Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –
From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –
Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Dominies –”
― Emily Dickinson
#01 - Life
The cold, red mantle of dawn sweeps over him as Bilbo slips out of the mountain. He isn’t sure what drives him, but it stops him just on the edge of the ruins of Dale. He crouches down, feels the morning damp of the earth seep into his trousers, the frost feathering his fingers.
He pulls out a single, large acorn. When it is suitably planted in the blood-soaked earth, Bilbo straightens and walks back the way he came, particles of dirt still clinging to his frozen fingertips.
Later, he will wonder if that was the point at which he knew.
#02 - Death
The feasts go on for days. They speak of glory, of legends born in the hot iron of battle, legacies so mighty they’ll resound throughout the centuries.
Bilbo rememberers differently. He remembers matching grins of mischief as his pottery is juggled high, childish squabbling of blame over the loss of ponies, the constant teasing and bickering on the road. He remembers hearts quick to love, a bond that went deeper than brotherhood, and a loyalty stronger than the mountain they fought to reclaim.
He remembers that fateful day, when the earth was bleeding and bodies was burning around them, that it was Fili and Kili who stood between Thorin and death a dozen times over.
#03 – Comfort
Bilbo finds the King at his nephews’ graves, bowed over as if he were the one whose insides had been ripped open. It’s been four days since they were laid in stone. Bilbo kneels in front of him. When no response comes, he reaches for him, cups a too-warm neck and brings his forehead to touch Thorin’s. A Dwarven gesture, he knows — one of deep affection. It’s the least Bilbo can offer, to tether him there until the King’s listless eyes refocus on the world in front of him again, until he returns to himself with a great shudder. His hands spasm in his lap.
Thorin’s voice is so tired it sounds dead, the last intonation draining away.
Bilbo takes Thorin’s cold hands in his, runs his thumbs over Thorin’s knuckles as though to pass some warmth into them. “They would not wish to see you like this.” He murmurs.
Thorin’s hands tremble. His breathing grows ragged, too heavy, like he's on the edge of something huge and terrifying. “And yet I would give anything that they were here to see it.”
He weeps then. Quietly, and yet equally violently, he weeps for his sister’s sons, taken too soon. Weeps that it was he that sent them toward their violent end.
And Bilbo kneels by his side the entire night, paying no heed to the cold that seeps into his bones, the hard stone against his knees — nothing but the fierce grip of the King’s hands in his.
#04 - Star
A crown of seven, as gems on a silver thread.
Somehow they are heavier this time when they rest upon his brow.
#05 - Fear
I am not my Grandfather.
Gandalf banishes any remnant of Smaug’s presence on the gold, but Thorin still dares not go near it, the echo of paranoia still haunting his steps. Disorientated flashes of his friends’ stricken faces, panic clawing at his breath, the whispering siren of gold, a cold shock of clarity in an acorn, agony in his heart as he thought himself betrayed, lucidity a fickle companion, and then in the midst of it all — his own face, reflected in gold, blazing with a rage that had no sanity, no gentleness, only the draconic fury of death and desire —
Not again. Never again.
He arranges to have the hoard divided between his company, gives the newly appointed King Bard enough gold to rebuild Dale tenfold, trades yet more for much needed supplies to restore his home and prepare it for his people travelling from Ered Luin.
Still, in the watchful hours of the night, he remembers the serpentine grin, the dark, abyssal eyes, burning with need. He knows that look well; he had seen it in his own reflection.
I am not my Grandfather.
His Grandfather had taught him that fear made him weak.
Yet Thorin thinks of the devastation in Dwalin’s voice when he found him in the throne room, the fury in Kili at being told to stay behind their walls, the look in Bilbo’s eyes as he’d labelled him traitor and held him over the ramparts, and decides that perhaps a little fear is rather useful.
#06 - Sickness
“It was not of your choice, nor of your own making. There is nothing to forgive, Thorin.”
#07 - Potatoes
There is no garden in a mountain of stone. No room for violet petals of fatality in halls of precious metals, withering only to bloom again. No green to be found on scorched and blackened scars of dragon fire.
Yet Bilbo did not travel the length of Middle Earth surviving trolls, orcs, dragons, and throwing himself between Azog’s blade and Thorin’s heart only for them all to die of starvation now.
Whilst others bicker of gold and trade and draw up near-daily amendments to peace treaties, Bilbo spends his days after the battle with his hands in the earth, the smell of loam and moist clay engulfing his senses. Life, bruised but stirring under the surface, is found one morning in the stubby shoots poking free of the war-torn earth. They stretch up toward him, whisper his name.
A funny time indeed, to be crying over potatoes, Bilbo thinks, as he rushes to tell the King.
#08 - Smile
The first time he sees Thorin smile after his nephews’ deaths, Dwalin loses his last doubt about pressing a grieving King to sorting things out with the hobbit that put the expression there.
#09 - Wind
The growing cold of winter’s chill resolves Thorin against any oppositions his newly formed council of advisors have to letting the people of Laketown take shelter in the mountain.
“Were we not once homeless, starving and freezing, with none to offer us aid?” Thorin’s voice is colder than the unforgiving gusts outside; winter fury wrapped up in quiet, immovable stone. "I will not forsake the Men of Laketown to the same fate. I will not turn away, not again.”
It’s the first of what he knows will be many fights against this council, but he’ll take the victory for the first, tiny step it is toward making amends.
#10 - Soft
It isn’t unusual for Thorin to miss meals, but to miss all of them one day has Bilbo grabbing a plate of bread and cold meat from the kitchens and setting out determinedly for the King’s chambers, already composing his lecture on meal propriety and the dangers of malnourishment and how, exactly, a king can take care of his people if he won’t take care of himself —
Bilbo finds him slumped over his desk, the candle little more than a stump of wax, quiet, exhausted snores snagging on deep breaths. Dark, bruise-like shadows linger under closed lashes, a betrayer of sleepless nights and long, wearing days.
Bilbo stares at him for a long moment, blinking hard. Thorin’s face looks different in sleep — younger, somehow, stripped of the ever-present grief and guilt and wretched self-doubt that tears at him even as he works himself into a stupor trying to fix it all.
The sight makes something pull in Bilbo's chest. Something sharper than sorrow, softer than mere sentiment.
Before he has time to consider it, Bilbo snags a throw from Thorin’s bed and drapes it carefully over his shoulders, wary of startling him. Yet it seems something — the familiarity of his surroundings, perhaps, or just sheer exhaustion — has managed to induce a rare, deeper sleep than Thorin's usual uneasy rest, and the king barely stirs. Bilbo pulls the ink quill from Thorin’s limp grip, ducks round to blow out the candle, places the cold food on the table for when he wakes. He hesitates, then lets a hand stray back to brush some of Thorin’s hair off his face, continuing the stroke gently down past his ear when Thorin’s breathing slows in tandem. He finds himself repeating the motion, smoothing away the worry line in Thorin’s forehead with his thumb, brushing imaginary dust off his cheek.
