Something More Agreeable…
They planned to make camp just down from the eyrie that night. Bilbo Baggins had felt too exhausted and too relieved at Thorin’s safety to move, but in the end he couldn’t argue with the dwarves suggestion of finding a safer place to rest. He didn’t much like the idea of falling off a cliff as he turned in his sleep. They were halfway down the steep, rubble slope which lead towards a grassy clearing when it happened. Bilbo lost his footing and slipped. He fell right into Bofur and then into Óin and the three of them had ended up collecting Dwalin and arriving at the bottom of the slope in a tangled heap.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry,” Bilbo gushed, scrambling to stand as Dwalin heaved himself upwards with a furious groan. “Are you ok?”
“Are you?” Thorin’s deep voice startled them and Bilbo almost cricked his neck turning to look at him.
Thorin tilted his head slightly, his eyes raking up and down the hobbit’s body for any sign of injury. Bilbo blinked in astonishment. Part of him had been expecting admonishment, a curt “clumsy hobbit” or at the very least an exasperated sigh. Part of him was still nervously waiting for Thorin to slip back into a brooding, dismissive silence and to continue ignoring him as he had been. What he hadn’t expected was Thorin to rush down to check on him and Bilbo had to remind himself that Thorin accepted him now. He had been deemed worthy, professional burglar or not.
“Are you ok?” Thorin’s eyes left Bilbo’s bewildered gaze to check on Bofur, Óin and Dwalin.
“Fine,” Dwalin said, brushing his clothes down. He turned to Bilbo with a smile. “Just wanted to be first to choose the sleeping spots, didn’t we lad?”
Bilbo gave a shaky laugh. “Right in one,” he said faintly. Chuckling, Dwalin slapped a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder making him stagger slightly. Then, he, Óin and Bofur jogged the last few paces to the clove of trees and soft grass that would make their camp for the evening.
Adjusting himself Bilbo took a step to follow them, but immediately doubled over in pain at the sudden stabbing in his side. “Oh!” he exclaimed in surprise.
“Bilbo?” Thorin frowned and reached out a hand to steady the hobbit. “You’re hurt!”
“Oh, no it’s nothing, really,” winced Bilbo, not wanting to cause any fuss. Thorin had been far worse injured in the orc fight. Straightening, the hobbit turned to look at Thorin. For a moment the dwarf said nothing, merely surveying Bilbo with a look that spoke volumes. “I’m fine,” Bilbo reiterated, shaking his head to clear his head from a sudden embarrassed dizziness. “Really, I… oh!”
And if Thorin hadn’t been there to catch him, Bilbo would have hit the ground.
~ *XX* ~
“Bilbo!” cried Thorin, cradling the unconscious hobbit in his arms. He carried the hobbit the few steps to the soft grass and lowering him gently onto it. Over by the trees, Dwalin and Óin looked up at Thorin’s cry. Bofur was already stepping towards them. Heart-racing, Thorin carefully cupped Bilbo’s cheek and turn to shout at the rest of the Company. “Gandalf, come quick!”
“What happened?” Gandalf demanded as he strode down the rocky slope towards them.
“He just collapsed,” Thorin said, a tone of barely-concealed panic in his voice. “He’s injured.”
The wizard knelt down and took Bilbo’s hand in his. It was cold. Around them, the Company gathered and looked on. “Fool,” Gandalf muttered. Gently, he pulled back the hobbit’s outer coat to reveal a dark stain seeping into his waistcoat.
“No!” Thorin choked out, fearing the worst. Gandalf shot him a quick, warning look and Thorin clamped his mouth shut.
“He’s lost a lot of blood, but he’s strong,” continued Gandalf. The wizard turned back to the hobbit, knelt closer still and whispered words in a language Thorin couldn’t understand.
“Azog,” the dwarf-king growled, fury rising up in him. “He did this.”
“The adrenaline from the fight kept our hobbit going. It seems it has finally worn off and his injuries have caught up with him,” Balin said sagely.
“He will pay for this,” Thorin continued, appearing not to have heard Balin.
“Indeed,” Gandalf said, rocking back and standing. Whatever spell he had cast over Bilbo was now done. “We must let him rest.”
“Will he be ok?” Thorin asked, his voice a hard mix of anger and worry.
“He needs rest.”
“That’s no answer!”
Gandalf regarded the dwarf curiously. For a moment it looked like he had expected this outburst. “He will recover, Thorin,” the wizard said, calmly. “You will need to give him air and let him sleep in peace.”
