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Fire at the Hearth

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Bilbo Baggins sets his dinner table for one. The smell of the pork roast he has meticulously prepared and seasoned for his own consumption, along with the potatoes and carrots from his garden, permeates the kitchen and dining room. He halts his movements after setting out a cloth napkin at his place at the table and stares into the fire burning merrily in his hearth.

Yes, returning to the Shire, to Bag End, after his adventure had certainly been the right choice. There has always been a Baggins living at Bag End, and there ought always to be – even if it is with some pain that he remembers his departure from the Lonely Mountain.

 

 

He had left with barely a farewell to his dwarves. Oh, he suspected that Balin, and perhaps even Oin, Bofur, and Dwalin, knew what he intended to do. Balin came closest to broaching the subject with him before he left, saying, “I think he’d want you here, laddie, at least long enough to make a proper apology.” Dwalin’s unexpectedly knowing looks the morning before Bilbo left had been almost as unnerving as the sadness in the warrior’s expression. 

But Bilbo had felt in his heart that he had done all he could for the dwarves, and although Thorin Oakenshield was not conscious for Bilbo to ask what he thought of the matter, the hobbit felt that Thorin’s words at the gates of Erebor had been enough. After all, Bilbo had stolen the Arkenstone, the artifact that would have secured Thorin’s kingship, and handed it over to his enemies. Thorin’s reaction at seeing Bilbo appear on Raven Hill aside, the hobbit couldn’t imagine that such a theft would be, could be, easily forgiven. 

That it had been a desperate act meant only to save the lives of Thorin and the other dwarves probably didn’t matter, or so Bilbo thought. Especially since it hadn’t prevented the war anyway. 

Before leaving Erebor, Bilbo wrestled for days and nights with the question of what to do, and sought council on the matter from no one. On the one hand, he desperately wanted to stay long enough at least to see Thorin, Fili, and Kili wake from their tonic-induced slumbers. On the other hand, Bilbo was quite certain that for his crime against the crown, he would still be banished – or at the very least, he would have to confront the fact that Thorin’s trust in him, so carefully built, was now broken forever. 

And on yet another hand, he would really rather not linger too long in Thorin’s company, as his confused feelings for the dwarf had only become more confused as Bilbo’s worry for his safety had increased. When Bilbo found Thorin on Raven Hill, lying alone on the ice with the body of the Pale Orc mere feet away, Bilbo had feared that the worst had finally happened, and the dark, empty feeling that welled up in Bilbo’s chest and collected in his throat was almost more than he could bear. He bent over the body of the dwarf king, hands hovering, useless, and then he realized that Thorin was still breathing. To his utter surprise and elation, Thorin was not dead – though he never woke, and an Eagle carried him at Gandalf’s behest off the old watchtower and down to the ruined city of Dale, where space was already being carved out of the chaos for healers to tend to the wounded.

Bilbo descended Raven Hill in a daze, together with Dwalin and the elf-captain, Tauriel, all of them somewhat wounded and definitely weary, on their way to learn the fates of the heirs of Durin. Gandalf himself tended Thorin’s wounds, along with Dwarf and Elf healers. Despite his exhaustion Bilbo did not sleep that night. He wasn’t even aware of the tightness in his chest or the tenseness of his own shoulders until Gandalf found him early the next morning and said, “He will likely live,” and Bilbo felt himself sag with relief. 

Therein lay the problem, as far as Bilbo was concerned, because if he doubted or was able to fool himself regarding his feelings for Thorin before this point, well – no more. Even if he wouldn’t allow himself to actually think the phrase “in love” in connection with the dwarf, Bilbo was no idiot. And to want something so incredibly far out of his reach now, the love of a king he had already betrayed...

Bilbo left Erebor less than a week after the great battle, before the field was even cleared of bodies or the stench of dragon expelled from the mountain halls, and before Thorin or his nephews awoke. Gandalf caught up with him before he reached the remains of Laketown, and with a kind smile and a knowing look, joined him. Together, they made the long journey back west, to the rolling hills and quiet smials of the Shire. Here, Bilbo has remained for the past eighteen months, with no word from Erebor and little expectation to ever receive any.

