Chapter 5 - A Hobbit's Schemes

Now (3021 T.A.)

It was a while later and Bilbo had finally pulled himself away from Thorin and was now standing in the small bathroom of the little cottage. Small though it was, it was equipped with all amenities his hobbit heart could ever desire...but right then Bilbo couldn't have cared less for the big bathtub...though he had wondered briefly if it would be large enough for two...or the fancy oils and soaps. He was staring at his own reflection, or more to the point, at the bead that adorned his hair. A dwarven courting bead. His bead.

He had known what it meant the moment he opened the little box. After all, he had been spending those eighty years all but torturing himself by reading about dwarven customs and Erebor before the dragon and the line of Durin...and Thorin Oakenshield himself. He had wanted, no needed, to know what Thorin was trying to say with the ring...and all the other little things he had done before the Arkenstone had torn them apart. Bilbo had never blamed Thorin, had somehow always felt that it had been the jewel, that beautiful, wondrous stone, that had been the source of Thorin's madness.

However, he had never been able to find anything about rings in particular. Of course jewellery was as much a courting gift in dwarven culture as could be expected, but it was courting beads that held special significance. There was the whole issue of Thorin dying at the time though, so once again Bilbo had needed even more books to help him. Thorin's ring had been more than just an old heirloom he finally found out. It had marked him as King, King under the Mountain and King of Durin's Folk. And he had given it away. Had given it to Bilbo. And when the hobbit realised that, he'd broken down. Right there, in Rivendell's Library. No wonder Elrond had decided to poke his nose into Bilbo's business afterwards.

But Thorin had all but given him his kingship just to show him... No, there was no just there. And if it had been possible, Bilbo's heart would have broken again. Elrond had guessed that Bilbo's condition had something to do with his journey to Erebor, but luckily he hadn't been able to figure out what exactly ailed the hobbit...

And now...now Thorin had given him a bead as well. Tears appeared in Bilbo's eyes and his chest tightened as if his heart were about to burst. Thorin had trusted that Bilbo would eventually find his way to Valinor. He had created that beautiful bead, a bead depicting their past, and if Bilbo remembered correctly there would be another one, for their future. The second one would be given at the end of their courtship and would signify that, by dwarven reckoning, they were married. And that was when Bilbo began planning... He would need help though, and he knew two dwarves who would be all too happy to assist him...or they had changed in a way that Bilbo didn't think possible. He dabbed at his tears and smiled instead. Thorin would be beyond surprised, but Bilbo would have to act fast and that meant slipping away from the dwarven king...

---

"And then Bilbo charged at the orc and they both toppled over...and then he took out that dagger of his and stabbed him. We'd all thought Uncle Thorin was a goner, but no... Bilbo was just brilliant!" Kli's eyes were sparkling with happiness, and maybe some remnants of fear for his uncle. "And then on the Carrock, I thought Thorin had completely lost it as he all but yelled at our beloved burglar, but then... Oh Frodo, you should have seen Bilbo's face...it was priceless. He looked beyond stunned but then he smiled and..." He exchanged a knowing look with his brother, "Well, let's just say we knew that Bilbo felt exactly like our uncle."

"Yes, Thorin had never ever treated anyone so...rude really, from the beginning. So we kind of figured out that he was trying to cover up something and then in the Misty Mountains...there was that look of absolute horror on his face when he thought our burglar might fall down that cliff...the way he saved Bilbo and straight away went on and on about how he didn't have a place amongst us... It was plain as anything." Fli chuckled. "Who would have thought that the great Thorin Oakenshield would fall, and fall hard I might add, for a small hobbit of the Shire?"

"Mother?" Kli suggested. "She always said that Thorin would find his equal not amongst our people as everyone would only see the King and not Thorin. And Bilbo most definitely didn't see a very kingly dwarf, I'm telling you." No, apparently Thorin had been something of a bastard to Frodo's uncle...something that, on one hand, didn't sit well with the young hobbit at all, but on the other hand... Frodo had caught Bilbo's eyes just after the older hobbit had seem Thorin and...to say that Bilbo looked somewhat happy was like saying hobbits tended to be somewhat round around the middle. Kli's gaze became solemn as his added, "I only wish mother could have seem them together..." and promptly earned himself a slap across the back of the head courtesy of his brother.

