“The Eagles of Manwë,” Gandalf had said, his tone that of a long-suffering tutor attempting to educate especially dim pupils. “Are neither ponies nor ferries, to be ridden neatly from one port to the next. Your convenience is not their concern, nor is your quest— is it not enough that they intervened to ensure our survival?”
“Our quest, is it?” Thorin had not taken part during the nattering dissent, as his kinfolk badgered the wizard about the distance stretching out before them, compared to the speed of eagles' wings. Bilbo might have voiced his own concerns in that regard, but standing next to Thorin Oakenshield and looking out at the world itself spread before them, the peak of Erebor finally in sight, had stilled his tongue. The silence surrounding Thorin as he starred off at the horizon had felt nearly sacred, and his hand resting heavy on Bilbo's shoulder had allowed the hobbit an unanticipated moment under the same private mantle.
It was a sort of intimacy Bilbo had never, ever expected the taciturn dwarf to extend to him, and it was a privilege he was loath to squander.
“Our quest,” Thorin repeated, turning away from the skyline to regard Gandalf. His hand slid from Bilbo's shoulder, leaving the memory of warm weight. “But not yours, wizard?”
“No.” Leaning on his staff, Gandalf huffed a sharp breath. “And indeed, I've come farther with you on this journey than I had intended. It is your home to reclaim, as I have said; I merely offered some small help getting started.”
Without Thorin's grip anchoring him, Bilbo did not feel quite as comfortable loitering about so close to the sheer edge of their perch. Taking a few steps away from the impossible drop didn't quite settle the unease growing in his belly, however. “Wait, Gandalf, you don't— You're not leaving?”
“I am, but not yet.” At that moment, Bilbo tried very, very hard not to recall precisely how many times Gandalf had saved them from various grisly and unpleasant ends during their adventure so far. As if reading his thoughts, which was a terribly embarrassing possibility, Gandalf offered the hobbit a small, reassuring sort of smile. “I will bring you all to safe lodging, to rest and resupply before you enter the Greenwood, and I will not send you down those winding paths without advice. A day or two respite will do us all some good.”
The company's grumbling continued, though much more subdued, as they began their clamber down the great Carrock. Gandalf seemed content to speak over all mutterings, regaling them instead with the quirks of their impending host.
“—in fact, Beorn is the one responsible for carving these steps.” Calling the wide, uneven juts of stone steps was rather generous, in Bilbo's estimation, though perhaps they were more easily traversed by the long-shanks of Tall Folk. “A Carrock, I believe, is what he calls the elevation itself... oh. Oh, dear.”
Bilbo had been rather engrossed in an intense study of his own feet and the shifting pebbles beneath them, while never allowing his eyes to peek over the edge of the path. The incident with the Stone Giants had properly soured any tolerance he might have possessed for narrow, perilously high ledges over deadly drops— and, to be honest, he had been rather forcefully against the notion to begin with. The concern in Gandalf's voice, however, prompted Bilbo to glance up.
The path ahead, just below the next sinuous curve, was blocked quite completely by massive chunks of stone, which appeared to have cracked and fallen away from the side of the Carrock. It looked both impassible, and dangerously unstable.
That didn't stop a few of the dwarves from scrambling down towards it like ants swarming a dropped cake, and Bilbo was resigned to the fact that, by this point, he was not even slightly surprised. His companions seemed to have perpetual disregard for the safety of life and limb, and if Bilbo's recent actions were anything to judge, that insanity might just have been catching.
“Would you look at that, lads.” Tapping his mattock gently against the base of the obstacle, what Bilbo might have called the root of the stone, Bofur pulled at his moustache thoughtfully. “Fault goes straight through, deep and hateful.”
Bifur, having climbed a short distance up the impasse to peer into the scar left in the rock face, growled something Bilbo could not understand, then leapt back down onto the path with a grunt.
“Aye, precisely,” Bofur agreed, clapping his cousin briefly on the arm, while Dori, Gloin, and Balin continued to study the boulders with deepening frowns.
“Here—” Gloin gestured to a point within the scar, which Bilbo could not see; he didn't imagine the particulars of rock formation and disfiguration would mean much to him, but the others were listening intently. “Where it still meets the wall. Look.”