 

 

Tonight is like many nights since, and Bilbo thinks not for the first time that there’s no shame in living a quiet, peaceful life – away from great quests, brave deeds, and stubborn, endearing Dwarf kings. He finishes the final preparations for his meal, slicing the roast thick and serving himself an extra helping of boiled potatoes, and sits down to eat.

The knock on his door sounds just as he’s raising a forkful of food to his mouth, and he freezes completely. After a moment of silence, Bilbo shakes his head and smiles, believing to have imagined the noise, or mistaken the wind for a knock. Surely at this hour, none of his annoying relatives would be bothering to try for a visit – and not even Hamfast Gamgee, his gardener and the closest thing Bilbo has to call a friend, would be knocking at his door now.

The knocking sounds again, three firm beats against his wooden door, and this time Bilbo can’t even begin to make himself believe it’s something else. He rises slowly from his chair, battling against a memory suddenly so vivid, of another interrupted supper, what feels like so long ago, and almost in another world. Bilbo walks purposely towards his door, re-buttoning his waistcoat (at least I’ve not undressed yet, he thinks), and beginning to feel rather foolish indeed for the fact that he cannot help but wish to find a dwarf, perhaps Balin or Bofur, on his doorstep. 

In hindsight, Bilbo will think that he should have known, that some niggling sensation in his mind should have alerted him to what was going on, but the truth is that, instead of guessing correctly at the identity of his late visitor, Bilbo swings his front door open and stares utterly dumbstruck at Thorin Oakenshield, the King of Erebor himself. He’s dressed for traveling, a dark grey cloak with a thin lining of fur around the collar over a black tunic and light mail. 

For a moment, exactly nothing happens as Bilbo and Thorin stare at one another, one in something of a shock, the latter seemingly a bit embarrassed. But Thorin speaks, and Bilbo realizes that his mouth is open and shuts it with a click of teeth. 

“Master Baggins,” Thorin says, and his voice is deep and somewhat rough and Bilbo’s mind is racing. “I’m truly sorry to disturb you at such a late hour, but I-” 

“Come in, come in!” Bilbo blurts out, unable to stop himself. Thorin looks surprised for a moment, before slowly, almost gingerly moving forward. Bilbo steps back so that Thorin can cross the threshold. For a moment, they’re sharing a small space, but then Bilbo whirls and walks quickly in the direction of the dining room and kitchen, passing through the sitting room. It’s only as he’s about to turn the corner that Bilbo realizes he hasn’t heard the heavy tread of dwarven boots behind him. 

“Well, come in, Thorin,” Bilbo repeats with a calmness that belies his current state. “I’ve just set out supper, and you’re welcome to a plate. I’ve got some cheese and bread in the pantry as well, and some jam, I think you liked that last time, there’s also honey of course, and… Thorin?” 

The dwarf seems to shake himself out of a daze and abruptly ceases his staring in favor of setting his pack down by the door, taking off his cloak and hanging it, and laying his sword to rest against the wall. He follows Bilbo carefully, as if afraid to walk too hard or too quickly on the wooden floors. 

“I would appreciate some dinner, yes,” he says, and with that Bilbo turns once again and goes to the pantry to fetch more food. 

Bilbo knows he’s chattering senselessly as he brings out plate after plate of breads, cheeses, smoked meat, jams, jars of honey, practically emptying the contents of his larder onto his table. Thorin stands awkwardly while Bilbo lists off all the food items he’s presenting, with accounts of when he purchased his goods and from whom, and what’s come from his gardens and what’s from the market. Bilbo knows he’s offering far too much food, but he can’t seem to stop himself. And besides, he remembers that the appetite of a dwarf can be just as impressive as that of a hobbit. He probably would have kept at it half the night if Thorin hadn’t interrupted him, voice polite but low and firm. 

