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About Literature / Hobbyist MirielOfGisborneFemale/Romania Recent Activity
Deviant for 2 Years
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Bilbo woke to the sparkling, woolly light that usually came with sunny mornings. He rubbed his eyes to dispel the lingering sleepiness and realised that he had slept more deeply than usual, no doubt a side-effect of a day spent in the scent-laden, hot chaos of a kitchen. He rose on his elbows and blinked a few times until his vision cleared. There was indeed something sparkling in the room, but it was not the light itself. It was the finely threaded gold and gems of the garlands hanging around the windows. This was not the Yule décor that he was accustomed to, but there was little of the familiar in his life now. In fact, the one thing that he had become familiar with in the past year was the occurrence of the unexpected. Bilbo lay back down in bed, and stared at the ceiling with its pool of sunlight streaming from the outside.

Then, as he tried to picture the world beyond, he felt more and more keenly that he was being watched. He turned his head and met a different kind of light, one that seemed to weave the sun and the sparkling gems into something magical.

“Thorin,” said Bilbo a little startled. “I didn’t realise you were awake.”

Thorin smiled secretly, as if there was a world of meaning behind that smile that would have taken him hours to express in words and even then he wouldn’t have managed to say it all. He seemed to have managed to turn on his left side during the night, in spite of the serious injuries in his arm and shoulder. And who knew how long he had been awake and watching Bilbo? He didn’t look freshly woken.

“Is there anything you need?” asked Bilbo, trying to fill the space between them with something other than things unspoken.

“No,” said Thorin, a dreamy tone laced in his voice, “I have everything I need right here.”

Bilbo smiled nervously, he knew. Thorin seemed bolder with words in the past few days, and less willing to make it look like he regretted it. “Surely, there is more you need than me.”

“No, not really.”

“Well, for one thing, you need to get better, and for that you need water and food and care,” said Bilbo, rising again on his elbows.

Thorin followed him with his eyes. “I will get better.”

Bilbo looked at him, realising he had been talking a little too fast and with too much aplomb. “Yes, of course you will.” He lay back down and sighed, then studied the ceiling for a bit longer, not really letting his gaze be stopped in its skyward flight by the mountain of stone above him. He turned again to Thorin. “What I meant was, you need to rebuild your kingdom now that you’ve got it back. You need to fulfill your promise to your people, and to yourself. You need to be their king. You would never be happy otherwise.”

“And I will do all that. But I would be just as unhappy if you went away,” said Thorin, a shadow draping over his previously shining voice.

“Is this what you hoped for with Nyrath? To have him and your throne, too?”

The shadow deepened in Thorin’s eyes, and their focus fell away to a nether land of haze. “That… would have never been possible.”

“And it will be possible with me?” asked Bilbo.

Thorin looked back to him, conviction blazing renewed in his eyes. “Yes.”

“Really? How? What has changed?”

“I owe nothing more to no one,” said Thorin, with a subtle note of anger. “My promise was to get Erebor back, and I have. What I do with myself from now on is my concern only.”

Bilbo smiled. “The Company seems to think so. I wonder if everyone else will be as accepting as they are.”

Thorin remained silent for a while, unable to dispel Bilbo’s doubts with certainty. “I will understand if you choose to go back home,” he conceded, sounding prematurely defeated. “I can ask someone to go with you as soon as you wish.”

His gaze dropped again to the level of Bilbo’s throat and his striking eyes radiated in the morning light a sad beauty that was more than Bilbo could resist even if he risked angering all the Dwarves in Middle Earth. “I don’t know yet if I want to,” he whispered.

Thorin’s gaze shot back up to him, illuminated by fresh hope.

Bilbo had made his own promises, to his parents and to himself, to always care for Bag End and to ensure that there would always be a Baggins living there. But in the face of such beauty as he now saw in Thorin’s face, rarefied by lengthy illness into something entirely not of that world, he found it hard to hold fast to those promises and to what he had thought until then to be his lot in life on that good and green earth.

“Well,” he said, smiling again to Thorin, “I should get up and see if I can find us some breakfast.”

Something about Thorin’s expression, relieved in the wake of hearing that Bilbo was not about to leave him, sent a very sharp sting of guilt through the hobbit’s heart as he climbed out of bed. Guilt over bringing back the memory of Nyrath although perhaps he had no right to. He knew nothing about him, nothing really about what Thorin had lived with him, nothing more than that, although his was a distant memory, it was also unusually vibrant in Thorin’s heart and it still carried a great power to hurt him. It had been cruel of him. He’d known that the moment he’d seen the look in Thorin’s eyes. A look of being struck without warning, in the one place where he was bound to suffer the most. Bilbo didn’t really know what had made him bring up Nyrath. Perhaps it had been the boldness of Thorin’s words and the wide uncertain echo that they sent through Bilbo’s mind. He did not need uncertainty. He did not want it. He’d had quite enough of it, in fact. He wanted some sort of guarantee that if he chose to stay, as Thorin obviously wanted, his place there would be secure, set in stone. Of course, there could be no such guarantees, and Thorin had not insincerely rushed to offer any. But that was just how things were. It was no reason to resort to cruelty.

It was with these heavy thoughts that Bilbo opened the door to Thorin’s bedroom, meaning to head out to the kitchen, only to be met by the wide frame of Dwalin, who seemed so determined to walk through that door that they almost bumped into each other.

Bilbo took a few steps back, managing to give an awkward greeting to Dwalin, who also seemed a little startled, and a slightly more appropriate one to Balin.

“Good morning, Bilbo,” said Balin, “where are you off to in such a hurry?”

“Uh, I was about to get breakfast,” said Bilbo, following Balin and Dwalin back into the room.

“Oh, I’m sure Thorin won’t mind waiting a bit,” he said, looking towards Thorin. “How would you like to get out of bed first?”

“Now?” asked Thorin, his eyes growing wide with disbelief.

“No later,” said Balin, eyes bright with a starlit smile.

It came in such contrast with Thorin’s dimmed appearance, but  it seemed to infuse him with new energy. He pushed himself up on his arms, meaning to sit up and wincing rather violently from putting too much trust in his left arm.

“Now, now, don’t fret,” said Dwalin, bending protectively over him. “We’ll help.” He took Thorin’s right hand in his and wrapped his left arm around Thorin’s shoulders. “You might feel dizzy at first,” he said close to Thorin’s ear. “Come on.”

Dwalin gently pulled Thorin up and off of his pillows. It did look like the sudden change of perspective after about three weeks of lying in bed was a little hard on him. He squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to get accustomed to the sensation, and then opened them again when the wave of dizziness eventually passed.

“All right?” asked Dwalin.

Thorin approved with surprising tolerance for help. Dwalin pulled the cover off of his legs gently while Balin approached carrying a bundle of clothes in his arms. He placed the clothes on the side of the bed and then selected the item on top, which proved to be a pair of black trousers.

Bilbo almost expected to be invited out of the room as he usually was when Thorin’s personal grooming needs were getting a little too personal for him to see. It felt like that now, as strange as it was, considering that he was being dressed rather than undressed. This moment when Thorin’s outer shell of apparent strength was being put back on and when the visible marks of his weakness were being covered felt more vulnerable still than being openly powerless.

He was allowed to stay, and so he watched as Thorin was slowly coaxed back into actual clothes, with care and time being taken so as not to stir up too much pain. He suffered everything with such patience, accepting help without any flares of wounded pride, although pride was to be expected. After all, he was a powerful warrior, and a king, who was now requiring assistance with something as simple as getting out of bed and dressing. Perhaps he was simply too tired of lying in bed not to be entirely consumed by this extraordinary opportunity to wear a shirt again and leave it.

Once dressed, Thorin was able to stand up, hanging on to Dwalin’s arm. It made him even dizzier than sitting, but he kept his patience and held on tighter to Dwalin until it passed. He even slipped a radiant gaze to Bilbo the moment he was sober enough to appreciate that he was standing again. Then he managed to limp slowly to his blue velvet armchair and Dwalin did not withdraw his support until he was comfortably settled into it.

Balin set his hands in his hips looking very approving of the situation. “There,” he said to Thorin, “that’s better. I’ll get you your rings back. And we’ll ask Bilbo to braid your hair until breakfast is ready.” Now Balin looked to Bilbo with a kind expectancy in his gaze.

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Bilbo.

“I’ll see you later,” said Dwalin, his hand still on Thorin’s good right shoulder, squeezing a little. Thorin looked up with unmistakable gratitude. “I’m around if you need me.”

He withdrew his hand from Thorin’s shoulder, glanced briefly at Bilbo in a way that the hobbit couldn’t read, and then walked away towards the door.

Bilbo felt compelled to follow him.

“Dwalin, I wonder if I could talk to you for a minute,” said Bilbo once he had closed the door to Thorin’s bedroom and found himself alone with Dwalin outside of it.

Dwalin turned to him looking like he didn’t really want to talk about anything. “What about?” he said, gruffly, as expected.

“Thorin,” said Bilbo, lowering his voice a little. “And myself.”

Dwalin glared something fierce, then crossed his arms over his chest. “That is none of my business,” he said. “Thorin can do what he likes with his life. And so can you for that matter.”

“You used to think otherwise.”

“Thorin and I have had a talk about that. It is what he wants. I cannot change that.”

“What, uh, what is it that he wants?”

Dwalin looked at him incredulously. “You. He wants you. I thought you’d seen that by now.”

“I...” Bilbo found himself unable to speak. Of course, he knew that Thorin wanted him in his life, but when put the way Dwalin had put it, it sounded a little frightening. “Yes, I, I have,” he said, lowering his gaze.

“Then we have nothing more to talk about,” said Dwalin, and left the room.

Bilbo stood there frozen, his eyes still set on the ground. Dwalin’s tone and look as he had said those words, He wants you, had made the blood shudder in his veins. It was as if he was hearing Smaug talk about Thorin’s desire for the Arkenstone all over again, and it filled him with dread. That could not be the way Thorin wanted him. It simply could not be. He shook himself a little and looked up, remembering that Thorin was waiting for him in his bedroom. He turned to go back but found Balin standing behind him, studying him with a kind but all-seeing look from under his white eyebrows that resembled Gandalf.

“Are you all right, Bilbo?” asked the old dwarf, coming closer.

“Yes, I… I always feel a little out of sorts at this time of the year,” said Bilbo.

“I imagine the long nights of December are a little hard on Hobbits. You seem so fond of the light.”

“Well, there’s that.”

Balin smiled in the kindest way possible. “Even Dwarves are afraid of the dark sometimes,” he said, “I know I was when I was a wee lad. But you know what my grandmother used to tell me?”

“What?”

“Fear not the dark, for darkness is only light that sleeps.”

Bilbo smiled back instantly. “That’s… rather nice.”

“And true, most of the time,” said Balin, then greeted Bilbo for a temporary good-bye and walked off.

Bilbo could barely believe that his own mood had gone from dark to light in a matter of minutes. He wondered if Balin had heard anything of his conversation with Dwalin, or if he simply had wizardly powers of his own and was able to read minds.

Either way, he returned to Thorin’s bedroom carrying nothing of his earlier tension with him. Thorin gave him a frail look from his armchair. There was nothing threatening in it, not in his tired eyes, shadowed in grey. He didn’t seem to possess the energy to want anything as badly as he had wanted the Arkenstone.

Bilbo smiled to him, accepting the wave of warmth that came encircling his heart. “I’ll go get the brush,” he said and passed briefly into the bathroom.

Thorin retained his look of softness as Bilbo went back to him, brush in hand. It seemed that getting out of bed had exhausted him and he was not hiding it. “Can you sit up a bit?” asked Bilbo.

Thorin complied, and Bilbo started brushing his hair. The hobbit had yet to become used to the fact that his association with the Dwarf King had turned so intimate in the past month, that they had gone from battling evil and fighting to reclaim a kingdom to such deeply domestic things as hair brushing or making sure that Thorin was properly fed. It seemed that those things mattered so little in the grand scheme of the world, and yet now they proved to be so important. Domestic life had always been important for Bilbo, but after his recent adventures, he had begun to see it as only a little part of what made the life of others. It certainly seemed to be a very little part of Thorin’s life, and it probably would become that again once he had recovered. For now, though, it was what most of his life consisted of. And it didn’t seem to bother him as much as one would have expected. In fact, he appeared so comfortable with that at the moment that he was about to fall asleep.

“Your beard has grown,”  said Bilbo, looking down at him and waited for Thorin to acknowledge. “Are you going to have it trimmed again?”

“No, not anymore.”

“Oh? You need a long beard to be King under the Mountain?

Thorin smiled, more alert. “It is not that. I have been wearing it short in honour of those we lost in the dragon fire, as a promise.”

“To avenge their death and take back your homeland?”

Thorin nodded. “My promise is now fulfilled,” he said. “And it is preferable to have a long beard as King under the Mountain.”

Bilbo smiled in return. “I’m sorry, I should have said this earlier. I don’t know how to make braids like the ones you had before. I don’t really have a lot of experience braiding hair.”

“Hobbits never braid their hair?”

“Not male Hobbits, no.”

Thorin’ looked like he was about to break into laughter, but he restrained himself. “Do you know how to make a three-strand braid?”

“Yes, I think I can manage that.”

“That will do,” said Thorin. “I probably need that kind more at the moment.”

“Need? What do you mean, need?”

“There is meaning to the kinds of braids that we wear.”

“Oh, right, of course there is. I should have thought of that. What do three strands mean?”

