Actions

Work Header

Theft

Chapter Text

Gandalf was genuinely surprised. And if you think for some time about it, it is not a common achievement to surprise a wizard. Wizards happen to be acquainted with all sorts of things, strange things and enormous things, tiny little things no one seems able to see and dark things no one wishes to speak of. You could be under the impression that wizards consitute a very odd lot. Besides, many hobbits would share your belief that the sole interesting (and respectable) wizard's ability concerns fireworks; but wizards have seen many, many things and – even more important – they have grasped their meaning.

These are facts, and another reliable fact is that Gandalf was at loss with words.

He had not foreseen this – there were thousands of goblins and hundreds of wargs keeping his mind busy: distracted by the approaching war, Gandalf had lost insight into Thorin’s heart.

Gandalf had been relieved when Thorin had appeared at the war council. Of course they had sent for him, but Gandalf's hopes had not been particularly high until Balin, Dwalin and Thorin had reached the gates of the Lake people’s camp. The dwarves were all dressed in embroidered velvet and wore silver breast-plates; Dwalin carried an axe, but Thorin was too disdainful to arm himself, and Balin too anxious to keep peace between his lord and the council.

Gandalf was glad to find an ally in Balin: the old dwarf was using great courtesy to Bard and the Elevenking, but not even Balin's wisdom had foreseen Thorin's request. On the other hand, Dwalin was unfathomable: he stood still at Thorin’s side, hands on his shining belt, and he had not spoken yet.

“War is coming over us,” Bard said, “and you would waste our time to put down the details of your claim on the dragon's treasure.”

“It has never been the dragon’s treasure to lose,” Thorin replied, coldness seeping in his voice. “It was my father’s and my father’s father, mine by the right of blood.”

“As you say,” Bard complied, “but all the same you want us to linger on this topic rather than on our plans for the imminent battle. Let us fight this battle together and prove our worth on the battlefield. You’ll be glad to share the treasure with us after having fought side by side.”  

Thranduil smiled that smile of him, silent and mysterious like a flower blossoming at midnight. The Elvenking was surely reflecting about his share in the treasure, but he did not deem necessary to speak of his desires aloud. Yet, Gandalf guessed them and wondered if the treasure would not have been better placed at the bottom of the lake with Smaug.  

“I won't be glad,” Thorin replied to Bard, “but I accept your help to fight greater enemies. For this, I’ll be generous.”

“If you’ll survive.”

Thranduil had spoken in a soft, light voice; but Thorin froze and Dwalin closed his grip on the axe.

“Am I to fear an elvish arrow?” Thorin asked bluntly. Bard’s face went pale, but Gandalf reacted quickly.

“Enough of this feud of yours,” the wizard intervened. “I’m sure,” he shot a glance at Thranduil, “that the Elvenking meant nothing by it, except warning us all about how great is the danger. We do not know who’ll survive the uncoming battle and Bard speaks wisely. We must stand side by side against the dark times ahead: what are gold and silver for the peace of your people, King Thranduil? What the Arkenstone for the sake of your kin, Thorin Oakenshield?”

But Thorin was not moved by Gandalf’s words. Nor was Thranduil. Only Dain of the Iron Hills seemed able to grasp their meaning.

“Cousin, I sense the truth in the wizard’s plea," Dain confessed, caressing his beard. "Your claim is rightful and my axe is yours, but choose wisely how to use them. We cannot waste time bickering about each golden bowl in the treasure.”

“Am I wasting time, cousin Dain?” Thorin’s voice was gentler when speaking to Dain, but his eyes shone like cold stones in the moonlight. “I came here to listen to your offer of peace,” Thorin continued, addressing himself to Gandalf, Bard and Thranduil. “I've made my claim and it is a generous one indeed, for each one of you betrayed me at least once. But my counsellors urge me to be wise and do not indulge in bitterness for the past wrongs: here I am, offering you a share in the treasure in exchange for the Arkenstone. Is it not what you asked in the first place? Yet, now it’s me you are accusing to hinder this alliance.”

“We meant to trade the Arkenstone for a share in the treasure, but you ask us to offer hostages too!” Bard protested, frowning.

“You call them hostages, Bard of Dale; I call them guests," Thorin replied, without blinking. "You think me cruel; I think I am most kind for having offered your women, children and old ones a shelter from the battle. At the end of the battle, your people will leave the Mountain carrying the fourteenth part of the treasure, and you’ll be free to share it with your friends the elves.”  

“What garancies do you offer?” Bard asked, suspiciously. “For all I know, you could enslave them to rebuild your home, King under the Mountain.”

“They will be treated kindly; we are not Elves,” Thorin spat back, shooting a hard glance to Thranduil.

“But you also want the Arkenstone placed in your hands before the battle,” Thranduil pointed out contemptuosly.

“Should I put the Arkenstone in your hands, elf?" Thorin asked in return, sneering. "The gem shall return to the Mountain, its rightful place.”

“Plus you pretend to lead alone the battle,” Bard continued, shaking his head. “You know how dwarves fight, but what about men and elves? Let King Thranduil lead his elves and let me guide my own people. We should make the best of our differences and yet strike as a single body.”

Great, great man this Bard of Dale! Gandalf smiled for the first time since the beginning of the council. Even Thorin seemed weighing Bard's words carefully: surely Thorin was bound to see how this requests of him were nothing but a whim. Gandalf deemed the moment propitious for intervening again in the discussion.  

“Give him the Arkenstone,” he suggested to Thranduil and Bard, “because it is the heart of the Mountain and a token of Thrain’s times. Bard, let your people take shelter in Erebor; they will be safer there, should we lose the battle. King Thranduil, bring food and healers for the hosts and the Lake people," Gandalf urged them. "But you, Thorin Oakenshield, take a sacred oath to reward men and elves who’ll fight tomorrow. They will be your allies and not your own army, but friends are much more valuable than servants.”

Maybe the coming and going of the elven scouts bringing news of the approaching enemy was affecting them all, but they all appeared more inclined to accept Gandalf's words.

What they were creating in that tent was not a real peace, but it would do for wartime.

And yet...

“Surely you see by yourself we cannot give you Bilbo Baggins,” Gandalf added, while Bard, Dain and Thranduil were exchanging information about their respective hosts.

Thorin did not seem surprised by Gandalf’s words, as if he had been waiting for them a long time. It was the last of Thorin's demands, yet the most astonishing. Bard and Thranduil had fought him on the other pressing matters of the Arkenstone and the impending battle, but Bilbo had been forgotten by them all but Gandalf. And Thorin, the wizard understood, looking at his face.

“The burglar has robbed and betrayed me and my kin," Thorin replied quietly. "He must be judged by our law.”

Gandalf shivered. Not for the first time, the wizard wondered if Thorin had really gone mad under the influence of the dragon’s sickness.

The law of dwarves is hard and bitter like the metal of their axes. As a consequence of their love and greediness for precious things, dwarves punish theft even with the loss of one or both hands. And they are not prone to admit extenuating circumstances, blind as they are when gold and pride are concerned.

“Bilbo did what he deemed right to avoid a foolish war,” Gandalf pointed out. 

Foolish?” Thorin repeated, raising his voice till the others’ attention was back to him and Gandalf. “Defending what is mine is foolish? You should have expressed your view before the beginning of this journey, wizard. And the burglar should have put a limit to his...burgling.”

“Mr Baggins is under our protection,” Bard stated quietly.

Too quietly, Gandalf thought. Bard was a good man, but it was plain that he would not risk the chance of an alliance for the sake of a hobbit. Bard and Thranduil would try to save Bilbo from Thorin’s grasp, but for how long? Gandalf sighed.

“You cannot blame Bilbo for the situation you are in, Thorin Oakenshield. You're blinded by your desire for the Arkenstone: don’t you remember how Bilbo risked his life more than once to save yours? Balin, Dwalin,” Gandalf looked at them, “has Bilbo Baggins been anything but a loyal friend to you dwarves?”

Balin cheeks reddened a little and he dropped his gaze, Dwalin only sneered. But Thorin was furious, his mouth closed in a hard line: obviously Thorin did not like to be reminded of his debts toward Bilbo and he loathed to discuss them in presence of men and elves.

“I spared his life when I should have thrown him from the top of the mountain," Thorin replied after some moments. "I sent him to his friends,” he reminded Gandalf, wincing. “And now I only ask to judge him: he shall have a fair trial for theft according to our law and the trial will not take place before the battle. In the meantime, he shall be our guest among the Lake people.”

“In truth the hobbit has no place on the battlefield,” Bard admitted, caressing his chin. He did not dare to look at Gandalf while he spoke again: “If Erebor is the safest place for my people, why not for the hobbit?”

“Because he plans to take revenge on him!” Gandalf replied coldly.

“I would consider myself responsible if something should happen to the hobbit,” Balin declared.

Gandalf shuddered and looked at the old dwarf.
Balin had been a valid ally during the negotiation, softening Thorin’s harshness and encouraging him to acknowledge the advantages of the proposals. But Balin was not fighting Thorin for Bilbo's sake. The wizard was disappointed at first, but then he saw something else. Balin had the most serious look about him. He meant what he had just said: he was going to take care of Bilbo, even against Thorin’s wishes. Maybe Bilbo would not be alone in the Mountain, maybe there were others ready to protect him.

Still Gandalf was not happy with this. He wondered how much betrayal he would see in Bilbo’s eyes once informed of the decision taken during the council. The hobbit deeply grieved how he had been driven out of the mountain – Thorin’s words and deeds were clearly haunting him. Was it possible that the greatest danger of Bilbo Baggins’ adventure still lay ahead? Yet it was useless to discuss it with Thorin. He was more stubborn than ever and on this point the others were more pliable.

“Mithrandir,” Thranduil said at last, “have you not just reminded us that war is upon us and we should swiftly join forces against the common enemy? I admire the hobbit, but we should talk about the battle ahead: let the dwarves’ law have him.”

“You’re asking me to give him up,” Gandalf replied between his teeth. 

“Each one of us has given something or someone up, Mithrandir,” the Elvenking said, his voice full of sweetness and deception. “Why should you be spared?”

Gandalf was tempted to leave the council - let them fools be slaughtered and enslaved!

But he did not go. He wanted to explain that the reason he was fighting for Bilbo was the fact that winning the battle against goblins and wargs was not more important than winning the battle against their own treacherous desires. He wanted to say that they were going to fight for the happiness and peace Bilbo appreciated and valued more deeply than them. And yet Gandalf did not speak: they were blind and he had never been more tired in his life.

“Bilbo Baggins is worth more than all your lands and gold and weapons,” he declared bitterly.

No one spoke of the hobbit anymore, but it was implied that he was to be given to Thorin.

Chapter Text

I’d like to sleep the sweetest sleep and wake up in my bed, Bilbo had thought again and again since the beginning of his journey. But this time it was different, for he wanted to go back home but also to forget what was happening. He should have never crossed his path with Thorin Oakenshield's.

The little hobbit had been confined in the Elvenking’s tent. Even at times like these, there was something graceful and charming about the setting: white veils and green cushions, silver bowls filled with fruits and an exquisite golden harp forgotten on the bed.

Yet Bilbo had found impossible to make himself at ease. He had taken place on a low wooden stool, and he had not moved nor touched food. He did not know how many hours had passed since the beginning of the council. He knew that Thorin, Balin and Dwalin had joined Gandalf and the others to confer about the battle: the clamour of their coming had reached every corner of the camp and an elf had brought him the good news. Bilbo’s heart had swelled up with hope, but now he was not sure anymore.

What if Thorin had been too stubborn to come to terms with men and elves? There were frightful news of the approaching army of goblins and wargs. Bilbo could not eat nor sleep; he could do nothing but think of war and war made him think of his little, peaceful hobbit hole.

All of sudden a tall shadow with a pointed hat appeared outside the tent, and Gandalf entered.

“Bilbo, my friend,” he said, and Bilbo knew something was wrong.

“They had not reached an agreement, had they?” Bilbo asked, growing pale. “Elves and men could still flee, but Thorin and his dwarves won’t leave the mountain!” he cried, his eyes larger with fear. “They will be slaughtered on the slopes or they will die from hunger and thirst.”  

“No, keep calm,” Gandalf interrupted him, moving closer to the hobbit. “There’s an alliance: they will fight together.”

Relief flooded Bilbo's heart, but Gandalf’s frown was not less pronounced than a moment before.

“What is then?” the hobbit asked.

“Thorin has made his demands to men and elves,” Gandalf began slowly. 

“They must have fought like children about each detail,” Bilbo joked, but the joke fell flat. He sensed a strange uneasiness about the wizard. “Have I done much wrong?” he asked, quietly, glancing at his hands. “The dwarves must be still very angry at me. I’m sure they have already left the camp, without a friendly thought for me. But I’m a Baggins of Bag End and this is not my place.”

Gandalf’s hand squeezed Bilbo's shoulder.

“You are a great hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and you should be highly regarded wherever you find yourself,” he declared with a slight quiver in his voice. 

Bilbo raised his eyes, but he did not feel quite convinced by the wizard’s praises. 

“You are one of Thorin Oakenshield’s request, Bilbo,” Gandalf sighed. 

“I...what?” Bilbo asked, blinking. 

“He has demanded for you to be tried for the theft of the Arkenstone," Gandal explained curtly. "Elves and men intend to grant him this wish.”

Bilbo went pale, but his voice remained quiet and his expression grew even humbler than before.

“I see,” he murmured. “What do you think about it, Gandalf?”

“The worst. I do not agree, but they do not listen to me on this matter,” the wizard confessed through his gritted teeth. “Still, you could take your chance and flee, Bilbo: I would help you," he murmured, narrowing his eyes. "But there’s not much time left before they come for you, my friend.”

“Flee?” the hobbit’s tone was strained. “No, I don’t think so, Gandalf. I knew what I was doing when I took the Arkenstone and I guessed what it would mean to him. I should think myself lucky that I stand accused of theft and not of betrayal.”

“Stop it,” Gandalf reproached him. “You are talking nonsense now. You tried to save them all from Thorin’s pride and greed," he reminded Bilbo. "This trial is a wicked idea. Do you understand that you will be kept prisoner in Erebor? If we lose the battle, you will face the goblins. If we win, you will face the dwarvish law: the punishment for theft is one or both of your hands.”

Bilbo swallowed hard at that particular information and in truth he felt quite close to fainting, but he straightened his back and shook his head.

“Thorin Oakenshield has the right to judge my deeds," he stated. "Besides I cannot truly endanger the alliance, can I?" Bilbo asked, risking a peek at Gandalf. "I will not run away from what I’ve done: even a hobbit has his pride.”

Gandalf closed his eyes, and he seemed older than ever. 

“Is it pride its name, Bilbo Baggins?”

The little hobbit did not answer at all.

 

*

 

Then dawn came, and Balin too.  He seemed no more satisfied than Gandalf by his assignment. Bilbo heard him saying to the wizard something about not being able to break Thorin’s obstinacy.

“He’s bearing a great burden” the dwarf whispered.

“But he’s taking it out on Bilbo!” Gandalf replied, annoyed by Balin’s attempt to justify his Lord’s foolishness. “Bilbo's life will be on your head.”

“I know, I know. It will get better after the battle,” Balin promised, but his voice did not sound right.

“I’m ready to go,” Bilbo announced, tired of all the talking and willing to put an end to it as soon as possible.

The hobbit loved Gandalf, but he could not bear his worried gaze anymore. He tried to put up a courageous smile – no one smiled back.

“Come, little one,” Balin invited him. “They’re waiting for us.”

Thranduil had already come to say goodbye, but Bard was on Bilbo’s way to Erebor. He seized the hobbit by the arms and kneeled on the ground to watch Bilbo in the eyes.

“I’m sorry, Bilbo Baggins," Bard admitted, bowing his head. "I hope to see you soon. Take care of you!”

Bilbo patted Bard's shoulder, but he could not speak. Many elves and men were watching the little creature walking behind Balin and Gandalf, but no one tried to stop him again.

Thorin and Dwalin were at the gates, but there was already a column of women, children and old men marching towards Erebor. Bilbo knew about the agreement between Thorin and Bard, but he was surprised by how scared the people seemed. They were, after all, same people who had shouted Thorin’s name from joy and hope when the dwarves and their burglar had stayed in Lake-town; but now they looked gloomy and distrustful.

“There’s still time to take your words back, Thorin Oakenshield,” Gandalf said when they reached the gates.

“Then you do not know me, wizard," Thorin answered contemptuously. "My words are stones, not feathers at the mercy of the wind.”

“Would these stones drag you down from the peak of your pride, King under the Mountain!” Gandalf exclaimed.

Thorin flushed with rage, but he did not say another word nor did he cast a glance at the hobbit. Gandalf leant over Bilbo: his eyes were filled with sorrow and for the first time he seemed rather helpless. Bilbo was moved by the sight and it gave him strength to attempt at something he had never consciously tried before: he comforted Gandalf, raising his hand to touch lightly the wizard's cheek.

“We will meet and be merry again!” Bilbo promised.

“We will,” Gandalf accepted, but his voice was bitter.

And then they parted and Erebor was soon looming upon them, even larger and higher than Bilbo had seen it in his dreams: the Lonely Mountain had grown more gigantic than ever in the new terror inspired by his fate. The dwarves had opened a way into the mountain, large enough to let Bard’s people pass two at a time. Guards from Dain’s host were at the entrance and they saluted Thorin hitting the ground with their iron boots and shouting his name.

Thorin scarcely acknowledged them, but he had seemed distracted since they had left Gandalf. Dwalin was at his side, looking as if he was expecting wargs at every step they took. Or maybe he was thinking of elves and men and all sort of traitors. Like Thorin, Dwalin had not greeted Bilbo; only Balin had few words for him and the voice they were delivered in was even more important than their actual meaning.

“There’s so much work to do to make Erebor what it was,” Balin was saying, “but we’ll find some room for you. Comfortable as it can be at this regretful time.”

Bilbo was not sure if Balin was just talking about the war or even suggesting that his imprisonment did not make him particulary satisfied with his Lord, but he thought better than ask – Thorin was just few steps ahead.

After the soft dawn light, the cold darkness under the mountain made Bilbo shiver. Once they had stepped in, he found himself blinded for some fearful moments, before his eyes could adjust to the different light condition. And then Bilbo saw dozens and dozens of torches hanging from the walls, and dwarves hurrying all over the place, their voices bringing a glimpse of life in the Lonely Mountain.

His mouth fell open and he started to understand what the dwarves saw in Erebor.  

“And you called it a nasty hole!” sighed Balin, with a hint of pride.

Bilbo remembered well his own words, but he and Thorin had been friends then: the dwarf had laughed and promised Erebor would have improved after some cleaning and redecorating.

The thought stifled the glimmering of the place and Bilbo’s wish to praise it.

“My Lord, your cousin Dain wish to speak with you,” a young dwarf announced as soon as they had passed the crowd of Lake people almost blocking the entrance.

Thorin answered with a nod and Bilbo thought he had already forgotten about him. The idea was not entirely unpleasant to the hobbit: Balin would look after him and maybe he would have a nice, dry room to himself. But Bilbo’s hopes were soon smashed.

“Balin, take the hobbit to the great hall”

Even Dwalin was taken aback by Thorin's order.

“Do you mean...” Dwalin started, and then fell silent.

“We cannot spare dwarves, the hobbit will be guarded together with the treasure,” Thorin explained impatiently. And, while Bilbo had to recover from surprise yet, Thorin added: “What better place for a burglar?”

For the first time since their terrible argument on the Arkenstone, Thorin looked at Bilbo. The hobbit trembled and felt his cheeks reddening. Just when he thought he could bear no more, Thorin averted his gaze.

“I’ll lead the hobbit,” Balin intervened to break the harsh silence which had settled upon them.

“Make sure he doesn’t slip from your fingers or disappear in thin air,” Thorin said, and Bilbo thought Thorin had read his mind in the brief moment he had looked upon him. “I will hold you responsible,” Thorin added, gravely.

The ring was in his pocket but Bilbo did not dare to slip it on his finger. Balin had always been kind to him and he was just obeying to his Lord and future King. It would have been simpler if Dwalin had been the one to accompany him; but even in that case Bilbo was not so sure if he would have been able to escape from the mountain. He had spoken from his heart when he had refused Gandalf’s proposal, and now he was also scared and dazzled by the idea of the impending battle. At least this time there was no dragon waiting for him in the great hall, yet he took but a little comfort in this thought. 

Bilbo was so absorbed in these thoughts that he did not take notice of Thorin’s departure and Balin had to push him aside before he could be crushed by some dwarves in full armour. Then Balin led him through Erebor, occasionally pointing out this or that, naming old kings and old facts.

Bilbo could not understand half of what Balin was saying, for the uproar created by the people pouring into the mountain and by the preparations for war was everywhere. But the atmosphere was quieter on the lower levels of the mountain. Fewer were allowed to roam there and they were all dwarves: the refugees from Lake-town would be accommodated on the upper levels, as far as possible from the treasure stored in the great hall.

“Where are the others?” Bilbo asked and Balin needed no more words to understand.

“We’re all busy," he explained. "Fili and Kili are training for the battle, Oin and Gloin are inspecting our defences; while Dori, Nori and Ori have been appointed to make the best out of what we’ve got here in Erebor in terms of rooms, weapons, food and so on. Bombur and Bofur are taking care of our guests from Lake-town. Bifur should be with them.”

Bilbo hoped that children would be amused by the axe protruding from Bifur’s head. And that Bombur would leave something to eat for the people of Lake-town. But he smiled at the idea that his friends were all facing very important tasks.

And then Ori appeared behind a corner. He was carrying a great bunch of old scrolls and there were ink spots on his cheeks. When Ori saw Bilbo, he let the scrolls fall down, without even trying to grab them. The hobbit thought that Ori was on the verge of embracing him for the joy of their meeting, but there was no joy on Ori’s face. Dread was a more suitable word for it.   

Bilbo kneeled down to gather the scrolls – at least it would keep him from looking at Ori. But Ori must have had the same idea, because their heads collided and they both fell on the hard, cold stone floor. Ori seemed more distressed than ever, his face red like a tomato from shame and dismay.

“Please,” Bilbo said, but what one is supposed to say when a friend is scared to even look at you?

“Boy, come with me,” Balin mumbled, reaching for the hobbit and helping him on his feet. “And you, Ori, be more careful with those scrolls,” he admonished, even if it did not sound like what he was actually willing to say. Ori nodded with such strength that his neck could have snapped in two, but it managed to stay in one piece somehow and soon the young dwarf hurried down the corridor.

Bilbo felt sick.

“Does he hate me like the rest of you?” he asked, bitterly.

“Thorin frightened you most, but your heart isn’t the only one sick with fear," Balin mumbled. "It’s such a strong hold, little one: don’t blame Ori for his behaviour, because he will surely blame himself. And none of us hates you,” the old dwarf concluded, yet he averted Bilbo’s gaze while saying it.

“Not even Thorin?”, Bilbo asked and he was not surprised when he did not receive an answer.

Chapter Text

He should have made better use of the time spent in the Elvenking’s tent. There he had had fresh fruits and soft cushions at his disposal, and the air had been filled with the impossible smell of flowers. Even Thranduil himself, for all his elvish haughtiness and cunning, had been a better company than these coarse dwarves guarding the treasure – Bilbo conveniently forgot that Thranduil had actually annoyed him to tears with his questions about how the dwarves had managed to escape from Mirkwood's prisons.

TIme had never passed so slowly in Erebor: Bilbo was isolated from everything happening in and out the Lonely Mountain. The hobbit wished he had not told Balin that he wanted to be left alone; he had spoken from disappointment after his meeting with Ori, unwilling to show his tears to any dwarf. Tears would not come, anyway; maybe even his heart was turning into stone like everyone else’s.

Thus Bilbo had spent most of these first hours as prisoner completely alone, filled with regrets. He regretted his refusal at Gandalf’s proposal to flee; he regretted the theft of the Arkenstone; he regretted how he had helped Bard to discover Smaug's weak spot; he regretted how he had saved the dwarves from their imprisonment in Mirkwood. He even regretted having joined the dwarves on their journey, and meeting them in the first place - Thorin Oakenshield especially.

Yet, at last, Bilbo had to admit to himself than in truth he regretted none of these things, but their consequences.

He felt the same about gold: gold was nothing else but gold, but it seemed that nasty things were bound to happen when gold was involved.

Still Bilbo was not completely satisfied with this idea. He looked around at the hills of gold and gemstones, at the jewels in shape of flowers and birds, at the armours inlayed with rubies and emeralds - they did not mean much to him. The hobbit cared more for his freedom and for his happiness; he cared for a warm place near the fire, and a table covered in pies and cheese, strawberry tarts and roasted apples. And he cared more for the smile of his friends and the sound of their laughter, he cared for every time they had loved him, and even for the times when they had not known how much he loved them and how much he had done for them.

So this adventure of his was but a trick. Bilbo wanted to forget the horrible events of the last days; but he could not give up other, beautiful memories of his journey: in his heart they were all deeply interwoven.

At any rate, Bilbo was quite sure that the following hours would be among the worst remembrances of his entire life. The dread of the enemies coming to Erebor was enough to bring unpleasant images to his mind, where blood mingled with cries and cold darkness. Bilbo wondered if even the nasty creature he had robbed of the ring – but not of his life – would come to the Lonely Mountain, looking for him. The thought sent shivers down Bilbo's spine, and he had to convince himself that it was unlikely that the creature should march with goblins and wargs.

Nonetheless Bilbo had plenty of reasons to worry about his own safety: goblins and wargs were yet to come, but in the meanwhile Balin seemed to have forgotten all about his promise to take care of him. Bilbo had thought that Balin would come back at any moment, carrying blankets and food; but he was starting to feel a bit dizzy from hunger, and he wished for a more comfortable seat than golden and silver coins.

The hobbit keep himself busy trying to come up with ideas for a bed. He curled up in a breast plate which would be too big even for Bombur; he laid on golden plates engraved with heroes from the dwarvish songs; he pushed himself among precious marbles glittering red, green and blue. But he was always too cold and too uncomfortable; he risked to pierce his hip with a silver spear protruding from a heap of silver, and later a red golden ball fell on his right foot. While attending his poor foot, Bilbo sit down and sighed.

Thorin might not want to try him for theft: he wants me dead by accident or by hunger, he thought gloomily. Not a single piece of the treasure was good for a hobbit’s belly: there were rubies as big as peaches, but they were not warm from sun nor they treasured sweet juice.

Oh, had ever lived an unhappier hobbit?

Bilbo felt wretched and forgotten among the most dreamed treasures of the Middle-Earth. He was quite sure tears would come eventually, but suddenly he heard the muffled sound of voices. He leapt on his feet and saw a couple of dwarves staggering through the hall. He was sure they were dwarves because he knew no men or elves would be allowed near the treasure, but he could only see their legs: the rest of their bodies was hidden behind two great piles of blankets and foods and clothes, and other things he could not recognise yet.

Then one pile fell down and Kili complained:

“Stop, I’m not going further without seeing anything. Where’s the hobbit?” he wondered, before his eyes fell on Bilbo. Kili smiled. “There he is! And he looks hungrier than ever!” he laughed hard and gave the other dwarf a push. Fili’s load fell as well, and he was smiling like his brother.

Tears came to Bilbo’s eyes at last, but from joy rather than sorrow - he wiped them before the brothers could notice.

“He still does not embrace us” Fili remarked, frowning. “Has he not understood that we bring food with us?”

Bilbo ran to them; but stopped just a step away, overwhelmed with shyness. Fili and Kili were dressed with clothes fitting for battle, but embellished with golden thread; and they had new boots. There was an unusual air of power and self-confidence about them, although they had always been quite self-assured dwarves. Fili looked at Kili and Kili looked at Fili. Then, they caught Bilbo in their arms and the little hobbit had never been more happy of being crushed and reproached at the same time.

“Are you angry at us?”

“Have you found better friends among elves and men?”

“Are you such an ungrateful hobbit when we come with blueberry jam and white bread?”

“Have you forgotten all about us?”

And more of this mockery, until they let Bilbo go. The hobbit felt his head lightly spinning and he had to sit down. The dwarves took place at his side and Kili put his hands on his knees.

“Well, Bilbo, speak!” he pleaded impatiently.

 “I’m so happy to have you here” Bilbo admitted and the brothers smiled. “Yet I did not know what to expect after...” Bilbo cleared his throat, before going on. “I’m so surprised of seeing you; I thought you were training for the battle.”

“We are,” Fili confirmed, “but Balin told us all about you and uncle Thorin’s demand.”

“And we made time to visit you,” Kili added. 

“But Th...” Bilbo kept himself from saying a name which was still painful on his lips. “I mean, your uncle will be mad at you, won’t he?”

“Well, someone was bound to take care of your food and bed. What difference does it make to him?” Kili shrugged, but Bilbo saw that the young dwarf was not quite so careless as his own words claimed.  “He had not expressly forbidden us from visiting you,” Kili insisted, looking at Fili and Bilbo. “Besides, this whole idea of the trial is ludicrous.”

“Kili” his brother sighed.

“What?” Kili asked  in return, a reckless look upon him. “None of us really believes him guilty!”

This time Fili kept silent, but his gaze darkened. Kili scratched his nose and gave Bilbo an apologetic smile.

“Well, not all of us believe you guilty,” he corrected himself, mumbling.

“I’m just glad you’re here,” Bilbo said, and it was true. He was still sorry for himself and Ori’s reaction was fresh on his mind, but at least the boys had forgiven him.

“Look, Bilbo,” Fili was saying, “when we saw that the Arkenstone was in Bard's hand, I was more inclined to think Smaug had given it to Bard in return for his arrow than to guess you were responsible for the Arkenstone's disappearance. But then you confessed what you had done and in truth I was not less furious than my uncle,” Fili admitted, slowly. “I felt betrayed and I didn’t know what I could have done myself if uncle Thorin had not grabbed you first. But, when I saw you dangling over the abyss, I realised how much risk you had taken to steal the Arkenstone. I understood your motives. For a while it was still painful to think of it; but now I believe you acted wisely, little burglar,” Fili concluded, with a warm smile.

Bilbo clapped Fili’s hands and shook them.

“Thank you, thank you for thinking twice about it!” the hobbit said, merrily. “I would like that the others could see the truth in my deeds like you’ve done. And what about you, Kili?” Bilbo asked.

“Well,” Kili cleared his throat, “my grudge lasted for a longer time,” he confessed, uneasily. “It was not until Balin told us about uncle’s decision to try you for theft that I’ve really made up my mind. I've never been as angry as uncle Thorin,” Kili murmured, “but I was really pissed off. To me it was not about the Arkenstone, but about your loyalty as our friend: I thought you should have spoken with us before stealing it. You acted behind our backs.”

“I know and I’m sorry about it, but I saw no other way and I thought...” Bilbo glanced around, “...I thought you were all too seized by the sight of gold to listen to a hobbit.”

“We surely were” Fili admitted, “but the news of the enemies coming has cleared our minds like a bright morning dispels a bad dream.”

“I thought this was still a bad dream” Bilbo mumbled.

Fili laughed, softly.

“There’s more honour in fighting on the battlefield than in bickering with elves and men and hobbits, my good Bilbo,” he said, trying to sound cheerful.

“Anyway, uncle Thorin has brought this theft business too far,” Kili continued, shaking his head. “But we have already decided to speak to him, after the battle. We can make him see, I know for sure.”

“It’s very kind of you,” Bilbo smiled, “and I hope your words will help my cause with your uncle. But what have you brought me?” Bilbo asked, because he did not want to discuss Thorin’s behaviour with his nephews. He was grateful for Kili and Fili’s interest, but encouraging their disapproval toward their own uncle seemed somehow unfair.

“All you can ask for at times like this!” Kili answered, chuckling. 

They showed to Bilbo the bread and jam they had promised. There were also some pomegranates and a sealed jug of milk. It was not too much and quite far from Bilbo’s eating habits, but it was more than he had had on many days of their journey to Erebor. So the hobbitcontented himself; he even offered Fili and Kili to share his meal, but they refused.

They had also brought blankets so that Bilbo could hope for a tolerable night sleep in the treasure hall, and a pack of assorted clothes the hobbit was not sure he could really fit in – not the blue and green skirt at least.

“As for water, there is a bucket,” Fili explained. “All you have to do is asking the guards to fetch you some water from the drain system. We have also found you a good piece of soap, because we know how much you care for your good smell,” he concluded, grinning.

“I cannot guess how you could get all these things for me! The Lake people must be hungrier and colder than me” Bilbo regretted, out of the blue.

“We have not stolen anything from them” Kili declared seriously. “We’ve got the soap from Ori and the jam from Bombur,” he explained, with a sharp smile.

“When you say got...” Bilbo began. 

“He means stolen” Fili concluded, chuckling.   

It was impossible to be too serious when Fili and Kili were in such a mischievious mood. Soon Bilbo found himself making up jokes on the elves for the sake of Kili’s loud laughter and Fili’s mirth-brightened eyes. Time passed too quickly and they had still much to do before the battle: they were still exchanging promises and goodbyes when Bilbo sensed that someone else was in the great hall. BIlbo knew even before Fili could speak.

“Uncle.”

Chapter Text

Thorin was not entirely surprised. He had sensed his nephews’ hostility for his decision about the halfling; he had been almost sure that Kili and Fili would find a way to see the halflingbefore the battle. Still the sight of his nephews laughing at something the burglar had just said was extremely unpleasant. Thorin could not help feeling betrayed again – was he to be robbed even of the love of his own kin?

The laugh died as soon as they noticed him. Thorin resumed his pace in the flickering halo of golden light surrounding the treasure, clasping his hands on the fur lining his coat.  

“Your presence is required elsewhere,” he said quietly, addressing himself to his nephews. “Go inspecting the western slopes: some of the old traps could still be working.”

Kili seemed on the verge of speaking his mind, but Fili thought better of it: he grasped his brother's arm and shook his head. Kili made a face, but they both bowed, although stiffly.

“Goodbye, my friend,” Fili saluted Bilbo.

Thorin was more impressed by these simple words than by Kili’s quick temper. He knew that Kili could be quite reckless from time to time, but Fili was more careful with his words and he would have not called the burglar friend if he had not believed in the halfling's loyalty.  

Then Fili and Kili were gone, and Thorin was left alone with the burglar.

Thorin was satisfied to notice that the halfling seemed uneasy in his presence. He should be, he thought grimly. He took a step forward and the burglar took a step back. Thorin frowned and wondered if the halfling believed himself likely to be murdered. In truth, Thorin had been tempted to throw the halfling from Erebor's gates when he had discovered his betrayal, but he could not kill him in cold blood. Could I? Thorin looked at the bundles scattered on his gold.

“I see they have well supplied you with food and covers, burglar,” he commented dryly. 

“Yes,” the hobbit answered quickly. Then, much more uncertain, he added: “My Lord.”

“Are you not going to call me Thorin?” the dwarf asked, unable to stop the words leaving his mouth. What a foolish thing to say! Yet there was such a miserable air about the little creature that Thorin had been somehow mollified.

“Are you going to call me Bilbo?” the halfling asked in exchange for Thorin's question.

Thorin suddenly remembered his anger: there was an hopeless distance separating them; they were divided by birth, class and fate; their past friendship had been but a delusion and the hobbit had never been worth of Thorin's trust. Thorin could grant the halfling the undeserved freedom of speaking his name, but he could never trust again his own lips with the name of a traitor.

The burglar lowered his eyes, as if he had guessed Thorin's harsh feelings in the hard line his mouth. Thorin took his chance to observe the halfling: his hair was unkempt, his clothes ruffled; but he was not in worse shape than when he had stolen the Arkenstone - the elves must have spoiled him, and Bard of Dale must have cherished him as a hero.

Yet they had given him up easily, with the sole exception of the wizard. Master Baggins would soon be punished for his crime.

“You are to be kept here till we’ll be able to spare time for your trial. Since you have stolen from me, I won’t be the one to judge you. My cousin Dain will take my place as head of the jury,” Thorin explained, “and your new friends will be allowed to speak in your defence. Do you understand, burglar?” he lashed out, noticing that the halfling was still looking at his own feet.

Bilbo slowly raised his head. His grey-blue eyes wavered for a moment before focusing on Thorin. There was some sort of gentle dignity about the burglar, something Thorin had seen growing up along with the progress of their journey to the Lonely Mountain.

“New friends speaking in my defence?" the halfling asked. "I would prefer old friends willing to do it,” he concluded. 

The innuendo was too plain to be missed; Thorin snorted.

“So this is what you’re planning, halfling,” he said, his voice thick with contempt. “You are trying to poison my nephews’ mind, corrupting the blood of my blood,” Thorin accused him.

“Am I?” Bilbo exclaimed, his soft face growing paler. He looked around and made a large gesture as to embrace all the precious things surrounding them. “This is poisoning your mind, Thorin,” he declared. 

“Am I not your Lord anymore?” the dwarf retorted. “You are spreading false words about me and my conduct: you would have them thinking me mad, so you could get away with your crimes.”

“My crimes? My crimes!” Bilbo cried heatedly. “My crime was trying to save you from your foolishness, you impossibly stubborn dwarf!”

“I am not to be saved, least of all by a halfling and a burglar,” Thorin hissed. “You betrayed me, you exploited my weakness and spat on the honour I granted you. I curse the day I met you,” Thorin spat. 

Then he fell silent, for his breath was heavy and a dull pulse was digging into the back his head.

The halfling was as upset as him and started pacing around, pinching his braces and shaking his head.

“This will not do, not at all,” the burglar mumbled. “Is there no way out of this mess?” he asked, but he did not seem to expect an answer from Thorin, because he soon resumed his speech. “I betrayed your trust only to be loyal to you, Thorin. You surely know this in your heart.”

This time the burglar looked for an answer or a sign of understanding. Thorin was surprised at how harmless the halfling looked then. How much innocence can be faked, he thought bitterly. 

“You shall pay for what you have done to me,” Thorin murmured, moving his gaze to his beloved treasure - the treasure of his father and his father’s father, pride of the Durin’s lineage.

And yet the dwarf valued the Arkenstone above all the other treasures and his dreams were filled with its impossible brilliance. At last the stone had come back to him and waited in his rooms, hidden in a secret compartment – Thorin felt the urge to go back to the Arkenstone, to keep it in his hands and drown his thoughts in its glimmering depths.

Then there was a tap on his chest and he saw the burglar’s index finger pointing at his heart. So far had Thorin's daydream gone, so distracted had he grown thinking about his beloved stone, that he had not taken notice of the halfling approaching him.

You?” the burglar asked. The halfling’s voice was low and calm, but there was a deep frown on his face. “You?” he repeated, before Thorin could answer. “What have I done to you? This is all what this is about! You, you and you again. Not the law of your people, not even your people," the burglar sneered. "You do not care for what they think and they are all too scared to wound your pride to speak aloud. You do not care for the war coming upon us all nor that you could lose your own life in battle before tomorrow’s night! I am the one left to care about all this, for you are sick with your gold and your stupid stone!”

Bilbo’s cheeks had grown red and his lips were trembling from the strain of the reproach he had just delivered. It was the first time they were so physically close after that day at the gates; Thorin could almost taste the warmth of the little body quivering with rage. He seized the halfling by the arms, like he had done before; he lifted him from the ground until the burglar was squirming. Thorin shook him and he saw the halfling's features being shadowed with fear.

“Yes, me,” Thorin confirmed, growling, “the King under the Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield of Durin’s blood, son of Thrain son of Thror, the exiled prince come back to claim what belongs to him. I spent years enduring more than you can possibly imagine and I will not be challenged in my house, not when I’ve just won it back. I am king, I am the master of this house and of all it contains. You included, halfling.”

And then Thorin pushed the halfling away: Bilbo fell on his back, but he seemed relieved to have been freed from Thorin’s grasp. He did not even try to get back on his feet, but spoke to Thorin from where he had fallen.

“Thorin, please,” he said, and the dwarf was bewildered by how concerned the burglar’s voice sounded. “Think carefully about it. What is a life spent in bitterness and loneliness? You will push away all those who care for you. Your treasure will rot,” the burglar reminded him. 

Thorin’s anger burned white.

“And you will rot with it!” Thorin barked.

“You are not planning to try me,” the hobbit squeaked, a new idea dawning upon his mind, “ for you have already decided I must pay with my life.”

“The Arkenstone is far worthier than your life,” Thorin declared wildly.

The sight of the astonished halfling made Thorin uneasy, but he forced himself to keep his eyes on the burglar. Thorin was ready to face the halfling's lies and tricks, but he was ill-prepared for the look of deep hurt on Bilbo’s face.

“Then you will keep tormenting me,” Bilbo whispered, and Thorin had to turn his head away.

 

*

 

That very night, Bilbo laid on the treasure, wrapped up in blankets. It was a bit cold, but he could still close his eyes and imagine to be in his bed in the Shire. All the torches but one had been blown out for the night and there was just a faint gleam all over the treasure, the uncertain light of the flame reflected on gold, silver and stones.

The dwarves had temporarily sealed the great hall with boards except for one little door constantly guarded. Anyway, Bilbo had decided to let his ring in his pocket.

His meeting with Thorin had scared him. The hobbit foresaw gloomy times ahead, but he refused the idea of leavin his friends behind on the eve of such a battle. Bilbo still hoped the dragon sickness could be chased away from Thorin’s heart; plus, he wanted to be cleared from any charge. You long for his apologies, a voice whispered in his mind; but Bilbo did not want to hear. He longed for more than he could ever hope.

In the afternoon, Balin had brought him news of the approaching army. Men and elves were going to face the enemy not later than the following morning. The sun had disappeared behind black clouds and rain was expected for the night – they were going to fight in mud and darkness.

The mountain still ringed with the echo of preparations to war, and Bilbo wondered if they would ever be ready for the fight - he would not feel ready to face wargs in a thousand years. Still the hobbit would have liked to be on the battlefield: he did not long for the enemies’ proximity, but for his friends’. He had told so to Balin and the old dwarf had looked moved by his words. Yet Balin had shaken his white head.

He will not allow that,” he had made clear and Bilbo had felt his throat closing.

Probably Thorin thought him unworthy even for the battlefield. Balin had mumbled something like for your protection, but Bilbo would not be deceived so easily: the King Under the Mountain had claimed him as prisoner; Thorin was not going to waste him on goblins, spoiling his own pleasure in harassing him.

Bilbo sighed, tossing and turning the blankets.

Sting and his mithril chainmail had been confiscated and entrusted to Balin for the time being. At least, Thorin had not claimed back his gift and Bilbo could hope no dwarf would think Sting a suitable weapon. Still Bilbo felt rather defenceless without his little sword, in a way he would have never imagined back in the Shire.

Bilbo began to feel sleepy and tried to focus on happier memories of Bag End. At a certain point, he saw his aunt Camellia turning into a great orc and trying to chop his poor head. The hobbit startled awake in darkness, for the last torch had gone out while he was sleeping. He had thrown the blankets away during his nightmare: he draped them again around his freezing body.

Suddenly, Bilbo grew cold in fear: he sensed that someone was hidden in shadows, watching him.

Gollum, Bilbo thought and waited for the slimy pale hands which would close around his throat. But nothing happened and soon Bilbo had to fight against sleepiness. In the end, he lost and fell again in his dreams; in one of them, Thorin Oakenshield was in the great hall and his blue eyes shone in darkness like enchanted fires.

At dawn, Bilbo had forgotten almost everything of his troubled dreams.  

Chapter Text

The Lonely Mountain rang with the sounds of the battle.

Bilbo was crouched on his blankets, with his hands covering his head.

Bilbo had thought that he would not hear anything, the great hall laying so deep in the mountain. Yet, with the passing hours, the clamour of the enraging battle had grown louder and closer. What a thunder of clangs and cries! Horns and growls echoed down to the mountain's roots. They were probably fighting on the slopes and the clash of the five armies engaged in the battle was the most horrific storm Bilbo had ever experienced. It was even worse than when they had crossed the Misty Mountains and the stone-giants had been playing with rocks, shattering and smashing.  

Please, please, stop it, Bilbo prayed. He would have given up every single piece of Smaug’s treasure to end the war. But he could not even leave the great hall, because that very morning dwarf carpenters had come to seal the last passage. What use for his magic ring if he could not slip through stone walls and wooden beams? He was trapped.

In a fit of irritation, the hobbit tossed away the ring. But the little jewel had just hit a pile of sapphires when Bilbo ran to retrieve it. He could have easily lost it among all that gold - the mere thought was strangely unpleasant. Bilbo looked at the ring, puzzled: when he had taken it from the cave, he had not noticed how fine a jewel it was; but now the ring seemed a most befitting prize for a brave hobbit. Bilbo smiled, softly, and put it back in his pocket.

After all, the ring was his last resource: should Erebor fall, the ring would be the only thing between him and the goblins. It was the most precious thing in Bilbo's possession. 

Bilbo patted the ring through the fabric of his pocket, thoughtful: Erebor was but a cave in the shape of a palace, a dark and cold place where the hobbit could be forced to spend a long time with no other company than himself. They were likely to forget him, to let him fester in darkness. Suddenly, Gollum’s pale huge eyes flashed in Bilbo's memories and the hobbit snatched away his hand from the pocket. A cold sweat lingered on Bilbo's forehead and he wiped it away with corner of the blanket.

A deep horn was blowing and Bilbo wondered if it was a sound of victory or retreat, and for which host the horn was calling. He did not know what time was, but he was quite sure that almost a day had passed and they were already diving into the night. It would be the worst time for the battle, for nasty creatures prefer to fight under the odds of darkness.   

The hobbit could not sleep and food was tasteless when it did not stick in his throat. There was a dreadful uproar that made him think the goblins had forced their way into Erebor, but then something else happened: the sound grew weaker and weaker, like the battle had moved again. Yet no sign of victory came, no one entered the hall to announce him that the enemy was retreating. Bilbo beat the door with both his hands, but there was no answer to his cries. Please.
And suddenly then someone was on the other side of the door and the hobbit heard the sound of nails plucked from wood. He retreated, fumbling for the ring; a plank was removed and a face covered in blood appeared, peering through the hole.

“Bilbo?”

The hobbit did not answer. He watched as other planks were pulled out and discarded. There was a deep gash on the stranger’s forehead and blood was still seeping through it, almost blinding him. What of his face was not red with blood was black with soot and mud. A large pair of moustaches quivered at the sight of the hobbit.

“Bilbo, it’s me, Bofur!”

Only then did Bilbo recognis him. He forgot the ring and ran to help Bofur with the boards.

“What happened to your hat?” Bilbo asked, dazzled. Stupid, stupid hobbit, he immediately thought.

But Bofur did not pay attention to his question; he was already babbling:

“I’m sorry; I should have come before; I should have stopped this; I’m sorry, so sorry,” and other things in the same fashion, thick with regret and confusion.

Bofur sneaked between dangling wood to reach for Bilbo and squeeze his shoulder. His hands were trembling and filthy.  

“It’s all right,” Bilbo lied, before understanding that it was not a proper lie and he was just happy to see Bofur alive, if not perfectly well. “Is the battle lost?” the hobbit asked, because he hoped it was won, but he did not trust himself with those words.

“Victory is ours,” Bofur replied. Yet, it did not sound anything like that.

“Is Erebor safe then?” Bilbo inquired. 

“Yes. No. I think so,” Bofur looked behind his back, “There were goblins trying to force the main gates, but we pushed them back. Bifur...oh, would Mahal forgive us all!” he exclaimed, collapsing on the sea of golden coins.

Bilbo immediately fell on his knees at Bofur's side, scared to death by the dwarf’s behaviour. If the battle was won and Bofur was likely the more optimistic soul of the company, what painful news were yet to come? The dwarf was trembling; Bilbo dropped a blanket on his shoulder and forced him to take a sip of cold milk.

“What of Bifur?” the hobbit tried cautiously.

“He protected me all the time, keeping the wargs at bay with his spear, and he pierced and slashed so many times and so many bodies that I lost the count. Then this vicious little goblin came forward and tried to take him down. I was too frightened to do something and the goblin took a leap for his throat. I saw blood, so much blood; someone else killed the goblin, but Bifur was down and he was trying to say something to me and I...I could not understand! He’s with the healers, I wouldn't have come without knowing that he's in good hands, but then he gestured to me and...”

“He lives then!” Bilbo squeaked.

“And he sent me to you,” Bofur murmured in a humble tone.

Bilbo was surprised: Bifur had seemed the most unlikely dwarf to remember him. He was brave and kind, but they had never had a proper conversation - Bilbo would have never guessed that Bifur could have such a kind thought for him. He saw Bofur crying and only then he realised that tears were on his cheeks, too.

“I don’t know what would have come over me without him,” Bofur was moaning. “He protected my body up there; then he thought of my soul and sent me to ask for your forgiveness. Oh, I thought you and I were good friends and I had always wanted to distinguish myself from Thorin’s haughtiness. Yet when he suspended you over the abyss I did nothing. Such a coward, such a coward! I’m not a warrior nor a hero, I should have spent my life with toys and be contented.”

Bilbo did not know what to say: he was sorry for Bofur and it was difficult to be angry with him at a time like this.

“A sickness for gold came over me. I had thought I would be untouched by it, being a simple toymaker, but then I saw this...” Bofur continued, looking around, “...and I shamed myself. Now I see that I could not buy Bifur’s live back if he...” he stopped, shaking. “Nor I could buy your forgiveness.”

“You have it, you have it!” Bilbo interrupted him, grasping his hands. Bofur watched as Bilbo’s fingers were being smeared in blood and dirt.

“Kind, kind hobbit," Bofur whispered. "But there’s more of the battle you should know.”

“Tell me at once, for I cannot bear the waiting anymore,” Bilbo hissed as if in pain. 

“Thorin,” Bofur said. 

“Oh, no, no, no,” pleaded Bilbo, leaping on his feet and trembling violently.

“He lives,” Bofur blurted out, “he lives still. But when he charged into the heart of the enemy’s army he was cut out from the rest of Dain’s host and we lost sight of him for such a long time that we thought him dead. A great sorrow numbed our senses and we would have been slaughtered if not for the eagles.”

“The eagles came?!” Bilbo exclaimed. 

“They did and many lives were saved, the enemy defeated...and then we saw Thorin. He had been pierced many times by arrows and spears, and yet he was on his feet. I do not know how he could stand the pain of his injuries; but there he was - a frightful sight, pale and bloody like a ghost,” Bofur murmured and Bilbo sensed there was something the dwarf was still holding back. But then Bofur blinked and his eyes lost focus: “Kili and Fili were dead at his feet.”

No sound came from Bilbo’s throat and he thought he was suffocating. Still he covered his mouth with his hands and the taste of blood made him nauseous.

“No. They are young. They are strong. They are good warrior. They are Thorin’s heirs.”

They are my friends and I love them.

They cannot.

“They were with Thorin and they defended him till their last breaths. Some elves saw the entire scene and they say Thorin tried till the end to push them away but they did not want to leave his side. Kili used all his arrows and when even their swords were broken and they had no more weapons, they used their bodies to shield Thorin: he saw them die for him. Fili endured more, and he cried and called for his brother while blades were digging into his flesh. The elves had honoured their bodies and sang for them the songs of the greatest warriors. Flowers were laid on their wounds; even Thranduil is said to have bowed before them.”

Bofur stopped talking. It was too much for him and he ran out of the great hall.

Bilbo listened to the sound of Bofur throwing up a few paces from the door. He would have done the same, but his belly was empty. Memories of the day before reached Bilbo and grief washed his mind away: he would never listen to Kili’s jokes nor would he look at the handsome smile on Fili’s face again.

For the first time, Bilbo Baggins completely gave up his hope to return home.

There is no way back.

Even if he was to reach Bag End and lie in his bed again, he would never be the same hobbit. Now he understood the way Gandalf sometimes looked at him, like he was already lost. Such a sorrow never goes away completely: it subdues but it is still able to reach the heart in many ways. The battle was won, but the prize would never fade.

At last Bilbo, who had cried for Kili and Fili, for their youth and their courage, for the life they would not have in Erebor, for the love wasted and broken, cried for himself.

 

*

 

Gandalf watched Beorn leave the battlefield. Beorn had been invited to stay longer, but the shapeshifter did not like too much company and he worried about his bees. They had offered him a prize for the kill of Bolg, chieftain of the goblins’ army; but he had refused and Gandalf could not blame him – gold conquered with blood is an accursed gift.

The wizard had thought about asking Beorn to help him retrieving Bilbo from his imprisonment. They could have safely escorted the hobbit on the journey back to the Shire. Probably no one would have taken too much notice of it: there were too many wounded and dead to attend to. Thorin himself had been left weakened by his injuries, and the sorrow for the loss of Kili and Fili would soon worsen his condition.

Yet, Gandalf could not bring himself to do it. Bilbo’s resolve to face the trial was unwavering, even hardened by the recent events. The wizard had feared to see the hobbit looking for some sort of martyrdom, but he now suspected that there was much more to it than what met the eye. The point was if this something could bring hope or further despair.  

Gandalf would wait. The battle had brought some sense in many dwarves, men and elves. Even Thranduil seemed a little softer towards the dwarves, who had suffered the worst losses. He had done a great honour to Fili and Kili and he had called them Aravir and Gildor, “royal jewel” and “noble star” in his native tongue. After all, Thorin could become a good king and the hobbit could have a part in it.

Still, the words Thorin had spoken a long time ago, under Bilbo’s roof, echoed in Gandalf’s mind.

I cannot guarantee his safety. Quite fair, the wizard had had to agree, back in time.

Nor will I be responsible for his fate. And this was exactly where Thorin had been wrong all along.

Chapter Text

Victory had come with a high price.

But it could have been even higher. Bifur seemed to get slightly better in the healers’ care. And Dwalin, who had fought most valiantly and in vain to reach his king, lost only three fingers of his right hand. Dori and Nori were still out there hunting down the last goblins hanging around after the battle, while Ori had had his left ear viciously bitten by a warg and he was most prostrated by Fili and Kili’s death. The battle had almost spared Balin but for a few scratches, while Bombur had suffered a couple of broken ribs. Oin and Gloin’s conditions were more complicated by several different types of injuries, but they would heal in good time and regain their strength before Yule. Mirkwood healers were doing a splendid work with the wounded and many a dwarf was reconsidering his opinion on the elves. It was too soon to make plans about the restoration of Erebor and Dale; but the diplomatic work between elves, men and dwarves had already begun. 

It was Bofur who kept Bilbo well informed, but also Balin came to visit him once. With Thorin forced in his bed to recover, Balin and Dwalin were busy helping Dain with the business of running Erebor until the rightful king could do it by himself. Bilbo was under the impression that Dain was of very good sort of dwarf: he was as stubborn as any dwarf, but it was easier to notice his kindness under the dwarvish mannerism. Besides Dain was not haunted by his past as Thorin was, and this made him less suspicious and moody. At the same time, Dain'sloyalty towards his cousin was unyielding.

This was the reason why Bilbo was still in the treasure hall: Gandalf had encouraged Dain to think twice about supporting Thorin in his madness, but the dwarf did not want to betray his cousin’s trust. Dain was sure that Thorin would react badly should the hobbit be freed without trial; none of Gandalf’s arguments was good enough to dissuade him.

Bilbo did not betray much of a disappointment at the news of Dain’s refusal. Gandalf seemed annoyed with Bilbo's mood, but the little hobbit was too absorbed in his sorrow for Fili and Kili’s fate to spend tears and thoughts on what he already knew about Thorin’s unrelenting hatred for him.

After the battle, when Bofur had left him to go back to Bifur and the other wounded dwarves, Bilbo had waited for Thorin. Stupidly, he had waited for the King under the Mountain to come to him and ask for his forgiveness. When Thorin had not come, Bilbo had feared him unconscious for the great pain of his injuries; but Bofur had told him that Thorin, though very weak, spoke his will through Dain, Balin and Dwalin.

Bilbo had clung to his hope.  

Please. Come and say I was right all along. Tell me there are much more important things than gold and pride. Tell me the Arkenstone is nothing compared to the loss of your nephews. Tell me Kili and Fili saved your life and your soul; tell me their kindness has not been wasted on a stone-hearted fool.

For two nights Bilbo had waited for Thorin. He had eaten the food sent to him, and he had scrubbed himself clean with fresh water and the soap Kili had stolen from Ori. He had sent his wishes to the injured dwarves and his sorrow for Kili and Fili’s death; still Thorin had not come.    

On the third morning since the battle, Bilbo was disillusioned. Gandalf’s words confirmed what he had already understood by himself: Thorin had not changed his mind. If Kili and Fili’s loss and his own injuries could not remind Thorin of any kindness, nothing else could.

He, Bilbo Baggins, was done with Thorin Oakenshield.

“I want to pay my homage to Fili and Kili before the burial,” the hobbit said to Gandalf, before the wizard could renew the offer of an escape.

He did not want to explain again why he had to refuse: his reasons had become a little confuse at this point.

“Do you know that the burial ceremony will be reserved to dwarves?”

“I do, but I hope to pay my visit to the burial chamber in a more private way,” Bilbo explained, eluding Gandalf’s prying gaze. He expected the wizard to offer him to speak with Dain about it, but Gandalf became suddenly thoughtful.

“I shall leave Erebor today,” he announced abruptly. “Important business calls me away. Still, should need arise, Bofur knows how to reach me: I would be soon back to help you, Bilbo Baggins.”

Gandalf leaned against his staff, looking at Bilbo. The hobbit coughed uneasily and thanked him, avoiding the wizard's eyes. But when Gandalf was at the door, Bilbo reached after him; he tugged the wizard’s grey robe and Gandalf turned around to face the hobbit.

“I am sorry for my coldness," BIlbo murmured. "I know it is not your fault if he...”

“It is not your fault either,” Gandalf replied softly. Bilbo shrugged.

“Still, I am grateful to you. I suppose it’s my Took side speaking and I cannot assure I shall think the same tomorrow," he admitted with the ghost of a bitter smile on his lips, "but I’m glad you involved me.”

“Have you thought enough about this, Bilbo Baggins?” Gandalf asked and, when the hobbit nodded, continued: “Why?”

“Well, I suppose I don’t like all of what I’ve become through my journey," Bilbo mused, "but at least I have grown into something. If I had not left the Shire, I would have simply been. Does it sound sensible to you, Gandalf?”

The wizard smiled.

“It does, my friend,” he declared.

“At least one of us thinks so,” Bilbo sighed, then touched lightly Gandalf’s hands resting on his staff. “Goodbye Gandalf!”

“Goodbye Bilbo Baggins!”

 

*

 

After Gandalf’s departure, Bilbo spent some time revising the details of his plan.

He knew from Bofur where the burial chamber was. Even if the dwarf had suspected something of his sudden interest in Erebor's rooms and passages, he had not asked anything. Bofur probably thought that a burglar’s secret should remain his own.

The passage Bofur had created after the battle had not yet been repaired. There was word that the king wanted the treasure examined piece by piece, because he did not want to give the men and the elves more or less than it had been agreed.

At least, Bilbo thought, he seems willing to respect the alliance with Thranduil and Bard.

Being part of the bargain, Bilbo had taken full interest in its results. Balin and Ori would be probably appointed for the task of examining the treasure, and then it would be time to share it with elves and men, and among the members of the company. In sight of this, the hall had not been sealed again.

Soon dwarves would be going in and out and maybe even Bilbo would be taken to another room. There was still a couple of guards at the door, but the hobbit could trick them. He would be gone for no more than an hour and they would never know about it. Dwarves were deaf to his soft steps and the ring would protect him very well. Bilbo was just a bit worried about the light coming from the torches, but he had only to be careful and he would be soon in the burial chamber.

Bilbo slipped the ring on his middle finger. He was still unused to the strange sensation running through his body when he wore the ring. His senses were sharper and yet everything seemed out of focus, like a fading memory.

He shook his head and stepped toward the door, taking care of where his shadow fell. The dwarves at the door were quietly talking in Westron about their home, the Iron Hills, and the advantages of marrying in old age. They were distracted enough for Bilbo to try his luck: he passed between them, crouching and tiptoeing. One of the dwarf stopped speaking and seemed perplexed. His companion asked him if something was wrong, but he replied that he had eaten too much spiced meat at lunch. Bilbo was already slipping down the corridor by then.

The hobbit stopped at the first corner, slightly panting. Then he forced himself to remember Bofur’s words. Left. Right. Left again and up the first flight of stairs. Luckily, the burial chambers were placed in the quietest wing of Erebor and Bilbo did not meet anyone but a small party of dwarves lost on their way to the upper terraces. They passed him muttering curses, and soon Bilbo was alone again. The burial chamber was not far and he recognised it from the carved doorway Bofur had described to him. It was an impressive room, filled with eight-sided columns. The ceiling was engraved with gold and silver in a mysterious pattern that Bilbo could not understand, but he could greatly admire.

Torches were burning and casting a warm, golden shade on the bodies. It was a delusion of life, a little trick which left Bilbo’s legs shaking: he could almost believe Fili and Kili were just sleeping. But their chests were motionless and only Bilbo’s breath came out white in the cold of the chamber.

Fili and Kili were in their tombs, their hands folded upon their chest; a broken bow laid with Kili, a sword with Fili; their hair was braided with beads of silver and bone, turquoise and copper. The massive lids had been laid down waiting for the burial service, when the tombs would be closed forever.

Bilbo looked down on them, shivering. There was the hint of a smile on Kili’s lip, but maybe it was just his imagination. They both seemed younger than Bilbo remembered. And yet there was no more life in them than in the stone of their tombs.

Later he would not remember why he had taken away the ring. Then it seemed simply the natural thing to do. He wanted to be with his friends and he did not want to be invisible. He wanted to be fully there, not a shadow among shadows. So Bilbo slipped the ring in his pocket and then started to cry.

His sobs were too loud, and he bit his lips and his tongue; but sorrow came over and over, memories of their joy and kindness hurt his heart again and again. When his cry eased a bit, Bilbo began to talk and he said he was very proud of them and their valour, and everyone would remember their sacrifice.

He thanked them for their loyalty to Thorin and he thanked them for having seen Thorin's wrongs as long as his merits. He told them about his home, the Shire; and of the greenest meadows where buttercups would grow in spring like golden rivers.

He remembered how they had liked scones with clotted cream and blueberry jam. And he confessed how he would have liked to have them back in his house; he would be happier this time and they could play with his forks and plates till midnight, and then he would sing to them the merry songs of his people.

He tried to express how much he was going to miss them both and what a lucky hobbit he was to have met them. He wiped his face on the sleeve of his coat and  took a deep breath.

“Goodbye, my friends,” Bilbo said, his voice broken.

He was going to add rest well and he was on the point of wearing again his ring, when someone grabbed him. Bilbo felt the ring slip from his grasp and the tiny sound of metal against stone when the ring touched the floor. Then the hobbit was shoved against a column and all the air escaped his lungs; he was left gasping and coughing, his eyes filled with new tears of discomfort.

He recognized the voice even before he could see him.

“What are you doing here, burglar?”

Chapter Text

“What are you doing here?” Thorin repeated. His voice was lower than the first time he had spoken - and far more threatening.

Bilbo blinked. My ring, he thought; but he could not see where it had fallen, for Thorin was before him, and he seemed taller and bigger than ever. Thorin wore his old coat lined in fur, but under that he was dressed in black velvet; he wore his rings and his beads, and a silver belt around his waist, yet there was something gaunt about him. No bandages were visible, but Thorin's hands were bruised and cut and there was a minor wound healing on his right temple.

“I came to pay my homage,” Bilbo babbled, forgetting the ring.

He flattened himself against the column, but Thorin took a step forward.

Even in the torch light it was impossible to ignore the king’s paleness. Thorin's face was white and battered; although his beard was well trimmed and his hair shiny with oil, he looked wild in his sorrow. 

“How have you escaped the guards?” Thorin asked, too quietly for Bilbo to feel reassured. “What is your secret, burglar?” the dwarf insisted.

Bilbo feared that his ring could be discovered at any moment. But Thorin did not even suspect the very existence of the ring, so he did not look for it and kept his eyes on the hobbit. Eyes blue as sapphires, burning in his pale face: Thorin Oakenshield was beautiful in his proud grief. Stupid hobbit, not now, Bilbo reproached himself; he knew he was staring at the king too much. Bilbo realised how much he had feared for Thorin’s life and how pleasant it was to find the king back on his feet.

But their meeting was going to be nothing near pleasant.    

“Speak to me, halfling,” Thorin urged him, before Bilbo's silence. “Were you running away from your fate?”

“If I had wanted to run, I would have done it before, wouldn’t I?” Bilbo replied hastily. Something flickered on Thorin’s face. “And that is not my fate, but your choices.”

“My choices, indeed,” Thorin confirmed, with an eerie smile. “How dare you defy them entering the burial chamber?”

“Should I have been kept away from them?” Bilbo asked. “I wanted to say goodbye. Denying me this wish, you give me right to be here against your will, My Lord.”

“You speak well, burglar, but this is my house and you are my prisoner," Thorin reminded him. "I make the rules, you follow.”

“If the one leading is blind, should those who do not follow be punished?” Bilbo asked, and his words came out more boldly than he had intended. He saw the anger in Thorin’s eyes and he tried to slip away, but a great hand grasped his shoulder and trapped him.

“My patience is running thin, halfling," Thorin stated between his gritted teeth. "I won't stand your insolence: you are not allowed here.”

“Why?” Bilbo inquired, almost choking on his feelings of hurt.

Thorin did not answer; instead his hand cupped the hobbit’s face. Bilbo tried to turn away, but Thorin kept him in place: the pressure on Bilbo's cheek slightly increased. The king rubbed his thumb at the corner of the hobbit's mouth, where the skin was damp with tears. This time Bilbo attempted to lower his head, but Thorin only grunted and forced him to keep his head up, as to offer his wet cheeks and reddened eyes to his inquiring gaze.

The hobbit could only close his eyes. Thorin suddenly let him go.

“How can you?” Thorin asked, loathing creeping in his low, rumbling voice. “How comes that you have tears in your eyes when I do not?”   

It was true. Thorin did not look well, yet there was no trace of recent weeping: his sorrow seemed restrained. Bilbo had learned a great deal about dwarves’ feelings over his journey with thirteen of them, but the king’s coldness was too much even Thorin being Thorin.

Was the dragon sickness affecting his grief?

Bilbo had no time to reflect about it, because Thorin seized him by the collar of his coat, and forced him to move away from the column and across the chamber. Bilbo caught a glimpse of gold in a corner and realised it was the ring, stuck in a little crack of the floor and well hidden from anyone who did not know of its presence. Yet it was impossible to escape Thorin’s grasp: Bilbo was dragged out of the burial chamber and into the corridor.

“Where are we going?” he asked, frightened by the possibility Thorin would become violent.

“Back to the generous prison cell I conceded you, burglar," Thorin answered grimly. "I should double the guards at the door or chain you.”

The answer did little to comfort the hobbit. Bilbo was too tired to attempt at an escape, but he did not want Thorin’s hands on him - surely there would be bruises where the dwarf had grasped him. But the king was indifferent to his efforts and keep dragging him back to the treasure hall, half pushing and half hauling.

When they reached the stairs, Bilbo tried again to slap away Thorin's hands, and the dwarf decided to lift him onto his shoulder. From Bilbo’s point of view it was the most humiliating way Thorin could have carried him: Bilbo broke in such an angry tantrum that the dwarf was forced to put him down and the hobbit found himself pinned against a wall.

Only then did Bilbo calm down, because he saw physical pain seeping through the cracks of Thorin’s composure. Thorin's injuries were probably still healing, and the strain of dealing with a furious hobbit risked to reopen the wounds and restart the bleeding. The thought froze Bilbo and he let Thorin lead him without further resistance.

Maybe because he was in pain, maybe because he had guessed the hobbit’s surrender, the king’s touch became gentler. When they reached the door of the great hall Thorin's hand was just brushing against Bilbo’s shoulder.

“Your Majesty!” the guards exclaimed, puzzled by the strange sight of the King under the Mountain with the hobbit prisoner. They had listened to the most remarkable stories about them and now they almost feared to look at the halfling.

“Tomorrow you will be assigned to another task, since this one seems too hard for you two,” the king informed them. Bilbo felt that the reproach was too harsh for the poor dwarves, who had never mistreated him and could not guess how he had tricked them.

“I am sorry, I am not going to run away again, I promise!” Bilbo babbled, earning more suspicious glances while the dwarf king pushed him over the threshold.

Bilbo slipped, and he would have fallen if Thorin had not caught him by the arm.

“Thank you,” Bilbo replied mechanically, but when he turned Thorin had already vanished down the corridor. The guards’ looks were not particularly kind at the moment and the hobbit thought it would be wise to retreat in the hall and go back to his little camp.

He sit down on his bedroll, sighing. At least he had said his goodbye to Fili and Kili.

But he had also incurred in Thorin’s rage and he had lost his precious ring. The idea of being deprived of the ring left Bilbo breathless. It was his only treasure, the sole possession which could save his life: Bilbo felt lost and he took his head in his hands.

It took some hours for his distress to fade. Thorin had not taken notice of the ring and Bilbo was the only one knowing where it had fallen: the ring was even safer in the burial chamber than in its pocket. I have not lost it, he repeated to himself, he had only to wait the right moment to retrieve it.

Much calmer, Bilbo dined with a slice of meat pie, roasted potatoes, apple and cheese salad. He thanked the guard, but the dwarf grunted something in Khuzdul and Bilbo was grateful for his ignorance of the dwarvish language. Although the meals hardly equalled a hobbit’s average diet, he had to admit that Thorin did not seem willing to starve him. Bilbo did not want to be ungrateful for such profusion when few days had passed since the battle. At least the fresh supplies of food proved to him that the negotiations with men and elves were going quite well.

Later, Bilbo laid on his bedroll and wished for a quiet sleep.

But he was going to be denied his wish.

Chapter Text

Bilbo was dreaming.
And it was obviously a bad dream: Thorin wanted to chain him and Bilbo's attempts at escaping were failing, because the golden coins were slipping under his feet and he was falling in Thorin’s arms.

“Halfling,” Thorin's deep voice played with Bilbo’s mind and the hobbit moaned slightly. “Halfling,” the voice came again, more urgently.

This time Bilbo tossed the blankets away. Trying to flee from the voice, the hobbit suddenly woke up - in truth, Bilbo discovered, the voice was not in his dreams. Thorin was crouched at Bilbo's side: the dwarf's expression seemed unfathomable in Bilbo’s drowsy eyes. The hobbit was a bit scared by the sudden appearance of the king; but, above all, he was confused – Bilbo would keep his fear for the moment Thorin would reveal the purpose of his visit.

“What are you doing here?” the hobbit asked, his voice husky from sleep.

There was no one else in the hall and Bilbo was sure that it was still night. He shivered and grabbed the blankets to cover himself from neck to feet, although he was still wearing his shirt and trousers.

“I have to ask,” Thorin said at last. He sit down on the floor covered in golden coins.

The king still wore the same garments Bilbo had seen on him in the burial chamber, but the dwarf looked less angry and far more hesitant. Bilbo remained suspicious.

“Ask what?” the hobbit asked curtly, wondering if the guards were still at the door. Would they come to save him should Thorin try to crash his bones to dust?

“How do you do it?” Thorin inquired, tilting his head. “I saw you in the burial chamber; I listened to your words; I heard you speaking to them as if you loved them.” Thorin paused for a moment, as if the words were too heavy on his tongue. Then he continued: “I loved them and I cannot speak my grief nor shed a single tear.”

Bilbo was fully awake by then: he observed Thorin in the soft darkness of the hall, mottled with golden and silver glows.

“I suppose we all have different ways to express our feelings,” Bilbo suggested cautiously.

“But I am their uncle. They were blood of my blood, heirs to my throne, joy to my heart,” Thorin whispered heatedly. 

“It seems you can speak of them as well,” Bilbo pointed out with a soft smile. 

To you? You do not count,” Thorin replied. His cold tone froze Bilbo’s smile. “But they look for my sorrow. They expect me to act both like their king and their uncle.”

They. Thorin was speaking of the other dwarves, the court, Dain’s host.

“Is that what worries you?” Bilbo asked briskly, wounded by Thorin’s indifference to his opinion.

Bilbo was on the point of asking Thorin why he had hauled a prisoner from his sleep if said prisoner did not count at all. But he changed his mind and bit his tongue.

“No,” Thorin answered, to Bilbo's surprise. “I am worried because I cannot truly grieve,” he confessed instead. Bilbo thought that there had never been so much innocence about the dwarf king. “Is there something wrong within me?” Thorin asked, frowning.

It was a difficult question: Bilbo knew the answer, but giving the answer was quite a different business. Bilbo cleared his throat and peeked at Thorin – the dwarf seemed eager for a revelation. Suddenly Bilbo, looking at Thorin's face, understood that there was another answer.

You are grieving, Thorin,” the hobbit said. “Sorrow is in your heart. If there wasn’t, you would not be troubled about crying, speaking or making a show of your feelings. But the pain is there, just under the surface: you may be reserved and proud, but you are not unfeeling. I am sure of it.”

Thorin seemed to reflect on Bilbo's words. The hobbit felt disappointed: after all, despite what had happened between them, Bilbo had thought that Thorin deserved truth. The hobbit had spoken from his heart, yet the dwarf was distrustful when Bilbo should have been the one being sceptical about their midnight conversation. But Thorin was Thorin and being unable to accept anything for granted was part of Thorin's personality. As many other qualities of his, it was something that could be both very bad or very good.

Bilbo sighed and Thorin frowned, distracted from his musing.

“Speak to me, halfling,” the dwarf ordered, shortly.

“What am I supposed to be speaking of, My Lord?” Bilbo asked.

The King under the Mountain chose to ignore the sarcastic tone the hobbit had used.

“I cannot sleep. You have your way with words,” Thorin suggested, in that charming elusiveness of his which made Bilbo very prone to slap the dwarf.

“My way, My Lord?” the hobbit insisted. “I do not know what you mean.”

“I do not like to be laughed at, burglar,” Thorin hissed, “and you're even too aware of being well-versed in the art of picking up words and arrange them in a way which pleases the ear. Like in...storytelling,” the king explained.

Well, that was almost a compliment - except that Thorin’s gaze was not complimentary at all. The hobbit suspected that Thorin's words were hinting that he, Bilbo Baggins, was a consummated liar. Bilbo blushed from annoyance.   

“I am not in the habit of being ordered to tell tales, My Lord," he declared. "On the contrary, I have taken notice of a rather common habit, among dwarves, to order me to shut up.”

“You shall make an exception for me, halfling,” Thorin replied coldly.

“And what theme do you have in mind, My Lord?” Bilbo asked, guessing that he had no chances to force Thorin out of his own great hall nor would he be likely to sleep until the King under the Mountain insisted in his wish.

“My nephews," Thorin answered after some time. "Tell me about them.”

The answere bewildered Bilbo, and his attitude softened. 

“It may take a bit to get there, but be patient," he said, nodding. "It began with a hobbit-hole and a very well-to-do hobbit...”

 

*

 

He did not even know how it could have happened, but Thorin's head lay on the blankets.  

