Bilbo Baggins lived a quiet life in a quiet hole in the wall on the outskirts of town - well, as quiet a life as one could live in the town of Bree, which wasn't nearly quiet enough by Shire-reckoning. But Bilbo had struck out from the Hill nearly five years before, reluctantly turning Bag End over to the greedy hands of the Sackville-Baggins' and heading east along the Great East Road, following the whim of adventure that itched under his skin.
As it turns out, though, hobbits are not especially inclined toward aimless wandering, and by the time Bilbo arrived in the village of Bree some time later, he was more than ready for the comforts of cushioned armchairs and hot baths. He took his earnings from the sale of Bag End and bought a modest shopfront on the north side of town, settling in to live in the small apartment cut into the slope of a hill behind the shop. Several weeks later, after equipping the shop with the proper equipment and customer comforts, he opened his coffee shop for business and began to peddle an assortment of brews.
It was a homey sort of place, filled with the smoky and spicy scents of coffee and tea that clung to Bilbo's skin like an odd cologne. The hobbit enjoyed the routine of keeping his shop, starting every early morning by baking an assortment of authentic Shire scones and ending every evening by sweeping out the weathered floors. The village children would come by in the afternoons with freshly-picked herbs, and Bilbo would pay them for the best and have them climb up to the ceiling beams to hang them out of the way to dry before he gave the children a scone or biscuit and sent them on their way.
In the mornings, as Bilbo watched the sky lighten outside the windows while he waited for the scones to bake, he would mix his teas and inventory his flavor extracts and think of how very much it all reminded him of his home in the Shire, but as soon as the bell clattered signaling the first customers of the day, the odd assortment of people coming in assured him that his life here was nothing like it had been at Bag End. It was familiar enough to never cause him to regret his move, and adventure enough to somewhat satisfy the curious longing behind his eyes that begged to see new places and people.
And there was certainly a never-ending line of new people to see! Although his assortment of regular customers tended to be women and hobbit-wives looking for a quiet moment to rest and share gossip during their busy days, the shop itself stood close to the stables at the west gate and drew many a weary traveler looking for a quick sit-down before continuing on their way. This was how Bilbo met his favorite customers - the ones with stories to tell. Bree was, after all, a main crossroads and the major trading location in the region (proven to be endlessly convenient for purchasing the more exotic ingredients for his shop), and Bilbo had a special knack for knowing when a person was likely to have good stories. He saw many men from different regions, and a fair number of hobbit-kind that wandered over from Buckland to visit kin and do trading. Dwarves were rarer, as they usually preferred the comforts of stouter drinks at the Prancing Pony and passed over Bilbo's, but he did spot them on the street out his shop windows if he looked for long enough. Elves were rarer still - indeed, Bilbo had never seen an Elf in Bree, although rumors were passed among his shop patrons every few months that one had been sighted in town. However, the lack of Elves frequenting his shop did not deter from other strange customers, ranging from an frazzled-looking woman who smelled strongly of cats, to a ranger from the Lonelands who ordered only a mug of boiling water, to a tall, robed wizard who couldn't seem to grasp the concept of a polite greeting. Each day brought amusement, and mystery, and tales aplenty, and Bilbo was content in his new life.
It was on such a day, as Bilbo wiped out an assortment of cups and waved off a group of jovial townswomen, that another such stranger entered his shop, carefully sidestepping the inattentive, chattering ladies before he was trampled beneath their skirts. Bilbo stood tall to peer over the too-high counter (for the shop had indeed been built for much taller occupants than hobbits) when he saw the new customer entering, momentarily stunned to see it was a dwarf, but quickly recovering with an easy smile.
"Good afternoon," he greeted the dwarf cheerily. "Can I help you?"
The dwarf didn't respond right away, but instead took a moment to look around the shop, his brow furrowed as he took in the plush armchairs scattered about, the colorful rug, and the fireplace that sat empty, rarely needed at this time of the year. Bilbo thought he looked quite tense, but then again, he looked like tense was his natural state of being. He certainly seemed the moody type, with his scowling face hidden behind dark hair and beard, eyes judgmental under thick brows. The dwarf held himself tall (and he was tall, for a dwarf) and straight, with a great sense of propriety and status that commanded attention. At the moment, however, he seemed almost confused.
