Billa should have questioned it from the start, should have erred on the side of prudence, but for goodness sake, no matter how strong her suspicions, it hadn't seemed likely.

Of course, none of this seemed especially likely, did it? She had certainly never imagined any of this adventuring business— dwarves invading her cosy smial, trolls and stone giants, orcs and goblins, giant eagles and skinchangers. She hadn't imagined a dour dwarven king, with a gaze as sharp and cold as the Brandywine in winter, wild hair draped like a pony's mane and arms thicker than her thighs, smelling of smoke, leather, and some heavy spice that tickled her nose.

Fine, yes, perhaps she had actually imagined similar adventures, on rare occasion, but they were simply the overly romantic daydreams of a settled spinster, quite content to live peacefully on her own, without the headaches a suitor could bring. In her exceedingly rare fantasies, the rugged king (or woodsman, blacksmith, sometimes ranger) was hardly as grim as Thorin Oakenshield, nor as harsh in his opinion of her. In fact, most parts of actual adventuring were harsher, more unpleasant, than the silly stories in her head.

Some parts were better, however. She had never imagined she would ever be blessed with such a feeling of family again, after her parents had passed, but these dwarves... they were the brothers she had never had, and the playful cousins she had lost to the inevitability of age and responsibility.

Brothers and cousins, and Thorin, forever apart. Forever something else, something strange she could not quite place.

But then Thorin had pulled her aside before they'd left Beorn's hospitality, herding her out onto the sprawling veranda in the pale light of dawn. The bruises on his face were still dark and fearsome, stains of deep indigo bleeding out to sickly greenish edges; the figure he cut in the chill of morning, under the mane of his hair and the grim furrow of his brows, had made Billa bristle with tension, defensive and nervous.

Until, of course, he'd reached beneath his great furred coat and pushed the slightly squashed wreath into her hands, raggedy pink gillyflowers and glossy rose hips woven together so tightly their stems oozed sticky liquid onto her fingers, filled out lushly with curls of ivy.

When he had touched the smooth skin of her jaw, callused fingers dragging so very gently, she should have questioned the curiosity lighting up his expression then, but she brushed the feeling aside in favour of craning up for a sweet, soft kiss. Dwarf women had whiskers, after all.

And then when his kisses, whiskery enough for the pair of them thank you, eventually grew bolder in their wandering, she should have thought to question the inordinate attention he paid to the curve of her throat, running the bridge of his nose slowly from beneath her chin to the hollow at the base of her neck and back up again, over and over. But the tickling sensation was pleasant, making her shiver and curl her toes, and she fit so well in the circle of his arms. It was too lovely to risk spoiling over some vague, baseless hunch.

Even now, after all their many trials and the shadow of Erebor looming only a few miles north, Billa should have trusted her instincts and asked.

There was a time for propriety, a time for restraint and lingering courtship, but tucked away in Laketown with a dragon waiting for them to try and steal its horde, to oust it from its roost... this was a different sort of time, indeed.

Billa had finally shaken free of the congestion and horrid malaise that had resulted from weeks of skittering anxiously around an elven palace, daring to steal little food and even less rest, followed by a terrifying trip down a frigid, churning river. Finally, she could breathe freely again, without suffering pressure as though Bombur was hunkered down upon her chest and her head was stuffed full of cotton. Finally she could let Thorin draw her close and comforting without also feeling terribly self-conscious about her dripping nose and wan, greenish complexion.

Durin's Day was quickly approaching, her companions had repaired or remade what equipment had been ill done by Mirkwood's hospitality, and Thorin did not object to her proposal when Billa shored up a great swell of Tookish daring to whisper against the rounded shell of his ear after supper one evening. Certainly, his face had gone ruddy, his eyes had shone dark and wide, and the arm he had wound loosely around her waist had tightened, but it was not a terribly strange reaction. It was very gratifying, to be completely truthful, to imagine that such a worldly dwarf as Thorin Oakenshield, fierce warrior and displaced king, could be even partially as discombobulated by her as she felt because of him. That he might want her, Billa Baggins, strange Billa, who smoked a pipe and told tales at the Green Dragon and wore breeches as often as she wore skirts. Odd old spinster, Billa Baggins, without husband or children in her sprawling smial.

