Translation of Khuzdul: Ukrd - greatest heart.

Chapter 21 - A Conspiracy

Now (3021 T.A.)

Primula and Drogo smiled as they held their son between them. And Frodo, well Frodo was still quite shell-shocked. And for some reason Thorin looked almost disappointed at the young hobbit's reaction. What had he expected? For Frodo to faint like he himself had done on several occasions now? Oh wait, he probably had. And for the dwarf it would probably constitute something funny as well. Curse the foolishness of the dwarves. How had he gotten himself entangled in their affairs anyway? Wait, Gandalf. Silly wizard. And Bilbo owed his happiness to him. Even though his happiness was currently displeased that poor Frodo hadn't fainted at the sight of his parents. Dwarves!

Eventually Frodo visibly calmed and a smile that lit up his entire face appeared on his lips. "Ma? Pa? Oh I've missed you so much!" Primula was crying, and Drogo wasn't too far away from it either. Bilbo took this as a cue to leave and give the family some privacy. But just as he was about to drag Kli away from Frodo's side...Fli had already stepped back and stood with Thorin now...his nephew caught his eyes. "Thank you, Bilbo. I... This is the best Yule present ever. Thank you." And his tears of joy joined his mothers. Bilbo simply nodded and took hold of Kli's arm. The dark-haired dwarf beamed and allowed the hobbit to drag him away.

Once they were out of earshot though, Thorin and Fli having joined them, Kli rounded on Bilbo, "How did you manage this? We would have known it if Frodo's parents had been around...your mother would have made sure that we met them. So how..." Bilbo just shrugged and muttered something noncommittal about Yavanna and her children. "Oh very well then, keep your secrets. Maybe I should also keep mine then. Even though I'm desperate to tell you about it." Kli grinned. Grinned like the Kli of old. The sight of it warmed Bilbo's heart and he felt Thorin's presence beside him before a strong arm was wrapped around his shoulders. The king had seen it, too.

"And what secret is that, oh nephew of mine?" Thorin's voice was filled with mirth and warmth, and Kli smiled almost shyly at his uncle. There had apparently been but a few times when the older dwarf had spoken in this manner to Kli, and he revelled in it. More than that, Thorin was interested in whatever mischief Kli was up to now.

"Well... I think Bilbo's nephew may be entering some sort of romantic entanglement. Actually, I'm quite sure of it." Bilbo blinked. Frodo? In love? But with who? And then he saw his nephew's mittened hands as they held on to both his mother and father. And suddenly everything fell into place. Ori! Of course. They had been spending nearly every waking moment in each other's company. And Frodo was working with him in the library. "Though, I do not believe the two of them are aware of their feelings as yet. Or maybe they are, but they probably believe they are unrequited. Even though it's quite clear they are very much returned." Kli was beaming; like a little child with a new toy. A new toy?!

"You will stay out of this! Do you hear me, Kli? No matchmaking or anything of the kind." The young dwarf's face fell and immediately Bilbo regretted his words.

"But Bilbo... If it hadn't been for Fli and myself, you and Thorin might still be dancing around each other." Excuse me? "Remember the shield? We gave it to you and I'm quite sure it had some sort of influence on uncle and pushed him into action. Oh..." Apparently Kli had only now remembered that the dwarf in question was standing with them as well, and could hear each and every word.

But neither Kli nor Bilbo could have ever foreseen Thorin's reaction. "So that was your doing? I might have known." There was no bite to his words, no venom, and no anger at his nephews for meddling in things they shouldn't have. "While I was more than happy to have my shield back, it had very little to do with my decision to pursue our dearest burglar, to follow the path my heart had laid out before me." Bilbo simply stared. They hadn't really spoken of that night at Beorn's, at least not in detail. And the hobbit had never questioned why Thorin had been seeking him out. From the corner of his eye he saw Fli drag Kli further away to give them some privacy. The golden-haired dwarf winked at Bilbo and smiled.

And Thorin... He rested his forehead against Bilbo's, whispering, "To hold you in my arms on the was as if I'd finally found something I never even knew I was missing. And while there was a chance that you'd reject me, I had to know. I had to find out if you cared as much as I did. Though putting yourself between me and certain death was a pretty good indication that you did. Even though part of me wanted to shout at you for doing something so stupid." That made Bilbo chuckle. "You could have been killed, ukrd, taken away from me forever." Then his eyes turned thoughtful and he added, "Well, maybe not forever, but I would have believed it to be forever until meeting you again on these shores."

"I could hardly allow that orc to cut off your head, now could I?" The memory had lost its terror, and he could now smile at it, albeit a bit ruefully. "I had gotten quite attached to having you around, even though you were constantly berating me for this, that or the other." It was Thorin's turn to smile wistfully. "I simply knew that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn't at least try to save you. But even after you embraced me, I never dared to even dream that you would...that you could... However, I am more than glad that you did."

