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Living After Midnight

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It is a real, honest-to-god restaurant, not just a hole in the wall, and that should perhaps be Bilbo’s first indication of all that is to come.

He orders baklava and a Turkish coffee because they are the only two things on the menu that he can afford, and although he’s likely not paying, he’d rather he didn’t appear too extravagant or ungrateful. Plenty of his classmates would have taken advantage of a professor’s lunch invite, but he prefers to at least seem polite. Bilbo is, however, realizing that his preferences don’t often matter as much as he’d like them to, nor do his attempts at politeness.

For example, there are plenty of Mediterranean dives in Berkeley, and most of them are cheap and decent and within walking distance from campus. Bilbo would have preferred to meet at one of those options were it up to him, but as it so happens, he isn’t here on his own accord. Rather, his advisor requested his presence at this stupidly far away and irritatingly posh place that he had to actually take a bus to, all so they could discuss a matter apparently too important for email.

Bilbo would have also preferred an email. He’s been anxious for hours. He’s worried that he’s in trouble, even though he knows he didn’t do anything to warrant it. And to make matters worse, the advisor in question is late. Bilbo has been sitting here in an anxiety spiral, picking at the honey-sticky flakes of his pastry for several minutes that feel like several hours, wondering if he’s about to be stood up by his own advisor, when finally Gandalf whisks in in a flourish of gray.

“Bilbo Baggins,” he announces fondly as he deposits himself ceremoniously at the small, mosaic-topped table. “I apologize for my tardiness. I realized upon leaving that this is not, in fact, a hookah bar, so I endeavored to find—and bring—my own,” he explains, gesturing to the elaborate glass and metal contraption that he’s just set down beside his chair. “Did you know there are no hookah bars on this side of the bay at all? I would have had to have dragged you across the water and into the city were we to find one. Terrible business,” he laments as he bends over his hookah, busying himself with attaching hoses to valves and pouring water from a travel-sized bottle and shaking out some tobacco from a drawstring pouch into a small clay bowl before lighting what appears to be a hunk of coal atop the entire operation. Bilbo stares, both mesmerized and mortified, certain they’re about to get kicked out for such a display.

“I did not,” he says awkwardly, folding his arms across his body defensively. “Know about the shortage of hookah bars in the East Bay, I mean. Erm, pardon my ignorance Professor Gandalf, but are you allowed to—”

Gandalf inhales as the hookah bubbles merrily, then exhales in a series of coughs before offering the mouthpiece to Bilbo. “Care for some? It’s quite a delicious blend, lavender-vanilla flavored.”

“Oh! No, thank you,” Bilbo says weakly, sitting back, blinking in the sweet-smelling smoke. “But I appreciate the offer.” This is a lie. He hardly appreciates it at all. He just wants to know why he’s here. He wants to end his suffering.

But Gandalf doesn’t appear to be in a hurry. He sits back and narrows his eyes thoughtfully, something alarmingly conspiratorial flickering in them as he puffs away on the hookah. “Suit yourself, dear boy,” he mumbles almost to himself, and then for a very long while indeed, he says nothing at all. He just smokes and smiles. Bilbo tries not to grind his teeth.

After forcing a baklava into his mouth, chewing it slowly, and then swallowing, Bilbo decides he can’t stand it anymore. “I hate to skip over pleasantries, I really do, but I’m the sort of person who jumps to the worst-case scenario given a mystery, so I suppose I’d really like to know whether or not I’ve done something wrong,” he blurts, feeling his cheeks heat up the second the words leave his mouth. “If you don’t mind.”

Gandalf smiles around the mouthpiece of his hookah before he coughs out a gale of smoky breath, shaking his head. “You really are a nervous, fidgety little thing, aren’t you?” he asks, not without fondness. Bilbo feels his face turning red, but before he can defend himself, Gandalf sits decidedly upright and looks him in the eye with some degree of sudden and terrifying gravity. “I’m afraid we’re not here to remedy one of your errors, Mr. Baggins, but one of mine. You see, as your advisor, I have failed to fulfill one of my chief duties.”

Bilbo’s eyes get wide. “What duty?”

“The bit about honoring your wishes. You see, I withdrew your application for housing over the summer,” Gandalf says easily, as he flags down a waiter, who eyes the hookah setup but seems otherwise too young and passive to actually say anything about it. “Could you bring us some hummus and pita, sir? Thank you.”

The reality of what Gandalf said has not yet landed, but Bilbo can feel the beginnings of dread seeping in, a hot prickle on his scalp, a weight awful and heavy like lead.

“You—what about my housing application?” he breathes, cocking his head because perhaps…he failed to hear it all properly. Perhaps he misunderstood. “I have a summer job, Mister Gandalf, I have to live somewhere—”

Oh! And you will,” Gandalf assures him, raising his brows. “In fact, I have several suggestions that I think you will find less comfortable, perhaps, but far more affordable and absolutely more character-building.” He says this as if comfort is a small price to pay in the face of other virtues. Bilbo, however, disagrees.

“I liked the international housing dorms!” he confesses, tottering on the verge of panic. “I knew everyone there and I had a nice room and—”

“See! All the more reason to try something new! It’s your first summer in the states, do you know where I lived, my first summer in the states?”

“Sleeping on a bench in People’s Park?” Bilbo ventures, and Gandalf looks positively delighted at that.

“No! Sleeping on benches in the West Village, in New York. Once I had a pigeon attempt to roost in my jacket, and I could not have been happier. I do understand, however, that times have changed, which is why I have gone out of my way to find you a contemporary equivalent to the vast wild, my dear Bilbo,” he announces, holding up a spindly finger for emphasis. “I know it is not what you wished, but I suspect it will be what is best for you.”

Bilbo is at a loss for words, but he must look quite dismayed because Gandalf makes a pitying face at him, puffs on his pipe, and says, “I am not merely a professor of classics, in this case. You asked me to be your advisor, to assist you in making decisions as you pushed forth in your studies here. And it is my advice that you shake yourself up a little. See the world. And if not the world, then at least this odd little city you have decided to study in. I fear that you’ve hardly left campus at all during your first semester here.”

This, unfortunately, is true. Not wanting to give Gandalf ammunition, though, Bilbo takes a bitter and measured sip of his absurdly tiny cup of coffee and argues, “Maybe so, but I was very busy writing papers and going to class and such! I had no time for adventures, I take my studies seriously.”

“Yes! Which is why you should jump at the opportunity for a change of pace and scenery now that it is summer and you have time to explore! I have read your papers, Bilbo Baggins. You at least like the ideas of excitement and grand romance very much. Why not make them a reality? You are young!”

Bilbo has reasons, but they all come down to a matter of preference, and he knows that won’t stand, not here, not against the storm of an eccentric, senile professor high on lavender-vanilla tobacco. He cannot sound like Bartleby the Scrivener, that will never do. The truth is that he likes routine, he trusts routine, and he was somewhat relying on it in order to continue living so very far away from home. He might wish for adventure, but deep down, he prefers comfort above all, and even in new countries and new schools, he will find a foundation to adhere himself to and lean upon it. “I appreciate that you’ve taken such an interest in my livelihood, I really do. I could not ask for a more involved, or dedicated, or…meddlesome advisor,” he finally says, deciding flattery with a touch of passive aggression is the best approach. “But—”

“No buts!” Gandalf interrupts, fishing around in the pockets of his coat until he comes up with a tattered stack of post-its. “The cheapest place to sublet in Berkeley is on Fraternity Row,” he says with authority, peeling off the first post-it and sticking it to their table. It curls at the edges, obscuring the names and numbers jotted down in nearly-impossible-to-decipher script. “The students leave for the summer, and the heads of the fraternities rent their rooms out at incomparably low prices to avoid losing money. But fear not, I assumed already that you were not the fraternity sort of fellow, so I took it upon myself to find you a more suitable alternative.”

He points to what appears to be an address, and Bilbo squints helplessly. “A co-op?” he asks hopefully.

“Well,” Gandalf shrugs. “Something of the sort. This particular house was so severely damaged and neglected by its fraternity that the school chose to evict them, condemn it, and sell it for close to nothing several years ago. They were counting on the city purchasing it for location alone and mowing the house down, but lo and behold, a band of musicians, of all the unlikely candidates, swept in and offered the total in cash, and so. They own it now. It is a house of Orpheus amid Bacchae. They call it the House of Durin, for reasons I am perhaps too old and world-weary to understand. ”

Durin. Bilbo flattens his mouth out and crosses his legs. There is an uncomfortable twisting in his stomach, and he cannot seem to shake the feeling that he is somehow being tricked. “And these musicians, they sublet...to students?” he adds with skepticism.

“Yes, it appears they have an empty room for a substantially lower price than their fraternity neighbors. And because I know you are a patron of the arts and in search of housing, I may have already put in a good word for you.” Gandalf winks then, like he has done a vast favor for Bilbo, when in reality, all he’s done is botched his housing application and nearly made him homeless for the entirety of the summer. Still, Bilbo tries on an expression that he hopes at least looks grateful. After all, Frat Row is not terribly far from where he’ll be working in the upcoming months, and he does appreciate music.

“Fine,” he sighs, worrying a hand through his hair. “And to apply, I just call this number?” he asks doubtfully.

Gandalf offers nothing more than a brisk nod before he begins the process of packing up his hookah, now that he’s done with both his smoke and his update. “Right you are, Bilbo. I shall reconnect with you formally come fall term, but let me know if you need anything of an advisory nature in the meantime. Farewell!”

And then Gandalf is toting his hookah out the door, without having paid for the coffee or the baklava or the soon-to-arrive hummus and pita that he ordered. Bilbo has but one choice, and it is to down his coffee, dump his wallet out on the table, and make a hasty exit in shame before any of the restaurant staff notice.

It is not how he would have preferred their meeting to go, to say the least.

—-

Bilbo’s misfortune continues for the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening.

After a terse text conversation with Thorin, the owner of the House of Durin, Bilbo agrees to meet him downtown to suggest the terms of the sublet. The knot Gandalf tied in his stomach tightens with each step as his tattered Toms hit the pavement, mouth watering at the smell of sesame oil and salty teriyaki and freshly deep-fried cinnamon sugar donuts wafting up from the countless restaurants clustered around a plaza just off Durant. Normally, he’s overwhelmed by the cacophony of warring scents all pouring out onto the sidewalk in this part of town, but he’s uncomfortably hungry tonight, so instead it just makes him frown in idle, pointless longing.

When he arrives at the designated meeting place, he scans the different groups of students all standing about waiting for their food, brow tight and hands clasped behind his back nervously to keep from seeming too fidgety as he tries to discern if any of them could be musicians. He’s picturing the orchestra type, tidy hair and strong fingers and perhaps a bit pompous, as all art majors tend to be. It’s fine, Bilbo knows how to blend in with the self-important sort if he needs to. He’s not terribly worried about that part of it, not as much as the whole moving all his belongings from the international dorms and into some once-condemned fraternity house part of it. He imagines orchestra types would know a thing or two about remodeling, though. He imagines fresh coats of off-white and pale blue paint, holes in the wall from rowdy parties patched up with inexpert but neat stucco. He’s busy wondering about the potential size of his new room when a large, bald man in a leather jacket strides up to him with purpose and offers a hand in what appears to be a fingerless motorcycle glove.

He stares, then blinks.

The first thing Bilbo notices is that this man’s bare knuckles are tattooed. The second thing he notices is that his bare skull is tattooed as well. The mere idea of needles being close to either of these locations on his own body makes Bilbo feel briefly but powerfully faint, so he sways on the spot, vision suddenly hazy. “Are you Bilbo Baggins?” the man asks, raising an eyebrow skeptically and dragging his gaze up and down Bilbo without smiling.

“Yes, I am!” he squeaks as he sticks his hand out reflexively, thinking this certainly cannot be Thorin the musician who he texted with earlier. This man hardly looks fit for the orchestra.

He shakes Bilbo’s hand with such violence that Bilbo’s whole arm is nearly popped from the socket at the shoulder. “Dwalin, at your service,” he says gruffly. “Are you hungry? I’m fucking starved. The rest can meet us inside, I could kill for a curry,” he announces, proceeding to grab Bilbo’s now injured shoulder and steer him through the crowded plaza of tables and into a small, casual Thai restaurant situated between ramen and a Korean BBQ.

“The rest?” Bilbo manages to get out as he scrambles in alongside Dwalin. “The rest of what?”

“The house,” Dwalin answers mysteriously, shoving one hand into the pocket of his very tight, very studded black jeans and fishing out a leather wallet at the end of a chain. Bilbo is trying very hard not to stare, for he’s sure his expression would be fraught with scrutiny and possibly even judgment were it to linger. He doesn’t want to judge this complete stranger, but it creeps up on him anyway, tugs at the corner of his mouth so that he is frowning, arms crossed over his chest. “Not everyone lives there all the time, but we’re in and out for practice, parties, what have you. Every new applicant gets put through the gauntlet to make sure they’re not a narc,” Dwalin explains before ordering a green curry, a yellow curry, and two orders of satay chicken. Then he turns to Bilbo, eyes narrowed. “Are you a narc, Bilbo Baggins?”

“I’m not—I don’t think—perhaps you have the wrong—,” but before his stuttering can crystalize into a coherent defense, Dwalin is turning around and shouting so loudly that it makes Bilbo flinch.

“Balin!” he yells, waving over an old man with a tattered black bandana tied around his forehead and a very long white beard to the register. “I found him! Get your ass over here.” And then there is a very long and dramatic embrace accompanied by much jingling, with both men wearing clothes so heavy with various buckles and pins and zippers and such that they clink together as they squeeze each other tight. Balin might even have a motorcycle helmet under one arm. Bilbo cannot tell because he refuses to stare.

However, this is the moment it occurs to Bilbo that there are other musicians in the world besides orchestra musicians, and he begins to feel very foolish, and very dismayed.

He attempts to interrupt Dwalin and Balin’s enthusiastic reunion with a series of feeble excuse me’s, but none of them quite penetrate the wall of conversation, which is a frequent symptom of being both very short and very English, so he never gets to utter his hasty apology about what a huge misunderstanding this has been. Instead, he ends up helplessly seated at an oily plastic table while more and more loud, heavily bearded men in head to toe leather pour into the restaurant and order more and more food. They all introduce themselves to Bilbo but then proceed to ignore him, and he has never been less certain about his advisors’ sanity. Why would Gandalf recommend that he live with a massively noisy, rude, possibly homophobic rock band with questionable personal hygiene? What about Bilbo has suggested he would not only survive such a living situation, but it would be good for him?

“Aren’t you going to eat?” one of the men—Ori, maybe, Bilbo is trying and failing to keep track of everyone’s names—asks through a mouthful of pad thai, elbowing him in the side. “You’re scrawny.”

“I’m—I’m also broke,” Bilbo admits, before he realizes how awful it sounds. “Oh! By which I mean I have no money on me right now, in this precise moment, but I have money for rent. And I have a job that starts in a few days, I only—”

But before he gets his shoddy defense out in full, the table goes suddenly and peculiarly silent, twelve pairs of eyes all trained on a figure poised in the door.

It is another man, and on paper, he’s indistinguishable from the rest. Long, wavy black hair down well past his broad shoulders. A leather jacket festooned in hand-sewn patches. Tight, torn black jeans sagging under the weight of several studded belts. Steel-toed leather boots laced up his thick calves. And maybe it’s the quiet and commanding authority of his presence, or his stunningly ice-blue eyes, or the way his beard is short and groomed, but as soon as Bilbo sees him, his mouth goes dry and his stomach flips the way it does everytime he sees an insufferably and unfairly attractive man he knows he’ll never have a chance with.

It’s a weird response. An unexpected one. He tears his gaze back to the table and wishes he could melt invisibly into the floor, but Dwalin is reaching for him, clapping him heavily on the back with a greasy hand. “Thorin! Here’s the lad you’re looking for.”

Thorin. So this is Thorin. Bilbo has texted this stupidly attractive man already, and for some reason, that feels stomach-burningly scandalous.

Thorin peels off his motorcycle gloves and shoves them in his back pocket, studying Bilbo with an unreadably steely gaze. “So,” he says then, voice soft. “This is who’s applying for the empty room.”

“Yes, hi, hello,” Bilbo mumbles, lifting a hand to wave awkwardly. This entire time, he’s been sitting here, watching everyone else eat and thinking about how he’s going to have to politely explain to Thorin, when he arrived, that he was no longer interested and this was all a terrible misunderstanding. But now, he can’t remember a word of his pitiful, internally rehearsed speech. In fact, he can't even remember why he was so certain he couldn’t rent from these men in the first place. Thorin and his stupid blue eyes, his careful, broad-knuckled hands, have ruined everything.

“Tell me, what sort of music do you listen to?” Thorin asks him, raising an eyebrow. “Do you prefer glam or thrash?”

“I—what? Simon & Garfunkel is my favorite band. I like The Smiths if I’m in a bit of a strop, Bowie if I’m feeling adventurous, I suppose,” Bilbo answers, aware there might be a note of snark coloring his words because, well. He was set up, meant to sound like a fool no matter how he answered, and he does not appreciate rude conversational traps like that. He does not appreciate anything about this situation. He does not appreciate the small, crooked, tight-lipped smile that flashes across Thorin’s face at his response, and he does not appreciate the way it makes his stomach drop.

“I thought as much,” Thorin answers, shrugging off his jacket and draping it over the chair opposite Bilbo before he stomps off without another word, presumably to go order his food. Bilbo stares, wide-eyed and furious, at his well-muscled forearms as he goes.

Dwalin snorts into the dredges of his curry. “Look, Bilbo, you seem like a nice enough guy, but I’m not sure you’ll fit in. S’nothing personal.”

“I—fine. That’s a perfectly fair assessment. And I understand we’re different, but I don’t need to live with people exactly like me,” he argues, even though only moments before Thorin arrived, he would have vehemently agreed. He would have been grateful to be let down gently so that he didn’t have to come across as intolerant. But apparently, all it takes is a single, highly unattainable man to once-over him with unabashed criticism for Bilbo to start making very, very poor decisions. “And I really need a place to stay, since my last option fell through. I’m quiet and polite, and I make rent on time. I’m a very good housemate.”

One of the younger men, Kili, he thinks, interrupts. “Yeah, but the issue is that you’re quiet. We’re all in bands, we practice all the time, sometimes in the middle of the night, and you, no offense, look like the studying type,” he says this as if studying is a dirty word. “I just think you’ll be miserable,” he announces cheerfully. “And we don’t want a housemate who will hate us.”

“I’m not in summer session,” Bilbo counters, crossing his arms. “I have a job, I’ll be working downtown at a bookstore, and I have noise-cancelling headphones. I can manage.” The table looks highly skeptical, so he tries a new approach. “I lived in a co-op in London for years. I can cook. I’ll make enough for everyone.”

Dwalin, at least, seems tempted by this offer. He makes a face as he turns to consult with the others, and Bilbo’s gaze is inevitably drawn to where Thorin is paying at the register, head bent, profile cutting a sharp, lovely, uneven line. It hurts to look at him, so Bilbo stares at the bits of uneaten food on everyone’s plates instead and realizes that that doesn’t make him feel much better either.

“It’s ultimately up to Thorin, since he’s the head of the house,” Bofur, the only name Bilbo is certain about because he’s the only one wearing a hat, declares, shooting him a good-natured grin from beneath the brim of a grimy ushanka. “But I, personally, would never say no to a home-cooked meal. As far as I’m concerned, my good sir, you’re hired.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo says, face hot as Thorin makes his way back to the table with a plate of pad see ew.

He sits and doesn’t look up as he stabs his noodles repeatedly with a pair of chopsticks. “You need a room,” he says eventually, gaze flicking to Bilbo’s eyes only momentarily before he averts it again, the blue flame eclipsed by sudden darkness. “And we need someone to fill ours.”

“Yes,” Bilbo agrees hastily. There is a bubble of shameful hope in his chest, and he should rupture its giddy swell, but instead he pushes on. “I know it might not be the best fit, but—”

“But it will do,” Thorin sighs, twisting at the waist to dig around in the many pockets of his jacket before he finds and brandishes a crisply folded contract. He pushes it across the table, and Bilbo stares at his rings (one of which is shaped like a tiny coffin) and at the chipped black polish on his blunt nails. “Here’s the rental agreement. No calling the cops for sound complaints. If it’s loud, it’s your problem for signing this. There’s a clause about it,” he explains, pointing at the paragraph in question for emphasis. “Read carefully, please. And if you have no complaints, then welcome to the House of Durin, Bilbo Baggins.”

And so he signs with numb fingers and a strange, fearful tightness in his chest before sliding the contract back, the last line bearing his clumsy signature. Thorin smiles briskly but without warmth, tucking it back into his jacket before forking some of his noodles onto an already cleared plate and then shoving them across the table to Bilbo. “A toast,” he says, “to our new housemate.”

The table erupts into raucous cheers as Bilbo desperately eats. And that, as they say, is that.

—-

No one bothers to follow up with Bilbo or provide him with a key or instructions after the initial meeting, so when move-in day comes, he’s forced to hover outside awkwardly with all his belongings in plastic tubs, wondering if anyone is home as well as why he signed a lease he cannot break with men he likely cannot stand.

The house looks exactly like all the other frat houses on Frat Row, save for the giant black bed-sheet emblazoned with the words “HOUSE OF DURIN” in dripping red paint hung decidedly and defiantly over the faded Greek letters. Bilbo appreciates the overstatement, in spite of himself. He also manages to note that there are unused cement planters flanking the house and a dead, yellow lawn. He could possibly plant something, which means this disaster he’s thrown himself into might have redeemable qualities after all. He hopes so. He desperately needs something to counter the overwhelming sensations of regret and self-recrimination coursing through his body the longer he stands outside, fruitlessly knocking on the door.

Bilbo can hear a muffled, chugging bass coming from somewhere inside the house, so he suspects someone must be home, but his fist against rain-warped wood is simply not enough to make his presence heard. After twenty entire minutes, he gives up and decides to just try the knob. It isn’t locked, so he takes a deep and nervous breath and stumbles in.

It is very dark inside, so it takes a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the shadows. Eventually, a room comes into view: leather couches with heinously tattered upholstery strewn in electric guitars and empty takeout containers. A coffee table that is actually just a piece of unfinished plywood atop four cinder blocks. Many, many red cups in haphazard arrangements, all with less than an inch of beer and a graveyard of cigarette butts and fruit flies floating in them. Bilbo gags at the grisly sight, and then, most tragically, the smell hits him. It’s an overwhelming combination of weed smoke, stale beer, and even more stale BO. He covers his nose with his hand as he wanders to peer into the filthy kitchen and hallway, trying to identify where the music is coming from so that he can at least speak to an actual human person about where the fuck he’s supposed to go. “Hello?” he calls, right before he trips on an amp lying treacherously in the middle of the floor. “Hello, it’s Bilbo! Your new housemate? I’m—I’d like to move my things into my room, if you’d please!”

No one answers, and so he deflates, exhausted already. He thought there might be a welcome committee or something, which he now realizes, as he thinks it, is an absurd notion. There is nothing welcoming about Thorin and his company. They are all angles and bristles and studs and spikes, and Bilbo should have anticipated as much. He should have prepared himself to spend time with men far less soft and fragile and sensitive than he, he should—

Suddenly, someone bursts out of a room and sprints down the hallway, brandishing a baseball bat and yelling some sort of wordless battlecry. Bilbo recoils but does not run, for he is neither quick nor athletic. His skills are limited to being small and rarely seen when he needs to go sneaking, but once he’s spotted, that’s the end of his stealth capabilities, so he supposes this is how he goes down: dashed to pieces on the floor of the House of Durin, joining the fruit flies in their watery, foamy grave.

Fortunately, someone grabs the baseball bat person and halts his motion mid-swing. “Oh, wait, stop, it’s just Bilbo.’”

The bat drops to the floor with a clatter, and Bilbo gazes upon Fili and Kili, who are peering at him with identically startled, paranoid, bloodshot stares. “Shit! Bilbo, we thought you were a burglar. Nearly killed you!” Kili announces, reaching out and drawing Bilbo’s cowering form into an awkward, crushing hug. “Jesus. What the fuck! Why didn’t you knock?”

“He did,” another voice says, and Bilbo freezes in the too-tight and rather smelly embrace because he recognizes that warning timber, the stoic rumble. It’s Thorin. Thorin is here, witnessing him quaking in his chinos. He would perhaps be embarrassed if his heart wasn’t still racing at the thought of nearly dying. “Just not nearly loud enough.”

The blue of his eyes is a crystalline, too-solid, too terribly cold thing. Bilbo shivers. “So much for the welcome committee,” he grumbles as he rights himself, straightening his shirt once Kili finally lets him go. “Will someone please show me to my room so I can properly move my things there?”

Thorin says nothing and instead gestures briskly before turning on his heel. Hands sweating where they’re shoved in his pockets, Bilbo follows Thorin up a narrow, carpeted, and throughly stained flight of stairs, chewing the inside of his cheek so he doesn’t say anything stupid or rude, as much as he’d like to.

They enter another long, dormitory-style hallway, and Thorin twists the knob of the first room on the left. “Here,” he says. “We’ll carry your stuff up.”

“I’m quite capable of doing it myself,” Bilbo reminds him, even though he’d really rather not lug all his tubs up alone. He feels awkward accepting help, though, like he’s confirming Thorin’s preexisting belief that he’s a poor match for the house, that Bilbo will do nothing but complain for the whole summer, just like Thorin expects him to. He steps inside the room to survey it, and before he even registers the street-facing window and hardwood floor, both of which are good things, he realizes with horror that there is absolutely nothing inside. No desk. No flimsy metal bed frame. No mattress. “There’s no bed,” he sputters before he can think better of it.

Thorin makes a humming sound in the back of his throat, raising his eyebrows and regarding Bilbo with something like irritation. “Were you expecting one?” he snaps, crossing his broad arms over his chest and leaning against the wall. Bilbo stares at Thorin’s worn-in black leather wristband because it seems safer than looking anywhere else. He can see fractals of his own distorted reflection in the studs on it, which makes him dizzy, but it’s better than the alternative. The room will only make him mad, and Thorin’s skin will only make him madder. And the cold blue eyes in their reflective veneer of judgment will likely just make him choke. “This isn’t student housing, Burglar,” Thorin reminds him.

It is not a term of endearment. It’s meant to humiliate, perhaps, but something might be wrong with Bilbo because it sends a sudden lick of heat into his gut to be reminded so flippantly of the way he just walked into the house uninvited earlier, making no improvement upon his already lackluster first impression. It seems that although Thorin is a man of few words, he manages to infuse tremendous feeling into the ones he does say. “Well, I suppose not,” Bilbo finally mumbles, mouth twitching to conceal a frown. “If only I’d remembered and picked up an air mattress at Target or something. Well! It’s fine, I have one of those foam toppers, I can put that on the floor. It’ll do in the meantime,” he says, shaking his head, pretending that he’s perfectly fine with such a sleeping arrangement. He can feel Thorin’s gaze burning into him, hot with scrutiny, with words unsaid, and he’s about to fill the terrible silent vacancy with more words just so he doesn’t have to endure the silence any longer when Fili stumbles in under the weight of one of his tubs.

“Delivery!” he announces, dropping it to the ground with a solid thunk. It displaces a small cloud of dust from the floor, and Bilbo coughs. “Kili and Bofur have the rest, they’re on the way up,” he says, slapping Bilbo on the shoulder goodnaturedly. “Glad to have you here.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo replies, trying to match how earnest Fili sounds. “I really do appreciate you renting to me in spite of my musical limitations and all.”

Thorin sighs loudly and pushes out of the room past them both. “I’ll leave you to it, then,” he grinds out, like every word pains him. And just like that, he’s gone.

Bilbo watches him go, eyes narrowed, lips flattened into a line.

“Don’t mind Thorin, he’s like that with everyone,” Fili says, lifting one of his Doc Martens and bracing it on the windowsill, leaning into the stretch as he peers out Bilbo’s window. “He’s my uncle, so I’m used to it.”

“Your uncle?” Bilbo asks, eyes wide. “Is he really?”

“Yeah, me and Kili. Our mom was young, and my grandpa was sick, so Thorin basically half-raised us. He seems like a grumpy piece of shit, but he’s actually a big fucking softie under all that leather. We all are, promise! You don’t have to look so wound up all the time, okay?” he teases, dropping into a loose boxing stance and landing a couple of firm but gentle punches on Bilbo’s arm, his long, dirty blond hair swinging with the motion. “Lighten up.”

As Bilbo smiles nervously and rubs his newly sore arm, Bofur appears and knocks on the door frame, balancing Bilbo’s suitcase on his hip. “Are you guys wrestling without me?” he pouts, dropping the suitcase. “I thought I called first wrestle with Bilbo.”

“As far as I recall, wrestling was not part of the rental agreement,” Bilbo reminds them both, knees buckling a bit as Bofur throws an arm around his shoulder, dragging him close to mess up his hair. Bilbo used to try and style his unruly auburn curls, but he never settled on something he liked or anything that actually felt like him, so he gave up some time ago. Still, he does not appreciate a near-stranger’s fingers sifting through his hair, even if it’s already sort of a wreck. “Unless I—erm, failed to read it closely enough. That’s my hair you’re pulling, thank you very much,” he says, disentangling himself from the mess of sweat and weed-smell. It’s unsettling, he decides, to be touched so much. He’s so used to avoiding casual physical contact with other men, lest they assume he’s making a move on them and feel threatened. In his experience, straight men are too fragile for idle touch, and he’s far too polite to ever come close to even toeing that boundary. Today is packed with more hugs than he knows what to do with.

“We’re neighbors,” Bofur declares, ducking out the door to rap his knuckles on the one beside it. “I live right here, so expect lots of Dio and mad shredding coming from my humble abode,” he adds, doing an impromptu solo on an imaginary guitar.

Kili arrives then, somehow brandishing the remaining two tubs, one under each arm. It’s remarkable, given that he’s easily the smallest of the three. “Sorry about the bat,” he says again, offering a sheepish smile. “Really, I’m so sorry. I should have looked before I just went running. It’s one of those semi-paranoid highs, man.”

“It’s quite alright,” Bilbo promises. “You made up for the whole near-death-experience bit by hauling all my things up, so we’re even,” he mumbles awkwardly, hands wringing behind his back like they always do when he’s uncertain about where to put them. The other guys all erupt into sudden laughter like he’s made a joke, and that feels good, at least. Having his quiet clever jabs actually acknowledged. Being included, even if he’s not sure whether he’s being laughed with or at. “Thank you all, really,” he says. “I’m just so relieved to have a room this summer.”

“Don’t mention it,” Bofur says, slapping his back. “We’re glad. Well, I’m glad, anyway, personally, to have a cook.”

And being a cook isn’t really in the rental agreement, either, but Bilbo doesn’t mention that part. He nods awkwardly and rubs his sweating palms together, and everyone files out in a single line after slapping his back. By the time his door is shut and latched behind the lot of them, his shoulder is aching from impact: not only is it more physical contact than he’s used to enduring, it’s more force. He feels entirely too breakable to be repeatedly struck in both greetings and goodbyes. He will either develop a thicker skin this summer or emerge a mess of bruises. He’s terrified and thrilled in equal measures by either prospect, and he wonders what that says about him.

He decides that this is all simply too much to consider—right now, at least—so he shoves it all down. He’s quite good at bottling things up to be shoved into a dark cupboard and forgotten, when need be.

Bilbo dutifully unpacks his things, folding up and arranging a number of his jumpers and hoodies into a vague bed-shape, since he has no mattress and suspects he won’t be needing the extra layers during the summer months. Then he lays his foam topper over them, followed by sheets and a pillow, before stacking his books by the head of it all to make a small, uneven, makeshift table for his solitary lamp. It is a pitiful arrangement, but it will have to do.

Quite immediately, he misses his old room. He misses his friends, who he was not particularly close to, but who he could at least trust to not leave unfinished games of beer pong lying around to rot. Who at least only nodded jovially to him in the hallways instead of touching him. Who at least, for the most part, wore deodorant and showered regularly. He wonders if he’ll get used to the green, sticky, weedy sweat-smell that has lodged itself stubbornly into his nose and then realizes with a sudden jolt that he doesn’t really want to get used to something so disgusting and unsanitary. He wants a bed. He wants to be freed from the worry that the person he’s writing his rent checks to doesn’t secretly hate him simply for being a Simon & Garfunkel fan.

