Notes: If this chapter is a bit more...crack-fic-ish...I totally blame Fíli, Kíli, 'Thel and Fin. They made me write it... Also, while everything seems to be all lovey-dovey and fluffy at the moment, Angst shall return in the next chapter...

Chapter 7 - Many Meetings

Now (3021 T.A.)

It had been a week since Bilbo's arrival, and with the exception of that second day, Bilbo had not left the little cottage once. Thorin had seen to that. But now it had arrived, the Day of Reckoning as he referred to it in his own mind. Today, the hobbits would descend upon their little haven, and not only the hobbits, but also Balin, Ori, his nephews, that crazy elf, Bilbo's nephew, Thorin's father and grandfather and so on and so forth. For a split second it was back, that urge to just off himself somehow. But then he heard the clatter of dishes from the kitchen and knew that there was so much more in his life worth living for... Except that Bilbo might want to kill him as well for keeping certain things a secret from him for so long.

Taking a deep breath, he walked into the kitchen, stopping dead in his tracks. Bilbo was covered in flour, head to toe, and was glaring daggers at the bag lying on the kitchen floor. He had obviously tried to drag it off the shelf and had managed to upend it, its contents spilling all over the hobbit. When he heard Thorin enter, his glare shifted to the dwarf as if daring him to say anything. But Thorin already knew that glare from Belladonna and wouldn't have said anything if he was paid in gold and gems for it. There was nothing worse than an angry Baggins. So all Thorin did was bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. He took the broom and cleaned up the mess on the floor. Then he reached for Bilbo's hand and led him to the bath chamber.

And when the tub was filled, Bilbo's glare had finally lessened and had been replaced by a frown. "I just wanted to bake some scones for tonight as I understand we will have guests..." What?! How did he? "Oh, I may have forgotten to mention that I ran into your nephews the day I went to the market..." Deep breaths, Thorin, just breathe. Killing your heirs will not solve your problems. Oh, but it might! Bilbo must have seen the thunderous face, and quickly added, "They didn't mean to tell me, I basically forced it out of them. When they left, I even heard them mutter that their new uncle was just as mean as their old one..." Now the hobbit's eyes were sparkling, and that contented expression on his face was infectious.

His nephews had taken it all in stride it would seem, and had really embraced the notion of a hobbit uncle as if it was the most natural thing ever. Come to think of it, they probably had something to do with how accepting Thrór and Thráin were... His chest was swelling with pride and love for the two; yes, they could drive him insane at times, but he could not have wished for better companions during those long eighty years. They had kept him from despairing during the first few months and years, when the memories of what he had done to Bilbo had been haunting him every waking and sleeping moment. They had called him stupid when he had declared that Bilbo was better off without him. And they had fuelled that first flame of hope, fickle though it was...

"Scones, huh?" Bilbo nodded absentmindedly as he removed his floury clothes and climbed into the tub. And while Thorin knew that he really should take care of the hobbit's clothes, he could not help himself as he shed his own garments to join Bilbo in the warm wash his hair of course, nothing untoward. And if something untoward did happen, it was entirely Bilbo's fault for turning in Thorin's arms after the soap had been rinsed out of his hair, his lips seeking Thorin's while his nimble hands disappeared beneath the waterline...


An hour later the smell of freshly-baked goods was wafting through the air and Bilbo once again looked the gentlehobbit he had been back in the Shire. And Thorin...oh Valar, Thorin... He wore his travelling outfit except for the fur coat and Bilbo had had to pinch himself twice already for fear that they were back in Bag End, and the whole journey, and those eighty lonely years, were yet ahead of them. But Thorin had never given him such open smiles back then, had never held him so gently, had never kissed him so tenderly... Bilbo blinked, catching himself. It simply wouldn't do for his mother to see him all flustered like a tween.

Thorin had finally told him and Bilbo was slightly worried...what exactly had his mother done to the normally so collected dwarf? He looked...apprehensive really was the best way to describe it. Well, whatever it was, Bilbo would simply not stand for it. Yes, he loved his parents and had missed them dearly. But if his mother thought she could lay hands on his dwarf, well... Then Belladonna Baggins would learn that her son had indeed inherited certain rather Tookish traits.