“Master Baggins, I didn’t come here to eat you out of house and home,” Thorin says. Bilbo stops talking, but turns once again to head back to his pantry for some more tomatoes and blueberries. 

“I came to apologize.” 

This stops Bilbo in his tracks, and he turns to look at Thorin, having finally regained the ability to simply remain still. 

Thorin seems to falter a bit now that Bilbo’s gaze is trained on him, but he proceeds in a serious voice. “I came to apologize,” he says again, “for my words and my actions against you. I make no excuses for my behavior. I can only say that I was blinded, and could not see that what you did, you did out of a desire to prevent harm to the company.” Here Thorin pauses, and takes a breath, and Bilbo stares, transfixed, suddenly very aware of how utterly bizarre this is, to have Thorin Oakenshield standing in his home once more, as if two years hadn’t passed since last they’d seen one another, as if Bilbo’s most recent memory of him didn’t involve grievous wounds and blood and battle. 

“You acted as only a true friend would have.” Thorin speaks each word clearly and precisely, his voice strained in the same way that it once was when he spoke of Erebor, before the madness that befell him, before Bilbo betrayed him, before… 

“I do not ask for your forgiveness,” and here, Thorin’s voice dips low and he inclines his head, “I only offer you my sincerest apology, and an invitation to return to Erebor whenever you might wish to. The king would receive you gladly.” 

Bilbo shakes his head and huffs out a humorless laugh, suddenly deciding that he’s had quite enough of this contrite and subdued version of Thorin Oakenshield standing before him.

“Apologize? Thorin, you were not yourself,” Bilbo takes a breath, “I won’t offer my forgiveness because there is nothing to forgive, you… you were sick.” Bilbo looks from Thorin to the floor, unable or unwilling to meet Thorin’s surprised glare. “I’m the one who should be apologizing,” and Bilbo doesn’t mean for it to come out as barely more than a whisper, but there it is, he’s said it. 

“You have nothing to-” 

“I stole the Arkenstone.” Bilbo meets Thorin’s gaze again, and feels brittle and hard and guilty as he once did, when he left the Lonely Mountain, when he bore his guilt all the way back to the Shire and tucked it away somewhere to be dragged out again later – tonight, in fact. “I stole it and I gave it to the people you thought were your enemies, to Bard, and worse, to Thranduil, who betrayed your people all those years ago and then locked you and the others in a dungeon.” 

Bilbo sighs and reaches out a hand to absentmindedly brush some crumbs off his tabletop. “There’s little excuse for what I did,” he shakes his head again and looks to Thorin, whose face has gone blank, the creases around his mouth and eyes evened out, and oh, it is so good to see him standing, alive, cheeks slightly ruddy in the glow of the hearth, shoulders squared and dark hair framing his face, and if Bilbo mistakes the warmth in his eyes for the gleam of the fire, it’s not entirely his fault. 

“I wanted to keep you all safe, yes,” Bilbo continues, “but I certainly made a mess of things trying to do it. I’m sorry,” and here Bilbo nods to Thorin, having said everything he can think to say to convey his regret. 

Thorin’s forehead creases and he shakes his head slowly. “You have nothing to apologize for. How can I convince you?” 

Bilbo certainly has no answer for that. 

“I don’t blame you,” Thorin presses on, “No one does. The Arkenstone…” he falters, and exhales harshly as he looks to the floor. 

But Bilbo cannot stand the sight of Thorin looking so guilty, so defeated, when the truth is that thoughts of Thorin’s continued survival, his victory against his enemies and his successful and prosperous reign as king have sustained Bilbo for the past two years. 

“You don’t need to apologize either,” Bilbo says firmly. “What are you doing here?” Bilbo thinks that perhaps the obvious question might have been raised sooner, and he notes that Thorin squares his shoulders again, looks hard at Bilbo, and that the air of defeat that had clung to him seems to dissipate. 

