Laketown is so quiet, Bilbo isn’t even sure the lake was moving.
Out of the corner of his eye, the mist of his companion’s breath pools and melts away.
The hobbit lights his pipe.
In the darkness, a thought encounters him.
“Do you braid your own hair?”
Thorin turns his face to look at Bilbo.
Bilbo can’t keep himself from scoffing.
“Do you comb yours?” The question sounds almost genuine.
“I … haven’t had time to,” Bilbo replies with a defensiveness known to hobbits.
“Mm,” humour drips from Thorin’s tone, even though he hasn’t said anything to Bilbo at all.
Bilbo sits for a few minutes with his pipe, making as many shapes as he can with his mouth.
“How do you do that?”
“What, smoke?” Bilbo turns to the dwarf and shrugs. It doesn’t even occur to him that it would take weeks to learn his habit, because of the idle nature of the Shire. “I’ll show you, if you show me how you braid your hair.”
“Alright, Master Baggins, you’re on.” Thorin turns to face the hobbit properly, pulling his braids loose. “It’s naught more than a simple four-strand braid.”
The King Under the Mountain starts to braid his hair all over again: over under, under over, over under, under over…
“Wait, wait, wait. You’re going too fast.” Bilbo holds up his hand and sits closer to scrutinise what’s in front of him, pipe stuck fast into a corner of his mouth.
“Forgive me,” Thorin says, holding out tangles of hair. “Here. It will be easier if I show you this way.”
Bilbo looks at the four sections of hair, each perfectly separated, and almost swears.
“Take that first one there,” Thorin says, his voice a gentle rumble. “And take it over the second one, then … no, you’re doing a plait.”
“Sorry,” Bilbo says, smoke pouring out of one side of his lip. “It’s more complicated than it looks.”
“One over two, then three under four, four over one. Over one. Bilbo. No, other one. Other way. One over two, then three under four, four over one.”
For several minutes, the hobbit is bent close to Thorin’s face, frowning at his hair.
“Like this,” Thorin offers, demonstrating with the other loosened braid. And then, “Master Baggins, I do believe you’ve invented a new plait.”
It’s enough to make him smile.
“So when do you learn how to do this as a dwarf?” Bilbo asks conversationally, less frustrated now. He blows a jet of smoke over his right shoulder.
“As soon as your hair is long enough,” Thorin answers. He doesn’t say that to do someone else’s braids is more or less a sacred act: an act done between lovers, done the night before, or the morning after; an act done between families, fathers, mothers, sons, sisters, brothers.
“And how long your hair is doesn’t have anything to do with how wealthy you are or where you are in the hierarchy or anything?” Bilbo asks, finally getting a grasp on where his fingers are and where the hair is meant to be.
“Some say if a man’s braids are too long, he’s overcompensating.” Thorin grins.
“Ah,” Bilbo raises an eyebrow and a dimple puckers in his cheek. “I see.”
The hobbit finally feels brave enough to braid Thorin’s hair, eyes flickering back and forth from his face and his hair. He slides the metal clasp into place and compares it to Thorin’s example.
“Not bad, for a hobbit.”
“Well done, Master Baggins. There’s more to you than I thought.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Thorin watches Bilbo prepare the pipe again, meticulous in all of his habits, lighting the bowl with careful fingers.
“See? And so now you just… sort of…”
It isn’t that Thorin doesn’t know how to smoke a pipe — he doesn’t know how to smoke it like Bilbo did, as if it’s purely for the pleasure of it and for no other reason at all.
Thorin tries to concentrate, but his concentration is broken by giggling.
“Sorry, sorry, it’s just,” the redhead pauses to finish laughing, but his nose still twitches. “You’re so serious and brooding. Loosen up a little.” A gentle hand rests on Thorin’s shoulder, getting tangled up in hair.
“Is there apple in here?”
“Of course there is,” replies Bilbo. “I always make my own blends.”
“Mm,” Thorin makes a noise in his throat again — this time, of approval.
“Well don’t forget to share,” the shorter man says, waiting for the pipe. The long, wooden thing hits his lips and billows of smoke and rings and little curls pour from his mouth.
“Hey Thorin,” Bilbo says, casting a quick look in his direction. “Who am I?”
Two long, triangular streams of smoke cascade from his nose.
The King Under the Mountain rolls his eyes.
“Smaug, Thorin. I’m Smaug,” he passes the pipe back. “… are you trying to work out how to blow smoke rings? Aim at something first.”
So Thorin Oakenshield aims his smoke rings at the moon and leans back.
And Bilbo Baggins, by his side, leans back too.
“It’s brilliant, actually.”
(I had no idea this was so long. But, I put this up on AO3 as well~. http://archiveofourown.org/works/3280574)