But just as he’s about to combat his rising anxieties with some stubborn internal optimism, Bofur, presumably, puts on some music, and the wall they share literally begins to rattle. Bilbo stares, not even certain if he can classify the hysterical, chaotic guitar as music in the first place. He sits there, considering what on earth he’s gotten himself into as the “song” goes on for at least another seven minutes. When it finally does end, he lets out a breath that he hadn’t even realized he was holding, spreading his hand over his heart, feeling its frantic, panicked thud.

Then he pulls out his laptop to write an email to Gandalf.

Dear Professor,

I hope this email finds you quite well. I followed your advice and moved into the House of Durin. You did not tell me they were heavy metal musicians, which was a bit of a shock, but here I am. I suppose you will be proud of me. However, are you certain there are no alternatives in terms of available student housing at this time? The lease is month-to-month, so I could move back into the international dorms come July in the event something opens up. I do not mind the inconvenience. PLEASE let me know. Thank you and happy June.

Sincerely,

Bilbo Baggins

Immediately, he gets a reply, and his heart leaps up into his throat with a surge of relief. But the relief is short-lived because it becomes very clear that this is only an auto-reply, Gandalf is not going to be available for any advisor-type duties over the summer after all. It reads:

Dear Berkeley students, faculty, and administration,

I am currently vacationing just outside Naples with my husband Ratagast and will not be back in the states or available by email until September.

Amid sunshine and very expensive Chianti,

Gandalf, Professor of Classics

He has also attached a picture of himself and another old man standing on a beach with their arms around each other as they hold massive glasses of red wine, their hideous printed Hawiian shirts blowing in the Tuscan breeze, their smiles very cheery and relaxed and careless indeed.

Bilbo is not a violent man, but he considers chucking his computer across the room. However, before he can commit such a rash and terrible act, there is a firm knock on his door. By the time he hauls himself up off the floor (or, rather, his bed, which is regrettably only an inch or so off the floor) to answer it, whoever was there has vanished, leaving a single rubber mattress leaning against the wall with a key taped to it. It is not until Bilbo begins to drag the offering inside that he realizes there was a note trapped between the mattress and the wall. It drifts to the floor, and he picks it up.

I had an extra — T, it says in hastily scrawled chicken scratch.

And Bilbo does not mean to be wrenched from his despair so easily, but a wild, helpless smile spreads across his face anyway, like dawn cracking over the horizon.

Chapter Text

June gets off to a stumbling start. For one, Bilbo’s summer job at Myrtle’s Bookstore is not exactly the romantic, intellectual venture he perhaps foolishly hoped it would be. Aside from the floor-to-ceiling shelves of tattered paperbacks and the dry, dark, glorious, smell of them, there is nothing glamorous about the shop itself. The owner is an old Berkeley hippie who rarely shows up, and when he does, he cares not for discussing Shakespeare or Milton with his single employee, opting instead to lock himself up in the supply closet where he smokes enormous amounts of weed and blasts the Grateful Dead until closing, leaving all the (very few and far between) customer service interactions to Bilbo. Hardly anyone comes in, really, and if they do, they’re tourists hitting all the historic sites on Telegraph without any intention of actually purchasing anything. They’re not supposed to take pictures, but Bilbo never has the heart to tell them off for it, so instead, he just stands there anxiously at the register, twirling his thumbs and hoping Mr. Myrtle doesn’t come out to scold him. More typically, a haggard-looking student will come by to drop off a cardboard box full of donations, and Bilbo has to explain to them that Myrtle’s Bookstore doesn’t actually accept textbooks and watch them miserably pack everything up again to haul it to the campus store. Save for that, though, there’s little to do but daydream and some light busywork.

The bulk of his responsibilities involve thumbing through donated books and making sure they’re fit to be sold. Usually, they’re fine, but occasionally, they're too worn out, held together exclusively by a single staple or the threads of a demolished spine. Often, they come in dirty or previously water-logged and currently distorted, their words indecipherably blotted out. Occasionally, he finds things inside them: old bookmarks, pressed flowers, paint color samples from hardware stores, bits of ribbon or clothing tags, post-it notes with scribbled grocery or to-do lists, and one horrible time, a used condom pressed between two stiff, crusted pages of Moby Dick (which felt oddly fitting, somehow). Condom aside, he saves all the treasures he finds, tucks them into an envelope, and takes them back to the House of Durin to study later, as if they are artifacts, glimpses into strangers’ lonely, mundane lives, tiny snapshots of humanity.

Sometimes, he finds books too marked up or annotated to sell, and those he keeps, too. He loves decoding the illegible script in the margins, the passages of text encircled and highlighted, sometimes with so much force that the pages are worn thin with it. Even if it is a book he does not know or perhaps even dislikes, he enjoys knowing what someone else saw in the words. What moved them to take a pen to paper and underline something over and over again, so that they would not forget. He loves these books best, and he takes them home for his collection, too. Found objects are anthropology, and anthropology is literature, as far as Bilbo’s concerned, so he sees these objects as text to be analyzed just as much as the text of the books he finds them in. And he supposes this is what’s best about the dull, dreary afternoons he spends reading in the dark bookstore, waiting for something to happen. At least he finds stories upon stories, stories tucked inside of other stories, and that helps him pass the time, at the very least.

But mostly, the job is dull, monotonous, and lonely. He finds himself looking forward to the moment his shift ends, and he can walk back up the hill to Frat Row, even though he sort of hates it there. It’s impossibly loud every hour of the day, not just in the House of Durin, but all the way up Channing and Durant, every single house perpetually overflowing with people drinking and partying, shouting slogans and cheers. Sometimes, there are slip-n-slides or bounce houses or sprinklers or kegs. Other times, massive crowds of beefy guys in awful American flag swim trunks and shutter shades from 2010, blasting Pitbull or, more often, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Bilbo has literally heard this song more times in the last week than he has in his entire life. Frat guys apparently fucking love this song. They always raucously sing along to it as it pours from their shitty speakers, belting every word like it’s their national anthem. Sometimes, when Bilbo gets up early to open the shop by 10 am, parties from the night before will still be in progress, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” will still be playing, haunting the cool blue of dawn. It’s astounding. He feels like he’s getting a crash course in an extremely specific subset of American culture.

Two subsets, he supposes, if he counts the one that thrives within the House of Durin.

He’s living with a metal band, sure. But shockingly, they are the best people on Frat Row. None of his housemates are the sort of man he would have chosen to befriend, but he finds himself warming up to them anyway, in spite of himself—even if they’re all very loud and very rude and very stubborn, and he hates the music they play, if you can call it that. They usually play in the basement or living room, meaning there are multiple floors and walls for the sound to filter through, and in most cases, it hardly even sounds like music by the time it reaches Bilbo’s room, it’s more like a complex, ugly mess of high-pitched guitar wailing, rapid-fire drums, and screaming. A lot of it can be likened to the noise people might make dying in a car crash more than it can be to anything remotely or intentionally musical, and Bilbo gets headaches and loses sleep when they practice, but. He's still grateful to hear anything that isn’t “Don’t Stop Believin’,” almost as grateful as he is to be around actual humans after hours and hours of darkness and musty pages and the endless stocking of shelves to keep him company while he can hear laughter and see sunshine just outside the small, opaque windows.

Bofur is his first actual friend in the house. Not just because he lives next door, but because he seems to be a genuinely nice, approachable guy who relentlessly seeks out Bilbo’s company. Bilbo suspects it’s not necessarily because Bofur likes him, but because he finds him amusing. He can’t help but feel like a strange and intriguing specimen that Bofur is observing, or maybe a scruffy stray dog he’s teaching to trust humans again. It’s not ideal, feeling like a science experiment or a pet project, but it’s nice to not be alone, and it’s even nicer that Bofur always has excellent weed that he shares quite generously. Bilbo was never particularly partial to smoking after an unfortunate experience during his gap year, when he smoked too much in Amsterdam and subsequently thought he could hear colors and had a several-hours-long panic attack. He tells this to Bofur the first time he offers to smoke out, but it does not deter him one bit. “You just need the right strain, man! I’ve got you,” he announces, tugging on the flaps of his ushanka authoritatively before popping open a Tupperware full of different baggies. He rifles through them until he finds what he’s looking for and holds it up, fat with sticky green buds. “This is a good place to start. It’ll just help you relax a little. And, Jesus, do you need to relax, Bilbo. Never seen a guy pace so much. Hate seeing you so homesick.”

Bilbo is skeptical, but it turns out Bofur is right. He likes the slow, heavy feeling that settles over him when he’s high, he likes the way he doesn't have to think so much about every little facet of human interaction because it just stops mattering after a few long, dragging inhalations. He even likes the way American weed tastes, somehow less skunky and more sweet and green than anything he ever smoked in London, which he is somewhat homesick for, if he’s honest with himself. The weed helps him open up, and as a result, he spends a lot of time spread out on Bofur’s messy floor between his rows of guitar stands, staring at the water stains on the ceiling and discussing the important matters in life, like whether Goofy would win in a fist-fight against Donald Duck, or if a burrito were a band, whether the tortilla would be the bass or the lead singer.

Bofur also takes it upon himself to “educate” Bilbo about metal, since Bilbo makes the mistake of sharing with him that he thinks it sounds exactly like a child hitting pots and pans with wooden spoons while wailing for its mother’s attention.

“Not all of it!” Bofur exclaims, choking out a mouthful of thick smoke. His eyes are streaming, and his face is red, which is surprising because Bofur is such a practiced stoner that he hardly ever sputters or coughs. Bilbo must have truly said something offensive. “Maybe some stuff, but that’s only, like. One sound. Metal is—it’s literally one of the most diverse genres of all time and space. Take it back.”

“I won’t take back something I said in earnest,” Bilbo complains, slumping against a heap of Bofur’s dirty laundry and frowning. “It’s my subjective opinion that it all sounds the same. Whether you guys are playing it or listening to it. That is my opinion, and I’m entitled to it.”

“Yeah, it’s a bad, stupid, ill-informed opinion, though,” Bofur argues, heaving himself up off the bed to grab his laptop. “Metal Crash Course for Bilbo Baggins Time!” he declares. “You’ll be a metalhead by the time you leave this house, if it’s the last thing I do, so help me Metal Jesus.”

And so begins the week-long process of Bofur failing to change Bilbo’s mind, which is really a shame because he puts an admirable amount of effort into it, and Bilbo almost feels guilty that it’s all in vain. There are charts and spreadsheets and playlists featuring different sorts of metal, and though some is certainly easier to stomach than others (Bilbo even detects a melody between the relentless guitars and chugging bass once or twice), none of it is actually something he likes, no matter how “iconic” or “classic” Bofur insists it is.

He’s far more interested in the messy, complicated interworking of his housemates and their seemingly endless and connected projects than he is in the history of Faith No More’s line up or which Metallica album Bofur thinks is most overrated. This may or may not start because it’s the only way to obtain information about Thorin without asking, flat out, tell me more about Thorin. “Tell me more about your band,” he asks one evening while he and Bofur share half an unclaimed pizza that was about to go bad in the fridge.

“Shit, which one?” Bofur asks, raising his expressive eyebrows. “I’m in, like…,” he pauses to count on his fingers before brandishing a spread-wide palm. “Five. We’re all in at least two.”

Bilbo doesn’t know how to process this, really. He just sort of assumed the house was a thirteen-member single band that never really succeeded in practicing as an entire unit. “Five?”

Aye,” Bofur says, folding a piece of pizza in half like a taco and shoving nearly the entire thing into his mouth. “There’s Undying Lands, we’re, like, a prog four-piece with my brothers and Dwalin…and I play bass for Fili and Kili’s band, War Bats, which isn’t metal at all, really, they’re more, like…post hardcore? Screamo but don’t call it that to their faces unless you wanna get slugged. Goblin Cleaver is probably the biggest, we’re, like, a black metal band, I guess, which is funny because none of us are actually satanists, we just sing about blood sacrifice and goats because Bifur and Thorin write the lyrics, and they’re both into horror movies and shit. Sonically, it’s way ‘80s…think Helloween only more keyboard. Or Dio only more jack-o’-lanterns. Sometimes, we wear costumes on stage. Throw fake blood around. It’s a good time.”

Bilbo coughs, face suddenly hot. “Thorin? Thorin wears costumes.”

“Yeah! Sometimes,” Bofur confirms, shrugging. “Dude, metal is theater, I told you.”

“Thorin just seems so...I don't know. Serious.”

“Thorin is a fucking nerd,” Bofur promises, crossing his arms over his faded Children of Bodom shirt and smirking knowingly. “Don’t let his tough-guy act fool you, he’s in more power metal bands than all of us combined. He writes these epic fantasy songs about slaying dragons and cursed gold and, like, getting held hostage in underground goblin tunnels. He and Dwalin front Azog the Defiler, which is easily the most gimmicky band in the whole house. Their songs are like Game of Thrones episodes, so nerdy, so rad,” he says wistfully. “If I had my laptop with me, I’d play you some, you’re a nerd, too, maybe you’d actually like it.”

Bilbo is both disappointed and relieved that he doesn’t have to hear Thorin Oakenshield screaming about dragons. As much as he hates all the metal Bofur has played him, he still wants to hear Thorin’s voice, raw and wild and probably very deep and sexy. Much to Bilbo’s dismay, his inconvenient crush on Thorin has not gone anywhere or faded into obscurity like he wants it to. Luckily, more than anyone else in the house, Thorin is constantly busy with music stuff. Or else, he actively avoids Bilbo. Either option is a distinct possibility.

In that moment, as if summoned, Thorin slams through the front door and strides quietly yet purposefully into the kitchen without looking at Bilbo. He’s wearing a black ribbed tank-top, and his shoulders are ever-so-slightly sunburnt, pink enough that Bilbo knows he would leave white fingerprints in the pale of his flesh were he to grip the taut expanse of muscle. This is not something he should be thinking about, but he has little power over his thoughts where Thorin is concerned. “I was just talking about how fucking nerdy you are,” Bofur says fondly, sidestepping away from the fridge as Thorin throws it open. “What’s that one AtD song that literally has, like, a passage from some ‘70s fantasy book in it? I wanna play it for Bilbo since he likes books. Maybe this is what will finally knock some fucking taste into him.”

“Son of Thror,” Thorin says quietly as he grabs a beer and opens it by cleverly popping the top off on the edge of the counter in a single, swift motion. Foam bubbles out over his big hand, and Bilbo chews the inside of his cheek until it tastes metallic with blood. “He won't like it.”

“Maybe I’m not as uncultured as you think I am,” Bilbo offers, pursing his lips and lifting his brows defiantly, and Thorin rounds on him, half-smiling, eyes flashing blue. The bridge of his nose is a little burnt, too, and Bilbo actually makes an involuntary whining sound in the back of his throat as he notices because he is a terrible and extremely embarrassing person.

“Doubt it,” Thorin says, evidently not hearing or at least choosing to not comment on the whimper, which is very lucky for Bilbo indeed. “Did you guys eat my pizza?” he asks then, turning to Bofur, leaving Bilbo quaking against the counter, throat tight with the peculiar and unforgiving sensation of being both very irritated and very aroused. This is pretty much how Thorin always leaves him: deeply insulted and liking it entirely too much. He grits his teeth.

“Maybe…yes,” Bofur admits. “But in our defense, it was not labeled and had been in there for, like, a week...it was most definitely on its last legs. Anyway, Bilbo is cooking dinner for everyone tonight, right, Bilbo?” he asks hopefully, cocking his head to peer around Thorin’s bulk. Bilbo sighs. He has been at least attempting to make meals for the house, but it’s proved to be a challenge for a variety of reasons. First off, the men of the House of Durin eat more in one sitting than Bilbo could possibly fathom a group of humans eating. It feels like a week’s worth of groceries are gone in a single night. Bilbo just doesn't have the time or money to make meals substantial enough to satisfy them. Furthermore, there’s the issue of the kitchen itself. When Bilbo arrived, every surface of it was covered in literal towers of food-encrusted dishes. He suspects it had not been cleaned properly since Durin was a condemned frat house, a theory semi-confirmed by both Balin and Oin, who came to watch him while he did his best to tidy it one weekend, claiming they’d never seen the sink empty in the whole of their time here. They had been kind enough to bring him some steel wool and cleaning products, and several hours and a few dish casualties later, the room was functional.

Bilbo is stupidly protective of its cleanliness now. He doesn’t want to cook big meals because it requires dirtying up the very pots and pans he scrubbed the living daylights out of. It means cleaning them again. And normally this would be fine, but after such a massive and thankless project, he’s hesitant to expend any more labor on food that will disappear in ten seconds flat, especially if he’s stuck cleaning up the carnage after the fact all alone. “Yes,” he sighs, zeroing in on Bofur. “If someone helps me clean and the rest of you chip in for groceries. ”

“Hmm,” Thorin hums into his beer, eyes flashing. Bilbo tries not to think too much about the way the neck of the amber bottle is resting on his lower lip. “Fine,” he says then, fishing out his wallet, pulling out a crumpled hundred dollar bill, and thumping it onto Bilbo’s chest. The weight and warmth of his hand is sudden and terrifying, and it lingers well after he pulls away, leaving Bilbo gasping there against the counter. “Bofur. Go to Berkeley Bowl with Bilbo. Get enough stuff to last us more than a few days.”

And then he downs the rest of his beer, chugging it so violently that Bilbo is forced to watch the horizon line of his throat bob and ripple, eyes stinging. “Let me know if you need more money,” he adds once he’s drained the bottle, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, skin pale against his black beard. Bilbo hates how attracted to him he is. It doesn’t make sense. He’s not nice. He has too much hair. He drinks cheap, awful beer. He wears the same clothes every goddamn day. He listens to and probably makes awful music. He’s judgmental and condescending.

But still, even as Bilbo piles into Bofur’s shitty ‘80s Subaru, he can feel the hot, resounding sensation of Thorin’s palm on his chest, and he presses his own fingers into it as if he can learn the shape of his hand by tracing the imaginary bruise it left over his heart.

———-

Slowly, Bilbo wins the house over with food.

It’s easier now that he’s not paying for it all. After his first successfully large meal, his housemates decide it’s in everyone’s best interests to chip in. They all practice too late to make anything other than microwavable freezer meals for themselves, and on top of that, Bilbo suspects only Oin and Dori know how to cook anything beyond Kraft Mac and Cheese because they’re old enough to have fended for themselves at some point. Everyone starts to pool money for a weekly shopping trip, Thorin collects it in an envelope and tapes it to Bilbo’s door, and then Bilbo takes Bofur’s car to Berkeley Bowl to get enough groceries to cook for an army. After dinner, Thorin makes sure someone cleans the dishes, so that Bilbo will have a clean kitchen to work in the next time he cooks.

It works out remarkably well. A few of the other guys even get sort of into it, especially after Bilbo builds a dorky chore wheel out of construction paper with everyone’s names on it. Bifur makes a fantastic lentil stew and gladly assists in chopping things for other dishes, and it turns out Dwalin and Gloin both like to grill, so one Saturday, Bilbo painstakingly weeds the overgrown back patio so that they can unearth the ancient barbecue hiding in a thicket of dandelion greens and foxtails to make burgers. He also manages to uncover a decent-sized cement planter against the fence, so he steals some seeds and fertilizer from the on-campus community garden after work one day and brings them back to plant.

Additionally, Fili and Kili’s mother (who must also be Thorin’s sister, not that Bilbo is needlessly thinking about Thorin at every given moment) apparently taught them how to garden when they were kids, so they become wholly and charmingly invested in the fate of Bilbo’s tomato plants, watering them when he is at work. All in all, life in the House of Durin is not quite as lonesome or awkward as Bilbo anticipated. In fact, save for the whole not being a metal musician thing, he feels like he actually fits in quite well.

This is at least in part because his housemates are not at all how he expected them to be. He wrongly assumed metalheads must be toxic assholes who love songs about satan and murder, but it turns out they’re all just enormous nerds. And although there’s a distinct variation of masculinity that they’re invested in embracing, it’s also somehow decidedly not that toxic. Bilbo has never spent time around straight men who are so terribly unconcerned with whether or not they seem gay. They’re always slapping each other’s asses or shotgunning the same beer can or pulling each other in for long, soulful hugs or talking about how shredding on an electric guitar (or even just listening to someone else shred on an electric guitar) makes their dicks hard. Furthermore, there’s never the customary, reflexive no homo caveat following these actions, they just are this way. Bilbo doesn’t even need to tell them he’s gay or ask if it makes them uncomfortable, they seem to know but don’t seem to care, and he’s just—not used to that. In fact, he’s not sure he’s ever had close friendships with men because there’s always been an awkward, unspoken discomfort lingering in the spaces between, so befriending women was just easier. Less tension. Less fear. Less shame.

But now he’s realizing that he can be close with men. Even manly, macho men. Men who punch each other upon greeting and accidentally break things during their enthusiastic Xbox competitions. Men who yell and play-fight and roughhouse constantly. Bilbo has somehow managed to forge tentative friendships with every single one of them.

Well. Nearly every single one of them.

Thorin is still peculiarly and relentlessly cold, going as far as scowling at Bilbo whenever he makes a joke about hating metal or straight up leaving the room like a petulant child the moment Bilbo enters. He’s always steeling his expression in Bilbo’s presence, jaw ever clenching, eyes ever flashing, whether or not Bilbo has spoken. It’s fucking infuriating because Bilbo is really trying his hardest to get along with everyone. He knows he’s a short, English twink living with thirteen metalheads. He knows he’s the odd man out. And still, everyone else has gone out of his way to make him feel included. Thorin Oakenshield is the only one of the lot who seems to hold some sort of enduring grudge against Bilbo, simply for being different.

But then again, instead of being purely resentful, Thorin has also stepped in to defend Bilbo a few times when no one else even noticed he was in peril, usually at house parties where strangers are all packed into the patio to smoke, and tensions are running high. One time, some hardcore kids almost trampled Bilbo’s baby tomato plants in the midst of an impromptu mosh session in the back yard. (Hardcore kids, Bilbo has been told, are somehow different from metalheads, even though their music sounds nearly identical. Bilbo suspects it has to do with how much hair one has or does not have, seeing how nearly everyone in the House of Durin is bearded, and punks are all shaved and tidy.) Naturally, he stumbled out to scold them, but they were entirely too drunk and quite a lot bigger than him, and so refused to stand down. However, before it escalated into a full-scale brawl, Thorin stomped into the mess to intervene and ended up escorting the guys out of the house all together, ordering that they not return. Bilbo was stunned that Thorin caused such a scene on his account and briefly wondered if this was the beginning of a friendship, a termination of the unease between them. Alas, Thorin only stormed back to lecture him about how he didn’t belong, how he was in over his head, how he shouldn’t pick fights. This was how things were going to be, as far as Bilbo was concerned: drawn taut and bleeding, Thorin’s eyes hard and mirrored against him, forever crystalized in judgment.

It’s fine, though. Bilbo decides to not care. After all, he has twelve other new and unlikely friends, and if Thorin refuses to count himself among their ranks, then that’s his loss, Bilbo doesn’t need his approval. He has Bofur, of course. He has Nori and Ori, who rope him into their ‘60s sci-fi marathon one weekend and decide he’s cool after the fact. Gloin, who helps him build a tiny greenhouse to start seedlings in the backyard. Oin, who actually drives down the street to a Rite Aid one night to buy a first aid kit after Bilbo slices his finger while dicing onions. Bombur, who is extremely into CrossFit and generously donates some old kettle bells he has to Bilbo because he’s concerned that he’ll pull a muscle in his string-bean arms if he keeps lifting boxes of books without additional workout regimes. Dori, who keeps a secret cupboard stocked with tea and red wine, and shares this information solely with Bilbo because he trusts that he’ll “appreciate it.” Balin, who enjoys spending his mornings smoking Cuban cigars out on the front patio, is often the only person awake when Bilbo leaves for work.

Sometimes, Bilbo will set an alarm and rouse himself before he needs to, just to share some coffee with Balin and listen to his wild stories about touring with Deep Purple and Def Leppard in the ‘80s. He seems to have been in the metal scene his whole life, and as a result, there’s a certain amount of amusement with which he regards the rest of the guys in the house, a jaded fondness. “Some of them are serious,” he says one morning, tapping ash from the butt of his cigar, then grinding it into the cement with the toe of his motorcycle boot. “But for most of them, this is just for fun. They’re playing music because their friends play music, and once they get a little older, they'll end up with a decent job, a wife, some kids. And I’ll come by and babysit, bring ‘em some diapers,” he jokes, raising his bushy white eyebrows when Bilbo laughs. “Thorin, though…Thorin is different. Talented. Got a musician’s soul, that one,” Balin sighs then, shaking his head. “He’s going somewhere.”

As he says it, Bilbo starts to sweat. And, yes, it’s summer, but Berkeley doesn’t get uncomfortably hot until the marine layer burns off sometime after eleven, so it’s several hours before he has an excuse for the prickle of dampness in the ditches of his elbows and under the collar of his zipped-tight hoodie. He squirms, clutching at his thermos of coffee. “I think Thorin hates me,” he finally confesses. And perhaps he does not say it concretely, but he allows the tone of his voice to belie that this fact hurts him, that he doesn’t understand why. He wouldn’t confess such a thing to Bofur, or anyone else in the house, but Balin…Balin is wise, somehow, old enough to be above petty gossip, and Bilbo knows that he can trust him.

Balin snorts, shaking his head. “Thorin doesn’t hate you. He doesn’t hate anyone who isn’t worthy of hate, he’s not that sort of man,” he explains, shrugging, the well-worn leather of his jacket creaking with the motion. “I think Thorin has a lot of walls up for very good reason and little patience for the sort of people unwilling to break them down,” he says after a while, pursing his lips, a flash of pink hidden in the white of his beard. “So get to know him better, maybe, before you decide he hates you. ”

Bilbo thinks about what Balin told him his whole shift as he sorts through a particularly massive donation that is clearly from an adult woman purging her childhood collection. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Beverly Cleary. Judy Blume. He flips through them all, checking for quality, and wonders if it is perhaps he who has not given Thorin a proper chance, instead of the other way around. The thought troubles him, and he worries the inside of his cheek raw from pulling it tight over his teeth, scrunching his mouth from one side of his face to the other in contemplation. He hates realizing he might have been intolerant, especially to Thorin, who, for all his bristles and sharp edges, has allowed him to live in the house. He has even gone out of his way to lug an extra mattress up the stairs, deliver the weekly grocery money, and rescue Bilbo from squabbling with hardcore kids over destroyed tomatoes. He hasn’t been entirely inhospitable, just…unreadable. Remote.

Maybe Bilbo has been more awkward around him than he thought. Maybe he has been the one pushing Thorin away, and every tense interaction they’ve had up until this point is his fault. For wanting too much and looking too long, for inevitably regarding Thorin differently than he does the rest of the house because that is his condition. He is notoriously undignified and avoidant around men he’s attracted to, so maybe all of this is on him and the very irritating crush he can’t seem to get rid of.

He’s feeling positively forgiving by the time his shift ends. He’ll try harder, he decides. He’ll force himself to joke with Thorin the way he does with everyone else. To seek Thorin out instead of averting his gaze so abruptly, which, in retrospect, is very rude. To still the way his heart speeds up into his throat, choking him silent and sputtering and, in some cases, forcing every word to come out clipped and defensive. He resolves to act fucking normal around him. To face the frost-cold blue of his eyes dead on without withering.

But later, when he walks up Channing and lets himself in, he decides that maybe Balin was being too generous.

The rest of the guys greet him as usual. Dori tugs him into a side hug, Bombur compliments the chili he made earlier in the week, and Kili bounces over to show him something on his phone with great enthusiasm. All is as it usually is in the evenings, but when Thorin comes down the stairs, hair pulled up into a messy bun and skin flushed and damp from the shower, Bilbo does not rip his eyes away and busy himself with something as he normally would. He stays stubbornly sitting on the floor with Fili and Bofur, watching them fiddle around with the neck of an electric guitar, tightening strings and muttering and passing it back and forth. “Thorin,” he calls, ignoring the way his own breath catches in favor of pressing on. “There are portions of chili in the freezer if you’re looking for something to eat.”

Thorin does not startle or even look at him, he just freezes in the stairwell, gaze fixed and unmoving on the stained carpet. “I just want a beer,” he grumbles eventually, pushing past everyone else to hurry into the kitchen, shaking his head in irritation, eyes hard and pupil-dark. His jaw is set tightly enough that something in it twitches, and Bilbo frowns in defeat.

Balin, he decides, is wrong. And he was wrong, too, to think it was worth trying to scale walls so high, topped in spirals of barbed wire. Thorin Oakenshield isn’t some tragically misunderstood man that Bilbo will come to know if only he can peel away enough layers. He’s a locked arsenal as well as an arse, and Bilbo cares not to waste any more time tentatively knocking at a sealed door. So he gives up and resolves to not care about the empty ache he feels in his chest following this decision.

Chapter Text

It’s easy to avoid Thorin because Thorin avoids him.

However, putting an end to the way he endlessly obsesses over their rift is a far more difficult task, Bilbo discovers. Maybe it’s because he’s just not used to being disliked so openly by someone he hasn’t even wronged. Bilbo often goes to great lengths to ensure that he wins people over after poor first impressions—try as he might to not care so much about what others think of him, he absolutely does. He’s only human, and a particularly insecure human at that. The knowledge that he is unfairly reviled keeps him up at night, so he loses sleep over Thorin, which is a terribly unfortunate condition to suffer over someone he is both attracted to and hated by.

It’s fine that he doesn’t like me, I don’t like him either, Bilbo tells himself as he lies on the mattress that used to be Thorin’s, gazing up at the ceiling where some former occupant once pressed a single glow-in-the-dark plastic star. It’s very old, the glow is mostly gone, but if Bilbo narrows his eyes in the darkness, he can make out the five-pointed eerie green of it, something to focus on as he wills his eyes to grow heavy and sleep to come. I do not like him one bit. And this, at least, is true. Bilbo might feel things about the blue of Thorin’s eyes and the black of his hair and the thickness of his muscled forearms, but he doesn’t like him, for beneath the sculpted profile and broad shoulders there is nothing but iron and steel and ice, and personally, Bilbo is more of a baked bread, home-stitched quilt sort of person. He does not need to dig in soil that will only make his fingers bleed. There are softer things in the world, after all.

---

Following a week or so of actively silencing every unbidden instance of Thorin Oakenshield from his mind, Bilbo stops thinking about him so much. He stops wondering what he did to make Thorin acutely dislike him, and he also stops inventing ways he might be able to change it. He manages this so successfully that he hardly stirs when Thorin comes by once weekly to slide the envelope of grocery money under his door. His blood does not speed, his breath does not catch. If his heart stops only just a little, then that is probably because he’s merely startled, not at all because of the man responsible for the startling.

But, of course, just as Bilbo begins to find some sense of peace and routine in the House of Durin, a single night changes it all, thrusting him neck-deep into darkness yet again, without even a single, faded, plastic star to guide him.

It begins as he’s walking home from work. It was a particularly long and boring shift without a single customer, unless you counted the high school kids who snuck in to make out between the shelves before he shooed them into the sunshine with a battered copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Strangely, these impossibly slow days are the most exhausting of all, for they drag on too long, weighed down with loneliness. Bilbo is completely drained when he finally locks up, sighing deeply as he pockets his keyring and starts walking up Telegraph toward Frat Row.

It’s a Saturday, so the sidewalks are crowded with people. Small groups of students smoking outside of coffee shops and complaining about summer term professors, skaters rolling down the sidewalk past the thrift store while they blast REM from the shitty boombox speakers balanced on their shoulders, vendors starting to pack up their wares, and as always, people filling the long, meandering queue outside the ice cream sandwich shop on the corner of Channing. Bilbo is thinking idly about how he needs to try one of these legendary ice cream sandwiches someday to properly judge whether or not they’re worth the fuss when he sees Thorin Oakenshield several yards ahead of him, walking with his hands jammed into the pockets of his tattered black jeans.