The king was tired and there were dark bruises under his blue eyes, yet he had not closed them. Instead he was staring at the treasure glimmering in the great hall. Bilbo was not even sure that Thorin was listening to his story, but the hobbit had grown so involved in his own narration that he could not stop until he would be forced to do so. But no one had disturbed them and Thorin seemed strangely quiet.

Bilbo was a bit stiff. He would have liked to lie down too, but the king had taken his place. Bilbo did not dare to move, for he was frightened by the possibility of bumping against Thorin’s body. So the hobbit sit still with a blanket on his shoulders, his knees raised at his chest, and rolled slightly from side to side at the rhythm of his own voice.

Bilbo had reached the point of the story when the orcs had chased after them over the hills when he saw a shiver running down Thorin’s shoulders. Bilbo almost offered Thorin a blanket to protect himself from the cold, but the hobbit noticed something else before he could made his offer.

Tears were running down Thorin’s cheeks.

The dwarf was laying with his face to Bilbo; but probably he had not realised the hobbit could see him crying. Maybe Thorin had not even realized he was crying.

Thorin's face was similar to a stone carving but for those tears, and his mouth was closed in a hard line. He does not know, Bilbo thought. The hobbit had to focus harder on his story to keep going on. He was not sure if he was supposed to take notice of Thorin’s tears; Bilbo felt like he had peeped into a room which was not his own. It thrilled him, but it also made him feel ashamed. Besides Bilbo did not want to upset Thorin.

During his journey to Erebor, Bilbo had learnt something about the dwarves' hearts. They were a secretive lot in many ways; communication was hardly their strongest skill, yet there had been moment when their hearts had been as transparent as crystals. Thorin’s was enclosed in the hardest armour, but Bilbo had seen through it more than once. The hobbit remembered the Carrock, where the eagles had left them after the fight with Azog. And he recalled the unexpected way Thorin had embraced him in front of the whole Company, to thank Bilbo for having saved his life. But the memory of Thorin’s rage at the theft of the Arkenstone was still fresh and painful on Bilbo's mind, and it was another crack in the king’s composure.

One way or another, what lay in Thorin’s heart was a dark and intricate matter. Entering the mountain had been a hard task, but facing the dragon waiting at the end of the tunnel had been even harder: Bilbo could see the opening to Thorin’s heart, the little breach in his coldness; but he feared what he could find if he attempted to go further.

Bilbo had fortunately escaped one dragon’s breath; he was not sure he could escape another dragon, although this one was not flesh and blood rather than thoughts and feelings. But its skin was as thick as Smaug’s and Bilbo did not possess Bard’s aim. Nor Bard's courage, for all that mattered.

 

Suddenly, Thorin seemed aware of his tears. Something changed in his gaze, and his body stiffened. Bilbo did not stop talking, but his breath became uneven and he stuttered a little. Would Thorin flee or would he take his time to mistreat the poor hobbit? Without thinking, Bilbo did what he deemed wiser to calm Thorin down: unfortunately, as soon as Bilbo had done it, he understood it was no wise move at all – quite the contrary, it was reckless and daring.

He had touched Thorin’s forehead, lightly.

If Bilbo had been able to speak, he would have said something like It’s all right. But Bilbo's tongue was still busy with his story and he could not force himself to stop, as if the memories of their journey were the only thing preventing Thorin’s rage. The king had not carried a sword with him, but he surely could have some sort of weapons upon him, and the hall could offer a good choice of tools to express his disappointment in the hobbit.

Bilbo closed his eyes. When nothing happened, he cautiously opened them. Thorin was still tense, but he did not seem on the point of doing anything dangerous. Bilbo grew a little bolder and he moved his fingers through Thorin’s hair, where it was streaked with grey. Under his light touch, the king seemed to relax and the hobbit felt his own breath easing. His heart was still racing, but his voice was tolerably firm.

Bilbo did not know how much time they spent in this fashion - Thorin laying on the blankets and his thick, soft hair under Bilbo's fingers. It was one of the strangest moment of Bilbo’s adventure and certainly the most intimate he had ever shared with Thorin. The king did not speak neither to stop or encourage Bilbo, nor did he betray his feelings about it.

Bilbo took a dangerous pleasure in those moments. It was like caressing a wild creature: Thorin’s hair smelled of cedar and pine-needles, and the dwarf's eyes were shining from tears; the little hobbit hoped for what it would never be.

Bilbo's voice grew thick and slurred from sleep. Although the story was not finished, Bilbo could have a bit of sleep, couldn’t he? Thorin was still awake; but Bilbo dared to lie down at the dwarf's side, without touching him but for the light strokes trough his hair.

Bilbo kept talking. After all he was just going to close his eyes for a moment.

Chapter Text

He would have thought it a dream, if the smell of Thorin’s hair had not been on his fingers.

Bilbo woke up alone. His memories were slightly blurred at first; then he remembered exactly how Thorin had come to him in the middle of the night. In truth Bilbo was not really surprised that the king had not wanted to be found in his company at dawn.

Later the hobbit had lunch with Bofur, and he could not help inquiring about Thorin.

“How’s our king?” Bilbo blurted out.

Bofur frowned a little, maybe because Bilbo had said our kingThe dwarf took a sip of ale and he rubbed the bandages still covering his forehead before answering.  

“I see little of him in these days," he admitted. "When Thorin is not attended by healers, he’s busy giving orders or discussing with Dain and Balin about Erebor, the elves, Erebor again, the men, oh - guess what? - Erebor.”

Bofur was plainly annoyed with the subject - Bilbo guessed that the dwarf was not pleased with his king.

“It must be very difficult for him,” Bilbo suggested.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Bofur replied, with a vague smile, “I believe Thorin is doing his best to be the King under the Mountain. But I am not sure I like him as much as I liked Thorin Oakenshield, leader of thirteenth dwarves and a hobbit in the most reckless quest.”

“Why?” Bilbo asked.

“First, I do not agree with his decision about you: as you know I understood his rage and I even feared it; but many things have changed and I reckon it’s time for him to move on,” Bofur explained, scowling. “He owes it to Fili and Kili, and to you in the first place. Sometimes it seems that Thorin wants to keep us all away from you: Ori is still frightened and Dwalin too stubbornly loyal; Oin, Gloin, Bifur and Bombur cannot leave the infirmary and you cannot visit them; while I, Balin, Dori and Nori are always kept busy with orders. I had to bribe three different dwarves to attend to some task with the laundry in my place while I'm here with you,” Bofur confessed.

“Oh, I’m sorry for causing you so much trouble," Bilbo sighed. "I didn't know that you were forbidden from visiting me.”

“We weren't,” the dwarf admitted, “but no one wants to hurt Thorin's pride. I tried to speak with him this morning, after the burial ceremony; but he didn’t listen. I suppose my attempt was ill-timed. Yet...you know, I have not seen him shedding a single tear,” Bofur mumbled, cutting a piece of roasted chicken for himself.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Bilbo protested, his cheeks growing hot. “Thorin is just, you know, a bit reserved.”

Reserved?” Bofur looked up and it was the hobbit’s turn to take a sudden interest in the chicken. “That’s very kind of you to say, Bilbo; but we both know tha Thorin is a stubborn old boy and he’s growing as cold as this mountain.”

He is not, Bilbo thought; but he could not share Thorin's secret with Bofur.

“I may be a bit harsh," Bofur mused, "but I think Thorin should spend more time with his friends. I’m quite sure he would spend a lot more time with the treasure if you were not here.”

Oh. The hobbit had not thought about this before, but Bofur's words left him wondering if the previous night Thorin had come to the treasure hall to admire his rubies and emeralds - and then he had settled for the prisoner instead.

“But I’m a miner and a toymaker," Bofur shrugged. "My share in the treasure is going to make me a very rich miner and toymaker; but Thorin is royalty and a king must choose his friends wisely. It is different for Durin’s folk like Balin: I am but an humble, simple dwarf.”

“You are all but simple,” Bilbo disagreed, with a soft smile.

Bofur smiled back and wiped his greasy fingers on a napkin. They were forced to sit on the floor while eating; but Bilbo still fussed about table manners and the dwarf tried to please him on this point.

“Oh, I’ve almost forgotten: Balin is going to be here tomorrow to prepare the share for men and elves,” Bofur informed Bilbo, before leaving the hall. “I thought you would be moved to another prison. Maybe in the dungeons,” the dwarf muttered, unaware of Bilbo’s slightly frightened expression, “but Thorin might have different plans for you.”

“Well, at least I shall see Balin and even Ori,” Bilbo commented. 

“I will be back soon," Bofur promised. "Bifur and Bombur want to visit you as soon as the healers will let them out of the infirmary.”

“Oh, I'd like that very much!" Bilbo exclaimed, pleased at the idea of having more company for the days to come. "I’ll be waiting for them...but could you bring more food?” Bilbo asked, a bit worried that entertaining three dwarves or more at lunch would left him a poor share in it.

Bofur laughed and he patted his belly, round from the chicken and the mushroom pie.

“I’m sorry, I should have brought something to your table, Bilbo Baggins, but Thorin hardly leaves me time to steal from the kitchens," Bofur said, amused. "I’ll be more generous next time, I promise.”

Then they parted and Bilbo smiled broadly at Bofur's odd hat swaying while the dwarf was leaving the hall. Since the end of the battle, Bofur had been Bilbo's most attentive companion; he had eased Bilbo’s loneliness in the great hall, not only keeping the hobbit well informed about what was going on in Erebor and Dale, but also sharing his grief for the dead and his hopes for the future.

There was surely more than a miner and a toymaker about Bofur, and it was worth a dozen kings. 

 

*

  

The weight of responsibilities had left a permanent frown on Balin's kind face. Balin had to answer to his king and to his companions, to men and elves. Bilbo was not surprised to find him the dwarf older and a bit touchy, and Balin himself soon apologized for his moodiness.

“I have spent so much time arguing with Thorin that I’m becoming more like him,” he commented dryly. 

It seemed that discontent about Thorin was spreading, but Bilbo did not dare to speak too much of the king. Speaking behind Thorin's back with his most loyal companion did not seem right, nor did Bilbo trust himself on the subject.

The hobbit had some trouble sleeping. He had waited for Thorin to come back again, but the king seemed to avoid the great hall. He did not come to check on Balin’s work nor did he give orders about Bilbo’s accommodation. On the third day since the night the king had spent in the treasure hall, the hobbit mustered up some courage.

“Has Thorin taken a decision about my trial?” Bilbo asked Balin.

“No, little one, he hasn’t,” was Balin’s reply.

“Has Thorin decided where to keep me, then?” the hobbit persevered.

“Are you uncomfortable here?” Balin asked, and then gave him an apologetic smile. “You must forgive me: it must be surely uncomfortable here. Looking upon this great treasure might be a pleasure for a dwarf; but it’s not a good place to be imprisoned in, especially for a hobbit. I thought Thorin would give us orders about it, but he hasn’t: you must stay here and be patient. Thorin is...very busy.”

Very busy indeed, Bilbo thought on the fifth day.

Bilbo did not expect Thorin to snap out of his gold sickness so easily, but he could not help being increasingly worried by Thorin's prolonged silence. Bilbo did not care for Thorin's gratitude, but he wanted a chance to make things right; had he not tried to win such a chance? Had he not respected and soothed Thorin's sorrow? But the king had already got what he wanted from him, and then had vanished like smoke.

Thorin was probably ashamed to have revealed his weakness to a hobbit. Oh, damned Thorin's haughtiness: Thorin had looked for Bilbo's sympathy at night, but he did not dare to speak to him otherwise. Sometimes, Bilbo would recall that night, trying to remember a sign of understanding between him and Thorin. The hobbit would accuse himself to have been too forward, thus scaring Thorin. Then Bilbo would resent his own kindness - how much gentleness wasted on the cold King under the Mountain!

His only comfort was that, at least, he and Ori were again on good terms. It had been a bit difficult at first, but Balin’s example and his encouragement had helped Ori to overcome his fears - and Bilbo had done his best to win back Ori's affection. In truth, it had also taken some sarcasm – Bilbo’s – and some tears – Ori’s – to make peace.

And now it was very difficult to stop Ori from talking, because the young dwarf was utterly pleased with describing to the hobbit the wonderful work they were doing in restoring the library; how many books and drawings were still in Erebor chambers; how he was going to be appointed First Historian of the reign of Thorin II Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain. It was all very interesting, except for the fact that Bilbo knew little to nothing of the history of dwarves, and Ori blurted one name after another. The hobbit often experienced splitting headaches after such conversations. But Bilbo and Ori also discussed about the other dwarves and their commitment for the rebirth of the Kingdom under the Mountain.

As with Bofur, Bilbo enjoyed the news and the little gossip Ori offered him. There was only a subject Ori still avoided - Thorin. If they were speaking about Erebor's thron, Ori might even speak of the king; but he never mentioned him like - well - just Thorin. Bilbo did not wish to upset Ori; moreover the hobbit had his own good reasons to leave the subject untouched.

Yet Bilbo could not help feeling angry at Thorin. If Thorin dared again to wake him in the middle of the night, Bilbo would slap him. And he would do many other things he could not bring himself to name; but they were all very painful and scary things. Bilbo was so absorbed in his own disappointment that he did not taken notice of Balin’s anguish at first; only when the treasure was almost ready to be divided into shares did Bilbo notice Balin's strange mood.

“What happened to him?” Bilbo asked Ori. Balin was being unusually severe and snappish toward the other dwarves assigned to the task.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Ori reassured him, “Balin is always a bit quick-tempered when he’s deeply worried. I think he’s tired by his responsibilities, but he will get better as soon as we’ll have finished with the treasure,” he concluded, making a gesture towards the piles of gold, silver and stones.

Yet Bilbo noticed that Ori was holding something back.

“Are you really sure about this?" the hobbit insisted. "As you may have noticed the first time we met, I don’t deal particulary well with surprises. Therefore, if there’s something I should know...”

“I think you should talk to Balin,” Ori replied, frowning.

“I’m talking to you,” the hobbit said firmly. He knew that breaking Ori’s reluctance would be easier than facing Balin, who had vanished out of the great hall to attend some important meeting. “Is it about the trial? Thorin had chosen a date?”

“No, it’s not really about the trial,” Ori muttered.

“What is then?” Bilbo decided to pester Ori as Lobelia would have done. The poor dwarf sighed and took Bilbo aside, far from the other dwarves working on the treasure.  

“It’s better if the news do not spread or there will be rumours and chaos and..." Ori shook his head. "You see, he requested us to keep it secret. He don’t want the elves or the men to be informed, and he has forbidden us to send word to Gandalf about it. Even Balin agrees you should not know, because you would be worried and we naturally hope there will be nothing to be worried about but...but...”

“Ori?” Bilbo murmured, increasingly alarmed.

“It’s Thorin,” Ori babbled at last, “I don’t know how this happened: he seemed quite recovered or at least he acted like he was; but the healers had warned him and he didn’t want to listen because of Erebor and the throne and all the work to do, and then Fili and Kili, this treasure..." the young dwarf sighed. "His wounds are worse than ever. He has not left his bed in six days and I really, really fear he could die.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo massaged his knee. The guard had probably not meant to hurt him, but he had used too much of his strength - after all Bilbo was but a hobbit against two dwarves in chainmail. Balin had been immediately summoned and had brought Bilbo some sage oil to soothe the pain.

“It will get black and blue, but should it swell we’ll call the healers,” Balin promised, frowning. 

“Thank you,” Bilbo answered coldly.

“I’m very sorry to have kept the news of Thorin’s sickness from you,” Balin apologised with a sigh, “but I didn’t want you to be worried.”

“Why shouldn’t I?" Bilbo asked between his teeth. "Fili and Kili were younger than me by dwarvish standards, and they are dead. I am not a young hobbit to be kept ignorant of what's going on: I am neither stupid or weak, and I had right to know about that.”

“I’m not challenging your right," Balin assured him. "You're still part of the company from my point of view, for better or for worse,” he added gently, “but I fear the news on Thorin's health would upset the fragile balance of the relationship with elves and men. Although Dain is the most honourable dwarf and I do not doubt his loyalty, there could be others in his host far more inclined to hope in a swift succession to the throne.”

“You mean...” Bilbo murmured, his eyes growing large.

“Dain is Thorin’s heir now,” Balin explained.

“I did not know," Bilbo admitted. "In truth Ori might have even explained it to me, but I get always a bit dizzy coming to dwarvish parentage,” the hobbit muttered, then shook his head and shot Balin an annoyed glance. “Nevertheless, how could you believe I would spread word of Thorin's sickness? At least, if you do not trust me, you should know very well that I cannot leave this hall nor send messages to Thranduil or Bard.”

Balin sighed again. He seemed very tired.

“You’re right," Balin conceded. "It’s true we wish the secret to be protected as long as possible, that is to say until Thorin will get better; but there's another reason why we kept it from you: it was Thorin himself to ask me to leave you ignorant on his health, before the fever took him,” the old dwarf revealed.

Bilbo instantly regretted his own insistence – Balin's answer pained him. He lowered his head and distractedly patted his bedroll - this was even worse than the rest: not only Thorin’s life was at stake, but the king did not wish the hobbit to be told about it. Thorin wanted to keep him as far as possible, and Bilbo’s heart hurt more than his knee.

“I want to visit him,” Bilbo declared, in what he hoped it would pass for a firm tone.

“You cannot. It was implied when he said to me that you shouldn’t be informed," Balin answered. "And think about it: should Thorin recognise you, it would upset him greatly. It’s too dangerous at this time of his sickness. Be patient, wait for his health to come back!”

“What if it will not come back?” the hobbit asked softly. “I must see him, Balin, I must see him and talk to him about what passed between us about the Arkenstone.”

The old dwarf shook his head.

“I’m truly sorry, but I cannot let you near him," Balin repeated. "I understand your sorrow, Bilbo Baggins; but I’ll be loyal to his will. Can you understand this and forgive me?”

Bilbo turned away his head, fearing to show how much he was upset by such an answer.

“Please,” Balin continued, “do not try again to force your way to Thorin's rooms. It would be very difficult for us all. I've just spoken to the guards and reproached them for the way they dealt with you. On the other hand I cannot blame them for acting like they're supposed to: you are the king’s prisoner, little hobbit, and only his word can free you. If you attempt again to leave this hall, you’ll end up with new bruises.”

Bilbo did not want to promise anything at all and remained stubbornly silent. Soon Balin was forced to leave him alone.

 

*

 

“Wake up, come on; wake up!”

Bilbo groaned. A small part of his mind hoped for a low, deep voice; but the voices were four and none of them really resembled the one he was waiting for. The hobbit opened his eyes and found four faces staring down at him. Balin, Bofur, Ori and...Bombur!

“What...oh, welcome, welcome!” Bilbo murmured.

His speech was a bit slurred from sleep, but the Shire good manners prevailed: soon Bilbo was awake, sitting up with his hair ruffled and his clothes wrinkled among his four guests. The dwarves looked unusually cheerful, and Bofur and Ori carried baskets.

“Break your fast with us, Master Baggins!” Bombur exclaimed, smiling broadly.

“I have kept my promise,” Bofur pointed out, raising his basket: a pleasant smell of apples and honey came from it, and Bilbo took a deep breath. He smiled back, and the four dwarves grinned in the most un-dwarvish manner.

“I’m very glad to see you all,” Bilbo admitted, still smiling, “and I see you are well recovered, Bombur! Do your wounds hurt still?” Bilbo asked kindly.

“From time to time,” Bombur admitted, “but I must warn you Master Baggins: my appetite has come back. I’ll do justice to that delicious goat cheese in Ori’s basket.”

“His appetite has never gone away,” Bofur muttered under his breath, and Bombur laughed and patted him on the back - Bofur almost fell over Bilbo.

Ori laid a clean tablecloth on the floor and the dwarves started revealing the food they had brought for the breakfast.

“Bofur is accomplishing the most wonderful things about our mechanical laundry,” Ori told Bilbo, in the meanwhile. “He’s such a great inventor!”

“Shush, shush, or all the dwarves in Erebor will come to me with their odd requests for mechanical toys,” Bofur protested, but he seemed very pleased with himself.

Only Balin had not spoken yet and Bilbo looked at him.

“Why are you all so merry?” the hobbit asked, not daring to hope.

Bofur and Ori stopped and peeked at Bilbo with the most satisfied smiles on their faces. Even Bombur was staring, with his mouth full of white bread and cheese.

“Thorin's health is improving,” Balin announced, without trying to soften the unusual cheerfulness in his tone. “The healers say there’s no more danger for his life: Thorin will soon regain strength and spirit.”

“Oh, he has never lost spirit!” Bofur assured, chuckling. “Even when he was delirious he told Dwalin to urge me about the laundry project.”

They all laughed; Bilbo was especially grateful for Bofur’s joke, because it gave him a moment to himself to collect his thoughts and taste the feeling of knowing that Thorin was safe. The hobbit lowered his eyes on the tablecloth, without really seeing it, and smiled to himself.

When Bilbo raised his head again, he noticed Balin looking at him inquiringly.

Later, Bilbo was left alone. Bombur had stayed longer than the others: Balin, Bofur and Ori had work waiting for them; but Bombur was convalescent, and he could spend more time in the hobbit's company. They had talked about Erebor, and the dwarf had sounded truly optimistic about the future of the Kingdom under the Mountain.

“It will get better and better. There’s a huge amount of work to do, but we had been waiting so long for this moment. Now each of us shall do his best,” Bombur had boasted. Then he had become more sentimental, his voice thick with strange sweetness: “This is our home," Bombur had whispered dreamily. "I reckon it is something you can understand very well, Master Baggins.”

“I always miss the Shire,” Bilbo had confessed.

“Do you plan to go back as soon as possible?” Bombur had inquired, squeezing Bilbo's shoulder. “I am sure many of us will be glad to have you here for a long time, Master Baggins.”

Bilbo had been taken aback by Bombur’s remark.

“I have no choice, Bombur. I’m a prisoner waiting for a trial, you know,” he had replied, trying to master his own discomfort for the topic.

“Oh, that,” the dwarf had shrugged. “I’m sure there will be no need for a trial: Thorin surely will forgive you soon. He reacted badly that day, but he’ll see for himself that there’s nothing to blame you for. I mean- he’s our king; he’s a good and wise leader.”

Bilbo had not insisted. Bombur’s bright point of view had annoyed him; but in the end Bilbo knew how difficult was to forget that Thorin was the one who had given the dwarves their home. They admired Thorin Oakenshield. It had been even too easy to be impressed by the prince’s courage and by his powerful will to win Erebor back - Bilbo supposed he had been a bit in awe himself, all along.

Nonetheless, he doubted that the trial business would run so smoothly as Bombur had predicted.

“You are part of the company,” the dwarf had concluded, echoing Balin’s words.

I guess I am, Bilbo thought. For the first time, he wondered what he could have done if things had not become so painfully twisted. If Thorin had valued more his friendship, would Bilbo have chosen to go back immediately to his hobbit-hole? He did miss the Shire, and the feeling was a bittersweet ache in Bilbo's chest. Still there were other feelings to deal with: for instance, it was difficult to imagine long months without hearing Bofur’s voice or seeing Ori’s new drawings. The loss of Fili and Kili was almost unbearable, how could he stand losing sight of the other dwarves so soon?

Thorin. Bilbo had wished to have never met him; but, in truth, would he be ready to never see him again?

All must pass, Bilbo Baggins, he told himself.

Dwarves believe some things are meant to stay: they live as if their feelings might last forever; but hobbits know better: even the hard stone changes, though more slowly than seasons do. Feeling flows and consumes itself like flame, like life. It would take time, but Bilbo could wait.

 

*

 

Bilbo’s resolution wavered in the next few days.    

Thorin's health improved day by day: Bofur, Ori, and even Balin brought Bilbo words of how well the king was recovering. The dwarves seemed all eager to mend their previous silence about the king's health and now tormented Bilbo with pointless details – like how nobly Thorin had stood to receive Thanduil's ambassadors or how he had spent some hours in the infirmary with the dwarves of the Company still confined there.

It seemed that Thorin was slowly regaining his place at the heart of the Kingdom. He was striving to conquer his people’s and neighbours’ affection. The shares intended for men and elves had already been dispatched, and the king had endured the loss admirably; Thranduil was more gracious than ever – at least as gracious as the Elvenking could be; Bard and the Lake-people were planning to bring Dale back to its past glory.   

The news were, indeed, very comforting. Except for the fact that it looked as if Thorin had forgotten Bilbo Baggins again.

Bilbo had feared for Thorin’s life and hoped that the king would send for him on the brink of death. The hobbit had thought that they could not be parted without a word, but Thorin had never expressed the wish to see him. And now that the king was back on his feet, he stayed away from the treasure hall and the hobbit.

Chapter Text

Bilbo had moved his camp to another part of the hall. The dwarves had still a lot of work to do regarding the great treasure: the hobbit preferred to stay out of their way as much as possible. He enjoyed the company of his dwarves, but the others working in the hall were strangers to him - they were grumpy and suspicious, if not unkind.

So Bilbo had chosen another corner for his camp, where he could use a chest as table and enjoy some privacy from the daily bustle in the hall. He had also asked Ori for ink and parchment, for he wished to write to Gandalf and Bofur had assured him he could use a raven to send Bilbo's message to the wizard.

Gandalf had told Bilbo to contact him should the situation worsen, but Gandalf had not explained how much worse the situation should be. The hobbit felt that Gandalf deserved to know that he was alive and well fed, but nonetheless unhappy; besides Bilbo could have done with some advice. He could not betray Thorin’s secret to any of the other dwarves, but at least he could hope that Gandalf would guess his uneasiness and gave him his support.

In the weak torchlight, Bilbo was trying to write a letter saying enough but not too much.

Thorin had been crowned King under the Mountain. The ceremony was said to have been quite sober, almost poor, compared to others in Erebor history. Thorin’s father and grandfather had taken their place on the throne with how much splendour and pomp had been possible to manage; for instance, stories about the size of the rubies adorning Thror’s garments for his coronation still circulated. But Thorin had preferred to show himself in his mourning clothes, and he had chosen a simple silver band for his crown – his father’s had been buried with him.

The famous Arkenstone, that many would have expected to see restored in its place on the throne, had not been revealed to the crowd. Some suspected that the king’s love for the stone was so deep and fierce that he could not bear the mere idea of others looking at it. But there was even word that Thorin was so ashamed of his behaviour regarding the stone and afraid of the kind of talk the sight of it could raise, that he had preferred to hide it. 

Bilbo could hardly judge. He had not been invited to the coronation and he had not expected anything different. If things had been different, he would have liked to be at Thorin’s side; it would have been wonderful to see Thorin fulfil the fate he had so longed for. But, after all, Bilbo was almost relieved to having been excused from the ceremony – in truth he did not need to see Thorin high and proud on his throne.

On the other hand the Mountain was still mourning the dead, and many wounded were still in the infirmary. Yet, the coronation could not have been delayed further, not while Dain’s generals where murmuring against Thorin and his haughtiness. The atmosphere in Erebor was quite tense and grim, and Thorin’s mood did not seem likely to improve soon. Even Balin had to admit it to the hobbit.

Bilbo was rather upset by these news. Maybe he should have revelled in the knowledge that Thorin was suffering the price of his own stubbornness, and that even his decision to imprison the hobbit was frequently challenged and criticised. But Bilbo’s feelings were more confused that they should have been in such circumstances: he was troubled by the idea that Thorin was failing at what he had dreamt for so long – being the King under the Mountain. The hobbit would have been rather glad to reduce Thorin to tears, and throw on the dwarf's face all the fear and rage he had nurtured in his heart; but Bilbo was distressed at the thought that others could speak against the king. The hobbit was still offended and pained by the way he had been treated, but at the same time he felt quite protective toward the dwarf – foolish hobbit, Bilbo often reproached himself.

Bilbo was so focused on this sort of thoughts that he almost missed the sound of approaching steps. He leapt on his feet and hid the parchment behind his back without thinking. He was not very surprised by the discovery that it was Thorin. Who else could visit the prisoner in the middle of the night? 

“Why are you awake, burglar?” Thorin asked, looking around at the hobbit's arrangements for his little camp.

Thorin should have really improved his conversational skills: he had the annoying habit of opening each talk with a question.

“I am truly sorry, My Lord, if you would have preferred to intrude on my sleep,” Bilbo retorted, most graciously. “But I was unaware that you were willing to honour me with your presence tonight.”

“I have already told you I do not appreciate your attitude, halfling,” Thorin replied, but he did not look really angry at Bilbo.

On the contrary, he seemed in a flippant mood. Maybe he’s still weak from his sickness, Bilbo thought, spying the king’s movement.

“My Lord?” the hobbit tried to recall Thorin's attention, because the dwarf was examining the bottle of ink on the table and the hobbit feared he could notice the letter behind his back.

“It’s Your Majesty, halfling,” Thorin corrected him smoothly.

Bilbo rolled his eyes. In the candlelight, he saw that the dwarf was still a bit pale and his skin a little too stretched on the cheekbones. 

“What are you hiding?” Thorin asked suddenly.

“Nothing,” the hobbit babbled, startled by the question.

Thorin observed him from head to foot. Bilbo wondered if Thorin had caught him staring - anyway, the king did not seem amused.

“Don’t lie to me,” Thorin warned the hobbit. “I see you’re keeping your hands behind your back,” he insisted, yet he did not move.

“It’s none of Your Majesty’s business,” Bilbo muttered, frowning.

“As I told you, all that happens in Erebor is my business,” was Thorin’s reply, delivered in an matter-of-fact tone. “And you’re a prisoner waiting to be tried for theft: you are not allowed to keep anything from the king.”

Bilbo sensed his cheeks growing hot from rage.

“While the king is allowed to keep anything he wishes from the prisoner, isn’t he?” he asked, between his teeth.

“What are you talking about?” Thorin asked, this time looking quite surprised.

“I was denied the knowledge of your sickness, Your Majesty,” Bilbo explained briskly.

“I see,” Thorin nodded. His shoulders relaxed, but his blue eyes narrowed on the hobbit. “Balin told me about your fight with the guards.”

It was Bilbo’s turn to be surprised. He had not thought that Balin would have told Thorin how he had attempted to reach the king’s rooms. It was deeply embarassing: the hobbit did not know what Thorin could think of his behaviour, but the possibilities were equally unpleasant; maybe Thorin had come expressly to laugh at him and humiliate his concern.

But Thorin was not laughing - he was stepping around the wooden chest to approach Bilbo.

“Show me what you’re hiding,” he commanded, still quietly; but Bilbo took a step back. “Is it a letter?” Thorin guessed, tilting his head in an attempt at catching a glimpse of what the hobbit was trying to hide behind his back.

“It’s mine!” Bilbo squeaked, frightened by Thorin’s stubborn gaze. He was bothered by the way the king’s eyes seemed to rest on him longer than usual.

When Bilbo had chosen the place for his sleep, he had not considered the possibility of being involved in a brawl with a dwarf. So he had not provided himself with an escape: he soon realized that he had no choices but retreating to the corner between two absolutely solid walls. Bilbo ended up much more alarmed by Thorin’s proximity than by the dwarf's intention to get the letter; so the hobbit revealed the parchment he had been hiding and stiffly offered it to Thorin, stretching his arm toward the king.

Thorin took the letter with a suspicious glance at Bilbo, then started to read. A deep frown appeared on Thorin's face.

“What is the meaning of this, halfling?” he asked, but he did not accord Bilbo time to answer. “Why are you writing to the wizard? Do you want him to come back to rescue you with one of his tricks?”

“I just want to keep him informed,” Bilbo replied. 

Thorin expressed his opinion crushing the parchment in a ball and tossing it away.

“The wizard has no right to pry into my decisions. And you are well attended, burglar,” the dwarf said, looking almost offended by the idea that someone could have thought otherwise. “Have I not sent you food and clothes and blankets? Am I forbidding my friends and subjects to visit you?”

Bilbo was astonished. He had never reflected about what the guards provided him with. He had always assumed that he should thank Balin for that, and even that it might be done without the king's approval. But even Bofur had always admitted that Thorin had never forbidden them from visiting him. Bilbo admitted that Thorin might not be pleased about the dwarves’ visits or the amount of food reserved to a prisoner, yet he had not deprived him of anything. Except his freedom. 

“I am still a prisoner,” Bilbo reminded the king firmly.

“What you did has not been repaid yet,” Thorin replied, in the same curt tone. “You know well I cannot trust you,” he added, with a bitterness that bit into Bilbo’s heart. “After your first attempted escape when I found you in the burial chamber, I heard you promise you would never try to flee again. Yet you have tried to force your way out of this great hall few days ago.”

Bilbo’s mouth fell open.

“I was trying to reach you, stupid dwarf!” he shouted, exasperated.

The hobbit tried to slip away, for Thorin’s presence was growing intolerable; but the dwarf moved closer and Bilbo found himself trapped. He pressed both his hands on Thorin’s chest, yet the dwarf did not bulge.

“I was sick with fear for your life, you ungrateful, dim-witted, clumsy dwarf!” Bilbo continued, slapping the dwarf’s chest.

His hands were shaking while he was blindly hitting Thorin. But Bilbo's voice, along with his hands, fell when he noticed a flash of pain twisting Thorin’s features - one of his wounds, probably. Bilbo paled and he would have probably babbled some excuse if his throat had not been so dry. The king’s hands were on the wall, as if he needed some support to stand on his feet. He was not touching the hobbit; but he loomed over him, until Bilbo could not see anything but Thorin's strong body dressed in leather and blue velvet.

“Is the best you can come up with?” Thorin asked. His voice did not betray but a slight tension.

Bilbo swallowed hard. There was something unpleasant in the way Thorin had trapped him against the wall, but he was not sure if the unpleasantness should be entirely ascribed to the king’s manners: Bilbo’s own feelings seemed much more deceiving than the dwarf himself.

The hobbit knew all too well how unwise speaking would be, but he could not help it.

“I do care for your life,” Bilbo whispered, too tired to lie.

That was it – what Thorin could think of it did not matter anymore.

“If I was dead, would you salute me?” the king asked.

Thorin's voice had a gentle coldness about it, and Bilbo shivered.

“Yes,” the hobbit replied, without even raising his head.

“What creature are you to be kind after what passed between us?” Thorin inquired. Now there was definitely something pained in his voice, pained and tired; as if Thorin was unable to believe Bilbo’s words and somehow resigned to be deceived by them. “Is it a trick or you are offering me forgiveness?”

“I have not forgiven you,” Bilbo replied swiftly, to hide the tremor in his body.

“No, you haven’t,” Thorin stated.

Bilbo wanted to take a look at Thorin’s face, but the dwarf was too tall and too close, and his face was hidden in shadows: Bilbo could not fathom Thorin's expression and this deepened his apprehension. Then Bilbo felt the fur and the velvet of the dwarf’s clothes brushing his face and his chest, while the light of the torch grew fainter behind Thorin’s body shielding his. The hobbit gave a little squeak of surprise, but he lost his breath when Thorin’s hand touched his thigh.

It was such a preposterous idea that Bilbo did not realise immediately it was really happening. He could remember quite well each time Thorin had touched him intentionally, and he was sure he had never put his hand on his thigh like he was doing now. It could not be real - it was, in fact, so bizarre and unexpected that Bilbo’s mind took some time to register it and even then he could not come up with a proper response. It was as if his thoughts were detached from his body, and as if his body was an unknown land.

By the time Thorin’s fingers grazed lightly his trousers, slowly tracing their way to Bilbo’s waist, the hobbit was frozen on the spot. Bilbo's mind was racing, and his heart was barely able to keep up with it. He closed and opened his mouth a couple of time, but no voice would come.

The dwarf’s touch was hesitant, like he did not know exactly what he was aiming for. His fingers wandered on the seam of Bilbo’s trousers for what seemed an eternity. Eventually Bilbo heard the soft snap of one of the braces coming undone and he felt his trousers slipping down his waist.

“What...” he murmured, trying to come up with the right question.

What are you doing would not do at all, because it was quite plain what Thorin was doing: he was undressing him of his trousers. And Thorin was doing quite a good job of it, considering that he was not looking at Bilbo but simply guessing his way with his fingers. Bilbo sensed the slow, ginger movements of the dwarf’s hand moving to the other brace: felt the urge of pinching himself to wake up from that strange reverie. Soon the trousers fell down to Bilbo's ankles with just a little push from Thorin and an half-hearted attempt to keep them up on Bilbo’s part.

White fire burned in Bilbo’s belly and his body seemed on the verge of being swept away, like ashes in the wind. It was only when he felt the fingertips on his bare skin that Bilbo came to his senses again and understood that it was real. Real like the smell of Thorin’s body close to his – a warm smell of leather and fire smoke, cedar and rain. Rain. He could feel it in Thorin’s clothes, and in the long hair that almost brushed his head, because the dwarf had to bend a little to reach the hobbit’s skin with his hand.

Bilbo inhaled deeply, dreaming of the autumn rain he could not see nor taste in his huge prison, and suddenly Thorin’s fingers were sliding over the inside of his left thigh, drawing swirls and circles. Bilbo closed both his hands on Thorin’s fur lined coat like someone drowning. The tips of Thorin’s fingers moved on, climbed Bilbo’s thigh leaving a soft burn behind - the gentle roughness of the skin used to cold winters and hard work – and then slipped under the dangling hem of Bilbo's shirt.

Bilbo arched a little in the contact, excited by the scaring intimacy of having Thorin’s thumb drawing the roundness of his belly, a little pudgy from his dinner. The thumb reached the edge of the hobbit’s navel, and then dipped in it; nothing more a light pressure of the thumb on the tender, hidden flesh – and strangely Bilbo’s mind tried to guess how it would have been to have Thorin’s lips there, his tongue plunging the little hole of his navel. There was a sound in Bilbo’s ear, a sigh he did not realise it was also in his mouth - the dwarf’s breath caught.  

The other fingers joined the thumb and Thorin’s hand cupped Bilbo's belly - an impossibly warm palm caressing Bilbo's flesh under the shirt and then down; down to his thigh again, playing on the soft skin over the bulge of his hip bone; then following the trail of fine, curly hair on his groin. The fingers stopped, just brushing Bilbo's sensitive skin down there. Thorin was still: he did not take away his hand and the other one was on the wall, not far from Bilbo’s head; but he seemed nervous and rather uncertain.

Bilbo took a deep breath and realised to be half-hard. Thorin surely knew, too. The hobbit’s cheeks grew red and hot: he suddenly made for his trousers, trying to retrieve them from his ankles. But Bilbo's movement pushed Thorin over the edge and the dwarf's hand covered Bilbo’s crotch; a deep moan was forced out from Bilbo's throat, a completely unhobbit-like sort of sound. The warmth of Thorin’s hand was pleasant, almost suffocating; there was a promise of gentleness in the way Thorin's fingers teased and caressed, soon coaxing Bilbo’s flesh into full hardness and sharpening the pressure in the hobbit’s loins.

Bilbo had not forgotten about his trousers. He knew they could still be reclaimed to put an end to that, but he found impossible to move at all. He was flat against the wall, Thorin looming over him, and each move would have brought the hobbit against the king’s limbs. Bilbo was not sure he could survive to more closeness than this; nor did he dare to struggle with Thorin, to reach and touch and... oh, the mere idea sent a bolt of liquid fire through Bilbo's shaking body.

He made a sound when Thorin stroke him the first time, and it was not at all the sound he had intended to make – it was desperate and eager, and Thorin took it as an encouragement. The dwarf’s thumb rested lightly on the tip of Bilbo’s cock, forcing the hobbit to close his eyes. The thumb moved, feather-like at first; then swirling on the swollen, damp flesh until Bilbo’s hips moved, pushing against the dwarf’s hand: Bilbo was rewarded by the strong hold of Thorin on his cock and the quick strokes which followed.

Bilbo was grateful for the wall, because he would surely have slipped to the ground if he had not been supported by the wall and Thorin himself. The hobbit's head was spinning and he was no longer able to repress the little moans escaping from his mouth. They were not very loud, but nonetheless they were the only noise in the deserted hall, along with the scraping of their bodies against the walls and the rustling of their clothes.

Thorin was quiet, so quiet that Bilbo could have thought him miles away if not for his hand and the smell of rain surrounding him. What are you doing? Now the question seemed much less trivial than before. Because Bilbo had not the slightest idea about what Thorin Oakenshield was doing to him: there was pleasure, a great amount of it; but Bilbo's mind was still looking for a reason for what was happening. A part of Bilbo suspected that Thorin was trying to break him, in quite a twisted way; yet that voice in the hobbit's mind grew feebler and feebler, until it vanished at the sheer excitement filling Bilbo, body and soul.

He could not think anymore: it had been such a long time since he had been touched in this way and nothing could be compared to the rough pleasure Thorin was giving him - Thorin was beyond comparison, ever been so. And what Thorin was doing, oh dear, it was reckless and gritty in a very unhobbit fashion. There had been other hands in Bilbo's past, but never in this hot-blooded way, trapped against a wall with his trousers down to his ankles and the feeling he could not hold back anything.

Was it dwarvish fashion or just Thorin?  

Thorin’s hand had just found a delicious, urging rhythm; his big fingers curled around Bilbo's heated flesh, and the hobbit felt his pleasure quickly rising to the surface. He pressed his face against Thorin’s coat, muffling the soft cry which escaped his throat when he came. Bilbo's hips bucked a little and he felt the warm semen trickling down his thighs. The thought that it was also on Thorin’s hand made him dizzy.

But he had no time to worry about this or what he could say to Thorin: the King under the Mountain backed away as soon as Bilbo had spent all his pleasure. The hobbit, not supported anymore, collapsed on the ground. He hardly felt the cold stones beneath his naked butt, still too confused and washed-out to think straight. He just sit there, his knees slightly trembling and his eyes unfocused. When he could see clearly again, he discovered that Thorin Oakenshield had disappeared.

Not a single word had passed between them nor a tender gesture. Thorin had just left him half-naked, the skin of his thigh a bit sticky and his cock now soft and pink. Bilbo scowled at it, and then hit his head with his own hand.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid hobbit,” he murmured, squeezing his eyes.

It had not lasted more than few minutes, he knew; but it felt like a year.

He would have thought it an hallucination except for his nakedness and the smell of rain still hanging on his fingers - oh, those fingers that had been clutching Thorin’s clothes until the end of their intercourse. The word ‘intercourse’ seemed quite right to Bilbo and the only one he could use without choking on his own fears and desires.

Oh, it was not as if Bilbo had never thought about Thorin’s hands on him. He had, more than once: he had soon found the dwarf’s appearance appealing, his character interesting – annoyingly so. He had supposed, at the beginning, that his fascination it was part of his foolish idea of going on an adventure: Thorin was part of the deal, as well as wargs, dark places, and spiders. 

Bilbo had always tried to separate his commitment to the dwarves’ cause and his admiration for Thorin - a wilful, stubborn leader and exiled prince - from the thoughts on Thorin's strong body and piercing gaze. But Bilbo had indulged himself, fancying those hands shaped from a rough life, and those eyes...unwillingly though, because it was dangerous and probably unfair toward someone who was heir to a throne. Yet Bilbo had taken comfort in the idea that his fantasies were so preposterous that he had not needed to be worried by the possibility of acting accordingly to those dreams of his.

It was like thinking about burning Lobelia’s garden: it might be a pleasant scene playing in Bilbo's mind when his cousin proved particularly annoying; but Bilbo would never really try to burn Lobelia's garden, no matter how much bossy and noisy Lobelia could get.

Well, now the garden had been burned down to ashes, and Bilbo had to deal with it.

As soon as Bilbo was able to stand on his feet, he staggered towards the water bucket: he scrubbed himself clean, trying to avoid the thoughts of where and how Thorin had touched him. When he had finished his skin was a bit raw, but the hobbit did not care. He dressed again, changing all his clothes and checking for tale-telling stains on the trousers.

Then Bilbo went back to his letter for Gandalf. This time he knew exactly what he had to write.  

 

Dear Gandalf, I need you to come back to Erebor.   

Chapter Text

Most people are inclined to think that a warrior's motives are always connected with his lust for blood and glory. Indeed Dwalin was keen on honour and duty; but it was his desire to protect the ones he cared for which made him grab his axe.

As Balin usually put it:

“My brother is not homicidal, just protective.”

Right now, for instance, Dwalin felt quite protective toward his king. And this was expressed in a myriad scowls and threatening glances that Dwalin devoted with great equality among the other dwarves, and with even a greater generosity among men and elves. Dwalin knew very well that he could not lift the weight of the crown from Thorin’s head, nor could he soothe Thorin's pain for the loss of his nephews; still Dwalin hoped to encourage anyone to act with some wisdom when in presence of the King under the Mountain and his loyal companion.   

In truth, Thorin was in a strange mood lately. Not only he had almost died from his wounds after the battle, but ascending to the throne was proving a more difficult task than any of them could have ever imagined. It was not just about rules, diplomacy, and a whole kingdom to restore to its former glory; they had paid the highest price to win back their home: the dead were a burden they would carry for the years to come, and they would be haunted by their memories for the longest time.

Dwalin had never thought ill of Thorin’s reaction to Kili and Fili’s death. He implicitly trusted his king, nor had he shared Balin’s opinion about Thorin’s excessive detachment. A dwarf should be allowed to keep his feelings to himself if he wishes to, Dwalin thought, and he had been rewarded when even his brother had admitted that Thorin’s sorrow had just been hidden under the surface.

Despite this, Dwalin had taken notice of something unusual in Thorin’s behaviour.

The king was recovering splendidly from his wounds, and he took part in an increasing number of activities required by his status. Dain would go back to the Iron Hills as soon as the trial of the burglar would take place. They needed Dain to preside it – Thorin could not be both the accuser and the judge at the same time, and there was no one nobler than Dain to take such role in the trial to come. It would also be a chance to demonstrate how well the two cousins could work together for the honour of their kin and the sake of Erebor throne.

But Dwalin did not like at all the rumours spreading about Thorin and the burglar. The fame of the burglar had increased since the end of the battle: every dwarf, man and elf seemed waiting for the trial, and the name of the Arkenstone was enough to arise curiosity and gossiping, although the stone was still kept in Thorin’s rooms and had not even appeared on the coronation day. Yet, despite the murmurs, the king had not decided the day of the trial yet. Dwalin was under the unpleasant impression that Thorin was not too eager to face the trial, but he could not think of a good reason to delay further something that would be unpleasant for all the parts involved.

“We should think to place the burglar elsewhere,” Dwalin said to the king, that morning.

Thorin seemed distracted, but they had already started their tour of the western wing, where teams of dwarves were working at a new series of lodgings for common miners and artisans: the king wished to take a look at the project and speak with the Iron Hills engineers coordinating the efforts.

“I have already thought about it,” Thorin answered, after a while.

“Then give me the order and I’ll see to it myself,” Dwalin offered. 

“When I say that I have thought about it I mean that I’ve already given my orders,” Thorin explained, a bit stiffly. “The halfling will be transferred as soon as possible.”

Dwalin frowned. As soon as what? It was not a big deal, but he was a bit taken aback by the idea that Thorin had not thought about informing him of his decision about the burglar. After all Dwalin was completely on his king’s side on that subject: since the other dwarves of the company seemed less inclined to remember the burglar’s betrayal, Dwalin would have at least appreciated Thorin’s confidence on the subject.

“Well done,” he said, shrugging, “and I suppose you’ve chosen the day for the trial too.”

“I haven’t,” Thorin admitte, to Dwalin’s annoyance.

“But Dain must return to the Iron Hills before winter comes,” Dwalin pointed out. 

“He can surely spare some more time,” the king interrupted him, quite roughly. “I’ll deal with Dain. You know that none of us can be in the jury: we are all witnesses of the burglar’s deeds, and I do not wish to speak about it before the trial. What you have to say about the burglar will be left for that moment.”

“I didn’t intend to annoy you speaking of the halfling,” Dwalin protested, “I’m just worried about how much time he’ll be a burden for us all.”

“I’ve greater worries and more compelling duties than him,” Thorin said coldly.

“Yes, indeed you have,” Dwalin admitted, only to find himself interrupted again.                              

“I don’t want to hear any more words about the halfling.” 

This was clearly an order - Thorin had spoken as the King under the Mountain. Dwalin complied, but he wondered why Thorin seemed so unwilling to talk with him; he was sure he had done nothing to offend the king. Scratching his tattooed head and following Thorin down the large corridor leading to the lodgings, Dwalin took advantage of their walk to observe his king: Thorin was clearly still proved by his sickness, but there was also a new nervousness about him. It took Dwalin some time to notice it, but Thorin’s composure was unnatural that day, as if he was restraining himself.

Restraining from what?

Then Bofur came towards them, and Dwalin diverted his attention from the king to salute the other dwarf.

 

*

 

“Your Majesty, Dwalin, good day to you,” Bofur greeted them, smoothly.

Thorin was not sure whethere Bofur was serious or sarcastic when he called him Your Majesty; but he did not mind – Bofur was doing an excellent job in Erebor, and the king valued his qualities and his heart more than his words.

“Good day to you,” Thorin answered. “Were you looking for me? I thought you would be working at the gates today.”

“I’ll be there soon enough,” Bofur promised.

“Why are you here then?” Thorin asked.

Thorin sensed Dwalin’s eyes on him. He knew that he was being inquisitive: Bofur was free to wander wherever pleased him, but Thorin was under the impression that what pleased Bofur was calling on the halfling. There was no reason to suspect Bofur of having visited the treasure hall that very morning, for the western lodgings were not on its way. Nonetheless, Thorin could not mistake the hint of merriment in Bofur’s eyes: it was the peaceful look his dwarves were inclined to wear after a meeting with the halfling. The burglar seemed rather well-versed at entertaining them - Thorin gritted his teeth at the mere thought.

“I had some letters to send,” Bofur was explaining cautiously.

The toymaker seemed to have perceived some hostility coming from his king. Thorin could not blame Bofur, not really: he was feeling very hostile at the moment. He remembered quite well the halfling’s intention of writing to Gandalf the Grey: he had probably composed his damned letter and given it to Bofur. Obviously Thorin could not ask Bofur whose letters he had sent. Well, in truth he could, being the King under the Mountain; but he would not shame himself with such a question.

Moreover Dwalin seemed already too suspicious as it was.

“Very well,” Thorin said simply. He had almost made up his mind to dismiss Bofur as well as his thoughts of the halfling, when Bofur spoke.

“May I have a word, Your Majesty?” he asked, but he did not really wait for an answer. “I think that Bilbo Baggins could do with a more comfortable accommodation.”

Dwalin snorted, and Thorin felt his own temper rising slightly.

“I do not see how more comfortable another accommodation could be: he does not suffer from hunger, thirst, cold or loneliness,” Thorin answered, feeling his voice faltering a bit on the last words.

“How could Your Majesty know?”

Bofur’s question hit Thorin with the force of a blow, and he had some difficulties at concealing it. For a moment Thorin feared that the burglar had spoken to Bofur about their night meeting, but he soon realized that the dwarf was just being impertinent and implying that the king did not care at all about the halfling.

“You should tie your tongue,” Dwalin suggested to Bofur harshly.

“Bilbo is my friend, and yours too,” Bofur retorted quietly, one finger playing with his long moustache.

“Has he complained about his accommodation?” Thorin asked, forcing himself to coldness.

“No, he hasn’t,” Bofur admitted, “because he’s too polite to do so. To be honest, he never speaks ill of you or your doing, Thorin. I suppose he doesn’t want to embarrass anyone: he’s even kinder than we could ever deserve.”

“That’s enough!” Dwalin exclaimed, quite shocked by Bofur’s attitude.

Even Thorin was a bit surprised by the toymaker's words. They were not what a king should endure from one of his subjects, but he considered Bofur more than that. Besides Thorin was secretly comforted by the idea that he could still count on the halfling’s discretion, and there was something rather pleasant, if puzzling, in it.

“Speak your mind, Bofur,” Thorin said, feeling quite inclined to forgive the dwarf his tone. “I do not ask anything different from you, even if your opinion and mine are very different on this subject. But I do mean to give the hobbit another accommodation. Others are already working on it.”

Bofur seemed a bit confused by the announcement and Dwalin deeply unsatisfied. But the former bowed and muttered his salute; while the other kept his annoyance to himself, more or less.Then Thorin and Dwalin then resumed their walk, but the king could not stop thinking about Bofur’s words.

Why the halfling had not spoken of the past night? Maybe he had thought that his voice would not be heard over the king’s. Was he scared? He might have been too mortified of what happened to speak of it.

Thorin knew that his behaviour had surprised the burglar. He had been surprised too – he would have thought to have a better hold on himself. His actions of the previous night had been shameful. The halfling was a prisoner, his to keep trapped in Erebor, his to consign to the dwarvish law. Yet Bilbo Baggins was not his to – what he had done? Thorin felt deeply wounded – his pride, surely it was his pride the ache in his chest; it had to be the thought of himself, a crowned king, failing to restrain his own will.

Thorin had hardly had any sleep the night before, after he had shut himself in his rooms back from the great hall. Only the sight of the Arkenstone, that he had taken out of its secret compartment to keep it in his hands, had faded the images crowding his mind. Thorin had been able to rest a couple of hours before dawn came, and even then his erection had been so painfully hard to force him to a cold bath. The thought of pleasuring himself on the halfling’s account was even worse than pleasuring the halfling.

Nothing good could come from it. He had to do his best to master this weakness.

Thorin fought with all his strength the consciousness that he had actually been thrilled by what had happened with the halfling; but memories of the previous night kept poisoning his thoughts in the most treacherous way. Even while the engineers were speaking to him, Thorin's mind drifted away. He wondered how much experienced the halfling was – he had been very responsive to his touch, but Thorin suspected that the burglar had not a great amount of confidence or practice on his side. Still, given the circumstances, what happened was unexpected and bewildering, and Thorin had never been up to many riddles.

The halfling was not completely innocent; but there were surely boundaries to cross, a resistance to tease, a bit of shyness to be seen burning the burglar’s soft cheeks...Thorin gave a start that worried the engineers and Dwalin. He had to come up with some brisk questions about the state of the work, and he was quite sure that the other dwarves were trading perplexed glances at his behaviour. He eventually succeeded in pushing away those dangerous thoughts and decided to spend the rest of his day like the king he was born to be.

Chapter Text

It was Bofur’s doing.

Thorin would have been able to focus on his duties if not for the dwarf who kept appearing at every corner. Once he was visiting Bifur in the infirmary, another at the gates – the fact that in this case he was exactly where he should have been did not comfort Thorin at all; then in the dinner hall, and in some anonymous corridor on the third level of the Mountain. Dwalin did not seem to mind, not really, maybe because Bofur had not tried to take further their disagreement. Actually, Bofur had not spoken at all besides the usual greetings and some communication on the state of the work regarding his laundry project.

Yet, the mere sight of the toymaker made Thorin uneasy.

It was not his conscience shaking at the reproach he had received that very morning. It was a sense of annoyance at the idea of the amount of time that Bofur spent in the treasure hall. He had known for some time of the sympathy between Bofur and the burglar, since that night on the Misty Mountains, when the halfling had intended to leave the company and Bofur had been on watch.

It did not matter, obviously. Let the halfling keep his friends.

But Bofur’s appearances just ended up reminding him of the burglar imprisoned in the great hall. Thorin’s efforts to avoid thoughts about the halfling were consequently disappointed. After dinner, the king shut himself in his quarters, without even stopping to talk with Balin as he usually did in the evening.

The sound of flutes and laughter died behind the closed doors of his bedroom. He paced the room in long strides, like a wildling in a trap, muttering curses in Khuzdul under his breath.

He resorted to the Arkenstone: he raised it against the light of a candle and got lost in the ever changing flare that blossomed from the depths of the stone. He did not know how much time he had spent simply admiring the beauty of the Arkenstone, but when he turned away his head his blood was rumbling in his veins and he hastily pushed the gem in the secret compartment.

Then Thorin was storming out of his rooms.

The guards at the door of the treasure hall did not flinch at the sight of the King under the Mountain. They had been chosen for their loyalty and discretion and it took only a gesture from Thorin to send them away. They did not argue about his orders – they were both descendants of families which had served Thrain and Thror before him and joined the dwarves of the Iron Hills only after Smaug’s arrival: they had been raised to obey the rightful king and they would not expose him.

Although part of the great treasure had been delivered to elves and men its vastness seemed scarcely undermined: hills of pure gold and a blossom of intricate jewels welcomed the King under the Mountain. A deep thrill burned in his body at the sight of the precious treasure, that was his to look at, to touch, even to waste. Thorin closed his eyes, savouring the powerful feeling coming from ownership – it was not just about what the gold could buy him, for it was important in the same way his eyes and his hands were: part of him, sign of his status and his right to the throne – he had been forced to win it back to feel whole again. The Arkenstone was the heart of the Lonely Mountain, and there was no difference between the king and the Mountain, the ruler and his kingdom; so the Arkenstone was Thorin’s very heart and he did not want to be parted from it more than he wanted to lose a hand or an eye. And the treasure, oh, the treasure was the blood chanting in his veins.   

Thorin sighed quietly, contemplating the treasure with a lover’s tenderness, and stopped several times to examine an exquisite jewel or a handful of pink diamonds.

 Later he would told himself that it had been Bofur’s doing, and the burglar’s - he would have contented himself with walking among his treasure, if the halfling had not appeared behind a pile of gold.

 Apparently, the halfling had heard his steps in the hall. He had always complained of the dwarves’ noisiness and Thorin had to admit that the burglar was one of the most silent creatures that had ever walked around him. Of course it was a very useful skill for a burglar, but Thorin did not like the idea that the halfling could come upon him without warning. This was, from the king’s point of view, the second miscalculation committed by the burglar. The first one was not being deeply asleep, and for the second night in a row.

Third, the halfling opened his damned little mouth.

“I do not want to discuss what happened and I’ll be very grateful if you would keep to my wish, thank you very much,” he started, wearing the most polite expression on his face.

The burglar seemed always so worried about manners. He was all courtesy and tact, but Thorin knew better than believing it more than a mask: the burglar had proven himself much more dangerous than his mannerism had let him think on their first meeting.

Grocer – he had been a fool to be deceived so easily by honey curls and a soft belly. 

Even now he could recognize the firmness of the halfling’s gaze. His posture was hesitant and he had grasped his braces with more strength than necessary, but his blue-grey eyes had the brightness of hard stones about them. Bilbo Baggins was no warrior and he barely endured any hardship, but he possessed a kind of perseverance of his own, able to wear down nobler and more tempered spirit than his.

And that was exactly what enflamed Thorin.

The burglar did not wish to talk, didn’t he? Then, Thorin suddenly did.

“We need to talk,” he muttered, haughtily, clenching his jaw.

“We don’t,” the halfling fought him, stubbornly.

“I am bounded to explain,” the dwarf tried again, forcing himself to remember where his thoughts had led him the whole day, round and round the same corner.

“Explain what? That you intended to...” Bilbo stopped, and his loss of words was unexpected enough to encourage Thorin to raise again his head. “Well, what did you want from that?” the burglar asked, more than a bit stiffly.

Thorin looked at the halfling and words came to his mouth.  

“Pleasure. Yours.”

Foolish words.

Bilbo was probably thinking the same, because the dwarf saw him shaking his head.

“I am aware that this is all awfully embarrassing,” the burglar continued, ignoring Thorin’s glare, “but I deem very important to talk about things like that as two mature...well, as a grown up dwarf and a grown up hobbit should do. We could think of it – if you happen to think of it, I mean – as a slip. We were both confused and quite emotional at the time, and no hard feelings on my part, I suppose I could say it has been a pleasure, but don’t let us lose sight of the main point here. That is to say that we should not really talk about it, but talk about not talking about it.”

The halfling was struggling with his own words. Thorin was under the impression that he had prepared his speech very carefully, and he was delivering it as quickly as his tongue permitted him, probably because he was afraid of being interrupted.

“On my part, I can assure you I have the strongest will to move on as swiftly and quietly as possible from that...that thing,” Bilbo went on, but he eventually took in Thorin’s expression. Whatever he had read on the king’s features, made him shiver. “I guess you are not exactly in the mood of talking about friendship,” he babbled, “but we could just call it a truce, you know.”

The halfling had almost lost his voice, but Thorin did not reply at all nor he moved. Still the burglar had probably worked out something from his face or his body, because now he seemed quite worried, like he could be in front of a wild beast ready to attack.

For a moment, Thorin thought that the halfling was going to run. He almost hoped it.

“But it’s absolutely fine by me if you want to keep up with your usual cold self and the occasional fit of rage followed by mixed accusations and not too veiled allusions about the uselessness of a hobbit. It’s really, really pleasant once one starts to think about it,” the halfling prattled away.

At this moment he did not even know what he was saying and Thorin was not really listening anyway. The burglar attempted to smile, but his lips twitched from nervousness.

Thorin moved quickly, his mind emptied of any proper thought. He saw the halfling opening his eyes in surprise, and then he found his waist with both his hands. He closed his fingers around it, grabbing the burglar and raising him from the floor. He sensed the little body going stiff, and then explode in an attempt to slip away from his grasp.

It was like trying to handle a fish – but Bilbo’s body was much more warmer.  

He did not go too far. He moved a few paces, carrying the wriggling halfling with him, and then put him down, sitting on a big wooden chest. The burglar was so shocked that Thorin had to keep him straight, with his hands now on his shoulders. Bilbo’s face was pale and alarmed. He opened his mouth, but this time the king prevented him.

“Well?” he asked, almost breathlessly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the burglar replied, but his pupils had been blown out, black and large to devour the precious blue-grey of his eyes.

Thorin was no longer keeping him in place, but simply observing the little creature sitting before him, his big, hairy feet dangling from the chest. He waited, in silence, trying to give a name, in his head, to what was dawning on the burglar’s soft features. And the dwarf was so compelled by the quick flutter of light lashes over Bilbo’s eyes, that he almost missed the tender breath of the halfling’s answer.

“Yes.”

“No talking then,” Thorin said, his voice deep as a bottomless pit. The halfling blinked.

“I did not mean this when I said we should not talk...” he attempted to say, but his words betrayed a strong emotion. Thorin was not surprised, for he was dominated by the same craving and he was pleased at recognize it in the burglar’s tone.

He saw Bilbo’s lips opening again, but this time he moved his right hand to the burglar’s cheek and rested his thumb on his mouth, sealing it with a light pressure. Bilbo’s eyes became wider and Thorin remembered the way he had fondled the tip of the halfling’s cock with that same finger. He felt the tiny, warm lips under his thumb and the way the burglar’s breath was wetting it. He almost startled when the lips parted a little.

The halfling’s face had grown pink, but his eyes did not leave the king.

Thorin licked his own lips and the burglar – unconsciously? – parted his a little more. Thorin’s thumb slid slowly on the inside of the lower lip, just grazing the hobbit’s teeth. And then Bilbo closed his mouth, trapping the tip of the finger between his lips and teeth. Thorin sucked in a breath, but he took in the way the halfling had closed his eyes and how his cheeks were burning red like embers.

He removed his thumb, slowly, pleasing himself with the sight of Bilbo’s lips shaped in a delicious ‘o’. His thumb left a little wet spot on the burglar’s chin, before Thorin shifted his hand on the halfling’s shoulder, to get rid of the braces.

As usual, the halfling was dressed with overall simplicity, in a white shirt and trousers kept up by braces; no boots for his big, hairy feet, nor jewels on his body. For a moment, the king bathed in the thought of cold metal and precious stone against Bilbo’s fair, creamy skin.

He clenched his teeth and briskly pushed the burglar with his back on the chest lid. Bilbo arched a little and a puff of warm breath escaped his lips. In the torchlight his hair was shimmering with gold and Thorin had to force away his eyes to avoid the temptation of touching it.

Instead, he busied himself with the halfling’s trousers. Thorin placed a knee on the chest and leant a little over the halfling, one hand to sustain himself and the other to roam over the burglar. He found the opening of his trousers and pushed the little buttons out of their holes. Bilbo had raised himself on his elbows and he was following his movements with his head slightly tilted on his left shoulder.

He did not dare to move away from Thorin’s hand, but the king felt the raw tension clenching his belly. He moved away his knee and clasped his hands on Bilbo’s hips, pulling his body to the edge of the chest: with the halfling’s legs dangling over the edge it was quite easy to free him from the trousers.

Thorin did not linger about it, undressing the hobbit in a very business-like fashion. He tossed the trousers away and this time he treated himself with the sight of the half naked burglar.

Although they had spent much time on the road to Erebor and there should have been plenty of chances to see each other out of their clothes, it was the first time Bilbo was actually half naked in front of him. Thorin had always suspected the burglar to be prudish, and ill at ease among the more brazen dwarves of the company.  The night before he had not taken his time to look – just one swift glance at the worn out hobbit crouched on the floor, before leaving him: he had been unable to endure anything more than that. But now Thorin’s blue eyes rested on Bilbo’s legs and the dwarf was surprised to discover that they were very unlike his feet – the skin was almost hairless and there was just a shadow of pale hair running down the thighs.

There were little bruises from his fight with the guards at the door and a knee was still blue and yellow. He gently brushed it and he sensed the halfling trying to shift away. He closed his finger harder on his hip and raised his eyes to meet the hobbit’s. With his butt over the edge of the chest, Bilbo could not raise the upper part of his body, but he tried anyway, with his lips closed and his eyes wide open.

Thorin frowned and gave a little pull, resulting in Bilbo slipping further towards him. A soft moan came from the halfling. Returning both his hands on the burglar’s knees, Thorin parted them, firmly, ignoring Bilbo’s little gasp of alarm and the sudden fit of embarrassment that made him attempt to cover himself with the hem of his shirt. Thorin just frowned at the ridiculous behaviour, but let the halfling have his little share of modesty, while he focused on savouring the velvety skin of the inner thigh. He kneeled down to do so, positioning himself between Bilbo’s legs and raising them till they were draped on his shoulders.

With his hands on the halfling’s hips he could keep him in place while his mouth rubbed on the naked skin – it had a peculiar softness and smelled of soap and something else, green and fresh like a field in spring, just a little sweetened by blossoming flowers. He bit the flesh gently, without leaving any mark, just to hear a little groan scraping the halfling’s throat.

Thorin hummed lightly, pleased by the way Bilbo’s legs were no longer tensing, and let his hands slip from the hips to the naked butt. The king’s hands were big enough to cover all the tender flesh, squeezing it in a way that made the burglar arch with a surprised whimper. Thorin took advantage of it and moved further between the halfling’s legs, until his nose slipped under the hem of the shirt and his breath run on the ticklish skin of the groin.

Bilbo’s hands released the shirt almost immediately, without a sound. Thorin saw the little fingers closing on the edge of the chest, the knuckles whitening from the sheer strength the halfling was employing to keep himself still. Thorin used his teeth to move away the shirt, and then observed the little hobbit squirming from shyness in the torchlight.

He was a bit annoyed by it. There was a point where modesty was not fascinating anymore and when he wished to look at the halfling’s naked flesh without wrestling for it was exactly that point. He pinched the cheeks in his hands and then licked a long strip of sweet skin from the inner thigh to the belly.

Satisfied with the renewed stillness of the burglar, Thorin observed him. After the previous night, he had a good idea about the hobbit’s size, but now he could confront it with the rest of the body laying before him  – it was simply flawless. Bilbo’s cock was perfectly proportioned to his body, pink and smooth, raised between his leg with a touch of insolence that made Thorin willing to eat the halfling whole.

The tip was glistening, soft red, and Thorin touched it with his lips. Another moan, hips bucking, but he raised the halfling to his mouth, and slid his tongue along the shaft. The skin was hot and silky, and the flesh firmer and firmer under his ministrations.

Thorin was very attentive to the noises coming from Bilbo’s mouth: whenever he found a way to strip him of another moan or whine, he tried to elicit some more of the same kind, repeating all the kissing, licking and sucking from the start. In his hands the burglar’s butt grew hotter and restless and Thorin had to restrain himself to remain focused on his cock and not just turn him on his belly to bite the heated flesh. Instead, he touched the head with a couple of fingers, pushing back the foreskin and teasing the little slit on the top with his tongue. Then he closed his mouth on the halfling’s cock and kept him still as much as possible when his hips shook wildly.

He heard the little creature babbling something, but the words were unintelligible – the tone in which they were spoken, on the contrary, was very, very easy to decipher. More. Thorin flattened his tongue and moved forward, slowly engulfing the cock, taking his time to suck it bit by bit. He felt the hobbit’s talons digging in his back and the way the skin of his thighs was damp from pleasure.

He knew that his beard and his hair were scrubbing the sensitive skin, and the thought of the pale body of the halfling made pink all over from it gave new malice to the brushing and stroking of his face on Bilbo’s crotch.

While sucking on the tip of the burglar’s cock, Thorin moved his left hand away from his butt, then he blindly searched for the buttons of the shirt, starting from the upper one and going down; in truth, a couple of buttons were not gently removed from their holes, but ripped out from the shirt – they fell on the chest and the floor with a tiny, useless sound.

But Thorin did not hear it, for he was much more interested in the skin now revealed by the open shirt. He raised his eyes, only the tip of the cock in his mouth, his tongue gently lapping away the moisture gathering there. Bilbo seemed unaware of being watched so intently – he did not even try to cover himself up and Thorin could not think of a good reason why he should.

His belly was a little round, the flesh pleasantly plump and limp under Thorin’s forefingers. A strip of golden hair run towards his pubis, almost white in the light of the torches, but the skin was milk-white, veiled in freckles on chest and shoulders. The nipples were a delicate shade of pink and soon Thorin wondered how much red they could get from sucking.

He closed tightly his blue eyes, tossing away the image of that body he could still ravage with hands and mouth, trying to focus on more urgent matters, like the way Bilbo was shyly pushing up his hips, looking for some sort of relief, his cock brushing between the dwarf’s lips. Thorin sucked at it, hard, making the halfling muffle a cry.

While his left hand wandered on the burglar’s chest and belly, tracing a complex path and pinching his nipples from time to time, Thorin devoured every inch of the cock, with his ears full of groaning and please and all the delightful sounds he had never known the halfling could produce.

He sensed the golden coins shifting under his knees and the rustling of precious metal mingled with Bilbo’s voice, cutting deeper and deeper in his lust.

His tongue circled and urged, for Thorin was consumed by the need of seeing the halfling coming undone between his lips, trusting him with his body and his pleasure.

It was the only kind of trust Thorin could hope for, after all.

He grasped the burglar’s ass with such strength that the halfling raised further his hips and soon spent himself in the king’s mouth. Thorin swallowed quickly, waiting for the halfling to stop quivering, and when his lips let go of the cock it was softer, and shiny with spittle and semen. There was a deep blush spread on Bilbo’s thighs, where the king had pressed his head, and his breath still came rough and short. Thorin slid his right arm around the hobbit’s waist and used it to shift him again on the chest, this time to make him rest more comfortably.

He felt Bilbo’s legs tensing, but he freed himself, trying not to look too much at the halfling’s body.  

“I’m sorry, sorry, so very sorry,” the little creature was stuttering, his voice nearly faltering.

He was trying to raise himself in a more appropriate position, but his body was limp from pleasure and his eyes seemed unfocused. Thorin froze, still a little bent over the burglar, with his soapy and musky smell in his nostrils and his throat raw from the recent effort.

“I did not intend to...your mouth...I couldn’t...” the halfling continued with his babbling, and eventually Thorin understood what was worrying him.

He wiped away the faint damp traces of semen from his lips and his beard, with the back of his hand. He could not help but licking the inside of his own mouth, frowning at the taste of the hobbit still lingering there.  

Thorin raised his head. He saw the bedroll not so far, the little candle almost consumed, the neat pile of blankets. Then his eyes turned back to the halfling, and his quite naked body wriggling a little under his gaze. Dark honey curls were stuck to the hobbit’s damp forehead, his face was glowing in the aftermath of pleasure. His eyes were half-closed, the blue-grey irises barely visible under the eyelashes.

Thorin knew that, if he dared to pick him up from the chest and carry him to the bedroll, he would end up fucking the halfling on the spot.

He clenched his jaw and covered his face with his hand, breathing a bit harder. No.  

He turned his back, before the halfling could say another word or even try to touch him. Then he left the great hall as quickly as possible, mentally cursing himself, Bofur and the burglar, not always in this order. When he got to his rooms, Thorin was barely able to make another step without collapsing or growling.

He had to lean against the wall, his forehead on the cold stone, his hands already fumbling with his trousers and tunic. It took him just a couple of pull to come over his fingers and he had to bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from groaning. From the secret compartment that he had forgotten open earlier, in the haste of reaching the great hall, the Arkenstone seemed to laugh at him with its brilliance.  

Chapter Text

It looks like I am engaged in a personal game with Thorin Oakenshield, but the rules are unknown to me and I am not even sure to have ever agreed to play at all, Bilbo Baggins thought, with a sigh.

He was not pleased in the least. He had not liked being left on the chest. He had been annoyed, and angry, but above all he had felt humiliated. He knew he had never had a chance to deny his pleasure once Thorin’s mouth had touched him in such an intimate way and he remembered quite well to have agreed to it, yet he would have probably changed his mind, had he had known he was going to be abandoned like an old rag doll.

It was not – Bilbo repeated himself – about tenderness. He did not dare to hope for it. He did not permit himself to think about it. It was about his dignity and the way Thorin was threatening it. It would have been so much better if they had remained with the yelling and accusing part of their relationship.

If they could not be friends, Bilbo did not wish to be His Majesty’s pastime.

He was not able to understand Thorin’s behaviour. Before he had left the hall, Bilbo had seen a shadow of sadness in his piercing blue eyes – it had hurt him. Was it a convolute plan to torture him? Had Thorin lied when he had said to be looking for his pleasure? Maybe dwarves, contrary to hobbits, saw certain activities like a punishment and a demeanour – sex was not exactly the kind of subject Bilbo had deemed important to discuss with thirteen dwarves, nor with a wizard, during their journey.

Besides, Bilbo Baggins seldom talked of sex at all. It made him shy and doubtful. He had had a few experiences in the past: a couple of lovely lasses he had kissed under a porch covered in wisteria, and three or four even more lovely lads that had pleased him with hands and mouth. Then there had been that time when some Lobelia’s unnamed cousin had taken him in the backyard after an especially animated party and he had ended up losing his virginity with her, without even knowing if he wanted to. They had tried to marry him more than once, but he had always refused the prospect of a long term relationship.

Anyway, none of this mattered at the moment.

Thorin Oakenshield was not exactly a lad to roll in straw with, nor he had tempted to kiss him or woo him. There was nothing of that in sight. There was not even a relationship, for the Shire’s sake!

It was much more plausible that the king wanted to put him to test.

But even the most prudish part of Bilbo could not deny the fact that it had been nice. Actually Thorin had looked deeply interested in making it so. Nice in a sort of dwarvish way, a bit rough and without endearing words, but every details of what passed between him and the king left Bilbo with his head lighter and his blood thicker.

On the other side, the thought that he had been the only one undressed, handled – and a lot of other things whose memory made him blush – made Bilbo doubt the property of their intercourse. It even tempted him, in a way that he did not care to explore further, because it would lead easily to thoughts of pleasing Thorin Oakenshield and it was a very dangerous path to step on.

Forcing himself on a much less threatening trail of thoughts, Bilbo longed to know what would happen next. At the beginning, that is to say the following morning, he considered himself rightfully worried by the possibility of Thorin’s return to the great hall. He scarcely eat, and ended up with Balin fussing about his lack of appetite.  