He'd just taken a tray of blueberry muffins out of the oven when he heard a knock on the door, followed by a cheerful, "Anyone home?" And then two young dwarves walked into the kitchen as if following a trail...well, they were in a way. "It smells absolutely delicious, what did you make us, Uncle Bilbo? Ouch!" Kíli rubbed the back of his head while Fíli just stood there, an expression of perfect innocence on his face. Still Bilbo could hear the muttered, "We've talked about calling him that!"

Kíli cleared his voice and smiled sweetly, too sweetly. "So, what did you make for us, Bilbo? Balin said we couldn't have desserts for lunch today so I'm absolutely famished..." He reached for the muffins, the still very hot muffins, picked one up, and dropped it with a yelp. "You could have said!" he whined, blowing cold air on the quickly reddening tips of his fingers. Bilbo just chuckled. "It's not funny! Now I'll have nightmares of food that is trying to burn me..."

While Kíli continued to complain, Fíli caught Bilbo's eye and handed over a small wooden box. "I hope it meets your expectations," he whispered. And it did, and more than that. The bead was beyond perfect and Bilbo couldn't wait to present it to Thorin. After today's events. If they did make it through the day that was. He smiled at both dwarves and mouthed, "Thank you!" and got two smiles in return...though Kíli was still going on and on about being scared for life by the muffin and that Bilbo was cruel.

Eventually he trailed off and shrugged. "Best way to ensure that Thorin stays away..." he whispered with a sparkle in his dark eyes. "He could never handle either of us having a tantrum." So they had planned this as a distraction. Sneaky, very sneaky. But also very effective. Bilbo had his bead and Thorin would be beyond surprised... "So, anything we can help you with? You know, like sample the food, dress the table...sample some more food..." This time he caught Fíli's hand before it impacted. "Really brother, our new uncle will think we enjoy abusing one another, or worse...that we're into..." And then both dwarves turned bright red and stepped away from one another. "We're not! I love this loon dearly, but not know, you love uncle! So don't believe the rumours..."

"Not that there are any..." Fíli chimed in. "But Ecthelion has been known to spread some vicious lies for entertainment purposes, so..." Glances were exchanged and the grins the brothers wore suddenly did not bode well. "You know, for example that you and uncle were so busy being reunited, neither of you left the cottage for all of five days..." And if the two dwarves looked slightly sicklish, Bilbo didn't really see it for he felt like his head might explode from embarrassment. But he did hear Fíli saying, "Told you he was even more touchy than us."

"You two... Out! Tables outside, in the garden. Make sure they're set. And you better not show your faces to me any time soon again or..." He glanced around and reached for a frying pan. "Or I will test how hard your heads really are!"

And they ran. Faster than Bilbo had ever seen the two dwarves move. And apparently they ran straight into Thorin if the apologies he could hear moments later were anything to go by. "Sorry Uncle. We're just helping Bilbo. Lovely to see you two by the way. You look well. We're just...going to set the tables, yes. See you later." Then the back door closed noisily and a chuckling Thorin entered the kitchen.

"Whatever they were up to, and I'm not sure I want to know, you really put the fear of Aulë into them." He reached for Bilbo's hand... he had dropped the frying pan again... and pulled the hobbit flush against his body. "No wonder my heart knew its mate from the beginning, there is feistiness under all those gentle and calm layers..." Seeking to distract Bilbo with a kiss, Thorin's hand almost made it to the scones before it was slapped away by Bilbo.

"I might begin to think you only love me for the food." Thorin laughed, and what a glorious sound it was, and proceeded to convince the hobbit that this was foolishness. When they finally came up for air, Bilbo had to hold onto Thorin to keep his balance. "Or maybe not..." he grinned as he slowly stepped away. But then he saw the scone in the dwarf's hand and it was too late to rescue it. "Thorin Oakenshield! Out of my kitchen! Go help your nephews or else...!"

"Um, hello Uncle..." Oh no. They had been so absorbed in their little exchange...and a rather steamy kiss, oh Valar...they hadn't heard the door, nor the footsteps in the hallway. Ori and Balin beamed, but Frodo looked...

"Frodo... I... We..." Be calm, Bilbo. He's not a child. calm. Great advice. "Frodo, may I present Thorin Oakenshield..." Thorin bowed...wait, Thorin bowed?!