In his sleep, Thorin sighs a little, and his cheek nudges ever so slightly into Bilbo’s palm.
Flushing, Bilbo hastily retrieves his hand and retreats, slipping out of the room as silently as he came.
#11 - Freedom
“I suppose you’ll be heading back to the Shire soon,” Ori adds absent-mindedly, as he signs off the final clause on Bilbo’s contract and makes a note of it in his records. He’s so preoccupied with his task that he doesn’t see Bilbo freeze.
“What.” It jolts from Bilbo as though yanked.
It must sound as horrible as it feels, for Ori glances up to flash him an odd look.
“The contract,” he explains, slowly. “It’s finished. You’re free to go home.”
Free to go home.
The words echo dully around his skull. Bilbo feels dizzy all of a sudden, disorientated, as though the ground has been pulled from under his feet. Ori doesn’t mean anything by it, of course, was only stating the obvious and being sweetly considerate, in fact, but Bilbo’s world shudders jarringly all the same. It hadn’t even occurred to him to start thinking about going home.
“Are you sure you won’t take more than that wee chest?” Ori is speaking again, and Bilbo struggles to focus. “You know Thorin would give you half the mountain if you let him.”
Thorin. That’s worse, somehow. Bilbo’s breath drags painfully in his chest.
“I…no. I didn’t do it for… I mean…that’s not…” Ori’s looking at him funny again, and Bilbo shuts up. “Thank you, Ori,” he says weakly, takes the contract back, and promptly flees the room.
#12 - Happiness
“And what of your own wants and needs?” Balin presses. “What of your own happiness?”
“I am their King, Balin.” The rebuke is supposed to be sharp, but Thorin’s voice just ends up sounding tired. “I do not belong to myself. I am the people’s before anything else — my own wants and needs can mean nothing.”
Balin is silent for a long moment.
“And what of your heart?” He asks quietly.
#13 - Kiss
“Stay,” Thorin whispers, fragile as an aspen in the wind. Bilbo can taste him still, the echo of heat and desperation and something else, something bright and pure and tender that he dare not yet name. Bilbo feels his chest ache, feels an emptiness that is not his own shove into him — the hole that would forever exist in his heart if he left now, a glimpse of endless unmarked days fading even unto the beauty of the Shire.
His bag falls, shield and sword and supplies clattering to the ground. Myrtle snorts behind him at the noise but Bilbo barely notices. He barely sees the rest of the Company, all lined up to bid him farewell outside the desolated entrance to the Mountain, or Gandalf waiting to escort him. All Bilbo sees is Thorin, a look of crystalline vulnerability crumpling into something heartbreakingly like hope, as Bilbo stretches up, weaves his fingers into thick dark hair, and kisses him back.
#14 - Market
With spring brings rebirth, and the market of Dale is no exception. The modest scatter of stalls is a pale reflection of the city's former glory, but after the winter they've had, the sight of it is nothing short of miraculous. It instils hope: that even after the most evil of atrocities, life will go on regardless, stubborn and fighting to endure.
In his youth, Thorin would often sneak out to the bustling streets — (in disguise always, according to his Grandfather and advisors it was unbefitting for a Prince to be seen mingling so below his station, let alone buying his own groceries).
Bilbo, of course, is having none of that.
“No shame in having a hand in what ends on your table, and I dare say the sharing of good food is as surer sign of home as any.”
A formidable leader in battle he may be, but even Thorin will admit the conversing with strangers is not something that comes easily to him, if not outrightly a terrifying prospect. Then there's that small, defeated voice inside him that says the Men of Dale are hardly going to want to sell him their wares, after all that he had brought upon them.
Bilbo’s bright smile is something Thorin is quickly discovering himself helpless against, however, so he resigns himself to a morning of furious whispers, awkward, stilted interactions and hostile stares.
What he gets shopping with Bilbo is quite different to anything he expected.
Thorin holds the packages while Bilbo darts nimbly from stall to stall, one hand behind him tugging Thorin along and the other pointing as he directs Thorin with loud, dramatic exclamations.
“I say! Here be the finest cabbages ere I’ve seen outside the Shire!”
“Quick Thorin! Here, try this, and tell me it is not the sweetest delicacy that ever passed your mouth.”
“STOP! We’ve passed the cheese wheels!”
“Thorin, my darling, help me reason with this good merchant. This wine… it brings me to mind the depths of twilight, like the darkest of royalty, and the sweetest of grapes. Let Yavanna herself smite me from the earth if I paid any less than ten gold coins for a crate.”
“AHA! Didn’t I say if we followed our noses we’d find it? Now hold this, I need to hear the crackle in the crust.”
“BUT SESAME CAKES, THORIN!”
Thorin realises that it’s the first time he’s been outside the Mountain since the battle when people haven't actively been staring at him, and that's because they’re too busy staring at Bilbo.
It’s not until they’re back at the gates of Erebor that it occurs to him Bilbo may have been doing it intentionally for that exact reason.
Bilbo notices his stare, and winks. “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something, and you certainly usually find something if you look. But it is not always quite the something you were after, don’t you think?”
It is fortunate Thorin’s arms are laden with the towering pile of packages, else Thorin would have kissed him right then and there at the gate, and given the people in the market quite something to stare at.
#15 - Bonds
Dís’s fury had been a carefully stoked fire on the journey to Erebor. She had prepared great, vicious tirades of blame and accusation, the stripping of any familial bond with the swift retribution of a grieving mother. She was ready to take up her axe and let it fall with the weight of her grief, striking her brother down with the whip-crack agony of feral fury.
She does not expect her brother to ride out alone to meet her.
I could not save them. He tells her before she can speak. It is my fault.
He offers her his sword and bares his neck.
Do as you will.
Dís stares at her brother. Her big brother, whose face is utterly blank, whose eyes are drowning in anguish, whose body is being forced to perfect, abnormal stillness.
Do as you will.
Thorin is evidently waiting for Dís to denounce him. He’s waiting to be blamed, just like he was always waiting to be blamed for their brother’s death, their grandfather’s death, their father’s disappearance (and never believed he wasn’t responsible, even when the accusation never came). Deep down, he’s holding himself singularly guilty for the death of their entire family. If Dís no longer recognises him as her brother, then how does she know him so well? How does she know that this is what he looks like when he’s bracing himself against unspeakable, inevitable pain?
Dís takes his sword, and steps closer. Thorin’s shoulders slump a little in resignation. He closes his eyes, only for them to fly open in shock a moment later as Dís clasps her brother by the neck, and yanks him roughly forward so their foreheads collide harshly together.
She says but one word.
Thorin breaks. A violent shudder runs through his entire body, like a mountain crumbling into the sea.