“We'll not be able to shift it,” Balin said after a few more moments of prodding and muttering. “Without the risk of worsening the fault and bringing more down upon us. We are left with over or around as our choice of paths, and I don't much relish the notion of dangling from the side of these stairs.”
Bilbo might have agreed, but the notion of climbing over the rocks also threatened to turn his bowels to water— the pile was precarious, far too high above the already sickening path, and seemed quite likely to give way at precisely the right moment to send one tumbling to a gruesome end. After craggy mountain passes, goblin caverns, giant eagles, and now crumbling Carrocks, Bilbo was aching for the feel of solid, comforting grass under his feet (preferably without a pack of wargs charging towards them across the same grass).
Surveying the blockage from a distance, Gandalf hummed contemplatively. “Perhaps... yes. Yes, there may be another way. If you would all stand back, behind me.”
The dwarves did as they were bid, shuffling back up the path, but before Gandalf could do more than shift his stance, Thorin's hand upon his elbow stayed whatever plan he had concocted. Bilbo found himself squished, just slightly, between the folds of Gandalf's robe and Thorin's bulk.
“These dwarves know stone,” Thorin said, as Bilbo considered whether shifting out of the middle would be rude, or proper courtesy. “Are you certain you know enough not to bring the peak down on our ears, or crack the stairs beneath us?”
“I am certain I should try,” was Gandalf's answer, and apparently it was acceptable enough to warrant Thorin's lukewarm approval. Releasing the wizard, Thorin stepped back, and his hand found its way to Bilbo's shoulder once again.
“Stand back, halfling.” The grip became a tug that Bilbo followed, retreating a few steps behind Gandalf to join the pack of dwarves.
When Gandalf began murmuring, staff raised towards the stones, Bilbo felt all the hair on his body stand up and take notice, as though he'd been caught by a cool draft. Suppressing a shiver, he still leaned a bit closer into their huddle.
Later, Bilbo would claim to have seen the spell begin— a sphere of vibrant purple and blue light, reminding him rather of the larkspurs in his garden, thrown from the end of Gandalf's gnarled staff out towards the stone. He would not, however, recall the way in which that sphere of magic bounced back from the stone rather than bursting upon it.
Barely an instant after the unfortunate rebound, Bilbo found himself rather distracted by the terrifying sensation of falling, though he hadn't felt the ground give way nor heard the rumble of the Carrock collapsing. He was simply standing, then suddenly tumbling back without rhyme or reason, and in his terror, Bilbo grasped desperately for the closest anchor he could reach, clinging to the fur of Thorin's coat with every ounce of strength he possessed.
“—over the side, or we would have seen!” Blinking through the spots of purple dancing through his vision, Bilbo immediately realized that his feet were no longer planted on even the questionably solid ground of the Carrock stairs. He was dangling, toes kicking empty air, and he hollered in panic even as his grip tightened on the... fur?
“Quiet! Find him!” Thorin's own shout was furious, and near enough that Bilbo felt it quake through him. But of course, he would feel it, hanging tight from the edge of Thorin's coat, tucked mostly inside against the dwarf's massive chest.
Even more massive than usual, seeing as Bilbo had shrunk so spectacularly— the gem-shaped scales of Thorin's armour, pressed against his side, were now each bigger than his head.
“Help!” Shocked though he might be by this unexpected turn of events, Bilbo still managed to find his voice again. He truly didn't fancy the drop if he fainted, which was seeming more likely as his shoulders and arms began to feel the strain, and Thorin moved about. “Hello, help! I'm here! Thorin, help!”
“What in the—” The coat swung outward, and Bilbo shrieked, gripping even tighter with hands and legs tangled in the soft fur. “Bilbo? How—”
And just like that, blessedly, Bilbo was scooped up by a warm palm nearly twice his own size, cradled so that he might sit against Thorin's fingers. His heart was hammering fit to crack his ribs, and there was a very good chance he would have been sick if they'd had a chance to eat breakfast yet, but at least he was on solid ground again, figuratively speaking.
“Bilbo,” Thorin said again, and while his voice was no deafening roar, it was still strange to hear from such a massive face bending towards him. There were raised voices from the company, cries of disbelief and alarm, and Bilbo could certainly empathize with the sentiment. Scrambling to regain even a shadow of his bearings, he took hold of the silver band of Thorin's ring, tethering himself more firmly and breathing deep. “What in Durin's name... Gandalf! What have you done?”