He reached up to cup the dwarf's face so he could properly gaze into those sapphire pools. "Because despite all the attentions that I now receive...attentions that I never wanted, that are so very much not what a gentlehobbit should be looking for...despite the fact that you are driving me up the wall with your dwarven stubbornness at times and despite the pain we both had to suffer through, I love you, Thorin Oakenshield. And I've never been as happy as I am now. And how could I not be? With you by my side." A smile was tugging at the corners of his mouth as he added, "And to think that Frodo may find the same thing...with a quiet soul like fills my heart with such joy."

"He has suffered through much, it is true. More than either of us will ever know, and yet, I almost envy him." That gave Bilbo pause. Pain and hope were warring across the dwarf's face, but his eyes retained their warmth as he gazed down at the hobbit. "He never had to live with the memory of tears streaming down your face, with the knowledge that I was leaving behind the most precious thing I ever called my own. Every time you smile at me now is like a precious gift, Bilbo, and I will never be able to thank my foolish nephews enough for making certain decisions on my behalf and dragging me into this elf-infested land. So in a way, Kli is right. Without them, we would not be as we are now. And our hearts would forever bleed for one another." He fell silent then, his hands taking hold of Bilbo's wrists to pull them away from his face. He turned the hobbit's hands over then and leaned down to kiss his knuckles.

Bilbo blinked back the tears that threatened to spill from his eyes. There were no words to express how he felt in that very moment, no words at all. So he simply smiled, trying to convey his emotions that way. And Thorin understood. This was what that night had been all about. A celebration of the future they would share. They were no longer parted and nothing would ever tear them asunder again. And as the dwarf had put it, their hearts would never again bleed for each other.

"Um, sorry to interrupt, but people are staring at you two. With massive smiles, yes, but... I think Bilbo might feel somewhat uncomfortable with it." Fli's expression was one of worry, mixed with a healthy dose of mirth. But Bilbo simply shrugged. He wouldn't allow staring dwarves to stop him from showing his betrothed how beloved he was. And so, instead of shying away from Thorin, he instead freed his hands from the dwarf's grasp and pulled his head down for a kiss. A chaste kiss, but a kiss no less. Kli snickered and Fli sighed, "Or you can just ignore what I said and continue being all lovey dovey. Not that it's anything strange for dwarven eyes to see a king and his mate in this way, but I thought you were too...delicate. But trust our burglar to surprise us all yet again and rise above and beyond the bounds of his race and beat all those silly feelings of embarrassment." And if he hadn't been Thorin's heir and they hadn't been surrounded by their subjects, Bilbo was sure Fli would have stuck out his tongue at him.

Kli was holding on to his brother's shoulder, almost doubling over with laughter. "The look...on your face, Bilbo. It's priceless!" The young dwarf was almost hyperventilating and drew some funny looks from bypassers, but he didn't care. Or simply couldn't stop. And his brother wasn't any better with his smug expression, like a cat that just had a bowl of cream.

There was only one way to somehow regain control over the situation, and that was to give the two of them something new to focus on. He murmured, "I'm sorry Frodo," to himself before addressing the two young dwarves in front of him. "So how are you going to go about it then? Both Frodo and Ori are more than shy when it comes to new friends, let alone anything deeper. And I can assure you that Frodo will not make the first move, even once he acknowledges the feeling you claim he harbours for our dear scribe. He is very much a Baggins in that way. I know I wouldn't have approached Thorin..."

The dwarf in question had placed a hand around his shoulders again, his voice filled with mirth as he asked, "So you expect Ori to take the initiative? I hate to crush your illusions, my hobbit, but Ori is not like me."

"Oh really, I hadn't noticed," Bilbo deadpanned. "Thanks for telling me lest I marry him instead of you. And maybe I shall do it yet, now that I think about it."

"I'm afraid you would have to battle it out with your nephew now," Thorin shot back. "I think you had better stay where you are now. And help Ori and Frodo along." He kissed the side of Bilbo's head before turning his attention to his nephews. "So what do you propose we do?" We? Was Thorin actually going to join in with the matchmaking? Frodo and Ori were doomed! But maybe they were doomed to be happy together and surely that couldn't be bad.

"Well..." Kli's brow was furrowed as if he was deep in thought, and Fli glanced at his brother, bemused by his antics. "I am convinced they care about one another. Their gifts and the way they exchanged them, it was very obvious really. Did you know Frodo made a book for Ori? On hobbit customs and the like? And Ori knit Frodo mittens that are the same shade as your nephew's eyes, Bilbo." A book? That must have taken Frodo weeks if not... Kli was studying him, he could tell. Especially when he nodded to himself and grinned. "See, I'm not making this up."

"We have to make sure, Kli. I admit that your arguments are sound, but..." Frodo had suffered so much and if he could find the happiness he himself had found in the arms of Thorin, well, he would only gladly help things along. "I will speak with Frodo, will mention Ori and the Yule present... I will be able to read him better than the lot of you."