She was no stunning dwarven beauty— Gloin's fair wife was the epitome of that standard, apparently. Her tiny portrait showed a woman with a broad nose and heavy brows, a mass of swirling, braids, and a long, sweeping beard combed back into her hair. The locket did not show more than her head and shoulders, but Gloin had assured Billa that his darling Dorbela was stoutly built, wide of shoulder and ample of hip. That, at least, was enough to ease some of Billa's concerns; hobbits were soft creatures by nature, tending towards plump rather than the firmer bulk dwarves favoured, but she had grown into a thick Baggins figure and the wide hips that entailed, rather than the ranginess of a Took.

A few of the others (Fili and Kili especially, but Nori and Bofur as well), had paid her a few subtle, friendly compliments in the earlier days of their journey, long before Thorin had made his interest known. She was not repugnant to these stocky dwarven folk, she discovered; she was, in fact, considered rather comely by some, and most importantly, adored by one in particular. And, despite their truly obscene abundance of hair, their potently earthy odour, and sharp stony edges where she half-expected roundness, Billa was not repulsed by her dwarven companions either.

So Billa had whispered a bold offer against Thorin's ear, her cheeks warm from more than the flames of the hearth, and Thorin had answered with a long look and a short nod, before lacing their fingers together and allowing himself to be drawn up from his seat by the fire and led away.

When the door of his room closed behind them, Billa had been unsure what to expect; Thorin had so far been consummately tender in all their intimate dealings, carefully reserved but quite obviously interested. His kisses could be chaste and sweet as spun sugar, or deep and searching enough to have her quaking, with her heart pounding beneath her ribs and heat curling low in her belly. But even in the dark of night, curled close under a bedroll to share warmth and long, lingering kisses Billa felt turn her spine to jelly, Thorin's hands had never wandered far, tracing over her shoulders and through the length of her hair, or holding her high upon her waist and back.

Now, with such dangers awaiting them in the coming days, Billa desired more of her sweetheart, if he was willing to give it.

Leaning back against the door, Billa took his other hand in hers as well, bringing their clasped hands up to brush kisses across his scarred, roughened knuckles, pulling him close.

"Kiss me," she said, smiling up at his hesitant expression. "Please?"

And Thorin did so, leaning down to meet her with eagerness. He did not flinch away when she brought his hands to her waist, groaning low against her mouth as his fingers tightened, gripping skirt and the flesh of her hips beneath. He panted into her hair when she bit at the side of his neck, raising faint red marks upon his skin that delighted her deeply, and when she urged his hands to slide down, to grip her thighs, Thorin lifted her with thrilling ease.

"Take me to bed," she said, still smiling, and scraped her teeth along the lobe of his ear when he answered with a wounded, breathy noise.

The bed was cushy beneath her back, though not as nice as her own feather mattress back in Bag End, and very roomy (by virtue of its man-sized make). Billa had, perhaps, chosen this dress from her recently donated wardrobe with certain illicit activities in mind; her new clothes were cut for the children of men, of course, but this mossy green shift was one of the simplest of the lot, without laces, layers, or tiny buttons, and particularly easy to remove.

On the road, she bound her breasts under linen, secured for comfort as they trekked rough terrain and stumbled into the occasional mortal peril. This night, Billa had left her laces loose, and revelled in the glassy, wondering look that overtook Thorin's face as she shimmed out of her bodice. Freeing her arms, pushing the dress down to her waist but no further, Billa scooted up the mattress and reached out, taking hold of Thorin's arms where he hovered above her, only one of his knees braced awkwardly upon the mattress while the other foot remained on the floor.