“Oh my.” When Gandalf moved near, Bilbo had to squeeze his eyes shut for a moment, fighting a fresh wave of anxiety; the wizard's hat was as big as Bag End, if not larger, and it was more than he could bear for a moment. He heard the other dwarves jostling for a better look, and didn't dare glance over. “This is bothersome.”
Anxiety was perfectly content to make way for anger, apparently, and Bilbo managed to tamp down his fear long enough to glare up at the forest of Gandalf's beard, then up even farther to the wizard's bright blue eyes.
“Bothersome?” Bilbo noticed now that the pitch of his voice was higher than usual, but thankfully not the squeak of a mouse. “I'd call this a sight worse than bothersome— I'm scarcely the size of a sparrow, for goodness sake!”
“Tell me this can be undone,” Thorin said, and Gandalf's answering hum was not at all reassuring.
“Hm, well.” One gnarled finger appeared over the side of Thorin's palm, approaching slowly, and Bilbo allowed Gandalf to poke him very gently in the stomach, his limbs, then tilt up his chin and stroke the entire curve of his skull. It was not exactly comfortable, being examined while Thorin looked on intently, but Bilbo managed to keep his noises of complaint to a minimum.
“Ah, yes,” Gandalf said at last, and Bilbo could not help but sit up straighter, leaning forward in desperate expectation. Surely he wouldn't be cursed like this for the rest of his days. “Beyond his size, Bilbo should be perfectly healthy, with no ill effects from the spell. And while I cannot simply undo it this instant, I'm quite certain it will wear off in due time.”
In due time.
“Just hang on, what does that mean—” Bilbo began to ask, only to be drowned out by nearly the same question from Thorin, clipped and concise.
“A week?” Stroking a hand over his beard, Gandalf sounded mildly apologetic, and also rather unsure; Bilbo felt his stomach drop. “Perhaps a fortnight. But certainly no more than a month.”
“Rather lucky your clothes shrunk too.” Sitting on Fili's bracer, nibbling on a crumb of honey cake, Bilbo managed to keep his balance, his supper, and swat at the curious dwarven fingers tugging at the loose back of his buttonless waistcoat. Fili simply laughed at him, scuffing that same finger up his spine in a rough sort of tickle.
Around them, the others were oblivious to the teasing, busy enjoying the bounty of Beorn's hall, eating their fill and sharing tales. Sitting pressed up against his brother on one of the low benches, Kili laughed as well. “Oh, I'm sure Bifur could have whipped up some teeny britches, if need be... and if this does take a month, a spare pair might still be welcome. Not too different than a doll now, are you, Bilbo?”
“I am not a doll!” If it weren't such an impossible, lethal distance to the ground, Bilbo would have already been off in a huff. As it was, however, he sat up stiff and straight, resisting the urge to lob his supper up Fili's enormous nostril. “Put me down. I should like to be elsewhere to finish my meal.”
“Oh, Bilbo, don't be like that.” Slapping Kili's finger away when it attempted to touch his head, Bilbo simply repeated himself, louder this time. Both brothers began goading him to stay, poking at him gently but relentlessly, and Bilbo dropped his crumb with a frustrated cry. Much more of this, and he might seriously consider drawing his miniaturized sword— the elven blade might have been rendered little bigger than a toothpick, but it was still sharp enough to make his point quite clear.
“I said, put me down—”
“Oi, what's this?” When Bofur appeared behind the brothers' shoulders, there was nothing of his usual jovial grin to be found. “I can't believe the pair of you would torment an injured fella like that, let alone one you call a friend. Here, Bilbo—” Though the move was well-meaning, Bofur's reach for him managed to jostle Fili, and in turn nearly sent Bilbo tumbling. A quick grasp for one of the leather straps of the bracer gave him a hand-hold, and Kili's quicker reflexes caught his bottom half, hoisting him up again.
“Whoa, there,” Kili said to him, while Fili turned to Bofur, indignant.
