals began to disperse, moving amongst the other dwarves – looking for loved ones, or guards to send them to their rooms. Billa saw a round-looking female dwarf rushing towards Bombur – followed closely by their small flock of children. Bombur caught the entire group in his arms, and even from a distance the hobbit could see that he was teary-eyed.

She looked away, feeling like she was encroaching on a private moment – her face lighting up when she saw Nori heading towards them. Dori surged forwards, pulling their brother into a bone-crushing hug before he could even say a word.

“Get off of me, you old fool!” Nori rebuffed gently, though his eyes were glistening as he pulled back. “I missed you too.” He conceded, giving Dori’s cheek a soft pat.

Dori looked very emotional and red in the face, and Billa didn’t blame him. She felt a little choked up just watching the exchange. “It’s really good to have you back, brother.” He insisted, leaning forwards to knock his forehead affectionately against Nori’s.

Nori smiled crookedly, winking in an attempt to cover up how clearly uncomfortable he was with such an open display of emotion. “Of course it is!” He purred, stepping away. “Now, where are my little brother and sister? Have you been taking care of them?”

“Of course!” Dori bristled, looking slightly annoyed by the implication that he wouldn’t have. Nori laughed, giving Dori’s shoulder a little shove before turning towards Billa and Ori.

“Well, look at you!” Nori crowed when he caught sight of them, looking Billa up and down. “Are you carrying a baby, or a litter? How long was I gone???” He marvelled, drawing Billa into a hug and pressing a kiss into her hair.

The hobbit laughed a little wetly, so pleased to see him. “Oh, shush!” She scolded him, though there was no real malice in her tone.

“I’m serious!” Nori chuckled, holding her at arm’s length and looking her over once more – just taking in the sight of her. “You look healthy, though. Do you know how worried I was, when I heard that Thorin called for an elven healer? You told me you were fine!” He pointed out, giving her a gentle shake and grinning. “What’s that about?”

Billa felt her face heat up under his scrutiny, and she grimaced softly. “I am fine! I didn’t lie. Thorin and Oin just wanted to be safe.” She huffed, looking to Ori – hoping he would help – and frowning when he shrugged.

Great.

Nori turned to look at Ori too, smiling at his little brother and releasing Billa – holding his arms out to the other dwarf. Ori almost bowled the older dwarf over in his enthusiasm, hugging Nori so tightly that he wheezed. “Easy there! Mahal, I always forget how strong you are.” He puffed, laughing breathlessly. “Good to see you looking happy and whole too, Ori. Now, you have to be honest with me – how has Billa been?”

“Hey!” Billa complained, wrapping both arms around her large bump.

Ori glanced to Billa briefly, looking apologetic. “She’s been well. She’s suffered some aches and pains, and some anaemia, but Oin says that’s all normal in any pregnancy. We’re just… Really worried about her size. The baby is getting a bit big for someone of her stature. Thorin and Oin wanted a healer who knows hobbits around, just in case things get worse.” He shared, letting go of Nori and dodging out of the way when Billa tried to swat him.

“I did think you looked big, sister! I am glad to hear that you are well, though. I would hate to think that you lied to me.” Nori sighed, shooting her a disapproving look. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders, and another around Ori’s. “Now, shall we go find our mother? I left her with your caravan, since I didn’t want to bring her into the throng with everyone running around here. She has that tricky hip.”

Our mother?” Billa asked, derailed as Nori steered them around the edge of the crowd. Billa briefly caught sight of Gandalf and Elrond with Thorin, towards the centre of the hall, but they were too far away to greet.

Dori snorted softly, fixing Billa with a look. “Of course. You’re a part of this family, remember? I mean, by law you’re only really related to us, since she didn’t enter into this agreement… But, she’s been dying to meet you. She said as much in her letters. ‘When am I going to meet my hobbit daughter? How is my hobbit daughter?’ She already thinks of you as one of us.” He explained, following a step behind them.

Billa felt her chest tighten, overwhelmed as she was shepherded away. Eira thought of her as her daughter? That was… Weird. But it was a nice kind of weird. She was part of a family again.

What more could she want?

The hobbit let Nori lead them through the throng of dwarves, smiling when they found her caravan. A small, elderly female dwarf was sat on the front, reading some form of Khuzdul book – titled ‘Legends of Creation’. Billa was proud to note that she could read the title with some ease, since her Khuzdul lessons had been coming along nicely. Not to mention they had a lot of books on lore and legends in the library, so she knew those words particularly well.

“Ma!” Ori yelled, running the last few feet to the caravan and grinning brightly.

The frail looking dwarf smiled brilliantly back at him, and Billa was struck by how much she resembled her eldest son. “Ori, my pebble! Look how much you’ve grown!” She gasped, easing herself down from the caravan – but gently swatting Ori’s hand when he tried to help her. “Good gracious, it’s been too long! It feels like decades since I last saw my boys.” She huffed, putting her hand on the back of Ori’s head and guiding it down so that she could bump their foreheads in greeting. “And where is my big strong Dori? Has he been taking care of you?”

“If you can call it that!” Nori quipped as he and Dori approached with Billa, grinning toothily when Dori shot a glare at him.

“Ignore him, mother.” Dori huffed, stepping forwards and leaning down to knock his forehead against his mother’s. “He is as foolish as ever. But it is good to see you, and you are right that it’s been too long. We missed you dearly.” He crooned, drawing her in for a hug.

“And I you. I hope you took care of your brothers for me.” Eira said, hugging him back before looking around him at Billa and Nori. “This must be Billa! Hello, dear, Nori has told me so much about you.” She insisted, releasing Dori and moving over to greet the hobbit.

Billa watched her uncertainty, not sure whether or not a hug would be appropriate. “Hello, Eira.” She replied a little shyly, smiling slightly. “My brothers have told me a great deal about you too, it is lovely to meet you at last.”

“None of this Eira business, call me ‘Ma! The boys do.” The slight dwarven woman huffed, putting a hand on either side of Billa’s head and knocking their foreheads together affectionately. “Look at you, you’re practically glowing! Nori tells me this is your first pebble, you must be so excited.” She added as she drew back, eyeing the hobbit’s round abdomen.

Billa swallowed back the thickness in her throat, managing a wide and warm smile for the white-haired lady. “I am. It’s been a bit tough, but it’s all going to be worth it. I can’t wait to meet our little girl.” She shared, smiling even wider when Eira linked their arms together.

“A little girl? How wonderful!” Eira sighed, giving the hobbit’s arm a squeeze. “We could do with a few more girls in this family!”

Nori frowned softly, waving over a guard before turning back towards his sister. “How do you know that?” He asked, looking confused. When the guard joined them, Nori quietly instructed him to have the contents of the caravan moved into the royal wing – so that Billa could sort through it later. It wouldn’t all fit in the Ri family’s rooms, anyway.

“I don’t, but I can feel it.” Billa admitted as she watched the guard leave with the caravan, itching to look through her old belongings but knowing that would probably have to wait.

Really?” Nori scoffed, looking tickled.

Eira reached out to smack her middle son gently on the arm, scowling softly. “Nori, don’t be so rude! I know what she means. I wasn’t sure if Dori was going to be a boy or a girl, but I could tell with you and Ori. Sometimes you can just know.” She defended, offering Billa a reassuring look.

The auburn-haired dwarf tilted his head in consideration for a moment before shrugging, a smile curling up one corner of his mouth. “You probably couldn’t tell with Dori because he’s such a mother-hen.” He teased, laughing out loud when Dori glared at him.

“You see what I’ve had to put up with whilst we’ve been gone, mother?” Dori muttered, sounding mildly annoyed – but not too annoyed, since he had missed Nori a great deal during his travels.

“I am sure you endured it valiantly, Dori dear. You have the patience of a boulder.” Eira chuckled, reaching her free hand out to pat Dori’s cheek dotingly. “Now, will you show me to our rooms? I am excited to see where we will be living! And I am very tired – you know your Ma is a little old now, I need my rest.”

Dori bobbed his head in agreement, taking his mother’s other arm and leading the way towards the closest stairwell. “Of course. It’s not terribly far, and I think you will find it very comfortable. I will give credit where credit is due – Thorin did a good job organising the renovations.” He confessed, almost begrudgingly.

Billa’s eldest brother began to fill their mother in as they walked, so the hobbit zoned out and looked around at their surroundings. It was lovely seeing so many families reunited – even the dwarves of the Iron Hills had family in the Blue Mountains, who had fled Erebor when the mountain was taken by Smaug.

Dain could be seen moving through the crowd, shaking hands and clapping dwarves on the back like he knew each and every one of them.

Nori nodded to Dwalin as they passed him where he stood with Balin, smiling a little wryly as they continued on their way out of the entrance hall. Billa glanced back at the large dwarf, raising a hand to wave and blinking when she caught him staring after Nori with a small smile instead – not noticing her wave, or not acknowledging it at least.

That was bizarre. Since when had Nori and Dwalin been friends?

-

“You know, you have much to answer for, Thorin.” Dís mused, sat on Thorin’s sofa and combing her fingers through Kili’s hair. Her youngest son was sat pressed into her side with his head resting on her shoulder, drowsing a little from the calming way she was petting his hair.

It made Thorin’s heart swell to see his nephews and his sister reunited, but he had been expecting some kind of scolding. Their reunion couldn’t just be hugs and kisses and fond exclamations.

It had been a long year.

Fili looked up from where he was lounging on the floor by his mother’s feet – his back pressed to her legs. He shot Thorin a concerned look, his cane resting against the arm of the sofa beside them.

Thorin exhaled quietly, moving away from where he had been stoking the fire and sitting down in his favourite armchair. “I know.” He accepted, knowing better than to argue with his sister. He had wasted a great deal of his childhood bickering with her.

“I’m no fool. I knew there was a certain amount of risk in your quest, but you promised to keep my boys safe.” Dís began, though her tone was mild and her voice was level.

Kili raised his head at that, pouting a little at his mother. “We are adults, mother, and we’re both fine-” He began, only for Dís to silence him with a raised eyebrow and a soft shush.

“Let me finish, my little prince. I know you are both adults, and fine young things you are, but your uncle made me a promise nonetheless. One he failed to keep. You are alive, but not unharmed.” She pointed out, giving one of Kili’s braids a gentle tug. “Your brother uses a walking stick, for Mahal’s sake, and you were almost crushed to death by a dragon! I would not call that fine.” She huffed, shooting her brother a stern look. “And don’t even get me started on his One, who he failed to tell me about until I forced him to.”

“Mother-” Fili started defensively, loyal to the end, though Thorin spared him from his mother’s wrath by choosing that moment to chip in.

“She’s right.” The king allowed, though he offered Fili a small and grateful smile. “I am sorry, Dís. In all honesty, if I had known what would happen to the boys, I wouldn’t have brought them.” He insisted, and he meant it. He had never wanted either of his nephews to get hurt, and it pained him to see them both living with the consequences of his actions. Fili didn’t always have to use the cane, but his bad-leg did get stiff when he used it too much – and Kili’s shoulder was much the same. The brunet tried to hide it, but Thorin could tell when it was giving him grief.

“Uncle!” Kili protested, looking unhappy. He had been so desperate to join the quest, and so desperate to prove himself… Thorin wished he had left the young adult back in the Blue Mountains – but who knew where they would have been without him. His archery skills had been invaluable, and he had blinded Smaug for them.

But, that being said, they were both invaluable to my quest. Our boys did a really good job, sister, and I won’t take that away from them. I owe much of my success to them.” Thorin conceded, casting a fond look to both of his nephews.

Kili and Fili both looked abashed, staring down at their hands or up at the ceiling, pointedly avoiding his gaze.

As though they didn’t deserve his praise.

When Thorin turned to look at his sister once more, he noticed that she looked immensely proud – her expression softer and kinder than before, though Thorin knew he wasn’t off the hook.

She inhaled and exhaled deeply, blinking slowly at her older brother. “…I don’t doubt it.” She hummed, moving one hand to squeeze Fili’s shoulder – and tousling Kili’s hair with the other. “And I’m very proud of them.”

“It was nothing… It was just the right thing to do.” Fili tried to blow off, his cheeks pink beneath his fine blond beard.

Dís smiled fondly, leaning down to kiss the top of her eldest son’s head. “It might have been the right thing to do, but very few dwarves chose to do it. You did a wonderful thing, both of you, and that makes you better than at least half of the dwarves in this mountain. You answered Thorin’s call, not his advisors, not Dain, you. You should be proud of yourselves.”

“She’s right.” Thorin perpetuated, not wanting Fili or Kili to think they were anything less than heroes. The two had done Erebor a great service, and he would never forget it. He was already planning to bestow the two with new beads to commemorate their contribution to his quest. The entire company would get a specially designed bead, so that everyone knew what they had done.

Fili and Kili both went very red in the face, looking incredibly embarrassed. “Well… You know… Someone had to stop uncle from getting himself killed.” Kili huffed dismissively, waving a hand about flippantly.

“Yeah – and that was quite the task!” Fili added in jest, attempting to cover his embarrassment.

Thorin rolled his eyes but smiled, shrugging his shoulders. “What can I say? I seem to attract trouble.” He accepted, though his smile faltered a little when Dís turned to look at him pointedly.

“That’s very true.” She said, folding her arms across her chest. “Speaking of which… You’re still not off of the hook for hiding your One from me. That letter you sent about her might have been very nice, but honestly – you feared my disapproval? How old are you? You’re a grown dwarf, Thorin, and king of our people. You had no reason to hide! How little do you think of me?”

Thorin took a deep breath and resisted the urge to look away, meeting his sister’s eyes instead. “I am sorry, sister. You know I love you a great deal – but you’ve always had my best interests at heart, and I worried that you might not think Billa was good enough for me. We all thought I would marry someone politically convenient, and now I am marrying for love. I am marrying someone that my kingdom doesn’t approve of, and I thought you might not like that.” He confessed, reaching upwards to touch the lone bead in his beard – the one Billa’d had made for him once his beard had grown long enough. It still wasn’t very long, but it made Thorin happy that he could finally twist it into a small braid. He no longer had to cut it short out of shame.

“I know that you thought you would marry for the sake of politics, but I never wanted that for you.” Dís denied adamantly, gently patting both of her boys before standing and walking to the side table – where Thorin kept a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. “May I?” She asked, gesturing to the bottle. When Thorin nodded, she poured herself a generous measure into a glass. “Thanks. My point is, Thorin, you underestimate just how much I care about you. You and the boys are my entire world – I don’t care if Billa isn’t a dwarf. I wouldn’t care if she was an elf.”

“Do you mean that…?” The dwarven king pressed, genuinely taken aback. He really had expected her to have some kind of issue with it all, given that it wasn’t necessarily what was best for the kingdom.

“Of course I do, you rock-headed fool!” She groaned, returning to her seat and taking a long sip of wine. “Mahal, save me from the stubbornness of the line of Durin. From everything I have heard, Billa sounds like a fine creature. So long as she makes you happy, and so long as she knows how to stand up to you when you are being an idiot, I will like her just fine. Damn what the kingdom thinks, they don’t get to choose who you love!” She huffed, practically slamming her glass down on the table – making Kili startle and shoot Thorin a concerned look. “Nobody thought that Vili was a suitable choice for a princess, and that never stopped me from loving him. Nor did it stop me from having two wonderful children with him.”

“You’re right, of course. I am sorry, Dís, truly. And I want you to know that Billa does make me happy – and she is more than capable of telling me off when she needs to. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that she banished me from the bed the night that she discovered I had lied to you. She made me sleep on the sofa, and I deserved it.” Thorin informed her, smiling crookedly when Dís snorted in amusement. He left out the part where Billa had woken him up early in the morning to bring him back to bed – because really, that was his business. And the sentiment was the same, regardless. Billa had been mad enough to make him sleep on the couch in the first place, she just couldn’t sleep and decided to let him join her again after a few hours.

Good. I am glad to hear that she is on my side. Where is she, by the way? I thought I would get to meet her tonight.” Dís hummed, a small smile playing across her lips.

Thorin nodded, standing and getting himself a drink. He glanced over his shoulder at his nephews, gesturing to the bottle silently. You want one? Both of them nodded, so Thorin poured them both a drink too – passing them each a glass. “You will, she is joining us for dinner. She wanted to see her brother, so I suspect she is in her family’s rooms right now. It has been a long time since she last saw Nori, and he left before she became pregnant so they have much to catch up on.” He told her, sitting down with his own glass of wine and taking a sip. “She shouldn’t be much longer, actually.”

“Ah, of course. Nori is an… Odd character. I like him, though. He has a sharp wit, and he says what he thinks.” The dwarven princess accepted, looking mildly amused. And Thorin couldn’t disagree with that analysis of Nori, really.

“He is a good dwarf, and he cares a great deal for his sister. I have appointed him spy-master of Erebor, and I trust him to do the job well. I just hope to win his favour before mine and Billa’s wedding… I know it would make her happy if her brothers and I could be friends, and I want to be their friend, but I also understand their caution. They don’t trust me with their sister, and after everything I did I can’t say I blame them.” Thorin said, glancing down into his glass. The Ri brothers had every right to be wary, but it would be nice for them all to get along.

Mm. Nori did tell me some of what you did.” Dís sighed, her expression disapproving. “He didn’t go into a great deal of detail, so he must have some amicable feelings towards you, but he did tell me that you forbid her from fighting in the Battle of the Five Armies. And it’s a damned good thing she was brave enough to disobey you.”

Thorin sighed deeply, raising one hand to rub at the bridge of his nose. “You’re right, it is. She’s better than I deserve. And she and Kili were right to disobey me.” He concurred, chewing at the inside of his cheek. “If Billa hadn’t joined the fray, I would have died. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. And if Kili hadn’t found Fili when he did, we might have lost him too.” He huffed, taking a long drag of his drink before putting the glass down and folding his arms over his chest. “It would have been a disaster. But I can’t change the past, and I’ll always be grateful to Billa for forgiving me – and for being smart enough to ignore me when I was being a fool.”

“It all worked out in the end.” Kili defended, swilling his wine around his glass idly. “He apologised to everyone too, mother – he’s made amends. And have you seen how much hard work he’s done for Erebor? It’s incredible-” He continued, stopping when his mother shushed him softly once more.

“Kili.” She began, her expression softening. “You can stop. I am proud of your uncle, I just want to know that he’s learned from his mistakes. Sounds like he has. Hopefully he won’t put you boys, or himself, in that much danger again. We’re just lucky it turned out the way it did – this could have gone so much worse. Which is probably why I should have joined you all, but who knows what would have happened to everyone in the Blue Mountains if I hadn’t been there. I’m just glad everything turned out okay in the end. And I’m glad Thorin found Billa to curb that suicidal streak of his.”

Thorin was about to protest, deny that he had a ‘suicidal streak’ – but he had heard it before, from Balin, Dwalin and Billa. And he supposed he deserved those accusations, running into such a horrific battle without a single piece of armour. Even he couldn’t explain his reasoning there, but he had been coming out of his gold-sickness at the time and probably not thinking straight.

He still wouldn’t call it a suicidal streak, regardless. He was just always prepared to put his life on the line if he had to. And he hadn’t thought he would make it out of the battle to begin with.

He was about to say as much when there was a light and hesitant knock on the door, and he rose to his feet to investigate. “Excuse me.” He hummed, padding over to the front door and swinging it open – a warm smile lighting his face when he saw his pregnant intended standing timidly in the hall. She had both arms curled around her stomach, and she looked nervous. She had obviously redone her hair, as her engagement braid was neater and pulled to the front of her face. She probably wanted to impress Dís, and Thorin appreciated the effort – even if it was unnecessary.

“Azyungel.” Thorin greeted her fondly, reaching out to gently touch her engagement braid. “How is Nori?” He asked, stepping aside to let her past.

Billa peered around him uncertainly, clearing her throat. “He’s well… He gave me a little grief for hiding how much I was struggling with my pregnancy, but it was great to see him. And their mother, Eira, is so lovely…” She said, stepping forwards and tucking one of her arms through his. “We had my belongings from the caravan sent up to the royal wing, I’m not sure where they ended up… We can find them and look through them later, though. Is… Is Dís here yet?”

“She is.” Thorin confirmed, leaning down to kiss the crown of Billa’s head. “And don’t worry about your belongings. A guard informed me that it was all put into the old king’s suite, since those rooms are just empty now. We can organise them tomorrow, if you would like. Though I did tell Lord Elrond and Gandalf that we would see them some time before the feast.” He imparted, leading the way back towards the sitting area – where Dís was waiting for them.

“My possessions aren’t going anywhere, it can wait. And I think we should see Gandalf and Lord Elrond as soon as we can – we did make them come all the way here, after all. And Elrond might have some answers for us, at last.” Billa replied, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. She paused when she spotted Dís sat with Fili and Kili, swallowing thickly. “…hello.” She tried uncertainly, though she did step closer into Thorin’s side.

Dís rose to her feet, turning around to face them and smiling lopsidedly. “So! This is the hobbit?” She announced, in a manner so strangely reminiscent of Thorin’s first meeting with Billa that the two did a double-take – glancing to each other in shock.

Ah… Yes?” Billa choked, blinking owlishly at the broad female dwarf.

Dís burst out laughing, her smile widening as she padded closer. “I’m sorry – Nori told me about your first meeting, and I couldn’t resist.” She began, holding her arms open invitingly. “Welcome to the family, Billa. I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I first found out about you, even though it wasn’t under the best circumstances. I hear you gave Thorin quite the earful over that.” She crooned, eyes crinkling at the corners in amusement.

Billa seemed to relax immediately, smiling back. “I did. I was furious – he can be such a fool sometimes, hiding something like that from his family… I could kind of understand him forgetting to bring it up with Dain, but there was no excuse for him to keep it from you.” She explained, shaking her head to herself. “Somehow I love him anyway!” She sighed, casting an adoring look up at the regal dwarf.

Thorin rolled his eyes a little but didn’t comment, just glad to see the two talking so easily – bonding over what an idiot he was.

“He forgot to tell Dain? Mahal, how do you put up with him? Does he forget to put his head on in the mornings, too?” The female Durin laughed, casting Thorin an incredulous and slightly disapproving look.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he did, honestly!” Billa snorted, stepping out from Thorin’s side now that she felt a bit more at ease. “How were your travels? Nori tells me that the stretch from the Shire to Erebor was fairly uneventful, but he obvious wasn’t there for the beginning of your journey. I trust there were no issues…?” She enquired, glancing at the four glasses of wine on the table before taking a seat in her favourite armchair.

Dís returned to her own seat beside Kili, picking up her drink. “None at all. We were worried, moving so many elderly and children at once, but it went smoothly. Or as smoothly as it could, anyway. A few minor injuries, mostly to our guards. I doubt we would have made it all the way without the envoy from Erebor, though. We didn’t have enough guards of our own to look after such a large number of young and infirm.” She divulged, sipping at the wine.

“I’m glad to hear it. It’s nice to finally have the dwarves of Erebor back in the mountain.” Billa accepted, looking genuinely relieved for them. “Don’t get me wrong, the dwarves of the Iron Hills have been very helpful – but the majority of them aren’t staying, and their loyalty will always be with Dain. And Dain’s leaving after the coronation.” She pointed out, rubbing one hand over the swell of her stomach.

“It is nice. We’re all finally back where we belong.” The dwarven princess agreed, eyeing Billa closely – and looking a little impressed.

Thorin moved to sit on the arm of Billa’s chair, resting a hand between her shoulder blades. He felt a fool for expecting Dís to disapprove, when she was acting so open and warm with the hobbit. He really had no reason to hide their relationship, he had been worried for no reason.

“Can we stop talking about politics and have dinner? I’m hungry.” Kili interjected, tilting his head back into the sofa cushions and huffing quietly in annoyance – clearly uninterested.

“You’re always hungry, Kili.” Thorin remarked, kissing the top of Billa’s head before standing again. He was going to ask a guard if dinner was on it’s way, since Kili had brought it up. And whilst she hadn’t said anything, Thorin knew Billa was probably hungry too. She needed her food to keep up her strength, though the king didn’t doubt that she probably had some cakes or biscuits with the Ri family before joining them.

“Some things never change.” Dís observed, giving Kili a gentle shove. “I’ll set the table.” She insisted, rising to her feet and heading towards the dining table.

Billa began to ease herself from her chair, making a noise of protest. “I can do that-!” The hobbit disputed, only for Dís to wave her away.

“You just walked all the way here, you should rest. I’m hardly going to ask a heavily pregnant lady to wait on me – let alone my heavily pregnant sister in law. I hope Thorin never makes you do this kind of thing!” She dismissed, though she did turn to look at Thorin accusingly over her shoulder.

“Of course I don’t!” Thorin called from where he had moved to the front door. “I’m always telling her to take it easy, but does she listen?” He huffed, opening the door and stepping into the hall.

Dís laughed softly and looked to Billa instead, raising an eyebrow.

The hobbit shrugged her shoulders, going pink with embarrassment. “…I don’t like being mollycoddled.” She explained, earning herself an understanding nod from the other lady.

“Good for you.” Dís encouraged, looking pleased with Billa’s answer.

It looked as though they were going to get along just fine.

Chapter Text

“Billa!” An incredibly familiar voice cried from the door, and Billa turned away from the desk to see Gandalf entering the room – smiling from ear to ear.

The hobbit smiled warmly back, rising to her feet and laughing when the wizard swept her into an exuberant hug. He was probably the first person in at least four or five months to not hesitate upon hugging her, since the dwarves were all so worried about touching her now that she was pregnant – as though they might break her. It was ridiculous.

Thorin was probably the only other exception, though he was still needlessly gentle.

“Gandalf, it’s been too long.” She greeted him, stepping back when the greying Istar’s grip loosened. “It was such a surprise to receive your letter. We weren’t expecting Lord Elrond to come himself, and we certainly weren’t expecting you to join him – but it was a pleasant surprise, to say the least! How have you been?” She gushed, glancing back towards the door to see Elrond waiting patiently beside Thorin. He was making polite small-talk with the king, and Billa realised the two were giving her a moment alone with the wizard.

She appreciated that.

Gandalf followed her gaze to the door briefly before looking down at her once more, eyes trailing down over her bump. “I have been well enough, my dear. Nothing exciting to report, I am afraid, but the same cannot be said for you! Pregnant! How lovely.” He chuffed, reaching into his cloak and pulling out his pipe. “Do you mind?” He asked, gesturing to the smoking apparatus.

“Go ahead.” Billa said, eyeing the pipe longingly and blinking hard when Lord Elrond cleared his throat pointedly – having moved closer without her noticing.

“By the window, if you wouldn’t mind, Gandalf.” The elven lord instructed, giving Gandalf a stern look. “We wouldn’t want Lady Billa breathing it in.” He insisted, turning to offer her a small but kind smile.

“Lord Elrond.” She acknowledged, dipping her head respectfully. “Thank you so much for joining us. I cannot tell you just how grateful we are for your expertise.” She hummed, gesturing towards the sitting area. “Please, take a seat. Would you like some tea?”

“Tea would be wonderful, thank you. And it was no trouble. Any friend of Mithrandir’s is a friend of mine, and he does speak very highly of you.” Elrond accepted, moving to sit on one end of the couch.

Billa blinked, feeling her cheeks heat up a little with embarrassment. She looked to Gandalf, feeling her heart swell with affection for the elderly man when he smiled around his pipe and shrugged – leaning against the wall closest to the window. “He does? Well, that’s news to my ears! Though I wouldn’t listen to everything he says, my Lord, he did tell Thorin I was a master burglar.” She pointed out, heading into the kitchen to fill a teapot from the kettle over the fire. She put the teapot on her fanciest tray, smiling over her shoulder when Thorin reached over to place the matching cups on the tray for her.

“You say that as though you did not successfully recover the Arkenstone from Smaug.” Gandalf called from the living area, making Billa laugh.

“Light-footed I may be, but burglar I am not! Smaug was rather distracted, it was hardly the most cunning operation.” She proclaimed, spooning a generous portion of dried tea-leaves into the wire strainer before carefully slotting it into the pot.

Thorin placed some teaspoons, a pot of sugar and a small jug of milk on the tray before picking it up – carrying it through into the other room so that Billa wouldn’t have to.

She resisted the urge to roll her eyes at his antics, knowing that he meant well. At least he had let her make the tea herself, instead of telling her to sit. He knew how important her independence was to her, he just liked to help.

“I thought you did a wonderful job.” Thorin defended, putting the tray down on the table and placing an empty tea cup in front of each seat.

You would.” Billa sighed, smiling fondly at him as she took a seat in her armchair. Thorin shrugged, not denying the accusation as he sat beside Elrond – on the side of the couch closest to his intended.

Gandalf tapped out his pipe on the windowsill before stowing it back inside his cloak and moving to take the remaining armchair. “And you should be thanking me! You wanted an adventure, and I gave you one. Now you are engaged, and carrying a child! Your mother would be thrilled.” He reminded her, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

“You’re right, she would. And I am grateful, Gandalf, really. The quest was the best thing that ever happened to me. I never thought I would get married or have a family of my own, and it certainly wouldn’t have happened in the Shire, but now… I am engaged, I have three wonderful brothers and a surrogate mother… And I’m about to become a mother myself. It’s more than I ever wished for.” She confessed, biting gently at her bottom lip and shooting a lopsided smile at Thorin when he reached over to squeeze her knee. “Anyway, you didn’t come all of this way to hear me ramble on about how great my life is…” She chuckled, trying to change the topic before she became too emotional and embarrassed herself in front of Elrond. She could already feel herself getting a little choked up.

“I have invited Oin to join us, he should be here shortly. He’s been monitoring Billa’s pregnancy so far, and I thought you might want to talk to him too. I’m afraid Billa and I are both first time parents, so we’re a little clueless. He knows more about any of this then we do.” Thorin announced, giving Billa’s knee a gentle pat and successfully diverting the conversation for her.

Lord Elrond nodded slowly, taking a notepad from inside a pocket in his robe. “Well, Billa appears to be in good health from what I’ve seen so far – she’s not too pale, she’s moving as well as she can for her size… But I should still like to hear how things have been going so far. And I do understand your concern now.” He allowed, turning to eye the swell of Billa’s abdomen. “You are quite large. I’ve seen smaller pregnancy-bumps on ladies carrying twins. Does the baby move much?”

“Yes, she’s quite the squirmer. She gets restless if I am still too long, so I’ve taken to pacing or going for walks when she’s being particularly fitful.” Billa imparted, rubbing a hand over the curve of her stomach for a moment before leaning over to pick up the teapot. The leaves had steeped for long enough, and she wanted a drink. She poured them each a cup, smiling when Elrond nodded in thanks.

“Alright, good. If she’s active, it’s a sign that she’s healthy. Babies move for lots of different reasons, and it’s when they don’t move regularly that you should worry. Of course it’s normal for a baby to go hours without moving, since it might be sleeping, but it should still move several times in a day. If it’s not moving it may be caught in its own umbilical cord, or it might be unwell.” He shared, picking up a teaspoon and beginning to spoon sugar into his cup.

Thorin smiled easily, his expression relieved. Oin had told them something similar, but it was still reassuring to hear it from Elrond. It was nice to get a second opinion. He opened his mouth to respond, pausing when the front door opened to reveal the royal physician. “…Oin.” He greeted instead, raising an eyebrow.

“Afternoon.” Oin rumbled, his medical bag tucked into the crook of his arm. He seemed completely unembarrassed at letting himself in, dragging the chair from their desk towards the sitting area – so that he would have something to sit on. The legs squealed loudly on the floor, making Billa wince. “Gandalf, Lord Elrond.” He said almost begrudgingly, not looking at either of them as he sat.

Lord Elrond hid a smile behind his teacup, sipping at the hot beverage before returning the greeting. “Good afternoon, Master Oin.”

“Thank you for joining us, Oin. We were just talking to Lord Elrond about the pregnancy. He agrees about the size of my bump.” Billa interjected, before Oin could say anything snarky that might offend their guest. They hadn’t called on Elrond to be rude to him, after all – they needed his help.

The elven healer nodded in agreement, putting his cup down and folding his hands together in his lap. “I would like to feel your abdomen, if you wouldn’t mind. Try to gauge just how large the baby is. It’s strange for you to be so large so far from your due-date. I have dealt with human children, elven children and hobbit children, but never dwarven children – so I can’t even say if the size is more proportionate of a dwarven baby.” He marvelled, addressing Billa directly, before turning to Oin. “I know dwarven pregnancies are longer than human or hobbit pregnancies, but how large would a female dwarf be at this stage?”

Oin looked mildly surprised for a moment before raking a hand through his beard, shrugging one shoulder uncertainly. “It’s hard to say. Dwarves are much broader, so it doesn’t show as significantly as this – not even towards the very end of pregnancy. Our young are quite large when they are born, though. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that her size is due to the baby’s mixed heritage. A dwarven baby growing at the rate of a hobbit.” He responded, taking the cup that Thorin passed him.

“Now, that would be concerning.” Elrond noted, looking worried. He returned his gaze to Billa, gesturing a hand to her middle. “May I?”

The hobbit bobbed her head without hesitating, sitting up straighter and shifting forward in her seat – but not standing, in case Elrond didn’t want her to. The healer moved over once he had her permission, kneeling on the floor in front of her and reaching out to touch her stomach through the loose cotton shirt she was wearing.

His hands were gentle and warm but it still felt odd – sitting there while the lord of Rivendell examined her. She still felt like she wasn’t important enough for this kind of attention, and it was weird enough having the dwarves of the Iron Hills treat her with such respect all of the time.

The other dwarves might not like her much, but they were diplomatic enough to be polite, regardless. Especially since Dain had made his feelings on the matter very clear to his people. Anyone who insulted Billa insulted Thorin, and Dain wasn’t okay with that. Thorin was family, after all.

Elrond’s frown seemed to grow and Gandalf shifted forwards in his seat, his own brows furrowed. “What is it, my friend?” He pressed, glancing from the elf to Billa and back again.

Billa swallowed thickly, her stomach turning at the thought that something might be seriously wrong. “…Lord Elrond?” She entreated, her hands clenched on the arms of the chair to resist the urge to stroke her belly. She didn’t want to get in the way of his examination.

“There’s more than one baby.” Elrond told them, his voice steady and without doubt as his fingers probed gently at the sides of her stomach.

What?” Thorin blurted, bolting up from his chair and moving to hover beside Billa. “What do you mean?”

“That’s impossible! I would have noticed!” Oin huffed, going red in the face.

Lord Elrond turned to raise an eyebrow at the dwarven physician, his expression resolute. “You should have. Either there are three babies in there, or one baby with three heads – because I can definitely feel three heads.” He persisted, removing his hand from Billa’s abdomen. “May I borrow your stethoscope?” He requested, holding his hand out to the elderly dwarf.

“Three…? You mean… Triplets?” Billa breathed, her chest feeling tight with shock. One of Thorin’s hands landed on her shoulder, and she reached up to grasp it tightly – looking back to see that his eyes were just as wide as hers felt.

Thorin leaned down to kiss the top of her head reassuringly, though his equally stunned expression did little to ease her nerves.

Elrond returned his gaze to Billa’s, smiling kindly. “Yes, triplets. I am almost completely certain, I just want to listen to their hearts to know for sure. I should hear four sets of heartbeats, if I’m right. Yours, and the three babies.” He crooned, taking Oin’s stethoscope when he handed it over. He pressed one end of the device to Billa’s stomach and placed his ear over the other end, listening carefully.

“Is that even possible? I’ve never heard of dwarven triplets before-” Oin disputed, scowling fiercely when Elrond shushed him.

The healer stayed quiet for a long moment, his lips moving like he was counting, before he raised his head again and handed the stethoscope back to Oin. “Triplets. Three little hearts, going at a perfectly normal pace. Though your heart was a little fast, Billa. I know this is a surprise, but it’s a blessing. This explains your size, and proves that there’s nothing to worry about. From what I felt, they are all a reasonable size for hobbit babes.” He confirmed, moving aside without argument when Oin moved to kneel at Billa’s feet – obviously wanting to check himself.

Mahal… How? I mean… Oin is correct, dwarves don’t have triplets. Most dwarves struggle to have one child, much less three at once.” Thorin huffed, sitting on the edge of Billa’s chair and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She glanced up at him again, staggered by the fear in his eyes.

His mother had died as a result of childbirth.

Thorin had only ever mentioned it in passing, but Balin had told her what had happened after she had been complaining about how protective the king was being. Apparently, Lís had an incredibly difficult pregnancy with Dís, and the labour went on for more than a full day. By the time the princess was born, Lís had lost a lot of blood and was incredibly weak. She had only gone downhill from there, and died of some form of blood-infection a couple of days later.

Thorin had been there when she had passed, according to Balin.

So Billa had tried to complain less from then onwards. She could hardly criticise him for being so concerned, knowing that.

“It’s not exactly common amongst hobbits, but it is probably more common for them than any other race. Twins are more normal, but these are not the first hobbit triplets I have encountered, and your triplets will not even be the first I’ve delivered. Billa will be as safe as she can be, Thorin, I swear it. I doubt there is anyone in Middle Earth with as much experience in this area as me.” Lord Elrond reassured the panic-stricken king, his expression and tone of voice shockingly gentle.

Billa expected that he had dealt with his fair-share of scared parents, and the thought helped loosen the knot in her chest. He was right, after all – he was the best equipped. They couldn’t ask for any better.

“He’s right. I knew triplets and twins in the Shire, we hobbits are a very fertile race. I told you, my mother was one of twelve children. And I know it’s a surprise, but… We can handle three children. I always wanted a big family, and we’ve both got siblings who will be more than willing to give us a hand.” The brunette interjected, hoping to wipe the terrified look from her intended’s face.

Thorin swallowed thickly, offering her a small smile and exhaling heavily. “My love, I told you before – I would happily have a hundred children with you. I am not concerned about the size of our family, I am just concerned for your health. I don’t want to lose you.” He murmured in an undertone, talking to her and her alone.

“And you won’t.” She whispered back, leaning into his side and pressing a kiss into his clothed shoulder. “You know me, I’m too stubborn to die. And Lord Elrond knows what he’s doing. I’m going to be fine, and our babies are going to be fine too. All three of them.” She justified, smiling wider at the thought.

The eldest Durin beamed at that, smiling toothily at his One and finally looking reassured. “Three babies…” He repeated, his voice full of wonder rather than panic now.

“He’s right.” Oin groused, standing and looking humiliated – his face almost puce beneath his beard. “I don’t know how, but he’s right. I never… I listened to Billa’s heart, I just… I don’t know, I thought it sounded odd but I never considered triplets! I thought maybe hobbit hearts sounded different, I never had any reason to listen to her heart before her pregnancy so… I didn’t know.” He huffed, stuffing the stethoscope back into his bag forcefully. “I’m sorry.”

Thorin brushed his hand along the back of Billa’s neck affectionately, turning to look at Oin as he stomped towards the door. “It was an honest mistake, Oin. You don’t need to apologise.” He said sincerely, casting Elrond an almost imploring look.

“In fairness, hobbit hearts run a little faster than dwarven hearts. And you have only ever had to treat dwarves.” Lord Elrond stated, returning to his seat and picking up his lukewarm tea. “I would still like your help. You have been Billa’s primary physician throughout the vast majority of her pregnancy, and you know more of what she has been through than I do. You are also more familiar with her, and more familiar with dwarven pregnancies. The babies might be growing like hobbits, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have dwarven qualities too. I could use your expertise.” He verified, sounding nonchalant – like it was no big deal. “But if you would rather focus on other patients, that would be fine too. I can manage.”

Billa smiled when that made Oin pause, and she could practically hear him thinking it through. If Elrond had pleaded or sounded upset about it, Oin wouldn’t have believed it for a second. And in fairness, Billa was reasonably sure that Elrond was being honest. He could take care of her by himself, but that didn’t mean the elderly dwarf wouldn’t be useful.

“…fine. I will be in the infirmary if anyone needs me. I need to amend my notes on Billa’s pregnancy.” Oin uttered, scratching at his beard once more. “Lord Elrond… You are welcome to join me in the infirmary whenever you see fit. You can see which medicinal herbs we have, and familiarise yourself with some of our medical texts.”

“Thank you, I will take you up on that sometime.” Lord Elrond answered, offering the partially deaf dwarf a small but pleased smile.

Oin bobbed his head in acknowledgement, glancing between the group at the table and the door. “Alright, well… I will see you all at the banquet tonight.” He murmured, effectively dismissing himself and leaving without another word.

Thorin breathed a sigh of relief when the door clicked shut behind Oin, leaning down to kiss the top of Billa’s head. “That could have gone worse.” He said, flashing a toothy smile at the elven lord beside them.

“Nicely done, my friend.” Gandalf praised, raising his teacup in a salute.

Elrond shrugged mildly, finishing his tea with one final sip. “It was nothing. I meant what I said.” He disclosed, setting the cup down on its saucer. “And I didn’t mean to sound quite so cutting, when I said that he should have realised it was triplets. I was merely surprised that he could have missed something so big, though I suppose I understand. I have been working with hobbits for a very long time, and he has not.” He accepted, crossing his hands together in his lap.

Billa reached up to take Thorin’s hands in hers, her chest tight with excitement now that everything had been settled with Oin and she could concentrate on their news.

Triplets.

Thorin seemed to share her excitement, puffing up proudly when he felt her fingers lace through his. He looked down at her, his eyes warm and fond. “I believe we have news to share.” He hummed, squeezing her hands gently in his.

“Yes, of course. Triplets.” Gandalf chuffed, looking pleased for them. “Your parents would be so happy, Billa. Congratulations.”

“You know, you never did explain how you knew my mother.” Billa mused with a wide smile, narrowing her eyes playfully at the wizard opposite her. “You seem to have known her quite well.”

The greying Istar tipped his head in acknowledgement, smiling back kindly. “As well as I could, my dear. And it is not quite as mysterious as you think. I have always had friends in the Shire, and I met Belladonna through the Old Took – back when he wasn’t referred to as ‘old’, and she was just a faunt.” He elaborated, shrugging a shoulder lopsidedly. “She was always very interested in adventuring, but Bungo burgled her heart and she never had the chance. She never regretted it, of course, since she got you out of it – but I know she was pleased when you took after her. It was part of the reason why she always encouraged you to follow your dreams. And why I came to find you, when Thorin asked me for a burglar. I knew you would be perfect.”

“Well, I am eternally in your debt for that.” The hobbit confessed, delighted that things had turned out the way they had. If it hadn’t been for her mother’s friendship with Gandalf, and Gandalf’s subsequent interest in her, she would never have met Thorin.

“We both are.” Thorin agreed without hesitation, raising one of Billa’s hands to his mouth so that he could kiss her knuckles.

Gandalf rolled his eyes, shaking his head and flapping a hand at them dismissively. “Nonsense. Now, I am sure you have family you wish to inform – Elrond and I shall take our leave, and see you at that feast tonight. I’m sure it will be a very merry gathering!”

“It will. There are many things to celebrate tonight.” The king acknowledged, rising to his feet and accompanying their guests to the door. “I expect you both to partake in the festivities, of course. That means dancing and drinking, not just sitting on the side-lines!” He said in jest, grinning widely at the both of them.

The wizard’s eyes practically twinkled, and he snorted loudly in response. “You don’t need to convince me – I am always ready for merry-making! And I expect at least one dance from you, Billa my girl, pregnant or not.” He chuckled, looking back over his shoulder at the hobbit as he did.

“I will do my best.” She promised, rising to her feet and smiling when she saw Lord Elrond roll his eyes at Gandalf’s antics.

Once the two of them had gone, Thorin asked a guard to locate their family members and have them sent to their rooms, before returning to Billa’s side.

“Of all the news I expected to receive from Lord Elrond today, I couldn’t have predicted this. Triplets…” He breathed, settling a hand over her stomach and smiling fondly. “All that worrying, thinking that the baby was too big for you… And it was three babies. We’re going to have to reconsider our plans for their bedroom, now. They can share a room whilst they’re small, but we’re going to need to find the space for several new bedrooms on the royal wing.” He considered, rubbing his hand into the swell of her abdomen and smiling wider when one of the babies shifted under his fingers.

Billa made an acknowledging noise, resting one of her hands over his and glancing around the room. “…well.” She began, raising her other hand to push her hair off of her face. “We could use the king’s suite.” She pointed out, smiling softly.

Thorin startled visibly, looking shocked. He blinked down at her, tilting his head in confusion. “…are you sure?” He checked, cupping her cheek in the palm of his free hand.

She shrugged delicately, licking her bottom lip and smiling wider. “Yeah, I am. I mean, we’re not doing anything else with it. I say we knock out the walls, then separate it into three bedrooms. Maybe with a bathroom or a play-area too? We can add a door connecting it to our room, and then we have easy access to them. Once they’re older we can worry about bigger bedrooms if they want them, but it’ll be fine whilst they are little.” She suggested, picturing it in her head. It was ideal, really, because it would put them right beside their parents. The only other space they could use in the royal wing wouldn’t be next to their own room.

“It sounds perfect, my heart. I will talk to Balin about finding some dwarves for the job.” He said, leaning down to kiss her gently on the mouth.

“There’s no rush, sweetheart. They will need to stay in our room whilst they are very young, so we have time. But we will need to commission a large crib or bassinet for the three of them though, to put beside our bed.” Billa hummed, looking towards the bed. If they moved the chest that sat at the foot of their bed, a crib might fit nicely there – and then the babies would always be close at hand.

Thorin nodded his head in agreement, dropping his hands to his sides and padding through to the kitchen. “I shall talk to Bifur about it the next time I see him. Would you like some lunch whilst we wait for the others?” He asked, beginning to rummage through the cupboards.

“Please.” She replied, following him into the other room.

It was ten minutes before anyone joined them, and by then Billa and Thorin were finishing their sandwiches. Kili barrelled in without knocking, and Fili was close behind – shaking his head and looking amused. He was using his nicest walking stick, and he was already dressed for the feast. Kili, on the other hand, looked like he’d lost a fight with a hairbrush. His hair was half done, like they had caught him in the middle of getting ready, and Billa smiled at the sight of him.

Boys.” She greeted fondly, collecting the plates from the kitchen table and taking them to the sink.

It was another fifteen minutes before everyone had arrived, with Nori strolling in last – hands tucked into his pockets and one eyebrow raised.

“Isn’t this nice?” He mused, taking in the sight of everyone crowded around the fireplace drinking tea from mismatched sets – since Billa didn’t have a tea-set big enough to serve eight people at once.

Thorin had moved several dining chairs into the living-area so that everyone would have a seat, and they were quite the sight. “You’d think a royal suite would have a big enough table to seat the whole family.” Nori joked, plonking himself down in the only remaining chair.

Billa smiled and rolled her eyes at her middle brother, standing to pass him a cup of tea. “The king’s suite did, but this is not the king’s suite. It’s smaller, and cosier.” She reasoned, easing herself back into her armchair.

“We like this suite better.” Thorin agreed, sat on the arm of her seat so that there were more chairs to spare – though he often sat there anyway, just to be close to his One. “But a dining room might not be a bad idea. With the family expanding, we could do with a room where everyone can eat together.” He said, looking to Billa as he did.

She nodded thoughtfully, glancing towards the kitchen. They had a perfectly good table in the kitchen, but it could only fit six at most – and that was a squeeze. It wasn’t a table for hosting, and that just wouldn’t do! Billa was a hobbit, after all.

“We’ll have to talk to Balin about it, when we discuss renovating the king’s suite.” She decided, picking up her own tea and taking a sip.

Dís quirked an eyebrow, looking amused. “Did we really come here to listen to you discuss your plans for the royal wing, or did you have some other reason for calling us all?” She teased, grinning a little when Billa went pink with embarrassment.

“Right! Right, we’re all here now…” The hobbit blustered, beginning to fiddle with her engagement braid. “Well, Thorin and I have some news we wanted to share with you all.”

Dori shifted forwards in his seat, glancing between his brothers and his sister uncertainly. “Is this about the baby?” He asked, sounding a little anxious. “I know you were supposed to be seeing Lord Elrond today, what did he tell you?” He urged, blinking when Nori reached out to put a hand on his older brother’s knee.

“It is about the baby. Or rather… The babies.” Billa answered, smiling warmly when Dori straightened up in his seat – his face blank with shock. They had all spent the last seven months expecting one baby, and now to hear that they had been wrong… Billa expected that it was as much of a surprise for them as it had been for her and Thorin. Especially since dwarves couldn’t carry triplets themselves.

“Babies? Plural?” Fili checked, his expression completely stunned.

“As in more than one?” Kili interjected, leaning forwards in his chair.

Thorin nodded, placing a hand on Billa’s shoulder and grinning widely. “As in three, yes.” He confirmed, practically glowing with pride.

Dís looked from Thorin to Billa and back again, her expression full of disbelief. “Three babies? Are you serious? Is that even possible?” She reiterated, putting her teacup back down on its saucer.

“I was shocked too.” Thorin hummed, leaning down to kiss the top of Billa’s head. “But Lord Elrond was certain, and Oin double-checked himself. Billa is carrying triplets. Three normal, hobbit-sized babes.”

“I knew it.” Nori snorted, drawing a surprised look from his sister. “What did I say yesterday?” He reminded her, grinning widely.

Billa blinked, thinking for a second before an understanding smile spread across her face. “You asked if I was carrying a litter.” She recalled, shaking her head in amusement.

“And I was right! Three babies. Mahal, Billa… That’s incredible.” The auburn-haired dwarf huffed, standing up and reaching out a hand towards Thorin – shocking the king. “Congratulations, both of you.”

Thorin took his hand without hesitating, shaking it enthusiastically. “Thank you, Nori.” He beamed, looking immensely pleased. It warmed Billa’s heart to see Nori act so welcoming towards her intended, and she kissed his cheek in thanks when he leaned down to hug her.

“Mahal, I have a lot of knitting to do!” Ori exclaimed, pulling a notebook from one of his many pockets and beginning to write something down – the excitement clear in his eyes.

Billa laughed at that, patting Nori’s arm as he drew away and returned to his seat. “I’m sure you’ll do a wonderful job Ori – and you still have another couple of months, so there is no rush.” She assured him, snorting softly when he only flapped a hand in response and continued writing.

“Three cousins! Three!” Kili exclaimed, reaching over to punch Thorin heartily on the arm. “Are you sure you can handle that many children? You could barely handle Fili and I!” He joked, winking playfully at the older dwarf.

Thorin rolled his eyes, shoving his youngest nephew gently. “Hopefully they’ll be much better behaved than you two miscreants!” He fired back, grinning from ear to ear.

“Not if we have anything to do with it.” Fili purred, laughing when that earned him a slightly alarmed look from the king.

Dís cleared her throat pointedly, glancing between Billa and Thorin with a troubled look on her face. “I’m sorry, I’m still having a hard time understanding – three babies? Aren’t you… Worried?” She asked, blinking and looking to Dori when he made a noise of agreement.

The eldest Ri had gone very pale, and he looked just as troubled as Dís did – if not more.

Billa exhaled softly, reaching a hand out towards her white-haired sibling and smiling softly when he laced his fingers through his. His hand was clammy, and she could feel it shaking a little. She knew that Eira’d had a difficult pregnancy with Ori, so she understood his fear. It was far too common for dwarves to lose their babies or their lives during childbirth, and the risk was only higher the more children you had.

“A little.” Billa confessed, looking between Dís and Dori as she spoke. “But triplets are not unheard of in the Shire. I understand that dwarves don’t have triplets, or twins, but hobbits do.” She explained, giving Dori’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “And Lord Elrond has delivered triplets before. He is the best equipped in Middle-Earth to deal with this. Triplets can still be risky, of course, but I have faith in Lord Elrond and I know he will do his best. That’s all we can ask for, really.”

“Not to mention the babies are a good size, and Billa is perfectly healthy – even with her aches and pains. Our chances are good.” Thorin added, taking Billa’s free hand and running his thumb along her knuckles.

Dori let out a heavy breath, raising a hand to rub at the bridge of his nose. “Right…” He muttered, sounding slightly reassured – though he still sent a very pointed glare Thorin’s way. Like it was his fault. “…well, I suppose this is the best we can ask for. The best healer of Rivendell, and the best healer of Erebor…” He accepted, standing so that he could lean over and knock his forehead affectionately against Billa’s. “…and a hobbit too stubborn to let anything get the better of her.”

Billa smiled at that, releasing Dori’s hand so that she could pat his cheek instead. “Exactly. Things are going to be fine. We have all the help we could possibly wish for, and at the end of it we are going to have three wonderful children. You’re going to be an uncle.” She reminded him, eyes crinkling at the corners.

Dori’s expression softened and he smiled, pressing a quick kiss to her forehead before sitting down once more.

“Just picture it, Dori. Three more people to mother-hen!” Nori quipped, laughing when the older dwarf tried to cuff him upside the head – though he dodged the smack easily.

Dís shook her head in bemusement, turning to look at Thorin and Billa with a small smile. “Well, I suppose congratulations are in order.” She began, eyes warm as she regarded her sibling. “I think it is about time something went your way, brother.”

“I hope so.” Thorin conceded, using a hand to tuck Billa’s engagement braid behind her pointed ear.

Chapter Text

The main food hall was almost unrecognisable, cleaned and decorated and warmly lit for the feast. Everyone was finely dressed, and the room was filled with the smell of food. Every table was laid with wine, mead and food aplenty – ready to feed the dwarves of Erebor.

Billa smiled from where she sat at the royal table with the company and their loved ones, casting an eye over the room. It was insane, thinking about just how many dwarves would be living in Erebor, but it warmed her heart to see the hall so full. This was how Erebor was supposed to be. Filled with light, and music, and life. It was what Thorin had worked so hard for.

She knew she probably looked out of place, as the only hobbit amongst a thousand dwarves, and she had already caught several of their new residents looking at her – but she couldn’t quite find it in herself to care. This was Thorin’s day, and it was a proud moment for him. If anyone had any issues with her position as the consort of the king, that could be addressed on another day.

Today they were celebrating.

The curly haired hobbit looked to her future husband, stood beside her rather than sat, and smiled wider. He was waiting for the last of the dwarves to take their seats, his hands clasped behind his back. He was dressed in his very best kingly attire, decked in silver and blue, though he had chosen not to wear a crown. According to Balin, a more modest crown was being made in preparation for Thorin’s coronation – but until then he would continue not wearing one. He had broken his grandfather’s crown some eight or nine months ago, and he refused to wear any of the gold circlets already in the treasury.

Instead, he wore his hair in an array of delicate but impressive looking braids that met at the back of his head and merged into one large braid down his back. His beard was pulled into its usual small braid, decorated with the bead that Billa and his nephews had made for him.

Billa was dressed in a matching style, wearing the finest dress she had ever seen – commissioned specifically for the celebration. Even coming from such a rich hobbit family, Billa had never won anything so expensive in her entire life. It had diamonds sewn into it, for Mahal’s sake!  Not too many, of course, but enough to convey her status as the future queen of Erebor.

Even Thorin’s outfit had some diamonds sewn into the silver detailing, and they glittered in the light whenever he moved. He looked so devastatingly handsome that it put a lump in Billa’s throat. This was the dwarf she was starting a family with. The dwarf she would marry.

The king of Erebor.

Thorin looked to his side and spotted her watching him, smiling softly at her and placing a hand on her back. He ran his fingers up her spine and along her shoulders in a comforting manner, his expression fond.

“Everything alright?” He rumbled, leading her to realise that she had become a little misty eyed.

She laughed quietly, drawing a handkerchief from her dress pocket and dabbing gently at her eyes. “Yes, of course. I just… I’m so proud of you.” She confessed, sitting straighter in her chair and blinking up at him. “You deserve this.”

Thorin grinned, but she could see that his cheeks were a little pink beneath his beard. “Thank you, amrâlimê. That means a lot to me.” He hummed, raising his hand to cup her jaw. “Men lananubukhs menu.”

“Men lananubukhs menu.” Billa repeated, warmth flaring in her chest once more when Thorin’s face lit up.

He leaned down to press a kiss to her forehead, touching her engagement bead as he did. “Your pronunciation is improving.” He noted, releasing the braid and standing again. “Now, I believe it is time we started… Wish me luck.” He said with a small grin, chuffing in amusement when she shook her head.

“You don’t need it.” She insisted adamantly, using one hand to straighten a crease in his tunic for him.

Thorin flashed her one last smile before turning away and clearing his throat pointedly, calling attention to himself. Silence fell in the hall, and the king nodded his head in thanks. Billa would have been shocked, if she hadn’t expected such a response. Thorin had always had a very authoritative air about him – he was born to lead. People wanted to listen to him, and more importantly they wanted to follow him

“One hundred and fifty-two years ago, Smaug the terrible drove us from our ancestral home.” He began, once he was sure that he had everyone’s attention. “Many died in a valiant attempt to defend that home, and others died simply trying to escape it. Those of us who survived were left homeless and without hope, but we persisted. We travelled to the Blue Mountains, taking work in the towns of Men along the way – and whilst the Blue Mountains were accommodating, they were never truly our home. They were merely a roof over our heads and a place to raise our families until we could return to our true home. Erebor.” He averred, casting a look around the hall as he did.