Tugging his forearms once, lightly, Billa released him to stretch her arms above her head, grabbing hold of a pillow. Thorin's gaze trailed over her, lingering on the tips of her breasts pebbling beneath thin linen; the weight of his attentions felt nearly as good as a caress. Nearly.

"Billa, you..." His voice reminded her of the deep blue smoke of dwarven pipeweed, burning rich and rough. It grew rougher for a moment, Khuzdul grinding out from his back teeth like the rasp of sandpaper over gnarled wood, before mellowing to hoarse Westron again. "What would you have me do, my lass? Tell me."

The question scorched through her, making her fingers twist into the pillow, and Billa swallowed back a few wordless sounds before finding her answer. "Undress." Pressing her flushed cheek against her arm, Billa watched Thorin breathe deep and shuddering. "Will you let me see you, Thorin?"

Even without his coat, Thorin was still too intricately layered for Billa to attempt anything beyond prompting him to shuck his gear; she was more likely to get them both tangled or end up in a pile of grumpy dwarf and giggling hobbit than she was to undress him properly. Such a task would require practice, which she would be more than happy to gain later, once all this dragon business was sorted. For now, efficiency would do nicely.

She still stared intently as he unbuckled and unlaced himself, and amazingly he looked no smaller as armour was shed. Unable to lie back and simply observe, Billa waited until he was stripped to shirtsleeves before sitting up, catching him around the ribs and pulling herself close enough to steal a kiss.

He groaned at the press of their chests together, gritting his teeth as his arms wrapped snugly around her back, and Billa peppered kisses at the corner of his lips. "Touch," she said softly, oddly certain that clear permission was needed, and Thorin groaned again, sounding altogether pained.

"Where," he whispered into her hair, burying his face, so she moved her kisses to his shoulder, tugging the neck of his shirt aside to find hot skin.

"Everywhere," she whispered back, her lips upon him, and felt his shiver.

"Thorin?" Dragging herself up from lying completely prone took great effort, given how tightly strung she felt from the ages Thorin had spent toying with her now-tender breasts, but Billa managed to prop her head against the pillows, craning her neck. His hair was soft between her fingers, not silky but not exactly coarse either, and damp with sweat as she combed it away from his furrowed brow. "What's wrong?"

She was, admittedly, beginning to feel rather... exposed. When Thorin had finally given in to her pleading and dragged his attention downward, Billa had been over the moon, already slick and thrumming between her thighs.

But he hadn't dove upon her with fierce determination, as she expected based on the treatment of her breasts. He hadn't even touched her yet, except to stroke his hands slowly along the outside of her bare thighs, and Billa was beginning to grow concerned. And perhaps a little uncomfortable— he was staring at her bits with what appeared to be a blend of confusion, fascination, and even a wee bit of fear flickering bright in his eyes. Billa barely resisted the urge to twist and snap her legs shut in the face of such odd, wholly engrossed scrutiny.

"Is it... different?" She hadn't considered the possibility that she would appear so very strange down there, when dwarven women did not outwardly appear entirely different from hobbits. Arms and legs, similar faces, same number of fingers and toes... And Thorin did not look bizarre compared to a naked hobbit gentleman, though he was larger in nearly every sense, harder, rougher around the edges, and entirely, breathtakingly handsome.

Tugging Thorin's hair, Billa tried to wrest his attention back up to her face, and was somewhat relieved when he finally met her eyes again. "Thorin? Am I so strange compared to dwarf women?"

She hadn't intended for her voice to sound so unsteady, but they had come so far, and she truly wanted him with all her heart. Not merely as a lover, either, but as the sort of partner he murmured to her when they laid together, and his fingers plaited idle braids over her ears. As a husband, as he had asked her; she wanted him by her side.

And she wanted him in her bed.

"Strange," Thorin repeated, and though it sounded much more like a question than validation of her concern, Billa still felt her stomach give a sickly flutter. "I haven't... Billa."

