Disclaimer: I don't own anything - Tolkien gets all the credit.

Chapter Two

This evening had escalated rather quickly – too quickly! – from a quiet dinner with her brother to a crammed house filled to the brim with dwarves. Dwarves! Posey was trying desperately to hang on to reason as the group of unruly travelers moved her furniture, devastated her pantry, and left trails of mud throughout the house.

They were a merry bunch, at least. After Dwalin, eleven other dwarves had joined them, in addition to one mysterious wizard. Gandalf had been relatively quiet since his arrival, which had left Bilbo increasingly out of sorts. Posey was attempting to take it all in stride, offering help when needed and doing her best to keep her brother calm. Keeping busy was also keeping her away from her thoughts, which had continued to drift toward the large and brutish dwarf who'd been trailing her with his eyes since she'd opened the front door.

It was rather disconcerting, really. Never one to attract much attention, Posey wasn't sure why Dwalin insisted on gawking at her. The only thing she was certain of was that he did it openly. A few of his comrades had joked with him about it – in front of her! – and he'd just grunted at them, seeming to find it funny. Funny?!

About twenty minutes after their initial arrival, Posey was relieved to see all of the dwarves settled in the dining room, loudly eating, drinking, and joking amongst themselves. Bilbo was in a state of panic as he looked in the pantry to see the shelves nearly bare and Posey was certain that he was going into shock.

"Aye, lassie! We've saved ye a seat!" Glancing over to the owner of the voice – Bobor? Nofor? No! Bofur! – Posey saw a cramped space at the corner of the table, suspiciously located just next to the wide-shouldered brute – who, Posey noted, had a lovely laugh. The brute in question, Dwalin, didn't seem to notice that Bofur was motioning her to sit there, but if the space was open, Posey was certain it wouldn't be a problem. Gandalf would be seated to her right, so at least she could question him about the purpose of this unexpected meeting in her dining room!

It took a bit of squeezing around dwarves and chairs to get to her destination. Dwalin was laughing again, having just poured ale down the odd device that one of the other dwarves – Oh dear! What was that one's name again? – apparently used to aide his hearing. The entire company was cheering about one thing or another and the merriment was infectious.

By the time Posey sat in her chair, she had a wide smile on her face and wasn't paying complete attention to her surroundings. It appeared that, upon having to lift a leg to fit her body in front of her chair to sit, Posey had placed her hand on Dwalin's shoulder for balance. The large dwarf had stilled completely at her touch, his laugh drying up in his throat as he glanced her way. Posey smiled at him as she quickly moved her hand off of him, not wanting to forget her manners. He grunted again, but didn't look away. The louder one – Mofur? Goodness, no – Bofur! – found this all very entertaining.

"My apologies, Sir Dwalin, I didn't mean to offend," was all Posey could think to say, given that the dwarf was still just staring at her. Perhaps he was… simple?

The commotion around them was surely still going on – Posey could see food flying out of the corner of her eye and she was sure that sound was hitting her ears – but to her it seemed that once her eyes locked with Dwalin's, everything else lost focus. What an odd feeling!

Up this close, Posey could better see the tattoos and scars that marred the dwarf's face. His nose looked as though it'd been broken several times, with a rather misshapen bridge and enlarged appearance. The hair of his beard was thick, with a few grey streaks littered throughout. Posey herself was a grown Hobbit lass, but still young by most standards – quite a bit younger than her brother – and she suddenly wanted to know how old this dwarf was.

Feeling increasingly uncomfortable, Posey turned away from Dwalin and looked to Gandalf, "Well, wizard, are you going to tell me what this is all about? It's highly irregular to have an evening such as this in the Shire!"

"In due time, my dear. I'm afraid some of the talking isn't meant for your innocent ears. Your brother, however, will have an important role to play in this evening's discussions." Posey frowned deeply, looking toward the hallway where she was sure her brother was still lurking. What could twelve dwarves and a wizard possibly need from her brother?

"I'm not certain I like the sound of that, Gandalf." The frown on her face drew out a chuckle from the wizard, which only made Posey more aggravated. Glancing back up to the chaos around the rest of the table, Posey saw Bofur – got it on the first try! – throw a hardboiled egg clear across the room into the waiting mouth of… well, she had no idea what the big one's name was, but he caught the egg and the entire table broke out in cheers. Laughing at the absurdity of it all, Posey shook her head and crossed her fingers that Aunt Myrtle's 120 year-old floral carpet, currently residing beneath the dining room table, would survive the night.

Out of the corner of her eye, Posey was happy to see that Dwalin had broken out of whatever stupor he'd been in and was drinking once again with the rest of them. He had, however, placed a massive hand – covered in some sort of metal? – on the back on Posey's chair. The effect was close to an embrace, given how cramped together they had been forced to sit. Posey noticed several of the dwarf's companions snickering at the sight, which made her ever-present blush turn an even deeper shade of pink.

