A/N: Hello again! Sorry for the slightly longer wait on this one. I've started a 10 week training course and it has an assignment each week. I haven't done assignments since I left school! Anyway, while it's on, my updates may take a little longer than usual as I do my homework but I promise I would never abandon this story. Like you, I want to get to the end!

Thanks for your response to the last chapter. This one's much lighter. I hope you don't think I'm going too slow but I wanted to make it a little more realistic as I doubt anyone badly hurt by their loved one would easily forgive or trust them again, if ever. I have the story mapped out, but the fleshing out seems to write itself and I even surprise myself.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and I will try my best not to take too long with the next one.

As usual, I don't own anything but if I did, I'd have Thorin order Ori to come and do my assignments for me!

Chapter 23

Thorin couldn't help feeling somewhat buoyant as he made his way back to the forge after leaving Bella's smial. The oppressive weight of sorrow and guilt that had burdened him from the moment he broke free of the gold sickness seemed, not gone, but lifted a little. He felt like he could breathe more freely than he had in months and it felt good.

Oh, he knew the problems between him and Bella were not resolved - not by a long way – but it seemed as if they had made a tentative start towards each other again. Thorin fully realised that Bella hadn't forgiven him for his actions, but she had at least opened the door slightly; enough to allow him to start to make amends.

He fingered the silver bead that he always carried and wondered how long it would be before he was able to give it back to her. She had warned him that it could take a long time, maybe years, before she could trust him again. The thought was daunting. Patience was definitely not one of his virtues but for her sake, and because it was a price he deserved to pay, he would wait for however long it took.

Hadn't he waited for decades to claim his home back? Was waiting for his beloved any less worth the effort? The fact that he would willingly give up that home was the proof of his devotion to his hobbit.

The fact that she had allowed him to kiss her hand sent a shaft of hope through him. He imagined he could still feel the tingle in his lips and hand from the contact with her skin. Her soft, dainty hand. Oh, how he wished he could kiss her lips and crush her to him and never let go. To love her so thoroughly that she would never again have any doubt of his complete and absolute adoration.

Thorin sighed and shook his head, forcing the image from his head. Beyond expectation, Bella had allowed him to touch her and it was more than he could have hoped for or dreamed of when he woke in the pre-dawn to deliver his flowers to her door. He had to be content with that for now.

He knew full well that one wrong move on his part and he could send her fleeing from him like a skittish pony. He saw the effort it had taken her to even stand that close to him at her door, though he couldn't help the satisfaction he felt at the evidence of her blush. Despite her fear and misgivings, and all the terrible memories, he was still able at affect her physically.

His mind turned to what he was going to do now. He had been so focused on just getting Bella to speak to him that he hadn't really planned anything after that. Seeing Bella on her doorstep, waiting for him, had been a shock. A welcome one, but still a shock.

While his first impulse was to return to Bag End this instant, he knew he couldn't do that. Bella had agreed to let him visit her again but he knew he had to act carefully and not follow his inclinations. Patience. He had to learn patience, even if it killed him.

She wanted to be his friend again. The memory of her smile as she accepted his offer of friendship lifted his heart. Other than the Company, whom he trusted implicitly, he had never really had many friends in his lifetime. His position, first as the Crown Prince and then as the leader of his displaced people, had not been conducive to socialising much, other than for reasons of state and politics. Whilst at Ered Luin, at least in the first few decades before he had managed to establish a workable colony, Thorin had been too focused on providing for his people, as well as fighting the pointless battle at Azanulbizar which had cost him and his sister so much, to worry about the number of friends he had. He had Balin and Dwalin and they had been enough. He then also had the added responsibility of helping Dis through her own grief whilst becoming a surrogate father for his nephews. Friendships were not something he could indulge in.

During the long, lonely hours of his convalescence, Thorin had missed Bella's friendship almost as much as he missed her love. Once he had allowed himself to give in to the feelings he had for her, her friendship had thawed his heart even before they had declared their love for each other.