The feel of Thorin's broad hand laying over her anxious belly, spanning the small podgy pot that their adventure hadn't managed to starve from her frame, was somewhat soothing, but she was certain an explanation would serve better.

"There have always been very few dwarven women," Thorin said after a long few moments of silence, during which Billa had managed valiantly not to squirm. "And far fewer still among my people, after Erebor's fall. None I would... dally about. And none I wished to bind myself to, until you."

Oh goodness.

She should have asked the moment she had even a shadow of an inkling. She should have asked, confound it all, but she had never seriously considered that Thorin would be... that he would never have...

He was very nearly four times her age, so handsome he weakened her knees, and a king besides. The thought that he'd never—

Oh no, she could absolutely not say a word of that aloud. The very last thing she wished at this point was to make Thorin at all embarrassed by his lack of experience; she would never forgive herself if she made him feel poorly about such a thing.

He was hers, hadn't he said so?

"Well now, if you would like to explore," she said, rather than any of the hundred other things jostling for position in her mind, and cupped her hand against his jaw. "I am more than willing to help you along the way."

It was particularly difficult to bite back all allusions to Thorin's sense of direction, or lack thereof, but Billa was determined. If he continued as he had been going, before becoming enthralled by her privates, she was actually very optimistic about his potential.

Thorin blinked at her, not quite wary, and rubbed his thumb over the divot of her navel, tickling faintly. "I... yes. Yes."

Moving slowly, cautious like one might sneak past a sleeping bear, Thorin drew back again, resuming his former position between her legs. Billa flexed, spreading her knees wider, and did not flinch at the first hesitant brush of fingertips against her inner thigh.

"Wet," he said, then glanced up, lifting his brows questioningly.

"Wet is good." Billa smiled crookedly, shifting to press her toes along the firm wall of his side. "I've been enjoying things so far, quite a lot."

Of course, Thorin puffed up at that announcement, doubtlessly pleased with himself, but Billa would hardly fault him the rise in confidence. Instead, she tilted her hips, lifting her bum from the mattress until Thorin's knuckles brushed against her damp thigh.

"In your own time, of course," she said, daring a mild, cheeky push to continue. It earned her a low, rumbling noise and the return of Thorin's fingers, straying farther.

The first touch against her curls, so teasingly light she might have accused him of heinous teasing, sent a fine tremor through her, raising gooseflesh. The touch firmed, so very gently, until he was just barely pressing against warm, wet flesh.

"You've been hiding your beard, my love," Thorin murmured, startling her enough to let her laugh ring out unchecked, and rested his head against her thigh. He was watching her privates with hawklike focus again, curious but smiling, and his fingertip began trailing gingerly down her seam, then back up again. "And such a lush little beard it is. My beautiful— Oh!"

Billa bit her lip, immediately apologetic for startling him with a sudden jerk of her hips, but truly, he was walking a fine line between learning and driving her mad. Her thrust had popped the tip of his finger just inside her folds before he'd snatched his hand back, and now he was studying the glistening dampness left behind on his callused skin.

Thorin touched his thumb against his finger, mouth falling open in something approaching awe as he pulled them apart, drawing a thin trail of slick fluid between them. Then he paused, cleared his throat, and turned to Billa with a determined gleam in his eyes.

"I intend to venture in."

It was not the sort of declaration that should have made her moan— it was entirely endearing, but also quite silly and hardly the stuff of her fantasies.

They had both done seemingly impossible things on this journey, however, and with any luck at all, they would continue to do a few more. Slaying a dragon and reclaiming a kingdom came to mind, as well as plighting her troth to a dwarven king, of all the mad notions.

She should not have felt hot and squrimy all over at the thought of Thorin delving into her privates with the same eager sense of adventure he might bring to the exploration of some mysterious cavern. That should not have made her toes curl and her breathing hitch, for goodness sake.

And yet.

"I'll make certain you find your way," she said, possibly a bit breathless already, and braced herself for the expedition.