"Why Bilbo," Kli crooned, "that's positively wicked of you. And it will work, I'm sure of it." The young dwarf's brow furrowed then as if he was lost in thought. "So if you take care of Frodo, who of us should deal with our dearest scribe?" The grin on his face was positively frightening and as he turned to his brother, Fli swallowed. "How about you, brother dear? At least he won't be too suspicious if you show up in the library. He would simply know something was up if I did. After all, there's no way I would ever set foot in there normally."

Thorin sighed, "And believe me, Kli, it shows."

Kli's eyes narrowed as they focused on his uncle. "At least I didn't think a jewel was more important than Bilbo." Oh dear, that was a low blow. And Kli seemed to realise that as soon as the words had left his mouth. "I'm sorry, Thorin. I shouldn't have said that."

But Thorin, who had stiffened at his nephew's words, was shaking his head. "No, you are right. There is wisdom in you that I simply didn't see before. I should have listened to you, the three of you. I won't make that mistake again, I promise you." The youngest dwarf just stared open mouthed and his brother wasn't faring much better. "You were always eager to make friends amongst the other races, and I discouraged you from doing so. I didn't understand that it could be to our advantage. Especially not where the elves were concerned. And I paid the ultimate price for it. But worse than that, I dragged you down with me." Bilbo's hand had closed around Thorin's at that, and he was stroking the back of it now with his thumb. Small, soothing circles that made the dwarf tighten the grip he had on the hobbit. "Your kind of wisdom can't be found in books, Kli, it comes from within you."

Kli had moved forward and was now standing right in front of his uncle. Who released Bilbo's hand and pulled his nephew into a tight embrace. The hobbit exchanged glances with Fli at that and walked over to stand by the blond's side. "That has been a long time coming," Fli whispered. "Thorin never told Kli, not even here in Valinor. Never told him that he was proud of Kli. I could see it, and I thought my brother could as well, but..." He sighed before continuing, "He clearly didn't. He still cries at night, Bilbo, when he thinks I'm asleep. It's as if he is missing an integral part of his soul and nothing I do can help him. I'm afraid for him. How long can he exist like this?" And as Bilbo gazed up at the dwarf, he wondered if it was only Kli who was incomplete. But he also knew that Fli wouldn't say. Thorin's heir would always put his brother's happiness before his own and, not for the first time, the hobbit worried that Kli wasn't the only one who was plagued by guilt.

So Bilbo simply smiled ruefully and nodded, "I have seen it, too. But if we manage to keep him busy, we can maybe give him a lifeline until such time..." Fli gave a curt nod. And maybe it will also keep him occupied... Indeed. "I promise I will do everything I can to make him see that he is loved." 'And you,' he added silently.

The brunette had stepped back now and was smiling shyly. It was as if he had only now realised that the festivities were still very much ongoing around them, and that the king had hugged him in plain sight of his subjects, the elves and the hobbits. Bilbo could see Elrond in the distance, smiling as he leaned closer to his wife and whispered something into Celebran's ear. They both inclined their heads to him then and Bilbo smiled back. A little further away were Ecthelion and Glorfindel, with their mates, discussing something or other rather animatedly. Ecthelion was gesturing and the blond Elda stood stoically, shaking his head. Erestor and Ereinion were clearly rolling their eyes at the two of them in bemusement. Whatever it was the elves were arguing about, he wasn't sure he wanted to know. But he was equally sure he would before long.

"So," Thorin murmured, clearly aware of his nephew's discomfort. "If Bilbo interrogates Frodo, and you deal with Ori, and they both do have feelings for each other...what should our next step be." He pointedly looked at Kli, who blushed. He obviously wasn't used to be leading in...anything really. Even though Bilbo knew from Thorin's descriptions of the construction of their new kingdom that Kli had, in fact, been majorly involved in pretty much everything. From conception to finished product. But the young dwarf apparently didn't see it that way.

"Well, locking them into a room won't work with them. They'll just talk about maps and books and other boring things." That earned Kli a glare from the hobbit. Books were anything but boring, thank you very much indeed. "Not that it would have worked with the two of you until after Azog...and why did I just say that? Fee! I'm giving myself mental scars!" Fli snickered and ruffled his brother's hair. "I will have to drink myself into a stupor to forget all about it again." He sighed dejectedly. And Bilbo had to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from laughing. One look at Thorin confirmed the king wasn't faring any better. "Anyway, I believe we should then begin to drop, you know, hints. For example we could tell Frodo that Ori really loves the book... And so on. You get the general idea."

Bilbo nodded, as did the two other dwarves. "Then we are in agreement." Thorin turned to the hobbit with a smile. "And your nephew won't know what hit him." Blue eyes sparkled merrily and Bilbo couldn't help himself but lean up to brush his lips against the dwarf's.

"That we are, Master Oakenshield. That we are..."