Her natural wit and banter had made him laugh, to the shock of the company when they first heard it. She made him smile, more than he ever had. Bella had liked him for his true self, not the prince or king he was. She had made him feel safe. Safe to reveal his thoughts, fears, doubts, dreams and hopes to her, knowing she wouldn't judge him or deem him weak for it. Having to appear strong all the time was incredibly wearing and with her, and only her, he could let go, if only for a while. Their time as prisoners of Thranduil was not a happy memory but Thorin couldn't help but feel somewhat nostalgic about it. Spending those hours with Bella, whilst in his cell, had allowed him to truly know and fall in love with her. Love her for her own sake, not just because she was his 'one'.

Thorin hadn't realised how much he valued her friendship until it was gone. Had she missed his friendship as well? Someone like Bella tended to make friends everywhere, so he doubted she felt as strongly about it as he did, but he couldn't help hoping that his was a little more special to her.

Either way, he now had a chance to get it back again and he wanted to throw his head back and cry out in delight, but of course he didn't. Only the slight twist of his lips gave away his feelings.

About to enter the forge, he encountered Dwalin and Bifur as they prepared to leave. They were going to the training paddock to practise before the hobbits arrived for their lessons. Dwalin, more keen eyed than people gave him credit for, noticed straight away the change in Thorin's demeanour.

"What's got you looking like a hobbit who's fallen into a vat of cream?" asked Dwalin with a smirk. The question was somewhat rhetorical as there was only one thing, or person, who could make Thorin look like that. After months of looking like a thundercloud, it was somewhat disconcerting to Dwalin.

"I spoke to Bella," admitted Thorin, knowing Dwalin wouldn't let it rest if he didn't say anything. Besides, what was the point? They weren't in Hobbiton for their health.

"Oh?" replied Dwalin, while Bifur spoke rapidly behind him, nodding his head furiously in approval.

"Yes, she allowed me inside Bag End and we talked."

"Don't tell me all that poncing about with the flowers worked?" asked Dwalin with a shake of his head.

Thorin grit his teeth but he refused to bite. "It might seem poncey to you, Dwalin, but to hobbits, flowers are a very serious thing."

Dwalin sniggered before grunting when Bifur punched him in the arm, remonstrating with him with his unintelligible words, even though the meaning was clear to all.

"Never thought I'd see the day when Thorin, son of Thrain, would resort to making daisy chains to impress a girl."

Thorin just glared at him and turned to go inside. As he entered, Dwalin called out. "I'm happy for you Thorin." Thorin just nodded as Bifur dragged Dwalin away, still chuckling.

In too good a mood to stay angry, Thorin grinned to himself as he made his way to the kitchen. He knew that Dwalin was only teasing and really was pleased to see his friend making progress with Bella.

For the first time in longer than he could remember, Thorin actually felt hungry. Since the battle - since the gold sickness, really - he had taken no real pleasure in food or felt true hunger. He only ate because his body required the fuel. Now, though, he looked forward to breakfast.

Bofur was the only one in the kitchen when Thorin entered. He turned to greet his king and friend and stopped abruptly when he saw his face.

"Something's happened, hasn't it?" asked Bofur, his eyes wide.

Thorin nodded and walked past him to the pantry to gather some bacon and sausages to cook with his eggs.

Bofur followed him, anxious to know the details. "Well?"

Deciding to tease him a little, Thorin simply hummed under his breath as he got the frying pan ready.

"I'll go get Poppy to come yell at you if you don't tell me," threatened Bofur.

Thorin turned his head to look at him, a half-smile on his face. "Bella and I finally talked."

"No!" breathed Bofur in surprise before sitting down. "How? It's only still early. When did you see her?"

"She was waiting for me to deliver my flowers this morning and invited me into Bag End."

Bofur stopped talking for once, his mouth hanging open, amusing Thorin. Not much shut Bofur up.

"We talked, about many things and I finally got the chance to apologise for my behaviour," continued Thorin as he cooked his breakfast.

"Wow! That's great, Thorin," Bofur finally said. "And…how did it go?"

Thorin shrugged. "She didn't faint, if that's what you're asking."

