Notes: I am aware that Balin is supposed to be younger than Thorin. But if Peter Jackson can mess with the timeline, then so can I.

Chapter 4 - Of Hobbits and Courting

Then (2942 T.A.)

"Uncle Thorin! You won't believe it! You won't believe who's here!" Kíli was...bouncing. Again. He'd been doing that almost every day since Thorin, Thrór and Thráin had put their heads together and had chosen the ideal mountain for their little project. Ecthelion, also known as that annoying elf who thought he practically lived with the three dwarves, had gathered some elven prospectors and they had determined that the mountain would be a worthy replacement for Erebor. Gold and silver veins were running under their feet, and even some Mithril. And gems...lots of gems. Thorin was hoping though that there wouldn't be another Arkenstone. That whole business had ended...not so well.

Every time he thought of the accursed jewel he saw those sad grey eyes, saw the heartbreak that before he had been too blind to see. He wished he could turn back time and simply shake himself. The stupid stone wasn't worth even half as much as Bilbo. Why couldn't he see that before? Why couldn't he trust...if not Bard and the humans, then at least his burglar? And his nephews for that matter? But no, he had to banish, worse. He'd tried to kill the hobbit...and whatever time they might have had together, they instead spent apart. Because of him... Because his lust for gold and that stone had been greater than his feelings for the hobbit. Only that wasn't the truth, was it? He simply hadn't been able to stop himself...and the more he thought about it, the more it became apparent that he, Thorin Oakenshield, who'd always prided himself on being in control of his actions, had basically been watching himself, unable to stop what he was doing as he was under the influence of...

"Uncle?" Fíli nudged him in the side, "are you even listening to us?" Thorin simply nodded, trying to dispel the thoughts that kept haunting him. "Well, we went to the market just outside of Tirion and...well, there was this hobbit lady and she overheard us talking to a vendor." Thorin raised a questioning eyebrow at his older nephew. "Well, we were just making conversation and all we said was how we had been to Hobbiton and how wonderful hobbit cuisine is... She pretty much cornered us as we were about to leave and demanded we tell her more. Well, it seems like she knows Bilbo...intimately..." Why was Kíli smirking at that? That was anything but good news considering he had to try and get along with the other races in Valinor and now this. He somehow doubted that killing a hobbit would be seen as getting along...

"Uncle...wipe that murderous glare off your face... I don't think Bilbo would thank you for killing his mother." His...mother? "Belladonna Took, eh, Baggins herself. We sort of...told her about the quest and all, and we might have mentioned some...other things as well..." He blushed a bright red. "Well, it's about time someone else knew anyway." That was added in a more stubborn manner and Thorin could feel a headache coming on. He'd had his reasons to keep his...relationship with the hobbit a secret. Except that right now he couldn't recall it, try as hard as he might. "So, um, she wants to meet you...urgently. She...and this is a direct quote, so don't hit the messenger...wants to meet the dwarf who thinks he's good enough for her son." By Aulë, he really wished he was just dead and gone...

And he still wished the same when two days later he found himself in the hobbit settlement of New Delving...which sounded more like a dwarven name, but he wasn't about to point that out...and was stared down by a short, but very formidable hobbit woman. And a somewhat less formidable, but equally staring gentlehobbit. Bilbo's parents, in the flesh. "So, Thorin think you can just go and break my son's heart, do you?" They had come to the whole battle and dying part and Thorin wished he had that magic ring Bilbo had used several times during their quest. Though he wasn't sure if Belladonna wouldn't be able to see him still, invisible or not.

"I'm sure he didn't die on purpose, dear..." Belladonna shot her husband one of those glares that make any male step softly around the offended female. Thorin was sure that even King Thingol wouldn't dare to speak up when faced with that glare...though he would plot the most gruesome revenge afterwards.

"That is of no interest to me, Bungo. Poor Bilbo..." Her similar to her son's that it was somewhat uncomfortable...were once again fixed on Thorin. "You... When my son reaches here, and I am sure he will, you will do your utmost to see him happy. With or without you! And if that means you have to kiss and cuddle the elves, then that is what you will do! Or you will find out what it means to make a Took angry! I may just be a hobbit, but..." Thorin had a hunch that there was no just to Belladonna, no matter how you looked at it. All of a sudden her eyes softened. "But if you care about him as much as I think you do..." And then he had found himself with an armful of hobbit. However, when Belladonna finally released him, she twitched his nose. "You better be worth it, Thorin Oakenshield, or all the dwarves in Valinor won't be able to save you..."

Now (3021 T.A.)

"So how would you like your eggs?" Bilbo was bustling around the kitchen as if he had lived there all his life and hadn't just arrived the previous day. "I'm glad the pantry is so well stocked, but I think I will still have to go to a market and buy some of those nasty green foods that Ori loves so much." He chuckled, and then stopped in his tracks. "They are selling fresh vegetables, right?" Thorin nodded, then smirked at Bilbo's relieved sigh. Hobbits did take their food very seriously indeed, he had learnt that in the past eighty years. And woe be tight if you didn't like something they prepared for you...or maybe that was just Belladonna Baggins. "Well, you three will finally get to try some proper hobbit cooking. I never got the chance...before..."

