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The Christmas Jumper Debacle

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Sometimes Thorin thought his sister did it on purpose. It was almost as if she actually went out of her way to find the most ugly, outlandish Christmas jumpers that actually existed. It was as if she enjoyed watching him suffer the indignity of wearing something so hideous and having absolutely no excuse not to.

It was always the one Christmas present they were allowed to open early, just in time for the annual family get together on Christmas Eve. There was an unspoken rule at the Durin family party that the uglier the jumper the better, and Thorin could hardly complain when Dwalin once turned up with actual tinsel and fairy lights on his jumper which rustled every time he moved and left a trail of glittery mess on the floor.

He wasn't surprised when he pulled open the wrapping paper - a little more sedately than his nephews had done - and revealed a monstrosity of a jumper with a natty snowflake pattern and, worst of all, his name in huge letters across the chest. He grimaced.

“Oh, don't pull that face,” Dis laughed. “You know you love it really!”

“No, I really, really don't,” Thorin said with a sigh, though there was no real malice in it. This one was almost tame compared to the ones she’d found for him in previous years. He thought wistfully of the ones he saw in all the shop windows, all cosy patterns and soft wool - not the garish things Dis insisted on. He gave another sigh.

At least they'd all be in the same boat at the party later. He smiled grimly; he really hated parties but the Christmas Eve party was the one thing he was never allowed to miss – on pain of death – and everyone usually made enough of a fool of themselves after drinking Thrain’s festive punch that it was almost enjoyable. Almost.

Fili and Kili were busy running around the living room in their new jumpers - only marginally less awful that Thorin’s – while Dis finished in the kitchen, packing up the spiced cake she'd made to take with them. He followed her into the kitchen, his jumper still slung over one arm, and leaned against the counter as she worked.

“Aren't you going to put that on?” she asked, teasing. Thorin gave a huff.

“I'm resigned to the fact I'll have to wear it at the party but I'd rather not prolong the torture,” he said, smiling at the look of mock outrage on Dis’ face.

“You always were over dramatic,” she grinned, putting the lid on the tin firmly. “Now go and get the boys ready. We're leaving in half an hour.”

Of course, getting Fili and Kili ready in time was nigh on impossible and they were late by the time they finally pulled up outside of their parents’ house, despite it being a relatively short drive. They could hear the sounds of Christmas songs drifting out on the cold air as they hurried up through the front garden to the house.

Thorin’s mother greeted them warmly and ushered them all into the house, already nattering on about something or other. Thorin narrowed his eyes at her lack of ugly Christmas jumper, but didn’t say anything. Instead he escaped into the kitchen where his father was busy mixing a bowl of his punch, which was usually so alcoholic it was a fire hazard.

“Merry Christmas, Dad,” he said, allowing Thrain to pull him in for a hug. He looked him up and down when they pulled apart. “Where’s your Christmas jumper?” he asked, frowning.

“Oh, we’re not doing them this year,” Thrain said, turning back to his punch. “Your mother’s always complaining about how we don’t get nice photos, so we decided to leave them.”

Oh, just perfect. “Dis evidently didn't get the memo,” he grumbled.

“No,” his father laughed. “That's quite a good one you've got this year!”

Thorin could feel his neck prickling in embarrassment already. If he was the only one wearing a Christmas jumper, bar Fili and Kili… He’d never hear the end of it.

“Take this out to the table would you, be a good lad,” Thrain said, handing Thorin the bowl of punch. Thorin did as he was bid and carried it out to the dining room, placing it next to the numerous bowls and platters of food - plates of cold roast turkey, potatoes, sausages, mince pies and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of biscuits and cakes. Thankfully the dining room was empty, but he could hear loud laughter and chatter from the living room next door and Thorin knew he wouldn’t be able to avoid his family for very long.

He was just considering going and taking off his jumper - and hiding it somewhere it’d never see the light of day again, because honestly, why had Dis thought it was a good idea to get him one with his own name on it – but just as he’d decided, his brother appeared in the doorway. Frerin was looking suspiciously suntanned – the benefit of breaking from family tradition and heading down under to be a travel writer, Thorin supposed.

“Thorin! We thought you’d never join us!” Frerin hurried over and smashed his head against Thorin’s.

“I was just doing a job for Dad,” Thorin muttered.

“Come on,” Frerin said, dragging him over to the living room. “Everyone wants to see you.”

Reluctantly Thorin allowed himself to be led, hoping he didn’t look as reluctant as he felt. As they entered he felt the eyes of his family and the various other relatives and friends who'd also been invited land on him and he wished the floor would open up and swallow him whole. There wasn't a single other Christmas jumper in sight.

He was going to kill his sister as soon as this was over.