Bofur snorted at that. "Well, that's good. Isn't it?"

"It's certainly an improvement," agreed Thorin.

Getting Thorin to open up was like drawing moisture from rock. "So, how are things between you now?" It was best to just ask straight out.

Thorin didn't answer right away. He plated up his breakfast, got a chunk of bread and sat down and took a couple of bites, closing his eyes in pleasure as he chewed. Bofur sat glaring at him, the impatience fairly rippling off him. Thorin finally decided to put him out of his misery.

"Bella has allowed me to be her friend once more and to visit her. It is more than I had hoped for."

"Just friends?"

"For now," answered Thorin. "There is much hurt I need to atone for and she will need time to learn to trust me again. I'm willing to wait as long as necessary. She knows of my feelings for her and what my wishes are and what I'm willing to give up for her."

"And how did she react to that?"

"She was shocked but I assured her that my intentions are genuine, if that were to be her wish."

"Did she forgive you?" asked Bofur.

Thorin slowly shook his head. "No. At least, not yet. There was much for her to think on. I now need to show her the sincerity of my words so she can see that she can take a chance on me again one day. That she wants me to be her friend again fills me with joy, Bofur. She's given me a chance. One that I don't deserve but will take anyway. I need to woo her – properly this time. Like she deserves."

Bofur smiled at his friend. "I'm right pleased for you. How do you plan on wooing her?"

Thorin shrugged his shoulders and looked at Bofur, somewhat perplexed. "I don't know. I've never wooed anyone before. I do know I have to go slowly and carefully."

"What did you do last time? During the quest?"

"There was no time for wooing, Bofur. You know that. The dangers and urgency of our quest precluded me from courting Bella properly. So this will be my first time," admitted Thorin.

Bofur nodded and scratched his beard thoughtfully. "Hmm, I see what you're saying. Feelings were quite heightened, weren't they?"

"But they were no less real."

"No, of course not. I'm not suggesting that. I'm not much help to you, I'm afraid."

"What about your wooing of Poppy?" asked Thorin.

Bofur spluttered at bit and turned slightly red. "There's no wooing there, Thorin. We're just friends," he insisted, pulling on his moustache nervously. "Just friends."

Chuckling at little at the understatement, Thorin shook his head. "Of course," he drawled sardonically. "Because I haven't seen you moon over her like a teenage dwarf." Bofur choked and began coughing in response. "And I thought I was an expert in denial," he muttered, watching Bofur regain his composure.

"Why don't we ask her?" exclaimed Bofur, trying to divert attention away from his lack of action with regards to the hobbit lass in question. "After all, she's the one who suggested the flowers, and that worked, didn't it?"

Thorin nodded in agreement. "Yes, you have a point. When will you see her next?"

"I'd say this afternoon when I go down to the market. Bifur has finished a new batch of toys that he wants to give to the young ones. Poppy's usually there as well. Shall I ask her if she would pay you a visit?"

"No," replied Thorin. "I believe I will come with you."

"To the market?" asked Bofur in astonishment. Thorin had never deigned to go down to the markets before.

"Yes." Thorin frowned at Bofur. "Why? Is there something wrong?"

"No! No, of course not. It's just…you've never come down with us before."

"It's high time I got to know all of Hobbiton, not just the forge and Bag End," Thorin replied. "Besides, Bella goes there often."

Bofur laughed then. "Of course."

One eyebrow lifted, Thorin glanced at Bofur. "It works for you, doesn't it?"

Bofur just spluttered.

Much to his disappointment, there was no sign of Bella down at the markets by the lake. Perhaps it was for the best, he reasoned unhappily. Their conversation this morning had been very intense, after all, and she was probably in no mood to mingle with others.

Despite his not seeing his beloved, Thorin's presence caused quite a stir amongst the hobbits. He knew many of them from taking commissions as a smith, but those transactions and orders had taken place in the forge or Bag End. The other dwarves were a regular sight, but not Thorin. They had never seen the dwarf king wander around the stalls like an ordinary villager.