“You have spent here too much time,” the old dwarf complained, looking at him to find other signs of sickness. “You need to go out, to stay in the rain and in the wind. You are not made for dark caves and cold stones.”

Bilbo nodded, even if the idea of the late autumn chill did not encourage him at all. And he was not even sure he could take pleasure in the rain without thinking of the King under the Mountain and the smell of his clothes while...

“Are you even listening?” Ori interrupted his thoughts, a bit perplexed.

“Oh, sorry, I’m very sorry. What were you saying?”

And this happened two or three time more: Ori, Balin or Bofur would try to engage him in a conversation, but Bilbo’s attention would drift away, picturing the night ahead in the darkest shade his mind could conjure.

 

Night came at last, but Thorin did not.

Bilbo fell asleep at dawn, having spent most of the night worrying about how he could escape the king’s grasp. For the little hobbit was going to reject the King under the Mountain. He told himself so, many times. He had given up to his own temptation, but it was a mistake Bilbo was not going to repeat.  

When the guards brought him food to break his fast, the hobbit welcomed them with more kindness than ever and he was not even touched by the fact that they answered in growls. He kept repeating in his mind how much glad he was to have had the night to himself and mentally renewed his hope to never face Thorin again. Not alone, at least.

He almost succeeded in ignoring the soft pang of disappointment in his chest.

The following night passed in the same fashion, but in the afternoon Dori and Nori came to visit him. It was the first time they met after the theft of the Arkenstone. Ori had always claimed that his brothers were too busy with the king’s orders to spare some time, but Bilbo was quite sure that the two dwarves were not very pleased with him and they did not wish to upset their king.

But he was glad to see them at last. He greeted them at his best, until Dori and Nori were sitting with him; Balin soon joined them, bringing chestnut bread with sweet cheese. Dori was a bit stiff at the beginning, while Nori was more talkative and kept asking Bilbo about the Shire market.

“You know,” Nori was saying, “there is a good chance to restore Dale to what it was so many years ago and this means the trade shall be one of the most important source of income for the town people. My share of the treasure shall suffice me with the means to start a profitable business.”

Bilbo did not miss the slightly worried expressions on Balin and Dori’s faces, but he smiled at Nori’s words. 

“I suppose we are quite satisfied with the state of the market in the Shire,” he explained, “but I do not know if hobbits would be eager to expand their trade so far from home.”

“Why not?” Nori asked, frowning. “If half of them is just half like you, Mr Baggins, we...”

“There is no one like me,” Bilbo said, surprising even himself.

Sadness came over him, for the little hobbit had no place in Erebor nor in the Shire anymore.

Balin coughed slightly, Nori seemed baffled by the hobbit’s reaction, but Dori took chance to change the subject.

“Mr Baggins, I feel we owe you an explanation. I do not approve what you did regarding the Arkenstone business,” he declared, slowly, “and I think our king has the right to see you tried for it. But I also believe you acted from friendship and not from greed. Let us be friends again, Mr Baggins,” he concluded, offering his right hand. Soon Nori did the same and Bilbo shook hands with them gladly, pushing aside his regrets.

“Has the king decided the date of the trial?” Nori asked to Balin.

“No, he has not,” Balin admitted, taking a look at Bilbo. The hobbit tried to keep an air of indifference.

“Well, he’s too occupied with Erebor and Dale,” Dori remembered them, “I wasn’t even sure he would be able to spare time for the hunt.”

“The hunt?”

Bilbo’s interest was picked up and his eyes turned to Dori.

“Yes, we had a hunt party to explore the neighbourhood: as long as the dragon had been in the Mountain, all kinds of animals had deserted this land, but now they are coming back and soon we shall be able to supply Erebor with fresh meat and pelts. I and Nori are appointed to the task of investigating the state of the land. We have already talked with men and elves, and Ori is helping us with a more detailed map of the region, but Thorin had never come with us before.”

“It was a bit strange, you know,” Nori smiled, “him being the King under the Mountain now, but I suppose it was all right and he seemed in real need for distraction. Ruling must be very boring,” he said, earning a sigh from Dori.

“It is his duty and honour,” his brother replied, “but it’s true that Thorin seems very proved by it. And we know well the price we’ve paid in the battle,” he added, bitterly.

“Aye, aye. At least we have offered him a pleasant distraction,” Nori agreed.

“You should have seen him!” Dori exclaimed, unusually cheerful. “I have never cast my eyes upon a better hunter.”

“Who, Thorin?” Bilbo asked, his voice a bit weak.

“Who else? Our King under the Mountain is a great warrior, but watching him in the hunt is a pleasure. He has strength and cunning, and he is not easily put off a trail once he had set his mind to it. We were on the traces of some wild boars,” Dori began to describe, “and we thought we had lost them for good, but Thorin was sure that we could force them to face us. And he was right. Oh, there was the biggest boar I have ever seen, a monster with yellow fangs and a mischievous eye. It could have ripped open a pony with a single move of his huge head, but Thorin dealt with him in the most remarkable way, waving his spear like it was nothing, waiting for the right moment without a single flicker and then...woah!, the great boar laid at his feet, in a pool of its own blood!”

If Dori had not been so keen on his story and Thorin’s glory as a hunter, he would have taken notice of Bilbo’s paleness. But it took Balin to stop him in his tracks.

“I think we’ve got enough details, thank you,” he said, with a quiet smile, “Come on, little one, don’t look so sick. Hunting isn’t more dangerous than facing an orc and certainly a boar smells much better.”

“And his meat is delicious,” Nori added. “Another point to the advantage of boars over orcs.”

“But Thorin...” Bilbo stuttered, “...I mean, his wounds...dangerous...”

“Well, he seemed perfectly well on his pony. He’s recovering very fast,” Dori answered, shrugging.

“Yes, but surely there must be others to hunt boars and likely and provide the Mountain with meat...” the hobbit insisted, until the three dwarves were looking at him with the most curious expressions on their faces.

Then Dori, a bit stiffly, replied:

“Surely there are,” he agreed, “but that is hardly the point. Thorin joined our hunt party because he takes pleasure in it.”

Pleasure?

Bilbo’s voice reached a new pitch and Dori seemed to grow a bit uneasy with contempt.

“I suppose hunting is not a honoured tradition in the Shire. I suppose you have never hunted, Mr Baggins.”

“I...”

“I guess you hardly understand what makes a dwarf willing to go in search of wild boars. But Thorin does it for his pleasure. It’s not only about winning meat or pelts, but about the time it takes to approach the animal, the thrill of the long hunt through forests and over the hills, the defiance of the prey, the flee and the fight, till the final moment, when the prey is before your very eye and all the rest fades away.”

Bilbo swallowed hard, sensing cold sweat gathering on his back. 

“You must have already noticed, little hobbit, that we dwarves are quite possessive creatures,” Balin was saying, “and we take great pleasure in ownership. The noblest among us love to win their possession and the more difficult the task is, the more we cherish it. Hunting does not require only strength and courage, but a great amount of perseverance. Between the hunter and the game, the winner is the most stubborn one.”

Bilbo wanted nothing more than hide his face in his hands.

“Oh, think about this...” the old dwarf continued, merrily, “when Thorin was nothing but a toddler, he convinced himself that once a grown up dwarf he would become gamekeeper of his father’s lands!”

Dori and Nori laughed softly at the idea, but Bilbo could not.

Now he understood. I am the game

Chapter Text

Sleep did not come easily to him since the beginning of his journey. He remembered many, many nights spent rolling from side to side, hearing Bombur’s snoring or Fili and Kili quietly chatting away the thrill of the day just passed. Memories filled Bilbo’s mind once more, and he felt sad and alone in the great hall covered in treasures.

When he heard Thorin’s steps – this time he had no doubts about the identity of his visitor – he leaped on his feet, tossing away the blankets.

He did not know exactly what he was bound to feel, but he was feeling. A deep, unyielding emotion that forced him to greet the King under the Mountain when he had just approached his little campsite. Even if greetings is not the best word to describe Bilbo Baggins marching towards the dwarf, his arms stiff and his little hands closed in fists.

“How dare you?”

Believe it or not, but this fierce question was not Thorin’s. It was Bilbo’s. Even the king was taken aback and the hobbit revelled in the surprised look appeared on Thorin’s face.

The king was dressed in the elegant but sober clothes he had adopted once on the throne of Erebor, made to underline his impressive stature and noble bearing, with few details in leather and fur and silver. It could not be compared to the refined elvish fashion, but Thorin Oakenshield possessed a grace of his own, born from self-confidence, and pride, but also from sorrow.

There had always been a certain gravity in Thorin that made Bilbo regret to have met him so late in his life and not as the young prince he must have been before the mournful exile years. His hair had probably been darker and his beard longer and braided in the dwarvish fashion, maybe his eyes had been more easily filled with mirth and more tender the line of his mouth.

Yet, now that an older Thorin Oakenshield was before him, Bilbo’s chest ached from how handsome the king looked.

“Who do you think you are?” he asked, pushing aside his own temptation. But his voice was too loud even to his ears.

Thorin was still – his emotions, once again, unfathomable in the flickering torchlight. He tilted slightly his head.

“Oh, sure, you are Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain son of Thror, rightful King under the Mountain,” Bilbo went on, mimicking the king’s mannerism  in a way that would have won a laugh from many a dwarf, but obviously failed to amuse Thorin himself. Still the hobbit was unable to stop, once he had started. “Well, Your Majesty, I have a piece of precious knowledge for you, if you are not too high on your throne to listen to it,” Bilbo took a deep breath, like on the verge of diving at the bottom of a pond, “I am not one of your subject. I don’t want to challenge your crown or your authority or whatever you accuse me to, but I don’t want to be bullied around either. I won’t stand for it, no, no, I won’t stand quiet and peaceful if you keep doing whatever you are doing, with your going in and out, and sending away the guards and preventing my sleep. I need to sleep. I really, really need to sleep without worrying about what will amuse you for the night and if you’ll walk through the door or not,” Bilbo’s voice lost a little of its strength, but then he shook his head and put his hands on his hips. “I am Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, Your Majesty, and a very well-to-do hobbit. I am educated and respectful, I am no wildling to be chased and tormented, but quite a decent hobbit and I will be very grateful if you consider this very carefully in your mind, thank you very much.”

Bilbo had not prepared this speech, but he was quite proud of it, once he had closed his mouth in what he deemed could be taken for a very serious and resolute expression. At least until he took notice of Thorin’s look and he understood that it was not going to be a good night at all.

The king had not moved, few paces away from the hobbit, nor he had removed his hands from his belt. He had let him speak without betraying the faintest flicker of sentiment, but now something was slowly burning in his blue eyes, and Bilbo wondered if this was the kind of gaze he had reserved to the wild boar before killing it with his spear. Oh dear.

He considered the opportunity of running away or backing, but it could be exactly what the king was waiting for. There was a certain tightness about Thorin’s shoulders, as his strength was coiling in his body, ready to be released.

Indeed, as soon as Bilbo tried to turn his back on the king, he felt Thorin’s hand brushing his shoulder. The touch was kinder than he had expected, but this made him even angrier and the little hobbit twisted under it, to face again the dwarf. He used both his hands to push him away.

Thorin was not affected in the least by the hobbit’s effort, but he took a step back anyway, frowning.

“I am not a wild boar!” Bilbo repeated, heatedly.

This had much more effect than his ridiculous shove. Thorin was quite stunned and his eyes grew larger before narrowing again on the little creature before him, whose cheeks were flushing red. He was probably on the point of saying something, but Bilbo did not want to hear another attempt to make him feel a nuisance. He guessed that the comparison with the boar had bewildered the dwarf, and he looked for a better association of ideas.

“I am no deer!” he shrilled, growing more and more uneasy under Thorin’s unfaltering gaze.

Bilbo tried again to put some more distance between him and the king, resorting to express his irritation with another push, since the dwarf seemed impressed in the wrong way by his words. This time he put a bit more strength in it and it ended much worse, for Thorin did not flinch but Bilbo bounced back, losing his balance. He saw Thorin’s startled expression in a flash, and then the king moving fast to catch him before he could fall on his back.

But Thorin did much more than this. With his right arm around the hobbit waist, he brought their bodies one against the other, in a hold so gentle and warm to rob Bilbo of his breath.

His mind was immediately overloaded with the sensation of Thorin’s body pressed unto his own, the rich velvet brushing his simpler clothes, and through it he felt the bulk of the king’s large chest and even, even... Bilbo’s cheeks were aflame, his nostrils filled with the scent of rain that Thorin seemed to carry on himself, along with a warm aroma of firewood. His hands were trapped against the king’s chest, while Thorin was free to move his as much as he pleased him. And what delighted him at the moment was closing his left hand on Bilbo’s head, running thick fingers through his curls, grazing a little his scalp and keeping him in place while he lowered his head until his mouth was but a inch from the hobbit’s ear.

“No deer indeed,” he conceded, in a low purr that made Bilbo’s toes curl. “I’ve always thought of you more as a little bunny,” Thorin confessed, his breath licking the delicate shell of the hobbit’s ear.

And then he gently pushed Bilbo down on golden coins and silver jewels. It was like Thorin had never really stopped his fall, but only postponed it: suddenly they were both falling, burglar first and then the king. Thorin was polite enough to avoid crushing his ribs under his weight, but he planted his right knee between Bilbo’s legs and then covered the hobbit’s body, entrapping him on the precious bed he had favoured.

Bilbo was very willing to explain to Thorin that little bunny was but Beorn’s pet name for him and that he did not care much for it – in truth he found it a bit mortifying – but thoughts of the shapeshifter and his hospitality were wiped away by Thorin’s mouth just behind his ear, his tongue tapping on the thin layer of sensitive skin. Bilbo mewled and his head jerked a little, leaving his neck exposed.

Thorin’s was quick at catching the hint – at least quicker than Bilbo at understanding he had just given a hint – and his mouth swept down the hobbit’s neck, along with his left hand. The calloused fingers closed slightly on Bilbo’s throat, in the softest of pressure: it was not nearly enough to break his breathing, but it gave the hobbit a quite accurate idea of how easily the dwarf could snap his neck.

The thought made him tremble and he felt Thorin stop with his lips on his neck, and just a little of his teeth scraping the delicate skin. Then gentle kisses were delivered on his neck and the fingers traced a tremulous path under Bilbo’s chin, like the dwarf was quite willing to make him forget how much stronger he was and prove that he could trade in kindness and softness as well.

“I am the one chased by the thought of you,” the dwarf whispered, quietly, raising himself on his elbows. His blue eyes were searching Bilbo’s expression. “I don’t know where you’ve gained the preposterous idea that I’m hunting you while I’m trying to stay away from you as much as possible,” he confessed then, frowning. He moved his fingers through Bilbo’s hair and the hobbit’s eyes fluttered close. “If you feel tormented, we both are.”

Then, in one of the rapid mood changes that were customary for Thorin, the dwarf backed away, raising on his knees. Bilbo gasped for the sudden loss of the weight over him and his eyes snapped open. He saw the king looming over him, broad shoulders and thick braided hair, once again a figure from an old book, and not a creature with his own feelings.

“If you wish me to go, ask for it,” Thorin said, his tone a bit rough. “You don’t need to push me or to talk in riddles. You have risked to hurt yourself trying to hit me in that ridiculous way,” he sighed, and he made for getting on his feet. But the hobbit grabbed the king’s hand with his own and brought it to his lips. He kissed the knuckles and he saw Thorin’s eyes grew softer, and the dwarf kneeling again on the gold.

“I’m not really sleepy,” Bilbo murmured, his cheeks growing red.

Bilbo could not guess what was going on in Thorin’s mind. He could not even decipher what was happening in his. He had been so firm in his decision to refuse the dwarf’s attention and the idea of Thorin’s roughness had given strength to his intention. But the quiet, tamed look he had about him now made Bilbo ache. He released Thorin’s hand and moved his to remove the braces and then he struggled with the buttons of his shirt.

Suddenly, Thorin grabbed the front of the shirt and used his grasp to raise the hobbit into a sitting position. Bilbo found himself with his forehead pressed against Thorin’s nose and the dwarf’s hands clutching the hem of his shirt out of his trousers, to heave it above his head. Bilbo had no other chance than lifting both his arms, while Thorin was dragging the shirt up, in a swift movement that left some buttons dropping among the gold.

“Oh, not again...” Bilbo sighed, his voice muffled by the shirt still wrapped around his head. Another little pull and he was free, the shirt tossed away where he could not even see it, for Thorin was pushing him down again and this time his hand was flat against the hobbit’s chest. The contrast between the cold metal digging into his back and the king’s warm palm was nearly overwhelming, and the hobbit squirmed.

Nothing compared to the way he wriggled when Thorin’s mouth pressed not too far from his right nipple. It was not even a proper kiss rather than a brief taste of his skin, like Thorin was trying to measure his reactions. But it was enough for the hobbit to crave for more, for tongue and teeth and lips on his skin, for hot breath to chase away the iciness raising from the golden coins and seeping in his back.

Bilbo was suddenly embarrassed of the way his body was responding to the rough court of the king and his shyness came back, making him cross his arms on his chest, trembling a little. Something shifted in Thorin’s eyes, but he turned away his head before the hobbit could grasp its meaning. The next thing Bilbo knew was that Thorin was freeing him from his trousers. It was a quick business, as for the shirt, a bit of shuffling of their bodies and the chink of the golden coins under them, and then Bilbo was naked from head to feet.

Nakedness is quite a natural matter for a young hobbit. They go through spring and summer enjoying the warm kiss of the sun until their skin becomes pink and golden, and they take joy in bathing in ponds and running through fields and meadows without so much as a loincloth about them. But a grown-up hobbit leaves these juvenile pleasures behind him, and even if he smiles at the memories of his glorious naked days, he is usually well contented to trade them for the respectability of adulthood.

Consequently, Bilbo Baggins’ cheeks reddened at being undressed and exposed to the king’s gaze. Not a youth anymore, he was extremely conscious of his body and its flaws, and the whole circumstance did not possess the light atmosphere of a summer bath among green frogs and shrilling playmates.   

Oh, no, Thorin Oakenshield was the farthest thing from a shrilling playmate he could think of.

Besides Thorin did not care about his embarrassment, not enough to give him time to adapt to his gaze and to his touch. He simply wrapped the hobbit in them, sliding his big hands over his body, brushing and caressing him in a way that made Bilbo’s body boil and his mind spin. The strangest thing was that Thorin never lingered on the most sensible spot – he was still avoiding his nipples and his groin and his navel and his neck, for the Shire’s sake! – yet Bilbo was burning hot under his hands. He sensed his skin growing lightly damp and his muscles tensing, until his heels dug in the golden stacks, while he was trying to bring his pelvis in contact with the king’s thigh.

His confused movements met Thorin’s abrupt reaction, and Bilbo was again pressed down by the king’s weight. Thorin’s teeth were on his shoulder, nibbling at his skin, but the hobbit scarcely felt anything, for his entire senses were suddenly dull and came into focus only where Thorin’s groin was grinding into his. The king was still fully clothed, but there was no chance to mistake the bulge of his trousers, nor the way it was pressing against the hobbit.

It did not last long, anyway, and Bilbo was left whimpering, dazzled and unsatisfied.

But Thorin was not leaving. He saw him pull out of his tunic a little leather flask and even a respectable hobbit like Bilbo Baggins did not have doubts about its content. He was hardly able to swallow, while watching the king laying the flask on the gold and then stretching again over him, to close his hands on his waist.

He has planned this!, Bilbo thought, growing a bit alarmed.

Thorin flipped him on his stomach, in a single, smooth movement that let the hobbit with his warm belly on the freezing metal. The feeling on his cock was almost painful, but the coldness of the golden coins helped him to keep in check his erection before spilling himself like a wee lad hidden in the barn. Besides, Bilbo was really annoyed at the idea of being manipulated and the proximity of the flask stung his pride.

As soon as Thorin’s hands left his hips, Bilbo turned over again, to face the king.

Thorin was a bit startled and his gaze grew darker when he took in Bilbo’s defiance. His fingers found again their way on his hips, and the little hobbit was ready to fight him off, but things did not go as he had expected. Thorin’s fingers were much more gentler than such powerful hands would have let him think possible, and there was a silent question in the way they enclosed his flesh, like they were dealing with something very fragile.

And Thorin’s eyes, oh, his piercing blue eyes were hungry and pleading, and they still frightened Bilbo, but now he saw that Thorin was frightened too and this made him bolder. The hobbit stretched his legs, till he could wrap them both around the king’s waist, more or less. Thorin knitted his brows and for a moment Bilbo feared he was going to try again to turn him on his stomach.

I want to see you, he thought, for he could not speak while he was so shamelessly offering himself.

Eventually Thorin seemed to understand, for he nodded slowly, and his hands slipped on Bilbo’s thighs to reach his knees and calves, helping him to position himself in the most convenient way. In the stretch of his thighs, necessary to leave Thorin with enough space between his legs, Bilbo realised how much broader and stronger the king was.

He felt his panic slightly raising, while he was watching Thorin opening the flask and pouring a copious amount of oil on a couple of fingers of his right hand. His mind went numb, until Thorin’s voice pierced through the fog, low and deep to fill and burn his throat like a strong wine.   

“Have you...”

“Never.”

Thorin blinked only once. Bilbo was not entirely sure, but the king could have just said something like Slowly then, under his breath. Then he put his left hand on the hobbit’s inner thigh, rubbing circles nearer and nearer to his groin. Bilbo raised himself on his elbow – it was a bit uncomfortable and he had to push away a bracelet encrusted with tiny diamonds that was cutting the skin of his elbow, but at least he gained a quite satisfying view of Thorin’s doing.

His breath caught at seeing the intense expression on the king’s face, with his blue eyes low on Bilbo’s body, like he was entrapped by what was before him. The mere thought unnerved Bilbo, for he wished time would stop like this: Thorin bent over him, the point of his fingers just lazily tracing the path from his scrotum to the perineum, kindling desires that were like flames in the darkness Bilbo’s mind had become.

But time would not stop and Thorin’s expression shifted one more time, the tenderness vanished and his face grew pale, and then red, like he had just caught himself in the middle of something improper. Bilbo’s heart fell and soon enough one of Thorin’s finger was prying him open.

At the beginning it was just teasing and pouring some more oil. Bilbo felt it trickling in tiny drops on his balls and down there, to be rubbed between his cheeks. The oil grew warmer under Thorin’s fingertips, and then it was spread carefully around his anus. There was a strange noise in Bilbo’s ears and he realized that it was his breath, made coarse by the faintest scratching of Thorin’s index on his tight opening.

It was a light but unrelenting pressure. Bilbo felt that he could have tried to escape it if it had been a forceful intrusion, but this was wearing down his resistance, slowly reshaping his body to the king’s wishes. Thorin’s finger pushed inside him and Bilbo gave the softest gasp, his eyes widening at the sting of pain. But it faded soon enough and his hips trembled when he slightly shifted himself against Thorin’s hand.

He saw how larger Thorin’s pupils had grown, almost devouring the blue of the eyes, and Bilbo took such a pleasure in that sight that his body relaxed and the finger naturally slipped further into him. The hobbit blinked furiously, but Thorin did not give him time to get flustered, moving his finger inside, touching carefully the inner walls like he was gently trying the different strings of an instrument. And he drew little moans from Bilbo’s lips, for the hobbit was learning a whole new side of pleasure and what came from it was an insisting voice in his head, pleading for more.

More, actually, came. Thorin started to move his finger in and out, at a regular rhythm, loosening the muscle with slow patience, until Bilbo was almost lost to the rhythm. But then the dwarf pulled his finger out completely. Bilbo’s thighs quivered when he sensed two fingers now tapping at his entrance. The teasing was repeated from the start, the grazing, the pressure, the slow sliding inside him, while his breath became shorter and his body feverish. He was still propped on his elbows and even if he had no chance to actually see Thorin’s fingers slipping into his opening, he could picture them easily to his mind, while watching the dwarf kneeling between his legs.

Thorin’s hair were brushing his skin, sometimes even his cock when the king bent lower to focus on his doing, and Bilbo’s erection was something he had never experienced before, growing impossibly harder every time the fingers inside him passed a little spot able to make him beg like he had never done in his entire life.

For the little hobbit was growing quite vocal, and – maybe for the first time in their relationship – the King under the Mountain seemed pleased with it. He did not smile nor encourage him in words, but he teased him in a wicked way that taught Bilbo to ask what he did not even understand, there, and more and deeper, and scattered please. More oil was running down his thigh, brushed between his cheeks – oh, how Thorin seemed pleased to touch them, pinch them, separate them! – and the fingers kept moving in him, until Bilbo slipped with his back on the gold and he was unable to raise himself anymore.

The fingers traced the way in, now even turning and opening to widen the passage. The little hobbit groaned, turning his head on the side, till his hot cheek found relief on the cold coins. He almost cried out when Thorin took away both his fingers, a bit too abruptly, leaving Bilbo hollow and ravenous. But he soon realized why the hasty retreat: the king was freeing his cock, muttering in Khuzdul under his breath, and hissed when he closed his right hand, still slick and warm from indulging the hobbit, on it.

Bilbo blinked, twisting his neck until he could see Thorin’s hand around the considerable amount of hard flesh protruding from under the hem of his tunic. The hobbit gulped, wondering if ‘congratulations about your masculinity, Your Majesty’ were in order. It was probably a fair size even for dwarvish standards, but to Bilbo’s quite inexperienced eyes it was, well, a stretch of imagination to think of it inside him.

Yet, the images conjured up by this stretch made his throat go dry.

He followed, hypnotized, the brisk movement Thorin used to prepare himself, coating his cock in oil, until it was glistening bronze in the torchlight. Then the king grabbed him by the thighs, and Bilbo’s body slid towards the dwarf’s in a clattering of gold under their entangled limbs. The hobbit found himself with his feet fumbling in mid-air, while Thorin was using his left hand to grasp him under one knee and force him in a most vulnerable position.

Unconsciously, Bilbo covered his mouth with his hand, biting at the palm.

Slowly, as he had done before with his fingers, Thorin positioned himself at his entrance. He seemed to use his right hand to restrain himself, measuring the progress of his cock against Bilbo’s hole. The hobbit felt still too tight, too anxious, too...oh. He felt the head breaching in, considerably larger than two fingers. He was on the point of suggesting that they should have tried with three fingers before making the next step, but before he could find the right, sensitive tone to say it, a firmer move pushed the head inside.

He cried and his body jerked in a way that pained him even more. Thorin did not back away, but his hands were suddenly on him, keeping him in place, caressing his hips in a soothing way, and then his thighs, until Bilbo saw the pure, deep concern burning in Thorin’s blue eyes. He forced himself to relax and then he felt Thorin’s fingers stroking his cock, trying to drown the twinge of pain in waves of pleasure.

After a good while, Bilbo was panting in a very nice way and Thorin dared to shift a bit further into him, but not before adding some more oil. The feathery touch of the fingers around his stretched hole, along with the caresses on his cock, made the hobbit shudder in quite a different way.

He pushed just a bit, experimentally, and it was Thorin’s turn to groan. The sound made Bilbo hunger for what he did not dare to ask in words. He still ached, but he ached for the desire of being filled and taken and opened all the way to his heart, that was throbbing in his chest as much as his cock in Thorin’s hand.

The king pushed, gradually at first, conquering him inch by inch, but then it was too much and Thorin buried himself in a swifter thrust of his hips. Bilbo’s heart skipped a beat, and pain numbed his limbs, starting from his ass and running all over his little naked body. But pain was nothing more than a layer of fog, dispelled by the crushing sensation of having Thorin fully seated inside him.

He had never experienced something like this, something so completing and tremendous. It frightened him, but it reassured him at the same time – it was like Thorin, both brutal and kind, wild and gracious.

Thorin, he thought, and he cried again, this time from pleasure.  

When he opened again his eyes, Bilbo found the king watching him intently. Thorin’s gaze did not falter even when he started to retreat and pushed again after a bit, making the hobbit’s whole body rock as if in the middle of a storm. Bilbo blushed again, although this new shyness of his was probably lost on his already red cheeks – Thorin was looking at him, and he did not stop while widening the swing of his hips.

Bilbo felt his gaze penetrating his thoughts, opening them as much relentlessly as he was opening his body, devouring him from the inside.

Thorin had taken away his hand from Bilbo’s cock and he had grasped again his hips, this time to make the hobbit’s body met his thrust. He was growing restless and stronger, still restraining himself, yet chasing Bilbo until their bodies were covered in sweat and their breath was rough and burning. Thorin kept his back straight, never lowering himself again to kiss or nibble the glowing skin of the little hobbit.

Bilbo felt the need of touching him. He would have liked to have him naked too, and learn the smell of his skin when undressed, but he would have been contented just with brushing Thorin’s cheekbones and tangling his fingers in his hair. Bilbo tried, stretching his arms when Thorin tilted a little following a deep thrust, but as soon as the hobbit’s fingers scraped his shoulder, Thorin startled.

They both froze, while an unpleasant shiver made Bilbo’s belly tense. Thorin seemed on the point of backing away, slipping out from him, and the hobbit could not help but closing his legs around his waist, in a desperate attempt to keep him exactly where he was. He could not have really stopped Thorin from leaving him on the spot, obviously, but the pressure of the hobbit’s thighs seemed enough.

With the stare of a hungered wolf, Thorin grabbed Bilbo’s wrists and raised his arms above his head, while lengthening himself over his body. He pinned the little hobbit against their golden mattress and thrust, deeper and harder, with his face just a couple of inch away from Bilbo’s. Thorin’s hair were now falling on the hobbit’s cheeks and forehead, darkening the air with their scent of oil and the tickling of the silver beads.

Bilbo felt like he was falling apart, for each trust touched that sore point inside him, the point that made him struggle for more friction. Now that Thorin’s clothes were brushing his naked chest and his belly and – oh, dear, even his cock in a delightful yet frustrating way, he was desperate for release. He was hot, wet and beyond himself with need, but his hands were secured above his head.

“Please,” he whimpered, wriggling and biting his lips. “Please.”

Thorin clasped both his wrists with one hand, while the other traced Bilbo’s skin to his groin. He slipped his fingers around the hobbit’s cock and there was no way to describe it as gentle or soothing – it was harsh and quick, strokes that made Bilbo’s head snap and grind among the golden coins, and when Thorin’s thumb circled the tip, the strongest pleasure flashed white in his mind and then he was coming on his own belly, all his body tensing around his climax.

Thorin let go of his cock as soon as he had finished, for pleasure had made Bilbo’s muscles clench on the king and Thorin was waiting but for the chance to take him hard and fast again, his thrusts now chaotic and selfish – pleasure soon came to him too and it took him a great presence of mind to not collapse over the hobbit’s body.

Bilbo was trembling from the strength of his pleasure and he feared he could even faint. Thorin slowly eased himself out, winning a groan from them both, and he looked, in truth, no more steady than the little hobbit at the moment. He straightened himself on his knees, lowering Bilbo’s legs. His clothes were stained with semen and sweat, but he brushed them distractedly, before tugging away his spent cock.

Bilbo could only guess all this, for his eyelids felt very heavy and he was not even sure he could look at Thorin without babbling silly things. He felt the golden jingle of the coins under Thorin’s weight, the snap of the cork closing the little flask of oil, the rustling of velvet. Then rough fingers softly inspecting his thighs and his entrance, and the weight of the king’s eyes while he was checking his sore body. I’m fine, Bilbo would have liked to whisper, but his tongue was numb. Thorin’s kindest touches alarmed him more than the rest and he blindly slapped the dwarf’s hands away. He opened his eyes in time to see Thorin’s hurt.

And something else, something that Bilbo recognized as shame.

He did not even try to stop Thorin from leaving, and they parted without a single word.

Chapter Text

“Are you all right, little one?” Balin asked for the fourth or fifth time that morning.

Bilbo brushed his cheeks with his hands, hoping to bring some colour in them. He did not even attempt to smile, but he forced himself to straighten his back a bit. He did not have a proper mirror at his disposal in the great hall, but he had studied his reflection in a silver plate and he knew how pale and tired he looked. But he had his pride, and he had his secrets, so he did not complain with Balin and shrugged.  

“I’m just a bit stiff from lack of movement,” he lied, bitterly.

The old dwarf did not seem favourably impressed by his answer, but he let the subject fall and Bilbo was nothing but grateful for it. He had to work hard to keep those thoughts out of his mind, he did not need anyone else poking at them.

Balin was helping him with his packing. Bilbo judged it an odd task for the king’s counsellor, but Balin had looked so eager to give his help that the hobbit had not cared to refuse. Besides, Bilbo was more than a little sore and ready to welcome everything that could ease the discomfort of his body.

At least, only Balin had come to him. The other dwarves were too busy at the moment, and it seemed that Balin had been entrusted by the king himself with that particular task.

“I was very surprised,” the dwarf admitted, “for I had not known that Thorin had arranged your removal from the great hall until he told me so himself this very morning. I wonder if it’s a good omen.”

“Surely it is,” Bilbo replied, with a sarcasm that made Balin flinch.

“I’d like to reassure you about your new rooms,” the old dwarf sighed, caressing his beard, “because I understand how difficult it must be for you to be suddenly moved away to Mahal knows where, but I find no reason for Thorin to make your stay worst than before. On the contrary, I hope your accommodation will be greatly improved.”

Bilbo Baggins had some rather good idea about what could be Thorin’s reason to torment him further. First of all, he has taken me and he hates himself for this. It had been quite impossible to ignore the ashamed look of the king after he had spent his passion: he had left Bilbo, without as much as a word for what had passed between them. Thorin’s attempt at kindness had shaken Bilbo more than the rest – he had resented that touch which had threatened to give him hope, hope for things that could not be. Had not Thorin made that clear when he had refused his caress? When he had taken him in the cold hall, taken him while he was still a prisoner? After, Bilbo had gathered his scattered clothes and cleaned himself, clenching his jaw while he wiped away the traces of the king’s semen from his thighs.

The bliss he had experienced in Thorin’s arms had been twisted and distorted in an ugly feeling at the back of his throat. Regret, disappointment, hurt had blossomed in his heart. But Bilbo had not shed a single tear, biting at his blankets until a merciful sleep had overcome him.

Now he was not even frightened by the unexpected removal. He felt cold.

“I don’t know why Thorin has made such a mystery of it,” Balin was saying. “Even Dwalin was unaware of his intentions, and that is saying a lot, since my stubborn brother is probably the last of us still complaining of the king’s honour in that Arkenstone business,” Balin muttered, shaking his head. “But Thorin possesses a secretive nature. It has been growing in his heart since the days of our exile, and I have always thought it’s the natural result of his pride under the great pressure of his sorrows and failures. It’s a good quality for a warrior, you know, but I’m not sure it’s as good for a king.”

Bilbo had something to say about the secretive nature of the King under the Mountain, but he did not speak – he kept packing his few things and clothes.  

When they were done, Balin patted him on his shoulder.

“Well, I suppose it’s time to move to your new quarters, little one,” the dwarf announced and Bilbo felt his heart aching with unexpected tenderness, seeing Balin so concerned with his well-being and so satisfied with Thorin’s behaviour on the subject. The idea of how much Balin was going to be disappointed made Bilbo even more miserable. “He has entrusted me with the arrangements for your comfort,” Balin added.

“My comfort?” Bilbo asked, unable to sound anything but sceptical.

“Well, ‘comfort’ was not his word,” the dwarf admitted, “but I feel very encouraged by his behaviour. I wonder if I would be able to convince him to let you out on the terraces, some fresh air would do you good and Thorin can’t be so unkind as to deny...”

“Let’s go, please,” the hobbit interrupted him, hurt by the way Balin was still ascribing a heart to the King under the Mountain.

Balin gestured to a couple of dwarves, appointed to carry Bilbo’s possessions. Then they moved out of the great hall and the hobbit shivered slightly at the memory of the last time he had been able to leave – when he had visited Kili and Fili in their burial chamber. And when he had lost his ring. He wondered if things would be differently if he had still the magical ring in his hands and he reproached himself for not having tried harder to retrieve it. What was I thinking? The answer – a name – burned on his tongue.

Unfortunately, they were moving farther away from the wing where Kili and Fili rested, and Bilbo was forced to cast aside the idea of making a run for the ring. He sighed and it took a bit for him to realize they had reached another level of the mountain.

“You are not so far from our quarters,” Balin explained, merrily, pointing out some corridors leading to this and that, “and we shall keep an eye on you more than ever, since you are just behind the corner for most of us. Bofur and Ori will be very pleased at the news; maybe you’ll get to visit Bifur, Oin and Gloin at the infirmary.” Bilbo nodded, but he did not trust himself to speak. He was growing tense. “I had no time to visit your rooms before picking you up from the treasure hall, but I think...yes, there.”

They were alone in front of a door. It looked massive, as any door in Erebor, but the corridor was well lit by torches and there was a certain air of tidiness in the surroundings. The dwarves carrying Bilbo’s packs had been left behind in Balin’s impatience to find the new rooms.

New prison, Bilbo reminded himself. There was no reason to deny the nature of his accommodation.

Balin pushed the door open, preceding Bilbo inside.

“Mahal,” was all Balin said. Then he came out of the room, with the strangest expression on his kind face.

Bilbo frowned, but let Balin push him gently over the threshold.

 

It was lovely.

The word was on Bilbo’s lips and he had to fight hard to stop himself from saying it aloud. Balin was soon at his side and he could easily guess the grin spreading on the dwarf’s mouth.

Obviously, Bilbo had not looked forward to being trapped in a damp, eerie dungeon in the dark depths of the Lonely Mountain, in some cell visited only by nasty spiders – in Mirkwood he had met spiders enough for an entire hobbit-life. He had allowed himself some sort of hope when he and Balin had reached an upper level of Erebor and he had imagined what would be like to have a proper room with a proper bed to himself. He had wished for a simple, tidy room carved from stone, soft sheets and a wooden tub.

Now he realized he had just obtained more than he had bargained for.

If the room had been covered in gold and silver and the bed scattered with rubies, it would have been ridiculously annoying, but Bilbo could have coped with it. Clearly he should have never underestimated the king’s scheming ways.

The walls were covered in polished wood panels, and the reddish brown wood gave the room a warm atmosphere unusual for the Lonely Mountain and its stone walls. The expected lack of windows was extremely tiresome, but oil lamps had been attached to the walls to illuminate the place all over, and there was a good deal of space indeed, about as large as Bilbo’s drawing room at Bag End, but with a higher ceiling.

The floor was covered in rugs, red and brown and cream, and they felt quite soft under Bilbo’s feet and the sensation was nothing short of exquisite after so many days spent on golden coins. There was also a little fireplace adorned with ceramic tiles painted in blue, green and gold – a fire was already burning: the room was warm from it and the air had a pleasant smell of wood and herbs.

The furniture had been chosen to match the rest of the room. There was a little, low table near the fire, and some spare stools around it – and a rocking chair. In a corner there was a simple writing desk, provided with some quills, parchment and a bottle of ink. There was also a big wooden chest, good enough to store clothes, carved in a fanciful geometrical pattern. The bed was large, made from wood like the other pieces of furniture, and green wool blankets covered it. The pillows were white as snow and they looked just as soft.

As Bilbo took a couple of uncertain steps into the room, he noticed a little door on the opposite wall. Behind it there was a small bathroom: the walls had been smoothed and the dark stone shone almost like a mirror, while a large copper bathtub occupied the middle of the little room. A sink had been carved in stone and a tiny privy had been enclosed by a metal screen decorated with golden swirls.

When Balin’s hand touched his shoulder, Bilbo was so spooked that he gave a soft gasp.

“Little one, you are not well,” Balin said, looking at him and frowning. “Do you want me to call you a healer?” he asked, without trying to hide his concern.

Bilbo shook his head vigorously and took a step back.

“I’m fine; thank you very much. I am only a bit tired and I...I did not expect this,” he confessed, sitting on the edge of the bed before his knees could give in.

“Nor did I,” Balin murmured, taking another look at the room, “and I think it is definitely a good omen!”

Bilbo gave a high-pitched laugh, but he said nothing for a while.

“I am really exhausted,” he murmured, as soon as his things were carried into the room.

“Sure, sure,” Balin repeated, but he could not help looking inquisitive. Bilbo turned away his head and his fingers toyed with the creases on the blanket. “Take your time to settle down, enjoy your bed and your table. I will warn the other dwarves to let you rest. If you need me, all you have to do is ask the guards at your door to send for me.”

As soon as the door close on Balin, Bilbo’s shoulders fell and he hid his face in his hands. He took deep breaths, while his thoughts ran among the possible meaning of his new rooms. He had experienced some comfortable arrangement during his journey – in Rivendell and at Beorn’s and in Lake-Town – but this was surely the closest he had ever got to his own home.

There were differences, of course, yet it was probably a very good attempt, from a dwarvish point of view, to imitate the comfort and the coziness of a hobbit-hole. Longing stirred in Bilbo’s chest, presenting to his minds a long series of pictures of Bag End and the Shire, and he could almost taste the peculiar smell of his rooms and the warmth of that other fireplace in his home.

There was a certain amount of irony about it.

The room reminded him of his home in the Shire and it had probably been planned to this end. But if the main idea was to please him and make him comfortable, offering him a copy of his home, the plan was a failure. The more Bilbo was encouraged to think of Bag End, the more this room seemed like pretending.

No gold nor precious stones decorated it, but the logic was exactly the same: Thorin Oakenshield had painted his cage bars with gold. The room felt like home, but it was not – there was still a door closed on Bilbo and no Shire beyond the walls.

He understood very well Balin’s enthusiasm. From a certain point of view this could be easily supposed an act of kindness towards a prisoner, and maybe even a sign that Thorin was changing his mind about the Arkenstone business. But Bilbo knew better than to be deceived by the king’s behaviour. If this was benevolence on the king’s part, it was humiliating after what happened the previous night. It feels like a payment, Bilbo thought, sensing this idea digging between his ribs, nestling in the soreness of his body and grinning eerily at him from the darkest place of his soul.

He did not know if it was intended as compensation for what Thorin had taken – and he had given freely, he reminded himself. It could be an attempt to secure his silence or even his understanding. It could be that Thorin Oakenshield fancied to fuck a hobbit in a hobbit-like room.

Bilbo leapt on his feet and he had just enough time to reach the bathroom before throwing up.  

Chapter Text

Thorin was quite nervous.

Balin had been most vague regarding the halfling’s reaction to his new quarters. Thorin had not dared to investigate further, lest he make his counsellor suspicious. But he would have liked to spy the moment when the burglar had stepped into the room, and maybe he would have seen a smile on those lips, and pleasure and surprise in those eyes...

From Thorin’s point of view, it was a rather good copy of what he remembered of the halfling’s house in the Shire, yet he supposed there might be room for improvement. Dwalin would be a problem, however: he had hardly given Thorin any rest since the moment he had been informed of the arrangements for the burglar’s accommodation. Dwalin had not lowered himself to visiting the prisoner – and anyway it seemed that the hobbit was in need of some sleep.

“Have you forgotten that he betrayed us?” Dwalin had asked him, after forcing out of Balin some description of the rooms. “He’s not worthy the work of our artisans nor your kind attention, Thorin.”

“And have you forgotten how he saved my life?” Thorin had snapped back.

He had read the sign of his weakness in Dwalin’s scowl and Balin’s soft smile. Thorin knew what Balin had thought then – he thinks I’m not under the dragon sickness anymore. But Thorin refused to accept the pathetic idea that he had ever acted under it. There was no sickness nor madness in him – he had been betrayed by the halfling and he was not going to forget it so easily.

Yet there was no reason to deny the halfling proper accommodation. Dwarves were not cruel like orcs and a mistreatment would have spoken against him and his wisdom. The trial would decide the punishment for the theft of the Arkenstone, but in the meantime he intended to assure the burglar a more than fair treatment. He would not give Gandalf or Thranduil an excuse to pry again in Erebor business – Mahal, he had already received inquiries about the prisoner from Bard and the Elvenking! Now they could rest assured of the halfling’s good health, and also the king’s generosity.

It was just a diplomatic move, wasn’t it? Thorin squeezed his fists and marched towards the door.

“Leave,” he ordered the guards. Then he opened the door.

The fire was low, but still crackling and spreading a warm light in the room. On the little rocking chair before the fireplace, the hobbit was softly snoring, wrapped in a green blanket. His head was a little tilted, his mouth open, and his curls glowed like embers in the firelight.

He seemed quite harmless and innocent – a little bunny.

An unexpected smile forced its way to Thorin’s lips. He closed the door behind him cautiously and approached the chair.

“Burglar,” he said, his voice a bit thick. He felt strangely anxious.  

The little creature startled awake and the look in his eyes made Thorin instantly regret coming.

“Go away,” the hobbit blurted out immediately.

The king frowned. He had not imagined he would be greatly welcomed, but this was a bit harsh.

“I am...”

“Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, rightful King under the Mountain,” the halfling recited, straightening himself on the chair, a wary expression on his face. “And this is Erebor and you can go wherever you want, only please do not come near me.”

“...curious about how you are faring in your new rooms,” Thorin continued, unfaltering.

He felt quite proud of how he was coping with his annoyance at the hobbit’s impertinence.

“Are you making fun of me?” the burglar asked, with a look of hurt that suggested to the king that there was more than insolence about it.

He frowned, noticing the way the halfling’s hands were tightly closed on the armrests, as if he was trying to restrain himself from some kind of outburst.  

“I am not here to amuse myself,” Thorin retorted.

“No?”

The burglar’s tone embarrassed him. He had not meant in that way, he just wanted...

“I do not know why are you trying to get on my nerves,” Thorin said, quietly, “and I wrongly thought you would be quite contented with your new accommodation.”

Quite contented?” the halfling repeated. “I am still a prisoner!”

“I have never said the accusations were to be lifted!” Thorin exclaimed, beginning to sense where this could end. He was suddenly struck by the possibility that the burglar intended to take advantage of what had passed between them. The thought made him nauseous with anger. “What did you think you were doing?” he roared.

“What I...I did not think at all, I guess that is very clear. Because, if I had stopped just one moment to think about it, I would have never done anything!”

Thorin stepped back, his cheeks red like he had been just slapped.

“I have not forced myself on you,” he said, his voice deep and cold.

The halfling blinked and looked away, and it was even worse than listening to a denial.

“I know very well,” the burglar said after a moment, while Thorin was trying to hold back his temper. “Still I did not ask for these rooms.”

Thorin was a bit puzzled. He did not understand why they were back speaking of the damned rooms. The halfling seemed to make out something of his silence – what Thorin had not the faintest idea, but it looked ugly, for the halfling’s expression grew bitter.

“I do not want them.”

“What?”

“The rooms. I prefer spiders to them.”

The king brushed his forehead with his large hand. Spiders?

“I do want to be moved elsewhere, for I cannot accept these rooms. I will not take a payment.”

Understanding eventually dawned on Thorin’s mind. And along came a new reason to be displeased. He looked at the halfling, to be sure he was not jesting, but the burglar’s eyes were turned away from him.

He moved further, cupping the halfling’s face and obliging him to sustain his gaze. The halfling tried to back away, but the rocking chair did not offer him escape once Thorin had blocked its movement with his other hand and his foot.

“You think I am paying for your body with these rooms.”

Bilbo’s eyes grew larger and Thorin guessed he was frightening him. Well, he was frightening himself, for he felt a thick, black rage gnawing away at the thin surface of his composure.

He was deeply tempted to destroy the entire room with his bare hands.

“Answer me, burglar,” he repeated, in a hiss. “Do you think this is a fair price for your flesh or should I have covered you in gold and silver for the pleasure of listening to your moans?” Thorin insisted, teasing the burglar in a way that disgusted them both. He moved his thumb over Bilbo’s pale lips: “Have you already set a price for your mouth?”

The king moved just in time to avoid the halfling’s slap, earning only a little scratch on his right cheek. He massaged it, frowning, and straightened his back. The hobbit slipped down the chair and retreated, like he was expecting to engage some sort of fight. The thought was preposterous – Thorin would overpower him in mere seconds, but the sight made him feel less angry and much more tired.

“Do you really think I am...whoring?” Thorin asked, his voice thick with contempt.

The halfling flinched at his choice of words and then shrugged.

“It looks exactly like it,” he replied.

“It does not,” Thorin replied, feeling a bit ridiculous.

How could the halfling really think he was buying him? Had it felt so to him, the previous night?

Thorin clenched his jaw, shaking his head to dispel memories. He looked around him and the room seemed so nice even to his dwarvish standards that he felt again at a loss with the burglar’s reaction. The truth was in plain sight, wasn’t it? He was disappointed in the halfling, and offended as well.

“I have never...I am a king. I’m of Durin’s blood. How could you think that I would debase myself by resorting to such a thing? It does not look like it, not in the least.”

“Then what is it supposed to look like?” the halfling asked, swiftly.

Thorin stiffened. For a moment he and the hobbit were still, looking at each other, but the king was the first to turn his back. When he was at the door, he spoke again.

“You shall stay here until I wish otherwise,” and with that he left.

 

*

 

Dwalin was not deemed a good speaker. He actually loved chattering around a table and drunken songs, but he was not the kind of dwarf you would choose for a diplomatic purpose. It was one of the reasons why Dwalin had never called on Bilbo Baggins. He respected the dwarvish law and his king’s decision, so he took for granted that Bilbo’s fate was to be decided in a regular trial. He did not wish to harm the little creature but in the meantime he had never felt the need of talking to him.

The Arkenstone theft seemed to Dwalin a rather plain matter: the burglar himself had confessed his crime, and now he was waiting to be judged. He wished Thorin had already decided a date for the trial, but Dwalin had no reason to address himself directly to the prisoner.

He could not fathom that the reason would present itself at his ears.

“The artisans have been paid, Thorin,” Dwalin informed his king, while they were checking the most important matters for the day. Usually, a note of payment would be managed by the treasurers’ office, but Thorin had insisted to keeping that particular business in his hands.

Yet the king’s glance was so blank that Dwalin found himself forced to repeat his words.

“You have paid the artisans who worked for the burglar’s rooms and they thank you and renew the offer of their services for the future,” he said, trying to control the scorn in his voice.

Thorin made a sound, something between a laughter and a snort.

“Well done. Shame that the halfling dislikes their work,” he muttered darkly, before turning back to the correspondence from Ered Luin.

Dwalin was thunderstruck. He excused himself, grumbling something his king did not even listen to. Then Dwalin was out of the king’s quarters and marching towards the prisoner’s room. He had put up with what he had judged an incomprehensible whim on Thorin’s part, but seeing that whim frustrated by the little nuisance going under the name of Bilbo Baggins was too much for Dwalin.  

The guards at the door tried to stop him, but he shouted them away and stormed into the rooms.

The burglar was sitting at his desk, with a book. The sound of Dwalin’s entrance scared him, but then he relaxed a little and seemed even pleased to see the dwarf.

“How dare you, little pest?” Dwalin raged.

“Good morning to you, Mr Dwalin,” Bilbo answered, growing a bit pale at the dwarf’s words. “What can I do for you?”

“Oh, aren’t you smug!” the dwarf growled, “I’ve always let my king decide on this matter, for you betrayed him most of all, but now I cannot keep my mouth closed, not when I see how you behave towards his noble gesture.”

The hobbit flushed at these words and Dwalin thought he was finally inspiring a little shame in that mischievous brat.

“How can you be such an ungrateful creature?” he asked, harshly. “When he has employed the best artisans of Dain’s host to shape this room in a fashion that would suit your tastes! Do you believe that good wood and fabrics and tiles come out of nothing? These are luxuries, Mr Baggins, when we are still mourning our dead,” Dwalin continued, more and more indignant, pleased to see the hobbit lower his gaze. “Have you any idea how much time it has taken? To think that Thorin had given orders for this when he was still sick in his bed for the many wounds received in the battle, praying the artisans to do their best for your comfort! Even I didn’t know until a couple of days ago...”

Bilbo’s suddenly raised his head: there was a strange stupor on his soft face. Then Dwalin lost the tracks of the events, for the little hobbit slipped down from his stool and came to him. Before the dwarf could react, Bilbo Baggins was embracing him tightly.

“Oh, thank you, thank you very much, Mr Dwalin!” he was repeating, with a enthusiasm that froze Dwalin on the spot and led him to think that a new madness was spreading in Erebor.

Chapter Text

Bilbo was quite nervous.

He had sent Thorin a message – at first through Dwalin, then through Balin, Ori, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, the guards at the door, even Bifur once the dwarf had been deemed well enough to leave the infirmary and visit the little hobbit in his new rooms. To Dwalin and Balin Bilbo had just asked to pass his thanks to the king for his accommodations, hoping that Thorin would catch the hint. But when the king had not come to his door, Bilbo had resorted to writing him a little letter, sealed and entrusted in Ori’s hand.

He had employed a lot of time and parchment and ink composing it, but most of his attempts had been thrown into the fire, until he had preferred only few, simple words.

 

Please, we need to talk. B.B.

 

Thorin had never answered it and Nori had confessed that his copy of the message had been burned in the first fireplace the king had found on his way. Bilbo had even tried to explain to Balin that there had been a misunderstanding, obviously leaving out the part where he had been naked on the gold of the treasure hall. But the king seemed to have taken a deep offence to Bilbo’s accusation and he was ignoring the invitation.

The hobbit resorted to blackmail.

 

Please, we need to talk. B. B.

p.s. Or I’ll talk to Balin about everything.

 

Never before had Bilbo thought to blackmail the King under the Mountain, for he loathed the very idea of it. He had reflected about confessing his sorrows to Bofur, Ori or Balin; but he was frightened by the possibility of things growing even more complicated and awkward. And, in the end, he was not even sure which words he could use to describe what was happening between him and Thorin. So Bilbo had no real intentions of confessing anything to Balin, but he hoped that Thorin would believe it possible and act accordingly – well, Bilbo also hoped that this would not include throwing him in the dungeons.

Four days had passed since their awful quarrel, but the last letter broke through the king’s pride.

“Leave,” Bilbo heard him say, just outside his door.

As usual, Thorin came to him in the middle of the night. The little hobbit wore his dressing gown, resting before the fire and looking for distraction in some books on the dwarves’ history he had borrowed from Ori. He closed the book he was reading with a thud and pressed it to his chest, for he needed to hold on to something.

Thorin entered and stood with his back against the closed door, like he did not trust himself to advance further into the room. He was evidently displeased but did not speak, too proud even to show his fear at being blackmailed. Bilbo coughed slightly before opening his mouth.

“I never truly intended to talk to Balin. I wrote those words only to...encourage you to see me,” he confessed quickly, because he sensed that it was better to clear some points from the beginning.

Thorin seemed to relax a bit, but his relief soon changed in annoyance.

“Why?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

Bilbo hugged the book with more strength. He slipped down from his chair and approached the king in the same way he would approach a wild beast.

“I am very sorry for what I thought were your reasons for moving me to this accommodation, but I didn’t know you had given orders for it before...” the hobbit stopped, his cheeks growing hot under the king’s intense gaze. “I didn’t know that you had been planning this for my sole comfort and it seemed possible that you...I thought...”

Possible?” Thorin repeated, haughtily.

Bilbo saw that there was a chance the king would leave the room in a fit of rage and he stepped towards him, a worried expression on his face.

“Please,” Bilbo whispered. “You should have told me immediately. If you had spoken of it...”

...I wouldn’t have been so hurt and neither would you.

Thorin seemed to understand what Bilbo was trying to say, but he closed his lips tightly. Bilbo sighed, for he knew that pride would always stand between them.

“If you don’t talk to me,” the hobbit continued, “how can I possibly know what you are feeling?”

Thorin’s blue eyes betrayed a flash of softness before the king stirred from the door. He approached Bilbo with one stride and suddenly closed his arms around the hobbit. Bilbo felt the strong grasp on his body, and the book crushed between them, then Thorin’s mouth was on his. It was their first kiss and it was somehow uncomfortable – the book’s edges digging into Bilbo’s chest, the pressure of Thorin’s hands a bit too much on his ribs, the way they bumped into each other in a frantic, ineffective way. But Bilbo found it glorious all the same, and soon it was even better.

One of Thorin’s hands found its way to Bilbo’s nape and gently held his head while Thorin devoured his mouth. There was no foreplay, no slow teasing and thickening tension; only the king’s mouth claiming his, his thin lips bruising Bilbo’s, his beard scraping Bilbo’s chin and cheeks and mouth. But the little hobbit relished the brand new sensation and his mouth promptly opened to let Thorin’s tongue inside. It was hot and hard, and he imagined how it would be to have that tongue all over his body. The thought made him ache and Bilbo cautiously moved his own tongue. Thorin hummed in his mouth and lightly sucked on his lower lip and then Bilbo’s tongue. The hobbit felt weak and soft all over – well, not exactly all over, and he did not know what to do with the book he was still holding.

He had closed his eyes overwhelmed by the kiss, but he heard Thorin’s chuckle against his lips and then the book was removed from his hands. Bilbo heard the tome fall on the rug and felt a soft pang of guilt.

“Ori...” he muttered, picturing the horrified expression that would appear on Ori’s face when presented with a bruised book.

“That’s not the name that should be on your mouth right now, halfling,” Thorin purred on his lips, as the hobbit’s eyelids were fluttering open. Bilbo sensed the light threat in the king’s tone, but he also saw the way his blue eyes were sparkling with amusement and lust.

Bilbo trembled a little and took advantage of the book’s removal to press his body against Thorin’s. The dwarf groaned softly, closing his eyes for a short moment, before opening them again to look at Bilbo, his fingers lazily caressing the hobbit’s skull beneath the curls.

“Show me your new bed,” Thorin invited him, fixing his gaze on Bilbo’s face.

Bilbo licked his lips, slightly swollen from the kiss. He stepped back and Thorin let him go, even if his face betrayed a hint of disappointment. But then the hobbit took the king’s hand in his, blushing a bit, and  led him to the bed. He was extremely conscious of Thorin’s gaze on him and even of the way his dressing gown brushed the naked skin underneath. When he reached the bed, he turned around to face Thorin and the king’s hands grabbed him under the armpits to settle him on the mattress.

A moment later Thorin was climbing onto the bed, trying to steal more kisses at the same time. Only when Thorin crawled over the hobbit and urged him onto his back did Bilbo have the chance to savour the kiss properly, his cheeks nestled in Thorin’s hands while the king was ravaging his mouth.

There was a faint taste of wine and pipe smoke on the king’s lips, and Bilbo licked at it, earning a deep growl from Thorin’s chest. It was the first opportunity for the hobbit to learn Thorin’s smell and taste and body freely, and soon he was unable to keep his hands to himself: he pushed his fingers through Thorin’s hair, something that seemed to please the king enough to break the kiss and close his eyes, revelling in the touch. But when Bilbo’s fingers slipped down, touching Thorin’s cheeks and neck, finding their way to the silver clasp closing his jacket, Thorin opened his eyes again, going stiff.

“No,” he said firmly, using one hand to move away the hobbit’s fingers.

It was a kind refusal, but Bilbo sulked nonetheless. Thorin kissed the corner of his now closed mouth, with a conciliatory look that almost made Bilbo give in, but he did not want to be the only naked one in the room this time and the King under the Mountain had better come to terms with it. 

He touched again the silver clasp and Thorin froze just like the first time. The dwarf was positively glaring at him now and his fingers had closed on Bilbo’s hand preventing him from opening the jacket's clasp. The hobbit resorted to another kiss, raising his head to breath please into Thorin’s mouth. Thorin frowned, but this time his hand stayed on the bed and his blue eyes fixed on Bilbo’s face while the hobbit unclasped his jacket. It was a bit difficult to push the jacket down Thorin’s broad shoulders and Thorin was not exactly helping, but Bilbo succeeded and smiled at his first victory.

“You are amusing yourself, I see,” Thorin murmured, while Bilbo pushed back his long hair to reach the strings closing the loose white shirt that the dwarf wore under the jacket.

“I think that is exactly the point,” the hobbit replied with a soft grin.

Thorin’s eyes glowed, and Bilbo blushed a bit. Oh, what a mouthy hobbit he had become!

“You really do want this, don’t you?” the king whispered, half-closing his eyelids.

Bilbo did not answer, but pulled at the shirt until it snapped free from Thorin’s trousers and his little fingers could touch the naked stomach under the cloth. Thorin sucked in a breath and the muscles of his stomach tensed under Bilbo’s hand. His gaze lost focus and Bilbo suddenly understood why the king had been displeased with the idea of being naked.

As long as he had his clothes on, Thorin could still hide his innermost self behind the King under the Mountain. Once naked, Thorin would be more exposed than ever and the hobbit would be one layer nearer to his core. It was exactly what Bilbo wished for and what Thorin Oakenshield seemed to fear.

“Please,” Bilbo pleaded to Thorin’s still covered chest, even if the dwarf was not trying to stop him.

Bilbo needed to see Thorin undressed and it was more than a sexual need.

The dwarf straightened his back, still straddling Bilbo but not quite touching him. He grasped the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head, letting it fall beyond the edge of the bed. The hobbit gasped.

Thorin’s chest was covered in a good number of old scars – long, slender ones like kisses from a sharp blade as well as ugly patterns of pale scar tissue drawn by an unknown enemy; and there were new scars, the ones earned in the battle for Erebor. The scars were still pink and purple, and they had a nasty look to them – one on the left shoulder, another on the right side, just below the rib cage, the last half-hidden by the trousers. They were the marks left by the spears who had pierced the king, while his nephews were laying dead at his feet.  

Bilbo did not realize he was staring until Thorin shifted a bit on the mattress. His face was cold stone once again, but the hobbit swallowed and reached out for Thorin’s skin, sitting on the bed and quietly brushing Thorin’s chest with the back of his hand.

“Do they hurt still?”

Thorin seemed to take some time to consider his question, but eventually shook his head.

The king’s chest was broad and pale, covered by the reminders of the battles he had fought, and his recent illness had left its mark too, in the way the ribs were a little too evident under the skin. Bilbo kissed first the ugliest scar, a pale bulge on the left breast, and Thorin’s breath altered again. One of his hands dropped on Bilbo’s head, burying itself in his curls.

“You don’t...”

Please,” the hobbit repeated. He flattened his tongue against a nipple and Thorin sighed in response.

“I may have a penchant for your politeness, little bunny.”

And Thorin let him kiss and nibble and lick at his pleasure. Thorin’s hands kept caressing his head and back; his heart leapt against his ribs and Bilbo felt it – it was so much that the hobbit hid his face in Thorin’s chest where a patch of soft, dark hair grow. He breathed slowly, while his hands ran on the king’s hipbones and then on his back, tracing the scars there.

But then Bilbo turned his head and took a nipple between his teeth, sucking at it. Thorin was struggling with the belt of Bilbo’s dressing gown, and the hobbit’s mouth seemed to distract him to the point that he was unable to untie it. He groaned and found one of Bilbo’s ears with his lips.

“If you don’t stop now, I’ll be forced to push your dressing gown to your hips to take you now.”

Bilbo was not sure if this was a threat or a delicious proposal, but Thorin eventually defeated the belt and opened the dressing gown, slipping his hands under it and lifting Bilbo’s body to touch the hobbit’s naked back. It was still so strange to feel those big, rough hands on him. Bilbo’s head tilted back when the king took possession of his buttocks and slowly parted the cheeks, making Bilbo gasp: the hobbit clutched to Thorin’s shoulders and he felt the dwarf’s arrogant smirk against his forehead. Then, in a flash, Thorin was tugging at the dressing gown, pushing it down off Bilbo’s body, and manoeuvring him until the little hobbit was once again stark naked under him. But this time they were skin against skin and the warmth of the king’s body spread over Bilbo.

He was more than a little embarrassed to feel his plump, smooth flesh against Thorin’s scarred, lean body. Thorin had not the slimness of an Elf, but his limbs were strong and tough, his muscles well shaped, tensing just below the skin at the smallest stimulus; his waist was unexpectedly slender and his arms seemed carved from stone, while Bilbo Baggins of Bag End was too round at the middle, with fair skin where freckles outnumbered scars and bruises, and all his body spoke of comfort and laziness.

There was nothing glorious about it.

At least until Thorin Oakenshield raised himself on his elbows, running his eyes over Bilbo’s body, and breathed, “Mahal,” in such an unusual and touching way for his proud nature that Bilbo’s heart skipped a beat.

And then Thorin kissed his freckles just as the hobbit had kissed his scars, and sucked at his nipples, until their breathing was uneven and the king seemed to force himself to back away.

“Boots,” he explained shortly, and he proceeded to remove them, sitting on the edge of the bed in order to do so.

Bilbo took the chance to gently bite the king’s shoulder, ignoring Thorin’s soft rumble of protest. The back was adorned in scars like the front: the hobbit caressed it and was rewarded by the blue depths of Thorin’s eyes looking at him over his shoulder. Many splendid jewels were treasured in Erebor; but not one, not even the Arkenstone Bilbo had hold in his hobbit hands, had such a rich, enchanting colour.

Bilbo quietly watched Thorin remove his trousers. Before he could drink in the sight of the naked king to his satisfaction, Thorin was back on the bed and talking to him. He had to repeat his words, for the hobbit was a bit more than dazzled – he’s naked in my bed!

“Oil. Where?” Thorin asked. Such brevity, Bilbo thought, is sometimes useful.  

“You...”

“I did not think that we would...”

Bilbo kissed him, then blushed to his hairline for his own boldness.

“Bathroom,” he whispered back, in the same clipped tone the king used. Thorin seemed on the verge of shoving Bilbo to go fetch the oil himself, but instead he left the bed to disappear into the bathroom.

The air was still thick with the smell of his body and Bilbo inhaled it – fire smoke, cedar, rain, Thorin.

Then Thorin was back, an opened flask in his left hand and his right already stroking his cock with oil. The sight sent a shrill of impatience up Bilbo’s spine and he unconsciously shifted on the bed, opening his legs. A smile flashed on the king’s mouth – such a charming and wolfish smile!

“So eager,” Thorin commented, with his deep voice dark with mischief.

The hobbit blushed and instinctively tried to close his legs, but Thorin’s hand was already between his knees and his attempt was met with a reproachful tut. The dwarf slipped his hand up between Bilbo’s thighs until his thumb brushed the hobbit’s balls and the base of his cock, drawing a little wail of lust from Bilbo’s mouth. Bilbo raised his knees and licked at his lips, looking at the king with feverish eyes. Thorin did not drop his gaze while his hand found its way down, his fingers slippery from oil. Then Thorin pushed his middle finger into Bilbo’s hole so abruptly that the hobbit grasped the dwarf’s forearm to steady himself.

Thorin kissed his damp forehead, and held still. But the pressure was too much, and soon the hobbit tentatively moved against Thorin’s finger, opening himself on it. Thorin watched, hypnotized, the slow movements of Bilbo’s hips as well as the way his finger was disappearing into the tight ring of muscles. Thorin seemed close to say something, but he bit back his words and then Bilbo’s belly, before plunging his tongue in the hobbit’s navel.

Bilbo wriggled, the finger slipping further inside and coaxing a deep moan from his mouth. Thorin worked his entrance slowly, moving in and out, his tongue mimicking the gestures in Bilbo’s navel. Soon enough they were both ready for Thorin to add a second finger. This time, Thorin helped Bilbo to bend his legs till the hobbit’s ankles rest on his shoulders; it was somehow strange, hobbit feet being that big and hairy; but the dwarf did not seem to mind in the least and Bilbo...well, Bilbo was really, really focused on the way two thick fingers were pushing inside him from a brand new angle.

The new angle allowed Thorin’s fingers deeper than ever and the king seemed to have developed a particular preference for that spot that had Bilbo wailing every time Thorin brushed his fingers on it. The stretch was not completely pleasant, but it promised to become so and Bilbo found himself trying to move accordingly to the fingers inside him. By the time Thorin was trying to push in a third finger, the little hobbit was panting so hard that his lungs seemed ready to burst.

“Please, please,” he repeated, surprised by how wanton his voice sounded.

Thorin obliged, betraying a certain relief – and Bilbo realized once more how much restraint it took Thorin to spend so much time preparing him. The king’s cock looked painfully hard and Thorin’s fingers trembled a little on the back of Bilbo’s thighs as he arranged the hobbit in the most comfortable position possible at the moment. A small, wet kiss was placed on the inside of Bilbo’s knee while Thorin was guiding his cock against him; then came the impossible, stabbing pressure against his hole.

It was hard to relax when Thorin’s body weighed on his and his smell was almost intoxicating, but the hobbit somehow managed to let go a bit and he felt the cock sliding inside, inch by inch, right to the hilt. When Thorin was fully buried inside of him, the dwarf groaned, and murmured something in Khuzdul that sounded like appreciation. His hands ran on Bilbo’s legs and stomach soothingly, and he played with Bilbo’s nipples while the hobbit’s entire body grew accustomed to the penetration.

Then it was raw and wild like their first kiss, for they had waited too long; and the initial discomfort they shared because of the roughness of their movements was repaid by the fierce pleasure gathering in their loins. And how delightful to clearly see the king’s eyes grow darker, the pupils blown out till the blue was but a thin ring around them. Thorin’s thrusts went deeper and deeper, forcing little cries from Bilbo’s mouth, and his hands were surely leaving marks on Bilbo’s legs. Bilbo could do naught else but touch Thorin’s body over him, the hobbit’s fingers tasting Thorin’s skin, his beard, his mouth – oh, when Thorin closed his exquisite mouth on Bilbo’s fingertips, sucking at them while he moved inside him!

When pleasure came it was so forceful that the hobbit was on the point of fainting; only the delight of seeing Thorin’s face brightened by his own orgasm kept Bilbo conscious. The king continued to move for a bit after he had spent himself, rocking both of them into a blissful state of soft, fogged pleasure. He was more cautious sliding out; a deep, contented sigh leaving his mouth. He helped the hobbit to ease his legs, rubbing soothing circles where his fingers had left light bruises. Thorin seemed a little bothered by them and Bilbo wanted to comfort him, but he did not trust himself to speak. If he opened his mouth, he would surely reveal too much of his heart.

So he quietly watched Thorin rolling over off of him and then fall with his back on the bed, his body glistening in sweat. The fire was dying and only a soft amber glow licked at the king’s skin – the scars were almost invisible in the dim light, as were the streaks of grey in his hair. They laid silent and still until the dwarf left the bed for the bathroom and came back with a damp towel. He removed the traces of semen from Bilbo’s stomach and thighs, gentler when he brushed the cloth on Bilbo’s buttocks. Then he rolled the towel into a ball and let it fall on the floor.

By then the king’s mood had changed. He was no longer the passionate lover of a moment ago but someone else, distracted if not entirely cold. He was yet kind, for he tucked Bilbo’s freezing body under a blanket and put a pillow under his head; his eyes did not meet the hobbit’s and Bilbo simply knew Thorin did not mean to stay.

Thorin neither dressed with haste nor made a show of it. He simply put on his clothes, piece by piece, and then conveniently acted as if Bilbo was already sleeping, slipping out of the room without a word.

In fact Bilbo was quite awake and quite wounded.

Chapter Text

Hurt was part of the game. Calling it a game was part of the hurt.

There was also plenty of pleasure, in ways Bilbo Baggins had never contemplated before. It was not just the amount of times he could come from Thorin’s hands, mouth and cock – still an astonishingly nice experience to put it in mild words; there was even more than that in the king’s visits. Thorin always came unannounced in the middle of the night and he sometimes stepped into the room to find Bilbo half-asleep near the fireplace or reading a book. Then the king would pretend to not disturb him and let him proceed with his reading, content to spend his time just watching the hobbit. In the end Bilbo would grow restless or Thorin would distract him with kisses; but – at least for a moment – they would both enjoy the pleasure of being in the same room, and nothing more.

On another occasion, after some particularly rough lovemaking, Thorin had taken Bilbo to the bathroom and slowly cleaned the hobbit’s body with such scrupulous care that Bilbo had ended up in tears after the king had left him alone once more. Now that his body had kindled Thorin’s desire, as he had never dared to hope would happen, Bilbo craved more. He wanted to eat at Thorin’s table; he wanted to fall asleep while listening to the dwarf’s deep, husky voice; he wanted to be with him in every possible way.

Bilbo longed for Thorin’s soul as much as he longed for his body, but he could not speak of it.   

Thorin never spent the whole night with him. He would take a long time to cherish the hobbit’s body and he could even be a tender lover in his own dwarvish way, but he always left as soon as their lust had been satisfied. There were no words between them, except the taunting ones Thorin whispered to Bilbo’s naked skin or the few practical suggestions he made up from time to time. The king never properly embraced him nor did he seem interested in how Bilbo spent the rest of his day.

On the other hand, Bilbo had to admit that something had improved between them. Thorin was still proud and stubborn and easily annoyed, but he seemed more inclined to keep himself in check and he had never lost his temper again. Their quarrels had assumed a different undertone – their bickering was self-conscious and somehow affectionate, and it often resulted in more heated kisses.

And there were moments when Bilbo fancied that he recognized something else in Thorin’s behaviour, signs of a developing attachment. Bilbo played games then: if his eyes rest on me until I count to five, if he kisses me before leaving, if he calls me little bunny once more...sometimes Bilbo won; sometimes he lost; but Thorin always left in the end.  

Bilbo had never actually asked Thorin to stay. It was humiliating enough to watch the king picking up his clothes from the floor without a single glance in his direction. Bilbo feared how Thorin would react and feared even more how he himself would react to Thorin’s reaction. He had had enough drama for the time being; sometimes the little hobbit simply accepted the false peace of those nights, whose fires he tried to enjoy without further thinking.

But Bilbo’s mind always circled back to Thorin’s nightly departures, and he grew unsatisfied. Yet he had not even tried to talk to Thorin about this. It seemed obvious to him that he wished for Thorin to stay and so there was no need to say the words. In his heart Bilbo knew that the king could be quite oblivious or at least act accordingly, but he could not force himself to explain his feelings to Thorin: probably because he had not actually explained them to himself in first place.

 

It was in this state of mind that Bilbo spoke to Ori.

“What do you do when you want to say something to your brothers and you know that your brothers are not willing to listen?” he asked, suddenly, while Ori was going through a sturdy book on dwarves’ myths. Ori seemed a bit surprised by the question, but he answered nonetheless.

“I say it.”

“Well, but what if you are sure they are not going to like it?” Bilbo insisted.

“I am sorry, but are you speaking of anything in particular?” the young dwarf asked back.

“No, no,” Bilbo denied, maybe a bit too hastily, “I’m just curious about how you dwarves behave in such matters.”

“I can just speak for myself,” Ori shrugged, “and my brothers. I suppose there are many things we do not agree about, but the feeling that in the end Dori and Nori are going to understand and accept me anyway is always stronger than the fear of their disapproval. I would not feel the same with any other dwarf.”

“Because they are your brothers,” Bilbo understood.

“Because they are my brothers,” Ori agreed with a soft smile, “and I ask you to keep to yourself what I’ve just said. Mahal knows I have no need for Dori to fuss about me more than he already does! But you have no brothers, Bilbo.”

“No,” the hobbit confirmed, “but I suppose your advice is worthy all the same.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Ori shook his head, “because my relationship with my brothers can’t be severed...it doesn’t matter how much we quarrel or what muddle Nori is in, we are still brothers. Friendship and romantic love may have a beginning and an end, but blood ties are forever.”

