"Hold still."

"That tickles."

"Oh, don't be such a baby."

"I'm the baby? Who's been complaining all morning about having his dressings changed?"

"You were being ruthless."

"You told me to be quick about it!"

"I said hold still."

"It tickles."

Thorin pulled gently on the hair behind her ears, and the hobbit shook her head.

"You're moving again." His deep voice rumbled darkly, and she could hear a frown in his tone.

"Well, if you'd quit tickling my ears-" Billa broke off with a yelp as the dwarf gave one of her locks a sharp tug. She turned to give him a hurt look. He frowned right back. For a moment, they glared at one another, then Billa sighed. "I'll sit still." A beat or two passed, and Thorin sighed as well.

"I'm sorry." The tension between them eased again and Billa turned around so he could keep braiding her hair. "I'm not used to… being soft." She could hear Thorin shifting his weight slightly, and couldn't help the smile that curved her lips.

"I know. It's okay."

Coronation. Billa wondered if the dwarves were just desperate for a celebration of some sort, or if it was really that important that they held this ceremony for Thorin. She knew the others had been restless, but she was still a little out of the loop, and wasn't exactly sure what was going on in the rest of the Mountain. Now that Thorin was up and about, she'd been moved into her own quarters (which was both a relief and a disappointment). Bombur visited regularly and brought food with him, since she still spent the majority of her time keeping Thorin in bed so he would recover.

"There." Thorin took a step back. She heard him wince and turned to glance sharply at him. The dwarf was leaning on a solid staff of a dark wood she couldn't identify, and… smiling? Something dawned on her and she shook her head again. There it was. Clicking and clacking around her ears. She lifted a hand and patted her hair. Small braids, three on each side, hung behind her ears. She could feel heavy wooden beads at the end of each, and guessed by the rough exterior that they had carvings on them, like Thorin's did. Thorin's beads, which were back in his hair, where they belonged, at the end of dark braids that Kili had insisted on doing for his uncle despite his very grumpy protests.

"They should be silver," Thorin muttered, sounding grumpy (as usual), and also oddly pleased, "but I haven't had the chance to make any for you yet."

"Make…?" Billa glanced at him, her heart beating a little more quickly than it should have.

"Yes, well…" The dwarf shifted, and she was amazed to see a pink flush crossing his cheeks. "It's traditional to fashion the beads with your own hands, preferably out of a precious metal that you're familiar with. Supposed to represent a piece of the one who… the one who…" He trailed off, looking rather embarrassed. Billa didn't dare to voice her hope aloud, but she couldn't stand the silence between them.

"The one who… what?" She held her breath while he hesitated again. "Thorin?"

"Well," he started again, coughing and blushing a little darker, "when a dwarf asks another to be his… wife… it's traditional to give her silver or gold beads to wear in her braids." He paused and looked at her significantly before the rest of the explanation came spilling out. "But I haven't had the chance to make proper beads for you, so I carved these instead. For the coronation, you know."

"Right. For the coronation." Billa was dazed, giddy with an emotion she wasn't sure she had a name for. "Will… will the others know what they mean?" she asked tentatively, running her fingers over the beads again.

"Of course." Thorin looked positively insulted. "I may be injured, but it's not so bad that I can't carve runes correctly."

"Runes? Is that what those are?" As she lookd at him, Thorin seemed to remember, somewhat sheepishly, that she couldn't see the beads now, nor had he shown them to her before putting them in her hair. His anger melted almost immediately.

"Yes. The beads say that you are my… chosen wife. That you will be my queen. That you will bear the children of the line of Durin." There was a note of pride in his voice, but he must have seen the alarm in her face, because he amended himself. "It's just tradition to add that in there. I understand it might not be possible. There's no record of a hobbit-dwarf crossbreed-" His rambling stopped abruptly when Billa kissed him. After a long moment, they parted and she smiled at him.

"In the Shire, we usually just ask."



"That's it?"

"For the formal part."

"Oh? And what about the informal part?"

She was pleased he'd asked, because it gave her another excuse to kiss him. The dwarf was leaning against her now, and she didn't think she'd ever seen him look so relaxed without a considerable amount of wine in his belly.

"I hope that's part of it," he chuckled, and she beamed up at him.

"Not even the half of it, love. Now come on, we need to get you ready for this big ceremony of yours." She let him lean on her as she helped him back to his own rooms. Things weren't perfect, she reflected, but they were pretty darn close.