“He's not injured, just little, and you're the clumsy oaf who nearly killed him just now—”
“Please,” Bilbo tried to interrupt, but no one seemed at all interested in listening to him. As if being an overlooked hobbit weren't bad enough, now he couldn't even shout properly. “Please, no—”
“—just hope you'll keep better track of him than you did the ponies—”
“Hey, there were trolls—”
“And we're not the ones always losing our pipe, and our socks, and what have you; if you can't keep track of little things—”
Bilbo was beginning to grow hoarse when the crashing thud of a fist hitting the table made him nearly leap out of his skin. Looming over them all, Dwalin's glare could have stripped paint from a barn door. “Button it, the lot of you. Hobbit, come here.” Even at his usual size, Bilbo had been intimidated by the sheer enormity of Dwalin's rough, battle-worn hands; still, when one was held out, he scuttled over without argument, latching on to a bit of the dwarf's wicked knuckle dusters. Fili still had his jacket, tucked away in a pocket for safekeeping, but Bilbo was not about to ask for it back at that moment.
“Bofur,” Dwalin continued, drawing Bilbo up as he stood. “Go have a smoke and cool off; there'll be no bloody brawling here, or I'll be the one finishing it. And you two whelps'll leave the hobbit be, or it won't be your uncle who tans your hides.”
Muttered, dour agreements from the other three followed, with Bofur stalking off after one final concerned glance thrown Bilbo's way, and Fili and Kili turning back to the dregs of their own meals. Dwalin barely acknowledged the responses, returning to his own seat farther up the long table without another word until he'd sat again.
“Here—” It was a bit jarring to be dropped onto the tabletop, amongst the plates and mugs, but Dwalin was kindly enough to let him gain his feet before removing the support of his fingers. “Try not to drown in the soup, wee Baggins.”
Bilbo had been able to get his own bread, tearing small pieces from the fresh, soft loaves, as well as his own honey and cream, but the trays of steaming vegetables were beyond his current abilities. He was too small to wield a fork or a knife, and the smells of baked potato, roasted squash, and other delights were driving him mad.
Glancing around the table, Bilbo took note of who was still eating their own meals, not wanting to disturb those for whom the evening had progressed to chatting and pipes.
Oh goodness, how he missed his pipe. Tucked safely away in his pocket, it had shrunk as well, but now the bowl was too small to stuff with even the thinnest dregs of leaf. It was hideously frustrating, especially since a bit of Old Toby, or some of more robust leaf the dwarves smoked, would have been a truly welcome way to calm his nerves.
Shoving that miserable thought aside, Bilbo made his decision, padding over through the sea of dishes to where Bombur was still swiping up great swathes of honey with torn pieces of bread, then munching away on the gleaming, golden results.
“Pardon me, Bombur?”
Swallowing a too-large mouthful, looking more like a gull than a particularly portly dwarf if only for a moment, Bombur wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and leaned down to speak a bit closer. “Oh, good evening, Mr. Bilbo.”
“Good evening, Bombur.” This was the embarrassing part, to admit that he needed assistance with something so basic, but Bilbo thought of creamy potatoes and the dark, gleaming beets he'd seen peeled in a nearby bowl, and shored up his nerve. If anyone would understand and empathize with his hunger, surely it would be this dwarf. “I hate to be a bother, but have a favour to ask, if you wouldn't mind...”
Night descended, their host vanished, and Bilbo gazed longingly at the piles of soft-spun blankets Beorn had provided. Their packs had been lost in the goblin tunnels, but as the dwarves prepared to bed down, Bilbo was nearly glad for the loss. These blankets looked warmer and plusher than his bedroll ever had, and they didn't look as though they would stink of mud, troll, and sweat.
But Bilbo, in his current state, resigned himself to finding a quiet spot on the table, perhaps stuffing a few clean napkins in a bowl, if he could manage to find anything that his companions hadn't covered in sauce. He certainly wasn't expecting a voice from far above as he tried to secure himself some bedding, racing just a bit to nab supplies before Beorn's trained animals took it all away and left him with naught but bare wood.
“Are you ready to retire, halfling?” In the dim, flickering light of the banked hearth, Thorin's eyes glowed like coals beneath the shadow cast by his hair, and the dark bruises left from the Pale Orc's mace. He was still fully dressed, coat and all, despite the warmth of the hall.
“Oh, Thorin—” Pausing his rummage through a pile of napkins in various permutations of filthy, Bilbo granted Thorin his full attention (except for just the corner of his eye, where he was watching hounds continue quietly clearing the long table, moving ever closer). “I, er, I was just putting a bunk together, as best I can.”