“I have left Erebor to return to Ered Luin,” Thorin replies evenly, “I can be of use there. My sister Dis has been gone for nearly a year, and resides in Erebor now.” Thorin swallows visibly, but still looks right at Bilbo, whose brain seems to be unable to catch up with his words, and says, “I have abdicated. The throne belongs to Fili now. He will be a great king – greater than I would have been – and I will be my own dwarf.” 

Bilbo feels as though he’s received a blow to the chest. He can only stare at Thorin, who gazes back at him evenly, betraying almost nothing of his own feelings. 

“I didn’t mean to bother you, Master Baggins, truthfully,” Thorin says quietly, “Only I thought that, since I would be passing by the Shire on my way back to the Blue Mountains, I ought to give you the apology that you deserve.” 

Bilbo still does not respond, though he feels a great something welling up in him and threatening to burst. 

Thorin looks lost for words himself for a moment, before letting slip a small sigh and nodding. “I’ll be on my way, now.” He makes as if to turn away, then abruptly leans both hands down on the back of one of Bilbo’s chairs and Bilbo can see the whiteness in his knuckles where he grips. “I am truly sorry for disturbing you. I’m sorry for all of it.” 

With one more firm nod, Thorin does turn around. He makes to leave the dining room and, presumably, Bag End and Bilbo’s life forever. 

“Wait!” Bilbo calls, and it’s much louder than necessary, but the growing feeling of guilt-confusion-panic has finally got the better of him. “Where do you think you’re going?” Bilbo demands, heading after him. 

Thorin stops and turns. 

“You can’t just… leave! After all that! No, you cannot simply…” Bilbo falters and looks at Thorin helplessly. “What you do mean you aren’t king? What do you mean, you’re sorry? Thorin, I haven’t heard a word from you…” 

“I apologize for that as well,” Thorin says quickly, but Bilbo’s having none of it. 

“Stop apologizing!” he nearly shouts, then his voice hushes and he finds he can no longer stopper up his words. “I thought you were dead when I found you. And then I thought that if you were dead, there would be nothing that could mend it, not for me. And then it turned out you weren’t going to die and I thought you would never forgive me, for betraying you, I thought that you would hate me and I couldn’t-” 

“I could never hate you.” 

They stare at one another for a long moment, until Bilbo moves a bit closer, as if to catch up and halt Thorin’s retreat if he should try to leave again. 

Thorin draws a ragged breath. “How can you… You say that I have nothing to apologize for. But how can this be, after what I said to you, what I did?” 

Bilbo is still moving closer, closing the space between them in his dimly lit sitting room, and beginning to feel brave again, the enormity of their conversation catching up with him, his cold dinner long forgotten in the other room, nothing but Thorin standing before him looking wretched and lost, thinking that perhaps, perhaps, Bilbo’s devotion to the dwarf hasn’t been entirely one-sided, perhaps- 

“Confound you,” Bilbo says softly, fondly, coming to stand before Thorin, looking up into his face. Thorin doesn’t back up, just looks, if anything, more bewildered. “You aren’t listening to me.” And Bilbo reaches up and grasps at the collar of Thorin’s dark tunic, feeling the mail beneath it, tugging firmly downward, but slowly enough for Thorin to resist if he wants to. Bilbo is not entirely certain of his own actions, but he does know that he has wanted this, and that Thorin intends to leave now that his useless unnecessary dutiful apology is finished, and Bilbo can’t simply let him walk out of his life as if he’d not shown up on his doorstep tonight like a wish fulfilled. 

Bilbo tugs Thorin down, and Thorin doesn’t resist, and when Bilbo rests a hand against his bearded cheek he closes his eyes and exhales harshly. 

“Bilbo-” 

But it’s too late, because Bilbo was already surging upwards to slot their mouths together, and Thorin’s reaction erases all thoughts from Bilbo’s mind that Thorin wants this any less than he does. 

Thorin makes a low noise in his throat, and he cups Bilbo’s face tenderly as they move against one another, breathing one another’s air. Bilbo twists his fingers in Thorin’s hair and rubs the palm of his hand in Thorin’s beard and Thorin clutches at the back of Bilbo’s waistcoat and then traces his fingers across Bilbo’s face and it’s not enough, not enough. 

