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Title: The Road Delivered Us Home, Chapters Two and Three
Author: Keelywolfe
Fandom: The Hobbit (2012)
Rating: M
Pairing(s): Bilbo/Thorin
Characters: Bilbo, Frodo, Dwalin, Thorin, assorted others
Warning: There are a couple canonical characters deaths. Thorin is not one of them.

Summary: In the years since Bilbo left Erebor, he has lost his respectability, gained a nephew, and gotten on with life at Bag End.

He’d left aside adventure for the comforts and peace of his little Hobbit hole, and for the love of child who needed him. Though perhaps, adventures can yet find him.

Story Notes:

Or also known as: The Adventures of Young Frodo Baggins and his Cookie Monster.

This story is an AU, you’ll quickly find, in which Thorin survived the Battle of the Five Armies and remained King Under the Mountain.

It’s also an AU in which I have played with dates, times, places. What have you. Some people are older than they should be, some are younger, but hey, if Peter Jackson can do it, I’ll have some fun as well.

Author Notes: This story has briefly taken over my life, oh, yes. Many, many thanks to my very good friend [ profile] green_key, who has watched me agonize and write this. As always, she is my best sounding board and partner-in-crime. My mental picture of Dwalin is completely her fault.


Chapter 2

His rest was fitful, cluttered with dreams more than half memory though less than truth and Bilbo woke long before dawn without even a playful nephew to blame. He gave up sleeping as a loss, rising in the greyness of early morning to stoke the kitchen fire. The others would surely sleep for some time yet, perhaps even Frodo given his late night, and Bilbo set out a plate of scones for them all, setting the kettle by the fire to heat for tea.

For once, his own stomach was reasonably quiet, his overindulgence the previous day keeping hunger at bay and he took only a single scone, slathering it with only a bit of jam before making his way back to his study. The pages he'd written with such care the night before were perfectly dry and he turned to another blank one, his pen at the ready.

The words flowed with ease, borne, perhaps, of his company the night before and Bilbo wrote with passion, hardly noticing the quiet voices that eventually came from his kitchen, nor even the smell of tea. Until Frodo came bearing a cup and saucer with great care, setting it still steaming at Bilbo's elbow.

He thanked the lad absently, not even looking up from the pages. Until he realized the boy had not yet left, rocking back and forth on his feet. "I'm dressed!" Frodo announced, as though this were something to be greatly admired.

"I see that you are," Bilbo agreed.

Which did not seem to be the proper answer, because Frodo frowned, clarifying, "So that we can do the shopping. I'm dressed, so we can be off whenever you are ready."

Ready was something Bilbo certainly was not, still in his dressing gown and robe, his pen hovering over the page. He was only perhaps a quarter of a way through the part where the first Dwarf, Dwalin as it were, had arrived at his door and Bilbo was reluctant to abandon it with the words flowing so freely.

"Perhaps we can do the shopping later, Frodo?" Bilbo asked, hopefully, "I really would like to finish this chapter today."

"But Uncle Bilbo, we always go to the market on Wednesday," Frodo said in a small voice.

In his chest, Bilbo's heart cramped. It was true; he and Frodo had made a habit of going to the market at midweek. That was the day Pansy Bracegirdle made fresh sesame cakes and the two of them always managed to wrangle a few from her, eating them as they browsed through the different stands, looking over the various wares that were offered, both the familiar and the exotic.

There were also the guests to consider; Dwarves were nothing if not hungry and would give the sturdiest Hobbit a run for their coin. Yes, they would need to do a little shopping, though Bilbo cast his writing a wistful look. Only to be startled by a deep voice from the hall.

"Dwalin and I can take him," Thorin said, stepping through the doorway. And again, Bilbo's heart cramped, for entirely different reasons. Thorin was dressed in a simple blue tunic, the sleeves delicately embroidered and laced closed at the chest. It was belted at the waist and again, the buckle was simple, nothing like the elaborate clasps Bilbo had seen him wearing before. His armor he'd left off and that was a rare sight indeed; even with Erebor reclaimed Bilbo had hardly ever seen him without it.

He was undeniably handsome and it proved enough of a distraction for Bilbo not to realize at first what he'd said. When he did, Bilbo could only sputter a moment, mind awhirl at the very thought, "You…" he stammered, "You and Dwalin? Oh, dear, no, I couldn't possibly allow you to—"

The look Thorin gave him was long familiar, a mixture of exasperation and pique at the mere suggestion that Bilbo might allow him to do anything. "Dwalin and I dwelt in the world of Men for many years, and, yes, we did on occasion require food," he said dryly, "I believe we can manage to navigate through one small marketplace."

"Oh, but—" Bilbo tried, but Frodo's small face was shining with delight; surely in his mind he was already off to the market with his new friends, eager and proud to show all of Hobbiton their guests, "You're…you're guests," Bilbo finished, weakly.

"I'm no more a guest here than you were at Erebor," Thorin said and the warmth in his voice sent a matching tingle up Bilbo's spine.

"Well…" Bilbo cast his book another longing glance, "Perhaps you can just get a few things."

Both of them watched in amusement as Frodo clapped his hands in delight. "I'll get my jacket!" he cried, darting away, nearly running straight into Dwalin.

"And what sort of scrape is that one heading for?" Dwalin growled and Bilbo could not help but notice he had not abandoned his armor.

"We are heading to the marketplace with him," Thorin said, with sunny, and obviously false, enthusiasm, clapping Dwalin roughly on the shoulder hard enough that he staggered forward a step. He turned back to Bilbo as though oblivious to the other Dwarf's ferocious scowl, "Make us a list and we will handle it."

Bilbo snatched up a scrap of paper, scribbling down a few items that would make good additions to dinner, adding a note to pick up Frodo a sesame cake first. Glancing up at the two of them, Thorin watching him expectantly and Dwalin watching him…like Dwalin, Bilbo bit his lip, "Perhaps I should come along after all-"

"Bilbo," Thorin said, halting his words with the weight of his exasperation.