“They bring together a dwarf’s mind, body and heart. They make us one.”

“Hmm…  And the kind you had before?”

“Those have four strands. They are only worn by those who rule. They stand for courage, strength, generosity and wisdom.”

“I understand. You can’t have any of that, let alone all together, without being in one piece first.”

“Precisely,” said Thorin.

As he knit a lengthening braid near Thorin’s left ear, Bilbo wondered if Balin had purposefully asked him to do that because of what it meant. The impression that everything around him was conspiring to bring them closer and that Balin provided occasional help was already old in Bilbo’s mind. He was being steered into slowly coming to a decision that would have changed his life either way, a decision that had a lot to do with the question that had sounded so simple in Fili’s words: what he would miss most. For now, he was sure that he would have missed the feeling of having Thorin’s dark, strong hair weaved through his fingers just as much as he would have missed never sticking his hands into the black earth of his garden again.  

Soon enough, Bilbo finished Thorin’s second braid and set it neatly on his shoulder. Thorin glanced up at him, his eyes gleaming with relief that he was beginning to look like himself again. The remaking of his braids really did seem to do something for his confidence. Bilbo smiled at him, realising perhaps for the first time with such halting clarity how important it was for Thorin to recover his strength of both body and spirit, not just for himself, but also for his people. And he, Bilbo, was an essential part of making that happen. This was bigger than both of them, and even if it was  something that Thorin was used to and that Bilbo had begun to learn to live with, there was a weight to this moment that Bilbo felt not bearing down on his shoulders, but rather surrounding him, filling him with wonder instead of fear.

This awareness hung undisturbed in the air as the door opened slowly and Bombur appeared in its frame, carrying a tray. Bilbo turned to greet him, but Bombur didn’t seem to be aware of the hobbit. He stood in the open doorway as if bolted to the floor, looking at Thorin with large, glistening eyes. He stared for a while, then he snapped out of his stupor with an ample bow and finally advanced into the room. Many times Bombur had displayed a subtlety of movement that Bilbo had not expected from someone of his hefty stature, and now he appeared to be using his delicacy at its utmost degree in order to walk inside Thorin’s bedroom without making a lot of noise. He set the tray down on a table at Thorin’s side, and after giving him another disbelieving look, he finally acknowledged Bilbo’s presence with a little nod. Bilbo found his reserve unusual. This was not the Bombur that he had spent the previous day in the kitchen with. He seemed almost afraid to look at Thorin or to be in his presence with something other than quiet awe.

“Thank you, Bombur,” said Thorin, his voice slightly weaker than what Bombur had probably heard from him the last time they had seen each other.

Bombur seemed a little startled, but he gathered his wits honourably enough and gave another bow of his head.

“I hear you have taken charge of the kitchen and making a great job of it,” continued Thorin.

Finally, the visible tension in Bombur’s body loosened. “I thought I could make myself most useful there,” he said. “Bofur has been helping. And Bilbo.”

“Only very little,” said Bilbo.

“Well, I should go,” said Bombur. “There’s still plenty to do for tonight.”

“I can come by a little later and help out, if you want,” offered the hobbit.

“That would be very kind of you, Bilbo,” said Bombur. Then he turned again to Thorin. “I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he said, then bowed again with particular devotion.

Thorin thanked him silently with a rare little bow of his own, and Bombur walked out of the room as gingerly as he had entered, but in much lighter spirits.

Bilbo gazed after him until the door had been closed behind him, then looked back to Thorin, who was obviously touched by the impression that he had made on Bombur. Bilbo could certainly understand how someone from the Company who had not really seen Thorin since the day of the battle could be impressed by seeing him now. He looked essentially like himself – his braids were more or less in place, he was dressed in his usual dark blue shirt and black trousers, and he sat rather confidently in his armchair – but there was an air of ether to his thinned features and his pale complexion, as if he had suddenly become light and airy, like an Elf.

“Well,” said Bilbo, as the scents of eggs and bacon and coffee eventually overpowered his less earthly thoughts, “let’s see what Bombur brought that’s good to eat.” He walked to the table where the breakfast tray resided, containing quite a generous meal, even for a Dwarf.

“I think that’s for both of us,” said Thorin, sounding amused.

Bilbo glanced back to him, then back to the tray. “I think so.”

They had had breakfast together before, but it felt different now that Thorin was no longer in bed. It felt more like actually having breakfast and less like keeping Thorin company while he wasn’t quite himself. Thorin also appeared more comfortable with things that way and ate with more appetite than usual, even though he retained a certain elegance of manners that Bilbo had always found to be very undwarvish. It suited him now more than ever, as his movements were slowed by a lingering difficulty in getting used to sitting upright.

When they were done, Bilbo carried both of their plates back to the table and poured some coffee into a cup to give to Thorin. As he did so, he noticed that next to the pot of coffee stood a neat little stack of his lavender biscuits which he had made the previous evening. It seemed that Bombur really had prepared breakfast for both of them. Then he remembered that Thorin had quite liked his biscuits as well.

“Thorin?” said Bilbo, turning, “would you like more of these lavender biscuits?”

Thorin nodded, and Bilbo collected the entire stack of biscuits from the tray. They continued their breakfast in a sort of a daze of soft bliss. The last time that they had sat together around a meal, in the draughty dimness of the mountain, neither of them had had the heart to enjoy it. Thorin had not been himself and Bilbo had not really felt like himself. Now there was a palpable feeling that the worst was finally behind them and that this darkest day of the year would in fact be filled with the most light.

When nothing more than a few crumbs was left of the last lavender biscuit, Bilbo stood up and put everything back on the tray that Bombur had brought. “I should take these back,” he said.

“Thank you, Bilbo,” said Thorin, “for everything.”

Bilbo turned to him, tray in hands, and something in him began to melt. One could not say that Thorin looked humble, even if he was unable to stand on his own two feet without help, but there was something quiet in his countenance, a hushing of an inner roar, a ceasing of thunder that was wondrous to see.

If the door to the bedroom had not opened, Bilbo would have continued to gaze at Thorin as he leaned against the back of his rich blue velvet armchair, weak but hopeful, on what was his first time out of bed after the hardest battle of his life. But the door did open, and Dain walked in, carrying an air of reassuring authority that seemed to be a mark of the Durin line.

Bilbo responded with a smile to Thorin’s gratitude, and then walked out with a little bow of his forehead as he passed Dain.

Outside, in the sitting room, Ori and Dori were busy setting a long table that was surely meant to accommodate the entire Company. He greeted them, and then headed back to the kitchen.

Bilbo kept his promise and continued to lend a helping hand in the culinary preparations for Yule. He found that he was actually getting used to being in the kitchen of Erebor and he was starting to learn where everything was. In fact, he invested himself so deeply into arranging plates and other last-minute minutiae that he almost didn’t realise when the time had passed. He was taken by surprise when Balin walked in and announced that they should be getting ready to wrap everything up as the celebrations were about to start. They were both expected in the Royal Quarters.

They looked at each other briefly, knowing that they were finally going to reap the rewards of all their hard work. Bombur distributed the food that was to be taken to the Banquet Hall and that meant for the smaller and more private gathering in Thorin’s quarters. As the food began to be carried away by a few compliant dwarves, Bombur and Bilbo started on their way.

Slightly to his surprise, Bilbo found that he was a little nervous. He didn’t know what to expect from a Yule feast with the Dwarves, even if it was just those that he felt comfortable with. Something about the obvious ceremony of it all made him anxious. Yule feasts in the Shire were not very ceremonious, as nothing was, really. There were preparations being made, surely, and there was the same kind of enthusiasm taking over Hobbits as he could see in Dwarves, but they had no grand banquet halls, golden garlands, or kings and warriors to honour.

The Company was all there when Bilbo and Bombur arrived. They were greeted with quiet courtesy as they entered. To Bilbo’s eyes, it seemed that he was not the only one being nervous. They all looked like they were waiting for something momentous to happen, something even bigger than a holiday. The young Ori seemed particularly emotional and hung close to his older brother Dori, almost hiding behind his shoulder. Everyone was not really there, however. Dwalin was missing, and, of course, Thorin.

The look of the room confirmed Bilbo’s feeling that this was not going to be a Yule Eve such as the ones he had experienced in the Shire. The table was set exquisitely in a heavy dark red cloth and golden trimmings. The plates, goblets, knives and forks were all shiny gold with inserts of precious stones of various colours. This did not surprise Bilbo, but it was something that he had to stop to look at.

“King Thror’s tableware for banquets,” Dori said proudly, coming closer to Bilbo.

Bilbo glanced at him. “It’s quite... regal,” he said, with a smile that came easily.

Dori nodded, a gleeful light in his eyes. He had always seemed to have a special flair for elegance at the table.

Bilbo returned his gaze to the rest of the room. He had already seen the arrangement of the fireplace the previous night, and now his eyes were drawn more to a great golden harp that stood a little to the side of it. Its strings were shimmering like spider web in the warm light of many lanterns.

The heavy creak of a door called everyone’s attention towards Thorin’s bedroom. He stumbled out slowly, supported by Dwalin, and not looking at all less dignified for it. He stopped briefly to glance lovingly over everyone present. He looked radiant, in spite of being rather humbly dressed and quite visibly weak, and his beautiful hair, in which Bilbo had put two decent-looking braids, made up more than honourably for not having a long beard. He didn’t really need heavy armour, priceless fur or even a crown on his head to emanate royalty. It was in the way he carried himself, even now when he needed help with that. It was in his very presence and in his deepsky-filled eyes, and it could not be undone. They all bowed silently before him, remaining that way for a few good seconds, until Thorin resumed his slow, obviously painful walk to his seat at the head of the table.

Bilbo remembered a somewhat similar scene from the April evening when the Dwarves had taken over his home, filled his dining room and emptied his pantry. He did not remember Bag End ever to have been so noisy and orderless, and yet they had all become quiet the moment Thorin had come. Bilbo had understood right then and there that this band of hungry, chaos-making Dwarves had a deep respect for Thorin, and no matter how carried away they got with their songs and their chatter, it was all less important to them than appearing serious in his presence. Now Thorin looked much less intimidating than Bilbo had perceived him that night, but the Dwarves seemed all the more intent on showing him respect.

As Dwalin finally helped Thorin settle into his chair, something of the solemn weight in the air dissipated and everyone else approached the table, feeling as free as to start making hushed small talk.

The food was already on the table and the ale bubbled in the beautiful golden goblets, but for once, they did not rush to ravage any of it. Still standing, they lifted their goblets as Balin said, “Now that we are all here, we should light the log and then we can sit down. Brother, if you will do the honours.” He looked to Dwalin, who approved and went over to the hearth, where part of the ash log sent by the Elvenking resided yet untouched and surrounded by a blanket of twigs meant to aid the fire.

Dwalin grabbed a torch from a holder and leaned it inside the hearth, uttering what sounded like a ritual saying that went with this moment. “With fire we light the darkness of our days and our memory. With fire we bring warmth to our mountain halls. With fire we welcome the new sun.”

Bilbo found himself mesmerised by the orange flame which sprang alive around the log, so much so that he jumped when Balin nudged his arm and gestured for him to pick up his goblet full of ale. Bilbo did as indicated and as he reached down, he caught a glance of Thorin, who had his hand wrapped around his own goblet. In Bag End, everyone else had been sitting down, listening, and he had been the one standing and speaking loudly about the wealth of their people that lay unprotected in the dark depth of the Lonely Mountain and about their duty to take back what was theirs. Bilbo was sure that he would have been standing with the rest of them now and perhaps would have even lit the Yule log himself if he had been strong enough. But for now, all he could do was to sit and listen and smile mellowy to Bilbo. Bilbo responded by inclining his goblet of ale to him, meaning for it to be only a private gesture. Then he noticed that the others saluted Thorin in the same way, but with ampler movements.

After Dwalin returned to the table, they all sat down and the proceedings relaxed into the joyful, increasingly noisy atmosphere that was characteristic of Dwarf meals. Even Thorin shared a few laughs and joined in the general fun, which was something extraordinary for Bilbo to see, but which was received as entirely normal by the rest of the Company. They were trying not to make him feel any different because he happened to be in less than ideal shape at that moment, and it seemed to be working.

It all turned out to be a very happy affair and Bilbo’s concerns that ceremony would hang too low over the evening were easily expelled. When his plate was finally empty and he wanted no more on it, he could in fact say that he’d had everything he’d expected to have on Yule Eve – hearty food, blood-warming drink and laughter to fill a long, dark night of winter.

When everyone’s bellies seemed to have been appeased, Balin suggested that it was time for some music. It was then that Bilbo found out, not little to his awe, that the beautiful harp standing in the corner of the room belonged to none other than Thorin and that it had been restrung and cleaned and was ready for him to play it again. For now, Dwalin offered to give it a go in his place.

He did so with unexpected gentleness, unexpected to Bilbo at least. There was something velvety to the sounds that he drew from it, something deeply mournful and yet magical and promising about the harmonies that he weaved through its strings, as if he was pouring the dearest treasures of the dwarven heart into his song. It did not surprise Bilbo at all if Thorin’s eyes became a little misty as he listened to Dwalin play his harp. He didn’t need to understand the words that the others were singing in Dwarvish to know that it was about death and life, about grief and hope always woven together like night and day.

The night deepened beyond Bilbo’s ability to keep track of time. Watching the many empty plates on the table and the increasingly satisfied look of everyone in the Company, he surmised that it was sometime around midnight. His impression was confirmed by Balin’s gentle suggestion after Dwalin had finished playing another song that they should probably call it a night and let Thorin rest. The celebrations were going to continue in the Banquet Hall, for those who wished to join in.

