Notes: I blame my Thorin for the ending. Entirely! I didn't mean to write a cliffy (of sorts), I really really didn't. Just, um, use your imagination if you want to know what happens next, okay? For I shan't be writing another interlude so soon after the last. No sir! Not even for blue-eyed dwarves, no matter how they plead with me :P

Translation of Khuzdul: Ukrd - greatest heart.


Chapter 18 - Snow Comes to Erebor

Now (3021 T.A.)

"Bilbo, come quick! You have to see this. They're behaving like children! And everyone calls me immature." Kli pouted, but there was mirth in his eyes and he bounced up and down as he watched the hobbit wrap himself up warmly. Snow had come to Erebor a week after Bilbo had woken and now Yuletide was drawing near and the halfling had the entire mountain in an uproar. A festival in winter was a novelty the dwarves were only too happy to adopt. All the happy smiles and glowing faces had touched even Kli's heart and he was slowly becoming the dwarf he had always been; buoyant and cheerful with a knack for mischief. He still carried the guilt around with him like a cloak, but found it hard to keep everything bottled up, especially when Bilbo gave him one of those looks.

Only the previous evening, he had been seated by the fire...Bilbo by his side...while Thorin and Fli had been busy with papers and blueprints and what have you. 'Thel had stormed off in a huff an hour before and had only just rejoined them with both Elrond and Fin in tow. Normally he would have found a way to eavesdrop on the conversation in the study, but not that night. Quite the contrary. He told Bilbo of his earliest memories, of realising that Thorin wasn't his father like he'd always thought, but that his father had died before his birth. That he would never know him. He told the hobbit how he had cried himself to sleep for so many nights and how he had taken to sleeping in Fli's bed to make sure nothing would ever happen to his brother. And Bilbo had listened and had held him when the tears began to fall.

Later they found out that Ecthelion had wanted some input into the Yule celebrations and that Fli, not Thorin, had told him to make the necessary arrangements...which included getting deliveries of mirovar and other delicacies from Tirion as soon as possible...to put an elven touch to the festivities. 'Thel had clearly been less than happy about that and had dragged Lord Elrond and Fin away from their supper to support him. However, as it had been 'Thel's idea, Fin and Elrond had agreed that it should fall to Ecthelion to get the necessities as well. So they had bid him farewell that morning and seen him riding off into the snow, storm clouds gathering above his head. He would have to be fast indeed, what with Yule approaching and less than a month to go.

Bilbo had finally turned himself into a thick bundle of wool and furs...Thorin had insisted on those...and knitted goodies with a hobbit filling and was giving Kli one of those looks that meant someone was in trouble. Kli only hoped it wasn't him. "So what are they doing that is so childish? And who, pray tell, are they in the first place?"

Oh, hadn't he said so already? He motioned for the bundle that was Bilbo to follow him out of the Royal Wing. "I'll tell you while we're walking if that's alright with you." Bilbo nodded. Or at least Kli thought he did; it was hard to tell with all the layers. "Well, it all started quite innocently really. Fli threw a snowball at Frodo, you know, just because it's the first real snow we're having this winter and...well..." Maybe they were just big children, he and his brother, but they were young after all, compared to a certain other dwarf who really should know better. "Frodo obviously wanted to retaliate but unfortunately... Uncle had stepped up to Fli at that point and Frodo kind of missed his aim and hit Thorin squarely in the face. It was a truly magical moment with Thorin spitting snow and shaking himself. Only..."

"What is your uncle doing to my nephew?!" Oh dear, Thorin is your uncle all of a sudden.

"When I left, he was in the process of turning Frodo into a snow hobbit...but then Balin and Ori stepped in on behalf of Frodo and...it all went downhill from there." Bilbo growled, Bilbo actually growled. "But don't worry, they were all laughing as well. Even Frodo...under all the snow Thorin had piled upon him." The hobbit just harrumpfed as they walked through the main gates out of the mountain and into what had turned into a massive snow battle. The entire populace of Erebor had apparently joined in...well, not the entire populace, but a large portion of it. The few dwarflings living in the mountain squealed with joy as their mothers chased after them; brandishing scarves, mittens and woolen hats.

