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Living After Midnight

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The awful showers in the House of Durin are less awful when Thorin is there with him, standing outside the spray and letting Bilbo have all the hot water. “Aren’t you cold?” Bilbo asks as he soaps his underarms, stunned by the way he somehow doesn’t feel self-conscious, even though Thorin is staring at him. His gaze is so soft and adoring that there’s literally nothing to be done but soak it up, blushing and floating and feeling positively too ecstatic to stop smiling. His cheeks hurt, but he doesn't even care.

Thorin shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. Not when I can look at you.”

Bilbo reaches for him then, tugging him under the spray by his arms because it’s physically painful to burn up in the heat of Thorin’s eyes when he can touch him instead. “Come here,” he murmurs, kissing him. “At least let me share the water with you.”

Miraculously, all the things Bilbo usually can’t stop thinking about in these particular hellish showers fade into insignificance as Thorin licks deep and slick into his mouth. The scummy plastic curtains. The dirty grout. The gross, multicolored wads of long, tangled hair stuck in clumps to the tiled walls because no one in the House of Durin ever cleans up after themselves, save for Bilbo and Thorin. The lonely rows of forgotten body-wash bottles, each with a single squeeze or so left in them. It all disappears with Thorin’s arms curled around Bilbo’s back, the hot cascade of water making their kisses even wetter, messier. “Don’t drown,” Thorin says as Bilbo pulls way, sputtering. Then he rubs a palm down Bilbo’s back to his ass, which he squeezes gently, fingers dipping into the crack. “How are you feeling? Are you sore?”

“Wonderfully so,” Bilbo assures him, wincing as curious fingers rub over his still swollen rim. “Ah.”

Thorin kisses his temple and steals the soap. “I will make you an ice pack.”

“I do not need to ice my bum, Thorin, I’m fine,” he promises, snorting.

But when they pad downstairs in their bath towels well after midnight to see if there’s any pizza left, Thorin finds a bag of frozen peas in the freezer and brings it back up alongside their scavenged food. As they snack on leftovers in Bilbo’s room, he wraps it in a t-shirt and insists that Bilbo sit on it. “Please. I’ll feel better, if you feel better.”

“But I feel fine,” Bilbo tells him, even though he has winced a few times going up and down the stairs if he moves too carelessly. It’s a good burn, though, as far as he's concerned. “I like that I can still feel you,” he admits, kissing Thorin’s cheek before he grudgingly takes the peas and perches atop them, nose wrinkled up at the cold still chilling him even through the layer of cotton. “But it seems I will do anything to make you happy, so. Here you go, I’m putting my arse on these fucking peas. Which, remind me, cannot go back into the freezer without us putting them in a clean, uncontaminated bag that I haven’t sat on.”

Thorin lies down beside him and pushes the lovely curve of his smile against Bilbo’s shoulder, beard rasping sweetly. “Noted,” he says, voice muffled by skin.

For a few quiet moments, Bilbo eats pizza, ices his ass, and plays with Thorin’s hair, wondering how even the unpleasantness of cold peas pressed against his literal asshole isn’t enough to dampen his spirits. His stomach keeps dropping every time he remembers some minor, seemingly insignificant detail of the day: Thorin’s’ voice snagged thin and holy over the word love. The rough, roving hunger of his hands as he touched Bilbo’s body and put him exactly where he wanted him. The way he groans into his lips when they kiss. All of it—all of it is so incomprehensibly lovely, so impossible. And yet, here it is. Here Thorin is, pressed close to his side, eyes closed almost prayerfully, grazing his lips up and down Bilbo’s arm from his shoulder to the ditch of his elbow.

“You know,” Thorin rumbles, reaching out and laying a big, heavy hand upon Bilbo’s sternum, over the very sparse dusting of auburn hair growing there. There’s so little of it that Thorin’s warm palm covers its entirety, and something about that moves Bilbo, makes his stomach twist up and his throat feel thick. “I would do anything to make you happy, too,” Thorin says, and that does not help with the sudden and insistent prickling behind Bilbo’s eyes, so he sniffles and rubs his knuckles on either side of his nose. Thorin notices and sits up abruptly. “Are you crying? Does it hurt?” he asks, shifting his hand to the bag of peas and sounding very alarmed.