Slowly, most of the Company bid their good night and filed out of the room. Thorin looked content with the way his evening had turned out, but he was obviously exhausted. While Bilbo busied himself with at least starting to clear the table, Balin and Dwalin helped Thorin back to his room and eventually into bed. They emerged about half an hour later, all smiles, announcing to Bilbo that Thorin was settled in bed and that he was already almost asleep.

“Will you join us in the Banquet Hall?” asked Balin, as he walked away from Thorin’s door.

“No,” said Bilbo. “I think I’d rather turn in as well.”

“All right then,” said Balin. “Have a good night. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

Bilbo returned his wish, directing his response to Dwalin as much as to Balin. Dwalin nodded back, then followed his brother out of the room.

Bilbo glanced after them until they disappeared behind the closing door. Then he drew his breath and looked back to the fireplace, where the Yule log had shrunk to dark red embers. He had always liked this moment in the life of a fire, when the wood turned to ember and the heat was still strong but gentle, when the high flame was tempered to a low glow that radiated from within rather than burning from without.

Bilbo was indeed more than ready for bed, so he slowly opened the door to Thorin’s bedroom and went in. Thorin was lying on his back, divested again of his clothes, but retaining his two braids and the rings that he had worn all along the journey. His eyes were closed and he did not react to any sound, so Bilbo assumed that he’d fallen asleep. The hobbit went on to wash up and change out of his day outfit, then came back, especially eager to climb into bed and give himself to sleep.

But sleep proved elusive. Something kept him from closing his eyes, although he wanted to, very badly. Perhaps it was because his field of view as he lay in bed was taken up by Thorin’s profile and the thoughts that still glowed in his mind hovered around him. For the Dwarves of Erebor, this Yule Eve night was one like few others had probably been. On this darkest night of the year, they were getting back their light. They had been reunited with their king and from then on they could only rejoice at the certainty that he would soon return to them in complete possession of his prerogatives and would lead them towards the life that they were truly meant to have. Although Thorin did not place himself above them, it had never been more effortlessly evident that the Dwarves held his image above everything that was worldly even when he laughed and drank with them.

For Bilbo, however, there was still something remaining untouched by that deep sense of resolution, or at least by the knowledge that things would be all right. He knew that it would take more than one long night for him to achieve that kind of certainty over his feelings and over what would happen if he gave them free reign over his life. After all, that battle was only just beginning. But something had changed irrevocably over the course of that day. He felt much like a glowing ember himself, like a hard and unyielding shell within him had been charred into the very essence of warmth. He lay like that for a while longer, in the sweet spell that approaching sleep wove around him.

But sleep still did not come, and he was starting to understand why. He rose on an elbow, leaned gently over Thorin and placed a light kiss at the root of his nose, and two more over his closed eyelids. Thorin shifted his head under Bilbo’s lips, nudging the underside of his chin. Bilbo could feel him smile.

He pulled back a little, startled. He had honestly expected Thorin to be asleep. He wasn’t far from it. His eyes were open only slightly, but he had definitely been aware of Bilbo’s kisses.

Bilbo could pretend it hadn’t happened, or he could admit that he felt something for Thorin that could only be expressed in that way. He felt heat gathering in his face as he couldn’t help smiling back to Thorin.

“May I kiss you?” Thorin asked then softly.

Bilbo’s breath hitched in his throat. He hoped that it did not show too much on his face, but he probably hoped in vain. “Where would you like to kiss me?” he asked, putting on his best attempt at untroubled confidence. He would have had to lean whatever part of his face that Thorin was interested in towards his lips. He looked too weak to lift his head to the intended place himself.

“Not your forehead,” said Thorin.

Bilbo felt himself blushing violently, but he kept his head. “I don’t know if I can be what you want me to be.”

“I do not want you to be anything. I just want you.”

Thorin’s answer sounded so deeply true, not at all like greed was driving his words, or lust. There were things he could imagine and fear, things he could remember and fear more, but all of that faded in the face of simple truth. The truth was that his decision was already made and that it was no longer really his choice. He couldn’t choose not to love Thorin, whether there were any stone-set assurances attached to that or not. At what more of an assurance could there be other than being welcomed into the very deepest core of Thorin’s kingdom and of his heart? For now, it was enough.

Bilbo guessed Thorin’s wish even if he did not state it clearly. It was easy to guess, not only because Thorin had a special power to say more with the words he was  not speaking, but the thought of it had also been on Bilbo’s mind all day, ever since the end of their morning conversation. He had not meant to kiss Thorin’s nose or his eyes earlier. They had just been sweet diversions from something he dared not do. It looked like he didn’t have to hesitate any longer. He lowered his mouth to Thorin’s, not at all with quivering lips. The tickle of Thorin’s beard made him instantly want to giggle, but he restrained himself and only let his mouth curve into a light smile. The kiss was warm, and infinitely soft, as Bilbo had wanted it to be, and for once the fire in his face died down as their closeness lingered on towards an even softer end. It was more like a dream than like hard reality, but as they finally parted and gazed at each other in the wake of this act without return, they both knew that it was all very real.

Bilbo felt like a great wing of relief embraced him, and his limbs were turning to liquid. He let his head drop slowly on Thorin’s chest, but he remembered at the last minute that it would have probably hurt him if he had lowered his entire weight on it. He kept his ear there for a while, listening for the muffled song of Thorin’s heart, tucked safely beneath strong muscle and bone, much like the most precious of stones inside his mountain. It sounded reassuringly steady. Bilbo eventually glided back down at Thorin’s side and noticed that Thorin had followed him with his gaze, which was now wide and awake with the very sparkling opposite of sadness. Bilbo smiled at him, then leaned his forehead against Thorin’s shoulder, knowing that there would be another time for making himself disappear into his arms.  
Days of Agony - Ch 13 The Darkest Night
This is the last chapter of "Days of Agony", but it is definitely not the end. Bilbo and Thorin's new adventures in Erebor will continue soon in a new story :)
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As Bilbo, Fili and Kili sat out in the sunshine on the terrace above the Gate of the Lonely Mountain, the sound of commotion came from below. They all stood up, Fili relying on Bilbo’s arm, and went over to the parapet to investigate. There was a horse-drawn cart coming on the road from Dale, filled with what appeared to be evergreen shrubs. The cart was being driven by two Mirkwood elves. Another one was riding before it.

“Tauriel!” said Kili breathlessly as he recognized the elf in front. Then he flashed a sun-filled grin to Bilbo and Fili and bolted down the stairs, having seemingly forgotten all about his battle wounds even if they had not yet forgotten him.

Bilbo stared after him, then looked back to Fili, who raised a mischievous eyebrow. “Let’s follow,” he said. “I can’t miss this for the world.”

Grateful for an opportunity to feel less serious about life in general, Bilbo lent Fili his arm. It would have made for an easier descent of the stairs that led down to the Gate than relying fully on his crutches would have allowed. And it gave Bilbo time to appreciate his company and to think of how unlike that darkest time of the year Fili and his brother were. Their very presence, still youthful and lively even after they had faced war and death, was the living proof that darkness was only a veil under which light gathered strength.

By the time they walked out into the open, the cart had stopped and several dwarves had gathered around it. Tauriel had dismounted, and she was talking to Kili. She smiled and bowed her head slightly as she caught sight of Bilbo and Fili.

“Very glad to see you both again,” she said, in her lithe, silvery voice that reminded Bilbo of why he loved the Elves.

“We’re glad to see you!” replied Fili.

“Yes, yes, quite,” added Bilbo. “I trust you’re all right, after the battle and all.”

“I am, thank you.”

“What, uh-” began Fili, looking at the cart.

“Oh, I was just telling Kili that our King wanted to send you some decorations for the Yuletide feast. We know that the dragon has destroyed everything outside the mountain, so we thought it would be welcome. We have a lot of evergreen we can spare. There is also a log under there.”

“The Elvenking is very generous,” said Fili, suddenly sounding solemn. “You must relay our thanks to him.”

“Of course, I will,” said Tauriel with another gentle bow of her head.

All around them, dwarves had begun to carry armloads of evergreen inside the mountain and slowly a great, long tree trunk was revealed at the bottom of the cart. Bilbo recognized the bark to be that of an ash tree. As he followed the course of the log inside the mountain, his gaze fell upon Dain, who was coming out towards them. Behind him walked Gloin, carrying a large box in his arms.

Dain nodded to everyone, then gestured for Gloin to come forward. Gloin opened the box, revealing a wreath of gold and precious stones. “A small gift for King Thranduil,” said Dain, looking at Tauriel with restrained courtesy. “As a token of our gratitude,” he continued, and Bilbo thought he could hear him grit his teeth.

“Thank you, Lord Dain,” said Tauriel, affecting a good disposition more convincingly. “I am sure King Thranduil will appreciate it.” Then she gestured to her companions to collect the box from Gloin. “May I ask how King Thorin is feeling? My Lord Thranduil would welcome news of his recovery.”

“He’s well,” replied Dain, with a thin smile. “He is not yet fully recovered, but he is getting there.”

Tauriel bowed her forehead lower this time.

“Now, if you will excuse me,” said Dain, “I must be getting back.” Dain greeted the elves with the same reserved ceremony, then he and Gloin started back inside the mountain.

“I believe we should be going back as well,” said Tauriel, looking to Kili, Bilbo and Fili. A shade of regret fell over her face.

“Will you not stay a while?” asked Kili.

Tauriel hesitated to offer an answer right away. She glanced over her shoulder briefly, as if she wanted to say something that she would have preferred her companions not to hear. “I cannot stay,” she said, eventually. Then, she brightened back suddenly. “Oh, I almost forgot. I meant to give this back to you.” She removed something from her pocket, held it in her hand and then presented it to Kili. It was the rune stone that his mother had given to him so that he would remember to come back to her.

“It was a gift. Keep it,” said Kili.

“I cannot. You must show it to your mother when you see her again. It would not be right for me to keep it.”

Kili accepted the stone and looked at it despondently for a bit, but not for too long. “Then you must accept something else in its place,” he said and began unfastening a braid that he was wearing at the back of his head and that Bilbo had not really noticed before. “I know you don’t wear beads in your hair,” he said as he was left with a shining silver cuff in his palm, “but perhaps you will still like this.”

“It’s lovely, thank you,” said Tauriel with a little smile, taking the cuff from Kili’s hand and hiding it inside her pocket.

“I hope to see you again,” said Kili. “Perhaps you’d like to visit sometime?”

“Sometime,” she said, a hint of a promise subtly bright in her voice.

Then, Tauriel mounted her horse and signalled to her companions to turn around. Kili, Fili and Bilbo waved as the elves rode away, back to Mirkwood. Kili held his hand in the air the longest.

“Thorin will like this,” said Fili, coming up at Kili’s side.

“What? The mistletoe?” asked Kili, with a cheeky grin.

Fili gave his brother a withering look. “You making friends with an Elf maiden.”

Kili swallowed a little painfully and looked back at the road, sparkling white with snow behind the elves. “I imagine he will.”

Bilbo felt for the young dwarf and for his own troublesome matters of the heart. But perhaps sometimes it was worth the trouble, and perhaps sometimes it did not mean much if there was no trouble attached. He also could not help wondering how many of the Dwarves would have actually liked what was going on between him and Thorin had they known about it. Surely, the Company seemed to know something. Fili and Kili, and even Balin seemed to approve, and there weren’t any signs of opposition from the others, but Dwalin was obviously of a different opinion. And he had to wonder how many others would have seen things the way Dwalin did if they’d known what Dwalin knew.

“Bilbo,” a voice came clamouring from behind, curtailing Bilbo’s thoughts.

He turned and saw Bofur walking towards him with a definite bounce in his step.

“Bilbo, there you are,” said Bofur, coming closer. “I thought you were with Thorin.”

“No, I… wanted to get some air. Anything the matter?”

“Ah, no, no. I just wanted to ask you if you would help us with something,” said Bofur, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Hmm, might I ask with what?”

“We’re struggling a little in the kitchen. We could use a good baker, and from what I remember, you are one.”

“Well,” said Bilbo puffing out his chest. “I know a bit about baking, I suppose. I’ll help gladly.”

“Great, come with me,” said Bofur.

Bilbo took his leave from Fili and Kili and followed Bofur to the Royal Kitchen, animated by the prospect of helping the dwarves with something that truly was within his area of expertise.

It did look like they needed help. The kitchen looked a bit like a battlefield, with plumes of steam rising here and there from great black pots, and about half a dozen dwarves slicing and spicing large chunks of meat.

“Bilbo!” called Bombur, who was trying to beat some eggs while giving out instructions or answering questions. “I’m so glad you’re here! Would you kindly beat these eggs for me?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” said Bilbo, looking back at Bofur, who winked at him and went over to one of the steaming pots and started stirring meticulously.

Bombur abandoned the bowl of eggs and started looking around for something. “Ah!” he said, having found it, “put this on.” He handed Bilbo a light blue apron.

Bilbo smiled in thanks and donned the apron, then took over for Bombur, as the large dwarf started rummaging in a cupboard below the counter.

“Uhm, what kind of meat is that?” asked Bilbo, looking behind over his shoulder at the frantically working dwarves.

“Boar!” clamoured Bombur, his head now almost completely inside the cupboard.

“Boar?”

“Yes!” said Bombur, emerging from the cupboard with a great flour sack in his arms. “What do you have at the Yuletide feast?”