“You planned to sleep on the table?” If anything, Thorin's frown made his eyes appear darker, shadow consuming the clear, cornflower blue entirely. “And when the beasts brought breakfast, what then? I wouldn't consider being crushed by a platter of cakes to be a fitting end for one of our fine companions, including our hobbit.”
“Well, I... hm.” Being included in the ranks of their fine company by Thorin Oakenshield was still a very new feeling, but Bilbo wasn't certain he would ever tire of the proud warmth that curled in his belly at the notion. “I thought I might sleep in a bowl.”
“I'll not trust hounds and sheep, no matter their intelligence, to keep you safe from a dunk in the washpan.” Before Bilbo could say another word, he was plucked up by the back of the shirt, scruffed like a kitten, and deposited onto the thick fur at Thorin's shoulder. “Keep hold of my hair, if you like. Do you have your grip?”
“Uh—” Caught in a mild bout of panic at his unexpected relocation, Bilbo snatched the nearest tether without thinking; he caught one of Thorin's braids like a drowning man grasping a rope. It was bigger around than his thigh, and surprisingly silky to the touch. “Yes... yes, all right.”
Their recent bathing in the brisk stream at the base of the Carrock had done more good than simply lifting spirits, even if Bilbo had kept tight hold on Balin's thumb throughout his own brief scrub, terrified to be swept away like a dry leaf. Thorin's hair smelled of clove soap and fresh air, which was a sight better than smoke, blood, and sour sweat.
Any objection he might have had to the arrangement, or at least any objection that pride and propriety dictated he should voice, caught in his throat like a fish bone. Bilbo stayed quiet as Thorin did a final survey of the hall, then strode up to his pile of bedding, near enough to enjoy the heat of the fire without suffering the smoke.
Scooped up and moved again, this time into the overwhelming folds of blankets that he'd so admired from afar, Bilbo was beginning to feel like the last apple in the barrel, tossed about unwanted for being too small and a bit bruised.
“Just a moment,” Thorin said, shrugging off his coat and shifting the blankets to lay it across the floor fur lining facing up. Keeping his feet amid the blankets felt a bit like taking the Buckleberry ferry when the wind was high, but Bilbo managed, all the while wondering how he might sleep in this sea of grey wool without drowning in it.
“Excuse me...” Thorin had unbuckled and set aside his weapons, his bracers, and his scaled shirt— brigandine, Bilbo had heard it called— when Ori appeared at the edge of Thorin's sleeping area, shifting in his too-large boots. “Master Oakenshield, Mr. Bilbo, I made a little thing, nothin' too special, didn't have time for fancy, just... um, here.” Ori held out a square of knitted green yarn, the colour of moss and about the size of a small dish rag, bending to pass the thing to Bilbo under Thorin's watchful gaze. “Thought you might like a blanket, wee as you.”
“For me?” Accepting the tiny blanket with a surprised grin, Bilbo caught hold of Ori's spindly, ink-stained fingers before the young dwarf could retreat, squeezing just the tip of his middle finger in thanks. “That is very kind of you, Ori. Thank you, truly.”
Ori smiled back, twitching his finger rather like a handshake, then scurried away after ducking a deferent nod or two in Thorin's direction. The lad had lost most of his yarn along with his pack— for him to use even a bit of the few skeins he had secreted away in his coat for Bilbo's comfort was humbling. Bilbo hugged the blanket close for a moment, then flung it around his shoulders like a cloak, bundling himself snugly.
When Thorin lowered himself onto the blankets a few moments later, Bilbo had stripped off his sword belt and ruined waistcoat, and formed somewhat of a cozy nest for himself, cushioned by the layer of fur beneath. He was still feeling rather wrong-footed about this entire scenario, and not merely because of the shrinking; Thorin had taken him into his bed, not under nearly the same circumstances as Bilbo had occasionally (very, very secretly) considered.
Bilbo Baggins was a curious creature, and always had been— from forest paths and fireflies as a wee lad, stories of adventure and a few stolen kisses as a tween, all the way to his maps and books as a settled, proper gentlehobbit. At that precise moment, shrunk tiny as a chipmunk and curled up next to Thorin Oakenshield's long sable mane, there was enough Took blood pumping through his heart to make him bold, as well.