Thorin reached for Bilbo's hands and for a moment he wondered if he should tell Bilbo about his parents. But Belladonna had given him seven days, and by Aulë, he would use them. So instead he whispered, "We have all the time in the world now, my hobbit. And I'm sure my nephews would love to try whatever you prepare." Gazing deeply into the hobbit's eyes, he added, "As would I..." Placing a gentle kiss on Bilbo's lips, he pulled him closer until they were wrapped in a tight embrace.

That was, until the smell of something burning came from the stove and Bilbo rushed off, muttering that he'd never ever let anything burn before. Thorin thought he even heard something about useless dwarves, but surely Bilbo would never say anything like that...surely not. But whatever it was the hobbit mumbled, Thorin would take it, and more...too glad was he that his hobbit was once again with him, that he was finally whole again. And he decided that it was time to make things right, to do things the proper dwarven standards at least. Belladonna would probably still hurt him in her own way, but...

So while Bilbo was taking care of the burned eggs and trying for an unburned batch, Thorin excused himself for a second and went to, their bedchamber to retrieve the first of two small boxes he kept in his bedside table. The one with an image of a mountain...the Lonely Mountain...on it. Kíli had taken care of the inlay...thin strands of copper that ran through the dark wood as if they had always been there. The second box had the crest of the House of Durin emblazoned on its lid; tiny sapphires set in rows by Fíli. Both his nephews had all but demanded to be somehow involved in the courting gifts and hadn't taken no for an answer.

Thorin sighed to himself. Please let him understand what this truly means... He did not really doubt the hobbit, but still... This was the point of no return and if Bilbo decided that the dwarven ways were too...foreign... Then we will have to do it the hobbit way I guess. His father and grandfather would probably die of shock...or close to it...but Thorin would never again put anything or anyone else before his burglar. Even if that meant finding out about hobbit courting rituals from... Your mother-in-law? From Belladonna!

Returning to the kitchen, Thorin was greeted by the sight of a smiling halfling and the tastiest breakfast he had seen since... He couldn't even remember. Well, courting could wait until after breakfast. After all, Bilbo had always told them that food was important on their journey... So he sat down and dug into the food Bilbo had prepared.

"You should give cooking lessons to my nephews. This is quite..." Bilbo cocked his head expectantly. "Lovely of course. You hobbits know how to prepare the best meals in all of Middle-earth. And beyond it would seem." He winked at the blushing halfling who was now sitting across from him. "When we first met, I never really got to sample your cooking. And on the road it was Bombur who did all the cooking for us. And then..." And then you went all crazy over some stupid jewel. "I'm glad I finally get to see you in your element."

"Well, this kitchen is a much nicer place than the trolls' cooking pot for example. Less dangerous as well. Even though I don't seem to be able to get rid of certain dwarves..." he grinned. "Not that I would want to..." Grey eyes met blue, sparkling with mirth and happiness. "But really, us hobbits are domestic creatures so I would thank you if we could hold off with the next adventure for a while..."

"Well, that depends on what you would call an adventure..." Thorin reached inside his coat and retrieved the small box. He then took Bilbo's smaller hand into his and placed the box in the hobbit's palm. "I have broken almost every rule when it comes these things are done in dwarven society. But we have another chance now, and I have a chance to make things right." Bilbo stared at the box in confusion. "Open it..." The hobbit complied and gasped.

There, on a bed of blue silk, was a single bead. Crafted from gold and mithril, it sparkled as Bilbo picked it up, fingers shaking. On one side was an image of a mountain, of Erebor. On the other, the writhing figure of a great worm...Smaug himself. "Thorin..." Bilbo swallowed, "it's beautiful. But you didn't even know if I would ever come to Valinor..."

"I was hopeful. I had to be..." And that was the truth. For all the planning and construction works, Thorin had never been able to completely settle in his new life, a part of him still lingering in the East. So finally Balin, who by then knew all about Thorin and the burglar, had suggested that Thorin could work on something for the time when Bilbo would be amongst them once more. And while his old friend and mentor didn't say in so many words what this something should be, it was more than implied. "Will you allow me..." Thorin's voice was unsteady despite his attempts to suppress his fears of rejection. But Bilbo gave him one of those shy smiles and nodded.

Reaching across the table, Thorin gently stroked the hobbit's cheek before twining three strands of his hair together. The dwarf's heart was pounding inside his chest and he was sure Bilbo could hear it. Still shaky fingers handed him the bead when he was finished with the braid, "So this means we are now...betrothed?" The hobbit's eyes were searching, pleading, and Thorin was only too happy to nod.

"If that is what you wish..." Thorin only had time to blink once or twice as the hobbit quickly rose to his feet and rounded the table, practically launching himself into the dwarf's arms. "I take that as a yes then..." And then all thought was abandoned once more in favour of soft touches, and tender kisses...and if that was not exactly following the rules of courtship, then that was really too bad...

