Notes: I'm playing around with Thráin's eye-wound a bit (as he already had it in Erebor in the movie even though he really only took the wound in the Battle of Azanulbizar) and link it to the death of Thorin's mother.

Chapter 10 - Setting Out

Now (3021 T.A.)

"Thorin...wake up." Bilbo was standing next to the bed, wringing his hands. It was the day they were to start their journey and folks were slowly starting to arrive at the little cottage, but their great leader, Thorin Oakenshield, King of New Erebor, was still fast asleep. Bilbo had known their nightly activities would be a bad idea, but when gazing into Thorin's eyes, darkened with lust as they were, all reason evaporated and Bilbo's own desires had taken over. But luckily, he was a light sleeper so he had heard the knock on the door at break of dawn...

"Uncle still not awake?" Kíli stuck his head into the door, and smirked. "Well, there's a fool-proof remedy for that." And with that, he threw something in Bilbo's general direction. A wash cloth, icy cold, that impacted with the hobbit's face. "Oh, aim with arrows is much better, I guarantee it." Then the young dwarf quickly turned and disappeared, obviously fearing Bilbo's wrath. The hobbit, still shivering from the cold, stared down at the cloth in his hands. Well, if Thorin didn't want to wake on his own...

Bilbo's hand, and the cloth, were mere inches away from Thorin's face when a hand closed around the hobbit's wrist, gently but still unrelenting. "I don't think this would be very wise, Master Baggins," Thorin growled. Oh, so he was awake after all? Blue eyes fluttered open, his gaze a mixture of annoyance, love and... Surely Thorin wasn't hoping... "I was hoping my betrothed would be able to come up with another way to wake me..." Yes, he was apparently. "It will be a while until everyone has arrived, especially the elves will probably need hours yet to brush their hair and place it just so. We have time..." The sultry voice was almost enough to overpower Bilbo. Almost.

"We don't have time for that, Master Dwarf. While I can appreciate that you wish to make the most of things, I do not intend to start this journey unable to sit in the saddle." Did the great Thorin Oakenshield pout?! Surely that wasn't possible. But he had released Bilbo's wrist, arms crossed over his chest... "So, in the interest of my health, I think you better cool down somewhat." And with that he planted the cloth squarely on Thorin's face, then turned quickly and made a run for the door. "You better get ready before King Thrór and Thráin arrive..." And he shut the door on some rather colourful curses. He knew he'd pay for this in some way, but oh, it had been worth it.

Turning from the door, the hobbit chuckled to himself, and after taking only four or five steps, bumped into Kíli. The young dwarf had apparently been loitering near the door and was now in hysterics. "That was brilliant, Bilbo! You're dead, but it was still brilliant! I don't think I heard Thorin swear like that ever since Fíli and I were little and...and..." He bit his lower lip and then shook his head, "Nothing really. We were perfect little dwarflings, honest." Of course, and Smaug had been really friendly. Somehow, some way, Bilbo would find out what the two rascal nephews had been up to during their childhood. After avoiding certain death at the hands of his betrothed, that was.

And the sound of the opening door of the bedchamber made that an important endeavour indeed. Apparently Kíli shared the sentiment as he turned on his heels and raced for the kitchen. The hobbit, unfortunately, wasn't quite fast enough. Strong arms encircled his waist from behind pulling his back flush against a muscled chest. "That was truly wicked of you, my hobbit. Befitting a dwarfling..." The words, though spoken harshly, did not hold the venom they might have done on their first journey together. Calloused hands stroked Bilbo's chest and stomach soothingly before the hobbit was turned around in the embrace and Thorin rested his forehead against Bilbo's. "Are you ready, my burglar? The road awaits, but this time there won't be a dragon at the end of it, but our kingdom."

Our hear that? Eighty years ago he had referred to Erebor as your home but always his kingdom, but now... Shivers ran up and down Bilbo's spine. The thought of Thorin wishing to share his rule with a small and simple hobbit...with had Bilbo almost gasping for air. He nodded meekly, whispering, "I would follow you anywhere, Thorin, anywhere." His voice was growing more forceful now, "Even if Smaug and the Arkenstone waited at the end, I would fight them both and this time, this time I wouldn't let you succumb to the gold-lust. I would remind you time and again that I was there, by your side, that I wouldn't leave you..."

Thorin covered Bilbo's lips with his in a tender kiss. "Forever, Bilbo, if you will have me," he murmured against the hobbit's lips after breaking the kiss. "And sometimes I feel that even forever won't be long enough."

"Forever," Bilbo replied. "Forever." It was more than a promise, it was a vow and he sealed it with another gentle kiss. A kiss that was only broken by someone clearing their throat rather noisily behind Bilbo.

"Sorry to interrupt you two, but... You may wish to don your travelling gear, Thorin. Your father and grandfather have arrived to bid us adieu and even our elven friends are with us already. You owe me some gold for that..." Thorin groaned and Balin smirked before winking at the startled Bilbo. "Oh, nothing to worry about, laddie. Your betrothed and I just had a little bet regarding the arrival of Lord Ecthelion and Glorfindel. And he's lost." Dwarves and their love for betting... "Oh, and might want to give me your nephews' shares as well as they won't be so gracious..." Thorin just harrumphed and, after pressing his lips to Bilbo's forehead, disappeared into the bedchamber. Only to reemerge five minutes later in his travelling outfit, three small coin bags in his hand.

