Kili was suspiciously ambivalent about the dwarves coming to stay at Bag End for the winter. He asked Bilbo six times if it was really his idea. Then he was pointedly rude to their guests: refusing to speak unless prompted and not helping with the luggage as he usually would have done.
He also did significantly more of the housework than his own share. All four guest rooms were cleaned from the windows to the doorknobs before Bilbo could even think about changing the sheets. The contents of the pantry doubled, then tripled as Kili brought more and more back from the Hobbiton marketplace with him to keep the extra mouths from burdening their winter provisions. Even the mantlepiece in the sitting room was dusted. Kili never dusted.
Clearly, he didn’t want the presence of the dwarves to stress or inconvenience Bilbo in any way.
Just as clearly, the dwarves were on their best behavior. From stowing their own belongings to doing the washing up after every meal, they also seemed determined not to tax Bilbo’s hospitality.
Long experience taught Bilbo that this behavior would not last. So he took tremendous advantage of it in that first week. Setting Fili to chop more wood than they would burn all winter, Bilbo took Thorin on a long meandering walk through the fields of the Shire.
It was a cold day in late autumn, but Thorin had his great fur cloak and Bilbo wore his best burgundy coat. The bold color was highly approved by Dandy, who often said it flattered his complexion. With a bright green cravat, Bilbo was confident that he could catch Thorin’s eye just as readily as the colorful leaves that covered the ground and clung to the trees.
In fact, Bilbo never once glanced at the dwarf during their ramble without meeting his eyes. Thorin seemed not at all ashamed to be caught looking. Soon their conversation grew into the boldest flirtation of Bilbo’s life, with Thorin openly admiring everything from Bilbo’s eyes to his figure. Such compliments belonged behind closed doors, and in truth, far away from the Shire. But the little wood felt private enough. The trees would keep their secrets. And perhaps it mattered less now that Kili had been found. Drawing attention to Kili was always the real danger. Bilbo’s secrets were not deadly like his brother’s. Despite being in the open air, Bilbo took Thorin’s hand in his. Not his arm. His hand.
After that, he could not look at the dwarf at all.
Bilbo could talk, however. Bilbo Baggins could always talk. Much as he treasured Thorin’s compliments, he turned the conversation to the safer topic of literature. Despite the fact that no one else of the hobbit’s acquaintance ever seemed quite solid when it came to literature, Bilbo felt most comfortable with it. If a fellow was going to start complimenting his hands in public—where anyone might hear—Bilbo needed to talk about the elvish classics for a bit.
Astoundingly, Thorin was conversant. Having read most of the greats in multiple transcriptions, usually in both Sindarin and Quenya, Thorin had opinions. Of his own. Not simply literary criticisms that Bilbo recognized and knew well. Particularly when it came to those Noldor most famous for crafting.
“They try to paint him as a dwarf,” Thorin said of Fëanor, “One who was too selfish to give the work of his hands freely. One who hoards his treasures. One who does not bow to his betters. In many transcriptions, they refer to him as emotionally or morally ‘stunted’ specifically. As I am sure you know, that is what they call us. The Naugrim. The Stunted People.”
“Oh, yes,” Bilbo agreed, “but I did not realize about the metaphor. I rather think you’re right!”
“It is a false equivalency,” Thorin said flatly. “There has never been a dwarf who refused Lord Mahal anything. He is our Maker. He is our better. That elves think we have other betters who have a right to the work of our hands is no concern of ours.”
“I see.” Squeezing Thorin’s hand, Bilbo dared to meet his eyes. “So dwarves are not proud after all?”
Thorin laughed. “I am trapped! If I say we are not, you will laugh at me for boasting of my own humility. If I say we are, you will paint us with the colors of Fëanor.”
“Say rather, then, that not all pride is hubris, and not all dwarves are alike. I shall be willing to believe you. For wicked kings and heroic princes may spring from the same line.”
Red colored Thorin’s cheeks above his beard, but he met Bilbo’s eyes steadily. “And you are fond of dwarven princes, are you not? Even if they are not lucky enough to have golden hair?”
“Perhaps I am,” Bilbo admitted.
Bold as a bunny in springtime, Thorin put a calloused hand on Bilbo’s cheek, drawing him into a kiss. The hobbit’s heart beat out a hare’s alarm, but he did not pull away. Thorin’s lips were soft and sweet. The rough brush of a beard against Bilbo’s face was exotic and exciting. When the dwarf drew back, he took all of Bilbo’s breath with him. They were still in the middle of the path. Anyone might come along and see.
Slowly, Thorin smiled. He really was appallingly handsome. “I was under the impression that hobbits played at love more readily than dwarves, but I am not disappointed to learn otherwise, arimelda.” Unfairly, the dwarf switched to Quenya to say, “I would court thee, Bilbo Baggins of Bag End. For thou art clever, brave, and loyal beyond reproach. Thy kind nature is equalled only by thy elegant stature and fine face. Let me win your heart!”
“My heart is my own,” Bilbo said firmly. Then, squeezing Thorin’s hand, he lead the dwarf away from the path.
