"You don't celebrate Yule?" Kíli said incredulously. "I thought everyone did!"
Tauriel frowned. "No," she said. "In Mirkwood, we have other holidays. Like the Feast of Starlight, which you know about, and the Morning of the First Snow."
Kíli blinked. "What do you do then?"
"We feast and celebrate the end of autumn, and Thranduil retires his crown of autumn leaves for his crown of birch branches," Tauriel explained.
"Do you elves have any gift-giving holidays?" Kíli wondered. "That's what Yule is all about—bringing joy in the midst of the cold season, and letting the people you love know you love them. We give gifts to show that."
"That is very sweet," Tauriel said, smiling. She gave him a quick kiss, then said, "We exchange gifts in Midsummer, on the Night of Rustling Leaves."
"Do you miss all those holidays?" Kíli asked. "With your leaf-crowned king and your feasting?"
"In Erebor, you bring a whole new meaning to the word 'feast'," Tauriel told him dryly. "I am far too busy learning the ways of the dwarves to miss any elvish celebration. Besides," she added in an undertone, "I am away from Thranduil's drunken after parties. Drunk dwarves are funny—he's just a sobbing mess."
Kíli grinned at the thought. He would have to tell Thorin that sometime later. Tauriel's disdain of her Elvenking had been the only thing that kept his uncle from kicking Tauriel out of Erebor, and anything that would make him like her more was excellent in Kíli's mind.
"So do you not want to celebrate Yule with us?" he asked. "If it's not one of your holidays?"
"No, I would love to," Tauriel told him, nodding. "I live with the dwarves now, so I might as well celebrate like them." She smiled mischievously. "But only if you will celebrate the Night of Rustling Leaves with me next summer. You can climb the highest tree growing on the mountain with me, and we will spend all night drinking wine beneath the stars."
"The wine sounds nice, though I'm not too keen on the tree-climbing part," Kíli admitted. "But for you, my starlight, I would do anything."
Yule was Bilbo's favorite time of year. As a young hobbit, he'd loved to exchange gifts with his family during the winter celebrations, because it meant he was getting something. Birthdays, of course, were times for giving to others, but Yule had been the time for getting as much as he gave.
Now, as an older and far wiser hobbit, he understood the value of giving and the joy it brought to others, but that didn't mean he wasn't excited for what he would receive this Yule. Back in Bag End, most of his gifts had been formalities from his various extended family, but this year in Erebor he was certain that the dwarves would give far more thoughtful gifts. They were his friends, after all, and they cared about him.
Bilbo cared about them, too. He had been planning gifts since he first realized that Yule was fast-approaching sometime in November. His list was extensive, and he had spent hours searching for the perfect gift for each member of the Company.
For Fíli, ever-complaining that his blades were going dull at inopportune moments, he had found a knife sharpener. He'd had some trouble finding a good gift for Kíli, but after asking the young dwarf's elvish sweetheart Tauriel, he had eventually found some hand-crafted arrows from a fletcher all the way in Rhûn. These had been expensive items off the newly-established market in Dale, but Bilbo knew Kíli would love them.
Bifur had also been a tough nut to crack, but Bilbo had eventually settled on some of his homemade cookies, the best in the Shire. (At least, that's what he liked to believe, though hobbits were such fine cooks that he imagined somebody else's somewhere were likely to be better.) He had found a fine pair of oven mitts for Bombur, and for Bofur, Bilbo had compiled a book of his own writings. Some of it was poetry, which he secretly hoped that Bofur would arrange into songs to sing at some future gathering of friends.
Ori would receive a set of fine new quills for his sketches and scholarly habits and he was getting Dori a new teapot. Bilbo had pondered long and hard what Nori's gift would be, and he had eventually decided to give him a jewel that the thief wouldn't have to steal. Considering the vast amounts of gold and gems in Erebor, the gift was more of a joke than anything of true value, but Bilbo thought Nori would find it at least a little bit funny.