He threw up his hands in surrender, handing over his hastily written list. "Oh, very well! But, could you possibly not mention to anyone that you're a King?"

"And why should my King have any shame in his lineage?" Dwalin glowered at him.

"I only mean it might be awkward! The Hobbits of the Shire are rather the simple sort; they aren't used to Kings and warriors doing their shopping at the market."

Dwalin was turning a ruddy shade of furious and Thorin gave him an impatient wave, "Let it be. We're here as visitors, not to lord over Bilbo's neighbors. We're merely Thorin and Dwalin, guests at Bag End, and we need only a few small things." He gave Bilbo a nod and Bilbo noted with resignation how terribly regal it was. Asking Thorin not to be a King, indeed. Perhaps he might also ask the Dwarf if he'd care to stop breathing for a time or offer an Elf a kiss, it seemed just as likely.

The patter of Frodo's bare feet running back to them stopped any thoughts of changing his mind, and Thorin gave the lad a gentle smile as he laid a hand on his shoulder, guiding him to the door, "We'll be back soon."

If only that didn't seem so ominous.

Sitting back at his desk, Bilbo soon forgot his trepidation as he was once again quickly absorbed in his book. He'd just reached the part where the Dwarves had begun tossing about his tableware, giggling to himself all the while, when a knock at the door startled him. The sun was considerably further along than he'd thought and Bilbo hopped to his feet, hurrying to answer it as all his worries came rushing back.

To find Thorin and Dwalin waiting for him with full arms, both of them laden with enough packages that even Dwalin was staggering beneath their weight. Or perhaps it was the addition of one small Hobbit child that was nearly tipping him over because Bilbo could not help but stare, mouth agape, at the sight of Frodo perched happily on one broad shoulder, one sticky hand gripping Dwalin's bald pate and the other clutching a piece of sesame cake large enough to feed three children.

"What…what have you done?" Bilbo wailed, stepping hastily aside as Dwalin ducked through the doorway, heaving his burden along with him.

"It was a strange thing," Thorin said mildly, following Dwalin as he juggled his own packages. "At first, it seemed the market might be closed. None of the shopkeepers seemed able to sell us anything. But Dwalin spoke to them and suddenly, there were items in abundance. Everyone seemed happy to assist us and none of them even asked for a coin. Perhaps Gandalf was right, Hobbits are remarkably friendly creatures."

Bilbo stood dumbly, watching the two of them unload their burdens in the pantry. "Oh, I am going to be run out of the Shire," Bilbo muttered, mentally planning to pack a bag to set aside if ever he and Frodo needed to escape in the middle of the night.

"I still paid them of course," Thorin went on. "I would not want anyone to think we were taking advantage of their generosity."

Frodo beamed down at Bilbo from his perch, his cheeks bulging with cake, "Mister Dwalin was loud!" he announced happily.

"A bit of," Dwalin allowed, gruffly, and it seemed to Bilbo that he pretended not to see when Bilbo reached to take Frodo.

"Yes, a bit of," Thorin agreed, casting a glare at the other. "He did promise to be quieter from here on out."

"Uncle Bilbo," Frodo peered down at him, seriously, "What's a pasty-arsed skinflint?"

If Bilbo had thought there was a chance he might be run out of the Shire, now he was certain of it. He looked at Thorin in horror, hardly noticing the small package that was thrust into his hands.

Thorin coughed, surely hiding a grin behind his hand, "He also promises to have a care with his language."

"It was true," Dwalin said with curt succinctness, striding out of the pantry with a crowing Frodo still clinging to him like an oversized burr. Bilbo only stood, clutching the package Thorin had given him and watching as the King Under the Mountain added a loaf of fresh bread to the box in the corner.

"Are you going to open that?" Thorin asked him politely and Bilbo blinked, looking down at the brown paper-wrapped package in his hands. The string snapped easily and he opened it to find a generous serving of Pansy's sesame cake, cut into hand-sized pieces.

"I was asked to give that to you by a young lady," Thorin told him and his voice was carefully neutral. A few of Farmer Maggot's prized tomatoes found a home in an empty bowl and Thorin added it to the shelf alongside Bilbo's own homegrown.

"Ah, yes," Bilbo nodded. "I'm rather surprised she wrapped it for you, it's quite popular. Frodo and I usually have to arrive early to get even a small piece."

"I believe it was you she was wrapping it for." Again, carefully neutral and Thorin was giving the groceries the same sort of deep attention he might have given a plan for war.

Bilbo coughed, clumsily folding the paper around the cakes again. "I suppose that's possible. Bit of a waste of her time, I'm afraid."

"Indeed?" Thorin asked, vaguely. The flick of his eyes at Bilbo, though, was blade-sharp, taking in every nuance.

"Indeed. I've little interest in Hobbit lasses," Bilbo smiled, a little, "No matter how superb their baking."

Thorin hummed softly, less agreement than commiseration and said, "Frodo was a joy at the marketplace. He is a good lad."

"He is," Bilbo agreed and this time his smile was wide and fond. Only to turn puzzled as Thorin stilled, hands resting on the shelf.

"He puts me in mind of Kili and Fili," Thorin told him quietly, his voice soft with grief, and Bilbo had known that without him having to say a word. He stepped forward unthinkingly, laying a hand upon Thorin's chest.

"I think of them often as well," Bilbo told him, softly. Of their mischievous smiles and joint laughter, their fierceness in battle, defending their friends and family. He tried not to think of their burial, of the day that laughter was forever silenced.

"Every day," Thorin said, like a confession, and his large hand closed over Bilbo's. He had no sense of how long they stood there, sharing a gaze and their silent sorrow. Thorin's eyes searched Bilbo's, for what he did not know, and his hand was warm, holding Bilbo's over his own heart.

And then a bright shout of laughter broke that heavy silence, followed by small, Hobbity feet as Frodo dashed in, his hair tousled and crumbs still clinging to his shirtfront. "Did you see," he asked, excitedly, "Miss Pansy gave us an extra cake just for you! She never does that, never ever, but Thorin told her that—"

"And are you going to allow me to put all this away on my own, young man?" Thorin asked, loudly, letting Bilbo's hand slip away. "I'm sure your uncle has taught you better manners than that."