"It is a pleasure and an honour to finally meet you, Frodo Baggins of the Shire."

"The pleasure is mutual, Thorin Oakenshield." Frodo bowed in turn and Bilbo could only stand there and stare. "Though..." Uh-oh. "If you ever leave my uncle again, I will hunt you down and feed you to the Eagles!" He huffed...Frodo, dear sweet Frodo huffed at the great Thorin Oakenshield. And Thorin simply nodded. Could this day become any more surreal?

It turned out that, yes, it could. "Where is he? Where is my son?!" Of course, knocking or using the doorbell was totally overrated. Just walk in, why don't you. Don't give me a moment to prepare myself for this, I don't need it... "Bilbo!" And then he was hugged within an inch of his life by both his mother and father and it was only the feel of Thorin's hand on his back that kept him grounded. Eventually the two hobbits released Bilbo and Belladonna stepped back, only to glare at Thorin. "You see, I've told you he would join us eventually." And then... Did she just reach up and twitch Thorin's nose?! "But I see you've made your intentions clear," she pointed at the bead, "and are in the process of making an honest hobbit of my boy. Though...I don't recall you ever asking for our blessing...not officially."

Thorin put his arm around Bilbo's shoulder, pulling the hobbit closer. "Forgive me, Mistress Baggins, but I believe it isn't up to you..." And then he gave Bilbo the warmest smile he had ever seen, his eyes brimming with love and trust and happiness. And Bilbo felt himself go weak in the knees. "Bilbo, you've already accepted my bead as a courting gift, but I would ask you now, before your family, will you allow me to make you mine? Will you be my heart and my soul before Aulë and the rest of the Valar? Will you be my most treasured jewel?" Bilbo cringed at that, though he knew that Thorin was only following the very strict guidelines of those first vows in dwarven courtship. But then he deviated from them. "Will you be my burglar once more, Bilbo Baggins, and consort to the King of New Erebor?"

Silence filled the kitchen as Bilbo struggled to find the right words to reply. But there were none. No words could ever express what he felt right then. So he reached for the little box and held it out for Thorin to see. "Fíli and Kíli helped me with it," he whispered. The two dwarves in question had joined them in the kitchen just before Thorin made his speech and looked shell shocked and yet so very proud of their uncle. "May I?" Thorin nodded silently. And so Bilbo placed a new braid into Thorin's soft curls, fingers shaking as he went. Next to one of the existing braids... Finally he finished with the bead, gold with mithril, just like his own. Gandalf's rune, that mark on Bilbo's door that had led Thorin into his life on one side, and Erebor on the other. The bead of their past...

He thought he heard someone sniffle and thought it would be his mother, but... "Well, now that that's settled, who will help me with all the food we brought?" That was his mother! And it was his father that dabbed at his eyes. Fíli and Kíli were the first to respond and bowed to Belladonna offering their services. Frodo and Ori joined them and finally only Balin and Bungo remained in the kitchen with Bilbo and Thorin.

"Master Dwarf," Bungo said, "I have this new pipeweed with me, a cross of Old Toby and Longbottom Leaf. I thought you might like to sample it..." And then they were gone as well.

"So you know of our courting rites?" Thorin inquired gently. "I never thought... Will you ever cease to surprise me, my hobbit?"

Bilbo shook his head, smiling. "I did some reading in those long years." And for the first time, the thought of those eighty years didn't hurt. They were behind them, those years of longing and loneliness. "I love you, Thorin Oakenshield, and...I would love to be your burglar once more." That was easier than saying that, yes, he would be the King's consort. And Thorin's answering smile almost blinded him. There was nothing to say anymore, so Bilbo gently stroked the dwarf's new braid and the bead and then placed a tender kiss on Thorin's lips.

Which was how Thrór and Thráin found them. "So...this is the hobbit?" a deep rumbling voice asked and Bilbo jumped, literally jumped.

"Grandfather...I begged you not to do that. Fíli and Kíli had no right to ever tell you about..." So it had been King Thrór...