Well, there really was nothing 'ordinary' about Thorin. He stood out from the crowd like a fox in a hen house. Whilst obviously not as tall as some of the human's who occasionally visited, he was still the tallest person around, even amongst the dwarves.

Dressed relatively casually in a simple, but well-made tunic and shirt, and without his coat, in deference to the fine day, he was an impressive figure. A number of female hearts fluttered at the sight of his handsome face but none were brave enough to approach him. He was much too intimidating for their like. Besides, all the village knew by now that Bella Baggins was the reason he was in Hobbiton. There was no harm in looking, though. Some of the villagers who had commissioned work from Thorin, respectfully greeted him, receiving acknowledging nods in return.

As Thorin walked past the various stalls, aware of the whispers and stares he was garnering at his unexpected appearance, he was somewhat surprised at the abundance and variety of food and other items on offer. He remembered the richness of the markets of Erebor and Dale before the dragon came and had to admit that the Hobbiton markets were not lacking in comparison. Whilst the markets in Erebor had been filled with gems and finely-crafted precious metals, the ones in Hobbiton had an amazing variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as copious amounts of freshly baked goods. There were also stalls that sold cloth as well as ready-made clothes and household goods.

It was also the bustling centre of the village and like most village markets, the central meeting place for the inhabitants. All around him was a cacophony of voices; talking, haggling and laughing as well as the occasional spat. There were many hobbits but they made way for the two dwarves, so Thorin had no problem walking freely.

The delectable smell of a freshly baked apple pie wafted past Thorin's nose and he was compelled to turn towards the heavenly aroma. The stall on his left had a table laden with baked goods, all looking so delicious that Thorin could not resist buying something.

He and Bofur were arguing the merits of the apple turnover as opposed to the blackberry pie when they were tapped on the shoulder.

Thorin was momentarily tempted to demand who had the temerity to touch him in such a manner before remembering where he was and realising the identity of the offender.

Primula stood behind them with a basket on her arm and a slightly chagrined smile on her face as she gazed at Thorin.

Thorin bowed his head in greeting. "Mrs Baggins."

"Oh, hey there, Prim," echoed Bofur.

Primula shook her head ruefully. "When are you going to learn to call me Primula?" she chided Thorin.

"Forgive me. Habit," explained Thorin with a shrug, which she waved away.

"This is a surprise, my lord. I had given up hope that I would see you down here," teased Primula gently, a knowing smile on her face.

Thorin couldn't help the faint flush that suffused his face. "It was about time I really got to know the village," he said, attempting to prevent her blurting out the reason for the change in his behaviour.

"Of course," she replied. Teasing the dwarf king was fun but Primula wisely decided that it wasn't a good idea to push it too far. Besides, she liked him, despite his gruff manner. She had witnessed the tenderness with which he treated Bella the night she returned and she guessed she was privileged to be one of very few to have seen that side of him.

"If you're trying to decide what to buy, I'd strongly recommend you get the blackberry pie. Bolto makes the best blackberry pie in all the Shire, probably even Middle Earth," she said, nodding to the grinning baker.

"Blackberry pie it is!" exclaimed Bofur, turning to purchase three pies.

"I saw Bella just now," said Primula, gaining Thorin's full attention.

Blue eyes bore into hers, making her briefly forget her train of thought. How on earth did Bella even manage to get a single intelligible word out when he looked at her?

"How was she?" he asked a little anxiously.

"She was fine. Just a little tired and was going to have a quiet day," she reassured him. Primula saw the worry fade from his face. "She told me she had talked to you this morning," she confided. "I'm glad. For both of you. It was time."

"Did she tell you what we discussed?" Despite being quite fond of Primula, the thought of his personal affairs and feelings being discussed made him extremely uncomfortable.

"No. Bella wouldn't do that and it's none of my business, anyway. She just told me that she had finally decided to allow you inside so you could talk things over. I had been urging her to do that since she came back. I hope some things were resolved between you."