Bilbo lets out a breathless laugh. “God, no! Please stop with the peas, I’m absolutely fine, I’m just—I’m so terribly, terribly happy, Thorin,” he mumbles, staring up at the ceiling to keep his eyes from revealing too much as they overflow. “Please don’t mind my silly blubbering. Come back,” he declares, pulling him back in, guiding Thorin’s head to his chest. “That’s better.”

Thorin sighs deeply, pressing a kiss to Bilbo’s ribs and curling his thick arm over his waist, dragging him closer. “I’m happy, too,” he admits quietly. “Though I still feel awful about last night.”

“Don’t,” Bilbo murmurs, a lick of anxiety heating up in his chest, making him squirm. He thinks on it for a moment, though, chewing his lip, contemplating. “So—you said. You said you’d do anything to make me happy.”

“Anything,” Thorin says, fingers flexing against Bilbo’s chest.

He inhales sharply, as one does before plunging into ice water or ripping off a band-aid. “Would you consider quitting drinking? Or at least substantially cutting down your intake, if quitting entirely doesn’t seem feasible?” It comes out in a nervous rush, his heart rate picking up beneath Thorin’s arm, color rising to his cheeks as he takes a deep, steadying breath.

Thorin does not seem angry, though. He only makes a wordless, disgusted sound in his throat before he answers. “I’m planning on quitting to make myself happy, too. I was miserable, drinking so much every day just to get through to the next and do it again. Just to be around you. Just to endure it,” he murmurs, rubbing his cheek into Bilbo’s chest, eyes flickering shut in a mask of regret, lips pressing together. “Which is not to say it was your fault. It wasn’t. It was all me. A shitty coping mechanism. But I’m not my father. I’m not my grandfather. I don’t need to do it. I can, and will, stop.”

When Bilbo exhales, it feels like he's been holding that particular breath all week, all summer, his whole entire life. Its release brings a strange, heavy peace over his body, and he feels exhausted as he sinks into his mattress, leaning down so that he can press his face into Thorin’s hair and inhale. “God,” he sighs. “I didn’t—I thought you might put up more of a fight. You were so defensive at the bar. Which I suppose was partially my fault for confronting you there…in front of everyone…when I was also drunk,” Bilbo admits, cringing at the hazy but painful memory. “Still, I’m glad this wasn’t a fight.”

“Not a fight,” Thorin says, rolling over and bracketing Bilbo between his arms, kissing him full and deep and reassuring on the mouth. “I think I can stop on my own. I’ve done it before. But I will look into a twelve-step program if it comes to that.”

Bilbo lets out a shuddering sigh and wipes his eyes. “Thank you. I’ll do whatever I can to help and support you.”

Thorin sits back then to study Bilbo, gaze so terribly earnest and bright that it hurts to look at directly. “You know what else I would do, if you wished it?” he asks then. Bilbo raises his eyebrows and reaches under himself to remove the peas because there is such gravity to Thorin’s voice, he feels like this moment needs his whole attention. Or else, this is a preamble to sex, in which case he doesn’t want to be anywhere near a bag of frozen vegetables.

What would you do?” he asks.

Thorin takes a deep breath before his gaze drops to the bedspread, where he picks nervously at a loose string. “I would move to England,” he murmurs before his eyes flash back up, hopeful and pleading, like the spread of sunlight after rain clouds have cleared from the sky. “I would follow you home. Follow you anywhere, if you wanted me.”

It’s so much that Bilbo actually feels his heart stutter to a stop right there beneath his breast bone. “Thorin,” he breathes as his pulse picks up again twice as quickly, reaching out to make a fist in Thorin’s loose hair to pull him close, closer, on top of him, until they are tangled in a haphazard pile, a clumsy embrace with Bilbo’s hands clawing at Thorin’s broad back. “I wouldn’t ask that of you. I know—your whole life is here. Your house, your graduate degree, your friends, your bands. I couldn’t. But of course, I want you. I want you so badly that the thought of going back without you makes my heart ache.”

“Then don’t,” Thorin murmurs against him, pressing so many fevered kisses to his throat, his face, his hair. “Take me with you. Or else stay here. Please.”

Bilbo loops his arms around Thorin’s neck and one leg around his hips. He would squeeze him between both, but unfortunately the rest of him is trapped beneath Thorin’s shifting, grinding weight. “I don’t know anything about moving from one country to another. Or extending a visa. I’m afraid I’m quite useless when it comes to logistics, but—I want you for longer than this summer, Thorin Oakenshield, so. We shall figure something out.”