When the stranger's eyes fell finally on the hobbit (or rather, the top of his head peeking up over the counter), Bilbo felt the strangest urge to check that his hair wasn't sticking up oddly or that his waistcoat wasn't buttoned crooked over the half-apron tied around his waist. How silly, that he suddenly felt the need to impress this dwarf, but Bilbo couldn't help it. He was simply the kind of person that one desires to impress.
The dwarf still hadn't spoken, although his eyes held a hint of curiosity as they studied the hobbit, so Bilbo tried again. "I don't see many of your kind in here. It seems most would rather enjoy a pint of something stronger over at the Prancing Pony. I've got some extra dark, though, that you might like. Unless you've got something special in mind?"
Finally realizing that Bilbo was asking a question, the dwarf glanced around again as though expecting to find an answer hidden in the decorative wallpaper or swept under an ottoman. "I..." he started, and in the back of his mind, it occurred to Bilbo that the stranger had a beautiful voice for storytelling. "You are a hobbit?" were the words the dwarf finally decided on.
The question struck Bilbo as strange, but he had heard stranger. "I am," he answered. "Bilbo Baggins, at your service. I came from Hobbiton in the Shire - or close to it, really - but this shop is my home now." He wiped his hands restlessly on his apron, wondering why it mattered. Suddenly, his mind formed a suspicious thought and he frowned at his customer. "You don't have a problem with hobbits, do you? Because there are a fair few of us in Bree, and if you think-"
"No!" the dwarf hurried to say, it coming out harsher than he meant it to. He tried again more calmly. "No, it is just that I have never met a halfling before."
"Oh," Bilbo replied lamely, his shoulders drooping from their defensive stance. "Well then, I hope I leave you with a pleasant first impression of my kin."
At this, the dwarf said nothing, only ducking his head and studying his boots as the moment stretched in awkward silence.
"So..." Bilbo attempted once again. "Coffee? Or perhaps some dandelion root tea; I just finished roasting a batch this morning..." Bilbo trailed off at the uncomfortable look that crossed the stranger's face. "You didn't really come in here for a drink, did you?" he guessed. The dwarf opened his mouth to speak, his hand gesturing at nothing as he searched for words. Bilbo sighed resolutely. He wouldn't admit it, but he had hoped that the stranger might stay and let loose a tale or two to share while he enjoyed refreshment. "If you're looking for the Prancing Pony, you need only to follow the main road east until it bends. You can't miss it; there's usually quite a crowd."
He started to bustle back about his business, grabbing a bin of clean silverware to put away, but the dwarf took a few steps forward and spoke earnestly. "Wait! I...I think I will have a mug of that extra dark. If you don't mind?" he added almost as an afterthought.
Bilbo grinned at him and grabbed a mug and the preheated kettle, readying to brew the drink. The stranger stood quietly at the counter watching him, but Bilbo found that the attention didn't bother him much. When the dwarf made to pull out his coin purse as the hobbit set his coffee on the counter, Bilbo waved it away. "This one's on the house."
"No, no," Bilbo cut him off. "I mean it."
"You must let me pay you somehow..." the dwarf pushed.
"Next time," Bilbo insisted. "Now sit, and enjoy your coffee," he said, waving his hand toward the assortment of chairs in the lobby.
"Will you join me?" the dwarf asked as he picked up his mug and made his way to a cluster of seats in the middle of the room. "I would not turn down the company."
Bilbo made a show of hesitating, not wanting to seem too eager, before finally relenting and pouring some tea for himself. "It is a bit of a slow period," Bilbo stated. "It wouldn't hurt to have a bit of a sit-down, I suppose." It might have been a convincing act, if he hadn't nearly tripped over his own feet in his haste to join the dwarf.
Bilbo had hoped that his unexpected customer might be more forthcoming with conversation, but as the hobbit settled in next to him, the dwarf simply stared into his steaming mug, letting the silence stretch out between them until Bilbo finally cleared his throat and decided to give it a go himself. "So what brought you into my shop, if you didn't come in for a drink?"
