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Title: Like Fire
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Bilbo/Thorin
Characters: Bilbo, Thorin, Fíli, Kíli
Summary: Thorin’s nephews couldn’t put a finger on it exactly, what precisely was off about their king.
Disclaimer: "The Hobbit" belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien & Peter Jackson in their own respective ways. Nothing belongs to me.
Notes: Written as a fill for hobbitkink for the following prompt: "There are so many stories where Fili and Kili work out that Thorin likes Bilbo and try to drop not-so-subtle hints that Bilbo doesn't get, and they are excellent, but...What if Fili and Kili can't work out what's gotten into their uncle and enlist Bilbo to help them find out?" Beta'd by my best friend.



Like Fire

It was strange, to see the ink on parchment in mountain shape, just a clean couple of strokes with a quill that represented the stone city in which Bilbo found himself. He ran his fingertips over the map of the Lonely Mountain, traced the serpentine body at the peak without an outward shudder of revulsion.

“Bilbo!” The hobbit flinched, almost dropped the old map into the hearth by his feet. He looked up to see Kíli’s head pop into the doorway of his small sitting room. Why do they never knock?

“You gave me a start, Kíli! What--” Bilbo’s eyes narrowed at the young dwarf who looked far too conspiratorial for his comfort. “--whatever you’re planning, I want nothing to do with it.”

Kíli smiled and stepped into the room. He waved a hand behind him and Fíli joined his younger brother at a slower pace. Both of them settled into two armchairs near the fire and stared expectantly at Bilbo.

The hobbit fiddled with the edges of the parchment, shifted his weight a little, harrumphed. “Alright, what is it?”

“It’s Uncle Thorin,” Fíli began. He smoothed his moustache in two quick, nervous strokes. “We’re a little worried about him.”

Bilbo frowned. “Are his wounds bothering him?”

“No, it’s not that.” Kíli shook his head. “Something’s--off--about him lately. He’s moody.”

Raised eyebrows were Bilbo’s only response.

“Moodier than usual,” Fíli amended.

Thorin’s nephews couldn’t put a finger on, exactly, precisely what was off about their king. Erebor’s repairs were going slowly but well. Many of its dwarves continued to arrive and flood the halls with sorely needed skills, and Thorin oversaw it all with equanimity. It wasn’t that he was miserable, Fíli noticed, just discontent. He was restless, full of a presence that set Kíli’s teeth on edge. Both wagered that since Bilbo and his uncle had been spending more time together after the Arken--after the battle, the hobbit would be in a better position to know what weighed so heavily on the king’s mind. One was never very far from the other for very long.

“Just,” Fíli gave his best smile, “Just talk to him, will you?”

“Please?” Kíli added, his eyes big and hopeful.

Bilbo chewed on the edge of his thumb and stared at the young dwarves from under drawn brows before standing up suddenly. “Oh, alright. Although I don’t know why you think I could help.”

:.:.:.:.:



Thorin had taken to pacing the unoccupied halls around his living quarters when his thoughts troubled him, which was more often than he liked. Despite victory, despite triumph and treasure and forgiveness in three feet of stubborn, earnest halfling, his tracks in the dust became more familiar every passing day. The silence buried him in memories, the sound of his steps echoing the green halls while the ghosts of people long dead stared at him from the doorways of empty rooms. And always present at the forefront of his mind--

“Thorin?” A voice spoke behind him.

He stopped; his great head tilted slightly. “Yes?”

Bilbo swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry as he stared at the straight shoulders, the clean braids streaked with silver. For a moment he saw them darker, the silver stained red. He drew in a deep breath and shoved his lingering fear out with a sharp exhale. “Have you eaten?”

Thorin turned at last, the echoes of the past receding, as they always seemed to, in his company. He studied the hobbit for a moment. “No.”

“Well,” Bilbo almost reached up to grab his suspenders, long since replaced with a sturdy belt of dwarven make. There was very little of the Shire about him now, his clothes the smallest portion of what he’d given up to stay in Erebor. His hands fluttered uselessly for a moment before settling on his hips. “Well.”

Thorin’s expression didn’t change, but his eyes glinted with humor. “Well?”