For Glóin and Óin, Bilbo had gotten matching gifts: some Old Toby, the finest weed in the Shire, and new firestarters so the pair of brothers would stop bickering over how the other one had clearly let theirs become trashed. (He suspected they would keep arguing, as it was their way of expressing brotherly love, but they could do it over something else. Bilbo wanted to mix things up a bit.)
For Balin he had found some maps of the West that showed all the way from the Blue Mountains to Erebor. He was pleased with his gift for Dwalin: Bilbo had overheard him grumbling about the poor quality of the pipe-weed he'd gotten from Lake-town and he had bought him not only a new pipe but a supply of Old Toby as well.
Nobody knew whether Gandalf would show up to Thorin's Yule party. He had disappeared sometime after the battle and no one was quite sure where he had gone or if he would be back. Bilbo had found him a present, just in case: some cheap fireworks bought in the Dale market, certainly not up to Gandalf's standards, but perhaps enough to make him laugh.
Bilbo had found presents for people outside of the Company, as well, if he was familiar with them. For Tauriel, he had found a family heirloom from Rohan that had somehow ended up in his traveling bag when he left the Shire. She was a sweet girl, and he was happy to see her and Kíli together, despite the difficulties they faced as an interspecies couple. And she knew what it was like to be an outsider in Erebor. From his conversations with her, he knew that she liked to look beyond the borders of her home, wherever it may be, so he thought the heirloom, a brooch from his mother Belladonna's travels, was a fitting gift.
The other person not part of the original Company that he had found a present for was Lady Dís, Thorin's sister and the mother of Fíli and Kíli. She had been rather cool to him at first, but over the month since her arrival in Erebor, she had slowly begun to befriend him. As Bilbo was quite close to Thorin, he hoped that she would grow to like him eventually. Perhaps giving her a book on hobbit history would speed up the process a bit and give her something more on which to base her opinion of hobbits other than just himself.
But this still left one person giftless: Thorin Oakenshield himself. Bilbo was not quite sure what to get him. Everything that he came up with seemed insufficient, not fitting enough to give to Thorin.
Bilbo would not be the first to admit it, but he was in a peculiar situation when it came to Thorin. Over the course of the Company's journeys, he had become rather close to the dwarven king. After the close scare during the Battle of the Five Armies when Thorin had almost died, Bilbo had come to realize that he was in love with him. The feeling was new to him, and it frightened him, for he didn't know if Thorin felt the same.
There was only one way to find out, but that scared Bilbo even more. And being in love made finding the perfect gift almost impossible. He had settled with less than perfect gifts for other people, but for Thorin, only the best would do.
With only two days until Yule and the great celebration Thorin had been planning for weeks, Bilbo found himself at a loss. He couldn't find anything suitable for his sweet, gruff, noble friend, but he couldn't just give Thorin nothing.
What was he to do?
When he was younger, Fíli had loved Yule. He and his family had spent their winters in the Blue Mountains making each other gifts and celebrating with all their friends and family. He remembered his father's favorite Yule songs and his mother's best cookies being baked fondly, and the winter celebrations remained Kíli's favorite holiday. (After learning that elves didn't celebrate Yule, Kíli had become overzealous with his preparations, determining that Tauriel's first Yule would be the best one ever.)
But this year, Fíli felt oddly disenchanted with the whole celebration. He didn't have a sweetheart to find the perfect gift for, and while he was perfectly content being single, it made him feel a bit lonely to see Kíli and Tauriel making goo-goo eyes at each other while lighting candles and kissing beneath the kingsfoil.
Finding gifts for his friends and family felt more like a chore than it did an exercise of love. The years of sitting and listening to his father tell him and baby Kíli tales of Yules gone by were in the past, and he found that reminiscing on them didn't bring him much pleasure anymore.
Besides, shouldn't the energy being wasted on Yule celebrations go toward repairing Erebor? As Thorin had put him in charge of surveying the land around Erebor and preparing for the spring planting, Fíli felt that time was being wasted. He had things he could do to get ready even in this snowy season.
Kíli told him to lighten up. "It's a season to be merry!" he proclaimed, draping a string of tinsel over Fíli's head.