Bilbo stares. Thorin looks odd, here, strangely out of place among all the teenage yuppies and summer school students. Or maybe he only looks out of place because Bilbo is used to seeing him at the house, one of a dozen other men who dress just like him, walk just like him, step purposefully with their eyes set ahead in determination. But out here in the wild, Thorin looks like a storm surrounded by bits of debris all sucked up into his orbit and tossed about carelessly. Bilbo chews the inside of his cheek. If it were anyone else from the house, he could call to them, ask them to wait up so they could walk together.

But he does not like Thorin, and Thorin does not like him. So he keeps his distance, even though he knows they’re both heading toward the same destination. It doesn’t become truly awkward until they turn off Telegraph and start into the hills. The crowds thin, the streets darken and steepen, and Bilbo is needlessly aware of the sound of his footsteps on the pavement, for he keeps imagining Thorin turning around and spotting him, insulting him for not saying something earlier, even though he surely would have declined any sort of invitation to walk side by side. As the hike progresses, he starts to grind his teeth, gaze fixed to the sidewalk so that it doesn’t end up magnetized to the dark, broad shape Thorin’s back cuts just ahead of him.

Before Thorin notices Bilbo, though, he notices someone else. Or, rather, someone else notices him. “Hey,” a drunk voice slurs from one of the frat porches. A tall, pale boy in gym clothes staggers out into the dead yard toward the sidewalk, holding up a beer can while trap music blares inside the house, the walls thudding in time with the bass. He has a lizardy sort of face, and it twists in an ugly way even before he sneers and spits out the word: “Faggot.”

Bilbo’s blood ices over and freezes in place, surely this insult is directed at him. He may be ten feet or so away from the porch and well out of eyeshot, but this frat guy cannot possibly be throwing such an epithet at Thorin Oakenshield. It doesn’t make any sense at all. Still, Thorin stops and turns as if he has been personally addressed, stance wide while he crosses his arms purposefully over his chest. “Yes?” he sneers, voice sharp but even. “Do you want something? Money, maybe? I hear Delta Chi is behind on their house dues, Smaug.”

The frat guy snorts and stumbles closer to Thorin, and Bilbo stares, astounded Thorin knows the name of this guy who just called him a faggot. His mind is whirring, but he cannot move. All he can do is stand poised, eyes wide and disbelieving, his Converse-clad feet glued to the cracked cement beneath them. “I don’t want anything from you,” the guy says. “Fuck off.” Then he throws his beer can, which clatters to Thorin’s feet like a warning, the night air charged and tense as it crackles around them.

“Are you sure you don’t want anything from me?” Thorin replies, voice low, taunting. Almost flirtatious, and—fuck. The stomach-plummeting sensation Bilbo has so masterfully managed to avoid for the last week strikes him hard, hits his body in a sudden, cruel wave.

But before he has time to process it, the drunk frat guy—Smaug, apparently—curses and steps in to throw his first punch. Thorin ducks out of the way easily, and they both stumble. A few more words are exchanged, all of them too hushed and fierce and rapid-fire for Bilbo to register. But whatever they are, they send Smaug into a blind rage, and suddenly, four more guys are barreling out of the house, screen door slamming behind them, hinges squeaking. Without warning, there is an honest-to-god fight happening in the yard: punches, grappling, the sick thud of fists. Bilbo watches, still frozen, mouth open and gasping as Thorin reels through the mess of dry grass and dirt and weeds, kicking up a rooster tail of dust as Smaug and his friends drag him and throw him up against the chain-link fence. He’s outnumbered, Bilbo realizes, and apparently that thought alone is enough to knock him from his stupor. He can move again, and the first thing he does is race up the street, shoes hitting the pavement in a rhythmic, far-away slap alongside his heartbeat as he wheels into the yard and punches Smaug the frat guy right in the face.

Bilbo has never punched anyone in his life. He didn’t know how much it would hurt. His whole hand is on fire, throbbing as he cradles it to his chest. But luckily, he has enough adrenaline to power a lighthouse, and another, perfectly intact fist, so once he recovers from the initial shock of impact, he throws himself at Smaug again, this time hitting him not in the jaw but the cheek, so much so that he feels the shape of his teeth scrape against his knuckles through a layer of flesh. Blood, sudden and crimson, pours from Smaug’s nose, torrents of it black in the dirt. Bilbo stares at what he has just done, but instead of panicking, he feels a peculiar and powerful calm wash over him: I have pepper spray, he remembers in the haze, shoving his still-stinging fist into his pocket to find his keys.

It’s one of those tiny, travel-sized keychain bottles. It takes him a few terrible seconds to get the safety off, and he’s lucky it doesn’t take any longer because the group of men is rounding on him, leaving Thorin where he’s braced on all fours in the dirt, spitting a blood-streaked froth of saliva onto the hard-packed earth. His lip is swollen, and so is his brow. His shirt is torn, and for some reason, those images all stacked together are too much for Bilbo to sustain. He stumbles backward, brandishing his tiny can of keychain pepper spray like a sword, and presses the button to unleash the contents.

He isn’t sure what he’s expecting, really, but perhaps he should have been more prepared for the carnage that ensues. The giant frat guys are stumbling backward, eyes streaming, faces violently red as they scream and fall to their knees. One gags, then starts throwing up in the dirt. The overwhelming burn of pepper on the air is so strong that Bilbo can taste it, and his own nose starts to run as he blinks through a wave of sudden nausea, staggering away from the group until the backs of his knees hit Thorin, who is still on the ground. “Come on, come now, we need to leave now,” he sputters, reaching down and hauling Thorin up with adrenaline-fueled strength, his hands burning where they touch solid, flickering muscle. Thorin must have hit his head quite badly because he is dizzy and uncoordinated as he stands, leaning into Bilbo with too much weight as they stumble out onto the sidewalk, his body hot and heavy and suffocating. Bilbo can smell his deodorant, his sweat, his hair product, which is faintly sweet and smokey like tobacco. Bilbo grits his teeth, figuring that this situation counts as extenuating circumstances that allow for or even necessitate him to touch Thorin, fingers spread side on his ribcage as he works to steady him. So this is fine. This is totally fine. He’s allowed to, he decides. “We need to get back to the house, can you walk?” he urges, gaze flashing over Thorin’s bruised face, the blood shining on his straight, bared teeth. Even in the runny, diluted midnight blue of city-night, his eyes are so sapphire, his hair so black. Bilbo feels the air catch in his throat and thinks, fuck.

I can walk,” Thorin promises, even as he sways, shaking his head, blood dripping to the streetlight-flooded pavement from his mouth as his hair shifts like a curtain to shadow his eyes. “And they won’t follow us,” he adds, spitting defiantly, shaking his head. “They’re cowards.”

A million questions course through Bilbo, rushing in like high tide, so powerful that they choke him silent. He steers Thorin up the street with his hands on his shoulders, his eyes still burning and throat thick with things unsaid, with shock, with pepper. He coughs, his throat feeling quite raw, bruised hands trembling with the endorphin high. “I’ve never been in a fight before,” he admits as they reach the house, sidestepping clumsily up the stairs together.

Thorin laughs, tilting his head back to gaze up at the moonlit dark. Bilbo traces the valleys and mountains of his profile with his eyes. “I have. But you still—you held your own. Not sure what would have happened if you hadn’t shown up.”

It’s possibly the nicest thing Thorin has ever said to Bilbo, and it hits him right in the chest. Before he even realizes what’s coming, a laugh bubbles up past his lips as he knocks on the door, wincing when his raw knuckles hit the wood. Thorin laughs alongside him, breath hot against his neck, and he cannot—he can’t believe any of this is happening. That he engaged in fisticuffs with some random jocks on frat row. That he has his arm tight around Thorin’s strong back. That the sky has not fallen around him, shards of starry darkness laying at his feet like dirty snow. “No one’s home,” Thorin mumbles, nudging his nose into Bilbo’s hair, breath coming in short, painful gasps. “They’re all at a show in the city...I was supposed to go but didn’t. I should have, clearly.”

“I have my key,” Bilbo tells him, fumbling for it, breath catching as his fingers bump against the canister of pepper spray again. “Oh, my god. I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I did that,” he gasps as he unlocks and throws open the door.

“What, maced the football team?” Thorin jokes, hobbling inside and immediately disentangling his arm from Bilbo’s jacket before collapsing on the couch. “Me either. I’m afraid I severely underestimated you.”

His gaze flicks up to Bilbo as he lies there with his teeth grit and blood on his face, bright and sincere. His eyes are rich with feeling, and if Bilbo thought the blue of them was pretty before, he’s bowled over by it now, struck in the chest with how different it is when there’s warmth in the low, hot flame lighting them. “Thank you,” Thorin says then, and there’s not a single ounce of anything save for gratitude in it.

“You’re hurt,” Bilbo blurts, so that he has something to say that isn’t fuck. “I—let me get you some ice. A bandage. I can clean it,” he sputters, bustling off to the downstairs bathroom where Oin decided to keep a first aid kit after the kitchen-knife incident. “Just stay there.”

“Little Burglar,” Thorin mumbles, settling back onto the couch with a sigh. “Knows where we keep all the valuables.”

“Just the wound cleaner and pain killers,” Bilbo tells him as he returns with the red plastic pouch in hand, heart still pounding. Everything feels so maddeningly surreal, it’s almost as if he’s floating, as if he’s in a dream, as if he could do anything right now without consequence. So then, as he sinks to his knees beside the couch, he asks the question that has been haunting him ever since he first heard the single barbed word hurtle through the night like a bullet and thought it was meant for him. “How did—how do you know those guys? Why did they call you…,” he trails off, busying himself with ripping open a small alcohol pad, eyes downcast. “It seemed like there was history.”

“Oh,” Thorin murmurs, closing his eyes. “That’s because there is.” He’s quiet, then, humming softly in the back of his throat as Bilbo tentatively dabs at the blood on his face. He cleans up the dark, drying crust of it outside the wound before he dips closer to the abrasion, letting himself really look at Thorin closely for the first time in the whole of his life. He’s noticing so many things he never has before, now that he’s up close: the metal beads capping off the two braids in his hair, hidden in the thick mess of loose, wild black curls. The lines framing his mouth, under his neatly trimmed beard. The shape of his lips peaked and lovely. The strands of gray at his temples. Bilbo realizes Thorin is perhaps a few years older than he first assumed. Or else, he has been through enough to age him.

“This will sting, I’m sorry,” he whispers as he swipes the pad over the bruising and broken skin from the point of impact at Thorin’s brow and then, lower, over his mouth. He knows it’s a bold, risky, presumptuous thing to do, but so is throwing sucker-punches at absolute strangers, and he did that already. He feels wild, like the courageous version of himself he imagines might exist if he were a character in one of his books and not just a man in a dark store, reading. Thorin’s eyes flicker open the second Bilbo touches his swollen lip. “Ah, sorry,” Bilbo says again, wincing.

“It’s fine,” Thorin whispers, looking away, gaze crawling over Bilbo’s hand, his bruised knuckles. “You’re hurt, too.”

“No, not badly,” he says, pulling back, crumpling the bloody alcohol pad up into his fist. “Stay there. I’ll get an icepack and some water so you can take a paracetamol.”

He takes a few breaths in the kitchen as he gets a bag of frozen peas from the freezer, shaking his head, willing his hands to stop shaking. He washes them in cold water, followed by his fever-hot face. As he fills a cup of water for Thorin, he stares at his distorted reflection in the window above the sink, studying his dripping hair, his wide eyes. He looks exactly the same as he did this morning, and it seems strange, somehow, that this experience has not changed his appearance indelibly. Oddly, he wants it to have changed him. He wants there to be proof that he did something so reckless, he wants there to be proof that Thorin let him clean the blood from his broken lip. Bilbo untucks his polo shirt from his chinos and uses it to dry his face, then he inhales long and shaky and returns to the living room.

Thorin has not moved. He takes the offered bag of peas and holds it to his face, cringing at the cold, at the sting, or both. “We call it ibuprofen here,” he says then, sitting up a bit so that he can swallow safely. “The para—whatever you called it.” He swallows two and downs the rest of the water, finishing with a gasp like he has just surfaced from the sea.

“Hmmmm, well, I’ll remember that. Lest I get severely underestimated again,” Bilbo jokes nervously, shrugging.

Thorin hands him back the glass, settles into the torn, mismatched couch cushions with a sigh. “I’m sorry,” he says again, self-deprecation darkening his voice. “You’re not—I was being unfair. I’ve been unfair this whole time. I’m no fucking better than Smaug, making assumptions about—”

“Oh, stop,” Bilbo scolds, watching blood well up again from the wound on Thorin’s forehead. His brow bone is swollen and shiny and puffy, dark contusions already forming around the narrow but deep gash. Smaug must have been wearing a class ring or something, to have been able to cut the skin like that. It will need to be bandaged, Bilbo decides, and so he takes a deep breath and unwraps a cotton pad. “I don’t know what that fight was about, and I don’t know you terribly well either, but I’m sure you’re not like him. You’ve not—you wouldn’t call someone what he called you,” he explains, feeling himself flush again as he flattens his mouth out into a straight line. “Now hold still, I have to apply pressure to this,” he announces, pressing his thumb into the cotton as gently as he can while still working to stop the bleeding.

Ah, shit,” Thorin grits out through his teeth. He lets Bilbo touch him, though, even as his face twists into a grimace. It fades eventually, though the tension between their bodies does not. Thorin is quiet for a long time, staring at the ground with an impassive resolution, as if he is gearing up to confess a massive secret. And then something terrible occurs to Bilbo: maybe Thorin would call someone a faggot. Maybe Thorin is secretly homophobic, and that’s why he’s been such an asshole to Bilbo this whole time. Why he can’t look him in the eye, why he won’t stand close to him, why he leaves rooms the second Bilbo shows up. Bilbo considered it a few times right when he moved in but eventually dismissed the notion because no one else in the house stood for that sort of thing, and they all spoke so highly of Thorin that it seemed unlikely, but now he’s not so sure. His heart, which was just beginning to slow, starts thudding again, blood roaring deafeningly in his ears and scalp prickling as braces himself for the worst.

“Last fall,” Thorin starts eventually, voice very low and guarded. “I hooked up with a guy on the football team. Not Smaug, one of his friends. It was casual, and I didn’t think it was a big deal, but he ended up freaking out.”

It is like getting hit very suddenly with a bucket full of ice water. Bilbo’s ears ring. He hears the words, he registers their meaning, but all he can do is kneel there, gasping, completely incapable of masking his shock. “You—what?”

“He got really paranoid. Thought I would blackmail him, that he’d somehow lose his sports scholarship. Crazy shit. He ended up lying to all his football buddies and telling them that I came onto him, that I forced him. I didn’t,” he says then, gaze cutting up to Bilbo for the first time since he started talking, the hardness of it positively gutting him, like a sharp blue blade. “But, of course, they didn’t believe me. Because they’re assholes. Anyway, he ended up transferring somewhere else and then dropping out, and all of his stupid fucking football friends blame me for it. I try to avoid them, but we live on Frat Row, so.”

Finally, Bilbo realizes what Thorin is actually saying. He drops his hands immediately, unable to touch him because—he just can’t. It was different, when Thorin seemed straight and unattainable and remote, like a distant star pinned into the vast black of night. But now—he’s a man, bleeding on the couch, flesh and blood under Bilbo’s longing fingers. He’s a man who, apparently, has hooked up with other men. “You and him,” he says stupidly. “You. Oh. Oh.”

Thorin studies him, raising his brows into a lopsided arch. “You seem surprised.”

“I just,” Bilbo starts, but then it dissolves into a frantic, nervous laugh because, yes, he is surprised. He’s fucking floored. This is worlds away from what he steeled himself for, so he’s exposed, stumbling, raw. But then he realizes what it looks like: that the second the truth came out, he stopped touching Thorin, reeling back as if his skin stung, and he knows all too well what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that sort of reaction, so he forces himself to reach out, pressing the cotton back into Thorin’s wound. He watches the bead of blood soak through and stain it red, trying his hardest to steady his breathing. “I suppose I didn’t expect so much drama and intrigue. Like, I assumed it was just some absurd, silly, jock versus metalhead turf war, but then you tell me there’s blackmail and secret affairs. It’s like an EastEnders episode. Forgive me for not keeping up,” he murmurs.

Their eyes meet again, then, and Thorin’s gaze softens. Time stops for a moment, and Bilbo’s stomach plummets so hard that he sways in place, tottering dizzily.

“There’s no turf war, just assholes. Maybe we’re not as dumb and petty as you think,” Thorin says. His voice is quiet, but it still shatters whatever was pulling taut and electric between them, and Bilbo is relieved he can move again, breathe again. He peels the cotton pad away to check Thorin’s wound, and it doesn’t immediately start bleeding, so he decides it’s ready to be bandaged. He sits back on his heels, digging around in the first aid kit for a properly sized plaster.

“I don’t think you’re dumb,” Bilbo offers then. “I actually—I’m quite fond of the house. As subcultures go, this one is a lot less aggressive and hypermasculine than I expected, given the way you dress, the way the bands sound…so I guess we both made unfounded assumptions about the other,” he explains, peeling the backing off the adhesive before lining it up with the wound. “Don’t move.” He has to push Thorin’s hair out of the way with his thumb delicately in order to stick the plaster in place, and Thorin’s breath catches as he does it. “I still hate the music, though,” he jokes, just to lighten the moment, which feels funeral-heavy for some reason. Possibly because before this, they were two enemies forging a tentative alliance against a common enemy, but now, he’s a gay man very carefully tending to another gay—or at least not straight—man’s wounds. A man he is viscerally, achingly attracted to. And that, really, changes everything.

Luckily, Thorin smiles. “You just haven’t listened to the right stuff. There are so many different kinds of metal, there’s something for everyone.”

“Apparently not for me,” Bilbo declares as he sits back, hands falling to his sides now that the plaster is smoothed down. “Trust me, Bofur has tried so many different angles, and I still don’t get it.”

“Bofur isn’t a good teacher, he doesn’t listen to anything contemporary,” Thorin sniffs, waving a hand dismissively through the air. Bilbo notices his knuckles are all raw and bleeding, with tiny bits of gravel embedded in the skin, and without even thinking he grabs his wrist.

“Fuck, let me clean this, too. They really did a number on you,” he murmurs, ripping open another alcohol packet.

Thorin doesn’t say anything for a while, he just watches Bilbo, an expression so unreadable that it makes Bilbo squirm a bit, which in turn, makes him very tired. Finally, exhaustion is beginning to sink in as the last remnants of his endorphins fade: a tightness in his calves and hamstrings from sprinting up the hill to join the fight, the impact pain in his wrist and hands from throwing inexpert punches, a pitiful ache in his left arm from hauling Thorin around through pure adrenaline.

He lets out a long breath and swipes the alcohol pad over each of Thorin’s scrubbed-raw knuckles, trying to ignore the rapid thud of his pulse as it thrums under his fingers. There’s nothing safe to focus on, though. Not the chipped black polish, or the silver rings, all of which seem different now that he knows what he knows. He feels stupid for missing it all. No one else in the house paints their nails. “You know, I don’t actually hate Simon & Garfunkel,” Thorin says softly, breaking the silence so suddenly that Bilbo’s heart races. “I was just being a jerk because I didn’t trust you, but…“The Sound of Silence” is a beautiful song.”

Bilbo’s mouth twitches, and he schools a smile into submission because he fears it will be a telling thing if he frees it. “It is a beautiful song,” he concedes. “Glad someone here in the House of Durin has some taste.”

Another heavy silence stretches between them for a few seconds until Thorin adds, “Azog the Defiler is my main project, but I have a dark acoustic thing on the side you might like.” He flexes his fingers once Bilbo lets him go. “It’s sort of like..Nick Cave meets Chris Issak.”

“Fancy that, I enjoy them both,” Bilbo says awkwardly as he packs up the first aid kit. “You’re all done.”

“You should come by my room sometime,” Thorin says then, gaze averted, eyes cast down between his splayed knees as he sits upright before steadying himself enough to stand. “I could play for you.”

“Okay, I, erm...I will. Sometime,” Bilbo sputters, scrambling up so that he does not remain on his knees beside the couch while Thorin towers over him, blocking out all the light like an eclipse. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Thorin murmurs, laying one hand on Bilbo’s shoulder and squeezing it. “For coming to my rescue.”

“Ah, yes. For defending your honor,” Bilbo adds with a twitchy, terrified smile, skin prickling under the weight of Thorin’s lingering hand. And he thinks this is the end of it, that Thorin’s touch will slide away so he can hurry off to his room and catch his breath. Somehow process the absolute madness of this evening alone, where he won’t be distracted by all the places Thorin is skinned and torn and blood-speckled, but again, he is wrong. Because Thorin does not let him go. Instead, he pulls him close and hugs him.

It doesn’t feel like a hug so much as it feels like being held, really. Enfolded into the warmest, firmest, best-smelling solidity in the entire universe. Bilbo’s face is crushed into Thorin’s hair, chin hooked over his shoulder, and all he can do is inhale desperate lungfuls and blink at the wall disbelievingly, his fingers tightening into Thorin’s skin-warm t-shirt, those vast arms curled tight and certain around his back.

“I’m sorry I doubted you,” Thorin mumbles when he finally lets go, and Bilbo stumbles as if his strings have been cut. The world is unsteady, like a ship on a storm-sick sea without Thorin holding him, without Thorin’s hair in his own slack, stunned mouth. He’s not sure he’ll ever feel stable again after this.

“It’s...it’s really quite alright, I...I mean, it makes more sense now, honestly, how you treated me now that I know a bit of your history. I might be wary of outsiders, too, after something so horrible happened to me.”

Thorin shrugs and looks down. “Good night, Burglar,” he murmurs, before he turns to head up the stairs.

Bilbo does not move from where he is cemented to the carpet until he hears Thorin’s door shut, and then he collapses onto the couch, trembling. He rubs his cheek into one of the throw pillows, trying to catch the smell of Thorin’s hair on it like a ghost, heart pounding in his chest with so much force that he feels like his body is rocking in time with the desperate rhythm. And although there is no one there to see him, he hides his smile in the upholstery anyway because it feels like a private thing, a secret thing. The smallest of flames hidden between raw palms, acrid with rubbing alcohol.

Chapter Text

After that fateful night, Thorin and Bilbo manage to forge a fragile, tentative friendship. Or at least it feels that way to Bilbo, only more of a shoddily built house of cards, capable of being brought down by a single too-heavy sigh. He’s always worrying that he will do something wrong and shatter it to pieces, that Thorin is only humoring him, and it is just a matter of time before he realizes that the whole pepper spray incident was an out-of-character fluke and reverts to treating Bilbo with barely concealed disdain. He braces himself for the inevitable end of things, but the summer stretches stubbornly on, and nothing terrible happens. Thorin continues to include him as a member of the house. As one of his own.

Bilbo has yet to work up the nerve to actually come by Thorin’s room to listen to music as instructed, but they have begun to hang out alone together, usually on the rusted, rickety fire escape outside Bilbo’s window after dinner. Thorin will quietly smoke his clove cigarettes while they share a handle of Fireball whiskey, even though Bilbo can barely choke it down without a chaser and often ends up sputtering, eyes bleary with a sheen of tears. They don’t always talk, but sometimes they do. The words will stumble out between the pale spicy smoke and the burn of cinnamon and turpentine, usually in the form of Thorin posing questions and Bilbo answering them in too many words because he goes on and on when he’s out of sorts, and, of course, Thorin makes him terribly nervous.

Thorin is shockingly polite, as far as conversationalists go. He’ll ask Bilbo about his past, his home, his studies, his interests. Sometimes it’s a vague thing like, tell me about London, and Bilbo won’t know when to stop, so he fills the night with memories, walks in Hyde Park, long tube rides to concerts or the airport, the time he got stuck in the rain walking home from his flat and ended up getting drunk in King’s Cross with strangers while they waited for the storm to clear. Thorin always stays stony and silent during these tales, staring out onto the rooftops, gaze fixed somewhere distant in the night, and at first Bilbo wrongly assumes this means he’s not listening because he doesn't nod or offer any sort of response save for a muted, occasional hum while he blows plumes of smoke into the darkness. But then, as Bilbo loses momentum and his sentences fade into nothingness, Thorin will eventually clear his throat and ask a relevant follow-up question, and Bilbo learns that he must be paying attention, even if it doesn’t seem that way.

Bilbo is a pitiful person, apparently, and never wants their time together to end, so he forces himself to go on, to murmur endlessly about the smell of Brighton in the spring, the feel of a pebble beach under bare feet, his favorite pubs to visit in Yorkshire when he takes the train up to see his family for the holidays. He wonders if Thorin thinks it’s all stupid, mindless conversation, or if he can picture the lush green countryside and the dirty gray cold of the Thames, if wishes he could visit and see it all for himself. In fact, Bilbo has no idea what Thorin thinks of anything he shares, really. He’s very stoic and very quiet, but he keeps asking questions, and so Bilbo keeps answering. Sometimes, they remain here side by side until well after midnight, and Bilbo can hardly keep his eyes open as he tightens his jacket around his body, wishing he could sit closer to Thorin to leech his body heat, to study the line of his profile in the glow of the moon.

Oddly, their conversation dynamic is not reciprocal. Bilbo has tried to return the favor a few times and ask about Thorin’s past or where he grew up or even fairly innocuous things like this favorite book, but Thorin always shrugs it off or responds in short, clipped answers until he can divert the conversation away from himself. It almost feels as if he has something to hide, or maybe he’s just incredibly private. Bilbo is nothing if not polite, so he senses the discomfort and backs off accordingly, even though he harbors an aching curiosity. He wants to know Thorin, not just sit with him in the night and cough down his whiskey. He wants a full picture of him. A painting. But alas, he is not the prying sort, so whenever they spend time together and one of his gentle inquiries falls short, he decides to let it go.

Bilbo does not gain any more insight into who Thorin is until he finally visits his room somewhat unexpectedly after a full week of anxiously failing to take him up on his invitation. It’s 10 pm on Sunday, and Thorin hasn’t come by with the envelope of grocery money as he usually does, and Bilbo does the shopping after his Monday shift, so naturally, he’s getting restless. He considers texting Thorin, but there’s a small part of him that has been looking for a less than social reason to knock on his door, a part that has him throwing on a pair of sweats over his boxers and heading out on an adventure.

The house is a twisting, mysterious thing. It’s a gutted and remodeled Victorian, so the floorplan is hodgepodge and nonsensical, he makes at least two wrong turns in the winding carpeted halls before he finds Thorin’s door, which he only knows is Thorin’s because there’s a huge Azog the Defiler tour poster tacked on the outside of it. He stands there for a minute, trying to catch his breath, flexing his fingers awkwardly in the air before he forces himself to make a fist and knock resolutely. Maybe Thorin isn’t even here, he thinks, willing his heart to quit pounding over something so absurd as visiting a housemate. Maybe you’re being ridiculous for nothing.

But then he hears shifting inside before the door swings open on its hinges. “A Burglar,” Thorin says, his voice unreadably flat so that Bilbo cannot tell if he’s enthused or irritated at seeing him. If anything, he sounds faintly amused. “Hello.”

“Hi,” Bilbo blurts, clasping his hands behind his back before rolling onto the balls of his feet, trying to look nonchalant but failing and instead looking terrifically stilted as always because Bilbo has never done anything without affect in his whole entire life. He grinds his teeth and makes himself speak. “I’m terribly sorry to be a bother, but I’m just wondering if you, perhaps, have collected the grocery money this week so that I could shop tomorrow? If not, no worries, I’m sure I could track everyone down and—”

“Shit,” Thorin says, interrupting. It is in this moment that Bilbo notices how stretched out the neck of his shirt is, some faded cotton band tee with the collar cut away. His gaze is pulled immediately and stubbornly to Thorin’s pale collarbones, and there it remains as Thorin asks, “Is it really Sunday?”

His breath is whiskey hot, and it makes Bilbo dizzy to inhale. “I’m afraid it is.”

Thorin sighs, turning on his heel to retreat into his surprisingly neat room, which Bilbo scans quickly from where he remains stiff-legged in the doorway, peering inside because he simply can’t help himself. “I lost track of the week,” Thorin says, rummaging around in the numerous pockets of the leather jacket hanging from his desk chair. “You can use my card this time. I’ll have everyone pay me back.”

“Not necessary! I really can just text the house and go about it myself. It’s not a problem.”

“Bilbo,” Thorin sighs then, turning to face him, eyes flickering in the smoky darkness of his room. “You can come in. Stop standing there on the threshold. Please.”

Caught, Bilbo sidesteps through the door obediently, pulse speeding. It’s a nice room, he notes. Bigger than his own and certainly more lived in, less orderly, but a far cry from the absolute tornado wreck that Bofur calls a room, for example. There are posters all over the walls, ‘80s horror movies like The Thing and Return of the Living Dead, a bunch of bands that Bilbo has never heard of and some he has. He also notices Tom of Finland art between the posters and inhales sharply, blood quickening, cheeks suddenly hot. He never really forgets what Thorin told him that night, but he doubts his comprehension, sometimes, convinces himself it was a story he made up and interpreted not objectively but through the lens of his own feelings. But here, clear as day, is evidence that Thorin really is gay. Not just the Tom of Finland stuff but pinups of beefcake metal guys in leather, well-muscled and shiny in their aviators and chained biker caps. Bilbo takes them in but doesn’t let his gaze linger, not wanting to give away how stricken he feels. As he sucks in nervous breaths, he also realizes that it smells much better here in Thorin’s room than anywhere else in the house, and that at least is something he can comment on. “Were you burning incense?” he asks, crossing his arms and staring at the floor as Thorin continues to look for his card.

“Holy wood…Palo Santo,” he says, finally locating and unsnapping his leather wallet and rifling through it. “It clears negative energy.”

“Oh, negative energy, I see,” Bilbo says, otherwise at a loss. Thorin is always surprising him, catching him off guard just when he begins to think he’s learned the pattern of his waves and can weather them without drowning. He’ll stay afloat and grow complacent there, treading water, but then Thorin’s riptide will take hold of Bilbo’s ankles and send him spinning again, clawing for purchase in the tide while the sea buffets him from all angles as he wonders, always, if this is it. If he will ever surface again. “I can’t say you have much of that in your room, if I’m honest...negative energy, I mean. It’s, erm. It’s nice in here. Shockingly tidy.”

Thorin looks up, smiling in that crooked way of his. “Shockingly?” he jokes. Thorin doesn't smile often, which means that when he does it feels impossibly precious, shining like gold ribbons run through raw stone. Bilbo cannot witness these rare gifts dead on without cracking along a seam, so his own expression falters, eyes sweeping the room nervously before they fall upon Thorin’s bed, which he was perhaps subconsciously avoiding before, for reasons he doesn’t care to press on at this moment. However, all thoughts end up getting pushed to the wayside save for one: “You! You don’t have a mattress!” he blurts, gaze fixed on the nest of blankets and pillows in the corner of the room, dark and warm-looking but decidedly not a real bed. “You said you had an extra!”

Thorin shrugs, sitting down at his desk and holding out his debit card to Bilbo. “I sort of do. I have a thicker mattress topper than you do, it’s, like, three inches of memory foam. It’s fine. Sleeping on the hard floor is good for my back.”

“Oh, my god,” Bilbo groans, totally aghast that Thorin has been decidedly bedless for a month while he enjoyed his mattress upstairs, none the wiser. “I’m the absolute worst, I didn’t—I didn’t want you to give me your mattress if you didn’t have a spare, why did you do that?!”

Thorin’s eyes darken defensively. “Because! I’m used to roughing it and sleeping in vans or in crowded motel rooms after gigs on tour, and you aren’t. You, like—you were small and used to dorms and—I don’t know. Comfortable things.”

“You didn’t even know me yet!” Bilbo snaps, putting his hands on his waist defiantly. “And I’m not that small.”

Thorin rolls his eyes. “Well, I could tell you wouldn’t be happy on the floor.”

Bilbo is reduced to making an undignified, wordless sound of indignation. He can’t decide if Thorin is terribly endearing or terribly patronizing, he just knows he wants to kiss him at the same time he wants to kick him in the shins. “I am going to buy you a fucking air mattress,” he finally spits out, pointing to the dismal corner of blankets. “That is not a bed.”