“Kings need to eat. Come to my rooms for afternoon tea.” Bilbo gave a short nod.

Thorin folded his arms across his chest ignoring, for the moment, the pull of tender skin beneath the bandages wrapped around his torso. “I have a team of cooks under my command if I wish to feast.”

Bilbo matched his posture. “You employ hobbit cooks, do you?”

“No.”

“Well.” Bilbo gave another nod, his mouth set in a stubborn line.

The king smiled at last and walked to his friend. He gave a little, mocking bow. “I accept your hospitality, Mister Baggins.”

:.:.:.:.:


Fíli and Kíli watched from the shadows as their uncle left Bilbo’s room a few hours later, evidence of recently enjoyed honeycake in the crumbs on his beard. Bilbo was almost hesitant, careful, as he brushed the traces of the cakes away, his fingers following in light touches down Thorin’s tunic. The king hissed softly through his clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry! Did I hurt you?” Bilbo peered, eyes sharp for some outward evidence of blood beneath Thorin’s shirt.

“No. No, I am--I am well. Good afternoon, my burglar.” Thorin clapped a heavy hand on Bilbo’s shoulder and gave him a fond shake before the hobbit said his own farewell and closed the door. There was a brief pause before Thorin leaned his head against the wood and silver of the frame, sagged a little against it, let out a sigh that seemed to come from the roots of him. Kíli gave his brother a worried look as their uncle walked away with slow, burdened steps.

:.:.:.:.:



“What did you do to him?” Kíli demanded as soon as Bilbo sat down to supper in the dining hall.

“I’m sorry?”

Kíli stuffed a roll into his mouth and spoke around the wet mass of crumbs. “He looks even worse now!”

“I’m sure it was nothing Bilbo said.” Fíli admonished from Bilbo’s other side. He looked down his large nose at the hobbit. “Right?”

“Of course not! He left looking cheery enough--for Thorin.” Bilbo pulled a few potatoes onto his plate, feeling out of sorts and out of his depth. He didn’t ask if the king’s nephews were imagining things. He remembered the look on Thorin’s face before the hobbit had made a bit of a fool out of himself--dizzy and lost. It made something ache. Bilbo pressed knuckles into his sternum and rubbed. “We’ll just have to figure it out.”

Kíli jumped up. “Yes! You should. We’ll be right behind you.”

A muscle in Bilbo’s face twitched.
:.:.:.:.:



Bilbo found Thorin the next day in the underground practice yard. The dwarf’s movements were almost smooth and balanced as he swung Orcrist in a deadly arc, decapitating stocky orc models and bloated goblin figures. Like a dance, Bilbo thought, following the twist of muscles, the glint of sweat. Only occasionally could he detect stiffness in the movements as Thorin’s practice pulled at the scars Bilbo knew lay beneath several layers of tight bandages. He jumped when Thorin spoke.

“I noticed you have been spending more time with my nephews of late.” Thorin grunted the last word as his elven blade sunk deep into the wooden torso of one of the dummies.

“Um?” Bilbo muttered, short of breath, his eyes caught on the thin cotton garb sticking to the king like a second skin. He could almost see the wrappings through the shirt, wrapped around the left shoulder, across the thick muscles of the chest. He could definitely see the outline of blacksmith’s arms through the material, and the frame of a strong back.

“Your eloquence is unmatched, Master Hobbit.” Thorin sheathed Orcrist with care and held it in his hand instead of binding it behind him. The leather bit into the hard flesh of his palm as he scowled at Bilbo. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

The change in tone snapped Bilbo out of his daze. “Have I done something wrong?”

Thorin stared at him, brows drawn downward, but his voice was soft when he answered. “No. Of course not.”

“Oh. Good.” Bilbo fiddled with something in his pocket before venturing, “Fíli and Kíli have been very kind to me, you know. It’s not been easy, being the only hobbit under the mountain.”

Thorin’s face darkened. “I am sure they have. Very accommodating, my nephews.” He began to walk away, towards his quarters. “Always willing to lend a helping hand--”

Bilbo heard Thorin mutter something under his breath, before the king disappeared around the corner, his shoulders hunched under a stained shirt.