Fíli tore it off, annoyed. "We won't be merry if spring time comes and we're not ready to harvest," he pointed out.
"Spring time can wait!" Kíli said, gathering up the tinsel and putting on his own head as a crown. "Now's the time for fun, Fíli. Where's the brother I used to make snow-dwarves with?"
Fíli grumbled that no adult would be caught making snow-dwarves, but Kíli only laughed and promised that he'd change Fíli's mind eventually.
Even the newcomers to dwarven customs were getting into the Yuletide spirit. Tauriel was excited to learn about the holiday and participate in all the celebrations, on the condition that Kíli would do the same for her own elvish holidays. Fíli had gotten over his initial resentment of Kíli's strange elven love, but he still did not envy Kíli the prospect of spending the night in a tree. After traveling through Mirkwood and being stuck in a tree in the Misty Mountains, he'd had enough of trees to last a lifetime.
And Bilbo brought his own Yule traditions from the Shire. Hobbits seemed to place more of an emphasis on gift-giving than on feasts and parties. Watching Bilbo suffer as he searched for the best gift Thorin could ever receive only made Fíli feel exasperated, not charmed as he might have once been. Thorin was facing a similar struggle, and Fíli wondered if they would ever notice that the other person was just as much in love and stop worrying about such little things. He hoped that Bilbo and Uncle Thorin would sort things out sooner rather than later.
His friends in the Company tried to cheer him up. Ori and Bofur took him out into the city beneath the mountain to see the newly-arrived dwarves from the Blue Mountains busily preparing for their parties. Balin gave him a book of heartwarming Yuletide tales and promised that they would make him feel better, but Fíli still only felt annoyed.
If anything, this only made Fíli grumpier. He was used to being the responsible older brother, but not the only level-headed person in the whole Company! What happened to Balin? Even Thorin had been swept up in it all!
His mother, Dís, was the only person was patient with him.
"I don't get it," he grumbled. "What's all the fuss? Aren't there better things to do than be bothered about Yule? It's a nice holiday, sure, but after reclaiming Erebor there's so much work to do."
"Yule is a season for giving and helping each other," Dís pointed out. "In these times, we need to take a break for that even more. I was just a baby when we left Erebor the first time, but my mother told me stories of that first Yule. We had stopped in a mannish town for the winter, and though the men weren't exactly excited about that at first, all the women got together to make sure we had enough food for the holiday."
"Hmm," Fíli said. "But we have Erebor now. Do you want the harvest to fail? And the sooner we fix these drafts and build a new city beneath the mountain, the better. That's more of a gift to our people than these silly celebrations and the tinsel strung everywhere."
Dís sighed. "If you must think that way, Fíli, then you must think that way."
"Thank you," he grumbled. But Dís giving up that easily when his other friends and family had tried so hard made him feel guilty. She didn't understand, either.
"I heard that you haven't given us any gifts this year," Dís said, "but that doesn't mean that everyone else has given up on tradition." There was an edge to her voice, and Fíli flinched.
"Sorry," he muttered. "But I've been working."
"Of course, as Crown Prince, you're far too busy to remember your poor old mother on the longest nights of the year," Dís said mournfully. Then she cracked a smile to show she jested. "Come here, Fíli."
"What is it?" Fíli asked, following her to where she had piled up her presents, to be gifted the next morning before Thorin's grand Yule party.
"I was waiting until tomorrow to give you this, but I think you need it now," Dís said. She handed him a carefully wrapped rectangle.
Reluctantly, Fíli opened it. (It wasn't as if he could ignore it, not with his mother standing right there.) The rectangle was a small portrait of his family at their current: Dís, Kíli, himself, and...
Fíli suddenly found it hard to breathe. His long-dead father stood in that picture, smiling and resting his hand on Fíli's shoulder. Víli looked like him, with golden hair and a braided beard, but Fíli could see that he and Kíli shared a nose.