"Here! Though I may ask our elven friends if someone spoke to them about the time they would be expected here. And if anyone has..." There was a dangerous glint in Thorin's eyes, and Bilbo promised himself that he would make darn sure to never ever find himself at the receiving end of it.

Balin, however, seemed completely unflustered. "Now come on, Thorin. Do you really think I would break the rules of betting in such an obvious way?" The hobbit quickly made a mental note to never bet against Balin as the older dwarf hadn't said he wouldn't break the rules of gambling...only that he wouldn't break them in such a way. "And neither would your rascal nephews. We are honourable dwarves, and you would do well to remember that." Thorin's glare did not lessen a bit. "Oh well, as I was saying...Thrór and Thráin are here. Surely you don't want them to wait around, now do you?"


An hour later the sun had fully risen and the travelling party was almost ready to set out. Thrór and Thráin would join them until they reached Tirion, but the two elves had apparently asked their respective lords for leave to continue on to the mountain with them. Oh joy. Two pointy-ears in Erebor. What's next? But the truth was that he didn't mind having Ecthelion and Glorfindel amongst their new Company as Fíli and Kíli insisted on calling their little travelling group. But he would be damned if he ever admitted as much. Though he had a feeling that Bilbo had guessed already. The hobbit was way too smart for his own good, and for Thorin's peace of mind.

Bilbo himself was currently busying himself with last minute preparations, but once in a while Thorin could see the hobbit's hand reach inside his jacket pocket to check that, yes, the pocket handkerchief was really there and he wouldn't set out without it again. Just as Thorin was about to turn back to his own pony to secure Orcrist, Kíli walked up to Bilbo, beaming. Now this could be interesting. Especially as a certain pair of elves was following behind his younger nephew. "Bilbo! I hope you find everything how you would like it?" Bilbo nodded, confusion evident in his gaze. "And I made sure you wouldn't lack these either..." With that, Kíli revealed a small stack of handkerchiefs, tied together with a silk bow.

And as Bilbo stared at the little bundle Kíli was now placing in his hand, the two elves joined them. "My Lord Elrond also wishes to bestow this small gift upon you, Master Baggins," Glorfindel said and, with a bow, placed another small bundle on top of the first.

Bilbo was now positively sputtering. "I...that is..." Looking around, his eyes locked with Thorin's and he gazed at the dwarf imploringly. Thorin smiled as he slowly walked over.

Frodo, Ori and Balin had joined the little gathering by the time Thorin reached them, and a beautiful blush graced Bilbo's face...up to the tips of his pointy ears. "What my betrothed so very eloquently tried to express," he winked at the hobbit who in turn shot him one of his murderous glares, "was his gratitude. It is indeed a blessing to have such thoughtful friends and family." Bilbo nodded. "Though I think you've overwhelmed him with just how thoughtful you are..." That earned him a jab in the ribs.

"Yes, thank you very much indeed. I will not want for handkerchiefs on this journey or any other in the future I don't think." He turned to his pony again to stow away the two bundles and it was then that Frodo pulled Thorin aside.

There was a small pile of kerchiefs in his hand as well. "I think he would have dropped dead or something if I had given these to him as well." The young hobbit was biting his lower lip and pushed the bundle into Thorin's hands. "Could you give them to him? When he is not mortally embarrassed? I...I didn't know others would give him any, and I know how upset he was the last time he didn't bring them..."

Thorin nodded, "That he was indeed, Master Frodo. So much so that I was inclined towards telling him to just go back to his little cosy hobbit hole and forget all about the quest."

"And why didn't you?" Inquisitive eyes caught and held the dwarf's. "Why didn't you just send him back?"

Thorin pulled the hobbit further away from the others and then turned to face him. "How much do you know about dwarven culture?" Frodo shrugged. "I was, am, an heir of Durin the Deathless, I was bound by my heritage as much as one could be bound by chains. The quest was ever on my mind, like a curse... I knew that I had to reclaim Erebor, but I also knew that going back, after so many years...I feared that I would end like my grandfather, and I did. You could call it a self-fulfilling prophecy if you wish. I feared it would happen all along, that there would be nothing to stop it... And then I set foot into Bag End."

"You... You went on the journey fully expecting that it would be your undoing?" Thorin shrugged. "I didn't know..."

"It is something we have in common it would seem. And you had Master Gamgee like I..."

Frodo shook his head vehemently. "Not quite like that. But you...Uncle Bilbo..."