Bofur had turned back with the pastries, so Thorin asked Primula if there was anywhere nearby where they could sit. Primula led them away from the main stalls and towards the Green Dragon where there were a few tables and benches. Once they had finished the pies, which Thorin conceded were the best he'd ever tasted, Bofur stood and said he was going to look for Poppy.

Thorin was grateful for Bofur's tact in this instance. He'd knew that, in Primula, he had another ally in his quest to win back Bella. One that most likely knew Bella better than he did.

He cleared his throat nervously before speaking and it struck him how much he had changed since meeting Bella. He would never in his wildest dreams have contemplated asking someone to help him with his relationship problems. He'd never even had any romantic inclinations before. He would have sooner cut off his own head before revealing any weakness.

Meeting Bella, finding his 'one', had pushed aside the need to maintain his stiff-necked pride and get advice from others who may actually be able to help him.

"I assume," he started, then paused nervously. "I assume that you are aware of what happened between Bella and myself. What I did." Primula nodded. "Then you know why Bella reacted so violently when she returned home." Just thinking about it brought the guilt back so intensely that he would almost feel ill, but he forced himself to push it away, for now.

"I have been wishing to give Bella my most sincere apologies for my behaviour and to try to explain my actions, however reprehensible they were. Finally, this morning, she allowed me to do that."

"And did she accept your apology?" she asked gently.

"Yes. No. I'm not sure," he admitted. "Not completely, anyway. Which is more than I deserve."

"It will take time, Thorin," said Primula.

"I'm very aware of that. And I'm prepared to wait and work for her full forgiveness. I will do that happily. Bella has given me the chance to make amends and I'm beyond grateful."

"I'm glad. For both of you. You are both miserable without each other."

"I have to earn her trust again. Even if I never regain her trust completely, I have to try. I don't ever want to see her flinch from me again," he confessed.

"I wish you the best of luck," said Primula, sincerely.

Thorin acknowledged her kind words before pushing aside any embarrassment he felt over what he was going to admit next.

"I wish to woo and court Bella again. Properly, this time."

Primula was a little perplexed by his words. "What do you mean by 'properly'?"

"I was never able to court Bella the way she deserves. There was no time, we were in fear for our lives most of the time and I spent half the journey fighting my feelings and being an absolute troll towards her."

Primula couldn't help the small giggle that erupted from her lips at the last bit before composing herself when she caught Thorin's glare. "Yes, Bella told me some of it."

"Then you know that we somewhat 'fell' into the relationship without any of the customs and rituals that are usually adhered to by courting couples."

Primula knew that Bella and Thorin's relationship had been passionate and intense and that some would be shocked by that knowledge, but she couldn't judge them. Besides, many a hobbit couple had anticipated their wedding night. As long as the couple were discreet about it, most turned a blind eye.

"So, now you want to correct that oversight?" she asked, seeking clarification.

Thorin nodded. "Yes, exactly. I want to woo her, do the things a male does to show his love how he feels about her. I want her to know that, to me, she is precious and I wish to make her feel adored. I hope that by doing this, she will learn to trust me again and agree to be mine again."

"Have you told her how you feel?"

"Yes. She knows of my love for her and of my desire for us to be united in marriage but I need to show her. Words are not enough. Not now. I need to prove my devotion," insisted Thorin.

"How are you going to do that?"

Thorin seemed to deflate in front of her at question. "I do not know."


He looked at her earnestly. "I was…I was hoping you would have some ideas."

"Me? What do you mean? Don't dwarves have courting rituals you could follow?" she asked in genuine puzzlement. "What's worked for you before?"

Thorin reddened and looked at the table before answering. "I…I have never attempted to woo anyone before."

Primula gaped at him in disbelief. "You mean…you mean, Bella was…your…first?" she whispered.

Thorin looked at her and realised what she was implying. Mahal, could this conversation become any more mortifying? "No! That was not what I meant. One can…you know…without feelings. I meant Bella is the first person I have ever loved and wanted to court with the intention of marriage. If Erebor had not been taken, I would have eventually learnt the rituals of courting from my father but once we were homeless, survival was the only thing of importance. Then it was building a new life and then it was reclaiming Erebor. If I hadn't met Bella, I would never have bothered."