Every single dwarf in the hall was watching Thorin, hanging on his every word. He spoke in a firm voice, loud enough for everyone to hear, his posture tall and proud. Billa hadn’t heard the speech prior to the feast, but Thorin had been working on it for some time. He had told her it was hard to find the right words, though he was doing splendidly so far.

“When we won the Battle of Azanulbizar, but could not reclaim Moria, I swore to myself that we would reclaim our homeland. I promised to bring us back, no matter the cost. Today, we dine in Erebor’s halls and celebrate a victory for our kind. We have proved that dwarves will endure.” He called, his voice full of passion. “I lead the most courageous dwarves I knew here on a quest that many of us thought we might not return from, but we had to try – and we succeeded. We won back Erebor. We ended the dragon’s reign of terror. We killed the beast, in the bowels of the mountain, and he will never rain fire on our doors again. Never again will he kill a single dwarf, and neither will any other drake – as long as there is air in my lungs. I swear to protect this mountain and my people until my dying breath, and the line of Durin shall continue to rule Erebor as Mahal intended – until we all return to the halls of our ancestors and await the last battle!” He promised, his words ringing through the hall.

He was beginning to look a little choked up, and Billa ached to reach out and take his hand – but she knew he could do it without her. “Today we celebrate our success. We celebrate our ability to survive. We celebrate Erebor, for welcoming us back with open arms.” He bellowed, managing a smile at that. “I would like to thank my company for their invaluable help on our quest, Gandalf for his wisdom and magic, and my intended – Billa – for giving me her strength when my own ran thin.” He continued, placing a hand on her shoulder as he did – and making it clear to everyone there just who she was. She was a little shocked to have been included in his speech, and she could feel her cheeks growing warm as a large number of the dwarves turned to look at her.

“I would also like to thank Dain for his assistance in the Battle of the Five Armies, for I doubt that we would have survived it without him. And most of all, I would like to thank each and every one of you for returning. It would have been easy to stay in the Blue Mountains, in the lives that you made for yourselves there, but you crossed Middle-Earth to join me. To live in Erebor once more. Thank you. I dedicate this feast to you, and to every dwarf we lost on the road to our return. Please, enjoy yourselves.” He concluded, dipping his head respectfully to the crowd in front of them.

Everyone began clapping the moment he was finished – Billa included – and he took his seat at the table once more.

“Shamukh, Thorin, melhekhel!” Dain shouted from the nearest table, where he was sat with his own advisors.

“Melhekhel, melhekhel!” The crowd echoed, chanting it over and over again as they clapped.

Thorin looked completely overcome, and Billa looked to Balin in confusion – since he was sitting on the other side of her. She knew ‘shamukh’, but not ‘melhekhel’. She had never heard that word before.

“It means ‘king of all kings’. High praise indeed.” Balin informed her in an undertone, practically glowing with pride.

Billa beamed back at the royal advisor, turning towards Thorin and slipping her hand into his under the table. She squeezed it gently, grinning when his eyes met hers. “Melhekhel.” She agreed softly, so incredibly proud of him.

It was about time Thorin learned just how great he was, and how highly everyone thought of him. He had his flaws, but he was still a wonderful dwarf – and the best king Erebor could ever ask for.

Thorin swallowed thickly and smiled, waving his free hand for them all to simmer down. “Alright, alright, thank you – please, eat and make merry! Enjoy the food before it goes cold!” He encouraged them, smiling wider when that elicited a few more enthusiastic cheers – but the clapping and chanting began to die down as everyone began to talk among themselves.

“Wonderful speech, lad!” Balin praised once the other dwarves began tucking into the feast, reaching around Billa to pat the king strongly on the back.

Billa bobbed her head in agreement, kissing Thorin’s pink cheek and squeezing his hand again. “You did great.” She divulged, letting go of his hand so that she could begin taking food from the serving plates. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Our family would be proud, too. Frerin especially.” Dís imparted from where she sat on his other side, her eyes a little wet – but brimming with happiness for her older brother. “I am proud. Well done, nadad.”

Thorin knocked his shoulder gently into hers in thanks, eyes crinkling at the corners. “It was only the truth.” He avowed, still looking a little overwhelmed by it all. He must not have expected such a strong reaction, the fool.

Billa would never understand how someone so wonderful could have so little self-esteem.

It was an hour later when the band began to play and Thorin rose to his feet, holding a hand out to Billa and offering her an inviting smile. “Shall we? I don’t believe we’ve ever danced before.” He justified, as though they actually needed an excuse.

Billa rolled her eyes fondly at him, placing her hand in his and rising to her feet. It had been well over a year since the last party she had attended, and she hadn’t danced in quite some time – but that wouldn’t stop her. She loved a good party, and it was true that she and Thorin had never danced together before. The hobbit part of her was appalled, but it was hardly their fault. There just hadn’t been an opportunity.

They weren’t in the Shire, where there was always something to celebrate and a party every fortnight.

Had they been in the Shire, they would have attended many a party together – in fact, a party would have been thrown in their honour once they became engaged. Dwarves just didn’t party the way hobbits did.

Unacceptable.” Billa lilted, letting him lead her to the dance floor. It was hard to ignore how many eyes followed them as they walked, but Billa tried not to let it bother her. She would have to get used to the attention.

She was going to be queen, after all.

Thorin wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her into his chest and lacing his other hand through hers. Billa placed her free hand on his shoulder, beaming up at him as he began to lead them in an elegant little dance – slow enough that she had no trouble following his steps, despite her size.

It was so easy, dancing with Thorin, even if Billa didn’t know the song or the dance. It was comfortable, as easy as breathing – and she could say with certainty that she had never felt that way during a dance before. It was incredible.

The two of them were alone on the dancefloor for the entirety of the first dance, with the crowd clapping enthusiastically when Thorin ended with a lift, sweeping Billa into the air easily - like she weighed no more than a child.

“Is it normal for the king to have the first dance?” She asked breathlessly as other people began to join them, her cheeks pink with exhilaration.

Thorin grinned down at her, shaking his head as they moved into a slightly faster dance – though he still guided her with ease. “During a normal feast? Not really. I think everyone was just enjoying the show.” He chuckled, pulling her into a tight spin.

Billa felt her cheeks heat up further, blinking up at him. “Are you serious?” She checked, since that had to be a joke. The other dwarves had just been… Watching? For no reason? She glanced around self-consciously, feeling even more out of place than before.

“Yes. It’s normal for the king to start the first dance, but there’s no rule that the first dance is just for the king.” He explained, nodding in greeting to Dís as she spun by with Dain.

“Mahal, now I wish I had practiced beforehand!” The hobbit huffed, feeling embarrassed. She didn’t even know any of these songs!

Thorin gave her a gentle squeeze in his arms and lifted her once more, his expression warm and full of love. “You are doing beautifully, my heart.” He reassured her, moving gracefully to the music.

Billa had known Thorin could dance, he had mentioned taking lessons when he was young, but she was surprised by just how easily he moved. He danced like it took no more effort than walking. She rolled her eyes at his praise, stepping away as he did and twirling under his arm. “I am sure I look like a clumsy faunt next to you, my dear. It has been quite some time since I last danced.” She persisted, smiling when the king pulled her back into his chest.

“And when was that?” He asked curiously, tilting his head at her.

Gosh, I’m not even sure… I think it must have been Bell Gamgee’s birthday party, a good two or three months before our quest. You see, I wasn’t invited to many parties after my coming of age, but Bell was my gardener’s wife – and a good friend of mine.” She remembered, thinking back to the party. She only really got invited to birthdays and weddings in the Took family, since her grandfather liked to keep her involved with family affairs, but Bell and Hamfast had always been her best friends in the Shire. And that party had been fun.

Thorin’s eyes twinkled as he dipped her down and kissed her cheek, a playful look on her face. “Dance with any handsome young hobbits? Anyone I should be jealous of?” He pressed, smiling crookedly.

Billa laughed quietly at him, rolling her eyes again. “Goodness, no! I mean, I danced with Hamfast – but he’s Bell’s husband! There were no romantic intentions there, I assure you. I was quite the wallflower.”

Wallflower?” He questioned, looking a little confused at that.

“Oh, right, I suppose that must be a hobbit thing. It’s… Someone who stands to the side and looks pretty whilst everyone else dances – usually because no one wants to dance with them. There’s a type of flower that grows in the Shire – I think they’re actually called erysimums, but they’re more commonly referred to as wallflowers – and they grow through garden walls sometimes. You usually see them in the stone wall around the party tree, so girls who aren’t asked to dance are called wallflowers – since they just stand against the wall and watch the party.” She explained, smiling at Bombur when he passed them with his wife.

Thorin huffed softly, drawing her in closer. “Well, I would have danced with you.” He defended, beginning to sway from side to side as the song changed to something slower.

“Thank you. It wasn’t all bad, I still had relatives to talk to at parties – and there was always plenty of good food.” She replied, moving her hand from his shoulder to his cheek and rising onto her toes so that she could kiss him chastely. “I still enjoyed myself most of the time.”

“Regardless, there are plenty of people here tonight willing to dance with you – you’ll never be a wallflower again.” He insisted, dancing in a slow circle.

Billa laughed softly, tipping her head in acknowledgement. “You’re right, I did promise Gandalf a dance.” She shared, putting her hand back on his shoulder.

“He can wait his turn, you’re mine for the moment.” Thorin said with a toothy smile, winking jauntily at her and making her heart flutter weakly.

“Of course.” She accepted, happy to dance with him for the entire night – though that would probably be selfish of her. She couldn’t be the only one who wanted to dance with Thorin, and she had told the wizard that she would dance with him at some point.

They spent the rest of the dance in comfortable silence, just enjoying the closeness, but the moment the song ended Gandalf was upon them – as if summoned by their previous conversation.

“Thorin.” He greeted with a smile, gesturing to Billa. “Mind if I cut in?” He asked, having left his hat and his staff at the royal table. He looked smaller without his hat, but he was still a good foot or two taller than anyone else on the dance floor – since Elrond was currently sat talking to Eira at one of the tables.

Thorin shot Billa an amused look, but let go of her willingly enough. “Be my guest. I should probably dance with my sister at some point tonight.” He allowed, going pale and turning when he heard Dís scoff behind him.

“Thank you for your charity, nadad.” She quipped, looking a picture of dwarven beauty in her party dress. It shared the same colour scheme as Thorin and Billa’s outfits, but the detailing was different – and she had allowed herself a lot more jewellery than either of them wore.

Thorin managed to look sheepish as she dragged him into a dance, casting Billa one last look before disappearing into the crowd.

Billa shook her head in amusement, turning towards Gandalf and smiling brightly. “Shall we?”

Gandalf smiled back as he took her hands, and she found herself glad that this dance was a little more up-beat – since slow dancing with the wizard might have been a bit difficult. He was too tall! She couldn’t even reach his shoulders.

Instead the two of them held hands, pulling together and moving apart to the rhythm – turning in circles in a dance oddly reminiscent of the kinds they did back in the Shire.

“Quite different from a hobbit party, isn’t it?” Gandalf pointed out, as though reading her mind.

She chuffed softly, bobbing her head in agreement. “It is – but if this was a hobbit party, I wouldn’t be having nearly as much fun!” She answered honestly, grinning at Nori as he swung past with his mother – having obviously stolen her from Lord Elrond.

Gandalf chuckled, cocking his head at her. “I suppose that is true.” He acknowledged, smiling down at her. “This suits you.”

Billa felt her cheeks heat up once more, ducking her head in embarrassment. “Oh, shush!”

“I shan’t! It’s true.” He reiterated, squeezing her hand in his. “When you decided to stay, I was a little worried about how well you would fit in here – but you’ve taken to it like a duck to water. I’m proud of you, and your parents would be too.”

“Thank you, Gandalf. When my mother died… The Shire stopped feeling like a home to me. But Erebor? It feels like home. Everyone I love is here, and it might be different, but… It’s a good different, you know? The Shire might be beautiful, but the other hobbits were just so judgemental. And here, even the dwarves who don’t like me are at least polite to me. They respect me. I know that’s just because of my attachment to the royal family, but… I appreciate their courtesy. Especially considering how easy it would have been for them to shun me, as an outsider.” Billa sighed, flashing the greying Istar a small smile and releasing one of his hands so that she could tuck a braid behind her ear.

“They will grow to love you, Billa, once they see what a capable queen you will be. It’s just very new to them. And you must remember, even the company were wary when they first met you – but they changed their tune. The people of your kingdom will too.” The wizard touted, sounding completely certain.

Billa couldn’t help but feel a little hopeful, hearing the conviction in his tone. “I hope you’re right. And even if you’re not… I’ve got an amazing family, and the best friends I could possibly ask for. I don’t need any more than that.”

“Right you are, my girl!” Gandalf exclaimed, taking her hand again and continuing to dance.

Not long after that, Bofur stole her from Gandalf, offering the wizard a cheeky smile and a tip of his hat as he did.

Whilst worrying about meeting Dís and helping Thorin prepare for the feast, Billa hadn’t seen her best friend in a good few days – so she was more than happy to dance with him for a while.

“Feel like I haven’t seen you in an age!” The brown-haired dwarf exaggerated, beaming widely. “A little birdy told me you’re having a litter of babies – how exciting!”

Billa laughed, shaking her head incredulously. “Litter… Nori told you, then?” She scoffed, though her tone was warm rather than annoyed. “He is a fool.”

“But it’s true?” Bofur checked, tilting his head as he spun her in an exuberant circle – and almost stood on one of her feet.

“Oof, watch it!” She giggled, just managing to dance out of his way. “And yes, it is. I’m having triplets.” She confirmed, keeping an eye on her friend’s feet as they moved. “We found out this morning.”

“Mahal, triplets. That is incredible. I didn’t even know that triplets were a real thing – I’ve met twins in the towns of Men before, but never triplets. You hobbits are an odd race.” He huffed, looking shocked – and maybe just a little concerned. “Think you and Thorin can manage? That’s a lot of babies.”

“Yes, I think so. We’re going to be fine. We’ve plenty of family to lend us a hand when we need it, and the best healer in Middle-Earth too.” Billa dismissed, hoping to reassure him. He was obviously worried, even if he wasn’t saying so. “Plus, their uncle Bofur! Who I just know is going to spoil them rotten.” She added in an attempt to keep the mood light, winking at him.

Bofur snorted, narrowing his eyes mischievously at her. “You’re damn right! They’ll have the finest toys in all of Erebor – and I will be their favourite uncle. Dori can kiss my ass!” He sniggered, laughing uproariously when Billa stood on his foot on purpose.

Bofur!” She scolded mildly, still smiling widely.

“He makes jewellery, kids don’t like jewellery! They like toys and guys in funny hats!” He justified, snickering when Billa stepped on him again intentionally. “You are being very childish.” He told her, trying to put on a serious-face and failing miserably.

Billa gasped mockingly, putting a hand over her heart. “Me? Childish? Well, I never!” She said, pretending to be outraged but breaking out in giggles when Bofur began to hoot with laughter.

Well, I am not sure what I have walked in on, but would you mind if I danced with my sister-in-law?” Dís interrupted, an eyebrow arched elegantly as she regarded the two of them.

Bofur stepped back, taking his hat off and bowing deeply – shooting the princess a charming smile as he did. “Course not! I think it’s time I got absolutely sloshed!” He chirped, standing up and plopping his hat back on his head. “Enjoy yourself, ladies!”

“He’s an eccentric sort, isn’t he?” Dís pondered as he practically pranced away, shaking her head in amusement.

Billa smiled, a little pink in the face from her earlier giggles. “He acts loud and brash, but he’s soft at heart.” She reasoned, raising a hand to smooth her hair.

The dark-haired lady made an acknowledging noise, still watching Bofur as he reached the drinks table – and was met with a round of cheers from his brother and cousin. “I hear that he’s quite sweet on you.” She noted, grinning crookedly when Billa went even redder in the face. The hobbit opened her mouth as if to defend herself, but Dís raised a hand to stop her. “Don’t worry, I know you love my brother. Mahal, Billa, everyone in this hall can tell how much you love my brother. I think it is probably why they were all so fixated on your opening dance.” She mused, looking towards Thorin – where he was stood at the royal table, talking animatedly with his nephews. “And I wasn’t challenging you, merely telling you what I’ve heard. I’m on your side, you know. You don’t need to defend yourself to me.”

“I’m sorry, I guess I’m just feeling a little… Anxious. The dwarves of the Iron Hills don’t really approve of me, and they’re not even Thorin’s people. I’m just worried that the dwarves of the Blue Mountains won’t like me either. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m using Thorin, or that I don’t care about him.” Billa exhaled, putting a hand over her heart as if to soothe herself. The dancing had distracted her from her concerns momentarily, but she still felt a little on edge. Looking around she could still see dwarves watching her, and it made her nervous. Thorin was just so good, and she knew the majority of the mountain probably thought she didn’t deserve him.

Dís nodded in understanding, looking back from her brother to Billa. “I understand. I might have grown up on the road, but I still know the pressures of being a member of the royal family. You always want everyone to approve. But you know what, Billa? There will always be those who disapprove. No matter what. You just have to stop letting it bother you. It doesn’t matter if some dwarves don’t like you, because you are going to be queen and they can’t stop it. My brother loves you, my children think you are wonderful, and so does everyone else in this mountain that matters.” She asseverated, reaching a hand out towards the small brunette. “Now, let’s not talk of politics any more tonight. This is a party! We are celebrating. Shall we dance?”

Billa stared at her for a moment, completely shocked by the princess’s unwavering support. It was odd, after spending so many months expecting Dís to hate her. She blinked down at the female dwarf’s extended hand, not really sure how to proceed. “Yes, of course, but… How? I mean, who is going to lead?” She accepted, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth.

“I am the princess of Erebor, constantly surrounded by infuriatingly stubborn male dwarves – do you think I let anyone lead me?” Dís purred, her eyes twinkling with mischief. She resembled Kili so much in that moment that it was almost shocking, but it brought a smile to Billa’s face.

Really? So, when you danced with Thorin…?” She reiterated, laughing when Dís winked at her.

“Of course! My brother is the most infuriatingly stubborn of all the dwarves, but he knows his place in our relationship. I lead that dance, just like I lead all of my dances!” The dwarven princess persisted, grinning from ear to ear.

Billa definitely liked Dís.

The pregnant hobbit spent almost the whole night on the dance floor after that – dancing with almost every single member of the company, and Lord Elrond too! The regal elf had moved with unbelievable grace, and Billa had felt completely inept beside him, but she had still enjoyed herself a great deal.

It was a truly wonderful celebration, and the perfect welcome back for the dwarves of the Blue Mountains.

Chapter Text

“Billa, I’m not sure you should be doing that-!” Ori protested, standing at the base of the ladder and wringing his wrists in his hands.

Billa looked down at him from where she stood half way up, searching for a book that someone at the front desk had requested. She rolled her eyes a little at his obvious anxiety, returning her gaze to the shelf in front of her. “Don’t be a mother-hen, Ori. I’m just grabbing a book.” She huffed, leaning a little to the side of the ladder to grab the book in question – and ignoring the sharp inhale from her brother as she did. “Would you calm down?” She scolded him mildly, tucking the weighty tome under her arm and beginning to climb back down.

Ori reached out to steady her the moment she was close enough, appearing very red in the face. “You should have come to get me! What would Thorin say?! What would Dori say?” He stressed, trailing after her as she headed back towards the front of the library.

“You were busy.” She said with a shrug, beginning to feel a little irked. She was perfectly capable of retrieving a book from the higher shelves, pregnant or not – thank you very much! “And in any case, don’t bring Thorin and Dori into this. They are both terribly overprotective – so yes, they would pitch a fit, but I’m more than capable of working in this library without any help.” She dismissed, smiling as she approached her desk and saw the female dwarf that had asked for the book. She held it out to the young brunette, ignoring Ori’s grumbling as she did. “Here you are. The Story of Creation, as requested. It was on one of the higher shelves in the religion aisle, so I suspect that is why you couldn’t find it.” She offered, watching as the dwarf dipped her head in thanks and scuttled off without a word.

“What if you fell?” Ori pressed, looking distressed by the mere idea.

Billa groaned at him, turning to face him and planting her hands on her hips. “Would you stop? I’m fine! I’ll start calling you Dori if you don’t stop fretting.” She threatened, returning to her seat and picking up a lukewarm cup of tea. It had gone a little cold whilst she had been away from the desk.

Her younger brother took the teacup from her hands, pouring it into the plant beside her desk before she could stop him.

Hey!” She protested, crossing her arms over her chest. “What is wrong with you?”

“You left it unattended, anyone could have touched it!” Ori pointed out, his expression unapologetic. “…I will make you another.”

“Who’s going to touch my tea? Mahal, Ori, you do worry over nothing!” Billa groaned, pulling a handkerchief from her skirt pocket and reaching over to wipe tea from the plant’s leaves. The plant had been added at her request, along with a few others in the staff-room and seated areas.

Nori chose that moment to walk in, raising an eyebrow at the sight of his sister cleaning a plant and his brother looking very annoyed. “What’s going on here?” He asked, tucking his hands behind his back.

“Billa is being unreasonable-”

“Ori is being a pain-”

The spymaster laughed at their conflicting stories, glancing between the two of them. “Forget I asked.” He decided, flapping a hand at them. He wasn’t about to get involved in whatever petty squabble the two had started. “I came to see if you wanted to go through your belongings from the Shire, sister.” He shared, moving to perch on the edge of her desk. “I imagine you didn’t have time before the feast yesterday, so I thought you might want to do it today.”

Billa narrowed her eyes at her older brother, her expression full of suspicion. Was this a ploy to get her out of the library? She was sick of being molly-coddled! “Did the two of you plan this?” She checked, gesturing between her siblings.

Nori blinked in surprise at her, looking genuinely shocked. “No? I have some presents for you, Ori and Dori amongst your belongings, so I wanted to get them whilst you went through everything. And I have only just returned to the mountain, is it a crime to want to spend time with my sister?” He justified, glancing to Ori uncertainly.

It seemed like he didn’t have any ulterior motive, so Billa sighed and stood once more. “Alright, sure. Ori doesn’t want me working anyway.” She hummed, casting the bookish dwarf a scathing look.

Ori huffed, turning and heading towards the staff area to dispose of the teacup in his hand.

“Is that what’s got you so riled up?” Nori guessed, standing and looping his arm through hers when she came to his side.

The hobbit nodded mulishly, glancing over her shoulder in the direction Ori went. “He told me off for climbing up a ladder to get a book – like the babies are going to just pop out if I exert myself.” She admitted, rolling her eyes at the thought. “He wasn’t like this before – it’s like he heard it’s triplets, and now he thinks I can’t take care of myself.”

“He’s just worried, Billa. Bear in mind that triplets are a very new concept for us. Ori is very intelligent and very well read, but even he didn’t know you could have triplets. He was telling me this morning, he’s read about elves having multiple births, and Men having twins, but that’s it. I think he’s a bit shaken. Suppose it serves us right, for knowing so little of your kind.” The red-haired dwarf excused, giving her arm a small squeeze as they walked out of the library. “I wouldn’t take it so personally. I will talk to him, if he doesn’t ease up.”

“Thank you.” Billa breathed, relieved. She supposed he was right, too. Ori was never usually so overprotective, but she could kind of understand his reasoning. She was still coming to terms with the news too. Even if she had known hobbits could have triplets, she had never expected to have them herself. It wasn’t as though twins or triplets ran in her family! “Don’t you have anything else to do today? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to spend some time with you, but… You’re the spymaster, and you just got back.” She checked, changing the subject.

“That’s true, but I need to meet with Thorin and the royal guards before I go off on any missions. I’ve been out of the loop for what… Eight months? I need briefing. And Thorin is too busy to do it today, but I will be seeing him tomorrow evening.” Nori said, leading the way up a set of stairs. His grip on Billa tightened a little, but she resisted the urge to comment on it – reminding herself of what he had just said.

Triplets are a very new concept for us.

He was nervous too, even if he was doing his best not to show it.

“Oh, right. I suppose that makes sense. I know that Thorin, Dís and Dain are in a meeting for most of the day, I just didn’t realise that you needed to talk to Thorin first.” The brunette acknowledged, giving Nori’s arm a reassuring squeeze as they left the stairs.

Nori cast her a warm look, loosening his grip again and continuing towards the royal wing. “Yes. Dwalin tells me that Thorin is planning to have the coronation soon, but there is a lot that I need to take care of before that happens. The last thing we want is for someone to try to hurt Thorin before he is crowned.” He explained, glancing both ways as they rounded a corner.

Billa’s heart gave a weak stutter at the thought and she frowned, turning to eye her sibling. “…is that a real concern?” She murmured, worried. She hadn’t even thought about it, but if anyone was planning anything… Then it made sense that it might happen before the coronation.

“My job is to cover every worst-case scenario, Billa. I’ve got to be prepared, whether it actually happens or not. So far, I haven’t heard anything suspicious, but it is better to be safe than sorry. I would be a pretty awful spymaster if something happened on my watch.” He reasoned, offering her a reassuring smile. “Do I think anyone is planning anything? No. But it’s my job to make sure. Nothing is going to happen to Thorin as long as I can help it, Billa. Dwalin and I have it covered.”

Billa nodded in acceptance, the tight feeling in her chest lessening at his words. “Alright.” She exhaled, licking her bottom lip and managing a small smile. Nori was right – it was better to be prepared, just in case. And she trusted her brother to do his best, even if Thorin wasn’t his favourite person. Not to mention Dwalin was Thorin’s personal guard – so anyone who wanted to hurt her intended would have to get through the balding warrior first. Nori and Dwalin could keep him safe.

They reached the king’s suite almost ten minutes later, and Billa called out a greeting to the guards that were stationed at the end of the corridor. As the head of the royal guard, Dwalin had insisted upon having at least two trusted guards in the royal wing at all times. As far as they knew, nobody had any ill intentions towards the royal family – but that didn’t mean just anyone could enter the wing whenever they wanted.

The royal family still required privacy, and the guards ensured they got it. Billa didn’t mind their presence, even if it was new and strange.

Both guards bowed low in respect when she addressed them, and she huffed in exasperation – casting Nori a look as she unlocked the door. “I’ll never get used to that.” She decided as she closed the door behind them, tucking the key away once more. The dwarves of the Iron Hills had been bowing to her for months now, but it was still bizarre. She knew she was going to be queen, and as far as anyone was concerned she was already a member of the royal family, it was just so strange.

Nori chuckled, pulling a box of matches from inside his coat and beginning to light some candles – since the room was a little dingy. And dusty. It was obvious that no one had been in the room for a good long while – except to deliver Billa’s belongings, of course. “You will. Though honestly, I’m not surprised that it’s a bit of a shock for you. I liked the Shire well enough, but Mahal were some of the people rude. You said that hobbits were polite!” He huffed, putting the matches away again when he was done.

Billa looked a little embarrassed at that, and she twisted her hands in the front of her skirt. “They are… To your face, at least.” She insisted, still feeling the need to defend her kind. “Drogo and Hamfast were good to you, right…?” She checked, hoping that they hadn’t embarrassed her. They were both good people, but Billa knew that no hobbit was all that fond of strange folk – like dwarves, or humans.

Except for her, of course, but she always had been the odd one out.

“Drogo and Hamfast were perfectly amicable.” Nori informed her, and she breathed a sigh of relief. “Very hospitable. Hamfast’s wife – Bell, is it? – made me some food to take with me when I left the Shire. So, they weren’t the problem. But I went to the market one day, and overheard some ladies saying some very unkind and untrue things about you. Within earshot of me!” He huffed, looking cross.

Billa smiled softly at his indignation, but felt no real surprise or sadness upon hearing the news. It was nothing that she hadn’t grown used to. “Yes, well… We can’t all have marvellous parents like mine.” She said carefully, glancing around the gutted king’s suite. None of the original furniture remained, and her belongings from the Shire did not even half-fill the main room. It looked so… Empty. But not for long. “I suppose some hobbit parents don’t teach their children to hold their tongues when they think unkind thoughts.” She excused, running a reverent hand along her mother’s glory box.

“Don’t make excuses for them, Billa.” Her brother scolded her, though there was no real anger in his tone. He just sounded frustrated. He moved past her and further into the room, beginning to rummage through some of her belongings – likely looking for the presents he had mentioned earlier. She couldn’t help but wonder what he had bought, watching him closely as he moved between stacks and stacks of wooden crates. “I knew you were not well liked in the Shire – you never hid that from us – but I did not know just how awful it was. It makes me all the more grateful that we found you.” He reasoned, moving out of her eyeline as he continued his search.

Billa considered following him, but instead eased herself onto her knees beside the glory box and flipped the lid open. “It is in the past, Nori. I am quite done being sad about it.” She dismissed, pulling out a beautifully crafted silver hairbrush and turning it over in her hands. It had been a wedding gift to her mother, and it only ever got used on special occasions – Belladonna had used it to style Billa’s hair for her coming of age party. It had obviously been made with Billa’s mother in mind, as the floral pattern consisted largely of belladonna flowers, and not for the first time Billa wondered where it had come from. Hobbits were perfectly good crafters when they put their mind to it, but they never really worked with metal of any kind. Even farm equipment was bought from outside of the Shire, for that very reason. Had a Man made it? Or perhaps a dwarven trader, passing through Bree? It was certainly beautiful enough. “I had a good family, and I had Hamfast, but now I am here and I am much happier for it.” She imparted, though her thoughts were still elsewhere.

Oh! That reminds me-” Nori began, and something about his tone of voice caught Billa’s attention. She turned as she heard him approaching, raising an eyebrow when she saw his arms laden with wicker baskets. She hadn’t asked for any kind of basket from her home – and she’d only owned two; one for shopping, and a smaller one for helping Hamfast with the gardening. “-you never told us of your status in the Shire. All that talk of being unrespectable and disliked, and you were the granddaughter of the ruler.” He pointed out accusingly, and Billa couldn’t help but avert her eyes awkwardly at that. “I know that you hobbits don’t have royalty, per se, but you are the closest thing that hobbits have to a princess!”

The brunette sighed quietly as she put the brush back and closed the glory box – prepared to continue looking through it later. For the moment, she was much more interested in the baskets Nori held. Were those the gifts he had bought? There were three, so it could be one for each sibling? “I hardly lied, I wasn’t considered respectable whether I was granddaughter of the Thain or not. And it’s really nothing like being royalty – nothing was expected of me, I never would have become Thain myself.” She justified, her interest further piqued when she saw that the baskets contained several paper-wrapped packages. “Only the males of the Took family can be Thain, and I was a Baggins by name.”

Regardless, I would like to have known! Did you think your grandfather was going to let me walk into the Shire on your behalf without question? I had to have dinner with him, and an absurd number of your relatives!” Nori snorted, raising a delicately braided eyebrow at her.

Guilt stirred in Billa’s gut at that, and she cast her eyes away again. “Ah, really? I am sorry. I thought my letter would mollify him – I didn’t expect him to get involved.” She murmured, feeling like a fool.

Stupid girl.

“Luckily for you, I rather liked him. He was most reasonable, and he seemed to think very highly of you – even if you did disappear into the blue without warning. Speaking of, he did ask me to give you an ear chewing for that, but I shall refrain. I don’t blame you for fleeing from the Shire, given what I learned. And I know you didn’t have time to say goodbye to your family before we left for Erebor.” The red-haired dwarf said with a small shrug, moving closer to her and setting the baskets on the floor. He hopped up onto the nearest crate, smiling lopsidedly when he noticed her gaze flicker to the baskets once more. “Go ahead, they’re yours.” He encouraged, smiling wider when she looked up at him – confused.

All of them? Nori, I appreciate the thought, but isn’t this a little… Excessive?”

“They aren’t from me! I haven’t spotted my present yet, but I expect we will find it later.”

“Then… Who are they from? And what are they?”

“They are gifts, from your loved ones. Apparently, it is customary to present a congratulatory gift basket to someone when they become pregnant? Hamfast assured me that you have done many for Bell, in the past.” Her brother informed her.

What?” She said in a small voice, genuinely shocked. She hadn’t been expecting any gifts. It was customary, Nori was correct, but… She left. She ran away from the Shire, leaving behind a couple of letters that only vaguely explained her absence. After such an impersonal and impromptu exit, she hadn’t thought they would miss her – and she certainly hadn’t thought they would send gifts back with Nori.

Billa moved to carefully sit on the floor beside the baskets, folding her legs underneath her and rubbing a hand over the swell of her stomach. “I… I never thought…” She began weakly, just staring at the absurd number of presents in front of her.

Nori slipped off of the crate and settled onto the floor at her side, wrapping a supportive arm around her shoulders. “They missed you. Hamfast, Drogo, your grandfather… They all left letters with their gifts, and they asked me to request that you write back.” He told her gently, rubbing a hand up and down her arm. “I think you were much more loved than you realised, sister.” He mused, flashing her a kind smile.

She sniffled weakly, raising her free hand to cover her mouth. Nori withdrew a handkerchief from inside his jacket and held it out to her, shrugging in a non-committal manner when she looked surprised. Billa took the handkerchief after a moment, dabbing at her eyes. “M-maybe you’re right…” She accepted quietly, feeling even stupider than before. “…Mahal, I am a fool.”

Her brother laughed softly, squeezing her in his grip. “No, you’re not. You’re just insecure.” He insisted, pressing a doting kiss into her hair. “I mean, you missed how terribly unsubtle Thorin was when he wanted to court you.” He sniggered, in an attempt to lighten the mood.

Billa laughed back, bumping her shoulder into his. “Oh, shush.” She reprimanded him mildly, her eyes crinkling fondly in the corners. “Plain little hobbit girls don’t expect kings to fancy them, do they?”

“There you go again!” Nori scoffed, rolling his eyes in a most over-the-top manner. “Plain. If you really think you are plain, I will have to have words with Thorin for being dishonest with you! If that rock-headed king of yours doesn’t tell you how beautiful you are at least once a day, he is an idiot.” He argued, shaking his head to himself.

The hobbit cleared her throat, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. “Ah, well, he does say such things, but… He is biased.” She argued back, beginning to fiddle idly with her engagement braid. “I am carrying his children, after all.”

“You are carrying his children because he loves you and sees that you are beautiful. I don’t think the two of you would have gotten this far if he was being insincere – Dori would have killed him by now.” Nori said adamantly, folding his arm across his chest.

Billa tipped her head in acknowledgement at that, a small smile gracing her face. “You might be right there.”

“I am always right.” Her brother insisted, making her bark a laugh and smile wider.

“Now, that’s not even remotely true.” Billa lilted, raising an eyebrow challengingly at him.

Nori bumped his shoulder into hers gently, narrowing his eyes playfully at her. “Oh, shut up and open your presents, you oik!” He chuckled, his expression exasperated but fond.

I’m the oik?! Have you ever looked in a mirror?” The hobbit gasped, knocking her shoulder into his in retaliation and pretending to be deeply insulted – though she was still grinning.

“Of course – and I have found that I am a specimen of a dwarf.” Nori proclaimed, puffing himself up importantly and smirking. “Truly a thing of beauty.”

Billa laughed loudly at that, smacking him on the arm with an open palm. “And modest too!” She added, reaching for the closest basket and checking the tag on the handle to see that it was from the Gamgees. “Mahal, I did miss you. Even if you are a complete dizzard.” She sighed quietly, leaning over to bump their foreheads together briefly.

Nori smiled warmly at that, reaching out to squeeze her knee affectionately. “I missed you too, sister. It was odd, travelling whilst you were pregnant. Being apart from my siblings would have been strange enough without that! Then I had to worry about how you were coping, whilst being unable to see you myself, and I was also worried that Dori might give you a hard time… But I’m glad it all worked out. I’m happy to be back, and I’m happy to see you healthy and whole. And that you didn’t kill Dori.” He remarked, casting an eye over her belly and smiling. “Though I will be the first to admit how bizarre it is, knowing that I’m going to be an uncle soon. I gave up on children a long time ago, and I feared Dori might put Ori off the idea with his smothering, but here you are. Bringing new life to the family.”

Billa frowned softly at that, tilting her head questioningly. “You gave up on having children? Why?” She wondered, since they had never discussed such things before. The Ri brothers never really discussed their love-lives – or lack thereof. All Billa really knew was that Dori was very overprotective of his two younger brothers, especially when the idea of courting came up.

Probably because of what happened to their mother.

“Well, for a start, I’m not sure I’ve ever met my One. And I am not exactly young anymore.” Nori said with an easy shrug, not looking particularly beaten up about it. He must have come to terms with it some time ago.

From what Billa knew of dwarves and their ‘one true love’, it was a big deal, so it seemed odd that Nori was so blasé about it. All dwarves believed that there was only one person in the world for them – and if they didn’t meet that person, most of them wouldn’t ever marry or have a family. They didn’t just settle. And sometimes, though rarely, their One didn’t like them back. When that happened, the dwarf in question still wouldn’t marry or find someone else – which Billa had always thought was heart-breaking.

Some hobbits believed in soulmates, though it wasn’t quite as important or as widely believed in as dwarves and their Ones. There might be somebody perfect for you in the world, but if you never found them you could still be happy. You could find someone nice, and just marry them instead. Probably someone advantageous for your family.

Wait,” Billa began, considering Nori’s choice of words. “-you’re not sure?” She checked, confused.

Nori chuckled at that, bobbing his head in confirmation. “Having a One is not as simple as it seems. Your One will always be your perfect match, but you might not realise that right away. Mahal, there have been stories of dwarves outright hating each other before realising that they were meant for each other.” He explained, glancing to the basket in Billa’s hands – which had long since been forgotten. “You and Thorin are a testament to that. You might not have hated each other, but you weren’t exactly friendly to one another from the offset. You had to get to know each other. So, perhaps I have met my One – but I don’t know. And it’s like I said, I am not a young dwarf. It may never happen for me. Sometimes it doesn’t.”

Billa nodded slowly, understanding that much. Nori was right – she and Thorin had not connected immediately. He barely even spoke to her to begin with, unless he was criticising her for something. But she knew that there was no doubt in Thorin’s mind that she was his One, and though she hadn’t believed in soulmates in her youth, she did now. “You’re not an old dwarf either, you know.” She argued, taking one of his hands and smiling. “You’re eleven years younger than Thorin – and he still found me.” She pointed out, squeezing his hand gently.

“That’s true.” Nori allowed, squeezing her hand back. “Regardless, we’re getting off topic. Come on and open your presents, I’m nosy and I want to know what you got.” He diverted, and Billa got the feeling that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore – so she let it drop.

She didn’t want to make him uncomfortable.

She did hope that he was wrong, though. It’d be nice if he found his One – though it did make her wonder if Dori had ever found his. She wouldn’t ever ask, because that would be unkind. If he had met them it couldn’t have worked out, else she would know about it, so there was little point in bringing up such a painful subject. Especially considering how sensitive Dori could be.

She reached for the basket again, pausing when one of the babies began moving. She smiled for a moment, dragging Nori’s hand onto her stomach and settling it over where the baby was. He had never gotten to feel her bump before – so it was bound to cheer him up. “Here – one of them is moving.” She explained, releasing his hand and waiting for a moment.

The baby rolled over, right beneath her brother’s hand, and she watched as his face lit up at the feeling. He raised his eyes from her belly to her face, beaming widely. “That is… Amazing.” He marvelled, running his hand over her abdomen reverently – and blinking in surprise when one of the other babies shifted too. “I remember the first time I felt Ori move, when ‘Ma was pregnant.” He shared, his expression warm and fond. “She really suffered through carrying him, so it was a good sign when he started moving… It gave us hope that he was going to make it. For a while we thought she might lose him.”

Billa smiled back at him, shifting into a cross-legged position and setting the basket from her gardener in her lap – as best she could, considering the size of her belly. “…how come there’s such a big age gap between you two and Ori?” She asked curiously, picking up a wax sealed letter from the top of the basket.

“No idea.” He admitted, lacing his hands together in his own lap as he watched her. “I know ‘Ma had Dori really young, and that’s why she waited a little while to have me – but Ori just kinda came along unexpectedly. She just got pregnant. There’s nothing else to it, really.”

“Fair enough.” Billa accepted, running her thumb under the seal to break it. She pulled the letter out of the envelope, unfolding it and smiling to herself when she saw Bell’s familiar scrawl – occasionally interrupted by the messy scribbles of her husband. It made her heart swell, reading through the letter and seeing how much her friends still cared for her – even though she’d run out on them. Hamfast might have been the only person she got to say goodbye to, but she still hadn’t expected him to stay so loyal. She was gone for quite some time, after all, and she never wrote to let him know that she was okay.

By the end of the letter Billa was dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief again, feeling terribly overwhelmed. They were congratulating her for finding love and starting a family – and expressing their disappointment over the fact that they couldn’t congratulate her in person, or meet her baby. Bell seemed especially upset about the fact that they couldn’t send her any food, since it would expire on Nori’s trip home.

She would have to keep in touch with them. They had been kind enough to send along a letter and a load of presents, so the least she could do was send her own letter with the rangers every so often. It wasn’t like they would know how to take a message from a raven.

She laughed wetly as she folded the letter closed again, tucking it back into the basket for safe-keeping. “Mahal, I didn’t realise quite how much I missed those two…” She excused herself, sniffling softly.

“They were nice. I didn’t get to meet Bell myself, since she was always with their children, but Hamfast spoke of her often enough – and she did put together a basket of food for me.” Nori said, smiling warmly at his sister and reaching out to catch a stray tear on his thumb. “And Hamfast was very helpful – he spent a lot of time in Bag End, helping me get everything in order for you. In between gardening jobs, of course. If I could have paid him for his help, I would have – I offered, but he wouldn’t take it.” He mused, tucking one of her braids behind her ear before settling his hands back in his lap.

Billa chuckled weakly, pulling out the first package. “That does not surprise me, at all. Hamfast is far too decent for his own good.” She agreed, running her fingers over the twine that held the brown-paper closed. “There was a reason he was my best friend. He always called me ‘Mistress Billa’ or ‘Mistress Baggins’, because he was very concerned with his social standing compared to mine, but it never stopped us being friends.” She explained, smiling fondly at the thought. It had used to annoy her, but it was sweet. She untied the twine from the present, smiling wider when she uncovered a homemade-looking book of baby safe recipes.

She flicked the journal open, touched when she saw that it was all written in Bell’s handwriting – meaning she had compiled it herself for the other hobbit. “Oh, wow… Bell wrote this herself. It must have taken hours.” She hummed, flicking through it briefly before handing it to her brother so that he could look too.

Nori thumbed through the collection of recipes, eyeing the detailed annotations and drawings that surrounded each recipe. The recipes were even organised by age, so that Billa would know which ones were suitable for young babies and which were better for more mature ones. A lot of thought had gone into it. “I’ll say… And she only had five or six days to put the whole basket together.” He pointed out, sounding impressed.

Billa made an acknowledging noise, watching him for a moment as he looked through the book before picking up another parcel. This one was smaller but just as firm, so it was probably another book. She pulled it open, happy to see that she was correct – and even happier to see that it was a little book of pregnancy tips. “I could have done with this a few months sooner!” She joked, noting that it was also written by Bell. “But it’ll still help. I’m sure Oin will want to take a look.” She reasoned, not wanting to sound ungrateful. She was grateful, and she knew Oin would like it. It might give them a little more insight into what to expect in the final couple of months. “Especially if any more babies come along, after these three.”

“Is it just gross lady stuff?” Nori inquired, stealing the book from her hands and giving it a once over – though she did notice how his eyes lit up when she mentioned the possibility of other babies. She and Thorin hadn’t really discussed it at length, but it might be nice to have a big family. “Yep, looks like it!” He teased, grinning toothily and laughing loudly when Billa swatted his leg.

“Oh shush! Nothing gross about it.” She reprimanded, though she was smiling.

Nori huffed another laugh, putting the two books down beside the basket and offering her a fond look. “I know, I’m only pulling your leg. Takes more than this to gross me out.”

Billa continued through the presents – unearthing a few pairs of knitted clothes, some wooden alphabet blocks, several small hand-sewn teddy bears and a large knitted blanket. The vast majority of it was homemade or second-hand, but it was all good quality and she appreciated it a great deal.

Bell and Hamfast weren’t exactly the richest in the Shire, and it was kind enough of them to send anything.

She placed it all back in the basket when she was done, smiling softly at the thoughtful gifts. It was all stuff she would need, and it wasn’t like she had any other baby supplies yet. She hadn’t even thought about buying clothes or toys – her pregnancy had just gone so fast. It was probably about time she got everything sorted, lest the babies arrive and they be completely unprepared.

“This is all pretty good stuff.” Nori complimented, though Billa had seen the disdainful look he had given the toy-blocks when they were unwrapped.

Billa didn’t doubt it was because they were pretty basic and he had the same ‘dwarves can do better’ mentality as all the others, but they were fine for blocks and Bofur could make as many other toys for the babies as he wanted. “It is. And it’ll all be put to good use.” She insisted, glad that Bell had thought to give her multiple teddies – since she was having more than one baby. Bell couldn’t have known she was having triplets, but she had probably assumed that Billa would go on to have several children. Like most hobbits.

Nori took the Gamgee basket and set it to one side, picking up the basket from her cousin and handing that to her next. “This one is from Drogo and his wife – Prim? Is that it?”

“Primula, yes. Only Drogo calls her Prim.” Billa corrected, though she was pleased that he remembered. Nori had probably only heard her name from Drogo – so it made sense that he picked up her pet name, rather than her full name. “I still can’t believe they all sent gifts… There’s so much stuff here.” She breathed, taking the letter first and breaking the seal easily. It was very different to Bell and Hamfast’s letter, but it warmed her heart all the same. The letter gave away several of the presents – telling her that they had included several pairs of scratch mitts, because ‘Frodo was a little monster for scratching himself’. Other presents included scented bath oils since ‘Primula insists that nothing is better for pregnancy pains than a good bath’, gentle soaps for babies, more toys, a picture book and a fabric sling for carrying the baby. Clothes-wise they provided several woolly hats – ‘it must be cold in that mountain’ – and some pyjamas. According to Drogo fauntlings didn’t care much for real clothes whilst they were small, so nice pyjamas were a must. And just like the letter from the Gamgees, her cousin’s letter also requested that Billa stay in touch.

It was sweet, reading about Drogo and Primula’s experiences as new parents – since Frodo was their first. Because of that, their advice was pretty valuable. Not to mention their presents were very helpful.

“The bath oils are a nice idea – they didn’t just focus on stuff for the babies, they sent something for you too.” Nori observed after she handed him the letter, letting him read it so that he understood the gifts too. “That’s really thoughtful.”

Billa made a noise of agreement, picking up one of the bottles and pulling out the stopper so that she could smell it. It smelled strongly of rose and almond, and she found herself actually excited for her next bath. She had enjoyed bath oils from time to time whilst living in the Shire, but then they had just been a nice treat. Now they would help her relax, and Primula was right – she did enjoy a good bath when her joints were giving her grief. “I think I’m going to have to run myself a bath tonight, this one smells wonderful.” She hummed, wiggling the bottle at Nori for emphasis before putting it back in the basket. She could see that one of the other bottles contained some lavender blossoms, so that was bound to smell good too – but she wasn’t going to sit and test them all. She still had another basket to go through, and she wanted to sort out her old belongings too.

There was one item of clothing in particular that she was looking forward to seeing again – but that could wait.

Nori smiled warmly at her, slotting the letter back into its envelope before putting it in the basket. “A wise idea.” He encouraged, making sure that the bottles of oil were all stoppered securely so that they wouldn’t leak. He set the basket to the side, with the Gamgee basket, and reached for the final set of gifts.

The last basket was much bigger than the others, and even the basket itself was better quality. Billa didn’t have to look at the tag to know it was from her grandfather and her Took relations.

“Where am I going to put all of this stuff…?” She joked a little anxiously, fiddling with the letter but not opening it immediately. Her cousin and her gardener had both written lovely letters, full of support and helpful tips, but her grandfather… Billa was worried that he might be mad. He wouldn’t be mean, he had always been a jovial old soul, she just didn’t want him to disapprove. His opinion meant more to her than she cared to admit.

The red-haired dwarf watched her closely, wrapping an arm around her in support when she made no immediate move to open the letter – or the presents. “We can stop and have some tea, if you need a moment?” He offered kindly, giving her a gentle squeeze.

Billa took a deep breath and shook her head, staring down at the letter in her hands. “No, it’s fine… I’m sure it’s nothing. I just...” She huffed, raising one hand to fiddle with her engagement bead. “…it wouldn’t even matter if he did disapprove…”

“-but you still want him to approve, because he’s family. It’s fine Billa, I understand.” Nori justified, leaning down to knock their heads together. “Take as much time as you need. For what it’s worth, he seemed fine when I talked to him. He didn’t seem angry or disappointed – though he was a little sad that you wouldn’t be coming back. I don’t think he’s written this letter to tell you off.”

She swallowed hard, nodding to herself. “…yeah, you’re right. I’m worrying about nothing.” She sighed, opening the letter before she could think better of it.

And Nori was completely right.

The letter was great. For the most part, it wished Billa all the best – though much like Hamfast her grandfather was obviously disappointed that he wouldn’t get to meet her baby, or her husband. He seemed particularly interested in knowing about Thorin, and it seemed like he still wanted answers about why she left. She would have to write back…

…but in the very least, he told her that he knew her mother would be proud of her. And that was enough to get her crying again.

“Mahal, at this rate you’re going to get dehydrated… Are you sure you don’t want some tea?” Nori marvelled, smiling softly at her.

Billa wiped her eyes on the handkerchief again, smiling back. “I’m sure… But there should be some milk in mine and Thorin’s kitchen… Could you get me a cup, please?” She requested, hiccoughing weakly.

The spymaster nodded, leaning their foreheads together for a moment before standing and leaving the room. He was back within a minute or two, carrying two cups of milk – one for her and one for himself. “Here we are. You okay…?” He checked, putting both cups down on the closest crate before sitting down beside her once more.

“Of course, it’s nothing bad, just… My grandfather talking about my mother. I still miss her.” The hobbit sighed, holding the letter tightly and licking her lips. “…I wish she could meet the babies. And my father too.”

Nori’s eyes were kind and full of understanding as he reached over to pull her into a hug. He held her to his chest, resting his head on hers when she buried her face in his shoulder. “I know… And I’m sorry, sister. But your parents wouldn’t want you to be sad, would they?” He reasoned, rubbing a hand up and down her back.

Billa shook her head into the fabric of his tunic, sniffing quietly. “No… My mother would probably give me a bit of an ear chewing. ‘If you want to grow, you must learn to let go, Billa’. That was what she used to say when I was young. As for my father… He would probably roll his eyes a little and tell me to make myself some tea. He was never a hobbit of many words, but his heart was in the right place.” She mused, pulling away slowly and offering her brother a watery smile.

“If you want to grow, you must learn to let go…” He repeated, one eyebrow raised. “…I like that. Your mother sounds like a wise hobbit.” He allowed.

“Oh, she was full of thoughtful little phrases like that.” Billa shared, her expression fond as she thought about her mother. She had loved both of her parents deeply, but her mother’s death was much… Fresher. It had only been three or four years since it happened, so Billa was still a little heart-sore.

She reached over to pick up her milk, resuming her cross-legged position and exhaling quietly to herself. “But you’re right. Neither she nor my father would want me to mope. They would want me to make the most of this. And I can start by opening the rest of these presents, then organising all of this stuff. Thorin and I have decided to remodel this suite, turn it into some bedrooms for the babies… And the sooner that’s started, the better. Best to get all of this stuff cleared away.” She accepted, sipping her milk and putting her grandfather’s letter away.

“Really…? I thought you hated these rooms?” Nori asked, his expression a little concerned. He was probably worried that the rooms still made her uncomfortable, but Billa didn’t think it was going to be a problem.

She tipped her head in acknowledgement, casting a quick eye over the stone walls and grand fireplace. It was true that she used to hate the king’s suite, but now? Now it wasn’t the room she remembered. The old furniture was all gone, and pretty soon they were going to start renovating it. Knock out most of the walls and put up new ones. Not to mention she had more happy memories in the mountain than she did sad -  it was hard to even remember the one day she had spent in the rooms, it seemed so long ago.

And she did try not to think about it. Her life was so much better now, and there was no point in digging up the past for no reason. Thorin had made amends.

The hobbit put her drink down and reached out to pick up the closest package, fingering the thick paper idly. “I did. Once. But this isn’t the king’s suite anymore. It’s just a room.” She hummed, shrugging her shoulders. “Honestly, Nori, it was my idea. These rooms are just sitting here, all empty… We’re going to give them a new lease of life. Knock some walls out, put some rugs down, decorate, all that sort of stuff. It’ll be beautiful.” She reasoned, looking around again. She could picture it in her head – it was going to be perfect, she just knew it. She’d even thought about asking Ori to teach her how to knit, so she could make some soft-furnishings. Wall-hangings and the like.

Nori smiled warmly at her, giving her knee an affectionate pat. “Alright, I’ll take your word for it. It does sound nice – and let me know if you need a hand with anything. You know Dori, Ori and I would be happy to help in any way we can. We can do the heavy-lifting.” He accepted easily, though Billa could tell by his voice that he was a little unsure. She knew he just had her best interests at heart – he’d come around. She really did think renovating the king’s suit was a great idea, and he’d see that soon enough.

“Thanks, that’d be great.” She said instead, happy to drop the matter. She pulled the first present open, blinking when she uncovered a long, shallow wooden box. It had bronze corners and a bronze clasp, and the dark coloured wood was etched with a lovely floral pattern – the box itself would have made a great gift, but it’s weight told Billa that there was something inside.

Nori let out a low whistle, tilting his head at the object. “That’s nice – what is it, a glory box?” He asked, running his fingers along the floral detailing.

Billa scoffed a little, shaking her head. “No, it’s a bit small for that.” She told him when he raised an eyebrow at her, a crooked smile gracing his features. “That’s a glory box.” She corrected him, gesturing back towards her mother’s – which was taller, wider and deeper.

“I see… I’ll be honest, I don’t know what a glory box is.” He snorted, looking in the direction she pointed.

“It’s a box that you put clothes and sheets and such in, for you to use after you’re married.” She told her brother, lifting the little wooden box off of her lap to test its weight.

Nori looked even more confused at that, turning his eyes on his sister once more. “Right… Why?”

Billa laughed softly, putting the box down and shrugging. “I don’t know, Nori. You just put stuff in there that you’re saving for your marriage, or for married life. In the Shire you live with your family until you marry, then you move in with your husband and take your glory box with you. My grandfather had that one made for my mother, when she got engaged to my father.” She elaborated.

The spymaster made an understanding noise, though he still seemed sceptical. “Okay, so… It’s just stuff you think you’ll need, moving out?”

“Yes, exactly.” She confirmed, smiling softly.

“Do you need one? Is that something Dori and I are expected to have made for you?” Nori pressed, sounding worried all of a sudden.

Billa laughed quietly, shaking her head again. “No, it’s fine. It’s just a silly Shire tradition. Your parents gift it to you when you get engaged – but when I got engaged to Thorin, I was already living with him. As such I have no need for a glory box, but thank you.” She assured him, reaching out to squeeze his hand.

“So long as you’re sure.” Her brother breathed, obviously relieved.

The hobbit beamed at him, giving his hand one last squeeze before withdrawing it and using it to open the box in her lap. She sucked in a breath at the sight of five wooden rattles resting on a small white pillow, each decorated with a different pattern of flowers. They were all gorgeous, and very well made. She didn’t doubt that her grandfather must have bought them from the finest trader in the Shire – so they wouldn’t have been cheap. She was pretty sure she’d had something similar in her youth, though she didn’t remember using it. She only remembered seeing it in a box in her parent’s room once.

She picked up the first rattle, giving it a gentle shake and smiling at the pleasant jingle. It probably had a couple of bells inside it, though she couldn’t for the life of her spot where they had been put in – the job was so well done.

Nori picked up one of the others and shook it, though that one made more of a rattling noise. “These are incredible… You should show them to Bofur and Bifur, I’m sure they’d love to try something similar. I’ve never seen such a decorative baby rattle.” He praised, putting it back in the box. “Ours tend to be wooden hoops, with large beads on them. They make more of a clacking sound, and it can be very annoying. I remember considering stealing Ori’s for that very reason – but he did like it. You should have seen the way he would smile, banging it on the furniture the way he did…” He snorted, though the look on his face was incredibly fond. “It drove ‘Ma mad, but it stopped him fussing whilst she was working. We got used to the noise eventually.”

Billa chuckled at that, putting the rattle down and closing the box again. “Well, thank Mahal that I won’t need one of those rattles, then!” She noted, setting the box to one side. “Most rattles are like this in the Shire. I mean, lots of them aren’t as… Fancy, but I do come from a good family.”