"Thorin, my grandsons had their reasons I'm sure. After all, how else would we know about the evils that stone brought upon our family?" Thráin turned to Bilbo, who was trying to find a way of disappearing without his ring. "Thráin, at your service." He bowed. To him, to a small hobbit of the Shire. Why did they have to destroy his old ring again? Ah, yes...that business with Sauron. Bugger. "Gandalf, or whatever name he goes by now, told us a lot about you, Master Baggins, and we all are indebted to you. You saved my son's life, and now you are saving him from himself and his charming..."

"Father!" Thorin's voice sounded pained.

"Yes, son. Leave the boy alone. He's suffered enough, don't you think?" Thráin just shrugged. "Anyway, Master is true what my son says. We are indebted to you. So I, too, am at your service." And when Thrór, King Thrór bowed his head to him... it was just too much. And so Bilbo treated the dwarves to a repeat performance of his most glorious fainting act, barely registering Thorin's arms catching him as he dropped to the floor.


"Rather delicate, is he not?" Thorin glared at the laughing elf and his smirking companion. "Oh do not give me that look, Thorin. I just think it quaint that after all he had to endure, all he has experienced, a bowing dwarf can still make him faint." Well, it hadn't been any dwarf, but Thrór... "You look happy, Thorin, son of Thráin. Well, maybe not right now, but... I am glad you finally have your burglar again, and that you two seem to be progressing well in your courtship." The elf pointed at Thorin's hair and the new braid and bead. "It is quite lovely, and I am glad I was allowed to assist Master Baggins and your nephews in making it." Wait, Ecthelion had been involved? And then Thorin finally realised. That day Bilbo had gone to the market.

Smiling down at the hobbit in his arms, he gently stroked his soft cheeks. And finally Bilbo's eyelids fluttered open and startled grey eyes met their dark blue counterparts. "Not again!" Bilbo groaned. "And in front of your father and grandfather no less..."

Thrór, who had struck up a conversation with Glorfindel, was turning toward the hobbit, smiling. "Don't trouble yourself over that, Master Baggins. Fainting is much better than King Thingol's reaction..."

Ecthelion and Glorfindel just glared at the mentioning of the Sindar king. "We always believe that dwarves had, you know, attitude problems where our race was concerned. But Thingol is taking it all to a whole new level." Thorin knew of the history the raven-haired elf had with Thingol, and that it was shared by the Lord of the Golden Flower. And he'd had to admit that some elves weren't as bad as...others.

Bilbo, who by then had gotten to his feet again, still looked beyond embarrassed. Thrór, sensing the hobbit's discomfort, gave him a pat on the shoulder, "Don't worry, laddie. It's all a bit much, isn't it? Seeing your parents again, meeting people you thought were legends..." He shook his head. "I'm not, Master Baggins. It took dying and decades in Valinor until I finally realised just how foolish I've been. About many things, like Moria..."

Thorin was startled. Never before had he heard his grandfather speak so candidly, least of all in front of elves...and Bilbo. Bilbo, who now gave Thrór a small smile and bowed, "At your service, King Thrór." And once again Thorin realised that under all the soft and gentle outward appearance lay the bravest and strongest heart Thorin had ever beheld. He had been a fool to ever think Bilbo had no place amongst the Company, that he had no place in Thorin's very soul.

Thrór patted Bilbo's shoulder again, then turned towards Glorfindel and nodded curtly. "Oh yes... Thorin, King of New Erebor, my Lord Elrond wishes to convey his greetings and his best wishes to you and Master Baggins. He bade me to give you this..." The blond elf unceremoniously put a basket into Thorin's hands. "It is an assortment of Rivendell's finest cuisine, including our fabled meat pies." Bilbo had started coughing next to Thorin who just stared at the basket. Elves didn't eat meat, or else why would they have presented the Company with nothing but... As if he could read Thorin's mind, Glorfindel continued, "You really should have listened to Mithrandir and kept your mouth shut. We had this lovely dinner planned, with venison and salmon and crayfish. But then Elrond decided that, no, we would only have salads and vegetables..."

Oh no... If the other dwarves ever found out... "And trust me, meats prepared by elven cooks are not to be trifled with," Bilbo breathed into his ear and then gave in to the giggling he had suppressed. And all Thorin could do was to give Glorfindel an apologetic smile and pull the hobbit closer to him. Whatever else the day might bring, he would probably be able to face it. As long as Bilbo was by his side.