It wasn't as if he'd never seen a portrait of his father before. He even remembered Víli from his earliest days, before he had been killed by orcs on a caravan trip when Fíli was only about five years old. But this was Víli with his family as they were now. It showed their family as they could have been.
"I had one made for Kíli, too," Dís said softly. She placed her hand on Fíli's shoulder, just as Víli did in the picture. "I gave that old picture of me and him to a painter, as well as one of the three of us, and..." She sighed. "He would be so proud of you, Fíli."
Fíli put the picture down and embraced his mother. "Thank you," he whispered. "I...I think I understand now."
"Good," Dís whispered back.
Then Fíli gasped. He let go of his mother and grabbed the picture, turning to go.
"Fíli! Where are you going so suddenly?" his mother cried after him.
He turned at the door to call back, "It's almost midnight! I have to find some presents for everyone before Yule officially begins!"
He could his mother's laughter as he quickly ran to his own rooms and stowed the portrait somewhere safe, but, he thought as he ran down into the city, she had been right, after all. She deserved a laugh.
The party was in full swing when Thorin arrived.
"Late, as usual, I see!" Dwalin cried, greeting him with a rough embrace. "For all it's your own party we're havin' without you!"
Thorin laughed and clapped his friend on the back. "I had kingly duties to attend to," he explained, "but I'm here now, that's what matters!"
Dwalin laughed and offered him a mug of mead. Thorin took it gratefully. Dwalin was not too drunk now at the beginning of the party, but he was certain to have passed out by the end of it.
"Satisfied with your gifts, Thorin?" Dwalin asked. "Like what I got you?"
Thorin grinned. "A pocket watch. As if I don't already have several."
"Well, seein' as you were late to your own party, I think you might need some help in the time-keepin' area," Dwalin pointed out. He laughed at his own joke, then took another swig of his mead. "Bilbo's presents were all very thoughtful, don't ya think? He got me a pipe and some pipe-weed he swears is the best in all Middle-earth. He must have overheard me complaining about the poor quality of the Lake-town leaf!"
Thorin glanced around the room of merrymakers, eventually finding the hobbit. Bilbo smiled at him and waved from across the room. Thorin waved back, his heart warming at the sight. He was trying his best to hide it from everyone, but he was quite enamoured with Bilbo. From what he'd heard from Kíli, Fíli, Dís, and now Dwalin, Bilbo's gifts had all been personal and lovely.
"What'd he get you?" Dwalin asked.
Thorin frowned. "He...didn't." That had been bothering him all day. He'd received no gift at all from Bilbo Baggins. He wondered if he'd done something wrong. Thorin had thought that he and Bilbo had become quite close, almost close enough to make Thorin wonder if Bilbo had similar feelings for him, but evidently not.
"Oooh." Dwalin only laughed again, getting drunker by the moment. He winked. "Must be saving something special for his pretty dwarf king."
Thorin was too annoyed to blush. He cuffed Dwalin gently on the shoulder. "You've gotten too much mead in your system, Dwalin. I'm sure it was just an oversight."
"Mark m' words, Bilbo's got something up that burglar's sleeve of his," Dwalin said wisely. He took another long drink, then hiccuped. "But if y' don't believe me, just wait." He laughed at Thorin's confused expression, then wandered off to bother Balin, who was playing a game of beer pong with Bifur.
Thorin shook his head as Balin and Bifur tried to shoo Dwalin off. They would have trouble getting him to go in that state.
A loud piping caught Thorin's attention. Bofur had cleared off a space of table where some dwarves were still feasting and had leaped on top of it to play a tune. Thorin clapped and laughed as Bofur's song began. It was a traditional dwarvish Yule tune, and dwarves across the hall joined in singing the words, about an old dwarf woman who saw Mahal forging a gift for his children. The song was mostly in Westron, but a few words were in Khuzdul. Thorin saw Kíli translating for his elven sweetheart, and the sight was so touching that Thorin almost forgot that he wasn't supposed to like Tauriel.
He saw Bilbo laughing at the stunning conclusion to the song and wished he had been beside the hobbit to translate for him.