"You really are dim at times, brother dear. She will see them, or have you suddenly forgotten where we are? Where mother will be as well once she passes. Not that I wish that for her obviously, but... I sort of do..." Fli looked at Frodo sheepishly, "Well, we miss her. And the rest of the company. And despite the way Balin treats us...as if we were little more than dwarflings...we were happy when he and Ori joined us."

Balin, who had so far been sitting quietly near the fireplace reading an old elven tome, now looked up and smiled. "And trust me, I was beyond surprised to see your faces again, laddie. But very glad indeed. Though I could have done without Thorin berating me day in, day out." To see Balin was beyond weird for Frodo. He had been at the dwarf's tomb there, in the Chamber of Mazarbul. And now he was sitting across from the hobbit as if it was the most normal thing ever. And maybe it was. Maybe the Valar truly believed that all of them deserved this second chance after a life of hardship.

Frodo was still lost in his thoughts when the door to the living quarters opened to admit both Ori and Bilbo...young Bilbo. That really was something Frodo had to get used to. Bilbo looked more like an older brother now and it was strange to still refer to the other hobbit as his uncle. "Look who I ran into on the way," Ori said with a smile. "Fli? Kli? Bilbo would like a word with you if you please..."

"What have they been up to now?" Balin inquired, which prompted a loud, "We didn't do anything!" from the two brothers.

Bilbo chuckled, "Nothing...yet. Though I'm hoping they could help me with something..." Bilbo stepped further into the room and that's when Frodo, and apparently everyone else noticed the bead.

"By Aul, he gave it to you already? Fli! We're going to have another uncle!" Kli pulled Bilbo into what looked to be a chest-crushing embrace and Fli completed the group hug by attaching himself to Bilbo's back. Balin only muttered that maybe Thorin would finally stop with the brooding now that he had his burglar back.

"So what do you want with us?" Fli asked after the brothers finally released a startled Bilbo. "Whatever you think happened...we didn't do it." At that Frodo couldn't help himself but start laughing. The two young dwarves were almost exact copies of a certain Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took. So it really hadn't been surprising that Frodo felt right at home with them. His laughter though earned him glares from two pairs of eyes. "And what, pray tell, is so funny, Master Hobbit?"

"Nothing, nothing... It's just...you two remind me of some very dear friends... Nothing to worry about." The glares didn't lessen one bit. "Um..."

Luckily Ori came to his rescue then, "Frodo, I found some of the books I was talking about last night. Would you like to look at them now?" Frodo was only too happy to nod as he ushered the young dwarf out of the room.

And just as the door closed behind them he heard Kli mumble, "I think we have to teach him manners, brother. It is just plain rude to laugh at someone and not fill them in properly as to what's so funny..."

---

"So?" Fli asked, pulling his still glaring brother away from the door and closer to where Balin was sitting, "How may we be of service to you, Master Burglar?" Master Burglar indeed. Bilbo felt both annoyed and giddy at the same time. How he had missed the two young dwarves. "Whatever it is, we shall do our utmost to fulfil your wishes... Well, with some exceptions. Ouch!" This time it was Fli's turn to get clonked on the head by a slightly greenish looking Kli.

"I don't want to think about what Thorin and Bilbo get up to, thank you very much!" Bilbo blushed a bright red, both at the thought in general and at the memory of the previous night. The way Thorin had let him take charge of their lovemaking... It was way too warm in the room, Bilbo decided. Nothing at all to do with the fact that a large quantity of his blood was pooling...where it really shouldn't be at that moment. And at a mere memory at that!

So Bilbo cleared his throat and, trying to think of anything but a certain willful dwarf, got down to business. "Well, you saw the bead. And as I understand it, the gesture is normally returned in dwarven society, am I right?" Three heads nodded. "You might have noticed on our journey, but I'm not a blacksmith or jeweller, so... I was wondering if you could help me craft my own courting beads...as a surprise for your uncle."