“I guess that’s the reason why you dwarves seemed to feel the call of your kin so strongly.”

“It is. But I would not feel the same for my cousins as I feel for my brothers,” Ori continued, scratching his cheek with a quill, “and you know how afraid I was of Thorin after that Arkenstone mess. Anyway, surely you were not thinking of Thorin!”

The dwarf laughed softly, like the mere thought of Bilbo willing to talk to the king was a bit ridiculous. The hobbit lowered his eyes to the beautiful picture on the leather cover of the book.

“Is he so difficult to speak to?” he asked quietly.

“Mahal, like you don’t know better than any of us!” Ori whistled. “You know, our king is brave and strong; and he appointed me to restore and enrich the royal library, for which I’m very, very grateful. But if I should choose to spend some time talking to someone, I think I would prefer Mr Dwalin to the king.”

This confession was made with a bit of blushing on Ori’s part, but Bilbo did not take notice of it, too absorbed in his own regrets. The conversation soon drifted to other topics: Ori was trying to encourage Bilbo to learn more about dwarvish customs since he had been spending so much time in the company of dwarves. It was a bit boring with all the names and kings and clans, but it always got better with the stories of princes and jewels, gods and songs; the hobbit was hoping he might learn a little Khuzdul, even if his voice never touched the right, deep pitch of the dwarves’ language. 

Almost two weeks had passed since Bilbo’s removal to the new rooms and all the Company’s dwarves had come to visit him in turn, sometimes breaking their fast at his table or lunching with him in small groups of two or three. Only Gloin remained in the infirmary; but Oin had come to him, still limping from a bad wound in his right foot. Bofur, Ori and Balin were his most assiduous visitors. And, after Ori, Bofur was the next one Bilbo asked for advice – for he feared that Balin would guess everything, so he did not dare to speak to him.

“How’s the king?” Bilbo blurted out, out of the blue.

He surely had to improve his skills in opening a conversation where Thorin was the main topic or the dwarves would soon suspect something. Indeed, Bofur almost choked on his ale.

“You do not ask that frequently,” the dwarf answered after he had cleaned his mouth on a napkin, “for one who’s waiting to be judged by that very king.”

“I thought Dain was going to judge me,” Bilbo objected.

“Oh, he will. But do you really think Thorin won’t have any part in the sentence?” Bofur asked, frowning. “We all know that your main problem is the king and his anger at the theft of the Arkenstone. A word from him and I’m sure that all this trial business would be forgotten. He’s the main accuser and the king: you’d probably be freed of all charges if he wanted.” 

“What are you implying, Bofur?” Bilbo asked, trying to hide the tremor in his voice.

“You should begin to consider your chances, my friend,” Bofur sighed. “You have at least to try to speak to the king and make him see how utterly nonsensical his grudge is. I keep trying, and Balin too; but he doesn’t tolerate the minimum reference to you.”

Bilbo was a bit annoyed at the thought, but he had to admit that it was probably for the best – in truth, the idea that Thorin could have some difficulties in speaking his name without betraying himself was almost amusing.

“Actually you two are doing a very good job at avoiding each other,” Bofur continued, rolling his eyes. “Spending our time talking about the king’s stubbornness isn’t enjoyable to me and I know you are not keen on speaking ill of him. It’s very considerate and loyal on your part, Bilbo; but you cannot just ignore the fact that there’ll be a trial sooner or later.”

“Well, I have but limited opportunities,” Bilbo muttered, “being prisoner here. Besides I do not know exactly what to say to Thorin.”

You don’t know!” Bofur exclaimed, astounded. “Bilbo, you should think about it. What will you say during the trial? How will you protect your name and your hands?”

The hobbit shuddered and closed his fingers. Surely Thorin was not planning for him to lose one or both his hands, as dwarvish law called for. Nonetheless, Bofur’s words gave him chills.

“I have to confess to you that Thorin seems improved,” the dwarf admitted thoughtfully. “I cannot really put my finger to it, but I see more and more of Thorin Oakenshield and less of the king obsessed with his treasure. Aye,” he nodded, “yesterday he was almost perfectly polite towards Thranduil’s ambassador and he even waited for the elf to be out of Erebor before calling him a tree-shagger. In Khuzdul, of course.”

“I did not know Khuzdul has such a...endearing side,” Bilbo murmured with a soft smile.

“Oh, surely Ori is keeping it from you,” Bofur chuckled. “Anyway, you can always count on Thorin to curse enemies in the tongue of our fathers. But he was definitely in a good mood.”

Bilbo swallowed. He had a couple of interesting theories regarding Thorin’s mood – one being the way the king had taken him the night before the meeting with Thranduil’s ambassador: I should keep you always so spread and open for me, little bunny, Thorin had teased before entering him.

“Well, I am very...very pleased to hear it,” Bilbo stuttered, distracted.

“Balin may be right and these rooms might be a sign that Thorin is changing his mind about you,” Bofur continued, “and maybe the pull of the Arkenstone is no longer so strong on him. I only wish he would show some other improvements and agree to speak with us about your future. Even his cousin Dain has developed a certain curiosity about you and your story,” the dwarf informed Bilbo with a sigh.

“Dain?”

This time Bilbo was surprised.

“There are rumours, my friend,” Bofur explained, “although Balin and Dwalin try to suffocate them. Some of Dain’s generals and counsellors are trying to use you and the Arkenstone business to prove that Thorin is unfit for the throne. ”

Bilbo was thunderstruck and shook his head

“But it’s not true, Thorin is...well, the rightful King under the Mountain.”

“Right fights poorly against politics,” Bofur replied, shrugging. “And Thorin’s temper is not helping at all. There was a time when a king was asked to have bravery and strength, and to have his people’s interests in his mind and heart. But now a growing amount of younger dwarves look for pleasantries and manners, while courtiers hope for a king that will appease their vanity and ambitions. Thorin is brilliant in his own way, but he’s not made for this kind of cunning, for scheming and flattering.”

“But surely the fact that he has won back Erebor must count for something,” Bilbo interrupted more and more distracted by the subject.

Bofur made a strange sound, between a sigh and a laugh.

Won back Erebor? The dragon was killed by Bard of Dale. You stole the Arkenstone under our nose. And the dwarvish host was Dain’s, not Thorin’s,” he reminded the hobbit. “The fact that Thorin alone had the guts to plan of win back Erebor and restore the Kingdom under the Mountain – thereby setting himself on a quest with the help of twelve dwarves, a wizard and a hobbit – is not enough. And in the battle he got both his heirs killed.”  

Bilbo had grown pale and his little hands would not stop trembling.

“It was not his fault; Fili and Kili’s death was not his fault!” he protested loudly.

“It wasn’t,” Bofur assured him, an unusual sadness on his merry face, “but still they judge him for it. Thorin is a great warrior and a good leader when not under the dragon sickness; but he’s in the habit of speaking his mind, caring for no one’s pride but his own.”

“And so they want Dain on the throne!” Bilbo cried, quivering with indignation.

“Some of them,” the dwarf admitted. “Dain has been very helpful and I don’t find any faults in his loyalty; but the longer he remains in Erebor, the stronger the rumours get: one can’t help comparing him to Thorin. Dain is brave and caring, but he is also a charming one; and he actually knows how to rule a kingdom. While Thorin is unrelenting and uncompromising; and he belongs to another generation of rulers. As king he can hope to be feared and even respected, but loved?” Bofur shook his head and then he set himself to preparing his pipe.

After the first ring of smoke floated in the air between him and Bilbo, Bofur spoke again.

“Problem is, my little friend, that loving Thorin is not easy.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo’s eyelids opened slightly. He was laying on his left side and the room was dark but for the glow of a lamp consuming its last ounce of oil. The little hobbit felt so very tired, but in the nicest way possible. He lingered with an unconscious smile on the memories of the previous day.

 

Yule had come at last.

Bilbo had not been sure about dwarves’ customs in that regard, but Ori had soon delighted him by revealing that dwarves were not adverse to celebrating Yule day. Obviously it was too soon for Erebor to rejoice in a grand scale – Thorin would not have permitted it while they were still mourning the fallen in the battle. No formal celebration had been in order, but informal merriment had been well tolerated: there had been small parties and ale and pies and tarts and bright fires.

Bilbo had set himself the task of organizing a party for his friends. He had written an invitation for each of them and asked Bombur to help him with enough food and drinks to meet the guests’ appetites. Fortunately Bofur and Bifur had contributed greatly to the provisions, while Nori had taken on himself the responsibility of cooking a deer stew in the hunters’ manner. Cold chicken, honey pies, cheese and ham, salted eggs, pickles and other preserves had been laid on the table, covered in a fine red cloth. Balin had given orders to have other stools brought in the room and cushions for the guests. Ori had helped Bilbo with the decorations of the room: the young dwarf had drawn some pretty figures of trees and animals and even a sturdy dwarf strangely resembling Mr Dwalin. Bilbo and Ori had cut out the figures to hang them on the walls.

Balin, Bofur, Bifur, Bombur, Nori and Ori had dined with Bilbo and spent a great deal of the night in his company, eating and laughing. They had drunk to Fili and Kili’s memories, and Bilbo had quietly wept when Bofur had initiated Fili’s favourite song, a song about the long winter nights and the longing for spring. No one had reproached Bilbo for his sorrow and they had stayed quiet a good while, until Bombur had fallen from his stool onto the floor, asleep from too much food and ale, and they had broken into laughter.

Dori had accompanied Nori and Ori, but his visit had been shorter – Bilbo suspected that the dwarf had not much liked the idea of a party in a prisoner’s room. Oin had brought Gloin’s greetings from the infirmary before excusing himself, for his bad leg still did not allow him too much strain.

To Bilbo’s surprise, even Dwalin had called. It had been a very brief visit and he had seemed utterly distressed at the sight of the merry company. But Dwalin had roughly thanked the hobbit for the invitation and then devoured an entire chicken leg before leaving despite Ori’s plea to stay a little longer.

After midnight the guests had started to leave. First Balin, then Ori, and Bombur supported by Bifur, while Nori and Bofur had remained to speak quietly with Bilbo of politics and kings. Bofur, a little tipsy, had enclosed the hobbit in a tight embrace before leaving, while Nori had patted his shoulder and muttered something about the worth of halflings and how Bilbo made a very good burglar. As soon as they had left, Bilbo had cleaned the table, but he had not touched the decorations and he had added another log to the fire. Then he had waited for Thorin.

He had not dared to send him an invitation for his Yule party – after all he still did not know where they stood. But Thorin had surprised him once more with an unexpected gift.

That very morning, while Bilbo had been checking the provisions for the dinner and trying to figure out how many dwarves had accepted his invitation, Balin had come to him carrying a bundle of oat cakes and some good news.

“Thorin allows you to take a walk on the terraces in my company. No guards,” the dwarf had announced, hardly refraining from smirking.  

It had taken Bilbo more than a moment to realize what had been offered to him. He had taken a seat and steadied himself a bit, before running to put on his coat.

“And this is my Yule gift,” Balin had said revealing a smaller package.

Still unable to speak, Bilbo had ripped open the package to reveal a wool scarf. He had wrapped it around his neck, grinning till his jaw had started to ache. The scarf was blue and a bit rough but very warm, and the hobbit had been deeply grateful for it, for it was midwinter and Balin had just told him that snow had entirely covered the slopes of the Lonely Mountain.

They had set out together for Bilbo’s walk, for the hobbit had been bound to be escorted by Balin. This had not affected Bilbo’s pleasure and he had not been able to stop himself from asking.

“Is it really Thorin’s doing?” he had asked nervously.

“Of course, little one,” Balin had answered, smiling. “None of us could have given the order. You are still his prisoner and I have received words from the king’s mouth. I and Bofur have been asking for this for a long time, you know, but it’s Thorin’s decision and no one else’s. Fresh air and a walk will do you some good. Oh, look, Oin is waiting for us! He wants to make sure that you do not strain yourself too much after so many days shut in Erebor.”

So Oin had joined them and Bilbo had discovered that his rooms were not too far from the main terrace. His heart had been racing and his legs a bit weak at the knees, but he had managed quite well.

“I have asked Thorin to allow you out each day,” Oin had said, “for your health requires it. He does not seem adverse to the idea and I hope all will be settled for you to have a little time in open air.”

Bilbo had thanked Oin and Balin once more, but as soon as they had gone out on the terrace he had fallen silent.  

Snowflakes, tiny as buttons, had been dancing in the cold air. The snowfall had stopped shortly after dawn, but the harsh winds that always run over the slopes had been lifting the fresh snow, making it drift and flow in circles till the morning air had been glittering with it. The parapet was a little too high for the hobbit to see Dale beyond it, but he had been able to take in the vast view of the lands surrounding the Lonely Mountain. There was a harshness about it that had made Bilbo ache for the Shire and its sweet hills covered in snow where little hobbits played with their cheeks red from cold. The sight from Erebor’s terrace possessed a grandeur that had forced Bilbo to feel very small and stranger in the arms of the Mountain.

Bilbo had found it hard to breath, and even harder to walk side by side with Balin and Oin. The sound of the their steps had been disturbing; the banners flapping in the wind had startled him more than once. And then Thorin had appeared suddenly on the terrace, followed by Dain, Dwalin and other dwarves in rich dresses and with long braided beards tucked in their belts.

Bilbo had frozen on the spot and everyone had seemed quite embarrassed by the meeting. It had been unexpected – Thorin had been clearly annoyed and the hobbit had heard him muttering something to Balin like he should have already been back to his rooms. But the damage had been done and Dain had looked on the verge of introducing himself to the hobbit before the king himself stepped in between them, keeping Bilbo from Dain’s prying eyes.

Bilbo had been too stressed even to look at Thorin. The emotion of being allowed in fresh air had been quite strong; but stronger had been the view from the Mountain, a view he had not experienced since the day Thorin Oakenshield had threatened to throw him down into the abyss. Memories had come back in a rush, and black spots had appeared at the corner of his eyes.

But then Thorin’s voice had come, harsh and deep.

“The halfling is freezing out here,” he had barked, with a hard glance towards Balin and Oin, “He is supposed to be kept alive and healthy.”

Indeed Bilbo had been frozen to his bones. The winter morning air had been very hard on him after his seclusion, but he had been quite sure that his trembling had not been all due to the cold. Nonetheless, Thorin had acted on that assumption and Bilbo had not tried to deny it - besides his throat had been dry.  

The king’s voice had shaken him from the danger of fainting. Suddenly Bilbo had found Thorin kneeling before him and adjusting a fur mantle on his shoulders with such a brisk gesture that Bilbo had quite lost his balance and Thorin had had to steady him on his feet. It had happened so quickly that the hobbit had had no time to react nor to understand. While he had been working on the clasp of the mantle with his back turned to the other dwarves, Thorin had spoken to him. His voice had been low, but clear enough for Bilbo’s ears.

“Do you want me to bring you back to your rooms? You’re cold and trembling,” he had murmured, his hands brushing Bilbo’s for a moment. “You shouldn’t be out here,” Thorin had added, bitterly.

But Bilbo had shaken his head.

“No, it’s all right. I’ll be quite fine with Balin,” he had answered, feeling compelled to act bravely before the king. The dwarf had looked at him for few moments, as if weighing the truth of Bilbo’s response. Then Thorin had nodded.

Too soon Bilbo had seen the king and his company part from him without another word. Over his shoulders, Bilbo had found a fur mantle, not very large, but thick and warm. Oin and Balin had enclosed him in it, admitting that they had underestimated a little the effect of the cold weather on the poor hobbit. Bilbo had hardly listened to them, too absorbed in the idea that Thorin had just given him his mantle.

More than his sole body had felt warm under the fur.

Back in his rooms, Bilbo had gently tucked away the mantle, wondering if Thorin would have come to take it back at midnight. In the company of his guests, the little hobbit had almost forgotten it, but as soon as Bofur and Nori had closed the door behind them, Bilbo’s thoughts had gone back to the mantle.

Then he had undressed himself, laughing from ale and uneasiness. Naked, in the red golden light of the fire, he had climbed on the bed, covered himself with the fur and waited for the king. When Thorin had come, he had seemed a bit startled, and then annoyed, by the remnants of the party. He had moved in the room, touching the paper decorations and the empty bowls, scowling and frowning.

Bilbo had watched him from the bed trying to hide his nervousness under the mantle. The king had taken his time to check the room and then he had approached the bed.

“Balin should not have allowed you on the terrace so long,” Thorin had said, putting a knee on the bed. “Do you know what your cheeks and mouth red from cold have done to me?”

Bilbo had shaken his head, but only because it had seemed the right thing to do under Thorin’s blue gaze. The king had brushed the tip of his fingers on the fur mantle, looking thoughtful.

“I may want my fur back, halfling.”

Feeling quite mischievous, the hobbit had opened the mantle and enjoyed the sight of the king half-closing his eyes and swallowing hard. The fur had brushed his naked body in a very nice way and he could guess how his white skin was emphasized by the contrast with the dark fur under him.

“Thank you for your mantle and your thoughtfulness,” Bilbo had whispered, trying to lay quiet on the fur.

Thorin had made a strangled sound. Then the king had spent the rest of the night showing Bilbo some interesting things about the way a hobbit’s skin could turn pink from rubbing on fur.

 

Bilbo sighed quite happily as he remembered the sensation of Thorin’s body pressed against his. It was the ghost of a tingle on his naked back, a firm pressure against his buttocks, the faint smell of Thorin clinging to his skin and his bed. And then Bilbo realized that what he felt was a lot fleshier than a ghost.

It was Thorin Oakenshield in his bed, sleeping with his arm draped around the hobbit to keep him close to his chest, while his bearded chin rested among the soft curls of Bilbo’s head.

Bilbo was now completely awake. He heard the faint sound of Erebor rising from slumber, but Thorin was still asleep, his breath even and quiet. His arm weighed on Bilbo’s flank and his hot skin had kept the hobbit warm through the night. Bilbo did not remember exactly how he had come to fall asleep in Thorin’s arms, but he supposed they had been both exhausted.

Surely Thorin had not planned to sleep with him, had he? Bilbo did not dare to hope.

His body was more than a bit sore and Bilbo shifted slightly, trying to free his numb leg from Thorin’s weight. But the king reacted to his movement with a stronger grip, crushing the little hobbit against his chest, a hand splayed across his sternum and a low growl in his sleep. Bilbo gasped, more from surprise than hurt; it was all it took for Thorin to wake up.

Although he could not look at his face Bilbo sensed on his own skin the changes in Thorin: the first bewilderment at finding himself in the room, the realization of where he was and who he was holding in his arms, then the annoyance at the discovery and how Thorin’s body grew distant even before he was actually backing away. He did so with a certain amount of gentleness, maybe hoping that Bilbo could be still asleep.

But this time the hobbit was not willing to be part of such a deception. He rolled on his back and found himself staring at Thorin’s startled expression.

“Stay,” he asked plainly.

Bilbo’s voice was a bit husky from sleep, but firm. Thorin was now sitting on the bed, naked, half-aroused but evidently keen on ignoring it. Thorin looked for his shirt and his trousers and he dressed himself in quick, brisk moves, not even looking at Bilbo. The hobbit wondered if the king was cross with him, but in the end he did not really care – he was angry enough for both of them.

“Stay,” Bilbo repeated a bit more loudly.

The dwarf continued dressing, lacing his boots and putting on his jacket. But he did not pick up his fur mantle. He was already at the door when Bilbo spoke for the third time:

“Stay.”

Thorin left.

Chapter Text

After the third stay camethe fourth and the fifth, and Bilbo asked Thorin to stay at least seven times each of three nights in a row. The king seemed alternatively bothered and amused by the hobbit’s request. Sometimes Thorin just ignored it, sometimes he resorted to using his mouth and fingers to stifle the words in Bilbo’s throat. He even managed to look offended by the hobbit’s wish. Anyway, Thorin never complied.   

On the sixth night after Yule, Bilbo was watching the king cleaning himself with a damp towel. Thorin was sitting on the edge of the bed, scrubbing his chest and thighs and humming a song. He seemed in a good mood, maybe because the last meeting with Bard and the representatives of Dale had been quite a success – Bilbo knew about it from Bofur and Balin. But maybe the king was just pleased with himself because he had ripped out his own name from Bilbo’s mouth while he was buried deep in the hobbit’s body, driving both of them insane with pleasure.

However, the hobbit thought it could be a good moment to repeat his plea. Bilbo crawled over the blankets to reach the bed’s edge and sit at Thorin’s side. Dangling his hairy feet down the mattress, Bilbo nudged Thorin’s shoulder with his head.

 “Stay,” he said.

The king turned his head and planted a kiss on Bilbo’s damp curls. Then Thorin’s mouth moved south and Bilbo felt the dwarf’s nose bumping softly against his temple and his cheek. He heard Thorin taking a deep breath and guessed that there was a smile on Thorin’s lips, slightly swollen from their kissing.  

“How comes it that you smell so good, halfling?” the king asked lightly.

Bilbo frowned. He could answer back that Thorin’s smell was etched in his memory so that he never seemed to get rid of it, no matter how many times he changed the sheets and how many juniper berries he burned in the fireplace. Bilbo could also try to explain that he would never again stand in the rain without thinking about Thorin’s body. But he did not say anything about this. Instead, Bilbo said:

“Why don’t you stay? If today you are too busy, tomorrow. If not tomorrow, the day after. But stay.”

Thorin had already traded his peaceful demeanour for his usual scowl. The dwarf left the bed to look for his trousers – Bilbo vaguely remember tossing them somewhere near the fireplace, in his haste to have the king gloriously bare under his little greedy hands.

But he thought it better not to give that piece of information to the naked king. Instead Bilbo considered the possibility of rushing to Thorin, to entice him with kisses and cajole him back to the bed. But it was not really an option – he did want Thorin to stay for more than the pleasure they took in sharing their bodies.

So the hobbit forced himself to stay on the bed and took a deep breath.

“You come to me as a thief at midnight and disappear as soon as you have done with me.”

He had not intended to sound so harsh and accusing, but the words were out of his mouth and his voice was as sharp as Sting. If he had not known Thorin’s body so well by then, probably Bilbo would have missed its little shift. But Bilbo was improving at reading the king’s emotions through his limbs, so he knew that this time his arrow had hit the target.

Now dressed only in his trousers, Thorin straightened his back and tilted his head to look at Bilbo.

“I cannot,” he said quietly, holding the hobbit’s gaze.

“You cannot,” Bilbo repeated, and he was quite ready to challenge this statement when Thorin spoke again.

When did you steal the Arkenstone?” the king asked.

Bilbo froze. He was not expecting this. He was waiting for some painful explanation about the king’s duty and honour, and how Thorin could not spend his time with a simple hobbit from the Shire – there were no chances for them in Erebor. Bilbo had feared words about the distance between a hobbit and a king, and even cruel words about his ineptitude. Above all he had been sure Thorin would have not spared him a merciless reminder of the Arkenstone theft. But this was different.

This was a question. And the kind of question which could actually put Bilbo to shame.

Thorin was waiting for his answer. He was no longer pretending to look for his clothes, but stood still in the middle of the room. The hobbit’s eyes slipped almost casually to the king’s chest and the map of scars drawn on it. Bilbo had played stories in his head for each one of them, but Thorin had never told him how he had won his scars.

“You know,” Bilbo said slowly.

He heard Thorin laugh. It was a mirthless laugh.

“No, actually I do not,” Thorin said. Still calm, still composed. Still dangerous. “What I know is that I looked for the Arkenstone since I stepped into the hall for the first time after my exile. And I did not find the stone. I had always made very clear how I considered the Arkenstone part of my share, and how I valued it above any other treasure. I had given many suggestions about what would happen to the one willing to challenge my right on the Arkenstone,” he reminded Bilbo, his speech dreadfully slow. Thorin’s eyes burnt blue. “Do you remember this, burglar?”

Burglar. Bilbo knew that his face had been drained of all colour. His head was slowly spinning, walking in circles through the memories of those days. But he remembered, oh he remembered very well Thorin’s hunt for the Arkenstone, and how his behaviour had grown more suspicious and his threats more violent day by day.

“Do you see where this is going, burglar?” Thorin insisted before the hobbit’s silence. “You betrayed me,” he spat, losing some of his composure. “It is not only the fact that you went to my enemies, those who had laid a siege to my mountain, and gave them leverage. It is not even the sheer act of theft,” Thorin made clear with some contempt, “although I have been generous enough to ask you to be judged only for it. It is about how well you knew what you were doing to me, for you knew how much I wanted it.”    

“And you nearly killed me for it!” Bilbo shouted at the top of his lungs.

The shout scraped Bilbo’s throat and left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth. He felt the hatred building inside him and when he looked at Thorin he experienced the desire to punish him, to make him bleed, make him scream, make him pay. He tried to swallow down the disgusting taste of his resentment, but it was there; it had always been there, all the time. Bilbo was astonished by his own rage, but Thorin was not. Oh, no, Thorin was waiting for this and he was smiling the smile of the predator whose prey had just been cornered.   

“You see, we cannot sleep together and I cannot stay,” Thorin said, his voice unbearably deep and smooth against Bilbo’s shaking shoulders and red cheeks.

The smile had vanished from Thorin’s mouth, and his tone was now cold. Yet there was a hint of sadness in his blue eyes, like his words pained him almost as much as Bilbo. The hobbit would have probably taken notice of it if he had not kept his eyes on the floor, without really seeing anything at all.

The king finished dressing and left once again.

 

*

 

Thorin found small relief in his duty. He had hoped to lose himself in the most urgent task requiring his attention and he had a long talk with his cousin Dain concerning the relations between Erebor and the Iron Hills. But Thorin’s answers were curt and most unsympathetic; even his amiable cousin was forced to complain about it and Dain questioned Thorin about the source of his foul mood.

Thorin did not answer and sulked even more.

His brooding lasted all day. Thorin intended to avoid feeling guilty for the row with the halfling. Part of him knew it was only matter of time before some kind of argument on their nightly arrangements would burst out. But Thorin said to himself that it was not his fault and he had not asked for it. The burglar should have never insisted so much on the subject. Thorin would have gladly left certain questions for the day of the trial. A day you haven’t chosen yet, his conscience reminded him in a voice quite similar to Dwalin’s.     

At dinner, Thorin ate little to nothing and he was quite deaf to Dori and Nori bickering at his table. He hardly heard Dwalin’s complain about some general of Dain’s host, and Balin trying to make light of it. As soon as the dinner ended the king left abruptly and shut himself in his rooms.

He had thought to leave the halfling on his own at least for a night or two. It would give the burglar time to reconsider the absurdity of his pleas and recognise the king’s reasons. And certainly Thorin could do with a little rest: he was no longer a young dwarf and his nights in the halfling’s bed were, although pleasant, quite demanding. Thorin decided to ignore the twitch his cock gave at the sheer thought of the halfling’s enthusiasm and how cunningly Bilbo could drain him of his energies. 

He ignored it, but he knew that sleep would not come easily to him – it was the burglar or the Arkenstone. Holding the gem in his hands was surely less dangerous than running them on the halfling’s body, but there was something the Arkenstone could not possibly give him. The gem was Thorin’s: he knew every single shade of its brilliance, for he had contemplated it at each time of the day and in all conditions of light. But Bilbo Baggins of Bag End kept surprising him: he was stubborn and defiant in his own polite way, and Thorin definitely did not possess him. He could only take him, but he was enslaved to his consent.

The king frowned and wondered if it was really necessary to wait. They had got along tolerably well in the last few days and their quarrels were minor ones; the halfling had seemed to enjoy himself as much as Thorin and he had revealed a wonderful disposition to learn. There were so many things Thorin wished to try, many things he wanted to see the halfling blush for, and many things he longed to learn about the little creature’s body and mind.

Waiting is an overestimated strategy, Thorin thought, and left his rooms just before midnight.

He found the halfling in his dressing gown, sitting at this desk running through a book. It was not the first time the king had surprised the burglar in a similar pose and Thorin had to admit that the sight was oddly enticing. Bilbo took notice of his arrival, but he gave him just a swift glance before turning back to the book.

Thorin sensed that the halfling was still annoyed with him, but he feigned an easiness he did not feel and walked into the room. He grabbed a stool and placed it near the desk, close enough to peep over Bilbo’s shoulder. The king examined the book, pretending not to notice the way Bilbo’s breath caught. The book looked like some sort of essay on Khuzdul.

“Are you trying to master our language, halfling?” Thorin asked casually.

“Yes,” was the halfling’s reply.

Thorin was pleased to discover that they were on speaking terms. Even if Bilbo’s answer was short and delivered with a certain coldness.

“I could help you with that,” Thorin said, without even thinking.

He immediately regretted it, for it was clearly impossible for him to spend so much time with the halfling. So Thorin told himself to be relieved when Bilbo shrugged and did not seem to take his proposal seriously. But in the end Thorin felt the bite of his own disappointment.

“I could be a good teacher to you,” the dwarf insisted against his better judgement. He did not like to be denied, no matter how wise the denial.  

Thorin had put his left elbow on the desk and moved his hand to brush the curls on the halfling’s temple, wrapping them up around his fingers. The halfling stiffened at the light touch, but he did not close his precious book and his eyes did not seek the king’s.

“I have had enough of your lessons, Your Majesty,” he said, after a while.

Thorin felt a small laughter building in his throat. Clever halfling, he thought: the burglar surely knew how to turn the king’s words against him. It made Thorin strangely delighted – he blamed it on the three cups of wine he had had at dinner. His fingers slowly stroked the soft curls, trying to name their colour in the firelight. There was some copper in them, and aged gold.

“I am not mad at you right now,” Thorin confessed, leaning towards the halfling with his arm resting on the chair’s back.

He realised it was true: he was not angry at Bilbo and he might have not been really angry at him for a longer time that he cared to admit. Anyway Thorin wanted to put aside their disagreement at least for the moment. He was much more interested in discovering how the halfling’s mouth would cope with the harsh sounds of Khuzdul. Would his voice sweeten even the coarsest words?

Thorin touched Bilbo’s cheekbone with his lips. The halfling squirmed.

“But I am mad at you!” he squeaked, losing his restrained demeanour.

“Don’t,” Thorin coaxed him, while his lips were tracing a path on the halfling’s cheek, heading for his mouth. “It’s useless,” he sighed, before kissing the corner of the burglar’s mouth.

The halfling almost leapt from his chair and turned to face the king, his eyes wide open and something unbearably similar to fright painted on his round face. Thorin raised an eyebrow. He gently cupped Bilbo’s face in his hands to take a proper look at him. He did not like the expression on the halfling’s soft features and he needed to understand more of it in order to remove it. But the halfling shook his head wildly and pushed Thorin’s hands away.

“You want this,” the king hissed, trying to hide the doubts clawing at his heart.

“I do,” Bilbo moaned as in pain. “But I cannot.”

“You are using my words against me,” Thorin recognised, but this time he did not take any pleasure in it.

“You were right,” the halfling continued, shrugging and looking away.

“You know that I was not talking about...” and Thorin stopped, because the boundary was not so clean as he would have liked it to be. He did not try to kiss the halfling again. Instead, Thorin’s hand ran over Bilbo’s neck, caressing the sensitive skin and dipping in the opening of the dressing gown. The halfling’s skin was tender under Thorin’s fingers and slightly damp from his bath.

“Please,” Bilbo whispered, and it sounded like a yes.

Thorin found a nipple under the cloth and rubbed it between his fingers. The halfling whimpered and it was the most delicious sound to the king’s ears: Thorin swallowed it, covering Bilbo’s mouth with his own. The little nub of flesh hardened under his touch and Thorin knew he had to lose himself again in the halfling’s body before dawn came. He was on the point of scooping the halfling in his arms and carrying him to bed, when Bilbo backed away from the kiss.

“No. Go away.”

And he was wriggling away from Thorin’s touch and the king savoured the pain of being rejected along with Bilbo’s taste in his mouth.

“Don’t do this,” Thorin snarled between his gritted teeth. But the halfling shook his head again.

“I cannot. I won’t,” he muttered, avoiding Thorin’s gaze. “Not unless you are willing to stay longer.”

Thorin was furious by now and he leapt to his feet for he could not stand the proximity of the halfling’s body without trying to tear the damned dressing gown to pieces. He pressed his knuckles to his mouth, struggling to keep his temper in check – the halfling was trying to bargain with him, but negotiating was not in Thorin’s nature.

“As you wish,” he concluded resentfully.

Thorin saw the disappointment in Bilbo’s eyes, but he turned his back on the halfling.

Chapter Text

Somehow he had always longed for Thorin, ever since their first meeting.

At first he had longed for what Thorin represented in his eyes – the unknown.

The exiled prince was adventure itself, and drama; he was the tragic hero of books and legends. Thorin was so different from the kind of life Bilbo Baggins had known in the Shire that he had immediately felt attracted to Thorin’s personal history and his will to take back Erebor. Then, once involved in the quest, the little hobbit had grown eager to win Thorin’s approval: Bilbo had fought to be considered part of the company and not a mere nuisance. The more the prince had demonstrated his dissatisfaction with the burglar, the more Bilbo had struggled against Thorin’s prejudices – and even against his own habits and inclinations.

But Bilbo had never suspected that Thorin’s esteem would be so heart-warming, his smile so charming and his friendship one of the most valuable things of his entire life. Neither had Bilbo foreseen how his desire for Thorin would grow, the way the dwarf’s presence would affect him no matter what inappropriate situation they were in along the road. Bilbo had pushed these thoughts away, storing his lust in a part of his mind thick with shadows.

Then they had reached Erebor and things had gone from bad to worse.

Bilbo had experienced many kinds of longing. He had missed Thorin in so many ways, pining for what was always out of reach; yet he was not prepared to yearn for Thorin’s body as he did. Such a familiarity had grown from their nights that the rooms seemed empty in the king’s absence. And Bilbo’s senses were going through a sort of numbness, where few stimuli were able to reach him.

He missed Thorin. He knew he should not have allowed himself to hope – he was a prisoner and Thorin had never talked about retracting his accusations of theft. Yet Bilbo felt the violent impulse to confess, confess everything of his feelings and thoughts and fears; to speak of his resentment and how his body trembled at the memory of Thorin’s threat to his life – how his body trembled with desire for the dwarf king. The hobbit felt almost sick with the contradictions of his heart and he wished he could speak of them with Thorin, offer him the truth, his bare soul. Thorin could reject him; he could crush Bilbo’s honesty under his boots. But it would be better than this – this nothing, this blank, this open wound.

In spite of this Bilbo lingered in limbo. He did not try to contact Thorin, not this time; this time Thorin would have to come round on his own. The hobbit forced himself to maintain his usual behaviour in the company of his friends and he tried to settle in a routine where the king was not involved at all. But his sadness could not go unnoticed among the dwarves, and soon Bofur set himself the task of cheering him up.

“Do you miss the Shire?” Bofur asked him one day.

They were seated in a large room used by dwarvish engineers for their meetings. Bofur had encouraged Bilbo to visit him there as he wanted to show him some drawings and projects he was working on. Balin had accompanied the little hobbit from his rooms to the engineers’ hall, but then he had left him in Bofur’s care.

More than a week had passed since that awful meeting with Thorin. Bilbo had seen the king on a few occasions, when Balin or some other dwarf had taken him out for his daily walk on the terraces or through Erebor’s halls. But Thorin never spoke to him, and Bilbo avoided even looking at the king.

“Always,” Bilbo replied to Bofur’s question, and his thoughts were not only of the Shire.

“Well, it’s a very nice place,” Bofur conceded, grinning. “I wouldn’t mind spending some years there. Surely there would be plenty of work for a toymaker.”

“But you’re rich now,” the hobbit reminded him, smiling back.

“I worked out of need in the past, but I’ve always found pleasure in my work,” Bofur revealed, shrugging. “Toys tend to made people happier and I suppose it’s a good way to spend my time, isn’t it?” the dwarf asked, playing with his beard.

Bilbo could not find any fault in Bofur’s reasons, so he nodded.

“And I hope this will make you happier,” the toymaker continued, while rummaging in one of the big chests aligned to the walls. Bofur came back to the table to put before Bilbo what looked like a wooden cube, whose faces were carved in a neat pattern of diamonds. Each face of the cube was as big as the dwarf’s hand and the object seemed pretty heavy.

The hobbit stared at it, intrigued.

“Thank you very much,” he said to Bofur, narrowing his gaze on the cube, “but what is it?”

“Keep your eyes wide open,” Bofur suggested, chuckling.

The dwarf moved his fingers on the left side of the cube, to grasp a diamond bigger than the others: Bofur turned it four times. Then he took away his fingers and, with a soft bang, the cube opened up like some sort of mechanical flower.

Once opened, the cube revealed a little world of wood and metal. Placed in the middle of it there was a small wooden hill painted in bright green. There was a tiny round door in the hill and when it opened a small figure, not larger than Bilbo’s little finger, appeared in the doorway. It was quite a good portrait of Bilbo Baggins of Bag End and the hobbit suspected Ori’s collaboration. The little Bilbo stood on his door with his hands on his hips and looked down the other face of the cube, where little wooden ducks moved in circles on a silver lake. On the right of the hill, there was a small village painted in brilliant tones, from the chimneypieces to the round faces smiling at the windows. On the left side there were trees with silver and golden leaves and a little red fox was running back and forth among the trunks. On the last fold of the cube, there was just the silhouette of a great mountain, so that one could see it far behind the hill, blue in the distance.

Bilbo was speechless. He had never seen something like that, nor he had ever received such a gift. It was easily the most elaborate toy the hobbit had ever cast his eyes upon, and it had been created for him. Bilbo sensed his throat closing and his eyes burning slightly. He felt Bofur’s gaze on him and how the toymaker was holding his breath, waiting for his approval. Bilbo turned in his chair and threw his arms around Bofur’s neck, laughing away his tears. The dwarf blushed, staggered and then patted him on his back.

“I suppose you like it,” he muttered, unusually shy.

“I like it very much,” Bilbo confirmed, as soon as they broke their embrace. “It is amazing, Bofur! I was truly unaware of your skills. You must have spent a lot of time on it, and what a wonderful result it is! It’s one of the best things I have ever received in my life, and one of the most beautiful.”

“You seem so sad lately, and I wondered if something like that could help you,” Bofur confessed.

“It does,” the hobbit assured him quickly. “It’s truly the Shire,” Bilbo murmured, lowering his head to revel in the abundance of the toy’s details. The figurines were no longer moving now that the wind-up was exhausted, but the toy was still a delight for the eyes.

“Ori helped me with your portrait and the details of the landscape,” Bofur explained, “and I fear he will be very discontented when he learns that I have shown you the toy in his absence...but I couldn’t wait anymore to cheer you up.”

“I will thank him as soon as possible,” Bilbo promised. And it was quite soon, for Ori walked into the room and squeaked at the sight of the toy revealed on the table.

“Oh, I knew you wouldn’t wait for me!” he lamented, scowling at Bofur.

“I’m sorry, but Bilbo was moping and sulking!” the other dwarf justified himself, pinching the hobbit’s shoulder. Bilbo’s cheeks reddened.

“I was not moping at all, Master Bofur!” he protested, but he saw the mirth in Bofur’s eyes and how even Ori was no longer pretending to be annoyed. The young dwarf joined them at the table, smiling broadly.

“Well, it’s really beautiful,” Ori commented, “I wish Dori and Nori would have given me toys like that when I was a little dwarf. But Dori preferred long, wise speeches and Nori’s gifts...well, you were never sure how he had laid his hands upon them. But I received some books as well, so I guess it was all right in the end.”

“You have done a good job with my tiny self,” Bilbo said appreciatively, and soon they were chatting about the Shire and its inhabitants, and the dwarves reciprocated his stories with anecdotes of their wanderings.

It was in this state of things that Balin joined them, choosing to overlook the fact that Bilbo was spending much more time than usual outside his rooms. Then Nori came and teased Ori about his portrayals of the hobbits, and even Gloin spared some moments admiring the toy and wondering if such a thing could be created in a series to be sold in Dale.

“This is an unique piece,” Bofur frowned at the proposal, “like our Mr Baggins. It’s going to remain as it is.”

Bilbo smiled softly at Bofur’s countenance and he was grateful for the implied compliment.

There was then a bit of fuss at the door, where other dwarves – strangers to Bilbo – had come to marvel at the toymaker’s masterpiece.

“It’s Thorin!” Bilbo heard Ori squeaking.

The King under the Mountain was indeed there, his mighty figure filling the doorframe and a dark expression upon his face. Bilbo’s back stiffened and even the dwarves around him seemed like children surprised in the pantry stealing food. Balin and Bofur reacted first: the old dwarf greeted the king, pretending that nothing was wrong with the hobbit being still at liberty in the engineers’ hall, while Bofur was bold enough to invite Thorin to approach the table and take a look at the toy.

“Would Your Majesty give his opinion about my creation?” Bofur proposed merrily.

Thorin’s scowl did not fade away; but the king came nearer, his eyes fixed on the toy.

“Is it your work, Bofur?” Thorin asked, while the dwarves made space for his approach. Bilbo wanted to slip down in his chair, but he was trapped by Nori on his left side and Thorin’s stride on the other.

“Mine and Ori’s,” the toymaker explained. “It’s a mechanical box. Bilbo, close and open it again as I have shown you,” he smoothly invited the hobbit.

Bilbo wondered if Bofur was conscious of the thick tension fallen on the party. The king’s hands gripped the edge of the table while he was leaning to look upon the toy.

Trying not to think of Thorin’s presence just beside him nor of Thorin’s strong hands inches away from his own body, Bilbo focused on the task of folding the toy in itself like Bofur had done many times. While Bofur’s hands had never trembled, the hobbit’s fingers were shaky.

But Bilbo succeeded, even if it took him some time. Then he grasped the diamond, turned it and the toy blossomed once again in the tiny Shire. Thorin was silent and Bilbo felt his cheeks quite hot, especially when his tiny self appeared at the door. All the dwarves were quiet, giving their king the opportunity to appreciate the toy at his leisure. After a while, Bofur coughed softly. This seemed to break the spell and Thorin straightened himself.

“One of your best works so far, Bofur,” the king commented, but there was a hint of coldness in his voice and even Bofur was unable to come up with an appropriate response.

Bilbo hoped the ordeal was coming to an end, but Thorin thought differently.

“Do you like it?” he asked, and Bilbo felt his eyes piercing into the back of his head. None of the other dwarves mistook Thorin’s intention and no one answered in Bilbo’s place.

“Yes, I like it very much,” he replied, and he was stricken by the thought that probably that was not the answer Thorin was looking for and he was now displeased with him. Well, more than usual.

He knew Thorin was inclined to being possessive and he had already experienced the kind of coldness that came over him when he was annoyed by the time Bilbo spent with the other dwarves. Thorin had never actually prohibited them from keeping him company, but Bilbo had guessed all the same. In particular, Thorin seemed somewhat jealous of his friendship with Bofur – he had never spoken against it, yet it bothered him and it had never seemed so plain to Bilbo before.

Bilbo was torn between the desire to reassure the king and leaving him to his stupid jealousy. After all, Thorin had chosen to ignore Bilbo’s pleas; so he could not trouble the hobbit with his distrust.

However, Thorin did not linger. He exchanged a couple of words with Balin about the next meeting with Bard of Dale, making it seems like he was trying to suggest that those words were the reason of his presence. Then he left, and soon the dwarves’ gathering was broken.

That very night Bilbo laid awake in his bed wondering if Thorin would come to him. The thought of a new quarrel with the king did not seem amusing to him at all and it took another go-round of the toy to remind Bilbo of the pleasant feeling of having friends in Erebor.

Bilbo fell asleep with the toy opened on his bed, and no one disturbed his dreams.

Chapter Text

The guards at the door had not warmed towards him.

Bilbo suspected that the four dwarves alternating at the task were deeply loyal to the king, well paid or both. They treated the hobbit with cold courtesy, without ever taking an interest in him but as a prisoner. It was a bit discomforting, but Bilbo guessed that it was probably one of the reasons why there were still no well-founded rumours about the nights the king had spent in his company. It was impossible that the guards had not guessed anything of it and this made Bilbo quite embarrassed in their presence; yet the guards acted as if nothing had ever happened. Exactly like their king.

At least the guards were very punctual regarding his meals, Bilbo admitted to himself while he was setting himself for lunch. He was going to have walnut salad and salted meat, along with pumpkin pie and a sip of Mirkwood red wine. Sitting on a stool before the low table, Bilbo took his napkin and he was going to put it around his neck when the door opened.

Bilbo thought that one of the guards had forgotten something or one of his friends had come to have lunch with him without warning – Nori had this somehow troublesome habit. But it was not a guard nor was it Nori.

It was Thorin Oakenshield. He had probably come from his council or some other official appointment, for he was dressed in his richest clothes, black fur and blue velvet embroidered with silver threads. Bilbo let the napkin fall on the carpet and just stared.

The king had closed the door behind himself and he was standing with his back against the wood, like he needed some time to steady himself. He opened his mouth and then closed it again, frowning deeply. He lowered his eyes and kept his lips sealed, but his chest was rising and falling at an uneven rhythm. Bilbo did not know what came over him, but he was soon on his feet and walking toward the king.

Thorin’s gaze was suddenly upon him, and his blue eyes burned like stars in a winter night.

Bilbo thought fleetingly of their last fight and the lunch cooling on the table. Then Bilbo was closer to the king, and he had to raise his head to hold Thorin’s gaze. Thorin did not move at all, but Bilbo saw him biting his lower lip – it was such a remarkable and rare gesture on his part that Bilbo felt his longing grow even more until he could not bear it anymore. He rose up on the tips of his toes, and yet he had to stretch his arms to sink his fingers in the black fur collar around Thorin’s neck and give it a tug.

At last Thorin understood: his arms closed gently around Bilbo’s waist as if he was afraid he might break the little creature, and then he leaned over Bilbo until the hobbit could take his mouth. It was a hungry kiss, and Bilbo licked and bit, sucking at Thorin’s tongue. The dwarf pressed him closer, his hands digging into Bilbo’s hips. Bilbo felt Thorin’s arousal pressing against his stomach and moaned into Thorin’s mouth, holding tighter to the fur. He had craved this, Thorin’s lips and the burn of his beard against the hobbit’s soft smooth skin. He had longed for the way the king had seemed willing to consume him to the last kiss, sometimes deserting the hobbit’s lips to savour his cheeks and neck and chin but always coming back to his mouth. Bilbo’s nostrils were filled with Thorin’s scent – the dear, lovely smell of Thorin’s skin, the memory of which had never abandoned Bilbo in the long days of the king’s absence. He breathed in it, hardly keeping himself from laughing just for the sheer pleasure of being held by Thorin – kissed, licked, his back caressed by strong hands.

Thorin’s hold grew firmer and he eventually lifted Bilbo from the floor. The hobbit was encouraged to close his legs around Thorin’s waist so that the king could carry him easily enough, one hand squeezing Bilbo’s buttocks and his lips nuzzling at the hobbit’s neck. They moved towards the bed, Thorin carrying the hobbit and looking more affected by Bilbo’s mouth than by his weight. Then Thorin carefully laid the hobbit on the mattress before following him onto the green blankets. Thorin kicked away his boots in order to crawl over to the hobbit and kiss him again. Bilbo’s hands ran over Thorin’s clothes, looking for a way to reach the skin hidden under them. Thorin laughed softly at Bilbo’s impatience and whispered endearments in his ears while kissing and licking them. But Thorin’s eyes were dark with lust and soon he flipped Bilbo on his stomach.

“Quiet,” Thorin whispered in Bilbo’s ear, before sucking at his earlobe in a way that made it impossible for the hobbit to obey his command.

The king freed himself from his elegant coat and threw it on the floor near his boots. Then Thorin moved both his hands along Bilbo’s body, tasting his shivers through the clothes. When Thorin’s fingers reached the hobbit’s buttocks they lingered, tracing a delicate pattern that made Bilbo hunger for more every time the pressure focused on where his cheeks parted. He would have liked to undress as soon as possible and feel his skin burning against Thorin’s, but the dwarf gently pushed him against the mattress each time Bilbo tried to move. Bilbo moaned in frustration and Thorin – hungered rather than moved by the sounds escaping the hobbit’s mouth – unclasped Bilbo’s breeches and roughly pulled down his trousers.

Bilbo gasped, his sudden nakedness like a slap on the pale skin of his buttocks – even the effect was similar, for his skin turned a delicate shade of red from embarrassment. And Thorin deepened the blush when he pinched softly at the exposed flesh until the hobbit was writhing over the blankets and trying to raise himself on his elbows and knees. Thorin slipped his left arm under Bilbo, to lift him against his body and push his erection against Bilbo’s cheeks in a crushing embrace that left them both panting.

It was one of those times when they had no time or patience for playing around, discovering their bodies kiss after kiss, easing themselves into pleasure. They wanted all, and they wanted it now. They had to soothe the wounds left by their last meeting and shrug away the numbness from their bodies. Bilbo did not want to be wooed and seduced – Thorin had already won him when he had walked into the room a few moments before and all the hobbit could think of was the king claiming his prize. So Bilbo ground against the firm limbs weighing on his back, pleased even by the cold metal of a buckle pressing on his cheek – the king saw to it, licking the slightly bruised skin and removing his belt with a rough gesture.

Bilbo heard the clang of the buckle hitting the floor and then Thorin’s stiff cock against his buttocks, pressing and urging in such a way that the hobbit thought Thorin was going to take him right now, without the least preparation. But Bilbo did not have time to worry about being hurt: Thorin rumbled something in Khuzdul with his mouth over Bilbo’s nape – something that could have been an apology – then moved to get the oil from the bedside table.

The scent of the oil made Bilbo tremble in anticipation. Yet he was not ready when one finger breached him, covered in oil, but still thick and rough. His body fought it and Bilbo grasped at the blankets under him, before he heard the dwarf’s deep voice.

“So tight,” Thorin murmured in his left ear. His voice was honey, dark sweet honey pouring into Bilbo’s mind and body, affecting him to the bones.

The hobbit relaxed and the finger slipped further inside. The king’s body covered his and Thorin’s body was bigger and stronger, like the hard shell hiding the much more tender fruit; it was all it took for Bilbo to feel safe and cherished and beautiful like a pearl. The finger in his anus turned and turned, making Bilbo moan in such an abandoned way that he kept trying to stifle his voice, for he was embarrassed by his own responsiveness. While more oil was added and it slowly dripped between the hobbit’s cheeks, Thorin’s other hand plunged into Bilbo’s curls and pulled gently on his head.

“Put your hands on the headboard,” Thorin ordered firmly.

Bilbo found fighting the urge to obey impossible and his little hands flew to the bed’s headboard. He was rewarded with another stroke on his hair. He had just closed his fingers on the wood when Thorin pushed a second finger in him. The oil had warmed and now the movements were much less awkward, yet there was something feral in the way the king was preparing him – it was rash and impetuous. Bilbo had always appreciated Thorin’s carefulness and his sweetest touches, but he found himself growing harder at this rougher rhythm and enjoying every bit of the king’s eagerness. It was slightly painful now and then, but it played on such strings that the little hobbit almost feared to lose himself into it.

Before he could stop himself from speaking his desire aloud, Bilbo found himself begging.

“Thorin, please. Now, inside. Please,” he murmured, scattering shattered words over the blankets and almost losing his grip on the headboard. He heard the dwarf’s breath coming to a halt and then shattering into a moan. Thorin tried the resistance of the muscle with his fingers and explored the tension coiling there.

“I must stretch you further,” Thorin replied, his voice so tense it almost broke.

The dwarf continued his caress, working his fingers between Bilbo’s cheeks until the hobbit was in tears with desire. Bilbo’s knuckles were snow white from the strength he was using to hold himself to the headboard as he pushed back on Thorin’s fingers.

“Cannot wait anymore,” he babbled. “Please, Thorin...”

Suddenly the fingers were out of Bilbo’s ass and Thorin was growling in a way that would have been frankly terrifying if the hobbit had not been so eager. Bilbo heard the sound of Thorin slicking himself with oil. A few moments later the dwarf pushed all the way in. Bilbo cried out and his body flinched brusquely. He felt his fingers slipping over the wood, but the king’s hands covered his and Thorin helped him to hold on. Bent over Bilbo, Thorin pressed his forehead between the hobbit’s shoulders: his breath damped quickly Bilbo’s shirt and his braids brushed the hobbit’s back.

The dwarf was still now, but Bilbo knew how much effort it took him to not thrust immediately. Slowly Bilbo contracted his muscles, savouring the sweet pain of being filled and Thorin’s delicious groan when the hobbit’s flesh clenched upon his cock. The king’s hands squeezed Bilbo’s, then he probably realised he was using too much strength and moved his fingers aside to grip the headboard instead. Bilbo saw Thorin’s fingers glistening with the oil he had used the prepare him: the thought of how those fingers had opened him and caressed his core drove Bilbo mad with lust.

“Please,” he whined.

It took nothing more for Thorin to let go. He backed away and immediately pushed forward: the short, powerful thrust sent shivers along Bilbo’s spine. Then Thorin repeated it again and again, setting a harsh rhythm that covered them both in sweat and left Bilbo gasping for air.

Their clothes crinkled and brushed, and made Bilbo feel almost trapped in his own skin as well as under Thorin’s weight. It was an ungentle coupling, rushed and erratic; Thorin’s hair dangling over Bilbo’s back and his pelvis clashing against his bare bottom. Soon the hobbit was rocking his hips to meet the thrusts as best he could, for Thorin’s pace often changed – now short and swift, now slower but deeper.

There was a certain spot that Thorin could press on to push Bilbo near the edge of his pleasure, but the king was very careful: he never lingered on it long enough to allow the hobbit his release, and Bilbo could nothing but whimper and try to readjust the angle of penetration. Bilbo’s efforts were hampered when the dwarf grasped his hips with both hands and straightened his back to better dictate the rhythm between their bodies. Thorin kept Bilbo as still as possible, burrowing his fingers in the soft flesh at the hobbit’s waist, and slowed his movements till the little hobbit was almost sobbing.

“Oh, no, no,” Bilbo moaned, “you must...”

“Must I?” Thorin replied. His voice was strained, but he stilled his body while running his hands on the hobbit’s buttocks. He parted the hobbit’s cheeks, spreading his fingers on the heated skin. Bilbo’s breath faltered, for he knew that there was enough light in the room to show Thorin every detail of the tight ring of muscles stretched around his cock. Bilbo did not dare to look at the king, but he felt one finger moving closer to his hole and grazing lightly on the tense edge. Bilbo shouted Thorin’s name.

The dwarf backed a little, until only the head of his cock was inside the hobbit.

“Move,” he commanded, without removing his hands from the hobbit’s buttocks.

Bilbo had to push against the headboard to guide his own body back. Thorin gave a low hum of appreciation and kept caressing and teasing him, until Bilbo had taken him again to the hilt. The pressure was so much and the air so thick with the scent of their bodies that Bilbo tried to move his right hand to his own cock. It was already leaking, stiff and heavy between his legs - though Thorin had not touched it yet. The hobbit closed his fingers around the length, and his eyes and thoughts lost focus: a couple of pulls and he would spend himself on the blankets.

But Thorin roughly reached for his hand and snatched it away.

“Don’t,” he hissed while moving Bilbo’s hand back to the headboard. Without even trying to understand Bilbo attempted again to touch himself, but this time Thorin used his own hands to trap the hobbit’s on the wood. “Don’t,” Thorin repeated in a dark, cruel tone. “If you do not keep still, I shall tie you up,” he threatened while driving into him again, “and I might do it anyway,” Thorin added, lust thickening his voice.

The thought fogged Bilbo’s mind, fearsome and dissolute as it was. But Thorin did not tie him in the end, for he was much too busy fucking him out of his wits. He took the hobbit thoroughly, hardly leaving him breath or voice. Bilbo needed to come, the pressure in his groin too painful to bear.

Then Thorin buried himself with a deep groan, and Bilbo felt the warmth of the king’s release filling him. It was maddening, because Thorin did not move anymore after he had spent himself: though it was extremely pleasant to sense Thorin shuddering inside him still half-hard, Bilbo had not come yet and the dwarf’s hands trapped his on the headboard. Bilbo was at the point of insulting the king in a most unhobbitish fashion, when Thorin seemed to recover himself a bit.

“Come,” Thorin whispered, while reaching down between the hobbit’s legs with his hand. He gave Bilbo’s cock a few pulls and he had just pressed his thumb on the tip when Bilbo came, howling like a wildling.

Chapter Text

When Bilbo was able to understand what was happening around him and he opened his eyes again, he found that he was laying on the bed on his side. His body was sore and a bit aching all over, his breath still altered; his lower belly and the blankets were sticky and damp. But Thorin was there, kneeling beside him, and he was gently brushing Bilbo’s buttocks with a damp towel.

Bilbo gingerly turned his head, like he would have done in presence of a wild animal, and looked at the dwarf. The king had buttoned his trousers, but his clothes were rumpled and he had a dishevelled air about him. Bilbo smiled lightly, finding it very hard to keep his eyelids open. He felt Thorin’s gaze on him and the dwarf’s fingers on his cheek.

“Little bunny,” Thorin murmured. He did not say anything else, but there was concern in his voice.

“ ‘m all right,” Bilbo mumbled, sensing the question behind Thorin’s tone. He closed his eyelids and pushed his warm cheek against Thorin’s palm, like a bird finding his nest.

“No, you are not,” the king replied gravely.

“Too much,” Bilbo admitted then, but a smile tugged at his lips at the idea of that glorious too much. He just needed a bit of rest and Thorin’s attention on him, his gentlest touch and maybe some kissing. Oh, some kissing would be perfect, since he was not sure he could speak clearly. 

“I know,” Thorin answered between gritted teeth. “I hurt you,” he added.   

Bilbo groaned and shook his head. He felt quite weak and limp, so he let Thorin do the cleaning and remove the stained blanket until Thorin left the hobbit laying on fresh sheets. Bilbo tried to rise, but his poor head was still spinning from the force of his orgasm, and Thorin’s arms closed around him in order to steady him. Bilbo rested his head on the dwarf’s shoulders and took refuge in the warmth of Thorin’s body.  

“You are too pale,” the king noticed, with his mouth brushing Bilbo’s cheek. The hobbit stretched his neck and turned his head in order to kiss Thorin. The dwarf complied quietly, allowing Bilbo to suck his lips; but soon Thorin pulled away from the kiss.

Bilbo realised he was trembling a bit: he wanted to stop because it was quite embarrassing and Thorin seemed to be greatly worried by it, but he could not help. He was overwhelmed and he could not think straight except for the fact that the king could be leaving at any moment. He heard the king pouring sweet, silly sounds without meaning onto his skin. Then Thorin lifted Bilbo in his arms like he would do with a child; he carried Bilbo without giving a second though to the fact that the hobbit’s trousers were still around his ankles.

Bilbo wrapped his arms around Thorin’s neck and gave a little whimper when the king took a seat at the table. Thorin kept the little hobbit on his lap, trying to ease him in a position that did not pain him too much. Bilbo leant into Thorin’s embrace with a sigh and watched the king lift the cup of wine the hobbit had prepared for himself.

Thorin brought the cup to Bilbo’s lips and inclined it slowly to let him take a sip. The sweet wine cleared Bilbo’s thoughts a bit, and washed the dryness from his mouth and throat. Then Bilbo saw Thorin choose a little morsel of pumpkin pie and present it to his lips.

“Eat,” Thorin ordered.

Bilbo opened his mouth to let the morsel be pushed inside. When he closed his lips, he felt the tip of Thorin’s fingers – the hobbit suddenly realised that he was really sitting on the king’s lap and the king was feeding him from his own hand. Bilbo lowered his head, sensing his cheeks turning red and chasing away the paleness. Thorin was still looking at him and he planted a kiss on the hobbit’s forehead.

“Better?” Thorin asked, probably thinking that the wine and the food were doing well for Bilbo’s weakness.

The hobbit could only nod. He let Thorin give him more food, pie and salad, always choosing the best morsels and never taking away his other arm from Bilbo’s waist. It was improper – and probably unsanitary - to have lunch with his buttocks and legs still naked, feeling his trousers dangling from his feet; but Bilbo revelled in happiness.

Bilbo’s head was not spinning anymore and his appetite was back in full force. He ate with enthusiasm, savouring the way Thorin’s fingers brushed his mouth and his chin, the lightly rough skin pressed on his lips and teeth. He soon took notice of the way the king was looking at him, and Bilbo consciously sucked at the tips of the fingers leaving his mouth once again. Thorin’s blue eyes darkened in such a way that Bilbo’s belly clenched.

“Are you...aren’t you hungry?” Bilbo asked in a small voice.

“I am,” Thorin admitted without taking his eyes away from the hobbit’s mouth. He slowly pushed a little walnut between Bilbo’s parted lips. “But you have drained me for now, little bunny.”

Bilbo grew even redder at the dwarf’s words and he had to remind himself to swallow the walnut.

“I...I was not speaking of...” he murmured.

Thorin gave him a wolfish smile and then shrugged, plainly amused.

“Anyway, I cannot stay much longer,” the king said after a few moments. He was talking lightly, but Bilbo did not miss the attentive look in his eyes. “They are waiting for me at the treasury,” Thorin explained.

Bilbo did not speak immediately. Things had changed, hadn’t they? Thorin was still there and he was tending to him. Such gentleness could not be faked. But it was possible that Thorin had been moved by pity and regret, and this would mean nothing as soon as Thorin left Bilbo’s rooms again.

“Why have you come?” Bilbo asked, his voice quite steady. But he was unable to look at Thorin.

“You told me that I come to you like a thief at midnight,” Thorin reminded him, “but there’s only one burglar here,” the dwarf concluded and for the first time burglar seemed an endearment rather than an accusation.

It was not exactly the answer to Bilbo’s question, but it was something.

Thorin slipped his fingers under Bilbo’s chin and forced him to lift his head and meet his blue gaze. Then Thorin kissed him. It was a slow, deep kiss, tender on the surface but hungry and possessive at its core. It spoke of the longing Thorin had experienced. Bilbo knew it would take more time to speak openly of what was changing between them, but the change was there and Thorin had acknowledged it.

Thorin broke the kiss unwillingly.

“I must go,” the dwarf sighed. “Finish your lunch and take some rest.”

“Will you come back tonight?” Bilbo asked quickly.

Thorin went still, but soon relaxed again and pulled the hobbit closer to his chest. Bilbo felt the dwarf’s heartbeat through the layers of his clothes.

“I might,” Thorin murmured, running his hands up and down Bilbo’s body. “There are things we must discuss about your situation,” he added quietly.  

“I’ll wait for you,” Bilbo promised as soon as he recovered from his surprise at Thorin’s words.  

The eagerness in his voice pleased the king – Bilbo sensed his smile over his curls. Thorin spent a few moments to share a cup of wine with him and licked away the little red drops lingering on the hobbit’s lips. Then he let him slip down from his lap and kept Bilbo still to examine the light bruises left by his grasp on the tender hips.

“You are so easily marked,” he commented, and Bilbo did not know if it was supposed to be a bad or a good thing, for Thorin’s tone was inscrutable.

While the king was gathering his belt, his fur and what else he had discarded in the rush of taking the hobbit to the bed, Bilbo arranged his own clothes. When Bilbo was alone again in his room, with the cold remains of his lunch, he felt a new sweetness coming over him. It felt like winning. And he hoped it felt the same to Thorin.

 

*

 

I might. He had not promised, yet it felt like an oath. Thorin sighed.

He knew he was playing a dangerous game. Calling it game was all he could do to keep certain thoughts and confused feelings at bay, even if the word sounded unpleasant even to his ears. He was able to accept it as long as he was the only one using it, but he did not like the idea of the halfling playing. He hoped that Bilbo – well, what Thorin foolishly hoped about Bilbo’s feelings was one of the many reasons why it was a dangerous game. Another reason was the possibility of being discovered. A possibility that had grown more likely to happen since Thorin had decided to visit the burglar at midday. He suspected that keeping himself from spending time with Bilbo would become increasingly difficult, for he had enjoyed having him in his lap almost as much as spending himself in his body.

Greediness would be Thorin’s undoing.

How much longer he could keep secret his desire for the burglar? Thorin had already given in to his conscience – denying his lust for the halfling had been disastrous and fatiguing. But what about his subjects or his friends? No one would be pleased at the discovery and Thorin knew too well that he was not in the best position to be careless about his decisions.

He was King under the Mountain. He had duties. He had exactly what he had always wished and fought for. He was not supposed to lose himself over a halfling from the faraway Shire, for Mahal’s sake.

Yet he could not deny that when things between him and Bilbo were going comparatively well his duties seemed lighter and he acted smoothly and wisely - he even smiled more. He felt that Bilbo’s company soothed some ache rooted in his heart, the place where Thorin’s pain for his nephews laid as well. But it could not last forever, Thorin knew. Surely he would be able to put an end to this when time would come.

For the time being, Thorin would have been glad to get rid of his cousin Dain, who was pestering him on behalf of his generals.

“You have not an army, cousin,” Dain was saying, “and it will take time to create a new one. Your folk are coming back to Erebor and your dwarves are doing an unbelievably good job restoring the Mountain’s quarters and facilities. But as soon as I am on my way back to the Iron Hills, your remaining military will not meet your needs.”

“So you are willing to leave me part of your army and a couple of your generals? How kind,” the king commented, not bothering to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

“Please, don’t use that tone with me,” Dain asked him with a sigh. “I should take offence to it. I’m trying to help you: you’ve won the Mountain back, cousin; but keeping it’s quite a different matter.”

“I know your intentions are loyal,” Thorin conceded, “but I mistrust your generals.”

“Straight to the point as always,” Dain commented, but he did not seem fazed by Thorin’s blunt approach to the subject. On the contrary, Dain looked quite amused. 

“Would you prefer me to lie?” Thorin asked, frowning. “I thought only tree-shaggers appreciate riddle-talking.”

“You are as not straight with me as you would like me to think, Thorin,” Dain replied vaguely.

“What are you talking about?” the king inquired, his heart beating a bit too fast.

“The halfling from the West,” Dain explained, taking a good look at Thorin in the torchlight of the corridor. Thorin shifted on his feet as if he was almost on the verge of attacking his cousin. Dain narrowed his eyes. “What game are you playing at?” he asked Thorin, then shook his head and continued to speak while playing distractedly with the beads in his beard. “You wanted him as a prisoner, but you have not decided his fate yet. You cannot keep him in Erebor forever without a trial. Elves whisper against it, and even your dwarves seem unhappy about it. My people find the matter...quite odd.”

“Then you are much more acquainted than me with their opinions,” Thorin growled, his blue eyes shimmering like hot coals in the shadows.

“Bugger it, cousin,” Dain replied with a strained laughter. “You know their opinion as well as I do.”

“He is my prisoner and I am the King under the Mountain,” Thorin reminded him, each word cutting the cold air of the corridor and echoing slightly on the polished stone. “You shall be judge in his trial, but I am the one who shall decide how and when.”

“Not if?” Dain replied swiftly. Thorin’s gaze burned with such a fury that Dain raised his hands in place of an apology. “I suppose I shall spend the winter here,” Dain sighed after a few moments of tense silence, “and keeping my generals quiet.”

“You should have them whipped on the terrace,” Thorin spat back.

“That’s exactly what makes you so charming, cousin,” Dain replied, chuckling. “Anyway, I would like to listen to the story of the halfling from you, Thorin.”

“There’s nothing interesting about it,” the king murmured, a bit pacified but still wary. “Aside from the theft of the Arkenstone,” he added, almost in a second though, “but you already know all that matters.”

“Oh, I shall see for myself then,” Dain commented with a smile: his words sounded quite ominous to Thorin’s ears.

Thorin was left uneasy after his conversation with Dain. He kept thinking about it, weighing the possibility that his cousin suspected something. He had been heading for Bilbo’s rooms when Dain had stopped him and forced him to listen for the third time to that infuriating proposal of having one or two of his generals in Erebor for the next several years.

When Dain eventually left him to retire to his rooms, it was well past midnight and Thorin wondered if the halfling was still waiting for him. The thought kindled something dangerous in him and he paced a deserted corridor for some time to clear his mind and his chest from the inopportune feeling. He thought of avoiding the burglar’s quarters – Thorin’s rooms were as comfortable, and the Arkenstone was there, in its secret compartment. But his love for the precious stone had grown opaque, tired; worse, the mere sight of the Arkenstone left him prey to a strange sort of pain - regret. Even now Thorin was shaking with it. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists, trying to keep his emotions in check. When he deemed himself in control, Thorin went to the familiar door and sent away the guards.

He opened the door and stepped into the room. The lamps were all blown out, but the embers were still glowing in the fireplace – it was enough to distinguish the burglar laying on the bed, wrapped in blankets. Thorin closed the door behind himself and heard the soft snoring of the halfling. He was a bit disappointed to find him asleep; but the discontent faded away quickly, replaced by the desire to join the little creature in his sleep. The king’s day had been very demanding and Bilbo’s curls glowed with gold and amber.

Trying to be as quiet as possible, Thorin undressed himself, neatly folding his clothes on the chair. As soon as he was stark naked he climbed over the bed. The shifting of the mattress woke the halfling. Thorin saw him turning on his back and rubbing his eyes with both his hands, until Bilbo was blinking in the dim light. Thorin was struck by how pleasant the sight of the sleepy creature looking at him with his tousled curls was.

“Oh, I am sorry; I am very sorry,” Bilbo whispered when he realised that he had been sleeping. “I waited for you, but I must have fallen asleep,” he complained, trying to extricate himself from the blankets.

Thorin helped him, slowly undoing the mess of sheets and blankets until he could slip under them. He handled the halfling to push him again on his side, while Bilbo was murmuring excuses and yawning, still trapped in the trail of his dreams. Thorin found his chattering quite amusing, the silly words curling around the hobbit’s numb tongue.

“Hush,” Thorin said, settling himself behind the halfling.

Bilbo was clad in a simple nightgown, the cloth thin enough to give Thorin the pleasure of sensing the warm contours of the halfling’s body when he pressed him to his chest. Bilbo wriggled a little, still trying to rise from his slumber to greet the king, but Thorin lapped a strip of skin along his exposed neck and sucked at the earlobe.

“Sleep now,” he hummed, using his right leg to block the hobbit. “Don’t wake. Sleep.”  

Slowly Bilbo calmed down and he entrusted his body to the king’s embrace. Thorin was slightly tempted to lift the nightgown over the halfling’s head, to get him naked, but he found himself liking the thin barrier between them – knowing there was just that separating his flesh from the halfling’s. Though the idea of waking the hobbit by blowing him was quite appealing, Thorin decided to let him sleep.

Chapter Text

Bilbo woke up, startled. He had been dreaming, but the dream faded away as soon as Bilbo opened his eyes into the darkness of his room. He licked his dry lips, his senses slowly adjusting.  

There was something. Someone. Thorin.

So the king had really come to him. And Bilbo had fallen asleep before Thorin’s arrival! The hobbit bit his tongue, remembering how tired he had been and how he had struggled to stay awake, until Thorin had come. Sleep now: the sound of Thorin’s last words still echoed through Bilbo’s mind. Despite the fact that he had found him half-asleep, Thorin had not left the room; he had joined Bilbo under the blankets and now his strong arm was still wrapped around the hobbit’s middle.

Bilbo was not sure he wanted Thorin to wake up. He had never truly enjoyed the opportunity of having Thorin asleep in his bed before, and Bilbo wanted this pleasure to last as long as possible. He could feel Thorin’s deep, damp breath tickling his shoulder and the dwarf’s ridiculously warm skin pressed against his back. Under the cocoon of sheets and blankets the king was naked: the realisation played wicked tricks to Bilbo’s mind, but the hobbit tamed his own thoughts to enjoy the simple pleasure of Thorin’s sleep.

Bilbo was almost dozing off again when Thorin’s grip on him changed, becoming self-conscious. The dwarf’s fingers spread over Bilbo’s belly and caressed it through the nightgown.

“I bid a good day to you, Your Majesty,” Bilbo recited, trying to sound calm and composed.

He was a bit anxious about how Thorin might react to waking up in his bed. It had gone quite badly last time and Bilbo was surely not in the mood for a morning row. He was not completely sure that the king had intended to spend the night in his bed: Bilbo might have been dreaming Thorin’s gentle words and the soft caresses that had made him drift into sleep again.  

“Don’t say that,” the king answered gruffly, his voice made rough by sleepiness. “Balin salutes me quite in the same fashion in the morning and I’m sure I would not like to have him in your place right now,” he assured gravely.

Bilbo was a bit shaken by the image summoned to his mind by Thorin’s words, but Thorin chuckled into the pillow at the hobbit’s dismay. The king’s hand ran lightly over the cloth of Bilbo’s nightgown, until it found a nipple.

“Tell me little bunny,” Thorin murmured, his mouth close to Bilbo’s ear and his voice dropping even lower, “have you indulged in yourself while I was banished from your rooms?”

Bilbo squeaked from surprise. Thorin seemed very pleased with his reaction, or at least Thorin’s cock was since it was roughly pushed against the hobbit’s buttocks – and it was already half stiff. This was hardly the kind of talk Bilbo had usually entertained in the morning, but a dwarf king in his bed was another thing Bilbo’s mornings had never experienced.

Bilbo cleared his throat and chose to speak in a sensitive, polite tone.

“You were not banished,” he denied, “I was just making a point about...”

Us would have been the right word to choose from a rational point of view, but rational points of view were seldom the best strategy with which face Thorin.

“Point taken,” Thorin replied quietly before kissing the hobbit’s curls. “But you have not answered my question.”

“What was the question?” the hobbit shrilled, trying to buy some more time in order to think properly – quite a difficult plan to follow since Thorin’s fingers were now twisting Bilbo’s nipples in turn, making them hard as pebbles.

“Have you touched yourself lately?” Thorin asked again.

Oh dear. Bilbo was quite acquainted with the theory and the practice of relieving himself from time to time, but it was a very private matter to him. Bilbo’s shyness on the subject did not come from prudishness: he was reluctant to such a confession because he did not like the idea of exposing how far and deep his desire for Thorin was rooted. Being in Thorin’s arms and yielding his pleasure to the king was one thing, while revealing where his thoughts indulged when he was alone was something else entirely. Therefore Bilbo closed his lips tightly and refused to answer. Thorin’s fingers scraped the bare skin at the base of Bilbo’s neck.

“I have done it every night,” Thorin confessed like he had never stopped to wait for an answer from the hobbit. Bilbo was caught by surprise and his heart skipped a beat: he was sure Thorin noticed, for the dwarf’s hand was on his chest. “Picturing you,” the king added, each word blown against Bilbo’s ear and curls.

The little hobbit squirmed a little, feeling his body grow warmer under Thorin’s touch. Thorin’s hand moved to his thigh, caressing it with long strokes that sent pleasant shivers to Bilbo’s groin. The dwarf’s thick fingers pulled at the nightgown, baring Bilbo’s legs bit by bit.

 “I’ve thought of your fair skin, of the way it turns pink at the most tender kiss, of its salty taste when you are aroused and you arch your small body saying my name,” Thorin continued as soon as his fingers had reached Bilbo’s naked flesh under the hem of the nightgown. He lightly pinched the tender skin behind Bilbo’s knee, and he laughed when the hobbit nearly kicked back from nervousness.