“Namad.” He rasps. “I am so sorry.”
#16 - Moon
It turns out that Thorin isn’t the only one who has trouble sleeping.
Even when the perennial tiredness, tasteless and grey, saws at his bones, insomnia drives him to wander in the blackest hours of the night, and more often than not these days he ends up at the ramparts — in the echo of memory that still clings to these stones.
He’s rarely alone. The first night it's just Dwalin, sitting silently at his side until the dawn slices across the horizon. The next time, Balin joins them. Other nights it’s Nori, or Bombur, or Ori and Dori. Occasionally, Thorin steps out onto the view and his entire company is there, the moon silvering their faces, the light of their pipes colouring their pupils brilliant amber.
Sometimes they talk. Share stories or reminisce (somehow the sharp edge of grief is softer, more bearable under the moonlight).
Mostly they just smoke. Sit and cast their eyes upon the land they fought for, watching the world fall away in a sea of stars.
At Thorin’s side, now and always.
#17 - Rain
Dwarrow are not over-fond of rain, Bilbo discovers. Neither are Hobbits much, for that matter, but Bilbo misses the sky, the smell of life in damp earth, the way the world melts into a colourless sea. Thorin finds him on one of the open-air balconies, face upturned to the rain, soaked to the bone. He laughs at Thorin’s bemused expression. He tugs the King out into the downpour until his skin too is slick with the storm, tucks his hands into Thorin's sodden cloak, and kisses the rain off his eyelashes until he smiles again.
#18 - Chocolate
Bilbo freezes the first time Thorin offers him a bite from his own plate in the dining hall. He might have been able to convince himself that Thorin didn’t know the significance of such a gesture to a hobbit (and before such an audience, no less), but for the bright, calculating gleam in Thorin’s eyes. Suddenly shy, Bilbo merely opens his mouth, and allows Thorin to feed him a morsel of the sweet heaven on their plates — a tiny piece of luxury brought by the Ered Luin convoys. Dark velveteen creaminess melts on his tongue. He licks his lips involuntarily as Thorin reclaims his spoon, and doesn’t miss for a second the way Thorin’s eyes darken and flicker down to follow the movement.
“Do you approve, Master Baggins?” The rumbling warmth in Thorin’s voice makes him shiver.
“Very much.” Bilbo manages, cursing his own breathlessness.
Thorin nods and turns back to his plate, but not before Bilbo sees a small, private smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, looking entirely too pleased with himself.
Confound the sneakiness of Dwarves.
Bilbo takes a large gulp of wine, and resolves to look up Dwarven courting in the library first thing tomorrow.
#19 - Gift
It’s pure luck that he finds the amber, turning the earth in his tiny makeshift garden on the slopes of Erebor. Yellow amber fossilised from evergreen trees, no larger than his thumbnail, a darker imperfection on one side. It’s no vein of mithril or precious stone, but Bilbo finds himself pocketing it none the less.
Later, after some discrete enquiries to Bofur, Bilbo heats it in a bath of oil until it becomes soft and flexible. His small hands and deft fingers come in handy painstakingly carving the tiny acorn on its side where the darker blotch mars the colour. Then, under Bofur’s careful eye, he turns it on a lathe and polishes it with something called rotten stone that makes it gleam with a warm, gentle lustre.
#20 - Jealousy
“You’ve been spending time with Bofur.”
Bilbo looks up from his book to see Thorin standing in front of him, looking slightly constipated.
“What? Oh yes, he was…” Bugger. Bilbo flounders a little. “He was er… showing me the forges. The smithing forges I mean, obviously I’ve seen the great forges…”
Thorin stills almost imperceptibly. “You were at the forges with him?”
“Yes? Is that… not allowed?”
“Of course it’s… that’s not…” Thorin cuts off with a frustrated sound. He tries again, in a voice carefully neutral. “Smithing is… mine own craft. If you wanted to see the forges, I would have been honoured to have taken you, showed you how one would…”
“Oh no, that’s okay!” Bilbo says quickly. “Bofur showed me everything I needed.”
Thorin makes a sound like he's been stabbed, and Bilbo knows that sound because Thorin’s actually been stabbed a time or two. “He showed you…” Thorin says in a strangled voice.
But Thorin is already withdrawing, closing off where Bilbo cannot reach him. “Please excuse me. I have… important matters I must attend to…”
“Thorin wait, hold on—”
“I did not mean to intrude upon your private relations.”
“I will leave you now —”
“Thorin Oakenshield you will HOLD.” Bilbo snaps, and Thorin pauses at the door. He turns his head the barest amount, misery in the bowed line of his shoulders, anger in the fists clenched at his side, hurt in the tremble of his breath. His voice is terse and cold, strung out like it might snap.
“You have insulted my pride enough today, Master Baggins. I suggest you let me leave before I say something we both regret.”
“Insulted your — Mahal and Yavanna above, I was going to save this for the proper occasion but if you must know…”
Bilbo stretches out his hand just as Thorin turns, his expression thunderous, and opens it to reveal what rests on his open palm.
Complete and utter silence — the very same as when he had shown Thorin the acorn. Thorin freezes, the retort dying at his lips. He looks utterly stupefied, like the core of him is coming apart, every ounce of raging emotion dissolving into a thousand grains of sand. Bilbo isn’t even sure he’s breathing.
“That’s a courtship bead.” Thorin says blankly.
“You…” Thorin’s eyes dart to Bilbo’s and back to the bead. “You made this.”
“Yes. I mean, Bofur helped with the lathe and the oil, but…”
“You…” Thorin says again. He shakes himself. His voice turns hoarse, with a hint of desperation. “Bilbo, I beg of you, be forthright with me. You made this for—”
“You, yes. Of course it’s for you. And before you ask, I know what it means.” Bilbo swallows, gathers all his Tookish courage, and holds it out to the King Under the Mountain. “Thorin Oakenshield, will you accept this bead, as a sign of my devotion and intention to courtship?”
Bilbo feels as much as hears the pained sound that wrenches from Thorin's chest. “Yes,” he says, raw, as if the word was ripped from deep inside of him. He steps forward to cup Bilbo’s hand with his own. His eyes glisten. “Yes I accept.”
Bilbo exhales shakily, weak with relief. “Well thank Mahal for that. You’ll have to teach me how to braid it in though, because I haven’t the first idea.” He pauses, lips twitching. “See, I was going to ask Balin, but…”
Thorin cuts him off with a growl, stealing the words with a kiss, and honestly Bilbo isn’t about to complain.
#21 - Confusion
The effort to clandestinely swap Thorin’s mithril crown of stars for a crown of flowers is entirely worth it for the honestly flummoxed expression on Thorin’s face when he notices some hours later during a meeting with his ministers.