Frodo bobbed his head eagerly, "I can help! I help really good!"

"You help very well," Thorin corrected gently, then sagged into a chair with an exaggerated sigh. "And very well that you are here to help, I believe I am too exhausted to continue."

Frodo crept over with wide, worried eyes, "Are you hurt? Did you carry too much? Uncle Bilbo got hurt once and he had to put his foot up for three whole days and not walk, and—" He squealed aloud as Thorin snatched him up, tickling the little hobbit until he shrieked, convulsing with laughter.

Bilbo only watched them, smiling, and if there was a sadness to it, there was none who might question him. He watched Thorin set Frodo gently back on his feet, the two of them solemnly sorting through the rest of the parcels as Bilbo thought of two mischievous young Dwarves, imagined the both of them playing happily just so with their adored uncle.

"Not there," Thorin chided, unaware of the wistful turn to Bilbo's thoughts. "Your uncle is very particular about his pantry. Let's make sure we put everything in its proper place."

"Yes, sir," Frodo said, and he gravely moved the packet of biscuits to the correct shelf. "Uncle puts cookies in the jar by the table."

"I think perhaps we might do better to secret them in here," Thorin leaned down to whispered in Frodo's ear, and Bilbo could only stare in astonishment as Thorin cast him a mischievous wink. "Otherwise, Dwalin will have them all by nightfall."

Frodo giggled and complied, tucking the parcel behind a bowl of apples, and Bilbo let some of his sorrow fade. Perhaps it was not Frodo alone who held a reminder of Kili and Fili inside.

It seemed their journey to the marketplace had only cemented Frodo's worship of Dwalin, though Bilbo could only wonder at what went on in the Dwarf's mind. Whatever it was, it appeared he had silently and without permission appointed himself as Frodo's guardian and when the lad had gone off to play with his friends, Dwalin had followed, a hulking shadow trailing at Frodo's skipping heels.

Samwise had only offered a shy smile at Frodo's delighted introduction, his brown eyes large and cautious. Meriadoc, scamp that he was, had looked the Dwarf up and down before announcing, "I can beat you up!"

And promptly put word to action by kicking Dwalin in the shin.

Dwalin had collapsed in an exaggerated paroxysm of pain, clutching his ankle and groaning, and when Merry had worriedly gone to him, already spilling apologies, Dwalin grabbed the child and tickled him until his delighted shrieks could be heard through the Shire.

For the rest of the morning, three little Hobbits trailed behind Dwalin like ducklings following their mother to water, and once, when another fellow failed to reply to Frodo's cheery greeting, Bilbo had heard Dwalin snarl out, "He said good afternoon!"

Suddenly, the mannerly nature of Hobbiton increased tenfold in moments. Bilbo bit his tongue and let it be, supposing that a lesson in manners wasn't completely untoward.

Now they were atop the hill, Frodo, Samwise, and Merry playing with Dwalin, or something like it. He had a boy on each arm, another astride his shoulders, climbing atop him as though he were a particularly hairy tree. Dwalin bore his burden stoically, though Bilbo fretted.

"He needn't let them trouble him so," Bilbo told Thorin worriedly. "They can be overwhelming at times."

Thorin only shook his head. "Send the children away and he will only complain the more for it. He was much the same with my nephews."

If his guests had any plans to journey on they said not so and Bilbo found he was strangely reluctant to ask. There were Dwarves at his table again and in his life, and to ask them when they would be leaving seemed more of an invitation for them to go. Better, perhaps, to accept them as they were and Bilbo simply went on with his day as he would have without a King at his heels.

Thorin had chosen to sit on Bilbo's favorite bench, pipe in hand as he watched Bilbo root through his vegetable garden for weeds. Bilbo mopped at his forehead with his pocket handkerchief, for the afternoon was already quite warm even without gardening. Thorin was watching him with strange intensity, casting the occasional glance up at the children, who shouted and squealed with laughter.

It was strange, perhaps, Bilbo mused, to see Thorin so…relaxed. Content for once to simply smoke his pipe, and without his regal garb, he might have been a particularly tall and broad Hobbit. Bilbo imagined Thorin with bare, hairy feet and had to stifle a smile. Well, perhaps not.

And while it was all well and good to enjoy the sunshine, this gardening would not finish itself, and Bilbo went back to his vegetables. Somewhere at the summer peas, Thorin's gaze upon him began to prickle, and Bilbo gave him a considering look.

"You could help me, if you like," Bilbo offered and Thorin froze, his pipe an inch from his mouth as his brows drew together, as though Bilbo had spoken to him in a language he did not understand. Thorin looked honestly flummoxed, such a rare look on him that Bilbo couldn't help but find it endearing.

"I wouldn't know where to begin," Thorin admitted.

"Come now," Bilbo teased. "You'll face down a dragon but not bear a little mud?"

That did the trick. With a firm scowl in place, Thorin tapped his pipe out on the heel of his boot and set it aside, approaching as though going to his own execution. Bilbo gestured grandly to the spot next to him and Thorin knelt, eyeing the plants before him. "And what is it we are doing?"

"Weeding," Bilbo explained. "It's quite relaxing, really."

"Weeding," Thorin repeated as though tasting a foul word. Bilbo thought he might say Elf with more affection.

"Yes, weeding. We want to pull out any rascally wilders that are threatening the vegetables. Do you see?" Bilbo tugged out a small thistle that had just begun to sprout.

"All I see are green things," Thorin admitted.

"Well, any green things that don't look like my tomatoes need to go."

Thorin went slowly, hesitating over every weed until Bilbo nodded approval. Slowly, he gained confidence, clearing away even the tiniest weedlings. His hands were dirty, as were his sleeves, but Thorin seemed to pay that no mind, concentrating on eliminating the weedy element of Bilbo's garden with the intensity he might use for smiting orcs.

"You said these were prize winning tomatoes," Thorin asked, wiping a rivulet of sweat from his forehead with his shirtsleeve.