Thorin, who was still kneeling close to Bilbo sprang up with lightening speed. Ori flinched behind him. “He will live?”
“He will live,” confirmed Gandalf and a whisper of relief rippled amongst the dwarves.
The relief, however, was brief on Thorin’s part. “How could he have been so careless?” he stormed.
“He saved your life,” Gandalf pointed out, bristling slightly on Bilbo’s behalf.
“He shouldn’t have done so!”
“But he did. You should be grateful.”
Thorin looked like he wanted to continue raging, but his eyes fell to the small form of Bilbo and his entire demeanour softened. “I am grateful,” he said quietly.
~ *XX* ~
The ground was soft.
It was comfortable in a way he hadn’t experienced in weeks, and for the briefest moment, Bilbo thought he was back home at Bag End. But the smells were all wrong and he’d never own a pillow that was so lumpy! He shifted slightly and pain shot down his side.
The memories flooded back. Standing between the orcs and Thorin’s broken body; the roar of the fire and the screech of the eagles; Gandalf bringing Thorin back from the brink; Thorin embracing him, accepting him; the obvious happiness of the other dwarves; then falling, collapsing into darkness.
The hush of quiet conversation brought him back to the present. The first voice was deep and sent a shiver down Bilbo’s spine.
“… has changed. Circumstances have changed.”
“You said you would not be responsible for his fate.” This voice was wizened with age and infinite knowledge.
“I want to guarantee his safety, Gandalf. I would expect you to approve.”
There was a low hum before, “Do as you wish, but do not forget your quest.”
“How could you suggest-”
Bilbo shifted again and let out an involuntary yelp of pain. The whispered conversation stopped. Confused and wanting to see what was going on, Bilbo opened his eyes to a world that was dark and blurred.
A dim light came flickering into focus. A fire.
Darker shapes around him came into focus.
Gandalf’s smiling face came into focus, pale in the fire’s light. “Welcome back, Master Baggins.”
“Gandalf,” Bilbo’s throat was raw. A skin of water was pressed into his hand and Bilbo turned to see Thorin Oakenshield looking worriedly down at him. “Thorin,” the hobbit croaked before taking a gulp of water. “Thank you.”
Thorin nodded but said nothing. “How do you feel?” Gandalf asked. “You scared us for a moment there, my dear fellow.”
There was a buzz of assent and Bilbo blinked once more to bring everything into sharper focus. It was late at night. The camp had settled but behind Gandalf and Thorin a few of the other dwarves had gathered, clearly having heard Biblo awake. “Oh,” said Bilbo quietly. “Well, my side still hurts when I move, but I’m feeling better… I think.”
“You had us all worried,” Dwalin said.
“We’ve never seen uncle look so terrified,” Kíli said, only to be elbowed by Fíli when Thorin looked sharply up at them.
“Sorry I caused so much bother,” Bilbo said, a light blush creeping up his neck.
“Don’t, lad,” advised Bofur. “You fought as bravely as any of us.”
“Just perhaps not as well as the dwarves,” Gandalf added slyly.
“Ach, we can fix that,” Glóin said, skilfully spinning a knife he’d retrieved from his pocket.
“T-thank you,” Bilbo stuttered, feeling slightly overwhelmed. Thorin must have sensed this, for he looked around at his kin and wordless told them to leave and get some rest. “What happened?” asked Bilbo glancing between Gandalf and Thorin. “I just remember falling into darkness.”
“You were stabbed,” Gandalf said simply and Thorin made a short noise like a trapped mouse. “Nothing I couldn’t mend, but you should have come to me sooner, Bilbo Baggins.”
“I didn’t realise,” Bilbo said, gingerly prodding his side; testing his limits.
“Well you’ll know for the future,” the wizard replied with a nod. “Make sure he sleeps tonight and well into tomorrow,” he directed this to Thorin.
“Are you leaving?” Bilbo asked, surprised.
“Just for a short while, I hope. You will be safe in Thorin’s Company.”
“Oh… okay then. Uh, thank you.”
“Not at all, my friend,” Gandalf said with a smile. Then, with a nod at Thorin he was gone. Bilbo blinked again and turned to look at Thorin in the half light of the fire. The dwarf smiled tightly at him.
“You should sleep.”
Bilbo wanted to protest that he’d slept enough already, but his eyes were drooping closed again and he didn’t feel like fighting it. The last thing he saw before darkness fell was Thorin’s over-bright eyes.