#22 - Sensual
Hair is a big deal for dwarves, Bilbo knows. It’s a matter of pride, of identity, of standing: a declaration of bloodline and familial bonds, love and shame and honour made manifest.
It’s not until they begin learning one another in the touch of skin-on-skin, and Bilbo gives in to the urge he’s been fighting for weeks and pushes his fingers deep into the great dark fall of Thorin’s hair, that he realises the whole thing goes far beyond a mere cultural sentiment or societal propriety.
At the touch, a whole-body shudder ripples through Thorin. He makes a noise, half agony, half absolute, heart-felt relief, and melts into Bilbo, eyes fluttering closed.
“Amrâlimê,” he says hoarsely. The Khuzdul trips off his tongue, and its not the first time Bilbo has heard it but it certainly never made him feel like this. Heat flushes through him. Desire sings in his blood, wild and electrifying. Thorin’s hair curls around his fingers, silky against his skin, and suddenly Bilbo feels brave enough to hazard a guess as to what it means.
“My love,” he says softly, hesitantly.
Thorin’s eyes fly open, startled, full of wonder, and that's all the confirmation Bilbo needs. Thorin pulls back just far enough to dip his head down and kiss Bilbo again, long and deep, until he’s slick with it.
His voice shakes. “Can I…”
“Yes.” Bilbo breathes. “Yes.”
#23 - Sex
Bilbo draws him close with a hand at the base of his skull when Thorin presses into that part of him that feels like vines of molten sunlight under his skin.
#24 – Supernova
“I love you, Ghivashel.”
#25 - Sky
Sometimes, Bilbo can’t breathe. It feels like he’s being pushed from all sides, suffocating in a bottomless oblivion of terror. His vision dims at the edges, blurring into shades of haematite and shadow — a brief glimpse of carnage and war and crimson-stained snow and the wet slide of steel in flesh — before he breaks the surface of reality again.
He cannot suppress it, so he flees. Stumbles out of ancient caverns and stone halls until he finds the light, and the wind tearing at his face, and the feel of grass under his feet and the sunlight caressing his brow, and there, under the vast and endless sweep of the light northern sky, Bilbo breathes again.
(Thorin finds him like that sometimes, curled up and shivering, pale and too quiet. He gathers him gently into his arms and carries him back to his room, holds him until the screaming in Bilbo’s head is drowned out by the sound of Thorin’s heartbeat, and the icy veneer of fear cracks under the soothing warmth of whispered promises of safety.)
#26 - Weakness
“Why in Yavanna’s name would I start attending the Council meetings?”
“Why not?” Balin says placidly. “I’m sure Thorin would appreciate your presence, especially in matters of diplomacy with the men and elves. And, as future Consort to the King Under the Mountain, it is expected for you to start taking an interest in state affairs.”
“Consort to the…” Bilbo splutters. “But I’m just…”
“A hobbit! I’m just a hobbit! It’s asking for trouble enough that I’m courting the King — I know Thorin is getting enough opposition from his advisors about that as it is. If I start showing up at his meetings… I’ll make him look weak. I’m an outsider. I’m not a dwarf. I don’t know anything about politics or diplomacy —”
“You singlehandedly negotiated the continued existence of an entire kingdom.” Balin points out.
“Now, okay, that’s not quite how it happened…”
“Oh?” Bofur says, implacably. “Did you not manage to keep Thranduil, his army of elves, and several hundred angry fishermen from storming the gates of Erebor?”
“Did you not keep counsel with three major guardians of Middle Earth, and convince them all to work together using the symbol of our divine right of kingship that you managed to convince them was valid over a contract loophole?” Nori chips in mildly.
“And did you not manage to talk us all out of being arrested by the Master of Laketown on nothing more than your word, stall, and nearly succeed in talking trolls out of eating us, and above all, earn the trust one of the most pathologically untrusting Dwarves alive?” Dwalin rumbles.
Bilbo’s mouth opens and shuts.
“Bilbo.” Balin says, gently. “You are the furthest thing from weak I have ever known. More to the point, you have a knack for statecraft. If any of Thorin’s ministers consider your presence at his side to be a weakness, then they are not worth taking the advice of, and mark my words, they’ll come to see your worth soon enough.”
#27 - Technology
It very quickly becomes apparent why Thorin always comes away from his meetings with a headache. The shift from a gold hoard to a production industry hasn’t been an easy one, and it still lags in the wake of recompensing the damage from Smaug and the battle, rehabilitating new citizens pouring in, unrest from the Men and Elves, and rebel dwarf factions trying to take down Thorin now that the mountain is reclaimed. All of that has meant that even now, two years after the battle of five armies (as they’re calling it), Erebor is still in something of a food crisis.
Bilbo spends most of the Council meetings wishing he could collectively bang all their heads together and tell them in no uncertain terms that if you would just prioritise feeding your people instead of this pointless squabbling over land and gold we might actually get somewhere.
That’s when he gets an idea.
“And you think Erebor will agree to these terms?” The Thain says finally, after Bilbo has finished explaining his proposal.
It had taken all the favours Bilbo had accumulated in the Shire, the shameless name dropping of familial bonds, and the promise to answer all questions as to where ‘Mad Baggins’ had ended up to get the Thain to ride to Rivendell to meet him, and Bilbo isn’t about to waste a second of it.
“I do.” Bilbo says fervently. “Between you and me, Erebor sorely needs new sources of food imports, what with the Woodland Realm refusing trade and the men of Dale claiming both the lake and fighting for all the fertile land surrounding the mountain. In return, the Shire would be more than well compensated, and would get preferential deals on the best smithing and craftsmanship the Dwarves have to offer. Farming and milling equipment, for instance.”
The Thain frowns, but it seems more contemplative than disapproving. “I’m not entirely comfortable with selling our food to other nations. The Shire has always been self-contained — not getting involved has saved us from being of interest to the outside world up until now. Once word gets out that we have over three times the crop yield of Gondor, we might face some trouble.”
"That’s why I put in some safeguarding measures. By benefitting from Shire land, Erebor must protect those lands as if they were her own. If the Shire is attacked, Erebor would take that as an act of war and all Dwarven armies sworn under Durin would come to our aid.”
Which in the growing dark days ahead, Bilbo privately thinks the Shire might sorely need, given they are the last nation in Middle Earth without a standing army.
“And what of the long term?" The Thain poses. "What of other risks - over-farming, and the like?”
“I'm not asking you to work the land any harder than you would do normally, only to share your surplus. When Erebor gets back to its feet and some of the hoard spaces finish getting re-converted for storing and even growing grain instead of just stockpiling gold, we’ll be able to establish proper trade, and work out the most sustainable solution for the long term. But until then, by sharing what we have, the Shire establishes an alliance with what will be one of the mightiest and wealthiest kingdoms in Middle Earth, and I can promise you, they will honour that that alliance. Times are changing, Thain. Darker powers are growing in strength every day; soon we won’t have the luxury of not getting involved, and when that day comes, I can tell you, you’ll be glad to have an army of dwarves at your back.”
