Thorin's POV

Throughout dinner (which was good, I supposed, though thin and lacking meat, and much of the texture had been created through liberal use of cram) I couldn't help but wonder continuously whether I or the Hobbit were the greatest of fools. Honestly, I could not seem to make the decision, instead cycling between the two answers for the greater part of the evening.

Bilbo still did not understand; I had outright told him, but he didn't get it, or wouldn't get it, I was unsure. If he continued to insist on behaving that way, I knew, he would only get hurt. I nearly wanted to shake him for it, hard, until he understood the danger, until he understood the meaning.

As for myself, I spoke before I thought. According to many, I had a common issue with that. I'd hurt him again, this time when I was but trying to save him hurt, and I wondered when something like this would happen and he would cease forgiving me. Surely it would have to happen eventually, after all the hardship I'd dealt him over the course of our knowing one another. Still yet, I only wanted him to be happy, and I was simply unsure if my nephews, brave and clever though they were, could provide him that happiness. Really I supposed I'd worry over as much if any were to court him; after all, he deserved the finest things, the most beautiful of gemstones and livery, and few existed who could provide that. I simply didn't want him to settle for less than the grandest of partners. I swallowed the last of my soup and passed the bowl to Bombur, who settled it with the remainder of our cooking supplies, and left for the springs, deciding then to partake in my own bath and clear my head. So intent was I on this that I didn't notice the tramping of feet behind me until I had already submerged myself in the water, at which point Dwalin made himself known.

"You're a right fool, Thorin," he said, and I sighed.

"So I've often been told. Might I ask why I'm being called as such now?"

"The hobbit. You fancy him, don't you?" I coughed and choked, suddenly, and shook my head. The hobbit? Of course not; how could I, after all? He was only a hobbit, a small, simple creature, nothing like royalty. Indeed, he was pretty, but many were, and he was clever, but many could claim that as well. There was nothing particularly special about him, really; I simply respected him, for saving the life of myself and my company, so of course I wanted him to end up with the very best.

"Certainly not. I believe it is my nephews who hold that particular affinity." Dwalin shook his massive head and sighed.

"Thorin, you've oft been called thickheaded, but I've never thought you more worthy of the title than now. Your nephews don't want the lad; they only see that you do, and want to spurn you into acting. They're children, indeed, but bright as any, and they'd grown as tired of your mooning as any of the rest of us." Mooning? How dare he? I was a king! Kings do not moon over silly little hobbits.

"I care for the hobbit no more and no less than I care for any other man amongst us. I simply don't want him hurt by a misunderstanding of our culture, or of Fili and Kili's intentions." Dwalin looked frustrated as I began to scrub the dirt from my skin, but he cast me that look often, so I'd become largely immune to it.

"I've just told you that your nephews are no more interested in the hobbit than I am, Thorin. Will you not just put aside your denial and tell the hobbit what you feel? It isn't as if he'll refuse you, if that's your fear. He moons over you near as much as you moon over him."

"The hobbit does no such thing. Have you not seen the way he casts his gaze over my nephews? Or better yet, the way they cast their gaze over him, the gentle touches, the braids. It all reeks of affection." Dwalin snorted, the sound of it feeling almost loud enough to rattle the trees that were scattered liberally around us.

"And so intent were you on seeing the braids as those of courtship, and growing angry about it because you'd hoped to get the hobbit yourself, that you did not even look closely enough to realize that the braids were those of a brother, not those of a lover. Tell him, Thorin, and end all of our suffering at this idiotic little game the two of you are playing." Damn; so it was. I had not looked beyond seeing the braids, had not seen the simplicity of them that would never stand in a lover's braid. So I'd upset him for nothing, and yelled at my heirs for the same. Had it always been so? Had I always misconstrued their actions as something less innocent than the truth?

Of course I hadn't! They'd admitted their intentions, had they not? Yes, but they were adept liars, and if they were trying to fool me… they'd planted the thought in my head, with that, and now could better judge my reactions, the clever little shits. So why had I become upset? Because I wanted the hobbit to have better, of course, but what was better than the direct heirs to the line of Durin? Both of my nephews were skilled craftsmen, skilled smiths, skilled miners, at least as skilled as I myself, and so what else could I ask for the courter of a hobbit? Someone older, yes, someone with more experience. Someone of greater status than prince. Someone with a properly grown beard, an adult. Myself, a traitorous little voice in my mind whispered, and I cursed beneath my breath. Dwalin chuckled, warm and familiar.