Thorin shook the sappy thought out of his mind and wandered around the room, greeting his guests, taking swigs of his own mead, and eating several large cookies. He was hungry, and now a little bit tipsy.
He was glad to see Fíli finally enjoying himself. His eldest nephew was roaring with laughter at something Glóin's son Gimli had said. Ori was snorting his own amusement beside him, making a merry trio. Dís had come to Thorin's room weeping the night before, telling him of how she had given Fíli the portrait she had specially commissioned early. Evidently, that had finally shocked some Yuletide cheer into Fíli's heart, for that morning Thorin had received a large box of chocolates and a sweet note from him.
Not too far from Fíli, Ori, and Gimli, Kíli and Tauriel sat with their heads in mugs of mead. Thorin wondered what they were doing—usually those two couldn't keep their eyes off each other, much to his own irritation.
Thorin had been furious when he'd first found out that Kíli was in love with an elf, but after hearing how Tauriel had defied Thranduil in the Battle of the Five Armies, he had grudgingly allowed her to stay in Erebor. Now watching the two of them develop a relationship, he was hard set to keep disliking her, but he would have to manage—at least, for a little while longer.
Maybe the Yuletide spirit was softening his heart, because when Tauriel and Kíli emerged from their cups, their faces covered in foam, Thorin found the sight of their gleeful faces heartwarming.
Then Kíli leaped into Tauriel's arms and started kissing her drunkenly and passionately, and Thorin quickly went back to annoyance.
Across the room, Bombur was gorging himself a pie. Thorin was used to watching him overeating, but even he felt a little sick at the sight. Nori, however, was taking great pleasure, laughing and cracking jokes while Bombur dug in.
Removed from the crowd, Dori and Óin sat in a corner, earnestly discussing the healing properties of some sort of tea. Dori was a little drunk and waxed almost poetic when Óin mentioned that the tea tasted good as well. Thorin shook his head at their silliness, but since it was Yule and everyone was at least a little tipsy, he wasn't one to talk.
At last, Thorin's gaze settled upon Bilbo. He stood next to Dís, politely sipping mead (Thorin knew that Bilbo was not all that fond of the drink, preferring wine and beer) and listening to Glóin boasting about his son's achievements.
Thorin wandered over to the three of them just as Glóin was saying, "—still a little annoyed he couldn't come on the quest, but if he were only a little older I would have pushed for it, after all his weapon-work is excellent. He's an excellent speaker, as well, he'll be an incredible diplomat someday—"
Dís nodded and interjected, "Yes, I quite agree. And you know, Fíli and Kíli did miss him. Kíli especially, seeing as he would have liked not to be the youngest. Even Ori's a few months older—"
Bilbo caught Thorin's gaze and sent him a wordless plea for a way out of this conversation. Thorin cleared his throat and said, "Bilbo! It's wonderful to see you here. Glóin, Dís, would you mind if I had a word with our fine Master Burglar?"
"You don't have to call me that, the quest's over," Bilbo protested, but he puffed his chest out a little bit to be reminded of his own accomplishments. Thorin bit back a smile, happy that he was happy.
"Of course," Dís said. She winked at him, and Thorin shot a glare back at her. The previous night, after telling him all about Fíli's sudden transformation from grouch to holiday enthusiast, she had pressed him to "just tell Bilbo how you feel about him already!" Thorin had, of course, profusely denied any such unusual feelings, hoping that it was only because she was so close to him that she had noticed anything at all.
Thorin led Bilbo away from the proud parents. The hobbit sighed in relief. "Thanks, Thorin," he said gratefully. "If I had to hear one more thing about what their precious sons had achieved in their lives, I might have screamed."
"You're too tactful for that," Thorin pointed out. "You wouldn't."
"I wouldn't," Bilbo admitted, "but I felt like it." He glanced around the festivities, then said, "It's stuffy in here, don't you think? Would you like...to get some air?" He waved his hand vaguely.
Thorin nodded, trying to force his heart to beat at a normal pace. He nodded, then led Bilbo to a balcony outside the room.