The Thain ponders this, and Bilbo can tell he’s on the precipice of agreement.
He adds, casually. “You may also be interested to know that dwarves are quite fond of their pipe-weed, and Esgaroth already boasts some of the best trade in the world. Some quality stock of the Old Toby would fetch a high price in certain places, I would garner. If you could get it there, of course.”
He can see the thought take root in the Thain’s eyes, can see him working through how new trade routes could make a lot of money if they but extend their market reach, and Bilbo knows he’s won.
“Done,” the Thain says finally. “On behalf of the Shire, I can accept those terms. Of course, you’ll still have to convince the King to agree.”
It's not the King I'll have to convince, Bilbo thinks grimly. He knows Thorin will support it, but his new board of advisors from the Blue Mountains are proud, stubborn, and mistrusting of outsiders — the last thing they’ll want to do is accept aid from halflings.
But then, Bilbo's had just about enough of dwarven pride by this point.
“Shouldn't be a problem,” Bilbo says, with more confidence than he feels.
And if it is, he thinks, they’ll have both me and Thorin to reckon with.
#28 - Lightning/Thunder
The King of Dale knew that Thorin was a powerful man. He was the crack of thunder in the night, made of blood and ruin encased in unyielding stone — unbridled and unwavering even in face of utmost adversity.
Bilbo, however… Bard knew that Bilbo was sharp. Quick-witted, uncannily intuitive, ruthless when it came to protecting those he cared about, and completely unconcerned with consequences. If you ended up on the wrong side of him, you’d get a diplomatic smile, just enough time to think you’d gotten away with it, and then Bilbo would open his mouth and verbally tear you to shreds so courteously and tactfully no one could even say anything about it.
Like many others, Bard had heard the rumours.
It’s not until the yearly Council of Three comes around again, though, that he sees it for himself. Four years of peace are marked. Dwarves, Men, and Elves all come together to review and discuss the year ahead, and naturally, not all of them have peace foremost in their minds.
They’re discussing the Mirkwood Treatises — or trying to. Thranduil swans about in his usual fashion, offering snide remarks at Thorin and his family, his people, his kingdom, and Thorin takes it all with a stony forbearance that Bard admires.
It’s not until he makes a crass comment about Thorin’s nephews, though, and Bard sees agony twist, sharp and sudden, in Thorin’s face, sees him crumple slightly into himself, that the hobbit at his side snaps.
“How dare you.” Bilbo’s voice is quiet, the kind of quiet that lives in the silver shadows of the trees, in the subtle receding waves of a tsunami that builds in the distance. “You, who have known great loss — how dare you scorn another’s grief.”
Thranduil’s expression drops as though Bilbo had struck him, but the hobbit is far from done. He steps forward from his place at Thorin’s side, and the calm, calculating look in his eyes makes Bard shiver.
“Let me tell you what I see, Thranduil Elvenking. You talk of peace, yet you work to undermine it at every turn. Every decision you have made since the moment you chose let Erebor fall and abandon its people has been to weaken this kingdom. You refused aid of any sort to the Dwarven refugees. You sought to wage war on the Mountain the moment it was reclaimed. You knew Dale would rise again after the death of Smaug, so you bought the Men’s loyalty with aid and isolated them from the dwarves — they who would be Dale's traditional ally. You’ve been deliberately attempting to drive a wedge between them ever since by encouraging disputes over land and grain, and more importantly, planting specific ill-will against the dwarves who have the most against you — those you betrayed and later imprisoned for the simple crime of passing through your lands.
"You justify your actions with talk of jewels rightfully yours and long-past misgivings with Thrór, when in fact your primary motive was and is to keep Erebor from rising again because you — you are afraid of their retribution for your betrayal. The Greenwood has occupied the dominant power in this land for nearly a century, but now, having made the decision to betray your alliance with the dwarves then, you cannot risk Erebor returning to the power it once had, because an Erebor returned to power is an Erebor that can pose a threat to you.
"That is why you do not want these treatises to succeed. You do not want a fair alliance. You do not want a strong Erebor, even with your jewels returned and the promise of peace, because you do not care for the larger implications of Dol Guldur and Angmar and what it might mean that darker powers are stirring, only of petty revenge — as though Erebor would burn the Greenwood to the ground as soon as their strength is restored.
"Well let me tell you something. Erebor stands. We are strong, we are not going anywhere, and we will not tolerate your attempts to sabotage what we have.
"So here is my question for you: will you continue to resist our efforts to rebuild and make peace whilst distracting this council from your true motives with malicious attacks on those who grieve, or are you willing to let go of your prejudice and past grievances and join us in trying to make a better world for all our peoples? We are offering you a chance to put all this behind us. Take it.”
It takes a special kind of talent, Bard thinks, to render an Elf King speechless.
Thorin may be a thunderstorm, but Bilbo is a bolt of lightning — deadly and unerring.
And from the wide-eyed looks exchanged around the Council as Thranduil backs down from Bilbo’s tirade, as the Elvenking bows his head to the hobbit with something akin to respect in his eyes, none would soon forget it.
#29 - Hell
Bilbo hadn't known how deep Thorin’s fear had been buried until he wakes up in the middle of the night to Thorin’s stifled scream.
#30 - Blood
Thorin’s hand catches his face by the chin, tilts it up to better see the cut over his lip. His hands are gentle, but his eyes are aflame.
“Don’t blame Dwalin.” Bilbo’s voice is muffled as Thorin presses a damp cloth to stem the bleeding. “It was an easy block, not his fault I tripped.”
Thorin’s jaw clenches so hard it cracks. “He should know to take more care when sparring with you.”
“Why, because I’m a hobbit?” Bilbo demands, suddenly irritated. “Because I’m fragile?”
“Because you are mine.” Thorin growls, effectively silencing him. The cloth falls and his hands cradle Bilbo’s face, thumbs caressing his cheekbones. “You are amrâlimê, my heart, my treasure of treasures. So long as there is breath in my body, I would see no harm come to you. Be it from orc, kin, or my own hand; I would take on all the armies of Middle Earth, of Mordor, and the cursed spirit of Sauron himself before any dared lay a hand on you.”
Warmth. Warmth everywhere — from the hands cupping his neck to the yawning, aching affection pulling at his heart. Bilbo’s eyelids flutter closed. He turns and presses a kiss to one of Thorin’s palms.
“Oh. Well then.” He says shakily, over the throbbing of his heart. “Thorin, you are the sun of my life, my rock, and you are what fills the space between my heart beats.” He nudges his head forward to touch Thorin’s. “But perhaps, given the circumstances, we could forestall the international waging of war until Dwalin manages to land a hit slightly more severe than a split lip? I would hate to see you have to replace your head of the guard, as irksome as he can be.”