“You’re telling me. That smial your grandfather lived in was pretty spectacular.” Nori hummed, his mouth curling up into a cheeky smile. “…you know, for a hole in the ground.” He teased, knowing full well how much she had hated the company referring to Bag End as a hole.

“Oh, shush, you. We live in a glorified cave.” She bit back, though she couldn’t keep the smile from her face as she gestured to the mountain around them.

Her brother gasped loudly, placing a hand over his heart and pretending to look outraged. “A cave? I’ll tell Thorin you said that!” He threatened playfully, nudging her with his elbow.

Billa rolled her eyes, reaching for another package and casting the dwarf a bemused look. “Go ahead, he wouldn’t be surprised. He’s heard it before.”

Nori tipped his head in acknowledgement, looking unsurprised. They all knew what a fiery temper Billa had sometimes – especially now that she was pregnant. “I hope he knows you didn’t mean it.” He said after a moment, looking at her out of the corner of his eye.

She chuffed softly, looking at him again. “Of course he does. Erebor is a beautiful kingdom, and it’s my home now. We all say things we don’t mean when we’re upset, or angry. Mahal only knows Thorin has done it too.” She dismissed, beginning to unwrap the parcel in her hand. It was bigger than the other, and softer too.

The brunette felt her eyes widen in shock at the sight of the gift, holding the beautiful hand-sewn teddy bear in her hands. It was probably the nicest soft toy she had ever seen, pale brown in colour with a rounded belly and an expressive little face. It was dressed in a little green checked shirt, with a pair of brown dungarees over the top and a matching brown straw hat – decorated with a green ribbon, the same colour as the shirt. A little teddy bear gardener. If the clothes weren’t so fine, she would have said it looked a bit like Hamfast. Round belly and all.

It must have come from the best toy trader in the West.

“Well, that’s a bit of a shame.” Nori commented, riffling through the rest of the packages – without opening them – and looking a little disappointed.

Billa blinked for a moment, frowning a little. “What is?” She asked, seating the bear in her lap and running her fingers through its fur.

“Looks like there’s only one.” He remarked, having been checking the other presents to see if any of them were a similar shape. “Your grandfather couldn’t have known that there were three babies, of course, it just would have been nice if there was one for each of them. Though we could just have more commissioned, since I hear Dale has expanded its market. There must be someone capable of making such nice soft-toys. It’s a shame this isn’t Bofur’s thing – he works with wood and leather more than anything.”

“Oh, well… This bear can just stay with me. Maybe when the babies are older they can share it, but Bell and Hamfast sent plenty of nice bears with their basket. They’ll have toys aplenty, without this one.” She decided, not sounding at all upset about it. It was a damned nice bear, and it reminded her of one she’d had as a child. She had once lost it in the woods after a small adventure, and she had cried herself silly when she realised. Her parents ended up finding it, but it was a little worse for wear. It was probably somewhere in her mother’s glory-box, since that had been where she’d seen it last.

Nori raised an eyebrow at her, smiling softly and shrugging. “You’re right. I’m sure Ori is working on knitting some soft toys, and you know he’ll be more than happy to make as many as you need. Even when the old ones get worn or torn.” He stated, his expression fond and amused.

Billa nodded, leaving the bear in her lap as she reached for the next present. The next few were all story books, a couple of which she recognised as ones her mother and grandfather had read to her when she was small. Fairy tales, poems and the like. A few were new, but many of them were second-hand – meaning that they had come from her grandfather’s personal collection.

More books?” The red-headed dwarf joked, his eyes crinkling at the corners. She had asked him to bring back most of her books from Bag End, so there were already several crates full of them in the room.

“Yeah… I don’t own any of these, though. I always loved my grandfather’s library, in his home… It was always the first place I visited, whenever we went to see him. He’d read to me for hours, if I asked. Lots of these are from his collection.” She confessed, running her fingers over the pink leather of one book’s cover. “He used to read this one to me, and my mother too when she was a faunt. It’s very old.”

Nori looked impressed at that, peering down at the book. “It’s very well looked after, for its age.” He praised, feeling along the spine of the book with one finger. It was a little bent with use, but far less than one would expect – given that it must be at least fifty or sixty years old.

“I think it got rebound once, I think, but it is quite old. Seventy or eighty, I think? Older than my mother.” Billa conceded, setting it down on top of the other books.

The rest of the packages were a variety of baby clothes – dungarees, dresses, shirts and the like – in several different colours and sizes. And at the very bottom of the basket was a large, beautiful green blanket. It would be great for lining the babies’ bassinet, whilst they were small.

“I’m not sure you’re going to have any room for Ori’s knitting, with all this stuff!” Nori joked, gathering all of the discarded wrapping paper and folding it together – to be disposed of when they left, no doubt.

“I hear babies grow out of their clothes very quickly – so I’m pretty sure it’ll be fine. Ori will have plenty of opportunities to knit for them.” She reassured her middle brother, rolling her eyes. “As if I would ever deprive Ori of an opportunity to knit. What kind of heartless creature do you take me for?”

The red-haired dwarf held his hands up in surrender, grinning. “Right you are, sister. Now that the presents are out of the way, shall we sort through the rest? Figure out where it’s all going to go?” He suggested, making sure that all of the presents were tucked into the appropriate baskets before standing. He offered her a hand to get up, his other hand tucked into his tunic’s pocket.

Billa took his hand happily enough, letting him pull her onto her feet. “Sure thing. There’s a lot of stuff I’m looking forward to seeing again – though I have to warn you, I might get teary again.” She purred with a toothy smile, tucking the Took teddy-bear into the crook of her arm.

“That’s fine – I’ve got plenty of handkerchiefs for you.”

“Awh, you know me so well.”

Chapter Text

Thorin stepped into the Queen’s suite after a long day of meetings, worn out and longing for his bed.

It was a relief having Dís at his side to help out once again, but things were going to be busy in the mountain until everyone was settled. In the last couple of days, the number of dwarves in Erebor had tripled – so there was a lot to sort out. Dwarves needed jobs, food, housing…

…the housing had all been arranged prior to their arrival, but there were already dwarves requesting bigger quarters, unsatisfied with what they had been assigned. Which was ridiculous, really, since the bigger apartments had all been given to the bigger families – since they actually needed them.

They didn’t have the time to clear the rest of the old quarters just yet, there were much more important matters to attend to first.

And not to mention that Thorin still needed to be coronated. He was king, but it wasn’t official. Apparently, it needed to be. Because being the rightful heir to the throne wasn’t enough, even when coupled with the reclaiming of Erebor.

So that had to be organised, amongst other things.

Thorin had to be crowned, and shortly after that Dain was going to return to his own kingdom. Arrangements had to be made for that too.

The dark-haired dwarf closed the door behind him, glancing around the darkened main room and sighing. Billa would probably be in bed, since it was late. His heart sank a little at the thought, but he didn’t blame her. She needed her rest – it was why he hadn’t asked her to wait up.

Thorin had always had good low-light vision, so it didn’t take him long to notice the changes in the room. Several crates were piled by the bookcase, along with a couple of filled baskets, and a large fancy wooden chest had been set up behind the sofa. There was also an unfamiliar chair by the fireplace, old and well-loved looking.

It had to have been something from the Shire – so Billa must have gone through her belongings, whilst he was busy with his meetings. He hoped she’d had help. It made his gut twist, imagining her moving all of those heavy things by herself.

He approached the sofa, to investigate the box there, and noticed that it wasn’t empty.

Billa was curled up on the cushions, cuddling a small brown bear to her chest. She was sound asleep, an unfamiliar blanket wrapped tightly around her lower half. A tray sat on the table beside her, with a teapot and two cups resting on top of it.

She must have tried to wait up for him, Mahal bless her soul.

The king moved around the sofa, leaning down to slip his arms underneath her and scooping her up into his chest as gently as he could – trying not to wake her.

And failing.

The pregnant brunette stirred, hands clenching around the soft toy in her grip as she blinked groggily up at her intended. Her face lit up in a smile when she saw him, and she pressed her face into his tunic.

Thorin…” She breathed, fighting to open her eyes again – obviously exhausted.

He shushed her softly, moving to the bed and lowering her onto the mattress carefully. “Rest, amrâlimê. I am sorry I woke you.” He hummed, stepping away and beginning to undress for bed.

“No, no, I wanted to wait up…” Billa protested, sitting up unsteadily and stretching her arms over her head. “…and I’m awake now.” She pointed out with a smile, watching as he changed into his sleep clothes. “How was your- your day?” She asked, pausing in the middle of her sentence to yawn widely.

Thorin rolled his eyes at her stubbornness, climbing into the bed beside her – and holding back a smile when she immediately shifted into his side and dropped her head onto his shoulder. “Long.” He responded tiredly, raising a hand to rub at the bridge of his nose. “You should really be sleeping-” He began, blinking when Billa pulled away to scowl at him.

Thorin Oakenshield, I refuse to sleep until I know how you are. I didn’t see you all day – is it a crime to want a conversation with my intended, before he disappears again in the morning?” She huffed, looking mildly annoyed. He almost couldn’t take her seriously, when she looked so soft and sleep-ruffled.

But she was right.

“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to be back so late.” He apologised, wrapping an arm around her and pulling her back into his side. He pressed a kiss to the side of her head, pausing for a moment to just breathe in her smell. She smelled particularly floral that night – and a bit like almond? But he could smell her usual honey and vanilla soap, and he let out a small satisfied sigh. “How was your day? You smell different.”

“My day was nice enough. Ori gave me some grief working in the library earlier, but Nori came by and asked if I wanted to go through my things from the Shire… So we did that.” She said with another yawn, smiling at his comment about how she smelled. “That’s why I smell ‘different’. My relatives sent along some gifts, and I got some nice new bath oils. They’re quite pleasant – you will have to bathe with me sometime, try them yourself.”

“They sent gifts? That was kind of them.” Thorin noted, resting his cheek in her hair and closing his eyes for a moment. “I did notice some new additions to our room.”

Billa nodded, jostling him a little and making him huff a laugh. “Yeah – it’s customary to send a gift basket to an expecting mother, so some of my family sent things along with Nori. My old friend Hamfast and his wife sent one too. It was a little unexpected, if I’m honest, even if it is traditional.” She explained, taking Thorin’s free hand and lacing their fingers together. “I brought my mother’s glory box in and put it behind the sofa, I hope you don’t mind…”

“Of course not, my heart. This is your room as much as it is mine, you can put your furniture wherever you like.” He reassured her, squeezing her hand in his. “What else did you bring, then?”

“Oh, quite a bit, really. I should have considered just how much I asked Nori to bring back, but it was good to see it all. There’s about three crates full of books, a patchwork blanket that my mother made me – that’s on the sofa… A set of portraits of my parents. I haven’t put those up yet, I wanted to ask you where they should go.” Billa hummed, looking towards the sitting-area and chewing at her bottom lip.

Thorin gently pulled her bottom lip from between her teeth, leaning forward to kiss her gently on the mouth. “Well, where do you want to put them?” He inquired, smiling at the sight of her pink cheeks in the low-light.

The hobbit cleared her throat softly, in the way she often did when she was embarrassed, and pushed her free hand through her hair. “We don’t have a dining room yet, so I was thinking the kitchen? They would have liked that best.” She suggested, a small smile gracing her face.

“Of course. I’ll put a couple of nails in the wall for you.” He accepted, secretly amused with the choice. Of course the hobbits would want to be in the kitchen. It made perfect sense.

“Okay, good, thank you…” She breathed, running an idle hand over her belly. “Other than that… There’s another portrait, of my parents and I when I was small, which I was going to put on the mantelpiece… There’s an antique sewing box, which is under the sink in the kitchen, my mother’s nicest crockery – also in the kitchen…”

“Naturally.”

Billa smiled at the interjection, shaking her head as she continued. “A doll my father had commissioned for me in my youth, I put that in my mother’s glory box for safe-keeping. What else…? Some party dresses, a few completed embroidery hoops… My first bear, also in the glory box… My father’s favourite chair, and, oh – a crib! I didn’t actually ask for that to be brought, I forgot about it, but Nori found it and decided to bring it anyway. I’m not sure what to do with it, though. It’s beautiful, but we’re having three babies – and we can’t just use it for one of them, they should all have matching cribs, else it might seem like we favour one of them!” She sighed, looking a little put-out. She obviously wanted to use the crib, but she was right – it made sense for the babies to have matching beds.

“Well, perhaps we could show it to Bifur? He may be able to replicate it. If he can build two more, then they can match.” Thorin considered, tilting his head at his intended. Her expression lit up at that, and he smiled warmly at the sight.

“I never thought of that. Yes, that would be great. It was the crib I used to sleep in, and my mother slept in it before I did, so it would be nice if we could use it… And it has this really lovely inscription on it, I’d hate to get rid of it.” She imparted, exhaling softly and leaning further into his grip.

Thorin tightened his arm around her in response, his own eyes growing heavy with sleep – but he didn’t want to end the conversation just yet. Billa had been right before, he would be busy again tomorrow so he would be leaving early. They probably wouldn’t get another chance to chat before he went to work. “Mm? What is it?” He murmured, rubbing her shoulder gently.

“It says ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’. I’m pretty sure my grandfather had it commissioned, when my grandmother was pregnant. It’s so pretty… And I think he’d like it if I used it, too.” She shared, smiling to herself.

“Well, then we’ll have to find someone who can replicate the design for us. I’m sure Bifur will be up for the job, he’s very good at making furniture. And we were going to ask him about making a large bassinet, anyway.” The king said, settling his own hand on Billa’s stomach. Billa nodded against him but said nothing in reply, instead resting her hand on his.

They sat in comfortable silence for a long moment, with Billa stroking Thorin’s knuckles dotingly.

“…was that everything, then?” Thorin checked, wondering if that was everything that Nori had retrieved from the Shire. He would have to get Billa to show him some of her things when he was next free – since he was curious about it. It would be interesting, to see what belongings Billa had valued enough to have brought to the mountain.

“Hm…? I think so.” Billa yawned, raising her hand to cover her mouth. “Excuse me… Oh, and my mother’s wedding dress, actually.” She added casually, though Thorin stiffened beside her.

He drew away so that he could look at her properly, placing once hand on her shoulder and using the other to cup her face. “…a wedding dress?” He reiterated, to be sure that he had heard her correctly. The thought made his heart ache, but he had been avoiding the subject for quite some time. He wanted to wait until Billa was ready to get married, but he didn’t want to push her by asking when she would be ready. He didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.

Billa smiled kindly at him, leaning forward to kiss him gently. “Yeah. I mean, I’m probably not going to wear it, since my mother was taller than I am, but it would be nice if we could find a tailor who could make something similar… Something a bit hobbit-y.” She reasoned, her eyes full of warmth and affection as she regarded him.

She knew exactly what she was saying.

“So, you…?” The greying dwarf began, finding himself unable to finish.

Thankfully, Billa seemed to catch on.

“…want to get married?” She finished on his behalf, her eyes crinkling at the corners. “Yes, I do. It will have to wait until after the birth, since it will take some time to organise, but… I’m going to marry you, Thorin Oakenshield. Balin thinks my political knowledge is as good as it can be, and my Khuzdul is coming along nicely too… So, why not? I hadn’t really thought about it much lately, but I saw the dress earlier and I just… Knew.” She told him firmly, raising her own hand to cup his jaw. “It’s a shame that we couldn’t do it the traditional way, and get married before the babies, but… I’m glad we waited. It was the right thing to do. And we know we love each other, so it doesn’t matter that it’s not official yet. You’re not going anywhere, despite what Dori might think, and neither am I.”

Thorin surged forwards, kissing her eagerly. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he could hear his pulse throbbing in his ears. It made him lightheaded with glee, hearing that she was ready to marry him. That she wanted to marry him. He knew that she loved him, of course, she made no secret of that – but he had broken her heart once, and he wouldn’t have blamed her if she never wanted to marry him.

It said a lot about her strength as a person, that she had come to forgive him so quickly.

Billa accepted the kiss gracefully, curling her arms around his neck and smiling against his lips. Thorin smiled back, unable to help himself.

It was just fantastic.

“Men lananubukhs menu, azyungel.” He breathed as they pulled apart, raising a hand to push her hair from her face. She had removed her braids before he had returned to their rooms, so her hair fell around her face in loose curls. “Thank you… So much.” He said in a whisper, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear and moving to kiss her briefly once more.

The hobbit beamed warmly at him, leaning forwards to press their foreheads together affectionately. She left her arms around his neck, just holding him close. “Shush, sweet dwarf.” She sighed, letting her eyes fall shut for a moment. “You’ve nothing to thank me for. I was always going to marry you, I just needed to be ready. I’m practically marrying the kingdom too, after all. But I’m okay with that, and I think Balin’s lessons have prepared me as much as they can. I’m pretty sure that I can learn the rest on the job.” She insisted, batting her eyes open again and smiling wider. “In any case, it’s not like I’m running the kingdom. Just supporting it’s king, and helping wherever I can.”

Your king.” Thorin corrected, delighting in the way her cheeks and ears turned pink – even in the dark room. “You are going to be a wonderful queen, my heart.”

“I hope so.”

-

 Billa glanced up from the desk when she heard a knock at the door the next day, frowning softly to herself. She had decided to take the day to herself, since she still needed to arrange some of her belongings around their rooms, and she hadn’t been expecting any visitors.

She had put up the pictures of her parents – without help, thank you very much – and after a little rearranging she was happy with how her old stuff from the Shire fit into their home. Since that hadn’t taken as much time as she had expected, she was busying herself with drawing a rough plan of how she wanted the king’s suite changed. Balin had been kind enough to provide them with the current floorplan of the space, so she was trying to figure out how best to rearrange the room to accommodate their children.

The brunette stood up and dusted herself off, knowing better than to leave a guest waiting – unexpected or not. It could be a friend, or even a guard.

And if it was a guard, it had to be important.

She swung the front door open, blinking in surprise when she was not greeted with a member of the company or a guard – but Thorin’s sister, Dís.

Oh! Hello, Dís. Thorin is in meetings all day, I'm afraid. He won't be back until late.” She informed the female dwarf, assuming that she must be looking for her brother, but stepping aside to let her in anyway. Dwalin, Nori, Thorin and Dain were holding a meeting to discuss the security of the kingdom, and Billa suspected that would take most of the day.

Erebor was a large mountain, with a lot of inhabitants, so good security was vital.

Dís smiled crookedly, sweeping into the room and watching as Billa closed the door behind her. She was dressed in a very fine blue and silver dress, that trailed along the floor when she walked. Billa couldn’t help but think how terribly impractical it was – she might trip on it! And it must get terribly dirty, touching the floor the way it did. “I know. I was invited, but I thought you might like some company.” The regal lady imparted, raising an eyebrow at her future sister-in-law and smiling wider when she saw how shocked the hobbit looked.

Billa couldn’t help it, going a little pink with embarrassment and shock. It shouldn’t have been a surprise – Dís probably wanted to get to know her. Billa was marrying her brother, after all. “Well, that'd be lovely. Would you like a drink? I was just about to prepare some tea.” She said in an attempt to recover, immediately heading towards the kitchen. Even if Dís didn’t want tea, it would help soothe Billa’s nerves!

She couldn’t help but feel like she was about to be interrogated.

“Yes, please. I still can't believe you got my brother drinking tea... He used to hate it, you know. He and Dwalin called it leaf water.” Dís hummed, following Billa into the next room with her hands folded behind her back.

Billa laughed, putting fresh water in the kettle and hanging it over the fire. Thankfully the fire was still burning hot, so the water wouldn’t take long to boil. “So I've heard! Though I suppose that name isn't entirely inaccurate. Tea is quite literally dried leaves steeped in hot water. But Thorin does seem to enjoy it, even with the insane amount of sugar he likes to use!” She accepted, using a small step-ladder to reach her favourite teapot from the shelf. She put it on the table, along with two matching cups and saucers, before collecting a jar of tea leaves from the kitchen side. She spooned them into a wire strainer, before slotting that into the top of the teapot – ready for the water to be poured over.

“He always did like sweet things.” The princess noted, shooting Billa a pointed look and grinning.

“Yes, well...” The brunette blustered, feeling her cheeks heat up and clearing her throat loudly. Dís thought she was sweet. “...anyway, how are you finding your rooms? We did consider putting you in the king's suite, but Thorin thought you might prefer to be closer to the boys.” She asked, purposefully changing the subject and chewing at her bottom lip.

Dís’ grin grew, but she let the matter slide – taking a seat at the small table as Billa dragged the ladder to the cupboards and climbed up it to retrieve a jar of cookies. “He was right. They might be a handful, but I did miss my pebbles.” She admitted, her expression fond at the mention of her sons. “I was terrified that they might not make it through the quest, and I couldn't stop them from going. I can call them pebbles all I want, but at the end of the day they are adults. It was their decision to make. I feared for Thorin too, of course, so I am glad things went the way they did. It could have been so much worse.” She added after a moment, growing sombre all of a sudden.

Billa sighed softly, setting the jar down on the table and putting the ladder back away in the corner. “There were times when I thought that none of us were going to make it, but we pulled through. And your boys… They are fighters. They never gave up. They were invaluable – and I’m pretty sure that they both saved my life numerous times during our quest.” She confessed, wanting to be honest. Dís needed to know just how great her sons had been. “Without Kili, we might not have gotten away from the orcs when we were leaving the woodland realm… And we certainly never would have killed Smaug. Blinding the dragon was a stroke of genius.” She shared, smiling softly to herself. She knew he wasn’t her child – but she was so proud of him.

And she’d been feeling particularly maternal as of late.

“As for Fili… He once saved me from a group of orcs, before we reached Rivendell. I was hurt, and he carried me to safety – then after I got patched up, he and Kili stayed with me to make sure that I was okay. Even though it really annoyed Thorin. And when we first encountered Azog, crossing the Misty Mountains, they helped me into a tree to avoid the wargs. They were always looking out for me.” She elaborated, using a tea-towel to remove the kettle from the fire when it began to whistle. She poured the water straight into the teapot, careful not to spill any of it.

“I’m glad to hear it. They are shockingly modest, and they’ve actually told me very little of the quest. Thorin gave me a brief outline, of course, and Dwalin confirmed everything that he told me… But Kili and Fili don’t like to boast. I don’t think that they realise that they are heroes. That or they know I would have a heart attack, hearing of all the danger their uncle dragged them through.” Dís chuckled dryly, beginning to fiddle idly with one of her braids – the one that contained Thorin’s bead.

It made Billa smile seeing Dís play with the bead, much like she would idly touch her engagement bead – or the bead on her necklace.

“I suspect it’s a mixture of the two.” She said, putting the kettle down on a cork mat on the kitchen side. Once that was out of the way she sat down opposite her future sister-in-law and picked up the jar of cookies, pulling the lid off and offering it to the other lady.

Dís took a cookie with a nod of thanks, picking at it absently. “You might be right…” She hummed, sounding distracted. She stared down at the baked treat in her hand, and it was obvious that she wanted to say something.

Billa picked up a cookie of her own, setting it down on her saucer before pushing the jar to one side. “…is everything okay, Dís? You seem… Distracted.” She noted, worried about causing offence. She wasn’t sure that she and Thorin’s sister were close enough for this kind of conversation, but she couldn’t ignore anyone’s upset. Let alone someone who was supposed to be family.

The female dwarf exhaled hard, putting her cookie down beside her cup and reaching up to touch Thorin’s bead again. “May I ask you a serious question?” She pressed, releasing the bead and folding her hands together on the table.

“Hm? Of course, Dís, go ahead.” Billa answered easily, though she felt her chest tighten a little with concern. Her hand moved almost subconsciously to touch her necklace, rolling the engraved bead between her fingers.

“And you will be honest with me?” Dís verified.

Billa tilted her head in confusion, letting go of the bead and picking up the teapot instead – pouring them both a cup. “I am always as honest as I can be.” She insisted, though making no promises. She never lied, but she didn’t know what the dwarf was going to ask. She couldn’t think of anything that she wouldn’t be able to talk about, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

“Why won't Thorin wear jewellery? I noticed it the day we were reunited, he only really wears beads now, but at the feast... He should have been wearing a crown, at least, and he used to wear all kinds of rings.” The female Durin entreated, grabbing a teaspoon and adding a spoonful of sugar to her drink. “I asked about the crown, but he just shrugged and said it broke. When I asked my sons, they said the exact same thing. Almost like it was a line. But you've been back in Erebor for at least eight or nine months, correct? Why hasn't another crown been made, if that is the only reason? And that crown was very well made – it wouldn’t just break.”

The hobbit grimaced softly in response, averting her eyes to her own teacup. “Ah, well... I'm sorry, Dís, but I'm not sure if it's my place to talk about it.” She faltered, spooning sugar into her tea before adding milk and stirring it slowly.

“Billa, please. I'm not asking you as the princess of Erebor, I'm asking you as Thorin's sister. As your sister, too. I worry about him, and if you don't tell me then no one will. I won't tell him that you told me, if that is what you wish, I just want some peace of mind.” Dís beseeched, her eyes imploring.

Billa sighed deeply, meeting her sister-in-law’s ice blue eyes and biting the inside of her cheek. “In all honesty, Dís, I think you should know, I just... I would rather it came from Thorin.” She admitted, knowing that the female dwarf had every right to know – but not wanting to go behind her intended’s back.

“And so would I, but he won't talk to me about it. When I arrived here in the mountain, I brought a box full of Thorin's favourite jewellery that he left in the Blue Mountains. And when I gave it to him, he opened the box, barely looked at the contents and slammed it shut again. He said thank you, but he pushed the box under your bed without even checking that everything was there. You must understand, for a dwarf that is very peculiar behaviour. And likewise, when I visited the throne room a couple of days ago I noticed that the throne had been changed - and the Arkenstone was nowhere to be seen. Which had me wondering if this is all about Thorin's gold-sickness.” Dís said, her voice full of concern.

She looked so genuinely worried that Billa just couldn’t stand it – and she knew the dwarf was right. Thorin wouldn’t talk about it himself, he barely liked to talk about it with her. “Okay, well... It is.” Billa confessed, picking up her cup and taking a small sip.

“Is he still sick?” Dís murmured softly, propping her elbows up on the table, linking her hands together and resting her chin atop them.

“Mahal, no! He's been fine ever since the Battle of the Five Armies - it's just that he's worried about falling sick again. He's been doing everything he can to avoid it. Perhaps he is being more cautious than he needs to be, but if it keeps him safe… I’m not going to stop him.” The brunette breathed, glancing towards the main room. She knew Thorin wouldn’t be back for hours, but she still didn’t want anyone interrupting. This wasn’t anything that anyone else needed to hear.

The princess nodded slowly. “So, that is why he doesn't wear our grandfather's crown?” She assumed, tilting her head at the female opposite her.

“In fairness, he did not lie about that. That crown did break. Thorin broke it when he was coming around from his sickness, before the battle. A new one is being made, but Thorin does try to avoid wearing too much decoration. He also tries to stay away from the treasury whenever possible.” Billa settled, drinking another mouthful of tea.

Dís frowned further, her brow furrowed deeply. “Was it truly that bad? I had asked about it in my letters, before I arrived, but both Thorin and my boys made it sound so... Unimportant. Like Thorin's sickness was just a minor setback.” She huffed, looking a little annoyed – but still very fretful. “I knew something was amiss the moment I brought it up with Dwalin and Nori on our journey to the mountain. Whenever I brought it up Dwalin would go all quiet and say 'it's in the past', or something to that effect. Nori was a little more honest with me, but he still wouldn't go into any kind of detail. The only thing he really told me was that you almost left Thorin, because of his sickness.”

“It was bad, and yes, I did. I'm not proud of it, but I did almost leave. After everything Thorin said and did, Dori terminated our courtship, and I... I was hurt, and I couldn't stand tiptoeing around Thorin for the rest of my life. I didn’t think that we could get past what he had done, and I hated seeing him so damn heartbroken. Walking around the mountain, looking like a puppy who’d been kicked…” The smaller lady divulged, beginning to swill her tea around her cup in an absent-minded manner. Just to keep her hands busy. “Worse than that, like a puppy who had been kicked and thought they deserved it. He wasn’t angry at me for accepting the termination of our courtship, or for avoiding him. He was just so sad…” She amended, her heart aching at the memory. She had only ever seen Thorin cry properly once, and that had been when she had tried to leave the mountain. It had been horrendous, seeing him so broken, and she never wanted it to happen again. Her poor heart couldn’t take it.

“What did he do?” The dark-haired lady practically whispered, looking distressed by the mere thought. And she hadn’t even seen it herself.

Billa took a deep breath, steeling herself. It was hard to talk about, but it had to be said. “He was possessive, suspicious, greedy, irrational and aggressive...” She began, blinking when Dís startled visibly – her eyes widening. “Don't get me wrong, he never laid a hand on me, but he was very unkind towards many of the company - including Dwalin and my brothers.” She added, realising how it must have sounded. Thorin had never physically hurt her, and she didn’t want anyone to think that he had. As scary as he had been in the depths of his sickness, he had never struck her. “He threatened several of us, and he just would not listen to reason. He was trapped in his own mind, unable to think straight... And it scares him, knowing that he was capable of such unkindness. That's why he doesn't want to risk it happening again.”

Dís seemed to deflate, averting her eyes to her cup of tea and taking a deep breath. “Mahal, I... I didn't know. I suspected he might get sick, I told Fili and Kili as much, but no one ever told me how bad it was.” She groaned, clenching and unclenching her hands unhappily. “I knew it must have been worse than Thorin said after I spoke to Nori, but I still couldn't get any detail out of anyone. The company, it would appear, are loyal to a fault.” She mused, flashing the hobbit a mirthless smile. “I am so sorry, Billa... No one deserves to go through that. I hoped that Thorin would be alright, having seen our grandfather fall to gold-sickness. He knew what it could do, and what it looked like... I hoped that might help him fight it. I must have underestimated how… Terrible gold-sickness is. Which is no great surprise, I suppose. Our grandfather was sick for as long as I knew him, I was only a child when Erebor fell. I couldn’t have known how to prevent the sickness, and I doubt Thorin could have either.” She reasoned, beginning to fiddle with one of the braids in her beard.

Billa was glad to hear that Dís didn’t blame Thorin in any way. From what she could tell, very few of the dwarves understood gold-sickness – and that lead many of the company to blame Thorin for his behaviour. They didn’t understand that he couldn’t help himself. Balin seemed to know, because he saw Thror fall to the same sickness. And Thror had never recovered.

Billa in no way blamed Thorin for the way that he had acted whilst he was sick. She knew who Thorin really was, perhaps more intimately and on a more personal level than any of the company did, and she knew he wouldn’t have done those things if he had been of a sound mind. She had only accepted Dori terminating their courtship because she had been hurting, and she hadn’t known if Thorin would come around from his sickness. There had been no way of knowing if he was his old self again.

“We’re still not sure what brought it on. It began shortly after Smaug died, but he didn't become obsessed with the gold or jewels... Like Thror. He liked them, sure, but they weren't what set him off. He became obsessed with me, and he got agitated when anything seemed to threaten me or our relationship - no matter how small. However, I doubt that I caused his sickness, because I had been travelling in close proximity with him for months.” She reasoned, offering the other female a shrug and placing her teacup back on its saucer. She picked up her cookie instead, biting into it and chewing slowly.

Dís nodded, seeming to mull it over for a long moment. “It will have been something in Erebor. Or maybe... Erebor itself?” She wondered aloud, pausing for a swig of her drink. “It's very hard to say. It was definitely the gold, for our grandfather. It was all he cared about - more than us, more than his wife... Perhaps our grandfather's greed... Poisoned the treasury?” She considered, before shaking her head to herself. “Or maybe it is just a weakness in our blood, and Thorin couldn't help falling to it. We will probably never know. But... I am glad that you helped him through it. And that he is clever enough to try and avoid it happening again. No one has ever just... Stopped having dragon-sickness before. Our grandfather, Mahal rest his soul, died sick. And there's no record of anyone else overcoming it the way Thorin did.” She imparted, smiling genuinely this time – her eyes warm as she regarded the hobbit. “And trust me, I checked. I studied gold-sickness extensively whilst we were in Ered Luin, and there is no known cure.”

“I'm very proud of him. I'm not sure how big a part I had in it, though... All I did was shout at him a little, and that only got me a thinly veiled threat in return. He was alone when he came around from his sickness, and then after the battle... I left him. So, I don't think I helped at all. It was all him.” Billa muttered, staring hard at the cookie in her grasp rather than meeting the dwarf’s gaze. She still wished that she had done more for him, when he had been sick. “We both made mistakes, I'm just glad we worked it out.”

“He threatened you? What did he say?” Dís huffed, her smile fading immediately.

The brunette grimaced a little, regretting letting that slip. She never talked about what Thorin had said to her during his madness. As far as she was concerned, it was between them. It would only make the others angry. “Oh, I... It sounds worse than it was. He wouldn't have hurt me. And he apologised.” She dismissed, flapping a hand at the other female. “We all joke that Thorin has a suicidal streak, but during that battle, after what he did... I think he wanted to die. He felt so awful about the way he treated everyone. He took off all of his armour, ran out there with no real plan... And then when I reached him, he tried to say goodbye. Told me that he was glad that I was the last thing he would see, the fool... He would have died if Beorn and I hadn't reached him when we did.” She said honestly, shuddering at the thought.

It was part of why she had forgiven him. He was so hurt by what he had done, and it proved that he hadn’t meant any of it.

He still had nightmares about it, sometimes.

He would wake suddenly, wide eyed and sweating, and pull her into his chest in the middle of the night. He would hold her close and mutter frantically in Khuzdul, kissing her face or burying his nose in her hair. He'd woken her that way several times, but Billa didn't mind. It was better than the other nights, when a bad dream would wake him and he would excuse himself from bed to suffer through it alone. When that happened, Billa would find him hours later - sat at his desk, exhausted, or sat in front of the fire with his shoulders slumped. At least when he woke her, she could comfort him.

He dreamed about having never overcome his sickness, or becoming sick again and hurting her. Hurting their children. Those were the worst dreams.

"The fact that you have these dreams, and that they upset you so, proves that you aren't going to relapse." She would tell him, running her hands through his hair. "You know that isn't you. You're better than that, you know you are. You would never do those things, to me or our children. You're going to be fine."

But Billa wouldn't tell Dís any of that. Sister or not, it wasn't her business.

“Mahal... Thank you for telling me this, Billa. And really, thank you for being there for him. After his sickness, after whatever it was that he did or said... It takes a big person to try and save him anyway. I'm really glad he met you.” Dís averred, pulling Billa back into the present.

She shrugged again, feeling her cheeks heat up at the praise. “Oh, it was nothing... I think Thorin saved me just as much as I saved him. If I had stayed in the Shire, Mahal only knows what would have become of me. I would have ended up as some lonely old spinster, doomed to never have a family or an ounce of happiness in her life.” She mused, smiling grimly at the thought. “But here I am. The quest was dangerous, sure, but look at me now. I know you never saw what I used to be like, but I'm better now. I'm so much better, and so much happier... I'm marrying my perfect partner, and I'm about to have three children with him. Everything worked out in the end.” She continued, smiling warmer at the thought. No matter what had happened in the past, things were better now – and that was what mattered.

Billa didn’t care if Thorin had hurt her in the past, because he was doing his best to stop it from happening again.

“I think you need to give yourself a bit more credit, but I'm glad things turned out the way they did. For both of you.” The dwarven princess decided, eyes crinkling at the corners – in the same way Thorin’s did when he smiled at her.

Billa smiled wider at that, finishing her biscuit and her tea during the comfortable silence that fell between them.

Dís broke the silence, once she had polished off the remainder of her tea, clearing her throat softly and standing. “What are you doing today, then?” She asked curiously, moving her teacup to the sink and grabbing another cookie on her way back to the table – flashing Billa a grin as she did.

“Oh, nothing that can’t wait. Balin has given me the plans for the king’s suite, so I was just thinking about what we’re going to do with the space. We know that we’re turning it into rooms for the babies, but I wanted to figure out how we’re going to divide it up – and see if there’s enough space to fit in a family dining room too. Mahal knows we need one.” The hobbit shared, taking another baked treat for herself and nibbling delicately at it.

The dark haired Durin seemed to perk up, sitting back down and breaking her cookie in half with her hands. “Can I help in any way? I helped design Fili and Kili’s rooms, when they were small.” She offered, biting into one of the halves.

Billa blinked at that, considering it for a moment. “I don’t see why not. A second opinion might be just what I need. Come, we’ll move this into the other room – the seats are comfier, and the faunts are fidgeting.”

“Do they move a lot?” Dís asked, rising to her feet when Billa did and following her into the main room.

The brunette nodded, rubbing a hand over the swell of her stomach and retrieving the plans from Thorin’s desk. She walked back to the chairs in front of the fire, spreading the paper out on the coffee table and taking a seat in her father’s chair. “They can be very restless. Usually I go for a walk to get them settled, but my back pain and ankle pain has been particularly severe today.” She sighed, shrugging slightly. She had grown used to it, after so many months of the triplets being active. “I will probably have a hot bath tonight, that helps most of the time.”

“That always worked for me. I used to swim too, in the heated pools in the Blue Mountains. It was a good form of exercise, without putting any weight on sore limbs.”

“I’ll bear that in mind, thank you!”

-

The meeting with Thorin had gone as well as it could have, but Nori wanted to poke around the mountain and confirm that there was no talk of usurping the throne before he allowed the plans for the coronation to go ahead.

He hadn’t lied when he spoke to Billa about it – he genuinely didn’t think that anyone wanted Thorin gone, but he would be a poor spymaster if he went by his gut instinct without first making sure.

A little bit of digging would put his mind at ease.

Which was why he was walking around  the lower levels of the mountain in disguise, wearing dull and unassuming clothes. He had rubbed soot into his hair to make himself look like a worker – and to disguise its usual auburn colour. He probably hadn’t been spymaster long enough for people to realise what he was up to, but they might still hold their tongues around him if they realised he was a member of the company. He was loyal to Thorin, through and through.

He had visited a few bars already, hoping to overhear some gossip from the dwarves of the Blue Mountains, though it was proving difficult.

No one noticed who he was, of course, since he spoke with a believable fake accent and avoided anyone he knew – but Dwalin seemed to be following him, and everyone recognised him.

Every dwarf in the Blue Mountains had known who Dwalin was, even before he became the head of the royal guard. He had been a guard back in Ered Luin too, after all, and a known friend of Thorin’s.

Nori ducked into a quiet corridor after a good two hours of trying unsuccessfully to find information, waiting for Dwalin to catch up so that he could talk to him in private.

When the balding dwarf rounded the corner, looking confused about where the spymaster had gone, Nori stepped out to face him.

“Dwalin.” He sighed in his normal voice, raising a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose.

The head of the royal guard coloured noticeably, the back of his neck burning red. “…Nori.” He answered, his voice hesitant and a little wary.

“You know, I appreciate this friendship that seems to have blossomed between us, but it doesn't help my spy-work when I've got a royal guard tailing me.” The usually red-haired dwarf shared, amused by Dwalin’s obvious embarrassment. The gruff dwarf had obviously thought that he was being discreet, but you can’t spy on a spy. “Makes my job a little difficult! If you want to hang out or something, then we can go get a drink some other time. You don’t have to stalk me while I’m working.” He insisted, folding his hands together behind his back.

He wasn’t really sure why the youngest son of Fundin felt the need to follow him, but it had to stop. The spymaster couldn’t do his job with a royal guard around, and especially not when that guard was Dwalin. It was distracting, and it was going to blow his cover eventually.

Dwalin seemed to mull that over for a long moment, face still puce and eyes averted awkwardly. “...alright, sorry. Didn't think of that.” He rumbled, scuffing his boot in the dust and scowling at the floor. Like it had caused him personal offence.

So, I'll see you soon?” Nori checked, rolling his eyes in exasperation.

Mahal, if Dwalin wanted to spend time with him, he should just say. He was a grown dwarf.

…it was kind of sweet, though. Nori had never expected to grow close to the other dwarf, especially given their history.

The balding warrior glanced up from the floor, meeting Nori’s eyes and managing a small but warm smile. “…yeah. Tomorrow evening?”

“Sounds great.” The spy accepted with a small bow of his head, before grinning toothily. “Now, go away. I’ve got work to do.”

Dwalin snorted, shaking his head in amusement and turning away. “Alright.” He huffed. “…make sure you wash that soot out of your hair, it looks stupid.” He called over his shoulder as he walked away, drawing an indignant sound from the other dwarf.

“Rude! At least I have hair!” Nori shouted back, chuffing quietly to himself when Dwalin barked a laugh – disappearing around the corner without another word. He stared after the large royal guard for a long moment before blinking and shaking his head to clear it. “…right. Back to work. Lots to do…” He muttered, pulling a small pouch of soot from inside his cloak and making sure his hair and face were still liberally coated.

He didn’t care if it looked stupid, it was an easy disguise.

And it would wash off with some warm water.

Chapter Text

The next couple of weeks passed in a blur.

Thorin was crowned king, and a feast was thrown in honour – though not quite as extravagant as the welcome feast. He hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of the coronation, even if the entire kingdom had come out in force to celebrate it.

It was a proud moment for them all, seeing Balin place a crown of silver and mithril on Thorin’s brow.

It was a tasteful crown, nowhere near as over-the-top or decorative as King Thror’s had been. It was relatively plain, lacking any kind of jewels or gemstones – decorated only with rune inscriptions and the angular silhouette of a raven, facing forwards with its wings spread wide. No one could say that it didn’t suit him, as he stood in front of the crowd with his head bowed and his shoulders squared – the perfect picture of dwarven nobility.

Billa had almost cried, hearing his people cheer for him. And it had all gone to plan, too. Dwalin and Nori had gotten security completely covered between the two of them.

For the first week after that, everything had seemed perfect. Thorin was busy, which was to be expected, and Billa spent her days flitting between her family members and her friends – keeping as busy as she could, given her growing size. She continued her work in the library, but was forbidden from climbing ladders, much to her ire. There was just no defying Ori, when he kept such a close eye on her at work.

Dís had even gifted the hobbit a beautiful new rocking chair, to help her soothe the faunts when they were fidgeting.

But the peace couldn’t last.

Billa sat bolt upright in bed, roused by the sound of someone banging urgently on the front door. It only took her a moment to scramble to her feet, swiping a hand over her eyes and grabbing her dressing gown. She tried her best to dress on her way to the door, stumbling clumsily and stopping to brace herself against the wall – wrapping one arm around the swell of her stomach.

All the while the banging continued; if anything, it only increased in volume.

She tied the dressing gown closed, casting her eyes around the room once before unlocking the door and heaving it open.

The guard on the other side of the door looked harried, his face flushed beneath his thick black beard. “Miss Baggins.” He breathed, sweeping low in a bow. When he straightened up he seemed to register her sleep clothes and mussed appearance – blinking and averting his eyes politely. “Orcs have been sighted close to the mountain – everyone is gathering in the main hall.” He shared, his gaze fixed on the ceiling and his hands folded together behind his back.

Billa’s embarrassment at being seen in her pyjamas quickly disappeared, her heart skipping a beat. Orcs. “Mahal… How many?” She huffed, wrapping both of her arms around her abdomen.

“Enough.” The guard insisted, and his grim tone of voice was enough to convince her of the severity of the situation.

She nodded in acknowledgement, about to answer when she heard the sound of footsteps thundering down the hall. She stepped forwards to peer around the guard, equal measures curious and concerned, frowning softly when Dwalin practically skidded around the corner.

“Ragur.” He addressed the guard, breathing heavily. “I can escort Miss Baggins – continue spreading the news.” He ordered, placing a hand on the curly-haired-hobbit’s shoulder.

Billa certainly felt more comfortable with Dwalin there rather than the guard, but it did nothing to ease her panic.

Ragur nodded and bowed to the head of the royal guard, taking off in the direction of the stairs.

Once he was gone Dwalin seemed to sag, swiping a hand across his forehead. “I’m sorry – Thorin wanted it to be me who got you, but I got held up. There was a bit of a situation downstairs… People freaking out. You would think they’d never encountered orcs before.” He murmured, gesturing for her to head inside the room.

“Of course, they’re freaked out Dwalin – I’m freaked out! Have you forgotten the last time we faced orcs?” She breathed, moving inside and smoothing her hand over her bump. The babies were restless – understandably so. They had been jolted awake, and Billa didn’t doubt that they could feel her elevated heart rate. “Several of us almost died. Myself and Thorin included.”

“I know that, but that was an army. A large army. We were overwhelmed. Sure, it’s worrying, but we’ve got everything figured out. It’s going to be fine. We’re just rounding up guards, and sending everyone to the main hall as a precaution. It’s a big enough space to house every resident in the mountain, and it’s deep enough inside that it’s very unlikely the orcs would be able to reach it.” The balding warrior permitted, falling into one of the chairs by the fire.

Billa let out a long sigh, combing a hand through her unbraided hair and glancing towards the front door. “Okay, so what’s the plan? Lock the doors and wait for them to pass?” She wondered, heading towards the wardrobe and rummaging around for something to wear.

“No, of course not. They could linger for days, or weeks, that wouldn’t be practical. And they might turn on Dale, or Lake-Town.” Dwalin pointed out, folding his arms across his chest. “We are going to send out a party to scare them off – or kill them, if they won’t leave.”

“I suppose that makes sense… So, I just need to go to the main hall?” The brunette sighed, draping a clean shirt and skirt over her arm. It was a sound plan, though she wasn’t sure how comfortable she would be waiting in the hall with everyone. As the intended of the king, people would probably expect her to be composed – to stand strong at Thorin’s side and reassure them that everything would be alright. But she was very pregnant, and very emotional, so it was a lot to ask of her.

She would have to ask Thorin what the protocol would be, it hadn’t really come up in her etiquette lessons.

Dwalin bobbed his head in a nod, withdrawing a dagger and beginning to fiddle with it idly. A year and a half ago she would have found the action threatening, but she knew he didn’t mean anything by it. It was just an absent-minded habit – it made him feel better when he was nervous.

Which meant that he was nervous.

“Aye, something like that. Thorin wants to see you first, of course. Make sure you’re okay, probably give you a rousing speech about how he has it under control…” He said, running his thumb along the edge of his blade – testing how sharp it was.

Billa supposed that made sense, but she felt as though there was something he wasn’t saying. She stepped into the bathroom to change and do her hair, deciding to get ready rather than prolong the inevitable. They could continue their conversation on the way to Thorin.

Dwalin rose to his feet when she came back out into the living-area a short while later, tucking the dagger back into its sheath. “Bring the letter-opener. Just in case.” He suggested, nodding to the sword where it rested on her mother’s glory box.

She raised an eyebrow at him but obeyed, strapping the sheath around her waist as best she could. Once that was done, she grabbed her favourite fur cloak – the one that had used to belong to Thorin – and headed towards the front door. “Sting.” She corrected, though Dwalin seemed not to hear her – or at least didn’t acknowledge the comment.

The head of the royal guard beat her to the door, pulling it open and looking completely unsurprised to find Nori on the other side – leaning casually against the wall.

“Billa.” The redhead crowed, smiling warmly at her. His eyes were tight with concern, and that only made her more nervous. He wasn’t the type to be easily spooked – this had to be bigger than Dwalin was making out. The spymaster held his arm out to Billa courteously, looking her up and down as he did.

She looped her arm through his without protesting, knowing better than to resist. And really, it would be useful to have him at her side when navigating the mountain – given that the dwarves were probably still panicking. Someone could easily bump into her without meaning to, and at almost eight months pregnant she shouldn’t take unnecessary risks. “As happy as I am to have you both here, I’m not sure I needed this big an escort.” She pointed out mildly, giving her brother’s arm a squeeze.

Nori cast Dwalin an exasperated look, which the other dwarf responded to with a small smile. The exchange was almost… Warm. Comfortable.

Billa wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Well, Thorin sent this one-” The ginger dwarf explained, jerking a thumb at Dwalin as they began walking. “-but I wanted to see my sister. Is that a crime? We both know who you’d rather see.” He hummed, laughing lightly when the large dwarf made an affronted noise from behind them.

She nodded slowly, glancing at Dwalin over her shoulder – and noting the way he was watching Nori, not her. Had there not been an emergency to address, she would have questioned them. She hadn’t seen them together much since they had returned, but they seemed awfully friendly. And Billa knew they hadn’t been close prior to leaving for the Blue Mountains.

Nori had used to call him a ‘big, bumbling, bald-headed brute’. And Dwalin… Well, he had always referred to the spy in Khuzdul curse words that Balin didn’t dare teach her.

“I’m not complaining, just curious.” She replied, facing forwards again so that she wouldn’t trip and fall on her arse. She had never been particularly graceful before her pregnancy, but her footwork was even worse now that she couldn’t see her feet.

It didn’t take them long to reach Thorin after that – walking into the royal council room to see him and Fili decked out in their best armour. Kili stood close beside his brother, holding onto his shoulder, though he obviously wasn’t dressed for battle himself.

“Azyungel…” The king greeted her fondly, his crown nowhere to be seen. His hair was tied back into a single, tight braid – lacking all of his usual beads – and tucked inside of his armour to keep it out of the way. According to Balin, it was normal for dwarves to remove their beads for battle, lest they got lost or damaged. “…I’m sorry that we had to wake you for this, but I didn’t want to leave you unaware.”

You’re going out to face the orcs?” Billa exclaimed, her pulse roaring in her ears. It was the only explanation for why he was all-dressed up, Orcist sheathed at his waist and a bow strapped to his back. Fili and Kili both stepped back at her tone of voice, leaving Thorin to face her alone.

Dís stood further back, leaning against the fireplace and looking deeply unhappy about the whole situation. Her gaze met Billa’s across the room, her eyes full of sympathy. She glanced from the hobbit to her eldest son, looking fretful. She, however, was not dressed in any kind of armour – which was surprising, considering what Billa had heard of her prowess in battle.

Thorin ducked his head a little, looking uncomfortable. “Well… Yes, I am.” He admitted, stepping towards her despite his obvious discomfort – rather than retreating like his nephews.

“Are you insane? You’re the king!” She said, her voice high with panic. The stupid, suicidal, self-sacrificing fool! What if something happened to him?! He’d only officially been king for a week or so, and they hadn’t even had one year of peace. Didn’t he deserve a break? She had expected him to be king for decades – maybe half a century – he couldn’t die now!

Not to mention he hadn’t even met their children. She didn’t want to raise their faunts without a father.

“Billa…” He crooned, reaching out to touch her cheek lovingly. “That’s why I have to go. What kind of king am I, if I hide inside Erebor’s walls and send other people to protect it in my stead? I have to take care of this. Of us.” He reasoned, smoothing a thumb along her jaw.

She felt her strength falter at that, swallowing thickly. He was right, of course he was right. She knew enough of politics, and of the way dwarves thought, to know that a ‘strong’ king wouldn’t let others fight his battles for him. It would make him look weak, and the dwarves would think he was a very poor king if he wasn’t prepared to give his own life for them.

“…let me go with you.” She whispered, desperate. She knew he was going to say no, it was a stupid suggestion, but she had to try. She couldn’t just let him leave.

Thorin’s expression was so soft and full of love that it made her heart ache. He leaned down to press their foreheads together affectionately, closing his eyes and exhaling softly. “I’ll come back, I promise.” He insisted, not even answering her request to let her accompany him.

They both knew how ridiculous it was. If she hadn’t been quite so pregnant, she would have argued. Fought tooth and nail to go with him – but she knew she was no use to anyone in her condition.

“How many dwarves are you taking? Who’s going with you?” She demanded, wanting to at least know that. Who would have his back? Would it be enough to keep him safe?

Save him from himself, if necessary?

Thorin raised his head, pressing a gentle kiss to her temple. “Dwalin, Fili… About sixty guards. This won’t be like the battle of the five armies. There aren’t anywhere near as many orcs, and we’re better armed this time. Better protected, too. And there will be guards here, to keep everyone safe while we’re gone. Kili, Dís and Balin are in charge in my absence, but I don’t expect to be gone long. It’s going to be fine.” He avowed, tracing a thumb along her bottom lip. He placed his other hand on her middle, running it along the curve of her stomach. “Stay safe, my heart. You can join the rest of the mountain’s residents in the main hall if you like, or you can stay in our rooms. Either way, take a guard or a friend with you. I’ll be back before you know it.”

Billa felt her bottom lip wobble, her eyes swimming with tears. They were prepared, and it was a logical plan. She knew that – she was still a smart lady, even if she was upset. They couldn’t ignore a large group of orcs on their doorstep, and they certainly couldn’t wait them out. What kind of allies would they be, if they left the orcs for Dale or Lake-Town to deal with?

She just wished Thorin didn’t have to go – but he was the king, and she couldn’t be selfish. Even if she wanted to be.

“You had better be.” She threatened, though there was no venom or anger in it. He was doing his job, after all, and she knew what she had signed up for when she fell for him. No one ever said that loving a king would be easy.

Thorin smiled handsomely at her, his eyes crinkling at the corners. He gently wiped her tears away before they could fall, ducking his head down to kiss her on the mouth. “You won’t even notice I’m gone.” He said, winking.

“We both know that isn’t true.” Billa laughed wetly, catching hold of the hand on her face and lacing their fingers together.

Their moment was interrupted when a guard bustled into the room, stopping to whisper to Dwalin. The head of the royal guard sighed, scrubbing a hand across the back of his head before clearing his throat and stepping towards the royal couple.

Billa turned her head to look at Dwalin, frowning, still holding Thorin’s hand to her face. The balding dwarf offered her an apologetic look in response, tucking his hands into the thick leather belt around his waist. “I’m sorry… Everyone is ready. It’s time to leave.” He shared, casting his eyes towards the door. “The guards are dressed, armed and waiting by the front gate.”

Thorin exhaled hard and nodded slowly, not looking away from Billa the whole time. “Alright…” He murmured, knocking his forehead lightly against his intended’s. “Men lananubukhs menu, Billa… We’ll be back as soon as we can. Really, I doubt it’ll take more than a few hours.”

The hobbit swallowed thickly and ducked her head, taking a deep breath in an attempt to brace herself. When she looked up again, Thorin’s expression was soft and full of concern. “You better be back for dinner.” She joked weakly, offering the king a sad smile.

He smiled widely back, pressing a kiss to her hand before untangling their fingers. “Why, are you making something?” He asked, tucking her hair behind her ear and using a hand to straighten her cloak for her.

“I might, if you’re home.” Billa tried to bribe him, tucking her hands inside her cloak to stop herself from reaching out to him again. She couldn’t stop him leaving, she was only delaying the inevitable.

“Well, all the more reason to make this quick. I’ll see you soon, my heart. Take care.” Thorin purred, taking a step back. His eyes swept over her and she noticed his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed hard. He didn’t want to leave, she could tell – but he was a good dwarf, and it was the right thing to do.

“I will… Be careful, Thorin. Don’t do anything… Stupid. Or reckless.” She entreated, biting her bottom lip.

Thorin dipped his head in acknowledgement, turning to his sister and youngest nephew. “Tak natu yenet, Khahay.” He said in farewell, though he gave his sister a look that told Billa she had missed something. He had probably spoken to the two before he had sent for her – since neither had said a word since she had come in.

It was suspicious, but really – it wasn’t high on Billa’s list of concerns.

After that Thorin returned his gaze to Billa, offering her one last smile – slightly sad this time – before turning and sweeping out of the room.

Fili leaned down to bump his forehead against his mother’s in goodbye, before turning and smiling crookedly at his brother. “Try not to set the mountain on fire while we’re gone, right? And don’t let in any goblins, or dragons.” He requested, winking jauntily – though he too looked worried. Kili huffed in amusement but cast his eyes downwards, nodding.

“C’mon, Dwalin.” The blond prince called over his shoulder as he left the room, jogging to catch up with the king.

Dwalin huffed, scratching hard at his jaw and glancing at Nori – of all people. The red-headed dwarf raised an eyebrow at him, jerking his head towards the door. Dwalin rolled his eyes but turned and left without another word, the guard following close behind him.

Billa moved without meaning to, stepping towards the door but finding a hand on her shoulder stopping her from leaving. “Billa…” Kili breathed, his voice faltering.

He had to be just as worried as she was, but he was still stood there. Staying behind, because it was his duty as the rightful heir to the throne after Fili. If anything happened to his uncle and his brother, Erebor was his. Billa knew Kili didn’t want that, would never want that, but it was his responsibility. He couldn’t go out with the hunting party, in case something happened to them all and Erebor was left without a ruler. If Kili died too, Dís would be the logical option – but without living heirs, it would cause problems. And Billa’s children weren’t really an option, considering that she and Thorin weren’t married yet. People would argue that there was no proof that Thorin was the father, without him to confirm it.

And they wouldn’t be true dwarves, either.