Bilbo presses fully against Thorin, tries to pull himself up to fit their bodies together more neatly, vaguely aware that his armchair is behind them and just to the left. He puts a hand to Thorin’s chest and finds it terribly easy to steer him. Thorin gives ground like he’s only ever been waiting to be asked to do so, as Bilbo deepens their kiss before pulling away to suck at Thorin’s neck, his throat, glancing behind Thorin to the chair, and when Thorin tips his head back and squeezes Bilbo’s arms, Bilbo seizes his advantage and pushes against Thorin’s chest again. 

“Sit,” Bilbo says, and he barely recognizes his own voice for how low and breathless it sounds. 

Thorin complies, abruptly, and for a moment he’s sitting in Bilbo’s armchair staring up at him with moist, parted lips and nothing short of utter disbelief. But then Bilbo is moving quickly, climbing into Thorin’s lap and straddling him, setting his hands in Thorin’s hair again, and he grins down at the dwarf and finally, Thorin smiles back, warm and wide, and Bilbo leans in to kiss him again as Thorin’s hands come to rest at the small of his back. 

They kiss and clutch at one another, no other sound in the room but harsh breathing, the movement of cloth against cloth, and Bilbo thinks he can hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears loudest of all, and just as he begins to wonder if any of this is actually happening, Thorin pulls back from kissing just far enough to rasp against Bilbo’s cheek, “What would you have me do?” 

“Touch me,” is Bilbo’s reply, and Thorin’s hands are moving to the buttons on his trousers almost immediately, and Bilbo nearly scrambles to get ahold of the clothing separating them, and then Thorin’s hand is on him, and vaguely Bilbo wonders if this really is a dream before he crashes their mouths together again, hard. Thorin’s touch is reverent, insistent, one hand working him in firm strokes and the other rubbing up and down Bilbo’s clothed back, his breathing labored, and finally Bilbo works open the complicated ties of Thorin’s clothing and slips a hand inside to grasp him and Thorin gasps, drops his head down and presses his forehead to Bilbo’s collarbone as Bilbo writhes in his lap and against his hand. 

“No more apologies,” Bilbo whispers. 

“No.” 

It’s entirely too warm in the room now for all the clothing they are both still wearing, the fire in the hearth burning on, all the windows closed against the chill of the early autumn night, their skin slick with sweat. Bilbo’s movements become erratic; Thorin’s stroking loses its steady rhythm. He sounds utterly wrecked when he breathes, “Bilbo,” against his lips.

 

Neither of them last long, and it should be embarrassing perhaps that they are both almost fully clothed and have now made a mess of themselves, but Bilbo cannot find the will to care, not now that he’s slid a little farther into Thorin’s lap, pressed himself to his chest, and laid his head against Thorin’s shoulder. Thorin’s arms are around him, and his breathing has yet to even out. 

Bilbo knows that there are still many things to discuss. He has yet to decide if he isn’t, in fact, dreaming. He sighs and shifts against Thorin, his thighs aching. 

“Tell me you have wanted this.” 

Thorin’s whispered words take him by surprise. He lifts his head to study Thorin’s face, and finds that the dwarf is still flushed, and wears such an open and vulnerable expression that Bilbo’s throat tightens at the sight.

"Because I have,” Thorin continues in a whisper, “since you left. And before that as well.” 

“I have,” Bilbo says quietly. “I have wanted you. Since… since before Erebor, I think. Maybe since I first clapped eyes on you.” 

Thorin’s answering smile is something to behold.

 

 

Bilbo’s wakes in his bed the next morning, the grey light of dawn streaming in through the windows. There is a warm weight against his back, and Bilbo has one moment of confusion before the events of the previous night come to him all in a rush. 

He has to close his eyes tight against the memory of Thorin’s voice and the warmth it stirs in him, the way he sounded when they… 

Bilbo sits up slowly, quietly, and sees that Thorin is still asleep - he thinks that he must remember to thank him later for his foresight in getting them to bed, rather than sleeping in the armchair. 

