AN: This begins after "An Unexpected Journey" ends and follows, generally, the plot of "The Hobbit" book. Some liberties have been taken with details, placing this in some muzzy limbo between book and film, and I fully expect "The Desolation of Smaug" to blow it all to hell.

I think more shall come, as I write it. Largely gen to start, with a tilt towards growing Thorin/Bilbo affections.

The sky was just beginning to darken to the west, where the faint red and deep burnish of sunset was creeping up over the treetops; their host had bade them stay inside after nightfall, and heeding the wish of gigantic, ill-tempered bear-men seemed the wisest course, for the moment. This would be their second night under Master Beorn's hospitality, and while the company surely seemed to appreciate the warm hearth and ample bowls of honey and cream, Thorin was growing more restless hour by hour. The eagles had bought them time and distance, but Azog would not be so easily shaken from their trail, and Durin's Day loomed darkly in his thoughts, casting a shadow over his mood taller than the peak of Erebor itself. Every day lost could mean an entire journey wasted— a year to wait if they were especially lucky, and slaughtered by greedy usurpers in the interim if they were not.

The key tucked securely in his pocket and the promise of a home finally reclaimed was fore in his mind, of course, but it was not his sole concern.

"We've lost our host," he said, hoarse after hours of tacit contemplation, and the low chattering around him petered to silence. The queer comforts of the skinchanger's hall encouraged an ease of repose that Thorin railed against down to his bones. "And our wizard. Tell me we've not lost our burglar as well."

"He's gone outside," Dwalin offered, barely glancing from a thorough cleaning and oiling of his wicked gauntlets.

"Aye, on the veranda, last I looked." Bofur rubbed lazily at his eyes, having obviously been drowsing by the great, smouldering fire. "Shall I fetch him?"

"No." Hoisting himself to his feet, Thorin started off towards the veranda without another word. If the silence left in his wake was noisy with unspoken questions, at least his company had wits enough to hold their tongues. Let them gossip like old women when he could not hear; the whispers they bandied about were not the sort to test loyalty— merely his patience.

The halfling was where the others had said, perched outside on a wide wooden bench, the height of which lifted his feet from the ground until only the tips of his long, hairy toes brushed the decking. Pale, bluish smoke drifted from his lips and the pipe that hung from them; the Blue Mountains had some trade with the Shire, but Thorin had never smelled leaf burn quite so smoothly. The sweet, earthy tang of fine pipeweed reminded Thorin of nothing else but a cosy little home dug in a rolling green hill.

The sputtering Bilbo Baggins well-met that fateful night bore only a vague resemblance to the hobbit sitting before Thorin now; the wittering softness and pomp had not been sloughed off entirely, but keener edges had been tempered, growing ever sharper. Like a vein of gleaming silver hidden beneath shale, there was worth in the halfling's core that Thorin could not dare deny.

He was not yet keen enough to keep from startling, however, when Thorin spoke from the doorway. "It is nearly supper."

"I— oh." Turning from what had appeared to be deep rumination on the riot of flowers that grew up to the edge of the veranda, Bilbo plucked the pipe from his mouth and coughed around a mouthful of smoke. "Oh, yes, well. Is it? I suppose it is."

With his ruined waistcoat gaping under his jacket, brass buttons lost somewhere in the mountains and hems beginning to show tattering, Bilbo looked even less like the little man of leisure who had stumbled out of the Shire on their heels. If they had the means to find and barter with a proper armourer, Thorin would have kitted the hobbit in boiled leathers and brooked no argument; brocade was not sufficient attire for tackling orcs, no matter how elegant the weave.

"You've time to finish your pipe," he said, and motioned for Bilbo to remain sitting. "And to glean whatever answers you seek in the greenery, but do come in shortly. Night is falling."

"Of course." With one final puff, Bilbo cupped his palm over the mouth of his pipe and sucked briefly, extinguishing the embers. Hopping down from the bench, he returned the warm pipe to its pocket with careful, practiced motions, and favoured Thorin with a slim sort of smile. It did nothing for the shadows in his eyes, nor the tightness of his brows. If any son of Thrain had ever worn his feelings so clearly on his face, even as a child, the rebuke would have been swift and firm as iron. "I think I'm quite done with gawping at flowers for the moment."