“I know.” She rasped, turning and walking to the council table. She fell heavily into Thorin’s seat and pressed her face into her hands, sighing miserably. “Tell me it’s going to be okay.” She requested, talking to everyone left in the room rather than just Kili. She needed some form of reassurance – something, anything. She dropped her hands into her lap, turning to look at the three of them once more.

Kili had his eyes averted, his mouth puckered in a grim line.

Dís looked from her son to Billa, her own expression full of concern. “I’d love to tell you that, Billa. I want things to be okay. And you know what? Things probably will be okay. Thorin has faced bigger threats than this. We’ve faced worse and won, despite being less prepared than we are now. I just can’t make any promises – I can’t know.” She insisted, walking over to the meeting table and leaning against it.

“I know you’re scared, Billa, you have every right to be… But you should have some faith in Thorin, Fili and Dwalin. This isn’t an army, controlled by Bolg or Azog, it’s just a stray pack. I won’t lie, it’s a reasonably big pack, but they aren’t an organised force. Odds are they’re just passing through, and our forces can shoo them along without drawing blood. Or losing lives.” Nori chipped in, moving to perch on the arm of her chair and placing a hand on her back. “Now… What do you want to do? It’s your choice. You can go back to your room, wait it out there, or go to the hall. The company, Gandalf and Elrond will all be in the main hall… But, so will everyone else. So, if you would rather have some privacy, you’re welcome to go back to the royal wing. I can come with you, or I can send for someone else to accompany you. It’s entirely up to you.”

Billa exhaled hard, feeling utterly miserable despite their words of encouragement and hope. She definitely didn’t want to go to the hall, where everyone would expect her to be poised and regal – a respectable consort. “I want to go back to our rooms… I just want to… Rest, and try not to think about any of this. If that’s even possible.” She whispered, leaning slightly against her brother and closing her eyes for a moment. “…can you bring Ori, Dori and Ei- Ma? We can have tea, and… Talk about other things.” She muttered, opening her eyes again and glancing up at Dís. Kili was hovering close to his mother, pale and frightened. “You two can join us, if you like.” She added, not wanting either of them to think she was favouring her own family. She just wanted some familiar company.

Dís smiled warmly at her, standing up straight and moving to stand with her son. She tucked an arm around his middle, pulling him into her side and using her free hand to smooth his wayward hair. “Maybe later, sweetheart. For now, we should make an appearance in the main hall. Boost morale. I can send your family along, if Nori wants to take you back to your rooms?”

“Thanks, Dís. We’ll see you later?” Nori hummed, offering Billa his hand to stand.

The female dwarf bowed her head in agreement, turning and leaving the room with her youngest child in tow.

Billa took Nori’s hand and rose reluctantly to her feet, already emotionally exhausted. It was going to be a long day.

-

No amount of small talk and tea could distract Billa, no matter how much she loved her family.

The day passed and night came, and there was no sign of Thorin or anyone else in the orc hunting party.

Her brothers had offered to stay with her, keep her company overnight, but she’d sent them away. She didn’t want to be a bother, and after spending the whole day with them she felt like she needed some time alone. It was hard, pretending to be brave for them.

She slept fitfully, however, too unused to being alone. She hadn’t been away from Thorin for an extended period of time since they had met – even when Dori had ended their courtship, she had seen him around the mountain. But Erebor seemed almost empty without him, and their bedroom was just so big and dark. She could have let one of her siblings stay, probably should have, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

She needed Thorin.

She needed to know that he was safe, and well, but she couldn’t know that.

So much for only being a few hours, she thought as she dragged herself from bed in the morning – much earlier than was usual for her.

She dressed slowly and wandered towards the door, opening it and stepping outside – only to see Gandalf exiting his room further down the hall. She felt anger flare in her chest, and even though she knew it was irrational, she slammed the door behind her and stomped towards him. “Why didn’t you go with them?” She barked, without so much as a how-do-you-do.

Oh, how her parents would have cringed.

The greying wizard didn’t even flinch or seem surprised by her tone, which only served to irritate her further. “Good morning, Billa.” He hummed, moving around her and heading towards the stairs.

Billa crossed her arms over her chest irritable, scowling deeply at her friend and former travelling companion. “Don’t good morning me, why didn’t you go? You’re a wizard! You could have helped!”

“I offered, Thorin didn’t want me to go.” Gandalf explained with a shrug, as though it was that simple.

The hobbit huffed irritably, her eyes feeling scratchy and sore from her poor night’s sleep. “You should have persisted, you could have convinced him! He could be dead out there, he should have been back yesterday-”

“Billa.” The kindly Istar interjected, stopping and turning to face her. “I understand that you’re scared, but this isn’t my fault – and it isn’t yours, either. Thorin is a grown dwarf, and he may make his own decisions. I suggested that I join Thorin, and he asked me to stay here and keep you safe. He thought I would be of more use here, in case the orcs reached Erebor, and I agreed. He specifically asked me to make sure you got away, should the worse happen.” He told her honestly, and his tone of voice was enough to convince her that he wasn’t lying. It was too sincere.

She felt her anger slip away, and her shoulders sagged weakly. That did sound like Thorin. “…really?” She murmured, rubbing a fist into her tired eyes.

Gandalf’s expression softened, and he reached out to settle a hand on her shoulder. “Yes, Billa. He told me that if the mountain was breached, Elrond and I should leave with you – take you someplace safe, like Rivendell or the Woodland realm.” He explained further, smiling ever-so-slightly.

“And just… Abandon everyone else?” Billa checked, not sure whether or not she should be moved by Thorin’s thoughtfulness, or angered by his decision to prioritise her.

“I was under the impression that he had given Dís and Balin instructions on what to do if orcs got to Erebor. He had a separate plan for the inhabitants of the mountain, involving barricading themselves in for safety. Orcs aren’t clever enough or organised enough to break in – but they could hang around outside for weeks.” Gandalf said, placing a hand between her shoulder blades and gently steering her towards the stairs again. Probably so that they could head down for breakfast. “And with you so heavily pregnant, it would be better to take you elsewhere – so that you would have the best medical care and food available when the babies are born. He didn’t want you to have the babies under such restricted conditions – with no outside help available, and fresh food scarce. Dwarves can live on dried goods for years, but you? It wouldn’t be ideal, even if you weren’t pregnant. Hobbits need fresh food and sunlight, you know that. Besides, Lord Elrond and I are both capable fighters, we could protect you on the way out of the mountain. And once we reached the Woodland realm, they would have to protect us. As both Erebor’s allies and Rivendell’s. It was a well thought-out, well devised plan.” He continued as they walked, sounding genuinely impressed.

The brunette exhaled softly, beginning to worry her bottom lip between her teeth. It was an incredibly intelligent plan, and she shouldn’t have expected less from Thorin. He was a great king, and an even better partner.

She would never be happy to leave her friends and family behind, which is probably why Thorin didn’t tell her about the plan himself, but it was still the smartest option. Thorin had likely hoped that Gandalf could rush her out, and explain everything once she was safe – rather than have to argue with her.

“…I’m sorry for snapping at you. I’m just… So scared, Gandalf.” She confessed, leaning into his side a little.

The wizard wrapped an arm around her shoulders in response, easily supporting her weight. “I know you are, Billa. I wish I could tell you it will be alright, but I’m afraid that my magic does not allow me to see the future. Sometimes I wish it did, but even I am not all powerful. I can’t tell you if Thorin is going to come back, because I don’t know. But I do know how brave you are, I’ve seen it time and time again. You need to keep your chin up – for your sake, and for your faunts.” He empathised, giving her a gentle squeeze in his grip. “If worse comes to worse, and he doesn’t return, your children still need a mother. And you will still have plenty of people to help you raise them. However, we are talking about the worst-case scenario. Maybe they are taking so long because they are chasing the orcs as far away as they can. They don’t want them turning on Dale or Lake-Town, after all.”

Billa swallowed thickly and nodded, staring down at her feet. He was right. He was usually right… She couldn’t give up. If she gave in to despair, let it tear her apart, she might end up like her mother. Belladonna had been taken by a broken heart, after all. And Billa didn’t want to leave her children parentless at such a young age, regardless of how many people would be prepared to take care of them in her stead.

“Okay…” She breathed, taking a deep breath and raising a hand to touch her engagement bead. Thorin would want her to raise their family, whether he was there or not. And what Gandalf said was true – it had only been a day, there was no need to write the king off as dead.

They had almost reached the main hall when they bumped into Kili. Thankfully, Gandalf noticed the dwarf before he was upon them and moved Billa safely out of the way – else the young dwarf would have barrelled straight into her in his haste.

Instead he staggered to a stop, bracing one hand on the wall. “Ah! I was just coming to get you, Billa…” He puffed, placing a hand on his chest as if to ease his heavy breathing.

“What is it?” Billa pressed, sensing his urgency and feeling her own pulse begin to race with worry.

“We received a raven from the hunting party.” Kili announced, grinning blindingly. Billa felt the pain and anxiety in her chest ease immediately at the sight of his expression – since it couldn’t be bad news when the brunet looked like that. Mahal knew he wouldn’t be happy if he had just found out that he had to be king. “Thorin says that they are on their way back, and there have been no deaths amongst the guards. They fought the orcs and killed most of them, but they had to chase off the stragglers. Make sure they were a safe distance from the local settlements. Apparently, they ended up scattering after a while – so Thorin’s confident we’re safe. They would have been back sooner, but they stopped to rest during the night. A few dwarves were wounded, so they didn’t want to push on and make it worse – they needed to patch people up and get some sleep before they made the journey back.” He concluded, running his fingers through his hair and pushing it back off of his face.

Billa’s face broke out in a smile, and she let out a relieved sigh. Gandalf nudged her pointedly, so she cast him an amused but exasperated look before turning back to Kili. “That’s wonderful news – when will they be back?”

“Before lunch, Thorin thinks.” Kili answered happily enough, looking just as pleased by the news as she was. She couldn’t help but wonder if he too had suffered during the night – worried sick about his brother. He did look tired, underneath his brilliant smile.

Billa reached out and seized the young dwarf by his shoulders, strong-arming him into a hug. He pressed in easily, ducking his head to rest his face against her shoulder and exhaling shakily. Neither of them said anything for a little while, just sharing their relief in silence.

Eventually Kili pulled away, offering the hobbit an overwhelmed smile. “Come on… Mother is breaking the news to everyone in the main hall.” He dictated, taking her hand and tugging her along without waiting for an affirmation.

Billa cast an apologetic and amused look over her shoulder to Gandalf, who only smiled and shrugged in return – looking a little smug.

-

Just a few hours later, the pregnant brunette found herself waiting in the entrance hall with the company and the loved ones of the guards that had accompanied the hunting party. The atmosphere was both nervous and excited – everyone knowing that no-one had died, but some were hurt. As far as Billa knew, Thorin wasn’t hurt, but who could say for sure if that was true?

He may have left it out of the letter intentionally, to stop them all from worrying about him. He was stupid and noble like that.

Kili and Dís stood on either side of her, the three of them positioned at the front of the crowd. The dark-haired prince was practically vibrating with nervous energy, earning himself a fond but exasperated look from his mother. “Where are they? I thought the lookout had seen them!” The young dwarf muttered, fidgeting impatiently as he did.

“He has, Kili. Be patient, they are on foot.” Dís admonished gently, glancing to Billa and rolling her eyes pointedly.

Billa smiled in response, but she was feeling just as excitable. It had only just been more than a day since Thorin’s departure, and yet she felt as though they had been apart for much longer. She couldn’t wait to see him.

As if on cue, after what Dís had said, the lookout sounded a welcoming fanfare on his horn – and the front gates began to open, revealing the exhausted but largely unscathed hunting party.

Thorin lead the group, striding forwards with Fili and Dwalin trailing close behind. The blond prince seemed to spot Kili immediately, his face breaking out in a toothy grin and his steps quickening.

Thorin’s eyes met Billa’s and he smiled warmly, dipping his head in greeting. At first glance he looked fine – he wasn’t limping, and his armour seemed undented. He looked a little grubby, but no worse for wear.

Thank Mahal.

The hobbit knew she should wait where she was, act composed like Dís and Kili, but she just couldn’t. Before she could even think about what she was doing, she was on the move – first walking towards her intended and then running. The king smiled wider at the sight, beginning to walk faster and meeting her just as she reached the gate.

Billa threw her arms around his neck, pulling him down into an eager and probably undignified kiss – too relieved to care about appearances, and ignoring the smattering of laughter from the crowd behind her.

“Steady on!” Dwalin teased as he carried on past them, clapping Thorin on the back as he did.

The king didn’t seem to mind, however, curling his arms around her waist and kissing her back just as soundly. He broke the kiss and rested his forehead against hers, raising a hand to cup one of her cheeks in his palm. “Amrâlimê.” He breathed, closing his eyes for a moment and smiling. “I missed you.”

Billa laughed softly in response, sniffling and blinking back tears. “Mahal, Thorin, I missed you too… You are in so much trouble.” She lilted, tightening her arms around him.

Thorin blinked his eyes open, looking surprised. “Trouble?” He asked warily, though his expression was still warm and full of love.

“You said it would only take a few hours!” She scolded him mildly, rubbing her nose along his affectionately.

He smiled at that and shrugged, reaching out to clasp her engagement bead where it hung at the side of her face – but keeping one arm wrapped snugly around her waist. “I know, I’m sorry, my heart… I just wanted to be thorough. I’d rather be late than risk the orcs coming back.” He reasoned, kissing her forehead dotingly.

She huffed softly, stepping out of his grip but lacing one of her hands through his. “I suppose I can forgive you this time…” She allowed, squeezing his hand gently. “Are you hurt?”

“No, Athanu men, just bruised.” The royal dwarf confessed, leading her back towards the others. “It might have been a large group of orcs, but they were weak with hunger. I suspect they were stragglers from the battle of the five armies, struggling to get by since the fall of their leader. No match for our guards. The majority of them wouldn’t even fight – they just fled.” He shared, rubbing his thumb into the soft skin between her thumb and forefinger.

Ahead of them, Fili had wrapped his arms around his mother and his brother simultaneously, his golden blond head resting atop Dís’ coal black hair.

All across the hall people were being reunited – hugging, crying, bumping foreheads and shouting greetings. Balin was standing in front of Dwalin, holding both of his shoulders and smiling widely – talking animatedly about something that Billa was too far away to hear.

Nori stood a short distance away, leaning against a pillar and watching the exchange with clear bemusement. As she was watching, Billa saw Dwalin send Nori a pleading look – begging for an out – but the spymaster only smiled and shrugged. He glanced around, spotted Billa watching him and blinked – looking startled and a little embarrassed. She tilted her head at him, curious about his strange behaviour and recalling her observations from the day before.

She had almost forgotten in her fear and panic, but now things seemed much clearer.

Something was going on between Nori and Dwalin, she was sure of it.

Thorin seemed to notice her distraction, following her gaze to Nori just as the red-head turned and disappeared into the crowd. “Something the matter?” He checked, sounding a little worried as he looked down at her.

“Nothing… Important, I guess.” Billa said, sure it was nothing bad, but still not sure what to make of the situation. “I’ve just noticed that Nori and Dwalin seem very… Close. They weren’t friends during the quest. At all. And now? I’m not sure what’s happened between them, but something is different.” She elaborated, gently bumping her shoulder into Thorin’s.

Nori had practically fled when he realised that she’d noticed him and Dwalin looking at each other, which only served to confirm her suspicions. She’d have to talk to him about it.

“You know, I’ve actually noticed Dwalin acting a little strange since they returned from the Blue Mountains. When I first told him that I was making Nori spymaster, before their trip, he wasn’t really onboard. He called Nori shifty and untrustworthy. Then when he came back, he was completely fine with it. I thought they might have finally buried the hatchet, since Dwalin arrested Nori a few times before the quest, but Balin told me that Dwalin doesn’t spend a lot of time in their rooms – even when he has time off work… He seems happier, too. Balin and I came to the conclusion that he might have met someone. I never thought that it might be Nori.” Thorin shared, looking thoughtful. He glanced to where Dwalin and Balin had been standing earlier, and Billa turned to look too, but Balin had moved on to speak with Fili. Dwalin could be seen walking through the crowd into the mountain, his balding head and superior height making him stand out amongst the other dwarves.

Wait-! You think Dwalin and Nori…?” Billa realised, catching on to what Thorin was implying.

The dark-haired dwarf heaved his shoulders in a shrug – his armour clinking as he did. “Maybe. Dwalin is my best friend, and I like to think that I know him very well, but I’ve never seen him this happy before. I’m not sure it would make this much of a difference if they were just friends. Still, I’m surprised… I never thought they liked each other.”

Billa made a noise of agreement, watching until Dwalin disappeared from sight – not lingering in the entrance hall like everyone else. “Well, when he’s with us, Nori seems the same as he always is. I can’t say he seems happier, he’s never really seemed miserable to me, but I have noticed the way he and Dwalin act with each other. It’s almost… Fond. So, maybe you’re right… I don’t know. I could ask him?” She considered, looking to her intended once more.

“I think we should leave it be, for now.” Thorin imparted, raising their interlocked fingers and kissing the back of her hand. “I know better than anyone that people interfering and questioning you all of the time can be very frustrating, especially when you’re still trying to work your feelings out yourself. I don’t think they’re a couple, I just think they like each other. We should let them figure it out themselves.”

The hobbit nodded, feeling a flare of warmth in her chest. Looking back on it, she found it funny – and sweet – the way that the two of them had used to dance around each other. In retrospect, it seemed obvious that Thorin had liked her, there had been so many signs. And all those times that the company had been looking at her and speaking in Khuzdul, that she had interpreted as them being rude or insulting her, they had really been talking about Thorin’s feelings. They all knew Thorin liked her, and were taking bets on how long it would take the two of them to work it out. Or in Dwalin’s case, he had been pestering the regal dwarf – trying to convince him to be honest about his feelings.

And whilst Thorin had told her all of this since they had gotten together, she could see how frustrating it must have been for him. It had been frustrating enough for her, and no one had been questioning her feelings.

“You’re right. I’m not sure when it happened, or how, but if it makes them happy… Then I don’t care. Love can be complicated, more so I guess when it’s someone you have a history with. They haven’t always been friends, and that must be confusing for them. But there’s no need to pry, or intervene. They’re adults.” Billa concluded, sighing softly and leaning into Thorin’s side. She stared up at him for a moment, taking in the bags under his eyes and the dirt streaked across his brow. “Do you have any business to attend to today…? You look like you could do with a good rest.” She said, reaching up with her free hand to touch his cheek.

He smiled lovingly at her, eyes crinkling at the corners in the way that made her heart sing. “I have given Dwalin, Fili and the guards who accompanied us the day off… Just let me speak to Dís, and see if she would mind running the mountain for one more evening.” He hummed, leaning down to peck her briefly on the cheek.

“Let me talk to her. I see a hearty lunch, a long bath and a nap in your future.” Billa predicted, beaming widely.

“So long as you’re there too, that sounds wonderful.”

Chapter Text

“…isn’t that the brother of the king’s hobbit?” a voice murmured nearby, oblivious to the spymaster’s keen hearing.

Nori had chosen a relatively private table in the pub, but he wasn’t wearing a disguise tonight – so it was no surprise that someone had recognised him. Being a professional, he showed no sign of having heard the stranger and instead took a sip of his mead, feigning ignorance.

Pubs and taverns were great places to learn what dwarves thought of the king and his family, as alcohol loosened lips, but that wasn’t why Nori was there. That being said, he also wasn’t going to ignore any gossip he heard – especially if it was about his sister.

“I think so. I know it’s not the first time it’s happened, but I still think it’s strange for a dwarf to welcome an outsider into their Khahay,” another voice answered, sounding scandalised.

The red-head almost snorted into his mead at that, though he maintained his indifferent mask – pretending to examine the tapestry beside his table.

The other dwarf made a noise of agreement, and there was a moment of silence as the two gulped at their respective beverages. “What do you think of the hobbit?” the first voice questioned, lowering his voice in an attempt to avoid detection.

And failing, obviously.

Well…” he began, and Nori could tell from his tone of voice that he wasn’t going to like whatever was said next. “…I heard that she was employed by the company as a bedwarmer for King Thorin. He’s always been a notoriously lonely soul, and he never courted back in Ered Luin. But a dwarf has needs, you know? And he couldn’t mess around with another dwarf, future king or not. It wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“Aye.”

“I mean, she is a pretty thing – even if she isn’t a dwarf. You can’t blame him. And if she hadn’t gotten pregnant, no one would ever know. They could have paid her off and sent her on her way. I think he’s probably only marrying her out of honour. He could have sent her away anyway, denied the baby was his, but he’s not the sort. Too decent for his own good – and I suppose it solves the loneliness thing, having a few pebbles around. Even if they aren’t exactly dwarven,” he concluded, heaving his shoulders in a shrug and taking another long drink from his cup.

Ah.

Nori had heard this rumour before. Honestly, he understood the reasoning behind it. Bed-warming wasn’t a respectable job, but it wasn’t unheard of amongst dwarves – and enough dwarves visited human settlements to know that it was much more common amongst Men. So, knowing nothing of hobbits, it wasn’t hard to assume that they had bed-warmers too.

He hadn’t, however, realised how popular this rumour was. But thinking on it, he had heard a very similar story from at least three other dwarves in different drinking establishments. He doubted it was a coincidence that he had overheard it so many times.

“I’ve heard the same. It was probably the lure of children that kept him interested – I’ve heard she’s having more than one.”

Really? Can hobbits do that?”

“I’m not sure, but she is big. And she has an elven healer, of all things. I’m not sure why the royal physician couldn’t handle it himself – unless the rumour about multiple babies is true.”

“That’s a good point… I have seen that prissy weed-eater from Rivendell about.”

Nori,” a familiar voice called in greeting, distracting him from the conversation across the pub.

The spymaster looked up just in time to see Dwalin falling heavily into the seat opposite him, dressed in less armour than usual. Nori had been expecting him, of course, but he was mildly annoyed by the interruption.

Dwalin’s smile faltered when he caught sight of Nori’s expression, his brow furrowing uncertainly. “Something the matter?” he wondered, shifting a little awkwardly in his chair.

The middle Ri scolded himself mentally, letting his features soften and offering the bald-headed warrior an easy smile. “Oh, nothing too important,” he dismissed, putting his drink down and lacing his fingers together on the table. “I've just been hearing some slightly troubling rumours whilst I've been waiting for you, friend,” he admitted, glancing towards the dwarves in question – only to see them drinking instead of talking. It seemed as though they had moved on.

Oh? About who?” the head of the royal guard pressed, his frown only increasing.

Nori should have realised that Dwalin wouldn’t let that slide, but really, it wouldn’t hurt to tell him. If he knew, he could listen out for it too. “Billa,” he shared, unclasping his hands and beginning to run one finger along the edge of his mug.

Dwalin watched the motion for a moment before raising his eyes to Nori’s face once more, looking confused. “What are they saying?”

“I'd tell you, if I wasn't sure that it would result in you fighting half of the patrons of this pub,” the spy chuckled dryly, tickled by the thought. It would make for an interesting night, but they hadn’t come to start a bar-fight.

Nori would much rather have a quiet drink.

The larger dwarf spluttered, his face flushing red. “It's that bad?!” he huffed, clenching his fingers tightly around the drink that he had brought on his way over. The wood of the flagon began to creak a little from the force, prompting Nori to reach out and use his deft fingers to ease the cup from the warrior’s grip. Dwalin released the drink without protest, eyes flickering to Nori’s hand for a moment before darting away again. He instead began looking around the pub – obviously looking for whoever was bad-mouthing their friend.

“Aye, I'd say so,” Nori said gently, putting the flagon down in front of Dwalin once more.

“Then how are you so calm about it? She's your sister!” Dwalin grumbled, sounding offended enough for the both of them – despite having not heard what was said.

Mahal, if Nori actually told him that people that Billa was a bed-warmer, he would be furious.

…despite having joked about such things himself during the quest. He had grown a lot since then, the red-head realised fondly.

“She is, but that doesn't mean I need to lose my head over it,” Nori reasoned, picking up his own drink and taking a long swig. “If I could resist the urge to kill Thorin after his gold-madness, I can resist the urge to punch a few punters. I've grown very thick-skinned over the years, Dwalin. I'm sure you've heard what people used to say about my family,” he snorted, shrugging lopsidedly.

Dwalin’s gaze softened noticeably at that, and some of the anger seemed to seep out of him. “So, you're not going to do anything?” he checked, sounding somewhat surprised.

Now, I never said that. Of course, I'm going to do something. With Thorin's permission, I'm going to set the record straight.”

“And how exactly are you going to do that?”

“Ahhhh, now that would be telling! As head of the Royal guard, Dwalin, I think it is best that you are left in the dark about such things,” Nori snickered, offering the other dwarf a crooked and toothy smile.

“...alright, guess that makes some sense... But if you need any help...?” Dwalin said, leaving the offer unspoken.

“Then I know who to call on, don't you worry about that. Never hurts to have a bit of muscle on my side!” the spymaster agreed, winking and nudging Dwalin’s leg under the table.

The large dwarf went a little red in the face but nodded in acknowledgement, picking up his drink and downing half of it in two large gulps.

After that, the conversation turned more casual. They discussed their weeks, their work, their families… But that got Nori thinking about the past, and more importantly – his past with Dwalin.

“...Dwalin,” he began uncertainly, staring down into his third drink of the night.

“...yes?” the royal guard drawled, raising an eyebrow at his companion.

Nori exhaled slowly, not sure where to start. It was an awkward topic, he knew that, but he had to ask. He’d been wanting to talk about it for a while – ever since they had become friends, really. “This might seem... Odd... But I wanted to ask you something.”

“Alright, I'm curious. And a little spooked. What is it?” Dwalin huffed, tilting his head and looking a little concerned.

“Well... Why did you go easy on me, back in the Blue Mountains?” the red-head pressed, having always wondered. Dwalin had always been notorious for being a brutal enforcer of the law – unafraid to break faces if he needed to.

Dwalin blinked stupidly at him, like he was speaking another language, picking up the spy’s drink and giving it a theatrical sniff. “Are you drunk already? What are you talking about?” he attempted to blow off, but Nori could see that he had struck a nerve. Dwalin was avoiding the question.

“Don't try and deny it, Dwalin. Even before I was spymaster I had ears all over. I know how you treated other dwarves when they broke the law. But me? You didn't even know me, and the worst you ever did was put me in a cell overnight. You could have had me locked up for years for some of the things I did. I was a repeat offender. You never even roughed me up. So, why?” he pushed, folding his arms over his chest.

The head of the royal guard huffed quietly and looked away, beginning to fiddle idly with his flagon. “...honestly? I thought you were a good dwarf, thief or not. I had to arrest you, because you were breaking the law, but... I knew why you did it, and I couldn't bring myself to stop it,” he confessed, begrudgingly, confusing Nori further.

“You knew...? What do you mean?”

“I tracked you back to your home once,” he explained, glancing up to look at Nori briefly before looking away again. “I had watched you steal something, and I was going to apprehend you, but I wanted to see what you did with what you stole first... In case you were selling to the black market. I was trying to figure out where the black market was, actually, since I had no idea… Instead, I saw you with Ori. He was tiny at the time, just a pebble. The way his face lit up when he saw you, the way you handled him... I knew you were doing it for him, and who can argue with that?” he confessed, staring hard into his cup. “Our families are everything to us, and you were just looking after yours. I couldn't condemn that, I knew you were poor. I realised you were trying to make ends meet, and I didn't want to stop you. You weren't hurting anyone, and you never stole from anyone who couldn't afford to lose it...”

Nori held a hand up to stop him, since he was beginning to ramble. He had heard enough – and honestly, he was touched. Genuinely touched. And that was strange. “Well... Thank you. I don't know where I'd be if you hadn't been so merciful – and only Mahal knows what Ori would have become if I hadn't paid for his scholarship somehow. I don't regret any of it, not for a second. Not when it got us where we are today. Dori and I only became involved with the company because Balin knew Ori...” he acknowledged, clearing his throat and frowning to himself. He picked up his drink and stared into it – accidentally mirroring Dwalin – just to avoid looking at the burly guard. “We wouldn’t have come on the quest, wouldn’t have met Billa… We might not have even left the Blue Mountains at all.”

He’d spent years bitching about Dwalin, avoided him for the entire quest, but it had always bothered him that the balding warrior treated him differently than the other criminals. And now, it turned out that he’d been being kind.

Nori felt like a complete arse.

-

The next morning, Thorin got a surprise when Nori invited himself into the royal council room between meetings.

The king sat at the head of the table, a mountain of paperwork in front of him and Balin sat at his side. The spy had to clear his throat to draw attention to himself, grinning when both of the dwarves looked up simultaneously – surprised.

“Nori,” the royal advisor greeted, glancing to Thorin uncertainly. Worried about what might cause Nori to drop by without warning, no doubt. The spy usually arranged meetings beforehand, unless it was very important. “What an unexpected pleasure. Do you need to speak to Thorin?” he asked, clearly offering to leave – in case his presence wasn’t wanted.

Thorin wasn’t sure what Nori could possibly have to say that Balin couldn’t hear too, looking between the two of them with obvious concern.

“I do, but you should hear this too,” the spymaster confirmed, moving to sit near the head of the table – but still several seats away from the two other dwarves.

It pained the eldest Durin that Nori was still so cautious with him, but he supposed that it couldn’t be helped. The Ri brothers hadn’t yet forgiven him for all of the ills that he had caused Billa – or not completely, anyway.

Though Nori had always been the most supportive of their relationship.

“What seems to be the problem, Nori?” Thorin entreated, putting his quill back in its ink pot and giving the spy his undivided attention.

“Well, since my return I have been keeping tabs on any rumours I hear. It’s part of my job, of course. Make sure there’s no civil unrest, or plans to behead the king. That kind of thing,” he began, flashing the dark-haired dwarf a toothy smile. “I haven’t heard anything of that sort, but I have heard a lot of gossip about Billa. A lot of it is what you’d expect – interest in an outsider, commenting on her public actions… Like the dance at the welcome feast. People liked that. But there’s one bad thing that keeps cropping up, and I’m afraid it’s becoming common-knowledge amongst the citizens of the mountain.”

Thorin felt heat flare in his chest at that – a hot, ugly anger. If it was important enough for Nori to bring to his attention, it must be affecting Billa’s public image. Which must have been why Balin was encouraged to stay, since he was the one teaching Billa how to conduct herself in the mountain. Was it Balin’s failing, then? Thorin hoped not, he knew the old dwarf would beat himself up about it if that was the case.

“What is it?” he asked, doing his best not to jump to conclusions. He had no idea what was being said – people didn’t gossip around him.

Nori reached out for the pitcher of water in the middle of the table, pouring himself a cup and exhaling slowly. Whatever it was, he seemed a little reluctant to share – which only served to worry Thorin further. “Many of the dwarves think that she was hired to be your bed-warmer, and that you are marrying her out of honour because you got her pregnant,” he exposed. The red-head was a master of keeping his emotions in check, but Thorin could see the anger in his eyes. He hated people thinking that of his sister, and the king understood why.

He felt sick to his stomach at the mere thought. Dwalin had always made jokes about her potential to be a bed-warmer during the quest, and it had irked him then. He hadn’t even been in love with her at the time.

And now, people thought it was true? That he had paid her to accompany them, for the soul purpose of… Pleasing him?

It was disgusting.

Mahal,” Balin exclaimed on his behalf, frowning and rubbing his fingers into the bridge of his nose.

Thorin took a steadying sip from his own cup of water, his heart beating an irritated rhythm in his chest. “This is because we didn’t get married first, isn’t it?” he bit out, placing the water carefully back on the table – lest he slam it and spill the beverage over his papers.

It was frustrating, because there was absolutely nothing that he could have done to stop the rumour. He had never wanted to marry her before she was ready, and he couldn’t regret that. Didn’t regret that. She had needed time, and she was entitled to it.

But he could see how it looked from the outside, and it was infuriating. Billa had been so valuable to their quest, she had saved him so many times, and people still thought she was nothing more than a paid companion? He could taste bile in his mouth at the thought.

“I expect so, but what’s done is done,” Nori conceded, looking Thorin straight in the eyes. “And the two of you did what was best for your relationship.” he imparted, his voice unwavering.

It meant a lot to Thorin to receive such approval from the spymaster, no matter the circumstances – but there were more important things to discuss.

“What can we do? We need to fix this,” Thorin said with conviction, determined to set things straight. He didn’t care if he had to tell everyone that postponing the marriage was his fault – he didn’t care about damaging his own reputation. He wouldn’t have anybody thinking that Billa was anything less than respectable.

Nori smiled slyly at that, and there was something akin to warmth in his gaze as he regarded the king. It seemed as though he approved. “I think I can have the issue resolved within a fortnight, if we do things my way.”

“Do I even want to know what your way is…?” Balin uttered, looking wary.

“Nope!” the red-haired chirped, smiling wider.

Thorin snorted softly at that, glancing towards the door. The walls were completely soundproof, and the door was guarded. Whatever he said would be kept between them. “I will cover everything but murder,” he proposed, keeping his voice quiet. He trusted his guards, but it would still be better if no one overheard. “You are a spy, not an assassin,” he justified, sitting up and folding his hands together on the table.

“Understood,” Nori vowed, dipping his head respectfully. He finished his water and rose to his feet, looking back towards the door. “Are we going to tell Billa about this?” he wondered, meeting Thorin’s eyes once more.

The king frowned at that, unsure. He wasn’t supposed to hide things from her, and he didn’t want to. But he also didn’t want to upset her.

“We must,” he decided, thinking about how much worse she would feel if she heard it from someone else. “I will talk to her, and let her know that we have it covered.”

Nori smiled at that, nodding approvingly. “Glad to hear it. I best get to work,” he hummed, turning and leaving without another word.

“He’s a strange one,” Balin sighed, blinking when Thorin sent him an obvious look. “…but his heart is in the right place, and I can’t fault him for that.”

-

Later that night, Billa got a surprise of her own when Thorin returned from his duties earlier than usual.

As sad as it was, she had grown accustomed to retiring to bed without him lately – since he was still busy getting everyone settled. It hadn’t been that long since the dwarves of the Blue Mountains had joined them, and with Dain gone Thorin had a lot to do. He had assured her that things would die down within a month or so, and Balin agreed, so she did her best not to miss him too much.

At least he was in the mountain, happy and whole. Their recent encounter with the stray orc pack had reminded her just how lucky she was to still have Thorin around, even if he was busy.

“Good evening, my love,” she called as he shucked off his cloak at the door, hanging it on a fine wooden stand there. “This is a lovely surprise, I don’t usually get to see you until you wake me up climbing into bed,” she noted, folding her book closed and setting it down on the coffee table. She braced her hands on either arm of her father’s chair and hauled herself to her feet, waddling towards her future husband with a warm smile.

“I wake you up?” the king picked up, smiling back and opening his arms in a silent invitation.

Billa surged into his chest, tucking her own arms around his middle and pressing her face into his chest. “Only sometimes, but then you cuddle into me and I nod off again,” she excused, sighing happily to herself. It really was nice to have a little extra time with him, and she was just waiting for him to say that he was only back to change his clothes – or something else that would mean he was going to leave again.

Thorin kissed the top of her head dotingly, tracing a hand along her spine. “Well, I suppose that’s okay then. Though I shall try to be more careful.”

“It’s quite alright. The faunts wake me up at least three times a night to empty my bladder, so I don’t mind when my One wakes me up briefly for a cuddle,” she dismissed, pulling out of the hug and leaning up to kiss him on the cheek. She took his hand in hers and tugged him gently towards the kitchen – smiling when he followed without resisting. “Do you have time for a cup of tea before you disappear again?”

“I’m all yours, azyungel, I have no more meetings tonight and the paperwork will still be there in the morning,” he answered, squeezing her hand gently in his. He let go when they reached the kitchen, sitting down when she gestured to the closest chair.

“It sounds too good to be true! What’s the catch?” she said, a little suspicious but happy all the same. She emptied the kettle of old water and refilled it, setting it over the fire to boil.

“I did have something I wanted to talk to you about…” Thorin began, making her laugh.

Of course, there had to be something. He so rarely got off early, he must have had a reason. “So, there is a catch! What’s on your mind, sweetheart?” she chuckled, assuming from his calm tone of voice that it was nothing too serious. He wasn’t terribly good at hiding his emotions, so it would be obvious if it was anything bad. When she looked to him again he did look a little uncomfortable, so she stopped preparing the tea leaves and turned towards him.  “…Thorin?” she pressed, less reassured by his silence.

“…I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell you this all day, and I still have no idea what to say,” he breathed, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

“Just be straight with me, Thorin, don’t worry about any sugar-coating,” Billa encouraged him, taking a seat beside him at the table.

The dark-haired dwarf exhaled slowly, reaching out to take her hand and lacing their fingers together. “Well… Nori has told me that there are some rumours circulating about you. Some dwarves seem to think that you were… That we hired you to be a bed-warmer. Perhaps they think the whole ‘burglar’ thing is a cover-up, but we are handling it. Nori assures me that he can have the rumours resolved within the next two weeks, I just thought you should know.”

Oh…” she began, blinking in surprise. “Well… I did know,” she confessed, smoothing her thumb along one of his knuckles.

“What…?” Thorin murmured, his brows drawn together in confusion. It clearly wasn’t the reaction he had been expecting, but what else could she say? She wasn’t going to feign surprise, when she had been aware of it for a couple of weeks already.

“I wasn’t sure how widely the rumour had spread, but I’ve heard it before. In the market, in the library… I even heard a guard say it once,” she said, feeling as though she owed him an explanation. He had obviously only just found out himself, but that wasn’t shocking. No dwarf with more than half a brain would say such a thing in front of the king. “I don’t think many dwarves realise that I know some Khuzdul, so they think they can talk freely around me – so long as it’s not in the common-tongue. I don’t know the Khuzdul for bed-warmer, of course, but they talked about me being a paid companion, attending to your needs… Those kinds of things. I kind of guessed what they meant from their… Tone.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he wondered, sounding a little sad.

“Honestly? I thought you had bigger things to worry about, and I thought it was just a silly little piece of gossip. People used to gossip about me all the time in the Shire, it’s nothing I’m not used to. Being a bed-warmer is better than being crazy, in any case!” the hobbit laughed dryly, trying to blow it off – though she had to look away when Thorin frowned softly at her.

“Billa-” he sighed, his expression tired and forlorn.

“It’s fine, Thorin, but bless you for telling me. I’m glad Nori is going to do something about it, at least. I don’t suppose it’s good for people to think the king’s intended would do such a job, and it’s certainly not a very romantic story,” she interrupted, smiling kindly at him and raising her free hand to cup one of his bearded cheeks in her palm.

“I don’t care about that, my heart, I just want them to see you for who you are. You have saved my life on so many occasions, and you were invaluable to the quest. I didn’t pay you for your attention and I’m certainly not marrying you out of some strange sense of honour. I’m marrying you because I fell in love with you, and you are my One,” Thorin verified, leaning forwards to bump their foreheads together.

Billa smiled wider, feeling her cheeks heat up at his kind words. “You’re too good to me, you know that?”

“I am not. You deserve it all and more,” he rebuked, grinning back – earning a gentle and affectionate smack on the chest from his intended.

Foolish dwarf.”

Chapter Text

Somehow, Nori managed to change the public’s mind about her.

Billa didn’t know how, but he did.

She first heard the amended rumour in the market one morning, spoken in Khuzdul between two dwarves whilst she browsed her favourite baking stall.

-so, she saved his life, and he fell madly in love with her,” one voice claimed, catching her attention. She kept her back to the gossipers, so that they would remain unaware that she could understand them.

The other dwarf, a sturdy but beautiful lady, sighed dreamily. “I heard! The king tried to court her, but she kept a respectable distance. He was a little too eager and improper in his approach, since he was so head-over-heels for her, and her brothers had to correct him. I wouldn’t expect less from hobbit nobility, though. I know a fair few dwarven-ladies who would have fallen into his arms in a moment, but she kept her head.”

Billa almost laughed at the mention of ‘hobbit nobility’, smiling down at the pastries in front of her. Of course, Nori would spin it that way. Being the granddaughter of a Thain didn’t make her any kind of royalty, but she did come from two of the most respectable families in the Shire… And really, she supposed the Thain was the closest thing that hobbits had to a ruler – so, if it helped her image, she was happy to go along with Nori’s half-truth.

I doubt many of those dwarven-ladies would have stuck about through his gold-sickness. She seems like the good sort, from what I’ve heard. He treated her so poorly, and she still forgave him. Though, I am surprised that her family didn’t kill him for it – mine would have!

Well, thank Mahal she did forgive him! One of Dain’s dwarves told me that she saved him again during the battle, despite how he had treated her. He might have died if she hadn’t gone to him, and no one would have blamed her if she had left him to it – they aren’t married yet, she was never obliged to stay.”

“Good thing she did. The king’s happier now, everyone can see it – did you see the way they greeted each other after the orc-hunt, a few weeks back? It was heart-warming.

The hobbit picked out a couple of cinnamon buns and turned to leave, feeling more at ease than she had before she had entered the market. She couldn’t deny that she had been a little worried about the bed-warming rumours, after she had found out how common they were – but Nori had done his job, and the people seemed to be singing a different tune about her.

She would have to thank him.

After that day, she continued hearing the new rumours wherever she went – all of them remarkably similar, though slightly embellished depending on who told them.

The dwarven women told highly romanticised tales, about how their love was stronger than Thorin’s sickness, and Billa had brought him back into his own mind. How he had sought her during their quest, and she had been admirably coy – ignoring his feelings until he expressed them in a more proper manner.

The male dwarves were more interested in her heroic deeds, however, and frequently discussed how a being so small could possibly be so brave – though they didn’t seem to disbelieve it. They seemed more impressed than anything, and she had received more than one admiring look because of it.

Billa had been a little concerned with how the rumours reflected on Thorin, and she had told him as much, but he seemed entirely unbothered by the story circulating the mountain.

“None of it is completely untrue, my heart. I told your brothers that I would never hide how I treated you during my sickness, and I have not changed my mind. I’m glad people are now seeing how wonderful you are, and admiring you for forgiving me in spite of everything. It might be romanticised, even dumbed-down, but I think Nori did that intentionally. He made the details of my sickness vague enough that no dwarf would frown too harshly at me for it, and I appreciate that. He could have been much crueller,” Thorin had reassured her, smiling kindly and shrugging his shoulders.

That was true, she supposed. Nori had done them a huge favour – and told a story that was believable, likeable and not too far from the truth.

-

With her public image no longer in question, Billa lived comfortably. She had few worries, despite her growing size and aching limbs.

During the day, she pottered about the library as best she could – stopping frequently for tea, and staying off of the ladders. Then, during the evenings, she spent time with her friends and family. Some nights she would sit with Ori, trying to learn to knit, and other nights she would relax in her rocking-chair and listen to Dís telling stories of Fili’s and Kili’s early years.

She felt as though she saw a different friend or relative almost every day, but she spent the most time with her own family and Thorin’s – who could visit the most regularly. Dís had become a firm friend in only a short space of time, and she helped too. She knew how overbearing people could be, having been pregnant twice herself, so she often defended the hobbit when Thorin or Dori became too overprotective.

She was also a fountain of knowledge, constantly answering questions about how her own pregnancy had progressed, and how she had raised two young dwarves quite so well.

On the cusp of her ninth month of pregnancy, however, things got harder.

Billa was in the library when she took a tumble and landed hard on her stomach.

Ah!” the hobbit yelled, turning onto her side and wrapping her arms around her extended abdomen. Her ankles had been acting up that morning, and she really should have been taking it easy, but she hadn’t thought that placing returned books back on the correct shelves would be a strenuous activity. And it hadn’t been, really, but her weak joints had betrayed her – and one foot had slipped from beneath her unexpectedly.

A nearby dwarven woman heard her cry and turned, face paling when she saw the pregnant lady curled up on the floor. She rushed over, crouching beside Billa and looking panicked. “Are you alright?” she checked, voice full of concern.

Billa almost laughed at the question, but wheezed weakly instead – winded from her fall. Of course she wasn’t okay! She was in pain, and she could feel at least two of the babies thrashing in discomfort – kicking and squirming inside of her.

Mahal, what if she had hurt one of them?!

She had to get to Elrond, or Oin, or even Gandalf – anyone who could check that her fauntlings were okay.

“Ah-hh… Get… Get Ori, please…” she huffed unsteadily, cringing as one of the babies rolled and kicked her hard in the side. They were definitely distressed, she could feel it, but she wasn’t sure that all three of them were moving – and that frightened her.

The female dwarf jerked her head in a nod and rose to her feet, disappearing around the corner in record time. Billa could hear steps retreating into the depths of the library and focussed on breathing through the pain, her panting sounding obnoxiously loud in the now empty aisle of books.

Soon enough the sound of heavier footsteps reached her ears, thundering towards her. She turned her head as best she could to look, managing a tight smile when Ori fell heavily to his knees beside her.

“What happened?” he asked, his voice high with panic. “What can I do?”

“I… Fell…” she puffed, smoothing a hand along the swell of her stomach in an attempt to soothe her writhing children – still deeply concerned about the one that seemed still. “I need… Elrond, or… Oin… Someone.”

“Right, of course… Okay, can you walk?” her brother pressed, placing his hands on her back and attempting to move her into an upright position.

She whined unhappily, squeezing her eyes shut and shaking her head. “No, definitely… Not… My ankle gave out,” she explained, managing to sit up slightly with his help – but feeling too weak and shaky to do much else.

Ori slipped his arms under her and heaved her off of the floor without any obvious difficulty, cradling her to his chest. “Alright, okay, I’ve got you… We’ll go to your room, since it’s closer, but send a guard to the infirmary to find Oin. As for Elrond… Well, hopefully he’s in his room. And if he isn’t, we’ll at least have someone looking for help already.” He decided, making his way out of the library with strong, purposeful strides.

They bumped into a guard only a short distance from the library, who Ori barked at to find Oin or Elrond and send them to the royal wing – speaking with uncharacteristic authority. Even after so many months in Erebor Ori could still be very socially-awkward, but he seemed calm and confident in that moment.

Much more so than Billa was, as she breathed weakly into the fabric of his tunic.

She felt eyes following them down every corridor as they made their way to her rooms, and more than once a guard called out to ask if she was okay. Ori gave the same response every time – that she was being moved to the royal wing and needed medical attention.

Billa sighed in relief when they reached the royal wing, glad to be out of the public eye. She was stressed enough about her situation, without worrying about how the residents of the mountain might interpret it. But her reputation wasn’t high on her list of concerns as Ori laid her down on her bed and scuttled to the kitchen to get her some water.

He could have said ‘I told you so’, gloated for all the times he had warned her against working in the library in her state, but he didn’t – and she was grateful.

Gandalf and Elrond were the first to find them, running into the room to find Billa sat up in bed with Ori sat loyally at her side – her weak ankle resting on a pillow.

“We ran into a rather frantic guard, who said you needed help. What happened?” Gandalf explained, moving to stand beside Ori and leaving the other side of the bed open for Elrond.

Elrond swept over, sitting on the edge of the bed and immediately placing his hands on the swell of her stomach. His presence helped to soothe her nerves a little, since he was probably the most qualified to help, but she could still hear her pulse roaring in her ears.

“She fell over in the library,” Ori told them, wringing his hands in his lap.

“You landed on your stomach?” Elrond guessed, running careful fingers over the swell of her pregnancy-bump.

Billa nodded, swallowing thickly and fisting a hand in the blankets beneath her. “My ankle gave way – I couldn’t help it.” She rasped, her eyes stinging with tears.

The Lord of Rivendell smiled patiently at her, meeting her eyes for a moment before looking down once more. “I’m not blaming you, Billa, accidents happen. You are not the first pregnant lady to ever fall over,” he insisted, his tone gentle and kind. “Have you noticed anything unusual?”

“I’m not sure that they’re all moving,” she admitted in a small voice, her bottom lip wobbling.

Elrond’s brow furrowed slightly and he frowned, beginning to press his hands gently into her stomach – no doubt feeling for each baby. “Breathe deeply and evenly – can you do that for me?”

Billa nodded, exhaling raggedly one last time before concentrating on keeping her breathing steady.

“There’s a lot of movement going on, and I can’t tell where everyone is in there – but movement isn’t bad. They could just be upset, not hurt,” the elf reassured her, still frowning softly. “Do you mind if I use magic? I can check their vitals, and know for sure if any of their hearts are unsteady. I don’t have a stethoscope, and with your elevated pulse it would be hard to make everything out anyway.”

“Please, go ahead,” she allowed, not caring what he did – so long as her faunts were alright.

The elven healer placed the palms of his hands flat on either side of her stomach and closed his eyes, saying absolutely nothing. Billa felt warmth radiating from his hands – a comfortable warmth, like a nice relaxing bath. It seemed to seep into her and she felt it gather around the babies, collecting in her abdomen.

Elrond was quiet for a long moment, before opening his eyes and withdrawing his hands. He smiled softly, and Billa felt the knot in her chest loosen slightly.

“They’re fine, Billa. Distressed and frightened, but physically fine,” he assured her, settling a hand over hers – and loosening her death-grip on the fur blanket that she was holding hostage.

“Really?” she peeped, not daring get her hopes up.

“Really. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze in there, so it’s hard for them all to move at once. I doubt you’ve ever felt them all move at once, you’ve just not thought about it before. Or not had to think about it, rather. But I can promise you, they’re all okay. No injuries this time,” Elrond persisted, giving her hand a gentle pat and sighing softly. “You were incredibly lucky.”

“What’s happened? Is Billa alright?” Oin demanded as he charged into the room, startling Elrond and earning himself a slight frown from the near-immortal being.

“She had a bit of a fall, but no harm done. Lord Elrond has checked, and the babies are all in perfect health,” Gandalf explained for them, reaching out to place a hand on Billa’s shoulder and giving her an affectionate squeeze.

Billa turned her head to smile at him, her heart feeling ten times lighter in her chest. She missed the flicker of disappointment in Oin’s face.

Well, good news then,” the physician murmured, casting a look at Elrond and scratching his chin through his beard. “Dwarf babies are hardy – no need to worry.”

“Hobbit babies, however, are less hardy – you need to be careful, Billa. This could have been disastrous,” Elrond interrupted, his voice calm and gentle despite his warning. “You need to take it easy.”

Billa didn’t miss Oin’s expression that time, her brow furrowing at how obviously dejected he looked – though she couldn’t for the life of her figure out why. She returned her eyes to Elrond, her relief subsiding into worry.

“I know… It was all my fault,” she confessed, gently rubbing her hands into her stomach. The thrashing seemed to have eased, though the babies were obviously still unsettled.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Billa, but do remember that you aren’t invincible. You’re almost nine months pregnant,” the elven healer reminded her, retracting his hand into his lap. “I would suggest-”

The door to the royal chambers slammed open once more, interrupting Elrond, and Thorin rushed in – cloak billowing behind him. “What happened?” He demanded, eyes tight with concern as he approached the bed.

Ori willingly moved out of the way for the king, rising from where he sat on the bed to make room. The young dwarf moved to grab a chair from the living-area and moved it over to the bed, taking a seat there instead.

Thorin sat heavily on the edge of the bed, his face pale and full of fear. Billa’s heart ached for him, and she reached out to push his hair behind his ear.

“I’m okay…” she promised, taking one of his hands in hers. “We’re okay,” she amended, her other hand still on her belly.

The eldest Durin leaned forwards to bump their foreheads together affectionately, features still creased with concern. “I heard a commotion in the hall outside my meeting room, and when I went out to see what was going on a guard told me that something had happened to you. No one was clear on what exactly was the matter, just that Ori was taking you to our rooms and medical help had been sent for. I didn’t know what to think…” he breathed, voice shaking noticeably.

“She fell over in the library and landed on her stomach. I carried her here, and sent for help… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cause any trouble with the guards. She’s fine, though, Lord Elrond checked,” Ori supplied, scratching at his beard and averting his eyes to the floor.

“Don’t be sorry, you did the right thing. You got her here, and you got her help. Thank you,” Thorin said, offering the ginger dwarf a relieved and thankful smile.

Ori glanced up, pinking a little at the praise.

“I was just about to say to Billa, I think she should be put on bedrest until the babies are born. We were lucky this time, but there can’t be a next time. Her joint pain is only going to get worse the more she moves about, and I don’t want her to hurt herself or the babies,” Elrond suggested, tilting his head when the hobbit spluttered in response. “I’m sorry, I know it’s not ideal.”

“But… What if we’re wrong, and I’m pregnant for longer than nine months? I could be in bed for months!” she protested, deeply against the idea.

“The pregnancy would not be progressing this quickly if the babies were more dwarven, so I don’t think we need to worry about that. But, worse case scenario, I’m afraid bedrest is still your only option. If you fall again, or someone bumps into you too hard, you could cause some serious damage. I know you don’t want that,” the healer persisted, not about to back down. “You don’t necessarily have to stay in bed all the time, but you should stay in these rooms. Stairs are too big a risk in your condition. Your mobility is impaired, and it’s not going to improve until the babies are born.”

Billa opened her mouth to argue, but Thorin stopped her with a squeeze of her hand, “My heart, would staying here really be so objectionable? The babies are due any week now, and it would do you good to get some rest. I can probably take a few days off if you would like, keep you company.”

The hobbit closed her mouth and let out an unhappy hum, casting her eyes down to her belly. She trailed her eyes from her stomach to her ankle, examining the red and swollen joint. She must have sprained it when she fell, and that was going to keep her off of her feet for a short while anyway…

There was really no point in refusing.

“Alright, alright… But I’m not happy about this,” Billa complained, looking back up at Thorin and running her thumb along his knuckles.

Thorin smiled fondly at her, leaning over to kiss her forehead. “I know, amrâlimê, but you’ll never be alone. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of visitors,” he pointed out.

-

Thorin wasn’t wrong, but no number of visitors could stop Billa from feeling restless.

It took three days for her ankle to stop feeling so sore, and after that she began finding it hard to stay in their rooms. Thorin had managed to take a couple of days off with her, which was great, but once he was back at work Billa began feeling more and more irritable.

Her friends visited frequently, and she could barely ever get rid of Dori, but she still hated being sedentary. She’d never been lazy. Even in the Shire she had used to go on walks, or bake, or help Gaffer in her garden… She had her quieter days, when she would drink tea and read a book in her chair for hours – but she couldn’t do that every day.

It was maddeningly boring.

And it only got worse the longer she was stuck in the royal wing. She’d made a trip to Gandalf’s room one morning, for the company, and been told off. Gandalf’s room was only down the hall, for goodness sake, but that hadn’t stopped Dori from giving her an ear chewing when he tried to visit her and found her absent from the Queen’s suite.

Her due date came and went, her joints still hurt, and nothing got any better.

She was frustrated, to say the least – but she wasn’t the only one with problems.

Two weeks after her babies had been due to arrive, Nori came into her rooms – looking tired and frustrated.

“Tea?” he hummed curtly, walking into the kitchen without waiting for an answer.

Billa watched him go from where she sat in her father’s chair, her brow furrowed. She slipped a wooden bookmark into her book, placing it down on the arm of her chair and rising stiffly to stand.

“Nori?” she questioned, following him into the other room. She blinked when she saw her middle brother stood over the sink, hands braced on either side and head bowed. The tea-kettle was sitting under the tap, unfilled, and Nori was just staring at it… “Are you okay?”

The red-haired dwarf spun around, looking surprised, before frowning. “You didn’t have to come in, you should be resting,” he scolded, though it was obvious that his heart wasn’t really in it.

Billa rolled her eyes and pulled a chair out at the kitchen table, sitting down before he could say anything else on the matter. “I can rest just fine in here. Now, what’s the matter? Is this about Dwalin?”

Nori blinked hard, his eyes wide and his cheeks turning a little red. “What? Dwalin? No, why would it be about Dwalin?” he blustered, looking embarrassed.

The brunette eyed him closely, but he only seemed flustered – not upset. Whatever was bothering Nori, it didn’t seem like it was anything to do with the burly warrior. “Never mind,” she allowed, not wanting to open that can of worms just yet. “What’s bothering you? You seem tense.”

The spymaster seemed to deflate, turning back to the sink and beginning to fill the kettle. “That obvious, huh?”

Billa watched as he moved to hang the kettle over the fire, eyes tracing his face. There were bags under his eyes, and his hair wasn’t actually braided as elaborately as usual – which she hadn’t noticed until she looked closer. “No, I just know you well, nadad.”

Nori smiled slightly at her use of Khuzdul, but he still looked tired and withdrawn. “I suppose that’s true. Have you seen either of our brothers today?”

She paused, thinking about it for a moment. “No, not today… Or yesterday, actually. It’s been a few days,” she realised, her brow furrowing. That was really strange. “I don’t know how I didn’t notice. What’s happened? They’re okay, right…?”

Her sibling exhaled hard, falling down into the chair beside her and rubbing the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “They’re both healthy, but… This is a long story, let me make the tea first.”