Fli and Kli looked at each other and then, as one, bowed and chanted, "At your service." And Bilbo was tempted to rub his eyes to make sure that he wasn't back in his hobbit hole and they were once again at the beginning of their journey to Erebor.

"You two have got to stop doing that," Balin chided. "Poor Bilbo looks as if he's seen a ghost." Did he? "And Bilbo, I think this is a most wonderful idea. It will show all those dwarves who had thought to try and court Thorin that he is spoken for." Wait what? "Oh come on, laddie. Thorin is King! Of course there would be those who'd try and turn things to their advantage. Just because we're in Valinor doesn't mean we stopped being dwarves... But don't worry...Thorin wouldn't give that lot the time of day... I mean...he gave you his ring when he died, didn't he?" How did Balin... "I saw it when Gandalf and I visited. And Bilbo, giving you that ring meant that there could never be anyone else..."

Bilbo nodded, "I know... I...I did some reading..." Tears brimmed his eyes once more at the memory...

"Oh great, now look what you've done, Balin!" Kli scolded his teacher. "It's all over and done with. We all know how Thorin has been these past eighty years, and..." he turned to the hobbit, "there's only ever been Bilbo for him." And then he added in little more than a whisper, "Thorin's been miserable really, so I hope you intend to make him...you know...unmiserable."

"And I think that a bead or two could go a long way with that. Along with...other things that we would rather not hear anything about if you don't mind, Bilbo. We love you and Thorin dearly, but there really is such a thing as too much information." Fli shuddered visibly, and a small part of Bilbo was sorely tempted to let the brothers know exactly what he had done to their uncle the previous night and how much they had both enjoyed each other's company. But he was not going to scar the two for life...especially not now that it seemed that said life would be eternal.

So instead he simply mentioned the bead again and the two brothers nearly fell over themselves with helpfulness. "We should go see 'Thel... Oh Bilbo, you're going to love Ecthelion...well, if you can tune out when he goes on and on about that balrog thing..." Hang on, Ecthelion of the Fountain? Glorfindel's friend? Oh dear, please just no! "But he can gain us access to the elven forges...as I don't think you want Thorin to find out that the three of us have been snooping around the dwarven ones...right?" Bilbo nodded absentmindedly, still thinking about the stories of balrogs he had been subjected to almost every evening in the Hall of Fire. "Well, that's settled then...let's be off." Kli waved at Balin and pushed both his brother and the hobbit out of the door.

---

Thorin was livid! There was no other word to describe it. Arkenstone livid to be exact. "I'll just go to the market near the harbour. I shouldn't take more than a couple of hours," he had said. And, "Oh no, don't worry about me. I'm a grown hobbit, I'll find my way." Then he had kissed Thorin with a fervour that would have reduced any lesser dwarf to a puddle of goo and sauntered out of the door as if he wasn't affected at all. The gall! Not to mention that all of that had been eight hours ago! He would have to sit Bilbo down and explain the concept of a couple of hours to him. He'd only just gotten the hobbit back, for Aul's sake! What was Bilbo thinking?!

Pacing back and forth in the living room didn't help either. Oh why hadn't he moved them all into New Erebor yet?! It would be so much easier to find... No! He had to trust Bilbo. In more ways than one. The hobbit had survived eighty years of being apart, he could surely take care of himself in Valinor. And there also was no way he would suddenly change his mind about Thorin and seek someone else's company. That was ludicrous, and Thorin knew it. But guilt and fear weren't rational feelings and despite Bilbo's arrival, Thorin was still plagued by both.

The moment the door had closed behind the hobbit, Thorin had felt bereft. As if the past couple of hours had been merely a dream and that reality was still the lonely life he had known before and after a small hobbit of Bag End had shone a light onto the dark days Thorin was existing in. But then he had seen the open box on the kitchen table and his by then racing heart had calmed down. Whatever he needs, you will give to him, Thorin Oakenshield. And if he wants to gift everything you own to the blasted elves, then you will have to trust him...as he will have his reasons for doing so. He did with the Arkenstone, only you were being a gold-crazed moron and didn't see it. And then you banished him and we all know how well that worked out. You should be thanking Aul and indeed all of the Valar for this second chance and not go and be a...a dwarf!