"Something is troubling you." More homesickness, no doubt, but Thorin no longer expected the hobbit to vanish between one blink and the next. It hadn't been so very long ago that Thorin laid silently and watched their little burglar steal off into the night, intent on retreating back to familiar warmth and safety. He had not tried to intervene then; if the same were to come to pass again, Thorin was not convinced he would hold his tongue a second time. Bilbo Baggins had proven his mettle and earned a place amongst them, more than once over. Losing him now would lessen them, without question.

Still again, the yearning for home was something Thorin understood all too well.

Forestalling the stammering that his observation had prompted, Thorin gestured for quiet. Bilbo paused, shifting from foot to foot and worrying the edges of his dusty coat with clever fingers.

"If you have concerns," Thorin said, stepping out onto the veranda and turning his gaze beyond, to the lush gardens and the forest farther afield. The wooden railing was warm under his palms when he leaned upon it, still heated by the weakening sun. "I would hear them. You are a member of this company, Mister Bilbo Baggins, and the only halfling within a band of dwarves. I am wise enough to value a different way of looking at the world. What weighs on your mind?"

"It's nothing." Beside him, he heard Bilbo huff a frustrated breath, and Thorin waited. The garden below was humming with bees, milling drunkenly with great mounds of pollen clinging to their legs. "It... it's silly, is what it is. Nothing worth mentioning."

Arching forward a bit more, Thorin tilted his head toward the west, closing his eyes against the glare winking through the trees. After so long above ground, traipsing this world of green grass and fresh breezes, he had grown a slight appreciation for the feel of sunlight on his skin. It was not as comforting as the dry heat of deepest earth, funnelled through ducts to chase the chill from great stone halls, but it would do for the moment.

The railing did not creak when Bilbo rested against it as well, but Thorin knew the presence of a living body beside his own, even with eyes closed. "It's silly," Bilbo said again, and Thorin hummed once, beneath the droning chorus. "It's just, after all this. After trolls and goblins, and storm giants for goodness sake..." Hobbit fingers drummed against the railing, rhythmic, but Thorin did not recognize the tune. "Our host is as big as a bear when a man, and I've little doubt he's nearly the size of a house when a bear. Why... Why in the world is it that his honey bees, of all things, make me feel so very small?"

Laughter did not come freely to Thorin Oakenshield, nor had it done before the great calamity of Smaug, and he had rarely felt its absence as a lack. The bark of it that escaped him at that moment, with one poor hobbit baring his worries as Thorin had bade him do, likely surprised all those present. Perhaps even the bees themselves.

"It is not funny," Bilbo muttered, but a glance down confirmed the smile Thorin had heard threading through those words. It was wider and much more amused than the wan expression the hobbit had offered only shortly before. Though the unexpected laugh had come and gone in barely an instant, Thorin allowed a slight answering lift of his own mouth. Bilbo's own face lightened even further at the sight of it, blue eyes bright as gems, before Thorin turned his gaze westward again.

"Because they are familiar," Thorin said, even as his mind drifted to thoughts of Erebor. The mountain was not often out of his mind entirely, but now he could not help but wonder: would the halls yawn cavernous and splendid around him, as they did in his memories, or had decades trudged beneath an endless sky enured him against the vastness of his forefathers' kingdom? Would he feel small facing Erebor at last, as tiny as this hobbit felt before a swarm of oversized bees, or something else? "Yet queer. I did not see many storm giants or skinchangers in your Shire, but indeed there were bees."

Bilbo laughed easily, of course, as hobbits were wont. Even the astonishing ones. "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure of that. I've more than one relation who is easily as tetchy as a badger, and I can't say I recall ever seeing them by the light of the moon."

A cry rose from inside the hall, and Thorin tensed before he heard Gandalf's name in the din, along with shouts of welcome. It seemed their wizard had returned; they would enjoy one more night of Beorn's charity, and then it was past time to be done with this place.

"Come." The hobbit's shoulder felt narrow under the clap of his hand, and Thorin took care to keep the pat gentle, as he might reassure a pony rather than the hearty slaps shared among his kin. Bilbo could earn his own bruises without help. "Let us see what news Gandalf brings."