"Oh, yes," Bilbo said proudly. "Ten years running now. Well, minus the year I spent traveling with you lot."

"You have quite the garden."

"You have no idea whether I do or not, but I will take the compliment in the spirit it was intended. These tomatoes are my prizes, but the cabbages do quite well also. The carrots are in fine health this year, though the early frost did in my strawberries. I do grow a little pipe weed, but I do believe I only smoke it in defiance, it hardly compares to old Toby." Bilbo smiled embarrassedly, "This must be dreadfully boring to you."

Thorin pulled out another sprouting thistle, wincing as the tiny prickles dug into his fingers before he cast it into the basket. He paused only to give Bilbo a faint smile, "Nothing that you love so would be boring to me."

It seemed like there should be something Bilbo had to say about that, but before he could puzzle out just what that was, an unpleasantly familiar voice shattered the peace of their afternoon with its shrillness. "Bilbo Baggins!"

Bilbo cringed and very much wished for a chance to use his ring before he was spotted; a vain hope, for Lobelia was already striding up the garden path. Dressed very much as though she were on her way to a party of some sort rather than visiting family, and she even carried a parasol, something of a waste to Bilbo's mind since a little sun could only improve her sour expression. She had the little umbrella clutched in her hand like a sword, which was quite the comparison, for Bilbo was sure that she would be delighted to shove either through his heart.

"Good morning, cousin," Lobelia said smartly, tapping her parasol on the stone path. How it was that such a lovely woman could be such a harridan, Bilbo did not know.

"Good morning, Lobelia," Bilbo said with weary politeness. "What might I do for you?"

"I came to check on Frodo, of course," she said, her voice sweet with false consideration. "What sort of Aunt would I be if I didn't see how the child was faring, living in solitude with his uncle? Where is the little hooligan?" She looked about as if expecting to see the boy crawl out from beneath the tomato plants. "Off playing with the farmer's children in the dirt, I suppose."

"I would hardly call Frodo a hooligan," Thorin said, coolly. "He's been nothing but a well-behaved, polite child in my presence.

Lobelia cast her hawk-like stare at Thorin as though only just seeing him, though surely she'd heard about him. Likely that was her true reason for coming. "Your presence, indeed," she sniffed, eyeing Thorin's shirt, its dirty sleeves and the sweat staining beneath the arms from working in the sun. "Bilbo, I do so wonder about you. Staying here at Bag End, taking in boys and beggars even after that nasty business with your adventure." She spat the word out as though it personally offended her. "Your reputation in tatters and no wonder. I expect to bring up the matter of Frodo again to the rest of the relatives, mark my words. It's not decent, raising him this way!"

A small cry came from behind them, all of them turning to see Frodo, his face reddened with impending tears and his little fists clenched. The others stood behind him, Samwise and Merry both close to hiding behind Dwalin's bulk as Frodo shouted, "I don't want to leave Uncle Bilbo!"

"Frodo Baggins, you would do well to remember who you are speaking-"

"Frodo," Dwalin interrupted her. "Why don't you and the lads nip into your Uncle's kitchen and find yourselves a snack, aye? There's a good boy."

Frodo shot him a worried glance then did as he was told, Samwise and Merry at his heels. The green door had scarcely shut before Dwalin rounded on Lobelia, towering over her.

Lobelia sputtered indignantly, "Why, you—you—"

"You will apologize to my King," Dwalin told her, shortly.

"Dwalin," Thorin began, sharply, only to be interrupted by Lobelia's shrillness.

"I would not stoop to apologizing to beggars and thieves, I know what sort you Dwarves are and I-"

"I did not stand by him through wars and death, help him battle a dragon to regain his throne, only to travel with him to this little hamlet and allow him to be insulted by the likes of you," Dwalin thundered, and for possibly the first time in her life, Lobelia quailed. "Now, you will apologize to my King!"

"Terribly sorry," she muttered and took a step back, her parasol falling unnoticed from her hands. "A misunderstanding, I'm sure."

Dwalin nodded slowly and some of the murderous rage lifted from him, to Bilbo's great relief. Not that he would have overly minded if Dwalin had taken it upon himself to murder Lobelia, but there were the children to think about.

"And you'll be staying far away from Frodo," Dwalin said, coldly. "He's a good lad, not too big-headed or snotty. Or he won't be, so long as he stays away from the likes of you."

Lobelia sputtered and hissed like a wet cat, sweeping up her skirts and marching down the garden path, her parasol left forgotten in the grass. Bilbo thought he might leave it there.

The three of them watched her storm away; Bilbo in particular was always happy to see her walking away from him rather than towards. So much was he enjoying her retreat that he started when Dwalin knelt stiffly before him, his head bowed.

"I apologize for speaking so to your kin," Dwalin said, stiffly. "But I could not allow such disrespect to my King."

Bilbo laughed aloud and clapped him on one broad shoulder. "My friend, that was an honor and a privilege to witness. All of the Shire will be miserable to think they missed the show!"

"A show, indeed," Thorin drawled and Dwalin hunched over further, his eyes firmly on the ground. "You might consider allowing me to defend my own honor as I see fit?"

"Against that shrew?" Dwalin dismissed it. "You can defend your honor against a worthy opponent; she would have been a waste of your time.

"Yes, a waste of my precious gardening time," Thorin said, dryly. "Thank you ever so much for defending me from that."

The sound of someone calling Bilbo's name caught their attention and the three of them turned to see Hamfast Gamgee puffing up the garden path, his cheeks flushed red and his broad face anxious. "Mister Bilbo," he called, breathlessly, and he was nearly staggering when he reached them, leaning over with his hands on his knees while he caught his breath.

"Easy, Hamfast," Bilbo went to him and put an arm around his shoulder anxiously. The other Hobbit leaned on him for a moment before Hamfast straightened, mopping at his forehead with his handkerchief.

"Was too late, I was," he huffed, coughing a moment, "Saw her coming up the way and I was trying to warn you." He shook his head sadly, tucking his hanky into his back pocket so that the end hung out like a bright red tail. "That woman, treating you and Frodo so, and her family! Not proper, it isn't, not at all!"