~ *XX* ~
The second time Bilbo woke, it was to considerably less pain and to the brightness of day.
“Ah, he’s waking up!” a voice to his left said, none too happily.
“Just when we able to start taking bets, too,” another on his right bemoaned.
“Thorin?” Bilbo croaked, opening his eyes just in time to see Kíli and Fíli exchange an amused grin.
“He’s not here right now,” Kíli said.
“Oh,” Bilbo said, trying unsuccessfully to keep the disappointment out of his voice. He frowned. “Bets? Uh, what did you mean?”
“We were going to place bets on when you’d wake up,” Fíli said.
“Only you beat us to it,” added Kíli.
“Though we learnt something which more than makes up for it,” Fíli chuckled and Kíli grinned at him.
“Pardon?” Bilbo’s frown deepened. “I don’t follow.”
The brothers shared another gleeful grin before standing. “We’ll get uncle for you.”
“Thorin?” Bilbo smiled, but then backtracked. “Oh no, don’t. I wouldn’t want to bother him with something so…”
“Oh, he’ll want to be bothered,” Kíli cut him off.
“We are glad to see you’re feeling better, Mister Baggins,” Fíli added and the pair were gone in another slow blink of Bilbo’s sleep-ridden eyes.
Muttering darkly about how infuriating dwarves could be, Bilbo stretched and wriggled into a sitting position against a nearby tree. The motion left him rather sore and out of breath; a reminder that he wasn’t yet at full health. The camp was oddly deserted and yet, Bilbo had the feeling he was still being watched. The embers still shone red in the fire pit and the camp was strewn with bedrolls and armour and other provisions. Surely they hadn’t all left. Which way had Kíli and Fíli gone? Bilbo couldn’t remember.
He was working himself into quite a panic when there was a shuffling in the trees to his left. “Hello?” he squeaked.
“Bilbo! It gladdens my heart to see you awake,” Thorin greeted, striding through the undergrowth.
“Thorin,” breathed Bilbo, the tension leaving him at once.
“Are you hungry?” The dwarf didn’t wait for an answer, already busying himself with spooning out a portion of stew from the pot by the embers and into a bowl. “How are you feeling?”
“A little sore still, but better,” Bilbo said. But he winced as he propped himself up more to eat. “Thank you.” Thorin gave him a small smile, which caused Bilbo to frown inwardly. He couldn’t recall Thorin ever being this friendly towards him before. “And you?”
Thorin bowed his head as if hiding the multitude of cuts and grazes that still covered his face. “I am well. My wounds were healing well too,” he paused and ran an appraising eye over Bilbo. “But you are still in pain.”
“It’s nothing,” said Bilbo, shaking his head.
“Please, will you not let me help?”
“We have salves to ease bruises and cuts. It would speed your recovery.”
“Well, I…. Oh, If you insist. I wouldn’t want to cause any further burden.”
A look of regret flashed across Thorin’s face. “It would be no burden,” he said softly.
So the dwarf-king sat down and saw to the hobbit’s hurts; cleaning the smallest of cuts and gently rubbing salve into his bruises. Bilbo blushed at having to remove his shirt and muttered protests and wriggled uncomfortably. And Thorin ignored it all, patiently waiting in silence until Bilbo stilled under his soothing hand.
“Thank you,” Bilbo said quietly as Thorin finished, wrapping the salves away. He was still pink in the face, although the dwarf had finished his ministrations. Thorin nodded, brushing the thanks aside. “Uh… Where are the others?”
“They should be back soon,” said Thorin. “They’ve all been out collecting firewood, hunting, scouting the area, gathering water.”
“Oh. And Gandalf?”
“You do not remember? He had to leave, away on another one of his journeys. I’m unsure when he will be back.”
Bilbo’s forehead creased as he tried to remember. His memory from the last time he was awake seemed vague. The only clear image was that of Thorin’s eyes shining with emotion. Bilbo swallowed thickly.
“OW!” There was a sudden yelp and a colossal thump from behind them and Thorin was on his feet and drawing Orcrist before Bilbo had even begun to turn around.
“Ow! Kíli you fool, look what you’ve done!”
“Hey, you were the one who suggested we get in the trees.”
“Only because I thought you’d be able to stay in one long enough to for us to see something.”