Billa saw no reason to protest, and a couple of minutes later the two were situated in the living area with a large mug of tea each.

“Dori isn’t sleeping in the family apartment at the moment,” Nori began, staring into the fire opposite his seat. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know where he’s staying. And I’m a spy. He still goes to work in his shop every day, so he’s about, but he won’t talk to me.”

“Mahal… Have you been fighting? What’s got him acting so strange?” she asked, her chest tight with worry. It was so unlike to Dori to run away from his problems, and even more strange that he would become so… Neglectful. He hadn’t visited her, and he wasn’t staying with their siblings, or their mother… Something was seriously wrong.

“You once asked me why there was such a big age gap between me and Ori, do you remember that?” Nori reminded her randomly, and she frowned at him.

“Of course, I do. You said you didn’t know why,” she allowed, wondering how it was relevant to the story.

“I doubt you’ve ever done the maths, because why would you, but Ma had Dori before she was of age. She was sixty,” he shared, pausing to sip at his tea. “She and our father messed around, and she got pregnant. They weren’t married, or engaged, or even courting. But she thought she was in love with him. Now, Dori and I knew this already. It was hard not to, given that everyone in the Blue Mountains talked about it all the time when we were young. Dori got the worst of it, being the one she was pregnant with. It was a scandal, and Ma married underage to make it less of a scandal – because it wasn’t acceptable for her to have a baby alone.”

Billa was shocked, but she listened attentively – curious as to why this all mattered in the grand scheme of things. It had to be related to why Dori was so out of sorts, but Nori had said it wasn’t news.

“So, she and our father got married, and Dori was born. She decided to lay low for a bit, so that she wouldn’t draw more attention to herself. That’s why she waited until she was of age to have me. The other dwarves said bad things about her. Our kind… We like people to be married before they have a baby. It’s not mandatory, of course, the problem was that she was underage and pregnant outside of courtship. It didn’t matter that she said he was her One, or that she admitted she had been reckless. Dwarves still said unkind things, and Dori and I grew up with that,” he continued, stopping to exhale hard.

Billa had always wondered why Dori was so concerned with reputation, and now she supposed she knew. It was because he had grown up bullied for something that wasn’t his fault. It must have been hard. “I’m sorry, Nori…”

“Don’t be. I got used to it – we loved our Ma, and we stood by her. Sure, Dori has always worried about what is proper, but he still defended her. Whenever questioned, he would point out that our father was her One. He’d agree that maybe she should have been more careful, but our father wasn’t some random dwarf that she had laid with for no good reason,” Nori said, lifting his eyes to the ceiling. “People still talked, but as we got older things got better. Dori and I both came of age, and we got jobs. I began training to became a guard. We weren’t popular, but we became more respectable. We were good dwarves, and we kept our noses clean.”

The hobbit couldn’t hide her surprise at that, and Nori noticed. He smiled mirthlessly at her, shrugging. “Yeah, I know. I never mentioned that before, huh?”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be shocked… Of course you had a job before you turned to stealing, it’s just…” she trailed off, feeling like she was being too judgemental.

“You weren’t expecting that I was so straight-laced. It’s fine, you have every right to be surprised. It’s not something I like to talk about,” he confessed, taking a moment to drink another mouthful of tea. “But yeah, I was going to be a guard. I’ll be honest, Ma and our father… They never seemed all that close. That should have been a warning bell, we should have known something wasn’t right, but when you grow up with that… You don’t think about it. You think, that’s just how my parents are. Then, Ma got pregnant. It was a huge shock, but Dori and I were pleased. Why wouldn’t we be? Our father wasn’t, though, and we didn’t know why. You know the next part.”

“He left, didn’t he? Ori told me,” Billa entreated, her heart heavy in her chest. It was a sad story – and being pregnant, she felt all the worse for Eira. She couldn’t imagine how it would feel to be abandoned that way, with two sons to look after and another child on the way.

“Yes. The pregnancy was so unexpected that we didn’t know until it started to show. Ma never thought to get herself checked. Then she began to show, she saw a physician, and it was official. Ma broke the news to us all at the same time, and father… He seemed off. I spoke to Dori about it after we went to bed that night, and he dismissed it. Said he was probably just shocked. I tried to sleep, but I was worried. Dori’s words didn’t comfort me, and I couldn’t help but wonder why our father was so weird about it. Because I was awake, I heard him leaving. He didn’t even stay a whole day after finding out. I heard movement in the hall, so I went out to see if it was Ma – thinking something was wrong and she might need help. Instead I saw him at the front door with a bag full of his stuff. I called out to him, and he turned to look at me…” Nori faltered, his voice shaking a little.

Billa reached out to place a hand on his knee, giving it a reassuring squeeze. It had to be worse for him, as the one who witnessed their father abandoning them.

The red-head met her eyes and the corner of his mouth quirked up, his expression grateful. He took a moment to clear his throat and take a steadying breath. “I didn’t know what to say, and neither did he. We just stared at each other for a moment, then he turned back around and walked out of the door. Without a single word. I think I was in shock, I didn’t even think to chase him down. To demand an answer. Instead I walked to Ma’s room, to check on her, and she was awake. She was sat up in bed, and she sighed when I walked in. She asked if I was okay, and I laughed… Was I okay? Father had just left her, and she was worried about me. Mahal bless her soul…” he uttered, looking amused for a moment – though the sadness was still obvious in his eyes. “I sat up with her for the rest of the night, and we told Dori in the morning.”

“I’m surprised he didn’t try to chase your father down,” Billa noted, sighing softly. She didn’t understand how anyone could just… Leave their family that way.

It didn’t really happen in the Shire.

“Oh, he did,” Nori chuckled quietly, raising a hand to scratch at the back of his head. “It was too late. Father was long gone. A guard saw him leave the mountain on foot that night. Dori was in denial for a while. He kept telling everyone that our father had gone on a trip, that he would return… Ma and I knew the truth. He wasn’t coming back. Months passed, and there was no word of him. No one had seen him, and no one knew where he went. Ma was struggling with her pregnancy, we didn’t have our father’s income to support us and Dori was working himself to the bone to keep us afloat. Ma couldn’t work, after all, not in the later stages of her pregnancy. Training to be a guard didn’t pay, because I wasn’t working yet, but… I had to contribute. Dori’s wages alone couldn’t support us. I tried to get a real job, but our name had been dragged through the mud again. People blamed Ma for father leaving, since no one would leave their One for no reason… I couldn’t get anything well paid enough. To start out, I took work wherever I could find it. Any pay was better than no pay. Ma had Ori, and the gossip continued. Mad Eira was going to raise a baby alone. Even our extended family had distanced themselves. Once she had recovered, Ma went back to work, but we all had to arrange our shifts so that someone would always be with Ori… As the lowest paid, I stopped working to take care of him. He grew up relatively happy, in spite of our absent father, and then the day came when he told us he wanted to be a scribe. He’d always been a big reader, and so talented… We weren’t terribly shocked. But we couldn’t afford the education he needed. Dori tried to get a promotion, and failed… Ma called on her family for help, and they turned her away. So, I started stealing. I was determined to give Ori the life he wanted – we all were. I kept it quiet for a while, but they found out after the first time I got arrested. I had been telling them I was working again, to cover why I had so much money. They didn’t question it, until I got caught. Dori was so mad he didn’t speak to me for weeks, but… It was the only way.”

“Gods, Nori, I’m so sorry…” Billa interrupted, feeling choked up. It was just awful. Nori gave up everything for Ori, and all because their father had walked out on them. It shouldn’t have been Nori’s responsibility.

Nori smiled more genuinely at her then, reaching out to touch her face dotingly. “I made a choice, and I don’t regret it. I would do it again,” he assured her, his voice soft and genuine. “But I didn’t tell you all of this to make you feel bad for me. The point is… For seventy-six or seventy-seven years now, we’ve thought that our father abandoned us for no reason. About three days ago, Ma told us the truth. It turns out that our father wasn’t her One, and she had only thought she loved him when they had conceived Dori. They married for propriety, and told each other they were in love. Years passed and they kept up the act – they had me because Ma had always wanted a big family, and she worried about Dori getting lonely. But my birth distanced our parents further. Ma loved me, that wasn’t the problem – she just knew she didn’t love our father, and he didn’t love her either. She and father decided not to have any more children, and they stayed together only for the sake of appearances. There was no way for the two of them to separate without revealing that they’d never truly been in love. Father worked a lot, so he didn’t have to spend too much time with us, and he made a fair amount of money. Prior to him leaving, Dori and I grew up fairly comfortable. Then, Ma met her real One. He was a merchant from the Iron Hills, who had travelled all the way to the Blue Mountains for a new start. It was love at first sight.”

Oh…” the hobbit whispered, realising where this was going.

Ori had a different father.

“Our father knew Ori couldn’t be his, because he wasn’t in a physical relationship with Ma. Hadn’t been for decades. He left because she cheated on him. Sure, he didn’t love her, but he didn’t want to hang around and raise another dwarf’s pebble. He barely liked me and Dori, and he couldn’t stomach the idea of another child – especially when it wasn’t his. So, he disappeared. He was kind enough not to reveal the truth to anyone before he left, and I’m grateful for that. But Ma couldn’t marry her real One when she was already married to someone else. Whether he was absent or not, she was our father’s wife by law. It wouldn’t have been honourable, but she could have been with her One anyway, if she had wanted… He was willing. But she pushed him away, rather than sullying our name further. The ridicule would have been so much worse, if she had been seen associating with another dwarf whilst our father was missing. So, she decided to raise us alone. She said she never knew how hard it would be, and she was sorry, but… She wanted us to know,” Nori concluded, swilling his tea around his cup in an absent-minded manner.

“Dori is angry because she lied, I understand that, but… It was so long ago. Does it really matter that much to him?” Billa murmured, frowning deeply. She understood why he would be upset, but to leave the family apartment and refuse to talk to them…? He was making a big deal out of it.

“Apparently so. That’s why I’m so bloody annoyed! Dori needs to swallow his damned pride and realise that there are things in the world that are more important than reputation. Who cares if our mother cheated on our father, almost eighty years ago? He has no idea what it’s like, having a One, so he can’t know how she felt. He needs to gain a little perspective!” the spymaster huffed, slamming his tea down on the table and rising to his feet. “He’s so worried about what people think of us, he doesn’t even realise that Ma lied to protect us. If she hadn’t married our father, I wouldn’t have been born, and he would have been raised under even worse conditions. Alone. I understand that the news is shocking, and a little upsetting, but he needs to look at the bigger picture. If things hadn’t happened the way they did, we wouldn’t be here! Isn’t it more important that we got through it? That we got by, and made it to Erebor? That Ori grew up loved and well-educated, thanks to us? It’s not like Ma is going to shout it loud and proud to the world, let everyone know that Ori is the product of adultery. She would never do that to us,” he argued, beginning to pace in front of the fire.

“I agree with you, Nori,” she comforted him, worrying her bottom lip between his teeth. “But… I think you need to let Dori cool off. You can’t force him to be okay with it. He’s obviously finding it hard to deal with.”

He’s finding it hard? What about poor Ori? He has reason to be confused about this, and Dori isn’t helping by throwing a hissy-fit!” Nori groaned, though he was only venting – rather than shouting at her. “Ori looks up to him, and right now he’s doing a poor job as Ori’s big brother. And there’s nothing I can do, because I’m not the one causing the problem.”

Billa grimaced at that, her heart sinking. Poor Ori, indeed… Out of them all, he did have the most reason to be upset about it. It wasn’t his fault, in any way, but his conception had broken up their family. And not only that, he had found out that he wasn’t a full-blooded brother to his siblings. He had a completely different father.

“How has Ori been?” she wondered, sipping at her tea.

“He’s trying to be brave, but I can tell he’s struggling. He doesn’t want to be a bother, when Dori is causing so much trouble… He spends almost every hour of every day in the library, eating meals there rather than the food hall, and he comes back late at night only to sleep. It doesn’t matter what I say to him, trust me I’ve tried. He needs Dori. He needs our brother to give him a hug and tell him none of it matters – that he’s still our family,” Nori imparted, picking up a log from beside the fire and breaking it between his hands. “I’ll be honest, Billa, I have no idea what to do. Ma’s distraught, and I can’t get through to either of them.”

Billa rubbed a hand over the swell of her stomach, watching as Nori threw the splintered log into the fire – sending sparks over the hearth. Dori was stubborn, and he was hurting, which made it all the harder to reason with him.

But there might be a way.

“Do you think you can get Ori and Ma to come here?” she checked, tilting her head at him.

Nori turned to look at her, frowning in consideration. “…I should think so. Ori isn’t being unreasonable, and if I tell him you miss him or you want to see him, he’ll be here in a heartbeat.”

“Alright. I think I can get Dori here too. We’ll make him listen.”

“How…? You’re not supposed to leave your rooms.”

“I know, I’m not going to. I’m going to send a guard after him. Have them tell him that his sister needs him. He’s still a mother-hen at the end of the day, and I’m not involved in the dispute. I think he’ll come,” she insisted, flashing her brother a smile.

“You’re a genius, namad,” Nori breathed, smiling back warmly.

“We’ll work this out, Nori. It’s Dori, he loves you both. He’s just confused. Tell Ma to remind him why she did it. It was all for you three. And yeah, the circumstances weren’t ideal, but no one is perfect. My mother was one of my favourite people in the world, but she wasn’t without her faults. We’re all just people at the end of the day, Ma included,” Billa told him, hopeful that the plan would work.

She hoped that Dori would be more inclined to listen after a few days of distance – especially with Ori present. He just needed to remember his priorities.

Chapter Text

“You don’t have to justify yourself to me, Ma,” Billa insisted, pouring the female dwarf a generous measure of tea. “I understand, truly I do.”

The hobbit could feel Eira watching her closely as she took a seat beside her, and it was hard to ignore how tired and fretful the elderly dwarf looked.

But Billa was telling the truth – she didn’t judge Eira for what she had done. Love was hard, and raising children? Billa might not have done that yet, but she could imagine how hard it would be in a regular relationship, let alone a loveless one. She could trust Thorin to stand by her and help as much as he was able, but Eira never had that.

By the sound of it, her husband had spent very little time with any of them – even before Ori’s conception.

“It’s why I want to help,” she reassured her adopted mother, reaching out to squeeze her hand affectionately. She might not have known Eira for very long, but she still cared a great deal about her. She was a good dwarf, and she had welcomed Billa into her family like she wasn’t some strange little foreigner.

It was very open minded of her, especially considering that most of the company were wary of her initially. Thorin included.

“I just wanted what was best for my boys. They’re my world…” Eira sighed, picking up her tea and staring into the dark liquid.

“I know. I haven’t even had my faunts yet, and I already know that there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them. I love them so much, and I haven’t even met them… Dori’s just in shock, and I think he needs to put things into perspective. He still loves you, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he still adores Ori… We’ve just got to make him understand,” the brunette accepted, glancing towards the living-room as she heard the front door click open.

Nori lead the way into the kitchen, followed by a down-trodden looking Ori. The bookish dwarf blinked in obvious surprise when he saw his mother sat at the table with Billa, glancing between the two of them uncertainly. “Billa…” He began, before leaning down stiffly to kiss Eira’s cheek. “Ma,” he said in greeting, falling into the other seat beside their mother. “What’s going on?”

“Nori and I decided that it’s time to get everything out in the open. I’ve sent for Dori, and we’re hoping we can make him see sense,” Billa answered dutifully, reaching for the teapot again and suppressing the urge to roll her eyes when Nori beat her to it – pouring tea for himself and their brother.

Ori nodded slowly, but not before casting Nori a confused look. “…you told Billa?” he muttered, sounding upset.

“Of course I did, Ori, she’s our sister,” the older dwarf huffed, putting the teapot down and sitting beside Ori – leaving the remaining seat next to Billa free for Dori. “I thought she could help.”

“And why wouldn’t he tell me, Ori? It’s not like I would think less of any of you, you’re my family,” Billa hastened to point out, turning her head when she heard a strong knock at the door.

Eira fidgeted unhappily in her seat, placing a hand over Ori’s on the table.

“Right… All we’ve got to do is remind Dori that you’re still a family. And if he gets mad, or he shouts, just remember that he’s hurt. We can work this out,” Billa reassured them, rising unsteadily to her feet.

“Do you want me to answer the door?” Nori offered, only to receive a shake of the head in response.

“No, no, I’ve got it.” Billa didn’t want to point out that Dori might leave if he saw anyone but her first, since that would only be pouring salt on an open wound.

She padded to the front door, reaching it just as Dori knocked again – this time a little impatiently. She heaved the door open and smiled, narrowing her eyes slightly at her eldest brother. “I’m heavily pregnant, Dori, don’t rush me!” she scolded him mildly, stepping aside to let him in.

The white-haired dwarf frowned sternly at her, looking her up and down. “You shouldn’t have answered the door, then! You could have shouted for me to let myself in,” he reminded her, placing a steadying hand on the small of her back.

“What kind of host would that make me? Allow a hobbit her eccentricities, brother,” she snorted, heading towards the kitchen. “Tea?”

“I can make it, don’t exert yourself-”

“It’s already waiting on the kitchen table, Dori, I’m not exerting myself.”

Billa watched tensely as Dori walked into the kitchen ahead of her, holding back a sigh when she saw him go rigid in the doorway. He turned as though to leave, only to find his path blocked by his pregnant sister.

“Billa,” he protested, noticeably irritated – his face colouring when she held up a hand to stop him.

“I know, alright? Would you just… Listen to them?”

“You tricked me,” he accused, his back still turned on the rest of their family.

“I did,” she admitted, unashamed. “I’m about to welcome three babies into this family, and I don’t want to do it whilst we’re all fighting. You need to work this out, for all our sakes.”

“…I’m not fighting with you-” Dori tried to argue, only for Billa to cut across him.

“-yes, you are. This is my family too, and that makes me involved. I get that you’re confused, and you’re hurting, but so is everyone. Look at the bigger picture here,” she persisted, stepping forwards – and forcing Dori to retreat further into the kitchen, lest he knock her abdomen.

“You don’t understand,” he remonstrated, only for Billa to groan in response.

“Dori, I am about to become a mother. There is nothing in this mountain, or this world, that I love more than the life growing inside of me. Did it not occur to you that Ma might feel something similar? That she might have cared about you all so much that it outweighed all else? That she didn’t care about being respectable, so long as you were happy and healthy? I think I might understand better than you do,” she rebuked him, pointing to his chair and staring him down. “Now, sit.”

Dori stared back at her for a long moment, but took his seat when she did not relent – his expression mulish.

Billa sighed softly in relief at the small victory, closing the kitchen door and returning to her seat. She rubbed a hand over the swell of her stomach, glancing around at her family as they sat in silence. Dori was staring at the empty cup in front of him, whilst Nori and Eira watched him expectantly. Ori, on the other hand, picked at his woollen gloves and refused to look at anyone.

Eira’s eyes met Billa’s briefly, and the hobbit nodded encouragingly.

“Dori,” she started, her voice small and unsure. “…I’m sorry.”

The stubborn jeweller raised his eyes to look at his mother, his face tense and unmoving.

“I know why you’re mad. You spent so long being angry at your father, and you never knew the full story,” Eira continued, undeterred by his stony expression.

“Why?” Dori interjected, folding his arms over his chest.

Nori blinked in surprise from next to their brother, tilting his head at the older dwarf. “Why what?”

“Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t you tell us? Nori and I were adults, you shouldn’t have lied,” Dori specified, his posture rigid.

Billa watched quietly from beside him, taking the teapot and pouring him a cup of tea – she didn’t want to interrupt, she knew her part was done. She’d just needed to get Dori there; the rest was up to Eira.

“Well, initially, I didn’t say anything because I was hurt. It was confusing for me, Dori… I felt so conflicted. I was thrilled that I had been blessed with another pebble, but in having that pebble… I had made things so difficult for us. I had driven your father away, and whilst that was no emotional loss, it still posed a problem. We couldn’t get by without him. Not to mention it got people talking about our family again, and I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to draw attention to us,” she explained, raising a hand when Dori opened his mouth – like he was about to interrupt. “I know that it was my fault. I was selfish, and maybe I shouldn’t have spent that time with my One… But if I hadn’t, we wouldn’t have Ori. And I refuse to apologise for that. I don’t even regret it.”

Ori swallowed audibly from beside her, and she exhaled gently. Eira reached out to touch her youngest son’s cheek, steering his face towards hers.

“I don’t, Ori. Honestly. It’s like Billa said before – you three are my babies, and I love you more than anything else. More than your father, and certainly more than theirs. I might have done a silly thing, but I would never take it back,” she promised him, pressing their foreheads together affectionately. “If I hadn’t been selfish, and foolish, I wouldn’t have you. And you’re far more important to me than our reputation.”

Billa looked to Dori, and saw his brow furrowed unhappily. He looked like he was shaking a little, and she reached out to touch his arm tentatively – hoping to offer some kind of support.

“…you still didn’t answer my question. I’ve… Never had a One, so I can’t say I understand your feelings towards Ori’s father, but… I don’t condemn it. I love my little brother, and I’m glad he was born, but I’ve spent the last seventy-six or seventy-seven years angry at a dwarf who had every right to abandon us. I don’t understand why you weren’t honest with us,” Dori conceded, his voice much calmer than before, and his eyes fixed on Ori.

“I was afraid, Dori. I didn’t know how you or Nori would react. You were so angry, for so long, and I was pregnant… I didn’t want that anger directed at me. I know it was cowardly of me, but I always intended to tell you. I just kept putting it off. When I was pregnant, I didn’t want the stress… Then when Ori was born, all of my energy went into looking after him. He was small, and sickly, and your father was the last thing on my mind. Ori was my priority. Years started passing, and there just never seemed to be a good time. In the end, I decided that I would wait until Ori came of age. I didn’t want to have to tell you two, and make you keep it a secret from him. I thought it would be better to tell you all together, when Ori was old enough to understand,” Eira admitted, smoothing her hand along her younger son’s face before drawing away to look at Dori once more.

“You assumed I wouldn’t understand, and that I’d be angry at you,” her eldest son realised, taking a deep breath and looking away.

“She was right,” Nori pointed out, not backing down when Dori sent a withering glare his way. “You haven’t been home in days, Dori, nor have you spoken to any of us. What impression do you think that gives?”

Dori had nothing to say to that, and he averted his eyes to his now full cup of tea. He began spooning sugar into it, for something to do – his hands visibly trembling.

“You feel betrayed, lied to, but how do you think we feel? Ori needed you. We all did. You’re our big brother,” Nori asserted, his own voice rising a little.

Billa looked to him across the table, moving one foot to gently rest on his calf. As much as she didn’t want him and Dori to fight, she knew they both had a lot to get off their chests. Now was the time for them all to be honest with each other.

“Ori just found out he’s our half-brother, and you stopped talking to him. If you were in his position, how would you interpret that?”

Dori blinked hard at that, looking back up at Nori. He glanced from Nori to Ori, and saw their younger brother still sat opposite him – his shoulders slumped and his eyes red. “But-”

“But nothing, Dori. This isn’t just about you. You might feel like you were angry at our father for no reason, but you know what? Our father was a bastard,” Nori said, pausing only when Eira inhaled sharply. “Sorry, Ma. I know you don’t like that kind of language, but it’s true. Father never loved any of us. Not you, not Dori, and definitely not me. He was never home, and when he was he barely said more than a few words to any of us. I’m not a conceited dwarf, not really, but how could he not love us? We were his children. Family is everything to our kind, and he didn’t give a shit about us. And you know what? If he had cared, he would have stayed. I know being with someone who wasn’t his One must have been hard, I know how much our Ones mean to us, but he still had a family. And no decent dwarf would ever throw that away.”

Nori spoke with such passion and conviction that it left them all in shock for a moment – even Ori raised his head to look at the spymaster beside him.

The silence stretched for a while, until Eira broke it with a sigh. “Nori… Isn’t wrong. I never loved your father, but I would have stayed with him. I did stay with him, for more than a century – for your sakes. I knew it was what was best for my children. And I knew he didn’t care about us. If I’m honest, he spent so little time at home that I’m not convinced he was faithful to me – but it was still a blow when he left. I’m grateful that he didn’t make a scene, cause us more ridicule by telling people what I had done… But I’m not sure he did that for our sake. He didn’t feel any love for us, after all.”

Dori seemed to deflate, and he reached across the table to seize one of Ori’s hands in his own – making the quiet librarian startle. “…I’ll be honest. I don’t know how to feel about any of this. I never really thought about our father’s behaviour until all of this came out, and when you told us you cheated on him… I thought that was why he had acted the way he did. But Nori’s right. Our father’s strange behaviour and lack of affection for us predated anything that happened with Ori. I don’t even remember a time when he was openly loving towards any of us. At the time I just… Thought that was how families were. I thought the mothers were the nurturing ones, and the fathers worked. It wasn’t as though I had any frame of reference…” he confessed. “But, Ori-” he began, addressing their younger brother directly. “-I don’t care that you don’t share our father. I wouldn’t care if you didn’t share either of our parents, because you are our brother. I’ve been stupid, ignoring you all… I never realised how it would come across. I was just wrapped up in my own thoughts, and I didn’t think. This doesn’t change how much I love you, or Ma. I’m just… Confused. And I suppose Billa and Nori were right. I just needed to… Listen. Being stubborn wasn’t helping any of us. I’m sorry if I made you think I didn’t love you, or if it seemed like I thought less of you. I do love you, and nothing between us is going to change. You could be half elf and I wouldn’t care.”

Ori smiled weakly, his lashes wet. “Thank you…” he murmured, barely audible.

Dori laced their hands together affectionately, giving Ori’s hand a doting squeeze before turning to look at their mother. “Where is Ori’s father? I’d like to meet him.”

Eira almost dropped her teacup at that, genuinely taken aback. She glanced between all four of her children, pinking beneath her fine white beard. “I… I haven’t spoken to him in years, but… I think he’s in Erebor. I thought I saw him amongst the caravans on the way here,” she stuttered, taking a steadying sip of tea before putting her cup down. “…you’d really like to meet him?”

“I think we should,” Dori confirmed, offering Ori a fond smile.

“I agree. If he’s your One, and Ori’s father, I want to know him. Do you think he’d be willing?” Nori averred, his voice steady and full of certainty.

Billa didn’t miss the proud look he shot Dori’s way.

Eira seemed completely shocked at the turn the conversation had taken, her eyes wide and her cheeks flushed. “I mean… I haven’t seen him in quite some time, but… Well, I told you that he offered to help raise you all, after my husband left. And he did try to meet Ori, when you were much younger.”

“Then it’s settled. So long as Ori is alright with it, of course?” Dori decided, looking back to the younger dwarf.

The shy ginger bobbed his head in a nod, just as red-faced and surprised as their mother. “Y-yeah, I am!”

Billa smiled warmly at everyone around the table, rising to her feet and picking up the teapot. “Well, now that’s all sorted, how about some fresh tea? And some cake too, I should think.”

Nori stood swiftly, moving over to help her without having to be asked. “That would be perfect,” he agreed, gently knocking his hip into hers as he carried the kettle to the sink and began filling it with water. He mouthed ‘thank you’ when their eyes met, his face much less pinched then it had been when he had arrived in her rooms that morning.

The hobbit shrugged modestly back at him, not about to take credit for their progress. All she had done was lure Dori over, the rest was all them.

But she was glad that everything had worked out. And who knew – maybe Ori’s father was a great dwarf.

Maybe he could be a father to all three of them.

-

It was three weeks after the babies were due that Billa found herself sat on the edge of her bed, having barely managed to change out of her sleep-clothes – but feeling far too lightheaded to actually move away from the bed.

It was frustrating, to say the least. The further she moved from her due date, the more uncomfortable she became. Her joints hurt whether she rested or not, and no amount of backrubs from Thorin could alleviate the stress on her spine.

She huffed angrily at herself, hands braced on her knees as she willed her head to stop spinning. Thorin had brought breakfast to the bed for her that morning, so she had eaten – but lunch time was fast approaching, and no one was around to help her to the kitchen.

And she was too proud to shout for a guard.

She was seriously debating crawling to the other room when there was a knock at the door, and she smiled weakly to herself. “Come in,” she called, finally grateful for the company’s need to constantly check on her.

“How’s my favourite hobbit?” a jovial voice asked as the door swung open, revealing Bofur with Bifur in tow. “Don’t tell me you’re still in bed! I know you’re pregnant, but it’s almost midday,” the hatted dwarf laughed, though it was obvious from his expression that he was only joking.

You try getting out of bed unassisted with three oversized children inside of you,” Billa retorted, holding her hand out in a silent request for assistance.

Bofur pretended to think about it as he walked over, pulling a thoughtful face. “…no, I think I’ll leave that to you,” he commented after some deliberation, grinning toothily when she rolled her eyes. He took her hand and heaved her to her feet, blinking in surprise when she stumbled weakly and fell into his chest. He caught her easily, hooking both of his arms under hers. “Woooah now, Billa, how would Thorin feel if he could see you falling for me like this?” he gasped playfully, though there was obvious concern in his expression.

Are you okay?” Bifur managed in his choppy mix of ancient and regular Khuzdul, which Billa only just managed to understand.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine… Just a little weak today,” she placated, managing to straighten up – though she still felt wobbly.

Bofur shifted to better support her weight, leading the way to the fireplace with slow and careful steps. “Have you eaten?” he wondered, his tone genuinely worried this time.

Billa nodded, grabbing onto the sofa for support when they reached it and easing her way round to her favoured armchair. “I had breakfast earlier, Thorin brought it to the bed before he left for some kingly duty.”

Bifur responded with something about lunch, and Bofur made an acknowledging noise in response. “Right you are, cousin. Why don’t you sit with Billa, and I’ll see what’s in the kitchen?” he offered, smiling when the other dwarf nodded.

“I should have some bread, some honey and some jam in the cupboards, more than enough for sandwiches for us all… And there are some muffins in a tin somewhere,” Billa shared, wishing that she could make it for herself. It bothered her that she couldn’t be more hospitable, it felt wrong having someone else make the food in her home – but she couldn’t even walk by herself, let alone stand to cook. She could stomach Thorin taking care of things for her, because they were his rooms too, but she hated having to ask a guest for help. “…and thank you, Bofur.”

“You can thank me with a muffin,” he shouted back from the kitchen, a smile obvious in his voice.

Less than ten minutes later the three of them were sat around the newly-stoked fire, a plate of various sandwiches and a tin of muffins on the table between them.

Billa picked up an uneven-looking jam sandwich, smiling to herself at the poorly cut slices of bread. Unlike his brother, Bofur wasn’t much of a cook – but he had tried, and it wouldn’t really affect the taste. The hobbit sank her teeth into the sandwich, sighing softly in relief.

“Always a good sign,” Bofur hummed with a smile, winking when she glanced towards him.

The brunette openly rolled her eyes at that, chewing happily on her mouthful. She wasn’t sure what she would have done if he and Bifur hadn’t showed up – she could have crawled away from the bed, but she probably couldn’t have made any food. She didn’t have the strength.

Things had been bad for the last few weeks, but that day was the first time she’d ever been completely unable to walk – and she hoped it wouldn’t be a recurring problem. It was the last thing she needed.

How’re the rooms?” Bifur questioned after a short period of silence, gesturing in the general direction of the king’s suite. They’d had dwarves working on it for the last month, and Bifur had offered to design their furniture – so that they had stuff that matched the queen’s suite, and the crib Nori had brought back from the Shire.

But none of the furniture could be put in until the remodelling was finished and the rooms had been cleaned.

Billa shrugged slightly, waiting to swallow her mouthful before responding. “I haven’t been in since they started, but Thorin says its coming along nicely. The new walls are all set, I think they’re just getting everything evened out and cleaned now,” she replied, licking jam from her fingers. “Thank you for the bassinet, by the way, it’s beautiful.”

They had commissioned a special bassinet from Bifur, large enough for all three babies whilst they were young – since they would need to be kept in the main bedroom for a while. It was beautifully made, with a nice floral headboard and footboard to match the rest of the décor in their room. It was long enough and wide enough for the triplets to lie comfortably side by side, probably until they were several months old – depending on how quickly they grew, of course.

Lord Elrond still wasn’t sure how the babies might mature after their birth.

Bifur looked confused for a moment, glancing to his hatted cousin uncertainly. Bofur smiled, putting his sandwich down and beginning to sign what Billa had said.

The hobbit felt her face flush with embarrassment. She must have spoken too fast, or used words that were too complicated. She could try speaking in Khuzdul, but she wasn’t quite fluent – and Bifur didn’t speak proper Khuzdul anyway.

You’re welcome. Glad you like it,” The salt-and-pepper haired dwarf said after Bofur had finished explaining, offering her a crooked and slightly sheepish smile.

“Can you ask him how much we owe him, Bofur? A guard delivered it, so we haven’t had the chance to pay him,” Billa entreated, blinking when Bofur barked a laugh.

“He’s gonna say nothin’, and you know it,” he chuckled, glancing towards the bassinet in question – pushed up against a wall near the bed and already made up for the babies’ arrival.

“What…?” she pressed.

Bofur chortled at her confusion, turning to Bifur and beginning to sign her question.

Bifur frowned deeply, turning back towards the hobbit with his brows furrowed. “It’s a gift. You don’t pay.”

“But… We asked for it,” Billa pointed out, having been under the impression that they would pay him for his work.

A gift you need is still a gift.”

“Yes, but…” Billa began, only for Bofur to shake his head at her and reach out to pat her knee.

“Billa, there’s no use arguing with him. He won’t take your money,” he exposed, smiling lopsidedly. “He’s a stubborn creature.”

The small brunette huffed, picking up another half of sandwich. “He worked hard on it, though, it’s only right that he should get paid for it…”

Bofur shrugged it response, plucking a muffin from the tin. “He has more money than he knows what to do with, and he loves his job. Let him have this,” he reasoned, shooting a fond look at his cousin.

Bifur blinked, clearly unable to understand their discussion. If she was honest, Billa was impressed that he’d managed to keep up until then – he got easily confused.

She looked at Bofur one last time before meeting Bifur’s dark eyes, smiling gently at him. “Thank you. You’re very kind,” she crooned in Khuzdul, giggling when the dwarf’s eyes lit up.

You’re welcome. Your… Speaking is good,” he praised, struggling over his choice of words.

“He means your pronunciation. And he’s right, you’ve definitely improved,” Bofur added, picking his baked good apart with his fingers. “I could teach you some basic signing, if you like. Not many dwarves use it nowadays, but it’d mean you can talk to him when he’s struggling with Khuzdul.”

“I would like that,” Billa noted, smiling wider.

Bofur glanced to Bifur briefly, who was looking between them with clear confusion again. “We’ll keep it a surprise. He’ll be pleased,” he decided, leaning over to give Bifur’s knee a reassuring squeeze.

Billa nodded, liking the idea a lot. It made her happy just seeing Bifur’s eyes light up at her Khuzdul, so it would be nice to be able to sign too. It seemed the easiest way to communicate with him, as it was what the other dwarves defaulted to whenever he was struggling.

“How’s Bombur, anyway? I feel like I haven’t seen him in a little while – I suppose he must be busy!” she said, changing the subject so that Bifur wouldn’t get suspicious.

The older dwarf seemed to relax when he heard Bombur’s name in conversation, picking up his food and beginning to eat again.

“Aye, he’s been training some new kitchen staff recently. Not to mention he’s missed Dunda and the kids,” Bofur drawled, accepting the change of topic without comment – though his expression was knowing. “He spends most of his spare time with them. I visit them quite a lot, of course. I love his children, they’re the sweetest little things… And naturally they love me too, since I’m the cool uncle who makes toys,” he shared with a wink.

Billa laughed, narrowing her eyes playfully at him. “You know, if you try to monopolise my children, Dori will kill you.”

“He can try!” Bofur challenged, grinning ear-to-ear.

“Speaking of people I haven’t seen lately, I actually haven’t seen Oin in a while. I thought I had a check-up with him yesterday, but he never came… It’s not like him to forget,” she noted, running a hand along her stomach. “I’d think he was busy, but surely he’d send a message or tell someone if that was the case?”

“He has been acting strange lately. He seems a little… Flat,” the hatted dwarf commented, his smile slipping. “If you think you need him, though, I can try find him? He’s probably in the medical wing, with the new physicians.”

“I don’t want to be any trouble, but I’m struggling. It’s been… At least three weeks since the babies were due, and I’m really uncomfortable. I want to know what he thinks, and if he has any advice.”

“Say no more. I’ll try grab him now,” Bofur said, standing and picking up a muffin. “I’ll bribe him with this.”

Billa smiled in thanks, grabbing a muffin of her own and settling back into the cushions.

It only took about half an hour for Bofur to return with the half-deaf dwarf, who was toying with a half-eaten muffin and looking sullen.

“You wanted me?” he puffed, falling heavily into a spare chair.

Bofur plucked one last muffin from the tin and gestured to Bifur. “We’ll leave you to it. Lovely seeing you Billa – we’ll come again soon!” he promised, smiling widely.

“Wait, you don’t have to go,” Billa disputed, only for Bofur to shoot her a look from behind Oin – so the physician wouldn’t see him.

“S’fine, we’ve got stuff to do,” he persisted, giving his cousin a pat on the back as he moved to join him. “We can always pop by after dinner, if that suits you? See if we can drag Ori along, too. Kid needs to get out of the library every once in a while.”

“That’d be great, thank you. I’ll see you later, then?” Billa allowed, waiting until Bofur nodded and left before turning towards Oin. “I had an appointment with you yesterday, and you never came. Is everything alright?”

The elderly dwarf went a let red and cast his eyes away, his expression obviously unhappy. Thinking back on what Bofur had said, Billa realised he was right. Oin had been acting a little odd lately. “Of course. Just thought you’d rather see Lord Elrond instead,” he reasoned, putting a piece of muffin in his mouth and chewing carefully.

The hobbit frowned softly at him, tilting her head. “I made the appointment with you, Oin, why would I rather see Lord Elrond?”

“Because he’s a superior healer,” Oin stated with conviction, his voice unwavering.

Ah.

“You think so?” she played down, not wanting to make a fuss and put the old dwarf on the defensive. He hated people looking down at him, and it seemed as though he was feeling a little unwanted or unneeded. Not that he would say as much. “I’m not so sure. He might know hobbits a little better than you, but he knows very little about dwarves. And these babies are part dwarven, Oin. I need your expertise too.”

The physician snorted loudly, looking away pointedly. “I didn’t even realise you were having triplets,” he criticised, glaring at the fireplace like it had personally offended him.

Billa sighed quietly at that, not sure how to argue with that. They had already discussed that he didn’t know hobbits well, and it clearly hadn’t helped him feel any better about it. There was only one other explanation she could think of, but she knew Oin wasn’t going to like it. “You’re a good physician Oin, but maybe… Maybe you misheard,” she suggested tentatively, and the expression on his face told her that he had already thought of that.

So, my hearing is interfering with my work,” he proposed, putting the unfinished muffin down on the table. “In which case, I really shouldn’t be trusted with treating patients, should I? It wasn’t a serious error this time, but it could have been. What if I listen to someone’s breathing, and misdiagnose a respiratory problem? That could kill someone.”

“I hate to be the one to say it, Oin, but you are old. You can’t help that. You’ve been doing this a very long time – and in all that time, how many times have you misdiagnosed someone?” Billa hummed, resting her hands over her sizeable bump.

Oin took a moment to think about that, eyes moving from the fire to her face. “Three or four, including you,” he imparted, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Out of several hundred, right?” she pushed, waiting until he nodded before continuing. “Statistically, that’s a good rate, Oin. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. And this one wasn’t even necessarily your fault. So, stop beating yourself up. You’re good at what you do. But maybe… It’s time to take a less active roll. You’re already teaching some of the other healers and physicians, why not just stick to that? Take fewer patients, and focus on training the next generation. You can pass on your knowledge. Maybe even retire – you deserve it. You’ve been doing this a long time.”

The elderly dwarf eyed her for a moment before looking away again, frowning slightly to himself. He stayed quiet for a long time, seeming to mull it over. “…thanks, Billa. I’ll… I’ll give it some thought,” he decided, his tone unsure.

And really, that was the best Billa could ask for. Not everything had a quick fix – and Oin had obviously been feeling this way for several months already.

“Now… ‘m sorry I missed the appointment. I had a bad day, and I didn’t feel like comin’ up. I shoulda sent a message. How’re you?” he added after another moment of silence, turning to look her up and down.

Billa thought about saying that she was fine, but the truth was that she wasn’t. And if anything, it had kind of worked out better that he’d come late – because she hadn’t been so weak the day before, and she wouldn’t have been able to ask about it.

“I feel really… Weak. I couldn’t get out of bed this morning,” she confessed, rubbing circles into the swell of her belly.

Oin made a sympathetic sound, moving to sit closer. He reached out to feel her temperature with the back of his hand, his brow creased in concern. “You’re still a healthy colour, and you don’t feel feverish… I think the babies are just taking a lot from you. They’re overdue, and your body is suffering for it. I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do about that. Are you still drinking and eating plenty?”

“I think so,” she sighed, glancing to the left-over food on the table. She’d had two sandwiches, and a muffin – it was a pretty reasonable sized lunch. She wasn’t missing meals, either, so it wasn’t a lack of food causing her lethargy.

“Has… Has Elrond checked the babies lately?” he asked almost begrudgingly, swallowing noticeably.

Billa nodded, glancing down when one of her faunts moved beneath her hand. “A few days ago. He said they’re still healthy, they’re just… Staying put. I just… Wish they’d come out already. I’m tired, and I’m weak, and more than that… I really want to meet them. I want to be able to hold them, and see their little faces. It’s so… Frustrating.”

“I’m sure it won’t be long now, lass.”

-

It wasn’t.

Thorin and Balin were in one of the council rooms the next morning, getting ready for a meeting with the king of the Woodland Realm, when Dwalin barged in uninvited.

Usually the head of the royal guard knocked before he entered, especially when he knew Thorin would be busy, so his urgency alarmed the eldest Durin.

The king rose to his feet immediately, his heart pounding in his chest. He glanced between Balin and his younger brother, his hands growing damp with sweat. There were few things that would require such urgency – and even fewer that Dwalin would come for himself.

“Dwalin, what’s the matter?” he pressed, clenching and unclenching his hands anxiously.

The balding warrior braced one hand on the wall, taking a moment to catch his breath. “It’s happening…” he told the king, flashing a tight smile – his own brow creased with worry.

Thorin felt his stomach knot and he blinked hard, straightening up. “Billa?” he checked, to be sure that he hadn’t misunderstood. They had been waiting so long already, and he didn’t want to get his hopes up unnecessarily.

“Aye, the babies are coming,” the royal guard confirmed, still breathing hard.

“Who’s with her?” Thorin asked, turning to grab his cloak from the stand by the door and shrugging it on.

“Gandalf was with her when it started. He sent for Oin, Elrond, and you. I bumped into a guard on his way here, so I said I’d deliver the message. I don’t know if anyone else knows,” he said, hauling the door open once more as Thorin approached.

The king paused at the threshold, looking back at Balin – a question on his lips. There was no way that he wouldn’t go to Billa, but he had responsibilities. He shouldn’t just run off.

Balin smiled, flapping a hand at the eldest Durin. “Go, Thorin, it’s fine,” he insisted, no doubt guessing what was on his mind. “Thranduil has a child, he’ll understand. And if he doesn’t, that’s his problem. Either way, I’ll deal with it. Once I’ve rearranged the rest of your meetings I’ll join you in the royal wing.”

“Thank you, menu ziramu gamildul,” Thorin breathed, dipping his head low in respect.

“You flatter me, Thorin. Give Billa my best – I will be with you as soon as I can,” the white-haired dwarf affirmed, smiling kindly.

Thorin followed Dwalin out of the room, picking up his pace as they headed towards the royal wing. “Could you find Billa’s brothers for me, and then my sister? They should be the first to know,” he implored his friend, his pulse roaring in his ears.

This was it.

Billa was in labour. The babies were coming, and he was finally going to meet them – but it might not go smoothly. Childbirth was stressful, and painful, and Thorin had to be there for her. He was a little annoyed that he hadn’t been there from the start, but there was no point in beating himself up. He couldn’t change the past.

At least she hadn’t been alone.

“Of course, thanu men. Good luck,” Dwalin accepted without argument, reaching out to pat the dark-haired dwarf strongly on the shoulder. He disappeared down an adjoining corridor at the next turn, heading in the general direction of the regular living quarters.

Thorin walked the rest of the way to the royal wing alone, his hand clenched at his sides.

Everything would be okay, wouldn’t it? Billa was strong.

Sure, she had been feeling a little weak lately, but that didn’t mean things wouldn’t go to plan.

Did it?

Chapter Text

When Thorin reached the royal wing, he found Gandalf sat on the floor in the hall, quietly packing his pipe for a smoke.

“Thorin,” he greeted without raising his head, somehow knowing that it was the king who had arrived, or perhaps just guessing.

The eldest Durin frowned softly, pausing beside the wizard. “Is everything alright?” he checked, eyes flickering to the door – beyond which his beloved was in labour. The royal wing felt oppressively silent in spite of this, and it made him anxious.

Gandalf raised his eyes to the royal dwarf and smiled, still pressing tobacco into the bowl of his pipe. “I should think so. Billa wanted privacy, naturally, so I gave her my best and came to wait out here. The last thing she needs is an audience.”

Thorin made an acknowledging noise, shifting from foot to foot and looking to the door once more. “Right, of course, well…”

“Good luck, Thorin,” the Istar interrupted, smiling kindly.

The dark-haired dwarf managed a tense smile back, saying nothing more as he turned and entered the Queen’s suite. The first thing he saw upon entering the room was a table of medical supplies, set up at the foot of their bed. Oin was stood over the table, sorting through various jars, bottles and bandages.

Thorin closed the door behind him, drawing the older dwarf’s attention and earning himself a small smile from the physician – though his brow was wrinkled in concern.

“Thorin?” a small voice peeped from the bed, breathy and pitched high with pain.

Oin turned back towards the bed, bobbing his head in a nod. “Aye, lass, he’s here.”

“Billa,” Thorin answered, striding to the bed with no further encouragement. The pregnant hobbit was propped into a half-seated position with a mountain of pillows, and all of the best sheets and furs had been removed from the bed. A blanket had been spread over her bump and spread legs for the sake of modesty, and her outer clothes had been removed – leaving her dressed in only a thin undershirt.

The king sat heavily on the mattress beside her, taking one hand without prompting. “My heart,” he breathed, offering her a worried smile. “How are you?” he queried, reaching out with his free hand to push her sweat-dampened hair from her face.

She looked red and flushed, moisture beading on her forehead – but she managed a dry laugh at his question. “Fantastic,” she quipped, smiling sardonically.

He would have been insulted, but he knew well enough how painful and stressful childbirth could be. He had seen it in both his mother and his sister.

Instead he raised her hand to his mouth, kissing the back of it dotingly. “I’m sorry, azyungel, if I could make it painless I would,” he assured her, his tone soft and full of understanding. Dís had been quite acrid during both of her labours, he knew it wasn’t personal.

Billa’s expression softened minutely, and she managed a more genuine smile at that – though her expression was still pained. “I know,” she sighed, letting her head loll back onto the pillow behind her.

“How’s it going?” he directed at Oin, his eyes remaining on Billa all the while.

He heard Oin exhale quietly, and he sounded tired when he replied. “Slow. The contractions are fairly frequent, and they obviously hurt, but she’s barely dilated. It’s going to be a while yet. Lord Elrond has gone to see if he has anything for the pain in his room, because nothing of mine seems to be helping. The only medication I have that’s stronger than what I’ve given her would knock her out, and we need her awake.”

“Regrettably,” Billa added tersely, letting out a startled pant and tensing. She clenched one hand in the bedsheets, using the other to squeeze Thorin’s as she let out a thin sound of pain.

Thorin squeezed her hand gently in return, hoping to offer some kind of support. There was very little he could do, other than be there, and it made his heart ache. He didn’t want to see her suffer.

The front door opened and closed, and Thorin turned to see Elrond returning with a fine wooden case in hand. He had tied his hair back into a tight ponytail to keep it from his face, and his sleeves were rolled up past his elbows. He nodded to the king in greeting, placing the case on the table with Oin’s supplies.

“Anything?” Billa pressed, talking through gritted teeth.

The elf fished out a small green jar, patterned with leaves and elven script. “This is probably the strongest thing I have that will keep you conscious. It’s best taken brewed like tea, so I’m going to boil some water,” he shared, heading towards the kitchen with the container.

“Is there anything I can do?” Thorin called after him, hoping there was some way he could help.

“If you wet a rag with cold water and put it on her forehead, it might help cool her down,” Elrond shouted back, followed by the sound of running water in the other room.

“A drink might be nice, too,” Billa requested, turning her big brown eyes on the king.

Thorin nodded dutifully, giving her hand one final kiss before rising to his feet.

“Something plain like milk or water, please, Thorin. And only in small amounts,” Oin insisted, chuckling quietly when the hobbit groaned in response.

The eldest Durin returned to the bed only a couple of minutes later, carrying a small cup of milk and a bowl of cold water. He handed Billa the cup before reaching into the bowl for the clean rag inside, draining it and wiping it slowly across her brow.

The brunette let out a soft breath at the feeling, sipping at her milk and closing her eyes for a moment. She already looked so drained, and according to Oin they still had quite a way to go.

It was concerning, to say the least – and it only got more concerning as more time passed.

Hours went by, and they made very little progress. The contractions continued, and though the herbal tea seemed to numb Billa a little, they were still obviously uncomfortable.

“Shouldn’t something have happened by now…?” Thorin wondered, bringing a plate of plain oat biscuits to the bed – with Elrond’s and Oin’s approval, of course.

It had been a long time since Dís had last given birth, and even longer since his mother had, but he remembered both progressing quicker than this.

Elrond had only just checked Billa, and he sighed from where he sat on a chair beside the bed. “In an ideal world? Yes, but this isn’t the longest labour I have ever encountered.”

“You’ve been too good to them, Billa, they’re comfortable. They don’t want to leave,” Oin joked idly, making notes in his journal.

Billa laughed mirthlessly in response, though her mouth did quirk up at the corners. She accepted a biscuit from Thorin, breaking it in half between her fingers. “Curse my need to be a good hostess,” she remarked, raising the biscuit to her mouth but just resting it on her bottom lip. Her eyes fluttered shut and she sighed for what felt like the hundredth time, looking exhausted.

“And there’s nothing we can do?” Thorin tried to confirm, taking Billa’s free hand and lacing their fingers together.

“It’s not like we can smoke them out,” the dwarven physician murmured, putting his journal down and scratching at the back of his head. “This would be much easier if we could... Perhaps we should look into that,” he tried to joke, a dour smile curling the edges of his mouth.

“At this stage, we can only hope things progress naturally. There’s still a high chance that she’ll birth the babies normally, and it’s just taking a while. But if she doesn’t start dilating more… Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we reach it,” Elrond suggested, casting a worried look towards Oin.

The half-deaf dwarf frowned in response, averting his eyes back to their supply table – piled high with towels, medicines, medical instruments and other such things.

The item that caused Thorin the most concern was the scalpel visible amongst Elrond’s belongings.

Lunch and dinner must have passed in the time they had been in the Queen’s suite, waiting on the babies to arrive, but Thorin felt far from hungry. If anything, he had only been drinking because Oin had encouraged him to – he hadn’t eaten a thing since breakfast.

His own well-being was the last thing on his mind.

Billa had gone from flushed and stressed to quiet and weak, her face pale and her eyelids heavy. She was losing her strength, and it was making Thorin lose hope. Something had to be wrong.

After checking again, and finding that she still wasn’t ready to deliver the babies, Elrond was beginning to look very concerned for Billa. He sat down on the bed beside her, reaching out to touch her still-sweaty forehead with the back of his hand.

“How’re you feeling?” he probed, his tone gentle.

Billa turned her head and blinked slowly at him, raising a shaky hand to push her hair behind her ear. “Tired… I’m so tired. Why aren’t they here yet…?”

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly, dropping his hands into his lap. “Do you mind if I use magic to check on them?”

“No, please… Go ahead,” she encouraged, wetting her lips with her tongue.

Elrond dipped his head in thanks, reaching out to place his hands on either side of her stomach. He closed his eyes, his expression focussed and his brow creased with concentration. Billa let her eyes fall closed again, her hand chilled and slack in Thorin’s.

Thorin watched her closely, his heart in his mouth. His mother had suffered terribly through his sister’s birth, and even she hadn’t seemed this… Flat. Was it just because Billa was a hobbit, or was something wrong?

Something had to be wrong.

“We need to get them out,” Elrond said after a long moment, opening his eyes. Billa’s own eyes snapped open in response, and she stared up at him with obvious fear and confusion. “The longer they are in there, in this condition, the more at risk they are. Labour is stressful for them too, and their heartbeats are a little slow. I’m concerned that they aren’t getting enough oxygen anymore,” he elaborated, removing his hands and rising to his feet. “It feels as though two of the placentas have detached partially, and that’s not ideal. It means they aren’t getting enough oxygenated blood from you anymore.”

“Do something – anything,” Billa urged him, and Thorin shared the sentiment – though he was still worried about how she was coping. He could tell she was trying to be strong, but her pinched expression and drooping eyelids told him how pained and tired she was. Not to mention she was so cold to touch.

Elrond glanced to Oin and sighed, looking back at Billa with grim resolve. “I can cut them out,” he offered, and Thorin thought he felt his heart stop for a moment.

What?” he practically growled, pulse spiking with panic.

“It might be our only option – she’s only dilated about five centimetres, and it’s been almost eleven hours. She’s nowhere near ready, and she and the babies are suffering,” the elven healer explained, staying seated beside them. “If she can’t deliver them herself, we have to do something.”

Thorin looked over at Oin, wanting a second opinion – and not liking what he saw in the other dwarf’s expression.

Billa’s eyes moved from Elrond, to Thorin, to Oin and back. She swallowed noticeably, then her expression hardened. “Do it,” she ordered, her voice unwavering.

“Billa-” Thorin began, only for her to shake her head at him.

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this, Thorin. It hurts, and nothing is happening. I want it to be over,” she confessed, reaching up to touch his cheek.

Elrond rose to his feet and walked to the table, beginning to gather supplies.

“I know, amrâlimê, but it’s dangerous,” Thorin tried to argue, settling his hand over hers.

She smiled faintly at him, shrugging slightly. “And this isn’t…? They could die in there.”

He was about to protest further, to beg her to reconsider, when he overheard Oin and Elrond talking in hushed tones.

“Lord Elrond… I am not okay with this. I have never… I have never successfully carried out this operation. I have always lost either the mother or the baby, and once I even lost both. I am not comfortable doing this – I do not want to be the reason Billa or her babies die,” the royal physician muttered, voice low and unsure.

Elrond made an acknowledging noise, tightening his ponytail and picking up a glass vial of clear liquid. “I understand your concern, truly I do, but twins and triplets are much more common amongst Elves and Hobbits. I have delivered young this way before, many times, without losing the mother or the baby.”

“And how many times have you lost someone in this kind of operation?”

“Oin, this is our only option. The risk is greater if we do nothing – the babies are already struggling; their heart beats are awfully slow. We need to get them out of there. If we do not go ahead with this operation, we are at risk of losing all four of them anyway. Would you rather take that chance?”

“You did not answer my question.”

“Do you need a number? I have saved many more than I have lost, and that is all that matters. If we don’t begin this operation soon, we will not have enough time. We need to stop arguing and get on with it – believe me, friend, I will do this with or without you. I would prefer your help, however. I can take care of Billa whilst you take care of the babies. I will remove them, and you can take them away to clean them up and check on their vitals. That way I can focus on getting the operation over with as quickly as possible, to minimise the risk.”

“Alright, alright. If it is the only way.”

“It is. We cannot sit here and watch whilst Billa grows weaker and weaker, unable to deliver the babies herself. We have to intervene.”

“You’re right… Mahal, I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this.”

“As did I, but these things happen,” Elrond agonised, opening the vial and pouring a small amount of liquid into one hand. He handed the vial to Oin before beginning to rub his hands together and turning towards the bed. “Thorin, could you please leave the room…? Oin and I need as few distractions as possible,” he requested, beginning to spread the liquid up his forearms.

“No,” Thorin rebuked, shifting closer to Billa and shooting the elf a frankly poisonous glare. As if there was any way he was going to leave his intended’s side, knowing how risky this procedure was. He didn’t want them to do it, but he definitely wasn’t going to leave whilst they did. He would rather be there, in case anything happened.

“…no? Thorin, this operation is going to be incredibly difficult, and it would be best if you weren’t present. I will not have anything distracting me, or Oin, or Billa. I am sorry, but there is nothing you can do to help in here,” Elrond hummed, looking genuinely shocked by the king’s attitude.

As though he was being unreasonable.