Thorin sobs wordlessly in a wounded muffle against his shoulder before canting up to kiss Bilbo like kissing is breathing, and somewhere to the side of the bed, the peas melt into a mush.

—-

They sleep. But hours before Bilbo’s work alarm goes off, Thorin kisses him awake, hands gentle and spread wide over his ribs, his hips, his thighs. “Let me have you before you must go, please,” he murmurs against Bilbo’s sleep-soft lips. “In my mouth.” And, well, Bilbo would never say no to such a thing, so as the chill gray of 8 am becomes the yellow glow of 9, he loses himself to infinite slickness and maddening heat. To the feel of Thorin’s long hair sifting through his fingers and the heat of his scalp beneath the dig of his nails until it all rises and peaks like the crest of a wave, and he arches back and cries out.

His walk down to Telegraph after the fact is entirely too long; his knees are weak, his bum is still sore, and every step that takes him further away from his bed and the man in it seems quite honestly like a mistake. He doesn’t want to be apart from Thorin, even for the length of his work day. It feels like such a foolish, pointless thing when he finally has all he wants.

He’s standing in line for coffee a Peet’s, contemplating the banality of American capitalism and how it’s interfering with his suddenly very very good sex life, when someone aggressively thumps against him from behind, hugging him with so much force that he stumbles forward, a quiet oof huffing out of his lips. “Little Burglar!” Kili crows in his ear, squeezing him fiercely before letting him go just enough to shake him by his shoulders. “So...how is uncle in the sack?”

Bofur, who is weaving his way over from the milk bar with Fili in tow, wrinkles his nose and says, “I thought we didn’t want to think about the sex bits?”

Bilbo dissolves into nervous, uncomfortable laughter. He is caught somewhere between wanting to brag and the horror of being asked such a thing in the first place. “Marvelous, if you must know. But that’s all you’re getting and likely all you truly want to get,” he settles upon, blushing as he disentangles himself from Kili’s clinging weight. “It seems this turn of events isn’t really a secret, is it?”

Fili shrugs, grinning. “Thin walls. And your neck is covered in hickeys.”

“Yeah, you look like you got in a brawl with a giant octopus,” Bofur adds as he reaches out and pokes one of the dark purple marks to the left of Bilbo’s Adam’s apple. He pushes Bofur’s hand away, not just because it stings, but because those are his to touch. He’s been absently rubbing his fingers over the marks Thorin left on his skin every few seconds, the ache reminding him of all he’s left behind. All he has to look forward to returning to.

“Quit! They’re sore,” he snaps. “And I’m—I’m sorry about the thin walls. That doesn’t sound like an ideal way to find out such a thing.”

“Oh, Fili and I have known for ages,” Kili announces, slurping up some of his drink, which looks like a chocolate shake doused in Hershey’s syrup and topped in a mountain of whipped cream. It makes sense because Kili doesn’t like coffee unless it's mostly sugar and milk. “I mean, not that you guys were fucking...that part is obviously a new development. But we knew that uncle wanted to fuck you. He’s not really one for subtlety.”

Bilbo snorts, shaking his head, glancing shiftily around Peet’s because he feels like Kili is saying fuck far too loudly and freely for a public setting. No one is staring at them, though, which is a relief. “You what?!” he asks in a hush. But, unfortunately, it’s very suddenly his time to order coffee and pay, so he does not get to hear right away how exactly Fili and Kili were well-aware of Thorin’s feelings long before he was. He carefully counts out his money and takes his tea from the cashier, cheeks burning as he turns back to his friends, and they all sidestep away from the register. “I had no idea how he felt, so I thought he was quite subtle,” he announces, popping the cap onto his cup after a generous squeeze of lemon.

“Same,” Bofur says, grinning and shrugging. “I was minding my own business. Unlike these two assholes,” he adds, kicking Fili gently in the shin.

“You’re just unobservant,” Kili scoffs at Bofur before turning to Bilbo, crossing his arms over his chest with an authoritative flourish. “And you’re insecure. I have no idea why, though. He was always making eyes at you…big, dopey, syrupy eyes.” He bats his lashes and puts his hands under his chin, staring off into the distance to demonstrate.

“He was not! He was perfectly stoic, I had no idea until he told me so,” Bilbo declares.

“You’re both unobservant, then,” Fili says, tearing into his peanut butter cookie.