"Finally realized it, have you?" he asked me, and I nodded slowly.

"How have I missed it?" Surely I was not so large a fool as that? If I were, what right could I possibly have to call myself King Under the Mountain? Almost certainly none!

"You've greater skill at denial than any I've ever met, your majesty," Dwalin said, teasing now occupying his voice, and I sighed.

"Still yet, there is nothing I may do. I am a King who lacks a throne, a crown, a mountain. I am King but in name, and even then it's tenuous. I've nothing to offer the poor little thing, and even if I did, he would not accept it of me. Surely he now despises me, for all I've said and done to him. Dwalin shook his head and clapped me hard on my right shoulder.

"No, Thorin, you've all the offer that Bilbo could ever want; affection and love, kindness, a protector and one that he might protect, adventure. He's a simple creature, as any hobbit is; he wouldn't care if you were only a pauper, if you gave him the love and the devotion he desired." True as anything, I supposed, or at least true enough.

"But I am no pauper, nor am I a man who has offered him any of those things before. He will not want me, and I will not embarrass myself with the attempt." Dwalin growled and the air filled with the noise of rock fall.

"I suppose a fool is still a fool no matter how much sense you hammer into his thick skull. I'll leave you be, then, your majesty. Perhaps you'll finish coming to your senses once you're clean." And so he wandered off on heavy feet, leaving me to myself for perhaps ten minutes more, before a lighter set of footsteps, these belonging to Gandalf, made their way over to me.

"Have you come to call me foolish as well?" I asked, perhaps a bit bothered, and he chuckled. The glitter in his eyes was as unnerving as ever in the dark of night, mischief alight in every line of his gangly frame. He could be trusted, indeed, at least with those things of import, but I knew that he could not be trusted not to laugh, to shroud the simplest of things in riddles and challenge, to partially conceal what he wished until he saw fit to show the rest. He was, I supposed, quite similar in nature to the gray of his robes.

"In so many words; Dwalin told me of his progress, and felt that I was the best choice to send you the rest of the way along your road to understanding. You've come to one realization tonight, and it'd be best if you came to the other as well. Take Bilbo aside tonight and apologize for all that you have said and all that has happened; if you do this, he will surely accept it, and you may continue on to discuss what you feel in greater detail. He'll welcome that as well, if what he discussed with me this past night bears any indication." Bilbo had spoken to Gandalf of me? It seemed that there was much I'd remained unaware of. That would not stand; if he wished to speak of me, he could just as well speak to me. After all, it seemed we'd been being pushed in this direction for some time. Perhaps I had better chances than I thought.

"Do you tell me the truth? Is the hobbit really interested?" Gandalf nodded, his smile pleased and amused, and, for once, not veiling anything. I nodded once, sure at last. "Tell him that I will see him by that tree over there in ten minutes, then," I stated, and he left with another smile and a nod of agreement. After that, I finished my bath and dressed in half the time I'd set, and marched over to the tree to wait for the little creature. I felt, quite honestly, more confident than I had in some time, and surely, this time, I would fix what had gone wrong between myself and Bilbo. He really would make such a pretty consort; I wondered how expansive he'd allow me to make the ceremony. Hopefully he'd at least allow me to have a statue of him cast, or a bust carved, to decorate one of the halls.

I did not hear the hobbit approach (how had I missed his talents as a burglar so thoroughly upon first meeting him?) and he easily could have snuck up on me had I not seen him coming. His face was flushed a very flattering shade of pink because of the rush he must've taken to get to where we now stood, and his hands were quickly clasped behind his back. It would have looked much more proper, had he not been dressed in Fili's oversized jacket and a vest that had long ago lost the majority of its buttons.

"Hello, Thorin. What seems to be the trouble now?" he asked me, a somewhat amused lilt to his voice, and I stood straighter in response, fixed my kingliest expression to my face, and prepared to deepen my voice for an added element of power.