“Please don’t,” Thorin says, cocking his head and flattening his lips. “It’ll fuck up my back. The topper is honestly fine. I might eventually get a futon mattress for when the house gets cold in the winter, but for now—it’s just, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

But Bilbo does worry about it, so the next day, instead of going to Berkeley Bowl for groceries, he goes all the way to Emeryville, to Ikea, for a fucking mattress alternative. He manages to find one for under a hundred dollars that actually fits in Bofur’s shitty car, and he’s feeling quite pleased with himself when he returns to the House of Durin.

He enlists Fili and Nori to help him lug it upstairs, and then he props it up outside Thorin’s door with a note: I had an extra— B. But before he even has time to sneak up to his room again, Thorin hears him outside and sticks his head around the jamb to regard him with narrowed eyes. “Did you charge that to my card?” he asks, studying the mattress with an impassive expression on his face. Bilbo blushes. He didn’t, actually, because he considered the possibility that Thorin might make him return it if he did, but he was likely too polite to refuse a gift. “No, actually,” he says brushing his hands on his chinos before crossing his arms. “I used my own paycheck.”

Thorin’s face falls. “Bilbo,” he says. “I told you—”

“And I didn't listen! Because yes, you’re right, I like comfortable things, and the thought of you sleeping on the floor makes me sad. You’re my friend now, so I’m afraid you’re doomed to be subjected to my irritating mother-hen streak. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Thorin sighs, stepping back inside his room and holding the door open, gesturing for Bilbo to follow him. “You’re—it’s fine. Come in, have a beer.”

Bilbo should really be showering the work day off before he heads downstairs to cook dinner, but Thorin’s room is remarkably and magnetically inviting, so he shuffles past the threshold in spite of himself. Then he decides to drop into an awkward cross-legged seat on the floor since there’s no mattress to perch upon and watches as Thorin opens up his minifridge and grabs two cans of Rolling Rock, looking softer and more sleep-rumpled than Bilbo has ever seen him look before. He’s wearing black sweats and an oversized hoodie with an unintelligible band name on it, and his hair is up in a very messy half-bun, frizzy and untamed. Bilbo wonders if he was napping before he arrived, then he wonders why the thought makes his stomach swoop so spectacularly.

The truth is, he’s rather exhausted by the endless mess of emotions that plague him where Thorin Oakenshield is concerned. He can never quite predict what will make him hot-faced or dizzy or aching, so he’s given up trying. The whole thing seems hopeless, really, because even though they’re both gay, they exist in such wildly different universes that Bilbo’s certain someone like him would never appeal to someone like Thorin, someone who clearly likes football players and the big, masculine military type displayed in spades on his walls. And even if by some wild happenstance he was wrong about that, Bilbo doesn’t think it would change how massively unattainable and remote Thorin seems to him. He is a man like any man, perhaps, but not the sort of man Bilbo has dated or fucked or flirted with before. He seems carved from stone, somehow, broad and kingly and statuesque. A far cry from the soft, intellectual uni boys Bilbo pulls back home because he knows exactly what they want because they’re just like him. Thorin is ineffable, so Bilbo remains mired in fruitless longing, gazing up with the inside of his cheek trapped between teeth. Thorin eventually joins him on the floor and offers him his beer. “Here,” he says, clinking the cans together. “Cheers to my new bed.”

“It had good ratings,” Bilbo promises, taking a sip and wrinkling his nose because cheap American beer is really just—not beer at all, it’s a terrible, horse-pissy instant headache. He’s just not good at saying no to Thorin, apparently. “And I made sure it was firm, for your back.”

Thorin just looks at him, face soft even if it’s unsmiling, thumb making an indent in the condensation-damp siding of his can as he rubs up and down it thoughtfully. “I didn’t—I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, I’m not. I’m just shit at accepting things, sometimes. That’s my bad,” he explains. “I’ll pay you back,” he adds then, the blue of his eyes flickering. “I promise you.”

“It’s a gift! You don’t need to,” Bilbo tells him.

“I do,” Thorin says then, gaze dropping. “I have money. More than I know what to do with, actually, and I’m working on being less anxious about spending it,” he says then. “So this—you—helped. Thank you.”

Bilbo doesn’t know what to say to that. “You don’t live like you have money,” he says eventually, peering down at his cheap beer, thinking of the cinderblock-and-milk-carton furniture down in the living room. “I had no idea.”

Thorin nods. “I didn’t have any money for most of my life. My dad was an addict, and my grandfather raised me and my sister, mostly. We lived paycheck to paycheck, and I never—you don’t really forget what that’s like or have it stop affecting you. Going to food banks and getting the electricity shut off because you can’t pay bills, that sticks. So now that I have money, I don’t know how to use it. I’m afraid to use it,” he corrects, gaze flashing up bright and pale, and, oh—Bilbo realizes with a sudden tightening in his throat that Thorin is finally, fucking finally, talking to him. Telling him things about his life, his history, his fears. The realization makes his skin prickle, and he chugs a couple of too-fizzy mouthfuls of beer down so that he isn’t so still and staring.

“I’m sorry,” Bilbo says automatically, cringing as it comes out. “Not just about your childhood but about—I know what it’s like to be afraid of things. Afraid to live freely in fear of some unnamed cosmic retribution,” he finishes, and, fuck, it still comes out awful, frayed and patronizing and not at all what he means, but Thorin smiles anyway, tilting his head so a few chunks of messy black hair come undone from the elastic and fall around his face.

“Do you?” he asks.

“I mean, yes, I think so. I avoid conflict at all costs and stick to what I know is safe even though I long for some grand sense of adventure. Have I told you that I almost didn’t even study abroad in the states? I had all the paperwork filled out and a plane ticket and everything, but I nearly missed the flight because I was just...so anxious to do something new and far away and alone that I could barely make myself get out of bed when the day came. I also cancel plans literally all the time with friends, even though I always want to go out in theory. I don’t really know what it is, underneath it all, but I absolutely use expense as an excuse. Like, I struggle to justify spending money on things I only half-want to do,” he admits. “I didn’t have loads of money growing up, but my family was fairly comfortable, and still, I feel this never-ending worry about spending recklessly on something I might not even be able to follow through on enjoying. So. It’s not comparable at all to what you’ve gone through, I’m not...claiming that. I just, erm. I understand in theory, at least. The fear. ” It sounds positively ridiculous, and he's worried he's been insensitive, but Thorin just ducks his head, failing to hide an uneven smile.

“Well, I, for one, am very glad you did come to Berkeley,” he says then, looking up through his lashes, which sends Bilbo reeling again. “And that you chose to live here. Even though I was not so welcoming, at first.

“You were—it doesn’t matter now, we’re friends,” Bilbo breezes, throwing back more of his beer, hoping desperately that the buzz will hit him soon, so that he can stop being hyperaware of every single little thing, every imperfect word. “Speaking of which, I was promised a musical education, if you recall. Might you come to the kitchen and play me samples while I cook?” he asks, stomach twisting up with nerves at the mere act of directly asking for Thorin’s time.

Luckily, Thorin nods. “I’ll bring my computer. You can tell me what to chop.”

And so they drag the mattress into Thorin’s room, shut the door, and head downstairs together, Bilbo’s heart in his throat.

—-

Though Bilbo is reluctant to admit it, Thorin does make a better teacher than Bofur. For one, he doesn’t use jargon to describe the different metal styles, which is helpful. Bofur was always calling things crunchy or sludgy or doomy or black, and it never made any sense to a layperson like Bilbo, but Thorin at least tries to operationalize the differences between the subgenres. He says things like, this band is really clean and produced, they don’t have that recorded in a garage sound, or, this band basically sounds like Aerosmith with heavier guitar…in the ‘80s, the lines between hard rock and metal were blurred. Bilbo learns, much to his horror, that some metal is actually good or at least accessible, melodic. In fact, much of it is hardly less polished than the Bowie demos he loves from his special edition version of his copy of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It also boasts the same theatricality, the camp he craves from music. He finds himself nodding along to most of the songs Thorin plays, astounded by how inoffensive it all is.

Faith No More comes up on the rotation, and Bilbo makes a face as he takes the first sip of his second beer, glad it goes down a little easier even though it tastes just as awful. His long-awaited buzz is finally beginning to warm his cheeks. “I recognize this band,” he says, gesturing with the knife he's using to mince garlic for the stir-fry. “Bofur told me tons about them, but I forgot it all. I don’t hate them, but I don’t like them either.”

“Did Bofur tell you that one of the guitarists is gay and writes most of their songs?” Thorin counters back.

Bilbo chokes on his beer. “What?” he finally sputters once he recovers from a mortifying coughing fit into the sink. “No, he most definitely did not tell me that.”

Thorin smiles a very small smile and goes back to peeling carrots. “Well, that’s a damn shame. His name is Roddy Bottum, and one of their best songs is about sucking dick. And swallowing.

“Roddy Bottum!” Bilbo yells, so stunned and delighted by this fact alone that it gives him a few seconds to process and buffer accordingly the fact that he just heard Thorin casually say the words sucking dick and swallowing like something from one of his more crass early morning fantasies. “Is that his real name?!”

“Not sure, I think so,” Thorin says, reaching for his computer and pausing the current song so that he can presumably find and play the dick-sucking song. Bilbo starts to sweat at the notion. “See, this is why you needed a different perspective. Bofur doesn't care which bands are gay, but I do. Obviously,” Thorin mumbles as the song starts, turning on his heel and holding out three peeled carrots in his single giant fist. Then he locks eyes with Bilbo across the kitchen like that’s an okay thing to do when grasping phallic vegetables and talking about being gay. Using the word gay, which, up until this point, he hasn't actually said out loud, forcing Bilbo to wonder and question and agonize. “Rob Halford from Judas Priest is arguably the most celebrated man in the whole scene, and he’s a biker butch who writes songs about cruising. He’s been out since the ‘90s, the whole scene still worships him. ”

“Is this…the guy they call Metal God?” Bilbo asks stupidly, trying to wrap his head around this new and baffling information. He has seen literally every single member of the house wear Judas Priest shirts, and it just seems so unlikely that such a revered band would have a gay member. An openly gay member. “Bofur told me about him. But not that part.”

“Mhm,” Thorin hums, sounding smug. “You should never underestimate metal,” he adds after he polishes off the last of his beer, eyes darkening over the rim of the can.

Bilbo has to wrench his own gaze away because the way Thorin’ looking at him flays his body open, splits him down the middle raw and wide, leaves him gaping like a wound. Or maybe it’s not even the way he looks but the fact that he is looking, the crystal blue of his eyes so inescapably intense. Bilbo wonders if he’ll ever get used to it, if there will be some time in his future when he can endure sustained eye contact with Thorin Oakenshield and not crumble to bits. “Thank you,” he says as he starts to dice the peeled carrots, cheeks burning. “For actually providing me with information relevant to my interests. Bofur certainly never bothered with such finesse.”

“Bofur just plays what he likes and expects everyone else to like it,” Thorin says, shrugging. “He doesn’t consider what might be different for men like us.”

Men like us. It hits Bilbo low in his stomach, hot and roiling. To hear Thorin actively, consciously link them together as a unit makes him dizzy, and he has to surreptitiously clutch the counter as he sways.

“What else do you need?” Thorin asks, cracking his knuckles.

“Erm, in the fridge, there are some red peppers...you can get those out and slice them, if you’d like,” Bilbo offers.

Thorin does as he’s told, with so much precision that it takes him twice the time it would take Bilbo. It is clear that he’s had little experience chopping vegetables or cooking at all, but instead of being irritated (like he is when Kili offers to help and ends up massacring everything, dicing potatoes with such vigor and carelessness that every chunk is a decidedly different size), Bilbo is just terribly endeared. He watches Thorin’s hands, noticing the way the skin is pink and shiny on his knuckles, still healing from the fight. “So,” Bilbo starts as he pours some oil into the wok he recently thrifted. “Is it a secret, how you ended up with all this money? If there’s crime involved, mum’s the word.”

Luckily, Thorin shakes his head and scoffs out a laugh instead of getting offended. “No crime, inheritance money. My grandfather was sick, I took care of him until the end, and he left me everything. It wasn't too much, but it was more than we had growing up. He wanted me to go to school,” he shrugs. “And I wanted to honor that, so I enrolled in the community college in Oakland. And then…shortly after that, my dad died, too,” he explains.

Bilbo’s stomach drops a bit in sympathy, his mouth flattening out into a thin line. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Thorin says. “I hadn’t talked to him in years. It was an overdose, and I had pretty much been waiting for that call since I was a kid.”

Without thinking, Bilbo reaches out and lays his hand ever so briefly on Thorin’s arm. It is a primal, reflexive touch, the sort you offer to any grief-stricken human when there’s nothing left to say. It’s not until he sees his own fingers laying on Thorin’s thick, toned forearm that it strikes him they’re touching for the first time since he dabbed alcohol to his wounds, since everything changed. He jerks away as if burnt.

“It’s fine,” Thorin repeats without looking at him. “He left me over $800,000 that no one knew he had.”

Bilbo isn't great with American money, but he knows that’s a lot. More than he can comprehend, really. “Shit,” he says. “Is that how you bought the house?”

Thorin nods. “It was condemned, so it was cheap. I don’t even have to pay a mortgage. The rent you guys pay is really only for taxes and utilities,” he explains. “I try to be fair, but I also have no idea what I’m doing. The rest of it is in the bank, to save. I only pay tuition, and even then, most of it is scholarship and loans.”

“You’re still in school?” Bilbo asks, surprised. He recalls the stacks of textbooks and binders he saw on Thorin’s desk and realizes he assumed they were relics from a bygone era.

Thorin nods. “Grad school. Poli sci. I want—I don’t know, I think about community planning. Resources for people struggling with addiction. The criminal justice system is fucked, maybe my childhood would have been different if it had been better.”

And once again, Bilbo is stunned into silence, proven wrong about Thorin Oakenshield for the one thousandth time. “Wow,” he mumbles, cheeks burning and scalp prickling as he rubs his face into his own shoulder, grateful the oil in the wok is heating up so he has an excuse to turn away from Thorin, grabbing the bowl he’s been adding all the chopped veggies into so that he can dump them into the pan. “You’re full of surprises.”

Thorin hums, then shifts his weight decidedly, setting his knife down on the cutting board. “You don’t think I’m smart enough for grad school, do you.” It is not a question. The accusation in it stings, though, and Bilbo whips around, eyes wide, panicked.

“God! No, not at all. I think...I think you’re brilliant,” he admits, stomach twisting up as the confession leaves his mouth, more raw and sincere than he ever intends to sound in Thorin’s presence. “I just didn’t, I mean, I assumed I was the only student in the house. And perhaps wrongly suspected that you all secretly judged me for just reading about things instead of doing them. And here you are, reading and doing. You’re just…I admire you. And everyone else in the house, that’s all.”

Thorin is still for a few seconds before he nearly smiles, then he turns away, gesturing loosely to the cutting board. “Your peppers,” he says then, ducking his head. A quiet moment stretches between them, nothing but the sound of crackling oil and the thud of Bilbo’s heart filling the kitchen in the silence that follows a song ending. When another starts, Thorin reaches out and turns it up. “Judas Priest, ‘Delivering the Goods,’” he says. “This song is about anal.”

And then, quite suddenly and horribly, as if he is being struck by lightning, Bilbo realizes that he has fallen in love with Thorin Oakenshield.

“Fuck,” he says, stabbing the vegetables perhaps too violently with a wooden spoon.

“Yeah,” Thorin echoes.

And in the background, Rob Halford sings you better watch out and hold on tight, and Bilbo wonders how in the hell he managed to do something so stupid.

Chapter Text

In the midst of a contemplative shower, Bilbo decides the whole “being in love with Thorin” thing is simply not worth panicking over.

This might be because the showers at the House of Durin aren’t particularly good for contemplation as far as showers go, resulting in him arriving at a hasty, premature, and somewhat avoidant place regarding his revelation. They aren’t even real showers, they’re shower heads in a row along a long tile wall, with cubicles separated by nothing but ugly soap-scummy plastic curtains. And thank god for those, at least, since they’re the only things stopping the awful communal prison shower aesthetic. Bilbo is not a fan, he never feels truly clean after he’s bathed in them, so he tries not to linger.

However, desperate times call for desperate measures, and Bilbo has become a desperate man, so. He stands on the grimy tile in his dollar-store flip-flops, letting the shower spray pour over his head, wondering how he could have possibly let this happen. It’s just so unlikely. He doesn’t necessarily have a type that he’s historically pursued, but when he was a teenager first figuring out he was gay, he was obsessed with classically handsome men with warm, approachable smiles, men like Becks and Tom Welling, who he knew from the pirated episodes of Smallville his babysitter would watch with him when he’d refuse to go to bed. That type just sort of stuck. Clean men. Smooth jaws and styled hair and bodies perhaps more toned but no bulkier than his own slight frame.

He used to think his appreciation for rugged, unrefined masculinity was limited to the theoretical, or even that it was born from envy rather than desire. He never imagined actually falling for someone like Thorin. He never imagined his mouth would water at the smell of a man’s sweat without the bite of cologne sweetening it, or that he’d want to listen to metal music just to hear Thorin’s guttural wail between the double guitar lines. He never—he never imagined any of these messy feelings actually crystalizing into something beyond idle fantasy. And perhaps this is why he allowed his hunger to run unchecked, why he unwittingly gave it room to flourish and grow into an untamable rage. Because deep down, it felt safe to want Thorin, for he knew he could never have him.

But now that Bilbo has realized he actually loves him, the impossibility stings. He turns the water up as hot as it can go, the heat of it drumming into him relentlessly so that his pale skin turns pink and then red, stinging beneath the water’s thunder. The cascade silences the rest of the world, reduces his existence to nothing but his own thoughts so that he might drown in them, inhaling steam so thick it chokes in his throat. You love Thorin, he thinks with dismay, rubbing at his temples, spitting water out of his mouth before he takes a deep, rattling breath. And it will never, ever go anywhere.

He repeats this until it stops aching and starts to become comforting instead.

After all, it’s better this way. It could never work between them. He’s going back to England in the fall, and even if he wasn’t, Thorin just—he lives a different life than Bilbo could ever fathom fitting into for longer than one odd, uncomfortable summer. He plays in bands, he exists in a universe of venues and bars and late nights and excitement. Bilbo could never keep up. He loves reading about adventure, but living it is an entirely different business: under all his layers of wistful longing, he does rely on comfort, just like Thorin said. He misses the private, glass-walled shower in his flat. He misses his own bed, how it doesn't squeak and groan as he shifts his weight. He even misses the way Piccadilly Station smells when the fog rolls in and settles over the city, petrol and rubbish and the wet, haunting memory of the sea. He could never give up his life in London, so loving a man here in the states is a futile folly of a thing. It doesn’t even matter if he’s not the sort of boy Thorin would even look twice at, a boy worlds away from the strapping bikers he decorates his walls with. It doesn’t matter because there’s no future here in the East Bay. No future where Bilbo will always be on the outskirts, unable to settle into the familiarly he built for himself back home.

He’s in love, but he can’t do anything with it, so there’s no point in wasting energy agonizing over Thorin Oakenshield. He shuts off the water, stubbornly towels his scrubbed-clean skin dry, then walks alone through the halls to his bedroom, with its window that won’t close, its holes in the drywall, its ever-dusty floor. And as he collapses onto his borrowed mattress, he repeats, you love Thorin, it will never, ever go anywhere, like it is his heartbeat, his breath.

And still, he does not drift to sleep until he imagines strong arms curled tightly around his body, long black curls strewn carelessly over his naked, freckled shoulder, and quiet lips against the nape of his neck. It’s alright, he decides. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, as long as that dreaming doesn’t turn into something foolish, like hope.

—-

Bilbo is sitting atop a pile of Bofur’s dirty laundry, headphones in while he undergoes the Herculean task of cleaning out his long-ignored school email inbox. He’s secretly listening to the playlist Thorin made him, and just as a song entitled “Grinder” comes on, he wrinkles his nose, stunned by how gay the lyrics are. He’s also quite thoroughly stoned, so the words fall out of him in a way that feels both sudden and molasses slow all at once. “Bofur, do you know that, like...the Judas Priest guy is gay?”

Bofur, who is picking out a meandering tune on his guitar while he lies in bed with the bong between his legs, snorts, “Aye, Rob Halford is legendarily gay. Legendary, like, in general.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” he asks.

“Huh? I guess I didn’t think you'd care? I dunno.”

A thought occurs to Bilbo, and he blinks in sudden unease, wondering how terribly he’s misread their dynamic. “You know that I’m gay, right?”

Bofur sighs and rolls over, setting the guitar down next to Bilbo on the floor with a clatter so that his hands are free to mess up his hair, which he does with great enthusiasm. “I didn’t know know, but I figured. But I also just figured it didn’t matter that much, so I didn’t think about it? I don’t know...is that bad? Was I being homophobic?”

Bilbo sputters in laughter. “No! I just...I’m listening to Judas Priest now, and I’ve found it a lot easier to appreciate their music since finding out they’re singing about stuff I can actually relate to, I guess? Thorin made me a playlist,” he adds, stomach twisting up a little as he says it, the thrill of sharing this fact, letting it touch the air outside his room. He leans back, gazes up at Bofur, their bloodshot eyes meeting in hazy focus. “Did you know Thorin’s gay, too?” he asks then, trying to sound nonchalant, even as his heart picks up in his chest. He doesn’t think he’s pushing for intel as he says it, but there is a part of him that might be foolishly hoping Bofur answers in some direct and affirmative way, like, no, I didn’t, if he told you that, he probably wants to bang you! or yeah, I did, and you guys would make a great couple, have you ever considered such a thing? or something similarly absurd. Instead, Bofur makes a face. “Of course! I’ve lived with him for years. I’m not such a shitty friend that I wouldn’t notice he was into dudes.”

Bilbo feels his face fall. “Ah. Does he...has he brought home lots of guys in the time you’ve lived here?” he asks, even though he doesn’t want to know, not really. He and Thorin could never happen, but that doesn’t mean he’d like to hear about all the buff, sexy bikers he’s probably brought home and fucked so loudly that Bofur could hear him through the walls. He’s acting beyond his own will, though, too high to stop himself from seeking information with the sole intention of injuring himself. Maybe it’s best to be reminded of how unattainable Thorin is. Maybe self-destruction is the path to self-preservation. Or maybe he’s just stoned and stupid and sad.

Bofur looks down at him with a very sincere expression on his face. “Bilbo, are you trying to ask if it’s okay if you bring home a guy?”

“Erm,” Bilbo answers, wishing he was thinking clearly enough to come up with a witty save. “Maybe.”

“Of course, it’s fine. No one cares, we aren’t assholes,” Bofur says sympathetically, reaching out and gripping Bilbo’s shoulder, shaking it gently and reassuringly. “Hell, Ori had a boyfriend for a while. And I’ve never fucked a dude, but I consider myself an equal opportunity sort of guy, if you know what I mean,” he adds with wink. Then he reconsiders, holding up a finger. “That was not a proposition, though.”

Bilbo shakes him off, rolling his eyes. “Don’t worry, you’re not my type,” he promises, even though he has no idea what his type is anymore.

It sticks with him all day, the knowledge that Bofur was well aware of both his and Thorin’s sexuality and had apparently still never imagined them together, as a couple or even as friends, it seems. He's so used to straight people assuming any two gay guys should just date or even thinking they already had that it’s unsettling to have an interaction sit so far outside the norm. He wonders why. If it’s because they’re such an unlikely pair, or maybe Bofur knows some relevant bit of information about Thorin’s preferences or history that he’s not privy to. It makes him paranoid, and that paranoia lingers even after his high fades. Does Thorin even like him as a friend? Or does he only hang out with him due to some sense of obligation born from the pepper spray incident? Does he authentically enjoy Bilbo’s company, or does he merely find him distantly entertaining, an amusing glimpse into another lifestyle?

This line of thought does upset Bilbo on some level, but at the same time, it makes him bolder. What’s the harm in loving Thorin, in seeking him out and spending all his time with him, if they’re not even real friends? Is their relationship so very dependent upon convenience and happenstance that they’d never even cross paths if Bilbo weren’t living here? What’s the harm in indulging his compulsive desire if it will all inevitably end in a matter of months?

So Bilbo employs this faulty logic to justify burrowing his way closer and closer to Thorin, even if it might be slowly driving him insane.

Normally, he would avoid the object of his stupid affections. He did a great job of actively running away from his best mate’s older brother for three entire years during his adolescence until said brother moved to Spain for a job. He was spectacular at quitting his footie team as soon as he started having uncomfortable dreams about the junior coach. He has a penchant for this sort of behavior. But nothing has felt quite so terminal as this summer does, so very safe to throw himself into, headlong. He’s already going to get hurt, what’s a little salt in the wound? Bilbo decides he loves salt, so he does not bother talking himself out of adhering to Thorin’s side.

Thorin, miraculously, does not seem to mind.

In fact, he’ll even come find Bilbo to engage in their new routine, wandering upstairs and rapping his knuckles against the door or texting him fireball and chill tonight? while Bilbo is at work in reference to their increasingly frequent evenings together on the fire escape. Bilbo has also taken to hanging out with Thorin in the morning before work, ever since he discovered that he uses the back patio for weightlifting before band practice and doesn’t mind sharing the space. He takes his coffee out there now instead of bothering Balin while he smokes, sitting on the low cement wall and pretending to do something tomato-plant-related, just so he has an excuse to watch Thorin very proficiently pump iron.

As the spun gold of June gives way to the burnt orange of July, Bilbo notes that he is spending nearly the same amount of, if not more, time with Thorin as he is with Bofur. Still, he doesn't feel like Thorin is his second closest friend in the house. He’s still a mystery to Bilbo in so many ways, his shadows and hidden facets concealing much of his interior, no matter how many questions Bilbo asks. Every conversation leaves him simply wanting to know more, wanting to dig in the soil of Thorin’s heart and uncover the buried mess of precious gemstones he knows is in there.

There is something he starts to notice, though, something that troubles him.

Thorin drinks constantly. Even in the morning, well before noon, he’ll have a beer alongside his water bottle while he does his weight training, and then some time after 3 pm or 5, he’ll upgrade to whiskey. This is not terribly out-of-the-ordinary behavior for the house, nearly everyone there at least drinks beer each night after dinner, but Thorin is the only one who drinks consistently, from sunrise past sundown. It doesn’t seem to affect him much, but Bilbo knows that only means it’s a deeply ingrained habit he’s cultivated over a substantial amount of time. Just because he’s never seen Thorin act overtly drunk doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a problem. In fact, it could mean the problem is more serious and insidious in nature.

He considers bringing it up to Thorin, but can’t think of a way to phrase it that’s not inherently condescending. After all, he still doesn’t trust that they’re friends. And it’s rude to express concern about your not-friend’s drinking habits, particularly when you are in love with said not-friend, and it might reveal how carefully you observe their behavior, how deeply you care.

Bilbo has also noticed Thorin reacting defensively when other housemates bring it up, even jokingly. He and Dwalin get into an actual fight about it one afternoon following an it’s five o’ clock somewhere joke, and Bilbo cannot shake the feeling it leaves in his chest, the tight-fisted squeeze of warning. His intuition is generally quite trustworthy regarding such things, and he feels like if Thorin’s drinking habits were not something to worry about, he simply would not worry. Maybe it’s because he knows about Thorin’s father, about how those sorts of diseases can be passed genetically. Or maybe it’s just because he loves him. Regardless, the fear sticks with him, and he eventually decides to bring it up with Balin.

“Can I ask you something?” he brings up one morning, on his way out the front door after leaving Thorin to his reps and his Rolling Rock on the back patio. As soon as the words leave his mouth, Bilbo’s heart leaps up into his throat in anticipation of a storm, braced for truths he perhaps does not want to hear. “It’s about Thorin.”

Balin flattens out his lips before taking a long puff on his cigar. The sweet, brown-smelling smoke swirls out into the morning sunshine, and Bilbo watches it disappear into nothing. “Shoot, laddie,” Balin coughs. “But I imagine asking Thorin himself might give you a clearer answer.”

“I—that’s part of the issue, you see, I don’t feel like I can ask him,” Bilbo explains, leaning against the closed door with his back, so that if anyone tries to interrupt them, he will be the first to know. “I just. A while back, he told me about his father, about how he died, and—maybe it’s not my place, but I can’t help but notice that Thorin might struggle with the same sort of…that he might…,” he trails off, cheeks heating up at the way every word sounds so euphemistic that the meaning gets lost in the spaces in between. Although he found his housemates crass and rude at first, he’s grown to admire the way the members of the House of Durin speak so bluntly, so freely, and whenever his own word choice pales in comparison, it embarrasses him. He wishes he could just spit things out. He wishes he could simply blurt has anyone else noticed that Thorin is possibly an alcoholic?! but alas, the words stick in this throat as if barbed.

Luckily, Balin does the heavy lifting for him. “Aye,” he sighs, crossing his arms and looking out wistfully into the street where a group of frat guys are playing a makeshift game of hockey with a crushed beer can and plastic sticks clearly stolen from the Cal gym. “Thorin has a drinking problem,” he says quite plainly, tapping ash off the butt of his cigar. “It’s been this way before, when things were bad. When the football team was egging the house every night, threatening him,” he sighs again, and Bilbo’s stomach drops because Thorin never told him that part. He knows very few details about what happened before he moved in, and every time he asks, Thorin is tight-lipped and dismissive, so he’s long since given up on doing anything but staying close and quiet so that he might soak up any carelessly dropped hints via osmosis. “He cleaned up his act, though, once they did. I thought it was an incidental coping mechanism, we all did...but this last month it’s gotten worse again. Can’t figure out for the life of me why.”

Bilbo, very suddenly, feels sick. He sinks to the ground, sliding down the door so that he’s sitting against it, in the small square of shade cast by the balcony jutting out over the faded welcome mat from the second story. There, he picks at his shoelace, heart pounding. “There was a fight, a few weeks ago, when you all were at a show,” he says, feeling responsible even though he knows that’s absurd. “I—I assumed everyone knew, because of the bruises. I assumed he told you all what happened, that it was the football team, but—I guess I was wrong. Perhaps that’s why he’s started drinking so much again. “

Balin stands up and walks to Bilbo, patting him on the head as if he’s a dog with his big, heavy hand. “Don’t you go blaming yourself for Thorin’s fights or his silences,” he says firmly before he squats down to make stern eye contact with Bilbo, studying him. “He’s an adult. His choices are his own.”

“Yes,” Bilbo sighs. “But his choices are shit. What can we do to help? Could you talk to him, get through to him? ”

Balin frowns, crossing his arms over his chest so that his leather jacket creaks, zippers glinting in the late morning sun. “I may be old, but I’m not his father. And m’not his grandfather, I’m just a friend, like you are. He wouldn’t listen to me any more than he would listen to you.”

I think he would,” Bilbo mumbles. “I’m not actually certain Thorin sees me as a friend at all.”

Balin’s eyes widen and then narrow conspiratorially, twinkling beneath his bushy white brows. For a terrifying moment, he reminds Bilbo of Professor Gandalf, who he is still quite angry with, he realizes. It’s Gandalf’s fault he’s even in this predicament in the first place, in love with an alcoholic metalhead who might only hang out with him due to some misguided sense of obligation. Balin gently kicks the sole of Bilbo’s left shoe with the toe of his own worn-in leather motorcycle boot, startling him out of his reverie. “What do you mean by that, laddie?”

“By what?” Bilbo asks, squinting up at him. “That—that Thorin doesn’t see me as a friend? Exactly what it sounds like, I may live here with you all, but he doesn’t see me as one of you. Because, well. I’m not. I don’t play in a metal band, and I’m not terribly good at even listening to it, and—”

Balin shakes his head and holds up his cigar in an abrupt motion, cutting Bilbo off. “You’re important to Thorin.”

Suddenly, Bilbo’s mouth is opening and closing wordlessly, like a hooked fish gasping for air as it flops about on a dock. “I am not,” he eventually sputters, even as his heart swells traitorously in his chest, ballooning out in folly hope that Balin sees something that he himself cannot. “I suspect I only… provide entertainment to him, or something of the sort. He keeps me around because I’m different, yes, but that doesn't make me valuable. It just makes me amusing. Insightful, at best.”