A beat. Bilbo hears a sigh, then the brush of beard and the hard planes of a cheekbone press almost questioningly against the corner of his mouth. He turns his head willingly, relishing the taste of smoke and silver and eternity.
“I shall push back his beheading until the morn then,” Thorin murmurs grudgingly against his lips, and Bilbo doesn’t have to be looking to know he’s smiling.
“Your clemency is commendable,” Bilbo approves, and kisses him again.
#31 - Devotion
The years pass, and sometimes Bilbo doubts. His love is a King, a legendary warrior immortalised in song, a beacon glowing bright in the shadows, fighting for a better world for his people, and Bilbo…
Bilbo is merely a hobbit of the Shire.
He sees the looks he gets, from confused to envious to outright hostile; who was he, to claim the King’s heart and deserve to stand by his side?
Balin listens to his concerns with his ever-infuriating level of calm. When Bilbo runs out of words, Balin merely reaches forward and touches the mithril set Bilbo has taken to always wearing under his shirt. His eyes twinkle.
He says, very deliberately; “there’s never been anyone or anything he’s treasured more than you.”
#32 - Hair
Thorin’s hands are steady as he braids the final bead into Bilbo’s curls, but the significance of the event is betrayed by the light that shines in his blue eyes — such light as Bilbo has never seen before.
(“Consort Under the Mountain has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”)
#33 - Telephone
The Ravens of Erebor are faster than letters, which is how thirty years after the battle when Bilbo hears of his cousin’s deaths, he is the first to claim guardianship for his beloved nephew.
He is also the last to fight for him (despite Lobelia’s envisions on the boy’s tidy inheritance). It is difficult, Bilbo thinks dryly as they depart the Shire, to argue with an army of Dwarves.
#34 - Ears
Frodo barely speaks on the journey to Erebor. But he does listen. He listens to his uncle as he carefully explains the choice before him — to live with his aunt in the Shire or cross the length of the Middle Earth to live with his uncle in a far away kingdom.
(Aunt Lobelia looks at Frodo the way hobbits look at their prize tomatoes; she makes him feel small, and stupid, and her voice is shrew and rings harshly in his ears. Uncle Bilbo looks at him the way he looks at the first blossom of spring, like his presence is an unexpected joy; he calls him irakdashat — nephew — like a promise.)
Frodo listens to the strange dwarves surrounding his uncle on their journey, recounting stories of trolls and dragons and elves, distracting him from the gaping hole in his life left by his parents’ death. He falls asleep every night cradled to his uncle’s chest, the soft promises of love and safety and devotion following him like fireflies amidst slumber's darkness. And he hears the same promise of love in the deep, rumbling voice of the dark-haired dwarf who is there to meet them at their journey’s end.
“Hello akhûnith.” The dwarf drops to one knee so they are eye-to-eye. His voice is grave, but his eyes are kind. “I am Thorin Oakenshield. I am at your service.”
Frodo presses back against Biblo’s legs, gripping his hand, but at an encouraging smile from his uncle, he answers, in a small voice hoarse from disuse. “Frodo Baggins, at yours.”
Behind him, his uncle draws in a sharp, surprised breath. In front of him, the dwarf’s smile is like the breaking of sun through the clouds. The King bows low to the child.
“You are most welcome here, Frodo Baggins.”
#35 - Touch
People are always somehow surprised when they see how tactile Thorin is, how free he is with his affection for those closest to him. The way he absentmindedly touches his friends and kin, reassuring himself they are there and safe and whole, or merely when words fail in the face of emotion and he has no other way of expressing it. The way he is with Frodo, how gentle he is, how easily he swings him up high in the air over the sound of delighted giggling and lets the boy burrow into his chest when he falls asleep. The way he expresses his affection for Bilbo so freely and thoughtlessly, enfolding him in his arms and taking his hand and pressing soft kisses against his temple when he’s amused.
And then of course there’s the other side of it all, which is that Thorin feels so deeply and so strongly.
The way he trembles when Bilbo slowly and gently kisses Thorin’s forehead, his eyelids, his cheeks, his nose, every inch of his face… the way his hands shake against Bilbo’s waist and his breath hitches as though each kiss had just shattered him completely. The way he would sit at Bilbo’s feet and place his head onto Bilbo’s lap after a hard day or when the weight of grief and trauma gets too much as it often does, relaxing only when Bilbo’s hand threads through his hair.
The way he could come apart, could be so devastatingly undone by the most tender of touches.
It cleaves Bilbo in two, because Thorin has so much love inside him and so much to give, but most people will not see it because his suffering has born him so much anger and sorrow and duty has burdened him for so long. People look at Thorin with nothing but distrust and resentment; they see a greedy dwarf, worse, a selfish king who understands only strife and violence, but they are wrong — they are wrong. There is so much love and gentleness in Thorin, such an intense depth of feeling, and Bilbo wants to scream at these people, smack their heads together and force them to see what he does so they might understand.
#36 - Innocence
"Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo asks, very seriously. "What's a pointy-eared tree-shagging crud bucket?”
#37 - Name
Thorin’s eyebrow rises a fraction when he finds him. “‘He Who Walks Unseen’ was an epithet, not a personal challenge last I checked, Âzyungel.”
“Yes, well, I’m quite fine here, thank you—”
“Hiding in a dark corner eating grapes?”
“Precisely. Care to join?”
Thorin’s lips twitch. He’s fighting a smile. “Honestly Bilbo it’s a banquet, not a goblin horde.”
“Forced social interaction making meaningless small talk with strangers?” Bilbo’s nose wrinkles. “I’ll take the goblins any day, thanks.”
Thorin actually chuckles at that, as if Bilbo is being witty and amusing and not grouchy and antisocial. “The Elvenking just arrived. You know he gets surly when you’re not around.”
“He’s only surly because I won our last game of riddles and Thranduil lives to be dramatic. Let him mingle for a bit, I can’t be only one around here capable of repartee.”
“The company misses your presence.”
“The company have survived much worse.”
“Dain was hoping to speak with you.”
“Dain was hoping to run by me those new trade proposals with the Iron Hills again.” Bilbo corrects darkly. “Seems to have somehow gotten the idea that I can be bribed with his signature recipe for pumpkin pie. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
Thorin’s eyes twinkle with silent laughter. “My sister wants to dance with you.”
“Ah yes. Another terrifying member of your family.”
“And what if I want to dance with you?"
Bilbo wavers. “…Oh very well.” He grumbles. “But if anyone I don’t know starts speaking to me, or Dain even mentions politics, I reserve the right to return to my dark corner and my grapes.”
Thorin just laughs, and damn if it doesn’t wreck Bilbo every time, seeing the quiet joy in Thorin’s face. That such joy is even possible, after everything he'd been through.