“Pork,” said Bilbo.

“Well, we have boar,” said Bombur, placing the sack of flour on the counter and breathing out in relief.

“Where did it come from? I thought nothing lived in these parts anymore.”

“Dain had it brought over from the Iron Hills. They have more than enough.”

“Oh, I see.”

“We’re expecting a few barrels of strong ale later, too.”

“Oh!”

“You have to drink it, you know,” said Bombur, eyeing Bilbo in serious fashion.

“What?”

“You have to drink ale on Yule Eve. Otherwise it’s bad luck.”

“I don’t have a problem with that,” said Bilbo, whisking away.

Bombur smiled at him in approval.

“So, what are we making here?” asked Bilbo.

“Yule cakes,” responded Bombur as he opened the sack of flour. “We have to make at least one for each dwarf.”

“Right,” said Bilbo. “What’s in them?”

“Honey, raisins and dried currants.”

“Sounds rather good,” said Bilbo.

Bombur winked in response.

“Do you mind if I make one of my own recipes?” asked Bilbo. “I mean, if there’s time left.”

“Oh, no, not at all.”

They set to work on the Yule cakes, and something woke in Bilbo which he had not felt in a very long time. It was a kind of soft, warm pleasure at having his hands covered in flour and sugar, at knowing that just by bringing together a few simple ingredients and applying a little attention, he could make something that would have delighted the palate and the soul alike. Bilbo loved all food, making it as well as eating it, but cakes, tarts and biscuits were his favourites. It seemed to him that, in the case of baking, the transformation was the most miraculous. He had in fact forgotten this pleasure over the long months that he had travelled the world with Thorin and the other dwarves. He tried to remember the last time that he had baked anything. It had probably been the morning of the day when his unexpected guests had come. He had made the lovely seedcakes that Dwalin had eaten with such zest.

Of course, he usually did not have companions in his kitchen at home, but he found that he quite enjoyed the experience. This made him look at Bombur, to try and determine his state of mind. The dwarf seemed to be taking just as much pleasure in his task of pouring the cake batter into baking pans.

“Bombur,” said Bilbo as he cracked more eggs into the bowl in front of him, “did you ever think you would get to do this? I mean, bake in the kitchen of Erebor?”

Bombur gave him a furtive glance. “No, not really. None of us thought we would get this far. We just followed Thorin where he led.”

Bilbo smiled to him. “But I understand you had a pretty comfortable life back in the Blue Mountains.”

“Oh, indeed. It wasn’t at all bad. We had food, clothing. I can’t say there was much we were lacking.”

“And yet you followed Thorin away from all that.”

“He is our king, Bilbo. We would not have our life in the Blue Mountains without him. We owed him this much. It’s for us that he did all this, not just for himself.”

Bilbo lowered his gaze to his bowl of eggs, but stopped working. He realised that he had never really talked to Bombur about why he had come on the quest, or to any of the other dwarves, for that matter. He had always taken it for granted that they were confident in the success of the quest, and that it was somehow easier for them to be on the road for so long because of that. It seemed that he had been wrong.

“Of course, we have much to thank you for as well,” said Bombur.

Bilbo looked back up at him, startled. “Oh, I... I’m just glad we saw the end of it, and that we’re all alive.”

“Indeed.”

They exchanged a long glance, rich with the awareness of how precious this moment was and of how lucky they both were that they were living it.

They returned to their work and their conversation moved on to less heavy subjects such as what kind of cakes Hobbits baked for Yuletide, and what drinks they put on the table. Bombur seemed pleasantly surprised by the fact that Hobbits actually baked their cakes in the shape of a log and that they also contained honey and dried fruit. He listened intently to Bilbo as he told him that, in addition to their own variety of ale, Hobbits also enjoyed drinking mulled wine and apple cider at the Yule feast. All the while, however, the truth of their earlier exchange remained afloat in the space between them. Bilbo could feel it there at the back of his own mind, and he could see it in Bombur’s eyes, which glowed with quiet gladness.

A few hours later, they had more than enough cakes for everyone to enjoy. They were all beautifully round and baked to a golden crisp. Bombur shared one with Bilbo, to see what they had achieved together. It was soft, richly sweet and quite delicious, and Bilbo could say that he was proud of himself. He also felt more like himself than he had felt in a long time.

As Bilbo munched on the last bit of cake, Bombur set his hands in his hips and said, “I believe you have time for your own recipe if you still want to make it. Do you want help?”

“Oh, yes, thank you,” said Bilbo.

“What will it be?” asked Bombur.

“Lemon and lavender biscuits,” said the hobbit proudly.

“Did you say lavender?”

“That’s right. You don’t use lavender in your baking?”

“I can’t say that we do. We only use it for soaps and various oils and for keeping our clothes fresh.”

“Well,” said Bilbo, “then you’re about to try something new. Do you happen to have any lavender here?”

Bombur nodded and indicated a bunch of lavender than hung above the counter a little farther to Bilbo’s left.

Bilbo helped himself to some purple flowers and proceeded to perform some more baking magic, earning dubious looks from Bombur but also valuable and unwavering help.

It was already late when they were done. In spite of retaining an appearance of surprise till the very end, Bombur enjoyed the final result of Bilbo’s recipe quite a bit, and even offered a biscuit to Bofur with high recommendations. This gave Bilbo every reason to end his day of baking in the kitchen of Erebor feeling happy and accomplished. He wrapped two of his biscuits in a tea towel to take with him and wished everybody a good night.

He did not go straight to bed, however. As he stepped out of the kitchen, something tugged at his curiosity to see what had been happening elsewhere in the Mountain while he had been busy baking. Instead of walking on to the Royal Quarters, he tucked the bundle of biscuits neatly into his coat pocket and made his way to the Dining Hall, which he knew was to be the main focus of the celebrations the following day. When he finally stood in its entrance, he knew that his curiosity had not woken in vain. The log had been set into a large rectangular fire pit that acted as a rather spectacular centrepiece for the room, and two tall golden candlesticks stood on either side of the fire pit. Wreaths adorned the stone pillars of the hall, some of gold, some of holly and ivy. There were also garlands hanging from the ceiling, weaving together evergreen and golden lace, and supporting gems of all colours and thin bunches of mistletoe that made Bilbo feel as if he was looking up into a magical sky. He had never seen such splendour in his life, and it took his breath away. And he wished that Thorin could see it.

“Oh, my, this is… incredible,” said Bilbo, unable to look away, but catching a glimpse of Gloin as he came to welcome him.

“Aye. We had satisfying decorations in the Blue Mountains as well, but nothing like this,” said Gloin, his voice betraying awe.

“Huh, I imagine not…” Bilbo’s voice trailed as he continued to stare. Then he composed himself and looked briefly at his interlocutor. “I have to say I’m surprised that you use evergreen for decoration.”

“Well, back in the days when Dwarves were allies with the Elves, I mean, real allies, it was a sign of our friendship. And, I suppose it is a way of reminding ourselves that we need the world outside of our mountain cities as much as it needs us.”

“Right,” said Bilbo, smiling.

“So,” said Gloin, slightly lower, “I hear Thorin won’t be joining us in the celebrations tomorrow.”

“No, I don’t think he’s strong enough for that yet. Although I wish he could at least have a look at all this.”

“Perhaps in a few days,” said Gloin. “We’ll leave everything as it is for a while. And I hear from Balin that we’ll be having a small gathering in his quarters, just us, the Company. I’m sure that’ll lift his spirits a bit.”

Bilbo smiled to him. “I expect so.”

They gazed at each other silently for a little while. The words that they were not speaking didn’t need to be spoken. Bilbo could see in Gloin’s warm eyes that Thorin’s absence from the midst of his people carried just as much weight as his presence did. They went about their lives with apparent diligence, and even enthusiasm. They certainly had much to do, and Dain was there to watch over them, but they all seemed to be waiting for something still, something that would have finally given them a sense of closure and allowed them to move on. They were waiting for their king to take back his rightful place.

Bilbo looked away eventually, his eyes sweeping over the tables that were being set around the room, his thoughts scattered still somewhere in the undefinable space of his mind. Something drew his attention back to the matters at hand, however. He noticed something peculiar about the placing of the seats. Each table had one end occupied, but not the other.

“Gloin, why are there seats at only one end of the tables?”

“It is a custom that we observe on Yule Eve,” said Gloin. “We lay one extra place at the dining table for those who are no longer with us but whom we remember fondly.”

“Oh, I see,” said Bilbo. That would have included Thorin’s grandfather, his father, his brother and Nyrath. Bilbo slipped back into that thoughtful daze in which he seemed to spend much of his time of late. But he realised soon enough that Gloin was there and that he was looking at him. “Well,” said Bilbo, “I suppose I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Gloin nodded and even bowed a little. Bilbo wished him a good night and finally made his way back to the Royal Quarters.

As he entered the sitting room outside Thorin’s bedroom, he discovered that the fever of Yuletide preparations had reached there as well. Ori and Dori were hanging garlands and wreaths around the room, similar to those he had seen in the Dining Hall, while Balin and Dwalin were placing a pair of golden candle sticks on the sides of the hearth, where part of the log resided. It seemed as if his wish that Thorin could have seen the splendour of the Dining Hall was going to come true, even if on a smaller scale.

“Can I help?” asked Bilbo, closing the door behind him.

“Oh, Bilbo,” said Balin, “I hadn’t even noticed you’d come in.” The old dwarf straightened his back, breathing a little heavily, but looking content of the arrangement that he and his brother had set up. “Right, well, you can take that mistletoe on the table and hang it to Thorin’s bed,” added Balin, pointing to a vigorous bunch of dark green mistletoe lying on the edge of a large table that had not been there before.

Bilbo looked at it, wondering how much Thorin would like it, considering all that he had learned from Gloin about Dwarves’ use of evergreen in their Yule decor. “Uh, does he know it’s from the Elves?”

Balin made a bit of a face. “Yes. He took it quite well.”

“I see,” said Bilbo. “Anything else I can do?”

“No, we are almost done,” said Balin. “It’s late anyway. I don’t think Thorin has been able to rest at all on our account.”

Bilbo smiled to him and collected the mistletoe. “I suppose I’ll see you all tomorrow then,” he said.

The dwarves each bade their greetings, and Bilbo finally walked inside Thorin’s bedroom.

Thorin looked more alert than Bilbo had expected him to look. He raised his head from his pillows and smiled widely at the hobbit. They had not seen each other since that morning, when Bilbo had left him in lively conclave with Dain to go outside and ruminate on the usual things that shadowed his heart in those days. He realised that he had not thought of any of it all day since he had been swept off by Bofur to join the preparations for the Yule feast.

Something in Thorin’s luminous smile told Bilbo that he had missed him. And if he searched his own heart, he found that the feeling was mutual. Even if he could say that he’d had an eventful day, and eventful in a good way, for a change, he felt that something had been missing, that he had not been fully present for any of it, that part of him had stayed behind with Thorin in his room and it had been there all along. Now that he was with Thorin again, it was as if he had been put back together by an unseen hand. He imagined that he would have felt something very similar had he found himself on the doorstep of Bag End again. For the first time since he had heard it, he remembered Fili’s advice of trying to determine whether he would miss Thorin more than his home or the other way round. It had sounded simple when Fili had said it and it had come as an actual relief for his indecision, but now he understood that it only complicated things. It was not the kind of question that he could answer in a matter of days, and certainly not without knowing more of what he would be missing if he had chosen to return home.

He cleared his throat a bit, in an attempt to clear the air of a growing weight, and finally walked to Thorin’s bed. As he did so, he noticed more of the golden garlands hanging around the frames of the windows. He smiled to himself and leaned over the bed to hang the mistletoe to the headboard.

“You smell of cake,” said Thorin, looking up at him.

“I’ve been helping with the baking for tomorrow,” replied Bilbo, glancing down as he still struggled to hang the mistletoe. He was grateful that Thorin’s first words to him had been so matter-of-fact. Finally, he stepped back, task accomplished, and sighed in relief. Even if his words had been matter-of-fact, Thorin’s gaze was still unnervingly dreamy. In spite of that, Bilbo remembered. “Oh, I brought you something!” He reached inside his pocket and produced a little bundle of white cloth. He pulled the cloth aside and revealed two round golden cookies with little purple dots in them. “This is something that we make for Yuletide in the Shire. They’re lemon and lavender biscuits, fresh out of the oven. Try one.”

“Lavender?” asked Thorin, visibly doubtful.

“That’s right,” said Bilbo. “I eat these all the time and I’m still around. Well, I used to eat them.”

Thorin gave him a half-glare and collected one of the biscuits from Bilbo’s hand. He bit into it tentatively, then shot Bilbo a surprised look.

“It’s not so bad, is it?” asked Bilbo.

“Quite on the contrary,” said Thorin as he took a more daring bite.

“Well, I’ll leave this here then,” said Bilbo, relieved, and laid the tea towel with the other biscuit on Thorin’s bedside table. “I’m going to wash up for bed.”

When Bilbo came back, Thorin was leaning against his pillow with a particularly content air about him, and the two biscuits were gone. Bilbo rewarded him with a smile and climbed into bed at his side.

Thorin welcomed him with a light in his eyes that did not seem to be of that world. “Thank you,” he said, “for the lavender biscuits.”

“Ah, it was no trouble at all. I enjoyed helping out in the kitchen today. It felt a bit like… home.”

“You miss it, now more than ever.”

“I suppose I do.”

“I hope this will not sound unkind, but I am glad you are here with us at this time.”

