To tell the truth, Bilbo feels off for quite some time before the fever comes down on him.
After the eagles deposit Thorin’s company on the massive stone at the edge of their territory, Gandalf immediately directs them towards someone he calls a friend. However the wizard’s ‘friend’ is some few days travel away and all their supplies were lost either in the mountain cave or stripped off of them by goblins.
Luckily they all got their weapons back for the most part and Dori has a few spools of twine. Bilbo borrows some and teaches Ori how to set rabbit snares while Kili goes hunting. They all of them have experience with foraging and the land around them is generous, but the nights run cold and they are forced to huddle together in an enormous pile in order to share heat.
That, Bilbo will later realize, is where the problem starts; boxed in on all sides by thirteen snoring unwashed dwarves who haven’t had the opportunity change clothing in over a week. After a night or so of that, Bilbo starts to feel an all-over restless itch that he can’t quite stop or ignore. He tries to though because he is in the same boat as his dwarves and is it any wonder that his skin has started to crawl?
It gets worse as the days pass and Bilbo is glad when Gandalf manages to trick the company’s way into Beorn’s good graces. However the itching crawling sensation remains and seeps down into his very bones so that Bilbo begins to have trouble even sitting still. He doesn’t make for a very good bed companion and considering that everyone shares one large tick mattress made of straw at the end of Beorn’s hall, that means he spends most nights crammed in between Thorin and Dwalin, both of whom have no qualms whatsoever about pinning him under a heavy arm or leg to calm his fidgets.
Bilbo wakes (for a given value of waking) groggily with someone’s palm on his forehead and then spread against his throat.
“Tis a fever. At least he’s timed it well.” Says Thorin and Bilbo manages to focus on him, which is good because now he knows which direction is up so he can get out of bed. The dwarf settles him back into the straw tick with a single hand. “None of that, burglar. You’re to rest for now. Oin will see to you.”
“G-gandalf?” Bilbo manages to bite the words out between chattering teeth and sighs as one of the younger dwarves (Kili, perhaps) tucks himself up at Bilbo’s back and lends him some body heat.
“Away for the moment.” Thorin snorts. “Wizard business, he says.”
“Hmmmph.” Bilbo makes an annoyed noise, but Thorin just nods his agreement. “T-thank you.” He murmurs as Thorin drops his cloak over both his nephew and Bilbo. It has a distinctive dwarfly musk to it, but the smell is familiar at least.
That is how Bilbo spends his convalescence; bundled up in various places, surrounded by dwarves, and occasionally leaned up against Beorn who is amused by the dwarrow approach to nursing.
“Do you not fear contagion?” Beorn asks at one point as he crouches nearby the fire where Bilbo is squashed in-between Bombur and Bofur as he fitfully dozes.
“Nah.” Bofur replies and absently checks Bilbo’s fever with the back of his hand. “Blast. He’s gone hot again. Brother, give us some more of that tea and I’ll pour it down his throat.”
“Oh gods.” Bilbo groans. He hates that tea. It is perhaps the most vile concoction he’s ever been subjected to and that includes his mother’s redwort infusion, which she swore by as a cure for every ailment.
“Drink iiiit.” Bofur replies without mercy. “He’s a hobbit. We’re dwarves. Disease doesn’t pass easily between the species.” He says this to Beorn as he pinches Bilbo’s nose shut and forces him to drink an entire cup full of the noxious brew Oin made for him. “There’d be a bit of danger if he were another dwarf, but it’s still easiest to watch each other like so.”
“I see.” Beorn agrees politely as Bilbo tries to kick free to escape the awful, awful brew.
The fevers stop after the first day, followed by chills, and then a persistent fatigue that would have Bilbo literally falling asleep in his soup if there weren’t always a dwarf nearby to catch him by the collar the moment he starts to list forward, but Bilbo wakes on the third morning clear-headed and in need of the necessary.
Thorin doesn’t move his arm at first when Bilbo tries to wiggle out from under it.
“I have to make water!” Bilbo protests in a voice thin and squeaky with sleep and Thorin lets him up with a put upon sigh.
“If you fall in, I won’t be the one to fetch you.” The dwarf grumbles and hunkers back down to sleep, but still watches Bilbo stumble towards the door.
It’s chilly outside, which feels good against Bilbo’s sleep-flushed skin. His clothes fit strangely, but then again he’s probably lost weight between all the exertions of his adventure followed by an illness. The sun is warming the sky, turning the clouds a pretty mix of pink and amber and it looks to be a good day until Bilbo closes the outhouse door and reaches into his trousers… only to find that something has gone missing.
Bilbo doesn’t want to think about just how long he –she spent groping around between her thighs hunting for her absent penis before his fingers registered the wiry curls protecting the soft folds of her vulva and finally realized what must have happened. It’s early and she’s been Change sick apparently, which are her only excuses for why it took so long.
“Oh bother!” Bilbo swears and kicks the side of the wall, which is foolish because it only makes her toes smart and does nothing to help her Change back. “I so dislike having to sit down for this.” She grumbles and has to fumble about with her belt and trousers until she’s able to complete her original errand.
The others are up and shuffling around in-between helpful little sheep and other animals, who have brought breakfast. Beorn is awake already and making a hearty meal of honeycombs, oat cakes, and beer.
