"Shall we go downstairs?" the King murmured.

Eorwyn shook her head. She didn't want to move. Just standing in his embrace was all she ever wanted to do now. She wasn't ready to give up the serenity of this moment - especially since she knew that once they started moving, once other people were involved in what had happened, once they had to face reality, the peace she'd had flood her would be shattered.

The King chuckled, and his large scorching hand brushed the back of her head. Eorwyn squinted in pleasure. She was still feeling bewildered: how could she have confused the longing and the affection she was feeling now for being homesick? It had been him the whole time.

She wrapped her arms around his neck tighter and sighed.

"They are still waiting for the brandy," the King said in an amused tone.

"Let them wait," she muttered, and he laughed.

"Minutes ago you were ready to abandon me to preserve the propriety, my heart. Look at you now! Dallying with a man in your rooms."

"Minutes ago I thought it was just the two of us," she whispered. "Minutes ago I'd had a revelation and I just wanted to delight in it."

"Oh? Do tell."

He pushed his fingers under her hair, and she shivered. They were still standing in the middle of her chamber, their arms wrapped around each other. Despite how soaked her clothes were she wasn't at all cold.

"Well, I had thought my feelings were nothing but respect, and admiration, and I cared for you as a—"

"Don't say a father," he interjected, and she moved out of his embrace to look into his face.

His eyes were twinkling with laughter.

"You'll make me feel old," he jested.

"I was going to say an older brother. Perhaps a cousin," Eorwyn drew out, keeping her tone pensive.

His face dropped, and she couldn't pretend anymore and snorted.

"Oh you!" He barked a guffaw. "I sometimes forget that you have no reverence towards me, you impudent child."

"I'm no child," she reminded him.

He continued watching her warmly.

"No, you are not."

She felt her cheeks flush from his purring tone.

"But now I see..." She brushed the tips of her fingers to the brocade on his chest. She was bashfully hiding her eyes. "I love Erebor. It is where I felt I belonged for the first time. I just didn't see that not all of the feeling of warmth and safety came from being in the Mountain. It was you..." She looked up and met his eyes. "It was you I missed the most."

"And now you don't have to," he said tenderly. "We will return to the Mountain, and it will be yours. And so will I."

"Oh, Thorin..." she whispered, still feeling awkward to call him by name. "But it's not that simple!"

She could see that he was ready to argue, but she knew by them an efficient way of stopping him. She just had to push away a nasty thought that she'd been doing the same with Amri.

She put her finger across his lips, and he froze.

"Could I ask for some time, please?" she said quietly. "I want to come back, and finish my studies, and find a position. It will only take a few moons. And then we can think of the official courtship."

The King frowned.

"Please?" she asked even quieter, begging him with her eyes.

"You don't need to find a position," he said in a slightly irked tone. "When we marry, you will be the Queen Under the Mountain. There is no position more prestigious - or more demanding, for that matter."

She nodded, but she needed to hold her ground.

"Aye, it's true. But I want to be respected and make something of myself by the time I am to take those responsibilities."

She saw his lips press in a thin line. She expected him to be displeased - but she could also see she had angered him, and she couldn't understand why he would react so harshly.

"We will announce the courtship, but you can finish your studies meanwhile," he said firmly. "This will be a perfect compromise."

Eorwyn exhaled sharply. Somehow his offer didn't seem like a compromise at all - more like him imposing his will on her.

"You asked me to tell you of my revelation," she said softly. She felt shy to speak of her feelings openly but it seemed he just didn't understand. "Yesterday I thought— yesterday I thought a touch from you would scare me. I felt regretful and sad that my return to Erebor would mean heartache for you. Yesterday I didn't know I could love and feel desire."

His features set in harsh cold lines, and she cupped his face with both her hands.

"Today all I want is for you to touch me more," she whispered, her face burning in acute embarrassment. "Today I know what desire feels like. And how sweet it is to belong to you."