“I have thought of your legs, of the way you sometimes are overwhelmed with shyness and you close them. It maddens me to the point I often meditate on tying you to the bed, ankles and wrists, then spending many hours between your thighs pleasing you with my mouth. Other times you are so eager that you shamelessly spread your lovely legs for me,” Thorin admitted, his voice a bit husky but his touch on Bilbo’s thigh still gentle, “and then you wrap them around my waist to get me to fuck you.”

Bilbo moaned. The way Thorin’s deep voice curled around such words meddled with his body, melting his thoughts like wax and twisting fibres inside him until he did not even know himself.

Thorin had raised the nightgown further, completely baring Bilbo’s legs. Now Thorin’s fingers stroked the heated skin he had revealed, drawing lazy patterns from Bilbo’s knees to his hipbones. Almost without thinking, Bilbo shifted his legs a bit and, before he could close them again, Thorin’s knee was forced between them. The hobbit found himself straddling Thorin’s strong, hairy thigh. Bilbo gasped, but the king embraced him firmly from behind.

“Hush now, don’t be scared,” Thorin whispered, and it was quite an odd thing to say, because fear had nothing to do with Bilbo’s trembles. “How can you have such tender skin?” the dwarf asked, running his fingers on the inner thighs. He pushed his thigh against Bilbo’s buttocks. “Yet you are a bold one, under these soft layers,” Thorin teased, his thumb drawing a long path that travelled to Bilbo’s groin under the nightgown.

The hobbit arched a bit, then stiffened while the nightgown was raised to his hips and further. He had to lift both his arms to allow Thorin to slip the cloth over his head and then toss it away. The feeling of Thorin’s chest on his now naked back made Bilbo sigh with pleasure. Even the king took his time just to savour the contact, pressing the hobbit against his chest and mouthing at his naked shoulder. Then Thorin started fondling Bilbo’s balls, covering them with his strong hand and using his thumb to draw slow circles against the base of the hobbit’s cock. It was already hard, the head damp, and Bilbo’s hips rocked a little.

“You are so responsive,” Thorin murmured appreciatively. “Your skin is so sensitive, your body so receptive to my touch, even to my voice...” he went on, his tone dressed in tender amazement. Then a thought struck him and Thorin’s hand closed around the hobbit’s cock. “I wonder if you would be so responsive to others,” he growled, all the playfulness gone from his voice and replaced by the flickering flame of possessiveness.

Thorin’s strokes on Bilbo’s cock were gentle, but the hobbit felt the dwarf’s mouth sucking a bruise on his neck.

“Would you be so hard for anyone? Would you moan so loud?” Thorin asked, his voice almost trembling. He uncovered the head of Bilbo’s cock, sliding his thumb on the damp flesh underneath.

Bilbo bucked and then he pressed harder on the king’s thigh: a part of him wanted to laugh at the dwarf’s irrational jealousy, but another wanted to take offence for what he was implying. But laughing and protesting were both impossible while Thorin was caressing him.

Bilbo’s eyes shot closed and his breath came out short and harsh.

“I...no, no,” he was eventually able to answer, “It’s...you. You. Only you,” he stuttered bitterly, closing one hand on Thorin’s forearm and clutching at the sheets with the other.

Bilbo had not meant to say something in that fashion, something so intimate and true that made his body ring with alarm. And he was a bit annoyed at the content, possessive growl that vibrated in Thorin’s chest at his words. At least until Thorin turned his own pleasure in little, soft caresses of his thumb over the small opening at the end of Bilbo’s cock, making the hobbit cry faintly. The king kissed and licked the damp skin of Bilbo’s neck, his tongue resting over the quickened pulse of Bilbo’s blood.

“After I saw you with Bofur’s gift I thought about storming to your room and giving you such pleasure that you would be ruined for anyone but me,” Thorin confessed. His voice was still low and dark, but his fingers were doing delicious things to the hobbit’s cock. “I wanted to plunge my tongue in your little hole,” Thorin continued, now running his hand up and down along Bilbo’s flesh, “until you would be shouting only my name.”

Bilbo’s head snapped back, his curls pressed against Thorin’s shoulder and the pillow, holding his lower lips between his teeth. What Thorin was saying was filthy and rude – thinking of the king’s mouth in such a place indeed! – yet the image conjured to Bilbo’s mind was powerful and gritty and wild, and it burned like liquid fire through the hobbit’s limbs, making him wriggle and buck in Thorin’s grasp.

“Oh the times I think about what I could do to you,” the dwarf went on, keeping up with the strokes, “the times I think of your mouth and how your lips part for me to ravish it,” Thorin bit softly Bilbo’s earlobe, “Would you part them for my cock? I could fuck your mouth for the pleasure of seeing your eyes wide open on me, all that charming innocence of yours pulled apart...”

Bilbo’s mouth had fallen open and he gave a strangled sound, pushing his cock into Thorin’s fist, in short, harsh thrusts seeking the necessary friction. Bilbo’s skin was covered in sweat, the sheets sticking to his body, Thorin’s body pressed against his.

“Do you blame me for wanting to break you with pleasure, little bunny?” Thorin hummed. “For I wish to worship your body in every way I know, and the mere sound of your voice or the sight of you makes me crave for your sweet flesh. How have you done this to me? What’s your secret to haunt me and make me so aroused and hungry for you?”

Bilbo was not even sure if it was really Thorin Oakenshield speaking or an echo of his own desires, a mere reflection of the flames that kept biting him. Thorin’s fingers held his cock firmly, stroking it with increasing speed, while his tongue danced on what of Bilbo’s skin he could reach.

“What is it? Your skin – its velvety, warm feeling under my hands? The way your cock feels in my mouth and the taste of your pleasure? Or your tight hole where I would gladly bury myself right now?” Bilbo gave a low groan, but Thorin kept him trapped in pleasure between his hand and his voice, “It might be the way you challenge me at every turn, you small, impossible creature with your manners and your petulant voice. Oh, when you use that voice to coax me into giving you pleasure!”

He was near, so near. Bilbo could feel his loins burning, his cock swelling and tensing, the tender grazing of the king’s fingers on it; and that voice: that dear, frightening voice seeping through his mind’s folds. It was like a fever walking through his body and scorching him to the bones.

 “It might be your very heart, my little bunny,” Thorin said.  

Bilbo came with his lover’s name on his mouth, gasping around the syllables. Thorin’s hand accompanied his quivers, caressing Bilbo until the hobbit had spent all of his pleasure between the sheets. Thorin’s hold grew loose, and eventually only the dwarf’s fingertips were still brushing Bilbo’s sore flesh.

Bilbo’s heartbeat slowed down a bit, though his breath was still uneven. Thorin took away his hand from the hobbit’s cock and brought it to his own mouth, licking the traces of Bilbo’s semen from his knuckles and palm. The sound of the king sucking on his own fingers made Bilbo moan again. Thorin chuckled and placed a feathery kiss on Bilbo’s neck; the hobbit felt the weight of the king’s head resting on his shoulder.   

Bilbo was bewildered. Thorin’s words were still running in his mind and he was not sure if they had been suggested by the heat of the moment – a little bait for his pleasure – or real.

If Thorin had spoken the truth, what did Thorin’s words make of Bilbo?

What was he to Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain?

“Stop thinking.”

Thorin’s voice surprised Bilbo out of his reverie. The king’s tone was slightly tense and Bilbo thought he had taken offence somehow, before realising that it was only desire that crackled in Thorin’s voice. He had done nothing to press the hobbit’s attention to his arousal, but he was still hard against Bilbo’s buttocks.  

“I was thinking of you,” Bilbo confessed in a whisper as soon as he had turned in Thorin’s arms to face him. In the shadows Bilbo could not see the dwarf’s expression, but Thorin let him settle against his chest, sighing when their hips touched.

Stop,” Thorin repeated, but his voice had softened considerably, “it’s no use.”

“You are avoiding questions still unasked,” Bilbo protested.

The king kissed Bilbo’s forehead and threaded his fingers through the hobbit’s curls. He rocked gently against the hobbit, his mouth lingering on Bilbo’s cheeks and nose. This was quite a cunning strategy on Thorin’s part to elude words, but Bilbo blindly found Thorin’s braids and gave them a soft pull.

“Ask, if you must,” Thorin snorted, but he did not try to free his braids from Bilbo’s grasp.

“You said you could not stay. What’s changed?” Bilbo inquired.

Chapter Text

“Nothing has changed,” the dwarf replied. He anticipated Bilbo’s objection: “Though I want to stay, I should not,” Thorin said gravely. “What do you know about our laws?” he asked, taking Bilbo by surprise for the sudden change of topic.

“Bits, and I understand little to nothing,” the hobbit admitted warily. Then, since there was no reason to deny what they were talking about, he added: “I know what’s the punishment for theft.”

Bilbo’s hands had not trembled, but Thorin’s covered them with his own and brought them to his mouth. He spoke in Khuzdul, his warm breath tickling Bilbo’s fingertips. Then he resorted to the common tongue:

“Mahal knows I wish you no harm,” Thorin said.

But Bilbo shivered and took his hands away from Thorin’s.

“You make no sense,” he said tensely. “I do not know what we’re doing: I am still your prisoner.”

Thorin flinched and Bilbo told himself that the dwarf deserved it.

“You are,” the king confirmed, his voice bitter but his hand gentle when it caressed Bilbo’s hip. “This does not mean that I cannot accord you some liberties,” he suggested.

“In exchange for the liberties you take with me?” Bilbo replied, feeling his temper raising.

He was upset by Thorin’s choice of words, but Bilbo was also afraid of what Thorin’s motives could be, afraid enough to attack first instead of waiting for the blow. Yet he was not prepared for the weariness in Thorin’s tone.

“We have already been here,” Thorin spoke, his voice dragging on the words. He took away his hand from Bilbo’s waist. “Don’t ever mistake yourself for a whore for I’ve never done it. If I did not succeed at proving it, then I failed you once again.”

Bilbo said nothing. But he moved under the blankets, until he was against Thorin’s chest and he felt the dwarf wrap his strong arm around him, sighing. Thorin’s heart was beating wildly – Bilbo could feel it thumping against his own flesh, his own heart.

He thought that the king was going to kiss him, but Thorin spoke again:

“You have never tried to take advantage of this,” Thorin began. “You have never spoken of it to anyone nor you have attempted to use it to improve your situation. What I give to you, I give freely. The obligations I feel are not yours, but mine. You ask, but with your body and your heart, and not in your own voice.” Thorin’s fingers ran down Bilbo’s cheek. “I don’t think you are even aware of how much you’re asking me, and still how little it is.”

Bilbo was still. There was a strange affection in the king’s voice, but also strokes of sadness and regret that the hobbit could not place. He was under the impression that Thorin’s words were not wholly good, and beyond the admission of his pleasure in the hobbit’s behaviour laid something eerie – it sounded like Thorin was leaving him. Instinct made Bilbo clutch at Thorin’s shoulders.

“What are you trying to say?” he asked, blinking in the darkness. He would have liked to see Thorin’s face right now, but he did not dare to ask.  

“I am King under the Mountain,” the dwarf replied. “I am bound to the laws of my people. Has anyone tried to convince you that my word is the only thing keeping you prisoner?”

“Isn’t it?” Bilbo asked, frowning. “Bofur said that you could lift the accusations.”

Thorin said something harsh in Khuzdul and shook his head.

“The toymaker should know better than this,” he hissed. “But he’s not of Durin’s folk and he’s not completely wrong either. This could be ended by my word if my word was the only thing accusing you.”

“I don’t understand. You wanted me tried, you asked to be given me as prisoner during the negotiation with men and elves: I was part of your requests, wasn’t I?” Bilbo asked, accusingly.

“I am responsible for your fate,” Thorin agreed, the warmth of his hand on Bilbo’s back. “But the fact that you stole the Arkenstone is common knowledge. Men and elves cherish you for it, but not the dwarves from the Iron Hill. Theft is considered one of the highest crime among my people and you stole no common jewel – but the Arkenstone, the very heart of the Mountain, the king’s prize. You did not simply steal from me,” Thorin murmured. “You stole from the Kingdom under the Mountain and from all those who believe in our old law. You challenged me as king, not just me as...me.”

“And there’s no forgiveness in the king?” Bilbo asked, his voice almost drowned by his heartbeat.

Thorin did not answer immediately. Instead he moved away from Bilbo and reached for the nearest lamp, fumbling in the darkness of the room. The little hobbit heard the sound of matches and the soft hiss of a new born flame. The lamp casted a pale light on the bed: in that light Thorin seemed suddenly older than he had ever looked, and there were dark shadows under his eyes. Bilbo wondered how much sleep Thorin had got that night. The king looked at him, his blue eyes searching Bilbo’s face until the hobbit felt the blush spreading on his cheeks and he lowered his gaze on the pillow. 

The dwarf settled again on the bed. He drew Bilbo closer and pressed his mouth to the hobbit’s temple.

“Your crime is known. You confessed, you’ve never denied to have taken the Arkenstone,” he reminded Bilbo gently. “It will not end with my forgiveness. Not easily, that’s what I mean," Thorin sighed. “This is why I need time. I must choose my words and my actions carefully, for your sake and mine as well. And for what I owe to my people. I suppose I could bend the law, but the same law keeps me on the throne of Erebor. There are things expected from me...” Thorin shook his head. “I am asking you a great deal, I am aware. But I beseech you,” he said eagerly, “to be patient and trust me. Give me time to speak to Dain and to protect my crown and you at the same time.”    

Bilbo said nothing to that. He bit his lower lip and frowned, but no word came to his mouth. There were too many thoughts filling his mind, too many questions and answers chasing each other. Thorin did not press him, but waited in complete silence.

“It’s a lot,” Bilbo said at last. “I thought you wanted me condemned.”

“I did,” Thorin replied.

“But now you’ve changed your mind,” Bilbo continued and Thorin did not challenge his words . “At least you don’t want me condemned, though it’s not the same thing as saying that you think me innocent,” the hobbit remarked.

“Are you?” Thorin asked, holding the hobbit’s gaze. Bilbo closed his eyes. After a short while, the dwarf continued: “In the meanwhile, you’ll be allowed more freedom. Freedom to wander in Erebor as long as you do not cross its gates, and freedom to go out in Dale from time to time if accompanied.”

“In Dale?” Bilbo asked, suddenly excited at the idea of being in the open again.

“You’ve spent too much time in here,” Thorin answered back. “Although your appetite does not seem affected, you are too pale and Oin is concerned that the long imprisonment will take its toll on you sooner or later. I guess Erebor is not healthy for halflings,” the king murmured, “and you need to get out as much as possible.”  

“When you gave me these rooms I thought you were trapping me in a golden cage,” Bilbo commented.

“Maybe I was,” Thorin admitted. “I would gladly keep you in this bed for a long, long time, little bunny. Leaving it only to take you against walls and floors,” he confessed while his fingers were tracing their way down Bilbo’s spine. “But it wouldn’t do.”

“Dale, then,” Bilbo said, half-closing his eyelids. “They told me that Bard has taken home there.”

“It’s true. And since Bard has always been concerned with your well being, I think that he’ll be glad to see you,” Thorin admitted, a bit coldly. “Your first visit to Dale is bound to make some sensation and you could be attracting the wrong kind of attention: I’ll come with you,” the king concluded.

Bilbo gaped and looked at the dwarf to be sure that he was not joking.

“You and me in Dale?” the hobbit asked.

“You, me and a good number of warriors from the Iron Hill. The King’s guard,” Thorin pointed out, rolling his eyes. “I have no need for them. But they are a gift from Dain, and I am not supposed to wander without an escort.”    

“It will be under the sun,” Bilbo whispered, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“It’s deep winter, little bunny,” Thorin replied, plainly amused this time.

“Oh, stop it,” the hobbit frowned. “You know what I mean. I will be glad to spend some time with you outside these rooms. With you and your guard,” Bilbo remembered, running his hands on Thorin’s chest. “Since the King’s guard is not here now...”

Bilbo’s fingers found Thorin’s dwarfhood: the hobbit grinned at the surprised expression of the king.

“You’ve lost some of your shyness,” Thorin mused.

“Are you displeased?” the hobbit asked in return, feeling Thorin’s cock hardening under his palm.

The dwarf did not answer. Instead he closed his large hand on Bilbo’s back and caressed him lazily, his dry fingers tracing the crease between the hobbit’s cheeks.

An idea dawned on Bilbo’s mind and he squeezed his eyes shut.

“Can I use my mouth on you?” he asked, lowering his voice to a whisper.  

“No.”

Well, this was definitely not the answer Bilbo had expected. He had not imagined that Thorin would agree straight away – he never agreed to anything straight away – but Bilbo had hoped to see pleasure in the dwarf’s gaze, and a good amount of eagerness.

Instead, when Bilbo opened his eyes again, he saw Thorin’s features hardened.  

“Why?” the hobbit asked, puzzled. “I could manage quite well: I’ve done it bef...” Bilbo stopped because now Thorin was positively glaring at him and his frown had deepened. Wrong move, Bilbo thought, put off by Thorin’s demeanour. “You know, I’ve been young some time ago and there was this lovely lad who taught me some tricks at conkers...”

Thorin growled, displeased by the remembrance of the hobbit’s youthful indiscretions. Bilbo stifled the laughter building in his throat; he smiled sweetly and he caressed Thorin’s thigh with his fingertips, feeling goosebumps blossoming under his touch.

“Please, let me,” Bilbo murmured. “You’ve done it many times. And it’s not a payback of any sort,” he made clear before Thorin could misunderstand. “I want it.”

“No,” Thorin repeated, but his tone was not as firm as the first time.   

He was now watching Bilbo with a sort of mild curiosity, and his eyes fluttered close when Bilbo kissed the beard on his chin. Thorin turned his face to suggest to the hobbit to take his mouth, but Bilbo avoided the dwarf’s lips and kissed his cheekbones, his nose, his neck instead. Bilbo felt exhilarated by this new, confident mood settled between him and the King under the Mountain.

“Damn,” he heard Thorin hiss, before the king’s mouth slammed on his.

Thorin scraped Bilbo’s lips with his teeth and then forced the hobbit’s mouth open. Bilbo hummed and his fingers plunged into Thorin’s mane, feeling the dwarf’s arousal pressed against his stomach and groin.

“Don’t you want it?” Bilbo asked before licking at his own lips, already a bit swollen from the fierce kiss. He saw Thorin’s eyes fixed on his mouth, his pupils blown out.

“I do,” the dwarf replied with an eerie quietness that spoke volumes of his attempt at self-control.

If Thorin could dominate his voice, he could not quite tame the flame in his eyes.

“Then what keeps you from giving me your leave?” Bilbo insisted, tickling Thorin’s scalp gently.

An unexpected sound of pleasure came from the king’s mouth and he surged forward to kiss the hobbit once more. But Bilbo was not going to be distracted again and gave a little pull to the braids to keep Thorin in check. A flash of annoyance flared on the king’s face, but it turned immediately to a less frightening scowl that stole a smile from Bilbo’s mouth.  

“I do not trust myself on it,” Thorin explained unwillingly. “I fear I might be...ungentle and unable to control myself with your lips down there,” he admitted between his teeth, leaning his forehead against the hobbit’s. “I would end fucking your mouth in no time.”

Bilbo blinked. He had not been prepared to Thorin’s rejection of his offer, but he would have never guessed that this would be the cause. The king’s voice was serious and no longer teasing, yet his words ran on Bilbo’s skin like waves and made the hobbit’s toes curl in delight.

“But I do trust you,” Bilbo said against Thorin’s mouth.

For a moment Thorin seemed almost pained, more than pleased, by Bilbo’s answer.

“How can you?” he asked, his voice detached but his eyes burning.

“Like this,” Bilbo replied, kissing Thorin’s lips.

Bilbo had not many chances to cherish Thorin’s body. Too much restraint or impatience on the king’s side, and too much shyness on Bilbo’s. But the hobbit made up for the wasted time when he ran his mouth on the dwarf’s skin, starting with his neck and shoulders, biting and licking his way down – Thorin’s breath caught.

“Mahal, stop it. I can’t...” the dwarf blurted out.

But Bilbo did not listen to Thorin’s plea, and his lips savoured the different texture of the king’s flesh. When he noticed that Thorin was stroking himself, Bilbo used both his hands to force him to stop. Thorin’s body arched and he groaned something the hobbit could not grasp. Then he trapped Bilbo’s hands with his own and leant to whisper to his ear.

“Beware, little bunny,” Thorin said, his voice strained.

Bilbo raised his brow, pretending not to be impressed at all; then he closed his lips on the king’s nipple. What sounded like a curse broke free from Thorin’s mouth and the hobbit gave a contented suck to the nipple. Thorin released Bilbo’s his hands, and grabbed the pillow instead. Bilbo’s tongue circled the pink flesh, drawing a sharp breath from the king’s mouth. The hobbit had to resist the urge to giggle from nervousness, for he felt an unusual surge of power and pride at being able to play with Thorin’s arousal.

He licked the other nipple, and then kissed the scars one by one, as he had done the first time Thorin had stripped before him. Then Bilbo used his hands to push Thorin on his back and freed them both from the tangle of the blankets.

“You don’t have to,” the dwarf spoke, although his voice had an edge about it – like he was hurt by his own words. Bilbo tilted his head, looking at Thorin’s body and then at his face.  

“You are beautiful,” he said simply, for it was the truth.

Thorin was not used to blushing, but his cheeks grew red in the lamplight and he gazed upon the hobbit with hooded eyes. Bilbo crouched between the dwarf’s thighs, and kissed his lower belly and the trail of hair running down it. The smell of Thorin’s arousal was stronger there; musky and rough, but familiar.

Tentatively, Bilbo touched the cock with his lips – the king was unnaturally still, even his breath short but subdued. The hobbit had handled Thorin’s cock many times, but its taste was a different matter from what he had experienced before on the dwarf’s body. The strangeness of the flavour made him cautious at first, but then his mind and his heart recognised what of Thorin was in it, and what of their nights spent in the bed.

Bilbo’s tongue ran slowly along the shaft, to learn Thorin’s taste and store it in his mouth and memory. The head was already uncovered and damp – Bilbo pushed his tongue lightly on it, trying to remember the things Thorin did to him. The dwarf was as helpless as Bilbo himself against them, and this discovery greatly pleased the hobbit: Bilbo saw Thorin’s fingers clasping the sheets and pull at them, and when he looked up Thorin’s sapphire eyes were darker with lust.

Grown a little bolder, Bilbo grinned and licked a long stripe from balls to head, then back, until Thorin gave a high pitched whine and Bilbo felt his own cock twitch in response. He almost regretted that it would take him a longer time to be hard again, but he forgot all about it once he measured himself with Thorin’s girth. Some crude jokes about a hobbit’s appetite flashed in Bilbo’s mind, only to be lost when Thorin’s hips bucked and the dwarf’s cock was pushed against Bilbo’s tongue. The hobbit backed away, caught by surprise, and he saw the king stiffening with a surly look on his face.

“I’ve told you,” Thorin growled, looking like he was brawling with his own lust.

But Bilbo only frowned and bent again over the cock, and this time Thorin forced himself to stay as still as possible. This gave Bilbo time to adjust, using his tongue to made the cock slicker until he could slip it between his lips. Bilbo learnt that he had to rule over his own breath to make the best of it, and he had to be careful, although a very soft touch of teeth could send Thorin into a deep howl of pleasure.

Slowly, Bilbo tried to move his mouth down the cock. He felt it sliding against his tongue and then his mouth was full and the mere thought that this fullness was Thorin’s own flesh made Bilbo giddy. Then the hobbit felt Thorin’s finger on his cheek, catching a tear that had slipped from the corner of his eye – from the strain of taking Thorin into his mouth. The dwarf brushed Bilbo’s lips, stretched around his cock in the most alluring sight.

“The things you do to me,” Thorin murmured, his deep voice barely a breath that reverberated through his body and Bilbo’s mouth.

Thorin dared to move his hand to Bilbo’s nape, playing with the curls growing a bit longer there. Bilbo half-closed his eyelids and then moved back a bit, until his tongue was free to swirl on the tip of Thorin’s cock and he could take a deeper breath through his mouth. The dwarf trembled at the warm breath running on his swollen flesh, but he quivered even more when Bilbo took him in again. The fingers in Bilbo’s curls tightened their hold slightly, but Thorin let the hobbit move at his own pleasure.

Bilbo was gaining some confidence and, although he was never really close to engulfing all of Thorin’s cock, it was enough to alter the king’s breath. Thorin’s hand wandered among his hair, tickling Bilbo’s ears, and sometimes the king hissed or moaned, but never tried to thrust into Bilbo’s mouth and the hobbit was grateful for the dwarf’s self control.

Sucking just at the head Bilbo glanced at Thorin and saw him biting his lower lip, the long dark hair spread over the damp skin of his chest and shoulders. Thorin had closed his eyes, but his eyelids fluttered when the hobbit licked at the salty drops on the tip of his cock. Bilbo was fascinated by the sight of the King under the Mountain, whose pleasure now depended from the lips of a gentle hobbit from the Shire. But it was not only about power – it was a chance to hold on to something very precious and rare: trust from Thorin Oakenshield, who let himself seen as he had never done before. Bilbo cherished this opportunity and put his hand over Thorin’s, over his curls.

“You can move, if you want,” the hobbit whispered as soon as the king opened his blue eyes.

Thorin did not seem to understand at first. Then something wild danced in his gaze, before he blinked twice and smothered that flame.

“I cannot,” Thorin replied, his voice rough.

“A little,” Bilbo coaxed him, turning his head to find Thorin’s hand. The hobbit kissed Thorin’s inner wrist, and then the palm of his hand, tickling the skin with the tip of his tongue. Thorin sighed and then gave a little push to Bilbo’s head, guiding him towards his cock.

“A little,” Thorin agreed. “Won’t hurt you,” he promised in a clapped, husky tone. Then his hips moved.

Dealing with the king’s movements was a bit different, and more difficult, than managing the cock by himself. But Bilbo forced his tongue flat and his breath through his nose, letting Thorin enter his mouth once again. The dwarf gasped and entwined his fingers in the hobbit’s honey curls, but Thorin was clearly trying to keep things pleasurable for them both. He moved cautiously, never resorting to a quicker rhythm, but always sliding back and forth at a slow, maddening pace.

There was something deeply arousing in the way the king was using his mouth and Bilbo found himself loving it more than he had expected. He had thought to offer Thorin a great pleasure, but he had underestimated the pleasure he would have got from it. Bilbo’s body was spent, but Bilbo’s mind was on fire. It was improper, crude and wonderful. Thorin Oakenshield craved for him, for his mouth, like he had whispered in his ear, and he was no more in control of what passed between them than Bilbo had ever been.

“I am...near,” the king advised him.

He did nothing either to keep the hobbit in place nor to push him away though: it was Bilbo’s choice. And the hobbit chose to close his mouth tighter around the cock and gave a little suck. It did not take more for Thorin to come in Bilbo’s mouth. Thorin’s release burned down his throat: it was not altogether pleasant, to the point that Bilbo was unable to swallow it more than a couple of times. He felt Thorin’s semen trickle down his chin. Only then did Thorin use his hands to move the hobbit’s head away a bit too clumsily.

Bilbo coughed, gasping for air, and distantly felt Thorin patting his back and pushing his hair away from his forehead. There was a very nasty moment when Bilbo felt nauseous, but it passed quickly and he found himself on Thorin’s lap, his legs around the king’s waist, their skin slick and damp.

“Oh I am sorry, very sorry,” Bilbo mumbled, knowing that he had made a mess of himself and the bed.

But Thorin gently wiped away the traces of semen with the corner of the sheet, and looked at Bilbo.

“I am not sorry at all but for not being able to take you again soon,” he answered firmly.

Bilbo realised that the sight of his skin tainted by the king’s semen was a pleasure in itself for Thorin, and an image feeding his lust. He blushed and Thorin looked at him with something akin to tenderness. He caressed Bilbo’s neck, stiff from the strain, and then tilted his head in order to kiss the little hobbit.  

“Don’t,” Bilbo babbled, frozen. He still felt Thorin’s taste in his mouth.

But the dwarf did not bulge at all and simply keep Bilbo in place. He opened the hobbit’s mouth with his tongue and then kissed Bilbo slowly, without showing the slightest sign of displeasure.

“Don’t be ashamed,” Thorin intimated, when he broke the kiss.  Bilbo gave him a shy smile, then hid his face into Thorin’s shoulder. “You are doing it again,” he heard Thorin murmur over his head. “You do not ask, yet you ask me so much, so much.”

The last words were muffled over the hobbit’s curls, where the king placed a kiss.

“I do not understand,” Bilbo replied, and it was not a lie but it was not the truth either.

“Neither do I.”

Chapter Text

There were days – a few, in truth – when Gandalf the Grey looked at himself and thought himself to be the most industrious creature of Middle-Earth. So many friends to care about and so many worries claiming his time and his energies. Sometimes what he saw and foresaw stole his sleep and appetite – sometimes he even lost pleasure in his pipe. He was always running from one point of the land to another, under the mountains and over the hills, dealing with the most insufferable creatures and boring ones, facing unnameable dangers and struggling to find a way to preserve and cherish beauty.

And there were days when Gandalf was in a humbler mood. He thought, then, that his worries were not more important than those of the simplest hobbit in the Shire. Gandalf had nightmares of fire and darkness, and a hobbit feared them both, although his dreams showed him the fire of the oven and the darkness of a long winter rather than a never ending abyss of shadows and flames.

Still, in the end, both the wizard and the hobbit are on a quest for happiness and peace. Gandalf had learned to respect the difference and the similarity as well.

The main problem was coping both with the abyss and the oven, balancing the greater vision with the smaller one. Part of Gandalf deeply regretted the day he had left Erebor, leaving his friend Bilbo Baggins prisoner to Thorin’s sickness. He should have stayed as long as necessary to break Thorin’s stubbornness. But the Necromancer business had demanded Gandalf’s full attention and, once again, he had laid a very difficult problem in Bilbo’s gentle hands, trusting the hobbit to play it right in the end.  Gandalf could repeat to himself that he had reasons to believe in Bilbo’s heart more than in the braveness or abilities of many a elf, man or dwarf.

Yet this did not change the fact that Gandalf had not taken responsibility for the fate of his little friend. In this regard he was no better than the King under the Mountain.

Weeks had passed since Gandalf had left Erebor. Bilbo’s letter was hidden in the wizard’s grey robe, its seal broken, its few words deeply impressed in Gandalf’s mind: I need you to come back. He had promised to, if summoned, still he had wandered far away from the Lonely Mountain. Searching, looking, enquiring. Something was wrong, Gandalf knew – the Battle of the Five Armies, as it would be remembered, was proof that something was moving. Saruman refused to acknowledge any of it, but Gandalf wanted to be proven wrong by facts and not by words, no matter how much wise they sounded to his ears. While he had been hunting for the truth Gandalf had been tickled by a strange though. It was an almost forgotten memory which belonged to the day the dwarves had escaped Goblin Town. Gandalf remembered Bilbo Baggins slipping something in his pocket; Bilbo Baggins, who had survived one of their most dangerous adventures; Bilbo Baggins, who had more about him than everyone ever gave him credit for.

It was possible that Bilbo had another role to play in the great order of things to come. Strangely, the idea of Bilbo being in Erebor under the close watch of Thorin Oakenshield and his dwarves had become more appealing than before: the prospect of the imprisonment and the trial to come was not pleasant at all, but suddenly the wizard could conjure worse things coming for Bilbo.

Gandalf had also been under the impression of being watched and he had not wanted to turn those attentions to Erebor. He had postponed his return to the Lonely Mountain for weeks, relieved by Balin’s written assurance that Thorin had not set a date for the trial yet. But Bilbo’s words had remained at the back of Gandalf’s mind, slowly pushing him on his way back to Erebor, as soon as the wizard saw the chance to slip from the shadows tracing his steps.

Now the Lonely Mountain trembled blue and pink in the distance, laced in the dawn light. He could be there for lunch if his horse kept up the speed, and soon Gandalf would see with his own eyes what had happened to Bilbo Baggins of Bag End during his absence.

 

Dori was the first of the company to meet Gandalf on the wizard’s return to Erebor.

Dori had developed the habit of spending some time on the terraces after lunch, taking a walk to keep his body and his spirit in good shape; even on the coldest days Dori did not renounce to his routine. This attempt at healthiness on Dori’s part amused Nori a great deal, but the older brother refused to listen to Nori’s witty remarks.

It was during his daily stroll that Dori saw Gandalf the Grey cross the bridge and then lean on his saddle to speak with the guards at the gate. The dwarf was astonished, for they had not received any news from the wizard since his departure from Erebor – they were not even sure that he had received theirs. Dori hurried to the gates, impatient to greet him and discover the reason for Gandalf’s visit. The other dwarves of the Company were probably still around the table, drinking the last pint of ale over the remains of their lunch.

“Mr Gandalf!” Dori greeted the wizard as soon as he spotted him among a group of warriors of Dain’s host. “Here, here,” Dori intervened, dispersing the other dwarves with all the authority his large share in the treasure gave him. The warriors kept casting curious glances towards them, but they did not intrude further.

Gandalf said nothing, but he looked quite tired and his grey robe and mantle were covered in a thin layer of dust and snow. Dori accounted all to the wizard’s journey and did not think too much of it. Still, he felt compelled to ask:

“Have you had any problems with the guards at the bridge?”

The wizard leaned on his staff and watched Dori very closely.  

 “Should I have?” he asked, his left brow raising.

Dori gave an awkward cough and then shrugged.

“Obviously not,” he replied. He might have sounded a bit too eager and Gandalf shot him a sceptical glance.

In truth Dori was not completely sure about the king’s actual opinion on the wizard. Gandalf had played an important role in their quest and they had all grown to respect the wizard’s abilities. Yet Thorin and Gandalf had not parted on the best terms after the imprisonment of Bilbo Baggins and the battle. Actually Dori could very well remember Thorin’s harsh words when he had been informed of the wizard’s departure from Erebor: I hope it’s the last we see of him.

Consequently there was more than a small chance that the king’s words were actual orders against the wizard’s return. But now Gandalf was there before Dori, and the dwarf thought better than inquire if the wizard had charmed the guards to let him in. Thorin had not explicitly prohibited Gandalf’s presence in the Mountain. Dori, on his part, had always found the wizard’s company quite pleasant in some odd way, and he still looked forward to the opportunity of sharing a nice cup of chamomile with Gandalf.

While leading Gandalf into Erebor, Dori tried to engage him in a conversation about the state of things in the Mountain and how it was growing again as a real dwarfish town, constantly welcoming new dwarves from Ered Luin, the town of men, and the Iron Hills. Only Lady Dìs still refused to acknowledge the reborn Kingdom under the Mountain – her sons’ death was a blow Dìs might never recover from and Thorin had never spoken of his sister’s refusal to join him in Erebor. It would take time, Dori thought. Only more time.  

Anyway Gandalf politely listened to Dori only for a short while.

“Now I shall speak with Bilbo Baggins,” Gandalf declared, seeming sensibly taller than a moment before.

Dori found himself trapped under the wizard’s long shadow and stern glance. The dwarf sighed.

“I fear that this is not possible,” Dori replied with a tentative smile.

“Then I will make it so,” Gandalf snapped back,  “as soon as I will have spoken to your king.”

The wizard looked like he was ready to vanish Dori in a puff of smoke. You never know what a wizard is up to, and Dori was definitely not too keen on the idea of making himself unpleasant to this particular wizard.

“Speaking to the king happens to be impossible either,” Dori murmured, closing and opening his fingers on his belt. 

“I am in no mood to be fooled by dwarves,” Gandalf rumbled, and the way his hands tightened on his staff was even more alarming that the sound of his voice. Dori quivered slightly and raised both his hands.

“I mean that Thorin and the hobbit are out at the moment and they won’t be here too soon,” he explained quickly.

Dori was quite reassured by the look of surprise appeared on Gandalf’s face.

Out?” the wizard repeated, his voice a little stretched but considerably less frightening.

“Oh yes,” Dori nodded, relieved. “Out like out of the Mountain and visiting Dale. I suppose you did not cross their path while you were coming here,” he suggested cautiously.

“I didn’t,” Gandalf admitted, now more thoughtful than threatening, “and have you really said that Thorin Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins are out there visiting Dale?”

“They have been invited to Bard’s table,” Dori explained, “and the bowman has always expressed his concern for Master Baggins. And the king thinks it’s a good thing for the hobbit to enjoy some air...”

Gandalf’s soft chuckle almost offended Dori.

Giving a faithful account of Thorin’s decision to take the hobbit to Dale was difficult – Dori himself did not quite understand half of it. The news of the king visiting Bard of Dale, with a prisoner at his side, had made a great sensation in Erebor – and Dori was sure that even the Elvenking had been already informed. But, Thorin being Thorin, the king had not taken a step back, even before the possibility of feeding a new wave of rumours through the Mountain. But Ori seemed very pleased with Thorin’s plan, and Balin too: Dori trusted Balin’s opinion on many a subject and this was not different. If the king wanted to give the hobbit a tour of Dale, Dori had nothing to say against it.

“It seems,” Gandalf mused, “that there are many things I should learn about before meeting Thorin,” he concluded, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Strangely Dori did not feel too much reassured at the sight.

 

*

 

Bilbo cleaned his mouth with the napkin and gently rubbed his belly.

Maybe he had taken too much pleasure in the spiced meat pie served at Bard’s table. He was probably going to also regret the two cups of sweetish ale he had been encouraged to drink, but for now Bilbo was a most contented hobbit and he lazily nibbled at the rhubarb tart just brought from the kitchen.

Bard had settled quite well in Dale. His reputation had been steadily rising since the day he had killed Smaug, while the Master of Lake Town had grown to be despised and blamed by his people. Bard had been one of the first survivors of the disaster of Lake-Town to choose a house for himself in Dale. He had worked hard at the rebuilding: it was a rather small place facing the old market square, not very grand or refined, but the house reflected Bard’s sober nature, and there was a warm fire painting the bare walls and the wooden furniture gold.

The bowman had wanted Bilbo and Thorin close to him at one end of the table, while the King’s guard and some of Bard’s most respectable companions occupied the rest of it. In this way, while the ale had been working its magic on dwarves and men, and increased their mutual friendliness, Bard had been able to focus his attention on Thorin and the little hobbit. The dwarf king was already acquainted with Bard’s simple hospitality and he had not looked too troubled by the idea of sharing his lunch with his guards and a bunch of old men.

Bilbo was still surprised by the way Thorin could be such a haughty creature one moment and then make himself at ease in a more friendly setting. On their way from Erebor’s gates to the heart of the Dale, the king had not addressed a single word to his guards aside from the necessary orders; now Thorin seemed unconcerned with the crass jokes running among the dwarves and men. Only a dwarf had been left outside Bard’s door to watch over the king’s safety. Thorin’s paranoia against Bard’s claims had subdued since the battle and the man’s words had been proved true: fighting side by side had made them all more willing to befriend each others. 

Bilbo, on his part, had tried to be unaffected by Thorin’s coldness while they were among others. They had ridden through Dale side by side: Bilbo on a little brown pony and Thorin towering from his saddle encrusted in silver and gems. People had stared at them, someone had saluted the dwarf king, but they had never slowed their pace until they had reached Bard’s house. Thorin had spoken few words to the hobbit and all of them had been about Dale, its inhabitants and how they were coping with the winter season. The king’s voice had been as cold as the morning air, but Bilbo had not been surprised and he had contented himself with the peaceful ride and the sight of the city returning to life.

Being on a saddle after such a long time had been a bit unpleasant, but there was more about it – there was the way Thorin had driven into Bilbo that very night, slowly and deeply, and how he had whispered over Bilbo’s mouth You are going to feel this tomorrow. He had been right, for Bilbo still felt sore and well used, and Thorin’s blue eyes on him forced his mind to run back to the previous night.

Things had been growing better since the day Thorin had come to him at midday and had agreed – not in so many words, Thorin being Thorin – to a change in their relationship. They had become closer, more intimate, and it was not just about their bodies this time. They actually spent time talking, exchanging ideas about Erebor and Dale, discussing Thranduil’s last message (Thorin was inclined to consider Thranduil’s communication as invariably offensive), reading from books in Khuzdul – well, Thorin reading in his deep, lovely voice, and then trying to translate for Bilbo.

Bilbo spoke more than Thorin, but Thorin was a good listener and sometimes his words were rare and beautiful like the gems he had taught Bilbo to recognise. Thorin still visited Bilbo’s rooms mostly at night, though he was able to escape his duties for an hour or two from time to time. Sometimes they ate together before the fireplace. And sometimes Thorin was so tired that he simply dragged himself into the bed with Bilbo and fell asleep with his arms wrapped around the hobbit’s smaller frame.

Yet they never spent time together in presence of the other dwarves of the Company – this did not sit well with Bilbo, but he had granted Thorin time to settle things for them both. So he kept his secret from the other dwarves, but enjoyed their company. As Thorin had promised, Bilbo was now allowed to roam through Erebor at his pleasure. Bilbo had taken advantage of it to visit the dwarvish settlement, mostly at Bofur’s side. He could walk freely and alone, but he still felt like some sort of odd curiosity, if not worse, in the eyes of the dwarves of Dain’s host. No one had actually threatened or mistreated the hobbit – he was, after all, the king’s prisoner and Thorin was quite feared. Still Bilbo preferred to have Bofur, Ori or Bifur at his side during his wanderings: whispers and glances cut less deep as long as his friends were at his side. And he did not get lost in Erebor.

Bilbo had been on his own, on the contrary, when he had retrieved the ring from the burial chamber. He had been glad to collect his ring, but not as much as he would have thought some time before. He had felt relieved to have the ring back in the pocket of his best waistcoat, but he never resorted to it. He had no need for it, had he? Bilbo found himself almost inclined to speak to Thorin about it, but he seemed to never find the right time for breaking the subject.  

A loud laugh brought Bilbo’s attention back to Bard’s table.

Bard and Thorin had spoken of many things and Bilbo had not listened to all of them, more interested in the change occurred in Bard’s appearance. The man seemed to be younger than Bilbo remembered, and the dignity and braveness he had demonstrated through his actions now were plainly seen in his demeanour around the King under the Mountain. Bard was a wise man, for he knew how to speak to Thorin Oakenshield of his plans and wishes for Dale. He used the right amount of openness and honesty: if his words displeased the king he never truly offended him, and Thorin’s temper did not threaten their lunch.

“So, Bilbo Baggins, how are you?” Bard asked for the first time.

Bilbo was licking his fingers clean: he found Bard and Thorin watching him. There was a kind smile on the man’s mouth, but something was twitching on the king’s face. The hobbit was suddenly aware of the tips of his fingers in his mouth and hastily closed his hand on the napkin, blushing to his hairline.

“Thank you for the lunch,” Bilbo muttered, swallowing hard. “The meat pie was particularly good, and I would like to know what kind of spices it contained. And this rhubarb jam is almost perfect.”

“I was not talking about the lunch,” Bard replied, his smile fading.

Bilbo saw Bard casting a glance to Thorin and the king averting his face. The hobbit guessed what Bard would make of it: the man would think that Thorin was keeping him from a honest answer. It was true, from a certain point of view, for Bilbo was bound to secrecy about many things – like that peculiar fond smile that could appear on Thorin’s mouth when he was sleepy.

“I am quite good, considering,” the hobbit added then, weighing his words and trying not to look at the king while he was speaking. Bard nodded, but he was clearly expecting something more. “I have rooms to myself, nice and warm rooms,” Bilbo continued, “and I never want for food or clothes. I am enjoying more freedom lately and I wander through Erebor at my wish. No guard stands at my door anymore.”

From a certain point of view this was a true account of Bilbo’s current situation. But the hobbit did not miss the way Bard was watching him to be sure of his words.

“I miss my home, and my land,” Bilbo confessed after a while. He had lowered his eyes on his napkin and his voice had dropped lower. “I am not accustomed to dwarvish tradition and there are still things I do not understand of their behaviour, but I find myself more at ease with my current status that I was bound to think after the battle,” he said, struggling to be honest. “I have...friends in the Mountain and they look after me in an unexpected way,” Bilbo muttered, tapping his fingers on the rim of his plate. “My situation could be much more worse, I guess.”

“It could be much better, couldn’t it?” Bard suggested, his voice quiet but firm.

Bilbo saw Thorin flinch. The hobbit chewed his lower lip and then shrugged.

“I try to avoid this kind of thoughts,” he said to Bard. “During my voyage from the Shire to Erebor, I learned that dreaming of a large meal does wonders to worsen the hunger,” Bilbo explained, with a quiet smile. “I do not wish to dream for what I cannot reach.”

“I would have agreed with you, my friend, some time ago,” Bard admitted. There was a sweet touch of regret in his tone. “Now I see that hope must be kept alive. This is really a grim day if you have given up yours.”

Bard’s words were spoken in nothing but gentleness, but this did not make them less sharp. Bilbo felt his heart clenching in his chest, closing around that little hope he had been unable to crush against all odds. He feared being too exposed in his feelings, and Thorin’s gaze was much more worse than Bard’s.

“Loyalty, honour and a willing heart.”

The hobbit gave a soft gasp. The king’s voice had come unexpectedly and even Bard took off his eyes from Bilbo to glance at the dwarf, whose deep voice made all the guests fell silent.

“That’s what I asked from my companions at the beginning of my quest to win back Erebor and my throne,” Thorin continued quietly, keeping his gaze on Bilbo for a moment. Then he blinked and turned to Bard. “Alone I dared to long and dream for what was once lost. This hope I nurtured, this hope I offered to my companions, has brought me back to Erebor. There’s no willingness of the heart without hope. Bard of Dale, you hope for a new life for your people, here in the town which was once ruined by the dragon’s breath: raise your cup, then; raise it with me for the sake of those who know hope.”

Bard seemed on the verge of saying something, but he complied and soon enough all the cups were lifted, some of them almost spilling their contents, men and dwarves drinking together. Bilbo took but a little sip, his hands shaking on the wooden cup. The hobbit was grateful for the chance to slip past Bard’s questions about his life in Erebor, but Thorin’s words had set his mind running on a new track of thoughts and Bilbo feared he would not be able to keep himself in check.

He fidgeted on his chair, his appetite vanished and the ale’s aftertaste suddenly sour in his mouth. Bard’s hand brushed his shoulder, forcing Bilbo to lift his head again.

Memories of the day he had left the Elvenking’s tent to be delivered as a prisoner to the dwarves made the hobbit twitch under the man’s touch. Why Bard was so keen on showing his concern for him when he had not raised a finger against his imprisonment? Where had Bard been while Bilbo had been withering from loneliness and fear in the great hall filled with cold treasures? Where was that brave man while Bilbo was being seduced by the King under the Mountain? Bilbo felt rage flaring in his limbs, his mouth tightening and a deep need to wipe away any kindness from Bard’s face.

But he sighed and did nothing, even when Bard spoke to him.

“If you need me I will be at your side,” Bard said. “If my words have some weight before the throne of Erebor, they will be heard loud and clear. I am in your debt, Master Baggins of the Shire,” the man admitted, lowering his head before the hobbit. “Tell me how I can repay you, for it seems our victory in the battle has earned you nothing in return but sorrow.”

“Has it?” Bilbo repeated bitterly.

“You do not look happy, despite your words,” Bard murmured.

His voice was low, but not enough to go unheard by Thorin.

“What are you offering him, Bard of Dale?” the king intervened, a new coldness to his tone. “You know you cannot keep him in your house against my wish and my wish is for him to return to his rooms in Erebor.”

“Have you not lingered on your revenge too much?” Bard asked boldly.

“Call it revenge if it pleases you,” Thorin said with contempt. “But dwarves, contrary to men, respect their own laws.”

But there is no law against the way you are beguiling me, Thorin Oakenshield, Bilbo thought.

“I do not know your laws so well,” Bard admitted, “but surely the king can speak in favour of a prisoner and grace him at his pleasure and wisdom.”

“And where would be the king’s pleasure when he’s pestered constantly about it? I have brought you the halfling so that you could see with your own eyes that is alive and well,” the king hissed.

“Should I be satisfied with this parade?” Bard asked in return and Thorin was on the point of speaking his mind again, when Bilbo opened his mouth:

“Please, don’t.”

Bard and Thorin both froze at Bilbo’s plea. He had spoken a bit too loud and he bit his own tongue, before shaking his head.

“I do not wish to be spoken of like I wasn’t even here. And I’m going back to Erebor,” Bilbo made clear, anticipating Bard’s protest. “I have come to terms with the king’s decision. There is no need to fight about it.”

Bilbo took a morsel of white bread, as to underline the fact that there was nothing to say left. He was no longer hungry, but he kept chewing on. Bard shifted on his chair. While stretching his arm to reach again for his cup, Bilbo’s eyes fell on Thorin: the king was watching him with such plain concern that Bilbo felt sick.

Chapter Text

“I need to talk to you.”

Thorin tightened his hold on the reins at Bilbo’s words, but he did not pull to stop his pony. He slightly tilted his head, his long heavy braids wavering in the air scattered with snowflakes. They were crossing the old market square, where the signs of Smaug’s passage were still visible despite the rebuilding going on.

In the dim light of that winter afternoon Dale was growing pale and grey, and its ruined state seemed more manifest than it had been in the morning, when Bilbo, Thorin and the King’s Guard had moved towards Bard’s house. Maybe it was Bilbo’s fault, for his mood had deeply changed over the past few hours and everything looked uglier on their way back to the Mountain. 

“Can’t it wait?” Thorin asked after what seemed an unnecessarily long time.

Bilbo was grateful for the question – Thorin could have said something like it shall wait. The hobbit shook his head, his cheeks cold from the harsh wind seeping through the almost empty streets.

The dwarf king seemed on the verge of refusing Bilbo his request or at least trying to dissuade him. Instead Thorin raised his right hand and used his left on the reins to make his pony turn until he was facing his own guards.

“Wait here,” he ordered, without indulging in any explanations. He never does, Bilbo knew. The dwarves from the Iron Hills did not even flinch, but stopped their ponies and stood still, their faces carved from unyielding stone. “Halfling, at my side,” Thorin briskly added. The king stretched from his saddle to grab the reins of the hobbit’s pony and then lead both the animals towards a narrow street climbing between unrecognisable ruins.

Bilbo stood in silence: too many words were filling the hobbit’s head, his heart, his mouth, and none of these words could reach his lips, for his tongue was numb, his fears rising and coiling and screeching.

They continued along the road for a while until they were surrounded by bare, scattered rocks. Even the fallen snow could not conceal the black marks left by fire.  

“There was a forge here, a long time ago,” Thorin remembered, looking around as he summoned old images from his memories of the place. A brief smile found its way to Thorin’s mouth and Bilbo wondered if the king had ever visited the forge as a young dwarf, long before Smaug’s arrival. “Why all this urge?” Thorin asked, his eyes back to Bilbo and a concerned frown on his face. “The guards will wonder...”

“I am sorry,” Bilbo blurted out.

Thorin gave a groan of impatience and took away his hand from the reins of Bilbo’s pony.

“Stop with this custom of yours to apologise at every turn,” Thorin suggested, although his annoyance was softened by something akin to affection in his tone. “You want to speak to me and it cannot wait. I am listening,” he offered, looking at the hobbit.

Bilbo was slightly thrilled when he understood that Thorin was worried. The dwarf would not have agreed to part from his guards if he had not been interested in what Bilbo had to say and there was a sparkle of nervousness in the way Thorin was leading his pony in circles among the ruins, waiting for the hobbit to open his mouth.

But the pleasure Bilbo took in knowing Thorin’s distress turned into something sour and nasty: Bilbo was glad to be on the saddle, for his knees would have surely abandoned him by now.

“I have lied to Bard,” the hobbit murmured at last, and he was forced to repeat it louder for Thorin to hear.

The king scowled, then averted Bilbo’s gaze.

“I have never asked you to lie for me,” Thorin said.

And despite the coldness of Thorin’s tone, it was one of the most intimate thing he had ever said to Bilbo: for me – few times the dwarf had acknowledged that Bilbo could do things for his sake and no one else’s, therefore recognising the bond between them.

“No,” Bilbo agreed, even if he knew that the secrecy of their relationship was nothing short of a lie. “But I was lying for me. To me,” he made clear with a sigh. “I have not accepted this,” he confessed, his mouth dry. “The imprisonment. Your rage, your words, the way you...” Bilbo’s eyes ran to the Mountain before he could stop himself and he heard Thorin’s breath catch.  

They both knew what he was looking at: the point over the gates from which Thorin had threatened to throw Bilbo in the abyss below.

“I am not well, Thorin,” Bilbo stuttered, his eyes now returning to the ground streaked in black and white. “Neither are you,” the hobbit added, growing more tired and frightened with every word that escaped his mouth. “I need to talk to you, I need to explain what happened. You were right, I haven’t been honest for a long time about this. I-I wonder if you are the only one who had really thought about it. Even Gandalf has never asked...”

It was difficult. And Thorin did not make it easier, for he was silent and still. The king’s eyes were not on Bilbo, nor the hobbit could ask Thorin to look at him – the request died on his lips. So Bilbo lowered his head, his words always in danger of being lost in a unintelligible murmur.

“Some time ago you asked me when I had taken the Arkenstone,” Bilbo reminded to Thorin.

Even the name of the stone was painful to Bilbo. It stood for all that parted him from Thorin – it was the pride of the Durin’s lineage, its most valuable possession and the very shape of their hearts. It stood for Thorin’s fate, his sickness and his throne, and it stood for Bilbo’s betrayal.

“I took it after Smaug’s departure from the Mountain,” Bilbo breathed.

He risked a glance at Thorin and he saw the king hunched on the saddle, his hands closed on the pommel, the pose of an old, tired creature; it was like the whole Mountain was weighing on Thorin’s shoulders, crushing him to the ground. Bilbo’s heart throbbed and he almost slipped down from his saddle.

If he ran to Thorin’s side, would Thorin let him put his head on his knee? Would Thorin touch him?

“Since Smaug’s departure from the Mountain,” the hobbit repeated, for there was no escape from his own words, “the Arkenstone had been in my hands. I found it and I took it. I concealed it from you and the others,” he admitted shortly. “I guessed that it was the gemstone you had talked about many times, therefore I knew how highly you valued it and how important it was to you. I saw its beauty,” Bilbo breathed. “And I took it, without as much as a second thought.” Bilbo stopped and swallowed and waited, then he spoke again, feverishly. “I feared the moment you would discover it: I did not sleep well, heavy with guilt and terror; I repeated to myself that the Arkenstone was my fair share as granted by the contract, yet I could not speak of it.”

Bilbo waited for the yells, but Thorin’s mouth did not open. He waited for the king to seize him from the saddle and push him on the hard ground, where snow and mud melted. Nothing came. Thorin was silent and cold as a statue, beautiful and impossible as the Arkenstone, and as terrifying, for his pull was an open wound for Bilbo. The king had straightened his back: the weight was still there, but he was carrying it, like he would carry a crown on his handsome head.

Bilbo blinked, snowflakes melting on his cheeks.

“When...when elves and men came to the gates claiming their share and you refused to yield to their requests, I understood that the Arkenstone was the only chance to end the siege and avoid a pointless war,” he continued, fiddling with the reins. “I could force you to make peace with men and elves. I could save you all from starving. Save you from your own sickness,” Bilbo said, and he bit his lower lip when Thorin did not react at all to his words, still audible despite the strain he was undergoing. “At that point I wanted nothing but your safety, even if I had to buy it at the price of my loyalty. My betrayal was the only way to protect you all. Thorin. I had been loyal to you when you were out of your mind, far from your own heart and those who care for you.”

Bilbo had to wet his lips. They felt chapped under his tongue, the cold opening little wounds on them.

“But we both know this came after,” the hobbit sighed. “Before all this, I took the Arkenstone. This I confess. I would like to say that I had already guessed what would soon happen and how we would be threatened by goblins and wargs and orcs. I would like to say the idea of using the stone in the bargain had always been on my mind. I would like to say there had never been any greed in me, any disloyalty,” Bilbo’s voice trembled. “But it would not be the truth. At the beginning I took the Arkenstone for myself and I did not speak about it. You looked for it and shouted and cursed, and I knew all the time. I stole from you and lied to you and, in the end, I betrayed you.”

 Bilbo’s breath was short and harsh, his eyes were burning; but Thorin still did not look at him and Bilbo was gripped by the idea of wearing his magic ring and vanishing. He had never felt so invisible in Thorin’s presence, not even at the beginning of their journey from the Shire. He fought the impulse, reminding himself that he had to finish what he had started, one way or another.  

“Please, don’t misunderstand me: I am not sorry to have given the Arkenstone to Bard and Gandalf to force you to negotiate,” Bilbo made plain, clearing his throat. “I am not going to ask you forgiveness for my decision, although I am sorry to have acted behind your back. I am sorry for the deception, but it was necessary and you must know I would do the same a thousand times more to save your lives. To give a chance to Kili and Fili, too.”

The names of his nephews made Thorin flinch, still he did not answer, not even then.

Bilbo felt drained, almost on the verge of tears from how his own words cut deeply in his flesh.

“I wronged you though,” Bilbo said. “The Arkenstone called me. I felt its pull. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my whole life,” he confessed, and he felt the bitter taste of shame closing his throat. For a moment Bilbo could not speak and he had to close his eyes and take deep breaths. “It trapped my heart and my mind, and I wanted it for myself,” Bilbo continued, remembering the feelings he had experienced at the time. “Oh, I was ready to fight you over it, Thorin. I feared your rage, but I accepted it as a fair price for the beauty of the Arkenstone.”

Speaking of it made it real, concrete. It had been a shadow on Bilbo’s heart, concealed behind the different course his actions had taken during the siege of Erebor. Now this shadow was a monster unleashed, something Bilbo had done, someone Bilbo had been, no matter how shortly.

Now this shadow would come lurching into Bilbo’s nights, again and again.

Only Thorin could understand it, only Thorin could forgive that first weakness of his.

Maybe it had all been for the better. If Bilbo had not stolen the Arkenstone in the first place, he would have had nothing to bargain with; Thorin would have never accepted an agreement with Bard and Thranduil. But it was not Bilbo’s place to excuse his own behaviour: Thorin should judge it by himself.

“The Arkenstone made a fool of me for a while,” the hobbit concluded grimly. “But now I know exactly how much I value it. I know because when time had come for me to choose, I gave it away: I know that even the Arkenstone is not worth your life, or mine,” he concluded almost breathlessly.  

Point is, does Thorin know it too?

Bilbo had closed his eyes. He felt exhausted just from speaking. He did not know if he would be able to fight back if Thorin decided to abuse him with cruel words. At least Thorin would not raise his hands upon him, wouldn’t he?

Bilbo had thought he would have felt better, once freed from his burden. But he was sick, as if he had been carved from the inside out, his burden cut away from his heart and his bones stripped of their own flesh, leaving him empty and aching. He had not even realized how much this burden had been wrapped around his feelings, crushing them, poisoning them and altering his own behaviour towards Thorin.

Now that his own weakness had been offered to the King under the Mountain, Bilbo could feel the pure strength of his attraction for Thorin Oakenshield. Under the layers of their wrongs, the layers he was trying to peel away, there was a deep, terrifying hunger for Thorin, a need arousing his body and his mind, and that fierce, cruel sweetness that burned in his chest at the mere sight of the dwarf.

He wanted to be at Thorin’s side for the rest of his life. Maybe he had always known.

“Please, say something,” Bilbo asked, a soft urge in his voice.

He could not stand Thorin’s silence anymore. He needed to know what the dwarf was thinking.

The king’s pony turned once more and came near Bilbo’s, the dwarf high on his saddle, his face a mask Bilbo could not read. Thorin’s hand shot towards the reins of the hobbit’s pony and used them to keep the beasts one against the other, the king and the hobbit as close as they could get.

The blue of Thorin’s eyes was almost lost in the fading light of the afternoon, but not the grey streaks in his hair. Thorin tilted his head and watched Bilbo for what seemed the first time in a long while. When he spoke, his voice came out deep and clear – the voice of a king on his throne, voice of a ruler.

“For a long time, since the day you saved my life from the pale orc, I imagined I would have your friendship and your loyalty,” Thorin began slowly. “I longed for them,” he admitted. “When Erebor would be recovered, my possession and my title returned to me, and the Kingdom under the Mountain restored, you would be there. You would see me crowned, as my fate claimed. You would be saluted as friend of the King under the Mountain,” Thorin’s half closed his eyes, his thick fingers twisting the reins. “I would have given you gold and jewels as you had never dreamed of in your life. I would have you covered in honours and praises. Mahal, I would have sung of you, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire,” he kept on, his voice now uneven. “I would have valued your friendship and your word. I would have asked you to spend more time in Erebor, months or years, for I would have shared with you the only place I have ever called home.”

The last words were no more than a whisper, but Bilbo heard them very well, even over the thumping of his heart. He could not bear Thorin’s gaze, firm and cold, nor the deceiving softness in his voice.

“Have you any idea how much you have hurt me, Bilbo Baggins?”

The king’s voice was even, the question almost casual, but his words were sharp and they cut Bilbo in pieces.

“Do you know how much your betrayal hurt me then?” Thorin continued, his self-control slowly fading. His voice grew tense, his body stiff under the heavy layers of clothes and fur. “Do you know how I’m constantly pained by the knowledge of what I’ve done to you in exchange for your betrayal?” Thorin asked wildly. “The words spoken over the gates cannot be unsaid, nor can I take back my actions,” he deplored, with the ferocity of a wounded animal. “I’m bound to be haunted by them. If I had died in the battle, I would have used my last breath to implore your forgiveness. But not like this – I have no right when my life had been spared. Mahal, you cannot...you cannot forgive me,” Thorin hissed, in rage. “Do you understand? There’s no going back, things will never be what they could have been.”

Bilbo’s vision blurred and his cheeks were aflame – there might have been something he could have said back, but he could not think straight.

“We must return,” Thorin murmured, turning his head towards the direction they had come from.

When the king’s eyes were on the hobbit again, there was nothing left – no rage, no compassion. The hobbit lowered his head and soon enough he heard the sound of hooves on rocks and melted snow. Bilbo turned his pony on the road and followed the dwarf, like in a dream, hardly keeping himself on the saddle.

Bilbo listened to Thorin giving new orders to the guards, but he did not understand them nor he was interested in them in the least. He did not wonder where they were moving to, and he realised they were back into Erebor only when he found himself in the stables.  

Chapter Text

He had dismissed the urge to look at Bilbo while on their road back to Erebor. But now that they had reached the stables Thorin could not resist the impulse to turn his gaze upon the halfling. The dwarf dismounted from his pony, entrusting a groom with the reins. His guards were dismounting as well and Thorin heard them speak in Khuzdul about the ale that had been served at Bard’s table. But the only taste left in Thorin’s mouth was that of his own words, and the grief and rage still burning the back of his throat. Now he wanted to look at Bilbo properly and know how much his words had affected the halfling: are you as hurt as me? Thorin wondered.

He found the halfling trying to slip down from the saddle and positively failing at it; the pony seemed quite upset and Bilbo’s attempts were too clumsy to save him from an undignified fall from the saddle. The grooms were distracted with the guards’ ponies and no one seemed too anxious of taking care of the halfling. Thorin felt his displeasure rise and he almost lashed out at the grooms, before remembering that he was responsible for Bilbo’s isolation: he had wanted him as prisoner, he had called him thief – no wonder if even a simple groom did not run to the hobbit’s aid.

Thorin moved swiftly to Bilbo’s side. He grasped the reins and took care of calming down the pony. The poor beast was rightly nervous: Bilbo was shaking and closing his legs too tightly on the pony’s flanks. As soon as Thorin’s gaze met his, the halfling tried again to dismount, and this time Thorin closed his hand upon Bilbo’s elbow, in order to help him.

“Don’t,” Bilbo hissed, as if Thorin’s touch had burnt him.

Thorin was tempted to keep his hold on the halfling, or even seize him by the waist, to take him down from the saddle and put him on his feet. Instead he let Bilbo go and stepped back, hiding his disappointment at the rejection.

At last Bilbo managed to dismount, but his knees were weak and he almost stumbled. There was a new heaviness about him and Thorin’s instinct was screaming for him to take the halfling in his arms and put an end to this foolishness. Eventually a groom took care of Bilbo’s pony and the halfling tried to push past Thorin to leave the stables. This time Thorin’s impulse overcame his best judgement: he reached for Bilbo again, closing his arm around the halfling’s waist to steady him on his feet.

If Thorin was hoping that Bilbo would lean into the embrace, he was wrong: Bilbo’s reaction was even more violent than the king had expected. Bilbo pushed him away, in a way that should have been reserved for an orc and not for a lover. The halfling’s little, soft hands could hardly hurt Thorin, but Bilbo’s eyes, filled with pain and revulsion – oh, those broke Thorin’s breath.

The dwarf withdrew, his heart thumping wildly in his chest. He wanted to persuade the halfling to look at him and speak to him, but he could do nothing under the eyes of his guards and the grooms. A couple of dwarves moved closer as soon as they saw the burglar hit the king on his chest and arms. Thorin stopped them with a furious glare.

“Don’t touch him,” he warned them, growling.

In the meanwhile the halfling had reached the arch that led further inside the Mountain. On the threshold Bilbo bumped into someone coming to the stables. Thorin gasped when Bilbo was almost thrown to the ground, but he saw the little halfling scramble again on his feet and slip past the tall figure in grey robe, too quick even for Gandalf the Grey. Thorin blinked, his attention suddenly torn between the fleeting halfling and the wizard.  

“I salute thee, King under the Mountain,” Gandalf bowed, mockingly enough.

More than annoyed, Thorin felt tired all of sudden.

“Gandalf,” Thorin acknowledged eventually.

“I was told you were out in Dale,” the wizard said, his grey eyes alight with a flame that Thorin did not appreciate. He knew what it meant – curiosity. A wizard prying into Erebor was not what Thorin needed.

“Why are you here?” he demanded.

Thorin knew his question was far from polite and his tone too brisk, but Gandalf’s arrival made him uneasy. And fate was already set against Thorin: Gandalf had just seen Bilbo run away from him and he would surely make something of it.

“Friendship,” Gandalf replied, tilting his head. His pointed hat slipped a bit. “For my friend Bilbo Baggins is still a prisoner, and my friend Thorin Oakenshield is still his keeper.”

Meddlesome wizard, Thorin thought, biting the inside of his cheek to avoid speaking too quickly – or too harshly. Instead the dwarf put his hands on his belt and straightened his back. He did not care if Gandalf was much taller than him; Thorin was King, and this was his Kingdom and home. It did not matter if the wizard had managed to sneak his way into the Lonely Mountain and Thorin was not prepared for his visit.

“You are welcome, Gandalf the Grey,” Thorin said quietly, “even if your words are hardly the one a respectable guest should offer.”

“Oh, I’ve never been respectable,” Gandalf mused, almost smiling. “And if my words do not please you, I am doing quite well. I prefer to displease you, King under the Mountain, if I can help it.”

“Yet you proclaim yourself my friend,” Thorin replied hastily.

“Yes, I do,” the wizard declared, in that irritatingly gentle tone of his. “Only a courtier pleases his king with words even when that king acts unwisely. On the contrary a friend risks speaking cruel words out of kindness and loyalty.”

Thorin frowned, for Gandalf’s words were too familiar to his ears after his conversation with Bilbo. How easily they spoke of loyalty! Did he not know what loyalty was, he who had waited a lifetime to return to his home?

“Such a common alibi,” Thorin muttered under his breath, his thoughts running to the halfling.

Gandalf said nothing for a while, observing the king before him. Then he leant towards Thorin.

“I wish to speak with you,” the wizard offered, “in a more private setting.”

Thorin knew that sooner or later Gandalf would push him into a more or less metaphorical corner and force him to some sort of confrontation. He knew Gandalf’s methods – he had had a taste of them when the wizard had arranged a not so casual meeting in Bree with him. But Thorin needed some time to think, and – but he would not acknowledge this, not even with himself – he was not in the condition of speaking to anyone but Bilbo Baggins.

“Not now,” Thorin replied, a surprising edge of nervousness cutting into his voice. “Later,” he added, trying to not sound too impatient or upset. He could sense the wizard weighing his words, trying to unveil the secrets Thorin carried in his mind.

“You cannot avoid me forever, King under the Mountain,” Gandalf reminded him.

“Do you think I don’t know that?” Thorin retorted.

He would have spoken again, but another dwarf had reached the stable and Thorin was relieved to find that the dwarf was Balin. He guessed that the old dwarf had been informed of Gandalf’s arrival and he had moved to the stables, knowing that the wizard would look for the king and Bilbo as soon as possible. Thorin left Gandalf and Balin to the customary greetings, then he addressed himself to the second:

 “My friend,” he said to Balin, “take care that our guest the wizard has comfortable rooms and a fire to warm them. This night the Company shall dine with Gandalf the Grey,” he decided. “I fear Master Baggins has been tired out by the visit to Dale, but I think he will be pleased to join us.”

The announce surprised both Balin and the wizard, and Thorin repressed a smile. He was calmer now, and his mind was quickly suggesting him the best course of action. If only Gandalf...

“Then I shall see Master Baggins and you, Thorin Oakenshield, at dinner.”

Thorin looked at Gandalf, trying to understand if the wizard really intended to give him some hours to collect his thoughts. But Gandalf’s face was unreadable, and Thorin could nothing but take his word.

“Balin, I entrust you with the necessary plans for dinner then,” Thorin said.

The old dwarf still looked a bit bewildered, but he nodded and he even made way for Gandalf, hinting to the possibility of visiting some of Erebor’s recently restored quarters. The wizard complied, sparing a last glance towards Thorin; the king wanted nothing else than be freed from Gandalf’s presence. He followed the wizard and Balin into Erebor, even kept them company for some moments, before excusing himself and finally directing his steps towards Bilbo’s rooms.   

 

*

 

There were two possibilities Thorin was prepared to face. If met with Bilbo’s fury, Thorin would endure everything – foul words, shouts, even a slap. On the other hand, if faced with Bilbo’s tears Thorin would just try to soothe the halfling’s aching soul, as Bilbo had done one night for him.  

But Thorin was definitely ill-prepared for what he found in the burglar’s quarters.

All the lamps had been blown out. Nonetheless the light coming from the fireplace was enough to see the halfling sitting on the rocking chair, still dressed from head to calves. He was not crying. His eyes were a bit unfocused, but the dwarf could not see any trace of tears on the Bilbo’s cheeks. Thorin rested for a moment with his back against the door, until Bilbo gave a curt nod, something akin to an invitation. The dwarf approached him and saw clearly the stiffness in Bilbo’s body and how the halfling’s hands trembled on the armrests. Thorin was tempted to fall on his knees and put his head on Bilbo’s lap, but he looked at the fire and began undressing.

He took away his heavy cloak, then untied his belt to set down his sword. He removed the rings from his fingers and then peeled away layers of leather, fur and velvet, until he was dressed only in his trousers and tunic, as the humblest groom. He left his boots, covered in mud and snow, near the fire, then took place on a stool, a step away from the rocking chair.  

“Do you think,” said Bilbo, who had watched Thorin’s movements without a word, “that I will not ask you to leave soon?”

“I think that anyway I would be better without all that, since I am no king before you,” the dwarf replied.

“You mean that it’s easier forgetting that you are King under the bloody Mountain,” Bilbo pointed out.

Thorin gave a strangled sound that could have almost passed for a laugh.

“I honestly don’t know what to do,” he confessed hastily.

He looked up at Bilbo and found that the halfling had blushed crimson. Unlike him, Bilbo had not wasted his time undressing. He still wore all his clothes, and he was probably sweating under too much wool and fur. It was a strange sight, the halfling almost drowning under the clothes, overdressed in a dwarvish fashion that hardly suited his size and form.

“You don’t know?” Bilbo repeated, giving Thorin a scolding glance. “You are supposed to know,” he reminded him, his voice slightly rising. “You initiated this!” Bilbo shouted, looking almost on the verge of leaping on his feet. But he closed his hands tightly on the armrests, and hold himself to the chair.

Thorin could see the fear burning the halfling, and how that fear made Bilbo even angrier, to the point that his whole little body trembled as feverish.

“What’s the game, Thorin? I don’t know anymore. I don’t know if I’m a player or the prize or a pawn in something greater than me,” Bilbo said, almost breathlessly. “I cannot guess where this is going. I hurt you, this I understand. And you hurt me, I hope you understand this too. Now you’ve said that there’s no way around this, no way around the Arkenstone.”

 “Sometimes I feel like you are misguiding me,” Thorin replied, frowning. “Muddling my thoughts,” he murmured, glancing at the halfling and feeling that even now he wanted nothing less than taking Bilbo in his arms and kissing his mouth, his eyelids, his nose. Thorin sighed. “Lately I keep falling into the ridiculous belief that you’re the only sight worth seeing. Sometimes I remember another blindness I am ashamed of.”

“You are trying,” Bilbo began, obviously affected by Thorin’s admission, “to distract me from the words passed between us in Dale.”

“Quite the contrary: I am trying to make you truly appreciate them,” Thorin said back.

“Are you? Because now you’re saying that you are...what, trying to fight off your sickness? You were sick, do you know this? Maybe you are still,” Bilbo suggested, shivering. Thorin felt his stomach clenching at the thought and the guilt biting the flesh of his soul, leaving him pale and aching. He lowered his eyes, while the halfling was still speaking. “Yet you...you started this. You came to me. You...”

“I wanted you,” Thorin cut in, practically growling. “I want you, Mahal forgive me.”

“You wanted me tried and you wanted me?!” Bilbo hissed. “And then you’ve changed your mind and you’re thinking about resolving the trial, yet you say that things between us...” he stopped, a sob splitting his voice.

“I was not lying about the trial and my intentions. And I’ve not lied about the rest,” Thorin squeezed his eyes shut. He was struggling with words and the only ones that came easy to his lips were the endearment he had grown fond of. “Little bunny.”

“I have a name, you know,” Bilbo replied hastily.

Thorin sighed. There were boundaries. He was playing a game with them, playing god with a world whose rules he was submitted to. It would not last. Some day he would have to forget that name, the name running under his skin, running with his blood, his thoughts, rolling on his tongue, in his belly, echoing through his bones, his brains.

“Bilbo,” Thorin said, his better judgement defeated.

“I am not up for riddles, Thorin,” the halfling continued, his voice just tired this time. “You never talk. Then you talk too much at once and I don’t understand: it’s hardly fair. How long have you known about the time when I took the Arkenstone?” Bilbo asked suddenly.

“I knew since that day at the gates,” Thorin answered slowly. “I knew that you must have stolen the Arkenstone shortly after Smaug’s departure from the Mountain. At the time it was the fact that you’d traded the Arkenstone with Bard that hurt me most and made me furious. The idea that you’d been lying to me and hiding the Arkenstone only increased my rage,” the dwarf explained. “I wanted to erase even your memory from my mind. I had never felt so utterly betrayed.”

Thorin had spoken without harshness, but he saw that his words were whip blows for the halfling. He would have gladly spared them both this, but there had never been a way back.