He’s hungry, having missed his dinner last night, but he’s not completely sure that Thorin won’t resume his plan to leave if he goes to the kitchen to make breakfast. 

Luckily he doesn’t have to make such a choice, because Thorin starts to stir and come awake, evidently disturbed by Bilbo’s movements. Bilbo watches as Thorin’s dark eyelashes flutter, then blue eyes gaze up at him for a moment before Thorin turns his head and smiles. 

“So you were not a dream.” 

Bilbo smiles in return. “No.” When Thorin makes no move to rise from the bed, he settles back down, laying on his side and facing Thorin, their bare knees brushing under the covers. 

Thorin still wears a small smile, and is still looking at Bilbo as if he expects something to happen. 

“Well,” Bilbo says, feeling the need to break the silence, “last night was entirely, ah, unexpected. You couldn’t have sent word that you were coming? A letter? A messenger?” 

Thorin’s smile falters. “I wasn’t sure that you would receive me. You left the mountain before I woke after the battle, and the others told me you made no promise to return, nor any offer of hospitality.” 

Bilbo feels a spike of guilt at that. It had been rather cruel of him, in hindsight. When he said he’d grown fond of the dwarves, he hadn’t been lying, and he hadn’t meant just Thorin. It pained him to think that his companions, his friends, might doubt his affection for them. 

“I shouldn’t have done that,” he admits in a small voice. 

“I don’t blame you.” 

They lay in silence for a few moments more, Bilbo contemplating how best to bring up the one topic he hasn’t questioned Thorin on yet – he had said that he gave up the throne to Fili, and Bilbo had worried immediately at what might have been the cause of that. 

Bilbo puts on a bright smile and says cheerily, “Breakfast?” 

Thorin nods and smiles. “I’ve quite an appetite.”

 

 

Breakfast is a feast of various food stuffs that Bilbo had set out for their abandoned dinner the night before, including (leftover) carrots and potatoes. Bilbo watches Thorin out of the corner of his eye as he stuffs a forkful of roast pork into his mouth. The dwarf is noticeably more relaxed, and eats at a good pace, but not ravenously. Bilbo catches him staring more than once, and each time Thorin only smiles before looking back to his breakfast. All in all, it is a much better mood in the dining room than the night before, and the sun shining in through the round windows certainly helps. 

With his belly contentedly full, Bilbo sits back and sips his tea. Thorin is just polishing off the last of the bread and raspberry jam on his plate. 

“Thorin,” Bilbo starts, and Thorin looks over at him, his expression turning serious. “Last night, you said that you aren’t the king. That you gave it up.” 

Thorin swallows his food and nods. “I abdicated the throne, yes.” 

“But why?” 

The easy shrug that Thorin produces surprises Bilbo. “Because I don’t want it.” 

And Bilbo leaves it at that – for now.

 

 

The next two weeks feel to Bilbo like something truly out of a story book. He leads Thorin on a full tour of Hobbiton, and it’s with no small amount of satisfaction that Bilbo notes the reactions of other hobbits as they pass. 

“One of Mr. Baggins’ dwarves,” is a common utterance that follows them, and Thorin’s smile and mischievous look when he overhears is well worth any damage to what remains of Bilbo’s reputation. 

They share Bilbo’s bed, take all their meals together, and at night sit by the fire and talk of everything and nothing. Thorin shares stories of Erebor’s reconstruction and the months that followed the battle; in turn, Bilbo fills him in on some of the more interesting Shire gossip, often accompanied by explanations of the Who’s and the What’s. He relishes making Thorin laugh about such common happenings, reflects that their conversations during the Quest were always weighed down by the goal before them. 

But now, Thorin is relaxed and easy, sharing a smoke with Bilbo, helping him tidy the kitchen after meals. Only occasionally does he go quiet and somber, staring at some point on the wall or into the fire, but still Bilbo thinks it is a vast improvement over the dwarf he knew who could never seem to find a moment’s peace. 