Thorin gave an exasperated sigh, sliding his blade back into its sheath. Silently radiating anger, he strode forward and Bilbo watched as he dragged Kíli and Fíli up off the ground where they had been entangled. “I will not even ask,” Thorin growled. “You are both on the 3AM watch.” The two brothers groaned in unison, then shrugged out of Thorin’s grasp.
“That was your fault,” Kíli said, as they stalked off to the other side of the camp. “You know I don’t have the skill to spy on people from trees.”
“They were having a moment,” Fíli hissed back. “And you ruined it!”
There was a heavy silence left in their wake. Any light-heartedness kindness on Thorin’s part had vanished; he had returned to the morose form that Bilbo was more familiar with. “Uh, well that was… odd,” the hobbit said, for the sake of saying something.
“Indeed,” Thorin replied stiffly, not meeting Bilbo’s eye. “Forgive me. I am needed elsewhere. I hope you feel better soon.”
“O-okay,” Bilbo frowned. And with a polite nod, Thorin left, leaving the poor hobbit more confused than ever.
~ *XX* ~
For the rest of the day and well into the evening, Thorin did a very good job of pretending Bilbo didn’t exist. Dinner was a lively affair with many of the dwarves declaring that Bilbo and Thorin’s recovery merited much food and drink. Nori and Bifur had brought down a stag and so there was much merry feasting. Bilbo found himself tucked between Bombur and Bofur, watching Thorin’s surly form where he sat away from the others.
“Excuse me,” Bilbo muttered, standing with a great effort and walking over to their leader. The other dwarves did not notice his absence. “Thorin?” he asked cautiously as he approached, surprising himself with this sudden act of confidence. He never would have dared interrupt Thorin before. “Is everything alright?”
“We can only afford to rest for one more day,” Thorin said bluntly, not looking up from where he was seated. “It would be unwise to delay any further.” And he finally turned and regarded Bilbo with something akin to a glare. Flushing pink, Bilbo glanced away.
“I’ll just get some rest then,” he said waspishly. “I wouldn’t want to hold you back.”
Thorin flinched. “I didn’t mean,” he said, unsure of himself. “I just…” A sigh. “You should get some rest. You will need your strength.”
Fighting back infuriation, Bilbo threw up his arms in exasperation (ignoring the small twinge the movement gave him) and walked back to the others.
“You’re wasting your time, laddie,” Balin said when Bilbo returned. “He’s brooding over something and it’s not worth interrupting him.”
“I wish he’d tell me!” Bilbo muttered. “Or give me some explanation, rather than just being rude.”
“He’ll tell you in his own time, if he sees fit.”
“He’s infuriating,” fumed Bilbo. “You think you see a spark of caring or a smile, then before you know it, he’s glaring at you like you’re something stuck on the sole of his boot.”
“That’s why you should leave him be,” Balin said with a sad, knowing smile. “He’s been through a lot.” Bilbo opened his mouth to ask, but Balin gave him a look and Bilbo decided against it. “Come and join us with one last drink, my young Master Hobbit.”
After a deep breath, Bilbo forced a smile. “Of course,” he said, ridding his mind of all thoughts of their enigmatic leader. He didn’t notice Thorin’s eyes on him for the rest of the night.
~ *XX* ~
Thorin approached Bilbo after dinner the next day.
The day had been warm and welcoming and Bilbo, feeling much better, had ate and slept and bathed in a nearby stream. All the while, trying not to think about Thorin’s moodiness or the fact he had kindly made Bilbo’s lunch for him and then promptly insulted him for eating too much. It was giving Bilbo a headache.
The sun had set earlier again, reminding them all that Durin’s Day was drawing closer and time was running out. But now, as Thorin approached Bilbo, it seemed he had eyes only for the hobbit. “Bilbo. Please, sit with me.”
Wondering what he had done now, Bilbo followed Thorin a short distance away from the roaring fire and the others. They sat together against a large pine, not unlike the one they had escaped from just days earlier. Bilbo shuddered and Thorin remained silent, brooding once more.
“I’m sorry,” Bilbo said softly a short while later when he could take the silence no longer.
“For what, Master Baggins?”
“I’ve made you upset. And angry, I think. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want… that,” he finished lamely.
For a long moment, Thorin struggled with himself, opening his mouth to speak, then thinking better of it and shutting it furiously again. Finally, he said. “I was angry because you scared me.”
Thorin took a deep, steadying breath. “I was angry because you worried me, because I’d been careless and not noticed your injury earlier.”
“You were injured yourself,” Bilbo pointed out.