"It has come to my attention that you are due a number of apologies, Master Baggins. I have spoken to you very rudely, recently, and often without cause to do so. You see, my nephews, as well as, I suppose, the remainder of the company, have been trying to clear the haze from my eyes so that I might see the true value you hold to me. To do this, they purposefully engaged in inappropriate, or seemingly inappropriate in the case of the braids, with you. I became upset only because I felt you deserved better treatment at the hands of a different dwarf." Bilbo's cherubic face was quickly painted with a small, kind smile, which then split into a wide grin.

"They made you jealous, then," he said, and perhaps that ruffled my feathers a bit. Jealousy was above me, above all dwarves, despite what the tales of men said of our covetous nature. What belonged to a dwarf belonged to a dwarf; there was no denying that claim or that right. Jealousy did not come into play, only… strong disagreement as to the origin of the right or the claim, which was perfectly understandable. After all, such disagreements were generally taken into account for any trial that occurred over some such object, and could sometimes win said trials.

"Certainly not, merely a bit upset and therefore a bit irrational. Do you accept my apology?" He smiled again and took me by the hand, his fingers seeming pale and fragile in mine though I'd seen those fingers, that hand, swing a blade so hard as to kill an orc and his Warg. The contrast, the contradiction, was most assuredly fascinating.

"Of course I do, Thorin," he said, still giving me that lovely, kind smile.

"Then I've another question for you, Bilbo. I offer you my hand, tonight, my courtship; will you accept this of me?" Another laugh, this one a bit shocked, breathless.

"Gandalf told me that you would be more open to me, once your thick-headedness was overcome, but I hadn't thought it would be such a dramatic change. If your offer is a serious one, then I accept wholeheartedly." It was wildly inappropriate of me, to be sure, and it skipped near enough to fifty steps of the courtship process, but I could not resist the urge to gather the hobbit into my arms and press soft kisses to the corner of his mouth, his cheeks, his brow. He giggled and squirmed in my grasp, his bright eyes sparkling with his pleasure and his amusement, and I wondered how I had ever missed such a sweet little treat longing after me. Truly, I decided, I was the far larger fool than he. Finally, however, I was forced to settle him back onto the ground. We stood in silence together for but a moment before he spoke again. "I must say, however, that I'm quite surprised. I always thought you despised me, Thorin." I settled a hand upon his shoulder and squeezed as softly as I could.

"Indeed? I must say that I once thought as much as well. You were not what I had expected when I envisioned a burglar, and when I saw you, I thought the wizard had finally gone absolutely mad. You were unfamiliar, and the quest itself was unfamiliar enough; I hadn't wanted another variable, another burden. I've already stated how wrong you've proven me in that regard, however. So much bravery as can be found in you could not fit within a being over twice your size. Still yet, I have been taught the art of hiding emotions since my birth; such is often the lot of a king. I'm afraid that I've grown so adept at this art over the years that I often hide those emotions from even myself. As any man, I often need a good swift kick to make me see what's right in front of me." Bilbo chuckled, warm, friendly; the chuckle I'd always seen him give my company and always wanted for myself.

"I suppose I can understand that, Thorin. Shall I share something as well? I've always admired you, from the day you entered my home to now. You're noble, and incredibly strong; perhaps even… majestic, if one felt particularly poetic. You've led your people with a power that seems to have been long lacking in this world, although I suppose I know comparatively little of the world beyond the Shire, and you've done so in the face of countless tragedies. It's all very admirable indeed, Thorin, and perhaps that's why I've grown so imbedded in you, in your quest. I want to help you, Thorin; I want to see you restored to your throne and your happiness. Truly, Thorin, have I grown to love you." The words were a shock to my core for their suddenness, though they were far from unwelcome. Love? How funny. I'd never imagined that I would… that my childhood dream would be fulfilled, most especially on a quest, an adventure, which spanned all of Middle Earth. I'd almost call it surreal.

"And I would have you at my side upon reaching my throne once more, Bilbo, as my consort. I've met no one more capable than you of ruling by my side, and surely my happiness would know no bounds once this quest ends and that goal is reached." If I had skipped fifty steps with my previous action, Bilbo must have skipped a hundred with the kiss he pressed to my lips, hard and insistent, his arms slung about my neck. Still, I am but a dwarf; resisting such an offer would make me more a fool than I already was, and surely then I would be incapable of ruling. I wrapped my own arms around his waist and drew him tightly against me until I could nearly feel the warmth of his skin through my armor.