“You seem better, my round little bunny!” He greets her with a warm flakey sweet cake and tilts her face from side to side to side with the very tips of his fingers. “Perhaps not so round anymore. You are thinner in your face and your person.” He says. “Feast now and regain what you have lost.” He pushes out a bench for her and gives her the entire cream pitcher.
“Thank you.” Bilbo says rather than explaining that her underlying bone structure has changed. She’s already examined herself as much as she can and she hasn’t actually lost much weight. Most of it has just migrated down to her hips, buttocks, and breasts. There are no mirrors handy so she cannot say what she looks like. By her own decision, Bilbo has lived as a male since her late tweens when swapping back and forth is much easier to do.
Going back to the Shire will be interesting, but perhaps not so troublesome. Bilbo is hardly the first hobbit to experience and accidental change. Normally though one has family and friends that notice what it going on and can take measures to stop it if the Change is undesirable.
Fili claps a hand on her forehead and throat as he sits down next to her. “You’re cool again.” He observes. “And bright-eyed! Feeling better are we?”
“More or less.” Bilbo sighs and despairs of her new soprano voice. It figures she’d have inherited her mother’s bell-like tones, which would be lovely if it weren’t such a marked change from her normal light baritone.
“Still a bit squeaky.” Fili hums and looks her over as his brow begins to crease. “Actually, you look a bit…”
“Please don’t say anything right now.” Bilbo sighs, pinching her temples with one hand. “I’ve already had one unpleasant episode this morning. I’d like to put the rest of it off for as long as I can.”
“Bilbo, you look like a girl.” Fili gulps as his eyes flicker down to the full weight of Bilbo’s breasts underneath her shirt. Augh, she’ll have to find something to use as a breast band and that’s just one more thing to worry about! “Now I know you didn’t have those yesterday.”
“No.” Bilbo agrees. “They would have come in last. Botheration. I haven’t been female since I was fifteen, Fili. I should never have come on this journey if I knew dwarves could trigger a Change …or at least I ought to have insisted that you invite some other women along.”
“You… I…” Fili gulps and lurches off the bench, pitching arse over teakettle as he scrambles away. “Uncle! UNCLE! WE BROKE THE BURGLAR!”
Beorn tears off a corner of his loaf and offers it to Bilbo. “Odd creature.” He says, watching Fili go. “Unchangeable folk are very high strung. Do not take their fretting to heart.”
“I shan’t.” Bilbo promises and makes a mental note to mend her waistcoat as soon as possible. It at least has laces in back to make it into an impromptu bodice in case of need. Sadly she won’t have the time or materials to make any skirts and will be stuck fumbling about with britches, which are not at all convenient to a woman’s body in Bilbo’s opinion. Some of her clever Took cousins have the habit of it, but she’s never been able to acquire it.
Shame, if she must be a woman and deal with the annoying hormonal and social aspects of it all then she thinks she’d at least like to enjoy being able to wear pretty dresses again. Perhaps once she gets home she’ll commission a new wardrobe and enjoy her new gender until enough time has passed to try forcing another Change.
Thorin stomps into view as Bilbo is slathering some tart red jam onto her bread. “Do you mind telling me what it is that my nephews are on about, burglar?” He looks a bit red-eyed and bleary, which means he didn’t sleep well… but Thorin’s never been unobservant and Bilbo can feel his eyes cataloguing her news shape. “What in the blackest depths…?”
“It turns out that I’ve been Change sick.” She sighs, putting her food down. Imagine! Changing at her age! It’s no surprise she was ill as long as she was the only wonder is that she was only down for three days. It’ll be a long while before she’s able to change again safely. “There are too many males in your party. It set me off.”
“M… you blame this on my kin?” He turns a dull shade of red and tries very hard not to let his gaze drop below her chin, which Bilbo appreciates. “How is this even possible?”
“Some folk have changeable natures.” Bilbo shrugs one shoulder and is a bit surprised to see Thorin’s eyes follow the motion and linger there until he jerks his gaze back up to her face. “Clearly not dwarves, if this bothers you so. We’re born without a defined gender and fluctuate back and forth between the two until we reach out majority and choose which we like best.” She pauses and tries not to blush. “…but sometimes one Changes after if there aren’t enough men or women in the community. It happens sometimes or can be forced if we’re surrounded by too many compatible members of the same gender. I do not blame anyone in our company, I am only frustrated. I didn’t realize that dwarrow men could trigger the change in me. I’m old for it, you understand?” She examines her hands, which are more delicate now and longer. What a shame that her little ring won’t fit her any longer. Her fingers were quite thick as a man and she doesn’t think it would fit even on her thumb. “The Change was not gentle.”
“Your illness?” Thorin is gaping at her and not with any expression she’s ever seen on him before. He rather favors Kili with that gobsmacked look on his face. “Can it be reversed?”
“Well, yes.” Bilbo frowns. “…but not any time soon. I would need to be solely in the company of hobbit women for many days and sleep amongst them at night. They would need to keep me close as the Change took place. Even then it might not take right away.” She admits slowly. “It’s hard to change the older one becomes.”
“I –I see.” Thorin visibly collects himself. “I offer you my apologies, burglar, on behalf of myself and my company. We did not intend to …alter you. Anything that can be done to secure your comfort will be done.”
“Oh, ah… thank you?” Bilbo squeaks and receives a nod in return before Thorin turns on his heel and stalks out of her presence. She looks to Beorn and says, “I think I see what you mean.”
“Have another cake.” Beorn advises her. “I doubt that they are finished.”
Bilbo takes two.