As much as Bilbo would love to stand here in the middle of a coffee shop prying information out of Fili and Kili about Thorin’s alleged lack of subtlety, he does have to get to work. “My shift’s about to start,” he says, frowning. “What are you guys doing down here? Surely you didn’t hike all the way down the hill to tease me about the state of my neck.”

“Nope! I have a job interview,” Bofur explains, shooting Bilbo a thumbs up. “At Rasputin’s. These two just tagged along because they wanted an excuse to buy records.”

“And because we wanted to tease you about the state of your neck,” Kili adds with a grin. “We were going to visit you at the shop and give you hell in front of customers, so you’re lucky we ran into you here.”

“What customers?” Bilbo sighs, wishing his tea was cool enough to sip. “No one ever comes in, I promise you. There’s a reason I didn’t bother with a turtleneck. You’re welcome to come visit if you want, though I’m frankly not sure either of you read.” Bofur cracks up and slaps his knees, which are visible through slits in his torn-up jeans. “You’re wearing that to an interview?” Bilbo asks then, making a face because he does not know how to guard himself against second-hand anxiety.

Bofur looks down at his legs, cocking his head and shrugging with the smooth, easy, completely convincing veneer of nonchalance that only Bofur could muster. “Yeah! It’s a record store, I think, so it’s okay.”

“Godspeed, my friend,” Bilbo says, tugging Bofur into a clumsy hug, heart swelling with the realization that he isn't just torn up about leaving Berkeley because of Thorin Oakenshield—he has grown to dearly love the entire House of Durin. He doesn't want to leave a single one of his friends behind and never see them again. In so many ways, they’ve become his family. “Since you’re all in town, feel free to come bother me and or keep me company in the store as you see fit. And—thank you for what I think was a congratulatory ribbing? And for the blessings concerning your uncle,” he says to Fili and Kili, gritting his teeth as Bofur proceeds to squeeze him entirely too hard, nearly lifting him up off the floor. “Ow. Okay, okay, you may put me down now.”

He does, and then Bilbo must endure equally crushing hugs from Fili and Kili, not to mention such a violent ruffling of his hair that he feels thoroughly disheveled by the time he makes it to Myrtle’s Bookstore. He's smiling, though. Even if it’s a sad, ambivalent, somewhat confused smile.

The thing is, he can so easily imagine Thorin in London with him. Bilbo is certain he’d love the atmosphere of the pubs, even if he stopped drinking. He can picture him stuffed into a tiny table somewhere smoky and loud, like Norman’s Coach and Horses, his smile cutting through the haze, his laugh ricocheting off the walls. He can imagine him walking through Soho, holding his leather jacket over the both of them to keep from getting wet in a sudden rain. He can imagine him in Whitechapel, in Shoreditch, in Bloomsbury. He can imagine him stretched out by his side on the grass at Hampstead Heath, or perhaps wandering between the roses in Regent’s Park, sunlight catching on his hair. He can imagine him in a hundred tiny venues and dingy theaters, playing to a crowd that would love him, that would press against a barricade and sing his lyrics with the same zealous dedication of the crowds here. He can imagine a hundred tiny ways in which Thorin could effortlessly slip into his own well-established routines back home.

At the same time, he’s not so sure that London is his home, not anymore. If home is where the heart is, then Bilbo must consider the ways in which he’s become inextricably and impossibly attached to the House of Durin and everyone in it. He would miss so many things. Bifur teaching him ASL while they cook together. Nori and Dwalin teaming up and cleaning the kitchen after Bilbo cooks. Bomber always helping him unclog the sink when the garbage disposal isn’t working or hanging the shower curtain back up when it falls down. Balin’s sage, carefully worded advice. Fili and Kili chasing each other through the house and squabbling over the “good” game cube controller. Ori’s quiet requests for more vegetarian meals. Bofur’s goofy voice as he leads the house in messy Metallica sing-alongs during parties. Oin shoplifting seed packets for Bilbo when he’s at Walmart. Dori sharing his good wine when no one else is around, sitting on the patio with Bilbo as they split a bottle of Zinfandel and listen to King Diamond. The truth is, Bilbo has established routines here, too. And the thought of ending them abruptly after that achingly long flight home simply doesn’t sit right with him.