Perhaps, however, it got a bit out of hand after that. My mouth fell from his and instead took up worrying a mark upon the full curve of his jaw, another at the bend of his neck, still another by his ear and high on his throat. All the while his fingers spasmed against my neck and soft, aborted noises slipped passed his lips. It was without my knowledge or consent that my hands shoved the jacket from my shoulders, worked the remaining buttons of his shirt and his vest free, and certainly I would never make the choice to rid him of his trousers or his smallclothes in such an open setting, but my hands had not the knowledge of kings that I did.

If he pressed tighter, harder, against me to combat the chill, it was surely just a side-effect, and a minor one that I could not have predicted at that, and indeed, the most acceptable solution at that point would be to lower us both carefully to the ground, him beneath me to keep him warmer. At the very least, he seemed to appreciate it.

"Thorin," he murmured, his head tilted back to show the marks I'd made, the scrapes of my beard against the delicate skin, and I traced one hand over them, across his chest, my fingers teasing at dusky nipples until he was writhing beneath me and close to begging for something more.

"Such a lovely creature," I couldn't help but say, my hand sweeping down his belly so lightly that he shuddered, my mouth proceeding to dip down and lick at one of the nipples my hand had left. He went tense for a moment at the shock of it, then relaxed, more noises sliding desperately from his mouth until the small space we'd carved for ourselves here was ringing with them. It was a fight to sit up and pull away even slightly, but the short reprieve did allow me to think momentarily of comfort and shrug off my own overcoat, which I proceeded to slide beneath his pale body so the rocks and twigs beneath him wouldn't cause any unnecessary discomfort. He hummed quietly in appreciation before his legs opened just the slightest bit more and I turned my attention to greater issues.

I took him into my mouth without hesitation, although my hand chose instead to go towards his own mouth, where he took hold of my wrist and sucked at my fingers as best he could at the awkward angle and the slight stretch.

My tongue pressed against the slit, swirled about the head, until his free hand was wrapped tightly in my hair, until his eyes were clenched closed with pleasure and his hips were fighting not to buck into my mouth. I made a soft noise, one whose name I don't know, and the vibration of it set him to squirming again. Desperate sounds fell from the tip of his tongue around my fingers, and I felt his thighs going taut and relaxing cyclically as his toes curled and his legs kicked at the earth. I sucked until my cheeks went hollow and teased a vein that ran along the underside with my tongue until he was all but crying out, certainly ready to come, but I stopped him with a solid grip about the base. The wild, desperate noise increased as I removed my fingers and he shook his head, cheeks flushed very prettily, and carefully I placed his legs over my shoulders so I could reach where I needed to reach.

I slid one finger inside of him easily, and he jerked just slightly as he grew used to the intrusion, and I worked it slowly until he relaxed around me, until his eyes grew hazy and he moved with my hand. The second was more of a challenge, and caused him a bit of pain to be sure, so I fell still until he moved himself, at which point I set to stretching him, scissoring my fingers as widely as I dared, until finally I gestured as in beckoning someone and hit something that made him scream and jerk hard against my hand, his whole body strung as tightly as one of Kili's bowstrings, until he suddenly relaxed almost entirely such that the third finger went in nearly as simply as the first.

As I moved them, my own body began to fight me, my whole self too warm and my breeches far too tight. With the hand I'd only recently freed, I managed to do the ties and slip myself out, though the cool air made me shiver. My fingers worked him open thoroughly, methodically, seeking what he enjoyed and what he didn't, until he was all but crying with the pleasure of it, crying for more.

Still yet, it took a bit of rearranging before he was in a position to take me, settled on his hands and knees and shaking with chill and anticipation both. I covered him with my body shortly thereafter to eliminate the former, and slowly, so painfully slowly, slid within him, inch by agonizing inch, until I was fully within him. I could not differentiate between our breathing, the both of us did it so raggedly.

The tightness, the heat, around me was almost excruciating, and I clutched at his hips perhaps just a bit too tightly to keep myself from going out of control and moving before he was ready, from hurting him.