"I see," replied Primula, flushing with embarrassment herself. As if Thorin would have been celibate all those years! The way he looked? "Can't the others give you some advice?"

Thorin snorted. "They're worse than me. None of them has a wife and Bofur's even more inept than I am."

"What about Fili and Kili? They're very popular with the lasses."

"Taking advice from those two whelps? I think not."

"Why me, then?" she asked.

"Because you know Bella well, you're a hobbit and you're a female. What did Drogo do to woo you?"

"Oh, well, it was a little different with us," she replied.


"Well, we've known each other all our lives and we somehow always knew we would wed each other."

"Surely he still did romantic things?" he said sceptically.

Primula shrugged a little. "I suppose so. He did like cooking for me and would make me little treats."

"This is what I'm speaking of. What things can I do to woo my Bella? I plan to continue leaving flowers at her door…"

"Oh! That was so lovely!" exclaimed Primula with a happy grin. "She's kept the flowers, you know?"

It was impossible to miss the pleasure on Thorin's face that news caused. "She has?" he asked, stroking his beard in thought.

"Yes. She presses them into her favourite books. It's so sweet." She tilted her head as she contemplated the handsome dwarf. "I don't really think you need too many ideas from me. I'm sure you can think of what to do. When she comes to the markets next, why don't you offer to accompany her and help her take her purchases home? She'd be bound by manners to invite you in for refreshments."

"Yes, that is a good idea. What of jewellery? Do you think if I made her some rings and necklaces, that would impress her?"

Primula scrunched her face a little. "Hobbits prefer simpler things. I'm not saying she won't like jewellery but not all the time. We don't wear much, as you can see."

"Wear much of what?"

Unnoticed by either of them, Bofur had returned and was now accompanied by Poppy. She had just caught the tail end of the conversation and couldn't contain her curiosity, especially after Bofur had told her the good news about Thorin.

"Hello, Poppy," greeted Primula, giving the other hobbit a kiss on the cheek. "Bofur."

The newcomers promptly sat down and Poppy gave Thorin a great big grin that made him look at her a little cautiously.

"Sooo…I heard that a certain someone finally spoke to a certain someone else?" teased Poppy, much to the others' amusement, if not Thorin's, who gave her his customary glare. Unfortunately for him, Poppy was now immune to it and just chuckled. "Seriously though, I'm happy for you."

"Thank you,"

Poppy turned to Primula. "So, what were you talking about? Did you know the flowers were my idea, Prim?"

"Really? Well, it was an inspired one," praised Primula. "Thorin here wanted my advice on how to woo Bella."

Poppy turned back to Thorin, excitement written all over her face. "She's agreed to let you court her?"

This was getting more embarrassing by the moment and only the thought of the reward at the end stopped Thorin from stalking off.

"Not exactly," he replied. "She is allowing me to be her friend again. I now wish to court her properly but I am not knowledgeable in the ways of courting hobbit lasses."

"I see," said Poppy, thinking furiously. "Prim, we are going to have to have a think about this."

"Yes. We have to do all we can to get those two together," she agreed.

The two hobbits then virtually forgot about the dwarves as they discussed ideas. Thorin and Bofur sat watching bemusedly at the enthusiasm showed for this new venture.

"Well, if you don't get Bella back, it won't be for lack of trying or ideas," remarked Bofur.

"Agreed." Looking at him, Thorin gave a slight shake of his head. "I don't know if asking for their help was the best course of action."

"Me neither," shrugged Bofur, his eyes not leaving Poppy's laughing face.

"You know," smirked Thorin, glancing at his friend. "You could learn a few tips yourself, Bofur."

The look on Bofur's face was almost worth the embarrassment of laying his personal affairs out so openly. Almost.

A/N: thanks once again to lizajay12 for her fast proof-reading. She picks up so many little mistakes I miss.

PS: In case you missed it, I published my one-shot called "Punishment". You'll find it in my story list. Be warned it's very smutty!