“Thorin?” Lying on his back, Thorin hummed questioningly and turned his head, regarding Bilbo with an expression the hobbit could not read. It looked... peaceful, though not entirely free of tension, with the lines of his brow and the set of his jaw. Thorin's eyes, brightly blue again this close, were half-lidded and comfortably at ease. That look alone was enough to spur Bilbo onward. “Why are you doing this? Letting me sleep here?”
The breath of air that gusted over Bilbo was somewhere between a sigh and a rumbling chuckle; he wondered, for one mad moment, what it would feel like to cuddle close against Thorin's throat as the dwarf spoke, deep and resonant. The vibration would likely shake him down to his bones.
“For my own peace of mind,” Thorin said, very quietly amidst the crackle of the hearth and the various groans, snorts, and grumbles of dwarves settling down for the night. “I'll sleep better knowing you've not been crushed beneath a stray boot heel, or under someone's unconscious girth.”
“And what about your girth?” Bilbo did not have the chance to regret his cheeky question; Thorin's breath was warming him again, definitely a chuckle this time, and long, blunt fingers reached over to ruffle Bilbo's hair. The feeling was not nearly as annoyingly teasing as it had been when Kili had tried the same thing... or perhaps it was simply teasing in a different way. That is, if Thorin was even capable of teasing, which was a thought Bilbo did not dare dwell upon.
“I sleep lightly.” Thorin's nails were trimmed very short, but the calluses on his hands were hard enough to scratch against Bilbo's skin, making him shiver. With one final brush of his thumb over Bilbo's ear (which he could not possibly know was such a sweetly sensitive spot, making Bilbo's toes curl tight under the blanket and his neck grow hot), Thorin drew his hand away to lay on his own chest. “And I do not shift about much. But if I do roll too close, give me a jab with your tiny sword— but safe in its scabbard, if you please.”
The bruises mottling Thorin's face were still slightly swollen, though the blood had been washed away; the thought of prodding his sword against those injuries, even sheathed, was enough to make Bilbo wince.
“Ah, no, sorry,” Bilbo said, wishing he was large enough to simply reach out and return the touches. Not that he would have the nerve to reach out, if he was back to proper hobbit size. “But I think I'll stick with keeping swords away from your face as much as I'm able.”
Thorin's lips twitched up ever so slightly, a smile that would have been all but invisible if Bilbo was not curled up so close to the dwarf's face. “Fair enough. Now, go to sleep.”
Sleeping while so very small wasn't as difficult as he had imagined it would be— Bilbo had been, up to this point, too nervous to even think of nodding off. But Thorin's steady breathing, petering off into a soft, barely audible snore as his usually solemn face went lax, had been very soothing.
Then he woke tangled in long, dark locks of hair, with his nose full of the scent of warm cloves and musk, one arm tangled in coarse brown beard, and his left foot actually tucked inside Thorin's ear. Bilbo wondered blearily how precisely dwarves defined a light sleeper, before beginning the delicate procedure of removing himself from his involved embrace of Thorin's jaw.
He moved slowly, gentling the sleeping dwarf with the lightest touches as he eased away, and if he perhaps allowed his hands to linger against Thorin's warm cheek for just slightly longer than necessary, well, that was nobody's business but his own. He was properly snared, locks of hair wrapped around him and his blanket like vines, but he did his very best not to pull as he made his escape.
Of course, his precautions all proved for naught when he finally sat up and found Thorin watching him, without a hint of surprise or the bleariness of sleep clouding his cool blue eyes.
“Oh!” Immediately and exceedingly mortified, Bilbo sank into his cozy blanket with a squeak that sounded far too close to mouselike for his comfort. “Thorin, I... that is, I'm sorry— I didn't—”
“Peace, halfling.” Again, Thorin reached out, and Bilbo was not awake enough to hide his shudder as a rough fingertip ghosted over his ear, smoothing down his tousled curls. “If your presence offended me, you are easily small enough to move, whether pocket-sized or as you should be.”
And then, without warning or explanation, Thorin tilted his head forward until his nose brushed Bilbo's blanket, dragging the bridge up the (much reduced) length of his chest and into the crook of his shoulder, not unlike a pony nosing for an apple. Bilbo may have squeaked again, but it was a much breathier sound than before; there was an answering hum from Thorin, growing louder when Bilbo pressed into the gentle touch.
Quickly as it began, the strange moment was over. Drawing back, Thorin took a breath deep into his chest, rolling onto his back before releasing it in a long, uneven sigh.