“I shall have to keep you to myself then.” Thorin murmurs, warm and fond, and tugs Bilbo out by the hand.
#38 - Melody
Bilbo has learned to recognise the sounds of Frodo’s nightmares. The muffled cries, the wrenched gasp of wakefulness, the soft padding of feet from his room to Bilbo and Thorin’s room next door.
Bilbo knows these sounds well; he hears them all too often.
What he doesn’t recognise is the soft, lilting hum that accompanies them one night.
Thorin’s side of the bed is empty too, Bilbo notes, as he slips out. He knows Thorin often has nightmares of his own, and his sleep tends to be shallow. One at a time, Bilbo thinks, and pushes lightly on Frodo’s door.
He stops in the doorway. Stares.
Thorin is singing.
Frodo is held close to the dwarf’s chest, and the boy is drowsing, his head tucked against Thorin's collarbone. His tears have left small, damp patches on Thorin’s nightshirt. And Thorin is singing to him. In a voice soft and impossibly deep, hushed lines of Khuzdul rise and fall in a melody that brings tears to Bilbo’s eyes for the rough, unrefined beauty of it.
He could have stood there all night, listening, but this is a moment for the two of them. Bilbo silently slips back into his own room before either of them can notice him lingering in the doorway, and falls back asleep to the sound of his beloved’s voice soothing his nephew with a Dwarven lullaby.
#39 - Pain
A year after Frodo’s parents’ death, Thorin takes the child to where his own nephews lie.
“You never stop missing them, little one.”
#40 - Waves
Progress is not a straight line. Every two steps forward is one step back.
They come in ripples, then in surges, then in a never-ending tide: wanderers and refugees, called home to the mountain, even if many are too young to remember Erebor as it was. Most of them are joyous to return.
Most of them.
#41 - Speed
It takes a fraction of a second for the peace to shatter. Dwalin’s roar is the only warning he gets before there’s a flash of silver, a line of fire searing across his hip, and a masked Dwarf crashing to the ground in front of him, Dwalin’s axe buried deep in his skull.
Thorin feels numb. His hand comes away from his side dripping crimson, but he’s had enough battle wounds in his life to know that it’s a graze, no more. A split second later, or if Dwalin hadn’t cried out, and the assassin would have spilled his insides all over the stone floor.
Thorin has just enough time to turn to his closest friend, and say, with a strange sense of calm, “Bilbo and Frodo. Get them somewhere safe,” before his knees give way and darkness claims him.
#42 - Hands
When he wakes, his fingers close automatically around a smaller hand gripping his.
There’s a sharp intake of breath from beside him, and Thorin feels lips press a kiss to his knuckles.
“Thorin.” Bilbo breathes his name like a prayer.
Thorin opens his eyes. His love looks wretched. Pale and exhausted and —
“Bilbo,” he repeats, more of a question this time, and Bilbo flinches.
“After everything you’ve done for them.” He grinds out.
Ah. Thorin sighs. He isn’t sure what to say — that change happens like this, that having the power he does has earned him a target on his back since the moment he was born, that asserting authority again over a disparate and divided race was never going to be met without resistance.
“It was going to happen sooner or later.” He says. "I’m only surprised it's taken this long.”
Bilbo’s head whips up, and he’s fuming. “What more do you have to do?” He says vehemently. "How many battles, how many sacrifices, how many times do you have to prove your worth, to bleed for them, for them to believe in you?”
“Bilbo…” Thorin sighs again, weary, and Bilbo’s shoulders slump, his fury dissipating as abruptly as it had arisen. He twines their fingers together, pressing his thumb gently into the centre of Thorin's palm, circling lightly, and Thorin suddenly notices the dark curls burrowed against Bilbo’s other shoulder. The boy is fast asleep on Bilbo’s lap, one small hand clutching Bilbo’s shirt, braced with an arm around his back.
Thorin softens at the sight. “I told Dwalin to take you both somewhere safe.”
“We are safe.” Bilbo says, matter-of-fact. “We’re with you.”
Thorin would oppose the logic in that, given the wound in his side, but he’s too tired to argue.
“Outside the door. Hasn’t moved since you got here. Hasn’t even cleaned the gore off his axe. I’d be worried about Frodo, but his hero worship of Dwalin seems to have outshone any notice of anything else.”
Thorin’s mouth twitches. “Good lad.”
“I could barely settle him, poor boy was near sick with worry. Dropped off eventually from exhaustion no doubt, just after Oin finished patching you up.” Bilbo presses his nose briefly into Frodo’s curls, breathing him in. “He loves you very much.”
Bilbo adds it casually, as if the love of this child is simple, incontrovertible fact as opposed to a heart-stopping admission that shakes Thorin to his very existence.
The familiar grief yawns in his heart, desolate and wild as the loss of his own nephews closes around him like a vice. It sinks through him, catching tight claws in his guts.
“He does?” Thorin says, a touch hoarsely.
The comforting circles on his palm go still suddenly, and Thorin feels rather than sees the weight of Bilbo’s gaze fall upon him, soft and searching.
“Yes,” Bilbo says. He squeezes Thorin’s hand, hard. “He does.”
#43 - Tears
“Can I call you Uncle, too?” Frodo asks the King Under the Mountain.
#44 - Taste
“Woodsmoke,” Bilbo decides. “And silver.”
Thorin’s eyebrow lifts, amused. “Silver?”
“Like… metal, but clean and cool, like spring rain and starlight.”
“Starlight?” Thorin repeats incredulously. Bilbo laughs, pulling back just far enough to stretch his head up and kiss him again, soft and long. He feels Thorin melt against him, tastes the curve of his smile, hears the involuntary exhale as Bilbo drags his fingertips across Thorin's scalp in that way Bilbo knows he loves. Thorin’s eyelashes drift closed, and he leans into the touch, practically purring.
“Mm.” Bilbo says. “Definitely starlight.”
He feels rather than hears the laugh rumble through Thorin’s chest. “Well if I taste of starlight then you taste of sunshine.”
“Like honey,” Thorin agrees. As if to prove his point, a shaft of sunlight falls into their room, lighting up his eyes which are shining with mirth. “Like lemongrass and freshly turned earth, like fireworks and burning ozone all wrapped up in malted barley.”
“You’re ridiculous.” Bilbo says, but he’s smiling. “Burning ozone?”
“Woodsmoke?” Thorin counters.
“You do realise that sunshine and starlight are synonyms?”
“You do realise that there are laws against talking back to your King?”
“No there aren’t.”
“There might be.”
“There aren’t, and you know it —”
“— and that disagreeing with your King is considered the highest of treason?”
“Actually that’s considered tyranny, and it’s generally frowned upon.”
“…You’re too clever for your own good, has anyone ever told you that?”