"I'm hardly known for my own properness," Bilbo pointed out, a touch wryly and Hamfast scoffed aloud.

"Gossip is all that is!" he said stoutly. "Gossip and jealousy! Fellow goes off and does something about the world and suddenly folks forget who it is they are speaking about! Don't see nobody turning away your coin, that's what I see. Snobs and better-than-thou's, all of them." He gave Bilbo an earnest look and clasped the hand Bilbo had laid on his shoulders. "You took in Frodo to do right by him. There's people who see you true, Mister Bilbo, and that’s a fact."

"Thank you, Hamfast," Bilbo said, kindly, and blinked as he recalled they still had an audience. Dwalin and Thorin both watching them, unreadable expressions on both their faces, as though they'd been carved of stone like the tales said.

"Hamfast, this is…erm…Dwalin and Thorin, guests of mine," Bilbo said, a little faintly and more than a little confused at his friends' sudden coolness.

"Dwalin?" Hamfast perked up. "You’re the fellow my Sam was going on about, are you!" Hamfast bellowed cheerfully. He strode right up to the two of them, snatching up Dwalin's hand. "Good to meet you then! Good to meet you both! Anyone whose friends with Bilbo and my boy can only be good folk!"

"Ah," Dwalin looked somewhat dazed, glancing down at his hand where Hamfast was pumping it eagerly. "He….aye? You're young Samwise's father, then."

"Oh, aye, aye," Hamfast agreed easily, "Our youngest, he is, the wife and I weren't expecting to have another but the lad is a joy, a joy! Was chattering like a magpie about the likes of you at luncheon."

"Yes, he's quite good with the children," Bilbo said and to his delight, bright color spread over Dwalin's face, even tingeing his gleaming bald pate. "He had a thing or two to say to Lobelia as well."

"Did he now!" Hamfast exclaimed, delighted. "Don't condone rudeness, a'course, but if ever there was one to deserve it, it would be that one. Well!" He slapped his thigh heartily, "I'd say I owe you a thanks or two for that alone! You'll have to come over for supper tomorrow night. I'd say tonight but best give the wife a chance to plan, she'd scold me right proper having guests without warning, she would."

Dwalin rather looked like he'd prefer another dinner at Rivendell and opened his mouth, perhaps to politely refuse but more like to send Hamfast into a dead faint. Only to be cut off as Thorin swiftly put in, "He'd be delighted. Nothing would please him more, I'm sure. Perhaps Frodo might join you? I do hate to invite another along, but it would please the child so."

Hamfast gave a hearty laugh and nodded vigorously, "Aye, it would, always right appreciative of my darling's cooking, there's a good lad. And what's one more mouth, anyhow, might as well make it an even ten!"

If anything, the horror on Dwalin's face only increased, redness fading to a greenish shade, and his beseeching look was ignored as Thorin nodded solemnly, offering Hamfast a handshake of his own, which he took, unconcerned at the dirt. "The both of them, then, tomorrow night."

"Most gracious of you and your wife," Thorin said smoothly, flicking a glance at Dwalin that could only be described as triumphant. Well, that put paid to the delicate comment the night before, Bilbo supposed.

"You and Mister Bilbo are welcome as well," Hamfast offered, "Not to be ignoring you, sir, gracious, no—"

"Alas, Bilbo and I have other matters to attend to," Thorin said gravely, "Though your kindness will be well remembered."

To Bilbo's bemusement, Hamfast went a trifle pink. He supposed there were none immune when Thorin turned the force of his gaze upon them. "Well, I'd best off. Do send Samwise home for suppertime, won't you?"

"I'm sure he wouldn't miss it," Bilbo laughed and Hamfast bobbed his head in laughing agreement, offering a cheery wave as he went back down the path, though Bilbo did not miss the kick he gave Lobelia's parasol in passing.

The three of them stood in silence, watching Hamfast until he disappeared around the corner, whistling cheerily all the while, and with each step he took, Dwalin's expression grew more thunderous, eyes blazing, though he kept the force of his glare away from Thorin.

"I won't forget that," Dwalin gritted out and Bilbo was grateful they were away from his tomatoes, for that voice might have shriveled them on the vine.

"I'm sure you can thank me later," Thorin said with easy calm. "Perhaps you'd care to look in on the children? They've been on their own in Bilbo's kitchen for some time."

With a last snarl, Dwalin stormed away and the door shuddered on its hinges as he closed it behind him. Bilbo watched him, a bit anxiously, his ears straining for childish screams but it seemed the little ones were safe from his tempers.

"I'm not sure if that was exceptionally clever or terribly cruel," Bilbo said, wonderingly.

"Less cruel than beheading," Thorin pointed out lightly and Bilbo's laugh carried over the hill.

End Chapter 2

Chapter 3

It was dusk by the time Bilbo coaxed Frodo inside again, Dwalin still at his side. He and Thorin had abandoned the gardening some time before, the two of them washing up to tend to dinner. There was something surreal about preparing food with Thorin, though Bilbo supposed he shouldn't be surprised that he had shown some little skill at cooking. As he'd pointed out before, he and Dwalin had in the past lived amongst Men and probably quite a few other places as well. When the options were learn to cook or starve, well, hunger made chefs of many.

Still, it was strange; the two of them in his kitchen, sharing utensils and the cutting board, Thorin agreeably following Bilbo's direction at the seasonings, less so when Bilbo insisted that more vegetables made for a better meal.

"Frodo is a growing boy," Bilbo told him and Thorin's distasteful look as he peeled carrots made Bilbo hide a smile. To think he would ever have ordered a King to peel carrots, or that he'd ever know a King at all!

Thorin didn't seem particularly Kingly this evening. He'd changed out of his gardening shirt -- and Bilbo made a mental note to send it out for washing—and again, the clean one was quite plain. A deep charcoal gray that seemed to reflect the silver in his hair and his sleeves were rolled up, baring his strong forearms. His thick, clever fingers and a small paring knife were pitted against the fiercest carrots of his garden, or so some might think from his expression, clearly visible with his hair pulled back from his face with a leather strip.

