"Come on, brother. It's been ages." Whapping Fili's arm, Kili pushed his empty plate away and unfolded himself from the bench. "Our hobbit's obviously too much for Thorin to handle properly; let's give him a hand."

Seated a bit farther down the table, Balin choked on a mouthful of watered mead, sputtering into a napkin, and seated just to Kili's right, Ori turned brilliantly tomato red from the roots of his hair to the wisps of his beard. The other members of the company simply turned to stare at the young brothers, their expressions frozen in varying degrees of shock and confusion.

Even Fili was gawping slack-jawed, as though Kili had just sprouted up two feet taller and declared himself an elf maiden. Kili paused, fighting the instinct to squirm like a badly behaved lad under the unanticipated scrutiny.

"What in Durin's name are you on about," Fili said, speaking slow and wary. "Have you lost your mind entirely?"

To be honest, Kili was fairly convinced someone must have gone mad, but whether it was him or everyone else, he wasn't sure. Crossing his arms, he very pointedly did not shrink away from the gawking audience, puffing up instead. "No, why? What? They'll miss breakfast at this rate."

"Kee—" When Fili reached up and snagged his sleeve, Kili allowed himself to be dragged back down onto the bench with only token struggling. Fili's grip shifted almost immediately to clamp over his nape, and his voice was a furious whisper breathed hot over Kili's ear. "If you step one foot outside this hall, Thorin will skin you alive. There's teasing, and then there's this— you can't interrupt, you clot."

Kili leaned away ever so slightly, peering askance at his brother; his response was also a whisper, though it wasn't clear how much use it was to lower his voice in an otherwise silent hall, surrounded by their companions. "Interrupt what? Uncle's just gone searching for Bilbo."

The expression that stole across Fili's face was terribly pained, and perhaps just a shade disbelieving. "Searching for... Oh, Mahal have mercy, who ever told you that you were the clever one?"

"Everyone says so," Kili said instantly, as natural as breathing. Across the table from them, Bofur's eyes were bright behind the camouflage of his hand, and his shoulders were shaking, while Nori was staring resolutely into a bowl of porridge and very obviously trying to stifle a grin.

"Thorin's out there," Fili hissed, reeling his brother back in by his collar. "Tracking down the voice of his Heartsong. Do you really want to interrupt?"

"Voice of his— Wait, what—" Kili coughed as Fili shook him sharply. "Hey, leave off— Oh! Oh, oh... Bilbo? Thorin's voice is... but he..." Suddenly, Kili's face split into the most brilliant grin, and he stopped squirming under his brother's grip. "Uncle Bilbo!"

Then, just as suddenly, the grin dropped away, and Fili found himself being punched quite hard in the shoulder. "Fili! You never said anything, you twit!"

"I thought you knew!" Rolling his arm, holding back a wince with all the stoicism of an older sibling, Fili took some comfort in the fact that most of the others were staring soley at his daft brother with disbelief and amusement. "Everyone knew— Oin knew, and he's deaf!"

Farther down the table, Oin didn't look up from his bowl of plump berries and cream, oblivious without his ear trumpet. Or, equally likely, he didn't especially care about the commotion.

"Everyone knew?" Kili's eyes were wide and dark, his voice had gone worryingly small. There were far worse feelings than an aching shoulder, and Fili sighed, reaching to cup his hand against his brother's cheek.

"Everyone knows," he corrected, then leaned up to knock their brows together firmly. "Including you. So, Uncle Bilbo, eh?"

The wide doors of the hall had been flung open by Beorn's hounds, allowing the fresh, fragrant air of morning to sweep away the closeness of night and the musk of sleeping dwarf. It was at that precise moment, however, that the breeze also carried with it the distinct cry of a name, shouted by a familiar, if rather strained-sounding voice.

Every single dwarf, excluding Oin, froze in their seats.