As his lunch break draws nearer, Bilbo grows increasingly torn. He could live here, he thinks. He would miss London and his flat and his family terribly—but were he home, he would miss his life at the House of Durin, too. These men are not just his housemates anymore—they’re his family. They took him in and changed his life just when things were beginning to stagnate and settle in, and he will forever be indebted to them for that. He is, perhaps, not ready to leave so soon.

Bilbo is mired deep in uncomfortable thought when his phone buzzes against the register counter, making him jump. He scrambles to pick it up, hands sweaty as he fumbles to unlock the screen.

It’s Thorin. Miss you so much, it says, and he smiles so hard that it hurts his face, stomach plummeting just reading the words. Even in his wildest dreams, where Thorin might want him as more than a friend, might look at him that way—he never expected this level of deep, attentive adoration. It’s so overwhelming that he hardly knows what to do with all the things he feels.

miss you too. wish you were here. it’s a dreadfully slow day as always, counting down the minutes to lunch.

After he hits send, Bilbo slides his phone into his back pocket and resumes digging through the big box of donations that was sitting outside the door this morning before he opened up and dragged it inside. It’s mostly awful Harlequin romance novels, the usual culprits like Nora Roberts and Loretta Chase. As pithy and formulaic as they are, he always keeps and stocks these sorts of books because, miraculously, they sell. There’s something timeless about romance, he supposes. Even the cheesy, overblown, woefully heterosexual sort. He thumbs through the yellowed pages, checking each individual book for quality before stacking the undamaged ones at his feet to shelve later. He’s not sure how much time passes, but he’s only halfway through the massive box when the bell above the door rings, and he vaults up, nearly hitting his head on the edge of the counter.

“Welcome to Myrtle's,” he parrots, a sentence he feels like he’s said less than a dozen times all summer. His gaze sweeps across the room and falls upon the figure in the doorway, which is big, imposing, and entirely out of place in the small dusty shop.

Though the figure is backlit and indistinct, as soon as Bilbo focuses, he knows with a powerful, instinctual jolt in his gut that it is Thorin Oakenshield. Never mind he invited three other metalheads to visit him today, this one is his. He can tell from the shape he cuts, the tilt of his head. The quiet, stately elegance to the way he moves as he approaches. “Thorin,” Bilbo gasps, clutching at a fat Nicholas Sparks novel, white-knuckled and off guard. “My goodness, I wasn’t expecting you.”

Thorin ducks closer, blinking in the close, papery darkness of the bookstore as he walks up to the counter and leans across it and into Bilbo’s space. “I wanted to surprise you,” he murmurs, eyes flashing with the sweetest blue. “Is there anyone here? May I kiss you?”

No one, come here,” Bilbo murmurs back, making a fist in Thorin’s sun-warmed jacket and pulling him down so that he can seal their lips.

He tastes like salt and summer and leather and toothpaste. One of his guitar-roughened hands is spread wide and solid on the side of Bilbo’s left cheek as he guides him closer, but the kiss is so dizzyingly wonderful that Bilbo sways in spite of it, the world tilting on its axis, everything swimming around him in a dreamy haze. When Thorin pulls away, he can hardly breathe, all he wants is to be kissed again. Again and again, until the shop around them fades to nothingness.

Thorin brushes his thumb over his pout instead. “So this is where you work,” he mumbles, standing up straight and leaving Bilbo leaning across the register, shivering in want. “It’s so dark inside. Hardly any windows. I pictured it lighter.”

“I know, it’s miserable,” Bilbo sighs. “But the stuffiness is also rather quaint, I don’t know. I suppose I like the floor-to-ceiling messy bookstore feeling.”

“It looks like a drawing of a magical bookstore in a fantasy story,” Thorin offers. “A fairytale.”

“Yes. A bad fairytale, but a fairytale all the same. Do you want the grand tour?” Bilbo asks, tripping out from behind the counter and adhering himself to Thorin’s side because he can, and he will gleefully take advantage of whatever Thorin allows him. Wants of him.

Thorin pulls him close and kisses his hair, his temple, his chin, his lips. “Please,” he murmurs, breath hot and ticklish behind his ear, making him shiver. “I’ve thought of you here so often, imagined it so many ways. I’d get distracted in the middle of practice just—thinking of you. You and so many books.”

Bilbo smiles, touched to the point of dizziness at the thought of Thorin spending time thinking about him during the day. Imagining what his boring, mundane, weekly routine looked like simply because he loved him, and loving someone means they hide in the corners of your mind, even when you’ve tried to forget them out of hopelessness. Bilbo knows because he has spent a summer in love, too.