“No, I’m glad, too. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend Yuletide with this year more than with the Company of Thorin Oakenshield. Well, now you’re a little more than that.”

“Not to you,” said Thorin.

Bilbo thought for a moment. “Perhaps. But it’s hard to ignore when you are to everyone else.”

“Does it bother you?”

“No!” Bilbo said quickly. “I’m glad your dream has come true and that you get to live it.”

Thorin donned another otherworldly smile. “I want you to live it with me,” he whispered.

Bilbo properly gaped.

“I mean,” Thorin continued, apparently aware of saying too much, “while you are here.”

Bilbo swallowed the lump in his throat. “Of course,” he said, his voice a little wispier than before. “I, I’ll be happy to.”

Thorin looked like he was going to apologize again, so Bilbo did his best to appear confident in his answer in order to save him from it. Now it felt a little awkward to be staring at one another without words, unlike other times. Whatever Thorin had truly meant, Bilbo could not fathom it if he tried, nor did he want to. Now it could have been a good time to use the magic ring that he still carried in his pocket. He could have easily slipped it on his finger and disappeared. He only had to stick his hand into his pocket casually. It would have been so quick that Thorin would not have even noticed. But Bilbo could not have justified such a gesture to himself, let alone to Thorin.

It was strange. He had wanted Thorin to live so desperately, not just because he deserved it, but also because he perceived a possibility that Thorin could show him more of that which had remained unknown to him in the Shire. And now that his life was finally out of danger, all he wanted deep down in the smallest corner of his heart was to run away every time Thorin pushed him in that direction, even weak and bedridden as he was.

“I think we should get some sleep,” Bilbo said eventually.

Thorin nodded and settled more comfortably into his pillow. Bilbo turned on his back and stared at the ceiling longer than he would have liked. There was a pool of dim light visible in the round opening above the bed, a sign of a clear sky and a moon-filled night. He wondered why anyone would put a small window right above a bed, but it wasn’t placed so that the light fell on the face of the sleeper. It was set further towards the foot of the bed, and therefore it acted as a gentle hint of the succession of day and night outside. After having spent almost a month in that room, Bilbo had actually become able to tell the time well enough by the kind of light that came through the little well in the ceiling.

Bilbo finally turned on his side, facing away from Thorin. The dwarf was already snoring lightly, so he clearly wouldn’t have minded it. He was eager to take part in the celebrations the next day, but also a little apprehensive as to what they might bring for him. It was, after all, the end of a year and the start of a new one for Bilbo, and he wondered what new journeys the coming year had in store for him, if he had stayed in Erebor. On Yule Eve, what he usually expected from the new year was more quiet dinners and lovely tea parties, rain and sunshine in good measure for his garden, and a successful winemaking season. This year he did not know what to expect. And the thought of it kept him awake for most of the long night.
Days of Agony - Ch 12 Mistletoe
In which Erebor gets a Yuletide makeover, Bilbo bakes cakes and Tauriel makes a guest appearance
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Bilbo had fallen asleep in Thorin’s armchair again. He had sat down to think about everything that he had learned about Thorin and about himself the previous night and had never got up. Now, as he stirred awake, all shades of pain woke in his body with him, and the heaviness in his head made him feel like he had not really been sleeping at all. He opened his eyes slowly, without focusing on anything, and through the mist of half-wakefulness, he could remember formless images of darkening paths and gathering shadows. It had probably been a dream, and not a particularly pleasant one. He sat up a little and rubbed his eyes.

He glanced at Thorin, who seemed to have fared better in that latter half of the night. He had certainly earned at least half of a good night’s rest. Bilbo could still not dispel the image of the still sleeping Thorin tormented by his nightmare, of his hollowed stare as the hobbit had called to him to bring him back. He could not forget how Thorin had clung to him desperately for comfort, so unlike himself as he had known him, revealing to Bilbo what was probably the best kept secret of his heart.

Bilbo suspected that not many others knew the whole truth about Nyrath, although he had been told that Dwarves did not mind such a relationship much. But Thorin was not any Dwarf. His status might have very well forced that part of him into secrecy. Perhaps revealing it to someone now, after 140 years, had brought him the peace of mind that he had missed all along. Bilbo shivered a little at his own thought. Thorin had not simply revealed that information to someone just to unburden himself. He had revealed it to the person in whom, perhaps, his hidden hopes lay renewed. Of course, Bilbo himself had unknowingly pushed him to remember, but Thorin could have still not told him anything. It was a gesture of trust that intimidated Bilbo more than it made him glad, for he was not at all sure that he would be able to honour it as Thorin wanted.

He knew there was no point in letting his fears fester, however. He got up and went to wash up. By the time he came back, Thorin was awake. He looked well-rested enough but kept shifting on his back as if to soothe the deaf pain that immobility had probably put there.

“Do you want me to pull up your pillow a bit?” asked Bilbo.

Thorin nodded, and Bilbo helped him raise his head with one hand and worked on his pillow with the other. He could see Thorin looking up at him all that time. He looked back, smiling.

“There,” said Bilbo as he laid Thorin’s head back on the plumped pillow and sat down on the side of the bed.

He expected Thorin to lie back peacefully, but the dwarf tried to sit further up by pushing himself up on his hands and managing to cause himself pain more than anything. He obviously didn’t have a lot of his strength working for him and he could only truly rely on his right arm for support. His left arm could be counted on to give him grief and not much else at that time.

“Thorin, let me help,” jumped Bilbo.

“No, I can do it,” refused Thorin, his face scrunched up in pain.

Bilbo sat back and watched as Thorin finally managed to hoist himself further up, sweating again from the effort.

“I see you’re becoming a difficult patient,” teased Bilbo with an arched eyebrow.

Thorin returned a well-executed glare, which Bilbo could only reward with a smile, aware that it all meant one thing: that Thorin was getting better. He could understand how anyone, but especially someone as strong as Thorin, could become frustrated with not even being able to get up from his bed for over two weeks. He wasn’t really being difficult. He was just being true to his nature.

“You know,” added Bilbo, “Balin says that the less strain you put on yourself, the sooner you’ll get out of this bed. That’s why I’m here. That’s why we’re all here.”

Thorin mellowed a bit as he regained his breath. “I know,” he grumbled, “it’s just that I’m-”

“I know,” said Bilbo, “it won’t be that long now.” He took his left hand into his carefully. It was still shivering with either pain or exhaustion, or perhaps both.

Thorin seemed to accept Bilbo’s touch as his hand settled slowly into the hobbit’s. “Do you have bad dreams?” he asked, seemingly out of nowhere, as he let his head rest fully on his pillow.

“Sometimes,” replied Bilbo.

“Did you have bad dreams before?”

“Before the quest? Not the kind I have now.” He saw Thorin’s whole face drape in regret. “No, don’t apologize,” said Bilbo, “don’t apologize for showing me the world as it is. Besides, I’ve always wanted to see for myself, remember?”

Thorin smiled in return, still regretful. “I wish you did not have to face so much peril, not on my account.”

“Oh, Thorin, do you really mean that?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I ran after you. You didn’t hold an axe over my head, as Dwalin so eloquently put it a while ago.”

Thorin looked a little surprised, but chose to ignore the reference to a conversation between Bilbo and Dwalin that he had obviously missed. “But you did not know what you were running after.”

“I think Bofur’s speech about Smaug’s fire-breathing abilities gave me a fair idea,” said Bilbo. “So fair it knocked me out cold.” Thorin started to laugh again and it made him wince a little. “I am glad to have shared in your perils, Thorin, and to have survived them. Now it takes a little more than the mere mention of a dragon to make me lose my footing.” Thorin smiled widely. “I have no regrets,” said Bilbo, “and neither should you.”

At that moment, the door opened and Balin and Oin came in. Balin was carrying a tray of food, which was no doubt Thorin’s breakfast, while Oin was lagging behind, bringing what Bilbo suspected were fresh towels.

“Good morning,” said Balin brightly, “how is everyone doing?”

“We’re fine, thank you,” responded Bilbo.

“Ah, glad to hear it,” said Balin, setting the tray on Thorin’s night table. “I hope you’re hungry,” he said, eyeing Thorin.

“Do I get to say no?” asked Thorin.

“Not really.”

Thorin smirked. “As it happens, I am hungry.”

“All for the better then.”

They all shared a laugh.

“Bilbo, the Company is gathered for breakfast in the dining hall. You can join them if you want,” said Balin with one of his special winks.

“Oh, yes, I think I’ll do that,” said Bilbo and stood up. He suspected that Balin was sending him away on purpose and that they would be doing a little more than changing Thorin’s dressings after he had finished eating. If they were about to do what he thought they would do, he certainly didn’t want to be there for it, and he knew that Thorin didn’t either. Besides, the idea of sharing a nice, peaceful breakfast with his friends appealed to him greatly. He smiled to Thorin and walked quietly towards the door. He collected his borrowed felt coat before walking out.

The rest of the Company were sitting around one of the tables in the great dining hall of Erebor, which had not yet regained the full splendor that Bilbo imagined it had possessed in the past, but which was at least free of dust and clutter. They waved to him with big smiles as they saw him. Even Dwalin spared a smile, although he did not wave. Bilbo greeted everyone, then sat down next to Ori and surveyed the table to see what looked fetching.

“Try the bacon,” Ori said at his side, “and the scones, they’re quite good.”

“There’s tea as well,” clammored Dori from the opposite side of the table, pointing to a large kettle a little to Bilbo’s right.

“Right, thank you,” said Bilbo, reaching for the tea.

“How’s Thorin doing?” asked Gloin, still munching in his great red beard.

“He’s well,” said Bilbo, “getting a little impatient in fact.”

“Huh, I’ll say,” said Gloin, “he’s never been one to lie around and be coddled.”

“I’m afraid he doesn’t have much choice,” said Bilbo with a half-smile.

“Aye, lad,” Gloin nodded, “that much is true.”

“He should be better by Yuletide, though,” called Bofur from the other end of the table, “we can’t have a Yule feast without the King.”

Everyone approved vigurously and there was a surge of optimism around the table that Bilbo could feel almost as a gust of warm wind. There were about ten days left until Yule, so Bofur’s hopes had good chances of being realised. Bilbo found himself irresitibly drawn to his companions’ enthusiasm and something in him longed for a great and well-catered feast.

“Do Hobbits celebrate Yule, Bilbo?” asked Ori.

“Oh, yes, yes, it’s our New Year, in fact.”

“Is that so? Then you must have a big celebration!”

“Yes, it’s usually rather big and noisy.”

His table companions laughed.

“We can make a fair amount of noise, too,” said Bofur, “as you well know, Bilbo. We’ll strive to make Yule as enjoyable for you as we can.”

“I have no doubt,” Bilbo shouted to cover the already loud sound of cheer around him.

Breakfast went on in fine Dwarven fashion, which, if Bilbo thought about it, was a more raucous version of a Hobbit breakfast, with merriment and food well enjoyed. It made him think of home and of everything that he was missing.

He knew that he was stuck there for the winter, but the thought of home always lingered at the back of his mind. Now that Thorin was getting better and would probably be recovered for the most part by the end of winter, Bilbo had to ask himself whether he would be staying on, or whether he was ready to return to Bag End. There was still time, but the decision was beginning to lurk in the distance, gaining contour with each day that passed. It was a decision harder to make than he would have liked it to be. He was fond of the Dwarves and he wished them well, but he really should have been getting back to his own business. Even if he was not the same Hobbit that had left the Shire, he was still a Hobbit, and he had plenty to get back to. And yet he couldn’t really tell if he was ready to part with Thorin. Perhaps he had changed more than he realised, and more than he had imagined he would. He had to wonder if he really was a Hobbit anymore if anything could feel more important to him than his own home.

Suddenly despondent, Bilbo excused himself and slowly made his way back to the Royal Quarters. He met Balin and Oin as they were coming out of Thorin’s bedroom. Both of them displayed slightly forced smiles.

“Something happened?” asked Bilbo as he came up to them.

“No, he’s understandably flustered about the... inevitable indignities of being confined to bed,” said Balin with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh.”

“And, well, we let his wounds air a bit. Dwarf royals aren’t bound to be very happy with being unclothed and covered in sticky ointments. At least it doesn’t smell bad.”

Bilbo barely withheld a chuckle.

“This would be a good time for you to wash his hair, Bilbo, if you’d like.”

“I’d be happy to,” said Bilbo, smiling to Balin and Oin, and watched them file out of the room in silence.

Then he took a deep breath and entered the bedroom slowly. He saw Thorin lying on his back across the bed, his hair flowing down the side of it. Apparently he was expecting a more pleasant end to his morning.

“Thorin?” called Bilbo, to get his attention, and advanced slowly towards him.

Thorin looked back at him over his forehead and eventually smiled as Bilbo approached him. He looked a little flushed and more than understandably flustered. The rest of him didn’t amuse Bilbo one bit. All of his wounds were unwrapped and anointed with one of Oin’s poultices. It did help that it didn’t smell bad, but not by much. The sight still startled the hobbit, and what startled him more was Thorin’s look of helplessness and the paleness of his skin in the bright light of late morning. He remembered being impressed with how strong Dwarves were, and Thorin was a fine example of that. Now he was a fine image of his kingdom, lost and found again, greatness and power set in flesh instead of stone, but charred and broken. Still, what seemed to bother Thorin most was unseen.

“I think it hurts less than your wounds,” Bilbo tried to smile.

“What?”

“Your dignity.”