"Uncle Bilbo's got a set of lungs on him," Kili whispered after a long, tense moment, and Fili had to bite his fist to keep from laughing aloud. Another keening shout, this one wordless but no less enthusiastic than the first, had them both dissolving into snickers and wheezing, falling over each other.

Nearby, Balin was tutting, even as a smile twitched around his mouth. Dwalin got to his feet with a rumbling grunt, hauling Dori away from his attempts to cover young Ori's ears, and the doors closed with a resounding thud under Dwalin and Dori's attentions.


Thorin woke slowly from his light doze, cataloguing his current state without opening his eyes against the gentle glare of sunlight— he was warm, bearably itchy, and draped in nude hobbit.

Nude, gently snoring hobbit, lying comfortably against Thorin's chest, tucked close in the crook of his shoulder; breathing deep, Thorin slid his palm over the slope of Bilbo's back, committing the softness of sun-warmed skin to memory. He could not revel in such decadence every day, not with their quest still looming dark and dangerous upon the eastern horizon, but for the moment, he could allow himself a brief respite. Just a pause to catch his breath, after nearly two centuries of waiting, of listening in the dark as his dreams faded to cold reality: a kingdom stolen, a people scattered, an empty bed, and a hardened heart.

No, Thorin could not rest while his kingdom still stood in ruin, beset by wicked occupation, but he could spare one morning for this. Every quiet snuffle against the crook of his neck made Thorin ache, deep in the very centre of his chest. The tickle of mussed curls against his throat, the scent of sweat and fresh grass, and the comfort of Bilbo's weight pressed down upon him was nearly too much to bear, too sweet after so long steeped in sour disappointments and bitter anger.

He was a crownless king, whose people lived as refugees and vagabonds. He had not yet earned joy such as this— not while Durin's Folk were kept from dwelling within the walls of Erebor.

But earned or no, he would not give it up.

Moving slowly, Thorin trailed his hand along Bilbo's arm, catching the hobbit lightly around the wrist and lifting it until he could see dark runes on fair skin, red letters over faint bluish veins. Bilbo's fingers twitched, curling loosely against his palm, and Thorin slid his grip upward, tangling their fingers together as he studied the Mark.

The lines were slightly raised, not uneven enough to feel with his callus-roughened hands, but Thorin could see the difference. Tattoos would sometimes heal in a similar fashion; the angular designs inked over Thorin's skin were not entirely smooth, and not simply from the other scars layered above and below. This Mark... it felt different, somehow. It had not been drawn by mortal hands, as his tattoos had been; of that, Thorin had not a sliver of doubt.

Easing Bilbo's arm closer, Thorin brushed his mouth against the Mark, seeking the subtle textures his hands could not feel. Almost immediately, his lips began to tingle faintly, humming with an odd but pleasant sensation, and Bilbo grumbled sleepily, nuzzling his nose under Thorin's jaw.

Muhudeldumu.

There was a dark, greedy part of him, kept tightly leashed by stubbornness and shame— a coal-black core that reminded him too much of the sickness that had taken hold of his grandfather's mind. It was his curse, as well, beyond the calamity of Smaug; it was one of Thorin's greatest fears that he could also lose himself to such madness. The sort of mad avarice that could send a king scrabbling after a gem while a dragon decimated his people, his family.

And it was the same endless, voracious pit behind Thorin's ribs that throbbed fiercely at the sight of his name, his name, etched across Bilbo's flesh. Only fools were fearless; the urge to lock this vibrant hobbit away, to keep him safe, and caught, and owned forever... that was a frightening craving.

Fear was useful. Thror had not feared the dragon when piles of gold had writhed before him like the swells of a storm-ravaged sea, and the air had hung heavy with the putrid stink of charred flesh and sulphur. When Thorin had dragged him from the treasure room, it had not been fear of Smaug that glittered in his wide, wild eyes.

The thought of Bilbo locked forever in a cage (kept safe, kept his), where the brightness of his impossible spirit would dim to washed-out grey, terrified Thorin down to his bones.

Yes, fear was useful.