Balin actually laughs at him, eyes squeezed tight into slits, one hand spread over his own stomach and the other still clutching his cigar as it burns to ash. It’s somewhere near Bilbo’s head or just above, and his eyes are beginning to burn from the smoke, so he stands up and brushes himself off, frowning. “What?!” he asks, feeling very much like he’s missing something important. Balin is not the sort to laugh at his expense. The rest of them, maybe, but not Balin.

“Just…you,” he wheezes, wiping his eyes with his thumb. “Maybe it’s an English thing, but you treat everything like it’s some silly academic paper and then project that on to the rest of us. I can guarantee you, Bilbo Baggins, that no one else in this house is studying you, or taking notes on you, or trying to figure you out like you’re trying to figure us out. We’re only your friends. And it is as simple as that.”

“I’m sorry,” Bilbo says, something sinking into his stomach, heavy like a stone. He realizes for the hundredth time since moving into the House of Durin how hypocritical he is, how ugly and pathetic and transparent and cowardly. He’s so very quick to judge, all because he’s leapt ahead to assume that he’s already the subject of judgement, and it’s not fair. His friends should not have to pay for his insecurities. “I don’t—you’ve all been very good friends to me. And I’m—it’s not very fair to think otherwise. It’s just that I've never really had good friends, not before this.”

Balin grins fondly and pats him on the shoulder. “S’alright, you don’t need to apologize. You only need to stop convincing yourself that we don’t really like you. Trust me, you’d know it if we didn’t. You’d certainly know it if Thorin didn’t,” he adds, raising his eyebrows. “Maybe you should try and talk to him. He’s already heard it from all of us, but the perspective of a new friend, one who wasn't around for the first bout—it could do him some good.”

The mere thought makes Bilbo’s blood speed in his veins, but he forces himself to smile and nod anyway, lips pressed together tightly. “I will consider it, at least,” he says then. “Thank you, Balin. For talking to me. And for listening.”

Ballin exhales a gust of smoke and moves his hand through it to idly dissipate the cloud of white. “Alright, alright. Off to work with you!” he scolds. “I hardly have any cigar left, I’ve been robbed.”

“I am a burglar,” Bilbo reminds Balin as he waves goodbye over his shoulder.

Then he heads down the hill toward Telegraph, imagining what it might look like to actually ask Thorin about his drinking. About his father. What it might mean to confront him, as his friend.

—-

He does not do it that day, or the next day, or the day after that, though he dedicates much time to thinking about it. It burns a hole like a hot coal in his pocket, searing against his thigh, impossible to ignore and deeply uncomfortable. He thinks of saying something when Thorin pops open this third beer at noon on Bilbo’s day off. He thinks of it when Thorin shrugs on his jacket some time after dinner and walks down to the liquor store for “essentials” and comes back with nothing but a lighter and several handles of bottom-shelf whiskey instead of his usual Fireball. He thinks of it when Thorin slings an arm around his shoulder and pulls him too close while he’s cooking, and instead of smelling like deodorant and holy wood like he usually does, he smells like deodorant and holy wood and an entire fucking distillery.

Bilbo wants to bring it up, but he also has other pressing matters to tend to, like the fact that Thorin has taken to slinging an arm around his shoulder and pulling him too close while he's cooking in the first fucking place. In addition to Thorin’s drinking increasing at an alarming pace, so is the amount of casual touch he imposes upon Bilbo. These things are probably related, but Bilbo can’t form an intelligent hypothesis connecting them because every time Thorin touches him like that, he positively flatlines. It’s one thing to be incessantly hugged and ribbed and prodded by the other guys, who he has maybe built up a forcefield of indifference concerning. He’s not used to it, necessarily, but he expects it on some level, braces himself to be mauled the moment he sets foot inside the house, as if he lives with thirteen rowdy and overly large dogs.

However, up until this point, Thorin has not partaken in the constant barrage of touching. Or, at least, not where Bilbo is concerned. He's definitely seen Thorin mosh around the living room with his nephews, or slap Bomber’s ass in the middle of band practice, or rip Bofur’s ushanka off his head to mess up his hair, or grab Dwalin and press their foreheads together so they can yell the chorus of whatever song they’re blasting through the house. But Bilbo, thankfully, has been spared such rituals as if Thorin suspects he’s breakable or perhaps just senses his discomfort with the whole thing, recognizing how different contact feels between men when you’re gay and trained to shy away from circumstances that might end in furious football teams and egg yolk dripping from your windows, the viscous liquid hardening into gold-patina goo.

So Bilbo finds it rather shocking and distracting when Thorin finally decides that he’s no longer off limits.

Now he’s not just grudgingly enduring a housemate’s affection. He’s pretending to grudgingly endure Thorin’s affection, when in reality, it makes him dizzy and hot and shivery with longing. Thorin is easily the most solid thing in the universe, even when he’s a little drunk, and every time Bilbo gets crushed into his chest or thumped under the weight of his hand, he wants nothing more than to sink endlessly into the wonderful impassivity of him. He wants to rub his face into Thorin’s stubble-rough throat. He wants to be compressed in the cage of his arms. He wants to be lifted and pushed up against a wall and kissed breathless. He wants Thorin so badly, and it’s frankly quite difficult to think about anything else when Thorin touches him all the time.

Even more puzzling is the fact that Thorin has also started asking Bilbo to attend one of his shows.

They seemingly happen all the time. Everyone in the house is in enough bands that there are constant weekend performances at various venues across the bay, not to mention those on Thursdays and Fridays and the occasional odd Wednesday. Bilbo has never entertained attending before, at least not seriously. He can only imagine these sorts of shows being violent and loud and possibly dangerous, and he gets enough of that sort of energy at home. But apparently all it takes for him to cave on this conviction is Thorin flat-out asking him one night on the fire escape. Bilbo had been sitting beside him for a full twenty minutes, working up the courage to bring up the drinking thing (and feeling terribly hypocritical about it because he’s at least half-drunk himself) when Thorin suddenly shifted, breaking the cicada-stained silence by sucking in a breath, the metal beneath them creaking in protest. “There’s an Azog the Defiler show this Saturday,” he mumbles, tapping the plastic whiskey bottle against the railing in a nervous tattoo. “And my other band, Dol Guldur, is opening. Plus some bands the guys are in. It’s going to be a good show...you should come.”

Bilbo snorts, raking a hand through his hair. “Can you honestly imagine me at a metal show?”

Thorin turns to him, studies him for a terrible, scalding moment where Bilbo is distinctly afraid he might catch fire. Then he tears his gaze away and casts it back out on the streaky mauve glow of dusk. “I can,” he says. “They’re not as bad as what you’re thinking. Plus, none of Bofur or Dori’s bands are playing. I’ll make sure they’re your security detail. You’ll be fine.”

“You actually want me there? I won’t embarrass you?” Bilbo asks, and it makes Thorin smile, which just twists a hook in Bilbo’s gut in return. He’s still not used to Thorin’s smiles, the private flash of them, like snow, like bone. “What if I crowd-surf, or pick a fight, or have one too many gin and tonics and run around telling everyone I know Thorin Oakenshield?” Bilbo adds, tucking his feet up under himself as a chilly breeze rattles through the fire escape.

“You won’t do any of those things, you’ll just stand in the back looking nervous. Plus—you’re not embarrassing,” he explains, covering his mouth with his palm. It both obscures his expression and muffles his voice, and Bilbo finds himself tilting closer, forever seeking out the fragments of Thorin he possesses for a moment, only to be lost.

“Oh, I beg to differ, I’m terrifically embarrassing, but I appreciate you choosing not to be embarrassed by me,” Bilbo says, trying to keep his voice even as his heart pounds.

“It’s at 924 Gilman. Legendary venue,” Thorin says, looking at him again, eyes so wide and sincere. “You could catch a ride with us early, if you don’t mind hanging out for sound check.”

“Alright, then,” Bilbo finally says, drunk and giddy on the night, on the way Thorin’s voice feels like the low and distant rumble of thunder, promising a bout of summer rain. “I’ll come.”

And he thinks he’s lying, when he says it. Because he assumes Thorin won’t even remember asking, let alone that he agreed. After all, many of their late-night conversations over whiskey feel forgotten come morning, so Bilbo trusts this one will be no different. However, over the course of the following day, at least four of the guys slap him on the back and tell him how excited they are to see him at Gilman on Friday. Thorin apparently not only remembered, but he told half the house. Bilbo is locked in a silent contract: he must attend a metal show or else prove himself to be a terrible letdown. And he really hates being a letdown, particularly where Thorin Oakenshield is concerned, so. He marks the date on his calendar and digs his heels into the sand to keep from being swept away by the tide.

Chapter Text

On the day of the show, Bilbo awakes with a nervous thrum deep in his gut, as if he can sense that he’s on the verge of tumbling over an invisible precipice. As he lies tangled in his sheets with his eyes still shut tight, trying his hardest to cling to the vestiges of sleep, the word advent slips unbidden into his groggy mind. Advent means something is coming, he recalls, the fact lodged half-hidden inside him the way that all facts learned in childhood are, buried beneath layers of memory and repression just waiting to be uncovered by the right combination of triggers. This time, it’s a weight, a shiver, an awareness. The unshakable sense that, after tonight, Bilbo will not be the same man he once was.

He tries to shake it off as he brushes his teeth, as he tugs on his chinos and braces and polo like he does every morning because Bilbo’s wardrobe consists of ten variations of the same smart, neat look. When he arrives downstairs for breakfast, though, Kili gives him a long, lingering stare of barely concealed amusement in the kitchen before tearing into a bagel with mannerless fervor. “You gonna wear that to the show tonight, Bilbo?” he asks mock-conversationally through a full mouth, spewing crumbs and poppy seeds.

Bilbo looks down at himself. He hadn’t really thought about it too much, but now he’s realizing that his general appearance is probably not very fit for a metal show. “Well, not with the way you’re looking at me. I’ll stick out like a sore thumb, won’t I?”

Kili walks around him in a circle, surveying as he eats, wiping crumbs on his hole-riddled Black Sabbath shirt. “Not even a sore thumb, more like a single giant mountain on a mountain-less landscape or something, a fucking volcano. They’re gonna think you’re an accountant. Or maybe ask you where the farmer’s market is.”

Thorin, who is apparently tuning up with Dwalin and Nori in the living room, shouts, “Leave him alone, Kili. He can borrow something of mine.”

Bilbo quite suddenly has to sit down, so he does, sinking down onto the battered cooler they keep in the kitchen for recycling. The thought of Thorin dressing him makes his legs feel weak. “Won’t I just look like a farmer’s market accountant in borrowed clothes, then?”

Kili snorts, shaking his head. “Anything is better than a polo tucked into khakis.”

“Fine,” Bilbo sighs, staring down at his Converse. At least they are black, and scuffed. “You all can have a field day with me.”

Kili fist-pumps and cheers, then stuffs the rest of his bagel into his mouth in a single lewd motion. Meanwhile, Bilbo tries not to think too hard about wearing Thorin’s clothes.

The rest of the afternoon passes in an odd, technicolor blur. Everyone is practicing, one band in the basement and another in the living room and another on the patio, so the whole house is a mess of cacophonous guitar chords, distortion, and yelling. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the House of Durin, but Bilbo is often at work for the worst of it, and if he isn’t, then he takes it upon himself to hike the fire trail just above the house until things quiet down. As a result, practice days end up being very quiet and peaceful for him.

But today is different. It’s the advent-itchiness, his sense of restless anxiety keeping him housebound. He doesn’t want to leave because part of him worries that he won’t come back. Bilbo has a well-worn groove worked into him from years of avoiding things that frighten him, and it’s taking all his resolve to stay committed to his decision to expose himself to acute discomfort tonight. But still, he does want to be there, when he looks into his heart of hearts. He wants to support his friends, wants to prove to himself that he’s capable of stepping well outside his comfort zone, wants to—well. He wants to see Thorin head-banging in a tank-top, his body glistening with sweat as he shreds on a guitar. Bilbo is only human, he’s glad there’s something about tonight to make the discomfort worthwhile.

Some time in the afternoon, after hours of relentless drumming and wailing guitars, Thorin staggers up to Bilbo’s room and knocks on the door. “A burglar’s assistance is required downstairs,” he slurs, voice thick in the way it often is after he’s been drinking all day. The sound sparks alarm in Bilbo; it’s quite early for him to sound so compromised. He throws open the door and chases Thorin down the hallway.

“Are you drunk?!” he barks indignantly, without even fully meaning to. And just like that, his days of waffling back and forth, fearing the worst and overthinking every single word, evaporate into nothingness. He’s done it, he’s brought Thorin’s drinking up, however obtusely. He stands there on the stained carpet, heart pounding as Thorin rounds on him, eyes hazy, cheeks pink. “Just buzzed,” Thorin says with an easy, dismissive wave of his hand, as if it is nothing. As if Bilbo has no reason to worry. Bilbo wavers like a flame that might go out, second-guessing all his concern. “Come on, I have something for you,” Thorin says then, and he gestures toward Bilbo, who is powerless to do anything but follow, for that is the condition of being in love.

He trails after him down the stairs, watching the way the sunlight filters in from the dirty windows and catches on the black of Thorin’s hair.

—-

The living room is absolute chaos. Bilbo just stands on the threshold for a moment and stares, trying to take it all in. Dwalin is pinning a patch to Ori’s jacket with safety pins. Bifur is holding a black eyeliner pencil up to the naked, fly-crusted bulb hanging from the ceiling fan to soften it up enough to smear more kohl around Kili’s already raccoon-dark eyes. Gloin is popping studs into leather with some sort of crude tool. Fili is teasing Bofur’s hair up into a chaotic mess with what looks like egg whites and a hair dryer, and Bilbo realizes that this is the first time he’s ever seen Bofur without his ushanka in the months they’ve been neighbors, which in and of itself is a shock. All the while, Thorin is weaving between everyone, slapping them on the shoulders or backs while Faith No More’s “We Care a Lot” blasts on an endless, semi-threatening loop.

“Do you guys do this every time you play?” Bilbo asks, cocking his head as he surveys the scene.

“Not every time. Usually, we get ready at the venue or in the headliner’s bus, if they have one.” Thorin explains as he approaches, closer and closer until his heavy, knee-high boots are bracketing Bilbo’s Chuck Taylors, which he has drawn very tightly together. He can feel the heat of Thorin’s body, taste the burn of the whiskey on his breath as he murmurs, “But since it’s your first show, we decided to go all out and get dressed here. In solidarity,” he adds, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I donated a vest for you,” Bofur calls from the couch, trying to hold still as Fili kicks him, still holding his hair up vertically and teasing the roots. “So you can blend in with the locals.”

“Thank you very much,” Bilbo says awkwardly, wanting badly to step away and give himself some space at the same time he’d much rather throw himself into Thorin’s arms. It’s a terrible conundrum, and Thorin saves him by grabbing the faded black t-shirt he has slung over his broad shoulders and holding up with reverent prudence.

“And you can also wear this,” he says very quietly as he sways on the spot, cheeks flushed, eyes liquor-dark and sparkling blue all at once. “It’s my most prized possession.”

Bilbo stares, face heating up at the intimacy of this moment, scalp tingling. It’s a vintage Judas Priest tour shirt, the black of the fabric worn down to a sooty gray, the graphic on the front crackling in numerous places. He narrows his eyes and studies the image, a giant, hyper-masculine fist over the text Ram It Down. “Oh,” he says, blinking. “Is this the blowjob song?”

Thorin doesn’t laugh, though, he just turns the shirt around to display the dates on the back, face somber. “It’s from their 1989 tour and signed by Rob Halford himself,” he whispers, rubbing his fingers over the faded signature.

It is in this moment that Bilbo realizes how quiet the rest of the room has gone. “We Care a Lot” is still playing, but the chatter and singing have quieted to awkward murmurs, and he can feel several gazes burning into him. He suspects the rest of the house thinks it’s disrespectful to bestow one’s precious signed Judas Priest shirt on someone who doesn’t even really listen to metal, which he quite understands. However, it’s also terribly moving. Thorin trusts him with such an honor, so much so that it’s almost shameful the way his stomach drops, sweat immediately prickling in the ditches of his elbows. “Thank you,” he mumbles, dropping his gaze for a moment, eyes bleary with overwhelm. “But you don’t have to—I don’t deserve to wear this,” he admits, fiddling with a belt-loop in his trousers so his hands have something to do.

Thorin shakes his head. “It’s—I want you to,” he says then. “Put it on.”

And Bilbo’s cheeks positively burn as he shoulders out of his braces, letting them hang about his thighs as he strips his shirt mechanically, moving in slow motion because this whole situation is so maddening that he almost feels as if it is not happening at all, that he’s somehow floating above his own body, witnessing it like he’s watching a movie at the cinema. Thorin is so dizzingly close that he feels bowled over him, Bilbo’s eyes snagging on the clumsy, drunk grip Thorin has on the t-shirt, the way he’s bunching the sun-faded fabric into fists. His gaze crawling up and down Bilbo’s too-pale chest, studying him as he takes the shirt and pulls it down over Bilbo’s head, their fingers brushing. Bilbo is achingly self-conscious. He tries not to think too much about his body most days, how he is somehow both padded and frail all at once, soft and sunken like under-proved dough. He knows he’s not traditionally attractive in any sense of the word, but he’s clever, he dresses nice, and he generally hopes those things make up for his shortcomings, but none of that matters now. Not when he’s half-naked and shivering in the living room while the whole house, Thorin included, stares at him. The tops of his ears burn as he grabs for the shirt, Thorin’s hands still present and hovering as they guide the motion.

And—oh. The first thing he notices is that it’s very soft and smells very, very much like Thorin. Like his room, his Palo Santo smoke, his spicy, clean, pine-fresh deodorant, his cinnamon whiskey, his sweat. Bilbo softly inhales the dark, cool air in the tent of the shirt for a few blissful seconds before properly struggling into the sleeves, letting the collar ruck his hair into a mess before it falls around him. It’s far too big for him and nearly hits like a dress, so he wrinkles his nose, twisting his fingers into the extra fabric and feeling terribly absurd. “I look ridiculous.”

Thorin takes his shoulder in hand and looks down at him, the scrutiny so careful and hot that it makes him squirm. “No, you don’t,” he promises, voice so low it scrapes somewhere very deep inside Bilbo.

“You’re just not used to having your shirts untucked,” Kili offers, blinking, his eyes newly dark and sticky-looking. “I was gonna offer you some jeans, but I actually like the khaki with the suspenders hanging down like that. Now just fuck up your hair, and you’re golden.”

Before Bilbo can do such a thing, Thorin messes up his hair for him, threading his fingers through it carefully, teasing it from the roots and frowning. “You’re too clean,” he mutters, blunt nails scraping against Bilbo’s scalp, his own lip bitten and dimpled beneath the point of an incisor. He’s very drunk, Bilbo realizes. He can tell as he surveys him in a panic, the way his eyes are out of focus, his grip both too rough and too gentle all at once. Plus, there’s no other explanation for how much he’s touching Bilbo, for why he might have dressed him in something so valuable. He’s not in his right mind. He can’t be.

“Here we go,” Bofur announces, cheery voice shattering the inexplicable tension Bilbo feels thrumming around his body like the promise of lightning. He drops a heavy, black denim vest into Bilbo’s arms, pins and studs clicking together mutedly, the whole thing a kaleidoscope of hand-sewn patches. “I have a leather one now with bands I like more, this is the one I wore in high school. It’s ancient. It bestows cred,” he jokes, smoothing the ever-waxed ends of his mustache for emphasis.

“Wow, thank you, thank you both so very much for ensuring that I’m properly dressed to impress,” Bilbo says, shrugging into what seems like a battle vest. It’s also too big for him, and he feels dwarfed under the weight but also secure, protected. Like no one at this show will hassle him for looking different, decked out in protective layers of sanctioned metal bands. This ensemble might make him stand out anywhere else, but tonight, it will help him blend in and become invisible, and for that he is very grateful. “I still think I look ridiculous, but—”

Thorin squeezes his shoulder again, but this time his thumb sweeps against the skin of his throat ever so briefly. The touch only lasts a second at most, but it burns indelibly, as if Bilbo has pressed a hot metal coin into his flesh or touched a nettle. His stomach drops, breath catching as Thorin’s hand falls away. “You look great,” he says then, gaze lingering with unreadable gravity for a moment before he turns away and claps to get everyone’s attention.

“Sound check is in an hour,” Thorin says. “Half of us are taking Dwalin’s van, Bofur’s driving the rest.”

“You got it,” Bofur says, saluting. Bilbo is still reeling from all that has transpired and is just about to sit down on the couch to catch his breath when Thorin curls his finger around his upper arm and steers him to the door.

“You’re coming with us,” he declares. Not, would you like to come with us, just a firm, unwavering assertion. Bilbo’s heart leaps at the almost possessive certainty of it, even though he knows Thorin is always brash and demanding and touchy when he’s had too much to drink. It doesn’t stop him from feeling foolishly special, though, a vine twisting helplessly toward the sun in love and in longing, as if the sun gives a single shit about all the things it keeps alive.

——

It becomes very clear, very quickly, that there is simply not enough room for their entire party to safely fit in Dwalin’s shitty old van. However, Bilbo seems to be the only one actually concerned with safety. The trunk and the footwells are jammed full of equipment and cords, but even without the Tetris game of amps and wire and guitars and cymbals packed flush against the windows, Bilbo suspects there’s not even enough seats, which means there’s also not enough seat belts. He backs away, heart in his throat. “I’ll just! Hmmmm, I—I can go with Bofur, it's not necessary that I get there early like you all need to do, so—it’s fine, you go on ahead.”

“Nonsense,” Thorin says, wrenching open the rusted side door and gesturing for Bilbo to get in. “The venue’s just a few minutes away. We can squeeze in and double buckle.”

Bilbo imagines it for a moment, being pressed flush between Thorin and Gloin, who is climbing into the other side, followed by Dori, like sardines willingly packing themselves into a tin can. He frowns. “I’m quite alright,” he says, heart speeding. “Really.”

“Bilbo’s small,” Balin says, taking shotgun with tremendous agility for someone his age. “He can sit on a lap.” When he says a lap, though, he looks directly at Thorin, their eyes locking for a fierce, crackling moment in tacit exchange. Bilbo’s gut tightens with suspicion. He doesn’t know what they’re saying, only that Balin is implying something while Thorin defies it, grip white-knuckled where he’s holding onto the roof of the van. But of course, Bilbo is prone to bouts of paranoia, so of course, he assumes the worst: that Balin knows how he feels about Thorin and is blowing his very shoddy cover. Or that he’s pushing Thorin to act friendlier so Bilbo will quit running to him with all his insecurities. Regardless, he’s fairly sure he’s being condescended to.

“No lap-sitting necessary,” Bilbo protests weakly, even as he feels the universe aligning, his fate already written in stone. “I’ll just—”

Thorin breaks eye contact with Balin so suddenly that Bilbo almost hears a snap. Then he grudgingly piles into the narrow space that Gloin left him of ripped, stained upholstery and pats his knee. “C’mon,” Thorin sighs. “It’s a short drive.”

And Bilbo is only so good at breaking free from irresistible orbits. He is only so good at denying himself scattered, stale crumbs when he feels like he’s starving most days. So he squeezes into the van, head bent so that he may hide his flush under the guise of not hitting his head on the ceiling, arm bunched up against his side after he shuts the sliding door behind him. And just like that, he’s sitting on Thorin’s lap, as if that is just the sort of thing people do.

Immediately, Thorin puts his hands on Bilbo’s thighs to steady him. Immediately, Bilbo feels like he’s going to die. His heart ricochets into his throat and sweat prickles along his spine, his whole body suddenly too hot in his borrowed clothes. Thorin is only stabilizing his body as Dawlin pulls away from the curb and guns it down the hill, but regardless, it’s too much. Broad warm hands, the solidity of his lap under Bilbo’s ass, the heat of his breath on Bilbo’s shoulder blades, bleeding through layers of denim and cotton. “I’m sorry if I’m crushing you,” Bilbo says, eyes glued decidedly ahead on what little sliver of the road he can see through the windshield, since most of his line of vision is taken up by the blades of Balin’s bushy white hair escaping his bandana in wisps. However, Dwalin’s driving is so very alarming that he decides watching the road is not at all helpful, so he ends up closing his eyes lest he have one fewer thing to worry about.

Thorin’s hand flickers against his side, brief and gentle and drunk-clumsy. “You’re not,” he assures him. “You hardly weigh anything.”

Bilbo is, admittedly, not giving Thorin his full weight, which is a feat he likely won’t be able to do much longer because he’s not necessarily known for his core strength. He settles in increments, sucking in sharp inhalations every time Dwalin brakes too hard. Thorin grabs him to keep him from pitching forward, and as much as he hates feeling like he’s going to die, he’s glad that if it does happen, the last thing he’ll remember is those thick, sure thumbs digging into his ribs to steady him. “Excuse me,” Bilbo asks, voice reedy and fingers desperately clutching the back of Balin’s seat for dear life as Dwalin makes a right turn without braking or using his signal. “But isn’t this illegal?” He’s not even sure what he means by this. The lap-sitting, the turn, the amount of people and things packed into this van that he’s not even sure is street legal, given the way it feels barely held together with fragments of rust.

Gloin laughs, shaking his head. “You don’t care about the law, Bilbo, do you?”

“Erm,” Bilbo says, his brain suddenly very blank as Thorin shifts under him, hauling him backward with a fist in his vest until he’s sitting stable and upright again. “I, uh, it depends, really, if it’s a silly law or a safety law, I suppose. Maybe I just want a seat belt, I don’t know.”

“Bootlicker Baggins!” Nori shouts from where he’s stuffed in the trunk between amps and the pieces of a deconstructed drum set.

“I am not licking any boots, I just want to live a long and healthy life,Bilbo snaps indignantly as the motion of Dwalin’s next turn sends him nearly catapulting into the window.

“I’ve got you,” Thorin says gently, righting him and then softly patting his hip. “Dwalin! Put on ‘Breaking the Law’.”

And there is no more discussion of safety or seat belts or signals or boots or anything of the sort because Bilbo is caught in the middle of an eight-person shout-along, and no one would hear him even if he tried to speak, the sound is deafening. He prays silently, both that they do not crash and also that Thorin does not shift his hand from where it’s splayed wide and warm over his stomach, keeping him centered, balanced, safe.

Somehow, they all arrive in one piece. The van does not fall to bits, no one is crushed by a flying snare drum, Dwalin does not get pulled over, and Bilbo ’s heart does not explode in a dramatic spray of blood from sustaining a full twenty minutes perched atop Thorin Oakenshield’s knees.

He trips out onto the pavement, his entire body tingling and stomach a little upset, but at least he is very, very alive.

The venue itself is an indiscriminate brick building that hardly looks like a venue at all, and as Bilbo helps everyone unload equipment and haul it inside, he catches himself staring at the decoupage of graffiti and art and flyers plastered all over the walls, endless and technicolor. It reminds him of the tight alleyways off the main road in Shoreditch, and then he is homesick for a brief and consuming moment, blinking in the cool darkness of Gilman’s interior. Thorin comes up behind him and pats his shoulder with a solid, gentle weight. “You okay?” he asks. It seems like the drive sobered him up a bit, but then again, he has an open beer in his other hand, so. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Bilbo’s gaze skirts over his fist, his wristband, the bottle of Modelo and its neck clutched in a sure grip, and something inside him aches. It hurts, loving Thorin. The way it hurts to love a racehorse, or a junkie, or anything hurtling too fast toward his own destruction, dust streaking in a rooster tail wake.

“I’m fine,” he murmurs, looking up and fixing his gaze on Thorin, the cold light of him as if he is the moon. But are you? he thinks of asking, but his voice is lodged in his throat like a sob, so he says nothing at all.

—-

Thorin is thoroughly drunk again by the time people start showing up at the door and filing in. “Is he going to be okay?” he asks Balin, hand tight around the gin and tonic that Bombur conspiratorially made him with a smuggled-in bottle of Bombay Sapphire. It tastes like home, crisp and clear and refreshing, even with only a fist full of crushed ice from the bottom of the mostly melted cooler hidden in another band’s trunk. Gilman doesn’t serve alcohol, apparently, so everyone is drinking outside in vans and buses, Thorin seemingly more than the rest.

Balin shakes his head and shrugs. “He always plays fine,” he says. “It’s never his performance I worry about. Just him.”

“I haven't talked to him yet, about everything. I tried, but—he acts like there isn’t a problem,” Bilbo says, spinning his red cup nervously between his palms. He’s starting to feel particularly ridiculous now that people are here who aren’t from the House of Durin. No one is staring at him like he’s an imposter, but he still feels like he is. His gaze keeps inevitably landing on Thorin, who’s on stage with the rest of Dol Guldur, picking at instruments and adjusting knobs and whatnot. “I feel like when it happens—really happens—it’s going to have to be a fight. An intervention.”

“Save it until after the show, laddie,” Balin says, slapping him on the back. “Nothing you can do now.” He raises an eyebrow. “Are you going to let yourself enjoy your night?” he asks then, voice thin, thoughtful. “Thorin’s thrilled you’re here, you know.”

Oddly, Bilbo does sort of know. He instinctively wants to chock Thorin’s attention up to the fact that he’s drunk, but it feels like so much more than that. His restless, drifting hands in the van. The way he dressed him. The Rob Halford signature. The manner in which their eyes keep meeting across the room, even as groups of kids mill between them, a sea of black and leather and so many tattered band shirts. The room is charged, and he feels like he’s part of the complete circuit, like he’s feeding off of Thorin’s energy, and in turn, Thorin is fed as well. And as silly and futile as it probably is, Bilbo can’t help but read a bit into this feeling, into their private smiles, the sustained eye contact. “I worry I’ll disappoint him,” he admits, flattening his lips out and taking a quick, measured sip of his gin and tonic. It’s not cold anymore, and he winces.

“Hmmmm,” Balin says, rubbing his palms together. “I don’t think you could.” And then he squeezes Bilbo’s arm, turns on his heel, and leaves before Bilbo has a chance to ask him what the fuck he means.

He thinks about racing after Balin, pushing through the thickening crowd, and demanding that he explain himself, explain Thorin. Bilbo is heading toward a cliff in the dark, and he knows he’ll soon tumble over the edge of it into the black, surging sea below. He at least wants that fall to be lit with a single flash of lightning. He wants to know what Balin knows.

However, all Bilbo has time to do is turn and scan the crowd briefly before the lights drop, and he’s thrust into darkness once again.

Dol Guldur doesn’t introduce themselves. Bilbo only knows who they are because he lives with them, and even then, they’re almost unrecognizable on stage, deeply focused and larger than life in a way he’s never witnessed before. Dwalin, in particular, seems so much bigger and brasher than he ever has, taking up an enormous amount of space with his presence so that for a full three seconds, Bilbo stares at him instead of Thorin, which is astounding, really, that anything could drag his eyes away from Thorin, who is positively majestic in action. He bangs his head violently while he plays, hair a shiny black curtain flipping back and forth across the stage like a tidal wave. He occasionally looks up and catches eyes with Gloin, and they’ll shred together and exchange fierce grins, and Bilbo almost understands metal in those moments, through some primal, human sympathy. The thrill, the joy, the brotherhood of being in a band and creating music together, and even though he’s not creating the music, the feeling is contagious. He downs the rest of his gin and tonic, then crushes the red cup in his hand.

It still doesn’t really sound like music to him, though. First off, Dwalin’s just yelling, low and guttural and distorted. He thinks this is what Bofur called doomy, but he can’t be sure. He just knows it doesn’t sound like Judas Priest, and it doesn’t sound like Thorin’s other bands, the bands he fronts. It’s more chaotic, more grinding and relentless and animal. The slow, chugging guitar reverberates off the cement walls, and just when he’s starting to pick up the rhythm, it will change again, speeding up and shifting too quickly for him to reasonably keep up with. Plus, it’s so loud. A buzz saw, a dentist’s drill. Bilbo’s whole body is vibrating, and he resists the urge to cover his ears because he presumes that’s rather rude. Instead, he drifts further to the back as people who were smoking outside filter in and push closer to the front, already bobbing their heads or lifting their fists. He stands and watches the performance as objectively as possible, trying his hardest to take it in without judgement.