It was oddly domestic and Bilbo swallowed at the thickness rising in his throat and instead checked on the sausages. There would be a healthy bit of meat this dinnertime; he wasn't cruel, after all.

Frodo had been a great deal happier about coming inside for the evening when food had been offered as well and he had clamored up on the stool without prompting to wash his hands, instructing Dwalin to do the same.

If Thorin peeling carrots had been a sight, then Dwalin obediently scrubbing his knuckles at the authoritative instruction of a child was a memory to be treasured. Bilbo had had to disguise his laughter with a cough at Frodo's dismay when the tattoos writ on Dwalin's hands would not wash away.

"Should I get more soap?" Frodo asked, concerned, touching the inked symbols with a wary finger.

"Nothing will remove these but a skinning knife," Dwalin told him gruffly, ruffling Frodo's hair with his still wet hands until the boy's hair stood up in unruly tufts.

Dinner had been consumed with great haste, by some more than others, and despite his grumbling, Dwalin gnawed on his share of the carrots, particularly when Frodo told him earnestly they'd help him grow up big and tall. Dwalin had bitten his carrot in half with a sharp click of teeth and chewing it sounded more like he was champing on gravel. Nonetheless, he ate them, plus his fair share of the sausages and ham, and a liberal bit of the potatoes with gravy.

Bilbo had shooed them away afterward, forgoing Frodo's usual chore of drying dishes for the lad to play a little longer. An odd companion, the boy had found, but Bilbo could hardly begrudge him that. His smiles and laughter were a joy and a relief to see and he'd confessed as much to Thorin as the two of them washed up, Bilbo up to his elbows in soapy water and Thorin drying.

"You should have set them both on the dishes," Thorin said, adding a dry plate to his growing pile. "A few chores wouldn't hurt either of them."

"I've seen how Dwalin does the dishes," Bilbo said dryly. "And I think I'd rather not have him teaching Frodo any of his tricks."

Thorin chuckled aloud, the rich, deep sound of it brought an answering smile to Bilbo's face. In all the time they'd known each other, he couldn't recall any moment they'd been so content together, and Bilbo found he was a little disappointed when the last dish was put in its place.

Only to find his sitting room had been turned into a battleground in his absence. Bilbo stepped from his kitchen and nearly impaled his foot on a fleet of wooden soldiers, each standing in careful formation as though preparing to march across the field to join the others who seemed to be engaged in furious battle against their wiliest of enemies, the stuffed toy brigade.

Close by, Dwalin was carefully setting up another regiment, the carved wooden soldiers absurdly small in his hands. Frodo seemed to be in charge of the plush little creatures and Bilbo noticed Frodo's favorite one had a small paper hat atop its fluffy head. Skirting around the troops, he reached down curiously to touch it, only to freeze at Dwalin's roar.

"Do not touch that! That's the leader of the Orc troops!

Bilbo froze, hand hovering over the toy, "Flopsy?"


"You're using his stuffed rabbit as an Orc leader?" Bilbo asked disbelieving.

"Tis a fearsome rabbit," Dwalin insisted stubbornly and Frodo nodded vigorously.

"I told him it would be perfect!" Frodo exclaimed and Dwalin's mutinous expression told Bilbo this was an argument best left alone.

Thorin stood in the kitchen doorway, studying the formation. "If that is Mount Gundabar," he said, slowly, pointing at a blanket-draped chair in the middle of the room, "Then this is the Battle of the Northern Wastes."

"You always were good at the histories," Dwalin grunted, his brow creased as he struggled to get one of his soldiers to stand upright.

"Good enough to know that you're putting Bolc's army in the wrong place," Thorin told him, just as Dwalin let go of his soldier. It wobbled uncertainly before falling into the others, knocking them down in a chain of defeat.

Whatever he muttered under his breath in his own tongue was enough for Thorin to hiss an admonishment, though Frodo would have less idea what he'd said than Bilbo, who understood none.

"Ah, it wasn't my fault," Dwalin grumbled. "These aren't even on the bottom! If I'd known you were staying with your Uncle, lad, I could have brought you some of the finest toys from Erebor," Dwalin examined one of the soldiers with a frown, "Better than these."

Frodo went still and Bilbo winced, knowing very well where this was heading but helpless to stop the tide of it.

"My father made these for me," Frodo said, low, and Dwalin's frown deepened.

"And fine they are," Dwalin agreed, without missing so much as a beat. "Hobbit workmanship at its best. I only mean to say there are none who can compete with a Dwarf on his mettle when it comes to toy making!"

"I don't want to play soldiers anymore," Frodo announced, gathering up his toys a bit roughly and carrying the box to his room. Dwalin's remorseful expression made Bilbo's heart lurch and hesitantly he laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't trouble yourself, you meant no harm."

"No," Dwalin said gruffly, "But he'll feel that sting regardless. He's young to have lost so much."

"He's managing well enough, but there are times where no one can replace a lost mother or father, hard as I try."

Dwalin scoffed, clapping Bilbo hard enough on the shoulder that he nearly fell to the ground, "You do fine by the boy, just fine. He's a good one." Dwalin gave him a sly, squinty look, "Like his Uncle, I think."

Before Bilbo could do more than smile, Frodo returned, a box in his hand. He beamed up at Dwalin and held out his prize, "Can we do puzzles instead? Please?"

"I think we can manage that," Dwalin rumbled and the both of them were on the floor again in moments, spreading out the pieces in what was surely the most unorganized way possible. Bilbo shook his head and left them to it, padding back to the kitchen. Puzzles, he was sure, made boys hungry and Frodo might like a snack. Come to think of it, he suspected they might make Dwarves hungry as well.

By the time Bilbo returned with a tray laden with cookies and cups of milk, Thorin had joined them on the floor and the Dwarves were squabbling loudly over whether it was best to begin with the edges or to simple put together whatever pieces seemed to match. Frodo paid them no mind, unconcernedly matching up pieces of sky and cloud.