Then (2994 T.A.)

"Just leave me be, Balin. I know you mean well, but there's nothing to talk about." It was still weird to see this much younger looking Balin instead of the white-haired, grandfatherly dwarf. But right now Thorin would have preferred not to see any version of his old friend...and his nephews were dead. No, beyond dead. He would find the most gruesome torture methods, might even ask Thingol for advice. They deserved it! That, and more!

When Balin and Ori had first showed up, Thorin had berated them for their utter stupidity. Especially Balin should have known better than...Moria! Ori could maybe be forgiven for his lack of judgement; he was young and followed the lead of his elders. Even though he could have found another elder to follow! But Balin? What had he been thinking?! He had been there in the Dimrill Dale, had seen the devastation the legions of orcs brought upon them, and still he had deemed it wise to just go and try again!

Thrór had failed, but obviously Balin the Great, Lord of Moria would succeed. Had everyone forgotten about one tiny little big and major problem where Moria was concerned. He had voiced his concerns to his grandfather but had been overruled. But for Balin to forget about Shadow and Flame...after he had taught Thorin the history of their people, of Durin... And even though Balin succeeded initially, had he really believed that Durin's Bane had simply disappeared? Moved on to greener pastures? Balrogs weren't like this, or at least Thorin didn't think so. It was madness, no, scratch was insanity!

And maybe Thorin had told Balin all of this and more...on a daily basis...sometimes several times a day. And maybe, just maybe, it was getting somewhat tiresome for all involved. Maybe. That still didn't give his nephews the right to go blabbing about certain things. For example his relationship with Bilbo. And the fact that he'd royally screwed up. Big time! Almost killing a friend over gold and a stupid jewel was bad enough, but to do it to the one unforgivable.

It wasn't as if Thorin didn't know that, as if he didn't beat himself up over it every sleepless night. He'd loved the hobbit even through all the how on earth had he been able to act the way he had?! But it was one thing if he asked himself that question...over and over...but quite another if his old mentor did so. Especially after the whole Moria debacle. Balin simply had no right to sit on his high horse, not anymore. But clearly the older dwarf didn't see it that way...

"Oh, but there is, laddie. I mean, the lot of us always suspected and some of us even took bets on when you would, you know, make it official..." Hold on, his friends had been betting on him and Bilbo? How could they! Wait...they all knew?! "But when you banished him, we all thought we'd been delusional. Granted, he'd been siding with the elves and humans, but still..." But still loved him and were screaming at yourself all the while you were... You broke his heart, but you broke yours as well...

"Just leave it alone, Balin. Master Baggins is lucky he no longer has to deal with stubborn dwarves in general, and me in particular. I'm sure he's better off now, back home in his cosy hobbit hole." Was it really impossible to die in Valinor? Because Thorin's heart surely felt as if it was about to break into a million pieces.

Balin shook his head. "I'm not so sure about that. The last time I saw him... He was trying, I give him that, desperately trying to be as cheerful as folks might expect. But every time he looked at me... It was as if he wished there was another dwarf in his kitchen. He seemed...broken somehow, in a way that couldn't be healed. And then..." Balin cleared his throat, gazing intently at Thorin. "I caught a glimpse of something that I thought was just a trick of the light, but now... Thorin...your signet ring. It was lost after the battle, or so we thought. But I had the distinct impression that it was right there, around Bilbo's neck..." Bilbo was wearing his ring...the only thing Thorin had been able to give him...

And that was the moment Thorin truly began to hope...hope that his deathbed apology hadn't been too little, too late; that Bilbo still... That there was a chance Bilbo would eventually come to Valinor as well... He still didn't quite understand about the hobbits coming to Valinor or not, it seemed like it was somehow linked to their importance to hobbit society, or their links to the great families... Bilbo surely fit that bill.

Balin had evidently continued his little monologue and was now raising a questioning eyebrow at him. "You're thinking too much, laddie. For once go with what your heart tells you..." Thorin's heart was almost overflowing with the knowledge that, at least some forty-five years earlier, Bilbo had been wearing his ring...and while forty-five years was a long time, there was hope. "You should, you know, maybe prepare something for when he gets here." Thorin blinked. Surely Balin couldn't be suggesting... "Which shouldn't be all that much longer if I understand anything about hobbits and their life expectancy..." Balin gave Thorin a pat on the shoulder, "Mistakes have been made, but I'm sure you will be able to undo them, or I don't know anything any more..." Thorin was half-tempted to point out that Balin clearly hadn't known anything about balrogs and orcs, but he held his breath.

Bilbo had been wearing his ring; years after Thorin's passing. Years after that last caress of soft hobbit hands on his broken body. And something the dwarf had thought was dead and buried, even though he wasn't, awoke within him. If, no, when Bilbo finally joined them, he would do what Belladonna had instructed him to do. He would do everything in his power to make the hobbit forget...forget especially the day on the walls and everything that happened after. And he would make Bilbo understand just how deep his feelings ran, and always had done. And so Thorin started to work on something...only it would take much longer than Balin had anticipated for Bilbo to finally join them.