Bilbo surprised himself by uttering a Dwarvish oath he'd had occasion to hear often from his traveling companions. The king wasn't getting any better and Bilbo felt almost as inscrutably helpless in the face of Thorin's new troubles as he had when the dwarf lay in a small tent on a battlefield, breath shallow through a whispered pardon.
:.:.:.:.:


Thorin stared into his hearth, watched the flame lick and blacken the wood and felt something similar within him. His anger simmered under the surface of his skin. He thought of skin--fair skin and freckles, curls over even brows, a thin, soft mouth, a slight body under his, stirring the flames, heating him from the inside out. Thorin could see his burglar clearly laid out, spread wantonly on a coverlet, flushed and eager. But the hands on Bilbo weren’t his own; many, small, and so much younger.

“Uncle?”

Thorin gasped and spun around, his eyes wild as they landed on his nephews in the doorway.

Fíli spoke softly. “Are you unwell?”

Thorin found the familiar feeling of his rage and fanned it gratefully. “Your triflings with the hobbit end now. I won’t allow it.” At the venom in his Uncle's voice, Kíli inhaled sharply, his eyes wide as his body tilted in an involuntary step back.

“Uncle--what--” Fíli’s voice, soft but sharp.

“No! Get out!” Thorin’s roar seemed to follow at their heels, down the hallways, even to the battlements as they fled to open sky.
:.:.:.:.:


Bilbo stood at the other end of the hallway, two steaming mugs of tea in his clenched fists as he watched the retreat of two of his favorite people. This ended here and today. Whatever was plaguing his normally taciturn friend, it was no reason to drive away what little family he had left. He marched into the room, lips pressed thin. Thorin groaned quietly, a sound of mixed agony and anger, that fell into the hearth to be consumed, echoless by the fire.

“Alright--” The new voice from the doorway startled Thorin. He turned around for a second time, a howl on his tongue before a mug was thrust unceremoniously into his hands. “Drink this. Sit down. I don’t care in what order as long as you behave like a rational creature for five minutes and tell me what in Middle Earth is the matter with you.” Thorin sputtered, dismayed, shamed and angry all the more for it. “Dragon got your tongue?” Bilbo’s tone was sharp and uncompromising.

“You dare--” Thorin began, squeezing the pottery in his hand until it squeaked under the strain.

“Yes, I dare. What a bad burglar I am.” Bilbo smiled a little as he settled back into the large armchair opposite his companion and sipped delicately at his tea. Thorin sat down with bad grace. A little of the brew sloshed onto his hands, not hot enough to burn but enough to clear his head and straighten his spine.

His short chuckle surprised them both. “I would have anyone else’s beard for that cheek, halfling.”

Bilbo laughed. “Pun intended? As I lack a beard, I can see how that would be difficult.”

Thorin sipped at his tea for the first time and made a pleased sound. “This is quite good.”

“It is, isn’t it? A personal recipe of my gardener.”

They both quieted and drank in silence. Bilbo watched Thorin while Thorin avoided his eyes by studying the fire, the light of which cast a softness on the king’s features. The lines on his face were darkened, but smoother, easing a little more with every second. Bilbo wondered if perhaps he was helping Thorin just by being present. Whatever troubled the king, he obviously wasn’t keen on speaking about it to Fíli and Kíli and solitude was doing Thorin no favors.

It worried Bilbo. The king carried what looked like grief in the downward turn of his mouth, the desperate grip of his fingers on the ceramic of his mug. The hobbit had not spent so many months of their journey watching this man, admiring him from a distance, even--lov--even caring for him to let Thorin diminish under the stress of some unseeable foe.

Bilbo reached out and placed a careful hand upon Thorin's arm. Bilbo could feel the burn of it through the fabric that clothed the king's body. Thorin looked down at the slender fingers, the clean nails, the fine hair dusted over the knuckles, and felt the irrepressible urge to take Bilbo's hand and press each of those small fingers to his lips.

"What's wrong? Thorin, will you--will you tell me what's troubling you? I'd like to help." Bilbo looked up and saw the king's emotions war with one another across the planes of his face. He wanted to smooth the worried lines on Thorin's forehead with the pad of his thumb, and--full of warm tea and a Tookish daring--he did.