It felt like hours before his breath calmed some and he pressed back against me, gave the signal that I could move without risk of harming him, and finally I began to thrust in earnest, to clutch him tightly to me and whisper quiet, meaningless things in his ear, some in Westron and some in my own Khudzul, to slowly twist my hand up and down his own sex until he was moaning incoherently, variations of my name and more and harder until the words lost all individuality, until I was moving hard and fast within him.

I wished then that it could have lasted longer, but such was certainly not the case. On one particularly hard thrust, I hit the place that seemed to make him see stars, and so too did I move my hand in just the proper way to make him cry out and come, to go boneless and pliant beneath me.

The muscle around me squeezed tight and spasmed as he came, and the intensity was so strong that I had to bury my own face desperately into his neck, squeeze his hips once again too hard as I continued to move, fast, shallow, until finally it was too much for me as well and I came within him.

I slipped out slowly and tucked myself away, wrapping him tightly in my jacket and cradling him in my arms, my mouth pressing another kiss to his forehead. I realized suddenly that I'd quite lost count of how many courtship steps we were missing after I'd gotten his pants off of him. I chuckled quietly as I carried him to the spring and let him bathe once more so he could redress himself, and he smiled too, sated and lazy, even though he couldn't have known what I'd been considering.

I couldn't imagine, then, ever being any happier than I was. Bilbo was perhaps the most amazing being I'd ever met, as kind-hearted as he was brave, as lovely as he was strong. He was a rare creature, that darling who had fulfilled the dream I'd had since I saw Dis wed, the dream of finding and marrying my own One, of ruling at his side. Of course, I'd have never imagined that a hobbit, of all things, would be what fulfilled that fantasy, but now that it was, I most certainly couldn't complain; from what I've seen, no greater creatures exist upon Middle Earth than the simple hobbit. I almost dreaded the time when I would have to share him with the remainder of my people. Although, more immediate, I supposed was the fear of returning to the campsite and enduring the remainder of the company's reaction to this newest news.

Ah well, I supposed, easily allowing Bilbo to reach out and twine our fingers together as we walked, there was only so much that they could laugh, but the celebration? That we could partake in as well, and it went on for far longer. After all, the king had just found his love; if that wasn't worthy of a bit of a party, nothing was.

Though I'd done all I could to hide what had happened, the amount of time we'd been gone and Bilbo's expression (and perhaps mine as well) still alerted the company to what had occurred, and they greeted us with raucous applause that set Bilbo's cheeks to blushing red as cherries. Finally, however, once that had ended, I was able to make an announcement of my own.

"I will now be courting Bilbo. Will there be any objections to this courtship?" The silence was music, and Bilbo clutched my hand tightly, kindly, still with that foolhardy smile painting his features, reminding me of how he had looked at our first meeting, of the fullness of his cheeks, the glow of his skin and his eyes and his hair. "Then set up the fire. I will present him with my courting braids."

"Little late for that," someone muttered, resulting in a few muffled laughs, but beyond that, the fire was built as it should've been, large but contained, the wood arranged just so around it and a mat settled before it for Bilbo and myself to kneel upon.

I led him in doing so, his eyes lost and confused but trusting, and I carefully undid the braids that my nephews had done (sloppy; I should've known they weren't courtship braids at first sight) and returned their beads to them. They each smiled in return and gave me their quiet congratulations, while Bilbo received twin tweaks of his ears. I swatted their hands away under the pretense that I needed the space to put in my braids.

They were complex, more so even than those I used in my own hair, and as I worked, my brothers around me began to hum and sing a soft song, some even breaking out their instruments to add more depth to it. Upon completion, my beads shone like fireflies in his hair by the firelight, and the delicate braids framed his face very nicely, in my own opinion. I lifted his hand and pressed a kiss to his knuckles, gentle, and in response he settled his free hand on my cheek and drew me into an equally gentle kiss. It could not have been more beautiful if it took place in Erebor's own halls.

"Congratulations, your majesty, his majesty's consort. I can't help but think you'll make the finest pair Erebor's halls have seen since Durin and his own lovely bride," Bofur said, his smile half hidden by his beard, and agreements were heard all around. Bilbo took it all with easy grace, and yes, I had never felt a love so fine, so pure, as this. Certainly, Erebor would be mine again soon; nothing else would be good enough for Bilbo, my beloved consort. I couldn't wait for the day that he and I could look upon those halls together, side by side.