He forced himself to go through with the greetings and pleasantries with the people nearest to him as conversation started up again; as soon as he could duck out of a conversation without being rude he dived back into the dining room and fixed himself a cup of his father's punch. He grimaced at the taste – it was overly sweet but exceedingly strong, which was just what he needed right now. Fili and Kili came running through the room squealing, chased by young Gimli, who was very red in the face; Thorin watched the three of them race upstairs wistfully. If only he could run away from the inevitable awkwardness of this party and get away with it.

He poured another glass of punch and stood there drinking it as slowly as possible as the music next door cut out midway through the song, as it did every year, and there was laughter as Frerin fixed it. For a moment Thorin wished he could be as easy going as his brother and sister. The thought made him scowl and he glared at his ridiculous jumper Dis had practically manhandled him into. He should have been suspicious when she fobbed him off with some excuse about needing to change when he'd asked where her jumper was.

“Oh, thank goodness, I thought I was the only one!”

Thorin turned to stare at the newcomer in shock. It was a short man with curly hair the colour of hay in the summertime and a smiling face. He met Thorin’s gaze head on with cheerful green eyes.

“You've got a Christmas jumper too,” he said, gesturing to Thorin’s torso as his eyes swept over the huge letters adorned with snowflakes and holly berries. He glanced down at his own. “I thought it was just me, but thank goodness you're here!”

Thorin tore his eyes away from the man's face when his words registered – Thorin had been too confused by his sudden appearance to take much note of what he was saying – and realised the short man was also wearing a fairly hideous jumper. It was maroon and emblazoned with mistletoe, holly boughs, snowflakes and candy canes; it had red pompoms for the holly berries and white for the mistletoe. Worst of all were the little cats knitted into the pattern.

Seeing it, Thorin almost felt good about his own horrible sweater.

“Who are you?” he blurted out, cursing his clumsy tongue as the short man jumped and started blushing. Thorin definitely didn't notice how attractive that colour in his cheeks was.

“Good heavens, I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Bilbo Baggins.” The man stuck out his hand and Thorin took it unconsciously, his cheeks warming at the newcomer’s gentle but firm handshake.

“I – Thorin,” he said at last, his hand still clasped in the smaller man’s – Bilbo’s – grip. Bilbo’s eyes flickered down to Thorin’s jumper and the letters that spelled out his name.

“Ah. I did wonder.” His eyes were full of laughter; no doubt purely kind but it made Thorin’s neck prickle with embarrassment and he pulled his hand away from Bilbo’s.

“Why are you here?” he asked, ignoring the way his hand tingled where it had met the other man’s. He cringed at how abrupt and rude it sounded coming from his mouth. “It's just, most friends who don't know us that well avoid Durin gatherings like the plague,” he added, trying to salvage the conversation and not insult his new comrade in ugly sweaters. Bilbo gave a small laugh.

“Oh, Balin’s an old friend of mine – we work together and when he found out it's my first Christmas away from all my family at home, well, he rather insisted I join him here –”

The short man carried on talking and Thorin just stared, part bemused and part charmed. He didn't think he'd ever spoken so many words in his life, let alone in one go.

“- So now you see, I feel rather foolish,” the shorter man – Bilbo – finished, biting his lip uncertainly and gesturing at his sweater.

Thorin made a noise somewhere between a hum and a grunt, still clutching his half - drunk glass of punch.

“So how come you're the only one of your family wearing one, anyway? If you don't mind my asking,” Bilbo said, looking up at Thorin inquiringly. Thorin felt suddenly a little too hot and took a gulp of his drink to distract himself.

“My sister,” he said grimly. “She seems to have made it her life's work to make me look as ridiculous as possible.”

“Oh no, not at all,” Bilbo said earnestly with a little laugh and Thorin’s eyes flicked back to him, intrigued. “Yours isn't that bad at all, it’s really rather fetching I'd say –” Thorin saw the way Bilbo’s face seemed to freeze and his expression morphed into one of mortification. “I mean – that is to say – oh, dear –” He looked away, suddenly very flustered, but before Thorin could say anything Bilbo was fumbling with a plastic cup and filling it with Thrain’s punch before turning and disappearing into the crowd, leaving Thorin feeling strangely unsatisfied.

He kept seeing Bilbo out of the corner of his eye but the other man seemed to be avoiding him – every time Thorin ended up talking to a group near him he seemed to melt away, only reappearing once safely on the opposite side of the room to Thorin.

Thorin would go and seek him out on purpose, but he couldn't bring himself to. There was something about him – him and his hideous Christmas jumper with the cats and the pompoms – that had Thorin intrigued. He wanted to talk to him more but knew if he tried he'd only say something stupid or ruin it all somehow. So he drank more punch than he probably should but heck, it was Christmas, and at this rate Thorin was about to develop a very inevitable crush. Drinking was about the only logical thing to do, given the current circumstances and Thorin’s previous crushes. They'd never ended well.