He started in the middle of Thorin's brow, tracing his thumb back and forth until Thorin's eyes closed and the worried lines dissipated. Bilbo's thumb continued down the king's temple, danced across a cheekbone and stopped at the edge of a soft beard before he took his shaking hand away, back to the familiar curve of his own knee.

They both breathed shallowly, and Thorin couldn’t swallow past the solid ball of mingled grief and lust and, madly, peace that settled into the center of his chest at Bilbo’s touch.

“You cannot help, Bilbo Baggins.” Thorin spoke at last, his voice raw as ore. His eyes narrowed as they glared into the face of the man opposite. “You must know--you must see that any continued attempt on your part to unburden me can only be considered mockery. I do not want your pity! Take it to my nephews, whom I am certain appreciate it full well.”

Bilbo frowned, head tilted in confusion. “Thorin, I don’t--I don’t understand. What do Fíli and Kíli have to do with--” And then his eyes widened, and his lips parted, and his lively gestures ceased and settled. “Oh. OH. You silly, silly dwarf!”

Thorin was shocked out of anger and into indignation in a heartbeat. “What did you call me?”

Bilbo gesticulated wildly, knocked the empty mug from the nearby table, and didn’t blink twice when it hit the carpet with a dull thud. “You were jealous, weren’t you? Jealous of Kíli and Fíli and me!”

“Yes,” Thorin hissed, his teeth bared as he leaned forward. “A king jealous of two dwarves barely off the tit--”

“My, that would be confusing. Three people at once, as if this were springtime in Bree. I can’t even imagine the mess that would make--”

“--and a hobbit, of all races, when I could have my pick, my pick, of any dwarf under the mountain--”

“But really, one is enough for me, thank you. And not one of your nephews, for goodness’ sake.”

“--instead of pining away like a lovesick weedeater--”

“Because if you had bothered to ask, I would have told you that I am yours,” Bilbo finished and watched his words sink into the silence made by Thorin’s pause for breath. A piece of wood in the hearth broke off from the main branch, casting a shower of sparks into the blackened stone behind it.

Thorin took his eyes away and settled them on the orange glow at the center of the fire. It was a different kind of fear that settled on him now, a bitter tangle of hope and disbelief and he didn’t dare to look at Bilbo now, not now, not when the precipice of the world hinged upon the veracity of a brave little hobbit from The Shire.

He drew breath, felt as if he drew the sparks from the fire in with the air. “Say it again.”

Bilbo smiled at the side of Thorin’s face, tried to angle for a better view. “Say what again? That I’m yours?” At Thorin’s closed eyes, he said it again. “I am yours. Yours, Thorin Oakenshield, for as long as you’ll have me.”

Instead of easing the ball in his chest, the words tightened it, Thorin’s breath grew short and uneven and he thought he might burst. Except the pain had ceased and the ball was growing and he felt as if he was lit from within by the hottest forges in the deepest parts of the mountain. He rose from his chair and kneeled at Bilbo’s feet, looked up into the eyes that had haunted his dreams for months, blue like fire. “And I am yours, Mister Baggins--Bilbo--” Thorin whispered the name and cradled Bilbo’s face in his large hand and leaned forward to claim what was his.

Epilogue

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
maja_li
Jan. 11th, 2013 06:05 am (UTC)
AAAAAA THIS IS SO PERFECT!!!

You got the tone down EXACTLY and set up the misunderstanding beautifully without drawing it out too long and the payoff was utterly adorable and AAAAA :D :D :D

*GLOMPS*

*runs off to read epilogue*
chocolate_inyx
Jan. 12th, 2013 06:58 pm (UTC)
Haha! Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
bbeckx
Jan. 11th, 2013 08:18 am (UTC)
Oh I loved this to bits.
chocolate_inyx
Jan. 12th, 2013 07:00 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad! =D
nightshadow_t2
Jan. 19th, 2013 06:01 am (UTC)
I love the tension and how Thorin's emotions and resignation come through so well. The whole situation with why he assumes what he does is hilarious. You did a wonderful job with this.
chocolate_inyx
Jan. 19th, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )