A/N: Lillianpost requested a proper ending in ::blushes:: February, so this is what I came up with! This third chapter is not part of the "This is not Farewell"-verse (obviously).
A good part of this chapter was Bead's idea (she can be found on Archive of our own), so this chapter would not be the same without her! Thanks to Bead for brainstorming with me, and enjoy! Mwah!
The closer to the Mountain they got, the more nervous Bella became. She often found herself thinking about the night she fell asleep with Thorin's hand cupping her cheek, trying to distract herself from nervousness and fear. She wondered if he knew, if he had woken up like that or moved away during the night. She thought the second, because Thorin had not acted any differently towards her than before, but hoped for the first.
Whichever one it was, the day before they reached Erebor found Bella once again sitting up late with a pipe. Glóin was the one with the first watch, this time, and the hobbit had found herself deep in discussion with the dwarf about their respective families before long. Glóin was full of stories about his wife and son, and also willing to share quite a bit about his cousins and his brother. Bella, on her part, retaliated by telling him about her parents, and the shenanigans her Took cousins got up to. If some complaining about the Sackville-Bagginses slipped in, well, that wasn't her fault.
Before she knew it, hours had gone by, the embers of her pipe had long since grown dark and cold and it was time for Glóin to wake Dwalin for the detested second watch. Bella meandered happily, if tiredly, towards her bedroll, hoping to get at least some sleep before dawn.
She had really not meant to spend so much time with her pipe and talking to Glóin, so her bedroll was already laid out in preparation for her going to sleep. It took her some looking, and careful stepping over sleeping dwarves, but when she found it she stopped short and stared in surprise (and just a little bit of consternation).
In the time since she had laid it out, her bedroll had become surrounded on all sides by Fíli, Balin, Óin… and Thorin. As a matter of fact, Thorin was lying partly on top of her bedroll, and calculating her chances of getting it out from under him without waking him, Bella fancied they weren't great.
Ah well. There was enough of it uncovered that she would be able to get into it, at least.
It took her a bit of shuffling, a bit of dexterity, and quite a bit of catching herself before she overbalanced, but finally she managed the accomplishment of getting into her bedroll, all of it without waking Thorin, or anyone else. Bella was rather proud of herself for that – maybe she would manage to sneak into a dragon's lair without discovery after all. Thorin had still not moved off the side of her bedroll, however, and this left her rather pressed up against his side (not that she minded this overmuch, but his armor was slightly uncomfortable to be pressed up against). She supposed she should just count herself lucky that his scabbard was on his other side. Bella wrinkled her nose – that would have been really uncomfortable.
Tired as she was, it did not take her long to drop off into sleep, prodding armor or no.
A few hours later, Bella grunted sleepily as something struck her with some force on her back.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Bella, I didn't realize you were the-ere…?" Fíli's hushed voice started, only to trail off oddly at the last word. The hobbit had only to wake up a slight bit more to realize why.
Her face was buried in an armor-clad chest, her fingers clinging to fur, and Thorin was absolutely wrapped around her. One arm supporting her head, the other around her waist, one heavy leg slung over her hips and his face – Bella frowned confusedly, attempting to work it out from the sense of touch alone – was that his face buried in her hair? How did he possibly get any air that way?
Then the situation truly hit her. Thorin was holding her! How-? When did that happen?
Heart pounding wildly, half out of joy, half out of nervousness, Bella carefully pushed away from Thorin enough to be able to crane her head around to look up at Fíli, who was looming over her with an incredulously amused look on his face. Thorin's entire body tightened around hers in response to her action, arms tightening around her and his leg pressing down on her hips, and he grumbled sleepily into her hair. The hobbit could feel her cheeks searing with heat.
"Er," she said eloquently, sleepiness and utter discombobulation at the entire situation causing her usual wittiness to fail. Also, she got a mouthful of Thorin's hair as soon as she opened her mouth. Fíli grinned at her.
"Good morning, Bella, or will I soon have the pleasure of calling you Auntie?"
"Auntie? I always wanted an auntie- Ooooh!" Kíli's beaming face came into sight next to his brother's. "Is Uncle awake, should we ask if we can stand with him at the wedding?"
"Would you be quiet!" Thorin growled unexpectedly against the top of Bella's head, then she felt him stiffen suddenly and pull away from her a bit. Biting her lip, she looked up to find him blinking in a bewildered way down at her. "Oh."
What was that supposed to mean? "Good morning," she ventured, falling back on good manners. Manners were safe, weren't they?
Only Thorin wouldn't meet her eyes any longer, pushing her away. "My apologies," he said stiffly. "I did not mean to-" he trailed off abruptly, clearing his throat and getting to his feet. "Get ready for the day ahead, we move out as soon as everyone has eaten." And he stalked off towards the nearby river.
Bella sat, staring after him in dismay.
He had not seemed happy at all with finding her in his arms this morning. His brusque manner of pushing her away and stalking off had made that much clear, and to make matters worse, Fíli and Kíli's expectations of it all meaning something quite significant had made her very hopeful. Her teeth bit into her lower lip as she told herself fiercely that she would not cry. Not. No.
She was so immersed in her thoughts that she jumped when Fíli put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, Bella, he is simply embarrassed. Give him some space."
"Yeah," Kíli agreed, extending a hand to help her up, "And in the meantime, have some breakfast. You heard what he said, better hurry."
Bella offered them a grateful smile as she let Kíli help her up, the two brothers' good-humored chatter soothing her already frayed nerves. And all before First Breakfast! This adventure was shaping up to be very bad for her nerves.
Or maybe that was just loving Thorin.
The hobbit accepted a bowl of cram (crushed and mixed with water), which was more water than cram, and some dried strips of meat from Bombur, trying to ignore the sympathetic smile on his face, and sat down to eat. Kíli tossed her an apple, grinning apologetically as Fíli went rather green from the very sight of it. Bella bit back a smile – she really shouldn't laugh, but Fíli's aversion to apples after the escape from Mirkwood in a barrel smelling strongly of the same was so strong, it was rather comical in a sad way.
Thorin's return from the river wiped out her smile soon enough, particularly as he still would not meet her eyes. Bella could feel her face pulling into a frown, eating her watery cram and taking a vicious bite of the apple.
"Hey, now, why the long face?" Bofur asked, plopping down beside her with his own breakfast.
Bella sighed, forcing herself to chew more slowly. "Nothing you can help with, I'm afraid," she muttered once she'd swallowed. "And I don't want to talk about it."
"Well, then, how about a story to cheer you up?" he asked, digging into his own breakfast with enthusiasm. The hobbit had to smile at the sight.
"Maybe later, as we move out."
Bofur shrugged and nodded in reply, mouth full of dried meat.
Bella blinked in surprise, looking up from her breakfast. That had been Ori's voice, and sure enough, when she looked at him the scribe was beaming at her.
"Well, to your upcoming nuptials, of course," Dori answered her briskly.
Bella could feel her heart start falling in dread. She dared not look at Thorin. "Nu-nuptials?" she stammered.
"Yes, about that, when's the wedding and why haven't we been invited yet?" That was Nori!
Bella was starting to feel faint. Tears were gathering in her eyes, and it did not help that she could hear Thorin growling not far away, and Bofur questioning what they were all talking about. The other dwarves of the Company were looking interested now as well, all raising their voices to be heard over each, wanting answers, all looking so happy about something that was not even real… The noise, the misapprehensions, Thorin's disapproval… It was all becoming too much. She had to get away, she had to make them stop, she had to get away-
"WOULD YOU ALL JUST SHUT UP! I WAS ONLY USED AS A CUDDLE TOY!"
It became very quiet all at once. Only then did Bella realize that she had gotten to her feet, and everyone was looking at her. Their faces were all a blur to her tear-filled eyes, but she imagined they looked pitying.
Before anyone could say anything, the hobbit spun on her feet and marched towards the rocks, her only plan in mind being to get around them and get at least some privacy if she was going to cry anyway. Faintly, before she got out of hearing range, she heard Kíli saying, "…Hey, uncle, if you wanted a cuddle toy, I could have given you the bear Amad made for me when I was twenty…"
She shuddered, sprinting the last distance to being out of sight and hearing range of the Company. Rounding the group of tall rocks, she sank to her knees the moment she knew no one could see her and let the tears come.
Why, oh, why could they not have left it alone?
The situation might have been salvageable if all the dwarves had not completely misread the situation. As it was now, though, Bella thought bitterly to herself, she would be lucky if Thorin did not start to resent her again for this entire situation. She had lost all ground she had gained with him (fought for, bled for), and what was worse, with that entire outburst she had surely given away her feelings.
(Oh, but if only, if only it were true…)
Even if he did not start to resent her again for this, their relationship would be awkward now. There was no saving it. Even if they would be able to go back to anything that at least resembled an easy relationship between them after this, it would take time, and lots of it. Bella sniffled, staring blankly at her knees as hot tears ran down her cheek.
She had been so close.
Thorin cursed himself, watching Bella run away.
It had not occurred to him that she would take his reaction to waking up with her in his arms that way. No, he had been too focused on himself, on the way waking up with Bella in his arms made him feel (content, warm, mortified about the way his own body betrayed him) and on getting away before she noticed the state he woke up in.
And he had slept so well, too.
The only good thing about this entire affair was that he was now fairly sure where her affections lay. He wondered if it could truly be called good, though, considering how he had hurt Bella. There was nothing for it, Thorin had to fix this, and he had to fix it now. It could no longer wait until the quest was over, distractions or no.
Taking no notice of Kíli's words (something about a bear…?) or the outraged muttering of the Company, Thorin surged to his feet and set off after her.
He nearly tripped over her when he rounded the outcropping of tall rocks that she had disappeared behind, and Bella jumped to her feet with a choked gasp before he could so much as apologize. Grabbing her wrist firmly, but mindful not to hurt her, to stop her from leaving, his heart clenched with guilt as he looked into her tear-filled, wide eyes and wet, frightened face.
He had done that to her.
Opening his mouth, he could find no words, and simply closed it again. What could he say? What words would make this right?
"If you want me to leave, just say it," Bella said, voice broken and hitched with tears, and Thorin cringed.
"No, Miss Baggins, Bella, I-" he fumbled for words, wanting desperately to stop her crying. Bella should not be sad, particularly not about this. Particularly not so needlessly. If only he could find the right words!
"I apologize for my behavior this morning. It was thoughtless of me, and I did not think about how it would be perceived. I think you got the wrong impression-" Thorin broke off, surprised and dismayed when his words only made her struggle more, only made her more distressed.
"I know, I know," Bella breathed, pained, "you could never- You don't have to be kind-"
Thorin breathed in sharply, pained, when he realized how she had taken his words. Could he never do right by her?
He was going about this all wrong. A different approach was needed.
"Bella," he said firmly, cutting her off. "Do not put words into my mouth. Let me speak."
He watched her pull in several deep breaths, waiting patiently for her to calm herself sufficiently to listen to him properly. After a few moments, she relaxed slightly, wiping at her cheeks, then gave him a shaky nod. In response, he let his hand slide down from her wrist to gripping her hand instead.
"When I apologized for my behavior, I meant the manner in which I left, not…" he sighed, struggling for words. He started over. "Bella. I meant to wait until the quest was over to bring this up, but given what happened this morning, I do not think it can wait any longer."
Bella shuddered, shoulders hunching in on herself as if in anticipation for a blow. Thorin caressed her fingers in an attempt to soothe, to tell her what he could not with words.
Blinking in bewilderment, she looked at him, startled out of her dismal mood. "Stay?" she asked. "Stay where?"
"Stay with me," he elaborated. "Once Erebor is ours again. Stay, and allow me to court you properly." Deeper, lower, he added, "Be my wife."
For all that it was worded as a statement, there was a question in Thorin's eyes. He was asking, not commanding. Asking her to be his-
Bella's head swirled as she comprehended what he had just said. What he had just asked. When she had rounded that outcropping of rock, she had never expected that this would happen. Never.
He was asking her to stay with him in Erebor? To marry him?
Heart thumping in painful hope, Bella had to ask. No more misunderstandings. "Are you asking out of some sort of sense of obligation, or because you care for me that way?"
Only because she was searching his eyes did she see the flash of anger at her question.
"I would never ask someone to marry me because I felt obliged," he growled, as though obliged was a dirty word. "Did I truly not make it clear? I love you! After the way I have reached for you these last few nights, was it truly not obvious to you?!"
Trust Thorin to confess his love while in the midst of a righteous fury. Bella choked on a teary laugh, throwing her arms around him in a tight hug and burying her face in his neck, clinging just a bit. Because she was pressed up against him, she felt him tense with surprise, then relax slightly as he went to hug her back.
"Bella?" he murmured in question, all the anger gone from his voice.
She clung a bit tighter for a moment, then let go enough to be able to look up at him. "I love you, too. No, it was not obvious to me. Yes, I will marry you." She beamed at him, hastily wiping most of the wetness off of her cheeks.
She could see the relief and joy building in his eyes before he clutched her tighter, bending to bury his face in her curls, and she had to close her eyes to avoid getting his hair in them. Still, "I thought you would say that," he said in a slightly smug, but clearly joyful tone.
Bella swatted at him, making him twitch and laugh. " Thorin! That was not a romantic thing to say!"
"My apologies," he chuckled, straightening up again and caressing her back with long, slow strokes as though she were a cat. His smile eased into contentedness as he gazed at her. "Might I make up for it with a kiss, perhaps?"
Bella blinked the stars out of her eyes, and forgoing an answer, she simply tugged his face down by the braids to kiss him herself.
After all, she was allowed now, wasn't she?
A/N: I swear Kíli didn't mean to be an insensitive git when Bella stormed off. He apologizes sincerely, and excuses himself with the fact that he was floundering for something to say when faced with a crying female and fishing for an explanation from his uncle. ::nodnods::
I hope this last chapter was worth the wait! On to my other WIPs, now, then...