It was dark outside and pleasantly warm in the living room now, the windows foggy with condensation with the heat of so many people inside. The laughter was loud and more often now that most of Thrain’s punch was gone, and Thorin even managed to forget about his embarrassment for a while – until he went to talk to Dwalin, who didn't even try and hide his snicker.

Thorin scowled and punched his arm roughly.

“Remind me to compliment Dis on her excellent taste later,” Dwalin said, ignoring Thorin’s attack. Thorin glared right back. “Have you met Balin’s friend? He's also wearing one.”

Before Thorin could reply Dwalin was calling Bilbo’s name and gesturing him over; Bilbo appeared, still holding another glass of punch, with his curls mussed, cheeks very pink and a shine in his eye that Thorin strongly suspected was to do with the punch.

Bilbo was looking at Dwalin; when he took in Thorin beside him his face seemed to fall just a fraction and he glanced away, back at Dwalin. “Hullo,” he said and he sounded a little breathless.

“Here, Bilbo,” Dwalin said, placing a hand on his shoulder and Thorin definitely didn't notice that and there definitely wasn't a stirring of something low in his belly. “I don't think you met my cousin Thorin.”

“Er, yes,” Bilbo said, giving Thorin a quick smile before looking back at Dwalin. “Yes, we spoke a bit before actually.”

“Good!” Dwalin grinned. “I was actually – oh, hang on –” And with that he was off, pushing his way through the crowd leaving Thorin and Bilbo staring after him. Neither said anything, though Bilbo looked down at his cup of punch and started fiddling with it before looking up at Thorin hesitantly.

“Nice family you've got,” he said and Thorin snorted.

“You don't have to pretend,” he said, taking a swig of his punch. He should really stop drinking it soon – he hadn't eaten nearly enough to be drinking this much of his father's lethal concoction. “You're allowed to want to get away as quickly as possible, or drink as much as you can to make it bearable.”

“Well you seem to be following your own advice pretty well!” Bilbo said hotly. “Your family has been nothing but kind to me, and it's very unfair of you to suggest otherwise.” He was glaring at Thorin, who suddenly felt sheepish.

“Sorry,” he offered, looking down at his nearly empty glass.

Bilbo made a noise. “It's alright,” he said, suddenly cheerful. “I won't lie I'm glad to get away from aunt Dora this year. It's a stronger man than I am who can put up with her all Christmas.” Thorin looked at him, and Bilbo gave a grin, which Thorin couldn't help but return. He didn't even know why.

“Say, erm,” Bilbo said, looking away. “I'm really very embarrassed that your first impression of me is of a tipsy drunk guy who likes cats and has really bad taste in Christmas jumpers, so – erm – if you don't mind – maybe after Christmas, if you wanted, we could – if you like, of course, no obligation – maybe we could – oh drat, I'm no good at this –” He took a deep breath. “Perhaps we could meet for coffee. Or something. If you want.” He met Thorin’s gaze head-on, his jaw clenched and looking as if he was about to walk to his own execution.

“Yes,” Thorin said, mentally cursing himself for that smooth piece of talking. He hunched his shoulders in on himself and looked at the floor, though he could feel Bilbo’s eyes boring into him. He glanced up and felt his breath leave him at the look on Bilbo’s flushed face. “I would love to. I think. I mean, I would love to, I don't think I would – bugger.” He cut himself off before he could say anything else incriminating. Thankfully Bilbo seemed to understand what he was saying as his smile only seemed to grow.

“Perfect!” he said and Thorin felt his stomach tingle at the relief on Bilbo’s face. Oh dear, that crush was definitely here. Bilbo was reaching into his pocket and he pulled out his phone, looking up at Thorin with a grin as he held it out. Thorin took it, feeling a little bit dazed – as if he'd been hit by a tonne of bricks – and entered his number into it. Bilbo’s smile didn't drop for a second, and didn't even seem bothered that Thorin had regressed into one word answers.

“Until later, then,” he said, flashing Thorin another grin before turning and disappearing into the crowd. Thorin watched him go, smiling like a fool, before pulling himself together and finding his sister. He left his cup on the table; he didn't need any more punch.

He was upstairs putting the boys to bed when Balin and Dwalin left with Bilbo, which he was only a tiny bit annoyed about as he'd rather wanted to see Bilbo’s flushed face and make him smile again.

His phone buzzed at midnight and he checked it, a smile breaking onto his face as he read the message. It was from Bilbo. It was only wishing him a merry Christmas, but it was enough to make Thorin’s stomach flutter uncomfortably and his smile widen.

Dis saw it elbowed him in the ribs; even that wasn't enough to wipe the smile off his face. When he fell into bed he even looked at his hideous Christmas jumper fondly as he took it off. Maybe – just maybe – he could forgive his sister for her horrible choice of clothing. Just this once.