Unfortunately, Bilbo is simply not objective. He’s in love with the guitarist, so he spends the whole performance staring at Thorin. The flush of his face, the sweat beading on his throat, the tense cords in his forearms, the deftness of his fingers as he plays. But most of all, Bilbo cannot tear his gaze away from his smile. The flash of it so bright and wild and vast, an unbridled joy, here, in his element. Bilbo has never seen Thorin smile like that. He wishes he could make Thorin smile like that. He wishes he could live in the sharp, lovely half-moon of it. He wishes so many things.

After Dol Guldur’s set ends, Thorin finds Bilbo in the crowd, eyes lit up with something feral as he throws a heavy arm over his shoulder and drags him close, flush against the sweat-humid burn of his body, the rapid-fire thud of his heart. “You doing alright?” he shouts over the din of the venue, and Bilbo doesn’t know what to say besides every moment I’m not kissing you is fucking agony, Thorin Oakenshield, which is extremely dramatic and therefore embarrassing, so he stays silent, shaking his head, smile drawn tight and panicked like a skull’s grimace. Dwalin bounds up to them, then, punching Bilbo too hard in the arm, grinning.

They’re both thrumming with contagious adrenaline, and Bilbo absorbs enough that he manages to force something out. “That was fantastic,” he blurts, and means it. “ I couldn’t understand a single thing you were saying, and it was so loud my whole head hurts, but. Well. It was still—I could tell it was good. Everyone was having so much fun on stage, it was wonderful to watch.”

“Wait until we’re back on,” Thorin chides, needling an elbow into Dwalin’s side as he tugs Bilbo closer, gazes down at him, backlit and hazy and gorgeous, eyes out of focus and the lines in his face endearingly soft. “That was just a standard thrash set—Azog the Defiler is something else. You’ll love it.”

I love you, Bilbo thinks pitifully, throat tight as Thorin squeezes him once more before letting go.

—-

The next few bands’ sets pass in a blur because Thorin is not in them, so Bilbo can hardly pay attention. He registers that one sounds like Aerosmith, one has close to ten members who barely all fit on stage together, one either plays a single very long song or six shorter songs that sound exactly alike with no breaks in between, but beyond that, he’s lost. None of them are very good, and none of them are noticeably bad. Bilbo watches to some degree, but mostly he watches his housemates, all of whom are very clearly having the time of their lives, moshing around and fist-pumping and rushing up to shout the lyrics to every chorus of every song. It seems like all the bands know each other, and that these shows are massive hang-outs as much as they are entertainment for fans. It feels very warm, very friendly, and not half as elitist as Bilbo expected. He might be out of his element, but at least he’s not outwardly uncomfortable.

However, the tension and energy in the room shifts when Azog the Defiler starts to tune their instruments for sound check. The lights stay low, and the floor gradually gets more and more packed, kids shifting and gathering and condensing in palpable anticipation. “They’re sort of a big deal, it would seem,” Bilbo observes, on his third gin and tonic of the night and pleasantly tipsy, not just on liquor but on the increasingly taut charge in the room.

“Aye,” Bofur says, nodding. “They’re huge. I mean, local huge but still huge. Loads of fans, people go crazy. You’re in for a legendary fucking time, my friend.”

Right on cue, the lights cut out save for a single eerie green filtering down directly onto Thorin, and the crowd erupts in bellows and cheers. Smoke is pouring from machines on stage, swirling out onto the surging mass on the floor, obscuring the band so that they’re reduced to broad shadowy figures and nothing more. And then Thorin starts to sing.

It must be some sort of intro, acapella except for the deep rumble of Oin’s bass, which pulses like a heartbeat beneath everything else. It’s a sung story, really. Something about fire and mountains, caverns of gold. Bilbo can hardly keep track of the words themselves because Thorin’s voice is such an astounding thing in and of itself that the rest of the world ceases to matter. Bilbo has heard his lower-key, not-metal side projects, sure, but his voice is entirely different to witness in person than it is to hear on recordings through shitty headphones. There’s a clarity to it, a purity, and it hits Bilbo in the stomach like a sucker-punch. And perhaps he could blame it on the smoke machines, but literal fucking tears spring to his eyes as he listens, rapt, stickiness welling up in the corners alongside the terrible, unswallowable lead in his throat. He knew Thorin was talented. He fucking knew it, he just saw him play guitar for Dol Guldur, but nothing could have prepared him for this: that deep, lovely, haunting voice cutting through the smoky darkness accompanied by a shouting crowd, a single crisp beauty supported by a blanket of soil-black richness. Bilbo clutches his chest like a schoolgirl, and Bofur smirks down at him like he knows what is happening. What has already happened.

“I knew you’d like dorky power metal,” he says smugly, and Bilbo kicks him in the shin to shut him up. He wants to listen. He needs to listen.

Thorin holds a long, low note as the crowd’s energy builds into a maddening, rage-sick sea. They move in unison, like the tide, and Bilbo realizes he’s swept up in it, too, magnetized closer to the stage, heart pounding. Then the stage lights come up, illuminating the band just as they erupt into a series of wild, energetic guitar chords.

The crowd erupts alongside of them and fucking finally, Bilbo gets it. He gets metal. He whips around to stare at Bofur. “Oh, my goodness!” he yells. “I want! I want to jump around! I want to punch something! I—what’s happening to me?!”

Bofur cracks up, throwing his head back so violently he has to catch his hat before it tumbles to the ground. “Go! Go jump around! That’s how you’re supposed to feel!” he urges. “Fucking finally!”

But Bilbo doesn’t want to die or get trampled in the madness, so he grabs Bofur by the arm and drags him along as a bodyguard. The crowd, for all their energy, aren’t necessarily fighting each other, save for a whirlpool in the middle of the floor. Everywhere else, they’re mostly just crushing close and head-banging and punching the air above their heads in time with the music. Bilbo keeps almost getting knocked over and stepped on, but he doesn’t even care. He can’t stop staring at Thorin, who’s jumping around the stage and singing with so much fucking energy that he seems like a different person. A magical person. A time traveler. A god. It helps that he’s wearing an honest-to-god costume, donning what appears to be homemade chainmail armor and a fucking fur shrug around his shoulders, and it should not be insanely hot that he looks like some fucking medieval warrior, but it is. Bilbo is swooning as he’s jostled around, an ocean of sweat and leather and pure, unadulterated enthusiasm tossing him to and fro as he stares up, stricken, in love.

It’s impossible not to have a good time. Bilbo couldn’t fake it if he tried. He remains on the perimeters of the action, feeding off the crowd without actually pushing into the heart of it, but Thorin is such a good performer, it doesn’t even matter. He feels so much a part of something, thoroughly immersed in the spectacle. Every song is fast and heavy and epic beyond description, the choruses vast and anthemic, so very perfect for sing-alongs that even Bilbo manages to pick up the lyrics. He does like power metal, he realizes. Or at least he likes Thorin so much that he’s able to absorb his passion for it so completely and make it feel like it’s his own.

When the set ends, Bilbo feels like a different person, too. He’s sweat-soaked and wrung out and absolutely mad with energy, his whole body tingling with endorphins. Even though the lights are on and security is gesturing for people to leave, the band remains on stage after their encore to pack up their equipment, so fans are milling about, thanking them for the show, and enthusiastically shaking everyone’s hands. Bilbo assumes he will have to wait until everyone is mostly gone to even tell Thorin how absolutely brilliant he thought he was, but Thorin manages to politely excuse himself from the line of people fawning over him to jog over.

When they hug, Bilbo is immediately transported back to the night everything changed. Blood on his fingers, fist still singing with impact. Thorin’s arms around him and his body everywhere, the vast stretch of him blocking out all the light like a solar eclipse. “Did you have fun? What did you think?” he asks, slurring right up against Bilbo’s ear, breath so close that it makes him shiver. Bilbo buries his face in Thorin’s sweaty hair and inhales, positively trembling with overwhelm.

“I thought you were brilliant, I loved it,” he admits. “I really didn’t know what to expect, but I’m—I’m so glad I came.”

Thorin finally pulls away, but he stays hanging onto Bilbo, palms cupping his elbows, their legs nearly notched together so that as Thorin sways, his knee brushes Bilbo’s. “I’m so glad you did, too.”

Then he curls an arm around Bilbo’s shoulder and yells to the rest, “Let’s hit the bar. Drinks on me tonight, Durin!”

And Bilbo is so very caught up in the thrilling mess of it all, cheering along with the rest, that he does not think beyond the joy of being touched, the promise of spending a few more hours with Thorin in smoke-thick darkness.

Chapter Text

The bar is called the White Horse, and there’s a rainbow flag outside of it, so it must be gay, but Bilbo is less certain of this as the doorman checks their IDs and lets them in. Because inside, it’s just your average Oakland dive. It’s dark and sticky, with the smell of beer permeating every surface and only a few weathered regulars tucked into dark corners as far as patrons go, none of whom seem at least observably gay.

But naturally, when the House of Durin shows up, it becomes quite a merry gathering.

Thorin immediately orders a round of shots, and Bilbo chokes one down, head already spinning. It was tequila, he thinks, or mezcal. Something sweet and smoky that burns on the way down, so he chases it with a soda, shaking his head, the walls of the bar cast in their faintly purple light swimming in front of him as the edges of the room soften and blur. He’s drunk, but he’s happy, the energy of the show still clinging to him like cobwebs. He feels alive and energized, like the night is stretching ahead of him endlessly, like he could do anything, be anything. Even the sort of man someone like Thorin Oakenshield might kiss.

He probably feels this way at least in part because Thorin won’t stop touching him. He’s not special, necessarily, as it seems Thorin is touching everyone tonight, clapping his hands on their backs and leaning his full weight on their shoulders, cupping cheeks and dragging clumsy, unsuspecting bodies in for hugs if they drift close enough to be grabbed. Bilbo is only disproportionately blessed with such things because he’s always close enough to grab. The alcohol has made him clingy, and he can’t remember why he was so hesitant, before, why he believed it was in his best interest to keep his distance from the things he desired. Touching Thorin is great. He could do it forever. He could die here, curled up against his side, sweat-damp black curls in his mouth every time he turns his head to laugh at a joke he’s already forgotten. He was a fool, before, he decides. A fool to run from something as vast as the ocean.

After the first shot, Bilbo doesn’t take any more. The bar is only open for another hour or so, and he wants to sleep, plus, he’s distinctly aware of how much physically smaller he is compared to Thorin and the rest, so his tolerance isn’t anywhere near theirs. He sips his soda and watches Bofur and Nori mosh in the room adjacent to the bar, where a very sad DJ is spinning ’80s throwbacks that no one is listening to. He smiles, warm all over, but warmest where his side is pressed flush to Thorin’s solid body. He keeps turning to Bilbo, pitching very close as he tells him over and over again, “I’m so glad you came, so glad you liked the set.”

It’s not until Bilbo starts to sober up a bit that he realizes how much drunker Thorin is than the rest of the house. Everyone is sloppy and loud and high on the post-show adrenaline, but he’s the only one slurring his words. He’s the only one stumbling. Worry is beginning to brew deep in Bilbo’s gut, so he reluctantly disentangles himself from Thorin at some point to order him a bottle of water. “Drink this,” he says firmly, shoving it into Thorin’s hand.

“Water? Can’t get drunk on water. Water makes you feel, don’t want that,” Thorin mutters, shaking his head, setting the bottle down and reaching for the dregs of his drink, which is mostly ice at this point. Bilbo reaches it before he does, though, and takes it away.

“You’re quite drunk enough, I think,” he says, heart leaping as their fingers brush. They’ve been touching all night, but he’s powerless against Thorin’s hands in particular, especially after he watched them so much during the show, their effortless command, their muted strength, the way his fingers dance over guitar strings, his easy, white-knuckled grip on a microphone. “And, really, you don’t want to feel? But you should be positively swimming in good feelings tonight, you played an amazing show!”

For a moment, a sweet, soft lucidity flickers over Thorin’s face as he stares at Bilbo, the corners of his mouth flickering into an almost smile. But then it’s gone, replaced with his defensive veneer of ice yet again. “You don’t know,” he says then, grabbing the water bottle and uncapping it, pouring half of it into his mouth and choking it down before slamming it back onto the bar with a plastic crunch. “Happy, Burglar?” he asks, quirking up an eyebrow. Then he turns to the bartender. “Another,” he demands as he gestures to the empty whiskey glass in Bilbo’s hand, even though he’s gripping the bar to stay upright.

Bilbo is not happy, not anymore. The mother-hen streak is kicking in, overriding his drunkenness, sparking him to action with a sudden, ice-cold jolt of concern that rockets up his spine. “No! Please, no more,” he says to the bartender, their gazes locking. He’s a hipster type, dark hair pulled into a messy bun, eyes so very, very tired that he could be an exhausted twenty-five or a very fit fifty. He pauses, hand on the bottle of well bourbon, brows raised in silent interrogation. “He’s done for the night,” Bilbo says firmly.

Thorin shoots him a reproachful, withering look. “Excuse me?”

“I said you’re done,” Bilbo announces, crossing his arms over his chest, over the Ram It Down fist, which he is perhaps subconsciously attempting to draw the power of resolve from. “You’ve been drinking all day! You haven’t stopped for a bit of it.”

“I always drink all day,” Thorin grumbles, tapping the bar again with his index finger, regarding the bartender yet again. “Another.”

“Yes, yes, you do, and—well, that’s a problem, isn’t it? At some point, someone, someone who cares about you, needs to cut you off!” Bilbo decides, weeks of pent-up worry suddenly pouring out of him right there in the middle of the White Horse while Bofur and Nori scream along to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” in the other room. Bilbo starts to pant, the shock of having finally spilled his thoughts at possibly an inopportune time catching up with him, nipping at his heels.

Thorin’s gaze is stricken, stunned, betrayed, even. “You have no claim over me, Bilbo,” he hisses, rounding on him, clumsy but intentional.

“Thorin. I know I don’t, but I’m stopping you because I—” he cuts himself off before he accidentally says something horrible, like, I love you. “Because I’m not the only one who’s worried. Because you have a family history! Because you’re sick, and have a drinking problem, and someone’s got to tell you the truth!” he spits out, realizing with an odd flash of clarity that he’s angry with Balin, on some level. Angry at the rest of them, too, for letting Thorin destroy himself. This dark, brilliant, vast forest is going up in flames, and no one has said anything because they’re all afraid. Of losing their living space, or their guitarist, or their brilliant, captivating frontman. Their friend. But Bilbo is not afraid of Thorin. He holds his ground, standing tall with his hands balled into fists at his sides, withstanding the terrible, suffocating fire of Thorin’s eyes boring into him, burning his skin as if he is an ant under a magnifying glass, the whole of his body in wounded, defiant tremor.

“I do not have a drinking problem,” Thorin snaps, voice slurring messily as the words come out, dousing them in horrible irony. “I have many problems, and I drink because of them, perhaps. But my drinking’s’not the problem. Fuck off.”

Their friends are starting to quiet down and stop what they’re doing, pausing to watch the altercation as voices rise and tension builds, eyes wide as if they are just as shocked that Bilbo finally said something as he is. Balin in particular is frozen in place, clutching the back of a vinyl stool with a steel grip, and Bilbo has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from turning on his heel and giving him a piece of his mind, too. Thorin is right in front of him, though. And Thorin is what matters.

“Drinking to medicate your problems is alcoholism, Thorin,” he says, even though he knows there’s more nuance to it, genetics and chemical dependency and whatever else. He’s gearing up to launch into that, too, but Thorin reels back as if he has been struck, eyes wide and pupil-black.

“What do you know about addiction? You don’t know shit, not a single fucking thing, Bilbo Baggins,” he spits out, but it does not sound angry. Not purely, anyway. More than anything, it is colored with the deep, blood-red shade of hurt. And that, alongside the sound of his name stretched over so much feeling, is the reason why Bilbo reaches for him with trembling hands.

He lays his fingers on his bare forearm, just as he did when Thorin first told him about his father. About his grandfather. It is a primal, reflexive touch: the sort you offer to any grief-stricken human when there is nothing left to say.

But Thorin wrenches away from it violently, stumbling backward with the force of it, tipping over and crashing into a stool and nearly tumbling to the ground in a heap of limbs in the process. “Stop fucking touching me,” he snarls, hair in his face, eyes flashes of sapphire through the wreck of it. “You don't know. You don’t—just because we’re both—,” and then he gestures to the space between them in a way that’s ugly and aborted and speaks volume in its disgust. Bilbo’s heart stops, stomach plummeting so hard that he’s almost quite suddenly ill. Gay is the word that sits there in the vacancy he left unspoken, but Bilbo does not hear gay in the silence. He hears faggots, the hissing reptilian sickness of Smaug’s voice. “It does not give you the right to touch me all the fucking time,” Thorin slurs, pushing Dwalin and Oin away as they finally realize what’s happening and stride toward him, attempting to steer him to the door with useless grips all over his powerful shoulders. “I never asked for that,” Thorin yells then, throwing a messy elbow in Kili’s direction just as he attempts to step in cautiously and grab him from the other side. “I never wanted you to move here. I didn’t want to be your friend, I knew I couldn’t be your friend. Just fucking leave me alone.”

It’s Fili, Gloin, and Bombur who finally manage to contain and drag Thorin out, and it’s a good thing because the hipster bartender and doorman were moments away from getting involved.

“You need to leave,” the bartender tells Bilbo. “All of you, now. Out.”

His voice sounds far away and underwater, though, a slow-motion, turtle version of real human speech. You sound like a turtle, Bilbo almost says, but then he has to cover his hand with his mouth, and the words get distorted to nothing, just more casualties to the deafening, painful rush of blood in his ears.

Once he’s out on the curb, Thorin and the rest are already gone, probably in a cab, down the street, somewhere. He wants to run after them, but he can’t make his feet work, so he doesn’t. He just doubles at the waist, breathing hard as he stares at the sidewalk through a dizzy haze. A breeze whips by, and he shivers, the gasoline and cigarette stink of the night whistling past him as he retches into the gutter but doesn’t actually throw up. He just spits a pitiful mouthful of foamy spit onto the cement between his shoes and wipes his eyes, realizing too late that he’s crying.

Balin is there, patting his back, and although it feels sudden, Bilbo is fairly certain he’s been doing it for a long time, and he only just fully registered it. “He hates me,” is the first thing he says once he remembers how to talk, sniffling as he rights himself, tottering.

“He’s drunk,” Balin says gently, though his voice is worlds away from its usual calm, certain raspiness. There’s a fissure through it, and it sounds frayed at the edges, shaky and weak as if Thorin hurt him as well. As if they’ve all been shaken up tonight, put in a bottle and jostled until something gave way and sprayed the night in static. “And you’re drunk too, laddie. Let’s get you home.”

Bilbo follows him to Dwalin’s van, and the city is streaked through tears as if he’s regarding it through a rain-spattered window.

——

When Bilbo gets back to the House of Durin, he finds Thorin sprawled out on the couch and Nori standing over him. They’re both yelling unintelligibly.

“Fuck you,” is the only thing he makes out, which Nori snarls before stomping upstairs. “He’s impossible,” he shouts back to them, waving a fierce, dismissive hand through the air. “I quit.”

I quit seems to be the sentiment echoed across the board in regards to Thorin Oakenshield tonight. Balin makes a sad face at Bilbo, silently saying it himself as he shakes his head and trundles off to his own room. “Don’t beat yourself up,” he says gently, before he turns the corner and disappears into the hall.“And leave him be. Leave this all to the morning. Nothing good ever happens after midnight as far as I’m concerned.” And then he’s gone.

It’s a very straight thing to say, Bilbo thinks, standing there in the dirty living room with his hands jammed into his pockets and Bofur’s vest still heavy on his shoulders while Thorin groans wordlessly from the couch. Personally, a great deal of very wonderful things happen after midnight where he comes from. It’s when the lights go out and the beats drop, when the clubs get crowded, when the DJs in SoHo break out their best remixes. It’s when he becomes loose-lipped and tipsy enough to dance, to put his hands on boys’ waists, and pull them closer in the surging pulse of smoke and colored light. As a gay man, Bilbo does most of his living after midnight, under the cover of darkness. Balin might be older, and he might be wise in his own way, but there are things he doesn't know, can never understand. Things Bilbo and Thorin share, however unspeakable, however liminal.

So Bilbo waits until Balin’s footsteps fade into nothingness, then he inhales sharply and turns to Thorin where he lies on the couch.

Again, he’s reminded of the night of the fight. Thorin reclining in a mess of limbs on the threadbare cushions, gaze out of focus, a quiet tension settling in the air like feathers after a gunshot blast. Bilbo tries not to think about the similarities, though, of kinder nights, the ghost of a friendship that probably never was. He only tries to think of solidarity. Practicality. “Come on, now,” he says, bending down to peer at Thorin, who is breathing heavily, eyes shut tight. “You should pass out in a bed, not here.”

Thorin’s eyes fly open. “Bilbo,” he says, voice sounding ripped open, eyes searching his face, the blue of them dark with regret. “I—fuck. M’so sorry.”

Bilbo shakes his head, gritting his teeth. “I don’t want to hear it right now. I want to get you up to your room, so that when you puke, it’s all over your own fucking floor and not a common living space, thank you very much,” he says, sounding exhausted even to himself, his voice a worn-thin thing, riddled in countless holes like an overused tissue. “May I touch you, or are you going to yell at me again?” he asks, hand nervous and hovering over Thorin’s arm as he very gracelessly and ineffectively tries to stand up.

“I’m a shit person,” is what Thorin says, scrubbing palms roughly over his face. “Smaug and his jock army are right.”

Bilbo chews the inside of his cheek, wishing he wasn't so powerfully and painfully in love with this man he should be angry at. “Hush, they’re not. The football team are pricks,” he says fiercely as his heart clutches at nothing, like a fist. He winds an arm around Thorin’s lower back and ducks under his shoulder, doing his best to support him as he hauls him upright. “You’re just a drunk person. A drunk person who needs to go to bed. And I’m going to get you there, whether or not you’re my friend because you won’t have any friends left anymore if you ruin the living room.”

Thorin shakes his head, nearly collapsing and taking them both down as Bilbo begins their unsteady trek to the stairs. “I don’t—I take back what I said at the bar,” he groans. “I’m so sorry. I do want to be your friend, you’re—the truth is that you’re my best friend. My closest friend. I’m just so fucked up.”

Bilbo’s stomach twists into a series of terrible little knots that tighten with every step, his fingers scrambling for purchase in Thorin’s sweat-damp shirt. He doesn’t know what Thorin is saying because he suspects Thorin doesn’t know what he’s saying. He’s not sure if the truth lies between the two presented extremes, or somewhere else entirely. Lost in the stars, or at the bottom of the deepest river. “Stop,” he says, voice thick. “I’m not angry anymore. Just...stop, don’t talk to me about any of this until you’re sober, alright?” he begs, dragging Thorin the last few feet to the base of the stairs. “We’re going up now,” he warns.

Thorin does not make it all the way to his room. They stop at the second-floor loo so that he can throw up, and Bilbo stands behind him to comb his hair out of his face and keep it from floating in the toilet. He has never done this before for someone, and he realizes for the hundredth time that he must really, really be in love with Thorin in a bone-deep and irreparable way because he does not feel a single ounce of disgust. Only sympathy and concern, braided together into a blood-stained plait. “Drink this, please,” he murmurs as he hands Thorin some water, rubbing the oncoming exhaustion from his own eyes, his solar-plexus aching every time he swallows. Every time he breathes.

Thankfully, Thorin takes it after he wipes his mouth on the back of a trembling hand, knees splayed on either side of the toilet, eyes hazy and still so goddamned blue. “You’re going back to London soon,” he slurs, shaking his head, slumping against the wall. “You’ll go back to your fancy apartment.”

“My posh flat?” Bilbo jokes. He feels delirious, like all he can do is joke right now. He feels absurd, wearing Thorin’s shirt and his own heart on the sleeve of it, standing over the man he loves in a dingy, dirty bathroom while he spews nonsense to the night. “Yes, I suppose I will go back, and I’ll miss you awfully and hate myself for it, too,” he confesses, since it doesn’t matter what he says at this point. Thorin won’t remember this come morning, anyway. “Because I’m a fool.”

“You’re not,” Thorin mumbles, coughing, closing his eyes so that they flicker beneath the lids as if he’s sleeping. “And you won’t. You won’t miss any of us. You’ll tell your English friends stories about what shit housemates you had. Or you’ll just forget us.”

“Thorin Oakenshield,” Bilbo sighs, offering a hand so that he can drag Thorin to his feet once again, stumbling under the force, the weight. “Many things may happen, but I will never forget. That I can promise you.”

And Thorin doesn’t say anything more until Bilbo dumps him into bed in an unceremonious heap on the mattress he bought him, where he spreads out and gazes up at the ceiling, the loose black waves of his hair sticking to the perspiration shining on his brow. As Bilbo bends to unlace Thorin’s boots, loosening the leather clinging to his thick calves while the sole leaves a tread-print on his own thigh, an unbidden wetness returns to his eyes, making all the Tom of Finland drawings blur into a smudgy, graphite mess on the walls. He rubs at the tear-sticky corners with his knuckles and tugs one of Thorin’s boots off with much difficulty, followed by the other. It’s such a long, awful, labor-intensive process that he feels like the night is over by the time he’s finished, he can hardly believe that the sun is not yet up to chase him to work. That birds are not yet singing, signaling dawn’s pale-fingered crawl over the horizon. He inhales raggedly and heads back to the bathroom for the rubbish bin, which he then deposits by Thorin’s bedside.

“I’m so sorry,” Thorin says for the tenth time, at least.

Bilbo shrugs off Bofur’s vest and shakes his head. “Move over, I’m sleeping here tonight,” he says. “I’m too afraid to leave you alone.”

Thorin rolls over and away from the wall, breath coming out in a loud, shuddering exhale as he curls up on the very edge of the mattress. “No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can! I need to make sure you don’t choke on your own fucking vomit, alright?” Bilbo snaps, toeing off his Converse before he pokes Thorin in the side with his foot. “Jesus. You are impossible.”

“I know,” Thorin says, voice small and quiet in the sudden dark that follows after Bilbo flicks off the lights. “But you are, too, you are so impossible. In a different way. In a—if more people were like you, the world would be a better place kind of way.”

Bilbo’s too tired to stop the pathetic noise that comes out of his throat, a wordless, crushed sob as he rubs his face into his hands, which still smell like bar and Thorin’s hair oil. He loves him too much to endure this, but he also loves him too much to leave. He can’t leave. “Go to sleep,” he demands instead, feeling blindly around in the dark. He steps over the bulk of Thorin’s body and gingerly lies down so that he’s poised awkwardly between it and the wall, so that no part of them is touching. “Please.”

And luckily, Thorin does. His heart never stops pounding, and he continues to sweat, but eventually Thorin’s exhales slow to an even and steady beat, and Bilbo finally lets out the breath he was holding inside, the flood of unshed tears, the powerful, heartbreaking longing he’s been fighting to reach out and touch. And maybe it’s a greedy thing to do, but Thorin is asleep, and even if he was awake, he would not remember, so. Bilbo allows his fingers to extend in the night, to lay on Thorin’s spine and count the bones through his shirt, as he thinks about all there is that can never be forgotten.

—-

Somehow, Bilbo does catch a few scattered and half-lucid hours of sleep there in Thorin’s bed. He also manages to set an alarm on his phone before he dozes off.

When it sounds bright and early at nine in the morning, a steady vibration tucked into the pocket of his chinos, it startles him so badly that he jolts upright, heart racing in his throat as he looks around in a panic, momentarily forgetting where he is. All of his sleep has been plagued with dreams of Thorin: Thorin’s hands, Thorin’s lips, Thorin’s cruel words cutting into his skin like projectiles from a shrapnel blast. Thorin’s room, which doesn’t dissipate as he sits there in the yellow glow of morning, blinking at the sunlight filtering in through the makeshift black curtains. Thorin’s room.

Bilbo suddenly and violently realizes whose sheets he’s tangled up in and jerks to a full sitting position, gaze glued to Thorin, who is still lying beside him in the exact same semi-fetal position he left him in, curled around the bin Bilbo dragged in from the bathroom. He’s snoring lightly, which at least means he’s breathing, a good sign. But still, Bilbo stares for a few moments, wavering there and wishing so badly that he could hold him. Press his face into his hair and inhale from it, make fists in his clothes and beg him to stop hurting himself. Stop hating himself. Bilbo inhales raggedly, chest aching as he swallows and crawls tentatively over Thorin to gather his things and head back to his room to get ready for his shift.

The whole process hurts. His head is stuffy and throbbing with hangover, his body shifting in minimal, reflexive shivers alongside his labored heartbeat so that it feels like he’s faintly humming, a florescent light at a convenience store. He knows the only things that will help are sleep, food, water, and a shower, but he can only do one of those in the present moment, so he focuses on that: climbing the stairs on leaden legs to his room, standing in the gray, uninhabited chill of it, and stripping off his socks, his trousers, his briefs. He stands there in nothing but Thorin’s shirt, realizing that he left Bofur’s vest in Thorin’s room, shed it like a snake’s skin, and he will eventually have to go back to retrieve it.

Bilbo spreads his palms over his chest and touches himself through the threadbare cotton for a moment to make sure he’s still real and has a body. Then he works on catching his breath, allowing the night to come crashing back to him in shreds and fragments. Dwalin’s bad driving. The cotton candy and gunpowder on Halloween smell of the smoke machines. Thorin’s arctic blue eyes narrowed in steady focus. Thorin’s Black Sabbath shirt soaked through, sweat stains in the underarms. Thorin’s thick, solid body and its trembling rise and fall in time with his sleep breaths. The sound of his vomit hitting toilet water. The way Bilbo was not horrified, disgusted, or even angry. The way it all still hurts, crystalizing inside of him like ice. He takes a few deep, steady breaths and strips out of the shirt, wondering why it makes him sad to take it off. Why it feels like losing something.

It smells like cheap cigarettes and a hundred other people’s sweat and the general chaos of a show at Gilman. It smells like Bilbo’s fear, his excitement, his hurt. But under all of that, it smells like Thorin Oakenshield, still. A strangled and unexpected sob bubbles up from Bilbo’s throat as he frees himself from the stretched-out neck and tries to choke it down. He doesn’t want to cry. He doesn’t want to show up to work with his eyes all pitiful and swollen and puffy, so he cards his fingers through his hair instead to smooth it, even though he’s just about to step into the awful House of Durin shower and wash the mess of the night off himself.

He folds the shirt neatly and sets it on his desk with every intention of giving it back to Thorin today. Or perhaps of washing it first. Or at least of looking up online how to properly wash delicate vintage garments with holy, decades-old signatures on them.

However, after spending ten full minutes standing under a scalding spray and willing his eyes not to spill over, he ends up getting dressed in it again, tucking it into a fresh pair of chinos and under his favorite maroon blazer so that the signature itself is hidden away, held near to his body like a secret.

Bilbo is not sure why he does it, exactly. Part of him feels guilty leaving something so special alone and unattended in his room while he works. But more than that, he suspects it has something to do with feeling heartbroken and in love and wanting the remaining scraps he has of Thorin close. On his person. Warmed by his skin.

So he walks to work dressed in them. Head hung, throat tight.

His headache doesn’t fade even after he forces down a granola bar breakfast and a bottle of water. Everything hurts, and he’s moving painstakingly slow, so he ends up opening the store a half-hour later than he’s meant to and getting sent home early by his boss, who shows up sometime after one and tells Bilbo that he smells like a bar. His boss tells him this. His boss, who smells like the entire Woodstock festival. Bilbo would be offended if he weren’t so relieved that he’s being told to leave.

However, his relief dwindles as he draws closer and closer to the house.

Thorin is there, presumably. And he desperately wants to see Thorin. To talk with him. To set things right. But at the same time, he still feels so overwhelmingly sick and heartbroken and sleep-deprived. He’s not sure he’s ready to talk. He's not sure he can survive it. Still, he treks on, distracting himself from the endless loop of anxious thoughts spinning in his mind like a rat on a wheel by counting his footsteps, one after the other.