“I asked for you to be given to me and tried accordingly to our law,” the king continued. “I wanted you punished and my pride restored. But I could not bring myself to accuse you of betrayal: if I had, our law would have called for a swift trial, before the battle, and you would have faced a death sentence. Despite my deeds at the gates, I did not...” Thorin covered his eyes with his hand. His breath was short and harsh. “I asked you to be tried for theft. At that time and even more after the battle I was beginning to see the wisdom of your behaviour and the loyalty you had showed to me and my kin: trading the Arkenstone and forcing me to negotiate had avoided an even greater and useless slaughter.”

Thorin felt the brush of soft fingers on his hand and instinctively took it away from his eyes, to grasp the halfling’s hand.

“You must look at me while you speak,” Bilbo said.

His tone was still too cold, but he let Thorin hold his hand and the dwarf enclosed Bilbo’s little hand between his, warming it with caresses. Thorin complied, anyway, and raised his eyes to Bilbo.

“But the more I was reminded of your behaviour, the more they said to me that you had acted honourably and the more your braveness and cleverness were commended to me, the more my rage grew,” Thorin resumed. “Elves and men spoke highly of you; my dwarves thought that you had done your best to save us, out of generosity and loyalty. Even you threw in my face how you had tried to save us all. I could not bear it; I swear I could not,” Thorin whispered, his big, rough fingers tracing the halfling’s palm and wrist. He leant to place a swift kiss on Bilbo’s knuckles. The halfling startled, but he did not take away his hand. “I knew that you had not always been honest with me. You had stolen from me, but you did not care to admit it. I nurtured my resentment despite the fact that I had already forgiven your attempt to trade for peace with Bard and the Elvenking. It hurts still, but I understand it at last.”

“I was frightened to admit that weakness,” Bilbo intervened. His hand trembled in Thorin’s. “It all happened so fast, I hardly had any time to think in those days. And then I saw how the Arkenstone and the gold made you sick, and this scared me, you scared me at the gates.”

Thorin said nothing. He wished to take that nightmare from Bilbo’s heart, but he hardly knew how to keep at bay his own fear of being consumed again by such hatred and violence. He could feel the halfling’s pulse, a bird’s wing fluttering under his thumb.

“I think that I hated the sickness in you even more because I had felt the pull of the Arkenstone,” Bilbo murmured, lowering his eyes for a moment before looking again at Thorin.

“And I hated how you reproached me for my greed and my love for the Arkenstone,” the king confessed, “when you had been as greedy as me and you had stolen what had never been yours.”

 Bilbo turned away his head, looking at the fire. When he spoke, his voice seemed coming from a distant place, buried under the halfling’s own heart.

“Then this is what we’ve got. Wrongs and lies, and that thrice damned stone,” he said with contempt.

“I cannot forget the hurt,” Thorin admitted, leaning his head into the hollow of the halfling’s soft hand, “but I am not angry at you anymore. I know that my displeasure was misdirected: I’ve betrayed you all more than you have ever betrayed me, for I allowed greed to endanger the entire Company. And my nephews...”

“Oh, Thorin. Please, don’t say that,” Bilbo whispered, alarmed.

“Why not?” Thorin lashed out, frowning. “I practically killed them, filling their heads with stories of Erebor and how they should protect their honour at the price of their lives.”

“They died protecting you. Out of love, not out of honour,” Bilbo reminded him.

“Did I deserve it?” Thorin asked, bluntly.

“Don’t ask me to answer that. It’s too cruel a question,” Bilbo said, lowering his head.

“I almost killed you,” Thorin added, feeling a great weakness coming over him. He leant until his forehead was touching the halfling’s knees. “Still I’m not generous enough to leave you alone and I always come back to you. It’s not for you I’m here, for you would be better in your Shire with your books and your maps; it’s for me I’m here, for I’m better with you at my side.”

Thorin sensed a tender weight over his hair. He held his breath, fearing that Bilbo’s fingers would move away if only he turned his head, like nervous butterflies would. Instead he cherished the ghost-like touch among his braids, and the lightest pressure of Bilbo’s fingertips on his nape.

“We both initiated this,” the halfling said quietly. “And neither of us knows how to end it.”

“I know,” Thorin said, aching at the idea that he would lose the touch of Bilbo’s fingers on his hair. The caress stopped and the dwarf raised his head, “I know how to end it. I shall break the subject of your trial tomorrow, during the council with Dain and his generals. I shall retire all the accusations against you and use all my power to bend the law in your favour. I am King, after all. I shall speak of your character and your brave deeds if it’s what it takes to restore your name and give you the public esteem you deserve,” Thorin continued, noticing with some pleasure that his words had taken Bilbo by surprise. “But I doubt you would ever be as worthy in their eyes as you are in mine,” he added, the playfulness he had wanted to keep in his tone falling flat and leaving only a note of despair in his voice.  

Bilbo blinked. He opened his mouth, frowned, closed it again. Then the halfling shook his head.

“No, you won’t.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo had not expected that the look on Thorin’s face would grip his heart with tenderness. But there it was – Thorin staring at him with his blue eyes shining from surprise in the firelight, the well-known frown on his brow: the utter confusion painted on Thorin’s features made Bilbo willing to reassure him and lean into the dwarf’s embrace. But he said nothing, and kept his hands in his lap.

No?” Thorin repeated, bewildered. “What do you mean by that?”

“I don’t want you to put off the trial. In fact I am asking you not to,” Bilbo replied, quietly.

“This does not make sense,” the dwarf replied. He seemed so unnerved that he leapt to his feet to move to the fireplace, and his hands clutched the mantelpiece. Then Thorin shot Bilbo a swift glance, biting his lower lip. “I am offering you a way out of this,” he said, now glaring at the fire. “I promised you I would fix this. You cannot be tried. I don’t want you to be tried,” Thorin admitted, a tremble in his voice. “Why should you wish anything different? Won’t you accept it from me?”

“You should accept, Thorin, that not everything is under your control,” the hobbit pointed out.

“I know that,” the king snapped.

“So will you listen to me on this?” Bilbo pleaded. “Sit down. Here, with me,” he continued, making a gesture towards the stool where Thorin had taken his place at the beginning.

He feared that the dwarf would refuse; but Thorin shook his head and complied, until he and Bilbo were again face to face. The king took some time to look at Bilbo, until the hobbit felt his cheeks growing red. Only then did Thorin dare to cover Bilbo’s hands with his own; a warm, solid weight that the hobbit welcomed with a sigh.

“Explain,” Thorin said curtly.

“I know I agreed to give you some time to think about the trial. But I could not help doing some thinking of my own,” Bilbo admitted. The dwarf grunted in acceptance. “So I’ve made the most of what freedom you’ve granted me. I had never had the chance to wander through Erebor after the battle. To see what you’re doing here, how your Mountain is striving to regain its former glory. Dwarves are coming from everywhere in Middle-Earth to claim a place in your kingdom, and there’s so much to do and so much to plan. I can feel the anxieties and hopes filling this mountain from the roots to its peak,” Bilbo said, a smile forcing its way to his mouth at the sight of Thorin’s face lighting up at the description.

“I should have kept you company in your wanderings,” the dwarf murmured.

Bilbo shook his head and gave a soft squeeze to Thorin’s hands.

“Nothing of that now. Listen to me, I haven’t finished yet,” the hobbit reminded Thorin. “I’ve also been talking and listening: there are many rumours spreading,” Bilbo murmured, and saw the king flinch at his words. “Rumours about me,” he elaborated.

From the look on Thorin’s face, Bilbo could guess that the king knew about those rumours.

“They mean nothing to me. I don’t care what they say,” Thorin growled, pride flashing in his eyes.

“Well, I care about my reputation,” Bilbo said instead.

“If what you said to me about hobbits’ customs is true, you’ve already broken them leaving the Shire to go on an adventure with a bunch of dwarves,” Thorin reminded the hobbit, softly. “Therefore I find very difficult to believe that your reputation is what worries you.”

“Oh, it’s not because I’m a fussy hobbit from the Shire,” Bilbo agreed. “Still I care because I cannot stand the idea that your people think you’ve been beguiled. If you free me now, they will say that I’ve deceived you and reduced you into my power,” he concluded, his nails grazing Thorin’s palm. “And please, don’t say that you’ve been prey to my charms,” Bilbo warned Thorin, “for I feel that I could slap you right now for that.”

“I didn’t mean that your reputation is of no concern to me,” the dwarf amended. “I don’t care for their words, as long as they don’t hurt you. But if there’s even the slight chance of some harm in them, if you feel threatened...” Thorin added something in Khuzdul that sounded quite nasty.

“I just want to be respected,” Bilbo shrugged, a bit worried by the fierce fire burning in Thorin’s eyes. “I don’t want my respectability doubted, and if you put off the trial without a proper explanation they’ll think the worst of me. I have some pride of my own, you know.”

Thorin said nothing for a while, distractingly running his thumb on Bilbo’s wrist. The hobbit could not hold the dwarf’s gaze for long and soon turned to watch the flames, hoping that his embarrassment would not betray him. He was startled when the king placed a kiss on his palm.

“You are lying, aren’t you?” Thorin accused him, his voice painfully cold despite the gentleness of his touch on Bilbo’s hand. “At least you’re avoiding to tell me the other half of your pretty story.”

“Thorin...” Bilbo began, but the dwarf cut in.

“There’s more to it,” Thorin murmured. “It’s not about you. It’s about me, isn’t it?”

The hobbit bit his tongue and did not reply. Thorin was suddenly back on his feet and moved his hands to the armrests, to loom over Bilbo while he was speaking to him.

“It’s me you’re worried about. Too many times I doubted your generosity, but this time I’m not going to oversee it,” the dwarf assured him. “You’re worried because they speak of me. Of the fact that I’ve been postponing this trial for too long. They have ideas about you and me.”

“You knew it and you never told me!” Bilbo protested, suddenly furious. He closed tightly his hands on Thorin’s arms, but the dwarf did not bulge. “We’ve been speaking of Erebor and your plans and you never told me anything about those rumours, anything!” Bilbo accused him. “You have never told me how difficult this is for you!”

“I told you about it the last time we spoke about the trial,” Thorin replied, quietly.

“Few vague words, Thorin: you spoke to me about your laws and how it would be difficult to avoid the trial. But you did not tell me how putting off the trial would be damaging your right to the throne!”

“Your imagination is overworking,” Thorin said back. “I will not be deposed for something like that. The thought is simply ridiculous.”

“Is it?” Bilbo asked, between his teeth. “Don’t try to fool me, please. I’ve spoken with Balin. I read about your laws and I have some opinions about your position as king at the moment.”

“Balin should not have spoken to you so freely,” Thorin spat.

“Oh, stop it,” the hobbit blurted out. “Balin has only helped me understand. I know Dain’s generals are waiting for a chance to damage your reputation: they will use everything in their power to prove you unfit for the throne and see Dain claiming your throne. They will use the Arkenstone and the dragon sickness. They will use me,” Bilbo gasped. “I don’t want to be the instrument of your fall, Thorin Oakenshield, and you must accept it.”

Thorin cursed in Khuzdul.

“You are the most infuriating creature I have ever known,” he added in Westron.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Bilbo dead-panned.

“It is,” Thorin unwillingly admitted. He leant down, touching Bilbo’s forehead with his own. “You were trying to manipulate me. You wanted me to believe that I should do as you wish for your sake. But it’s for my sake you’re asking this.”

Bilbo sighed and raised a hand to Thorin’s face, to touch his cheek.

“I’m not blind. I see how much you’re struggling to retain your position and how you’re exhausted by their constant challenge to your authority. I know how much you wanted this,” he whispered. “It’s your home, and your birthright. I promised you I would help you to get Erebor back.”

“You did help me. But now...you owe me nothing,” Thorin answered, closing his eyes for a moment.

“What I give you, I give you freely,” Bilbo said.

“You’re still using my own words against me,” the dwarf commented.

“I want to do this for you,” Bilbo admitted. “You might not lose the throne just for freeing me. But your decision will endanger everything. They will think you weak, inconsistent and under my influence or worst. On the other hand my name will hardly be cleared in such circumstances, not matter how many words you’re willing to spend on my account. You need their respect, and even their love if you want to protect your throne.”

“You’re asking me to choose between your safety and my throne,” Thorin said slowly.

“I’m begging you to think carefully about your actions,” Bilbo corrected him. “And how they will affect both your authority and my presence in Erebor. You have taken this too far, Thorin,” the hobbit sighed. “At this point I believe that I will not be safe here nor welcomed by your people if you suddenly retire your accusation.”

“As long as I am King under the Mountain, Erebor will welcome you,” the dwarf growled.

“It would be difficult to explain this since you banished me that day at the gates,” Bilbo said, half-smiling. He saw Thorin’s cheeks reddening from shame and guilt, and took the dwarf’s face in his hands. The hobbit’s fingers ran gently on Thorin’s beard, still short in sign of mourning. “You cannot force them to accept me,” Bilbo continued, tilting his head. “And you must also know that I’d like to...spend some time here,” he murmured shyly. Thorin said nothing, but Bilbo heard the sharp intake of the dwarf’s breath. “That is if you are not opposed to the idea,” he added, fumbling on the words.

“Little bunny,” the king whispered, his lips ghosting against the hobbit’s forehead.

“I have a name,” Bilbo commented again, his voice a bit thick and tense.

“Bilbo,” Thorin agreed, his mouth slipping down, the syllables breathed against the hobbit’s lips.

“Let me face the trial,” Bilbo offered, sealing his request with a soft kiss.

“You are manipulating me into this,” Thorin repeated, but he did not backed away.

“I’m grateful for your offer, Thorin. I really am,” the hobbit insisted. “But you must know that it’s not the right choice for your crown. You can put off the trial, but they will judge you and me nonetheless. But if we face this trial, we’ll have a chance to make things right,” Bilbo suggested, with a weak smile. “I am not a thief, I can defend myself from the accusation. Do you wish to speak of my merits despite what I told you about the Arkenstone?”

“Do you wish to let me near you despite what you know of me?” Thorin asked in return, his eyes fixed on Bilbo’s face. It was a question, but also an answer – Bilbo continued:

“Well, speak of my merits at the trial. Let the Company speak on my behalf, and Bard and Gandalf too.”

“You want to use the trial as a chance to clear your name, then?” Thorin inquired, frowning. Bilbo guessed that the king was quickly considering the options and weighing them in his mind.  

“Yes. And respecting the law and your authority at the same time,” the hobbit concluded.

“You’ll face the trial for me,” Thorin commented dryly.

“It’s not what I’ve said...” Bilbo replied, sighing and pushing his nose against Thorin’s.

“It’s what I’ve heard,” the dwarf insisted. “And I hardly deserve your sacrifice.”

“Don’t be silly, King under the Mountain,” Bilbo reproached him. “Nothing and no one must be sacrificed this time. Not your throne, not my hands,” he whispered with a shiver, before slipping his arms around Thorin’s shoulders and hiding his face in the hollow of the dwarf’s neck.

“Are you looking for atonement?” Thorin asked, his voice low and tender against Bilbo’s ear.

“Maybe,” the hobbit admitted. “A bit.”

“You shouldn’t,” the king replied, shaking his head.

“Do this for me,” Bilbo persisted, his fingers lazily caressing Thorin’s shoulders. “You’re right saying that things that would have been possible are now affected by what we’ve done,” the hobbit murmured, braving his voice on words that still pained him deeply. He barely could contain his heartbeat at the flash of hurt that appeared on Thorin’s face when he was reminded of his own words once again. Bilbo’s fingers dug a bit into the dwarf’s shoulders. “But if there’s a way to have something to care for, I’m going to fight for it.”

“My brave burglar,” Thorin commented, his lips brushing Bilbo’s face blindly. “No wonder you have such a power over me, with your cunning and your heart,” he poured into Bilbo’s ear. “You would put them to shame one by one, the generals and the warriors, the courtiers and the leaders.”

“I’m making a flatterer out of you, Thorin Oakenshield,” the hobbit answered jokingly, before turning serious again. “What you said to me in Dale...I thought you were rejecting me,” Bilbo confessed, his voice dropped low.

“I wasn’t,” Thorin grumbled, and made to kiss the hobbit. But Bilbo turned his head a bit, forcing the dwarf to elaborate. “You hurt me with one hand and yet you soothe my pain with the other. Besides, I’m too selfish to reject you,” Thorin concluded, then ducked down to take Bilbo’s mouth before the hobbit could say anything else.

Bilbo gasped against the dwarf’s mouth, caught by surprise by how warm Thorin’s lips were. He opened his mouth, allowing the dwarf to deepen the kiss, his mind barely coping with the muddle of thoughts and emotions and touches he was experiencing .

Bilbo had not properly planned this. He had made his inquiries and reflected about the things to come, yet he had not been prepared for Thorin’s offer to put off the trial. Taken by surprise, his mind had done its best to come up with a proper response when he had suddenly realised that he could not bear the thought of damaging Thorin’s authority in Erebor. Bilbo honestly believed in the reasons he had offered to the king, and he truly considered it wiser to go on with the trial rather than trying to dismiss it. But his affection for Thorin played a great part in Bilbo’s judgement – in the end, Bilbo did wish to face the trial for Thorin’s sake.

If in Dale he had not confessed how he had taken the Arkenstone, or Thorin had not spoken with such fury and regret, Bilbo might not have realised how deep-rooted his feelings were. But now, now that he had revealed his guilt, now that he had really faced the possibility of losing Thorin, Bilbo could not possibly ignore what laid under lies and misdeeds. And it was impossible to stop kissing Thorin’s mouth, murmuring sweet nonsense between one kiss and the other.

Bilbo would not have realised that he was crying but for Thorin’s words.

“Shush, don’t cry,” the dwarf murmured. “Stop crying.”

“Don’t order me about,” Bilbo complained. “It’s only nervousness.”

“I’m asking you to stop,” Thorin corrected himself. “You’ll make yourself sick,” he added, when Bilbo reacted with some uncontrolled sobs.

In truth the hobbit had been almost on the point of laughing before Thorin’s awkward look at the sight of his tears, but the laugh had somehow come out as a sob and now he was unable to stop. Thorin sighed, his mouth brushing Bilbo’s cheek.  

“Oh, stop it, it’s ridiculous,” Bilbo commented, knowing that the dwarf was tasting his tears. Still he closed his fingers tightly on Thorin’s tunic when the king kissed away the tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Stop crying,” the dwarf bargained, placing some more kisses on the hobbit’s chin and nose. “And let me help you undressing,” he added suddenly.

This time Bilbo managed a chuckle. He blinked, some tears slipping on his cheeks.

“Are you trying to get me naked, Thorin? How familiar,” he teased, kindly.

“Your clothes are damp from snow,” the dwarf pointed out, frowning. “I’m trying to save you from catching a cold,” Thorin grunted, moving his fingers to the laces of Bilbo’s overcoat.  

Bilbo rubbed a hand over his eyes, wiping away the traces of tears, and gave Thorin a quiet smile.

“Strip me,” he whispered, enjoying the way the dwarf’s hands froze on his chest, before resuming their work with the overcoat.

“Bilbo,” Thorin said. There was an unexpected amount of gentleness lingering on Thorin’s face. “When we are naked it seems easier to reach for you,” the dwarf admitted.

Bilbo let go of a breath he did not even know he was holding. His hands reached tentatively for Thorin’s cheeks and the dwarf tilted his head at the hobbit’s touch, like a tamed beast. Bilbo’s fingers slipped over Thorin’s cheekbones and the king’s eyelids fluttered close – Bilbo experienced loss every time Thorin’s blue eyes were not on him: therefore he kissed the dwarf’s skin, the grey hair at his temples and his beard, until Thorin was looking at him again and Bilbo felt almost hollowed by the strength of his affection, and then filled again to the brim.

Bilbo had not realised how much the heavy, damp clothes were bothering him until he felt the relief at the light touches Thorin was using to undress him. There was still nothing sexual to the way the dwarf was divesting him – instead Thorin was careful and tender, but in a quiet, subdued mood that made Bilbo think of his childhood, when his mother helped him to strip off before going to sleep.

It was comfortable, and comfort is a form of happiness to a hobbit, even to an unusual one as Bilbo Baggins. Surely he had put his comfort at stake the very moment he had left his home to follow a company of dwarves and a wizard in a quest to retrieve a treasure from a dragon. But discovering that he could be comfortable miles away from home, in the arms of a dwarf who had been a stranger some months before, struck Bilbo as one of the most bizarre aspects of his journey: it sent his mind spinning and his heart running.

Thorin, who had already stripped Bilbo of the overcoat, the fur and the belt, helped the hobbit on his feet. He brushed Bilbo’s shoulders with his fingertips, then moved his fingers to the hobbit’s nape, playing with the hair curling there. Something stirred in Bilbo’s body and he closed his eyes for a moment, bathing in the touch: he felt Thorin loosening his tunic’s collar and reaching the skin beneath, a feathery touch that shook Bilbo like a storm. The hobbit gave a soft whimper and grasped the hem of his tunic to raise it over his head and toss it away in a single swift movement.

He found Thorin watching him with the intent, focused gaze he sometimes had during sex.

“You are freezing,” Thorin said, his deep voice making Bilbo shiver, like cold dark water poured on his bare skin. “Come here,” Thorin said, then he wrapped his arms around Bilbo’s smaller frame, firmly pulling the hobbit to his chest and then rubbing both his hands up and down Bilbo’s back.

Bilbo pressed his nose into Thorin’s shirt, breathing the smell of the dwarf’s skin – burning wood and rain, warm and fresh at the same time. The hobbit hid a smile against Thorin’s chest, letting the dwarf bring some warmth into his body while he played with the laces of Thorin’s shirt.

“You could just ask me to move this to the bed,” the hobbit murmured, after a little while, when the dwarf’s hands lingered on the curve of his back as if asking for permission.

He then looked at Thorin with an half-smile. Thorin rolled his eyes and said nothing. Instead he leant down and grabbed Bilbo by his waist, tucking the hobbit under his arm without as much as an effort. Bilbo squealed, but he was too worried to fall down on his face to struggle against the dwarf’s hold: he let Thorin carry him in such an undignified way.

Shortly after, Bilbo was placed on the bed: he found himself on his back with Thorin Oakenshield towering over him. Even in his shirt and trousers, Thorin looked every inch a king, and his eyes burned blue in the gold-lacquered shadows. Oh, surely they made a nice picture: the King under the Mountain, handsome and grave even when underdressed, and Bilbo Baggins, whose respectability was definitely under a major strain. Bilbo knew that his cheeks were still red and slightly damp from tears, and he could feel his eyes a bit swollen. Still Thorin looked pleased with what he saw.

“I want to eat you whole,” Thorin said, his eyes half-closed in a dreaming expression that clashed against his lustful words.  

Yet Thorin did not fret: he slowly helped Bilbo out of his shirt and kissed his way up Bilbo’s neck until he found again the hobbit’s mouth. They kissed without haste, playing through the kiss, softly biting and sucking, Thorin’s hands caressing Bilbo’s now naked torso, tickling his plump flesh. Bilbo gave a pleased sigh when Thorin put his head on his chest and there he stood for a moment, quietly listening to the hobbit’s heartbeat.

Then the dwarf turned his head to lick a long strip of skin down to Bilbo’s navel and up again, until he was peppering kisses around the hobbit’s nipple. Bilbo moaned and tried to twist his body in order to have Thorin’s mouth where he wished. The dwarf chuckled, a sound that ran on Bilbo’s skin like fire; then he complied and closed his lips on the hobbit’s nipple: Thorin sucked it, his hands closed on Bilbo’s hips and the hobbit’s fingers in his dark hair.

Blindly, Thorin managed somehow to unfasten Bilbo’s trousers, but he had to roll on his side to allow Bilbo to push the trousers down his thighs. The trousers were still dangling around the hobbit’s ankles when Thorin caught Bilbo’s mouth in a kiss, rougher than the previous ones though shorter. The dwarf slipped down the bed to get rid of the rest of his clothes, and let them fall on the floor.

“Thorin!” Bilbo urged him, stretching his arms towards the dwarf.

Thorin returned on the mattress moving on all fours until he covered Bilbo with his naked body. Thorin’s skin was pale gold in the firelight, and he moved with unexpected grace to steal another kiss from Bilbo’s lips. He insinuated a leg between the hobbit’s thighs, pressing their bodies together, Thorin’s warmer and firmer, Bilbo murmuring appreciative gibberish while nuzzling at his lover’s neck.

“I want you,” Bilbo blurted out. “Please,” he added, flushing red.

Thorin caressed the hobbit’s round belly and looked at him.

“Little bunny,” he said. “Bilbo. My burglar.”

Thorin kissed Bilbo’s body, exploring every inch of the hobbit’s skin with his mouth. He kindled fires on Bilbo’s chest and legs, arms and neck, finding little spots that should not have been so sensitive and yet sent the hobbit moaning his pleasure and – oh Thorin, please. He bit Bilbo’s flesh, leaving pink marks all over him, and his tongue soothed and swallowed every flash of pain left by his teeth. He sucked Bilbo’s fingers, one by one, and licked his wrist, pressing against the heartbeat there. He kissed Bilbo’s thighs, keeping him in place with his own weight when the little creature writhed – for Bilbo knew what Thorin could do to him with his mouth, but the king favoured his nipples again.

Bilbo moaned at the suction and sought some friction to ease the aching of his cock, shoving it against Thorin’s body, pressing and grinding until the dwarf’s breath was ragged and wet on his chest.

“There’s something I would like for you to try,” the dwarf murmured, tracing a path of soft bites along Bilbo’s neck. The hobbit hummed, and rubbed his cock against Thorin’s stomach. “Listen to me,” Thorin sighed, propping himself up to force the hobbit to open his eyes and give him some attention.

Bilbo was quite disappointed and his hands shot up to slide again on Thorin’s skin.

“I’m listening,” Bilbo mumbled, “now come down. Please.”

But Thorin kept Bilbo against the mattress, his big hands on the hobbit’s hips, and a wolfish smile on his face. He was amused, and Bilbo groaned in frustration for being unable to obtain some relief.

“Impatient, aren’t we?” Thorin mocked.

“You...insufferable dwarf,” Bilbo replied, wiping away the line of sweat on his brow.

A fond smile appeared on the king’s lips and he kissed the hobbit’s damp forehead.

“I want you to take me,” Thorin whispered, among Bilbo’s curls.

The hobbit’s breath caught. His brains reeled.

Take you?” he repeated, feeling Thorin’s body tensing at his question.

Bilbo could sense that Thorin was ready to back away in the blink of an eye, his mind and his heart growing distant although his body was still entangled to the hobbit’s. Bilbo buried his fingers in the dwarf’s forearms, his nails leaving half-moon marks on the king’s skin while his head was flooded with the idea of him taking Thorin. The shift in Bilbo’s thoughts probably showed on the hobbit’s face, because the king’s blue eyes darkened.

“Do you like the idea?” Thorin asked, his voice thick and sweet like dark honey.

It took nothing more for Bilbo to know the answer.

“Yes,” he breathed.

Bilbo immediately felt the blush spreading on his cheeks and chest: had he sounded too eager? He was not sure it would be a good idea, but Thorin seemed quite interested – hard as rock interested – in the thought of being taken. And this was more than enough to ignite Bilbo’s desire. Still the hobbit worried:

“I’ve never...” he began to confess, but his throat went dry and he stopped talking abruptly.

“Me neither,” Thorin replied, his voice husky. “Not in this way.” 

“No?” Bilbo asked, barely concealing his shock. Then he bit his lower lip. “I mean, you were clearly experienced when you...I mean, when you approached me.”

“I have not had as many lovers as you seem to think,” Thorin replied, guessing something of Bilbo’s current thoughts. “I earned some experience when I was younger and careless, but I have never had time to indulge myself. Not after Smaug came upon us. Neither did I wish for such pleasure. I loathed the idea of being... exposed. Overpowered,” Thorin paused and then his hand was on Bilbo’s cheek, just for a moment, a brief caress. “It hardly matters anymore,” he admitted, looking at him. “I have been overpowered anyway.”

“You are not overpowered,” Bilbo protested, his heart tightening at the king’s words.

“Then what am I?” Thorin asked, tilting his head and looking intently at the hobbit.

“You are cherished,” Bilbo replied, holding Thorin’s gaze. “And cared for.”

Something softened in Thorin’s expression – it was like a brief glimpse of another dwarf, younger and more innocent, definitely vulnerable. It was beautiful and somehow frightening.

“Take me,” the king repeated firmly.

Chapter Text

“Mr Gandalf sir, would you be so kind as to hand me the gravy?” Ori asked.

His tone was overly polite, mimicking his brother Dori’s mannerism – the older dwarf was particularly fond of formalities when it came to guests and it was the first time the Company gathered for dinner after they had left Beorn’s house months before. Fili and Kili’s absence seemed even more painfully evident now that they were all together in the same room, and the general mood had been considerably low at first. But they had grown at ease after the first round of ale and pudding, and now the amount of noise and gross jokes was closer to Bilbo’s well-cherished memories of the Company.

Plus, Bilbo was overjoyed by Gandalf’s arrival. Who would have ever imagined that the same hobbit who had been almost offended by the wizard’s proposal of going on an adventure, would appreciate Gandalf’s company so much? Bilbo had missed Gandalf’s humour and their complicity against the stubbornness of dwarves. He and Gandalf had been talking about what news of the West the wizard had brought with him when Ori interrupted them with his request. Gandalf stretched out his arm to reach for the bowl filled with gravy, and he was distracted by Balin’s question about the state of the roads leading to Erebor.

Bilbo hardly listened to Gandalf’s answer, his thumb distractedly running over his left wrist. There was a little half-moon mark there, inadvertently left by Thorin. When he had grasped Bilbo’s wrist, Thorin had bruised the hobbit’s more delicate skin, but Bilbo had hardly noticed anything at the time. Later, when they had been laying on the bed, their skin cooling and their breath still rough, Thorin had discovered the small cut and he had pressed his tongue there. Bilbo could still feel the warmth of the dwarf’s breath on his skin, and the impression that his heart was beating in his wrist.  

“Inventing a new riddle?” Gandalf inquired.

Bilbo shuddered from surprise, but shook his head and took a slice of walnut bread from the wicker basket.

“I have been thinking about creating a riddle anthology,” the hobbit replied. “You know, writing down the riddles I know and improving the collection with others from dwarvish tradition, for example.”

Gandalf hummed and took a sip of ale, without taking his eyes off from Bilbo.

“You might write a book about your adventure, my friend,” the wizard replied, “since you are a riddle yourself.”

“Am I?” Bilbo smiled softly, while scooping up the gravy remained in his plate with the bread.

“Your very decision to join the quest was a riddle,” Gandalf declared. “And now you make plans to occupy your time in Erebor. A riddle anthology, indeed,” the wizard repeated, apparently amused. But Bilbo did not miss the attentiveness of Gandalf’s gaze – he instinctively gave a little tug to his jacket’s sleeve, covering his wrist better. “Here is my first suggestion for your anthology,” Gandalf continued, tilting his head and lowering his voice. “Why this dinner?”

Bilbo blinked.

“Why not?” he asked in return. “We’ve shared many meals on the road.”

“Yes, we have,” Gandalf admitted. He straightened his back. “You might be right, my friend. After all I almost expected to be denied access to Erebor – they might have tried, and they would have failed – but I wasn’t. I doubt King Thorin has forgotten the words that passed between us, but I cannot find faults in his hospitality.”

Bilbo bit his tongue, remembering Thorin’s annoyed tone while he was speaking of the subject. Snuggled against Thorin’s naked body with the dwarf’s thumb caressing his jaw, Bilbo had listened to Thorin’s bitter complaints.

“The wizard had no right to treat me like one of his pawns,” Thorin had declared belligerently. “He must think that dwarves are too thick to understand his game, but I am not blind,” he had growled, before softening his tone. “Not always,” he had added, pausing to kiss Bilbo’s bare shoulder.

“Have you been rude?” the hobbit had inquired, while Thorin was sucking a bruise on his skin. Bilbo had felt Thorin’s teeth and the rumble in the dwarf’s throat. He had pinched Thorin’s stomach. “Can you promise to be at least civil at dinner?”

“Can you promise you’ll let me suck you after dinner?” the dwarf had deadpanned.

It had taken Bilbo some time to convince Thorin that Gandalf might be of some help, while encouraging the wizard to leave as soon as possible would be suspicious and impolite.

“You feel safer with him around,” Thorin had commented later, before leaving Bilbo’s rooms.

The hobbit had just lowered his gaze. He did feel safer now that Gandalf was in Erebor. And Bilbo guessed from Thorin’s silence how this hurt the dwarf king – the fact that he was not enough to make him feel completely safe.

“Still your note surprised me,” Gandalf was saying in the meanwhile.

“My note?” Bilbo repeated, trying to focus on the dinner and the wizard’s words.

“The one saying that you were too tired from your visit to Dale to meet me before dinner,” Gandalf reminded him. “I thought you’d be anxious to speak to me.”

“But I was. I am,” Bilbo protested.

He blushed at the thought of when he had written the note. Thorin had persuaded him to send a note to Gandalf, in order to avoid the wizard’s unexpected visit to his rooms. And Bilbo had written the note, and sent it through one guard he had found in the nearest corridor – how he had blushed even then, walking in the corridor in his dressing gown and nothing more.

“Wear this,” Thorin had suggested, wrapping him in the dressing gown. “I want to have you naked again soon and I would rip off any other clothes.”

“I was really tired. A bit of a headache,” Bilbo continued, holding Gandalf’s gaze. “And I supposed you were tired too from your journey. Besides, I knew we would meet for dinner. There’ll be time to speak since you are not leaving soon, are you, Gandalf?”

“I was just wondering how reliable the note was,” the wizard replied.

“What?” Bilbo was a bit taken aback by Gandalf’s forward accusation. He forced himself to laugh. “Oh, I don’t know who would be interested in forging notes with my signature.”

“Maybe not forging,” Gandalf admitted, but there was a hint of coldness in his voice.

“Gandalf, have you been in Mirkwood on your way here?” Gloin asked, his voice rising over the noise at the table.

The question won everybody’s attention, even the king’s. Thorin was sitting at the head of the table while Gandalf and Bilbo were nearly at the other end, but the mention of Mirkwood was enough for the king to stop listening to what Dwalin was murmuring to him between bites of a chicken leg and the next. Thorin turned his head and frowned, but he did not stop Gandalf from answering Gloin’s question.

“No, I haven’t,” the wizard said. “But I accidentally met one of Thranduil’s ambassadors in Dale and I have sent word of my return here,” Gandalf explained. Then, as an afterthought, he added: “I mean to inspect the forest.”

Most of the dwarves murmured in agreement and Gloin spoke again:

“Thranduil’s ambassadors say that they’re ridding the forest of the spiders. Some of their envoys coming here were attacked by spiders, although none lost,” the dwarf explained. “Yet we fear to send our wares into Mirkwood. We cannot lose dwarves and wagons; we still cannot afford casualties.”

“But surely you could send a well-armed escort with the wagons,” Gandalf objected. “You have plenty of warriors from the Iron Hill. Dain is still in Erebor with his army and he has never denied his help before.”

Gandalf’s words were greeted by an embarrassed silence. Then, before Bilbo could think of something to ease the grim atmosphere, someone else spoke.

“We don’t trust them,” Ori spat with contempt.

“But they fought at our side in the battle,” Bofur protested.

After a moment all the dwarves were talking together, complaining about this and that; Dori expressing the suspicion that Dain’s dwarves were spreading foul rumours about Erebor and Thorin’s behaviour, Balin trying to acknowledge that Dain himself had never been anything else than a loyal ally, Nori reciting an array of information that he could have acquired only by hiding in the Iron Hills generals’ own rooms – and Bilbo preferred not to think about it. After all, the hobbit already knew most of it from Thorin and the other dwarves. So he looked at the king himself, the only one beside Bilbo who was not taking part into the conversation.

Thorin was scowling, but he did not seem on the verge of losing his temper. He caught Bilbo staring at him and they exchanged a glance in the middle of the heated discussion, over empty plates and bowls of dried fruits.

And suddenly Bilbo was back to his rooms, to the sight of Thorin spread on their bed.

The dwarf had never taken his eyes from Bilbo while the hobbit had slicked his fingers with sage oil. Thorin had stood there, with his legs casually parted, slowly stroking himself. Even naked from head to foot Thorin had looked every inch a king – his strong will had seemed to radiate from his bare skin, from his chest covered in scars, his long braids falling on his shoulders. Thorin Oakenshield was handsome in Bilbo’s eyes, and much more than that. Bilbo had blushed, then, more for the depth of his feelings than for the nakedness they had been sharing.

When Bilbo, crouched between Thorin’s legs, had hesitated, Thorin had given a low growl. The sight of the dwarf raising his knees and parting his thighs had thickened the blood in Bilbo’s veins; a moment later the hobbit had touched the brim of Thorin’s puckered hole for the first time.

Bilbo’s fingers had been unsteady as he had untapped the vial with the oil, but he had forced himself to calmness as soon as he had guessed Thorin’s nervousness. The expectant look on Thorin’s face had not helped; nor had the dwarf’s cock, hard and leaking between his legs, claiming attention. Bilbo had been tempted to ask Thorin to turn onto his stomach, but he remembered how the first time he had wanted to keep his eyes on Thorin. Bilbo had taken Thorin’s balls in his hand, his thumb brushing the taut skin. He had heard Thorin’s breath catch, and he had pressed his head against Thorin’s thigh. Then, slowly, Bilbo had started running in circles on the entrance’s edge, his confidence steadily growing as much as the oil’s warmth. When he had encouraged the dwarf to raise his legs even further, the sight of Thorin’s hole glistening between his cheeks had almost shattered Bilbo’s control. He had not been prepared for the way Thorin had lifted his body, his heels digging in the sheets. Bilbo had murmured some lovely nonsense, his lips and tongue caressing Thorin’s groin while his finger had been breaking in.

Oh, how Thorin had quivered around his finger!

The thought made Bilbo’s cheeks grow hot and he treated himself to some fig pie. The sweetness of the dried figs distracted him a bit, and fortunately Thorin was no longer looking at him. Bilbo reproached himself: he should have been more careful and not let his thoughts wander again to the afternoon. He was positive that dinner with the Company was hardly the best moment to make a confession about his relationship with the king. But Bilbo could not help feeling his hands were still warm from Thorin’s skin, his body still pleasantly tickling with the ghost of his arousal. Did Thorin feel sore? Sitting on his chair of polished black wood, did Thorin still feel Bilbo inside him?

The thought was almost maddening. While Dwalin was speaking some harsh words about the impertinent tongues of the dwarves from the Iron Hills, Bilbo remembered the way Thorin’s cock had felt in his mouth while he had been moving a couple of fingers in his hole. He had loosened the muscle, caress after caress, learning how to read Thorin’s reaction and which touches kindled the dwarf’s pleasure. Bilbo had copied the rhythm of Thorin’s breath, sucking lightly at the king’s cock and nibbling at his sack.

By the time he had tried to push in a third finger, Thorin had fallen into Khuzdul. Thorin’s stuttering had sounded quite appreciative, but with Khuzdul Bilbo never felt too sure – and still he had insufficient knowledge of the dwarves’ language to understand an overexcited, whimpering dwarf.

“Speak to me in Westron, please,” Bilbo had asked the dwarf. “Let me understand.” 

But Thorin had blinked at the hobbit’s words and something akin to a blush had appeared on his cheeks. He had turned his head against the pillow, his mouth clenched.

What were you saying to me? Bilbo wondered, risking another look at the king. He was startled when Dwalin, acting on an almost unremarkable nod from Thorin, hit the table with his mug. Silence fell and only then Thorin opened his mouth to address the Company.

“We’re indebted to the dwarves from the Iron Hills for their help in the battle. And I will not tolerate insinuations about my cousin’s honour,” he made clear, his voice firm. “Yet Erebor belongs to the sons of Durin,” Thorin said, his tone both proud and bitter. Durin’s heirs, Bilbo thought, as Kili and Fili were. The hobbit also noticed the slight displeasure on Bifur, Bofur and Bombur’s faces; and how quickly it faded at Thorin’s next words: “To the sons of Durin and to those who had been at their side since the beginning of their journey. The dwarves from the Iron Hills do not belong here.”

But a dwarf from the Iron Hills will be your heir – the words were on Bilbo’s lips, but he frowned and said nothing. He could sense that the other dwarves and even Gandalf were thinking the same, but no one dared to remind the king. The mere idea of Erebor without Thorin on the throne was painful to Bilbo, despite the fact that he cared little for kings and treasures and power. But he cared for Thorin and Thorin cared for his throne – Bilbo had accepted being involved in the dwarves’ affairs a long time ago.

“Have you heard from Lord Elrond, King under the Mountain?” Gandalf asked, suddenly.

“I have,” the dwarf admitted, although he seemed unwilling to touch the subject and even annoyed by Gandalf’s guess.

“I knew since our visit to Rivendell that Lord Elrond meant to offer Erebor his friendship,” the wizard explained, smiling vaguely.

“I thought he considered our quest unwise,” Thorin returned with some coldness.

“He did,” Gandalf agreed. “But Lord Elrond is one who appreciates being proven wrong.”

Bilbo had to bit his tongue to keep himself from chuckling at the displeased frown appeared on Thorin’s face as soon as the king had caught the meaning of Gandalf’s words.

“I would like to visit Rivendell again,” Bilbo said instead, under his breath.

“Oh, I recall that Lord Elrond told me about a conversation he would have liked to continue with you. About elves, and hobbits,” Gandalf commented.

Bilbo cleared his throat uncomfortably, but nodded. The dwarves were now comparing Lord Elrond’s behaviour with Thranduil’s and discussing the oddities of elves. The subject seemed to bother Thorin to no end and Bilbo caught some snarky remarks the king muttered to Dwalin, but nothing compared to the dwarf’s gaze when Gandalf spoke again to the hobbit:

“I think that Lord Elrond would be very pleased to welcome you in Rivendell for some time. If I well remember, you were particularly fond of stories about elves.”

“Since I was a child,” Bilbo admitted, but he could feel Thorin’s eyes on him.

It was quite ridiculous that Thorin should feel offended or threatened by his interest for elves. But Bilbo knew that there was more to it – visiting Rivendell implied leaving Erebor, at least for some time. He missed the Shire and Bag End, and he would like to visit Rivendell again, and Beorn’s, maybe even Mirkwood; but he also wanted to stay at Thorin’s side.

Things could be arranged. He could take some months to travel and visit his home, and yet return to Erebor. But it was hard to think about this now, before the trial; even harder to think about this now, when Thorin’s moans still tickled Bilbo’s ears.

Although Thorin had refused to share his thoughts while Bilbo had been preparing him, the hobbit had made sure that the king shared his whimpers. He had learnt a few things and tricks from Thorin’s lovemaking, and he had used them on the dwarf, once he had discovered the sweet spot inside him. How Bilbo had loved the needy expression on Thorin’s face during those moments, and the deep moans the dwarf had let out while Bilbo’s fingers were wearing out his resistance. Bilbo had licked and kissed Thorin’s cock and balls and thighs: how could he have ever doubted that he wanted this? Bilbo had craved Thorin; he had been completely, utterly eaten up by his own desire. Thorin was the soul and heart of the Mountain, his skin smelling like good earth and rain, wood and metal; he was metal and gems and fires shining from the depth of the earth; Bilbo would never wish for the Arkenstone again.

The hobbit had almost spilled himself between Thorin’s legs when he had pressed his cock against the dwarf’s thigh and then in the cleft between his cheeks. Thorin was slick and warm and his voice had broken so beautifully when he had ordered:

“Do it, fuck, do it.”

Bilbo had felt bubbles of laughter filling his veins at Thorin’s attempt to be arrogant and commanding even with his legs spread and his body twitching with need. He had leant over Thorin, guiding his cock against the king’s hole. Thorin’s mouth had been slightly open, his lips swollen from their kisses, his eyes darker than ever. Bilbo’s heart had thumped so loudly to swallow every other sound in the room.

Suddenly Bilbo had slipped inside. Just the tip, the oil easing the way. Thorin had seemed surprised, then a little pained, and he had torn his eyes away again. Bilbo had called his name or at least he hoped he had called Thorin by his name and not by the dozens of endearments that had been running through his mind, sweet, sweet words, words like fire and water, words blossoming from his soul like the flowers in the meadows near Bag End, all the words Bilbo knew to speak of beauty.

It had been maddening. The heat, the tightness. Thorin wanting him.

Bilbo’s vision had blurred when he had pushed further in. He had cried, his hands slipping on Thorin’s chest and feeling it vibrate under his fingers. Then Bilbo had felt Thorin’s thighs tightening around his waist, dragging him deeper. He had seen Thorin grabbing the sheet, almost tearing it from the sheer strength of his hold; something had snapped in Bilbo’s body and he had retreated just to push forward again, rolling his hips slightly. Thorin had arched to meet his thrust, with his mouth closed and his cheeks aflame, his own cock rock hard against the hobbit’s stomach.

From that moment on, Bilbo had kept up with the rhythm. He had not Thorin’s strength nor his size, but the little hobbit had swelled with pride at the sight of the king under him and at the deliciously hot, rough noises falling from Thorin’s mouth despite the dwarf’s efforts to keep himself in check. He had watched Thorin reaching for his own cock and felt the dwarf’s thick fingers grazing against his belly; Bilbo’s thrusts had melted with Thorin’s strokes, until the king had shuddered and spent himself over his stomach and the hobbit’s. Only then had Bilbo closed his eyes and lost himself in the waves of Thorin’s pleasure and in the way Thorin had still been clenching around him.

Bilbo had come a few moments later, his mind a glorious blank.

Through the layers of his satisfied tiredness, the hobbit had taken his softened cock out from Thorin’s body. He had rolled on his side, his hands sticky with oil and semen, his body aching from pleasure. He had felt Thorin’s fingers on his cheek and he had opened his eyes again: Thorin looked marvellously ruined, and his eyes shone from under heavy eyelids. The dwarf had said nothing for a while. Then, in all seriousness, he had stated:

“You care for me.”

As if he had understood that only then.

“It took you a while to believe it,” Bilbo had replied.

Thorin had hummed softly against the hobbit’s curls, his strong arm keeping Bilbo’s body in place. The hobbit had chuckled and kissed Thorin to chase away the sleepiness.

“I worry about you,” Gandalf murmured, startling Bilbo out of his reveries.

The dinner was practically concluded, they were all well fed and a bit tipsy. Some of the dwarves were still discussing reopening the old mines, and even Thorin was absorbed by Bofur’s explanation of some machinery that could ease the dwarves’ work and limit the dangers.

Gandalf and Bilbo had retired into a corner of the room to smoke their pipes and talk.

“I’m glad you do,” the hobbit replied, chewing at the pipe’s stem.

“I brought you into this,” Gandalf continued. “And I encouraged Thorin to begin his quest.”

“Are we talking about responsibility?” Bilbo inquired.

“Thorin is deeply pained by the death of his nephews,” the wizard replied.

“He is,” Bilbo agreed, lowering his eyes. “We weren’t able to save them.”

“Death comes at its own time, and one day it will come for me and you too, my friend,” Gandalf said, but there was regret in his voice. “Still it is but a weak argument against grief for the lives broken on the battlefield. The young princes have been sacrificed to their uncle’s greed, their people’s pride, and a wizard’s hopes.”

“If Thorin had remained in the Blue Mountains, consuming himself in bitterness, but with his nephews alive although homeless, would it have been better?” Bilbo wondered, frowning. “Would I have been a better hobbit?”

Gandalf smiled at that.

“No, not this at least,” he answered. “Despite the errors of the ones around you, you have raised yourself to such wisdom and generosity that I would bow to you rather than to any king or prince on earth. Except for Lady Galadriel.”

Bilbo felt embarrassed and coughed a little. He nodded to thank Gandalf for his words, though.

“So you must guess that no king on Middle-Earth or under it could make me desert you, Bilbo Baggins,” Gandalf added in a slightly ominous tone. “This time, I stay. And I mean to talk with Thorin Oakenshield this very night, whether he wants it or not.” 

Chapter Text

There were no stars to gaze at: the sky above Erebor was a thick, dusty black, matted with clouds. It would snow again soon. The Lonely Mountain seemed to float in the sea of mist hiding Dale, but on the terraces the air was sharp and clear. Although there was no light in the night sky, Bilbo preferred to look up rather than down – the sight from the battlements still made him uneasy: the place would always bring back bad memories and despite Bilbo’s resolution to keep them at bay, he could never force himself to take a glance into the abyss below. Still he had been in need of some fresh air and Erebor did not offer many chances to get it, especially so late at night, when a ride to Dale was hardly a possibility.

Therefore, Bilbo had found himself on the terraces, alone. Some guards were keeping watch, but they did not bother the little hobbit - and his mind was too full of thoughts to make something out of the few words in Khuzdul the guards exchanged from time to time. Both Thorin and Gandalf had vanished after dinner, and the Company had scattered. Bofur had offered Bilbo his company, but the hobbit had refused: he wanted some time alone, since Gandalf’s arrival and before that the lunch with Bard had reminded Bilbo that there was a world outside Erebor and far from Thorin’s arms. A world that still appealed to him.

Erebor belongs to us, Thorin had said. But where did Bilbo belong? He was not sure anymore.

“So, this is the hobbit,” a voice said behind Bilbo’s back.

He startled and turned on his heels. There was a dwarf with a long braided beard, gold and ruby beads shimmering in the light of the closest torch burning on the battlements; his hair was greying, but the dwarf’s features retained an air of youthfulness and vigour – Bilbo guessed that he was younger than the colour of his beard suggested. He was richly dressed, with many layers of black fur and red velvet. There was something strange in his pose, though; when the dwarf stepped forward and Bilbo heard the dull sound of his heavy pace, he remembered: he was Dain Ironfoot.

“It was not my intention to come upon you unheard,” the dwarf said, stopping at once. Bilbo realised that he had looked startled and even frightened by the sudden apparition. “I’m not used to announcing myself,” Dain mused, a crooked smile shining through his thick beard, “since my bad leg hardly allows me any subtlety.”

Bilbo could not help smiling back at Dain’s words.

“Bilbo Baggins, at your service,” he answered, with a bow of his head.

Despite the slight limp, Dain seemed as fierce a dwarf as Thorin; if not as tall as the king, he was stouter, with a cunning eye. Bilbo felt that the dwarf was observing him very closely.

“Bloody time for us to meet,” Dain laughed openly. He winked and caressed his beard. “I cannot fathom why Thorin had always been so opposed to introduce me to you, Master Baggins.”

Bilbo winced and looked quickly away.

“I am sure His Majesty preferred to keep me separated from the dwarf who shall judge me in the trial to come,” he replied.

“Oh, there’s no law against it. In fact, I could have asked to question you before the trial. To encourage you to confess, if you understand what I mean,” Dain suggested with a shrug. “Stale traditions, if you ask me. Anyway, if you agree with Thorin’s opinion on the subject, I shall leave you to your walk,” the dwarf offered, taking a step back.

Bilbo considered the proposal, taking another look at Dain. His meeting with Dain was fortuitous – or at least he hoped so; in truth it was strange that it had never happened before: Bilbo had seen Dain few times and only from a distance. Thorin’s wishes had been respected so far.

But this was the dwarf that would judge him, and Bilbo felt the need to know something more about him.

“It’s fine,” Bilbo decided, “as long as we don’t talk about the trial to come.”

The hobbit wanted to learn something first-hand about Dain’s character, but he was unwilling to openly challenge Thorin’s wish.

“Done,” Dain replied with a swift smile that revealed uneven teeth. “So, Master Baggins, tell me about your Shire. I have heard many different stories about it, but none of them seems sound enough. Is it true that little hobbits sprout from earth like flowers?”

“What a fantastic notion!” Bilbo chuckled. “It seems you are in great need of some education about hobbits. Listen then...”

 

*

 

“What have you done, Thorin Oakenshield?”

Thorin flinched. Everyone had left: his quarters had been emptied of the noisy but pleasant presence of his Company – emptied of his burglar; yet the wizard was still there and Thorin was quite sure he had seen Gandalf leaving not long before. Blasted wizard.

Feeling a growing weariness coming upon him, Thorin gestured for Gandalf to take a seat near the huge fireplace; but the wizard remained on his feet, refusing the king’s offer. For his part, Thorin collapsed into a chair, avoiding Gandalf’s gaze and looking at the fire instead. He still had his cup in his hand.

“Make yourself clear, wizard,” Thorin invited him, and sipped some wine.

“King under the Mountain,” Gandalf began in the sort of tone that would have forced lesser warriors to tremble. “Don’t mistake me for a fool, since I am not. And neither are you, although you keep acting like one.”

They were harsh words. Thorin realised it, but in truth he felt nothing: he understood that they were meant to offend him, but he could not bring himself to care. This was just the opening – insignificant jabs at his pride. Still, when Thorin peered at the wizard, he saw the depth of Gandalf’s emotion: the wizard was furious. The dwarf king had never inquired much about Gandalf’s actual power: how much could the wizard hurt him? Thorin tried to calculate how many possibilities of overcoming the wizard he had – he could feel the weight of the dagger he wore at his waist, sheathed in a beautiful scabbard encrusted with agates. But the dwarf did not even try to close his fingers upon the hilt. Instead, he held Gandalf’s gaze.   

“What have you done to Bilbo Baggins?” Gandalf asked.

Thorin squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. Even on the wizard’s lips, that name affected him. He was no better than a dog when his master calls him – the halfling’s name whispered and his soul leapt.

“I haven’t harmed him,” Thorin replied, less steadily than he had intended. His mouth was dry in spite of the wine he could still taste at the back of his throat. 

“Have you forced yourself on him?” the wizard asked this time, his voice thick with a cold rage.

Thorin winced, the thought gnawing at his bowels and between his ribs. Then came a laughter that was like feeling his throat pierced by an arrow, a sound twisted in a hiss and a growl of pain.

“No,” Thorin breathed, closing his hand more tightly on the cup. He could feel the metal almost yielding in his grasp.

“But you have taken him in your bed,” Gandalf insisted, and it was not a question at all.

There was a painful throb in Thorin’s head. He raised his other hand to his mouth, his teeth biting into his knuckles, tearing at his skin.  

“You have to stop this, Thorin,” Gandalf added, suddenly closer. Thorin looked up at the wizard, but shook his head and said nothing – he was unable to speak. The wizard hit the floor with his staff.  “Have you taken him on a whim?” he inquired, enraged. “Bilbo Baggins is not something to toy with, Thorin. He’s a living, breathing creature, and the most deserving one. He has a soul you might be breaking into pieces.”

“Has he told you that?” Thorin barked, his blood running cold at the idea. He could have denied, but he saw that there was no reason to do so – and no chance to deceive the wizard.

“No, obviously not. But it takes little to see it, for one who is not thick-headed as a dwarf.”

“How?” the king asked then. Gandalf blinked and his tone became slightly softer.

“The way his eyes keep following you. The way he speaks around your name. The way he listens to your words. The way he has accepted this foolishness of the trial.”

Thorin swallowed. His blood, almost frozen a moment before, was now warming his chest, flames under his scarred skin: the way Bilbo looks at me – he looks at me. It should not have, but the thought made Thorin eerily pleased.

“You want to possess him like a treasure,” the wizard continued accusingly. Thorin could not deny it, therefore he said nothing. “Bilbo Baggins is not the Arkenstone. He’s infinitely more valuable than it, and infinitely more fragile. You’ll end up crushing his heart in your hands, you idiot.”

Thorin blinked and closed his hands in fists, drawing in a slow breath. He had never intended to break the halfling, except for the lowest point of his sickness – and even that he repented and regretted every day. But Thorin refused to reveal his feelings and his mind to Gandalf’s gaze. 

“You know nothing,” the dwarf said arrogantly.

“I know enough: you threatened his life and then robbed him of his freedom,” Gandalf reminded him, his patience seeming to wear thin. “What right did you have to corrupt him?”

This time Thorin growled and threw his cup in the fire, an explosion of sparkles falling on the stone floor. The silver cup gleamed and beamed among the burning wood and the flickering flames. 

“He’s not corrupted,” Thorin hissed between his gritted teeth as if he were in pain. “He would not be corrupted.”

“But you’re trying,” Gandalf replied. “You are trying to drag him down with you, Thorin Oakenshield. You keep falling and failing, and you’re not any wiser than when you almost dropped him into the abyss. Have you not damaged the ones who care for you enough?”

It was like being whipped in public, feeling one’s own flesh exposed and beaten, shame dripping from the open wounds. Thorin’s breath was ragged and he slammed his hands on the armrests.

“I’m not trying to...tarnish his soul,” Thorin said, “I couldn’t. I cannot. And you are wrong, Gandalf,” he added, his eyes gleaming with stubborn pride when he looked at the wizard. “If I deemed myself ruined for good, I would push him as far away from me as possible.”

Gandalf tilted his head and leaned against his long staff.

“You are not so generous, King under the Mountain. Your kin possess a greedy heart. And you were greedy long before your return to Erebor, long before your eyes fell again on the Arkenstone,” the wizard sighed, looking at Thorin with something close to pity. “It’s in your nature, Thorin. You are a born conqueror: you need to defeat your enemies, you need to possess and despoil. You love this, this longing, this craving, this fire running through your veins and pushing you further and further, unable to stop. Tell me, am I speaking the truth?”

“You are. But not all of the truth,” Thorin murmured.

“Are you speaking the whole truth then?” Gandalf asked, with contempt. “You are lying to me, you are lying to Bilbo and you might be even lying to yourself. You would not push him away even if it would cost him his life or his dignity.”

It may be, Thorin thought with sudden horror. Something of it must have shown on his face, for the wizard smiled a joyless smile. 

“There: you know it,” Gandalf said. “Thorin, you were prepared to see him tried for the theft of the Arkenstone. He might lose both his hands in this and you have taken him in your bed. Are you punishing him?” the wizard inquired, glaring.

“No,” the dwarf replied in a murmur. Gandalf’s words were tidal waves, trying to drown him. He should not have listened, but the wizard’s voice seemed able to find his way through Thorin’s brains even when his whole being fought them.

“What then? What justifies such cruelty? You must know that Bilbo is not your enemy and never has been,” Gandalf snapped.

“It’s your fault,” Thorin roared in return. “You should have never chosen him for my Company. You knew what we were heading to and what was waiting for us at the end of the road. Yet you decided that the halfling had to be part of it. Spare me the part about his burglary skills,” Thorin said, raising his hand to prevent Gandalf’s retort. “I know well how he saved us again and again. I know of his courage and his cunning mind. But I ask you: why? Why take him away from his house? What justifies such cruelty?” the dwarf king asked, using the wizard’s own words.

For the first time since the beginning of their conversation, Gandalf’s resolve seemed to waver.

“You needed him,” the wizard admitted at last. “We needed him.”

I need him now, Thorin thought. Yet he closed his lips and bit his tongue – they stood in silence for a while before Gandalf spoke again, this time in a much quieter tone, heavy with regret.

“I saw you with him, Thorin,” Gandalf remembered. “I saw the way you were acting around him, how you kept pushing him away, even scaring him, during the whole journey. You treated him roughly. Then I thought it was pride and stubbornness on your part. Now I see it was something else.”

“I didn’t...” Thorin began, almost breathless at the idea that his past behaviour was now so exposed, so bare before the wizard’s eyes. Had he not fought his attraction for the burglar? Had he not been honourable? “I had never tried to lure him into my bed during the journey,” he growled.

“I believe you on this point,” Gandalf agreed, after some moments. “But what are you planning to do now? You must have thought about this. Bilbo is going to be tried and you will be requested to speak against him. What are you going to do?” Frowning, Thorin pressed a fist to his mouth. “Thorin, you cannot lay with a prisoner!” Gandalf insisted, his voice rising again.

Neither of them had heard the door opening. Neither of them had taken notice of the dwarf entering the room, nor they had seen him with his mouth wide open in shock. But both of them were frozen by the dwarf’s first words.

“You are buggering the burglar!”

Chapter Text

“You are buggering the burglar!” Dwalin repeated, almost shouting.

Thorin took a look at Gandalf – the wizard did not seem less stunned than him by Dwalin’s arrival. At least he has not planned this, Thorin thought grimly. On the other hand Gandalf was the first to recover from the surprise of Dwalin’s appearance: the wizard moved swiftly to the door and bolted it. Then, nudging Dwalin with his staff, Gandalf encouraged the dwarf to take a seat.

Watching Dwalin grabbing the wine flask and drinking from it, Thorin regretted to have thrown away his cup. At this point, wine would have helped immensely.

“As I was trying to explain...” Gandalf began, but Dwalin took a gulp from the flask and interrupted the wizard:

“You must have gone mad,” Dwalin stated, his eyes on Thorin.

Dwalin’s voice was tense, but it was his gaze, his incredulous and betrayed expression, that put Thorin to shame.

“You should have knocked,” the king answered roughly.

“Well, you know what?” Dwalin snorted. “I did. Twice. But you two were too deep into...damn you,” he growled, shooting Thorin a furious look. “Don’t change the subject. Are you buggering the burglar?” Dwalin asked, his mouth twitching at the edges and looking as he might end up shouting at any moment.

Dwalin’s choice of words irritated Thorin, but the dwarf king forced himself to stillness: he looked at the fire and took a deep breath.

“That’s not your business,” Thorin replied slowly. “Nor yours,” he added, glaring at Gandalf.

The wizard’s brow rose and Gandalf looked at Thorin like he was dealing with a child. The king was almost on the verge of speaking harshly to remind Gandalf of his position as guest in Erebor, but Dwalin preceded him.

“Well, it’s my damn business if my friend and my king has lost his mind for...” Dwalin scratched his bald head and then made an obscene gesture.

Thorin paled from fury at the sight. He was vaguely aware that Gandalf was already reproaching the other dwarf and using his most menacing tone; yet, without thinking twice about it, Thorin leapt onto his feet and marched towards Dwalin. The dwarf warrior was still speaking his mind.

“He must have beguiled you, Thorin,” Dwalin said, scowling. “Have you helped the burglar, wizard? Some potion of yours, some spell to trick even a king...”

“Fool of a dwarf, how dare...” Gandalf hissed, but now Thorin was between him and Dwalin, and the latter opened again his mouth, speaking to Thorin face to face.

“How has he lured you between his legs?” Dwalin asked with contempt. “That little liar. Thief and traitor. And even a proper wh...”

Dwalin did not get to finish his rant, for Thorin grabbed him by the collar of his vest with both hands. He hauled Dwalin up from his chair, forcing him to his feet. Dwalin was so taken aback by his king’s reaction that Thorin easily overcame him and the other dwarf was shoved against the door. Only when his back hit the solid, dark wood with a loud crash, did Dwalin react: his hand ran to the axe he always carried on himself even in Erebor. But Thorin was quicker and they ended up struggling for the axe, until the king pressed his forearm onto Dwalin’s throat, cutting off his breath.

Thorin felt Dwalin gasp and start choking. He eased the pressure on Dwalin’s windpipe and took a step back, releasing the dwarf. For a moment Thorin thought that Dwalin would kill him, but the wild look on the other’s face subsided and it was replaced by utter shock – it was even worse.

“Don’t ever speak to me like that,” Thorin said, his voice coming out hoarser than he had expected. “Don’t.”

“I am your friend!” Dwalin spat, a look of hurt on his menacing features. “While the halfling is but...”

“Don’t you dare,” Thorin admonished him in a growl. “You are my friend, but if you say another foul word about him, I will have your beard.”

The threat worked.

Even Gandalf gasped, while Dwalin blinked and his face turned to stone. He pushed Thorin away and this time the king did nothing in reaction to the violent shove. Thorin just staggered and took another step back. They were both panting by now, and no one spoke for a while. The king could sense Gandalf’s gaze upon him – he guessed that the wizard was examining his behaviour and weighing his actions, as he had done since their very first meeting in Bree.

“So Balin was right after all,” Dwalin commented dryly, falling to his seat again.

“Balin?” Thorin groaned.

“My brother fancied that you would be courting the halfling sooner or later,” Dwalin explained, the ghost of a smirk passing over his face. “During the journey he believed that there was some sort of change in you, and that the halfling was its cause. I told him he was an old fool. I told him that a king wouldn’t woo...” he hesitated before concluding: “...a grocer.”

“And now it seems your brother was really perceptive. More than me,” Gandalf sighed.

“And Nori,” Dwalin muttered.

“Nori what?” Thorin asked, bewildered.

“I think he has suspected something for some time now. His innuendo...” Dwalin took in Thorin’s expression. “Not outside the Company. He’s a scoundrel but he’s loyal to you and he kept his ideas among us. But I would have never thought that you...” the dwarf stopped again, clearly trying not to hurt again his king’s pride. “Nor the others, for what it matters. Bofur would have kicked your ass soon enough, and this time I can’t say I would have blamed him,” Dwalin muttered under his breath. “Why him, Thorin?”

Dwalin’s question received no answer. Thorin just frowned and looked away – not that it was enough to discourage his old friend.

“You are king and you might take as many lovers as you wish,” Dwalin pointed out. “And we both know you’re not one to indulge in pleasure for pleasure’s sake; you have never been, not really,” he said in a strangely affectionate tone, as if he might have been on the verge of referring to some old teasing, some trite joke chosen from amongst those exchanged between them over the years. But the moment passed and Dwalin’s gaze darkened. “Yet you have taken the burglar. The burglar!” he hissed. “I thought that you wanted him tried...I have been loyal to you on this point. I have always thought that you knew better and if you said that he had to be tried law would decide his fate. I have supported you while the others were criticising your choices and now this?” he raged. “For Mahal’s sake, Thorin, what happened to you?”

Thorin was kept from answering by Gandalf’s gesture: the wizard raised his right hand to stop him from opening his mouth.

“While I appreciate part of Dwalin’s concern with the inappropriateness of your choice, I think that there’s a more urgent question to answer,” Gandalf intervened, shaking his head. “Thorin, what are you going to do about the trial?”

“He’s not going to do anything that comes from your mouth, damned wizard!” Dwalin protested. Thorin almost smiled at that: Dwalin might have wished to punch him, but he was not going to let his king be abused by Gandalf the Grey. “If the halfling is deceiving him, as he already did with the Arkenstone...” Dwalin insinuated.

“Oh, please,” Gandalf interrupted the dwarf. “Bilbo has no part in any conspiracy against your foolish king. He’s just a prisoner and your king has taken advantage of it. Haven’t you, Thorin?”

Thorin trembled. He tried to hide the coldness seeping through his veins – I haven’t forced him, never: Bilbo had been willing. Wasn’t Bilbo waiting for him in his rooms even now? Wasn’t Bilbo going to smile at him as soon as Thorin would reach their bed? Bilbo wanted him, and they had no right, no right at all to intrude and question that desire...

“He wants it as much as I do,” Thorin replied, his tone almost desperate.

He wanted to be believed. And he wanted to believe. He could not doubt that, he just could not. Once again he was forced to beg for sympathy, to beseech the others’ approval and support – then, for his right as King under the Mountain; now for his fondness for the hobbit.

He saw Dwalin’s anger subside and something akin to sympathy appeared on the face of his old friend.

“You do want it,” Dwalin said cautiously. He frowned, rolled his eyes, and then shrugged.

He was not convinced; he was not happy – but he was, somehow, on Thorin’s side.  

Thorin closed his eyes. There was a heavy weight on his chest and his head ached. He felt sick and impossibly tired – he longed for silence and to be holding Bilbo in his arms – his curls under his cheek, the sleeping hobbit’s quiet breath – so that Thorin could cherish each detail of Bilbo’s face, each flutter of Bilbo’s heart against his.

“Thorin,” Gandalf spoke. “You have to stop this.”

“I can’t,” Thorin replied, feeling the painful truth dawning upon him. “I can’t.”

He heard Dwalin’s gasp and the wizard’s heavy sigh. Thorin could guess what sort of wild and sad display of his feelings he was making. He could not open his eyes and face their contempt. 

“I see,” Gandalf commented. Thorin wondered how much the wizard really understood: he felt naked, as if his heart were beating out of his chest. Then Gandalf continued, but in the gentlest tone he had ever used with Thorin: “I am truly sorry. But he’s your prisoner and there’s no way you...”

“I know,” Thorin hissed. “This is why I have a plan.”

 

*

 

“...and is there no way of getting rid of this busybody cousin of yours?” Dain asked, marvelling at Bilbo’s anecdotes about Lobelia.

The hobbit had been describing Lobelia’s attempts to sneak into his house and the dwarf leader seemed to be greatly amused by his depiction. 

At this point of their conversation, Bilbo could see why Dain might be considered fit for a crown. Bofur had called him a charming one – Dain was a dwarf and his manners consequently quite brutal and brazen from a hobbit’s point of view, yet he was able to temper himself better than others. Dain was as good at listening as at speaking, and he had chased away something of Bilbo’s reserve. After all, Gandalf himself had a good opinion of Dain Ironfoot and Bilbo knew that the dwarf had fought valiantly in the battle, trying again and again to reach Thorin and his nephews, earning many wounds in the attempt.

“All considering, you seem quite at peace with my cousin,” Dain observed suddenly, as if he had guessed the trail of the hobbit’s thoughts.

Bilbo bit his lower lip: he had been imprudent, and Dain had let him talk before throwing his stone into the dark waters of Bilbo’s feelings. And now the ripples were there for Dain to see them. Bilbo took his eyes off of Dain and gazed at the starless sky, trying to regain some composure.

“Please, I did not mean to embarrass you,” Dain added gently. Bilbo looked at him again and he found Dain scratching his head. “I was just wondering: I would like to be able to inspire such loyalty as Thorin does,” the dwarf confessed vaguely. “He often seems unaware of how easily he could bend others to his wishes.”

“Maybe he’s not unaware,” Bilbo snapped, suddenly annoyed with Dain and his smooth talking. Bilbo knew his cheeks had grown hot, but he hoped that the blush would be confused with redness from the cold. “Thorin might not be interested in twisting other people’s will,” he breathed.

 “I did not mean it in this way,” Dain apologised, giving a light tug to his beard and looking slightly embarrassed, “but I suppose I have chosen the wrong words and for that I apologise again. I only meant to say that Thorin might be the greatest king of this age if only he realised how he’s able to bound people, whether dwarf or not, to his cause. After all, are we not all here because he called for us? Are we not here because we answered that call?”

There was some truth in Dain’s words and Bilbo lowered his head.

“Yes. I might have overreacted,” he admitted.

“It only proves my point,” Dain replied, shrugging. “You are loyal to him, Master Baggins. In the end I think the trial will prove this, and nothing more.”

This time Bilbo was left speechless. He looked at the dwarf and Dain seemed completely serious.

“We agreed not to speak of the trial,” Bilbo stuttered.

“I apologise for the third or fourth time. You really force a dwarf to apologise a bloody lot of times,” Dain laughed. “But you must know that I’m looking forward to going back to the Iron Hills,” the dwarf confessed, looking a bit sheepish. “I miss my family, my wife, my son,” he explained, a smile forcing its way to Dain’s lips at the memory of them. Then he frowned: “And I am not even completely sure whether my presence here is helping Thorin or damaging him.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Bilbo asked between his teeth.

“Again, you are loyal to him,” Dain replied nonplussed. “To tell you the truth, Master Baggins, I wish for nothing but the trial to be done with, Thorin married to some dwarrowdam of his choice and with an heir on his way. I know this must sound cruel after his nephews’ death, but I think that having a son would help Thorin to really...return to the Erebor of his past and his future.”

“You suggest a fresh start,” Bilbo replied, his voice hollow.

“A fresh start, a new family,” Dain agreed. “I knew a few dwarrowdams that would make fine wives for him,” he laughed. “I know that I am next in line. Erebor’s throne might be mine, one day. That day I shall be ready and honoured, but...I would not mind if that day would never come. I already have a kingdom, although I am not called king. I think that right now Erebor needs an heir born and raised here, not someone coming from the Iron Hills. And in the end I hope Thorin will outlive me,” Dain murmured. “I think he deserves it, after all he had gone through. Many years of happiness, I mean. But he will have to try his best, since I mean to indulge myself with a very long life,” he concluded, grinning.

Bilbo smiled back, but he felt the uneasiness of his own smile and how it burnt his cheeks. He guessed that Dain was waiting for his opinion, but the hobbit could not have an opinion on this – on Thorin’s marriage, on the need for an heir of his own flesh and blood. He could not.

Bilbo wanted to run away and hide in his rooms, wishing the hours to wash away the dull pain born from Dain’s words, and return him to Thorin’s embrace. But he was pinned there, prisoner to his own politeness and the necessity of not making Dain too suspicious. He had to excuse himself, to find an alibi for fleeing, he had to – Thorin.

Thorin was there, on the terraces. And Gandalf and Dwalin with him.

Chapter Text

“Cousin Thorin!” Dain exclaimed, looking nothing less than pleased by the interruption. “Gandalf, Dwalin,” he added, with a slight bow for the wizard and an informal nod for the dwarf.

Bilbo looked from Thorin to Gandalf to Dwalin, and he saw something shifting in the latter’s gaze as soon as their eyes met: the hobbit was left wondering what could have caused such reaction. He and Dwalin had never been very close, and Bilbo knew that the dwarf had backed Thorin’s decision to imprison him; but this was different – Dwalin seemed angry at him now.

Bilbo had no time to mull over it, because Gandalf slipped at his side and patted his shoulder.

“I thought that you had already gone to bed, my friend,” the wizard said. The words were ordinary, but not their tone – I care for him and I will protect him was the statement behind those words.

“I needed some fresh air,” Bilbo replied with a tentative smile.

He still felt Dwalin’s gaze boring into him, as if the dwarf was trying to pierce his skull and see what it could store: once again Bilbo willed himself in his rooms, in his bed, and in Thorin’s company. But the king was not looking at him and appeared quite unnerved by the meeting.

“What were you discussing?” Thorin asked.

The question was blunt, Thorin’s voice sharp like the night air; yet Dain did not seem to mind.

“I was telling the hobbit that I need two things right now,” Dain answered good-naturedly.

“What things?” Dwalin asked, and his tone was no better than Thorin’s.

What is going on? Bilbo wondered, shivering. He raised his eyes to Gandalf, hoping for some sort of sign or explanation; but the wizard’s expression was unreadable.

“Well, before returning to the Iron Hills I would like to get properly drunk at your marriage with some dwarrowdam,” Dain explained, grinning.

Dwalin sneered at Dain’s words and when Bilbo looked again at him he was suddenly struck with the idea that maybe Dwalin knew – and surely Gandalf knew too. Bilbo might have succumbed to panic at the enormity of the revelation dawning upon his mind, but the wizard gave his shoulder a light squeeze. Calm down, Gandalf seemed to suggest.

“Second,” Dain continued, “I would like to know the date of the trial.”

Dain’s tone had slightly changed. He was still quiet and polite compared to Thorin and Dwalin, but there was a hint of firmness in his voice – the sort of hint that even a dwarf would catch. Bilbo wondered if an actual fight might break out between the two cousins: all the fears Bilbo had already expressed about the stability of Thorin’s throne came back to him, leaving him trembling under the heavy clothes.

“Should the king speak of it before the prisoner?” Dwalin muttered.

