Pairing/Characters: Bilbo, Dwalin, Thorin, Balin; Bilbo/Thorin
Fandom: The Hobbit
Word Count: 1,088
Spoilers: For the end of the book/movies.
Summary: Bilbo learns one of the biggest secrets of the Dwarves.
Notes/Warnings: My sister asked if anyone had written gender-changing Dwarves. That planted a seed in my head and resulted in several pages of headcanon. Also, the following fic, likely with more to come. A note about pronouns: Dwarves use the pronoun for the gender they prefer, regardless of which gender the Dwarf in question actually is. Non-Dwarves use the pronoun for whichever gender the Dwarf looks like. No beta.
Bilbo stifled a yawn as he sat beside Thorin's cot, waiting for him to wake. He would later blame his lack of proper rest for what he said when Dwalin entered the tent after disappearing for a few days: "You have breasts."
"Aye." Dwalin nodded, glancing down at his (her?) chest. Apart from that, he (she?) was largely the same as Bilbo remembered: tall, broad, and intimidating, even in just a tunic, trousers, and boots. "So?"
He frowned, rubbing at his eyes. "I know you didn't have them before. We've all bathed together often enough during this quest often enough for me to be sure of that."
"I'll get Balin. He's better with words than me." Dwalin took a moment to pat Thorin's blanket-covered leg before disappearing.
Bilbo sat, staring blankly at the canvas wall, until he heard Thorin stirring. Then he turned quickly to the King Under the Mountain. "Thorin?"
"Mmph." Slowly, blearily, Thorin's eyes opened, the once-clear blue hazy with pain and sleep. "Bilbo? That you?"
He nodded, dashing a hand across his eyes. "Yes. I promised I would stay by your side."
"Even after--" Thorin's brow furrowed with a frown.
Bilbo reached up and gently smoothed his hand across the majestic brow. "Shh. You weren't in your right mind."
"No excuse." Anything else Thorin might have said was lost when the tent flap opened to admit Dwalin and Balin. The latter had not gained breasts, thank goodness. Thorin frowned as he looked at Dwalin. "I hate you."
"So get better so you can Change, too." Dwalin shrugged his (her?) enormous shoulders, his (her?) bosom moving with it.
Bilbo looked between the two, frowning uncertainly. "Change? What do you mean?"
"Ye really wish him to know, laddie?" Balin asked, apparently looking at Thorin.
He nodded, wincing a little as if it pained him. "Yes. He is my One and we are Promised. He needs to know."
"Need to know what?" Bilbo wished they were more direct like they usually were.
Dwalin rolled his--oh botheration!--her eyes. "Ye've only just figured this out, lass?"
"I still hate you." Thorin's glare was half-hearted at best.
The gesture Dwalin gave in response was one Bilbo had learned was obscene among the Dwarves. If he didn't know that this was habit between the two, he'd have been offended on Thorin's behalf. Balin merely sighed. "If ye're not going to help, Sister, go away."
Another obscene gesture, this time directed to her brother, and Dwalin left. Bilbo found his voice. "What do you mean by Change?"
"Unlike the other races of Middle Earth, we Dwarves are not born with a set gender," Balin explained, pulling up a chair so he could sit facing Bilbo. "Down in the depths of every Dwarven settlement there is a chamber of crystals with unique properties. When a Dwarf mother is about to give birth, she is taken to that chamber. According to our legends, it is this chamber that makes it possible for we Dwarves to change our gender. If a Dwarf is not born in the Chamber of Change, that Dwarf will be restricted to one gender."
Both Balin and Thorin shuddered as if such a thing was a horror. Bilbo was still puzzled. "So the both of you could become female if you so chose?"
"We could, aye." Balin nodded his white head. "I've chosen not to because being male suits me better than being female."
Bilbo looked at Thorin then, his heart suddenly thundering in his chest. The King Under the Mountain slowly nodded. "I will once I've healed from the worst of my wounds. We never Change if we are grievously injured."
"Oh, well, that makes sense." Bilbo sat back in his chair, feeling distinctly light-headed. This was going to take some getting used to.
Balin looked concerned. "Are ye all right, laddie?"
"I will be. Just a lot to take in, you know?" Bilbo gestured vaguely, wishing for his pipe. "Um, will anyone else in the Company Change, too?"
After a shared look, Balin answered his question: "Dori's already in the Chamber of Change. She's never been fond being male. Óin will once she's certain all of her patients are out of danger."
"Kíli will once she's recovered as well." Thorin glanced at Balin and Bilbo, turning the statement into a question.
Balin nodded reassuringly. "Aye, that she will. It'll be a toss-up with Nori. Maybe he will since he's been male for so long."
"Or maybe he'll wait a bit longer." Thorin sounded thoughtful.
Bilbo held up his hands, feeling dizzy all over again. He addressed his question to Thorin: "Why, if you like being female, are you male right now?"
"It's safer for Dwarves to travel as males." Thorin's expression darkened, as if he was remembering something. "Men don't respect their females the way Dwarves, Hobbits, or even Elves do. They speak to their women as if they are lesser beings and it was the same for me while we wandered. Frerin had to speak for us if we wanted the Men to treat us any better."
"Frerin?" Bilbo repeated curiously. He'd not heard that name before. Fíli and Kíli had mentioned their mother, Dís, several times on the journey, but no one by the name of Frerin.
Thorin looked pained and closed his eyes tightly. Balin sighed heavily. "Thorin and Dís's brother, he died in the Battle of Azanulbizar. Like me, he preferred to be male."
"I'm very sorry." Bilbo picked up Thorin's hand and pressed a kiss to the back. He knew that hands were sacred to the Dwarves because they were used for fighting, for crafting, for comforting, and for loving. By kissing Thorin's hand, Bilbo was reminding him of the promise they'd made to each other.
When he looked at the Dwarf king, his eyes were shining with unshed tears. "You still wish to be with me? Despite what we've told you?"
"If the dragon and gold-sickness didn't drive me off, a little thing such as gender certainly won't." He huffed, exasperated.
The next thing knew, Thorin dragged him into a kiss. It didn't last long, however, because Thorin groaned and released Bilbo to clutch his ribs. Balin scolded him, though there was a lightness to his tone that Bilbo hadn't heard before. "Serves ye right, lassie. There's a reason ye can't change yet. Be patient."
"Patience has never been my strong suit," Thorin muttered and the look he gave Bilbo made the Hobbit's toes curl into the rug beneath his feet.