Thorin scowled masterfully again, a definite sign that, in spite of the look of things, he really was healing. Then again, it was probably dignified for a Dwarf warrior to be wounded, especially for a king.

“At least you’ll have a fine set of scars to be proud of after this,” teased Bilbo, and this time Thorin responded with a little smirk.

The tension in the room faded, and Bilbo was overwhelmed with a sudden wave of affection for Thorin and his easily wounded pride. It was probably because he seemed to know how to make it better again, and how to make the good in him shine. And shine it did under the crystal light, clear and sky-blue in eyes that reminded Bilbo of gentle mornings of spring in the Shire and of the scent of hyacinth. Bilbo caressed the soft side of Thorin’s forehead with slightly disbelieving fingers, as if he almost expected his image to vanish under his touch like the ghost of hyacinths, but it didn’t. Thorin was still there, with his wounds and his pride and his hyacinth eyes. Bilbo leaned over him and finally gave him a kiss that he could feel, at the base of his regal nose. To his surprise, Thorin’s face acquired an even deeper shade of red. As Bilbo withdrew, he saw that Thorin was quite surprised himself. He had not expected the kiss. And Bilbo had not expected to give it, but he had.

“I’ll get some soap and water,” he said, smiling softly.

He collected the brush, soap and towels from the bathroom, then filled a bucket with warm water. All the while, he wondered how someone could still blush from a fairly innocent kiss on the forehead after having lived for over a century and a half. However that was possible and whatever it meant, it made Bilbo hopeful that he wasn’t the only one to be nervous about whatever was happening between them.

He returned to the bedroom and as he sat down behind Thorin, there was a definite glow radiating from him that was as far removed from wounded pride and indignity as day was from night. Thorin glanced back at him again. His eyes were swimming with a kind of hope that almost didn’t dare take flight but that was badly wanting to. The kiss had meant something, but it could not be talked about just yet. Bilbo wouldn’t have even known where to begin, but he knew that he didn’t have to, that the questions that he had of himself were being answered for him and that he couldn’t really stop his heart from wanting what it wanted.

Thorin’s gaze was probing for a confirmation that Bilbo’s gesture had not been in vain. The hobbit smiled to him and sustained his gaze until Thorin appeared satisfied with his answer. Balin had been right when he had said that being with Thorin would help him sort out his feelings. He knew that he had just shown to Thorin that he did love him back, in a way that surpassed friendship and that he couldn’t define in all its complexity. He wasn’t ready to tell him in words yet, or to tell himself even, and he wasn’t ready to act on it, but something was stirring in his heart, and he could no longer deny it when they were alone together.

Thorin withdrew his searching look, and Bilbo began by brushing his hair. With everything that he now knew, he was more aware than ever that what he was doing now carried a heavy meaning. If Thorin felt that, by caring for his hair, Bilbo was making some sort of pledge and that a spell was being wrought between them, he was well within his right to do so. Bilbo felt it, too.

As he ran his fingers slowly through the dwarf’s hair, he wondered if Thorin had ever shared such moments with Nyrath, if perhaps Nyrath had been more skilled than he was, and more bold. It was reasonable to think that he had been both. He had been a Dwarf, after all, and so he had been just as familiar with Dwarf ways as Thorin was. In the rare moment of peace that he was experiencing, the seed of doubt began again to darken his heart. The doubt that, even if he could no longer deny that he loved Thorin, he could not really give him what Nyrath had probably given him if he was still remembered with such vivid clarity after 140 years. That was most probably what Thorin expected of him now, and the one thing that he felt certain of was that he was not prepared for it, whatever it was.

Bilbo sighed a little too loudly as he laid the brush aside. Thorin shot an inquisitive glance back at him.

“It’s nothing,” said Bilbo, “close your eyes.” He waited until Thorin finally did so, and then started wetting his hair. “I think they’re starting to get excited about Yuletide out there,” he said. “Bofur says they can’t have a Yule feast without you. Think you can muster a little more patience until next week? You should be able to get out of bed by then if you sit tight.”

Thorin mumbled an affirmative answer, slightly more petulance in his voice than Bilbo had expected after giving him definite hope that he would be out of bed soon. He smiled, though, realising that it was just Thorin starting to be Thorin again. And, once more, he wondered if Nyrath had had to dodge and sweeten Thorin’s less than bright moods, if he too had come to love even those and recognize them as simply aspects of Thorin’s personality. That was a question that he would probably never have the answer to, and he would have to settle for his own guess. And he guessed that the answer was yes.

As usual, Thorin was starting to doze off as Bilbo soaped his hair, against either pain or annoyance, so Bilbo said nothing more and applied himself to his task. It was probably better to concentrate on the practical side of things and think less about what they meant.

Bilbo tried to follow that philosophy for the remainder of the week and the start of the next, but it didn’t quite work, not entirely. For a welcome change, there wasn’t much awkwardness anymore between him and Thorin, but he could see that Thorin was still very careful with what he said and did around him. He didn’t want to make Bilbo uncomfortable again, and although Bilbo appreciated his courtesy, it also made him feel guilty. And, inevitably, his mind wandered where it should not have wandered, to a past that was not his own, to Nyrath. He couldn’t help filtering all his interactions with Thorin through the spectre of that person who was long dead, but who still seemed very much alive in Thorin’s memory. He wondered how Nyrath had touched him, how much less he had hesitated to act on his feelings, how much more open he had been to Thorin’s own.

If there had ever been a time when he could have used Gandalf’s advice, this was it. He was lucky to have Balin to talk to, but he couldn’t talk to him about this, not all of it. Not without possibly betraying Thorin’s confidence. If Gandalf had been there, he could have told him freely that being with Thorin now made him feel like the ground was constantly slipping from under his feet, that he was losing control of his thoughts and emotions, and that it exhausted him beyond belief. But Gandalf was not there.

The day before Yule Eve was bright and beautiful although it was cold. Even if Bilbo was not at home for that most important of holidays, he could not be closer to feeling at home. Erebor was a long way from displaying its full festive grandeur, but it was filled with life and happiness, and a very genuine wonder at hosting a Yule feast within its halls for the first time in over a century and a half. Bilbo was not immune to the happy hustle and bustle around him, but he could not say that he felt it entirely, and for the first time in many years after his parents’ death, his enthusiasm for Yuletide was shaded by melancholy.

He was now leaning against the rebuilt parapet over the Gate of the Lonely Mountain, wrapped in a fur-lined overcoat that Thorin had advised him to take out of his dressing closet. It was nice and warm, but he still felt strange wearing Dwarven clothes. They didn’t quite fit him, and he couldn’t stop thinking that it was perhaps a sign that his place was not there and that it would never be.

His gaze was not lost into the distance before him, but rather descended down the wall of the mountain kingdom and scattered among the goings on below. He was not really seeing the Dwarves and Men coming and going, and he did not hear their chatter. They only registered somewhere at the back of his mind. What he did see was the ever-plunging darkness of his own heart.

An unfamiliar noise drew Bilbo slowly out of his thoughts, a shuffling noise, as if someone was walking with a limp towards him. He turned and caught sight of Fili, advancing with some difficulty in his right leg and relying on the support of crutches under both of his arms.

“Fili!” said Bilbo, turning towards him. “I didn’t know you were up and about!”

“Yes, I was beginning to grow roots in that bed.” Although he looked tired, Fili was smiling and all of his golden braids were in place.

“I’m glad you’re feeling well enough. What about Kili?”

“He’s still with uncle, but he should be out soon as well,” said Fili as he came closer to Bilbo and stopped near the ledge in the mountain wall that served as seating. He let go of the crutch under his left arm and leaned it against the rock.

“Oh, do you need help?” offered Bilbo.

“Yes, thank you.”

Bilbo kept a steady grip of Fili’s left arm as he eased himself down. The hobbit sat down at his side as Fili leaned against the wall of the mountain and breathed deeply.

“So you’ve been to see Thorin,” said Bilbo, smiling.

Fili nodded, visibly relieved. “He looked well. It is a wonder that he’s even alive.”

“Yes, it was close there for a while. But then it was for you, too.”

“Mhm,” Fili approved thoughtfully.

“What happened out there on the battlefield?” asked Bilbo.

“We tried our best to protect him,” sighed Fili, “but for Dwarves youth is rarely an advantage. It takes more to slow down an older and more experienced Dwarf than it did to put us out of commission. Eventually, he was alone with Azog and his pack of Orcs, and not even Thorin has endless resources, as much as he would like that to be true.” Bilbo grinned. “Not to mention he hadn’t slept and eaten properly in days.”

“Sometimes I think his will alone keeps him,” said Bilbo, grin fading into a smile, and he put a hand on Fili’s forearm. “What matters is that you’re all alive and well.”

“Indeed. A Dwarf warrior must always be ready to die, but I would have hated to miss all this. And it would have probably made our mother very angry.”

“Is she really that stern?” asked Bilbo. “I heard Dain speak along the same lines about her.”

A sweet smile graced Fili’s face. “No. She’s just... our mother. And as much of a descendant of Durin as Thorin is. She’s just slightly less impulsive than he is.”

“I see.”

“If you stick around long enough, perhaps you’ll get to meet her.”

“Huh, perhaps,” replied Bilbo a little uncomfortably.

Fili’s smile lingered. “And how are you, Bilbo?”

“Oh, I’m fine, I only had a few scratches anyway.”

“That hardly looks like a simple scratch,” said Fili, pointing to the healing mark on Bilbo’s forehead.

Bilbo shrugged, “It wasn’t really that bad.”

“Have you been able to rest at all in that armchair of yours?”

Bilbo smiled nervously again. He didn’t feel particularly willing to tell Fili that he had been sharing Thorin’s bed for a good long while, although he realised that the possibility of him sleeping in an armchair for about three weeks was more than far-fetched. “The armchair isn’t that bad either,” said Bilbo.

“Hmm,” continued Fili, “you must miss your warm bed at home. I remember the one I slept in was quite comfortable.”

“I haven’t really had time to think about that, but, yes, I suppose I do.”

“Bilbo!” Kili’s voice came from a little distance at their side.

Bilbo looked in the direction of the call and saw the younger dwarf coming towards where he and Fili were sitting, limping less and without crutches, but still bearing clear marks of his battle injuries in the way he moved. He finally came up to them, wide smile beaming on his face, and Bilbo stood up for a hug. Then he invited Kili to sit down at Fili’s side and retook his own seat.

“Bilbo, I must compliment you on a job well done,” said Kili, “Thorin’s recovering really well. I think he might be able to join us in the celebrations tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” said Bilbo, “it wasn’t always easy.”

The two brothers approved with knowing nods.

“I hope you will join us, too?” asked Kili.

“Yes, yes, of course.”

“Good. Will you be going back soon then? Back home, I mean,” added Kili.

Bilbo stared at him a bit, then at Fili, who was also looking to be waiting for an aswer. “Uh, I don’t know yet.”

“I’m sure we can spare someone to go with you. You can’t expect to make the return journey alone,” offered Fili.

“No, it’s not that.”

“Is it because of uncle?” probed Kili.

Bilbo looked up at him surprised for a second. “Yes, it’s because of your uncle.”

“You don’t have to stay out of guilt, Bilbo,” said Fili.

“It’s not guilt,” said Bilbo with a flicker of a smile pulling at his lips. “Not entirely, at least.”

Then he saw the two brothers grinning at each other. “We suspected as much,” said Kili, glee dancing in his soft brown eyes.

Bilbo blushed instantly. “You did?”

“Well, a mithril shirt isn’t a gift easily given,” said Fili. “Thorin obviously wanted to take no risks as far your safety was concerned.”

“And if ever love was blind!” said Kili. “He’d even suspect us of taking the Arkenstone, but not you.”

“And you blush every time we mention his name,” added Fili. “We didn’t believe for a second you were staying just because you wanted to recover your strength.”

They were both grinning triumphantly now, and Bilbo felt like crawling under the nearest rock. He had to content himself with covering his face with both hands.

“We also suspect that’s why he’s so... patient with being a patient,” Fili said.

Bilbo snorted, his face still covered. Then he felt a hand gently squeezing his shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Bilbo, you don’t have to be embarrassed,” said Fili. “This is not a bad thing. It’s very good in fact.”

“Is it?” Bilbo finally faced them again.

“It isn’t?” asked Kili, visibly dismayed.

Bilbo looked down at his hands. “I don’t know. I truly don’t know.”

“But you obviously feel the same,” said Fili.

“Yes, but I don’t belong here. I belong in Bag End.”

“Well, it’s normal for you to still miss home,” said Kili. “But it doesn’t mean that you don’t belong here. I mean, we would all love it if you stayed.”

Bilbo smiled at the young dwarf. “Thank you, Kili, that’s very nice of you to say.”

“We mean it,” said Fili.

Bilbo looked at him and saw that he was suddenly very serious.

“Listen, Bilbo,” continued Fili, “this isn’t really our business, but may I offer an opinion?” Bilbo nodded. “Think about what you would miss most. Perhaps that will help you decide where you belong.”

Bilbo found himself smiling widely at that. It seemed that Gandalf and Balin weren’t the only ones who could impart wise advice. There was something to be said, after all, for Dwarf youth.

“Now, you’ve grown a little too serious for your own good,” said Fili, reverting to a more playful tone, and putting his arm around Bilbo. “We have a feast to look forward to. And the Dwarves of Erebor know how to throw a feast.”