“Well, here it is,” he says, gesturing to the narrow, winding pathways between packed-tight bookcases, arm tucked around Thorin’s lower back, under his jacket. “Not at all glamorous. Here’s the fiction section….the romance section—got a donation today that will bulk that up considerably—then…here’s the self-help section, psychology, spirituality…erm, the pet care section, weirdly, is rather large…and then—here. Music. Likely nothing that suits your fancy, but we have loads of classical and jazz sheet music. Easily the largest section in the whole East Bay, which is saying a lot because there are plenty of used bookstores as you know.”

Thorin politely crouches down to thumb through the dusty pages, and Bilbo just stands back and admires him. The neatly sewn patches on his jacket, the streaks of gray in his hair, the outstandingly muscular heft of his ass in his tight jeans. “How much are these?” Thorin asks, shooting a look over his shoulder in Bilbo’s direction.

“Oh—please don’t feel obligated to buy anything from this tragic little bookshop, Thorin,” Bilbo assures him, stepping closer to lay a hand on this shoulder because it’s painful to not touch him now that he has the option to. It feels oddly scandalous and thrilling doing it out here in the world and not just in the privacy of their rooms, or the shower, or the patio, or otherwise within the constraints of the House of Durin. He experimentally tucks his fingers inside the collar of Thorin’s jacket so that he might touch skin, stunned that he’s allowed something so wonderful, so real.

Thorin tilts into the touch and says, “I don’t feel obligated. I like old sheet music. I have some, just like how you have old books.”

“Well in that case, they’re twenty-five cents a piece or five for a dollar. Knock yourself out.”

Thorin continues to carefully examine them, holding some up to the light of the window, others on his knee as he sits in a crouch. “You said your lunch break was soon,” he says eventually, flashing a look at Bilbo. “Where do you usually go? I can buy you food.”

Bilbo sits down beside him on the floor and reaches out to brush up his arm with his knuckles, outlining a Rhapsody of Fire patch with idle fingers. “I wish I went places for my lunch, but I only clock out if my boss isn’t here. Someone has to stay here, even if nobody comes in,” he sighs. “Illegal but true.”

“Breaking the law,” Thorin jokes, smiling at him. “I’m sorry you don’t get to leave this place all day.”

“Well, I won’t say no if you bring me a sandwich from next door.”

Thorin carefully arranges the stack of sheet music he’s picked up before setting it in Bilbo’s lap. “In that case, let me go break my twenty. I will come back and pay for these. And also eat with you. If that’s okay.”

“Of course it’s okay,” Bilbo murmurs, smiling as Thorin leans across the divide between their bodies to kiss the corner of his mouth, lingering and sweet. “Even if my boss was here, I doubt he’d notice you were.”

“I’ll be back,” Thorin promises, squeezing Bilbo’s wrist. “I love you.”

And it takes Bilbo entirely too long to stand up after he’s gone, but Thorin just does something to his knees. Makes it so that they don’t work quite as reliably as they should, wobbly and weak. When he finally drags himself up, he’s quite unsteady, so he deposits himself atop the stool being the register unceremoniously, stomach nothing but knots and butterflies, rope and wings.

When Thorin returns, it’s not just with sandwiches but a cola to share, too, which Bilbo is very grateful for because he’s feeling terrifically low on caffeine; he stayed up all night fucking, and he woke up well before his alarm to fuck again. Extremely luxurious but not at all practical. Thorin has a sunken, drawn look to his face, too, but he also looks so radiant. So at peace, eyes untroubled and the most placid sky-blue, calm in a way that Bilbo is not used to, despite their bags. As if the gray of the storm has faded from them and left nothing but light. Bilbo keeps catching himself staring, which is fine, because Thorin is staring right back at him. They are merely holding each other’s gaze, something warm and sustainable crackling between them like a low, warm fire. “You look tired,” Bilbo observes, lips pursed around the soda straw. “But mostly happy. At peace, I suppose. It’s nice.”

Thorin puts his hand on Bilbo’s knee before sliding it up to his thigh, squeezing. “I’ve never been—I didn’t know I could feel this way,” he murmurs, digging this thumb in. “I keep expecting to wake up from it. I’ve spent so long thinking I didn’t deserve this sort of happiness. And here you are.”

“Here I am,” Bilbo promises, leaning into the steady touch on his leg. “Not going anywhere.”

