Of Braids & Belt Buckles

At first, Bilbo thought it was just a belt buckle. Or perhaps the hilt of Thorin's sword, Orcrist that was prodding him in the back. He considered bringing it up, but Thorin was cross enough about having to share a pony with him and he dare not anger him further. Behind him, Fili and Kili were huddled as close as their mounts would allow, whispering to each other. Bilbo turned to get a better look at the brothers, when a steely arm clamped itself around his waist.

"Stop squirming, hobbit." Thorin growled, "or you'll be walking." Before Bilbo could reply, a voice rang out a few paces behind them.

"I'll be glad to take your burden for you uncle," Fili said, barely restraining laughter, although what he was laughing at was lost on Bilbo. The hobbit could almost feel Thorin's grimace, and the arm around Bilbo's waist tightened, pressing that buckle further into the small of his back. The hobbit just sighed and reached for his pipe. Dwarves.

By the time the company had reached a suitable resting spot, the arm clamped around Bilbo's waist had become uncomfortable, and Kili and Fili's sniggering was grating on his nerves. Thorin halted, announcing that they would be making camp here for the night, and dismounted swiftly. The dwarf turned and offered a hand to help Bilbo down, but the hobbit just stared at him, incredulous. Bilbo turned and dismounted on the opposite side, just missing the pained expression on Thorin's face. Fili walked by laughing.

"Maybe you should have bought him dinner first, uncle." he said smugly. Thorin looked up, his surprise evident.

"Go get firewood Fili," he seethed, "I'll deal with you later." With that, the king-to-be turned and began giving orders. "Kili, go with your brother; Dori, Nori, Ori, get the ponies unpacked; the rest of you, form a hunting party and set up for a meal." Bilbo watched the dwarves go about their duties, and glanced back at Thorin. Their leader watched them proudly and Bilbo remembered what he's said back at Bag-end. "Loyalty, honor, and a willing heart, that is all I ask." Looking at Thorin now, he could see why they were all so willing. He no longer saw a lost prince on a fool's errand. He saw a king, a light to follow when the world went dark. Thorin Oakenshield was the heir of Durin, and if by life or death Bilbo could help him reclaim his throne, he would. Mid-revelation, Bilbo realized that he was not the only one staring. Grey eyes gazed at him darkly, and a small smile played across Thorin's features. Bilbo looked down at his feet.

"Uh, sorry, just lost in thought." he mumbled, avoiding the dwarf's searching eyes. Thorin looked pleased, and a deep chuckle rose from his throat.

"Yes, there is much to think about." he said, and with that, turned and walked on into the clearing, leaving Bilbo smiling, albeit confused. The hobbit thought Thorin would be angry with him, grumbling as always about how 'useless' he was, but the dwarf had managed to surprise him. In fact, Thorin had been doing that quite often lately, and something about the change put Bilbo on edge. That dwarf was up to something.

"I intend to court Mister Baggins." Thorin's voice rang through the still night air, safe from the ears of the hobbit, who was sound asleep behind a tree, unknowingly draped in the jacket of a certain dwarf king. This announcement was met with rowdy laughter from the company. Balin's voice rose over the rest.

"We know. Just because we're subtle about it," he paused to send a withering glance towards Fili and Kili "doesn't mean we haven't noticed. Durin knows we tried not to notice, but we did." Thorin smiled.

"It is true I took no great measures to hide my affections. I only bring it up now because I seek your approval. And if you give it, I would ask that you keep any word of this from reaching master Baggins." Thorin looked up at his nephews. "Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes, uncle." they chimed in, laughter melting into the surrounding darkness.

The journey wore on through field and forest, and by Gandalf's guidance they found themselves standing in Rivendell, much to Thorin's discontent. Although the food was not much to the dwarves' liking, the elves seemed to have acquired an abundance of beer. This discovery was met with much rejoicing on the part of the dwarves, and they stayed late into the night enjoying it. Most of the younger dwarves retired early, as did Gandalf, and slowly the celebration dwindled, till the dim moonlight fell upon only two faces. Bilbo's voice broke the silence.