“Yes. You do. Frequently.”
“Mm. Thought so.” Thorin says, and there's a bit of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Bilbo presses his thumb to it, as if he can hold it there.
“I love you.” He says softly. “Have I ever told you that?”
#45 - Clouds
“The days are growing darker.”
Frodo’s nose scrunches up with the imperious, all-knowing confidence of a thirteen-year-old. “They’re just clouds, Uncle Thorin.”
Thorin stops, startled out of his thoughts, and stares at the boy, but Frodo is already distracted, transfixed by a blue butterfly that had passed lazily in front of his nose.
The corner of Thorin’s mouth lifts. “So they are,” he murmurs, and hastens to keep up as Frodo gives chase to the butterfly, his laughter rippling down the mountain slope.
#46 - Home ♫
Sometimes Bilbo dreams of rolling hills and dappled sunlight on the walls of his library. He thinks of a dawn the colour of canola fields, the smell of fresh strawberries in the market, the sound of a lazy summer afternoon in the Shire.
But then he wakes in Thorin’s arms, to the brush of drowsy, tender kisses at the nape of his neck, and at some point they both know Frodo will come bounding in (his blue eyes bright and happy, aghast that they’re still in bed when there’s breakfast to be had) but until then they still have this, these stolen moments of soft murmurs and rise of skin against lips before the world draws them out from under the covers.
That world is different to the one he was born into. Stone instead of soft grass, snow-capped mountains instead of little hills, and always the hum of heat and work and song winding from the heart of the deep. It’s a far cry from the cosy, silent rooms of Bag End, but the makings of his surroundings are a change easier to accept than consider the loss of the people within them.
Because in the midst of this wonderful, insane life he’s carving out for himself, home is when Frodo crawls onto his lap in the evening, and Bombur makes his favourite stew because he thought Bilbo seemed a little down, and Bofur laughs at his own joke hard enough to snort milk out his nose and Bifur smacks him on the back and shares an exasperated grin with Bilbo from across the room. Home is when Dís ruffles Frodo’s curls fondly, neatly dodging Gloin as he spars with his son across the room and narrowing her fearsome gaze at Dori, Nori and Oin taking bets on the outcome in the corner. Home is Gandalf spinning magic with his fingers, eyes crinkling at the corners as he makes butterflies dance above the head of the wide-eyed hobbit in his lap, and Dwalin roaring his booming laugh in the background loud enough to make everyone jump except Ori at his side who merely smiles, and then at the heart of it all there’s Thorin, clapping Balin’s shoulder absentmindedly as he moves through the chaos to wind his arms around Bilbo, looking completely, blindingly happy as he presses a kiss to Bilbo’s neck. Everywhere he looks are people he loves — people who he’s fought and bled and grown beside, who had fought for a better life when no one else would —
And Bilbo knows he need not look any further; he found his home a long time ago.
#47 - Completion
Thorin is starting to realise that peace isn’t something you just finish one day. It doesn't magically happen when the battle is over, when home is reclaimed, when the stories are told and the last song fades.
Peace is something you have to work for, actively, endlessly — something you carve out from whatever remains of struggle and tragedy and grief, and is all the greater because of it. It’s never finished, not really, but one day he will look at his kingdom and see the beginnings of something that will outlast him, and one day he will pass that foundation along to someone else, and the work will still not be complete, but it’s a start, because peace may not be something you can finish but it’s certainly something you can build. Stone by stone; moment by moment.
Luckily for all of them, Dwarves are rather good at building things that endure.
#48 - Heaven
Bilbo traces invisible spirals on Thorin’s back. “Do you think Mahal will let me dwell with you, when we pass from this life?” The words slip out before Bilbo can stop them, before he has a chance to worry if he’s breaking some sacred Dwarf law by talking about it or treading on dangerous ground with regard to deaths of loved ones.
But Thorin merely hums, eyes still closed. His voice is gruff and sleepy. “We are One, Bilbo. Where you go, part of me goes with you, no matter where we end up.”
The words are brusque and a bit grumpy, but there’s a sort of artless tenderness about them, an accidental sweetness that occasionally takes Bilbo by surprise.
“You’re quite the romantic, you know that?” He says softly, brushing his thumb over a pale scar on Thorin’s lower back.
Silence greets him.
Bilbo looks up, just in time to see Thorin’s head slip forward a little, and a snore catch on his exhale. Bilbo can’t help it. He smiles, teases some of Thorin’s hair away from his face, and presses a featherlight kiss to Thorin’s forehead.
“Amrâlimê,” he murmurs, enjoying the growing familiarity of the language on his tongue.
In his sleep, Thorin makes a small, snuffling noise that pulls at Bilbo's chest.
#49 - Forever
It won’t always be days of light and joy and peace.
They’ll be Council meetings and trade agreements and peace treaties, they’ll be minor disputes to solve and construction to oversee, foreign dignitaries to appease and new citizens to welcome. They’ll be forges to stoke and rock to hew, lives to rebuild, a future to shape, and sometimes Bilbo feels the weight of it crushing him, but he still would not change it for the world.
Because in the end, kingdoms aren’t built on the force of ideas or might or power, they’re built on force of will. They’re built, not because they were particularly good or sensible ideas, but because one person stepped up and said I will do this, follow me, and people did. No great change could happen without someone who cared enough fighting for it — someone who cared so much the injustice of it hurt and the only respite they could find is to do something about it.
This person is the man Bilbo has chosen to love. This is the lot Bilbo has taken on for loving the man he does, and he would not change it, for to change that would be to change the very essence of Thorin, and if he were not Thorin, Bilbo would not love him as he did.
So it doesn’t matter that in the light of day, ruling a kingdom isn’t always that fun or easy or legend-worthy. It doesn't matter that another battle will inevitably arise. It doesn't matter how many days of darkness they may have yet to face in the years ahead.
Bilbo has this day, this moment. He has love to cherish, a familiar touch and that particular, ridiculously incandescent smile — like Bilbo had hung the sun and stars and Thorin need only turn up his face to bask in their light. Bilbo has the joy of witnessing Frodo grow, the miracle of getting to watch his husband’s hair turn increasingly silver and his beard grow as he lets go of his shame and Thorin finally gets to live, to rest, to heal. He has his family and his friends and his home, and they’ll take their forever day by day, moment by moment.
And right now, that’s enough.
#50 - Epilogue: Sun
“Bilbo, quick, come look!”
“There — look!”
The sun is rising over Erebor. A white dawn, breaking over a violet silence in the earth.
It falls on the kingdom at their feet. On the mountain, whole and resplendent, moving and breathing beneath them with the lives of countless thousands; on Dale, gleaming pale and silver in the morning; on the lake beyond which shines, and on its border, a young oak tree, exalted in the light of the new day.
“Look.” Thorin says again, softly. “Look at what we’ve made.”