“Please, let me speak,” Thorin said and Bilbo suddenly knew he was on the cusp of finding out the reasons behind the dwarf’s moodiness of the past few days. “I’ve grown fond of you, Bilbo Baggins. I know it hasn’t seemed that way, because I was so arrogant and indifferent towards you. But… I enjoy your company and your dry humour and I care deeply for you. It just took me a while to come to terms with that.”
Bilbo uttered another soft “oh” in surprise.
“Then you put your own life on the line to protect me,” Thorin continued. “To defend me, even though I treated you poorly. You nearly got yourself killed. I… I still cannot fathom it. And all I’ve been able to think of since is losing you. The thought of losing you… I was angry at myself because I wasn’t able to protect you. And I want to protect you and ensure your safety. I want you by my side when we retake Erebor. I want you there, to be mine, to be alive and well and… mine.”
The dwarf lifted his head to look directly at Bilbo, eyes shining. “And I was angry that my heart could be so easily bound to your fate.”
Bilbo didn’t even try to answer. He was too thoroughly rendered silent. His mind was reeling; he couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. It must have taken so much strength for Thorin to admit such things on such an important journey; to spend so much time brooding over it. Bilbo could hardly imagine the battle that must have raged in Thorin’s mind. It must have caused him so much pain and frustration. To speak his mind or to keep quiet? It made Bilbo’s poor heart race and his legs tremble just knowing he meant so much to the dwarf. That, he, a small, homely hobbit with skills only in cooking and conkers had somehow won the heart of a dwarf king.
“I-” Bilbo swallowed roughly and tried again. “Thorin, I…” He reached out and placed a hand on Thorin’s rough cheek. “I followed you looking for adventure,” he said, matter-of-factly. Thorin’s gaze dropped as if in shame. “And you were right, I have never been more out of my depth. But this,” Bilbo removed his hand from the dwarf’s face only to clasp his hand instead. “What you’re implying. This. Us. I think I’d find that more agreeable.”
Thorin stared at Bilbo in a moment of wide-eyed shock. “I didn’t realise…” He said finally, his face shifting through a myriad of emotions before settling on something more serious. “You know I cannot guarantee less adventure. And I may not be able to guarantee your safety, no matter how much I try.”
Bilbo smiled a little at that. “I’ve always known that and it didn’t stop me leaving my home. Besides, I promised you that I would help you take back your home if I could. I intend to honour that.”
Bowing his head in acknowledgement, Thorin said, “I didn’t for a moment think you wouldn’t.”
“That was why I protected you,” Bilbo added softly. “Because Balin was right: you are someone who can lead and who people will follow without hesitating. Your kin will need you when you have your home back. I mean…” he chuckled slightly. “I can’t exactly imagine Kíli or Fíli on the throne.”
Thorin snorted. “No.”
“So I will be by your side when you retake your home. I’d be honoured. Though,” he paused for effect, “perhaps with a few sword lessons under my belt.”
“Of course,” the slight amusement in the dwarf’s voice vanished quickly. “And us… I know now is not the time. But later? When we have retaken Erebor, perhaps…?”
There was a hint of fear in his raw voice now. Fear that the Halfling would reject this offer. Bilbo could see all of that written on Thorin’s face and it made his chest ache. “I would like that. Without doubt, I would like that.” Relief flooded the dwarf’s face and he squeezed Bilbo’s hand tight.
“Until then know that you, Bilbo Baggins, have place in my heart and I… I would miss you greatly if you were ever lost to me.” Thorin murmured. And he leaned down and pressed a kiss to the hobbit’s forehead, letting the soft curls tickle his nose and breathing in the sweet earthly scent.
Bilbo’s breath hitched at the contact, however innocent. Then, shifting slightly, he pressed himself closer to Thorin, trying to convey that the feeling was mutual; that he felt the same; that he’d miss the dwarf too; that he understood now. Thorin hummed approvingly.
“The others won’t mind?” Bilbo suddenly asked, sitting up straight again and blushing furiously as he glanced around nervously.
“It should be no concern of theirs,” Thorin said sternly. “However, I do believe my nephews will be happy.” He gave a sly smile. “Happy and prone to making many insinuating comments.”
“Ah, why does that not surprise me?” Bilbo said dryly, with a shake of his head.
Thorin laughed outright at that and Bilbo thought on how lovely it sounded, so joyous and unburdened. With a private smile he made a mental note to entice more laughs out of the King Under the Mountain. He had a feeling it would be something he’d need to hold onto in the darker days to come.