No, I won’t leave Billa… How can you expect me to stand outside, waiting to hear whether or not you have been successful? I want to be here. I want to hold her hand and help her through this,” the royal dwarf persisted, wrapping an arm around Billa’s shoulders in support.

“I don’t think you understand how unpleasant this procedure will be, Thorin. You cannot just watch, and if you do anything to get in my way you will be putting Billa and the babies at greater risk,” the healer argued, beginning to look a little annoyed – which was new, considering how calm and composed he usually was.

Thorin knew he was stressed, just like the rest of them, but that wouldn’t make him back down. He had promised Billa he would be with her through every step of her pregnancy – and that included the birth.

“Thorin, please… I’ll be fine. If Elrond thinks you should leave, you should… He knows what he’s doing. I can manage, I promise,” the hobbit interjected from his side, her voice strong but her expression anxious.

He leaned in to kiss her gently, hoping to offer her some form of comfort. “You shouldn’t have to face this alone, my heart. You don’t have to be so brave all of the time. I want to be here,” he avowed, leaning their foreheads together lovingly.

“I don’t have time to argue,” Elrond stated bluntly, drawing Thorin’s attention as he walked to the door and pulled it open. “May someone remove Thorin for me? He is interfering.”

The king blinked in shock, genuinely surprised. He knew the situation was serious, but did it really warrant banishing him from his own room?

Even more surprising than Elrond’s order was the fact that someone obeyed – Thorin hadn’t thought that anyone would – loyal as they were to him. But there was Dwalin, striding into the room and looking apologetic.

There was no use in resisting. Dwalin was stronger than him.

Thorin flinched as he heard someone bolt the door shut behind him, stepping away when Dwalin let go of him. “Thank you for that, Dwalin,” he snapped bitterly, turning to lean his back against the door. He could try break it down, force his way back in, but what good would it do? The last thing he wanted was to upset Billa, given her fragile condition.

Dwalin shrugged awkwardly, having the good grace to look ashamed of himself.

The king glanced around, shocked to find every member of the company waiting in the hall – and his sister too. “How long have you all been here?” he asked, taking note of the empty bottles and crumpled brown paper – evidence that they had eaten whilst they had been waiting.

And no one had given them any news, or even known that they were there.

“Since you sent for us,” Nori answered easily, sat on the floor directly opposite the door and beside Gandalf.

“Word spreads quickly in the mountain. I think everyone knows Billa is in labour by now,” Bombur told him, an almost-empty basket situated at his side. He had obviously been the one to provide food for them all, as there were still a couple of packages and bottles left. “Have you eaten?”

“No,” Thorin sighed, sliding down the door to take a seat in front of his spymaster.

Bombur rose to his feet and walked over to hand the king a paper-wrapped sandwich, and the royal dwarf nodded in thanks – but couldn’t bring himself to open it.

Especially when a shrill cry of pain sounded from the room behind him.

All of the dwarves looked to the door at that, and Thorin caught sight of Ori placing a comforting hand on Dori’s arm further down the hall.

Dís stood and moved to Thorin, taking a seat at his side and pressing their shoulders together affectionately. “Hey… How is she?”

Thorin felt his bottom lip wobble, and he shook his head rather than answering verbally – not trusting his voice to be steady. He needed to be strong, but how could he? He put the sandwich down so that he could press his face into his hands, exhaling raggedly.

What was he supposed to do? She could die, and there was nothing he could do to change that. He had never felt so helpless in all his life.

His sister wrapped an arm around his middle, giving him a reassuring squeeze. “It’s scary, I know it is, but… Labour hurts. That’s normal. Screaming doesn’t mean anything bad,” she tried to reassure him, her voice soft and soothing.

“The babies wouldn’t come out normally… They have to operate,” he whispered raggedly, and he knew from Dís’ sharp inhale that she heard him. “Dís... If she doesn't make it-” he rasped, too quiet for the others to hear.

“Then someone will need to raise the children,” Dís exposed, her expression stern when he raised his head to look at her. She kept her voice low to match his, eyes flickering to those closest to them – to ensure that they weren’t eavesdropping, no doubt.

“Are you saying you would not?” he beseeched, already imagining the worst-case scenario. He didn’t know if he could live without his One – he didn’t know if he wanted to.

Of course I would, Thorin, but you know as well as I do that Billa would rather it was you. They can't lose both of their parents, not before they know either of you. That would be too tragic. I never knew our mother, and though that in itself was tragic, I turned out fine. I still had our father, and I still had you,” she imparted, resting her head on his shoulder. “You were there for me, and my boys, and you can be there for them too.”

“...you're right. And I... I want to meet them,” Thorin confessed, though it did little to soothe him.

He could still remember their mother’s death, as clearly as though it had only just happened. Lís’ labour had been long and hard, and she had lost a lot of blood. To start out, they had thought she would be okay. But days passed, and she got sick, and by the time they realised what was wrong it was too late. Some kind of infection had gotten into her blood, and she died less than a week after giving birth. Thorin had been there when she passed.

She had called her sons to her room to say goodbye, knowing her fate, but Frerin got upset and ran off. Thorin had stayed whilst their father chased after him, and heard his mother’s parting words to him. Take good care of your brother and sister for me, madtithbirzul.

What if Billa died in the other room, and he didn’t even get to say goodbye? It would kill him. And worse still…

“...but what if the babies don't make it either?” he uttered, his heart heavy with despair at the thought. When his mother had died, his father had still had him, Frerin and Dís. He had carried on, because he’d had reason to.

What reason would Thorin have?

Billa screamed again in the other room, making him feel even more miserable and desperate.

Dís glanced at the door behind them, eyes sad and full of understanding. “...we must hold onto hope, nadad. Billa is strong, and she won't give up without a fight. And the babies? With a mother as strong as Billa, and a father as stubborn as you, they're not going to give up easy either. Mahal would not be that cruel.”

Thorin smiled grimly at that, knocking their heads together gently. “...thank you, namad,” he said quietly, appreciative of her efforts to console him. She was right, after all. All they could do was hope – it wasn’t over yet.

“You're welcome. Now, keep your chin up. Billa is in the best hands Middle-Earth has to offer – the odds are in our favour,” she pointed out, looking around at the rest of the company and pausing when her gaze fell upon her children. Fili and Kili both looked pale and frightened, huddled together for support, so she smiled at them in the hopes of making them feel better.

Neither of them had any previous experience with childbirth, so it only made sense for them to be spooked.

Thorin followed her line of sight and felt a spike of fondness towards his nephews, looking so concerned for his One’s wellbeing. He couldn’t wait for them to meet his children, even if he knew that they were going to be terrible influences.

A short while later, as if summoned by that thought, Elrond unlocked and opened the door from behind him. He turned to look at the elf, stomach turning at the sight of blood on his arms and tunic, but reassured slightly by the elf’s warm expression. If there had been anything in Thorin’s stomach, he might have thrown up out of sheer nervousness.

“You can come in,” Elrond invited, stepping aside to let the king past him. “Just you,” he added when Dís rose to her feet with the dark-haired dwarf, and the princess held her hand up in an acknowledging gesture – strong-arming her brother into a hug.

“Good luck,” she crowed in his ear, before releasing him and heading off down the hall to sit with her sons once more.

Thorin rushed back into the room, heading straight for the bed and blanching a little at the sight of Billa – bloodied and drowsing on the bed, but somehow still conscious. The sheets around her seemed more red than white, and she was pale, but the stitches visible across her abdomen were straight and neat.

“Billa,” he spluttered, taking her hand when she reached out for him.

“Hey, you,” she rasped, smiling so sweetly up at him that it made his heart clench.

“How are you? Where are the babies?” he questioned urgently, noting that the bassinet beside the bed was empty and undisturbed.

“I’m fine… Just feel a little… Lightheaded,” the hobbit assured him, blinking sluggishly. “Oin has the babies, he’s just cleaning them up… They were a little bloody, but… They’re so beautiful, Thorin.”

Thorin managed a wide and warm smile at that, his eyes crinkling fondly at his intended. “Of course they are… You are their mother, after all,” he accepted, leaning down to kiss her forehead.

“I hate to interrupt, but can you move her off of the bed so I can change the sheets?” Elrond requested, placing a large bowl of warm water, some bandages and a fresh flannel on the bedside table. There was a chair already waiting nearby. “Can you also give her a bit of a wipe down, cover her stitches and change her into some loose sleep-clothes? She’s strong, and she handled the operation well, now we just need to make her comfortable and let her rest.”

Thorin slipped his arms under his future-wife, lifting her carefully and moving her into the chair. He did as he was asked, carefully washing and tending to Billa as Elrond busied himself clearing and remaking the bed – returning some of the nicer sheets and blankets.

“Thank you. Get her back into the bed when you’re ready, and I’ll see how Oin is doing with the little ones,” the healer hummed, offering the two a kind smile before heading towards the bathroom. He paused at the door, turning to look at them again. “And Thorin… I wanted to apologise for kicking you out, but it really was necessary. The operation was successful, but it would have upset you. I’ve seen it happen before.”

“It’s alright, I understand,” Thorin placated, re-arranging the pillows before moving Billa back onto the bed and pulling the covers up over her when she was settled.

The hobbit made a barely audible noise, raising a hand to push her hair from her face. “…I feel gross,” she admitted, making Thorin laugh.

“You look perfect, my heart.”

“Liar,” she accused, smiling fondly.

Thorin was about to protest, tell her she was still the most wonderful thing he had ever seen, but a small wail distracted him. He turned abruptly, breath catching in his throat when he saw Elrond walking in with two blanket-wrapped bundles in his arms. A small hand caught hold of his, pulling on it gently and prompting him to sit beside his One on the bed.

Oin followed Elrond with the third baby, his expression tired but full of warmth. One of the babies was grizzling, but Thorin couldn’t tell which from where he was sat.

“Here we are… Clean, warm and wanting their mother,” the elf introduced, bending down over the bed and smiling when Billa opened her arms expectantly. He set two small babies down in her lap, making sure she had her arms around them securely before withdrawing. “These two are baby girls.”

Billa ghosted a thumb over one plump little cheek, her lashes wet with tears. “See…? I told you they were beautiful,” she whispered proudly to Thorin, leaning stiffly to kiss their other daughter’s forehead. Both little girls had soft, round faces, but their colouring differed greatly. One had thick dark hair that was plastered to her head – from being cleaned, no doubt – and the other had lighter downy hair, feathery and barely there. “Where’s my tiny one?” she asked, peering around Elrond to look for their other baby.

“These aren’t tiny?” Thorin scoffed a little, surprised by how small they were. A dwarf baby their size would have to be premature, and even then, they would be much broader. These babies were so slight and… Delicate looking.

“They’re actually a very healthy size for hobbits. The boy is a little on the small side, but it’s nothing to worry about. It’s quite common for one triplet to be smaller than the others,” Elrond reassured the king, gesturing to Oin as he made his way around the other side of the bed to Thorin.

“He’s a boy?” Billa purred, face brightening at the news. She looked to Thorin, immeasurably pleased. “We got daughters and a son!”

Thorin beamed back at her, pressing a kiss to the side of her head before looking to Oin. The elderly dwarf smiled brightly at him, holding out a tiny, squalling baby. He was so small, Thorin was certain he could hold him in one hand with ease. It was strange.

He stared at the miniscule baby, wide eyed and worried – until Billa nudged him pointedly, bringing him to his senses. “Take him,” she pushed, though her expression was understanding. She obviously knew what had him so spooked. “You won’t hurt him.”

The dark-haired dwarf took the baby cautiously, cradling him carefully between his hands. The little boy fussed audibly, wiggling in his grip. “Nobody informed me that... That they would be so small,” he muttered, being as gentle as possible.

He cast his eyes over the three of them, simultaneously proud and afraid. Unlike his sisters, the boy didn’t seem to have any hair yet, and his little face was screwed up unhappily. He fidgeted a little in his father’s grip, squinting up at him with soft grey eyes and raising a clenched fist to rub clumsily at his own reddened cheek.

“We couldn't have known, my heart... Lord Elrond is right that they are quite a healthy size for new-born faunts, but we were never sure how dwarven they might be...” Billa comforted him, gently swaying the two girls between her arms. One of them yawned widely, whilst the other gummed idly at her hand – eyelids drooping.

“It's a very good thing that they are as small as they are. There could have been problems, had they been bigger,” Elrond insisted, taking a seat in the chair beside the bed. He had washed his hands and arms whilst he was in the bathroom, looking immaculate once more – except for the slight smattering of blood on his clothes.

“Surely being bigger would be a good thing...? They're so... Small and... And soft,” Thorin reasoned, raising the boy to his chest and pressing him in lightly with a hand splayed across his back. He knew how to hold babies, he’d helped raise his nephews, he was just so worried about causing his son harm. Dwarven babies were so much sturdier.

“Billa lost a lot of blood delivering these three as they are, Thorin. If they had been any bigger, she might not have made it.”

“...you mean...? She might have died?” the king whispered, appalled.

“Billa is very strong, and she did very well, but she is much too slight to support the average dwarfling. She could have lost them before the end of the pregnancy - or yes, she could have died. The operation would have taken longer, had any of them been bigger, and it might not have gone quite so well. But Billa and your babes are all in good health, and that is something to celebrate,” Elrond shared, patting Billa's knee soothingly.

The hobbit looked far from offended at their healer’s observation, nodding in agreement – but keeping her eyes on the children in her lap.

“That is very true... My beautiful intended has given me not one, but three stunning children. I will have to thank Mahal every single night for the rest of my life, for blessing me with this gift,” Thorin sighed, smiling widely when their boy stopped whimpering – settling and snuffling softly in his father’s ear.

Oin smiled at the exchange, watching quietly from next to the bed. “Have you thought about what you might call them?” he asked, pulling out his journal once more.

Billa turned to smile at the elderly dwarf, shaking her head. “We wanted to meet them before we decided on any names…”

“And now that you have met them?” Elrond prompted, reaching out to smooth a stray tuft of hair on one of the girls.

Well, I think this handsome little boy is definitely a Frerin,” Billa suggested tentatively, reaching out to touch their little boy’s cheek with her knuckles but staring up at Thorin – waiting for his approval.

“You do…?” The Durin murmured, misty-eyed and emotional. It sounded perfect to him, and it was the perfect way to remember his brother. Names were important to dwarves, and Frerin himself would have loved it.

She smiled warmly, moving her hand from their son to her lover – touching his engagement bead affectionately. “Mm, and this little one, with her father’s hair… She could be Rís. Like her aunt and her grandmother… And her three uncles. A family name,” Billa insisted, using her free hand to run her thumb over the dark-haired girl’s mouth. Both babies were nestled securely on their mother’s lap, and they were already dozing.

“Both… Perfect names, my heart,” Thorin asserted, his heart swelling with pride. She must have put thought into it beforehand – but she was right, the names fit.

“I’m glad you agree… Though I have to be honest, all of the times I did think about possible names… I never thought of a name that might suit our final daughter. Most of the names that I considered were quite… Dwarven, but…” she faltered, eyes drifting to their final baby with the downy brown hair.

“But she looks like you,” he finished for her, eyes crinkling dotingly at the corners.

Billa blinked at him, glancing down at their daughter once more before smiling. “I suppose she does… Except for those pale eyes, those are yours, my dear. No one in my family ever had such brilliant blue eyes.”

“I think I know what we should call her,” Thorin decided, grinning crookedly.

“You do…?”

“I think she looks like a Belladonna. Perhaps Donna for short?”

Billa laughed softly, smiling and raising a hand to wipe at her eyes. “…I think my mother would have liked that a great deal…” she sniffed, looking pleased. “I love it.”

Thorin leaned over to kiss his intended briefly on the mouth, careful not to jostle Frerin as he did.

“Frerin, Rís and Belladonna… All fine names. Shall I write those down, for our records?” Oin checked, still smiling widely and tapping his pencil on the outside cover of his journal.

“Please,” Thorin hummed, smiling when Billa nodded towards Frerin – silently requesting to hold him. “Shall we swap?” he offered, chuckling when she nodded eagerly. She still looked exhausted, and she needed rest, but he didn’t blame her for wanting to spend time with their babies. They’d waited so long to meet them. He very gently set Frerin down on the bed, taking Belladonna carefully with one arm and making sure she was secure before taking Rís with the other.

Once Billa was sure both girls were safe and comfortable she scooped up Frerin, cradling him to her chest. She kissed the top of his head softly, making a happy noise when he crooned at her.

They sat like that for a while, both parents quiet and content, until Thorin realised that everyone was still waiting out in the hall.

And no one had told them if Billa or the babies were okay.

Oin and Elrond were both busy packing away their medical equipment and cleaning up what remained of the mess, so Thorin moved to gently place his daughters down in their bassinet – tucking them up securely the way he used to with his nephews when they were small.

Billa looked confused, soft and sleepy looking with their boy resting in her arms. The king kissed her forehead lovingly, smiling down at her. “If you would excuse me for a moment, my heart, I should go and tell the others that you and the babies are healthy.”

“Let them see for themselves, sweetheart... They've been waiting all this time, the least we can do is let them see our fauntlings for themselves,” Billa lilted, rubbing a hand up and down Frerin’s back through the baggy sleep-suit he was wearing.

“But you need rest...” he reminded her, cupping her cheek in his palm.

The hobbit openly rolled her eyes at him, her expression exasperated but fond. “I will be fine, Thorin. I can rest in an hour or so... You know these babies will be as much their family as they are ours. Quite literally, with several members of the company. I’d like to see you try and tell your sister that she cannot meet her nieces or her nephew,” she pointed out, turning her head to kiss his palm, since she didn’t have a hand free.

Thorin turned towards Elrond and Oin, hoping that one of them might back him up, but they only looked amused.

“Don’t argue with the lass, you won’t win,” Oin clucked, grinning.

Elrond only shrugged when Thorin looked to him next, smiling wryly. “It won’t do her any harm,” he agreed, tucking his case under his arm and glancing down at his blood soiled clothes. “I need to change, but I would like to return to monitor the babies and Billa overnight. Is that alright?”

“Aye, I’ll stay until you return. Then I think I need to go get some food, and sleep for a day or two!” the half-deaf dwarf laughed, tucking his journal away in his own bag.

“You’re welcome to stay through the night Elrond – just make sure you eat something, you’ve been here all day,” Billa suggested.

“I will. Would you like me to talk to the others in the hall, as I am going that way?”

“No, I’ll do it, since I’m clearly outnumbered…” Thorin grumbled, though he couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.

Billa was alive and well, and he’d finally met his three wonderful children. It was a great day, and nothing could change that.

He headed out into the hall with Elrond, so that the healer wouldn’t be bombarded with questions, and closed the door behind him.

Finally, what’s going on?” Dwalin asked from where he was sat beside Nori, sounding a little cautious – likely worried that Thorin was still mad with him.

Thorin offered him a small smile, in the hopes of soothing him a little, before turning to face the whole group. “Both Billa and our children are healthy, and Billa has said that you may come in to meet them, but I would like to request that you be quiet and that you visit only in twos or threes. They have been through quite the ordeal, and the four of them need their rest,” he told them firmly, glancing from face to face.

He was met with several eager nods and relieved expressions.

“But who gets to go first?” Bofur pressed from further down the hall, his hat tucked into his lap and his hair a mess.

Thorin didn’t even need to think about it. “Dori, Ori and Nori,” he said without missing a beat, glancing towards his sister and hoping she would understand.

She nodded minutely, smiling her approval and rolling her eyes when her sons groaned beside her – obviously disappointed.

But the Ri brothers would be desperate to see that their sister was okay, and Thorin knew exactly how that felt. He had been in their shoes, figuratively speaking of course, less than an hour before. And now, not only could they see that Billa was happy and whole, they could meet their nieces and nephew too.

They were going to be thrilled.

Chapter Text

The three brothers rushed to the door without needing to be told twice, their expressions a mixture of concern and excitement. Thorin beamed at them, opening the door once more and leading the way inside.

Dori was the first to reach the bed, followed closely by Nori. Ori brought up the rear of the group, stopping to close the door behind him and patting Thorin’s shoulder as he passed.

The king expected a cacophony of noise and questions, but Dori seemed stunned into silence – eyes flickering between the two girls in the bassinet and the boy in Billa’s arms.

The hobbit smiled tenderly at her oldest brother, her eyes glistening with emotion. “Hey,” she breathed, one cheek resting on the top of Frerin’s head. “Do you want to hold one?” she asked, smiling wider when he nodded mutely.

Thorin padded over, stooping down to scoop Belladonna into his arms – and turning to offer her to Dori. The white-haired dwarf blinked at him, uncertain, before carefully taking the baby and cradling her to his chest. He touched a rosy cheek with the tip of his finger, looking completely overcome.

“…who’s this?” he wondered after a few moments of silence, moving to sit on the edge of the bed.

“That’s Belladonna,” Billa shared, watching her siblings with obvious pride. “And that’s Rís in the crib, with her father’s hair.”

“Rís?” Nori pressed, his face lighting up as he looked down at the little girl in the bed – blinking big dark eyes up at her observers. “Can I…?”

Thorin nodded, moving around the bed to sit at Billa’s free side and placing a hand on her knee through the blanket. He watched as Nori carefully picked up the other girl, holding her up to his face and smiling brightly at her.

Rís stared back at her uncle momentarily, before her attention seemed to wander and her eyes darted around her surroundings. She gurgled when Nori moved her into his chest, wrapping a little hand around one of the buttons on his tunic.

“Oh, you like shiny things? Just like your uncle,” the spymaster chuckled, flashing Billa and Thorin a pleased grin.

Ori stood awkwardly beside his brothers with both hands tucked into his pockets, smiling softly to himself.

“This is Frerin, Ori, would you like to hold him?” Billa offered, carefully drawing the baby from her chest and holding him out in her youngest brother’s direction.

The bookish dwarf took a small step back, looking nervous all of a sudden. “I… I’ve never held a baby before. And he’s… Small,” he admitted, glancing to his brothers.

They, of course, had held Ori as a child – but the librarian had no experience with infants.

Billa smiled warmly, shrugging one shoulder. “Come on, it’s easy. Come sit next to me, if it makes you feel better.”

Ori did as he was told, climbing onto the bed beside Billa – so close that their sides were touching. The hobbit pressed Frerin into Ori’s arms, using her hands to arrange his into the right positions and helping him hold the baby correctly before letting go. He was still a little tense, staring at the little boy in his grip, but his expression was fond and full of love.

“…I can’t believe I’m an uncle,” Ori muttered softly, turning his head to look at his sister.

Billa smiled wider, leaning into his side and resting her head on his shoulder. “I know… I can hardly believe I’m a mother now, but here I am. With three wonderful children,” she affirmed, eyes flickering to her two older siblings.

Nori had claimed the spot on the bed beside Dori and was gently rocking Rís in his arms. His eyes met Billa’s briefly and he grinned at her, all concern gone from his features.

Dori, meanwhile, was silent and his eyes were wet with tears. “They’re beautiful,” he choked after a moment, sniffing hard and averting his gaze. “There was no doubt in my mind that they would be,” he added, managing to turn to meet Billa’s eyes and smiling affectionately. “How… How are you? We heard the screaming.”

“Ah, well…” Billa huffed, raising a hand to scratch at the back of her head and grimacing a little. “…it hurt. The babies were struggling, and I was struggling, so Lord Elrond decided to cut them out. I took something to ease the pain, but we couldn’t wait long enough for it to kick in,” she confessed, looking embarrassed.

Like she had anything to be ashamed of.

Thorin chuffed softly in response, curling an arm around her middle and turning to kiss the side of her head. “You did wonderfully, my heart… A lesser lady might have passed out, given the circumstances.”

“Mahal… Are you alright?” Nori huffed, looking shocked. Thorin probably should have told them after he was sent out into the hall, but he had been emotional and confused. He hadn’t been thinking about the company.

Billa smiled warmly, bobbing her head. “Yes, I’m fine… It doesn’t even hurt anymore. I’m just… Tired,” she reassured him, taking Thorin’s free hand and intertwining their fingers.

“Shouldn’t you be resting, then?” Dori asked, shooting his sister a slightly reproving look – though his expression was still warm.

“I told her she should, but she was insistent that everyone should get to meet the babies first,” Thorin shared, looking amused. “She’s too stubborn to listen to reason.”

“Oh shush, you,” she scolded her partner, rolling her eyes but smiling all the while.

The white-haired dwarf watched the exchange closely, but looked away when Thorin caught him staring – his brow creasing.

“As worried as I was for you, sister, I have to admit that I’m glad you put off resting. I’m not sure any of us would have slept tonight if we hadn’t seen that you were okay,” Nori insisted, looking from her to the sleeping baby in his grip. “…and it’s a pleasure meeting your pebbles.”

“Faunts,” Thorin corrected gently, grinning when Billa huffed a laugh and leaned into his side.

“I did notice the ears,” Ori shared, making Dori blink and frown softly. The older dwarf craned his head to look closer at Belladonna in his arms, seeming to notice for the first time that her ears were slightly pointed.

Of the three babies, Frerin’s ears were the most obviously pointed – despite his stunted size – and Rís’ ears were the least pointed. If anything, hers seemed almost completely round in comparison, though that might change with time.

Billa reached over to run her thumb over one of Frerin’s ears, since he was the closest, and she shrugged slightly. “Pebbles, faunts… I don’t mind what anyone calls them. They could be either, since we’re not sure how dwarven they are yet,” she reasoned, smiling warmer when Frerin tried to grab at her thumb clumsily. “And some hobbits have ears that are barely pointed, whilst others have ears that are almost elven. It differs, even when you’re a full-blooded hobbit. We’ve just got to wait and see how they grow.”

The Ri brothers seemed to accept that easily, both returning their attention to their respective babies, but Thorin had heard the concern in his intended’s tone.

She was worried.

“Hobbit or dwarf, or mix of the two, these are going to be the most loved babies in Middle-Earth. Try not to worry, my heart,” he consoled her, speaking softly into the shell of her ear so that the others wouldn’t hear.

The brunette squeezed his hand gently in response, sighing to herself and nodding. “…I know. I’m just overthinking things, it’s been a long day.”

Thorin bobbed his head at that, kissing her cheek before rising to his feet. It had been a long day, and the sooner she could rest the better. “I hate to have to chase you out, but the rest of the company are waiting outside. You are welcome to visit again tomorrow, of course, just try not to come too early. Billa needs her sleep,” he hummed, smiling gratefully when Ori handed Frerin back to Billa without complaint.

Dori looked like he might protest for a moment, but instead dipped his head in acknowledgement and settled Belladonna back into the bassinet. He took the time to swaddle her securely in her blanket before rising to his feet and turning towards Billa. “Try not to over do it, alright?” he said, his voice low and kind. “You did great today.”

“Thank you, Dori… Please give my love to ‘Ma,” she requested, tilting her head upwards to meet his when he moved to press their foreheads together.

Nori placed Rís beside her sister, wrapping her in her blankets the same way Dori had before moving to Billa’s side. “We will. Take care of yourself,” he crooned, kissing her cheek dotingly once his brother had moved aside. He turned towards Thorin, grinning when the king blinked at him. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kiss you too,” he placated, expression full of mirth. “Congratulations, Thorin. Make sure she gets some rest.”

After Ori had hugged both parents and bid them farewell, the three left the room.

“Did Ori just… Hug you?” the hobbit checked, sounding surprised. She shifted over slowly so that she could carefully tuck Frerin between his siblings, before returning to her position in the middle of the bed. She tried to hide a wince as she leaned back into the pillows, but Thorin caught it and sighed.

“He did. I think I’m as shocked at you are,” the king chuckled, moving back to the bed for a moment and tucking Billa in. “Next time, please ask me to put Frerin in the crib. You shouldn’t move so much,” he added gently, raising an eyebrow when she huffed at him.

She glared for a second or two, but it didn’t take long for her expression to soften again. “…alright, alright. But only because I don’t want to strain my stitches.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back shortly,” he assured her, walking to the door and stepping out into the hall once more. “Dís, Fili and Kili,” he requested, rolling his eyes in amusement when his nephews shot to their feet – stumbling over the other members of the company to get to the door. “Calm down, they’re not going anywhere. And remember, you need to be quiet. They’re only little, they won’t like you shouting.”

Dís followed her sons with a smile on her face, reaching out to squeeze Thorin’s shoulder once she was close enough. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on them.”

Thorin smiled widely at her, dipping his head in thanks before turning and leading the way back into the queen’s suite. He’d only been gone a moment, but Billa already looked like she was falling asleep. He considered ushering his family back out and leaving her to rest, but she caught sight of them before he could do anything.

“Hello…” the hobbit sighed, giving her hair a self-conscious pat. Her brown curls were a complete mess, sticking up in frizzy tangles all around her head. “…Mahal, I must look awful. Sorry about that!”

Thorin opened his mouth, about to protest, but Dís beat him to it. “Ludicrous, you look a vision,” she comforted, sounding so sincere that Billa coloured noticeably – her cheeks bright pink.

“Quite right,” the king seconded, moving to stand at his intended’s side.

“How are you, flower?” Dís queried, voice full of concern as she followed her brother. The term of endearment took Thorin by surprise, but Billa looked pleased.

She beamed blindingly at the dwarven princess, face still red. “I’m fine-” she began, stretching her arms over her head and grimacing a little. “-just a little sore. I’m so… Happy that it’s over. Everyone is healthy, and whole…”

“Good. I don’t envy you, having an operation like that, it can’t have been pleasant,” Dís noted, shuddering at the thought. “I’m glad it went well, I was worried when Thorin told me what was happening. Thankfully, my brother was intelligent enough to send for Lord Elrond – you were in good hands. I knew if anyone could do it, that elf could. No offense, Oin,” she continued, turning to look at the elderly dwarf over her shoulder as she did.

The physician barked a laugh from where he had taken a seat on the sofa, heaving his shoulders in a tired shrug. “None taken. I’ve never had to operate on someone carrying multiple children before, I’m glad Elrond was here,” he admitted, completely magnanimous.

“It was a team effort,” Elrond said from the door, as if summoned by their discussion. “If Oin hadn’t been here to take care of the babies once I removed them, I couldn’t have operated on Billa quite so quickly.”

Oin looked surprised by the praise, but smiled gratefully as the elven healer moved over to sit in an armchair near-by. His hair was loose once more, and he had changed into a fresh pair of green robes.

“Then I am glad you were both here,” Dís conceded, looking to her sons and smiling warmly when she saw them huddled together on one side of the crib – peering down at their cousins.

Thorin followed her gaze to his nephews, eyes crinkling at the sight. They were being quiet, silent in fact, just like he had asked. Their eyes were wide and they both looked pleased. Fili stood with his hands in his pockets, whilst Kili had his braced on the side of the crib. Neither of them moved to touch the babies.

“Belladonna is awake, if you would like to say hello,” Billa offered, shooting Thorin an amused look as she did.

“Belladonna? Wasn’t that your mother’s name?” Dís realised, moving to stand with her sons. She leaned down to pick up the restless baby, rocking her gently and turning towards Fili and Kili so they could get a good look.

“It was. Thorin thought it was a nice fit, and I agree,” the hobbit shared, yawning weakly and flapping a hand when the king shot her a look.

He wished she would rest, but he knew that there was no point in saying anything. She was as stubborn as she was beautiful, and he wouldn’t have her any other way.

“A lovely name, for a lovely girl,” Dís insisted, eyes crinkling when she turned her head to look at her brother. “She looks just like you, Billa. Except for those eyes.”

Mmm, they’re definitely Thorin’s.”

“Are you sure? She’s much prettier than uncle,” Kili quipped, speaking for the first time since he had entered. Fili sniggered beside him, nudging him with his elbow.

Billa made a slightly annoyed noise on Thorin’s behalf, but the eldest Durin placed a hand on her cheek to placate her – shrugging easily. “With any luck, they’ll all look like their mother,” he hummed, laughing quietly when his intended scowled at him.

“You’ve got to be kidding! Frerin is going to be gorgeous, just like his father, I can tell,” she argued, mouth quirking up at the corner when Thorin tilted his head at her – his cheeks a little pink.

“Frerin?” Fili verified, glancing down into the crib. “Like uncle Frerin? Which one is he?”

“The boy,” Billa laughed, reaching up to rest her hand over Thorin’s on her cheek.

Fili stared at her stupidly, glanced down at the babies and then back up at her. Clueless.

“Mahal, Fili, he’s the one without hair. We have two girls, and one little boy. The other girl is Rís,” she elaborated, releasing Thorin’s hand and settling further into the pillows.

Dís looked from the baby in her arms to Frerin and Rís, her eyes almost unreadable. But Thorin knew her well enough to tell that she was emotional – though he couldn’t tell which name had caused the reaction. It was obvious, after all, that Rís was a reference to both her and their mother.

Wonderful names,” she said tightly, drawing her sons’ attention back to her.

“…mother?” Kili peeped uncertainly, looking concerned.

She laughed wetly, blinking back tears and turning her face away. “It’s fine. I just really like the names, that’s all.”

“I’m glad you think so. When I told Thorin I wanted to call one of the babies Frerin, I was worried he would find it too upsetting, or insensitive… But it suits him. Or I think so, anyway,” Billa sighed, glancing towards their son.

“I agree. And I think Frerin would have loved it,” Dís assured their hobbit, smiling kindly – even through her tears. “…and, I love Rís’ name, too. It’s a great honour.”

Billa smiled warmly up at the dwarven princess, shrugging slightly. “I wanted a name that would represent some of the most important people in our lives. You, as Thorin’s sister, and my brothers too… I just hope she grows up to be as feisty and strong as you are.”

Flatterer,” the female dwarf huffed, though she was still smiling widely.

Billa laughed lightly and shrugged again. “Maybe, but it’s still true.”

Kili made a quiet gagging noise to Fili, in an attempt to diffuse the situation no doubt, making their mother tsk and turn towards them. “How does it feel being the least mature people in a room that includes three new-borns?” she admonished gently, one eyebrow raised at her children.

“Mother! You wound us,” Fili responded cheerily, obviously not taking the remark to heart.

The hobbit rolled her eyes and looked to Thorin, her expression amused. He smiled back at her in response, used to his nephews and their juvenile sense of humour. He loved the two of them deeply, but he did hope his own children wouldn’t be as naughty as they had been in their younger days.

Who was he kidding? They were still naughty, and telling them off didn’t hold as much weight at their age. They thought they were adults.

He wouldn’t change either of them though, if he was being honest. He wouldn’t say as much to their faces, however.

“Not enough for you to grow up,” she quipped, but Thorin knew she felt exactly the same as he did. They were a unique pair of idiots, but they were their idiots. “Well, we should head out. I’m sure you two want to carry on with your introductions as quickly as possible, so you can get some rest. I’m surprised you let anyone in, Billa. I wouldn’t have. I’d have barred the door and gone straight to sleep. Birthing this lout was bad enough,” she remarked, gesturing to Kili as she did “and I only had to push out one of him.”

Billa let out another tinkling laugh, dipping her head in acknowledgement. “It was tempting, but you all waited outside for this. You hung around in a cold corridor for… How long was I in labour?” she pointed out, glancing to Thorin for an answer.

“Twelve hours, give or take?” he guessed, looking to Oin for confirmation.

“Aye, something like that. I’ll walk you three out, since I really need to get some rest,” the elderly dwarf hummed, rising from his seat.

“So, you all waited twelve hours, the least I can do is let you meet our babies,” Billa concluded, watching as Dís settled Belladonna back into the bassinet and her sons kissed each of their cousins on the forehead in farewell.

“You don’t owe us anything, but I admire your thoughtfulness. Just make sure you don’t overdo it. We’ll visit again tomorrow evening, once you’ve had some time to rest and recover,” the princess insisted, moving to Billa’s side and gently bumping their foreheads together.

“Get some sleep, Billa. If any of the babies need anything, just make uncle do it!” Kili told her, grinning charmingly and ducking to kiss her cheek.

“Definitely. It’s his fault you had to give birth, after all,” Fili seconded, shooting a wink her way and reaching out to ruffle her hair affectionately.

Billa rolled her eyes with a smile, patting her hair back down. “I think we are equally accountable,” she defended, turning her head to shoot Thorin a grin. “But if he could handle the babies tonight, I would really appreciate it. I have been carrying them for almost ten months.”

“Of course, my heart. You need to rest,” he agreed easily, walking his family to the door.

Fili strong-armed his uncle into a hug before he left, patting the eldest Durin strongly on the back. “Congratulations, uncle. Really.”

Thorin blinked a little in surprise, obviously shocked by his nephew’s sincerity, but he smiled and gave the blond a squeeze. “Thank you, Fili.”

The two stepped apart, and Kili reached out to punch Thorin gently on the shoulder. “We’re happy for you,” he said, beaming brightly.

Thorin knocked their foreheads together affectionately, smiling back at the young dwarf before turning to his sister – who was watching the exchange fondly.

“Is it my turn?” she joked, raising an eyebrow. Her mouth quirked up into a lopsided smile when the king held his arms open in a silent invitation for a hug, stepping forwards and accepting it gratefully. “I’m so proud of you… Both of you. Make sure you both rest, alright? You too, I mean it. It’s been a long day.”

Thorin leaned their foreheads together before breaking away and bobbing his head in a nod. “I will. I’ll probably stay up for a bit, in case the babies need anything, but I will sleep.”

“Good. We’ll see you all tomorrow, alright? Take care, Billa,” Dís hummed, turning to look at Billa where she remained in bed.

The hobbit nodded, opening her mouth to respond – but yawning widely instead. She smothered it with her hand, making an apologetic noise and waving her other hand in farewell.

Dís smiled warmly, turning and leaving with her children and Oin in tow.

Thorin turned back towards Billa, offering her a soft look. “Are you sure you want to see everyone tonight…? It’s late, and you’re exhausted,” he reasoned, closing the door for a moment so that those in the hallway couldn’t hear. “I can send them away, they would understand.”

“No, no… I can do this. I’ll be fine,” she insisted, combing her fingers through her hair a little and settling back into the pillows. She tucked the blankets tighter around herself, getting comfortable. “I’d like to see everyone.”

“Alright, so long as you’re sure.” He pulled the door open once more, leaning out into the hall. “Balin, Dwalin and… Gandalf,” he requested, smiling and shrugging when Bofur made a disgruntled noise. “You’ll be next, okay? She’s not going anywhere.”

“Aye, I know…” the hatted dwarf grumbled, leaning into his brother’s side. Bombur patted his shoulder gently, looking amused rather than put out.

Gandalf lead the way into the Queen’s suite, obviously eager to see his young hobbit friend. Balin followed only a step or two behind, and Dwalin brought up the rear of the group – pausing beside Thorin.

“Look, Thorin…” he began, his neck flushed red as the king turned and closed the door. “…’m sorry for musclin’ you out earlier, but it was for your own good – and Billa’s too. Elrond said you were being a bother, and-”

“-it’s fine, Dwalin,” Thorin interrupted, holding a hand up in a placating manner. “You really don’t need to apologise.”

“You’re sure? I know you wanted to be there for the birth…”

“I did, but I was there for as long as I could be. Elrond and Oin ended up operating, and it would have been unpleasant to watch. They thought I might get emotional and interfere, so I don’t blame them for making me leave – and I certainly don’t blame you for enforcing it. I can’t say for sure how I might have reacted if I had seen it, so it was probably better to be safe than sorry,” the dark-haired dwarf reasoned, clapping his best friend on the shoulder. “Now, come on. I’m sure you’re itching to meet the little ones.”

Dwalin nodded, heading over to the bed with Thorin at his side. When he got there Gandalf was already sat in the chair closest to Billa, cradling Belladonna in his arms. Balin hovered beside him, his face alight with a smile as he looked down at the new-born.

“Mahal, they are small!” the balding warrior exclaimed, glancing back towards the bed to check where Billa’s legs were before sitting on the edge and making the mattress dip substantially. “You sure they’re supposed to be out yet?” he asked, brow furrowed as he leaned over the bassinet – looking at the other two babies.

Billa let out a tinkling laugh, rolling her eyes. “They were almost a month overdue! If they’d stayed any longer I might have been tempted to pull them out myself,” she said, turning her head towards Gandalf when he snorted softly.

“And they aren’t really that small, not for hobbits,” he defended, using one long finger to sweep Belladonna’s hair back off of her forehead. “Billa was barely bigger than this when I first met her. She wasn’t quite so young at the time, of course. I missed her birth, but I visited after her mother wrote to me to share the good news.”

“I bet Billa was a beautiful baby,” Thorin guessed, offering her a toothy smile when her eyes met his.

“She was indeed,” Gandalf accepted, making the hobbit turn pink.

“Oh shush, both of you,” she huffed, looking embarrassed.

“These three are all little stunners,” Balin interjected, moving to his brother’s side at the crib. “But they were going to be, with fine parents like you two,” he praised, glancing between the couple and smiling widely.

It was Thorin’s turn to blush then, and he averted his eyes awkwardly. “They get it all from their mother.”

“They do not,” Billa reprimanded, shooting her intended a stern look – or as stern as she could muster, given her ruffled appearance and sleep-deprived eyes.

“I’ll be honest, they look a bit like potatoes to me,” Dwalin interjected, breaking the tension and drawing a laugh from Gandalf.

Dwalin!” Balin gasped, cuffing his balding sibling upside the head.

“What? It’s the truth! They’re all squashed and red in the face.”

“They have been inside Billa for almost ten months, it was probably a little cramped,” Elrond said from the sofa, sounding amused. “Not to mention the birth was quite a stressful ordeal. I’m surprised Billa and Belladonna are still conscious, they must both be exhausted.”

“Suppose that’s true. And I didn’t say they were ugly potatoes, anyway!” Dwalin excused, glancing between Thorin and Billa fretfully – in case he had offended them. “The wee one Gandalf’s got has lovely eyes.”

Billa huffed a laugh, shrugging and covering her mouth as she yawned. “She does, doesn’t she? That’s Belladonna. She got those from her daddy.”

Dwalin frowned softly, looking from Belladonna to Thorin and back. He made a surprised noise to himself. “Guess she did. I forget you’re a looker sometimes, you’re such an arse,” he hummed, narrowing his eyes playfully at his best friend.

Thorin tipped his head in acknowledgement, squinting back. “Says you.”

“He’s not wrong,” Balin interrupted with a grin, making Thorin gasp dramatically.

“Balin! You wound me.”

Frerin chose that moment to wake with a start, flailing an arm out of his blanket and beginning to fuss – almost hitting his sister in the process.

“Oh dear, can someone pass him over? I think you woke him,” Billa sighed, attempting to sit up and grimacing a little.

“It’s fine, my heart, we’ve got him. Don’t strain yourself,” Thorin crooned, reaching down to pick up his wriggling son. “Dwalin, would you like to hold him…? This is Frerin, I expect you’ll be teaching him how to fight in a few years,” he offered, turning towards the head of the royal guard and holding the small boy out towards him.

And the girls,” Billa added, settling back into her pillows and watching them closely.

“And the girls, of course,” Thorin agreed, sending his One an affectionate look.

Dwalin took the baby eagerly, though his movements were slow and almost shockingly gentle. Frerin looked so tiny in his arms, about the size of one of Dwalin’s hands – if not smaller. “Frerin…? That’s real nice, who’s idea was that?” he questioned, his voice soft and his expression fond as he stared down at the baby tucked into the crook of his arm.

“Billa’s,” Thorin credited, reaching out to wipe away a small line of dribble from the corner of Frerin’s pouty mouth.

“I’m sure he’ll be a great kid, just like his namesake. And we’ll make sure he’s good and strong,” Dwalin murmured, and it was only because Thorin had known him so long that he could spot the wistfulness in his eyes. He didn’t doubt that the battle-scarred dwarf was thinking about the day they lost Frerin – since he had been there to witness it too. “All three of ‘em,” he amended, looking towards the other two babies.

“Thank you,” Billa breathed, watching as Gandalf passed Belladonna to Balin – so that he could have some time with the babies too.

The old dwarf smiled gratefully, holding the baby up to his shoulder and beginning to sway gently.

Gandalf sat back down and reached out for Billa’s hand, squeezing it gently. “You’ve done a marvellous job, my dear. Your mother would be so proud.”

“I wish she could have met them. And father, too,” she shared, rubbing her eyes with her free hand and sighing. “They would have been good grandparents.”

“They would have,” Gandalf agreed, casting his eyes upwards. “But I’m sure they’re watching you, with big proud smiles on their faces. Bungo is probably shedding a tear too, the soppy fool.”

Billa cracked a smile at that, nodding. “I hope they have handkerchiefs, wherever they are,” she mused, sending a sly look towards her wizard friend. “I think Dwalin needs one too.”

Dwalin startled, frowning and sniffing hard. “No!” he denied quickly, his voice oddly stilted. He held Frerin easily in the crook of one arm, reaching up with his other hand and swiping it across his own face. “…’s a happy day. I was worried Thorin wouldn’t get this.”

“A family…?” Billa specified, tilting her head at him.

“Aye,” he said, wiping his tear-dampened hand on his trouser leg. “He had Dís and the boys, of course, and us…” he added, nodding towards Balin, “…but there were times I thought he’d never have his own kids, or a wife. He was so focussed on being the best ruler for our people, so concerned with reclaiming Erebor… He never thought about himself. Now he’s got you, and three lovely pebbles. I’m real pleased for you both.”

Thorin smiled widely at his best friend, eyes crinkling at the corners. He reached over and squeezed the balding dwarf’s shoulder, his expression fond and grateful. “Thank you, Dwalin. Menu ziramu gamildul,” he hummed, leaning down to knock their foreheads together.

Dwalin cleared his throat awkwardly, averting his eyes out of embarrassment. “S’nothing, Thanu men. Just the truth.”

“It might be true, but it’s still sweet of you to say. Thank you, really, Dwalin,” Billa affirmed, stretching out one foot and tapping Dwalin’s leg with it from beneath the blankets – since that was the only way she could reach him. The large dwarf reached out and patted her shin in response, sending a grateful but slightly uncomfortable smile her way.

“Yes, well… Suppose we should get going. Let Bofur come and see ya, before he explodes out there,” he deflected, rising to his feet and turning towards Billa. “You want this one, or shall I tuck him up?” he asked, dipping his head down towards Frerin.

The tiny faunt was still awake, but clearly drowsing – struggling to open his heavy eyelids after every blink.

Billa smiled dotingly, holding her arms open. “I’ll take him… I imagine we’ll both be asleep soon, so I’ll have one last cuddle.”

Thorin watched fondly as Dwalin handed over the small boy, turning towards Balin when he cleared his throat quietly. Belladonna had fallen asleep again, her soft face turned into the royal advisor’s tunic. “Set her down with her sister. If the others want to hold any of them, they’ll have to wait until tomorrow. It’s been a long day for them all, including Billa,” Thorin suggested, glancing up as Gandalf approached.

“And for you too, Thorin. Make sure you rest. Elrond is here if the babies need anything,” the Istar insisted, tucking an arm around the king’s shoulders.

“Surely Lord Elrond will need to sleep too at some point-” Thorin began, blinking in confusion when Gandalf chuffed a laugh.

“Elves can sleep, but do not need to. I can stay awake for as long as I want to. Thank you for your concern, but I’ll be quite alright,” the elven lord explained, smiling when Billa made a surprised noise from the bed.

“I’d heard stories that elves didn’t sleep, but I had no idea that it was true… I thought all things had to sleep,” she said incredulously, cradling Frerin to her chest. “Goodness, I wish I didn’t have to sleep… Think of all the books I could read!”

“Sounds awful to me. I like sleep,” Balin hummed, though his tone was light and the smile he directed at Elrond made it clear that he wasn’t being too serious.

Dwalin nodded, moving to stand beside his brother and the wizard. “Agreed. And I think I’ll sleep well tonight, now all of this is out of the way,” he decided, tucking his hands into his pockets.

“Were you worried about me, Dwalin?” Billa teased, pressing her cheek against Frerin’s head and letting out a satisfied sigh when he snuffled at her.

The head of the royal guard rolled his eyes in response. “Of course, I was. Childbirth is no small feat. Not for us dwarves, in any case. ‘Spose you hobbits just pop them out like rabbits, right?” he theorised, narrowing his eyes and smiling slightly at their resident hobbit.

Billa snorted, narrowing her eyes back. “Shush, you.”

“Alright, alright, we’re off. Come on, lets leave these two to finish their introductions and get some rest,” Balin interrupted, hooking an arm through his brother’s.

“Aye. We’ll see you all tomorrow,” Dwalin allowed, and with a couple more farewells he, Balin and Gandalf left.

Thorin ended up letting the last four dwarves in together, to get it done quicker – and to prevent Bofur from having an aneurism in the hall.

The hatted dwarf rushed straight to his best friend’s side, sweeping his hat off and perching on the edge of the bed. “All that screaming, just to get these little dots out?” he remarked, sweeping his eyes over the babies. Despite his joking tone, his eyes were tight with concern.

“They were real set on staying in there. Guess I’m too good a host,” Billa quipped back, freeing one hand from Frerin and reaching out to take one of Bofur’s hands reassuringly.

Glad to see you all well. They’re beautiful,” Bifur said in his choppy mix of ancient and regular Khuzdul.

Thorin was ready to translate, unsure of whether or not Billa would understand, but she turned her head to smile at him and nodded gratefully.

Thank you, friend. I think that too,” she replied, despite her exhaustion. Her pronunciation wasn’t at its best, but no one would criticise her for that.

Bombur and Gloin had stopped beside the crib, both of them staring down at the two sleeping girls inside. “Look at those delicate little faces… Not a whisker in sight!” Gloin rumbled, reaching out to very gently run a finger over Rís’ cheek. The dark-haired baby didn’t even stir in response.

“My Harinda had a few little wisps from birth,” Bombur shared, looking back at Thorin. “Do you think any of yours will grow facial hair?”

“It’s hard to say. We don’t know how dwarven they are just yet. And Kili was born without any facial hair. I know he doesn’t have a lot, but it is growing. He was just a late bloomer,” the regal dwarf pointed out, shrugging one shoulder and looking unconcerned. He glanced towards Billa, to check that she was alright – knowing that she worried about how the babies might develop.

She met his eyes and shrugged minutely, turning her face so that she could kiss one of Frerin’s pointed little ears.

“That’s very true. Nothing to worry about, in any case,” Gloin accepted, not taking his eyes off the babies below them.

“Doesn’t matter if they don’t grow any at all, they’ll all be lookers regardless,” Bofur stated loyally, winking at Billa when she turned towards him. “How could they not be? They’re from good stock.”

The hobbit beamed, squeezing his hand gently in hers. “Shall we make some introductions…? This little one is Frerin, our only son,” she began, nodding at the baby in her arms.

Bofur reached out to lightly stroke the boy’s head, his expression knowing as he glanced between Billa and Thorin. “Let’s hope he ends up a little less serious than his father,” he joked, smiling kindly at the king.

“Agreed,” Thorin said, moving to stand with Gloin and Bombur beside the bassinet. “These two are our daughters… Belladonna and Rís,” he shared, gesturing to each girl and smiling tenderly down at them.

“Belladonna?” Gloin questioned, sounding dubious. Thorin understood why – it wasn’t a dwarven name, but he liked it anyway, and he knew it meant a lot to Billa. It was why he had suggested it.

“It was the name of Billa’s mother,” Bofur touted, before Thorin had the chance to explain it himself. “I think it’s lovely.”

Billa made an appreciative noise in response, resting her face against Frerin’s once more. “It was Thorin’s idea… He’s a sweetheart,” she mumbled, yawning slightly and freeing her hand from Bofur’s so that she could rub one of her eyes. “We’re thinking of calling her Donna for short, so there’s no Billa Bella confusion.”

“Donna? I like that,” Gloin amended, nodding his approval. “It’s sturdy.”

The new mother laughed, rolling her eyes. “You dwarves and your sturdiness. I don’t care what she is, so long as she’s happy and healthy.”

“Well, of course. That’s the most important thing,” Bombur concurred, gently nudging the other red-head beside him.

Gloin glanced up, going a little red. “I didn’t mean-”

“It’s fine, I know you didn’t mean any harm. Their names and looks might seem a little odd to lots of dwarves – but we’ll get used to that. We’ll raise them as best we can, and they’ll win people over in sheer personality if nothing else,” Billa dismissed easily, her eyelids heavy and her expression calm.

Thorin had to wonder if she truly meant that, or if she was just very tired.

If she worried about how their faunts would develop, she must also worry about how the other dwarves would treat them – but Thorin wouldn’t have anyone look down upon their children. It didn’t matter that they weren’t full dwarves, they were theirs, and Thorin thought they were perfect as they were.

Anyone who thought differently could keep their opinions to themselves.

Dwarves were a very family-orientated race, and the king hoped that would be enough to save their children from too much scorn. A child was a child, no matter their race. Thorin could quite confidently say that he wouldn’t even frown upon an elven child if faced with one.

“Anyone who frowns on them for what they are or what they’re called is a fool,” Bofur stated with no small amount of certainty in his voice, sweeping his eyes over all three babies. “They are gifts from Mahal, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.”

Agreed,” Bifur intoned with a curt nod of his head, puffing his chest out and looking stern.

Billa smiled widely and warmly, yawning yet again. “Sorry, sorry… I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just… So tired,” she apologised, letting her eyes fall shut for a moment.

“What are you saying sorry for? You just had three babies, Billa, you’re allowed to be tired!” Bofur scolded her mildly, reaching out to very softly swat her knee through the blanket. “I’m glad you let us in to meet the babies, but we’ll leave you to rest now. You need some sleep.”

“No, it’s fine, you don’t have to-” Billa began to protest, only for Bifur to shush her.

He’s right. Rest,” the pepper-haired dwarf persisted, placing a hand on her shoulder and smiling kindly down at her. “You did good.”

Thank you. Please, visit soon,” she replied, rather than arguing further – opening her eyes and looking grateful.

“Like you could keep any of us away!” Bombur laughed, moving away from the crib and leaning down to bump his head gently against hers. He was careful not to jostle Frerin as he did. “Dunda will be so pleased to hear you’re alright. I’ll bring her for a visit when you’re better – and we can find someone to keep an eye on our pebbles for us!”

“I’d like that.”

“I’ll see if I can bring Rúna and Gimli sometime, too,” Gloin offered, looking back towards Thorin. “Gimli’s real good with little ones. You might be able to convince him to babysit sometime if you bribe him with food.”

Thorin laughed, grinning over at the smith. “We’ll bear that in mind, thank you.”

Only minutes later they were alone – or alone as they could be, with three babies and a healer nearby.

“How are you feeling?” the king asked his intended, sitting down and beginning to unlace his boots.

“Like I could sleep for a whole week,” Billa sighed, smiling when he turned and raised an eyebrow at her. “Don’t look at me like that – I don’t regret letting them all meet the babies.”

“Of course not. You’re too selfless, amrâlimê,” he breathed, tucking his boots under the bed and beginning to remove his tunic. He glanced awkwardly towards Elrond as he did, but the elf had disappeared rather conveniently. The royal dwarf changed into his sleep clothes whilst he had the chance, before moving to Billa’s side and holding his hands out for Frerin.

Billa stared up at him mulishly for a moment, obviously reluctant.

“Come on, my love, neither of you will sleep well like that.”

She let out a small huff and pressed a light kiss to Frerin’s bald head before handing him over to his father. “Alright, alright. But if he needs anything-”

“Elrond and I will be here. You need sleep, we can take care of it,” he promised, moving to tuck their son in between his sisters.

“What if they get hungry?”

“I have a milk supplement ready,” Elrond informed them casually from the kitchen door, carrying a slightly steaming cup of tea.

For a moment Thorin thought he had helped himself to tea without offering them a cup, which would be rude, but then he began approaching the bed and Thorin caught the smell of something strong and medicinal.

“A what…?” Billa hummed, brows drawn together in confusion.

“Some mothers struggle to produce enough milk, so we elves have produced a kind of… Formula that babies can have. I thought it might be useful to you, since you were having several babies at once, so I had some sent from Rivendell. I would suggest breast feeding them and using formula, rather than relying solely on either. It’s perfectly safe. And it means Thorin won’t have to wake you up or find you every time one of the babies needs feeding,” the elf elaborated, offering the tea to Billa.

“Oh, right, of course. In the Shire, we just give them cow’s milk with honey and cream if we need to,” she shared, taking the cup and sniffing it pointedly. “What’s this?”

“Just a medicinal tea. It will help you sleep comfortably,” Elrond said, frowning softly. “Cow’s milk isn’t really the best option for young babies. It can cause scurvy, or bacterial infections. Our formula is much more nutritional.”

“Well, I never knew that. Good thing I’ve got you here!” Billa accepted readily enough, sipping at her tea and screwing her face up a little. “This is a little gross.”

“I’m sorry, it will be. If you need anything, I’m going to sit in front of the fire with a book, alright? Get some rest. Both of you,” the healer told them, glancing between them both with one last smile before retreating to the living-area.