There was a stand of old growth oaks not far away, with at least one big fallen log to shield them from view. All of the acorns had been gathered already by farmers and fauntlings, so the damp ground was soft with fallen leave. It was not a warm day, but at least no frost edged the brown and red oak leaves which carpeted the spot alongside dead and drying underbrush.
“Always,” Thorin agreed, following him readily. “Yet it is my hope that one day you will share it with me. You will give in to my desire, and meet it with your own.”
“Ah, well.” Bilbo grinned, reckless and happy. If Thorin was telling the truth, then drawing attention to himself would not endanger Kili. If Thorin was lying, then Kili was already in danger, and Bilbo should make the most of his time. “A meeting of desires can certainly be arranged.”
Dropping to his knees, the hobbit made quick work of Thorin’s belt. Shifting the armored tunic was rather more difficult, but he managed it. Then the dwarf’s trousers were down around his ankles.
“Bilbo!” Thorin sounded surprised.
The hobbit was pleasantly surprised himself. The big dwarf was happily proportional and offered up the largest mouthful of Bilbo’s life. As a test of skill, however, it was not very great. Massive in stature was one thing, but ideas about dwarven stamina seemed to be exaggerated somewhat. Thorin barely managed five minutes, falling apart at the earliest opportunity like an inexperienced tween.
Feeling smug, but slightly short-changed, Bilbo hopped to his feet. Instantly, he was swept into a deep, passionate kiss that put paid to any doubts about this endeavor being less than a brilliant idea. Thorin kissed like an avalanche, covering every inch of skin he could reach and filling every empty place with the overwhelming nature of his touch.
“Shall I kneel now as you did?” Thorin’s words brushed their lips together once more. The dwarf seemed to desire no greater space between them than could fit a light breeze.
Bilbo grinned, his eyes crossing a bit as he tried to meet Thorin’s. “Hand, please,” he requested. “And if you are so very fond of kissing, we can do with a bit more of that.”
Eagerly obliging, Thorin delved once more into Bilbo’s mouth. Pulling Bilbo closer, he let the folds of his cloak fall forward, wrapping around them both. In Thorin, Bilbo found perfect shelter from the cold autumn wind. Kissing him had all the glory of a summer sunrise. Being a bit of a hedonist, the hobbit wanted more.
He had to open his own trousers, as Thorin’s hands were busy toying with Bilbo’s hair. Once he did, however, Bilbo was not shy about claiming one of the dwarf’s hands with his own and guiding it where he wanted. There was some truth to the rumors of dwarven skill with handcraft.
A great deal of truth.
A great deal of very excellent truth.
Kissing Thorin was a particularly intelligent move, and the hobbit congratulated himself for thinking of it. Had Bilbo’s cries not been muffled by the dwarf’s mouth covering his own, they would have heard him all the way in Frogmorton.
While he was an old hand at buttoning back up in a hurry, Bilbo felt an icy chill when he stepped out of the warm circle of Thorin’s cloak. He missed the dwarf’s heat almost at once, but he did not permit himself to clasp their hands together again.
“We must head back to the real world,” the hobbit said regretfully. “No more to walk in the enchanted forest.”
Thorin smiled softly, reaching for him. “Yet every place where I might have the pleasure of your company is magical indeed, Bilbo Baggins. Shall we walk along the bewitching path and return to your smial of rainbows?”
“Thorin.” With great effort, Bilbo forced the grin from his face. “You do understand this must be secret. We cannot go around holding hands. Especially not if you are to stay at Bag End all winter. Someone will suspect.”
Raising an eyebrow, the dwarf said, “Then we must simply cease acting in a dishonorable way. Marry me, Bilbo Baggins. It is early in our acquaintance yet, but my heart is true.”
Laughing and laughing, Bilbo was sure that he had never heard such a good joke in all of his days. When he finally caught his breath and saw what a straight face Thorin was maintaining, he collapsed again, giggling in the dwarf’s arms and pressing kisses to his beard.
“Do you know, I think I would marry you,” Bilbo sighed after a great while. “Handsome, well read, a sense of humor: I could not do better. If only we did not have to go back to Hobbiton.”
Thorin’s face was strangely serious for the moment as he tucked a stray lock behind Bilbo’s ear. “Is it so unheard of for a hobbit to wed a dwarf?”
Bilbo blinked. “Now that I think on it, that would be peculiar. I have never heard of anyone doing so, though some of the hobbits of my acquaintance in Bree are wed to Big Folk.”
“Then why should you not marry me?”
Stepping away from Thorin, Bilbo crossed his arms over his chest, feeling his cheeks go red. “That is enough teasing now. You know why not. You know why this must be secret.”
When the dwarf did not answer, Bilbo began walking back toward the path. Before they reached it, however, Thorin spoke. “Will you be with me again? In this way, secretly?”
Turning, Bilbo saw that the dwarf regretted taking the joke so far. So he smiled broadly. He had a forgiving nature when it suited him.
“Of course I shall. I take very good care of my guests.”