"Well, this has been a lovely party, and by far the most lively I've ever attended, but I'd best be getting to bed." Thorin stared. Uncomfortable in the oppressive stillness, Bilbo stood, skirting around Thorin. At least, that was his original intention. Mid-stride, Thorin's hand reached out and pulled him down. Bilbo landed clumsily in the dwarf's lap. He was about to move off Thorin and start apologizing profusely, but there were hands. In his hair. Thorin Oakenshield was running his hand through Bilbo's hair and humming appreciatively. "Thorin…" the hobbit began, "What are you doing?" Thorin just smiled, unaware of Bilbo's discomfort.

"Your hair is very soft, hobbit." he slurred, leaning down to smell the top of Bilbo's head. Bilbo struggled to find words.

"Thorin," he said "you are drunk" Bilbo felt a laugh rumble against his back.

"Be that as it may, I want to tell you" muttered Thorin.

"Tell me what?" Bilbo asked. "that my hair is soft?" The dwarf looked mildly confused, then spoke again, this time so close that Bilbo could smell the beer on his lips.

"I am courting you. Was it not obvious?" The hobbit's eyes grew large, and a squeak escaped him.

"You really mean this?" he asked tentatively. "I mean, will you mean it in the morning?" Thorin didn't answer the question, simply tucked a stray lock of Bilbo's hair back into place and murmured something that sounded like 'beautiful.' Bilbo could feel the tips of his pointed ears growing red, he'd never been the object of such affection before, and certainly never from one so important. Thorin spoke again,

"I would ask that you braid my hair Mister Baggins." His tone seemed too serious for such a frivolous request.

"Uhm, I'm not very…" Bilbo started, but his voice left him when he looked up at Thorin. His eyes were huge, and he not-so-skillfully avoided Bilbo's gaze by staring at the ceiling, but the hobbit could see tears welling up at the edges. "I'd love to." he said. Bilbo grabbed at Thorin's hair and began twining the strands together, and the dwarf started to sing an unfamiliar song, the likes of which he had never heard. Bilbo shivered.

Two as one twisted together

Lives entangled till the end

Fair or foul we both shall weather

Any storm that fate may send

Years wear ever on

Dawn then dusk then dawn

Love will last till life has passed

Say forever with this song

Bilbo woke alone, and as his sleep-fogged brain cleared, the memory of the night before returned to him. He smiled to himself, got up, and set out in search of a good meal. Thorin and the company were already grumbling over an elvish breakfast, and discussing the previous nights activities. Thorin spoke loudly through a mouthful of food,

"In truth, I don't remember much of what transpired last night. Last I remember clearly is Balin and Dwalin downed a keg together. After that my memory fails me." Bilbo's heart sank. He was about to slink back to the fireplace to nurse his wounds, when clever eyes found him.

"Mister Baggins!" Kili called, "You're awake, come join us." Thorin looked up when he heard Kili's words, and Bilbo fought to ignore the tightening in his chest. Plastering a smile on, he shuffled toward the end of the table, choosing a spot where he did not have to look at Thorin. What Bilbo needed right now was to forget. He wished now that he'd had more beer, maybe then he's be able to forget everything that happened between them. He felt ridiculous really, mooning over a man that could never possibly want him, but he could still feel it. He could feel Thorin's hands in his hair, hear his voice singing softly. It was too much. Bilbo stood and curtly excused himself on the way out the door.

After the rest of them had finished breakfast, the company loaded up the ponies and set out again. Thorin rode ahead as usual, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. It was unpleasantly different to ride alone, he found himself missing Bilbo's warm weight in front of him. Every time the sounds of laughter drifted up on the wind, he stiffened. Bofur and Bilbo noticed, but dwarves are notoriously bad at stifling laughter, and Bilbo did not much care whether they were annoying Thorin. He enjoyed sharing a horse with Bofur much more than that stupid dwarf king, with his ridiculous hair and handsome face, and that irritating belt buckle.

As their travels moved into the mountains, the rest of the company began to feel the silence between their king and the hobbit, but none dared speak of it. Thorin was unused to rejection, and the sudden lack of encouragement from the object of his desire had left him bitter and moody. Thorin's brooding was especially hard on his nephews, who had been delighted about their uncle's choice of mate. With the exception of Thorin, they were more hurt by this situation than anyone. The hobbit still spoke to them, but every time Thorin was mentioned, even in the slightest way, he would mumble an excuse and run off. Eventually, they too stopped trying. The journey into the mountains would have been difficult enough without there distractions, but the company remained silent, out of respect for their king and affection for the burglar they'd begun to think of as a brother.