“Thank you, Lord Elrond,” Thorin called after him, moving to climb into bed beside his One. He sat up against the headboard so that he could see the babies, leaning down to kiss Billa dotingly on the forehead and smiling as he did. “I’ll stay up a little while, I’d just like to look at them a little longer.”

Billa laughed quietly, eyes crinkling at the corners. “I don’t blame you. They really are something, aren’t they?”

“I am the luckiest dwarf alive,” he insisted, entirely sincerely. “I’m not sure what I did to deserve it.”

“What didn’t you do?” she chuckled, finishing her tea and setting it aside – inhaling sharply as she did and earning reproachful looks from both Thorin and Elrond. She rolled her eyes but said nothing, sinking deep into the pillows beneath her.

Thorin reached over to tuck the blankets securely around her, pressing a feather light kiss on her mouth when he was done. “Rest. Men lananubukhs menu.”

“Men lananubukhs menu, Thorin,” she returned, raising a slightly pale hand to touch his cheek.

He held his hand over hers for a long moment, setting the appendage down on the bed when she began to drift off – too sleep deprived and exhausted to stay awake even ten minutes more.

“She’s going to be alright, isn’t she?” he averred, keeping his voice soft and quiet but knowing Elrond would hear from across the room.

“She’s very strong, and she’s definitely not in any immediate danger. I’m only staying as a precaution. So long as she rests and eats over the next week, she’ll be absolutely fine.”

“Good.”

Chapter Text

Thorin woke up the next morning to the sound of crying – stiff and aching and unable to remember going to sleep. He was propped up against the headboard, where he had been sat watching the babies the night before, and it seemed as though he had dozed off without meaning to.

It certainly explained why his back hurt so much, but he didn’t regret it. He wasn’t sure he would ever tire of looking at their children.

“I’ve got it,” an amused sounding voice insisted, and Thorin turned his head – ignoring the sharp click that sounded as he did – to see Elrond padding over with three glass bottles tucked into the crook of one arm.

The king looked down at Billa, smiling at the sight of her burrowed snugly in their blankets. She barely even stirred, though her brow did furrow at the noise of one of their babies crying. Thorin leaned down to kiss her forehead before moving off of the bed, joining Elrond beside the crib.

The elf had scooped Rís up into his arms and was encouraging her to root for her bottle by rubbing the mouthpiece along her cheek, close to her mouth. The little girl opened her eyes blearily, turning her face towards the bottle and clumsily catching it between her lips. She kept her hands tucked together against her chest and let her eyes fall shut again, obviously too drowsy to do much more than drink.

“She’s drinking quite strongly – that’s always a good sign,” Lord Elrond reported, considerate enough to keep his voice low. “As much as possible, you should try to feed the babies around the same time. It’s good to get them into a routine, and if you feed them each separately it will make things complicated. They are still small though, so they will want to eat whenever they are hungry, and you should let them.”

Frerin had begun to fidget in the crib, likely disturbed by his sister’s fussing, so Thorin picked him up and reached out with his spare hand to pluck a bottle from Elrond. He just held the boy for a moment, letting him wake up a little before offering him the bottle – resting it gently on his cheek much like the elf beside him had done. Frerin grumbled and squirmed a little longer, before his wriggling made his mouth graze the bottle and he seemed to get the idea of what he should do. He didn’t eat quite as eagerly as his sibling, but he still gave it a good go.

“If you wouldn’t mind, I would like to continue to monitor Billa and the babies today. Just to be sure that everyone is safe. After that, I’ll return to my rooms and be close by in case I am needed,” the elven healer requested, raising his eyes from Rís to look at the dwarf beside him.

Thorin glanced up from Frerin to meet Elrond’s eyes, then turned his head to look at his intended where she slept soundly in their bed. The colour had returned to her cheeks once more, but the day before had been very emotionally and physically trying for her. “Of course. We’ll need to run it by her too, when she wakes up, but I doubt that she will protest. And if she does, we will remind her that it is for all of them – not just her,” he accepted easily, knowing it was the safest course of action. As much as he would like to spend some time alone with his One and their young, he knew he wouldn’t get that any time soon. There would be friends, family and healers visiting at all hours for the next few days, he expected. If not longer.

Elrond dipped his head in acknowledgement, setting Rís back in the crib and wrapping her up before picking up her sister. He glanced over at Billa as he settled the brown-haired baby into the crook of his arm, exhaling softly. “She’s going to have to stay on bedrest for at least another week, and she’s not going to like it,” he said plainly, beginning to feed the last of the three babies. “She might be strong, but that was a serious operation. Her body needs time to heal.”

Thorin sighed, putting the empty baby-bottle down on the bedside table and beginning to rock Frerin gently in his arms. “As someone who has also had their abdomen sliced open, I’m sure I can convince her,” he answered lightly, smiling when Elrond turned and raised his eyebrows at the king.

“Was that a joke, King Thorin?” the elf teased, one corner of his mouth turning upwards.

The regal dwarf shrugged one shoulder awkwardly – taking care not to jostle his son as he did. “I mean, I did have an abdominal injury, but it’s not quite the same thing,” he blew off, moving to sit on the edge of the bed. He held Frerin easily with one arm and reached out with his free hand to stroke Rís’ cheek dotingly. The dark-haired girl had already drifted off again, a small trail of Elrond’s baby formula smeared down the side of her mouth. Thorin wiped it away with his thumb, smiling to himself.

“Gandalf did tell me about the injuries you and your kin sustained in the Battle of the Five Armies. It must have been quite the fight – I would have sent soldiers, had I known,” Elrond hummed, shaking his head incredulously.

“I appreciate the thought, but it took us all by surprise. It was luck alone, and Thranduil I suppose, that had me call my cousin Dain from the Iron Hills. I will forever be grateful for his help, and the Men of Lake-Town and Dale. The orcs and goblins would have slaughtered us all otherwise, and Erebor would have remained empty. Or worse, our enemies would have inhabited it themselves with Smaug gone,” Thorin shared, shuddering at the thought. Azog, living in his mountain.

“It all worked out for the best. And I have heard it has brought on a truce between your kingdom and Thranduil’s, which is a blessing in itself,” the healer noted, carefully adjusting his grip on Belladonna.

The king snorted softly at that, unable to stop himself. “Indeed,” he said shortly, thinking about all of his stilted meetings with the king of the woodland realm. Talking to Thranduil was one of the worst parts of his job, but it was a necessary evil.

Elrond laughed openly in response, eyes full of mirth. “I know that King Thranduil is not the easiest person to deal with, but you do need a relationship with the elves of Greenwood. And his son has a great deal of potential,” he placated, surprising the dwarven ruler.

He hadn’t wanted to say much about his relationship with Thranduil, since he had assumed that Elrond – as an elf – would take offence if he said anything untoward. It was certainly good to hear that the healer was aware of Thranduil’s shortcomings.

“I will agree with you there. Prince Legolas seems a decent fellow, even if-”

“-he is an elf?” the lord of Rivendell finished, smiling once more.

“I was going to say even if Thranduil is his father, but if the boot fits…” Thorin quipped, earning another chuckle from the elf beside him.

That is fair. Shame on me for assuming.”

“Shame on you indeed. I have learned the error of my ways – not all elves are as bad as I thought,” he justified, flashing Elrond a warm and entirely genuine smile. If he had been asked only a year before, he never would have guessed that he would be friends with an elf.

“I have never understood the bad blood between elves and dwarves. There is much we can learn from each other. In your case, with what happened between your family and Thranduil, I do understand the animosity – but you are not the only dwarf to dislike elves. And likewise, I know elves that are suspicious or distrustful of dwarves. It has never made sense to me,” Elrond confessed, brows drawing together. “Perhaps it stems from our creators, but I doubt that we will ever know for sure.”

“Speaking of creators,” Thorin began, easing Frerin back into the crib – since he had fallen asleep once more, “who do you think created the hobbits? I have read the legends of creation, many times, and there is no mention of them. Before Erebor fell, and I was forced to travel West, I had never even heard of hobbits.”

“There’s really no way to be sure. For generations hobbits kept to themselves, and no one knew they existed. They had their land, and their language, and they lived peacefully by themselves. Then someone discovered them, or perhaps they willingly integrated themselves, no one is sure – but they began speaking the common tongue. It’s been so long since then that they have lost their own language, and with it their history. As such, no one remembers where they came from. However, if I had to make an educated guess, I would think they belonged to Yavanna. Hobbits have always been an incredibly simple people, happy living alongside nature and wanting for nothing more than the simple pleasures life has to offer. Many people believe they are relatives of Men, and perhaps they are, but I doubt we will ever know. Lest we ask Eru or Yavanna ourselves!” Elrond theorised, putting the last bottle down with the others and wiping Belladonna’s mouth gently. “If the hobbits are children of Yavanna, it would make all the more sense that you and Billa fell for one another.”

Thorin blinked at that, having never considered the idea. It did make sense, considering Yavanna’s connections to the natural world – and her marriage to Mahal.

-

When Billa came to, her body felt leaden. She opened her eyes slowly, beginning to sit up and letting out a stuttering breath when the movement caused pain to ripple across her middle.

Thorin looked up sharply from his desk at the noise, rising to his feet in one easy, fluid motion. “Amrâlimê,” he greeted, though there was a chastising note in his tone. “Try not to move too much, you are supposed to be resting,” he huffed, putting his hands on her shoulders and pressing her back down gently.

“I was just trying to sit up, Thorin, not go for a run,” Billa complained, still too weary to put much venom in her voice.

“Alright, give me a moment,” the king allowed, moving one hand on the top of her back and slowly raising her into a slightly-reclining but better seated position. He used his other hand to pile pillows behind her, giving her something to lean on. “There. I expect that’ll have to do for now.”

The hobbit sighed, repressing the desire to roll her eyes at him. “Good morning to you too, sweetheart.”

Thorin smiled fondly at that, leaning down to kiss her slowly. It was heartfelt enough that it calmed her nerves – and elevated her pulse. “Good afternoon,” he said in return, pulling back and perching on the bed beside her.

“What time is it?” she asked, a little surprised – even if it did make sense. She had been so exhausted, it was no real shock that she had slept so long, but she hadn’t wanted to. She was missing time with her family!

“A little past lunch, I would guess,” he provided, reaching out to push her hair off of her face.

“The babies-” she began, concerned, only for Thorin to shush her softly.

“-have already been fed twice. Everyone is happy and healthy, and I believe Frerin is currently in the bathroom with Elrond,” he reassured her, moving his hand from her hair to stroke her cheek. “The girls are sleeping off their latest meal.”

Billa turned her head to look into the bassinet, needing to see for herself, and found Belladonna and Rís dozing – just like Thorin had said. If she listened carefully, she could hear running water in an adjoining room.

“Now, how about you? What do you need?” the dark-haired dwarf questioned, flashing her a toothy and well-meaning smile when she met his eyes.

She opened her mouth, about to give the obvious answer – my babies – when she realised that wasn’t what he meant. Her mouth felt dry, and her stomach growled as if on cue. “…I could use some food, and a cup of tea,” she requested, embarrassed. “But I can-”

“Billa, if you think I am going to let you walk to the kitchen and make your own food you are sorely mistaken.”

“I’m not an invalid,” she protested, huffing softly when her husband-to-be leaned down and kissed her forehead.

“No, you’re not – but you have a sizable wound across your abdomen, from which three babies were removed less than a day ago. You need to rest if you are going to heal,” he pointed out, rising to his feet. “Do you remember when you told me off, for not resting after my injury?”

“That was different, you got stabbed!”

“And you had your womb opened. Elrond had to cut into one of your organs, Billa. Just because it wasn’t a traumatic injury doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful with it,” Thorin reminded her, heading off towards the kitchen. “Let me look after you, my heart,” he called over his shoulder, before disappearing out of sight.

Romantic fool.

Billa huffed again, knowing there was no reasonable way to argue with him. She didn’t believe for a second that her surgery was comparable to Thorin’s injury at Azog’s hands, but he was right about one thing. Elrond had operated on one of her organs, and that meant a fairly deep incision. It wouldn’t kill her to stay off her feet a little – let Thorin mother her to his heart’s content.

Within reason, of course.

Lord Elrond chose that moment to return to the living-area, a quietly complaining Frerin in his arms. The baby was freshly dressed, and Billa caught a strong smell of soap as they approached.

“Did someone have an accident?” she guessed with a warm smile, marvelling a little at how ridiculously small her baby looked in the elf’s arms.

“He did indeed,” Elrond chuckled, swaddling Frerin back in his blankets and settling him next to Belladonna in the crib. Once that was done, and the little boy had fallen quiet, the healer raised his eyes to regard Billa. “How’re you feeling?”

“Like I could probably go back to sleep, but I’m hungry,” she answered honestly, beginning to pick at the blankets. “How’ve the babies been? And Thorin?”

“The babies slept pretty solidly, but that’s no surprise. Yesterday was stressful for them too. They woke up early for food, and a couple of hours later to eat again, but they’ve just been sleeping a lot. Completely normal for their age,” he replied, glancing down at the three fauntlings. “Thorin, on the other hand, fell asleep sat up against the headboard. He seems well though – eager to help with the babies, and alert enough given how little he slept.”

Billa did roll her eyes then, completely unsurprised. Trust Thorin to think of himself last. “Has he eaten?”

“I don’t think so. He’s been drinking, though.”

“Thorin Oakenshield!” the hobbit called towards the kitchen, glancing consciously towards the babies as she did. Rís frowned a little, looking remarkably like her father as she did, but didn’t wake.

A silver streaked head appeared at the door, looking confused and concerned. “Yes?”

“You had better make enough food for yourself, too. You’ll burn yourself out,” she reprimanded him, smiling when she saw him shoot a betrayed look at Elrond.

“She’s not wrong,” the elf insisted, one corner of his mouth turning upwards into a crooked smile.

“Alright, alright. Will you be partaking, Elrond?”

“If you wouldn’t mind. But no meat, please.”

“Naturally,” Thorin muttered, disappearing back into the kitchen. The kettle whistled only moments later, and Billa listened as her intended went about making them all some tea – soothed by the familiar sounds of clinking crockery and pouring water.

“It’s been amusing, watching the dwarves provide for your dietary needs. When I first joined them, not a single one of them would eat a vegetable – besides potatoes, of course. Our diets are so different, the dwarves were always forgetting to get fruit and vegetables for me at the beginning of our quest. Staying in your halls was a blessing, I was starting to get so weak and sore…” Billa shared, shaking her head to herself. She had felt quite unwell on several occasions throughout their quest, and it wasn’t always due to negligence. Sometimes they just couldn’t find fresh food for her.

“Lack of vitamin C, I expect. Men suffer from it too, especially on long voyages,” Elrond affirmed, moving to sit down in the chair beside the bed. “I have appreciated how hospitable and adaptable the residents of Erebor have been, regarding my eating habits. I noticed how displeased your dwarves were when we didn’t serve meat in Rivendell.”

“Oh gods, you don’t know the half of it. All they did was complain, the whole time we were there! I like to think they’ve grown a lot more open-minded since then, but I did squabble with one or two of them at the time because of it. It was only a culture shock, though. Same as when they found out I had to eat fruit and vegetables,” Billa chuckled, smiling up at the elf. “They got used to my eating habits eventually, and that’s probably part of the reason they’ve been so understanding of your needs – even if they do still look at you funny. The dwarves from the Blue Mountains look at me funny too, when they see me eating ‘greenery’. Most of the company have tried more fruit and vegetables because of me, and a lot of them like it. They’ll eat it even though they don’t need it.”

“In fairness to us, we’d only ever used vegetables to bulk out meals when meat or money was scarce,” Thorin excused as he returned, carrying a tray of three cups and a pot of tea. “Vegetables were never something we ate because we wanted to. They’re nice though, so long as they are prepared properly. I still couldn’t eat any of them raw, like you do!”

“I used to pull apples from trees and eat them without washing them as a child – it was the done thing in the Shire. I’d happily munch on a carrot straight from my father’s garden too, though that would at least get rinsed first. Soil doesn’t taste particularly pleasant, after all,” the hobbit said, watching as Thorin set the tray on the bedside table and began pouring them each a drink.

The king shook his head incredulously in response, eyebrows raised. “See, that is odd.”

“I think you might be the odd one here, since I agree with Billa on this,” Elrond defended, smiling as he took a cup of tea from the greying dwarf.

“This is my mountain, if I say it’s odd, it’s odd!” Thorin joked, winking at Billa as he added sugar to her tea and passed it to her – ready to drink.

“Shush, you. Where’s my lunch?” she quipped back, narrowing her eyes playfully.

He snorted softly, dipping down to knock their foreheads together – but careful not to jostle her drink. “Shouldn’t be long, my heart.”

“How long does toast take?” Billa sighed, placing a careful hand over her stomach when it growled pointedly. She frowned for a moment, glancing down at where her hand laid. Weird.

She was so used to feeling life there, now she felt… Empty. Her bump was still there, still firm – it hadn’t deflated with the loss of the babies – but there was nothing in there. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She’d grown used to the constant company, and the weight. That had gone, since the babies no longer sat inside of her, and it felt bizarre.

“I’m not making toast,” Thorin scoffed, having turned to fuss over the babies – adjusting their blankets and doling out gentle touches to each of them in turn.

His words and actions broke her from her musings and she looked up at him, blinking. “Oh?” she pressed, surprised. His cooking abilities had improved vastly since she had moved in, but she usually supervised and instructed him. “What are you making?”

“You’ll see,” he answered cryptically, smiling at her over his shoulder before heading back towards the kitchen.

Elrond watched him go before turning back to Billa and smiling slightly. “He’s not going to poison us, is he?” he said in jest, making the hobbit snort quietly.

“Not intentionally.”

Thorin returned minutes later, carrying another large wooden tray between his hands. On the tray rested three steaming bowls, though from the angle she was sat Billa couldn’t see what was in them. She watched him, rubbing her belly with one hand and sipping at her tea with the other.

The dwarf’s eyes seemed to focus on her mid-section immediately, and a crease formed between his brows. “Does it hurt?” he asked.

“A little,” she confessed, setting the teacup down on the bedside table and very carefully attempting to sit up further. Elrond reached out before Thorin could, planting a hand between her shoulders for support. The dwarven king shot him an appreciative look, moving to put the tray down on the foot of the bed.

“Would you like some medicinal tea?” the elf beside her offered, using gentle hands to sit her further up – but keeping an eye on her face, to make sure he wasn’t hurting her.

“No, thank you.” Billa tried her hardest to keep her face composed as her middle twinged, but something still gave her away and Thorin huffed quietly.

“Maybe you should-”

“I said no, Thorin,” she bit back, exhaling softly when she saw her intended flinch a little. She hadn’t meant to be short with him, but she was tense and in pain and she knew the medicinal tea would make her even more tired. She didn’t want to sleep, she’d already wasted a good portion of the day.

The king held out a wonderful smelling bowl of porridge, and Billa reached out to gently touch his hand instead of taking it immediately. “I’ll have some a bit later, right now I want to spend some time with you and the babies,” she amended, her tone light and soft.

Thorin smiled at her, pressing the bowl into her hands and leaning in to kiss her brow. “Alright,” he accepted without argument, waiting until she wrapped her fingers around the bowl before turning and passing another to Elrond.

Billa raised the bowl to her face, inhaling deeply. She could smell apple, and cinnamon too. The porridge was a good, creamy consistency and speckled with seeds and sultanas. “This looks good, Thorin – what did you put in it?”

“Milk, oats, apple, cinnamon, honey, pumpkin seeds and… Some kind of dried fruit. I’m not sure, Bombur gave them to me. Said they’re high in sugar, but they’re good for your digestion,” he listed, passing out the spoons before picking up his own bowl. He took a seat beside Billa on the bed, crossing his legs and nestling his bowl between them.

Billa felt a swell of warmth towards the greying dwarf, who had obviously put a great deal of forethought into what he was going to make her. “It smells wonderful, thank you.”

Thorin puffed up happily at her praise, going a little pink in the cheeks. “It’s nothing, you just… Throw it all in a pan,” he dismissed, too modest for his own good.

“It would have been easier to send for food from the kitchens,” she pointed out in return, using a spoon to stir her food idly. “So, I appreciate the effort.”

-

A couple of days passed, and Thorin never left their rooms.

He didn’t even think about his kingly duties, as selfish as it was, he knew Balin and Dís were more than capable of handling it themselves. Mahal, either one of them could run the kingdom alone.

Instead he basked in the company of his future wife and their fauntlings. Elrond had moved back out of their rooms the morning before, but they had barely been alone. There was always someone with them – and more often than not, that someone was Dori. Were he a slightly braver dwarf, and if he cared less about keeping the peace with Billa’s family, Thorin would have told the elderly dwarf to visit less frequently. To give the two of them some time to themselves.

But he wasn’t yet married to Billa, and her brothers meant a great deal to her. He had to do what he could to keep them happy, to keep her happy.

And in any case, Billa didn’t seem to mind Dori being there. He was always eager to clean and feed the babies, and that kept the brunette resting in her bed instead of moving unnecessarily, so it wasn’t all bad.

When Dís visited that afternoon, shortly after lunch, Dori had already claimed the seat closest to the bed – situated between the bassinet and Billa. The white-haired dwarf was reading aloud to the babies, whilst his sister napped.

“Namad,” he greeted, stepping aside to let her in. She swept past him, dressed in her royal attire with a tiara nestled in her hair. She had obviously been in some kind of meeting that morning, and that made him worry. Was something the matter? Ever since the birth, neither she nor Balin had felt the need to consult him about anything. They had been handling it. “What’s wrong?”

“So grim, nadad. Why must you always assume that I come with bad news?”

“Because you’ve been handling the throne so well without me,” he reasoned, glancing towards Dori before gesturing for his sister to follow him further into the queen’s suite. He led her through to the kitchen, grabbing the kettle from the fire and placing it on a mat on the counter.

“Flatterer,” Dís scoffed, though she looked pleased. “In any case, it’s nothing… Terrible.”

“Oh good, how reassuring,” Thorin chuckled, rummaging through the cupboard for a jar of the tea Dís preferred. “What is it?”

“I had a meeting with Nori and Dwalin early this morning-”

“I’ll bet that was fun.”

“-don’t interrupt me. Anyway, Nori informed me of some… Whispers that have been running through the mountain. Apparently, some dwarves are worried that Billa is… Dead,” the princess shared, sitting down at the table and clasping her hands together.

“Wait, what? Really? Why didn’t Nori come to me?” Thorin hummed, genuinely taken aback. People thought his One was dead? Why?

“He didn’t want to bother you or Billa. He hoped we could fix it without your involvement. But I thought the best thing to do would be have you make a statement. If it comes from you, they’ll believe it. You wouldn’t lie about it. And a birth announcement wouldn’t be so unusual, in any case.”

“That makes sense… But why do they think she’s dead?” the king wondered, finding one of the smaller teapots they owned and filling the metal cage inside with tea leaves.

Dís leaned back in her chair, shrugging and raising her eyes to the ceiling. “Because no one has seen her in weeks, and you disappeared from the public eye three days ago. If you ask me, they’ve just jumped to a ridiculous conclusion. If she had died, I would have made a statement by now – and the company wouldn’t be walking around like nothing is wrong. We would all be mourning,” she complained, reaching up to adjust her tiara. “Regardless of their reasoning, best to nip it in the bud.”

“Nip it in the bud? You sound like Billa,” Thorin remarked with a fond smile, topping the pot up with hot water.

“Oh, shush. It’s a charming turn of phrase. You won’t hear me saying that ‘a promise is stronger than an oak tree’s roots’ or any of that lark,” she defended, her expression warm despite her words.

“She does seem to have some kind of fixation with oak trees,” he mused, shaking his head to himself.

Dís laughed, flashing him a toothy smile. “I mean, that’s good news for you, Oakenshield.”

Thorin chuckled in response, beaming. “I guess so. Time for tea before you go back to your duties…? I’ll sort out the rumour, come to the communal meal later on and make a statement.”

“Glad to hear it – and I always have time for tea.”

-

The moment Thorin entered the dining hall, he felt every pair of eyes on him. The whole mountain seemed to watch as he walked to the royal table, so he held his head high and kept an easy smile on his face. He had dressed finely for the meal and was even wearing his crown for once, since he wanted to make it clear that he was okay and not in mourning.

The king rolled his eyes as his sister rose from his chair and offered it to him, moving back to her usual seat. He tried to wave her away, silently tell her that she could keep the chair, but she was already glaring and gesturing for him to sit.

Instead of sitting he stepped up in front of the chair, glancing up and down the table at the company and smiling warmly at them. They were all there, since Gandalf and Elrond had chosen to stay with Billa. Dori hadn’t been particularly happy about it, but Thorin had insisted he come – since it would look better to the inhabitants of the mountain if the whole company was seen at the announcement. By now everyone knew the Ri brothers’ relation to Billa, and the three of them hadn’t been attending communal meals because they had been dividing their time between their mother and their sister. If the Ri brothers were seen attending the meal, healthy and happy looking, it would serve to back-up Thorin’s statement.

The royal dwarf tucked his hands behind his back and turned his attention to the inhabitants of the mountain, clearing his throat pointedly. Within seconds anyone who hadn’t already been watching him had turned to look.

“Good evening. I am sure that many of you have noticed my absence from duties over the last few days, and I am aware that there has been speculation that my intended did not make it through her pregnancy - as she has been missing from public meals for several weeks now. I would like to put these rumours to rest,” he began, sweeping his eyes around the room. “The truth is that Billa was put on bed rest for the final month of her pregnancy, as a precautionary measure. I don’t doubt that many of you heard about her accident, when she fell in the library. I would like to assure you that she is perfectly well. Hence my lack of mourning apparel. She is healthy and recovering, after the birth of our three children two days ago,” he shared, pausing and smiling widely when several dwarves gasped and others exclaimed in surprise. Whilst they had never actively hidden the fact that Billa was having more than one baby, they hadn’t said anything official about it. And Thorin understood their shock – it was one thing hearing gossip that Billa might be bearing twins, and another thing to have it confirmed that there really was more than one baby. Twins and triplets just didn’t happen among dwarves.

“I would like to ask that you please respect our privacy during this sensitive transition period. Billa and the babies will make a public appearance when they are ready, and our medical team have deemed them fit enough to do so. In the meantime, if I am not around, all concerns can be directed to my royal advisor, Balin, or my sister - Princess Dís. That is all, thank you for your time,” Thorin concluded, dipping his head in a regal nod and finally taking his seat.

The hall erupted in noise, some dwarves cheering, some clapping – and others just talking excitedly among themselves.

The king smiled to himself, turning to look at Balin when his advisor clapped him on the shoulder. “Informative and concise. Nicely done, lad.”

“It was nothing. Honestly, I should have thought to make an announcement sooner,” Thorin noted, waving a hand dismissively.

“You had more important things to deal with, I think everyone can see that now,” the eldest son of Fundin said, beginning to pile food onto his plate. “How are Billa and the babies? I wish I could visit more, but I don’t want to leave Dís to deal with everything alone. I might try to visit tonight, if our final meeting doesn’t run too long.”

“Elrond says the babies are doing wonderfully, given the stressful circumstances of their birth. They sleep a great deal, but that’s not unusual. Fili spent most of the first year of his life asleep,” Thorin answered with a small chuckle, thinking back to the chubby blond baby his heir had used to be. “As for Billa, she’s as strong-spirited as ever. She isn’t enjoying bedrest, but her abdomen is still sore so she needs to give it time to heal. Elrond and Oin want her off her feet for at least another four or five days.”

Balin laughed lowly, shaking his head in amusement. “She’s a stubborn soul, but even the best of us need time to recover after illness, surgery and injuries.”

“Maybe you should come over, tell her that yourself,” the king suggested, grinning at his friend.

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t dare! You never listened to me when you got hurt, and I’m your advisor, why would she?” he pointed out, though his tone was playful rather than scolding.

Thorin tilted his head in acknowledgement to that, knowing it was true. Everyone had told him that he got back on his feet and started working far too quickly after his wounds from Azog, but that hadn’t stopped him. The kingdom had needed running, and he had needed a distraction.

“You’re both too stubborn for your own good – maybe that’s why you work so well,” Balin added as an afterthought, beginning to tuck into his meal.

Thorin huffed a laugh. “You might be right about that.”

Chapter Text

Billa sat behind Thorin on the bed, her legs spread out to rest on either side of him – but barely reaching the edge of the mattress. She ran a finger along one wing of the angular raven tattoo that stretched across the top of his back, sighing softly. “Do we have to do this today…?” she asked, a little mulishly, flattening her palm against his spine. She traced the top few vertebrae, trailing her fingers in circles around them. She smiled slyly when he shuddered, leaning forward and resting her head on his shoulder.

“Yes, we do – it’s too short notice to cancel,” the king huffed, turning his head as best he could to kiss her cheek. “The kitchen will already be preparing the feast. You must be looking forward to that, at least?”

“I mean…” she tried to dismiss, but it sounded weak even to her ears. “…okay, I am, but presenting the babies in front of all those people… I don’t know, it doesn’t sit right with me,” she confessed, closing her eyes and pressing her face into his neck.

“It will be fine, my heart. Dwalin will be shadowing you, they will be perfectly safe,” Thorin insisted, raising a hand to touch her engagement bead affectionately. “And so will you. I don’t think a single person in this mountain bears you or the babies any ill-will, but we have set up precautions. There will be guards, and after the official introduction is done Oin will bring the babies back to our rooms.”

“Could I not come back with the babies?” Billa requested, dusting a kiss on his throat.

It made her nervous, thinking about walking their family through the mountain. Thorin was doing everything he could to make it safe, she knew that, but she couldn’t help worrying. The babies had never left the Queen’s suite before, and they were still so young. It had only been a month since their birth, and that seemed too soon to Billa – even if Balin had said a royal birth was usually presented within a fortnight.

Thorin exhaled quietly, turning to face her properly and kneeling on the floor beside the bed so that they were eye-to-eye. “If you really want to, yes. But you haven’t left our rooms in months, my love, and I think you will have a good time. Just give it a chance. Let Oin take the babies, and if you want to return to our rooms a little later you can. Just… Try to enjoy yourself,” he suggested, his voice soft and so full of understanding that it made her feel silly.

It wasn’t like he was forcing her, anyway. He had asked her permission to arrange it all, and she had agreed – she was just getting cold feet. She’d been worried about it for days.

“Alright, I can do that… Is Dwalin going to meet me here?” she murmured, placing a hand on Thorin’s cheek and offering him a small smile.

He smiled back, leaning forward to kiss her lightly. “Yes. I have some last-minute preparations to take care of, but it will be hours before you need to leave. Until then, get ready, relax… Try not to worry, alright? Have a bath, or make yourself a nice lunch,” he suggested, rising to his feet. “I need to finish getting ready, since I won’t have time to come back before the feast.”

“Need a hand?” Billa checked, scooting to the edge of the bed and offering him a lopsided smile.

He raised an eyebrow, turning and walking to the wardrobe – giving her a very nice view of his muscular back. “Are you actually going to help?” he said, a smile in his voice.

The hobbit stood up, glancing into the bassinet beside the bed before following her intended. The babies were fast asleep, dozing happily after their latest feed. They might have been small, but all three of them were growing already – and they had started wiggling their arms and legs more. They were still pretty uncoordinated, and they couldn’t hold their heads up for more than a few seconds, but there was obvious progress. To Billa, at least.

Well…” she hummed, stepping between Thorin and the wardrobe.

“Amrâlimê,” he admonished, rolling his eyes and trying to move around her. He huffed a laugh when she followed, staying in his way. “I need to get dressed, I can’t face our people like this.”

Billa eyed him, taking in the sight of his bare chest. He was wearing nothing more than a grey pair of underwear – having changed out of his sleep clothes but not gotten much further. “Just put the crown on, you’ll be fine!” she quipped, grinning up at him.

“Do you really want others to see me like this?” Thorin wondered, humouring her by walking to his desk and picking up his crown. He set it down on his head, turning to face her and spreading his arms out at his sides. He turned on the spot, making a show of his appearance.

The future queen of Erebor hid a smile behind her hand, eating it up with her eyes. It was definitely a good look – all those tattoos and muscles – but he was right. It was for her, no one else. “I suppose not,” she accepted, walking over and slipping her arms around his middle. “I’d have a lot of competition if I let other people see you like this.”

Thorin laughed, a low rumbling sound that Billa felt from where she was pressed snug to his chest. “No, you wouldn’t.”

“Oh, I definitely would. The dwarven ladies would flock to see you – and maybe some of the males too!” Billa persisted, tilting her head up to look him in the eye. It was almost comical how much taller than her he was, but she quite liked it.

“I doubt that – but even if they did, there would be no competition. I belong to you,” he reiterated, smiling so charmingly that she felt her face heat up.

How could he be so sweet? It was unfair – they’d been together so long, and he still managed to make her feel like a swooning tween.

“Oh shush, you!” she breathed, hiding her face against one of his pecs.

-

Billa took a deep breath at the sound of a knock at the door, trying not to let her nerves get the better of her. It wasn’t like she hadn’t made public appearances before, and it wasn’t like the inhabitants of the mountain particularly disliked her – there was just so much that could go wrong.

She’d never taken the babies out before, and whilst Bifur and Bofur had made a lovely pram for the occasion, she was still nervous. What if someone knocked the pram? Or it rolled away? Or a screw came loose and it all collapsed with the babies inside?

Her breath caught in her throat at the thought, and she pressed a hand to her chest – her lungs tight with stress.

The door went again, but Billa couldn’t bring herself to walk over and open it. If she didn’t answer the door, could she just not go? Probably not – if she didn’t turn up, Thorin would come back for her. She knew that. She had said she would come.

She sucked in another breath, but there was no relief in it. Her chest burned, and she wobbled to the closest piece of furniture. She leaned against Thorin’s desk, her pulse roaring in her ears.

The door opened slowly, and Billa stared wide-eyed as Dwalin stepped inside – his expression concerned. He had obviously been expecting her to answer, and assumed something was wrong. “Billa?” he questioned, closing the door behind him. He walked over quickly, dropping to one knee in front of her with his brows furrowed. “What’s happening? What’s wrong?” he pressed, glancing to the crib before meeting her eyes. He was checking that the babies were okay, and she appreciated that. He was probably trying to figure out what had upset her, and had jumped to the conclusion that it might be related to the triplets.

But the three of them were fine – all dressed up for their public appearance and burbling to each other in the bassinet.

Billa shook her head, unable to put her panic into words.

The large dwarf planted his hands on her shoulders and squeezed them both gently, keeping his eyes fixed on hers. “Breathe. Just follow me, alright? In and out,” he instructed her, beginning to breathe loudly – in and out.

She copied him as best she could, her breaths starting shallow but getting deeper as she went. Once the pressure in her chest had eased she attempted a smile, blinking wetly at Dwalin. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me,” she whispered, raising a shaking hand to scrub at one of her cheeks.

“Don’t apologise, tell me what’s wrong,” the royal guard requested, keeping his hands on her shoulders.

“It’s nothing, my nerves just got the better of me,” she tried to argue, letting her eyes fall shut for a moment.

Dwalin made an understanding noise in his throat, giving her another gentle squeeze. “You’re worried about taking the little-uns out into the mountain,” he guessed, tilting his head at her when she opened her eyes again.

“Yes,” Billa confessed quietly, embarrassed. “I’m being ridiculous, I know I am.”

“No, you’re not,” the warrior said, surprising her. “These are your pebbles, and you’re protective of them. You know nothing will happen to them in these rooms, and you don’t know that about the rest of the mountain. If you want to put off making a public appearance, I can go and tell Thorin that you aren’t ready. But if we do this today, I swear to you that I will not let those babies out of my sight. I will even walk Oin back with them, if it brings you peace of mind. They will be safe.”

She stared at him for a moment, blown away by his sincerity. It did make her feel better, having him not only understand her fear – but offer help too. She believed him when he said he would watch them, he had never been anything but a great royal guard and an even better friend.

“What do you want to do?” Dwalin asked as the silence stretched, and Billa considered her options.

“I want to go. The sooner we do this, the sooner it’s over. And the babies aren’t staying at the feast, they won’t be out for long,” she decided, her voice stronger and surer than it had been before.

“Right,” he asserted, letting his hands drop back to his sides. He offered her a small smile before standing, holding out a hand in a silent offer of support. “Shall we go?”

“Yes, lets,” she maintained, taking his hand and straightening up. She used her free hand to dust off her dress, making sure it was still straight and neat. “Thank you, Dwalin.”

“Don’t mention it,” the royal guard dismissed, letting go of her hand when he saw she was steady on her feet again. “Do you want me to carry anyone?” he questioned, turning towards the bassinet.

“No, it’s fine. Bifur and Bofur made the most beautiful pram for them all – it’s over by the door.”

Dwalin looked back at the front door, spotting the pram immediately. He hadn’t seen it before, since he had been so focussed on Billa – and it had been partially obscured when the door was open. “I’ll go get it. Is everyone good to go?” he checked, striding over and grabbing the pram by the handle. He looked a little absurd wheeling it over to the bassinet, and Billa couldn’t help but smile.

“Yes, I should think so. They’re clean and ready to move, they just had to wait for their soppy mother to get a grip,” she reported, picking Frerin up and using one hand to wipe a line of drool from the corner of his mouth. She settled him down in the cushioned, blanket lined pram – making sure he was nice and snug before reaching for Belladonna.

“Don’t beat yourself up, we all have our wobbles,” Dwalin defended, picking up Rís and smiling widely when she cooed at him. “Hey, little lady.”

Billa was about to mock him for using the word ‘wobble’, since he had definitely picked that up from her, but seeing him talk to Rís stopped her. It was so unbelievably sweet, and when they had first met she never would have believed him capable of such gentleness. But there he was, carefully bouncing the baby girl in his giant arms. The hobbit tucked Belladonna in beside her brother, tickling the baby’s palm and beaming when she grabbed her mother’s finger clumsily.

Dwalin leaned over to set Rís down on the other side of her brother, pushing her dark hair back off of her face with the back of his index finger. “You two made some beautiful kids, I hope you know that.”

“Thank you. We did, didn’t we?” she sighed, watching the three of them fondly. Frerin accidentally kicked Belladonna, making her grizzle. “Easy now,” she crooned, stroking the little brunette’s cheek soothingly. “Let’s get moving, we’re already running late.”

“Only a little, and no one will mind. If anyone asks, we’ll say one of the pebbles had an accident and needed changing.”

“…thank you. I appreciate that,” she hummed, reaching out to pat his arm.

The balding dwarf shrugged modestly, moving off towards the door. “S’nothing,” he muttered, pulling the door open.

The two of them left the royal wing, taking a longer but safer route down to the main hall. Every time they reached a set of stairs Dwalin carried the pram down, since Billa was still regaining her strength. Even before she had given birth she had been off her feet for a while, so she wasn’t used to moving around too much or doing any kind of heavy lifting.

When they reached the food hall, Dwalin fell into step beside her and gave the order for two guards to open the door. Everyone inside fell silent as she entered with the pram, and it took all of the strength Billa had to hold her head high and keep walking. The tables were arranged in close rows, and everyone was already sat down – though a few people stood to peer into the pram as Billa moved through the middle of them all. Thorin was stood at his place on the royal table, with his back straight, shoulders squared and a fond look in his eyes.

Billa smiled at him as she walked, reassured by the sight of him tall and proud and dressed in his best clothes. She realised as she got closer, and her nerves subsided, that another table had been arranged at the front of the hall – close to the royal table. On it sat a giant of a man, hair barely tamed and uncharacteristically wearing a shirt. Further down the table sat a ginger dwarven Lord, a stern looking human and his daughter, and beside them the king of the woodland realm and his son.

Thorin hadn’t told her he was inviting anyone from outside the mountain, but it was lovely. She hadn’t seen Beorn or Sigrid since before the Battle of the Five Armies, and she had never gotten to spend time socially with Bard or Legolas. Dain had only left them several months before, but it was hardly a surprise that he had come. He was as family oriented as any dwarf, and the babies were his family too. As for Thranduil, it only made sense to invite him – it would have been an insult not to, when they were trying so hard to nurture their relationship with their elven neighbours. Gandalf and Elrond were sat with the odd gathering, both looking at Billa like proud grandparents as she passed.

She dipped her head respectfully to the group before carrying on to the royal table, smiling warmly when Thorin walked around the table and down the steps to join her. He pressed a quick and coy kiss to the top of her head, linking their arms together before lifting the pram and leading the way back up the steps to the table. He walked slowly and carefully so that she could easily keep pace with him, and so that there was no risk of him dropping the pram.

Thorin didn’t immediately return to his seat, instead standing with Billa and the pram in front of the royal table. “Good evening, everyone,” he called to the hall, glancing down to the pram as he did – checking if he had disturbed their babies. All three were still awake, but seemed unphased by how loudly he was talking.

Perhaps because they recognised the voice, and he didn’t sound angry or upset.

“Billa and I are proud to introduce you all to our three wonderful children,” he announced, releasing Billa’s arm and smiling kindly at her. He dipped down to scoop up both of their girls at once, cradling one in each arm. “These are our daughters, Princess Belladonna and Princess Rís.”

Billa followed Thorin’s lead, picking up Frerin and tucking him into the crook of her arm. “And this is our son, Prince Frerin,” she introduced, her voice loud, clear and steady. “I hope that you all welcome them to the mountain as warmly as you have welcomed me.”

The hobbit noticed the approving glance Thorin sent her way but didn’t acknowledge it in front of the crowd, putting Frerin gently back in the pram. Once her intended had returned their daughters too she pulled the little blanket up over them all and tucked them in securely. In their crib they were usually swaddled in separate blankets, for their own safety, but the pram was made more for transport than for sleeping – and the babies wouldn’t be spending much time in it. She would just keep an eye on them.

“We thank you all for your patience during this difficult transition period. Please, eat, drink and celebrate with us,” Thorin requested, looping an arm around Billa’s lower back.

Cheering and clapping rippled through the crowd, loudest from the royal table and their guests. Billa smiled widely as she glanced around the room, though she did turn when she heard someone step up beside her. Oin smiled lopsidedly at her, placing his hands on the pram.

“Are you sure you’re alright with missing the celebration?” she asked in an undertone, reaching into the pram to touch each of her babies in turn.

The elderly physician bobbed his head in a nod, looking entirely unbothered. “Of course not. I’ve got an early start in the morning, teaching a class,” he insisted, flashing her a quick grin at the last part.

Billa’s heart swelled at the news and she smiled wider, gently bumping her hip into his. “Good for you!”

Oin shrugged casually back at her, taking the pram and carrying it back down the steps. Billa watched him go, her chest feeling a little lighter when Dwalin broke away to follow him out of the hall. Just like he had promised he would.

The hobbit let her intended lead her around the table and to their seats, the crowd still clapping enthusiastically as they did. “You sly thing,” she said in an undertone as the two of them sat down, though the look she shot him was fond.

“Sly? How so?” Thorin answered, a wide smile on his face.

“You never told me you were inviting anyone from outside of the mountain – I thought we were only introducing the babies to your people,” Billa asserted, raising an eyebrow at him.

He shrugged easily, completely unabashed. “I know, I wanted to keep it a surprise. Usually we only send a letter to the other rulers in the area, and that’s what we did for the Master of Lake-Town, but we have a personal relationship with some of them – and I thought you would like to see them. Bar Thranduil, of course, but I couldn’t invite Legolas and not him. That would be too rude.”

“I’ll be honest, I’m a little surprised that you invited Beorn. He’s not royalty, or even a ruler of any kind. You could have gotten away with not asking him to come,” she confessed, keeping her voice low since the cheering and clapping had subsided.

Thorin visibly rolled his eyes, fixing her with an exasperated look. “Because I used to be terribly insecure, and worried about his feelings towards you? That was before he helped save my life, and before I almost lost you. I like to think I’ve grown since then,” he pointed out, smiling all the while.

“I didn’t mean-” she hastened to add, worried that she had offended him when he leaned forward and silenced her with a kiss. She smiled against his mouth when she heard Dain whoop nearby.

The king drew back and aimed an amused glare at his cousin before turning to meet her eyes once more. “I know, my heart. But Beorn means a lot to you, and I realised he was a good man a long time ago. He’s welcome in our mountain.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Billa accepted, kissing him lightly on the cheek. “Now, you’re keeping me from the first Bombur-cooked meal I’ve had in weeks.”

“My sincerest apologies, that is completely unacceptable,” Thorin laughed, nudging her with his knee under the table.

“Yes, it is,” she persisted, beginning to pile food onto her plate. “I would say this food will be the highlight of tonight, but now that I’ve seen our guests I’m not so sure.”

“Still important though, right?”

“Always. I almost can’t wait until the babies are old enough to experience it themselves,” Billa mused, taking a bit of every food within her reach. Bombur had outdone himself – there were rosemary roasted potatoes, honey glazed parsnips, caramelised red onion sausages and crispy-skinned chicken. A chunky beef broth, fresh-baked bread, grilled fish and steamed greens. There was something for everybody – and Billa would try all of it if she could.

“I still think your cooking is better,” Thorin confided, making her gasp and slap his arm gently.

“Thorin Oakenshield, that is blasphemy!” she defended, despite her pink cheeks. It made her chest feel warm, hearing him say such things. She was a hobbit through-and-through, and her cooking meant a great deal to her. It was why she read her cookbooks to the faunts sometimes, when they were alone or Thorin was working at his desk.

“What’s blasphemy?” Bombur asked from a few seats down, making both of them jump.

“Nothing!” Thorin said shrilly, looking like a pebble who got caught with his hand in the biscuit barrel.

Billa laughed at him, turning to look at Bombur and smiling warmly. “Thorin was just saying that he prefers the potatoes without rosemary – uncultured creature that he is,” she covered for him, pressing their thighs together under the table.

The rotund chef raised an eyebrow at the king, puffing himself up a little. “Of course, you do – you mistook deer for beef!” he scoffed, pointedly serving himself a large helping of potatoes. Thorin made an affronted noise, but when the ginger dwarf had looked the other way he mouthed a quick thank you to his future wife.

She winked playfully back at him before turning her attention to her food, eager to tuck in.

A short while later, when the main course had been depleted and the desserts were being brought out, Billa’s first well-wisher approached the royal table.

A guard stopped the handsome, mousy-haired dwarven lady before she got too close – placing a hand on her shoulder. Billa glanced to Thorin uncertainly, not quite sure why the stranger was approaching. She turned her attention back to the female dwarf ahead of them, watching as she and the guard spoke quietly. She showed the other dwarf something wrapped in fabric that Billa couldn’t quite make out, and he nodded his head approvingly. He then spun to face the table, tucking his hands behind his back and bowing respectfully.

“Lady Billa, Miss Munila would like to present you with a gift – to celebrate your good health and the birth of your children,” he declared, his voice clear and official.

The hobbit huffed softly in surprise, feeling at least a hundred eyes on her. She wanted to turn to Thorin, for his approval, but that might make her appear weak and unsure. Balin had spent months drilling into her that dwarves approved of a consort with a backbone – someone who held their own opinions and could easily stand up for themselves.

And really, what was the risk in accepting a gift? The guard had already checked it, if it was anything dangerous he wouldn’t be offering it to her…

…surely?

“That’s very kind of you, thank you,” Billa allowed, recovering quickly and flashing the female dwarf a smile.

Munila dipped her head gratefully, proceeding to the table under the watchful eye of the guard. She held out a small, silk-wrapped parcel, looking so nervous that Billa couldn’t help feeling a little bad for her. She was brave to walk up to them the way she had.

“Congratulations. A small gift from our family to yours, Athanu men,” she said, her voice low and gravelly.

Billa smiled wider at her, taking the package and opening it carefully. Inside sat a beautiful but simple hair tie, with three silver beads on it. Each bead was decorated with a different rune, one for beauty, one for health and one for fertility. Silver might not have been the most valuable metal in the mountain, but it was still a thoughtful and well-made gift from a dwarf who didn’t have even a fraction of the wealth the crown did.

It made her want to turn it away, because she had done nothing to deserve it – but she knew that would be an insult. To refuse any kind of gift from a dwarf was a grave insult, it was only ever done if the dwarf giving the gift had done something unforgivable to the recipient – or had insulted them by offering something of poor quality.

Munila hadn’t done anything to her, and the hair tie was beautiful.

“It’s wonderful, did you make this yourself?” Billa asked, pulling her braid over her shoulder and beginning to loop the tie around the end.

The female dwarf inhaled sharply, her eyes wide and her cheeks turning pink. “I-I did,” she murmured, raising a hand to fiddle with her own hair self-consciously.

“You have a talent,” the hobbit told her, folding the silk wrapping carefully between her hands. “Thank you for the gift.”

Munila bowed her head low, still blushing profusely. She returned to her table, earning a hearty smack on the back from the dwarf she sat with.

Thorin put a hand on Billa’s knee under the table, giving it a pat. “Nicely done, my heart.”

“Did you know people would bring gifts?” she asked him quietly, tilting her head at him.

“I thought they might, it is traditional.”

“You could have warned me,” she huffed, rolling her eyes a little before returning her attention to the table in front of them. She served herself a generous portion of apple and blackberry cobbler, picking up her fork but glancing up when she heard more footsteps.

Several guards had gathered at the bottom of the steps to the royal table – to manage the queue that had formed. Thorin smothered a smile with his hand, winking playfully at her when she aimed a glare in his direction.

Over the next hour, Billa received more gifts than she could count. Blankets, clothes for herself and for the babies, toys, beads, jewellery and teddies – among other things. The guards checked everything before it reached her, and only had to confiscate a handful of things. They wouldn’t allow any kind of food or drink, for safety reasons – which was a crying shame in Billa’s eyes. She didn’t think anyone would try to poison her, but the caution was appreciated.

At one point, Beorn joined the line. He looked absurd, towering over the dwarves around him, but what Billa couldn’t get over was the fact he had a shirt on. She had only ever seen him bare-chested, anything else looked unnatural. Especially given how the fabric strained across his broad figure.

“Little bunny,” he greeted after Thorin had waved the guards away from him, his smile wide and toothy. “I can’t believe you’ve got tiny kits of your own – they were so small!”

Billa laughed, shrugging slightly. “They aren’t that small, you are just ridiculously tall! You’re even larger than the elves, and that is saying something,” she argued, gesturing to where Legolas stood further back in the line – towering over the dwarves almost as much as Beorn.

The dwarves immediately in front of and behind the elven prince seemed to be giving him a wide berth, but the blond didn’t seem to mind all that much. He stood tall and proud, and smiled when he caught Billa looking at him.

Beorn chuckled, turning to look at Thorin and smiling wider. He seized the king’s hand, shaking it enthusiastically. “It’s so good to see you both, thank you for inviting me. The last time I saw the two of you, you were recovering from a headwound-” he said, nodding to Billa “-and you were unconscious. Now you have three little ones!”

“I know, it doesn’t feel like almost a year has passed since then. I’m glad to see you looking so well, how’re the Misty Mountains faring?” Thorin hummed, accepting the handshake and smiling easily.

“They are mountains,” Beorn answered, looking at the dwarf like he was a bit odd.

Billa sniggered, biting her bottom lip in amusement. “He means are the goblins still causing issues for you, or have things gotten quieter since the battle?” she rephrased, trying not to laugh again when she caught sight of how red-faced her future husband was.

“Oh! Well, he should have said so plainly,” the skin-changer reasoned, raising a hand to scratch at his slightly-tamed mane of hair.

“He’s a king, he doesn’t know how to do that,” she teased gently, knocking their legs together under the table.

Beorn laughed at that, bobbing his head in agreement. “I suppose that is true. As for the goblins, I barely notice them anymore. I caught a few stragglers returning after the battle, but I disposed of them. I’m not even sure any live in the mountains now – and I haven’t seen an orc in a good half-year.”

“That’s good to hear,” Thorin recovered, still a little pink in the cheeks.

“Now, enough talk of nasty things – I brought gifts for the new family,” the broad bear revealed, dropping a burlap sack onto an empty space on the table. Something in the bag clacked like glass hitting glass, and Billa winced internally.

She hoped nothing had been broken.

Beorn reached into the bag, pulling out three large jars of honey. “From my bees,” he explained. “I remember how much you liked it when you visited.”

“Ohh! I do love a good honey, and between me and you Beorn – the honey we buy here isn’t as nice. You’d make a fortune if you sold this,” Billa praised, picking up one of the jars and turning it over in her hands. It was huge, and heavy, and it would last the two of them a good long while. Even with how much honey Billa ate.

Beorn beamed, shrugging lopsidedly. “Let me know when you run out and I’ll send more. The bees make more than enough to feed themselves and me.”

“Thank you, I will definitely take you up on that offer!”

He grinned at her, putting the honey back in the bag before pulling out a lovely wooden mobile. Billa sucked in a breath at the sight of it, reaching out to touch the delicate-looking wooden bees. “I’m not used to making things so small, but I hope you like it.”

“It’s stunning, Beorn,” Billa insisted, cradling one little bee in the palm of her hand. It was big enough that she couldn’t close her fingers completely around it, but it still fit nicely in her grip. How Beorn had made something so dainty, she would never know. “The babies will love it, I’m sure.”

The skin-changer’s face lit up in a smile and he puffed his chest out proudly. “Good. It’s a shame I couldn’t meet the little ones – but I suppose it’s too noisy here to keep them around.”

“You’re welcome to visit again sometime. I would offer to let you spend the night, but I’m afraid we don’t have a bed big enough!” she suggested, smiling back fondly.

Beorn snorted loudly, dipping his head in acknowledgement. “I’m not surprised, you’re all so small. I had to duck just to walk down the hall earlier. I’m just glad the ceiling is so high in here.”

“I’m afraid we’re not used to creatures of your stature,” Thorin explained, though he was smiling. Back when they had first met the bear, he would have taken offence at being called small – he had used to hate the nickname Beorn had for Billa.

He really had grown.

“Well, so long as you don’t mind, I might hang about for a day or so. I’d love to meet your young, and I’m happy to sleep outside. I noticed you have stables?” Beorn suggested, reaching up to pull awkwardly at his shirt collar.

“You’re welcome to stay, but we couldn’t possibly let you sleep outside,” Thorin protested before Billa could, frowning at the large man in front of them.

The skin-changer let out a bellowing laugh, heaving his shoulders in a shrug. “I’m not sure you could stop me,” he joked with a smile. “You don’t need to worry about me. I can take care of myself – and I won’t eat any of your friends.”

Billa couldn’t help but laugh at that, rolling her eyes. “We know you wouldn’t be in any danger, but it’s getting cold out,” she reasoned, about to argue that the stables were only for the animals – when she realised that probably wasn’t wise. Beorn loved animals, and he might take offence.

“Oh, don’t fret, little bunny. Do you think I walked all the way here without stopping to sleep? At least the stables have walls! I’ve slept under the stars more times than I care to count, and I like it too,” he persisted, stubborn as an oliphant.

Thorin cast Billa a look that was equal parts defeated and amused, before returning his gaze to Beorn. “Alright, so long as you don’t mind. Breakfast is served for several hours after dawn, here in the main hall. Please, make sure you come in and eat, we don’t want you cold and hungry.”

Beorn grinned at the king, nodding easily. “If breakfast is even half as good as that feast was, I look forward to it. Now, I should let these other people give you their gifts – they’re all waiting so patiently. Even the elf,” he said, casting a look back at the line behind him.

Thorin hid a smile behind his hand at the elf comment, and Billa glanced apologetically at Legolas – only to see him smiling too.

“Thank you again for the gifts, Beorn. They’re perfect,” Billa hummed, shaking her head in amusement when Beorn waved a dismissive hand at her and turned away – too kind and humble to accept her praise.

It was almost a half hour later that Legolas reached the front of the queue, his hands tucked behind his back and a fine leather satchel hanging from one shoulder.

“I’m very sorry about the wait, Prince Legolas. Thank you for your patience,” Thorin said sincerely, reaching out to idly tuck one of Billa’s braids behind her ear for her. She cast him a fond look before turning her attention to the elven prince, smiling kindly at him.

“Oh, it was no bother. I’ve never been to a royal birth announcement before, it’s been quite enjoyable. Is it often like this?” he accepted easily, looking around the grand hall as he did.

“The food and the gifts are fairly normal, but I’ve never witnessed one with such a… Diverse collection of guests,” Thorin confessed. “But that being said, I’ve only attended three, and I was too young to remember one of them.”

“From what I understand, Erebor is unusually progressive for a dwarven stronghold. You should be proud,” Legolas remarked, dipping his head respectfully. He leaned in closer, smiling and lowering his voice, “it’s definitely more progressive than our kingdom – but I’m working on that.”

“We’re glad to hear it,” Billa shared, smiling wider. It was good to know that Legolas was trying to better their kingdom. As their second closest ally, it was important to them that the Greenwood did well. “And we’re very proud of how well Erebor is doing.”