“Shouldn’t the prisoner be the first one to know?” Dain asked in return, shrugging. “From my point of view – mind you, my point of view as judge in the trial to come – Master Baggins has all the rights to know when the trial will take place. He’s been trapped in Erebor for weeks and even our laws do not encourage such long imprisonments without regular trials, except in time of war...”

“We know our laws well,” Thorin interrupted him, his shoulders tensing slightly.

“Then you must know that Master Baggins should have been tried weeks ago,” Dain insisted.

“We had our dead to mourn,” Dwalin growled. “And your host to feed,” he added.

“I would have gladly taken my host back to the Iron Hills, if Thorin...” Dain began, but he was abruptly interrupted again by Thorin, reminding his cousin that he had agreed to stay in Erebor for the winter.

As if the dark frown on Thorin’s face had not been enough, as if the displeasure at finding Bilbo in Dain’s company had not been already evident to the hobbit, Thorin was growing more irritated with each passing moment. Bitter remarks in Khuzdul were being exchanged between the dwarves and Bilbo looked again up at Gandalf for help.

“Gandalf, I swear it: we said little to nothing about the trial before your arrival,” Bilbo whispered, not knowing if it was really Gandalf he wanted to convince or rather Thorin.

The wizard said nothing; instead he looked at the hobbit in such a way that Bilbo’s suspicions became even more realistic. Dwalin and Gandalf – they know. And now they were both judging him and Thorin. The idea made Bilbo feel particularly protective toward what he had with the king; it was such a frail, newborn thing, and it seemed as if a single glance might harm it. Plus, this quarrel about the trial, this quarrel Gandalf did not join nor stop, was frightening Bilbo.

Months before, Bilbo Baggins had faced the pale orc in order to protect Thorin. Later, he had faced a dragon to help Thorin and his Company returning to their home. Then he had faced Thorin himself to save the dwarf from his own sickness. What Bilbo did that night on the terraces did not require as much courage as other things he had done for Thorin. On those same terraces Bilbo had been almost broken by Thorin’s lust for the Arkenstone; it was time to mend the past and accept their wrongs.

“The day for the trial is set,” Bilbo said loudly.

The dwarves fell silent. Only Gandalf did not look taken aback – he looked saddened, though.

“Is it?” Dain asked, his eyes narrowing on the hobbit.

Bilbo swallowed and risked a peek at Thorin.

They had agreed on this, hadn’t they? Thorin had accepted his reasons and they were now on the same side. This insistence on Dain’s part, as well as Gandalf’s arrival, had only accelerated what would have happened anyway. Still, Thorin’s expression was hard as stone, and as impassive.

“Yes,” Bilbo continued, taking his eyes off of Thorin. “I think that His Majesty was willing to make a formal announcement and you would all have been informed soon enough. But he anticipated it to me while we were in Dale,” the hobbit explained, trying to keep his voice as even as possible.

Dain’s amazement was evident; Dwalin’s as well. Gandalf controlled himself, but Bilbo guessed that he had taken them all by surprise – Thorin included. The king looked like he had just been slapped: his expression was stormier than ever, his whole body was tense as if he was on the verge of hitting someone or something.

“Well, what a coincidence,” Dain commented flatly. “Since we’re on the subject, may I know which day have you chosen, cousin?”

Thorin turned to Dain with a wild look on his face, and Bilbo felt compelled to speak again to prevent any further damage.

“A week from now,” Bilbo decided. He could feel Thorin’s eyes on him, their blue darkened with fury.

“Is it so, cousin?” Dain asked, still looking a bit unconvinced by the turn of the events.

Please, Bilbo thought, closing his hands into fists, trust me. He did not dare to look at the king; he kept his eyes low and waited for Thorin’s voice.

“Yes,” Thorin answered at last. His tone was taut as a bowstring, but it was enough for Dain.

“Very well. I will be at your service, Thorin,” Dain commented with a swift smile. “Master Baggins,” he called then, forcing Bilbo to look up at him. Dain put his big, heavy hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. “We’ll probably not meet again before the trial, but I’m glad we have met at last,” he said and seemed so sincere that Bilbo felt actually embarrassed for the way he had lied about the trial. “I bid you all good night,” Dain concluded, taking away his hand and turning around to take his leave from Thorin, Gandalf and Dwalin.

When the dwarf disappeared into the mountain, Bilbo let out a soft gasp. But what relief he had gained from Dain’s departure was shattered as soon as the hobbit looked back at Thorin.

“To your rooms, now,” Thorin ordered between his teeth, a flickering flame of rage in his eyes.

Bilbo shuddered at Thorin’s tone, but crossed his arms upon his chest and tilted his head.

“Gandalf...” he began, feeling confident of the wizard’s support against Thorin’s abuse.

“Go, Bilbo,” Gandalf said instead, leaving the hobbit gaping and frowning.

Bilbo weighed the possibility of ignoring them both, but he felt suddenly weakened by his confrontation with Dain, by Thorin’s annoyance, by Dwalin’s gaze...

“Fine,” he muttered.

He closed himself in his thick coat and left, feeling tears of frustration gathering in his eyes.

 

*

 

Bilbo washed his face with some water he had warmed over the fire. His cheeks were almost numb from the night cold and his skin prickled when the washing brought some warmth into them. Bilbo dried his hands and his face on a towel, frowning with disappointment: he should have been on the terrace, taking part in whatever discussion was going on between Thorin and Gandalf. The good memories of the dinner were already fading, and the lovemaking in the afternoon was suddenly too distant in time as well. Bilbo was not sure what he feared exactly – after all, Thorin had been reasonably polite to Gandalf and neither of them could possibly want any harm befall him. Gandalf’s return was good news, wasn’t it?

Still Bilbo had a bad feeling and suddenly wished he could be still in Bag End, among his books and maps; still ingenuous of the world and his dangers; ingenuous of this sweetly violent feeling twisting his thoughts and his behaviour, and binding him to Thorin’s fate. Yet Bilbo could no longer renounce it, for it was carved into his mind and his heart, and his heart hoarded this affection like a dragon his treasure.

Bilbo shivered and, as often happened when he felt threatened, he was tempted to use his ring. It was a silly thought – disappearing would not solve anything: the ring could hide him from sight, but it did not make him invulnerable.

So the hobbit pushed the idea away and instead took his clothes off. He changed into his nightgown and climbed onto the bed, wrapping himself up in a blanket. He was tired, but he did not mean to fall asleep – he would wait for Thorin.

And fortunately the king did not make him wait too long.

Thorin slipped silently into the room and bolted the door behind him. There was nothing unusual in that – Thorin always did the same when it came to Bilbo’s rooms, yet the hobbit shuddered. When the king’s eyes fell on him, Bilbo could see that Thorin was furious – the dwarf flinched when their gazes met and Bilbo wished to run his fingers on Thorin’s shoulders to ease the stiffness lying there.

“Thorin,” Bilbo called out, his voice no more than a soothing whisper.

“How dare you?” Thorin growled back. “How dare you force my hand?”   

The dwarf’s voice was low and menacing, but Bilbo did not lower his eyes nor backed away. Instead, he tensed, his fingers closing into fists.

“I did what had to be done,” Bilbo replied, holding Thorin’s gaze and keeping his voice steady. “We agreed on that, don’t you remember? We talked about this and decided to protect your authority and my safety as well. You admitted that refusing to face the trial would damage your right to rule Erebor, and we agreed. We agreed.”

Thorin said nothing to that. He paced the room – a nervous beast trapped in a cage: Bilbo did not like the idea and gestured for Thorin to come closer.

“Please, sit here with me,” Bilbo beseeched the dwarf. “I didn’t mean to force your hand, but I feared Dain’s insistence.”

“Do you think I would have been unable to deal with Dain?” Thorin asked, ignoring the invitation to join Bilbo on the bed.  

“No, but I was...” Bilbo bit his lower lip, “...tired. I am really tired. I want this to end as soon as possible,” he confessed, almost breathlessly. Bilbo was obviously speaking about his imprisonment, but the look Thorin gave him was so bitter and hurt that the hobbit felt suddenly nervous. He tilted his head, his nails digging into the blanket. “Please, Thorin, can you come here?” Bilbo asked, trying to ignore how pleading is tone was. “I don’t want to talk with you when you still seem on the point of leaving at any moment.”

“You must leave Erebor tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo blinked; he was not really sure that Thorin had spoken, since the dwarf was no longer looking at him, but at the fire.

“Are you so mad at me for the way I have spoken out there?” Bilbo asked. He had wanted his voice to sound playful; but it trembled and betrayed him, leaving his throat painfully hollow.

Thorin’s gaze was even worse. For when Thorin looked at him again, he was not cross but miserable. Bilbo would have liked to think of it as a joke – but he know that the dwarf was not good at jokes. Thorin could be ironic and even funny despite himself, but more frequently he allowed Bilbo to make him laugh: such a beautiful sound to hear! Yet, Thorin was definitely not joking now.

“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have decided on my own,” Bilbo admitted at last. “I should have spoken with you first. I know it was madness but I am going mad in here, keeping all these secrets and never knowing when you will be back from your duties.” His fingers dug into the sheets. “Dain was talking to me about your future and your throne, and I felt that...the trial, Thorin: I want it done and finished; I want to leave it behind me, and behind you,” the hobbit blurted out, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. “Please, Thorin, I didn’t mean any offence. I see now that I overstepped, but it was needed and you know it as well as me.” His eyes followed the king’s swift strides toward the bed. “Don’t be so mad at me, please. I cannot bear it; I won’t,” the hobbit insisted when Thorin was finally seated on the bed. Only then did Bilbo murmur: “Thorin, Thorin,” because he did not know what else he could say to make Thorin understood.

The king looked at Bilbo, his expression unintelligible.

Then he covered Bilbo’s mouth with his hand to stop the hobbit’s babbling.

“You must go,” Thorin said simply.

In return Bilbo bit his fingers, enraged by Thorin’s words. Thorin hastily retreated; but his hand dropped down to grasp Bilbo’s wrist, despite the fact that the hobbit was not trying to slip away.

“No,” Bilbo said loudly, as soon as Thorin’s fingers were on his skin.

“It’s an order, halfling,” Thorin replied, his thumb pressed against Bilbo’s inner wrist.

“If you mean that I’m no longer your prisoner,” Bilbo began, his voice coloured with sarcasm, “then I am free to stay.”

“No. You cannot stay,” Thorin insisted. He let go of the hobbit and distractedly took off his fur and his mantle, throwing them on the floor without a second glance. “Tomorrow, not later,” Thorin added, in such a cold tone that Bilbo trembled despite his efforts to keep himself in check. “Your things will be packed. I fear that it will not be possible to take with you any part of the treasure, but I promise to send your share to Bag End at your command.”

The slap surprised them both.

Bilbo’s hand burnt from the strength of the blow he had delivered. He saw the mark his fingers had left on Thorin’s check and felt the rage still bolting through his body. Even the look of utter shock appearing on Thorin’s face did not sweeten Bilbo’s outrage.

“You stupid dwarf,” the hobbit hissed. “Do you think I care for your treasure? Damn your treasure!”

The mention of his share, the mere thought that Thorin could think him interested in it, maddened Bilbo – for it was madness hitting Thorin. Even the king seemed at loss, and remained there, sitting on the bed with his cheek glowing red. Thorin opened and closed his mouth a few times, and when he spoke it was more a growl than distinct words. Bilbo did not even bother to interpret them.

“I won’t go. I simply won’t. You cannot make me,” Bilbo hissed, although he wanted to kiss Thorin’s cheek. And then slap the dwarf again.

“I am king,” Thorin snarled. “And I will have you banished if this is what it takes.”

“You cannot!” Bilbo yelped, for Thorin had moved his hand to cover his and the touch was so gentle that the hobbit found himself bewildered at the contact.

“I can. And I will,” the dwarf stated, his tone harsh but his fingers caressing Bilbo’s knuckles. Thorin looked at him: whatever distressed expression he saw on Bilbo’s face, it made Thorin lean forward, until his forehead was almost touching the hobbit’s. “Don’t you see? I’m giving you back your freedom,” Thorin said quietly.

“It was not for you to take my freedom away in the first place!” Bilbo replied, turning his head.

Thorin took his hand away. When Bilbo looked again at Thorin, he found the king paler – and the mark on his cheek more evident than a moment before. Bilbo wondered how it would be to touch Thorin’s cheek right then, but he did nothing.  

“All this...for Dain?” Bilbo asked, feeling suddenly quite tired.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Thorin replied swiftly.

“I know his plans for you,” Bilbo admitted. “I suppose you agree with him.”

“What are you talking about?” the king asked, frowning.

“Your marriage,” Bilbo answered. Thorin only blinked, still feigning ignorance – at that Bilbo’s patience broke and his voice rose again to an undignified pitch: “When were you going to tell me? Before or after having forced me out of Erebor?”

“There was nothing to say,” the dwarf muttered, shooting him a strange glance.

“Obviously. Why should the King under the Mountain bother to tell me his plans?” Bilbo asked mockingly enough. “There must be dozens of dwarves willing to throw their daughters at you, and large dowries to increase your treasure. It’s only fair; I’m not stupid enough to think otherwise: you must marry for your throne and you’re probably quite content with it. After all I’m a simple hobbit and you’re king. I have no place in Erebor.”

“Bilbo,” Thorin said, trying to close the distance between him and the hobbit.

“This is the reason for my exile, isn’t it? You want to get rid of me,” Bilbo continued, backing away until Thorin grabbed his arm. “Don’t touch me!” He yanked his arm away from the dwarf’s grasp, but Thorin’s fingers only tightened their hold.

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” the king murmured, watching the hobbit.

“You’re quite collected, Your Majesty,” Bilbo replied, shivering. “I suppose you have grown tired of me, after all.”

“Is that what you think?” Thorin asked, cringing.

“Why would you send me away otherwise?” the hobbit wondered. “It’s plain that you no longer wish for my company. You shall have others to keep you company and warm your bed. Halfling,” Bilbo reminded Thorin. “This is what I am to you. Half and never whole, never enough. I should have seen this coming,” he admitted, shaking his head. “This marriage, I mean. Have you met her? Have you already taken another lover?” Bilbo asked, each question piercing his own heart.

Jealousy gnawed at the hobbit’s mind, presenting him with images of Thorin and this unknown lover – the two of them walking proudly through Erebor, sharing a cup of wine, even tangled into sheets. And when he looked again at Thorin, at his beloved, handsome face, and at the silver and dark braids falling on the king’s shoulders, Bilbo wanted to undo the braids and scratch the dwarf’s cheeks; to see pain and remorse in Thorin’s eyes, and thus punish him for his carelessness.

“You think there’s someone else,” Thorin said flatly.

Bilbo could not stand their proximity anymore. He tried to shove Thorin away, but his fingers dug into the king’s shoulders and Thorin did not bulge. Instead he closed his big hands on Bilbo’s back and shook him slightly – like he wanted to shake the jealousy off of Bilbo’s mind.

“Have you another lover?” Bilbo asked again, struggling. “I want to know, I have a right to know!”

And with a sob the hobbit hit Thorin’s chest with his open hand, again and again; in truth his slaps were quite feeble, but they made the dwarf gasp from surprise. Bilbo’s mind was blank, his heart throbbing at the mere idea of Thorin with another. He had never experienced something like this, and it burnt and made him nauseous.

He could neither think nor stop; not even when Thorin flipped him onto his back onto the bed, then trapped the hobbit beneath his larger body. Thorin grabbed his wrists and pinned them above the hobbit’s head so Bilbo could not fight anymore. Now the king was annoyed again – Bilbo felt the rough fingers around his wrists.

“Stop it,” Thorin breathed, “you’ll end up hurting yourself.”

You are hurting me,” Bilbo whimpered.

Thorin’s hold immediately softened and he tried to apologise, intertwining his fingers with Bilbo’s, but the hobbit’s nails scratched at the dwarf’s palms.

“Do you think that my honour would permit me to entertain another lover?” Thorin asked him curtly, his hold still unrelenting.

“I don’t care for your honour!” Bilbo replied, almost shouting. “It’s my heart I’m worried for.”

“Mahal, you are truly jealous,” Thorin whispered, his blue eyes full of surprise and sudden tenderness. His mouth was not far from Bilbo’s and his breath warm on the hobbit’s face. “You are jealous,” Thorin repeated, and Bilbo could guess the hint of a smile hidden in the depth of the dwarf’s voice.

Bilbo wanted to shout his scorn, but Thorin pressed his lips on his. It was a fierce kiss, robbing Bilbo of his breath and for a moment even of his rage. But the mere idea that the dwarf might be as passionate with other lovers set Bilbo’s temper on fire. He bit Thorin’s lower lip and the dwarf turned his head away.

“Damn,” Thorin hissed, bewildered. With one hand he was still holding Bilbo’s wrists, but the other was now gently brushing the hobbit’s cheek. “I didn’t know hobbits could be possessive,” Thorin commented, licking his lips and looking at Bilbo in a way that, in other circumstances, would have turned the hobbit into a whimpering, pleading bunny.

Instead, Bilbo clenched his jaw and tried to make Thorin lose his balance. But the dwarf only looked amused by his efforts.

What? Hobbits are not allowed to feel stronger passions?” Bilbo asked heatedly.

Thorin’s gaze turned to mild curiosity.

“It’s not that, little bunny. It’s...such a preposterous idea – you, jealous,” Thorin murmured. “How can you be so? You should well know that Erebor needs a king and when I’m not ruling, I’m with you. Do you think I might find time for other lovers?”

“You...” Bilbo began, but as soon as he opened his mouth, Thorin slipped his tongue past his lips. He caressed Bilbo’s chest and his fingers found one of the hobbit’s nipples, teasing it through the thin layer of the nightgown. Bilbo freed one of his hands and used it to give a forceful tug to Thorin’s hair.

“No one,” Thorin growled, moving away just a bit and frowning from the pain of having his hair pulled. “There’s no one but you. Stop with this folly,” he whispered, kissing the skin around Bilbo’s mouth.

“Dain said...” Bilbo tried.

“You shouldn’t doubt me on this,” Thorin said, his tone darkening and his fingers grasping Bilbo’s chin. “You don’t trust me nor my honour, but at least you should trust my desire for you.”

“But you want to send me away,” the hobbit insisted, waves of panic filling him again at the idea of being separated from Thorin.

“I want to send you home,” the dwarf corrected him. “To your Shire.”

Home. Bilbo missed the Shire. He missed Bag End and his bed. He even missed his neighbours. He had friends in Erebor, but sometimes the dwarves seemed unable to understand his customs or his needs. And sometimes Bilbo simply dreamt of his beloved dressing gown and his dear old kitchen in the morning light.

Yet he could not allow Thorin to use his longing for Bag End against him, to persuade him to obey and leave the Lonely Mountain.

“You’re throwing me out,” Bilbo accused the king slowly. “In the middle of the winter,” he pointed out. “Are you planning to have me eaten by hungry mountain trolls?”

“Gandalf shall be at your side and you shall have an escort,” Thorin replied, with a stern look.

“Oh, I see. This is the reason...Gandalf has found out that you...we...” Bilbo stopped and shook his head. “Are you embarrassed? Ashamed of me? Don’t touch me then if you are so ashamed of it.”

“I am ashamed of myself,” Thorin replied gravely. “Gandalf has...some points. I took you as prisoner and then I laid my hands on you. I trapped you in the treasure hall and came to you, tormenting you with words and...more than words.” The dwarf turned his head slightly, as if he was not able to sustain Bilbo’s gaze right then. “That first time when I claimed your pleasure, I would have let you go if you...you did not seem unwilling. But it was wrong and presumptuous all the same. I wanted you more than I could care to admit and I took what I could,” Thorin confessed. His tone was laced with pain. “I should have offered you much more than that – gentleness. And it took me too long to allow myself to cherish you as I should have done since the first day we met. For that I am sorry, Bilbo, and for that you should leave Erebor.”

“Confounded dwarf,” Bilbo said, his fingers slipping on Thorin’s face and lingering on the lip he had bitten. The dwarf kissed his fingertips, licking and nibbling at them, his tongue deliciously warm on Bilbo’s skin. Then Bilbo blushed and looked at Thorin, uncertain. “I want you. And I wanted you,” Bilbo admitted. “It was never unrequited. We were both hurt and you were ungentle with my heart if not with my body. You have a lot to make up to me, Thorin,” Bilbo’s voice was but a soft whisper then. “In deeds, words and kisses. If you send me away, how could you mend my wounds?”

“Wouldn’t be better for you to heal far from me?” Thorin asked, but his voice was unsteady.

“Do you want that?” the hobbit asked.

“No, Mahal, no,” Thorin shook his head. “But I want to spare you further harm. Don’t you see it? I’m trying to protect you, to shield you,” he insisted. “Now that the wizard is here, you won’t be alone on the road. I would not trust anyone else with your safety: in Gandalf’s company you will be protected and you’ll soon reach your Shire.”

“We agreed to face the trial!” Bilbo protested.

“My brave little bunny,” Thorin whispered. “There’s no one else I would risk so much for, no one I would more gladly keep at my side but you,” he said, without wavering. “Yet on this matter you should trust Gandalf’s opinion more than mine.”

“Do you trust him more than me?” the hobbit scowled. “We’ve talked about this, Thorin. I’ve not changed my mind and neither should you.”

“Do you understand what are you choosing?” Thorin inquired, with his eyes half-closed. “We both know how vulnerable I am – you know more than anyone else my weakness. You saw me at my worst and you recognised what was festering in my heart. How can you be sure that I will not turn against you again?” Thorin asked, his voice heavy and tired.

“I don’t know,” Bilbo conceded, “but don’t ask me again to leave.” He pressed his fingers on Thorin’s mouth to prevent the dwarf from protesting. “I’ll speak to Gandalf. He shall have to respect my wish. And you, too. I won’t leave. I won’t leave,” Bilbo repeated stubbornly.

Thorin whispered some words in Khuzdul on Bilbo’s fingers, his blue eyes filled with more emotions the hobbit could possibly name. Bilbo recognised the words of an apology among Thorin’s strangely sweet murmurs, and smiled at that.

“Let me stay,” Bilbo coaxed the king. Thorin closed his eyes, but gave a curt nod.

“One week before the trial, little bunny,” the dwarf reminded him.

“And some hours before dawn,” the hobbit whispered back, claiming Thorin’s mouth for a kiss.

Chapter Text

They had stripped between kisses, and now they lay naked onto the bed. Bilbo’s head dug into the pillow when Thorin sucked at his neck and the dwarf’s thumb stroked the soft flesh around Bilbo’s navel.

“What a fool I’ve been,” the king murmured, biting playfully Bilbo’s shoulder.

“Yes, you are the greatest fool,” Bilbo hummed in response.

Thorin took a glance at him: the hobbit wore the expression of someone willing to agree to anything Thorin might say, as long as the dwarf would keep using his mouth on him. Thorin smiled at the sight, feeling the usual surge of pride at the idea of the pleasure he could bring to the burglar. Moreover the sole thought that the halfling might be jealous had sparkled Thorin’s desire in an unexpected way.

Many times the dwarf had sought reassurance in Bilbo’s body – proofs that the hobbit belonged to him, and that he had the only right to his moans and pleas. Yet, this time Thorin wanted to reassure as much as to be reassured: he wanted to explain how ridiculously beguiled he had become, but he did not know any word which might suit his emotion – he had only his hands and his mouth on Bilbo’s fair skin, his kisses on the hobbit’s freckles, and his fingers among Bilbo’s curls.  

“I cannot fathom any reason for you to grow so enraged with jealousy,” Thorin whispered, taking one of Bilbo’s nipples between index finger and thumb, and slowly twisting it. “But it’s endearing.”

Thorin leant to close his lips around the nipple, a moment before Bilbo could whimper from the soft flash of pain caused by the roughness of the dwarf’s fingers.

“Endearing!” Bilbo gasped. He sounded outraged, but he gave a pleased mewl when Thorin’s tongue wetted the hardened bud. “I didn’t find anything as endearing in listening to Dain’s speech about your chances of a good marriage! But you are obviously amused by this.”

Thorin sucked the nipple gently, but raised his eyes to Bilbo’s face once again. Blushing cheeks, curls in disarray, Bilbo hardly appeared menacing; still there was a determined, almost resentful, look on his face.

“I am surprised rather than amused,” Thorin corrected him.

He gave another lick at the nipple and saw Bilbo’s focus waver.

“Why? Am I not allowed to be jealous?” the hobbit insisted nonetheless.

“You are. In fact, I’m very...interested in your jealousy,” Thorin breathed, pressing his erection against Bilbo’s tight and taking delight in the way the hobbit’s eyes grew larger. “Still I cannot see but the reasons for me to be jealous. This,” Thorin said, placing an open-mouthed kiss over Bilbo’s nipple. “And this. This, this, this.” Each this was followed by Thorin’s lips cherishing a small portion of the hobbit’s body, slipping on Bilbo’s chest and arms, down to his soft belly and half-hard cock. “Everyone is bound to try to steal you from me, at any time.”

“I don’t want to be stolen,” Bilbo huffed, wriggling under Thorin’s kisses. The dwarf teasingly nuzzled Bilbo’s balls and the hobbit arched his small body. “Tho-rin!”

“You have no idea how finding you in Dain’s company was,” Thorin sighed, before taking Bilbo’s cock in his mouth.  

“He was...nicer that I had expected,” Bilbo babbled.

His words were broken by whimpers; his hands found Thorin’s head and he caressed the dwarf’s hair – he knows I like it, Thorin thought. He gave a light suck to Bilbo’s cock; then he pulled away with a wet, wanton sound.

“He was quite impressed with you himself,” Thorin stated, narrowing his eyes.

He saw Bilbo gaping and then frowning – oh, the temptation of kissing that scowl! But Thorin tried to remain a little annoyed with his burglar, for the sake of territoriality.

“I wasn’t trying to impress Dain,” Bilbo mumbled. “I wanted some fresh air, and he was there. He did seem kind enough, and he promised me we would not speak of the trial. Should I have ignored him?”

Thorin dragged his tongue up from the base of Bilbo’s cock to the head with deliberate slowness.

“You can speak with Dain, if you wish,” he conceded.

“Oh, thank you very much,” Bilbo replied, rolling his eyes. Thorin decided that the hobbit’s sarcastic tone deserved to be drown in moans, and he applied himself to lowering his mouth on Bilbo’s erection. “How generous of you, Your Majesty!” Bilbo thrilled, leaving Thorin to wonder if the hobbit was talking about his concession or his mouth. When Thorin pulled away to take a breath, Bilbo’s knee nudged him. “Keep being generous, please...”

Thorin almost chuckled. Instead he grabbed Bilbo’s leg and raised it against the hobbit’s chest, earning a whole new perspective on Bilbo’s most private parts – pleased with the sight, Thorin bit the tender flesh just behind Bilbo’s knee.

“Don’t tease me with my cousin’s charm,” Thorin warned the hobbit. “And give me the oil.”

Bilbo fumbled a little to reach the ampoule they had prepared earlier, and handed it to the dwarf.   

“You’re jealous,” the hobbit commented, as soon as he was again onto his back with his legs shamelessly spread for Thorin.

“I am,” the king admitted quietly. He opened the ampoule and coated two of his fingers in oil. He tickled Bilbo’s puckered entrance with one fingertip, enjoying the sweet tremble in Bilbo’s body. “And I know Dain can be quite charming.”

“I said nice,” Bilbo pointed out, but he seemed to appreciate their bickering as well as the pressure of Thorin’s finger.

He relaxed and pushed against it, until the finger slipped past his entrance. They both sighed: Bilbo at the sensation; the dwarf at the sight of his finger moving further in.

“You say nice to quite a lot of things,” Thorin replied, turning his finger to caress the inner walls and smear them with oil. He closed his teeth on the sensible skin of Bilbo’s inner thigh, without breaking it; but he felt the slight tension building in the hobbit’s body in the way Bilbo tightened around him. “The other night, for example...” Thorin continued, pulling his finger out a bit and then thrusting it in again, reaching deeper. “You found nice riding my...”

“All right, all right!” Bilbo exclaimed, interrupting him and blushing furiously. “You’ve made your point and it was clearly another sort of nice.” Thorin wondered if Bilbo was biting his lower lip to keep himself from calling nice the way he was slowly fucking him with his finger. Bilbo’s breath was roughened by the excitement: his cock had already grown hard when Thorin had taken it into his mouth, but now it was even harder, and oscillating at the little tremors running through Bilbo’s body. “Dain is not nice in that way! Don’t even think about it! Dain is just...fine, I suppose,” Bilbo decided. But when Thorin took away his finger, the hobbit groaned in frustration. “Please, don’t tell me I used fine to describe...”

This time Thorin laughed at Bilbo’s whining.

He had just intended to add some more oil, but he changed his mind: he encouraged Bilbo to roll on his right side; then Thorin lay down to face the hobbit. He guided Bilbo’s leg around his waist and moved again his fingers between the hobbit’s cheeks. It was not the most comfortable position, but the king had been seized by the need of kissing Bilbo’s mouth, and he did not want to interrupt the rest.

“You surely know how to please a dwarf with your tongue, little bunny,” Thorin murmured, before taking the hobbit’s mouth in a rough kiss.

Bilbo moaned on Thorin’s lips, and his blunt nails scratched at the dwarf’s chest. He moaned even more when Thorin thrust two fingers into him. Thorin closed his eyes at the feeling of Bilbo’s muscles quivering: he was glad to have been generous with the oil, since his control was wearing thin with every exquisite moan escaping Bilbo’s mouth. Thorin began to move his fingers at a steady pace, retreating but never pulling out; in the meanwhile he kept kissing Bilbo, enticed by how the hobbit’s mouth yielded to his tongue.

Suddenly Thorin felt Bilbo’s hands slipping down, trying to get a hold on their cocks. But the friction was already too much for Thorin to bear – his burglar’s touch would have released his pleasure too soon.

“Later,” he whispered, nibbling at Bilbo’s lower lip. “You first, little bunny. And only from my fingers.” Bilbo pouted, but obeyed and put his hands on Thorin’s shoulders. Still Thorin had to take a deep breath to not come here and then. “What were you talking about, you and Dain?” the king asked, out of the blue. He needed some distraction from his own excitement, and he was curious – well, jealous.

“You want to know, now?” Bilbo sighed, with his eyes half-closed and his hips rolling to rub his cock against Thorin’s. “He asked me about the Shire and hobbit customs.”

“And you told him what he wanted to know,” Thorin replied, turning his fingers inside Bilbo.

“I would have told you the same!” the hobbit protested in a high-pitched wail – Thorin had just brushed his fingertips over his sweetest spot.

“I’ve never asked,” Thorin said, tasting the bitterness in his own voice. But he touched Bilbo gently – in his mind he reproached himself for having allowed Dain to ask questions he should have asked long ago. At the same time he tried to woo Bilbo through pleasure. Yet, when Bilbo was panting and clenching down on his fingers, Thorin could not keep silent: “I know you enjoy talking about your home. I guess Dain would be...”  

“Stop,” Bilbo interrupted him, his hands softly tugging at Thorin’s hair. The hobbit had opened his eyes, and Thorin saw that he had saddened and infuriated his burglar at the same time. “Why are you talking in such a tone, Thorin? It hurts me, especially when you’re touching me in this way.”

“There are things I will not...I cannot...” Thorin squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his forehead onto Bilbo’s shoulder.

His fingers resumed their motion, and he focused on the tender spot which would enflame the hobbit’s pleasure. But Bilbo fought his touch and tried to slip away, until Thorin looked again at him.

“Speak to me: why have you never asked about the Shire?” Bilbo asked. He even turned his head away when Thorin attempted to steal his words with a kiss. “You cannot do this every time you don’t want to speak.”

“I do this when I cannot speak,” Thorin growled.

“Thorin,” Bilbo muttered, a light warning in his tone. “Tell me: why never asking about the Shire?”

“I am never there.”

Thorin bit his tongue, already regretting his words. But Bilbo’s breath caught: he looked at Thorin for a long moment, and then searched the king’s mouth with his own. Thorin capitulated without struggle, letting Bilbo explore his mouth at his pleasure and take charge of the kiss. He contented himself with the warmth of the hobbit’s body nestled against his, the feeling of Bilbo’s cock stroking his, the tightness around his fingers. He contented himself because he knew it was for him – he knew the hobbit was his, at least for the moment.

“I cannot speak,” Bilbo whispered on Thorin’s lips, his eyes filled with mirth.   

Thorin did not smile, but Bilbo’s words burnt his heart with pleasure – as well as their implications and promises. He kissed Bilbo’s brow lightly.

“You know you could use this against me during the trial,” Thorin said in a husky tone.

 Bilbo said nothing to that. Instead he moved against Thorin’s fingers, taking them in. Bilbo’s eyelids fluttered close; a wet sigh lingered on his mouth. Thorin took the cue and continued what had been interrupted: he slightly bent his fingers and touched again the hobbit’s sweet spot, revelling in the bliss that lighted up Bilbo’s face. Thorin did not fret; he had always been partial to touching Bilbo so intimately: he recurred to all he had learnt about the hobbit’s body and his sensitiveness to elicit more moans from Bilbo’s lips.

Thorin caressed, brushed, pressed; he went deeper, the oil warm under his fingers and Bilbo even warmer; he twisted, pushed, and pulled, feeling the narrow passage adjust to the intrusion and even welcome it. All the time he kissed his burglar, mostly on the mouth; but Thorin tasted all the skin he could reach from chin to forehead, even wandering down Bilbo’s neck and small shoulders.

And what a pleasure Thorin found in Bilbo’s hands, in the nimble fingers caressing his scalp and playing with his braids, and in the nails scratching at his chest. Thorin practically purred when the hobbit bit and licked his collarbone. Thus he moved his fingers more quickly since he was not sure how long he could resist the temptation of replacing them with his cock.

“Thorin, if you keep...” Bilbo murmured, licking his lips.

“Don’t fight it,” Thorin replied. His fingers relentlessly insisted on the most sensitive point in the tight channel. “Will you come for me, little bunny?”

Bilbo did not answer, not properly – he sighed the dwarf’s name and grasped Thorin’s shoulders. Then he rubbed his cock against Thorin’s stomach, bucking slightly; the thrusts of Thorin’s fingers become deeper, not raw but unyielding. It took Bilbo a few moments before giving in: Thorin felt the warm semen landing on his stomach, and greedily watched the look on his lover’s face. He saw the tension sharpening the hobbit’s features; then the softened, but bright look following the release; last, the pleasantly surprised smile tugging at Bilbo’s lips.

“It was really...nice,” Bilbo commented once he had caught his breath again.

“Now you are provoking me,” Thorin accused him.

He had to kiss the hobbit, to taste the afterglow of his pleasure. Bilbo giggled into the kiss, then pressed his head against Thorin’s chest.

“You are still touching me,” he pointed out, a moment after.

“I like how you feel now,” the dwarf explained, moving his fingertips in a feathery touch.

Thorin could still sense the contractions and light shivers, and the extraordinary warmth inside Bilbo.

“I am quite sensitive right now,” Bilbo whispered, gasping when Thorin’s fingers returned to his sweet spot.

“I know,” Thorin replied with some pride. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he promised, keeping on with his caresses until Bilbo groaned. “Is it unpleasant?”

“No, it’s...it’s just so intense, but I cannot reach...” the hobbit babbled, confused by the sensation. “And you...”

“Roll on your back,” Thorin whispered, gingerly pulling out his fingers.

Bilbo blinked but did as the dwarf had said: he muttered something under his breath when his back touched the mattress, and shifted at the light discomfort. He watched Thorin with huge eyes, while the king cleaned his fingers and stomach with a towel he had prepared along with the oil before the things had become too heated to focus on such details.

Thorin gave a quick tug to his cock, just to keep it in check before coating it with oil. Then he crawled toward his hobbit. Thorin’s desire was so intense by then that it almost blinded him: only the grey-blue of Bilbo’s eyes was in focus and the light in them make the dwarf even hungrier for pleasure.

At his approach, Bilbo immediately opened his legs; his feet bumped against Thorin’s hips before slipping past them. Thorin leant down to drag his teeth across the hobbit’s chest and took a nipple in his mouth. With one hand Thorin guided his cock to Bilbo’s entrance. He was panting, and both his body and Bilbo’s were slippery with sweat and oil. Thorin pushed in, grateful to find the hobbit already loosened.

Mahal,” Thorin breathed, wide-eyed.

The feeling was delicious: warm, velvety, tender; yet still tight enough to make him groan at the sensation of being held inside Bilbo. He rolled his hips, slipping in slowly, deeper and deeper; Bilbo was humming, apparently pleased despite the fact that his cock was flaccid. Thorin covered the hobbit with his own body, leaning onto his elbows and feeling Bilbo’s smaller frame against his skin. Thorin’s nose was filled with his lover’s peculiar scent – scent of good warm things, like bread. He inhaled it, distinguishing the salty smell of the hobbit’s pleasure mingled with the rest.

Thorin’s desire became peaceful, his thrusts less erratic.

“I love how your body feels soft and pliant from pleasure,” Thorin said.

The words had been lured to Thorin’s lips by the ferocity of his own craving. They almost pained him; he closed his eyes when Bilbo tried to soothe him, with his fingers in Thorin’s hair and his mouth against his. It did not take too long for Thorin to come then: he spent himself while he was deeply buried inside the hobbit and remained there for a while, basking in the satisfaction of his own orgasm.

Nice?” the king asked pointedly, as soon as he could speak again.

He retreated, careful not to hurt the oversensitive hobbit.

“Haven’t you teased me enough for this night?” Bilbo asked in return, a soft yawn escaping his mouth.

Thorin took his burglar’s right hand and kissed its knuckles to hide his smile. Then he took care of the hobbit, dampening a towel and removing all the traces of semen remained on his body. The eventful day was taking his toll on Bilbo, and soon Thorin had to deal with the hobbit practically dozing off while he was still cleaning his thighs and belly. But it hardly mattered – the dwarf was more than content with taking care of a sleepy Bilbo, handling the small creature while he was still trying to stifle his yawns.

At last, Thorin tucked the hobbit under the blankets, and joined him. On his back, the dwarf wrapped his arm around Bilbo: the soft, naked body clang to his; a leg was thrown over Thorin’s; Bilbo’s arm was a pleasant weight on his chest. Bilbo tried to say something, but his speech was slurred. Thorin frowned and caressed Bilbo’s curls.

“Hush,” he whispered. He felt Bilbo relaxing, slipping into dreams. “Sleep, my sweet, brave burglar.” 

Chapter Text

Nori leant against the stone wall, almost disappearing into the corner of shadows which could not be dispelled by the light of the burning torches. Nori’s pose was casual, his gaze was low on the floor – should someone notice his presence he would assume that the strange, lanky dwarf was thinking.

But Nori was not thinking – he was listening.

The sheer amount of information Nori had learnt from the guards was unbelievable. As most servants, guards were often disregarded: everyone tended to forget their presence; as a consequence, guards saw and heard a great number of things they were not supposed to know. Besides, even the most faithful and discreet guard could not keep himself from sharing some of the information thus gathered with his companions: a bad joke, a grunt, a nervous whisper – anything was enough for Nori to connect the dots.

At the moment, for example, the guards at the door were hardly refraining from commenting what was going on inside the hall. The trial of the thief Bilbo Baggins was the first remarkable event held in Erebor after Thorin’s coronation, and it was far more exciting. Unfortunately no sound could escape the massive walls of the throne hall and the guards on the outside were completely cut out from what was happening at the trial.

Nori, on the other hand, did not mind. He was not really interested in the outcome of the trial.

Moreover, trials made Nori nervous; nervous enough to prefer to stay outside, as far as possible from the jury and the laws carved in stone – they made Nori’s skin crawl. He really could not fathom how the hobbit was able to cope with it; but Nori had to admit that Master Baggins had already proved his courage, more than once. Courageous yes, but hardly a burglar: Nori had never been deluded that Bilbo Baggins could be a real burglar. Yet, as Nori often did, he had carefully kept his opinion to himself; only in his mind had Nori agreed with Thorin’s views on the matter – Bilbo Baggins did look more like a grocer.

It did not matter. In the end the grocer was to be tried for theft, and the Nori who had entered Bag End had not seen it coming. Who would have thought that the small, insignificant creature who had welcomed them in his home in the Shire would be at the centre of so much attention?

Dwarves were flooding the hall; a delegation of elves had arrived in the morning, and even Thranduil had spoken in the hobbit’s favour. Nori had been surprised that Thorin had permitted that. But, after all, Thranduil’s speech had not done much for Master Baggins’ cause: no dwarf in his right mind would regard an elf’s friendship as proof of trustworthiness. Bard’s words had been much more effective: the man had impressed the jury with his fierce but respectful behaviour, and with his tale of how Master Baggins had been utterly pained at the idea of betraying his friends. Despite the nasty voice from the public asking if Bard would have liked to return the men’s treasure share in exchange for the hobbit, Bard’s speech had been largely appreciated.

The dwarves, Nori included, had contributed with their testimonials. Bofur’s and Ori’s speeches had been the most passionate, but Balin’s words had conquered the audience: the not-so-veiled reproach in Balin’s statement had made even Thorin lower his head. Dori and Dwalin had been colder, but they had not worsened Bilbo’s situation.

It was difficult to decide what had been the effect of Gandalf’s speech. The wizard had praised Bilbo Baggins’ courage, and his resolve to save the dwarves from themselves and their obstinacy; then he had spoken harshly of the Arkenstone and its ill-power. He had also hinted to other, darker things, leaving the audience shivering and wondering. But, in the end, the number of people coaxed by Gandalf’s speech into believing in the hobbit’s innocence were as many as those convinced that the hobbit was but a pawn in the wizard’s hands.

All the same, it did not matter.

The dwarvish law was hard and unrelenting – Nori knew it too well. Erebor’s customs were even harder than those followed in the Blue Mountains. Theft was one of the worst crimes to be accused of, especially considering that Bilbo had stolen from Thorin: the fact that they had spent months on the road together and there had been a contract binding the hobbit to their Company cast a darker shadow on Bilbo’s behaviour.

As one of the guard at the door had just said to his mate, what matters is that the halfling stole from the King under the Mountain.

Anyone could speak in favour or against the accused, as long as he accepted the consequences of lying in a trial. It was not only a matter of keeping one’s head in place, but a desire to be honourable; dwarves hate oath-breakers even more than thieves. This meant that, no matter how splendidly they might speak of Master Baggins’ character and deeds, all those called to answer the jury’s questions had to say it: Bilbo Baggins stole the Arkenstone. He admitted it.

That was the point. Bofur had said it; Ori had said it; Nori had said it when his turn had come; even Gandalf had said it, looking around as if he had intended to challenge the crowd. They would all repeat the same thing, over and over. It was something every dwarf in the Company had witnessed; men and elves knew it. Thorin’s violent reaction was not even taken into account – many a dwarf in the jury probably thought he would have done the same suffering such a betrayal. After all, none of those dwarves knew Master Baggins as the Company did.

This was a major issue: Bilbo was a hobbit. At the beginning of their journey, they had all disregarded their burglar simply because he was not a dwarf. It had taken them a lot of time and some wargs to learn how to appreciate him, and to accept the cultural differences between them and Bilbo. How could a bunch of old, hard dwarves change their mind on the hobbit in such a short time? Dain Ironfoot, as head of the jury, might be quite well-disposed toward Bilbo – as Gandalf had declared; but even Dain might not be able to change a negative verdict if the rest of the jury was against the hobbit.

And Thorin was powerless. Nori always wondered when the king had realised his mistake. When had Thorin understood that his thirst for revenge had put a noose around their necks? Now they were all tied to this disgusting business of the trial, and all contributing to the sentence.

Trials in dwarvish settlements always began with reading the accusations. Dain had declared Bilbo tried for theft, but the word betrayal had travelled from mouth to mouth in the audience. They all knew what was at stake: Thorin’s authority as King under the Mountain – Bilbo Baggins had challenged it and this would make the jury’s judgement harsher. Indeed, the law in Erebor was made to condemn the accused rather than to ascertain his guilt. The custom of leaving the speeches of the main accuser and the accused for the last part of the trial shifted the focus on the crime rather than on its circumstances. Bilbo might remind his motives to the jury, but it would be his word against Thorin’s. A hobbit against the King under the Mountain – this could not bode well.   

In truth, Nori understood the necessity for a trial. Erebor was still weak, a kingdom made up from scraps; a myriad rumours had been spread about Thorin and his conduct as king. If Thorin wanted Erebor to be a kingdom reborn and not just another refuge for his exiled kin, he had to grant the continuity with the old laws. Thorin’s authority was walking on a very thin edge, a step away from the abyss; his power, his right, was bound to Erebor. Most of the dwarves were ready to recognise his valour as warrior, and they knew he had been a good leader for his people in the Blue Mountains. But Erebor was something different: it was an open wound for their pride; they wanted someone who could make Erebor thrive, not just survive. Thus the old laws had to be obeyed, and Bilbo Baggins would be the price for stability.  

The doors opened, and Ori almost tumbled in his haste of leaving the hall. One of the guards seemed on the verge of interrogating Ori about the trial; but Nori was immediately at his brother’s side, and grabbed him by the arm before Ori could even open his mouth. Nori pushed Ori down the corridor, looking around to be sure that no one else was around. The younger dwarf was pale and his body was trembling with rage. Nori squeezed his shoulder but said nothing, waiting for Ori to collect himself.

“The king,” Ori breathed at last. “I’m going to kick his damned ass.”

“You don’t want someone accusing you of threatening our king,” Nori suggested, sneering.

Ori shot him an annoyed glance, then shook his head.

“You should have heard him,” he murmured. “I still cannot believe it. It was Thorin’s turn to speak. You know we’ve all talked about Bilbo’s good heart, and how he helped us during the journey to Erebor. And Thorin confirmed our words. He said...he said that hobbits understand life more than we do.”

Poetic,” Nori commented, quite drily.

“I thought that Thorin was going to take back his accusations,” Ori admitted.

“He cannot do that. Haven’t you read it in those law books of yours?” Nori reproached him.

“I know, but all the same I hoped...I don’t know what, but I was not expecting this: it seems that Bilbo talked with Thorin while they were in Dale, and pleaded himself guilty.”

“He had already done it at the gates,” Nori interrupted his brother. “What difference does it make if he repeated it to Thorin more recently?”

“You don’t understand,” Ori spat. “Bilbo had admitted to have taken the Arkenstone, but he had always claimed that it had been part of his plan to save us from fighting with men and elves, or starving in Erebor. But this is different: Bilbo confessed to Thorin that he had stolen the stone before, just after Smaug’s departure from the Mountain. Out of greed for its beauty.”

Nori laughed. He sensed Ori’s shocked gaze on him, but he could not help.

“How ironic,” Nori said, grinning bitterly. “The king almost gone mad from greed wants the burglar condemned for the same reason.”

“It’s monstrous!” Ori exclaimed.

“It is,” Nori agreed, “but if Bilbo really told Thorin something like that, he cannot really complain what is going to befall him.”

“How can you speak like that?” Ori hissed, looking hurt.

“Someone’s bound to see things for what they are,” Nori shrugged. “Bilbo is in danger of losing both his hands. He should have known better than to speak with Thorin about the Arkenstone.”

He’s honest,” Ori said defiantly.

“He will be honest without hands. Does it suit you, brother?” the older dwarf inquired, annoyed. “Now the law is with Thorin: what Bilbo did was stealing. Unless the King under the Mountain is lying. However, if they were alone in Dale when Bilbo spoke, it might be trickier to prove that he really said that,” Nori mused, then shook his head. “But even then it would be a king’s word against a burglar’s.”

“What does it matter if it was true? A single moment of weakness!” Ori replied. “We know what the Arkenstone can do to a heart. Can we really blame Bilbo for it?”

“Does this matter? Law will blame and condemn him,” Nori concluded.

“Thorin had no right to expose Bilbo,” his younger brother persisted. “I could not stand it. I could not remain a moment longer in the hall, listening to what Bilbo had to say in answer to Thorin’s accusations. I thought Bilbo would faint – he was so pale when he was invited to speak, and I think he was trembling. Thorin’s words had terribly excited the crowd, and we were surprised, too. Yet we know how it is with the Arkenstone: we saw its effects on Thorin; we were all seized by the madness back there, didn’t we?”

“Tell me what Bilbo said,” Nori answered.

“He stood on his feet and looked at the jury before beginning his speech. But after that he kept his eyes on Thorin all the time while he was speaking. Once or twice I think that Thorin was almost on the verge of fleeting,” Ori admitted. “Bilbo spoke very quietly and with great dignity; but it was as if he was whipping Thorin, again and again. I hoped that Bilbo would insult him – you know how it is with Bilbo, he’s so polite and suddenly he’s shooting arrows at your pride.”

“But Bilbo is determined to stay loyal to Thorin, isn’t he?” Nori interrupted. “Insulting the king? He’s more likely to sing Thorin’s praises. I suppose he has confirmed what Thorin said about his confession.”

“I don’t understand it!” Ori lashed out, thus confirming Nori’s suspicion about Bilbo’s choice.

“You said it before: Bilbo is honest,” Nori commented.

“There must be something we can do,” Ori murmured.

Nori saw how much his little brother was vexed by the unexpected turn of events in the trial. But he intended to waste as few words as possible on the subject - we have to deal with it. No matter how much they liked Bilbo Baggins – and Nori liked the cunning halfling a good deal – the trial was going to decide the hobbit’s fate. They would submit to the sentence, as long as they wanted to stay in Erebor.

Apart from Nori, obviously.

Nori had never prided himself with being honest, and loyalty had meant little to nothing to him for a long while. In Thorin’s quest Nori had seen an opportunity of escaping some unpleasant circumstances, and Thorin’s plan had seemed reckless enough to sit well with him. Besides, Dori and Ori had already joined the Company.

Then, throughout the journey, Nori’s opinion on the whole quest had slowly shifted. He had started to think that Thorin might have been the sort of leader to win his loyalty. Thorin was so deeply flawed, so affected by his own pride and stubbornness – yet, his desire to reach his goal was pure as crystal and hard as rock. Nori had thought such fools should be held in contempt; but he had not. Instead, he had become increasingly fond of the Company. Nori had been almost ready to swear his everlasting allegiance to the King under the Mountain.

But if this included condemning Bilbo Baggins to losing his hands, Nori would go back to being a bit more creative in his relationship with authority.

In other words, Nori had plans.

Plans he had not cared to share with the other dwarves; plans that involved little fighting and much cunning, and then a run from Erebor to Mirkwood to seek Thranduil’s protection. He was not sure that Bilbo would not put up a fight against the whole idea – after all the halfling had never even tried to flee, and it took a dwarf far less observant than Nori to ignore Bilbo’s motives. But, in the end, he expected that the idea of losing one or both his hands to the dwarvish law would made the hobbit more inclined toward a swift escape.

Nori’s plans did not include Gandalf. At the beginning he had thought that the wizard could help him. Charming the hobbit, couldn’t he? Well, probably Gandalf could charm them all; yet he had not seemed too eager to catch up with Nori’s veiled suggestions about organising Bilbo’s escape from Erebor. Gandalf had said something about the opportunity of not forcing Bilbo’s will – Bilbo did want to face the trial, and they were supposed to accept it. Bollocks, Nori thought. Gandalf had never given a damn for anyone’s will, and his act did not work on Nori.

“You know something about Thorin and Bilbo,” Gandalf had said to him the day before.

Nori had neither denied nor confirmed Gandalf’s guess. He did not need to. He had learnt that with the wizard every word stood for another. In this case, the unspoken question was: Why, then, do you think that Thorin will let Bilbo be condemned?

It was quite simple from Nori’s perspective. First, Thorin was powerless in this matter, as long as he was keen on keeping his place on the throne. It did not matter if the king bedded the hobbit; in the end, Thorin would play his part. They were all playing their parts in the game. Bilbo, for instance, was playing martyr, and it took but a pair of clever eyes to know why – the hobbit wanted to prove himself to the king, as he had always done in the past. And Thorin could not forgive the hobbit, though he desired him.

He had grown into a quite skilled burglar, Baggins the grocer. The Arkenstone was a child’s game compared to the way Bilbo had robbed the King under the Mountain of his heart, his mind, his attention. Thorin knew, obviously. Thorin could not allow this; it was not about the Arkenstone, it was about Thorin’s fate: could Thorin stand the idea that a hobbit had won the heart which had been bound only to Erebor for so many decades? Nori sometimes wondered if, when Thorin had almost killed Bilbo at the gates, it had been for the Arkenstone, or for the way Thorin had been betrayed by his own feelings.

After all, Nori did not think Thorin cruel. This trial was Thorin’s duty as King under the Mountain. And Nori could even appreciate it, while he was playing his own part.      

Gandalf had not even bothered to advice Nori against telling the truth. Yes, Nori could have walked into the hall, and revealed to the crowd that the king had taken the prisoner as his lover: what good would this do to Bilbo? The hobbit would be suspected to have seduced Thorin in order to undermine his throne or to save his hands. The jury was set against the hobbit even without something like that. Therefore Nori had given his speech, and left the hall immediately after that, without speaking a single word of what he knew of Thorin’s inclination for their burglar.

“You know something about Thorin and Bilbo,” Nori had replied to Gandalf.

“I know that there are worse things that this trial,” the wizard had said at last. “Darker shadows than the ones which seized Thorin at the gates. Yet they have all to be dispelled, sooner or later.”

“Dispelling shadows?” Nori had repeated. “I know that every new light bears a shadow.”

“True enough,” Gandalf had conceded, looking considerably tired. “We try to choose the lesser evil.”

“I only know the evil at hand,” the dwarf had spat.

After that, Nori had decided that Gandalf could not be involved. He did not want to; he had other plans, but Nori did not feel sure about the wizard’s perspective on the whole business. Sometimes Gandalf seemed too distant; like he had seen this before. Sometimes he seemed more stone-hearted than Thorin had been under the gold sickness.

So, in the end, saving Master Baggins was on Nori’s head.

Nori could not even involve the other dwarves of the Company, for he knew what his plans meant – exile. How could he impose this on his little brother? How could he ask Bofur or Balin to choose to leave the home they had fought for? No, it would be unfair to ask. He was the only one who could bear to be exiled; the only one who had not believed in the quest when he had joined the Company. Being the one who would renounce to Erebor was just fair, Nori reminded to himself.

“It’s done!” Ori exclaimed, interrupting Nori’s musing about his plans.

It was true: the doors had been opened and the crowd was flooding the antechamber and corridors nearby. Mostly dwarves, but few elves stood tall and proud over the multitude; not Thranduil though – but a great number of dwarves and non were still trapped inside the hall by those lingering in the antechamber. Indeed it would take some time to disperse the overexcited horde of dwarves exchanging all sorts of remarks on the trial, starting quarrels and paying the money due for their bets. The resulting clamour was deafening; but Nori was used to the boisterous, loud manners of dwarves – it did not take him much time to identify the most recurring word in the crowd’s clatter. Ori heard too, and grew pale.

Then, suddenly, they spotted Gandalf. He was using his staff and even his pointed hat to wave away the dwarves standing on his path. Ori took his older brother by the arm and Nori found himself being dragged toward Gandalf, and consequently pushed and pulled by the crowd on all sides. Gandalf was on the threshold of the hall – behind him, the situation seemed even worse than in the antechamber. Nori caught a glimpse of Dain speaking with Thranduil, before being almost shoved against Gandalf himself. The wizard helped him to keep his balance; but Nori battered away Gandalf’s hand. And he would have had a word with the wizard had Bard of Dale not preceded him.

“Gandalf, I pray you,” Bard said, his voice unusually high-pitched. “You have to speak with him.”

“It cannot be undone,” Gandalf replied dryly.

“What happened?” Ori intervened, white as a sheet.

“What were you expecting when the king of this damned mountain was the accuser?” Bard snapped at Ori.

It filled Nori with the desire of punching the man, cutting his purse, and fleeing. Good riddance, it would have been. But Nori kept himself in check. Ori just stared at Bard blankly, then looked again at Gandalf.

“Guilty,” the wizard said.

“What the punishment?” Nori asked through his teeth.

They knew. They were all repeating it. The Lonely Mountain rang with that single word.

Exile.”

Chapter Text

Gold shifted beneath his feet, cold and gleaming. He had almost forgotten how the air in the treasure hall was constantly glittering from the light reflected on gems and metals: the glow of the torches bounced from the precious silver jewels to the piles of rubies and emeralds. Bilbo looked at the magnificence of Erebor’s great treasure, and his heart swelled with loathing – so deep, so violent was his revulsion that it made his stomach ache, and drops of cold sweat gathered on his nape. He shoved his hand in his pocket and closed his fingers around the ring; it would be easier to wear it, and leave Erebor unseen and unheard. Not unharmed though.

Bilbo knew who he was going to meet. He had known since the order had come for him to be taken to the treasure hall - again, as the day before the battle: they were spinning in circles.

 

He had been given time to pack his things. Bilbo had done it swiftly, almost blindly: he had put away his few possessions while his friends gathered in his rooms. They had also returned him Sting , and even the mithril coat. He had naturally refused to take the latter with him; on the other hand, Bilbo had been glad to be given Sting back, as it had saved his life more than once.

The dwarves had been stunned by his behaviour. Bilbo had smiled at them, shaken their hands, and hugged them while packing. In truth he had given little attention to the way he had been throwing his clothes in the bags, as he had spent most of his time entertaining the dwarves with remarks on the beauty of the Shire in spring – oh, the tender carpet of flowers beneath one’s feet! The bright green frogs hidden among the grass on the ponds’ bank! The soft white bread with poppy seeds, still warm from the oven, eaten on the road to the market! It was all waiting for him, at the end of his journey. The hobbit had even confessed that he was hoping to stay in Rivendell on his way back, if Lord Elrond would be pleased with his company.

“Lad, we would not blame you if...” Balin had tried to say.

Oh, thank you. Thank you for not being prone to blame me should I speak ill of your King under the Mountain. Should I shout and fight. Should I curse Erebor and its throne; the throne and the king who sits on it; the king and its cruel heart made from stone. Should I reveal to all of you, and many others, that the King under the Mountain fucked me so many times that I have lost count, and my mind as well. 

Bilbo had only smiled at Balin’s words, shaking his head. But he had devoted special care to pack Bofur’s tiny Shire toy, wrapping it in the scarf Balin had given to him at Yule.

“What?” Bilbo had asked, sensing that the dwarves had been watching his movements as if they had been expecting him to throw a tantrum or storm out of his rooms.

“You seem...quite satisfied,” Gloin had answered, observing him from head to foot.

Bilbo had laughed at their concern, and the laugh had tasted bitter at the back of his throat.

“Shouldn’t I?” Bilbo had asked. His voice might have been a little too loud. “I’m no longer a prisoner; I’m going home; I still have both my hands. Why should I regret the sentence?”

“Well,” Bombur had intervened, “you won’t be allowed to come back to Erebor.”

“Why should I want to come back?” Bilbo had retorted with cold fury. He had been indifferent to how many dwarves knew or suspected what Thorin had done to him; but such a tense silence had fallen over the company that Bilbo had felt compelled to break it: “Bag End’s door will always be open for you all,” he had added in a slightly gentler tone.

At least, they had stopped bothering him after that. They had begun to leave his rooms, one after another, each one of them giving advices and promising to see him settled back in the Shire. Bombur had praised hobbit pantries; Oin had mumbled something about certain medical plants growing only in the Shire; Bifur had muttered few Khuzdul words, then closed Bilbo in a bone-crushing hug. Gloin had insisted to show the hobbit his son’s portrait – again - and he had complained that Bilbo should depart from the mountain before his wife and young Gimli might reach it. Dori had reminded Bilbo of the dangers of travelling in the middle of winter, while Ori had been almost too miserable at the idea of Bilbo leaving to speak; but Nori had only saluted the hobbit with his best smirk. Balin, instead, had kept Bilbo’s hand between his for a long time, saying nothing.

“I will escort you through Dale,” Dwalin had said matter-of-factly, with such a murderous light in his eyes that Bilbo had wondered if it would be wise to accept such an escort.

Not that Dwalin had really given him any chance to refuse. The hobbit still did not know if the idea was really Dwalin’s, or a last courtesy from the king’s. Frankly, he did not care as long as he would be able to leave the Lonely Mountain as soon as possible.

In truth Bilbo had received an invitation from Bard to stay in Dale for some time, and even the Elvenking had suggested that a hobbit might have some desire to visit Mirkwood – properly, this time. Bilbo suspected that if Bard’s invitation had been generous, Thranduil’s had been a slight intended for the King under the Mountain.

Bilbo had refused both. The winter promised to be quite mild; Gandalf had assured him that they would reach Beorn’s house sooner rather than later, since the Elvenking had granted them an escort to protect them from any danger which might cross their path through the forest. Beorn’s house was far enough from Erebor and Bilbo could accept to spend some time there; then, there would be Rivendell, where Bilbo planned to keep himself busy with broadening his knowledge about Elves.

Bofur had been the last dwarf to leave Bilbo’s rooms and the most insistent of Bilbo’s guests.

“Let me come with you,” Bofur had said suddenly.

“This is your home,” Bilbo had replied firmly. “I would never ask you to leave it. But you’ll come to visit my home, won’t you? This time I and Gandalf will travel faster alone. And I’ll be perfectly fine. I am going home, Bofur. After all we’ve been through, I could not have hoped for more.”

“So, you’re content,” Bofur had murmured.

“Be happy for me,” Bilbo had said. Bofur had not been persuaded, but he had left like the others.

Only then had Bilbo sit down on the bed, taking deep breaths to keep his heart from bursting out of his chest. It had taken him a painful effort to master his feelings and keeping his eyes dry. He had promised himself he would not expose his pride and his heart to any further humiliation.

 

But, in the treasure hall, Bilbo’s control wavered: the temptation of wearing the ring and walk away from the next meeting was stronger than ever.

The King under the Mountain had chosen the setting for their parting all too well. Everything had begun in the treasure hall: there Smaug had hoarded the fabulous treasure of the Durin’s lineage, and this gold had filled the dwarves’ dreams during their journey. There the Arkenstone had waited for decades, a treasure among treasures; its beauty had maddened kings and burglars alike.

However, Bilbo had been mad but for a brief moment - that the first time when he had laid his eyes on the Arkenstone; he had given it away, hadn’t he? And he had accepted the trial for theft; he had not run away, even when the king himself had offered him a way out of it. But Bilbo had only tried to protect Thorin and his throne: in the end he had chosen Thorin, and he had kept choosing Thorin over everything else, again and again. What good had it done to Bilbo? Thorin had not chosen him.

Thus the hobbit stood in the hall, heart-sick, and with words burning down in his throat. He did not move when the king appeared: Bilbo felt compelled to keep his ground, with his eyes on the dwarf. The king was dressed in black and silver, and his hair was heavy with precious beads. Bilbo could almost recall the exact feeling of that hair under his fingertips, and the weight of every bead Thorin wore.

“Bilbo,” the king said, his eyes almost unreadable in the flickering torchlight.

He used your confession to have you condemned, Bilbo reminded himself. He had been blinded into thinking that Thorin would not have used those words against him. Thus he had bared his soul to Thorin, and the dwarf had used that knowledge in his accusation. 

Had he not asked the king to keep him in Erebor, with him? Thorin had decided to ignore his wish.

“I’ve been told that you refuse to take the mithril coat with you,” Thorin continued. Bilbo noticed that the dwarf was holding it in his hands. If that was the king’s excuse to summon him in the treasure hall, it was a poor one. “You know it’s yours,” Thorin said gruffly, offering Bilbo the mithril coat which gleamed like water in the sunlight. “I do not intend to take it back.”

Bilbo took the mithril coat from Thorin’s hands and did not miss the relief softening Thorin’s expression. A long time ago they had been in the same place when Thorin had presented his gift to Bilbo – how naive they had been then! But it was all finished.

Thief. Bilbo had been judged a thief. He was to be exiled from Erebor, never allowed to return to the Lonely Mountain. They had spared his hands in consideration for the service he had done to the King, for his role in the Company, for the times he had put his life at risk for them. In truth, Thorin had not omitted any of the hobbit’s bravest deeds, nor had he denied that Bilbo Baggins had saved his life.

Still, the jury had judged improper that a declared theft might stay in Erebor any longer. Bilbo Baggins was not an enemy in their eyes, but neither was he a friend. Banishment. Dain had announced the punishment; Dain who had been so friendly to ask him about the Shire.

Bilbo did not doubt that Thorin was behind the sentence. Had he not said it so himself, only a week before? I am king, and I will have you banished if it is what it takes. Thorin might not have had power to steer the jury’s decision, but he had surely influenced his cousin Dain; moreover his speech about Bilbo’s confession had been a turning point in the trial. Do you really think Thorin won’t have part in the sentence? Bofur had asked the hobbit, at the beginning of his imprisonment.

Bilbo had been a fool. He had not lost his hands, but he would lose his heart. 

Bilbo threw the mithril coat on the gold, as far from him as possible; the coldness of the mithril under his fingers had disgusted him - the memory linked to the gift even more. The sudden, nervous movement caught Thorin by surprise: he was probably unprepared to see his gift tossed away with such evident repulsion. But he seemed to bite back his retort; when he spoke, his tone was forcefully even.

“I see. But you must take it,” Thorin insisted. “For your protection on the road: I would like to know that at least you’ll wear some sort of armour.”

“No,” Bilbo replied.

He did not even know what was his no for – if it was for the mithril coat, for Thorin, or for the pain.

“Bilbo,” Thorin repeated, suddenly much closer than before. Bilbo gasped, finding Thorin looming over him; but he felt too numb to move. It seemed so unreal – he should call me halfling, Bilbo thought. “Lay with me,” Thorin murmured, his voice soft and pleading.

Yet, Thorin’s words hit Bilbo like a slap. The hobbit’s cheeks grew hot, and Bilbo squeezed his eyes shut. He felt the king’s fingers brushing his shoulders tentatively; then slipping down his arms, and trying to soothe the trembles which were shaking Bilbo’s body from head to foot. When the hobbit opened his eyes again, he saw Thorin observing him, and the dwarf’s eyes darkened with concern rather than lust. Thorin’s hands had gently closed over Bilbo’s hips.

Mine,” Thorin said throatily. “Be mine one last time on the treasure.”

The king’s thumbs were tracing circles over Bilbo’s clothes.

The hobbit felt his mouth dry, and he stepped back in a swift, nervous movement – as he would do to free himself from an orc’s grasp. Thorin did not try to stop him; instead he straightened his back and lowered his head.

“It was worth a try,” he commented dryly, without looking at the hobbit.

“You’re mad,” Bilbo replied. His voice was choked into a pathetic whine.

“I’ve always been around you,” Thorin murmured, raising again his head and glancing cautiously at Bilbo. He licked his lips and the ghost of a smile appeared on his mouth. “I should have made golden chains to keep you wrapped around me. I would wipe away any other thought from our minds; I would worship you over this gold, Bilbo; I would consume you for days, without leaving any part of your body unkissed. Then I would cherish that memory to the end of my days.”

“Stop!” Bilbo exclaimed, at the top of his lungs. “You have no right to talk to me like this,” he declared, shivering. “You’ve renounced to that right.”

“I have,” Thorin admitted, his cheeks growing pale. “But it’s very difficult for me to think of it.”

For the first time since the beginning of their painful exchange, Bilbo realised that the King under the Mountain looked extremely worn-out despite the elegance of his garments. Worse, Thorin looked broken, as if all his will had been drained at the sole sight of the hobbit before him.

“You’ll learn,” Bilbo snapped, even more furious in face of Thorin’s sorrow.

Bilbo did not need that; he did not need the king’s remorse, nor his regrets.

“Bilbo,” Thorin said again, as if the hobbit’s name could have been enough to break the dreadful spell between them. “You don’t know what it is to watch you walking away from me, and knowing that I’m going to be mad again.”

“Should I pity you?” Bilbo asked, gritting his teeth. “Do you think I have feeling to spare for you?”

“I have no right to expect anything from you,” the dwarf replied.

“At least we agree on this,” Bilbo nodded sharply.

Thorin’s eyes fluttered close; when he spoke, his voice was low and deep – a pit to fall in.

“The things I could do to your body,” the dwarf murmured. “The things you could do to my soul.”

“Don’t,” Bilbo interrupted him, frightened by the passionate tone Thorin had used. “Don’t do this to me. Why are you torturing me? Is it not enough to have me exiled? Why do you think it is necessary to bleed me of any peace of mind?”

“Are you still affected by this?” Thorin asked, reopening his eyes on Bilbo. “After all that has been said and done, do you still wish to save me from myself, my burglar? Do you still crave for me? I crave for you.”

Bilbo pressed his blunt nails against his own palms, seeking physical pain as a distraction from the tenderness on Thorin’s lips.

“What do you want to prove?” the hobbit asked. “Yes, I want you. I don’t think I’ll ever stop; yet, I cannot have you.”

“I’m offering you to...” Thorin began, but Bilbo shook his head and raised his hand.

“Stop,” he hissed. “I know what you’re offering: an opportunity of mortifying my feelings again. I do not belong here, neither do I belong to you: I think you’ve made yourself clear on this point, King under the Mountain.”

Then Bilbo decided that he had had enough of Thorin and his games; he wanted to leave the hall before his composure could be shattered. But, when the hobbit took a step, Thorin moved and blocked his way.

“You know as well as me that this is necessary,” Thorin said. “You must understand. Please.”

“Then, let me go,” Bilbo spat, glancing nervously at the dwarf’s bulk.

“I’m going to,” Thorin reassured him bitterly. “Don’t worry about it. But, right now, all I can think of is holding you in my arms and feeling your naked skin under my hands.”

“This is what you’re doing,” Bilbo stuttered, looking at Thorin in horror. “You’re trying to remind me what it was about: you, fucking me.”

Thorin flinched. For a moment Bilbo thought that the dwarf was going to seize him by the arm, but Thorin only made a vague gesture in mid-air.

“If you wish to speak of it in these terms, yes: I fucked you,” he conceded. There was a dangerous gleam in Thorin’s blue eyes. “I liked also the other way around, though.”

“Whatever. It was just fucking,” Bilbo repeated, hurting himself again with his own contempt.

“Bilbo, please; this doesn’t mean...” Thorin said with haste, shifting again from arrogance to gentleness. “I cannot let you leave Erebor in this way. I cannot bear the thought of what’s on your mind right now. Even if we’re parted, you must not doubt my desire for you, nor must you belittle it. I’m not even sure if you realise its depths or its persistence.”

“I’m always the one who has to understand!” Bilbo shouted. “I have to be accepting and considerate; I have to make excuses for you, because you do not even know where to start when it comes to apologising. I supported you during the whole journey, Thorin Oakenshield. I killed for you; I stole for you; I put my life and my heart in your hands,” he recriminated. “I thought that we were building something; I thought you wanted to keep me by your side and I accepted the risks. You promised, Thorin. Does breaking your word mean anything to you?”

“Little, compared to breaking your heart,” Thorin answered. “I know what we agreed on. And I am truly sorry to have deceived you on that, Bilbo. But there was no other way to protect you.” Thorin swiftly moved closer to the hobbit and took his hands in his, leaning down to kiss Bilbo’s palms. “If I had not spoken of your confession...”

“We will never know!” the hobbit replied, taking away his hands. He was finding quite hard to breathe and he forced himself to fill his lungs, without looking at Thorin. “The truth is, Thorin, that you have just renounced to me. And I’ll never forgive you this,” Bilbo concluded.

He meant it. Even if Thorin had ever felt some real affection for him, it only made the matter worse. In fact Thorin’s own sorrow threatened to weaken Bilbo’s rage; but Bilbo needed to be angry. He needed his fury to fill the void left by Thorin’s deception, like straw stuffed in a puppet.  

“I had never wanted to be generous,” Thorin assured him, with his hands clenched in fists and his whole body tense with the furious pain of a wild beast. “I would have kept you for myself, here in my Mountain. Even now I’m tempted to challenge the sentence and forbid your departure.” Thorin took a deep breath, and his voice dropped down to a whisper. “Yet, I cannot help this time: I’m doing what has to be done for your safety and happiness, Bilbo. As long as you’ll remain here I won’t leave you in peace: you know this would not end well.”

“No, I don’t know. Neither do you,” Bilbo protested, trying to fight back his tears.

“I have nothing to give you,” Thorin said bitterly.

“I didn’t ask for anything but your affection” Bilbo replied.

“And since you have it, I must send you back to your Shire,” the dwarf concluded. “As King under the Mountain I am not mine to give. I know you understand my responsibility toward my fate, and you...”

“I’m just a simple halfling,” Bilbo supplied.

“...you deserve more than someone bound to his duty and under the threat of the gold sickness as I am now,” Thorin corrected him.

“And you deserve a dwarf queen, don’t you?” the hobbit spat with a shiver. Thorin attempted to deny it, as he had done the first time they had talked about it after Bilbo’s meeting with Dain. But this time Bilbo would not be easily bought by Thorin’s sweet talking, and he spoke before the king could even articulate his protests. “Once I’ll be back in the Shire, will it matter if you take a queen? It won’t.”

“You’re misinterpreting my actions and my words,” Thorin complained darkly, shaking his head.

“You’ve betrayed me. There’s no misinterpretation in this,” Bilbo insisted. Thorin came closer to him and looked again on the verge of speaking his mind - and his heart as well. Yet the hobbit raised both his hands: they had been a little roughened by the journey; but they were still grocer’s hands, soft and white. “No, please,” Bilbo said firmly. “I’ve had enough of your deceitful words, King under the Mountain. I’m leaving you to your fate, exactly as you wish.”

“You’re wrong; this is not what...” Thorin muttered, trying to close his hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. “Let me explain, I cannot let you leave with such a heavy heart.”

“I cannot do this,” Bilbo snapped, slipping away from Thorin’s hand. “I cannot, I cannot,” he chanted in a broken voice. “You’ve never really forgiven me the theft of the Arkenstone, and you’re punishing me with this exile.”

“I’ve forgiven you a hundred times,” Thorin growled, looking as if his self-control was threading on a very thin line. “Why are you refusing to accept the truth about my decision?”

“You’re cruel,” Bilbo said, his voice drowning in his throat. “You made love to me when you were going to exile me.” The hobbit tore his eyes away from Thorin as if shielding them from a blinding light. “And I fell for it.”

“You do love me,” Thorin murmured, as if those words might be an antidote against Bilbo’s sorrow and recriminations.

Bilbo gave a low moan at that, and hid his face in his hands.

“I hate you,” he said.

The look on Thorin’s face was more than Bilbo could bear: he reached in his pocket for the ring and wear it. Bilbo heard Thorin’s shocked gasp at his disappearance; but he immediately turned on his heels, and made for the door. The tinkling of the coins slipping beneath his feet was enough for Thorin to recover from his surprise. Bilbo guessed that the dwarf would try to grab him – he ducked and ran, fleeting from Thorin’s hold like a fish from a net. Behind him there was the sound of Thorin’s heavier steps on the thick carpet of gems and gold; the king’s boots were crushing coins and cups alike while he was trying to guess Bilbo’s movements across the treasure hall.

Yet the hobbit did not turn until he was at the door. Only then did Bilbo look back.