Bilbo laughed. “I noticed.”
After his massage, Thorin slept till late in the afternoon, giving Bilbo time to visit Fili and Kili and forget the island of awkwardness in the middle of his day, or at least remember it with less stinging clarity. Of course, he mentioned none of it to Fili and Kili, and he was grateful that they did not inquire further than into Thorin’s general state of health and level of peevishness.

“You’re looking well, Bilbo,” Fili had said the moment that the hobbit had walked into their room.

Bilbo actually felt a little crumpled, but he feigned surprise. “Why wouldn’t I look well?” he said as he sat down on a chair between their beds.

“I imagine spending most of your time with bedridden Thorin can be a little... nerve-wrecking,” muttered Fili under his breath, then looked at his brother, who returned a knowing grin.

“I remember he once had to drag us out of an icy lake in the Blue Mountains,” chirped Kili without a trace of guilt over his childhood transgressions, “and he caught a little cold. Mother had to threaten with strapping him down to keep him in bed for two days.”

Bilbo smiled and ignored the first impulse to ask what they were doing on an icy lake in the first place. “What about you two?” he asked instead.

“She didn’t have to threaten us. We were sick as dogs for an entire week. Which was for the better, eventually, as we didn’t have to deal too much with Thorin. He was sick as a dog, too, and furious about it.”

Bilbo couldn’t restrain a hearty laugh. “He seems to be taking it surprisingly well this time,” he said.

“Lucky you,” replied Fili with a little wink.

Their conversation had then turned to other topics, making Bilbo feel even more disconnected from his earlier self, whose hand and soul had quivered over what should have been the simple task of giving Thorin a therapeutic massage. But nothing was simple anymore between himself and the Dwarf King.

Bilbo now lay again in bed behind him, looking at the dwarf’s wide back, and at his dark hair scattered over his pillow, as he slept on his right side. He remembered all the turmoil that he had gone through that day as if it had happened to someone else. He wanted it to have happened to someone else. There was no real reason for it to have happened to him. He had been together with Thorin on that quest that had bonded them for life, as Gandalf had said. They were very far from strangers to each other now. Why should he have felt uncomfortable about giving Thorin a massage that was meant to help his not quite mint condition? Why couldn’t he feel as eager about that as he had felt about helping Thorin soothe the pain in his heart by reclaiming his kingdom?

He was suddenly pulled from his thoughts by the delicate sound of Thorin starting to wake up and by the slight movement of his shoulder, which elicited almost at once a groan of protest. In spite of the obvious discomfort that it caused him, Thorin tried to turn.

“Thorin, let me help you,” said Bilbo, jumping on an elbow and leaning over his side.

Thorin looked at him a little startled. “I’m too heavy,” he said, still trying to move on his own and jolting in pain sooner than it could actually make a difference.

“Oh, I’ve put some muscle on me since I joined your Company. I think I can handle it,” said Bilbo with a little smirk. “Come on,” he insisted, sitting up on his knees, placing a hand on Thorin’s chest and holding his injured left arm by the elbow with the other. He did not feel awkward touching him now. He felt wonderfully warm about it, in fact. Thorin himself felt wonderfully warm to touch. Sleep did that.

To Thorin’s obvious surprise, Bilbo’s intervention did help him turn without a lot of trouble. He smiled to him once he was settled again comfortably on his back.

“There,” Bilbo smiled back and proceeded to arrange the blanket around him.

“Thank you,” whispered Thorin.

“Don’t mention it,” said Bilbo, then sat back to draw his breath a little.

Thorin looked like he had also forgotten what had happened between them earlier in the day. It was a relief to see that he was unaffected and that everything was all right. Bilbo felt his body glow slightly with the comfort of that thought.

“Bilbo,” said Thorin, growing more serious, “I can ask Oin to continue giving me my massage if it makes you uncomfortable.”

Bilbo lost the lustre of his smile. It seemed that Thorin had not forgotten at all. “No, Thorin,” he said, “I was just being silly. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable.”

“Silly?” repeated Thorin. “No, I do not think you were being silly. I think you were afraid. I made you afraid. I am sorry, but I was taken by surprise.”

Bilbo felt like something heavy was crushing him. “No, Thorin, don’t apologize,” he said, although he really did not want to talk about it. “I was taken by surprise myself. I just... I don’t want to cause you even more pain.”

Thorin smiled again. “You could never do that.”

The deeply warm tone of his voice dispelled the returning shadow from Bilbo’s mind. He felt relieved again, and even a little flattered. He also remembered his earlier visit with the ever-cheerful Fili and Kili and the little glimpse into Thorin’s past experience with being confined to his bed. “Can I say something?”

“Anything.”

“I honestly expected you to be a more difficult patient.”

Thorin burst into actual laughter that caused him to wince in pain. “It helps to have distractions,” he said.

Bilbo lowered his gaze, trying to hide the flowering of too much red in his cheeks.

“I suppose I am tired of fighting,” said Thorin, more seriously.

Bilbo looked up at him again. He certainly understood how Thorin could have got tired of fighting, but he couldn’t help a tinge of sweet melancholy at the thought that, for him, the fight was not over at all. It was something that he was going to have to get used to. “Well, would you like some supper?” he asked.

Thorin pondered his answer for a while. “I am not that hungry,” he refused, eventually.

“Me neither,” said Bilbo. “I suppose I’ll just change for bed then.”

Thorin approved with a brimming of warmth in his eyes that would have made Bilbo blush again if he had stayed longer in his presence. Instead, he excused himself and went to the bathroom to wash up and change into the night clothes that he had borrowed from the tall chest of drawers residing in the corner of Thorin’s bedroom. He still didn’t know how to feel about sleeping with Thorin in his bed. There was much more going on than simply keeping him company. He would have had to be blind and stupid not to see that, and he had never been either, much less now after all he had experienced. It unnerved him constantly. There was a permanent flutter in his heart, barely perceptible but definitely there, like a tired butterfly was batting its wings to get out of it. On the other hand, he really could not conceive of leaving Thorin alone for the night and sleeping elsewhere. There was also something infinitely comforting and safe about knowing that he was with him, and there was even something pleasurable about that little butterfly in his heart that didn’t truly want to get out. It made him feel twice as much alive.

He returned to the bedroom and found Thorin still awake. He lay down at his side and made himself comfortable. They looked at each other for a while, and Bilbo mused that he usually felt awkward staring at someone without saying anything. He did not feel awkward staring wordlessly at Thorin and having Thorin stare wordlessly back at him. He felt that they were speaking to each other anyway.

“You know,” he broke their secret communion, “when you first walked inside my house, I never thought that we would end up in bed together.”

Thorin laughed again and it didn’t seem to hurt any less than before. “It seems that you can cause me more pain after all,” he said, with a lingering smile.

“I’m sorry,” said Bilbo, “I’ll try not to make you laugh anymore, until you’re better.”

“I think a laugh is worth a little pain,” said Thorin.

“And you’ve had a great deal of that already,” Bilbo continued his thought.

Thorin nodded, and Bilbo couldn’t help feeling a twinge of melancholy again. Still, it was a welcome change to hear Thorin talk that way, and it was certainly a welcome change to hear him laugh.

“So this is your old room from when you lived here,” Bilbo said and Thorin nodded again. It was hard for Bilbo not to think of the many years that had passed since Thorin had been in that room last. He also could not help thinking of how it made Thorin feel to be there again after all those years. “Were you ever injured then?” he asked instead.

“No, nothing serious. Just bumps and scratches I might have gotten in combat training. I was very young.”

“How old were you when the dragon came?”

“I was around Fili’s age.”

Bilbo didn’t really know how old Fili was, but he seemed too young still to have his home taken away from him in a burst of flame, with all the comforts it contained.

“I cannot begin to imagine what it was like for you,” said Bilbo.

“It was not easy. Things were expected of me.”

“Things you weren’t ready for?”

“Not entirely,” said Thorin. “We had lost everything, and I do not mean only possessions. It was long before we found shelter. Many more died on the way.”

“You settled in Dunland eventually,” said Bilbo, remembering the bits and pieces of the story that he had heard along the way. “You must have passed near Mirkwood. Did Thranduil not help?”

Thorin mustered a broiling glare. “He wanted nothing to do with us. We had to move on.”

“I see,” said Bilbo, swallowing the lump in his throat.

“Those of us who were able took work as we could. There is always need of a good blacksmith in the world of Men.”

Bilbo detected a strong note of bitterness in Thorin’s voice, and it did not surprise him. He could hardly imagine how Thorin had gone from being a prince in the most powerful kingdom of Middle Earth to having to earn his living by working as a blacksmith, but it did not sound as if he had had a choice. “I can see where your love of the Elves is coming from,” concluded Bilbo.

Thorin smirked. “Of course, you feel differently.”

“You mean, I actually love them?”

Thorin raised his eyebrows a little as if he had undeniable proof of Bilbo’s love of the Elves. “Gandalf said you were going off into the woods to hear their songs when you were young.”

Bilbo approved with a squint. “When did Gandalf tell you that?”

“When he suggested that you would make a proper burglar for our quest.”

“Right,” said Bilbo, beginning to worry slightly. He was not aware of lengthy conversations between Gandalf and Thorin that concerned him, but, of course, there had to be some prior recommendations by Gandalf in order to convince Thorin to consider taking the hobbit on his quest in the first place. “What else did he say about me?”

“That you were light on your feet, and that you had courage most of your kin had forgotten. And most importantly, that you did not smell of Dwarf.”

Bilbo chuckled. “I think I do now.”

“Quite possibly,” said Thorin, with a rare spark of whimsy in his eye. Then, he went back to being almost solemnly serious. “There is something else that he said.”

“Oh?”

“That, unlike other Hobbits, you had not married because you wished to remain unattached.” Bilbo lost his smile altogether. “As if you wanted to make yourself available for an adventure.”

Bilbo stared at Thorin for a while, feeling suddenly naked and even transparent. “I, I suppose that’s true now that I think about it.”

“I am glad you did not marry,” teased Thorin.

“I certainly got an adventure out of it,” said Bilbo. Thorin laughed again very quietly, and this time without a lot of strain. “Why did you… remain unattached?” Bilbo risked the question.

“I am very much attached,” said Thorin, not very bothered by it, “to my people.”

Bilbo weighed that answer for a second. Then he remembered something he’d wanted to tell Thorin all along. “I meant to tell you, Dwalin is hard at work remaking the king’s throne, your throne.”

Thorin smiled widely and beautifully. “Is he? He has not said a word to me about it.”

“Perhaps he wanted it to be a surprise. Hmm, in fact, he said he had promised to you he would do it, when the time came.”

“Indeed,” Thorin seemed to remember and his eyes twinkled with things unsaid. “It was after the battle for Moria.” Thorin looked back to Bilbo and something flashed painful in his eyes, like the flicker of a memory, then it turned into a wondrous sort of recognition, as if he was seeing Bilbo again after being parted from him for many years.

Bilbo did not really know what to make of it, but he remembered Balin’s account of that battle and of how Thorin had earned the loyalty of his kin by facing Azog all alone and showing him that there was yet strength in the armoured arms of the Dwarves. It occurred to him now, as he looked upon a weak and languid Thorin, that all of that strength came with a price and that there must have been a great deal of heartache that Thorin was concealing under his ever brave front.

“That was when you lost your grandfather, wasn’t it?” asked Bilbo, more aware than ever that King Thror had been to Thorin more than his king. He had been his grandfather, and Thorin had had to watch him die by Azog’s filthy hand.

There was another flash of pain in Thorin’s gaze, and it looked fresh even if it came from a time long past. “It was,” he said, and let his gaze trail down to Bilbo’s throat. He stared, unfocused, then spoke again in a low tone. “We had to burn them.”

“Excuse me?” said Bilbo, a little startled.

“The bodies,” said Thorin, “our dead. We had to burn them. That is not out way. There is no grave for my grandfather other than the open field before the East-Gate of Moria. Or for my brother, or for…” The flow of Thorin’s memories faltered and he looked back to Bilbo with a small flutter of his eyelids, as if he had just shaken himself back into the present.

“For?” asked Bilbo.

“Many others we cared for,” said Thorin eventually.

Bilbo had the unmistakable feeling that Thorin had meant to mention someone specific that he had cared for, but had stopped when he had realised that he was going to. He chose not to push the matter. “I am sorry, Thorin,” he said instead, “but I think that they would all be very proud of you.”

Thorin nodded but his gaze remained deep and translucent, as if he was looking at Bilbo from across the ages. Then, he slowly started to fade as his eyelids lost their willingness to stay lifted.

“Sleep well,” added Bilbo, his own voice fading.

He did not fall asleep right away, however. He remained wide-eyed as Thorin closed his eyes, simmering in the afterglow of sadness that their conversation had eventually left in him. He knew that he had only heard a small part of the story of Thorin’s life up to that point, and that the darkest verses of it remained unheard by many. His natural curiosity yielded to a very sincere wish not to stir old wounds. Eventually, Bilbo felt sleep taking over him, too, and he gave in to it.

Something pulled him out again. A movement. And a sound. He opened his eyes and saw that Thorin was fighting something in his sleep, which still had him close within its grip. His face was bathed in sweat and so were his neck, arms and chest. He had pushed his part of the blanket down to his waist as he battled whatever evil had come to haunt him in the night. His head moved abruptly to his right, and Bilbo could see the muscles and veins of his neck straining under his wet skin and making the beads of sweat pop up like little transparent molehills. His eyebrows angered, and a strange but clearly formed word escaped his mouth in an aching exhale. It sounded like “knee wrath”, but the knee was bent and broken in half. It did not make any sense to Bilbo, so he assumed it was a Dwarvish word, or perhaps a name, but certainly not a word of the Common Speech.