They only speak of Thorin’s abdication a handful more times. Bilbo doesn’t press the issue, but haltingly, Thorin tells him of his general unhappiness in Erebor, his despondency, the unshakable feeling that, despite being in the place of his birth once again, Thorin was not where he belonged. 

Bilbo feels that there is probably a great deal more to say on the subject, but when Thorin tells him that he does intend to go back to Erebor from time to time, to visit his family and his people, to aid them if he can, Bilbo feels relieved. He certainly can’t argue that leaving Erebor has been bad for Thorin, not when the former king is so much quicker to laugh, so much less introverted. And when Thorin takes to coming up behind Bilbo at odd times and just wrapping an arm across his chest, breathing in against his curls, well – this is certainly a Thorin Oakenshield who appears to have shed a great weight from his shoulders, and how can Bilbo question that?

 

 

On the evening marking a fortnight since Thorin’s unforeseen arrival, the two are seated side by side in front of the fireplace, Bilbo puffing thoughtfully on his pipe, Thorin staring into the fire. 

“The dwarves of the Blue Mountains are expecting me,” Thorin says quietly. “Before leaving Erebor, I sent word out to the Ered Luin of my plans to assist them.” He looks over at Bilbo, an obvious apology in his eyes. 

Bilbo has been expecting this. After all, Thorin Oakenshield is true to his word.  Bilbo smiles, and rises from his chair to knock the cherry out of his pipe and into the fireplace. 

“I didn’t expect this sort of… welcome,” Thorin goes on, and now he is truly starting to look a bit miserable. “I came here to make peace with you, and truth be told, I expected you to send me away.” 

Bilbo laughs. “Foolish dwarf,” he says fondly. Thorin looks a bit affronted. 

“Bilbo, I’m trying to tell you that I have to leave. I don’t want to, but I gave them my word – king or no, I have-” 

“Thorin,” Bilbo interrupts him, “I know you have to leave. You can’t stay here, not if you’re expected elsewhere. The dwarves will worry, and no doubt send out search parties to find you.” Bilbo laughs again. 

Thorin looks miserable. “I am sorry, Bilbo.” 

Bilbo moves to stand before his chair, nudging the dwarf’s knees apart with his own. “Well I think it sounds grand,” Bilbo says, taking one of Thorin’s hands in his own. “A journey to the Blue Mountains, and then all the way back to Erebor – what a fine tale it will make!” 

Thorin studies their clasped hands, runs his thumb over Bilbo’s knuckles. “It will be more than a year before it’s finished,” he murmurs, “and I’d like to return here when it’s done.” Thorin looks up, studies Bilbo’s face for moment. “If you’d have me.” 

Bilbo smiles wide and toothy, and chuckles. “You don’t listen,” he chides, “I want to see mountains again, Thorin. I’m coming with you.” 

Thorin’s look of surprise makes Bilbo’s confidence falter for moment. He stammers, “If I can, that is – if you wouldn’t mind?” 

For a moment Thorin is still as stone, looking at Bilbo like he’s some impossible riddle. But then he pulls the hobbit down into a kiss that curls Bilbo’s toes, smiling against his mouth. “I would go anywhere you would go,” he says earnestly, and to Bilbo it sounds like a pledge. And then there’s no more room for words.

 

 

A week later, the pair step out the round door of Bag End and into the early morning sunshine. It’s warm for autumn, and the fall foliage of the Shire greets them merrily, blue skies above and not even a hint of a threat of rain. 

With all his affairs in order, and Hamfast’s promise to look after Bag End in their absence, Bilbo feels lighthearted and sure of himself. You’ll come back, both of you, he thinks, and you’ll not be the same but better. 

Bilbo locks his front door, tucks the key under a stone, and takes a last look about his garden. “It’s certainly more respectable than my last departure,” he says, and Thorin grins.

 

The winding paths of the Shire are both familiar and full of promise, and before long Bilbo is whistling a walking song. Thorin picks up the tune quickly and easily, and hums along.