“You should be. And how fitting that you should celebrate the reclaiming of your homeland with new life. Congratulations to you both, my father and I had several gifts prepared on your behalf,” the elven prince averred, removing the satchel from his shoulder and resting it on the table as he opened it.

First, he pulled out a long, flat wooden box – decorated with elven script. He popped it open, revealing a strange but beautiful wooden hoop, decorated with colourful yarn in a web-like pattern. From the hoop hung a series of feathers and beads, in a wide variety of colours and sizes. Billa had never seen anything like it, but it looked fiddly – and she could tell a lot of work had gone into it.

“We call this a ‘dream-catcher’. It’s traditional to hang them in an infant’s room, near their bed. They’re supposed to protect the child, catching nightmares and bad spirits in the webbing,” he explained, removing the item from the box and showing them a small hook attached to the top – to hang it up. “We had three commissioned, one for each baby.”

Thorin was looking at the ‘dream-catcher’ with clear confusion, his brow furrowed deeply.

“Thank you, Prince Legolas. It’s beautiful – we’ll be sure to put them up in their bedroom, once they’re big enough to move out of ours,” Billa chimed, extending a hand to touch a silk-soft feather. “Please tell your father I said thank you, it’s a very thoughtful gift.”

“You’re welcome – and I will,” Legolas promised, setting the dream-catcher carefully back in its box. He removed two identical boxes from his bag and stacked them on top of the other, but did not open either. Billa assumed they were very similar in appearance. Legolas then took out another wooden box, this one deeper but not as long as the others. He opened it to reveal a stunning silver bangle, decorated with elven writing and flowers made from some kind of blue gem. The box was silk-lined to protect it, and the craftsmanship was impeccable.

Thorin leaned over to examine it, tilting his head. “May I?” he asked, gesturing to the piece of jewellery and glancing between Billa and Legolas.

Legolas looked at Billa, and upon seeing no signs of protest in her features, nodded at Thorin. “Of course,” he answered, handing him the box.

“It’s lovely, what does it say?” the hobbit inquired to Legolas, happy to let Thorin inspect it further. He was likely checking the quality – since dwarves could be very picky about their jewellery. Billa liked it, though, and if Thorin said anything bad about it she would set him right.

“It is an old blessing, wishing good health on you and your children. My mother had one with emeralds and peridots, since those were her favourites. I heard that you were an autumn child, so I thought sapphires would be more suitable – and it just happens to be one of Thorin’s colours, too,” he said, though he was watching Thorin instead of her and looking visibly uncomfortable.

“It’s beautifully made, and very thoughtful. Did you design it, or did Dori?” Thorin reported, looking up at the elven prince and smiling.

Legolas blinked, clearly surprised, but cleared his throat and answered. “I designed it, but I commissioned Master Dori to make it. How did you know?”

“Dori is an incredibly skilled jeweller, I would recognise his work anywhere,” the king verified, surprising Billa too. She glanced down the table to her eldest brother, who was rigid in his chair and incredibly red-faced.

Thorin gently took Billa’s wrist in his hand, removed the bangle from its box and slid it on for her. He then kissed her hand, smiling warmly.

Billa felt her own cheeks grow warm at that, but turned back to Legolas with a small smile. “Thank you, it’s perfect.”

“You’re welcome. And thank you for inviting us – father won’t admit it, but he was pleased to receive your invitation,” Legolas insisted. He looked sincere, but Billa wasn’t sure she believed it – unless Thranduil really was worried about his relationship with Erebor. He seemed so self-involved that it didn’t seem possible, but she would take Legolas’ word for it. He, at least, seemed genuinely happy to be there – and he meant well.

Thorin, to his credit, didn’t laugh or even comment on what Legolas had said about his father. “It was our pleasure.”

The blond prince dipped his head gratefully and bid them farewell, returning to his table and subtly touching his father on the arm as he sat. Elves didn’t seem a very affectionate race, but Billa recognised a fond gesture when she saw it. Thranduil smiled minutely at Legolas but otherwise didn’t react, continuing his conversation with Bard as though nothing had happened.

Over the next couple of hours, Billa received even more gifts for both her and the babies. Sigrid and Bard had given her a strange mix of knitwear, made by Sigrid herself, and fine silk clothes from the now prospering city of Dale. Sigrid had become a real healer, despite her responsibilities as Lady of Dale, and Bard was obviously proud of her – even if he didn’t say as much in front of the other royals. It warmed Billa’s heart to see them both, healthy and happy despite everything they’d been through in Dale and Lake-Town.

She’d had a wonderful night, and by the time they had to say goodbye to their guests she found herself reluctant to leave the festivities. She only allowed Thorin to steer her away because her eyelids were drooping, and she had the lumbering gait of someone in great need of rest. It had been both a stressful and an exciting day, and she was exhausted.

-

A grape hit the royal guard in the side of the face, missing his mouth by a good inch or so.

Nori roared with laughter from where he sat close beside the balding warrior, tipping sideways into his companion.

Dwalin fought back a smile, throwing the grape back at the former thief and raising a hand to wipe a smudge of juice from his cheekbone. “Really? You want t’ play that game?” he threatened mildly, plucking a stem from the bowl in Nori’s lap.

“What’re you going to do about it, tough guy? Tell the king?” the ginger sniggered, leaning away again and narrowing his eyes.

The other dwarf scoffed loudly, flicking the stick at Nori – thinking his guard might be down for once.

Except his hand snapped up to catch it, pinching it between two long fingers. He raised an eyebrow challengingly at Dwalin, one corner of his mouth curling up into a sly smile.

Dwalin shoved the auburn-haired dwarf, rolling his eyes. “I can fight my own battles, thank you,” he huffed, “you should know that better than anyone.”

“Oh yeah?” Nori answered with a wiggle of his brows, cackling when Dwalin shoved him again.

The spymaster had snuck out of the celebration earlier that night, with the sole intention of keeping the larger dwarf company. He knew Dwalin took a great deal of pride in his job, and he genuinely didn’t mind sitting in the royal wing on guard, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have a good time doing it. Which was why Nori had ambushed him, with some pilfered cheese, crackers and grapes. It wasn’t the most lavish meal, especially considering some of the food being served below them, but it was easy to slip away with. Someone might notice if he snatched a roasted chicken.

“Don’t be lewd!” Dwalin rebuked him, though he was finding it harder to stifle his smile.

Nori leaned heavily against the guard, still tittering under his breath. “I didn’t say anything lewd, but if the boot fits-” he stopped, sitting up straight and turning to look down the hall.

He’d always had incredibly good hearing, and he could definitely hear footsteps.

Dwalin followed his line of sight, falling silent to listen. He exhaled quietly, taking the bowl of food from Nori and setting it in his own lap. “Go on,” he encouraged, staring down rather than looking at the dwarf beside him. “S’fine.”

Nori stayed still for a moment, thinking, before finally rolling his eyes and relaxing against Dwalin once more. “This is fine,” he corrected, his tone completely casual.

“What?”

“My sister isn’t a moron, and neither is Thorin. And I’m not embarrassed, anyway. Are you?” he said, turning slightly so that he could look the warrior in the eye – even with his balding head bowed.

Dwalin looked up so abruptly that his head knocked into Nori’s with a dull thunk. “Sorry-” he blustered, reaching up to rub the auburn-haired dwarf’s forehead. “-and no, ‘course not. Nothing to be embarrassed about, I just thought…”

“What, that I got a kick out of sneaking about?” Nori snorted, swatting Dwalin’s hand away.

The other dwarf went red in the face, the blush spreading down his neck and out of sight. “…well…”

“Alright, I’ll give you that – it was exciting. But now it’s just a bother.”

“So you…?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go shouting about it around the mountain. I don’t want the attention, and neither do you. I know that. But hiding is…”

“Exhausting?”

“Yeah. I’m tired of it. And we’re adults, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“Is that… Okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course.”

“Then we agree on something, that’s new,” Nori teased, slipping a hand between them and pinching Dwalin through a gap in his armour.

The royal guard yelped, taken by surprise, and the bowl of food skittered onto the floor.

The footsteps down the hall quickened and Thorin rounded the corner, Orcist drawn and ready. He seemed to deflate when he saw them both, though his eyes still darted up and down the hall.

“Everything alright…?” he checked, raising an eyebrow and sheathing his sword. Billa appeared behind him, pink-cheeked and out of breath – one of her mithril and dragon daggers in hand. Thorin turned to look at her, rolling his eyes and offering her an amused smile. “I told you to wait.”

“I told you to shove it. What’s happening?” she huffed, twirling the dagger between her fingers with shocking dexterity.

Nori smiled proudly at her – she must have been practicing.

“Nothin’, this orc spawn just caught me off-guard is all,” Dwalin huffed, his face beetroot-red.

Nori made an indignant noise and Billa snorted softly, moving to loop her arm through Thorin’s. “I didn’t think anyone could catch you off-guard, Dwalin,” she said, tilting her head and smiling slyly.

The bald dwarf spluttered and looked away, clearly embarrassed. “Only Nori can,” he mumbled, so softly that Nori was sure that he was the only one who heard. Warmth flared in his chest and he averted his gaze to his feet, smiling to himself.

Billa’s brow furrowed in confusion – since she had seen Dwalin’s mouth move, and Nori smile. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but Thorin squeezed her arm and shook his head minutely.

“Well, if nothing’s the matter, we’re going to bed. We have young ones to check on, and a physician to relieve. There’s another guard at the end of the royal wing if you would like to take your leave, Dwalin,” the king decided, before turning his head into Billa’s and saying something so softly that Nori couldn’t quite hear. He couldn’t read it off of the other dwarf’s lips either, since they were obscured by his intended’s curly hair.

Billa reached under her skirt with her dagger, tucking it away discreetly. “Mm, and you have an early start in the morning,” she agreed, not acknowledging whatever he had said privately. “I, on the other hand, will be relaxing. Do join me for tea if you’re free, Nori?”

“I’m always free for you, sister dear. I can bring lunch, if you like? I hear Bombur is making quiches and broths and such with the leftovers from tonight,” the spy answered easily, settling a hand on Dwalin’s knee and giving it an absent pat.

“Sounds perfect – but make sure you ask Bombur for food, you know how he feels when you steal it,” she requested, beaming down at him. Her eyes flickered to his hand, but she didn’t comment, and he appreciated that.

Nori wasn’t sure how much Dwalin could take.

“Where’s the fun in that?” he complained, shooting her a wink and hauling himself to his feet. “C’mon. You heard the king, you’re free to go,” he encouraged, offering the larger dwarf a hand.

Dwalin grasped it gratefully, though his eyes widened when Nori successfully pulled him off of the floor – one handed. “Always forget how strong you are…” he muttered, still a little red under his beard.

“Dangerous,” Nori purred, grinning toothily at the guard and making him go even redder.

Thorin coughed pointedly, moving around them to the door but pausing to scoop up the bowl. It was mostly empty, with a few grape stems and broken crackers left inside. “I’ll dispose of this. Goodnight,” he hummed, dipping his head to them both.

Billa padded over to join her future husband, giving Dwalin’s arm a pat as she did. “Have a good night,” she said in farewell, casting an all-too-knowing look between them.

Nori waited until the two had disappeared into their room before addressing Dwalin again, turning and smiling widely. “Well, that could have gone worse.”

“Do you think…?”

“They know, Dwalin. They aren’t stupid. That’s you.”

“Hey!”

Chapter Text

Balin watched the hobbit from under his half-moon glasses, drumming his fingers on the ebony desk that took pride of place in the center of his office.

It was new, commissioned from Bifur only weeks before – with dragon engravings and runes etched into the wood. It might have only been a simple thing, but it really made the room feel like it was his. It barely mattered that his books had been filling the shelves for over a year, when the old desk had been there for centuries. It had seen numerous other royal advisors, and sat unused for decades during Smaug’s treasonous reign.

This desk was new, and it honoured what had happened. The runes spoke of the company, and the quest, and Smaug’s defeat.

“Billa?” he intoned, smiling when her eyes flicked up to meet his. “Can I ask you something? And do tell me to pitch myself into a mine shaft if I’m speaking out of turn.”

Billa spluttered a laugh, taken off-guard by his bluntness. “Of course you can – and I seriously doubt that will be necessary.”

“Have you put any more thought into yours and Thorin’s wedding? The babies are growing, the mountain is prospering – and Thorin’s duties are beginning to calm down now that everyone is settled. I’m not saying we need to rush, or hold the wedding a week from now – just that it might be wise to… Start planning,” Balin proposed, pushing his glasses up his nose before folding his hands together on the desk.

The hobbit smiled fondly at him, settling back into the plush chair opposite him. She rested a hand on her middle, as she often did, though it slid down into her lap after a moment. Her expression didn’t falter, despite her slip-up. “I haven’t made any firm plans, but I have thought about it. I agree it’s the right time to start planning, set things in motion. I grow stronger every day, and Thorin… I know how badly he wants it. And I want it, too. If you think I’m ready to be queen, then… Let’s get started,” she answered, closing her book with her free hand. The brunette had been sharing a pot of tea and reading with the eldest Fundin brother, revising politics and only speaking when she found something she didn’t understand.

Which wasn’t all that often. Balin was proud of how far she’d come. A lot was expected of a dwarven royal, and it was all so different to what she was used to as a hobbit, but she was a great student.

“You are ready. We will continue our lessons, keep you up to date… But you know more than enough to be queen – you’re already a very respectable consort. The local rulers all adore you, our people too, and at this point the wedding is more a formality.”

“Did you just call my wedding a formality, Balin?”

“It’s a delightful formality! It’ll be a wonderful occasion, I’m sure of it, I only meant that the two of you are already married in spirit. Your souls are bonded, you have children – this would make it official, but the fact of the matter is that you two are united in every other way a couple can be,” Balin reasoned, despite her obvious smile. He knew she was teasing, but he still wanted to make it clear that he had utter faith in their relationship. He’d never met a stronger pair, in all his years.

“Nicely saved. This is why you’re royal advisor,” Billa said, reaching up to touch her engagement bead with a fond and familiar look in her eyes. It warmed his heart to see how much she loved Thorin, because the king deserved it – even if he didn’t think so himself.

“I speak only the truth. You two are stronger-”

“-than a mountain ridge?”

“I was going to say than an oak tree’s roots, actually. Isn’t that what you always say?” he corrected, plucking his glasses from his face and folding them closed.

“It is, yes. It’s so strange, hearing any of you use my expressions… Though I suppose I’ve picked up some of yours, too,” Billa mused, lacing her hands together in her lap.

Balin shrugged and smiled, opening a drawer and withdrawing a roll of blank parchment from inside. “We’ll have the whole mountain sharing your dialect within a year,” he joked, popping the cork out of a waiting inkwell. “Now, the wedding,” he began, sinking a dip-pen carefully in the ink. “Do we have a preferred date?”

“Oh gosh, I don’t mind. Durin’s Day might have been nice, but that’s long since passed. Are there any festivals or important dates we should avoid?”

“None we should avoid, really, though there is one we could work the wedding around. Muhudtuzakhmerag is only a few short months away,” Balin suggested, wiping the excess ink on the edge of the ink pot. “And if there was ever an appropriate time for a hobbit and dwarf wedding, it would be the Blessed Green festival.”

“Oh, of course! That’s the one celebrating Yavanna, and the spring barley harvest, right?” Billa realised, remembering the one the year before. It had been a quiet affair, since the farm lands weren’t particularly fruitful at the time and the mountain was still largely uninhabited, but Balin had told her it was usually a merry occasion – in which dwarves wore sprigs of barley for luck and celebrated the first harvest of the year for twenty straight days. There was also a pony race, to crown the race champion of the mountain, on the final day of the celebration. The last race hadn’t had a large turn-out, given that only the company and a couple of hundred Iron Hill dwarves had been in the mountain at the time.

“Precisely. And given your connection to Yavanna, and Thorin’s to Mahal, it seems the perfect time for the wedding. Our legends are unclear on precisely when Yavanna and Mahal were married, given that the event predates our existence, so this is the best holiday we could ask for,” he said, writing Muhudtuzakhmerag at the top of the page.

“We will have to ask Bard for an estimation on when the spring barley will be ready this year, but we have two months, at least?” the hobbit guessed, clasping her hands together in her lap. “What needs to be done, in that time?”

“Clothes must be tailored, food ordered, invitations sent… But most importantly, Thorin must draw up a contract for your union, and he must face Dori in a public sparring match.”

Billa grimaced softly, raising her eyes to the ceiling. “Right, that…” she huffed, squeezing her fingers together. The idea of a contract was so strange to her, it wasn’t something hobbits did. Hobbits married, and that meant if either one of them died their belongings and money went to their partner. It was that simple. The contract wasn’t a problem, though, and the fight was. Billa trusted Thorin to write something reasonable, and the point of the contract was that Billa could argue with it and adjust it if she disagreed. She could not, however, stop her eldest brother from beating Thorin within an inch of his life. “…Thorin has to win for the wedding to go ahead, right?”

Balin smiled crookedly at her, bobbing his head. “Aye. The wedding won’t be cancelled, just… Postponed until he can fight Dori and win.”

Mahal…” she grumbled, letting her eyes fall onto the royal advisor once more. “And there’s no way to… Circumvent that requirement?” she tried, though Balin could see in her expression that she wasn’t hopeful.

“Do you really think Thorin would allow it, even if there was?” he pointed out, amused. Thorin was a stubborn fool at the best of the times, and a stickler for tradition too. “I know the fight seems… Daunting, but what happens, happens. That’s not in your control. You need to let Thorin know that we are moving ahead with wedding plans, so he can prepare himself for the fight and begin writing up your contract. In the meantime, I will begin looking at dates for the fight and contact Bard about the harvest. Figure out the details. Smiths and tailors need to be commissioned, Bombur needs fair warning to begin planning a wedding feast… There is a lot to take care of.”

“Right, of course… So we go ahead with plans, assuming Thorin will win the sparring match?” Billa sighed, releasing her tensely clenched hands and carefully smoothing her skirt.

“Something like that,” Balin allowed, beginning to write out a list of what needed doing. Planning the wedding would primarily fall on him, but that was fine. This was his job, and really, organising a royal wedding was a pleasure. Organising Thorin’s wedding was a gift. “The fight will be staged at least a month before the wedding, so there is time to rearrange should it not go the way we want.”

“Alright, is there anything else I need to do?” she asked, sitting up straighter.

“Not urgently. There will be tunic-fittings, consultations, those sorts of things – but not for a short while. If you have any particular requests, do let me know and I’ll see what can be done,” he disclosed, eyes fixed on the page as he figured out everything he would need to take care of before the wedding.

“Ah, speaking of clothing, I was wondering… Could I possibly wear a dress? I had my mother’s dress brought down from the Shire, and it won’t fit me, but I had hoped to design something similar. If that would be alright?” Billa tested, smiling sheepishly at the royal advisor when he glanced up at her.

His eyes crinkled at the corners and he glanced downwards once more. “It would be inhospitable of us not to allow room for… Cultural differences,” he said evenly, making a note beside the ‘clothing’ point on his page. “The tailor will need to see your mother’s dress, but so long as we can make your dress and Thorin’s robes match, there should be no problem. Since you are marrying a dwarf, in a largely dwarven ceremony, I don’t doubt we can make some adjustments on your behalf. We should be respectful of your heritage.”

“Thank you, I appreciate that,” she breathed, smiling easier and pushing a hand through the front of her hair.

“Anything for the lady that can soften our moody old king.”

-

“-then return to the oven for another twenty-five to thirty-five minutes, until golden brown, and baste frequently. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for fifteen minutes before carving and serving,” Billa said, her voice quiet but melodic. She rose from her rocking chair, closing the book softly and glancing between the three cribs.

All three babies were sound asleep, their tiny faces smooth and peaceful.

“We’ll talk about the rosemary potatoes tomorrow, alright?” she whispered, smiling to herself. She turned towards the open door, casting a ray of light into the nursery, and felt her poor heart start at the sight of a silhouette there. “Gods, I must be losing my touch. Don’t sneak up on me like that,” she chastised, tucking the book under her arm and slipping past her king back into the main Queen’s suite.

“Apologies, my heart, I didn’t want to disturb you. Was that the honeyed ham recipe?” Thorin asked, following her towards the fireplace.

She wasn’t facing him, but she could hear the smile in his voice.

“They like it,” she defended, kneeling to add another log to the fire. Thorin laughed throatily behind her and she turned to see him taking a seat on the sofa. “What?” she huffed, trying her best to frown at him – but finding herself quite unable at the sight of his fond smile.

I think they like the way you sound when you talk about food,” he insisted, extending a hand towards her.

She rolled her eyes, taking the extended appendage and squeaking when he tugged her straight onto his lap. She smacked his chest gently with an open palm, releasing his hand and giving her hair a cautionary pat. She was already in her sleep-clothes, having settled for the night, but still. She wasn’t an animal! “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she sniffed, sitting upright across his legs and folding her arms.

He laughed again, leaning forward to kiss each of her cheeks in turn. “You get all reverent, like it’s of the utmost importance,” he argued, beaming from ear to ear.

She swatted him again, but she couldn’t fight the smile on her face. “Oh, shush! Cooking is important,” she protested, stretching her own legs down the sofa and leaning her back against the arm rest. “Now, quit being mean. Tell me how your day was.”

“Mean, me? Never!” he gasped, sliding one arm under her back and using the other to fiddle with a loose curl beside her face. “And my day was terribly boring, azyungel. Just the usual weekly meetings – discussing the mines, the food stores, so on and so forth. Nothing particularly noteworthy came up. How was your day?”

“Oh, similar, I suppose. Balin had me revising politics, making sure I don’t get rusty… I translated a record from Khuzdul, for practice, but it wasn’t an interesting record. Something about dried goods. And we decided on a date for the wedding,” she recounted, adding the last part as casually as the rest – partly to see if Thorin was listening, and partly to see the surprise on his face if he was.

The king of the dwarves went a little tense for a moment, both brows furrowed. “…what?”

“I said I had a similar day-” she maintained, fighting a smile as he wrapped both arms around her waist and turned her to face him properly.

“You’ve decided on a date for the wedding? Our wedding?” he pressed, voice high with barely concealed excitement.

“No, Kili’s wedding – of course I mean our wedding, my foolish dwarf.”

Thorin’s face cracked out in the biggest smile Billa had seen on him since the birth of their children, and she knocked her forehead affectionately on his. “When?”

“Muhudtuzakhmerag,” she told him, taking both of his hands in hers and lacing their fingers together.

“That soon?”

“You sound so surprised, my love – I told you I wanted to marry you!” Billa reminded him, smiling fondly.

“I know, I just… We discussed it so long ago, and we only said it would be after the babies were born. You could have waited until their first year had passed, or their second or their third, and I wouldn’t have complained!” Thorin shared, making her shake her head in amusement.

“Did you really think I would want to wait that long…? I was ready to marry you before they arrived. I just wanted them to do a little growing first,” she pointed out, kissing him gently – laughing against his mouth when she tried to pull away and he followed, prolonging the kiss.

“Mahal, Muhudtuzakhmerag, that’s perfect – is it enough time? There’s a lot to prepare,” he pointed out, resting his forehead on hers.

“Balin chose the date, and I don’t think he would suggest anything he didn’t think we could manage. Our greatest concern is, y’know… The fight,” she breached, not wanting to spoil his good mood but knowing it needed to be said.

Thorin heaved both of his shoulders in a shrug, squeezing her hands in his. “I’ll happily let your brother beat me about for your hand, Billa. Dori is the strongest member of our company, and usually his best tactic is the element of surprise – given that no one expects such strength from such a small dwarf, but that’s not a problem here. I know how strong Dori is, I can work with it. I can be quicker than him. I’m not saying I’ll definitely win the first time, but… I’ll give it a damned good go.”

Billa smiled again at that, running her nose along his. She was still worried about the fight, she couldn’t help it. Dori had never really approved of Thorin – and he might not be quite so loud with his disapproval anymore, but he had plenty of reasons to give Thorin a sound beating. Thorin had clearly put some thought into the matter, though, and that gave her some hope. She knew how fast Thorin could be, he was almost as graceful in a battle as he was on a dance floor, and that could work to his advantage. “Alright, good. And just… Train, yes? Practice a bit with Dwalin, or something.”

“Naturally. I’m no fool,” he hummed, grinning when she raised her eyebrows pointedly. “…most of the time.”

-

Billa shrugged her coat off as she entered the Queen’s suite, hanging it on a hook beside the door. Outside of the mountain the grass was green and the flowers were growing once more, but the stone walls of their home had yet to shake off the cold. Most of the main halls, the library and the meetings rooms had fires lit when in use, but the corridors were still awfully cold.

Luckily for her, the fire in their apartment was already roaring. Thorin sat with his back to her at his desk, while Belladonna and Rís rested on a padded mat in their ‘play-pen’ beside him.

Billa had said from the start that she thought the play-pen looked like a cage for babies, but every dwarf she had spoken to about it had sworn they were normal. It was an easy way to keep a baby safe and close while you worked, and really, how could she argue with that?

Dís swore by it, and if Billa trusted anyone to give her parenting advice it was the princess.

“It’s unlike you to be at home this time of day – I thought Bofur had the babies?” she noted as she moved further into the room, rubbing her arms and glancing towards the fire.

Thorin shushed her softly and she turned to look at him. “Sorry, are they sleeping? Where’s Frerin?” she whispered, walking over to the play-pen and peering down at her beautiful daughters.

They were getting so big, and she loved them so very much.

Belladonna had a knitted cat clutched tightly in one fist, her eyes shut and eyelashes flickering. There was no blanket in the pen, but they were wearing thick sleep-suits and the room was warm with the fire lit.

“I finished up early and wanted to get some work started here. Frerin was fussing, I have him,” Thorin said softly, turning his head to smile at her.

Billa stepped up next to his chair, feeling her heart swell at the sight of Frerin secured to his father’s chest in a comfortable-looking fabric sling. She had been gifted several of them by dwarves in the mountain, and a lovely embroidered one by Dís, but she only really used them if one of the babies was being restless and she needed her hands free. Frerin is particular seemed to find the slings soothing.

She made a quiet, crooning sound without meaning to, leaning gently into the dwarf’s side. “Oh, look at you two… My favourite boys,” she breathed, reaching out and very tentatively touching their son’s cheek.

The king laughed under his breath, tilting his head up towards her. “Don’t let your brothers hear that, I want to win this fight.”

Billa rolled her eyes, dipping down to kiss him. “It’ll be our secret,” she allowed, smiling as she drew away. “Tea?” she offered, standing up straight once more.

“Please,” he accepted, rolling his quill between his fingers. “I didn’t want to wake him with the kettle.”

“I’ll close the kitchen door, keep it quiet,” she promised, looking to her girls once more before heading into the other room to make them both a drink.

When she returned, Thorin had returned to whatever he was writing. Frerin had shifted a little in the sling, turning towards his father and fisting a chubby hand in his tunic. Billa placed Thorin’s cup on the desk, a safe distance from his papers.

“Thank you, my heart,” he hummed without looking up, quill scratching away at the parchment in front of him.

She kissed the crown of his head in response, holding her own cup to her chest. “You’re welcome, dear. What’re you working on?” she wondered, blowing her tea briefly. “Something king-ly?”

“No, something husband-y,” he answered, resting the coal-black feather of the quill on his bottom lip for a moment. “I’m drafting our marriage contract.”

“Oh! Well, don’t worry too much about what to write – you know how I feel about having a contract,” she dismissed, though she did think it was sweet that he was spending his spare time on it.

He raised his head to look at her, and it was a look she knew all too well from the early days of their quest. Disapproval. “I will worry, because it’s important to me. This contract outlines my duties to you and your rights to what is mine. It is also a way to hold me accountable should I ever hurt you or breach the terms of our marriage,” he told her, returning his gaze to his work. His solemn expression was somewhat spoiled by the sleeping baby on his body, but Billa knew she had offended him.

“Thorin… I only meant that I don’t think we need such a thing. I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me how much you love me, or what I can do to you if I think you’ve slighted me. But if it’s important to you, I’ll take it seriously. I promise,” she assured him, putting her tea down and kneeling beside his chair so that she could better meet his eyes. “Don’t be mad, I’m sorry.”

He seemed to deflate a little, putting his quill down and turning to face her properly. “I’m not mad, I just… This means a lot to me. I don’t want to hurt you again, and I want to show you that I’m serious about this. The contract is traditional, and it means if I ever do anything… King or not, you can string me up for it. I obviously don’t want that to happen, I want our marriage to be a happy one, but it’s a precaution. It’s a way to keep you safe. Even if the only thing that goes wrong is that I die in battle one day, this contract means you’ll be taken care of. You’ll be rich, and comfortable, and no one can strip you of your position in the mountain – hobbit or not. And should I ever go mad again…”

“-which you won’t,” she interjected, placing her hands on his knees and squeezing them reassuringly.

If I do, I can be held accountable. My grandmother is lucky that she never saw my grandfather mad, but had we not lost the mountain he would have been left in charge lest someone overthrew him. I am going to state in our contract that you retain the right to take me out of power, should the worst occur. Then, in that situation, you decide who rules. You can remain queen, or pass the crown to someone else in the line of succession. Dís, or Fili, or even one of our children if they are old enough,” he persisted, his eyes sad and his mouth set in an unwavering line.

Billa reached a hand up to touch his cheek, careful not to jostle Frerin as she did. It was a frightening idea, and she wasn’t sure she deserved that power – but she understood his reasoning. She would be the first person to know if he was slipping. “…if that makes you feel better, my love, then go ahead.”

“Am I being unreasonable?” he checked, and the wobble in his voice nearly broke her heart.

“Of course not, Thorin. You are being cautious, you are looking at every possible outcome. It’s smart, and it’s brave. I won’t lie, it’s not something I like to think about, but it’s comforting that you’ve considered countermeasures. The contract… It’s just a culture shock, you know? It’s not something we do in the Shire. I guess I was thinking of it more as… Unnecessary paperwork. I didn’t realise. If it gives you peace of mind, please, put anything you’d like in there. I’ll read it all when you’re done, and then we’ll talk about it. Figure out if there’s anything we really disagree on. Work out the kinks,” she said, running her fingers along his cheek bone.

“Right, okay…” Thorin exhaled, catching her hand with one of his and holding it against his face. “Men lananubukhs menu, Billa. I just don’t want you to get hurt. Ever.”

“I know, my sweet. I trust you, okay? I know you’ll do what you think is right,” the hobbit reassured him, leaning up to kiss him briefly. “I apologise for the misunderstanding. If you’d like to run anything by me, or ask me anything in relation to the contract at any point, I’m all ears. Happy to listen.”

“Thank you,” he muttered, dipping his head down for another kiss.

-

Nori stood with his hands clasped behind his back, watching as Dwalin slipped into the room and pulled the bolt across the door. He raised an eyebrow and tilted his head when the balding warrior turned towards him.

“If you’re planning to kill me, Dwalin, a locked door really isn’t going to help you,” he joked, one corner of his mouth turning up slyly.

Dwalin huffed in response, brow furrowed deeply. “Aye, I know that. You could escape a stone coffin, eight feet under the mountain,” he remarked, and it was enough of a compliment that the spy almost blushed.

Nori took a step towards the royal guard, grinning crookedly. “Did you invite me here just to sweet-talk me?” he asked playfully, hoping onto the disused desk in the middle of the room.

It probably said a great deal about their relationship, or Nori as a person, that he hadn’t questioned a request to meet up in an unused guild room. It was for sale, should anyone want it, but it remained empty for the time being. The mountain wasn’t yet at full capacity, but that would change. They’d already had dwarves arrive from human towns, and some had migrated from the Blue Mountains and the Iron Hills since Erebor began to thrive.

Dwalin glanced around the slightly dusty, barely furnished room and then looked back at Nori. “You think this would be my first choice for that?” he huffed, brow still furrowed but a hint of amusement in his tone.

“I mean… It’s better than a collapsing corridor off the treasury,” the red-haired dwarf quipped, winking pointedly.

Dwalin pinked noticeably at that, folding his arms and looking away.

Nori cleared his throat, crossing his legs and planting his hands on the smooth old wood under him. “Nothing violent, nothing sordid… Why exactly am I here?” he pressed, since the other dwarf was being painfully unhelpful.

They spent a great deal of time together, but this wasn’t normal. Not even for them. And Dwalin wasn’t usually so… Awkward.

Not anymore, anyway.

“Alright… You know how Thorin and Billa have started planning their wedding?” he began, still avoiding the former thief’s eyes.

“Yes…?”

“Well, Thorin asked Balin and I to take part in the ceremony, representing his family with Dís and the boys,” he said lowly, nudging a raised floorboard with the toe of his boot.

“You… Don’t sound very happy about that. It’s an honour,” Nori remarked, confused. Everyone knew Dwalin was the closest thing Thorin still had to a brother, and the two actually were related through a great-grandfather, but Thorin had officially named Dwalin his brother almost half a century before the quest. Nori wasn’t quite sure what the problem was. “And not surprising, surely?” he added, sitting up and setting his hands in his lap.

Families played an important part in a dwarven marriage ceremony, but it was usually only the immediate family of the bride and groom that took an active part. Under normal circumstances, Dwalin and Balin wouldn’t have counted – but Thorin loved them, and that was obviously why he had invited them as family.

“It’s a great honour, and I… I was overcome when he asked.” Which was Dwalin’s way of saying he shed a tear or two, but Nori wasn’t going to pull him up on that when he seemed so out of sorts. “It’s just… I can’t dance,” he explained, and that was when it clicked for the other dwarf.

The wedding feast would begin with a ceremonial dance, as was traditional, and Dwalin had to take part.

Nori fought the laughter in his chest, instead smiling and tilting his head once more at the royal guard. “You asked to see me in private, with that grim expression, because you’re worried about dancing at the wedding?”

“If you laugh at me, I’ll shove my hammer up your arse,” Dwalin threatened, his cheeks almost maroon in colour.

“Is that a euphemism…?” Nori tested, rolling his eyes when his dear stupid dwarf didn’t even crack a smile. “Alright, look, I haven’t laughed, have I? Tell me what I can do for you.”

“You can dance,” he pointed out awkwardly, letting his arms drop to his sides and clenching his fists. “Can you teach me?”

Nori sucked in a breath, genuinely surprised. He had thought the other dwarf might want reassurance, or someone to listen while he complained – he hadn’t expected him to ask for help. That just wasn’t Dwalin’s style.

He wanted to make a joke, defuse the situation, but… That wasn’t what Dwalin needed. He was embarrassed, that much was obvious.

“Of course I can,” he accepted instead, uncrossing his legs and sliding off the desk fluidly. “It’s a ceremonial dance, so it’s nice and simple. Few steps this way, few steps that way, spin and repeat. Barely anyone will be looking at us, anyway. You really don’t need to worry about it, I’ll make you good enough.”

Dwalin visibly deflated, and he finally cracked a smile. “Thank you, Nori. Don’t tell anyone about this, or-”

“You’ll shove a hammer up my arse? Don’t threaten me with a good time, Dwalin,” he purred, grinning wickedly and laughing when the royal guard only stared hard at him. “I won’t tell a soul, who do you take me for? I may be spymaster, but this is hardly anyone else’s business. And I’m great at keeping secrets,” he chuckled, brushing off his tunic and setting his hands on his hips.

Dwalin rolled his eyes, watching as Nori took a large step towards him. “Aye, suppose that’s true. Can we do this now, or do you have somewhere else you need to be?”

“We might need to meet up a couple of times, depending on how fast you learn, but I’m good to start now. Just follow my lead,” Nori said, standing directly opposite the royal guard.

“Don’t I always?”

“When you know what’s good for you!”

Chapter Text

“I think I’m going to be sick.”

Thorin exhaled through his nose, raising both hands and cradling Billa’s face between them. “You worry too much, my love,” he said in an undertone, leaning forward to kiss her forehead dotingly.

“Or maybe I just don’t want my brother to beat you bloody,” the hobbit reasoned, her eyes large and her brow furrowed.

He smiled in response, shrugging one shoulder easily. “Blood will be shed, I’m afraid, but that’s the way these fights go. Dori might not be my biggest fan, but he’s not going to kill me. We’re only sparring, at the very worst he might break my nose or knock me out – and I can take it. Even if I don’t win this fight, I will eventually, and we will be married.”

Her bottom lip wobbled and she cast her eyes downwards, still unsure. He understood why she was worried, truly he did, but he had to keep his mind on what was ahead.

“Hey, can you smile, please? For me,” the king requested, moving a hand to her chin and tilting her face upwards. His heart was pounding in his chest, so hard he was shocked she couldn’t hear it, but he couldn’t let his nerves get the better of him. He’d been in enough battles to know that he shouldn’t psych himself out – if he told himself he was going to fail, he would. He would get worked up and make a stupid mistake. Better to be optimistic, even if that was only telling himself this fight wouldn’t kill him.

Because it was seriously unlikely that Dori would ever do that to Billa.

Billa sighed quietly, her mouth twitching at the corner. “Only if you can win, for me,” she said lightly, reaching up to touch his cheek. His hair was pulled back into a single braid with his usual beads weaved through it, and he wore only a pair of thick cotton trousers. Dori was much the same – since the fight was supposed to be a show of endurance and fighting prowess. There was no armour, and both of them would be armed only with a sparring pole.

“Are you giving me permission to lay waste to your brother?” he joked, grinning toothily when she smacked his bare chest with an open palm.

“If either of you are seriously hurt, I’ll be upset,” she said, leaving one hand on his torso and one on his face. “…but I still want you to win. And I guess I can forgive bruises.”

“I’ll do my best,” Thorin promised, resting both hands over hers on his chest. “Wish me luck?” he asked in Khuzdul, tipping his head down towards her.

Billa raised herself onto her toes and kissed him gently, managing a smile when she drew back. “Luck,” she replied before slipping her hand out of his and stepping back. “I’m going to talk to Dori, then take my seat. Promise you’ll do your best?”

“Always.” He watched her walk to her brother then turned towards Elrond, who had offered to oversee the fight. Thorin figured he was curious about their customs, but it was easier than having Balin referee – since it could be argued he was biased towards the king and consort.

“The rules are only that one of you must subdue the other, correct?” the elf checked when he saw the king looking his way, his hands tucked behind his back.

Thorin bobbed his head, casting a look around the hall. A large circle had been cleared in the middle of the room where he and Dori would fight, and a crowd of dwarves had started to take seats around the edges. “And the fight ends when that happens. So, if one of us is disarmed or knocked prone, the other has to stop. This is a fight of honour.”

Elrond nodded, smiling. “Naturally. And if someone is seriously hurt?”

“They shouldn’t be, but Oin is here, and so are you. Bruises are bound to happen, and it takes a lot to break a dwarf’s bones. A bloody nose is probably the worst we’ll see here, and there’s time for that to heal before the wedding,” the royal dwarf shared, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m more worried Billa is going to freak out. I know she thinks this is barbaric.”

The healer looked over to Billa, who was talking very quietly with Dori at the other side of the circle. Nori stood close beside her, with a hand resting in the center of her back. “The ways of a hobbit are simpler, but Billa has lived in this mountain for quite some time now. If she truly thought your ways were barbaric, she wouldn’t be so happy here. And she knew this was coming, I’m sure she’ll be fine. I think she’s just worried that you won’t win, or you’ll be hurt.”

“I just hope she won’t be too upset if I do lose,” Thorin mused, following his line of sight and feeling the knot in his chest loosen when he saw Billa hug Dori.

At least they weren’t fighting.

“Is Dori really that strong? I’ve never seen him fight, but I’ve heard he’s shocking for his size.”

“It runs in the family,” he replied, eyes drifting to Nori and Ori where they stood waiting for their sister. Gandalf had their children, already sat on a bench nearer the back of the hall with the pram at his side, so they were a safe distance from the fight – but close enough that Billa wouldn’t worry about their wellbeing in the meantime. “But Dori is like a bull. His brute strength is his main tactic. If this was a fight with Nori, I’d be more worried. He’s strong and quick, and that’s dangerous. Dori is quite the opponent, but dodging him will be easier – and it’s my best tactic for beating him. I need to be smart, calculate where to go and how to hit.”

“Shouldn’t be so hard, for someone as battle-worn as you,” the elf offered, and Thorin could hear no insincerity in it. He meant what he said.

“In theory. I’ve put a lot of thought and practice into this, but I can’t count my gems before I mine them. Dori has been training too, he could do something unpredictable.”

Elrond dipped his head in acknowledgement, clearing his throat when he saw Billa and the younger Ri brothers retreat to a bench – leaving Dori in the circle. “I think we’re ready to begin,” he pointed out, leading the way into the middle.

Thorin followed, squaring his shoulders and letting his hands drop to his sides. He walked until he was opposite Dori, then bowed respectfully. “Dori,” he greeted, his tone solemn and full of respect. “It is an honour to fight for your sister’s hand. May the stronger dwarf win.”

Dori bowed back, his face carefully composed. “May you prove you are worthy, or work until you are,” he responded dutifully, accepting a sparring pole from Elrond.

The elven lord then offered one to Thorin, waiting until he had taken it before addressing the crowd. “King Thorin the second, son of Thráin the second, is sparring against Dori the first, son of Eira, to prove he is strong enough to protect and serve his sister – the royal consort, Billa Baggins of the Shire. The fight will be fair, and will ensure that Billa is left in the best possible hands. Good luck to you both,” he called, placing a hand on each of their shoulders before walking quickly backwards. He stayed within the circle, to oversee, but moved far enough away that he didn’t need to worry about being hit himself.

Thorin and Dori began to move around each other – with Dori holding his pole at his side and Thorin bearing his across his chest defensively. The king wanted to cast a glance at Billa, for reassurance, but he knew Dori needed his undivided attention. If he looked away for even a moment, the eldest Ri could take the upper hand.

The white-haired dwarf’s face was a mask of determination, his brow set and his mouth thin. He wasn’t going to let Thorin off easily – and he shouldn’t. That wasn’t the point of the fight. Thorin was supposed to show he could defend his One, because he didn’t deserve her if he couldn’t.

Dori was being remarkably calm. His shoulders were squared and every step he took was braced, ready to be hit, but he didn’t attack. The king had expected him to throw himself straight into it, attack hard and fast, and he was already subverting expectations. The crowd was utterly silent, it felt like everyone was holding their breath – but they couldn’t circle forever.

Thorin lunged forwards, keeping his pole crossed over his torso protectively, but Dori barrelled to the side and struck him hard in the ribs with the side of his weapon. The younger dwarf let a hissing breath out through his teeth, side-stepping and using his own stick to push Dori’s away.

A cheer went through the crowd as the move sent Dori skittering back defensively, and Thorin ignored the shooting pain in his side. It had been a good hit, but Dori didn’t seem to be using his full strength – at least not yet. He didn’t doubt the older dwarf was capable of breaking his ribs, and he hadn’t.

Thorin leaned one way, then moved the other, trying to fake which way he would go – but Dori was smart, and his attention was solely on Thorin. He braced himself, easily taking the swipe to his hip without wobbling, then whipped out to hit the king in the knee. The crowd gasped as the king’s leg went from under him, but he kept a firm grip on his pole and fell into a roll. He could hear Dori following so he lashed out blindly, smiling grimly when he felt a connection.

The eldest Ri brother fell with a grunt, landing heavily on his side and giving Thorin enough time to roll further away before rising onto the balls of his feet. He took a deep, steadying breath, his knee throbbing dully as he shifted his weight to the other leg. He took his stick in both hands, swiping as Dori tried to stand and huffing when the older dwarf dipped his head – only just avoiding being hit. He planted his feet on the floor and pushed himself backwards, putting more distance between the two of them so that he could stand too.

The crowd were hanging on their every move – gasping at every dodge, cheering at every hit. They were obviously rooting for Thorin more than Dori, but the king chose to tune them out; he couldn’t get distracted. This was about Billa, not his reputation.

The dark-haired dwarf stood still for a moment, just breathing and staring at Dori with his pole crossed over his chest once more. The older dwarf smiled for a moment, beginning to shift forwards, and Thorin spread his feet and braced himself in response. He thrust his weapon out horizontally as the other dwarf charged, ready to absorb the hit, but Billa’s brother darted to the side and around him instead. Thorin turned, trying to keep Dori in his sight, and received a sharp strike to the jaw for his troubles – making his teeth click together. He was lucky he hadn’t bitten his own tongue, but Mahal it hurt.

Dori was making his tactic clear. He was smart, he knew Thorin’s advantage was speed, so he was trying to trick him. Being sneaky. The king suspected Nori might have helped prepare him.

He made sure he was facing Dori fully before bounding backwards, flexing his jaw and resisting the urge to wince when it popped loudly. Had Dori hit him harder, he might have broken something – but running his tongue along his teeth told him that nothing was noticeably damaged.

The other dwarf had the upper-hand, and Thorin wasn’t sure what to do about it. He had realised Dori might do something unpredictable, but he had still expected a strength-based approach. Thorin was faster, this tactic shouldn’t work – except… Thorin needed to be even quicker. He had immediately gone into defence, not dodging, when he was perfectly capable of out-manoeuvring his elderly brother-in-law.

He needed to be smarter.

*

Billa had never been so tense, in all her life.

It was awful, watching two of the people she loved most in the world fight. She didn’t want either one of them to lose – but one of them had to. And as terrible as it was for her to think it, it had to be Dori. She couldn’t see Thorin lose and have to fight her brother again in a couple of weeks, her poor heart just couldn’t take it.

She could almost see Thorin thinking, his skin glistening in the sunlight slanting through a high window. His eyes moved from Dori’s face to his torso, then to his pole and down to his feet. He was figuring out his options, all the while his chest heaved and his jaw moved like he was clenching and unclenching it – probably feeling for damage. He’d taken quite a strong hit to the face, and Billa knew it was going to bruise. Given the chance, she was going to give Dori a sound scolding.

She clenched her fists in her skirt as Dori began moving forwards again, charging hard at her intended. But Thorin had grown wise, and he threw himself into a roll – pushing himself from one shoulder over to the other and rising into a squatted position. His pole lashed to the side and hit Dori across the base of his spine, sending him crashing to the floor.

Thorin had used Dori’s momentum to his advantage, sending him to the ground so hard he wheezed audibly.

The hobbit couldn’t help but cringe for her brother, raising one hand to her mouth as the crowd roared around her. Ori made a noise like a dog who had been trodden on, mirroring her posture and sinking his teeth into his own knuckles.

“That’s what he gets for running in like that – I told him to be clever about this,” Nori commented, though he did slip a hand onto Billa’s knee and give it a reassuring squeeze.

“He was going to dash to the side again-” Ori defended, only for Nori to wave his free hand dismissively.

“Predictable. You can’t use the same trick twice, Thorin’s faster and he’s not a fool. Dori got cocky.”

Billa didn’t acknowledge either of them, instead watching as Thorin advanced on her prone elder brother. He slipped one end of his sparring-pole under Dori’s and attempted to force it sideways – trying to disarm the other dwarf and end the fight.

Dori released one end of the pole, twisting the end he still held upwards and away from Thorin’s. The king changed direction, still trying to knock it away, but Dori lashed out – planting a bare foot in Thorin’s stomach and kicking him hard.

Thorin staggered backwards, taken off-guard, but immediately crossed his pole along his torso once more.

That was good,” Nori allowed, eyes on their brother as the small dwarf hauled himself to his feet.

The king attempted to take the upper-hand again, taking hold of his weapon with both hands and swinging it at Dori. He managed to strike the older dwarf’s shoulder as he tried to stand, forcing him to stop and brace himself for a moment. Before he could retaliate Thorin had started moving away at an angle, keeping his feet spread and his steps slow; ready to take a hit if Dori lunged at him.

The two began moving in circles, like they had at the beginning of the fight, but Dori’s face was red and his breathing was as strained as Thorin’s. They continued trying to hit each other but failed several times – deflected or dodged.

It was only after a couple of failed attempts from Dori that Billa realised he was holding one arm a little strangely, on the side where Thorin had hit his shoulder. He was hurt. But Thorin wasn’t a great deal better, since the longer the two circled the more pronounced his limp became.

Out of frustration or anger, Dori charged straight at Thorin – his weapon held firmly in his good hand. The king danced to the side, but Dori followed and swung widely. The pole connected with Thorin’s face, barely missing his nose, and he recoiled. He raised a free hand instinctually to his mouth, and even from where she sat Billa could see blood.

She saw Nori looking at her from the corner of her eye but refused to acknowledge him, her breath stuck in her chest. Dori was so strong, and he’d taken a lot of good hits at Thorin. It was beginning to look a lot like the king wouldn’t win.

But even the white-haired dwarf seemed to falter a little at the sight of blood. He paused, his breathing loud and heavy, as Thorin spat a mouthful on the floor beside him.

The eldest Durin turned towards Dori, licked the blood from his broken lip and squared his shoulders, completely unperturbed.

Billa bit her own lip anxiously, shifting forwards on the bench so far that she risked falling off entirely. She’d seen Thorin go through so much worse and recover, but that didn’t make it feel any better. The only balm to her frayed nerves was Thorin’s confident stance. There wasn’t a trace of fear on his face, and he was by no means ready to surrender.

They began to move in tandem, stepping forwards as the other stepped back, moving left when the other went right. Despite his knee, and the slight wobble to his leg, Thorin’s footwork was strong. Each step was careful and calculated.

He swung one way, then twirled his weapon and struck from the other direction – succeeding in hitting the side of Dori’s head, right over his ear. He teetered, knocked off balance, but shook his head violently and managed to regain his footing after a couple of shaky sideways steps. He clenched the fist of his injured arm until his knuckles went white with the strain, but the appendage still trembled.

They were both so stubborn, and Billa was terrified that they were going to get seriously hurt just trying to outlast one another.

Dori tried to rush Thorin again, spreading his hands to either end of his pole and pushing the middle of it into Thorin’s. Thorin pushed back, and Billa’s breath whistled through her teeth. Dori was obviously trying to force the king to the ground, or knock his weapon from his hands, and he was much stronger than Thorin was – injured shoulder or not.

Thorin was holding his own, feet spread and legs tense, but his injured knee was dipping noticeably. One foot slid back as Dori pushed harder, and Billa couldn’t see his face but she could imagine the strain there. He was stood with his back to her, Dori’s face just visible over his muscular shoulder.

“He should kick Thorin’s knee,” Ori muttered, both hands fisted in his lap.

“And give up his footing? Thorin might not be as strong, but he would knock Dori back easily,” Nori countered, one elbow propped on his knee and his chin resting in his palm.

One of the babies made a fussing noise at the back of the hall – Rís, if Billa was not mistaken – and under any other circumstances the hobbit would have turned to look for her daughter. Instead, she saw Dori’s eyes flicker towards the noise, his brow furrowed and his shoulders squared. He was still pushing back at Thorin, but his eyes turned to Billa’s: pale blue staring into brown.

He blinked at her, and his shoulders seemed to dip – giving the king ample opportunity to push forward one last time, overbalancing them both.

Thorin landed hard on top of the elderly dwarf, dropped his pole and grabbed for Dori’s. He caught it with both hands and pressed it in towards the white-haired dwarf’s throat. He held it there, without making contact, close enough that it bent Dori’s arms back awkwardly but didn’t choke the dwarf beneath him. Thorin spread his legs around Dori’s torso, straddling him and effectively pinning him to the floor.

Had his shoulder been okay, and his head not been spinning, Dori could have removed the king forcefully – but he couldn’t use his arms in this position, and the king was sat too high up his mid-section for him to wiggle away. He huffed, letting his hands slip off of the pole and drop to the floor on either side of his head, silently yielding.

Thorin climbed off of the older dwarf, taking the weapon with him and rising to his feet. He let go of the pole with one hand, and extended the appendage towards Dori with a weary smile.

“Dori has been disarmed, King Thorin has won,” Elrond stated, smiling as Thorin helped Dori to his feet and the crowd began to scream and cheer. “The wedding goes ahead.”

Billa practically threw herself off of the bench, running into the circle. The elven lord stepped out of her way as she did, heading back in Gandalf’s direction. Thorin smiled wider when he saw her approaching, and Dori turned towards her – one hand still clasped in the king’s.

The eldest Ri managed a small smile, reaching out to take Billa’s hand and putting it in Thorin’s. “Congratulations,” he allowed, rubbing the back of his neck and sighing. “That was a damned good fight, Thorin. But I expect you to push twice as hard if it’s ever her life on the line.”

“Of course. But if someone was trying to hurt Billa, I would be killing them – not disarming them,” Thorin promised, grinning. Up close, the hobbit could see the nasty split in his lip, and the small flecks of blood on his teeth.

Dori huffed a laugh, bobbing his head to that. “A fair point. At least I know I stand a good chance of beating you, should you ever fail her,” he accepted, though his tone was shockingly in good-humour.

Ori and Nori had reached them, and the younger of the two dwarves reached out to wipe a trail of blood from under Dori’s ear. “A valiant effort, nadad,” he consoled, the corner of his lips turning up ever-so-slightly. “We couldn’t have done any better ourselves.”

Billa heard Nori’s small indignant cough at that, but turned her attention to Thorin. Dori had their brothers to check if he was okay, and he was certainly the least hurt. “Mahal, Thorin, that was…” she began, but found herself unable to find the words to describe her feelings. It had been scary, even if she had known no one would be killed, and it had been confusing too. It was hard to pick a side, hard to watch, hard not to intervene and make a fool of herself.

“It’s over, amrâlimê,” he told her, voice soft and full of understanding.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her face into his bare, damp shoulder – exhaling shakily. “Thank Mahal,” she chuffed, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. He smelled of copper, and sweat, and Thorin. “If that lip doesn’t heal before the wedding, I’m going to have to kill Dori,” she said lightly, smiling into his skin.

He laughed quietly, and she felt him shrug against her. “That seems reasonable. But you could kiss it better?” he suggested, beaming when she raised her head to look at him.

“Foolish dwarf,” she murmured, standing on her toes and kissing him gently. His mouth was wet and warm, and Billa could taste his blood, but she ignored it.

He had survived her brother. Better yet, he had bested him. It was like Elrond had said – the wedding was going ahead. In a short few weeks, the two of them would be married.

*

Later that night, whilst celebrating the outcome of the fight with their families, Thorin managed to catch Dori alone in the nursery.

Belladonna, Rís and Frerin were all sound asleep, having endured an admirable amount of fussing from their mother after the fight. Billa was in the living area with Dís, the boys and her other two brothers – discussing wedding plans over a glass of wine.

“You could have beat me,” Thorin said in an undertone, watching his brother-in-law closely. The bruised, proud old dwarf was stood over Belladonna, one hand trailing into her crib.

He didn’t even raise his head or look at Thorin, ghosting his fingers through the little girl’s hair. “I underestimated you, and I let myself be distracted,” he answered absently, carefully pulling up Belladonna’s blanket and tucking it around her more securely.

“Dori,” Thorin admonished, finally drawing the older dwarf’s gaze. “We both know you could kill me with your bare hands. So, I… I wanted to say thank you.”

The white-haired dwarf blinked, eyes wide with surprise for a moment. He stood up straight and turned towards the king, the lone candle in the room making his bruises look twice as bad as they were. “We’re already family, Thorin. You don’t need to thank me.”

Thorin thought he felt his heart stop for a moment, genuinely shocked by the other dwarf’s words. He was so used to his disapproval, his discontent… It was strange to hear him say something so… Friendly.

“I haven’t forgotten anything, of course, but I have forgiven you. Since your sickness… You’ve done nothing but treat my sister well. She loves you, and I know that you love her. I can see it. I’ve never stopped watching the two of you, and since the babies have been born… You’ve been so involved with them, and you always find time for them and Billa – despite being king. I can’t fault you for that. You’re a good dwarf, Thorin,” Dori continued, reaching a hand out towards the regal dwarf opposite him. “It’s time to let the past be the past.”

Thorin took Dori’s hand in both of his, just holding it. “You… You have no idea what this means to me, Dori. I’ll always do my best for them, I promise.”

“I know. And if you don’t, then we’ll have problems,” he answered, smiling slightly at the taller dwarf. “But I’m… Looking at the bigger picture, as Billa would say. And sometimes the honourable thing to do is admit defeat,” he said, sending Thorin a meaningful look. “But that’s between us.”

“Of course. And… Thank you, really. You would have had every right to beat me bloody and postpone the wedding.”

“I know, but what would have been the use? It might have made me feel a little better, in some cruel way, but it wouldn’t have been worth it. I won’t hurt Billa like that for the sake of my own pride, I love her too much. You make her happy, and you treat her well. That’s good enough for me,” Dori concluded, letting his hand drop back to his side when Thorin released it. “I’m done standing in the way. Even the oldest mountains are worn down by time.”

“Demup telek menu, nadad,” Thorin insisted, smiling when the other dwarf went a little pink in the face and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Menu gajatu, Thanu men. Now, let us return to the others before Nori assumes I have throttled you in your own pebbles’ bedroom.”

“He would help you hide my body.”

“He would. He’s a good lad.”