It was relatively easy to pick out Thorin and the others in all the mayhem, and Bilbo practically stormed over to them. But before the hobbit could start yelling at the king, a snowball landed in his face...thrown by none other than Frodo. He had apparently freed himself from Thorin's clutches and was now thoroughly enjoying himself. As were Fli, Thorin and all the others. Even in had joined in and was now surrounded by little ones telling them how he was an expert at building snow forts. Well, only one way to find out if he truly was. Dragging Fli away from where he was building up a stock of snowballs, Kli joined in and offered their services in the construction of the most amazing snow fort Valinor had ever seen.

And when after a few hours their empty stomachs forced them back inside, Kli felt happier than he had in...forever. After Bilbo had finished glaring at Thorin and the subsequent kissing and doe-eye-making, Bilbo had once again appeared by Kli's side to supervise. The hobbit's presence was like a balm, soothing the young dwarf's aching heart. And if both Thorin and Fli looked at them with proud smiles, even better. His family was with him, was there for him; whether he wanted them to or not. However, where before he had tried to deal with all his demons by himself, he had been forced to realise that he couldn't. That he needed help.

There were things he had never been able to share with anyone, not even with Fli. Especially not with Fli. Not out of distrust for his brother, but out of the need to not cause the blond dwarf any pain beyond what he surely felt anyway. But now he had Bilbo, who refused to back down. And he could confide in the hobbit, could tell him about his father, about feeling lost for all of his life, about the teasing remarks... Bilbo never judged, never scolded. He only ever held Kli and told him again and again that he was loved. That he had a family who would do everything to see him happy. And to let go of those feelings of guilt regarding Thorin's death and Bilbo's accident. Slowly, ever so slowly, Kli was beginning to believe, to hope...

Now, sitting in the King's Apartments, he caught his brother's gaze and Fli smiled at him. Then his brother gestured towards Bilbo with his head and winked. The hobbit was still nibbling on something even though lunch had been over for an hour or so. Thorin naming him a bottomless pit seemed more than called for, despite Bilbo's complaints. He was so focused on the eating hobbit that he nearly jumped when arms encircled his waist and he was pulled into a tight hug. "I always knew he'd be good for Thorin, but... I'm glad you allowed him in. I know there are things you do not wish to trouble me with, but Kli, I know. I've always known. But I understand why you never came to me about it either." Fli sighed, his blue eyes pleading, "I am sorry how I behaved towards you as a child..."

"Hush, brother. I was your annoying baby brother, and trust me, I knew exactly how to drive you up the wall. You, mother and Thorin. I just... And later on, you were my best friend, Fli. Not only my brother. How could I ever cause you pain?" His shoulders slumped as he lowered his gaze, but Fli's hand was there to stop him.

"Whenever you are ready, Kli...talk to me. I don't care if it opens up old wounds, you are worth so much more than that." Fli squeezed his hand then and Kli could only nod. "Trust us not to abandon you, all of us. For we do love you; even though you're a pig-headed son of trolls, who can't tell the sharp end of a sword from the blunt. It's why Thorin suggested you use a bow...harder to shoot yourself than to stab..." Whatever else he had meant to say was lost in helpless giggles as Kli tickled his brother within an inch of his life. And later, when they were lying side by side on Fli's bed, discussing their plans for the Yule festivities, Kli vowed that he would tell his brother. Only not just yet. But soon...

---

"Whatever you are doing to Kli, it is working. I don't recall him ever seeking the presence of another quite like he seeks out yours. Not even his brother's..." He smiled at the blushing hobbit, and then added in a very tongue-in-cheek way, "Should I be jealous? After all, he is younger than me and..."