Posey's mortification didn't last long, as the younger blonde dwarf – Flippy? No, that can't be right – stood atop the table passing around mugs of ale. His feet landed in bowls and on plates with every step, flinging more food across the room. "Who wants some ale? Ah! My lady, surely you're thirsty!" The mug was almost thrown into Posey's grasp, causing her to lean back in an effort to not spill the contents all over her increasingly disheveled dress. This pushed her even closer to Dwalin, and much to her embarrassment, the dwarf moved his hand from her chair to her shoulder, steadying her. When it was clear she wouldn't be spilling her ale, he didn't move his hand… or his arm, which now rested firmly at Posey's back.

"Thank you, I'm fine now, sir Dwalin." Posey's words did nothing, apparently, as Dwalin continued to embrace her while the group of dwarves raised their mugs in unison, downing massive gulps in some sort of drinking contest. Dwalin slammed his mug back onto the table and Posey could see rivulets of ale had made their way onto his beard. Surely they all needed to bathe after this? Ever prepared, Posey used her free hand to grab her handkerchief from where it rested in the small pocket of her skirts and, without much thought, she wiped the ale from Dwalin's beard – The speed at which he turned his face to her was a bit shocking, and Posey was thankful for the burping contest taking place at the other end of the table – Was that truly necessary? Disgusting! – for she was certain that Dwalin was upset at her for taking such a liberty. "Oh! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to offend!" Her whisper came out as more of a squeak. Goodness gracious, what was happening to her this evening?

His mouth twisted into a smirk as he leaned closer to Posey's face, his arm wrapping more firmly about her shoulders, "By all means, little one, I like it when you touch my beard." Posey was certain that the intent of this comment was not nearly as innocent as it sounded – and it didn't sound all that innocent. She was positive that her face was currently a violent shade of red, so instead of responding, Posey simply snapped her mouth shut and turned back to the table. The hope was to ignore what had just happened, but the sudden laughter from the majority of the table made Posey aware of the fact that the burping contest had ended prior to Dwalin's inappropriate comment.

"Posey, would you be a dear and bring an old man some more wine?" Gandalf was clearly trying to save her from embarrassment and Posey jumped on the opportunity before the wizard could even finish his request.

"Of course, Gandalf, I'll be right back." In standing, rather abruptly, Posey had dislodged Dwalin's arm from around her shoulders. But, vacating the room with a shred of dignity left was not to be had. A light smack upon her rear – Pardon me?! – followed by metal-clad hands at her waist – Again, pardon me?! – and suddenly Posey was airborne, having been lifted by Dwalin over her chair into the free space just behind Gandalf. The dwarf in question had return to his seat before Posey could react, so she wasn't sure if he saw how quickly she'd ran from the room.

Things were getting out of control – That dwarf, that massive bulk of muscle and hair and metal and fur and leather, had thrown her around like a sack of potatoes! Clearly, Posey had no concept of dwarven social customs, because this type of behavior was not how a gentle hobbit would treat a lady! At the same time, however, Posey was bit a flattered… maybe too flattered. She was young, yes, but she'd had a romance or two in her day. Most hobbits of her acquaintance were soft, small, simple creatures that could be figured out after only a few dinners and a stroll through the fields. This dwarf, on the other hand, was hard and gruff and so completely different from anyone she'd ever met – even from the companions he currently sat with.

"Are you alright?" Bilbo had followed Posey into the kitchen, it seemed, and was looking at her with concern. "I couldn't see what happened but it can't have been good if you ran out of there!"

"It was nothing, Bilbo, I'm fine." Her brother had been running his hand through his hair from the looks of it. He looked as bedraggled as Posey felt. "Did you get anything to eat? I can go gather a plate for you if you like."

"Oh, no, I've quite lost my appetite." Bilbo laughed at Posey's gasp – he never, ever, lost his appetite. The brother and sister hugged briefly before Posey poured red wine into the largest glass they had left. Gandalf would surely drink it down in a few sips, but it was better than nothing! Bilbo was still pacing, heading out into the hallway and back into the kitchen every few moments, a frown etched firmly on to his face. Posey gathered up her courage and walked slowly back toward the side entry of the dining room, just behind Gandalf's chair. It appeared that several of the dwarves had finished their meals during her absence, as there was much more space now around the table for Posey to maneuver forward.

Just as Posey was about to pass through the entry way, however, a dark shadow passed over her. Looking up, the dwarf plaguing Posey's thoughts appeared. Dwalin took the glass out of her hand and, with his massive arm reaching much further than her own would have, he put the wine on the table next to the wizard. "Um, thank you," she squeaked, grimacing at the brittle sound of her voice.

"It's no problem, little one." He'd crossed his arms over his chest, the effect making him look even more muscled than before. Dwalin tilted his head to the side, looking at Posey from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. "You'll come outside with me."

"Pardon?" Posey couldn't say much else as the dwarf's massive hands reached out to her and twisted her to face the other direction as he led her toward the round front door. "Sir Dwalin, I have to clear the table soon! Is this something my brother could assist with?" They were almost to the door now and Posey was in a near panic – What in the world would this dwarf need to do with her outside? At night? Unchaperoned? Oh, dear!