Bilbo shook his head and set the tray close by, though not so close it might be knocked over by angrily flailing Dwarf arms. He still had a chore or two left to him; Bell Gamgee would be by tomorrow for the laundry and Bilbo took the time to gather what needed cleaned from his own room and Frodo's. He hesitated at Dwalin's door before deciding to let the Dwarf handle his own dirty underthings. At Thorin's door, though, he ducked inside, the memory of what gardening had done to a reasonably fine shirt driving him.

He found the guest room tidy, the coverlet tucked properly over the bed and Thorin's belongings collected neatly in the corner. The shirt was laid over top and Bilbo picked it up, taking in the damage with dismay. It was worse than he remembered; the stains on the cuffs would surely never come out and there was a large tear at the hem. It might be patched, but the patch would show.

Shaking his head in dismay, Bilbo draped it over his arm. He'd give it to Bell anyway and caution her not to be upset if it was unsalvageable. A faint whiff of sweat came from it and unthinkingly Bilbo lifted the shirt to his nose and sniffed lightly.

Perhaps once he would have been highly offended by the scent of hard work, once, a lifetime ago, it seemed. Now all Bilbo smelled was the honest sweat of a day's labor. That and Thorin himself, the heavy, rich depth of it familiar to him and Bilbo was suddenly beset with a memory, atop the stony Carrock and Thorin's sudden embrace there. His face had been pressed close, his hair damp and cool against Bilbo's cheek. The scent of it had been much the same, though then it had also been mingled with the harsh tang of blood. Bilbo found he did not miss that.

Abruptly, he realized he was standing in the middle of the guest room with his face buried in said guest's dirty laundry and he blushed hotly to think of how that would look had Thorin chosen to venture in.

Bilbo draped the shirt back over his arm and quit the room, leaning against the door until some of his fluster left him. Back in the sitting room, he found the puzzle halfway to completion and the plate of cookies had been reduced to one of crumbs.

Thorin was the picture of concentration, his brow creased and the tip of his tongue caught between his teeth, and though Bilbo was loathe to interrupt the serious nature of puzzlecrafting, he did take a moment to comment, "I'm terribly sorry, but I think your shirt might be ruined."

"Hmm?" Thorin made an absent sound that turned triumphant as he fitted a piece. "Never mind it, I have others."

"But it's my fault!" Bilbo protested, hugging the shirt to his chest, "I had you on your knees in my garden and did not even consider what damage I might be doing to your wardrobe."

Dwalin hooted out a laugh and whatever it was that Dwalin said in his own language Bilbo did not know, but he could only watch in astonishment as Thorin went slightly pink and snarled a word that Bilbo didknow back at him, one that made Bilbo redden at its crassness.

Perhaps he'd best not rule out beheadings at daybreak just yet.

"You should have Mungo make him a shirt," Frodo volunteered, and both Bilbo and Dwalin brightened at the idea. "You always say he is the best tailor in the Shire."

"That's a wonderful idea, Frodo!" Bilbo exclaimed. "And I'll not hear a complaint about the cost. We all know that both of us can more than afford a single shirt; it's the thought that's important."

"Oh, aye, a marvelous idea, lad," Dwalin agreed. He seemed to be attempting to force two mismatched pieces into joining, with little success. "Thorin loves being fitted for clothing, he does. Has as many robes in his rooms as a young lass trying to entice a husband."

The cold hate in Thorin's gaze told Bilbo exactly how much truth there was to that and a bit of his own mischievous nature came awake, as he leapt on the idea eagerly. "Oh, would you? Do come along, he does lovely work. Please," Bilbo wheedled, casting a sly glance at Dwalin. Never let it said he couldn't repay a badly-used friend. Surely this would make up for Dwalin's dinner plans with the Gamgee's the next night.

If anything, Thorin only seemed redder and Bilbo swore he heard teeth grinding before Thorin finally spoke.

"Of course," Thorin gritted out. "However could I miss the chance to gain a new…shirt." He bit off the last word as though the taste of it was bitter.

Bilbo ignored it all, smiling brightly in his delight. Not only was he going to have the opportunity to enjoy Thorin's discomfort at the tailor's, he was also going to see Thorin dressed in one of Mungo's brilliant creations.

"Wonderful!" Bilbo said and again without thinking, he leaned in to give Thorin a quick hug around the shoulders. He felt the Dwarf stiffen and Bilbo cringed, thinking he'd been spending entirely too much time with Frodo. Before he could pull away, Thorin wrapped an arm around him and squeezed him roughly, then dragged him to the ground as Bilbo squawked in protest.

"Come along, then, you can help us finish this," Thorin told him, waving grandly at their creation. Bilbo was sure he saw a few pieces put together in ways that did not fit. "We'll be at it all night if our only help is Dwalin."

"Oh, very well," Bilbo said, less graciously than he felt, and soon they were all absorbed, and the occasional barbed comment volleyed back and forth between the Dwarves only made Bilbo feel all the warmer inside.

Breakfast was an interesting affair, moreso for Bilbo not having cooked it and instead he'd spent his time scolding Dwalin, as their idea of what constituted a proper morning meal seemed vastly different.

"How could you give him cookies for breakfast?" Bilbo demanded and indeed, Frodo had looked guilty as a cat amidst canary feathers when Bilbo had come in.

"I saw you cooking them," Dwalin said gruffly. "Eggs, milk, flour. You added fruit. Seems a breakfast to me."

"We drank milk, too, Uncle Bilbo," Frodo added, holding up his cup as evidence. "Milk is good!"

"Indeed it is but for breakfast, milk is to be had with porridge or toast or any number of things that do not include cookies," Bilbo said sternly, though his severity eased at Frodo's dejection. "Never mind, lad, you aren't to blame. Is he?" Bilbo added a glare to Dwalin. To little effect as the Dwarf shrugged unconcernedly.

"He was hungry and now he is not. I've done my part." And in the height of insolence, he snagged another cookie himself before wandering out the front door with pipe in hand. In his chair, Frodo nearly quivered, obviously yearning to chase after him and resisting the impulse in the face of Bilbo's displeasure.