"And I suggest you don't continue this line of thought or you will be spending the night out on the balcony, in the snow." Bilbo looked up from the book he'd been reading, and glared at Thorin. "We can call ourselves lucky that Kli didn't push me away the first time I tried to speak to him, don't you think?" The dwarf nodded, and so Bilbo continued, "I love them both just as much as I love Frodo, and it pains me to know that Kli... He brings such joy and laughter to us all, when he himself is so tortured." He sighed and dropped the book onto his thighs, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. "He's so practiced at hiding his true feelings behind that mask of happiness...it reminds me of myself."

Thorin didn't have to ask what Bilbo meant by that. They had both led half-lives during their separation and there was nothing he could do to take that pain away from the hobbit. So he did the only thing possible. Getting up, he walked past the fireplace and knelt by Bilbo's side, taking the hobbit's hands in his. "That's behind you now, ukrd. You will never again have to pretend that you're fine even when you're not." Lifting Bilbo's hands to his lips, he kissed both palms before continuing. "You have left the need for doing so behind you the moment you stepped on that ship at the Havens. Because no matter what, I would have been here, waiting. Even if you were still that frail old hobbit; I would still love you. You'd still be my burglar."

He had been staring at their hands, fingers entwined and only now noticed the tears that were running down Bilbo cheeks. And yet the hobbit smiled. "I am glad though...glad that I'm not my old self anymore. My...my eyesight was slowly failing me, and I knew that before long, I wouldn't be able to see that drawing of you anymore. Not properly. And Thorin, if I was that worried about a drawing, how much harder do you think it would have been not to see the real thing? Though I would have been able to see you with my hands." He gently pulled his hands from Thorin's grasp then and began to map the dwarf's face with his fingers. Thorin leaned into the touch, his eyes fluttering shut. "He...the old me...he still loved you as fiercely as before though, longed for you..." Bilbo's voice was hitching then, and without seeing the halfling's face, Thorin knew he was blushing.

Opening his eyes, he leaned in to kiss the tip of Bilbo's nose, his fingers catching a stray lock of auburn hair and brushing it back. Soon it would be long enough for more braiding. "And I for him. Even before you set foot on Valinor soil and age was lifted off of you, simply knowing it was you. I was appalled to say the least, that I entertained such thoughts before I knew you truly had forgiven me." The blush intensified. "And then, when you stood before me, I... You are the most beautiful creature I ever beheld, Bilbo Baggins, and your beauty has very little to do with your outward appearance. Though," he lowered his gaze, only to look back up through his lashes, "it did help in the beginning. Or rather, it didn't."

Bilbo chuckled, "Well, I am terribly sorry to inform you that for me it was your outward appearance that pulled me in at first. And those brief glimpses when you let down your guard...your eyes...I thought I might drown in their depth. But I assure you, it wasn't your charming personality."

The dwarf huffed. "I assure you that I was as charming as I could ever be." Bilbo shot him one of those looks, as if the hobbit was wondering if Thorin had lost his mind. "You were witness of how I treated my nephews, were you not? And if you ask them, or Balin, they will tell you that it's a sign of..."

"If you're trying to tell me that I should have been happy to be sneered at each and every day, I'm going to wonder if your affections have waned since as you aren't rude anymore, nor do you belittle me. Quite the contrary." Thorin shrugged as the hobbit chuckled happily. "Though I am glad...I'm not sure I could have endured another month or two of being called a grocer, nuisance, and whatever else it was. I much prefer betrothed to any of them. Even though it means having to endure people bowing to me or asking me for advice. Only today, Ragnar inquired if I knew of a cure for his wife's morning sickness."

"And if I was informed correctly, you did. Some sort of tea, was it not?" Bilbo nodded as the blush made a return. "Which works better than the poultice in recommended." Another nod, and the hobbit glanced away, clearly embarrassed. But Thorin was having none of that. Gently he cupped the halfling's face, turning his head so their eyes met again. "Tell me if I am asking too much, if this is not what you want. If being my official consort..." His voice was breaking and he was unable to continue. Fear gripped his heart and held it in an iron grip. What if Bilbo truly was unhappy? Could he...