He’s numb and full of mindless, meaningless number sequences by the time he makes it to the door and lets himself in. “You’re home early,” Nori calls from the couch, where he’s sitting with the XBox controller in his lap and his hand buried in a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. It smells overwhelmingly of corn chips, and some extremely chaotic prog band with a million time signatures is playing over the videogame menu music but not loud enough to drown it out. Bilbo almost retches at the combination, covering his mouth and nose with his hand reflexively.

“Yes,” he forces out. “My boss took pity on me.” He realizes, then, it’s not just sleep, food, water, and a shower that will cure his ailment. It’s talking to Thorin. He needs it. He needs to put himself out of his misery. “Is Thorin home?” he asks.

“He’s not,” Nori sighs, rolling his eyes at the screen. “He just left, like, fifteen minutes ago. He was hungover as fuck and decided he was gonna go on a run, like a crazy person. He said something about getting his life together. I don’t know, he also said something about making everyone eat salad more, so, like, I’m annoyed. Especially after that bullshit he pulled last night.”

Bilbo makes a small, weak, defeated sound in the back of his throat, gaze sliding heavenward in exhaustion. “I see,” he sighs. “I suppose that’s better than him heading to the liquor store.”

Nori snorts. “You’re telling me.”

Bilbo feels lost, so he wanders upstairs to brush his teeth for the second time that day and force himself to drink more water. He ends up washing his face for an uncomfortably long time, standing there bent over the sink, splashing the comforting cold on his face, staring down at the gross ring of trimmed beard hairs in at least five different colors stuck to the toothpaste blobs gathered around the drain. Everything is nauseating him right now but nothing so much as the idea of not being able to talk to Thorin today. Not knowing where he stands with him, who he is to him.

He takes a deep breath, shuts his eyes, and lets the water cascade over him like a baptism.

Chapter Text

All Bilbo wants is to set things straight with Thorin.

Yet, when he heads downstairs, water dripping from his hair onto the collar of his blazer, he’s still somehow not prepared to see him standing there in the living room, wearing black jersey running shorts and a clingy tank-top and fucking Nikes like some goddamned metal jock. Bilbo almost sits down on the floor, knees instantly reduced to jelly. “Thorin,” he breathes, crossing his arms over his chest after a weird, stilted stretch he makes himself to do in a pathetic attempt at affecting nonchalance. As if he is nonchalant right now instead of stuck on a collision course, speeding toward imminent detonation. “Good morning,” he forces out with grudging formality, even though it is not morning.

Thorin stares at him, eyes flashing, so many emotions flickering over his face at once that Bilbo is hopeless at naming any of them. “Okay,” he says, ripping his earbuds out violently and jamming them into his pocket. “Let’s get this over with, shall we?” he says, gesturing toward the sliding glass back door.

Bilbo doesn’t know what to say, so he just follows him outside to the patio, blood rushing in his ears like the faraway din of the ocean.

It’s breezy outside, and it smells like late summer: yellowed grass, sunscreen, the faint notes of someone’s BBQ. Bilbo can hear the opening notes of “Don’t Stop Believin’” playing in the distance like the soundtrack to a nightmare. Flattening his lips out into a set line, he watches Thorin sit on the low cement wall of the planter housing his tomato plants, which are getting rather large and impressive, if he does say so himself. He cannot say so, though, because his voice is dying in his throat, and speaking feels impossible in this moment. All he can do is wait.

Thorin takes a deep breath, gaze flickering up for a single heart-stopping second before he averts it back to the pavement. “You don’t have to keep living here with me,” he starts, voice thick with regret, with apology. “I understand. I’ll help you break the lease.”

Bilbo’s mouth opens and closes wordlessly for a few moments because that was certainly not what he was expecting. Not even a little bit. He frowns, trying to process it, but no further clarity comes, only the initial surge of hurt rising in his chest like floodwater. “What are you even talking about?” he asks in an indignant squeak as he draws his shoulders up around his ears defensively. “I don’t want to move!”

Thorin looks at him, genuine surprise shining back in his eyes, his mouth parted around a wordless expression of shock. “But I—even after last night?”

“I don’t know what happened last night,” Bilbo admits, shrugging, kicking at the dusty cement with the toe of his shoe. “I mean—I remember it in bits and pieces, and I feel positively dreadful today, but I want to talk about it. I don’t want to run.”

“Fine,” Thorin grinds out, making a fist in the fabric of his shorts, twisting it. “But last night aside—you must know. How I feel about you. And if it makes you uncomfortable, then I—”

“I don't know how you feel!” Bilbo yelps, gut roiling, sweat on his palms as he wipes then on the thighs of his chinos. “I have no idea. Last night, you told me we weren’t friends—that you never wanted to be friends. And then a few hours later, you told me I was your best friend, and you were shit-faced both times, and frankly—I’m at a bit of a loss concerning what to think, Thorin, so, yeah, any, er, guidance on the subject would be deeply appreciated.”

Thorin makes a choked, disbelieving sound in his throat before laughing mirthlessly, gaze sweeping up to the sky so that the line of his throat is exposed. Bilbo stares at it helplessly, noting the way he’s still sweat-sticky from his run, hair damp, bits of his loose, messy bun coming undone and sticking to the hollow where his pulse flickers. Bilbo’s mouth floods at the sight, and he swallows so that he might say something when Thorin shatters the whole of the universe to infinitesimal, devastating bits of unreality.

“Bilbo,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m in love with you.”

And just like that, Bilbo’s heart stops, his breath catches. His body registers the blow, but his mind does not. It remains pleasantly blank, buzzing like a florescent light again, stuck on the number of footsteps he’s taken, the numbers of stars in the sky, the number of vertebrae in his spinal column, the digits of pi. He stares and furrows his brow and says, “Wait—pardon?” because, surely, he heard wrong.

Thorin grabs his leather wristband and roughly spins it around his own wrist, snapping it and unsnapping it compulsively, eyes fixed on the ground. “How do you not know? I—I can’t be around you. I can’t keep my hands off you. All I want to do is touch you. I feel like I can’t be trusted, like—it’s why I’ve been drinking so much. It’s why I’m always a mess,” he mumbles, voice low and soft and pain-softened like tenderized meat. He does not sound like he’s lying. This does not sound like a joke.

Bilbo closes his eyes, pinches his face to one side, and turns his head in case that helps him take this in better.

“I’m a terrible friend, I know,” Thorin pleads, misreading Bilbo’s silence. “I’m—I’m everything the football team thinks I am. Predatory and awful and—”

Quite suddenly, it all hits Bilbo, suffocating and fierce like an avalanche, if avalanches were fire-hot and stomach-twisting and bright like the sun cracking over a jagged skyline. “Oh, my god,” gasps. “Oh, my god, stop, stop, you’re not, you’re—,” he cuts himself off because he still doesn’t trust that he can say all the things Thorin is, so instead, he rushes over to him and puts his hands in his hair just as he did last night, when he was holding it away from his face as he gagged.

Thorin flinches initially, as if his touch burns, but Bilbo follows the motion and does not pull away. He runs his fingers lightly down to the hinge of Thorin’s jaw, experimental and astounded, as if he is asking a question. “I’m afraid we’ve both been quite blind,” he breathes, thumbing over the black bristles of Thorin’s beard, studying him as he is studied, for once, refusing to be incinerated to ash in the lovely, impossible blue of his eyes. “Because I thought I was the bad friend. I thought I was—ugh, Thorin. I’m so in love with you. Terribly in love,” he confesses, voice thick with disbelief. “I have been this whole time.”

It feels like the right thing to say because there’s plenty of disbelief bleeding from every vein. His own deluge of it mixed in with what is mirrored in Thorin’s gaze, which he is falling into like sea-weathered granite crumbling beneath the rage of the surf. “You’re still wearing my shirt,” Thorin whispers then, reaching out with trembling, tentative fingers, pushing them under Bilbo’s blazer to brush over the R in Ram It Down. He touches him so gently, but still, Bilbo feels himself going up in flames, his stomach sinking and rolling in longing.

“Well,” he says. “Yes, it, erm, smells like you.”

Then he lets Thorin pull him into his lap.

His breath comes out in a stunned, hungry huff, and Thorin is leaning in close enough to taste it, eyes sweeping over his face and torso in unabashed, deep-drinking waves, hands still terribly gentle where they clutch at his waist as if he’s certain Bilbo might pull away.

Of course, Bilbo won’t. He’s nothing but trembles as he shifts closer, pressing his brow to Thorin’s as an anchor point, staring down at his mouth, the pink of it, the gasping shape daring not to prematurely smile. “I know I’m—I just ran. I’m covered in sweat, I still smell like booze, but...I want to kiss you so badly,” that mouth says, and Bilbo whimpers, thighs tightening on either side of Thorin’s lap, knees digging into concrete. “May I?”

“God, Bilbo chokes out, hands tensing where they’re braced on Thorin’s shoulders, spread wide on the fevered stretch of his skin. “You sweet, lovely—yes, of course, please,” he begs. But it is Bilbo who ends up doing the kissing, pitching forward and crushing their lips together as Thorin hesitates and shudders and struggles to breathe.

It’s not until Thorin groans into his mouth and follows the sound with his tongue that Bilbo believes this is really happening. The taste is real. The slickness and the heat and the salt of sweat, the grounding steadiness of Thorin cupping his cheek with one hand and splaying the other wide on his hip, drawing him closer…they’re all so real. Thorin’s kisses are sweet and commanding all at once, just like Thorin is, and Bilbo melts into them, letting himself be held, letting his tongue be sucked in desperate pulses, letting his chin get scrubbed raw by Thorin’s beard.

When they do break apart, it is only to breathe. “I can’t believe you tried to kick me out,” Bilbo murmurs, pulse speeding under a reverent sweep of Thorin’s thumb, then a press of his swollen lips. “You are so bad at this. Not the kissing,” he clarifies, hands pushing wrist-deep in sweat-tangled curls, taking them down from their elastic. “Just the...the everything else bit.”

“I know,” Thorin groans, licking up Bilbo’s throat, razing teeth over his jawline. “I’m so sorry. I’ve never been in love before, I didn’t know what to do,” he confesses, taking Bilbo’s face between his palms and tilting him back to gaze at adoringly. “Jesus, you’re so perfect. You—I feel fucking blasphemous touching you.”

Bilbo laughs helplessly, shifting in his lap, loving how small he feels, how contained, how superfluous his headache has become in the wreck of pleasure and shock and delight. “I feel blasphemous for wearing your signed Rob Halford shirt, we’re even,” he murmurs before Thorin pulls him back into a kiss, the tail end of his last word bitten into a gasp.

Thorin curls an arm tightly around Bilbo’s lower back, hefting him closer so that their chests are pressed flush, the thunder of their hearts blending together like a storm. “You’ve never been in love before?” Bilbo asks in a whisper, the gravity of that statement sinking into him, overwhelming in its candor, its size. “Not even with some sexy, buff, handsome shithead football player?”

Thorin laughs against his cheek before he licks it, then he pulls back to shake his head, something demure about the way his eyes are hooded. “No, that was just sex. It’s always been just sex. Plus, football players aren’t my type.”

Bilbo raises a mock-skeptical eyebrow, giddy with relief, with joy. “Oh, you like small, intellectual, posh, Simon & Garfunkel fans?”

“I like brave, kind men,” Thorin corrects sincerely. “Men who pepper spray the whole football team to defend my honor. Men like you.”

Bilbo whines, rubbing his face into Thorin’s shoulder to steady himself for a moment, heart pounding with overwhelm and the lingering vestiges of shock. Thorin does not seem deterred; he rubs a big, gentle palm up and down Bilbo’s spine, under his blazer. “I love your cooking,” he admits low and hot into the shell of his ear. “And your tomato plants. And your accent. I love that just when I think I've figured you out, you surprise me again. I love that you wear khaki dress pant to your fucking bookstore job. I love that you tuck your shirts into them. I love that you collect bookmarks. I love everything about you.”

And, oh, Bilbo can’t take it, he will not survive if he does not drown Thorin in kisses in this exact moment. He turns his head and bites his lips, licking him open, and they kiss and kiss, rougher and rougher, until Bilbo is grinding unabashedly into his stomach, and the light outside has changed, shifting steadily closer to dusk. “May I bring you to my room?” Thorin asks, voice raw and ripped open, hot against the corner of Bilbo’s mouth.

“Please,” Bilbo whimpers.

“I’ll shower first,” Thorin says then, pulling his hair over his shoulder, gaze sweeping over the patina of salt crusted into the ends.

“Don’t,” Bilbo hisses, making fists in his still-damp shirt. “I want you just like this.”

Thorin takes a breath, buries his face into the ditch of Bilbo’s neck, and lets it out in a shuddering exhale, hands roaming all over his back. “Okay.”

It takes them a while to actually follow through on this. Bilbo does not want to climb off, lest the act somehow shatter the fabric of spacetime and hurtle him into another dimension where he’s not allowed to touch Thorin, to kiss him. Furthermore, Nori is still inside. Bilbo can hear the sounds of his videogame, and though part of his heart wants to climb atop the tallest building in Berkeley and declare to the world that he’s in love with Thorin Oakenshield, who miraculously loves him back, another part of him doesn't feel quite ready to tell the House of Durin. He anticipates many crushing hugs and deafening rounds of congratulations, and somehow the thought is too mortifying to bear.

That part of him is easily drowned out, though, by more pressing matters. Like his erection. And how increasingly rough and desperate their kisses are becoming each second they stay out here on the cement wall, getting eaten by mosquitos and plagued by the fourth replay of “Don’t Stop Believin’.Let’s go,” he murmurs, pressing his lips to the corner of Thorin’s mouth as he reluctantly climbs off, legs unsteady, stomach in knots. “And get up to your room before someone notices how indecent I look.”

“You look so fucking hot,” Thorin growls, eyes sweeping his body before they snag and fix on the very obvious tent in his chinos. Bilbo notices Thorin is in a similar state, which does not help his problem one bit. “Jesus, I can’t believe this is real,” Thorin says then, scrubbing his hand over his face. “Alright. Inside. Now.”

“Yes, inside,” Bilbo murmurs, gritting his teeth and pushing open the sliding glass door as quietly as he can, preparing to cut across the kitchen and make a bee-line upstairs without disturbing Nori, if possible.

Unfortunately, he has no such luck. As soon as he starts to walk inside, Bofur intercepts his path, eyes bright and hair wet from the shower. “Bilbo! Just the man I was looking for! Do you perhaps have the vest I lent you? And also, what's for dinner?”

“Yeah, Bilbo, what’s for dinner?” Nori shouts from the couch.

“Shit,” he says, awkwardly drawing his blazer around his body to conceal himself as best he can, even though Thorin is coming up behind him, and he’s fairly certain the second they’re standing within inches of each other, everyone else in the room will absolutely be able to sense the positively seismic waves they’re generating. “Dinner,” he grits out. He had completely forgotten about it all together.

Bofur is staring at him expectantly when Thorin strides in, fishes his card out of his pocket, and slams it down on the counter with a note of finality. “Bilbo is not making dinner tonight. Order pizza for the house or something nice, I don’t care,” he announces, laying one big, warm hand on Bilbo’s back, low enough that his little finger can hook into a belt-loop and tug him along. “Goodbye,” he adds as an awkward afterthought, then he’s walking away with purpose, Bilbo scrambling to follow.

They leave Bofur with his face plastered in a very evident mask of confusion, but Nori yells, “Fucking finally! Thank god!” up the stairs after them, and it is very clear that he’s not talking about pizza.

Bilbo’s cheeks redden. “Does—does Nori know?”

“Possibly,” Thorin mumbles after he shoulders his door open, turning around and pulling Bilbo into his arms, tugging him inside his room before pushing him gently up against the wall and pressing a series of sweet, lingering kisses to his mouth in rapid succession. “If any of them didn’t know before last night, they all do now. I gave you this,” he explains, making a fist in the Judas Priest shirt, flicking his tongue out over the peak of Bilbo’s upper lip and sending a spike of heat up his spine. “I’m stupid when I’m drunk.”

“Bofur is stupid all the time,” Bilbo observes, voice coming out ragged and breathy as Thorin steers him to his bed, eyes dark with want. “He didn’t seem to pick up on it.”

They trip over the rubbish bin, and Bilbo is stumbling, losing his balance, toppling into Thorin’s rumpled black sheets. It’s only been a few hours since he was last here, but the morning feels lightyears away, distant and surreal and half-forgotten like the remnants of a dream. In some ways, this is the first time he’s in Thorin’s bed for real, so he spreads out, kicks off his shoes, and struggles out of his blazer so that he might rub his hands over the pilling cotton, shamelessly inhaling from his pillow. “Come here,” he says, since Thorin is just standing there at the foot of the mattress, staring down at him with the most astounding, stomach-turning softness to his face.

“I love you so much,” Thorin marvels, shaking his head as he drops to his knees in a single motion like an exhale, bracketing Bilbo’s body between them, rubbing his palm reverently up his chest where it pauses to starfish over the rapid-fire thunder of his heart. “God...I do that to you?”

“You do,” Bilbo affirms, making a fist in Thorin’s hair and tugging him down so that their mouths can crush together hungrily, slick and hot and desperate. They are deep, thorough kisses, but Thorin stays suspended over his body, the arm he’s using to lever himself up quaking with the exertion. Bilbo pulls away, gasping, static eclipsing over his vision as he manages to choke out, “Lie down on me, please.”

Thorin groans, lowering himself so that he’s lying next to Bilbo, hands all over him, mouth rough and tender against his throat. “You’re so small,” he murmurs, tightening his grip, inhaling from his skin. “I don’t want to crush you.”

“Well, we have a problem, then, because I’d rather like to be crushed,” Bilbo says, pawing over Thorin’s shoulders, his broad, well-muscled chest, his solid rib cage. His fucking forearms, which are too thick for him to encircle with his own fingers. Fuck. “Not to be needlessly lewd, but I’ve absolutely fantasized about you ruining me, Thorin Oakenshield. Crushing me to bits.”

Thorin shivers against him, a wordless sound ripped from his throat and trapped against Bilbo’s shoulder. “I can’t believe you’ve fantasized about me at all. I want to know more. Tell me everything you’d like. Let me do it. Let me please you,” he growls, eyes shot dark and inky with pupil as he pulls back to regard him, licking his lips.

Bilbo is not used to making demands, really, so he squirms a bit in the fiery blue of Thorin’s gaze. “ Have you thought about it?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. “About me, I mean. I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Of course, I have,” Thorin huffs out in a thick rumble, making a fist in his shirt and tugging it up, out of Bilbo’s waistband so that he may touch underneath it. He’s terribly gentle as he does it, his touch almost ticklish in its hesitance, so Bilbo exhales to fit himself more firmly into his grip, to tell him it’s okay, it’s more than okay. “Too many times to count. I told you, I was a bad friend. Even before we started hanging out, I thought about it so much. The first time I walked into that restaurant and saw you, I knew...I knew that you were going to fuck me up. I wanted to send you elsewhere, to deny your application, but even then, I was selfish and reckless. I wanted you all to myself.”

“Fuck, Thorin,” Bilbo whines, letting himself be spread out and touched, Thorin’s callous-rough palms increasingly confident as he feels him out, thumbing over his ribs, the softness of his stomach, up to the ditches under his collarbones as he pushes the worn t-shirt up and bunches it around his neck. “I had no idea, I thought you thought I was—I don’t know. Annoying and clueless and uncultured.”

No, not at all, I thought you were—god. I thought you were perfect, I wanted you,” Thorin admits, shifting down and affixing his hot, sucking mouth to the skin drawn tight over Bilbo’s sternum. “I have always, always wanted you,” he gasps in a ruin against flesh, words trapped so that they come out thin, stretched to translucency over his want.

It’s fucking overwhelming to think about. That every moment they’ve shared up until this one has been rich and blood-soaked with unspoken desire. Not just Bilbo’s desire but Thorin’s, too. He whimpers and humps the air pitifully, rutting at nothing, because Thorin is taking his time touching him. Reverent strokes over his chest, his arms, his thighs but not yet between them. “And I’ve always wanted you,” he confesses. “I made myself guilty thinking about you, too.”

“What did you think about me doing?” Thorin moans as he finally helps Bilbo out of the shirt and lays him back out, humming as Bilbo sucks sweat from the cords in his neck, hungry for the salt, the spice, the heat. He tastes so fucking good, it’s maddening, it makes the room spin.

“I didn’t think about you doing anything, not really, I never thought you’d be attracted to me, so I always imagined—I don’t know, being the one who did things. To you. Being the one who sucked you off,” he clarifies, cheeks heating up against the speed-sick rush of Thorin’s pulse as he reels back to look at him before pitching back to press his lips to the burn of his blush.

“I could hardly look at you the first month you lived here, I was so attracted to you, god. I was always thinking about how perfectly you’d fit in my arms. How I could pick you up. And then once I let myself be your friend—how soft your skin is. How good your breath tastes. How fucking badly I wanted to taste all of you,” he confesses, like Bilbo is church, his hand finally pushing down far enough to grab the curve of Bilbo’s ass and heft him closer, their legs tangling.

Bilbo loses his breath to the sudden rain of kisses, his heart frantic in his ribcage like a caged bird. “Will you let me touch you?” Thorin begs, thumbing closer to his flies, grip tight and possessive. “Tell me what you want, and I’ll do it.”

“Oh, god, please touch me, please,” Bilbo whines, clutching in Thorin’s shirt to keep himself from floating off into the nothingness, untethered like a mylar balloon. “And take this off, I want your skin,” he adds, hooking a finger into the ribbed black cotton.

Thorin rucks his tank-top over his head in a single effortless motion, and Bilbo’s not sure why that’s so insanely hot, but it makes him weak, makes his cock flex in his trousers with an insurmountable desperation. “My god”, he says, rubbing his hands up Thorin’s bare chest, drinking in the breadth of him, the shifting layer of padded softness over taut, flickering muscle, the black curls pressed down beneath his greedy palms. “You’re so gorgeous,” he whispers, the words snagging in his throat like silk on a fish hook. “So—I must confess, I’ve never slept with a man who wasn’t waxed or trimmed and approximately my age and height. You’re very overwhelming, in the very best way. Forgive me for staring open-mouthed like a virgin.”

Thorin huffs out a laugh and smiles at him, kisses his temple, the line of his jaw, the flutter of his pulse. Then he thumbs up the line of his cock where it’s straining in his pants, forcing out a chopped-up gasp. “I’ll be so gentle,” he promises as he feels Bilbo out, unbuckles his belt with careful fingers before popping the button of his chinos. “I’ll stop if it’s too much for you.”

Bilbo does not need Thorin to be gentle, and he certainly doesn’t want him to stop. In fact, he’s rather partial to the idea of being positively and indelibly wrecked by Thorin Oakenshield, like sea-foam sluiced by a rudder, a hull battered to splinters in a storm. He can’t get the words out to tell him, though, all he can do is gasp as he’s touched, hips rolling and spine arching as Thorin eases his hand down the front of his trousers to find his skin, unobstructed “Fuck,” he keens, bucking into the stunning, encompassing heat of Thorin’s fist. Bilbo is not a particularly well-endowed man, so Thorin’s hand covers the whole of him easily, encircles him without strain or effort “Oh...Thorin, don't you dare think of stopping.”

“It’s good?” he rasps, thumbing through the precum beading at the crown, grip solid and sure and slow and reverent, like Bilbo’s very average body is something holy. His knuckles catch on the y-front of Bilbo’s briefs, and he withdraws, making Bilbo groan in frustration, humping the air pitifully as he chases pressure. “Will you undress so I can see you?” Thorin asks then, gaze stricken, mouth a swollen red thing like a bleeding wound as his tongue flashes out over his lips.

“Yes,” Bilbo says. His voice comes out thick and messy and shot already as he pries his hands from Thorin’s shoulders just long enough to yank his chinos and briefs down to his knees, kicking them off in a tangled mess. “You know, normally this is the point at which I’d start to feel insecure, but I—somehow, I’m not. It's the way you’re looking at me, I think. I actually feel like I look good because you’re looking at me like I look good,” he admits, cheeks coloring as he burns up in the searing fire of Thorin’s gaze.

“You look so good,” Thorin assures him, palming himself through his shorts for a moment before he reaches for Bilbo again, taking his cock in hand so that he might rub it in long, greedy, self-indulgent strokes, watching himself do it, swallowing wetly. Bilbo actually whites out for a moment, it feels so fucking good, lost to the slow, fire-hot drag of his palm. “Fucking perfect. You’re uncut,” Thorin mutters, staring as he teases at the tip with an index finger.

“That’s alright?” Bilbo asks as he fucks the tight ring of Thorin’s fist, breathless with pleasure, sweat collecting on his neck, in the ditches of his elbows. Thorin lets go for an agonizing moment to spit a frothy wad of saliva into his hand, but then he’s coating Bilbo in it, and everything is suddenly so wet, slick, filthy, and, god, Bilbo never knew being touched could feel so wildly absolving.

Yes, more than alright. It’s hot, I love it,” Thorin assures him, playing with Bilbo’s foreskin, gathering it over the crown before sliding it back down to expose him in a slick, dripping flash of pink. “Most American guys are cut. I love this, though, love how you feel.”

“Are you cut?” Bilbo asks, hand dropping to brush over Thorin’s waistband, mouth watering at the heat, the lewd shape of him just below the tilt of his own wrist.

Thorin laughs, low and breathy. His smile is so soft and lovely that Bilbo’s heart stops, mouth going dry with how very much he loves him. “Yes, I am.”

“Show me,” Bilbo whimpers, brushing his knuckles up the steel-hard, burning length of his cock through his shorts. “Please.”

Thorin jacks him off faster, grip tightening and twisting at the tip. “Go on,” he growls against Bilbo’s mouth before kissing him deep and rough. “Take it out, I’m yours.”

Bilbo does, sucking desperately at Thorin’s tongue, biting his lips, fucking his hand, positively drowning in him. The smell of his sweat is everywhere, ripe and musky and so fucking delicious that his mouth keeps flooding, but nothing, none of it compares to how fucking good it feels to touch his cock for the first time, the astounding, gut-churning glory of it.

Thorin, Jesus,” he chokes, curling his fingers around him, tugging the whole of his length, stomach in knots. “You’re so big.”

“Not that big,” Thorin murmurs, pressing their foreheads together to look down where their arms are crossed to jack each other off, licking his lips, petting the tip of Bilbo’s cock in sweet, insistent little circles.. “It’s proportionate to the rest of me.”

“Yes, and you’re—you’re big, fuck,” Bilbo keens, tugging Thorin’s waistband beneath the heft of his balls so that he can really look at him, the fierce red, the curve to the left, the impossible thickness. “I want to suck it,” he admits, “very badly.”

Thorin groans, squeezing Bilbo’s cock and quickening the pace, kissing him so hard that his vision whites out, the whole of him reduced to desperate shivers under Thorin’s teeth, his breath, the hot heavy weight of his cock. “Fine,” he says, voice muffled as their mouths slide together. “But let me suck you off first, I need to...need to feel how perfect you fit in my mouth, need to taste it.”

“Ah,” Bilbo grits out. His back curls up off the bed, chasing the pressure of Thorin’s hand when he lets go. “Alright, but m’not gonna last long. And also, I’m not—not quite as impressive as you are. Size wise,” he adds, as if Thorin has somehow failed to notice such things in touching him, staring at him, drinking him in.

“You’re perfect,” Thorin promises, shaking his head, fishing hair out of his mouth before sitting back on his heels, gazing down at Bilbo, chest heaving with gales of breath. “Every part of you. Your thighs, fuck,” he groans, palming over them roughly, squeezing the pale flesh dusted in red-gold hair, digging his thumbs greedily. “I’ve dreamed of spreading them. Lying between them. Feeling them wrap around me,” he says, voice tattered so that it sounds almost closer to a sob. He lowers himself on his stomach down between Bilbo’s legs and bends his head as if in prayer, rubbing his face into the tender skin, pinking him up with his beard. “So perfect.”

Bilbo doesn’t know how to talk anymore, every word save for Thorin’s name and a less than comprehensive collection of profanity have been wiped from his mind and replaced with nothing but static and fire. He just whimpers, staring in ecstatic disbelief at this man kissing his legs, licking and nipping and sucking so the hair grows darker as its matted down, thicker and wetter the closer he gets to his cock, which is lying on his stomach, red and fat and so needy that Bilbo would reach down and touch himself if he weren’t worried he’d come right then and there. “Please, please,” be begs, shivering as Thorin’s lashes graze over his shaft, his breath a wild, endless, teasing huff.

Bilbo feels like he’s been waiting an eternity by the time Thorin finally takes him in hand and guides his dick toward his lips, even though it’s probably only been a minute or so. Time is meaningless here, beneath the rage of his palms, the scrape of his beard. The relief of the slick, impossible heat makes him cry out, though, and Thorin groans in turn, curling his fist around the base as he sloppily mouths over the rest. He kisses Bilbo’s cock, licks it messily, every motion clumsy and desperate and unpredictable in its self-indulgence. Bilbo has never felt so terribly coveted in his life. Often, men demonstrate their perceived cock-sucking skills as soon as they get on their knees, making it about them, what they can do, what they've learned. But Thorin seems wholly unconcerned with showing off, he’s too observably distracted by the simple joy of tasting Bilbo, of holding him in his mouth and suckling in hungry pulses, of sliding down to choke himself, of drooling down into his pubic hair and licking it up, eyes shut in bliss as he rubs his cheek into him, sucking one ball into his mouth, then the other, making everything spit-wet and filthy.

It’s so much that Bilbo is witnessing his room through a mess of tears. Desperate to stave off orgasm and drown in this ecstasy as long as he can, he reaches down and gets his hands in Thorin’s hair, twisting the length of it around his wrist until his nails bump against his scalp. “Oh, my god. You’re so—you want it so badly. You love it,” he marvels.

Thorin pulls off in a slick of spit, eyes dark and awe-stricken. “I love it so much, I love you,” he prays, swollen lips ghosting over the tip, soft and plush. “I want to feel you come down my throat.”

Fuck. Come back, then,” Bilbo murmurs, tugging Thorin’s head closer, pulling his perfect mouth down his cock so that his lips press flush and sweet into the auburn curls at the base.

Thorin sucks him deep and hard and hungry, groaning like a parched man with his fingers dimpling the skin of Bilbo’s thighs, gripping him tight, urging him to fuck his mouth in rutting, stilted bucks. Usually, Bilbo’s orgasms build steadily and predictably, but his body feels well outside his own power right now, breath erratic, stomach roiling and dropping and tightening up like a fist. Thorin is relentless, the searing suck of his mouth a maddening and inescapable thing, his tongue lashing on the underside, every moan vibrating through Bilbo’s body as his skin prickles with sweat. And just like that, without warning or control, Bilbo is shooting off. He topples over the edge without even realizing he’d made it there in the first place, one hand tangled in Thorin’s hair, the other in his sheets, thighs flexing and trembling on either side of his face.

It lasts so long. His vision static and red, the pleasure of it heart-rending, devastating, whole. Once it’s over, he lies in a shivering heap, and Thorin nurses him through the aftershocks without any real suction, mouth slack and tender but still there, holding Bilbo’s softening cock inside as it twitches, lolling his tongue around it, feather-light and messy. “Oh, my,” Bilbo rasps when he finds his voice again, beaming up at the ceiling deliriously. “I didn’t actually know I could do that so—so much. And so hard.”

“You taste like heaven,” Thorin slurs as he finally lets him slide from his lips, pressing a wet kiss to Bilbo’s sac, nuzzling into the crease of his thigh, “I’m never gonna leave. Moving in here.”

Bilbo pets his hair, guides him so that his head is pillowed on his leg. “But what about how badly I want to do the same to you?” he asks, sliding his fingers down one of Thorin’s braids to toy with the bead at the end of it. “Selfish.”

A low laugh rumbles out of Thorin’s throat, and he reaches down between his thighs. Then he holds his hand up, and there’s something pearlescent glistening on his fingers. “Forgive me,” he says, glancing up, eyes lovely and clear and so pretty that Bilbo’s heart clenches. “But you’ll have to wait.”