Shaking off the shroud of his morbid thoughts, Thorin returned to the here and now, pressing another whisper-soft kiss against the Mark that had so snared his attention.

Bilbo's breath was hot against his throat, stuttering on a low groaning sort of noise before puffing out a garbled word that may have been tickles. Feeling his face split into a smile, Thorin kissed the Mark again, more firmly this time, and rumbled his own sound of contentment when sly hobbit fingers carded lazily into his beard, scratching.

"M'wake," Bilbo mumbled, every limb clinging tighter. He hummed softly, tunelessly, and kissed the skipping pulse in Thorin's throat. "Mm, oh, my... my bare bum's out in the garden."

Though it sounded much more like an observation than a complaint, Thorin still lowered the arm looped around Bilbo's back, spreading his fingers as wide as possible over the bare bottom in question. To be entirely honest, it did very little for Bilbo's modesty— Thorin had large hands, broad palms, but his little burglar was appealingly ample in other places.

"Better?" Thorin asked, hoarse from sleep and their earlier pleasures, and gave in to the desire to press his nose against a mussed crown of curls, now that Bilbo was mostly awake.

"Yes, of course." Chuckling, Bilbo arched back, pressing his arse into Thorin's touch without a hint of subtlety. Hobbitish hedonism, Thorin was quickly discovering, could be quite the marvellous thing under proper circumstances. "Getting better all the time."

The smile straining at Thorin's cheeks was no longer hidden when he rolled them over, laying Bilbo's back gently on the grass, but that hardly mattered. Bilbo blinked up at him, looking rather pleased himself as he stretched, looping his arms around Thorin's neck and grinning fondly.

"Later," Thorin said, bending to rest his brow against Bilbo's. "This evening, when the others are gorged on supper and settled, I shall steal you away, my dear burglar." Lowering his voice even as he lowered himself to murmur against the curve of Bilbo's jaw, Thorin allowed his hands to explore bare skin for just a few stolen moments more. "Steal you away, slick you open, and have you sing for me again."

Before Bilbo could do more than wriggle under him, hands clutching at his nape, Thorin licked a stripe over the heat of one flushed cheek and sat up, keeping a hand braced securely against Bilbo's chest to stop the hobbit from following him.

Grumbling, tossing his head with half-hearted frustration, Bilbo reached up and gave Thorin's elbow a sharp pinch. "Oh, I will hold you to that, you bothersome dwarf. And speaking of burgling, I'll be nicking your shirt, since you made such a mess of mine."

Thorin's laugh surprised him, possibly more than it surprised Bilbo— it was a deep sound, rumbling up from depths Thorin had thought contained only darkness, but this laugh was brighter and more joyful than he had ever expected. Startled, Thorin swallowed it back, but managed to hold his ground when Bilbo's hand stretched up to gently pinch his chin, stroking a thumb against the grain of his beard.

"Laugh just like that, Thorin." Bilbo's face was still flushed, ruddy pink on the apples of his cheeks and the pointed tips of his ears; it was a charmingly handsome colour, and more so since Thorin could claim a hand in putting it there. "Smile, even for a moment, and I'll sing for you whenever you like. That's a promise."

"A promise," Thorin repeated, the words dragging thick and sweet as honey over his tongue, and allowed Bilbo to draw him back down for a kiss. It felt rather like a promise as well, and even sweeter still, but crisp as fresh summer fruit.

It felt like a beginning; like brightness, unextinguished.

It was a candle's flame, small but stalwart, and Thorin quietly dared to hope it might ward off the dark.

He had learned better than to underestimate this impossible hobbit, after all.

END


AN: Gah, so sorry for the delay in getting this finished, but here you are! While I certainly feel like there may be more to add to this 'verse, this felt like a comfortable place to wrap this story up for now.

Is there anything in particular you'd like to see explored, if/when I decide to expand this with a side-story or two?

The response to this AU has been entirely unexpected, and absolutely wonderful; thank you so much for reading!