Thorin raises his eyebrows. “Oh? Have you decided to stay in the states?” he says it with a lilting note, as if he’s not serious, but Bilbo can sense the undercurrent of anxiety beneath his words. Likely because it’s mirrored in him: he doesn’t want to leave, not really. He doesn't want to, at the same time he feels like he must.

“I’ll admit, I’ve been feeling increasingly ambivalent about it all day,” he confesses, chewing the inside of his cheek. “I miss London, but even if you came back with me somehow, I’d miss it here, too. I’ve grown quite fond of the whole house. I’m considering talking to my advisor and seeing if there’s a way to stay through at least to the fall semester, maybe we can work something out.”

Thorin smiles at the floor. “You are welcome to stay as long as you’d like.”

“And you are welcome to up and leave with me whenever you’d like. We could run away together, you know. It doesn’t have to be Berkeley or London—we could fly to Italy. I hear Naples is lovely this time of year. In fact, I heard it from my advisor’s irritatingly noncommittal auto reply, which I will undoubtedly get if I try to email him about anything pertinent.”

“Gandalf,” Thorin says, nodding. “I, too, have received the Naples auto reply. Amid sunshine and very expensive Chianti,” he quotes, making a face. “I could fucking kill him. I emailed him so many times when you first moved in, and I decided I couldn’t handle it. Of course, he ignored it every time.”

Bilbo feels his eyes grow wide as he sputters around the straw. “You know Professor Gandalf? You’ve emailed Professor Gandalf?”

“Mmmhm,” Thorin says, one brow tilting up, expression bemused. “I thought you knew that? He sent a recommendation along regarding your application to the house. We probably never would have subletted to a stranger otherwise, but I owed him a favor. So we did. And I regretted it because you were too handsome. And I’m an idiot.”

 

Bilbo snorts, too flabbergasted to even properly accept Thorin’s very lovely compliments. “You? Owed Professor Gandalf a favor?? I just. I assumed when he said he’d pull strings at the house for me that he knew, like, Balin or Oin. Someone his age,” Bilbo explains, gesturing clumsily. I“How do you know him?! I’ve been furious with him all summer. Or, I was until I fell in love with you. Actually, I still was until—hmmmm, approximately 7 pm last night, when I first kissed you. Then I was quite grateful and elated in spite of myself for my former grievances.”

Thorin laughs, fingers digging into Bilbo’s thigh. “I am always furious with Gandalf, to be honest. He’s always swooping in and fucking shit up and then disappearing just when it gets messy,” he says, shaking his head, mouth forming a thin line. “Imagine working for him. That’s why I owed him—I did some research for his department during the school year, and it was supposed to be an unpaid internship. Just hours to fill a quota for graduation. But then he ended up paying me, and I felt weird and indebted. He does that. Sticks his head in everything.”

“You did classics research for Professor Gandalf?” Bilbo sputters, still reeling from this information, thigh hot beneath the broad, reassuring spread of Thorin’s palm. “I don’t know why I’m so stuck on this, I just. He’s my professor. I can hardly imagine you two in the same room.”

Thorin shrugs. “I wanted access to his mythology translation archives. For my songs. I like mythology.”

Bilbo stands up so that he may fit himself into Thorin’s arms and kiss him, hands spread wide on either side of his face, thumbs sinking into his beard. “I love you so, so much. I love finding things out about you that I didn’t know before. I love thinking about you stealing sneaky phone pictures of Professor Gandalf’s mythology texts,” he says stupidly, pressing their brows together as he inhales raggedly, so very overcome with adoration that it makes his heart thunder as if he has just been chased. “Well, perhaps with our combined onslaught of emails, he might get back to one of us about the visa and study abroad issue.”

Thorin murmurs wordlessly, eyes shut like he is simply basking in the sensation of holding Bilbo, arms looped around his back, thumbs rubbing up and down his spine. “I am happy to bother him if it means I won’t lose you come September. Or have to move.”

Bilbo very reluctantly lets go to fish his laptop out of his book bag with flourish. “In that case, c’mon, then,” he says, cracking his knuckles. “Let’s draft.”

Dear Professor Gandalf,

Salutations, and I hope you are enjoying your Chianti in Naples with your husband. It looks quite warm and agreeable there in Italy, judging by the lovely picture we (Thorin and Bilbo) have admired in your auto reply, which we have received a collective total of four times over the course of the last two months.