Bilbo gave a long sigh and shooed the boy away, "Off with you then, and woe to everyone if they try for cookies at luncheon!"

"Yes, sir!" Frodo chirped and dashed out the door, nearly running into Thorin in his haste. They both winced as the door slammed behind him

"Good morning?" Thorin ventured, doubtfully, and the way his eyes crinkled in the corners made Bilbo suspect he'd heard the entire quarrel.

"Good morning," Bilbo said grumpily. "Do have a seat; it seems we'll only need breakfast for two."

If anything, Thorin's smile widened, hinting at the even line of his teeth as he obediently sat. "Dwalin is a poor father figure, I take it?"

"I took on the chore of fathering and mothering him when I took him in and I'm happy to do it," Bilbo slapped a pan over the fire with more force than was strictly necessary. "It was easier, however, when he didn't have a devious cohort to plot along with. Dwalin is as bad as all his little cousins as one!"

"It is the prerogative of the ones who do not act the part of parent to spoil a child," Thorin pointed out, unhelpfully to Bilbo's mind and he fumed silently as he cooked the breakfast sausages. It was no longer about cookies or breakfasts at all, now it was simply about a point to be made. And vengeance, yes, that tended to be sweet.

He waited until breakfast was plated and Thorin was eating with customary enthusiasm before Bilbo said, sweetly, "You'll be happy to know that Mungo replied to the message I sent and he'll be pleased to keep an appointment with us this morning."

Thorin's fork stopped in midair, the bit of sausage at the end quivering, "The tailor."

"Oh, indeed, he's quite skilled!" Bilbo said enthusiastically. He stood and spread his own arms, offering his clothing as a display of Mungo's talents. Thorin's eyes trailed over him, taking in, Bilbo was sure, his stylish waistcoat, the perfect cut of his trousers and care of the stitch work. Mungo was notoriously temperamental but there were none who would argue that his clothing was not exceptionally well done.

Long moments passed without comment, Thorin simply staring at Bilbo's clothing until he shifted impatiently, demanding, "Do you see then?"

And Thorin startled, dropping his fork with a clatter, "I'm sorry, what?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Bilbo let out a gusty sigh, "Are Dwarven attentions spans so very short? The clothes, do you see? He's quite skilled."

"Quite," Thorin nodded, shortly, and took a long drink from his cup. Bilbo returned his nod and sat back down to his breakfast just as Thorin added, "I'm sure I will be quite the handsome sight dressed as a Hobbit."

The very thought had Bilbo choking on his eggs and he coughed hard, frantically gulping his own cup of water as Thorin patted him helpfully on the back until Bilbo waved him away, dragging in rough gasps of air.

"You are going to pay for that," Bilbo rasped out, glaring with all the ferocity that he'd learned from watching Dwalin. Thorin grinned at him as he propped his chin on one hand and his eyes were warm.

"I look forward to it," Thorin said, softly, until a pop from the fire broke the moment and the two of them went back to their respective breakfasts, and the silence between them was comfortable in its familiarity.

Thorin's cheer had abandoned them by the time Bilbo had hurried him out the door on the way to Mungo's. Indeed, his surliness was reminiscent of when he and Bilbo had first met, the only difference being that Bilbo was no longer wary of his tempers. He'd seen Thorin at the lowest point of his life, maddened with gold lust, casting Bilbo from the mountain and worse, kneeling by the tombs of his nephews, his eyes dry and lost, and whatever madness had been within him had been burned cleanly away by grief.

He'd seen Thorin at his very worst and also at his best, taking the throne, leading his people to victory against the Goblin army, and more recently, kneeling on the floor of Bilbo's sitting room with Frodo in his lap as the two of them triumphantly snapped the last puzzle piece into place.

Bilbo had seen entirely too much of Thorin Oakenshield, both his strengths and his weaknesses, to be frightened of his tantrums now.

They passed a few others on their way to Mungo's and Thorin was ever polite to them, at least, although what they made of his imposing bearing, Bilbo did not know. Even dressed plainly, Thorin made quite the figure and he towered over even the tallest of Hobbits.

Bilbo did notice that everyone was excruciatingly polite to their greetings this morning and again, he reminded himself to pack an emergency bag for himself and for Frodo, lest they have to sneak away in the middle of the night. May as well be prepared and all that.

Mungo lived on the other side of Bagshire Row, west of the Water, and the walk was a decent one though refreshing in the cool morning air. Next to him, Thorin kept pace, marching along grimly.

"Come now, why so glum?" Bilbo asked and he was somewhat perplexed at Thorin's reluctance. "You cut a fine figure and have since I met you! I would have thought you'd appreciate a chance at a new shirt as much as I."

Thorin's mouth twisted, "Excellent observation, Master Baggins. I am a Dwarf and I was raised a prince until I took the crown myself. I was reared with an appreciation of a good wardrobe and there's not a Dwarf alive who doesn't enjoy ornamenting themselves in one way or another."

"But—" Bilbo frowned, confused.

"I like wearing a good wardrobe. I have never enjoyed the process of getting one," Thorin shook his head. "I do not like a stranger having their hands upon me when I am at my most vulnerable."

Bilbo covered his mouth with his hand in dismay. "Oh, I never considered! If you'd prefer not, I shouldn't like to force you-"

"It's all right," Thorin broke in, insisting when Bilbo would have demurred again, "If I return now shirtless I'll never hear the end of it from Dwalin."

That was surely true and Bilbo swallowed, hard, "I am sorry."

"Do not be ridiculous. It is a shirt; you aren't leading me to a thrashing. I hope!" Thorin teased and Bilbo relaxed, the two of them walking along in silence for a short time before Thorin added, with heavy amusement, "I cut a fine figure?"

"Oh, hush!" Bilbo said crossly. "You know what I meant!"

"I think I do." Thorin laid a hand, briefly, on Bilbo's shoulder, strong fingers squeezing lightly. Flustered for no good reason, Bilbo led them on to Mungo's, still feeling the warmth of Thorin's hand as he knocked upon the round door.

End Chapter 3

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