Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters from The Hobbit. The late JRR Tolkien, New Line Cinema, and a bunch of other people with a LOT more money than I have do, and I'm just borrowing them to have a little fun and I'll put them back when I'm finished. I'm making no money from this, it's for entertainment purposes only, so please don't sue me. Annabelle is my creation, as are a few of the other original characters in this series. Please consult me before you use them in your own fics; I'll probably say yes, I just like to know where my babies are.

Archive permission: If you want it, take it. Just tell me where you're putting it so I can stop by and visit. Thanks.

Special thanks to: SerenLyall for all her research into the timeline. Ithil-Valon for characterization. Lindarielwen from Council of Elrond for a sounding board. And PirateColey for encouragement and Dwarf drooling at all hours of the day and night. And ALL OF YOU ladies for brainstorming, tweaking, brainstorming more, and helping me to finally get it right! You guys ROCK!

Dedications: To Evendim, who has given me such great pleasure with her own AU series and graciously given me permission to play in hers any time I wish. She has the same permission from me. Without her, I would never have gotten started; she gave me the courage I needed to post that first story, and for that I am forever grateful. To Ithil-valon, who has provided tireless beta-services and been the best friend anyone could ever ask for… I love you for it, hon, don't ever change. And finally, to my beloved AJ, without whom my life is poorer and less bright. Rest in peace, my darling. We'll see each other again.

Well, we've come to the end of the piece. Hopefully y'all have enjoyed this tale! And thank you ALL for the kind reviews, the PMs, and the emails. I've enjoyed each and every one of them.

Part Twenty Two

The next morning, Dwalin combed her hair for her again. Only this time, it was different. This time, it was more than intimate. And this time, he braided a bit of it and sealed it with a sapphire clasp.

He wanted no misunderstandings. Yes, she still wore Kili's braid, and always would. She still loved him. But she loved Dwalin as well, deeply and passionately. And he thought Kili would understand.

Then he handed her the comb and sat still. He knew there wasn't much of his hair there, after all, the top of his head was hairless, but there was enough for what he wanted. And she didn't disappoint him.

Her fingers in his hair were soft and gentle, just as she was. She gave him peace, he thought, and she gave him love. It was more than enough. And when she finished the neat little braid beside his face, she sealed it with the matching clasp he had brought. "You're really mine," she said softly as she kissed him gently.

He nodded, unwilling to break the spell they seemed to be under. Unfortunately, they had to emerge sooner or later or the others would come looking for them. "Let's get this over with," he growled. He wanted nothing more than to stay in her rooms and continue as they had started. He wanted her and needed her in a way he had never felt before, and he wanted to explore it. But he knew they had to make at least an appearance. And what would others think? Would she suffer for her choice? He wouldn't allow it. He'd leave the mountain with her first.

He needn't have worried. The others were waiting down the corridor, and obviously they had been taking wagers as he saw small purses being passed around. It was enough to make him growl under his breath but Annabelle was smiling so he tried to see it from her side. And it gave him a small smile as well. That his friends had been betting on whether or not they'd be together and whether or not she'd have his bead... it was a bit comical, now that he thought about it. Especially since that lot would bet on anything.

"Well?" he demanded as they got closer. Balin gave him a knowing look, Bofur clapped him on the back, and the others simply grinned at him.

"You do know Stonehelm's planned a feast for tonight," Balin explained evenly. "For all of us, for defending the King when we could very well have killed him with no consequences. And I think this will please him as well." He gestured to the matching beads.

"Didn't do it to please him," Dwalin rumbled and Annabelle blushed. "But it's done and it won't EVER be undone." His hand found hers and clasped it tightly.

The others began to drift away, then, knowing that nothing would separate the two. Only Bofur remained behind, watching his friends for a moment. Finally he clasped Dwalin's forearm and gave a little bow to Annabelle. "Tell him he's an idiot occasionally," he said with a smile. "It'll do him good. And Dwalin?" He became serious for a moment. He had to know. After their discussions while imprisoned, he had to know. "Is it everything you hoped for?"

Dwalin looked to Annabelle and touched her face gently. He was a warrior; but she gave him peace. "More than I ever dreamed," he said simply as he drew her away. "More than I ever dreamed, my friend."