Bilbo perked himself up on an elbow and touched the side of Thorin’s forehead as gently as he could, meaning to save him from his obviously bad dream. He proved more than eager to be saved from it. Thorin’s head jerked back and his eyes opened widely, staring at first at the ceiling of his bedroom as if he had just emerged above water after being held down, desperately seeking air and life.

“Thorin?” called Bilbo, not very loud, but loud enough to ensure that his voice would reach through the veil of horror that Thorin still seemed to linger under. “Thorin, look at me,” he repeated, brushing his fingers against the skin of the dwarf’s forehead to get his attention.

Finally, Thorin unpinned his eyes from the ceiling and moved them slowly to Bilbo, as if he almost didn’t expect him to be real. His eyes were like overwrought coals, clear and hot, but exhausted, and they stood out strangely on his sweat-soaked face.

Bilbo smiled to him. “You’re all right now. It was just a dream.”

Thorin gazed at him with growing sadness and his eyebrows sagged under the pull of the watery sheen that was beginning to gather in his eyes. Bilbo understood that it had not been just a dream at all. It had been a memory. Thorin brought his right hand to the hobbit’s arm and up his shoulder and tugged a little at his shirt. Thin threads of tears began to shine down the sides of his face. Bilbo could not resist him now. He bent over him, letting his face rest gently against Thorin’s forehead and didn’t retreat when Thorin very obviously buried his face in his neck and cried. His hand was clutching Bilbo’s shirt and his fingers kept kneading it with more strength than Bilbo had thought they would have had left in them. He raised his own hand to Thorin’s head and let his fingers dig into his drenched hair, imparting what he hoped was a comforting caress.

“Whatever you dreamed of, Thorin, it’s in the past now. It can’t hurt you anymore,” said Bilbo as Thorin began to calm down. He felt him smile against his neck. That was when he knew that he could let him go.

He restored the normal distance between them and was able to determine that Thorin looked like he had finally come out of his nightmare and was ready to recognize that he was awake in a better place. He looked more dishevelled than Bilbo had ever seen him through the entire quest, even more so than when he had lain wounded on the battlefield, armour rent and body bleeding. His heart was wide open now, unfolding its layers upon layers of sorrow before Bilbo like a flower blooming in blood. It did not speak in specifics and Bilbo did not really need to know exactly what Thorin had dreamed about. It was enough that his heart did speak to him and that Thorin, the ruler of the realm that he was in, was letting him see so deep inside him. It was something that could not be taken lightly.

Bilbo smiled again, wanting to at least try and break the low-hanging spell of their embrace. He wiped the tears off one side of Thorin’s face with the back of his hand. “We should clean you up a bit,” he said, looking Thorin all over, “it won’t do for you to go back to sleep all soaked like this. Catching a cold is the last thing you need.” Thorin smiled a little, seeming to agree. “Then I’ll make you some very special tea,” teased Bilbo, remembering the few times that he had gone to Oin for relief of his anxiety and had walked away with a wonderful tea that had helped him sleep.

Thorin did not seem to have much energy left to either protest or welcome the promise of tea. Bilbo climbed out of bed and went to get some warm water and a clean cloth. He returned shortly and set his wash things on the night table at Thorin’s side, then sat down on the side of his bed and rinsed the washcloth in the warm, lavender-scented water. He had added a bit of lavender oil in it for a touch of extra comfort. There had been many times during the quest in which he had thought that he would never have the fortune of being near scented bath water again. He had certainly not expected to be near it and Thorin at the same time. But, just as he had adjusted to every unexpected thing that had crossed his path during the quest, it seemed that he simply had to continue adjusting.

Thorin looked at him with a kind of tired gratitude as he washed his face of sweat and tears. There was no new flame of desire flaring out at Bilbo as he continued washing his neck and his chest. It made it easier for the hobbit to keep feeling comfortable with their closeness instead of growing anxious. It actually made Bilbo feel happy that he could do that for Thorin. It was a quiet happiness that ran deep to a place in his heart that had not really felt happy since he had left home. Whenever he glanced at Thorin, he could see that he felt about the same. It deepened Bilbo’s rare feeling of content, but when he had drunk from it long enough, his curiosity came back to bite at his newfound inner peace.

“You dreamed about that awful battle, didn’t you?” he asked Thorin.

Thorin nodded slowly, without showing any signs that the reminder of his fresh nightmare was particularly upsetting.

“Because we talked about it before you fell asleep,” continued Bilbo. “I’m sorry I reminded you of it.”

“It is not something I ever truly forget,” said Thorin.

Bilbo smiled in return and applied the newly rinsed washcloth to Thorin’s shoulder. “You said something while you were dreaming,” he pressed on, “I think it was Dwarvish. It doesn’t make any sense in Westron.”

“What did I say?” asked Thorin a little apprehensively, but Bilbo did not think it was more than a natural reaction to an unpleasant memory.

“Well, bear in mind, I didn’t understand what you were saying, so this might sound a little silly,” said Bilbo, looking at Thorin as he rinsed the washcloth. “It sounded like... ‘knee wrath’. Does that-” Bilbo stopped as he noticed a sudden darkening of Thorin’s demeanour.

“Nyrath,” whispered Thorin, his gaze unfocused and sounding like, whatever he had dreamed, he was now reliving it as he pronounced that word.

“Yes, that,” said Bilbo. “What does it mean?”

Thorin faced him again, the coals in his eyes gone black. The warm glow in Bilbo’s heart also diminished. “It is a name,” said Thorin, his voice deep and carrying a note of ageless regret.

“Of someone who died in that battle?” asked Bilbo.

“Indeed,” replied Thorin, and something began gleaming again in his darkened eyes, “someone I cared for very much.”

Bilbo’s first natural reaction was to feel compassion for Thorin’s loss, but then he remembered the way he had latched onto him as he had awoken from his dream, and the way he had hesitated to name another person whose body had been burned after the battle for Moria besides his grandfather and brother, and he also remembered himself asking Balin if Thorin had expressed interest in another male before. It looked as if he had just got his answer. Nyrath could only be a male Dwarf, probably a skilled warrior, if he had been in that battle. “Oh,” he said, full understanding of Thorin’s heart and of his own place in it hitting him all at once with nauseating force. It seemed that simple comfort and quiet happiness kept eluding him. They kept turning against him. “I am sorry, Thorin, I had no idea.”

“It was a long time ago,” said Thorin.

“Not long enough, it seems,” replied Bilbo before he could stop himself.

“It never is.”

Bilbo said nothing more for a while, his mind brewing with new questions that he did not have to ask, since the answers presented themselves to him one by one. The course of Thorin’s life since that fateful battle flashed before his eyes. Thorin had obviously loved Nyrath very much, whoever he had been. From the end of that battle, he had put aside that love to become fully attached to his people and had never looked back. Until perhaps the moment his path had crossed with the fourteenth member of the Company he had gathered to take back his lost kingdom, the hobbit that Gandalf had recommended as a burglar. “When, when did all this happen exactly?” he asked, to keep himself from toppling over.

“About 140 years ago,” answered Thorin, calmly.

Bilbo winced inside. It was more than twice his lifetime. “That is long,” he said, under his breath and looking down at his hands, which had stopped dead the moment he had seen the shadow of Nyrath’s memory cloud Thorin’s eyes. His hands were now resting on his knees, still holding the washcloth. He could feel the cold wetness of it seeping through the fabric of his trousers. He had not noticed that before. “Well, we should finish here before the water gets cold,” he said, glancing back to Thorin briefly before rinsing the washcloth anew in the still warm scented water. He avoided Thorin’s gaze as he wrung out the cloth, not really knowing how to feel about all that had been revealed to him in only a few minutes and in less words. He could feel it on him, however, and he knew that he had to face him. “I really am sorry, Thorin, about everything,” he said.

Thorin’s expression did not warrant any sort of apology on Bilbo’s part. He looked at peace with his past, and not at all like he blamed the hobbit for reminding him of any of it. “Do not be,” said Thorin, with a warm smile, and taking gentle hold of Bilbo’s forearm.

The slow caress of his fingers soothed the sting of regret in Bilbo’s heart, a regret that was truly not his to have. He had no part in Thorin’s past hurts. On the contrary, he had the power to comfort him in the here and now. He took Thorin’s hand and resumed his bedside bath by applying the warm washcloth to it.

Thorin said nothing more after that. He lay quietly until his eyes started closing again and he soon fell asleep before Bilbo could finish his bath and bring him the cup of tea he had promised. It was probably all for the better, and Bilbo hoped that he would be able to sleep undisturbed this time.

One image lingered in the hobbit’s mind as he continued washing Thorin’s body slowly enough not to wake him: the image of an ancient creature trapped inside a chunk of amber, perfect and beautiful in its immovable state as it had been in life. 140 years was long enough for Bilbo to call ancient. And the creature inside the amber was Nyrath, whatever Thorin remembered of him, and it seemed that he remembered everything. The reflection of him was still clear in Thorin’s eyes and it made Bilbo’s own heart stand still at the idea that someone’s memory could survive that unspoiled for that long. It would have probably continued to survive for as long as Thorin would live and perhaps beyond. It saddened him to know that Thorin had loved someone that much and lost him.

He finally put the washcloth aside, and tucked the cover closely around Thorin again. Then he sat back awhile, thinking that he was probably more important to Thorin than he had even begun to realise. For the first time in 140 years perhaps, Thorin was feeling something other than the duty to avenge the fate of his ancestors and to care for his people, and he was feeling it for him. He could not help wondering what expectations and secret wishes lay behind Thorin’s veil of serenity, what old hopes had been rekindled in his heart. He felt the weight of them hanging on his shoulders, although they were unknown to him.

His own expectations were unknown to him and he had no old hopes that he could remember. Deep down he’d always known what Gandalf had expressed so clearly to Thorin – that he had never married because he wanted to be free to go off on an adventure if and when it presented itself. He was never going to be a Hobbit like the others, contenting himself with remaining within the safe confines of the Shire and never dreaming of seeing faraway mountains and waterfalls and wearing a sword. That much he had always known. He had never dreamed, however, that he would get as far as he had got and that, at the end of the adventure, he would still have himself to face, and an undiscovered part of him which he had never thought really mattered.
10  months a deviant and no journal entry? Well, I have to rectify that this very minute.

First of all, I'm just really glad to have met so many lovely people here in these 10 months. So many of you have read and favorited my stories and left comments. I appreciate that so much! It makes me feel loved whenever someone takes the time to leave a comment or add one of my stories to their favorites, and I can't thank you enough for that. Moreover, I'm happy to have discovered so many wonderfully talented artists who give life to my favorite characters from the Hobbit fandom in a way that I could never see in canon. And many times, drawings inspire me to write, so thank you for that as well!

I have another reason to be happy today and that's winning my very first writing contest ever! It was hosted on Wattpad.com. I usually shy away from competition, thinking I'm not good enough. When I found out about the contest, my first impulse was to flee because they wanted new stories and I didn't feel I had the time to write a completely new story when I was already working on my current Thorin/Bilbo project. But then I thought, you know what? I always do this. I always flee. Why not try something different this time? Why not put aside all the whining about not having time, not being good enough, etc. and just try to come up with an idea for a decent, clean story that these people can actually consider for a win?

Next thing I knew, I had new ideas for two stories. One of them got written properly in time for the contest, and I submitted it. I did not have any expectations to win, though. I liked my story and I thought it was good. It has a nice mythos behind it, good character chemistry, ties in nicely with the Hobbit movies - all good stuff. But I thought that with so many other people participating (300 in total), there's got to be way better stories than mine out there. There's no way I'll win this.

Well, the impossible happened, and I am one of the 19 lucky winners. This is just... wow...

I've posted the story here, by the way. It's called "The Dagger of Durin."

Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great weekend!

~Miriel

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MirielOfGisborne

Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
Romania
Hi :) And welcome to my realm of deviance!

I love writing and Middle Earth, especially the characters of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield from the "Hobbit" movies.

I am writing a Bagginshield AU fan fiction series where Thorin survives after the Battle of the Five Armies and pursues a relationship with Bilbo. The series follows their personal journey as they face the challenges of overcoming their past and adjusting to a new life together in Erebor.

Ratings go from General to Mature. Genre: Slash/Romance/Angst

My approach is not linear. I write vignette-style pieces from separate points along my imagined timeline. So even if my stories appear to be one-shots, they are actually all part of the same bigger timeline. I do intend to write chapter by chapter from now on, but moments-in-time pieces may emerge from time to time. I have started a multi-chapter story called "Days of Agony" that tells my tale from the very beginning.

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy my work!
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:iconelfko-namaja:
elfko-namaja Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2016
Thank you your nice comments! Heart 
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MirielOfGisborne Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
My pleasure entirely! I love your drawings!
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Thriin Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2015
Have a happy birthday!! Hope you have fun and be naughtyGiggle  Party    oh and thanks for your card! it arrived yesterday!Huggle! 
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MirielOfGisborne Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you very much! Glad you liked the card!
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AYURI-327 Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you for the fave and warm comment!! I really appreciate you!! :happybounce: 
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MirielOfGisborne Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Most welcome! And thank you!
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AYURI-327 Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:D (Big Grin) :happybounce: 
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Ayane45 Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for the fav' =o
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MirielOfGisborne Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Most welcome!
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x-Celebril-x Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
a little bit late, but happy new year to you too! :hug:
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