The stranger looked up, seeming half surprised to find himself still sitting there, as if he had quite forgotten where he was. Still, it took only a beat for him to gather his wits and answer. "I had plans to meet with a group of my colleagues here, but I was delayed in Ered Luin and have arrived too late, it seems."
"Is that your home? Ered Luin?" Bilbo asked, perking up and shuffling to the edge of his seat at the mention of far-off lands.
"No!" came the reply, and the word was so bitterly spat that Bilbo jumped a little where he sat, nearly spilling his tea. His customer didn't elaborate, but merely returned to his silence, eyebrows drawn together in a stern frown that made Bilbo fidget.
"Forgive me, I didn't mean to pry," Bilbo apologized. His high hopes for this conversation having been thus dashed, he was about to make his excuses and get back to work when the dwarf spoke again.
"It is I who must ask pardon," he said, sighing heavily. "I do your hospitality a disservice. 'Home' is not a topic I am eager to speak of. I have not been back there in a very long time."
Bilbo listened quietly, studying the tense lines of the dwarf's face, before he realized he was staring and dropped his gaze. "I'm sorry to hear that," Bilbo told him, and he meant it. "Bree hasn't been my home for all that long, but it's home now, I suppose. Don't quite know what I would do with myself if I didn't have this shop to keep me busy." But his gaze had shifted to the window, and there was something wistful in the way he watched the people in the street, hurrying past the shop on their way to unknown places.
Bilbo lost himself in daydreaming for a moment, and thus missed how the dwarf secretly studied him with no small amount of curiosity while Bilbo's attention was diverted. When he finally shook himself out of his reverie, however, it was to find his companion sipping his coffee as he had been before, and Bilbo cast around for something to say to break the silence.
"Do you like it?" he asked.
The dwarf looked up, confused. "Bree?" he questioned in turn.
"The coffee," Bilbo claified, nodding at the cup in the dwarf's hands.
"Oh, yes, of course. It's quite good," he answered, and Bilbo smiled proudly.
"And Bree?" the hobbit asked. "What do you think of it, then?"
The dwarf looked out the windows again to the street. "It has grown since I last travelled this way, but I have had little chance to reacquaint myself with it again."
"Well, you must let me know what you think of it when you've had that chance," Bilbo said kindly.
The dwarf seemed to hesitate for a moment, a hopeful tilt to his eyebrows as he considered Bilbo's words. He opened his mouth to speak, but before the words passed his lips, his face darkened again, and he thought better of it. Bilbo watched with disappointment as he drained his mug quickly and set it on the side table between their chairs.
"I should go," was all he said, standing, and Bilbo followed suit, wishing there was something he could say to stop him, to find out what it was that he really wanted to say.
"Your name!" he cried, and then cringed in embarrassment as a blush reddened his cheeks. "You never gave me your name," he tried again, quieter this time, and he forced himself to meet his eyes with a weak, hopeful smile.
The dwarf's eyebrows rose in surprise for a moment, but he answered nonetheless. "Forgive me. I am Thorin Oakenshield," he told Bilbo, inclining his head politely as he said it. Bilbo walked him slowly to the door of his shop, hands fluttering nervously in front of him until he finally had the presence of mind to tuck them away in his pockets, fearing Thorin would think him even more of a fool.
"Until next time, then, Thorin Oakenshield," he said, suddenly feeling uncommonly shy.
Thorin studied him again for a moment, and Bilbo felt the strongest urge to shiver under the dark stare. "Next time," the dwarf finally repeated, nodding his head and stepping out the door and back into the busy street.
Bilbo stood and stared after him for a long moment, until the jangling of the bell signaled a new customer and forced him from his thoughts. He had the strangest feeling that Thorin really would come back to his little shop, and that thought brought a smile to his lips, though he wasn't sure why. Their entire interaction had been strained at best, but now that he was gone, Bilbo already wished the dwarf were back again. Yes, he thought as he went about his business, I would very much like to see Thorin Oakenshield again.