If you have not yet read those emails, you may ignore them now, as the content is no longer relevant to our current conundrum. We shall keep our business brief, out of desperation: we (Thorin and Bilbo) have fallen in love. You were right to pull the strings of fate and tug us together as you did. You should feel very pleased with yourself, and we suspect you are. However, the strings of fate are now pulling us apart, and we need your assistance.

I (Bilbo) am scheduled to end my time studying here at Berkeley come September and would prefer more time to sort out affairs and plan for the future. I would like to extend my study abroad plans to include fall semester, but alas, I have no idea whatsoever how I go about doing so. I suspect there is much paperwork involved. As my advisor (and, apparently, Thorin’s former employer and current matchmaker), I implore you to assist in the process.

It would mean so very much. Please and thank you from the bottom of our hearts,

Us (Thorin and Bilbo).

PS: say hello to your husband for me (Thorin). I am impressed with his beard.

“And…it is sent,” Bilbo declares from where he is lying on his stomach upon his dirty sheets some hours after work, Thorin sprawled out beside him, head pillowed in the ditch of his lower back where sweat is only just beginning to cool. They have been working on the email all day, during Bilbo’s shift and in the evening after it. The first several attempts were worded somewhat irately and without many personal details, but Thorin decided that honesty and perhaps even a bit of well-placed flattery was the best way to go about getting what they want, since he suspects Gandalf may have had intentions for their relationship to develop as it has.

And so, Bilbo works and reworks, taking a few breaks for food and kissing and the sorts of things that follow kissing when it becomes particularly heated. Finally, after many revisions and several orgasms later, they are both happy with the end result.

“Good,” Thorin mumbles, squeezing a fistful of Bilbo’s ass, since it’s right there in his face and he doesn’t seem to be very capable of keeping his hands off it, which is fine, as far as Bilbo’s concerned. He feels best in Thorin’s certain grip anyway, used up and mauled to bits and shaped like palm-warmed clay. He lies there for a moment beneath the weight of Thorin’s head, eyes closed and heart still lurching every few seconds with the thrill of having asked for what he wants in such clear, candid terms.

After a few seconds, his laptop dings, and he feels Thorin frown against his spine. “And there is our favorite fucking auto reply.”

“Correct,” Bilbo answers with a groan, opening the email just so that he might make himself annoyed all over again in looking at Gandalf and his husband’s infuriatingly complacent smiles. But then, before he has a chance to scroll down to the photo itself, the notification sounds again, and another email from Gandalf appears in his inbox right after the first. “Oh, my goodness! Wait—I think he actually emailed me back. Like, a real, honest-to-god, he-physically-typed-it response?!”

Thorin sits up abruptly, peering over Bilbo’s shoulder, hair tickling against his neck and chest pressed to his back. “Open it.”

And so Bilbo does. It reads:

Dearest Thorin and Bilbo,

As our world becomes darker and more fraught the more years I come to see pass, I often find myself afraid of its fate. However, I find that young, gay love in the face of such pain is the thing which most gives me courage. You, Bilbo Baggins, give me courage.

Consider your request completed, I shall send you details (and paperwork, as you predicted) as they come to me. However, I shall forgo the housing contract since it seems you are quite satisfied with your current off-campus placement :-)

Very fondly and sincerely,

Gandalf, Professor of Classics

PS: Ratagast thanks you, Thorin, and says the same of your equally impressive locks.

Bilbo reads it aloud once, and then again as Thorin presses closer and closer, kissing his shoulder, his throat, the shell of his ear, each kiss more rough and lingering and relieved than the last, his breath coming out in savage exhalations. “I am,” he murmurs, biting at the hinge of Bilbo’s jaw before rolling him onto his back and shutting his laptop with a snap, “so glad that I don’t have to say goodbye to you so soon.”

When they kiss, it is wet and desperate and warm like a summer rainstorm, and Bilbo feels the pressure of Thorin’s teeth in it, feels the pressure snag low and hot in his gut. “Never,” he gasps, tilting his head back so that Thorin might map the line of his throat with his lips. “I hate goodbyes. Let’s skip them all together, please.”

“Deal,” Thorin says, voice an awe-tattered thing, a well-loved thing. Something carried for miles upon miles, cradled tenderly between calloused hands, treasured until it is to be planted in rich soil and tended to, so that it might grow.