He pulled her into a kiss roughly, and no fear came. All she felt was her own passion flare up.

It had never been like that with Amri. Kisses with him had been light, and merry, and all she felt was some sort of tingly excitement. She had enjoyed their caresses but hardly craved them when he hadn't been around. They had had the jolliest of time, chatting and bussing, but she missed none of it now.

In the arms of the King she forgot everything. She couldn't think. She had been right when she said that it was like drowning. It was overwhelming, and her body as if burned in the most blazing of fires. She also felt possessive and greedy, clawing at him, as if she just couldn't get enough and he couldn't be close enough.

"Give me time to get used to it," she whispered, and his lips froze on her neck.

Her head was dropped back, his kisses as if leaving scorching marks on her skin.

She straightened up and smiled at him shyly.

"Please, Thorin, please see how strange it feels to me..."

"When we announce the courtship, nothing will change," he said stubbornly. "You will go about your day. You will attend your studies. And then you will learn of your duties."

Something bothered him in this discussion, she could see. She'd spent enough time with him to know when his mind was afflicted. His look was dark, and she could feel how tense his shoulders were under her hands.

"People will treat me differently," she gave him another argument.

"They will no matter when you sign the Indenture," he answered.

"I'd like it to happen later than sooner," she attempted to resist again.

"You aren't in a rush I see," he said in a venomous tone and stepped back.

"No in a rush?" Her voice was small.

"To marry me. You're keeping me at a distance just like that boy."

"No! It's nothing like with Amri!" She folded her hands in a pleading gesture. "I'm just terrified! You know how hard it will be for me. How much animosity I will meet when you announce that you chose me."

"We will face it together," he dismissed.

Eorwyn sighed.

"That is of course if you don't manage to delay it long enough and then flee," he muttered under his breath.

And that's when she understood.

"Thorin, I'm not Mistress Algun! I'm not going to change my mind and renegade!"

An unfamiliar feeling - and she realised it was indignation - made her fist her hands and almost stomp her foot.

He gave her a tense look, his eyes narrowed.

"If I give my word, it will be so," she said. "And I have. Have I not said I will marry you? Did I not speak of love?"

"You're young," he said coldly. "Perhaps, you don't know your heart and your mind. And you just said that yesterday you feared my touch and only wished for an opportunity to come back to my Mountain."

"So you think the right way around it is to tie me to you with a contract?" she exclaimed.

She herself didn't know where the nettle and the determination came from - but she just needed to make it right! Her love for him was too strong and too fair!

He continued to glare at her, and she took a measured breath.

"I give you my word that I will not leave you, unless you ask me to. I will be yours, and I will be with you, as your Queen or in any other role." She saw him once again open his mouth but she didn't let him interrupt her. "But you will have to trust me. Just as I trust you. And you will have to give me time."

She stretched her hand to him and prayed he took it. Seconds passed, and panic started rising in her - and then he stepped ahead and gently pressed her hand between his. He then leaned in and kissed the back of her hand.

"Take all the time you need," he said.

"Thank you," she said.

"I still think it's unwise," he shook his head.

She frowned but then she saw that his dark mood had passed and he was hiding a smile now.

"Why would it be unwise?" she asked.

He pulled at her hand now, and she arched into him. Each next kiss with him felt sweeter and sweeter, and more and more intoxicating. The King muddled her like the strongest of drinks.

"Because we won't be able to stay away from each other, and we will be caught in a compromising position," he rumbled, and she felt his lips close around her earlobe.

A wave of heat ran through her body, and some strange sensation pulled in her stomach.

"Then we will have to hastily make the announcement to cover up our dalliances," she dismissed. "Let's just keep it a secret for a bit."

His teeth teased her lobe, and her knees buckled.

"That might even make it more… exciting," she added, sounding quite breathy.

He chuckled into her throat he was kissing.

"Who knew that my little hen is so naughty?" he murmured, and she gave out a shaky laugh.