Thorin sighed to himself. Dwarves were known to be somewhat possessive, guarding whatever they considered theirs with a jealousy that came close to a dragon guarding his hoard. It wasn't as dark as the gold-sickness that had plagued him and most of his companions. Thorin was more and more convinced that had been the influence of the Arkenstone, but for anyone not accustomed to dwarven culture it would still seem...strange to say the least. It wasn't as if dwarves coveted gold and jewels the same way they cared about their chosen mates; that one person they loved with a fierce passion unheard of in any other race. But dwarves believed that anything they held dear someone else might desire as well...

And if that was true for ordinary dwarves, it was doubly so for Thorin Oakenshield. Before meeting Bilbo, he had been convinced that love and happiness was for other people...no matter what Ds had to say about the matter. His life was dedicated to the sole goal of reclaiming his lost homeland, to lead his people back to Erebor. But then a simple hobbit had turned his entire world upside down, and by Aul how he had fought those feelings that threatened to consume him. At first it had been easy; a mocking comment here, 'He looks more like a grocer than a burglar', a condescending stare there... But then Balin had told the Company about the Battle of Azanulbizar and the hobbit had looked at him with something akin to awe...

And then came the whole affair with the trolls... When his nephews ran into the camp and announced that four of their ponies...and he still didn't quite understand just how Fli and Kli had let a troll waltz into their camp to steal ponies without noticing it...and that their burglar had gone to get them back. Three mountain trolls, and his burglar was on his own. Thorin didn't have time then to wonder why he was so...afraid for the hobbit, why he was more than rushing them all to grab their arms and follow his nephews. Of course he had downplayed it all afterwards, hadn't even been willing to give Bilbo the credit he'd deserved... And in the Misty Mountains...he hadn't even had the time to think before he acted and jumped down to save Bilbo from falling down the cliff. Obviously he'd had to put the hobbit down straight after again. And then Bilbo had wanted to leave... It had taken all of Thorin's self-control not to speak up...

He loved the hobbit with a fierceness that made Fanor's obsession with the Silmaril pale in comparison. If he hadn't died after the battle, he would have taken Bilbo as his Royal Consort, customs and banishment be damned. And he would have kept the hobbit by his side, jealously guarding his every step...and he had the feeling he would have driven Bilbo mad with it, if not worse...driven him away. He couldn't do that and that meant learning to trust his hobbit. Even when Bilbo was hours late returning from a trip to the market... His hands were clenched into fists as he gritted his teeth. This was supposed to be easy, then why was it so hard for him? Because you are Thorin Oakenshield and thought it best to not only fall for a hobbit, but this particular one. Bilbo was going to drive you crazy at the best of times...but it's a good kind of crazy, isn't it? Better than that stone...

And that was true enough. Yes, he would have to fight his very nature, but for Bilbo and the hobbit's happiness that was a small price to pay. So instead of tearing into the hobbit when he finally returned, all Thorin did was raise a questioning eyebrow, teasingly asking, "A couple of hours, Master Baggins? Hobbit time seems to work in very mysterious ways..."

In reply he received a big smile, "I'm sorry, I must have lost track of time. But I got everything done so I won't have to leave for a few days." He winked at that. "Unless of course you have other plans..."

Taking the basket from Bilbo's grasp...it was filled with all kinds of vegetables and the prospect of vegetarian food made Thorin groan...he placed it on the kitchen table and then pulled the hobbit into a tight embrace. "Oh, I have made plans, my burglar, and believe me, none require us to step outside..." He ran calloused fingers over the sensitive tip of the hobbit's right ear and continued in little more than a growl, "Eighty years is a long time, and I believe we have some catching up to do..." And if Bilbo's actions during the next few hours were any indication, the hobbit shared that sentiment...