Bilbo took a deep breath once they stood together outside. "This is a nice party you've got," he said. "You do this every year?"
"Well, this one's different, as we're back in Erebor," Thorin said. He tried to think about the conversation at hand, and not how close he and Bilbo were standing, or how good Bilbo looked in the soft moonlight.
"I heard about all the gifts you got for the Company," he blurted out. "They're—very thoughtful." Then he cursed himself for bringing that topic up. Now he was forced to remember that Bilbo had not gotten him any of those nice, thoughtful gifts. "Um—did you like my gift?"
No, that was even worse. Bilbo had given everybody personal gifts, but Thorin, after tearing his beard out over not knowing what to get for Bilbo, had eventually just settled on chocolate. Everyone liked chocolate, after all. But compared to Bilbo's gifts, that was in poor taste.
"Yes, it was very good," Bilbo said. "I tried not to eat all of it at once, but—" He laughed. "The chocolate was too tempting."
"I'm glad you liked it," Thorin said. Even despite the awkwardness about Yule gifts, he was very glad Bilbo had decided to stay in Erebor, at least for the time being. He would have been more devastated than he'd like to admit if Bilbo had left him...and everyone else, too.
Bilbo looked up at him and smiled, then glanced away. Thorin quietly took a deep breath. By Mahal's fiery beard, why did Bilbo's smile have to do such strange things to his heart?
"You know, I had a lot of trouble thinking about your gift," Bilbo said. "I'm sorry I didn't give it to you earlier. It took me a long time to come up with something that was just perfect for you. But eventually I figured something out."
Thorin broke into a smile of relief. "I was beginning to think you had forgotten about me," he admitted.
"Never," Bilbo said seriously. He reached over and took Thorin's hand. Thorin stiffened, then relaxed. It wasn't as if they had never touched hands before, or even held hands. But there was something different about this, something—
And before he could finish overanalyzing things, Bilbo was leaning up and he was leaning down and their lips met in a kiss.
All of Thorin's nerves vanished and he melted into the kiss. It felt so right, after months of imagining this, but still so much better than he could have ever dreamed.
When they broke apart, Thorin was smiling. He held Bilbo close to him and breathed in his hobbit's smell. All of his worries had fallen away, and he felt only peace on this calm Yule night.
"Merry Yuletide, Thorin," Bilbo said, his voice thick with emotion.
"Merry Yuletide, Bilbo," he whispered back. There would be things to talk about later—so many things, all important and wonderful—but for now, this was enough.
"FINALLY!" a voice roared from the balcony's entrance.
Thorin grimaced and turned to face a grinning crowd. Kíli was the one who had yelled, and he now hugged Fíli and jumped up and down, beaming.
"What do you mean?" Thorin asked. Bilbo clutched his hand and laughed softly.
"You two are the absolute worst at hiding how you feel, brother mine," Dís informed him gently, folding her arms. But a happy smile was on her face. "Congratulations."
"Wait, what?" Thorin protested. "I thought I..." Then he took a look at everyone around him, grinning and shaking their heads at his folly. "I guess I wasn't very subtle, then..."
"You were subtle enough to have me second-guessing myself at times," Bilbo said, though whether he was teasing Thorin or comforting him, he couldn't quite tell.
"Now your anniversary will be on Yule," Dwalin said thoughtfully. "Hmm. A double holiday." He winked at Thorin, as if to say, Wasn't I right?
"Go away, all of you," Bilbo grumbled, waving a hand. "Thorin and I need to talk."
The crowd dissipated, some more grudging than others. Kíli could barely hold himself together with glee and had to hug Thorin before allowing a bemused Tauriel to drag him off. For once, Thorin was grateful she was around to distract him.
"That was...quite a gift," Thorin said when he and Bilbo were at last alone.
Bilbo shrugged. "I figured that now was as good a time as any, and—" He blushed, and Thorin's heart flooded with warmth. "I did need a gift for you."
"Well, let me give you another gift," Thorin rumbled, and he leaned down for a second kiss. "Merry Yuletide, my sweet, wonderful burglar."