His line of thought was utterly interrupted by soft lips on his, and by sparkling grey eyes that thawed the wall of ice his fear, close to panic, had erected around Thorin's heart. And then Bilbo smiled at him. "Do I feel undeserving of the honours bestowed upon me? Yes. I am a hobbit and not of noble birth or anything even remotely like that. But I knew what I was getting myself into when...when we shared our first kiss. Even though I was convinced you would brush me aside once you had reclaimed your mountain." Warm fingers touched the side of Thorin's face, stroking his temples. "Do I wish at times we could go back to our cottage? Yes. But I knew that I was accepting the courting bead of a king and not of a lesser dwarf. I love you, Thorin Oakenshield, and you will never know how much. There is nowhere I would rather be than by your side. Only...forgive this foolish hobbit for feeling less than worthy at times..."

"It is that which makes you worthy, Bilbo. I never understood that until... Until we lost it all. But after the dragon took Erebor... Especially after Moria, I felt as if we had failed our people, as if the Line of Durin had failed. We built a new home in the Blue Mountains, yes. And we prospered. There was trade between our halls and the Shire and Bree...and even some elves, though I never sanctioned that, I assure you. That was my beloved sister going behind my back." Ds...sweet, beloved, infuriating Ds. How he missed her. Despite the fact that she would kill him the moment she saw him. "We could have been happy there, should have been happy there. But I thought, foolishly, that I did not deserve to be called 'King' unless I had that stone. Unless we had reclaimed our homeland. However, if I hadn't felt that way, I would never have met a certain hobbit, who, ever so slowly, changed my life...for the better."

Bilbo threw his arms around the dwarf then, the book that had still been resting on his knees falling to the floor. Thorin was startled for a second or two before he pulled the hobbit closer to him and held him in a tight embrace. His hobbit. Who had apparently been studying Khuzdul by the looks of it. Smiling into Bilbo's hair, he read the book's title. It was the very first book young dwarves were given as they began their lessons of their secret language. He had been an idiot...again...to believe Bilbo didn't want to be with him, to rule with him. The hobbit was embracing it all, and it was only his humility that made him embarrassed whenever someone bowed or asked advice. Breathing in the scent of the precious creature in his arms, he wished for winter, spring and summer to pass as quickly as they could. It was still such a long time until he could finally, finally...

"You are thinking so loudly that I can almost hear your thoughts," Bilbo mumbled into Thorin's neck before pulling away and returning to his seat, picking up the book as he went. "Do I want to know what you're pondering this time?"

"I'm only thinking of the moment I can give you the second bead and place another braid into your hair. I cannot wait to see you in dwarven garments, with the consort's circlet upon your brow. And I long to take you to these chambers afterwards, and make love to my... What?" Bilbo's face had turned from inquisitive to thoughtful and then to something akin to gleeful.

"The bead, huh? I think you just gave me the perfect excuse to keep Kli busy, to make him feel very much needed." His laughter filled the room before he continued, "Oh, but it will be torturous for you. To know that your nephews both will be a part of the bead's conception and creation while you'll have to wait for months yet to see it." Whoever said that hobbits were sweet and kind creatures, maybe even a bit slow at times and that the only thing they truly worried about was the next meal...whoever that was had been a bloody liar. Yes, Bilbo loved his food and drink, but he adored books and maps and knowledge almost as fervently, if not more. And there definitely was a mischievous streak to him...one that didn't stop at teasing Thorin but that also extended to...other things.

And he would show his hobbit that this dwarf could match whatever mischief Bilbo could come up with. Thus, he pried the book from Bilbo's fingers and shifted his position so he knelt between the hobbit's thighs. "And I will make you pay for each mention of said bead, ukrd. I will make you scream..." Bilbo must have seen the feral look Thorin bestowed upon him, for he swallowed, pupils dilating. And the dwarf smirked as his hands undid the buttons of the hobbit's trousers and he reached inside to claim his prize...