"If you ever have the pleasure of meeting my sister, she will tell you that I was destined to meet your uncle. And she would probably be right in saying that." Thorin sighed, running his fingers through his hair. His hand, as so often of late, came to rest on the courting bead. "The moment I saw him, I knew. And that very same moment I vowed to not let him get close to me, to keep him away whatever the cost. But I couldn't..." He couldn't believe he was telling anyone and least of all Bilbo's nephew about this, but the way Frodo was looking at him...some of the pain Thorin had known himself was reflected in the hobbit's eyes... "I nearly succeeded in the Misty Mountains, but even if we hadn't been captured by the goblins, I do not believe I would have been able to let him go."

"Sometimes I wished I could send Sam away...send him back home. But I...I needed him. Especially once we had encountered Smeagol. I couldn't have done it without Sam. And still I failed him at the end." The hobbit lowered his gaze and Thorin was convinced he could see Frodo's eyes brimming with unshed tears. "I wonder if Bilbo had been less fragile...if he had gone in my stead." That made Thorin pause. Bilbo? Going to Mordor and Mount Doom? "He didn't tell you, did he? He volunteered. Before I did. He said he would go. And before he did, I could see his hand reach inside his shirt as if...he took strength from something within..."

His ring...Bilbo had drawn strength from his ring. His hobbit had...volunteered to set out to find his doom. Loyalty, honour, a willing thought you found that within the dwarves of your company. But they were always there in Bilbo as well. "Your uncle will never cease to amaze me...and I thought he was no more than a grocer..." He clasped the hobbit's shoulder, "You asked me a question, Frodo. Why couldn't I send Bilbo away? Because for all my vows to not let him touch me, he had made a home in my heart the moment I saw him. Because I knew that without him, we would in all likelihood not succeed. And I cannot explain why it took Azog's attack and my brush with death for me to admit this to myself and Bilbo. Nor do I know why I let the gold-lust take me, why I didn't fight it... But I know that I will be forever thankful to whoever it was that gave me a second chance at this...a chance to make things right."

Frodo beamed at him, "So you do love him as he loves you. He never told me, I didn't even know of the ring until we were on the ship from the Havens, but I always knew that he had lost more than friends in that battle... But now...I never thought Bilbo could be so happy. Well, when he isn't all flustered and embarrassed." The hobbit winked but then turned in startlement when someone...Bilbo of all people...tapped him on the shoulder.

"I heard that, nephew," Bilbo said with mock-disapproval. "We are about ready, so you may want to see to your pony..." Frodo nodded and rushed off. "And I see my nephew was so kind to provide some more handkerchiefs. Valar! I will never be allowed to forget about that particular incident, will I?"

Shaking his head, Thorin pulled his hobbit into an embrace, "I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you. But they only mean well. And it was a perfect opportunity for Frodo and I to speak of certain things. Like you volunteering to go to Mordor for example." Bilbo pulled away, gaze part worried, part indignant. "You must be the bravest hobbit ever, Bilbo Baggins." The hobbit's eyes softened as he reached up to caress Thorin's cheek. The dwarf king quickly covered the smaller hand with his, still craving the physical contact even after the weeks they had spent together. Part of him apparently still feared that all this was but a dream, but the warm hand beneath his was real, as were the lips he brushed with his in a chaste and fleeting kiss.

Bilbo suddenly broke the embrace and took a few steps back. "None of that, Master Dwarf, or we will never be able to leave. Now..." he held out his hands, "give me those handkerchiefs so I can put them with the others and go find your father. He was looking for you." But when he took the small bundle from Thorin, his hand lingered on the dwarf's. "Thank you...for allowing Frodo to see you the way I do. For not putting up those walls for him."

"Within a year, he will be my nephew as he is yours. Besides," he grinned, "I really do not wish to be fed to the Eagles of Manwë." Bilbo smiled back at him and nodded before walking to his pony. Thorin, in turn, went to find Thráin.

His father was sitting outside the cottage on a little bench Bilbo so loved to spend his afternoons smoking on. When he saw Thorin approach, Thráin got to his feet. "Ah, there you are. There is something I wish to discuss with you before we are off." He reached inside his coat and retrieved a small...cloak clasp. "This was your mother's..." It was beautiful; made of mithril, it had the same design as his signet ring. "I gave it to her on the day of our bonding ceremony. She would have wanted it to go to your betrothed. Though she probably didn't expect it to be a hobbit." Thráin smiled at that and placed the clasp in Thorin's hands. "Never take his love for granted, never take him for granted. And listen to him, son. Don't make the same mistakes I did...they made me lose her." His mother, and his sight in his left eye...and even though he had regained his eyesight here in Valinor, Thorin's mother was still lost to him, to both of them.

She would remain in the Halls, the memory of her death still haunting her. And ever since the Battle of Azanulbizar, she had Frerin by her side, the brother who had been so very much like Thorin, who might never chose to live amongst the elves who betrayed them. Maybe, one day, they would choose to be with their family again, would see their kingdom restored to its former glory. But as Thorin carefully ran his fingers over the clasp he knew that now he had a new family. A family that consisted of his rascal nephews and the three dwarves of his Company that had so far found their way to Valinor. And then there was one, no, now they were two...two elves who didn't seem to take a hint when he growled at them to go away. And two hobbits. Frodo and Bilbo...his burglar. And it was time to lead his family home at long last...