Bilbo gasps, grabbing Thorin’s wrist to examine the stickiness. “When did you do that?!”

When I was sucking you off, not very long into it. You had me undone,” he murmurs, rubbing his come into the soft curve of Bilbo’s stomach before kissing his hip bone. “It’ll help me last longer the second time,” he says. “Just give me a minute.”

And Bilbo intends to, but the longer he lies there beneath the weight of Thorin’s head, playing with his hair as he grows increasingly loose-limbed and heavy and wrung out from having come so powerfully, the more difficult it is to keep his eyes open. The prior day’s exhaustion is catching up to him, rapidly approaching as it overtakes his vision with hazy darkness. He yawns. “I slept awfully last night, I was so worried you were going to die. And it was torture laying next to you but not—not getting to touch you.”

Thorin smooths a heavy hand up his stomach to his heart. “I’m so sorry,” he murmurs. “You can touch me now. And we can sleep now, too, if you want, I’m tired too.” He’s quiet for a moment then, fingers drumming over Bilbo’s sternum before he curls an arm around his waist, hugs him closer. “I dream of sleeping with you, of holding you against me.”

“Come up here, then,” Bilbo murmurs, yawning again, blinking. “But I get to be the big spoon, this time. It’s too hot to be cuddled.”

Thorin does not complain as he rolls onto his side, dragging Bilbo’s arm around his middle, their bodies settling together like curled-tight semicolons. And finally, finally Bilbo can bury his face into the valley between Thorin’s scapulae and inhale from him like he’s been praying for all night. “I’m a little afraid,” he whispers eventually, once he’s already started to twitch, and his thoughts have ceased making sense as they march messily across his mind.

Thorin squeezes his wrist. “Of what?”

“That this is a dream, that I’ll wake up in my own miserable bed, and you won’t be there. That I won’t know if you’re my friend or not. I don’t know, it’s silly and foolish, but—”

“I love you,” Thorin says then, interrupting him with a sweet, insistent thumb between the bones in his hand, as if he is seeking out a pressure point with the sole intent of soothing worry. “And I love you in every universe, in any dream you might have because every incarnation of me there is loves you. It’s who I am.”

It is both a terribly vast and a terribly simple thing to say, and it brings a sudden rush of tears to Bilbo’s eyes, a tightness to his throat as he swallows it down. “I accept that,” he whispers, rubbing his face into Thorin’s skin, which is sticky with sweat, salt on his lips like he’s kissed a sun-bleached dock stretching out into the ocean, creaking beneath the fingernail-white streaks of shore birds slicing through a too-blue sky. “I accept that because it is how I love you, too.”

“Little Burglar,” Thorin sighs, threading their fingers. “You have stolen my heart. And my sanity. And most of the sheets.” He reaches back with a toe and drags some of the kicked-down comforter over their legs. “Sleep,” he says.

But Bilbo hardly hears it, he’s already drifted off into the choppy, endless blue, the whole of him warm, and lost, but mostly found.

Chapter Text

When Bilbo groggily awakens, he’s soaked through with sweat, his head is pounding, and he’s acutely hungry. He’s also happier than he has ever been, possibly in the whole of his entire fucking life, for Thorin Oakenshield is still in his arms.

He shifted around as they slept so now he’s facing Bilbo, chin hooked over the top of his head, their legs threaded together. “Hi,” Bilbo murmurs, rubbing his face into Thorin’s bare chest, inhaling the smell of his sweat, sharp and spicy and wonderful, so strong that he can taste it as he swallows.

“Hm?” Thorin murmurs, clearly still half-asleep. Bilbo carefully disentangles himself from the tangle of heavy limbs, sitting up so he can press a kiss to Thorin’s temple, heart leaping a bit as he does it because he’s not yet used to the fact that he’s allowed to touch Thorin like this. He still half-expects him to pull away, startled awake with his face a mask of shock and repulsion.

Of course, he doesn’t. He only stirs, frowning as he blinks awake. When his gaze falls on Bilbo, it immediately softens. “Hi,” he says back, reaching up and brushing his knuckles clumsily across Bilbo’s jaw. “I love you.”

Bilbo’s heart swoops. He’s not sure he’ll ever get used to hearing it, to trusting that he’s worth all the adoration glowing back at him from the troubled blue sea of Thorin’s eyes. He sinks into the impossible solidity of him, sealing their mouths, inhaling his sleep breath, and licking over his teeth hungrily. He’s also not sure he’ll ever get enough of this, that his heart will ever slow to steadiness again. “God,” he murmurs as they pull apart. I love you, too. I’m so insanely lucky, I can hardly believe this is real.”

Thorin cards his fingers through Bilbo’s hair sweetly, then he twists at the waist until his back cracks. “I am the lucky one,” he insists as he stretches out half-naked on the sheets, broad and pale with his chest dusted in dark curly hair, so wildly and incomprehensibly handsome that Bilbo has to look away. Then he remembers it’s okay to stare, so he shifts his gaze back, allowing it to climb up and down Thorin’s body unabashedly. “I’m hungry,” he announces.

Thorin’s expression turns coy, searching. “Oh?” he asks, rubbing a palm up his own sternum, somewhere between teasing and self-conscious. “For what?”

Bilbo makes a face. “Real food, unfortunately. I’d much prefer you, but alas, I’m the sort of person who needs approximately nine small meals a day to function properly.”

Thorin sits up, fishing around in the sheets for his shirt. “I’ll go get us food,” he says. “You can stay undressed in my bed. If you want.”

“I do want,” Bilbo assures him as he settles back down into the pillows, heart so full and elated that he thinks it could burst. He watches Thorin finger-comb his hair back up into a messy bun and put some deodorant on before giving up on his old shirt after he smells it and putting on a clean one. “I could watch you do boring things forever,” Bilbo admits, wrinkling his nose as he inhales from the sheets bunched under him, loving how overwhelmingly they smell like sex, like Thorin. Who smells like sex, in his opinion.

Thorin smiles at him, something shy about it. Then he turns away. “Really?” he says to the door.

“Yes, really. Now...food,” Bilbo demands cheekily, nuzzling into Thorin’s pillow. “I shall eagerly await your return.”

Thorin leans down to kiss him once more, and then he lets himself out the door.

Bilbo listens to the sound of his fading footsteps, staring up at the ceiling, cheeks aching as he smiles. He laces his fingers and puts them behind his head, reclining in Thorin’s sheets, admiring the posters on his walls, the records in his bookshelf, the clothes hanging out of his dresser drawers and strewn about his floor. It feels so surreal, to be here, naked and still sated from coming so hard an hour ago or so, the taste of Thorin’s kisses still burning on his lips. God. He didn’t even realize how much weight he was carrying around in his heart every day, how much it ached to love Thorin so profoundly and all the while believing deep in his gut that it was fruitless. But now, he’s naked in his bed, sticky with his sweat, his spit. It’s absolutely heavenly. Bilbo could cry.

Of course, there are still matters to tend to. The alcohol issue won’t go away, even though Thorin’s apologized for last night. They’ll still have to discuss it outright, Bilbo knows this. But it feels far more approachable now that he knows Thorin loves him, wants to make him happy. He shivers, realizing that without Thorin’s big, hot body next to him in bed, it’s actually quite chilly up here, so he gets up and finds Thorin’s Blind Guardian hoodie and pulls it on before collapsing back into his bed, tugging at the sweatshirt strings. As he imagines having the inevitable conversation about Thorin’s drinking, it occurs to him that they’ll also need to have the inevitable conversation about the future in general. About Bilbo’s lease, his student visa, his life back in London. This foray into the states was only meant to be temporary, anyway. He wasn’t expecting to fall in love. He wasn’t expecting to have a life here beyond this summer. He had every intention of going back—but now, he’s not so sure.

By the time Thorin returns with an entire box of pizza, he’s made himself sad all over again. “Come here,” he says, reaching out and grabbing at the air pitifully as Thorin picks his way across the room. “I missed you.”

Thorin smiles, getting in bed and tugging Bilbo close with a fist in his clothes, crushing him into his chest and kissing his hairline, his brow, his cheek. “I was gone five minutes.”

“Seven, maybe.”

“It’s okay. I missed you, too. I miss you every second you’re not right here,” Thorin mumbles, hands spread wide and possessive and hungry over the splay of Bilbo’s back as he pulls him closer, crushes him into his arms. “God, I love when you wear my clothes. It drives me crazy,” he growls against Bilbo’s ear before letting him go and reaching for the pizza box, which he deposits between their bodies in the bed. “I brought you pizza. Bofur ordered Lanesplitter. I think that’s his idea of ‘something nice,’ but I’m not complaining.”

Bilbo reaches across the bed and pets Thorin’s hair, tucks the loose bits behind his ear before kissing him. The kiss turns into a full-blown make-out session, the pizza box digging into his chest as he tries in vain to wiggle closer. Thorin is smiling brilliantly when he pulls away. “I thought you were hungry,” he teases.

“Oh, I am. Starving. You can hear my stomach, I’m sure. I just—you’re so terribly distracting that I can hardly think of eating when you’re right here,” he admits, reluctantly popping open the box and grabbing a slice.

“I’m just lying here,” Thorin says, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, you’re just lying here and looking appallingly gorgeous as always,” Bilbo scoffs, tearing into his pizza. It’s room-temperature and a little soggy but still tastes good. Not as good as Thorin Oakenshield looks, of course, but it’s just a fact, really, that Thorin is an objectively stunning man, so much so that Bilbo didn’t even think it was necessary to tell him.

But when he meets Thorin’s eyes, he finds his dark brows arched into a mask of genuine surprise. “Appallingly, really?”

“Yes! Of course,” Bilbo says, licking his finger and using it to pick up a few crumbs he's dropped into the sheets. “I am constantly appalled. Or, I was until I learned that you had dreadful taste and somehow think the same of me. Now I’m only grateful. Grateful that I get to look at your appallingly handsome face as much as I want without you catching on and getting angry.”

Thorin snorts, shaking his head and grabbing a slice of pizza. “I’m not.”

“You are,” Bilbo declares as he polishes off the last of his crust and grabs another piece. “You must know you are.”

“I don’t. I guess I don’t think about it. I dress how I want and look how I do, but I—I don’t look gay enough, I think? Men never come onto me unless I come onto them first. And as we’ve established, I’m fucking awful at that,” he explains, tearing off a bite of pizza and chewing thoughtfully. “I try not to think about how I look to other people unless I’m on stage. And then I’m just a character. A symbol. Not a real person.”

“You’re an astounding, life-ruiningly attractive character and symbol, but most of all, a real person,” Bilbo promises, reaching across the cornmeal-dusty box to brush his fingers over the tender ditch of Thorin’s elbow. “The more I’ve gotten to know you, the lovelier you’ve become. I think you’re so handsome,” he admits, dropping his gaze as Thorin looks at him. “Too handsome for someone like me.”

Thorin shakes this head. “I told you, I think you’re perfect. I have since I first saw you.”

Bilbo chews his pizza and shakes his head, still bowled over by this knowledge. “I don’t understand! You have all these sexy, buff, Tom of Finland drawings on your wall. You love Rob Halford, you—I must be some incredible outlier,” he says after he swallows. “For which I’m very grateful. Just...surprised.”

Thorin very carefully picks all the black olives off a slice of pizza and piles them in the corner of the box with methodical neatness. “I’m not—I don’t Love Rob Halford because I want to fuck him,” he says, sucking at the inside of his cheek before he takes a measured bite of pizza, which he chews and thoughtfully swallows. “I like him because he’s like me. Or what I want to be. He’s a phenomenal guitar player, he dresses in leather, he’s a metal god, but he’s gay. He sings songs about fucking men, having his heart broken by men, cruising at night for men. And he’s still respected. Worshipped, even. I like the drawings on my wall because—well, I don’t know, it’s comforting to see a space carved out for big, butch men like me.” His eyes flick up to Bilbo, and he holds his gaze with tense, electric fervor for a moment before licking his lips and dropping his eyes back down to stare at the mountain of olives, like he could burn it down simply by focusing on it. “Stuff like Judas Priest and Tom of Finland make me feel like I could be worthy of touching someone like you, maybe. Gay enough to—to be worthy of your love. I guess.”

“Thorin,” Bilbo breathes, grabbing and lifting the box up and out of the way, tossing it behind Thorin and off the bed, probably scattering fucking olives all over the floor, but. He can’t care right now. “You are so much more than worthy of my love, you’re—god, you’re unbelievable, “ he mutters, grabbing Thorin and dragging him close, fitting their bodies together in breathless abandon. “So brave, so lovely, and—if I had known you were looking at me, at all, I would have thrown myself at you. I thought I wasn’t your type, that I didn’t have a chance. If I had known otherwise—I would have let you know I was all yours so much sooner. I would have fallen into your arms.”

Thorin rolls him onto his back, kisses him so deeply that Bilbo feels like he’s splitting into fractals of light and scattering around the room in a wreck of glitter and sunshine, reduced to bits, to dust. Thorin mouths down his throat and sucks a fierce, claiming mark over this pulse. “You’re mine?” he huffs out, pushing a knee between Bilbo’s thighs and parting them, pinning him split like a book creased along a waxed spine. “Tell me so.”

“Yours, all of me, always, if you want it,” Bilbo chokes out, reaching between their bodies to tug up the hem of Thorin’s hoodie and show him how hard his cock is already, thick and fat and flexing against the softness of his stomach, just from being kissed, from being manhandled onto his back and spread out like a butterfly tacked to cork board. There are things they should discuss, but he doesn’t want to think about them right now. He just wants Thorin and Thorin alone, without obstacles, without worry, without shame. So he chooses not to talk about London, about whiskey. He chooses not to think of the future at all. “I want you to fuck me,” he murmurs, heart tripping and skidding as he says it, fingers flexing nervously where they’re pressed into the back of Thorin’s neck. “Please.”

Thorin groans into him, then pulls back to stare, eyes pupil-black, mouth parted. “I want you to know—I’d like you to fuck me, too. Just because I’m bigger doesn’t mean I don’t want to be fucked. I’d love to feel you inside me,” he confesses. “I want everything with you, Bilbo.”

It’s almost too much to process, too heady to be granted with such terrible power. Bilbo has never thought about that in particular, he just assumed that if Thorin wanted him at all, he’d want him on his back, on all fours, bent in half under his bulk, maybe riding atop him. He’s never even considered things the other way around, and it’s overwhelming, really, to even imagine what that might feel like. To push inside Thorin, to feel the tight, infernal heat of him, to make him come that way. Thorin is so incomprehensibly sweet, so passive in his desires, like the mere act of serving is his greatest joy, and it makes Bilbo’s heart race in overwhelm. He shakes his head, back arching as he rubs himself into Thorin’s palm. “My god,” he groans. “I—I want that, too. Everything, I mean, I just—right now, I want to suck on you. And then I want you inside me.”

Thorin gasps into his pulse, where he’s sucking marks just above the jut of his collarbone. “You’re sure?” he asks, tongue sweeping over the bruise he’s left, soothing the delicious sting.

“Very,” Bilbo promises, settling into the bed, parting his thighs, and pushing his hand under the waistband of Thorin’s shorts to raze his nails over his lower back experimentally, drawing him closer.

“But—you’re so small,” Thorin murmurs, shoving his hands under Bilbo’s ass, cupping it so that his knuckles dig into the mattress below them.

“Yes, I’m small. But I’m also durable,” Bilbo jokes breathlessly, cock flexing as Thorin squeezes him, mauls him. He loves having his ass groped, loves all the promise the action holds, the anticipation it builds, how needy he feels when he’s touched in that way. “I can take it, I want to take it, Thorin—I’ve fantasized about you stretching me open,” he admits in a hush, his cheeks coloring spectacularly as Thorin ruts against him, groaning. “Fantasized about you holding me down, taking me.”

“Jesus,” Thorin chokes, cock hot and steel-hard where he rubs it into Bilbo’s hip, bucks stilted and restrained like he’s worried he could hurt Bilbo with the force of his want. Split him in two, like he is the earth and Thorin is a seismic tremor.

Seeing Thorin so desperate emboldens Bilbo, gives him the certainty he needs to part his thighs wider, bucking up against the pressure of Thorin’s cock. “Haven’t you? Have you thought about how tight I’d be?”

Thorin sobs wordlessly, rubbing his face into Bilbo’s shoulder, cock pulsing precum out onto his skin, which ends up smearing into his own hoodie as Bilbo squirms, whimpering. “God, yes, of course I have,” he rasps, kneading at the plump curve of Bilbo’s ass, making bloodless pale fingerprints in the pink of his skin. “I’ve thought about licking you out,” he adds, kissing Bilbo wetly, scrubbing his lips raw with his beard as he nuzzles into him, thrusting between his thighs, splitting him like a wishbone. “Getting you wet with my tongue before I fuck you. Tasting you.”

“Oh, my god,” Bilbo keens, heat gathering so powerfully in his stomach that he has to stop moving and instead just lie there paralyzed for a moment while his cock twitches against his stomach. “Please, please, let me suck your cock,” he groans against Thorin’s cheek, heart rabbiting pitifully in his chest. “Let me taste you first, at least.”

Thorin lets go of Bilbo long enough to roll his shorts down his hips, cock swaying thick and red and powerful as he reveals it. “I think about your mouth,” he confesses, taking himself in hand and palming over his length almost teasingly, gaze fixed on Bilbo’s parted lips. “I am always wanting every part of you.”

Bilbo pushes him into his back, terribly impatient as he licks his lips. He's good at sucking cock, he’s been told so, but never in his life has he felt so very much for the man who’s cock he's about to suck. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure, but more than anything, he's blinded by the thrill of it, by the pure, single-minded desire to have his mouth filled, his throat fucked raw. He kisses Thorin’s chest, licks the sweat from the valley between his pectorals, hands palming down his sides, feeling out segments of muscle under layers of softness. “God, Thorin,” he moans against his stomach, already drunk on the spicy, inescapable smell of his skin. He licks up the flickering planes of his abdominals, fitting his hand around the base of Thorin’s cock greedily, heart leaping at the strangled sound Thorin makes as he touches him. He feels out his length and girth with trembling awe, stroking him slow and steady, smearing the precum at the crown, mouth watering where it’s pressed into the thick, musky thatch of his pubic hair.

“Please,” Thorin whines, fingers bumping clumsily against the back of Bilbo’s skull like he wants to push him down but would never be so demanding.

But Bilbo is not interested in teasing. He is just as hungry to have Thorin in his mouth as Thorin is to have his mouth, so he noses into the dark curls at the base, and his mouth floods in anticipation, heart leaping at the heat burning beneath his palm. Then, without much preamble, he holds Thorin’s big cock steady and fits his mouth over what he can reach.

The taste is so much. Sweat and musk and man, making him groan out loud alongside Thorin, making him rut his own cock into the sheets greedily. He bobs his head and sucks, eyes watering at the way Thorin stretches his lips, hits the back of his throat easily with every downstroke. He loves it, though. Loves the overwhelmingly full feeling, loves the sound Thorin makes each time he swallows him down, like it hurts, it’s so good. So he does it over and over again, taking him as deeply as he can before he gags, coughing up spit in frothy mouthfuls, and using the slickness to lubricate the motion of his fist. And he could do this forever, really, without tire, if it weren't for his own desperation. He wants Thorin to fuck him so badly that it’s impossible not to think of it, not to arch his hips up off the bed and push his ass out expectantly every time he imagines what it’ll feel like to have this cock inside him.

He can feel Thorin staring, and he burns up gratefully in the heat of his gaze, moaning around the thick crown as he suckles it sloppily. When his gaze flickers up to catch Thorin’s, it feels so filthy-hot and perfect that he can hardly stand it, so he humps the mattress in stilted bucks, thinking about being breached, spread wide, filled.

Without even realizing it, Bilbo is pushing his fingers into the spit that’s collected in Thorin’s pubic hair and reaching back to rub the slickness into his own crack. His fingers dig against the furl of muscle at his center and touch just inside, and he whines deep in his throat as he does it, stomach plummeting. He realizes it’s possibly the dirtiest thing he’s ever done: fingering himself open with his own spit while he sucks Thorin off, but at the same time, the act hardly registers as dirty. It just feels necessary, designed to stave off his hunger so he can focus on Thorin, on relaxing the muscles of his throat enough that he can swallow him down as deeply as he wants.

Thorin is the one who brings his attention to it. “Jesus,” he groans, voice a ripped, fragile, awe-struck thing. He cards his fingers though the loose curls of Bilbo’s hair reverently. “You are so fucking beautiful.”

Bilbo pulls off, rubs insistently into the tight grip of his hole, gaze snagging over the wild, terrible expanse of Thorin’s flesh. He wants him so badly that he can hardly think. “Fuck me,” he begs, gazing at him helplessly. “Please, Thorin, I—I need you. Need you inside of me.”

Thorin takes his cock in hand, squeezes tight at the base as precum pulses out filthily. “Bilbo,” he groans, the word torn from his throat like a sob. “Come here. Now.”

“How do you want me? How shall I lay?” Bilbo murmurs as he clambers to all fours, trembling in anticipation, stomach in knots. It’s been a long time since he was fucked and he’s aching for it, all his potential anxieties smoothed to nothingness by the way Thorin is touching him, hands gripping firm on his shoulders, kisses slow and deep and steadying.

“On your stomach,” Thorin orders, making a fist in his hoodie, shifting it over Bilbo’s skin before letting him go. “Let me see you.”

Bilbo does as he’s told, climbing over Thorin to lay beside him, prone so that his ass is in the air again, spit-wet and exposed. He’s in nothing but Thorin’s sweatshirt, and it feels marvelously raw, the whole of him spread out for the taking, thighs parted invitingly, spine curled as he presses his cheek into the sheets, panting. ”I’m yours,” he reminds him, blinking. “You may do whatever you want to me.”

Thorin bears down upon him and kisses the dimples framing his spine, chest hair scraping over his sacrum. “I don’t know what to do first,” he admits, squeezing Bilbo’s ass, thumbing it roughly but tenderly apart so that Bilbo cries out, bucking into the sheets. “I don’t know where to start. I—my mouth is watering for you. I want to take you apart.” He licks his way lower, breath coming out in hot, labored huffs over Bilbo’s hole. “I love you.”

And then, before Bilbo has time to prepare for such a stripped, bleeding vulnerability, Thorin is holding him apart like ripe fruit and licking into the core of him.

It feels like fire. Molten and slick-wet and so good that Bilbo feels his cock twitching and leaking onto the sheets. He knows Thorin said he wanted this, specifically, but he’s only just now realizing that he didn’t quite believe him, no one has ever done this to him before. He yelps, tensing and bucking away even though it’s bliss, to be touched this way way, to be lapped at and split apart with such slippery softness. “Thorin—I, oh, god, I walked up from Telegraph, the sweat, haven’t showered,” he babbles, heart pounding.

Thorin licks a deep, greedy strip right over Bilbo’s tenderest skin. “Oh, so you’re allowed to want my sweat, but I’m not allowed to want yours?” he teases, thumbing over his hole, rubbing circles into it until the taut muscle gives, and Bilbo is moaning into the sheets with wordless, stricken abandon. It feels so fucking good, so dirty and intimate, but shame still twists low and hot in his gut to think about Thorin there, specifically. With his mouth.

“Yes, but your sweat is good,” Bilbo tries to explain, feeling drunk and delirious with arousal, vision whited out in stars as he scrunches his eyes shut, “And I simply cannot taste as good as—”

“You taste perfect,” Thorin interrupts, licking him again, flicking his tongue back and forth over the pucker of his hole before burying his face deep to suck, to push up inside him, sloppy and filthy and rough. It’s the most maddeningly wet sensation that Bilbo’s ever felt, wetter than anything he’s ever imagined could happen to him or even in the world in general, wetter than the whole sea. He groans helplessly, rocking his hips back to meet Thorin, to push himself into the burn of his beard. Thorin pulls away gasping, and then pushes Bilbo down, holds him fast as he nuzzles his wet face into the pert curve of his ass cheek. “Please, let me do this to you. Indulge me. Let me indulge you.”

“Okay,” Bilbo whimpers, making fists in the sheets. “It does—ah—it does feel good. S’fucking amazing.”

“Good,” Thorin says, thumbing Bilbo wide apart so that he can fuck his tongue deep inside everything, spit-wet and dirty and searing in the best possible way. “Let me make you feel amazing.”

He eats him out for so long. Long enough that Bilbo loses time, capsizes into the surf, everything becoming white and static like sea foam. Thorin feels so brilliant. The gales of his breath, the flood of his spit, the strength and insistence of his tongue. And he clearly, clearly wants it so badly that Bilbo feels giddy with power at the realization, braces against the sheets with his thighs splayed greedily while Thorin touches himself, moaning into the crack of his ass as he licks and sucks and drowns. It’s only when Bilbo starts to get dangerously close to rutting his own cock to finish against the sheets that he reaches around to tug at Thorin’s hair, stopping him. “Fuck me,” he begs, hole fluttering in a sheen of saliva, sloppy and yearning. “Please.”

Thorin does as he’s told, hefting himself up on his knees and reaching over Bilbo to the plastic-drawer set he uses as a bedside table. He fishes out a condom and a bottle of lube, squeezing a generous amount into his hand to lube up his cock after he slides on the rubber. Bilbo feels like he’s overheating, so he pulls Thorin’s hoodie over his head, spreading himself out naked and perspiration-damp and shivering. “You must tell me if it hurts,” Thorin murmurs, wiping the excess lube over Bilbo’s hole and pushing two fingers inside. He crooks them expertly and Bilbo cries out, cock pulsing against his stomach. “I’ll pull out. We don’t have to—”

“I want to, so badly,” Bilbo whimpers, bearing down on the thickness of Thorin’s fingers, loving the stretch of his knuckles, the slow, practiced way that he’s fucking him open. “But I will tell you. Don't worry.”

“I can’t help but worry,” Thorin murmurs as he kisses the back of Bilbo’s neck, rubbing his cheek into the light scattering of freckles over his shoulder like cinnamon sugar. “More than anything, I want to make you feel good.”

“You already feel good,” Bilbo promises, breath catching as Thorin withdraws his fingers and curls them around his cock, aligning it with Bilbo’s hole.

He doesn’t push in right away. Instead, he rubs the head of his cock up and down Bilbo’s slicked-up crack, nudging the tip past his swollen rim, shifted back on his heels in such a way so he can watch. “My god, you’re gorgeous,” he murmurs, fucking his thick shaft into the crack of Bilbo’s ass, bisecting him without breaching him. He’s so hot and thick it’s maddening, and Bilbo feels like he could fucking cry, his thigh muscles quaking as he rocks against the pressure. “I can hardly believe it. I never thought this could happen.”

“Oh, Thorin, please, please,” Bilbo whimpers, positively lost to the sheer force of his hunger, his hole flexing and fluttering as Thorin rubs past it over and over again, teasing him. “I need you so badly.”

“I love you,” Thorin murmurs as he adjusts his hips and lines up, hips stuttering forward as he pushes the head inside. “Oh, god, fuck, Bilbo,” he groans as he sinks in, the slow, dragging burn so absolving that Bilbo makes a sound he’s never made before. It’s raw and bleeding, and it makes Thorin stop mid-thrust, before he’s sheathed himself entirely inside Bilbo’s body. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” he asks, hand lube-sticky as he rubs it questioningly up Bilbo’s chest, shoved between the mattress and his skin.

“I’m wonderful, you just—you feel so good,” he groans, stilling and gasping as Thorin sinks in another inch or so. “God, it’s so much.”

“Too much?” Thorin asks, hair falling down from his elastic, sweeping over Bilbo’s face and curtaining them both in black. The weight of him on Bilbo’s back is crushing and delicious, the stretch of his cock unimaginable, the smell of his sweat and breath everywhere, god, it’s fucking heaven. It’s all Bilbo’s been craving since he moved into the House of Durin: to be Thorin Oakenshield’s. To be possessed by him, fully.

“Oh, no, no, no, not too much,” he stammers, sucking in a shuddering inhale as he adjusts to the inescapable thickness inside him. “Just right, absolutely fucking perfect.”

Thorin shifts and settles inside him, pressing wet, open-mouthed kiss after kiss to his shoulder, his back. “You’re so fucking hot inside, you’re absolutely perfect,” he murmurs as he withdraws and pushes back in, this time deep enough that Bilbo feels the slap of his balls, the power of his hips.

“Oh, fuck. God. Just like that, take me,” he moans, rubbing his face against the sheets, noticing the drool spot he made. Or is it tears? He's not certain, and it doesn’t matter. Thorin is fucking him, deep and gentle at first but then with increasing fervor, his breath coming out in syncopated pants, sweat from his chest dripping onto Bilbo’s spine, one hand clutching possessively at his waist as he drills into him.

“Fuck,” he grits out. “I’m—ah—I could come in you, already. You already have me so fucking close,” he admits, pushing in deeply and circling his hips before pulling out and sliding back in again, punching tiny, hungry gasps from Bilbo’s lips.

“Do it,” Bilbo groans, scrambling to get his hand around his own cock, knowing he’s only a few fevered strokes away from coming himself. “Please.”

“I want you to come first,” Thorin tells him, nipping at his shoulders and rocking into him rough and sweet and relentless, the force of his thrusts rubbing Bilbo’s cock into the sheets with burning friction. “I want to feel you milk my cock.”

“Oh, god,” Bilbo chokes out, because that—that is all it takes to make it happen. Thorin’s low, scraping voice torn around those words. Thorin’s cock sliding into him deep and hot and pulsing. The weight of his body repeatedly pressing into his back. Bilbo shuts his eyes tight and shoots off all over himself and the bed, wrist trapped under his body as he spasms.

Thorin follows shortly after, crying out wordlessly as Bilbo’s hole clutches around him in rhythmic pulses as he spills inside the hot grip of his body.

Bilbo whites out, his slight frame trembling with the occasional aftershock as Thorin rubs his palms all over him, smoothing over his sides, his back, his thighs, his ass. When he pulls out, Bilbo winces, shocked by the sudden emptiness. It doesn't last long, though, because instantly Thorin manhandles him onto his back and kisses him, pressing two of his fingers up inside his hole again, kneading inside him sweet and deep and greedy. “God, you’re so amazing,” he murmurs as he shifts down the bed to lick Bilbo’s come up from his heaving chest. “So fucking beautiful.”

He fingers Bilbo’s used-up hole until he stops shuddering, then he pulls his hand away gently, rolling the condom off and tying it up before attempting to toss it in the rubbish bin under his desk. He doesn’t quite make it, though, and it lands on top of the forgotten pizza box instead.

“Your room is quite vile right now,” is the first thing Bilbo manages to say when he finally catches his breath, curled up against Thorin’s chest and positively delirious with pleasure and joy and satisfaction as he palms up to his stubbled throat, tracing the line of his Adam’s apple with an index finger. “Which means we should sleep in mine tonight.”

Thorin hums, rubbing his lips against Bilbo’s hair before he kisses the top of his head, sighing deeply and contentedly. “I do miss that mattress,” he rumbles.

“It has clean sheets, and there are no olives or used condoms on the floor,” Bilbo adds, squirming so that he might curl his arm around Thorin’s sweat-sticky waist and pull him closer, even though he’s positively adhered to him, as close as physically possible. He sighs because it’s not enough. It will never be enough. He rubs his cheek into Thorin’s underarm, inhaling the sharp, spicy bite of his sweat, scouring his lips on the coarse hair.

“I know,” Thorin says, lifting his arm. “I could use a shower.”

“I love the way you smell,” Bilbo admits, licking the salt off his lips. “But yes, we’re both thoroughly sticky.”

“Come on, then. Before I fall asleep again,” Thorin says, reluctantly disentangling himself from Bilbo and sitting up, hands lingering. “You’re so comfortable. You feel so right in my arms,” he murmurs, sliding his palms to Bilbo’s hips and squeezing him, thumbs digging into the ditches of his hip bones. “I’m still—I still feel like I’m dreaming.”

“Me, too,” Bilbo confesses, curling an arm around Thorin’s neck and pulling him close enough to kiss. “But I promise I’m real, I’m yours. And I’m not going anywhere at all.”

Thorin licks inside his mouth, and Bilbo chooses not to talk about London, about whiskey. He chooses not to think of the future at all.

Chapter Text

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.