He knew that Thorin had lost his balance – he had heard the loud thump of the dwarf’s body when he had fallen on the gold, and the rough sound of his curses. Now Bilbo saw the king on his knees, looking at a blank point few steps away from where the hobbit actually stood. Thorin called his name, as he had done before. Bilbo said nothing and did not move – it would take him just another step to be out of the hall; but he was now unable to look at anything else but Thorin’s expression. It was slowly unravelling: Thorin was no longer angry; what was left was a broken, desolate gaze.

“Bilbo,” Thorin said again.

Bilbo understood that the dwarf did not know that he was still there: Thorin had spoken softly this time, as if he was not expecting to be heard – as if the hobbit’s name was just the shape of his grief. He repeated it again and again, and the syllables of Bilbo’s name fell like tears.

 

The echo of Thorin’s voice in the treasure hall would haunt Bilbo on his journey back to the Shire.

Chapter Text

It was tea-time.

Bilbo had been working in the garden, crouched among the plants in the soft afternoon light. His hands were a little raw from his work, and he had mud on his trousers and under his nails. He cleaned himself with a bucket of water taken from the well, relishing in the coldness of the water from the well and humming an unnamed tune - he was thinking of the oncoming Autumn.

Summer was consuming itself day after day: the temperatures would drop soon enough, and Bilbo wanted to preserve as many summer flavours as possible for the winter ahead. Thus, he was quite busy with storing pots of jam and dried fruits, and painting labels for the jars and vessels which already filled his pantry. Then there would be the Autumn harvest - the pumpkins promised to grow fat and sweet for Bilbo’s table and he could hardly wait to experiment a new recipe he had come up with. Moreover, Master Holman had promised Bilbo that he would help with some minor maintenance works before the Autumn rains.

Oh, the Master of Bag End had a lot on his mind to keep it from wandering!   

Cleaned, refreshed, and quite contented with himself, Bilbo made for the kitchen. He was still trying to decide which tea blend would be better with his freshly baked scones, when he heard someone knocking at the main door.

The hobbit frowned, since he was not expecting any visitor; it was hardly proper to call on a neighbour at tea-time without being invited. Yet, Bilbo had been forced to acknowledge that the other hobbits had been inclined to treat him differently since his return. Sometimes this even implied a slight disregard of manners when they dealt with him. It was extremely annoying, and from time to time Bilbo had avenged his pride with the help of his ring - being invisible was an excellent choice for causing mischief. But, in a couple of months, Bilbo had grown tired of his little pranks, and he had decided to pay no attention to rumours and slights alike.     

Anyway, Bilbo hurried down the corridor leading to the main entrance. Although his hands were well clean by then, he brushed them again on his apron. While he tried to loosen the apron’s knot, the hobbit called out:

“Coming! I’m coming,” when the knock was repeated.

Huffing, Bilbo opened the door. The knot finally gave up, and he could free himself of the apron; with the cloth in his right hand, Bilbo made to close the door with his left. He was dimly aware that he had not succeeded (something - a boot - was blocking the door), but this did not stop the hobbit from turning on his heels and fretting toward the kitchen.

Unable to redo the knot and wear again the apron, Bilbo set it aside and tried to focus on preparing tea. He took the kettle from the cupboard and filled it with water, then placed it on the stove. His hands were still shaking when he turned his head - only to find that he was alone in the kitchen. Bilbo took a deep breath, scowled at the empty kitchen, and decided to prepare the table. He spread a white tablecloth on it, then disposed a little jug filled almost to the brim with cold milk, a large plate of scones still warm from the oven, a bowl of clotted cream and one of strawberry jam. He even took a blue vase for the yellow snapdragons he had picked up earlier - they grew in bunches just under Bag End’s front window - and placed it on the table.

Then Bilbo stopped, wondering how many cups he should take out.

One, he decided, gritting his teeth. He almost broke the saucer when he put down the cup.

The kettle whistled, startling Bilbo out of his intricate pattern of thoughts - mostly of them quite graphic and aggressive. The hobbit took the kettle from the stove and filled the teapot. The leaves at the bottom swirled in the how water; Bilbo sighed. He threw a glance at the corridor; then brushed his cheeks and forehead, murmuring encouragements to himself. After a while, when Bilbo felt that his heart was in no danger of bursting out of his chest, he marched toward the door. He had to return to the kitchen to put down the empty kettle he was still holding in his hand, but in the end he reached his destination.

The door was still open - not wide open, but enough to make Bilbo tremble.

Bilbo tried to steady his hand closing it on the doorknob, and disclosed the door further. He made a mental note to repaint the door: Gandalf’s rune still ruined its green surface, and it glowed into the night - surely another source of complaint behind Bilbo’s back.  

The hobbit peered up at the visitor.

“I lost my way.” The deep voice sent a shiver up Bilbo’s spine - the sort of shiver which should have not been there, after more than eighteen months. “Twice,” the visitor added softly.

Bilbo leant out of his door, and he caught several hobbits spying what was happening on Bag End’s threshold. They were peeping from their windows or their gardens; an unnatural silence had fallen on the neighbourhood, as if they were all hoping to distinguish even a word or two of what was going on between Master Baggins - not a respectable hobbit anymore - and his exotic visitor.

Damn you, Bilbo thought.

Then he grabbed the visitor by the sleeve of his tunic and hauled him inside. Well, in truth the visitor helped Bilbo a good deal with the hauling part, allowing the hobbit to push him down the corridor. However, what mattered was that Bilbo was fully in control of the situation - I am, really.

“What are you doing here?” Bilbo hissed, as soon as the door closed behind them.

He did not wait for an answer; instead he returned to his kitchen - he had tea waiting for him, hadn’t he?

At the corner of his eye, Bilbo saw Thorin lowering his cape’s hood on his shoulders, revealing his braided hair. At the sight Bilbo almost ran to his teapot. I am going to have my afternoon tea, Bilbo thought stubbornly. He was going to eat his scones well covered in clotted cream and jam; then he might even take out his pipe, and be perfectly contented. Thorin’s presence in the Shire would not affect his day or his tea-time. No reason to disrupt his plans for the rest of the afternoon; no reason to break any vase on a dwarf’s head.

From the kitchen, he heard the dwarf’s heavy steps echoing in the corridor. Bilbo sit down at the table and raised the teapot over his cup.

“What were you doing at my door, standing like an idiot for my neighbours to see?” the hobbit asked, furious. He filled his cup; but he might have been too generous with it, since the hot tea spilled on his fingers when he tried to lift the cup to his lips. He almost lost his hold on the cup, and he could not suppress a distressed groan at the slight burn. But he guessed Thorin’s movement and spat: “Don’t.”

He was not a damsel waiting to be saved. He did not need Thorin fussing about his scalded fingertips; he would not stand it. Fortunately the dwarf obeyed, and remained at a safe distance from Bilbo and the teapot. With his shoulders low and without trying to make eye contact, Thorin answered the hobbit’s question:

“You didn’t invite me in,” he said simply.

“Well, I was going to close my door on your face,” Bilbo snapped, rolling his eyes. “But you put your boot in it.”

Thorin looked like a scolded child: he was keeping his hands behind his back as if he did not know what to do with them, and he was biting his lower lip.

“I...I've had quite a long journey,” Thorin admitted at last, as if that might be a good reason to put one’s boot in other people’s doors.  

“Have another, then,” Bilbo offered coldly, while he added some milk to his tea - more cautiously this time. “Go back to Erebor.”

Thorin shifted his weight from foot to foot and seemed even more embarrassed than before. He better should be, the hobbit thought grimly.

“I cannot,” Thorin mumbled.

Bilbo lifted his cup and took a sip of tea - too little milk, he thought, frowning; in the meanwhile, he spied the dwarf’s figure from over the brim of his raised cup.

Thorin sported all the signs of his long journey. His clothes were of a good, tough quality; but tailored for a journeyman rather than a king. Nonetheless, as usual with dwarves, Thorin looked overdressed for a hobbit kitchen, with his dark blue cape and the heavy silver buckle of his belt. At least he had renounced to fur. It was evident, anyway, that Thorin’s clothes had been recently washed: they were more than a little worn out, but clean; dust was on Thorin’s boots and his trousers, yet his cape was dry but for some mud on the lower hem. Thorin’s hair had been washed too; although it was not glistening with oil, it was well braided.

Bilbo thought that there were more grey locks in Thorin’s hair. Besides, Thorin was thinner. It would not be so evident to others, distracted by the dwarf’s large shoulders and his proud bearing; but Bilbo saw also the sharper outline of the cheekbones under the pale skin, and the tiredness carving Thorin’s features.   

“Where’s your baggage?” the hobbit asked, after he had put down his cup on the saucer.

Thorin had bore his scrutiny without uttering a single word, but he replied promptly:

“I’ve rented a room at The Green Dragon and left there most of my belongings, including my mount,” he explained. Then Thorin’s voice dropped lower. “I didn’t want to look as if I was imposing on you, if you...”

Bilbo did not give him time to finish.

“How sensible of you,” he commented dryly. Thorin stuttered and then sighed.

“Bil...”

“Don’t say my name,” the hobbit interrupted him.

But his voice broke on those words, and Bilbo found himself blushing. He felt ashamed of his own behaviour. He should have been able to master this, as he had done before, innumerable times since his return to Bag End. Yet Thorin had never been in the same room in the past months; he had never been so close. Bilbo fancied he could almost smell him - rain, and firewood.

“Go back to Erebor,” the hobbit repeated, focusing on spelling each syllable loud and clear.

“As I’ve already said,” Thorin grumbled, “I cannot.” 

“What do you mean?” Bilbo asked briskly. His patience was wearing thin - how could the dwarf be so thick-headed and ignore what he was doing to him with his presence and his blue eyes full of expectations? Even Thorin’s efforts to seem humble bothered Bilbo. The hobbit made a vague gesture, waving his hand as if he could push Thorin out of his door with that simple movement. “You should know the road back to Erebor; if you don’t, I’ll give you a detailed map and then wish you good luck, and...”

“I’m exiled.”

Bilbo’s mouth snapped shut.

Slowly, the hobbit took one of the scones and opened it with a blunt knife. Then he covered one of its half with a thick layer of clotted cream and added strawberry jam on top of it. The fact that Bilbo’s mouth was not watering at the sight was a perfectly bad omen. Nevertheless, Bilbo bit into the scone and forced himself to chew it down.

He had misheard - there was no other explanation. Yet his mind was already replaying Thorin’s words. All of sudden, Bilbo felt a little giddy; he vaguely saw Thorin taking a seat at his table, choosing the nearest chair to Bilbo’s - thus their knees were almost touching. Bilbo wanted to protest, as he had done before when Thorin had attempted to come nearer or speak his name. But this time the hobbit’s tongue was numb, and words would not come from his lips.

I am going to faint, Bilbo thought. He could feel it in his prickling toes and in the faint buzz in his ears.

“Are you going to be sick?” Thorin inquired.

The dwarf’s voice was thick with concern: it was enough to clear Bilbo’s mind. The hobbit took away his hand from the table before Thorin’s ridiculously big fingers could close upon it; he did not miss the way Thorin’s fingers clenched nervously on the table’s edge instead.

“What do you mean bythat?” Bilbo asked.

“You are pale,” Thorin murmured, observing the hobbit with too much attention for Bilbo’s taste.

“I do not intend to faint,” Bilbo declared brusquely. He was almost on the verge of explaining that, if Thorin had really hoped to prevent his fainting, he should have never taken a seat so close to him; but he shook his head and said only: “Answer me.”

“Fine,” Thorin agreed. “I abdicated,” he summed it up, curtly.

“You...what? What?” Bilbo babbled.

“I gave up the throne,” the dwarf elaborated, nodding, “and I’m banished from Erebor.”

Oh, Bilbo was going to do much more than fainting. First, he was going to faint; then, as soon as he would be up again, he would slap Thorin. Repeatedly.

“And who’s reigning over Erebor?” Bilbo found it in himself to ask.

 “Dain,” Thorin answered. “He will make a very good king. I think he has already proven that: he’s largely admired among our kin, and his experience with ruling the Iron Hills is enough to suggest that he would be soon one of the most respected rulers in Middle-Earth. And, you know, his heir bears my name,” the dwarf added, probably hoping to shake Bilbo out of his astonishment.

“Dain,” the hobbit repeated, as if he had not heard anything else.

“My heir,” Thorin confirmed, scratching his well-trimmed beard.

“I know perfectly well that Dain is your heir,” Bilbo murmured. “But how can he be crowned King under the Mountain in your place?”

How can you stay here in my kitchen praising his fitness for your beloved throne?, Bilbo wanted to ask; but he did not dare.

“As I’ve already said, I renounced to my right to the throne,” Thorin explained again, with an unusual air of patience about him. “If I had died in the battle, Dain would have been king in my place.”

“But you didn’t die,” Bilbo objected, shivering at the mere thought.

Thorin seemed to notice it, and his gaze immediately softened.  

“I cannot be king,” he whispered, leaning toward Bilbo. “I spent most of my time as king feeling that I was not right for the throne. If Fili and Kili had been alive, I would have taken the greatest pride in raising them as my heirs: I would have kept the throne for their sake and waited as few years as possible before crowning Fili, as soon as I would have found him ready for the task. They would have been educated as the princes they were born to be, and what splendid king Fili would have made!” Thorin’s gaze fell on his own hands, and it made very difficult for Bilbo not to kiss his cheek and his eyelids. “But their death changed everything. Dain is my heir, but he’s not young nor inexperienced; in truth, he’s far more experienced than me with ruling, and fonder of politics and diplomacy. I’d been but a leader of an exiled nation. Dain can take care of himself: he doesn’t need me, and he’ll be a better king than I could have ever been.”

“Don’t say that,” Bilbo burst out, suffering at the idea of Thorin belittling himself.

The dwarf seemed to light up at the sound of Bilbo’s voice.

“You’re kind,” Thorin said. Cautiously, he moved his hand to brush Bilbo’s knuckles, which were white from the strength of the hobbit’s grip on the table’s edge. “But it’s true: I’ve no heirs to raise as sons of mine, neither am I in want of a wife,” the dwarf suggested bashfully, his voice dropping of a tone or two.

Bilbo blushed at Thorin’s words, but he forcefully stopped his mind from running in that direction. They were not talking about that; they were simply talking about this - this folly?

“You could have kept your throne for many years before entrusting it to Dain,” the hobbit said. He slowly slipped his hand from under Thorin’s fingers and hid it in his lap. “It was your birthright, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” Thorin agreed, although he looked with resigned disappointment at his now empty hand. “And I decided to go on a quest because it was my duty; my blood and my past called for me to recover Erebor for my people. I did it, even if I would failed without the Company,” the dwarf said, and Bilbo guessed that he had been willing to say without you, before changing his mind and his words. “But ruling Erebor is another matter. There’re kings for wartime and kings for peacetime; there’re warriors and there’re rulers. Since the beginning I wondered if I had not tricked my fate surviving the battle when my nephews hadn’t. In another story, I would be dead and Fili would sit on the throne. In another one, I would lay beside my nephews.”

Bilbo let out a sob at that, and he had to turn away his head.

“I spent too much time in exile,” Thorin continued, after some hesitation. “And since the day Smaug came to Erebor, I’d been nurturing too much anger and resentment to become a good king. If Gandalf had not sought me, I might have never tried to retrieve Erebor; the flames would have been tamed, and I would have had ashes in place of a heart. When he spoke to me of a map, the old fire was rekindled: I knew my duty, and pride and greed pushed me on the road.” The dwarf waited for a moment when Bilbo turned to look again at him, then he continued: “I wanted a home for my people; I wanted vengeance over Smaug; I wanted the Arkenstone and my fathers’ treasure for myself. The first task I accomplished; the second I failed and the glory belongs with Bard of Dale; the third almost consumed my mind and made me unfit to rule.” Thorin sighed and tapped his fingers on the table. “There’s a thread of corruption in me, Bilbo. You know it too well.”

The hobbit shuddered at his name on Thorin’s mouth; but the dwarf’s dark, saddened tone twisted something inside Bilbo. He could feel that Thorin desired to touch him and be touched; he was experiencing a similar need - to move his fingers on Thorin’s cheekbones and down his nose, to learn again the taste of Thorin’s skin under his fingertips. But Bilbo remained still, trying to ignore the hope in Thorin’s gaze.

“This does not explain what are you doing here,” the hobbit said slowly. “Whether I agree or not with your motives for renouncing to the throne, the Shire is hardly suitable for exiled royalty.”

“Do you really need to be told?” Thorin asked, raising his brow. But he frowned and nodded. “Yes, you do; in fact, you deserve it. I am here for you, Bilbo Baggins.”

Unfair, Bilbo thought. He was not ready for those words, not in Thorin’s grave, vibrant tone.

“I think,” the hobbit mumbled, trying to raise on his feet, “that you should go now.”

Bilbo was light-headed by then and the kitchen was turning around him. Thorin leapt on his feet, so that Bilbo almost fell in the dwarf’s arms, which were already stretched to catch him. The idea of finding himself nestled against Thorin’s large chest frightened Bilbo so much that he managed to sit down again, though trembling like a leaf in the wind. Thorin sit down as well.

“From your surprise at the news of my abdication, I assume that you didn’t receive my letters,” the dwarf said, more quietly than the light in his eyes might have suggested.

“I received them,” Bilbo contradicted him, “and I burnt them.”

Thorin gaped at that, but he quickly recovered himself.

“I am not sure it was a bad thing to do,” he mumbled, peering at the hobbit with unusual shyness. “I have never been particularly well-versed with writing letters, and I fear you would have been bothered by them rather than relieved. I do not possess the gift of pouring my thoughts on paper; even while I was writing them I thought them mediocre.”

“You should have spared yourself and the crows the trouble then,” Bilbo commented.

“No, I needed to write them,” Thorin disagreed, “at least to ease my mind. I had to make an attempt at explaining to you what had happened at your trial. It was a poor attempt, indeed; but I think that even if you had never read those letters, their mere existence told you that you had not been forgotten.”  

“For all I know, the envelops might have contained a copy of the official decree for my banishment,” the hobbit replied, taking another mouthful at his scone - he still felt quite weak, and he hoped that eating would help him keep his wits.

Fifty-one copies of the decree?” Thorin asked, with a soft glint of amusement in his blue eyes. “I do not know if you received and burnt all of them, but I know I wrote fifty-one letters since your departure from Erebor. The first, smallest group was written while you were still on the road, but I did not sent them immediately. Only when I received word that you were safe in the Shire, did I send them; then I kept writing to you regularly.”

“I hope you’re not expecting to be praised for that” Bilbo said, hardly willing to be influenced by the remembrance of all those letters. Throwing them into the fire, without even opening the envelops, had been hard; but reading Thorin’s words, whatever they might have been, would have been harder. During the last few months the letters had become rarer, but Bilbo had refused to acknowledge how much it had upset him. “Did one of your letters tell of your arrival in the Shire?” he asked suddenly.

“No,” Thorin confessed, looking positively embarrassed. “I feared that, learning of my journey, you would have let me find your house empty rather than meeting me.”

“Oh, better then to appear at my door, unexpected and unannounced,” Bilbo snorted. “Dwarves!”

“The last time I tried to explain my reasons you literally disappeared,” Thorin reminded him.

The dwarf was apparently still resentful about the scene in the treasure hall. Even Bilbo could not help feeling quite uncomfortable; the memory of Thorin calling his name was still very clear on his mind, but he tried to drown the remembrance in the harsh tone he used with Thorin.  

“Why should I have wanted to hear another word about it?”

“I might not deserve to defend my decisions,” Thorin replied, “but you deserve to know my motives.”

“Does it matter after all this time?” Bilbo asked, shrugging and feigning an indifference he did not feel.

“You shall decide for yourself after having heard what I have to say,” the dwarf offered.

Bilbo knew that he could refuse. He was in his home, and Thorin was not even a proper guest. There had not been any invitation on Bilbo’s part and it would be his right to throw the dwarf out of Bag End. The average hobbit would have never permitted Thorin Oakenshield to disrupt the fine balance his life had fallen in; yet, the average hobbit would have never left the Shire on a quest with thirteen dwarves and a wizard.

“I’ll make more tea then,” Bilbo said at last, pushing his chair back to rise on his feet. He did not look at Thorin, but he could easily guess the relief spreading on the dwarf’s features. “I suppose I’ll need it.”

Still Thorin did not speak while Bilbo was preparing another kettle of water and selecting the tea leaves for the pot. The hobbit shot the dwarf a hard glance from over his shoulder.

“What are you waiting for?” he asked, trying to ignore how Thorin’s cheeks had grown darker at being caught staring at him. “The tea is for me, not for you. You can speak, since you’re here for that.”

If Thorin was surprised at the rough treatment he was receiving, he did not show it. As for the Master of Bag End, for the moment he could hardly imagine any more evident expression of resentment that depriving a guest of food and drink. Anyone who had ever tasted Bilbo’s scones would have heartily agreed. But dwarves have thicker heads, or at least Thorin was well aware of his faults - thus, he did not complain and did as Bilbo bade him to.

“My first concern regarding your trial,” Thorin began, clearing his throat, “was to save your hands. We talked many times of Erebor’s laws and how harshly they judge thieves; but what you probably didn’t realise then is how bad were your chances in the trial. One to two, you would have been condemned as thief and you’d have lost your hands. I grew increasingly alarmed with the idea, and when I spoke with Dain and Gandalf they agreed with me.”

“So Gandalf and Dain were your accomplices in whatever it was,” Bilbo interrupted bitterly.

“I’m in their debt,” Thorin replied. “for without their support you would have paid for my foolishness. By the time Gandalf had returned, I had grown painfully aware of the dangers I was exposing you to. The same day I offered you to put off the trial and you refused. You were right - it would have been damaged my right to the throne, and even Dain’s if he had not fought me on the subject. Lifting all the accusations would have thrown Erebor into chaos and undermined my authority: you would have not been safe in the Mountain, and I would have failed my people in the very first months of their return to Erebor.”

“Thus you decided to lie to me while you were plotting my exile,” the hobbit supplied, while he was filling the teapot. He was glad to have turned his back on Thorin, so that the dwarf could not notice the water spilling.   

“I did not lie that afternoon,” Thorin defended himself. “I wanted to believe that we would have found a solution. But that night, after dinner, Gandalf came to me; I don’t know if he has ever told...”

“I made him promise we would never speak of you,” Bilbo said.

“I understand,” Thorin replied, but he was evidently displeased with the idea. “His exact words are not important now, but their meaning was clear. He accused me of having abused your trust and loyalty, as well as your position as prisoner. He was, in many ways, perfectly right; I had wronged you, and what we had was deeply tainted by our past actions and the oncoming trial.”

Bilbo said nothing but devoted more time and attention to the teapot than it was needed. He did not want to sit at the table and reveal his pain at those words to the dwarf. Tainted: that was what Thorin thought of the hours they had spent together in Erebor! Not that Bilbo was unaware of how much wronglytheir relationship had started - he had had eighteen months to reflect about it.

Yet, once back in the Shire, Bilbo had also faced the persistence of his feelings for Thorin; and he hardly needed Thorin sitting in his kitchen as final proof of their strength, thank you very much. Hearing Thorin demean their past was, against any logic, infuriating and depressing at the same time.

However Bilbo did not interrupt Thorin and simply tried to keep breathing at a normal rhythm.

“Dwalin discovered about me and you that same night,” Thorin continued. “He was no less harsher than Gandalf, though for other reasons. Anyway, what was said between us convinced me of the opportunity of another plan. I had been thinking about it from time to time, but I had never been truly persuaded of it; not before your confession in Dale, your refusal to put off the trial, and Gandalf’s reproach.”

“You mean your plan to exile me,” Bilbo muttered.

“It was never just about exiling you,” Thorin replied swiftly. “But I’ll come to that. I won Gandalf’s support, and then you decided the date for your trial. You did not ruin my plan, but you...anticipated it, and I was downright furious at you that night for the way you spoke to Dain. I almost changed the date of the trial; but Gandalf convinced me that sooner would be better than later, and waiting would not have changed anything.”

“It was, in fact, kind to exile me sooner rather than later,” Bilbo hissed. “At least your scheme and your lies lived but for a week.”

“Do you think I did not regret my silence then and in the months to come?” Thorin asked, raising his voice for the first time since his arrival at Bag End. Bilbo turned and faced the dwarf; Thorin was the first to lower his gaze, although his shoulders were tense. “I loathed my dishonesty. But I could not do otherwise. I offered you to leave Erebor with Gandalf, don’t you remember? You refused.”

“I wanted to stay,” Bilbo answered with growing anger.

With you, he thought; but he did not say that. He had to put down his cup, lest he might throw it against the wall just for the pleasure of having something else broken beside his heart.

“You see? I couldn’t do differently,” Thorin insisted, speaking with infinite sadness. “The point is that the trial was an enormous risk. I spoke with Dain the day after Gandalf’s arrival, and I put myself in his hands. He admitted that it would have been very difficult to predict the result of the trial; but he was sure that he could not have steered the jury’s decision, should they have decided to punish you as theft. Three things made your situation worse: your confession at the gates; your betrayal; the fact that you are a hobbit.”

Bilbo was sitting again at the table. He drank his tea without even tasting it, but he was still too upset to interrupt Thorin again.

“I could do nothing against the first, since too many had heard your words and there was no doubt about the fact that you had taken the Arkenstone from me. The jury might have been persuaded that you had acted to save us all from the siege; but this would have also implied admitting your betrayal. In other words, the fact that you had taken the Arkenstone to trade it for peace would have made plain that you knew its value, and that you had consciously decided to act behind my back,” Thorin explained. But something in Bilbo’s expression seemed to suggest him a pause and he leant toward the hobbit. “I do not blame you for it. As you said to me, you betrayed me to be loyal to me; even when I was betraying myself and my cause. But those dwarves would have been influenced by their prejudices against your kin, as I had been the first time I set foot in your house.”

“You called me a grocer,” Bilbo commented, surprising even himself with his own comment.

Thorin looked pleased at the less belligerent interruption.

“Now I would like to call you with quite different endearments,” he murmured, while his gaze grew more intense. “But I shall continue my confession first. In the end, there was only a way to be sure that you would not be harmed: saying that you had been under the influence of the Arkenstone’s beauty when you stole it, rather than acting on a plan. This marked you as thief; but it also eased the suspicion that you might have conspired with Bard, Thranduil, or even Gandalf. Everyone knows how strong the Arkenstone’s pull is; falling under its influence was regarded as less grave than a long-plotted thievery.”

“So, your words about my confession did change the trial’s outcome,” Bilbo said.

“Yes, but not as you seemed to think at the time: if I had not spoken you would have probably been condemned as theft; but you would have lost your hands rather than your place in Erebor.”

“Did I not have any chance of being forgiven then?”

“Forgiveness is hardly a common sentence in our law,” Thorin admitted grimly. “There was some chance, but it was too thin; I could not risk you in that way. Your banishment, on the other hand, appeased the jury. Dain convinced them all of its advantages: you had stolen, but blinded by the Arkenstone’s beauty; you had betrayed, but you would be sent back to the West. They did not stain their hands with the blood of someone who had helped a King retrieve his throne, yet at the same time they did not have to accept your presence in Erebor. As you know, they even granted you to take part of your original share with you.”

“I did not want it,” Bilbo spat. “I did not realise what it was until our convoy arrived at Beorn’s. And even then I was sorely tempted to throw the gold in the first river we would encounter.” The hobbit sighed, finishing his third cup of tea. Then he raised his hand, as if to stop Thorin from fretting on. “I am not saying that I believe your words, but you said it was not just about my banishment. What else?”

“Do you remember what I said to you during our last encounter? I was bound to Erebor, and I could not offer myself to you,” Thorin reminded Bilbo. The hobbit nodded, feeling his throat closing at the memory. “I wish I could have offered you everything since the very beginning. You’ve always deserved more than I was ready or able to give to you,” the dwarf murmured. His eyes were avoiding Bilbo’s, while his voice struggled on the words. “During our journey I sometimes entertained the thought of asking you to stay in Erebor. I did not realise, then, this desire’s full significance; but later I understood that I would have to fight for the right to choose you over anyone else. I did not want to be forced in a political marriage, yet I knew that keeping you at my side would have meant to fight the law as well as my people’s expectations. I won’t hide from you the fact that these reflections sharpened my sense of regret for having ascended to Erebor’s throne.”

“But you wanted to be King under the Mountain,” Bilbo protested.

“I had always dreamt of being crowned King under the Mountain,” Thorin agreed. “I thought that it was my only opportunity of fulfilling my fate. Since Smaug came, I had never wanted anything else.” The dwarf paused and looked briefly at Bilbo, before fixing his eyes on the kitchen’s window. “Then you joined my Company. I might have never imagined a different way of living without meeting you: even if I had won Erebor back without your help, I would have died on my own throne rather than abandoning it in better hands; I would have been rotten to the core by my thirst for gold, and petrified by my pride. When I sat on my throne at last, when I felt the weight of the crown over my head, I was not contented but weary.”

“It sounds as if I ruined you for your throne,” Bilbo commented sourly.

“Some would say so,” Thorin replied, looking amused rather than offended. “You taught me that in this world there’re more important things than gold and power. You do not shun from your duty, and I know your courage as well as your loyalty; you, child of the kind West, appeal to the best part of my soul.” Bilbo blushed at that and he covered his face with his hands. He felt Thorin’s fingers gently brushing his wrists and the dwarf’s warm tone: “Is it so unbelievable that the thought of you encouraged me to see the truth in my weakness? As my grandfather, I had fallen prey of the dragon sickness: I realised that I could not find any happiness in my crown, not after Fili and Kili’s death and my behaviour at the gates; moreover I was unfit for ruling. I would have never been safe from my past suffering, nor from my greed, as long as I had remained on Erebor’s throne.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this?” Bilbo asked. His hands fell in his lap; he was trembling.

“Although my mind was constantly weighed down by the perspective of giving up my throne, I did not dare. I feared...” Thorin’s voice caught and he had to clear his throat, “I feared that I would not be up to it. I feared the dragon sickness and the way it had come over me, numbing my senses and hardening my heart against you; I feared the Arkenstone and its accursed power over me; I feared my own treasure and my own throne. Thus, I was not sure that I would be able to renounce to Erebor, and not regret it sooner or later.”

“You should have told me,” the hobbit insisted.

“The thought of disappointing you again was unbearable, even worse than deceiving you,” Thorin replied. “I could not promise you anything without being perfectly sure that I would be able to keep my word. I might have been deluding myself about the strength of my resolve, and I did not want to bind you to the same delusion.”

“So when I was banished you were not sure...” Bilbo began, but he did not know how to continue.

“No, I was not sure we would meet again,” Thorin confessed. His voice sounded unnaturally detached. “I knew that I would not offer myself to you until I could truly do it. So I needed to have you exiled and taken from me, and I needed to push you away. I had to face the pain of losing you, in order to face the pain of losing Erebor again without falling under the influence of the Arkenstone or my regrets.”

Bilbo saw the pain of that loss inscribed in Thorin’s features, and in the way the dwarf leant toward him, like a wounded animal looking for relief. The hobbit stiffened, and straightened his back.

“What am I then? A consolation prize?” Bilbo spat with fury. “You’ve used me to help yourself: you have hurt me to win your weakness. Why didn’t you tell me? I would have helped you, if only you had spoken. Why didn’t you spare me this?”

“I asked you to leave Erebor,” Thorin reminded him, while his temper rose along Bilbo’s. “And you refused. Tell me, if I had told you everything then, would you have accepted to be parted from me? Or would you have come back to Erebor as soon as possible, putting your life at risk once again?” Bilbo’s silence and red cheeks probably seemed a clear answer in Thorin’s eyes, for the dwarf snorted. “As I thought.”

“If you had told me that you were going to leave Erebor as well...” Bilbo tried, but Thorin interrupted him.

“As I’ve just said, I was not sure I could do it. You deserved the possibility of being happy without me; how could I bind you to me?” Thorin growled, hitting the table with the palm of his hand: the teapot and the cup rattled, and Bilbo startled. “I could not truly promise you that we would be together, sooner or later; and you would have refused the idea of an exile without me. I needed time to be sure of myself, and time to organise Dain’s succession.” Thorin’s fingers touched lightly the teapot, the saucer, the edge of the cup where Bilbo’s lips had been. He was considerably calmer when he added: “It was the best decision.”

“But it should have been mine to take,” Bilbo answered bitterly. “You had no right.”

Thorin’s mouth tightened for a moment, but the dwarf forced himself to speak quietly.

“When you took the Arkenstone from me, you decided in my place for my sake,” he said.

“Sweet Yavanna; we’re back talking of that accursed stone, aren’t we?” the hobbit cringed.

“No, I’m talking about saving your hands and your freedom,” Thorin snarled.

“You were under the dragon sickness; you were unable to think for yourself,” Bilbo pointed out, closing his hands in fists.

“And you were under the influence of your affection for me,” the dwarf replied matter-of-factly.

“Are you comparing my...affection for you to the dragon sickness?” Bilbo asked, without even knowing if he was supposed to laugh at that or slap Thorin for his insolence.

“Not your affection in itself,” Thorin mumbled, “but the way I seduced while you were my prisoner, and the influence of the circumstances...given the chance, you would have been unwise and careless, as you often were when I was involved,” the dwarf suggested, with ridiculous shyness after he had spoken so freely of Bilbo’s own heart. “It was my turn to choose for your sake, though it pained me.”

“You threw me out of your house,” Bilbo snapped. “What should keep me from doing the same?”

Thorin seemed to have an answer to that, but he closed his mouth again; instead, he pushed away the chair and slipped onto his knees. Oh, it was preposterous: the former King under the Mountain kneeling before a hobbit! And Thorin’s eyes - his delightfully blue eyes - were bluer than ever, and he was watching Bilbo with such a craving that the hobbit almost succumbed instantly to the silent plea.

“Were you putting my feelings for you to test?” Bilbo asked, pulling out one word after another. “Were you hurting me to see if I would welcome you in my house?”

“Bilbo,” Thorin said, in a low voice. “I was putting myself to test. I am the one who has to prove to be worth.”

Blind with fury and sorrow, Bilbo made to leap on his feet to get away from the kneeling dwarf. But he stumbled and practically fell over Thorin, who did not lose his chance to close his arms around Bilbo and press his mouth to the hobbit’s ear.

“My pride and my name are in your hands to do what you deem right with them,” Thorin murmured. Bilbo groaned: the feeling of Thorin’s body against his, the dwarf’s rough voice in his ear, the smell of his dark hair still affected him. But he fought Thorin’s embrace and the dwarf let him go, though he was clearly hurt by the rejection. “You robbed me, Bilbo Baggins; but not of the Arkenstone.”

“Where’s it?” the hobbit asked, with a sharp intake of breath.

“My last order as king was for the Arkenstone to be cut into pieces, and shared between men and elves as a gift of peace. I heard that Thranduil was annoyed by my decision; yet he used the Arkenstone’s fragments for another crown,” Thorin explained, smirking.

The Arkenstone - broken. Bilbo could hardly believe his ears.

“You didn’t,” he murmured.

“It wasn’t easy. But I did it myself, in our antique forges,” Thorin confirmed. “I do not desire any other treasure,” he added, looking at Bilbo in such an obvious way that the hobbit almost laughed at the dwarf’s scarce subtleness. Thorin took Bilbo’s ghost mirth as a good sign, and he showed the palms of his hands to him. “Forgive me, Bilbo Baggins. I am despicable,” Thorin admitted. “But will you have me anyway? I ask for nothing but trying to win back your affection.”

Bilbo sit down heavily on his chair. The hint of despair on Thorin’s face made him speak quickly.

“I love you,” Bilbo sighed, blushing. “And I am not saying it is a good or wise thing to do.”

The dwarf held Bilbo’s gaze for a moment, before lowering his head. He spoke in Khuzdul, and his voice was deep and quiet; although Bilbo did not know enough Khuzdul to understand every word, the tenderness of Thorin’s tone was enough. When the dwarf raised his head again, the way he looked at Bilbo took the hobbit’s breath away.

Thorin moved closer to Bilbo, and took his hand to kiss its palm, almost reverently. Bilbo finally gave in to the temptation, and caressed Thorin’s cheek. They both smiled, drunk with shyness and hope.

Chapter Text

Waiting is a form of pleasure, Bilbo thought, stealing a glance at Thorin.

Such pleasure Bilbo experienced in the weeks following Thorin Oakenshield’s arrival in the Shire.

Since that afternoon, Thorin had kept calling at Bag End every day, with Bilbo’s consent. They had not agreed in so many words about the necessity of taking some time to mend things between them, but Thorin seemed to have taken for granted that he would need to slowly persuade the hobbit of his affection. And Bilbo, in truth, was enjoying that: Thorin’s passionate nature had always been particularly appealing, yet the dwarf’s efforts to be patient and not to press his desires on Bilbo were quite endearing.

Oh, Thorin was still Thorin - stubborn, proud, even arrogant. From time to time they quarrelled, whether about the past or some minor misunderstanding. There were days when Thorin was clearly in a bad mood, and his longing for Erebor became so painful that it clouded his thoughts; and there were days when it was Bilbo who could hardly stand the sight of the dwarf without burning with resentment. One day Bilbo had practically fled to his pantry, because his breath had become a bit too short and his eyes had been prickling in a very inconvenient way. In the pantry  Bilbo had paced back and forth, listening for Thorin’s steps - fortunately the dwarf had understood and left him some time to recover himself: sometimes it was just too much. But those were short-termed humours, which were usually dissipated by their mutual fondness and the pleasure they found in each other’s company.

Thorin was still keeping his lodgings at The Green Dragon, and Bilbo guessed that the dwarf’s presence would feed rumours for months, if not for years. Dwarves in the Shire were not an unfamiliar sight, the Blue Mountains’ settlements being not too far; but dwarves did not spent weeks in the Shire without some commercial purpose, nor did they knock at Bag End’s door every day. That Master Baggins of Bag End was cracked was already a popular saying, and Thorin’s visits only confirmed the neighbours’ worst suspicions. It was Bilbo who had to suffer the worst from the other hobbits’ nosiness; they were still too shy of Thorin, and the dwarf did nothing to appear less rude or menacing when it came to hobbits prying into his business. On the contrary Bilbo had to bear the more or less direct inquires of his relatives and non, and he avoided thinking how much worse it would become should Thorin have spent a night at Bag End. For, at least for the moment, Thorin had always gone back to The Green Dragon for the night.

A couple of times they had had dinner together; after that then they had talked for a long time on the threshold of Bag End, both unwilling to conclude their evening and worried to spoil the moment with an untimely move. But most of Thorin’s visits took place in the afternoon; Bilbo served tea with scones or other treats, and they spent their time talking about many things or simply bathing in the other’s presence.

Considering the clamour provoked by Thorin’s abdication, it was clear that only the Shire’s traditional resistance against what was going on in the great world had made possible for Bilbo to remain ignorant of it. Talk of Erebor had followed Thorin in his journey to the Shire; but he and Gandalf had avoided other travellers, and gone as unnoticed as possible on the road.

“Gandalf knew of your arrival!” Bilbo had commented then, realising he was not surprised at all.

“I wonder if there’s something he doesn’t know, sooner or later,” Thorin had replied, sounding half-apologetic and half-annoyed. “But yes, he knew. It was his wish to accompany me: he said that it would be a good chance to check the state of the roads, but I suppose it was an excuse to keep an eye on me,” the dwarf had grunted.

Bilbo planned to have some serious talk with Gandalf and his habit to meddle; but in his heart his displeasure against the wizard was fading along with his bitterness for Thorin’s deceit. In fact, the hobbit was pleased to know that Thorin had not been alone on his journey, and suspected that Gandalf had wanted to offer his help against Thorin’s regrets as well as against the dangers of the road. But, at least from Thorin’s account, their journey had been exceptionally devoid of delays and obstacles. The dwarf and the wizard had parted at Bree, and Bilbo suspected that Gandalf had thought wiser not to find himself between a certain furious hobbit and the former King under the Mountain.

The other dwarves had been, in Thorin’s words, not pleased with the trial. Actually, Bofur, Bifur and Bombur had gone as far as to move to Dale to express their disapproval. Ori had written a long letter to Dain, quoting an array of oddities about dwarvish laws and trials of the past - Dain had been quite amused, but not Thorin. Balin, instead, had been informed of his King’s plans soon after Bilbo’s departure; he and his brother Dwalin had supported Thorin’s decision despite the fact that the latter strongly disagreed with it.

Some months before his abdication, Thorin had gathered the Company and made his announcement. It had taken a while to convince most of them that it was his true wish, and even more time to persuade the dwarves that he would not need any of them on the road. Dwalin had been particularly insistent, but also Bofur and Ori had kept asking to travel to the Shire with Thorin. It had taken Balin’s patience to restrain their astonishment as well as their questions; Thorin still remembered the splitting headaches he had earned from his meetings with the Company in those last months of his reign. The official announcement to the dwarves in Erebor, to the representatives of Dale, and to Thranduil himself had not been easier. But Thorin was not particularly interested in dwelling upon those details, not yet.

It was hard for Bilbo to look upon the enormity of Thorin’s decision. The dwarf had spent in exile most of his life, and most of his exile had been spent in fighting. And then Thorin had forced himself out of his Mountain, out of his home.

“Are you sure of this?” the hobbit had asked one day. “You are - were a king.”

“I had thought of nothing else for months, Bilbo,” Thorin had said, in a gentle tone of reproach. “I am sure, and I’d like to prove it to you. And this is my other reason for having travelled only with Gandalf at my side - I needed time to myself, but I also need time for this,” he had made a vague gesture. “I guess I am, again, selfish. But I do not wish other dwarves around while I’m courting you.”

Courting. Bilbo had found that ridiculous and charming at the same time. Yet Thorin had not pressed further, and his courtship - if courtship was - had been discreet and patient.

 

Thus the 21st of September came, and Thorin was sitting at Bilbo’s table while the hobbit was taking care of the tea. It was a fine afternoon - maybe they would take a walk later, as they had done more than once, instinctively avoiding the most trodden paths in favour of quieter places. The following day would be Bilbo’s birthday; they had talked about it a few days before, and Thorin had been quite disappointed discovering that hobbit customs required the birthday’s guests to receive presents rather than giving them. Not that Bilbo had planned anything for his birthday: he supposed he could not exclude Thorin from a party, but it would have been extremely awkward to include him - beside, given Bilbo’s reputation after his absence, there was no chance to celebrate his birthday without any embarrassment.

Anyway, Bilbo did not mind - this birthday promised to be better than the last two, one spent in Lake-Town with a cold which had made him miserable, and the other drowning his sorrow in one too many cup of Old Winyards. Thorin had been even more distressed at that remembrance, and probably Thorin’s frown had not been suggested just by the idea of Bilbo’s poor last birthdays - rather, by the memories of a time when the dwarf had felt so close to his goal.

Bilbo shook his head, as if to dispel the echo of those days. He filled Thorin’s cup with hot tea, aware of the dwarf’s eyes on him. When he put down the teapot, Thorin surprised the hobbit, taking his hand and kissing its palm - as he had done three weeks ago.

Bilbo’s breath caught - oh, he knew that Thorin desired him: he saw it in Thorin’s eyes when he nudged the dwarf’s head with his other hand and Thorin raised his gaze to his. The dwarf was not smiling; but his handsome face was alight with contentment, and a queer shyness as if he was somehow uncertain about what would come next. Thorin just kept holding Bilbo’s hand, stroking it with his rough thumb.

He’s mine, Bilbo thought.

The hobbit moved his hand tentatively, brushing his fingers against Thorin’s beard. He saw Thorin tilt his head, basking in his touch while the blue of his eyes almost disappeared under dark lashes. He’s mine, Bilbo repeated in his head, and his heart swelled from it.

“Scones or honey cake?” Bilbo asked, with his voice reduced to a tender whisper.

Thorin’s eyelids fluttered open. The faintest smile tugged at the dwarf’s mouth.

“Scones,” he replied, in the same tone - as if they were exchanging sweet nothings.

They parted, both straightening their back. Bilbo’s heart was beating so loudly that the hobbit was sure the dwarf could hear it: a deep, silent agreement had passed between them, and the hobbit was moved by the way Thorin had understood his wish and not questioned it.

There was something different between them; the day before they had kissed.

Bilbo was still not sure how it had happened. Since the beginning he and Thorin had been dancing around it. The hobbit had admitted - to himself, not to Thorin - that his physical desire had been hardly quenched by their separation; and if Thorin’s glances were anything to go by, the dwarf would have greatly enjoyed devouring him at any moment. But they had almost abstained from touches - they were taking it slow, weren’t they? There had been more or less casual brushes here and there, but they had both pretended to not notice how flustered they grew at those.

Then, the day before, Bilbo had been trying to teach Thorin how to play conkers. They had been sitting out Bag End’s back door, after Bilbo had been taking care of his garden under Thorin’s watchful eyes. The dwarf devoted a ridiculous care to observing Bilbo in his ordinary activities, from tending to the garden to washing the dishes. He also offered his help, but the hobbit had always refused up to then; there was something frightening intimate in the idea of letting Thorin polish the silver spoons or fetch some water from the well. It would have been a domestic delight which Bilbo still did not dare to taste.

Playing conkers, on the other hand, seemed less compromising.

Thorin was incredibly bad at it, and he had looked so frustrated with his poor results that Bilbo had felt compelled to chuckle and call him with some endearment he did not really remember - because Thorin had wiped away all memories of it when he had looked at Bilbo strangely and then leant toward him to press his lips to the hobbit’s. It might have been a chaste kiss, if not for the fact that Bilbo had buried his hands in Thorin’s tunic and opened his lips under the dwarf’s mouth. On his part, Thorin had been quick at taking the hint and his tongue had slipped in Bilbo’s mouth. They had kissed passionately, both short of breath and patience; clinging to each other they had licked, bit, sucked - Bilbo had felt Thorin’s beard scratching his chin and lower lip, but he had not minded while the dwarf was plunging his mouth so passionately.

When they had parted for breath, Bilbo had tugged at Thorin’s tunic and almost pulled the dwarf over him - something that would have probably ended with them both rolling down the steps and onto the tender earth of the garden, staining their clothes and ruining Master Holman’s good work with the strawberry bush.

But Thorin had grabbed Bilbo’s wrists as if to steady himself, and he had backed away.

“Look at me,” he had demanded. Bilbo had not even realised he had closed his eyes. He had found Thorin with his lips red and swollen from the kiss, and his blue eyes darkened with desire. “I do not want to ruin this moment,” the dwarf had continued, with his voice thick and rough from lust. “In a few moments I shall take you in my arms, and carry you to your bedroom to ravish you. But this can’t be a tryst, Bilbo: I want you whole, body and soul; for the days, months and years to come. If you’re not sure of it, I won’t blame you, nor will I pressure you into anything. Still, I have to know that you will have me in the same way.”

Bilbo had panicked. Doubts and remembrances had come rushing to his mind, and he had lowered his head without knowing what to say at that nor what did he truly wish.

“All right,” Thorin had murmured. His voice had been quiet, but strained.

Thorin had already been at the main door when Bilbo had reached him, and invited him to come back the day after for tea. Thorin had nodded at that, and gone back to The Green Dragon.

 

“Do you miss Erebor?” Bilbo asked, when he and Thorin were seated at the table.

The question had been on the hobbit’s tongue for a while, though he knew it was too soon to ask.

“Always,” Thorin admitted, stiffening. He had taken some time before answering, as if he was sensing that his reply would be attentively considered. “But I’m not regretting my choice. I have returned my people their home and given them a good king. I have more than I have ever had, even if I can’t go home.”

Bilbo nodded, but he thought that he would have liked to hear Thorin call Bag End home. Yet the hobbit knew he could not chase away Thorin’s longing for the home he had lost twice; he could only wait for the sorrow to subside, and in the meanwhile he would do his best to keep his dwarf’s mind at peace.

Bilbo blushed at the recollection of his own thoughts: Thorin looked so out of place in his kitchen; yet it was so easy to fall in love with such a sight.

The hobbit took another scone, and covered it with clotted cream and jam before placing it on Thorin’s plate. The dwarf’s brow rose slightly, and Bilbo could almost hear the words - you are fussing, Master Baggins. Oh, he definitely was - he was pampering and spoiling Thorin, and Yavanna knew how much Bilbo enjoyed it. The dwarf did not complain too much, and he was clearly partial to Bilbo’s scones.

The sounds Thorin made to show his appreciation for Bilbo’s culinary abilities were even a bit too threatening for the hobbit’s self-control. Now, for example, Bilbo’s eyes were lured by the sight of Thorin’s tongue catching a bit of cream on his lower lip. Thorin still had the bad habit of eating in terms of wolfing and gobbling down his meals rather than taking his time with them; but it was still very pleasant to eat together.

“I’ve some meat pie left. And I was thinking about mashed potatoes with cheese and ham, and I might bake something for dessert...” Bilbo stopped, noticing that Thorin was looking at him inquisitively.

“Am I invited to dinner?” the dwarf asked.

“If you are not opposed to it,” the hobbit replied, blinking.

“Quite the contrary,” Thorin assured, smiling broadly. “I was looking forward to an invitation.”

The dwarf’s voice was soft, vibrating in his throat like the purr of a great cat.

“You know, the Shire is beautiful in this season; but it shall be magnificent in Autumn,” Bilbo blurted out, making to grasp his cup and failing. “I’ve got it,” he murmured when Thorin startled at his clumsiness.

The hobbit was not sure of what he had got precisely, but Thorin did not linger on the subject.

“I have to admit that I’m not paying too attention to the scenery,” the dwarf said.

 “It’s not surprising that you have lost your way twice then,” Bilbo teased him. “I should show you my favourite pond, before the days become too cold. If you would like, that is.”

“As long as I don’t get lost,” Thorin replied mockingly, but with some tenderness.

“You won’t,” Bilbo promised. I would never lose sight of you, he was tempted to add; but it sounded too old fashioned and romantic for a hobbit kitchen. “You know, I’ve been thinking of replacing the garden’s old fence,” Bilbo said instead.

“I would like to help you,” Thorin said, though he looked a little baffled by the change of topic.

“Really?” Bilbo asked - Thorin Oakenshield, working in his garden: the idea warmed Bilbo’s belly.

“I’m not a gardener, and I know little of domestic plants,” Thorin admitted. “But you are quite fond of your garden, and I’m quite fond of you.”

It was the first time after Thorin’s arrival at Bag End, that the dwarf referred to his feeling in such plain terms. Even if the statement had been delivered in a mildly amused tone, Bilbo blushed to his hair-line. Then he remembered something that he had completely forgotten when he had welcomed a smiling Thorin in his home - he remembered that he was supposed to be annoyed with the dwarf.

“Speaking of gardening,” Bilbo began, frowning, “I have a message for you from Master Holman.”

“Do you?” Thorin asked, looking every inch guilty.

“He says that you won’t find him at home because he will spend the entire afternoon at the market; but he has spoken with the Gamgees as you asked, and they would be willing to rent you a room. That’s all,” Bilbo concluded, quite coldly. Thorin cleared his throat, but the hobbit preceded him: “I wonder why you should live with them. It’s hardly an accommodation fitting a king.”

Former king,” Thorin underlined, looking displeased by Bilbo’s comment. “Besides, my lodgings at The Green Dragon are hardly better.”

“Why do you want to stay there?” Bilbo asked heatedly. “You really don’t need to...I am aware that you’ve made quite an impression upon the Gamgees, especially upon young Hamfast. And I’m not saying that they are anything but very good hobbits, or that there’s something wrong with them; but living in their house would be really insensible. I don’t even know why you talked about this with Master Holman; he’s but a distant relative of the Gamgees, and his business is about gardens, not lodgings and...”

Bilbo knew that he was being unreasonable, but he did not like the idea of Thorin living with other hobbits. The Green Dragon was one thing, but staying at the Gamgees’...

“I want to live closer to you,” Thorin growled. “I didn’t want to upset you or keeping it from you. I would have talked to you as soon as Master Holman would have confirmed that there was room for me at the Gamgees’.” Bilbo could not help but stare, befuddled. “I just want to know that I live nearby, and if you should need...”

Bilbo chuckled then, and Thorin stopped. He was scowling more than ever at the interruption.

“I’ve lived most of my life without a dwarf at my disposal,” Bilbo reminded him, “and now I have to think what I am supposed to do with you.”

Thorin looked as if he did not know how he had to take the hobbit’s words.

But he did know when Bilbo got on his feet and stretched his hand toward him. Thorin took it and rose from his chair as well. The hobbit dropped his gaze on the floor, inhaling sharply.

“Look at me,” Thorin’s voice was suddenly closer. “Please,” he added roughly. Bilbo obeyed: Thorin was keeping his arms close to his body, as if he was not daring to touch him; but the tension was there, bright as a spark in darkness. “If you wish to wait, I’ll wait. I’ll wait all the time you need and more.” Thorin’s body swayed slightly, still he did not touch Bilbo. “You deserve to be courted and I deserve - well - nothing. But you must know,” Thorin added, his tone falling deeper, “that I’ll have to toss off behind the first tree.”

At that, Bilbo could not help laughing. The tension seemed to abandon his body, although his cheeks turned a deep red; even Thorin had the graciousness of looking a little embarrassed with himself.

“Aren’t you scandalous enough as it is?” Bilbo asked, tugging at Thorin’s hand and prompting the dwarf to follow him down Bag End’s tunnels. “My neighbours would move to another farthing if they knew!”

“Let them,” Thorin replied, letting out a breath he must have held since he had spoken so shamelessly.

When they reached Bag End’s master bedroom, Thorin did not even pretend to be interested in the fashion of the room; he had no eyes for the embroidered curtains nor the little trinkets on the mantelpiece: Thorin’s gaze was fixed on Bilbo, as if the hobbit was a particularly delectable morsel. No wonder if Bilbo felt his mouth dry, and almost staggered backward.

Then, without lowering his eyes, Bilbo pulled the braces down from his shoulders, and unbuttoned his trousers. He pushed them down, past his thighs and around his ankles; then he stepped aside. The intake of Thorin’s breath made Bilbo’s knees a little spongy, and the hobbit had to sit on the edge of the bed to take another look at the dwarf. Thorin was still; but it was an unnatural and fragile state. Under Bilbo’s scrutiny, the dwarf seemed to lose some of his tension, yet he did not move - he is waiting, Bilbo thought. And he relished in that knowledge, while he began to unbutton his shirt with numb fingers.

Bilbo stripped of his white shirt, which fell on the trousers. He felt the colour rising again to his cheeks, then spreading to his neck and chest - there Summer had painted a veil of freckles. Bilbo’s nipples tickled, hardening in his nakedness; it took him a good deal of self-control to avoid covering himself with a pillow. Instead, he slipped again on his feet and approached the dwarf. Thorin gave a husky moan and hid his face behind his hand. Only when Bilbo called his name softly, did Thorin lower his hand: he looked almost overwhelmed, as if Bilbo’s nakedness was too much to bear, and too great a gift.

Bilbo raised his hands and touched the braids falling down the dwarf’s shoulders. Thorin quietly leant over the hobbit, making easier for Bilbo’s fingers to linger on the precious beads and the dark hair.

“I shall forbid you to wear such monstrous boots in our bedchamber,” Bilbo mused, pursuing his lips.

Thorin was startled by the comment, then he grinned and kneeled on the floor to take away his boots.

“As you command,” he said, in a dangerously low voice.

The hobbit bit his lip, because Thorin had just shot him a warm glance from his kneeling position. Bilbo still wore his plain underwear, but he could feel it tightening over his erection - the dwarf could not have missed it, and the smile on Thorin’s lips was obvious and lascivious enough.

The hobbit was almost disappointed when Thorin stood up again; but he placed his small hands on the dwarf’s belt and unbuckled it. Bilbo would have folded the belt neatly, if Thorin had not taken his hands and guided them under the hem of his tunic to slide over his bare stomach beneath. The belt hit the floor with a loud clang, but Bilbo moaned at the warmth rising from Thorin’s chest. He moved his hands up, dragging the tunic with them, until Thorin lifted his arms and bent to help Bilbo’s manoeuvre.

Bilbo slid the tunic over Thorin’s head, and a moment later he found himself pressed against the dwarf’s impressive chest, with Thorin’s hand over his head.

Ughwashâ,” Thorin said on Bilbo’s mouth, while his fingers slightly tightened their hold on Bilbo’s curls. “My greatest treasure,” he translated before the hobbit could ask.

Bilbo inhaled the scent of Thorin’s body, musky and warm. Bilbo’s hands were almost lost over the broad expanse of Thorin’s chest: his fingers slipped on the dark hair of his chest, retracing the well-known pattern of scars, and making the muscles flicker under the surface. He grazed the dwarf’s nipples and Thorin gave a low groan, arching instinctively into the touch. Bilbo’s desire burnt higher and brighter then, and he brought his fingers lower, to Thorin’s trousers. A few moments later Thorin’s erection was freed and Bilbo took a step back.

They had never been together in such a light.

As most of the quarters in Erebor, Bilbo’s rooms had not included a window; the only sources of light for their love-making had been the fireplace, and lamps and candles. But now their nakedness was revealed in the pearl light of the afternoon, coming in from the round window of the master bedroom.

They stood there, looking at their bodies; Thorin’s breath was loud, and Bilbo trembled when he rose on his toes to put his hands on Thorin’s cheeks. He felt the weight of Thorin’s hands on his hips, then the faint taste of cream on Thorin’s tongue. The kiss was gentle, slow; it was plain that Thorin was controlling himself, though his body felt feverish with desire. Bilbo knew what it meant - Thorin wanted to prove that he could put his body and his heart in Bilbo’s hands, and wait as long as it was needed to win the hobbit’s trust.

And in truth Bilbo should have doubted, shouldn’t he? Thorin had lost so much - his nephews, his throne, his home. Would those wounds ever heal? After all he had always reacted badly to sorrow; sorrow and disappointment led Thorin to hurt those closer to him. He would soon grow bored with the Shire; he would regret his decision; he would...

“I’m hurting you,” Thorin murmured. Bilbo shuddered: his mind had been drifting, and he suddenly realised that they were no longer kissing. Still Thorin’s arms were firm around his body. The hobbit tried to argue against Thorin’s comment, but the dwarf shushed him. “I’m not blind. You’re...closing up, like a flower does when night comes.”

It was not the gentleness of Thorin’s tone that impressed Bilbo, but the image he had chosen. Bilbo had expected that a dwarf’s imagination would run to stones and gems, not to flowers. Yet Thorin was trying to reach him with words a hobbit might have appreciated better.

Pushing aside his doubts, Bilbo crushed their mouths together and closed his arms around Thorin’s neck. Thorin gasped in his mouth, but he soon recovered from the surprise and pressed the hobbit against his bare skin. Bilbo felt his toes curl in delight when Thorin sucked his tongue, and the pressure of the dwarf’s erection on his stomach set Bilbo’s loins on fire.

Their kiss became quite chaotic, and soon they were no longer keeping themselves to lips and tongues: Thorin’s teeth scraped Bilbo’s neck, before sucking a light bruise at its base; while Bilbo kissed Thorin’s cheek, the corner of his eye, his temple - he tasted the saltiness of Thorin’s skin and pressed his nose into his dark hair.

Suddenly, Bilbo found himself hauled up from the floor: he protested; but Thorin laughed and kissed him again, until Bilbo was too drunk on kisses to word his displeasure at being carried like a child. Yet, as soon as Thorin placed him on the bed, Bilbo wrapped his arms and legs around the dwarf. Thorin huffed, trying to keep his balance and avoid crushing the hobbit under his weight; but, when Bilbo’s hands caressed his back, he purred against the hobbit’s throat and nibbled at the tender hollow at the base of Bilbo’s neck.

In the blink of an eye, Thorin moved his hand to Bilbo’s loincloth and tore it off.

“Thorin Oakenshield!” Bilbo exclaimed reproachfully.

The dwarf did not seem impressed, not by Bilbo’s scowling tone: Thorin’s cheeks had grown red and his pupils were blown out - he looked ravenous with desire for the hobbit lying under him.

“What do you want?” Thorin asked, spreading his fingers on Bilbo’s chest as if seeking his heartbeat. “We can go on with kisses,” he said, demonstratively placing some kisses along Bilbo’s jaw, “or I could use my hands and my mouth on you: I would like to reduce you to whimpers while I’m tasting you. Would you like this, my Bilbo?” Thorin’s eyes were bright and hot like embers. “Tell me what you wish - I’d grant you any desire, anything I can do to you or you to me. And we can stop here, if you wish for nothing,” Thorin concluded, deadly serious.

“Silly dwarf,” Bilbo muttered, moved by the rough sweetness of Thorin’s words. “Fuck me.”

Thorin stared, dumbstruck. But, before Bilbo might have time to blush, Thorin’s hand moved down from Bilbo’s chest to his stomach. His fingertips caressed the base of the hobbit’s cock, making him bit his lips to suppress a moan; then Thorin cupped lightly his balls and brushed them with his thumb, before dipping down to reach under them. Bilbo instinctively spread his legs.  

But Thorin, rather than continuing in that direction, straightened his back. A moment later Bilbo was flipped onto his stomach, and Thorin’s hairy chest was pressed against his spine.

“Are you well clean?” Thorin’s breath was hot on Bilbo’s nape, and the hobbit arched to feel Thorin’s cock slide against his lower back. The dwarf grunted and pushed him down against the mattress, then he repeated his question.

“Yes,” Bilbo breathed, then he frowned: “What? Why?”

Thorin’s answer was slipping down Bilbo’s back until he was kneeling just behind him. The hobbit felt Thorin’s hands on his cheeks, gently parting them and - oh, Thorin! Bilbo did not realise he had shouted until he heard Thorin shushing him and promising more to come; something which materialised in Thorin’s tongue darting again over his puckered entrance. Bilbo trembled, and his shoulders slumped down.

“You shouldn’t,” the hobbit managed to articulate, while Thorin was peppering kisses on the curve of his back.

The dwarf did not answer in word, but his thumb traced the outline of Bilbo’s balls and again he pushed his tongue between the hobbit’s cheek. The double sensation - the stroking of Thorin’s thumb and the wet, unexpectedly strong pressure of his tongue there - made Bilbo lightheaded. He felt Thorin moving, and a moment later a pillow was gently pushed under his stomach, to make him rest more comfortably on the bed.

Then Thorin resumed his teasing: his tongue ran over Bilbo’s hole, slickening and tickling it in a way which Bilbo found both disorienting and exciting. Part of the hobbit’s mind was still worried about the very concept of having Thorin’s tongue in such a place and wanted to stop the dwarf; but it was very difficult to complain when the other part of Bilbo’s mind was wild with excitement. And it grew louder and stronger every time Thorin’s tongue pressed against his hole: the swirl of Thorin’s tongue over the muscle kindled stars under Bilbo’s eyelids.

A thumb, wet from Thorin’s spit (oh, the idea had Bilbo moaning!), pushed in - just the tip, but there was a soft twinge of pain; then more tongue doing foolish, wicked things to Bilbo’s body.

“Yes, love,” Thorin murmured, licking his way up Bilbo’s spine, “I will fuck you soon, ughwashâ.”

Oh, dear. He had not asked again to be taken, had he?

Bilbo hid his face into the mattress, while Thorin was gently biting his thighs and then his back; for each light mark he left on Bilbo’s fair skin, the dwarf soothed the bruise with a swipe of his tongue. At last, when Thorin covered Bilbo with his body, he rubbed his nose against the hobbit’s neck and murmured sweet, intoxicating words.

“Bedside table,” Bilbo replied at last, rolling his bottom against the dwarf’s groin - he was rewarded by Thorin’s teeth on his ear shell and his cock nudging its way between his cheeks.

The dwarf moved aside and reached the drawer and took the ampoule of oil out of it.

“On your hands and knees, ghivashel, “ Thorin said in a voice thick with lust. “Nicely spread for me, my treasure of all treasures, will you?”

Bilbo whimpered at the warmth those words stirred in his body. When he tried to comply, his hands were shaking so much that he slipped twice on the sheets before being able to arrange his limbs into position. He heard Thorin groaning behind him; Bilbo gingerly turned his head, and found Thorin watching him with the same measure of hunger and adoration. The dwarf’s fingers ran over the back of Bilbo’s thigh, then a kiss was placed at the bottom of Bilbo’s spine.    

“Lovely, my lovely bunny,” Thorin murmured, while he opened the ampoule and coated his fingers in oil.

The smell of the oil had Bilbo shivering with anticipation. When Thorin’s index finger traced the path between his cheeks, Bilbo’s hips bucked and Thorin chuckled before biting his tender flesh. Then the dwarf repeated the caress, this time smearing with oil the way down to the entrance. The third time Bilbo pushed back, and Thorin’s finger found the tight muscle, still damp from his spit. At the lightest scrape of Thorin’s nail, Bilbo mewled.

The hobbit took chewing at the sheet, trying to suppress the embarrassing sounds rising in his throat. But what was the point when Thorin was clearly trying to drive him mad? When the dwarf thrust his finger in it was almost a relief; at least Bilbo would have gotten some relief, if Thorin had not kept on with such a slow rhythm...

“Now, please; more,” Bilbo mumbled.

“As much as I would like to bury myself inside you right now, you need some preparation, my love,” Thorin replied, though his voice was uneven. “You’re so tight, and I would take you fast and hard. Let me open you.”

Thorin’s finger slipped further in, until it was in to the knuckle and Bilbo could feel it moving inside, teasing the inner walls. The dwarf’s other hand was pressed between Bilbo’s shoulders, to guide him down with his cheek pressed into the mattress and his bottom raised higher. Then Thorin worked his way in and out, withdrawing his finger until only the tip played on the rim, then pushing again inside. When the muscle felt loosened, Bilbo asked for a second finger.

“I hardly deserve this,” Thorin, while urging Bilbo to open up for his fingers. “I hardly deserve you.” They both groaned - Bilbo from the intrusion, Thorin from the sight of it. “So nice, so nice and beautiful,” Thorin praised him, twisting and shifting his fingers.

While he was seeking the hobbit’s sweet spot, Thorin savoured with kisses the damp skin at the base of Bilbo’s spine. The oil had been warmed by the friction and the movements were far easier then; when the dwarf’s fingers brushed over the tender spot, Bilbo moaned without any shame. Thorin brushed his fingertips over it; he tested the hobbit’s response and played with it, now withdrawing his fingers and now hitting that delicious spot again, until Bilbo’s breath became erratic. With his other hand, Thorin traced soothing paths on Bilbo’s naked flesh, caressing his waist and his shoulders, and going as far as to play with the hobbit’s honey curls.

“A third finger,” Thorin whispered. “Do you want it, âzyungâl, lover?”

“Yes, I do,” Bilbo muttered, squeezing his eyes shut. “Yes, please.”

“Ever the polite one,” Thorin teased, and Bilbo could tell the dwarf was smiling.

Oil slowly trickled down between Bilbo’s cheeks, and the hobbit took a deep breath; but he bit his lower lip at the burning of the new intrusion. Thorin was being careful, yet the discomfort was there: more than a year and a half had passed since the last time the dwarf had been inside him, nor had Bilbo taken any lover in the meanwhile. When Bilbo had conceded himself some pleasure - consumed in his bedroom late at night or in the first morning light - it had been something simple and even rude, no more than rutting against his own hand. Bilbo had often ended up with his hand sticky and his mind pained by the memories of Thorin’s lovemaking, thus spoiling the post-pleasure with the longing inscribed in his limbs and in his heart.

“Have you taken any lover in Erebor after my departure?” Bilbo asked abruptly.

Thorin’s caress stopped. Then he moved his fingers again, very gently.

 “I had no wish for it,” he replied firmly. “I took comfort in nothing but my own hand,” Thorin explained, without any trace of embarrassment. “You know, yesterday, after we kissed, I could hardly return to The Green Dragon in such an improper state; I had to take the matter in my hand, quite literally: I decided to ease the tension behind some bushes. I realised only too late that I had ended up in some garden, and I was dripping over some of your neighbours’ flower pots.”

By the time Thorin had finished, Bilbo was laughing into the mattress. The tension he had felt a moment before vanished, and the discomfort turned into aching pleasure.

“Yes, there, my little bunny,” Thorin commented, sounding pleased.

After that Bilbo could focus only on the pressure of the dwarf’s fingers, and the way they left him pining for something more each time Thorin withdrew them from his tight channel. Then the oil scent returned and Bilbo guessed that Thorin was covering his cock in oil, probably contented with the result of his fingering.

Bilbo did not realise to be nervous until Thorin’s clean fingers landed on his cheek. The dwarf did not speak, but there was a question beneath his gentle touch. Bilbo turned his head to kiss Thorin’s fingertips and nodded. Only then Thorin arranged himself behind him, with a hand closed on the hobbit’s hip and the other guiding his cock toward Bilbo’s hole. Bilbo grasped the sheets and steadied himself. He felt the tip of Thorin’s cock sliding beyond the tight ring, and his body immediately clamped down on it. The dwarf hissed, and his hold on Bilbo’s hip shifted and became rougher.

Nonetheless, Thorin did not push forward immediately, waiting for the hobbit’s body to adjust. Then Thorin slowly thrust in; his movement was firm and almost smooth, and soon he was all the way in. Bilbo slightly fought back, sweating and tensing; but Thorin leant over him: his weight soothed Bilbo’s edginess and kept the hobbit from too brusque movements.

Thorin’s scarred, hairy chest scraped at Bilbo’s silky skin; when Bilbo moaned, Thorin drew back and then pushed; his thrusts were short but strong, enough to force soft shouts from the hobbit’s mouth. In turn, Thorin called him by his name: he let it fall on Bilbo’s bare skin; he traced it with his lips over the hobbit’s shoulders; he drew it with his fingers on Bilbo’s waist; he prayed it while he was driving into Bilbo as if he was planning to bury himself into Bilbo’s heart - so deep did he try to be, so close their bodies were.

Thorin’s hands explored Bilbo’s body, leaving no spot untouched: he caressed his stomach and his chest, twisted his nipples, and fondled his balls - Bilbo felt his skin shining, as if Thorin had wrapped him up in burning beauty. The dwarf kept chanting of his affection, pouring his soul over Bilbo’s with an urgency his body struggled to match. Thorin’s deep, rich timbre sliced through Bilbo’s resistance; such words took Bilbo apart piece by piece, and made him again - loved and cherished, thoroughly fucked.

It was as it had been, and yet different. Thorin’s affection had often been restrained, even suffocate; and Bilbo’s feelings had been often disappointed. Truth was that they had never really allowed themselves to fall in love; they had fallen in love despite themselves. Thus they had loved each other through darkness, almost blindly. Now they were no longer holding back: all those words, all those touches Thorin had renounced to were there; all those words and touches Bilbo had imagined and never asked for, never dared to offer, were there.

They suddenly found each other as they had never done before, and Thorin had to reach for Bilbo’s chin, pressing his fingers under it to invite the hobbit to turn his head. Bilbo blinked: his gaze was unfocused, but he tried his best to offer his mouth to Thorin. The resulting kiss was awkward at best - a mess of lips and tongue and teeth; Thorin deep inside, Bilbo moaning in his mouth.

“I can’t,” Thorin growled then. “I can’t,” he repeated desperately, slipping out from Bilbo’s body.

The hobbit gasped and whined, pained by the sudden loss; he shoved his bottom against Thorin’s groin, but the dwarf only hissed and grabbed him by his waist. Thorin turned Bilbo onto his back, in the smoothest movement he could manage while the hobbit was writhing in his hands.

Bilbo’s grey-blue eyes had grown huge in his soft, heated face; curls were stuck to his forehead and temples.

“I have to see you,” Thorin murmured in a broken voice.

He closed his hands around Bilbo’s ankles and opened his legs, bending his body until Bilbo felt his muscles twitch for the tension they were enduring. He felt exposed to Thorin’s desire, and the need to have the dwarf inside him became almost intolerable. His body arched in a mute offer, and Thorin pushed inside him again, in a single drive that forced a moan from their mouths.

Finally Thorin was back to fucking him, with thrusts which made them shiver and sweat. Thorin no longer avoided that lovely spot inside Bilbo; but indulged on it again and again, revelling in Bilbo’s sweet shaking. They kissed, and Bilbo’s hands plunged into Thorin’s hair; the long, dark braids fell on Bilbo’s cheeks and chest, and Thorin’s mouth was the most delicious fruit to bite and suck. Bilbo called the name of his lover again and again; at the sound Thorin’s eyes burned and burned, filled with the desire for the creature who was calling him mine and whose nails were digging into his back. Bilbo’s fingers, scratching the dwarf’s neck and his shoulders, seemed to drive Thorin almost mad with lust.

Pushed over the edge, Thorin kept pounding into Bilbo through his pleasure; his hand held Bilbo’s cock and stroked him until the hobbit could not resist any longer. Thorin seemed enchanted by the way Bilbo’s hole fluttered around him, in rhythm with the waves of his approaching orgasm; Bilbo felt as if pleasure was devouring them whole, while Thorin’s thumb swiped over the tip of his penis.

Thorin prolonged Bilbo’s pleasure long enough to slid out of him and kneel between his spread legs. He took the hobbit’s cock in his mouth, when Bilbo was still spurting his seed; far from teasing, Thorin applied himself to sucking Bilbo with vigour, until the hobbit screamed his name and his movements were made chaotic and inelegant by the urge of the moment. Thorin’s hands closed on his thighs then, and the dwarf swallowed - once, twice - with the air of finding Bilbo’s taste delightful.

Bilbo yielded, spent and worn out, eventually falling back on the mattress. Thorin, in no better shape, climbed over Bilbo’s body, kissing his way up: sloppy, tired kisses landed on Bilbo’s groin, stomach, chest, nipples, neck, nipples again because - Thorin’s own words - they were just lovely, sugary, red berries made for his mouth. They were both exhausted, yet so alive.

Then Thorin rolled on his side, careful not to weigh onto his lover. Soon enough Bilbo was cradled against the dwarf’s broad chest.

“Stay,” Bilbo said, though his breath was still faltering.

Thorin moved his fingers through Bilbo’s tousled curls, and watched him from behind heavy eyelids.

“You don’t have to ask, Bilbo; my love; ughwashâ; ghivashel,” Thorin grumbled. Then he frowned and his expression softened. “I knew what craving something could mean, but I never suspected what craving someone might do to me.”

And, since the light in Thorin’s blue eyes seemed to suggest he was very satisfied with the discovery, Bilbo smiled.

“Don’t go to the Gamgees’,” Bilbo mumbled, into Thorin’s neck.

“Not going anywhere soon, you jealous thing,” the dwarf groaned. When Bilbo pinched his waist, he added: “I’ll stay as long as you wish me to. And I’ll do everything in order to persuade you to keep me by your side: kissing  and gardening, sucking and cooking, fondling, fu...”

Thorin’s deep voice kept going on, charming Bilbo into sleep; it lulled him with the things Thorin would do to him, for him - talking...had Thorin really said talking? Bilbo smiled, eyes already closed.

 

*

It has been said that when the shadow fell on Middle-Earth and the Ring was suspected to be in the care of the most unexpected bearer, the former King under the Mountain walked again the Road to the East.

It has been said that a hobbit was in his company.

Whether they ever reached Erebor or were led elsewhere, their journey is not narrated here.