“Breakfast,” Thorin said, eyes focused toward the blackened rafters, and Bilbo's stomach agreed, even fluttering oddly as it was.
“Mm, that is lovely.” Inhaling again, careful now that they had discovered how much smoke he could breathe without succumbing to burning lungs and a coughing fit, Bilbo played idly with a few strands of dark hair. Pale grey smoke curled up from Thorin's mouth, and the long pipe hanging from it, wreathing Bilbo perched on his shoulder.
Beyond the edge of Beorn's wide veranda, a crisp breeze sent the taller plants swaying in the skinchanger's lush garden, buzzing with bees in the afternoon sun. The extra day of rest had not been Thorin's first choice, but Gandalf had insisted, and the company had not spent the time idly. Most had been tending to their remaining gear— Thorin was now enjoying a pipe while slowly gliding a whetstone over the edge of his hunting knife, and Bilbo was enjoying both the pipe and the company.
“Are you giving me more braids, hobbit,” Thorin growled around the bit of the pipe, setting the stone aside and taking up a soft cloth to polish the blade. Bilbo glanced at the cluster of tiny, messy plaits he had been weaving inexpertly behind Thorin's ear; they were more loose tangles than proper braiding.
“Well, I'm trying,” Bilbo replied, laughing and combing his fingers through to undo his feeble attempts. “It's more complicated than I expected.”
Sliding his newly honed knife back in its sheath, Thorin leaned back against Beorn's hall, apparently content to remain on the bench a bit longer. “Practice,” he said after silently enduring a few moments of Bilbo's soft combing. “Is the only way to learn it.”
And since that was not an order to stop, and because Thorin's hair actually felt rather nice sliding between Bilbo's fingers, practice was precisely what Bilbo was allowed, until the air cooled and the sky began to redden with sunset.
They were four days into the Greenwood, though very obviously its new name of Mirkwood was no exaggeration, and for three nights Bilbo had fallen asleep curled up in the crook of Thorin's neck, lulled by breath and heartbeat in the impossible darkness. The fourth night began no differently until, in one of the unmarked hours between nightfall and dawn, Bilbo was shocked awake by the tightening of a vice-strong hand around his neck. There was not a single speck of light by which to see his attacker; there was nothing but blackness and fear.
“Help,” he meant to shout, though the wheeze that escaped his throat was wordless, and immediately the hand released, sliding up to cup his jaw instead. The violence was gone from the touch, though a bit of roughness remained, almost desperation.
“Bilbo?” Thorin's voice from the dark, Thorin's hand on his face... that was enough to calm the terrified thudding of Bilbo's pulse, at least somewhat. “You, you've grown— the spell—”
“Oh!” Thorin's entire hand was on his face, spanning chin to hairline, but no farther. “Oh! I'm big again!”
“Let's not exaggerate,” Thorin chuckled, hoarse and quiet, but Bilbo wasn't able to retort. The air was pushed out of his lungs in one great rush as strong arms yanked him into a hard embrace, and it only took a moment of confusion before Bilbo was returning the hold with equal exuberance, clinging hands seeking something more forgiving than the scale armour Thorin had not removed since they'd entered the wood.
Bilbo found his answer at the back of Thorin's neck, which granted warm skin and soft, familiar hair to tangle around his fingers. Bilbo's clothes did not present the same difficulties as finely crafted layers of leather and steel; shirt and trousers allowed body heat and the feel of flesh through cotton and wool, but apparently that was not sufficient for Thorin Oakenshield.
The first kiss landed on Bilbo's cheek, nearly on his eye, and even with Bilbo leaning up towards the second kiss, it managed to miss again, ending with a hard bump of nose against chin. Thorin grunted in frustration, hands tightening over Bilbo's ribs.
“Hush, Thorin, shhh—” Speaking softly, Bilbo ignored the mad, nervous flopping of his stomach in favour of the heat creeping over his skin, a wave of need and Tookish bravery in near equal measure. Blind in the dark, at least Thorin couldn't see the brilliant red flush of his cheeks. “You'll wake the others. Here.”
Using hair much like reins, Bilbo guided Thorin forward, down to meet him— Thorin was much easier to lead than Myrtle had ever been, Bilbo realized suddenly, then muffled his giggles in the depths of their kiss.