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Trees with black leaves. Thorns. Webs. Spiders. Giant spiders with poisonous sharp fangs.

'If only Gandalf was here...' he wonders in frustration. ‘That wizard is never around when you need him.’

But he doesn’t have time to thinking about the missing wizard or the fear that is consuming him. His friends are in danger. The Dwarves had all been captured by the spiders and he is the only one who can help them. But he's just a Hobbit. A small and scared gentlehobbit from the Shire, definitely not a warrior. His sword is not even a decent sword, but it’s the only thing he has.

He climbs the biggest tree and manages to get to where the thirteen dwarves are being held, hanging in its branches inside individual white cocoons made of spider webs. He is hidden behind a thick trunk and he can see the spiders are there, ready to eat the dwarves alive.

His heart is pounding inside his chest, there are too many spiders and he is only one. He takes a deep breath, he puts his fear aside and then he strikes the first spider with his sword.

 ****

The first thing that Bilbo Baggins noticed upon awakening was how his body was aching. He was lying face down on the wet ground, his body sprawled in an awkward position, feeling cold and sore. He felt a blistering pain on the left side of his body and instead of opening his eyes, he kept it shut tight, trying to return to his prior state of unconsciousness. It didn’t work. With a grunt of pain Bilbo opened his eyes, blinking a few times until his vision came into focus.

The first thing he saw was a dead giant spider right beside him. Bilbo jerked away from it, crawling on his hands and knees, trying to put as much distance between the creature and himself, but the movement sent a wave of pain through his body and the hobbit had to grit his teeth to keep from screaming.

Then he looked around. There were thick bushes surrounding him. Big black bushes with thorns. The thorns of these bushes were so long and thick that it looked like daggers and Bilbo considered himself lucky that it had not pierced his eyes when he fell. With great effort he managed to crawl toward a rock where he leaned against, panting and sweaty.

What had happened?

Bilbo looked to the dead spider only a few feet away from him, then everything came back to his mind: He and the dwarves were traveling through the forest when they had been ambushed by those spiders. Bilbo had managed to find his friends and he had fought fiercely against those awful creatures. He climbed the branches of the trees and cut the webs that bound his friends to the branches, he had managed to free all of them, he was sure. Then a spider appeared from nowhere and the two began to struggle. They had fallen from above the trees and Bilbo had fainted because of the impact.

That’s the reason why hobbits do not climb on trees.

He shook his head, his mother would be so proud of him if she could see him now. Bilbo chuckled silently, but he soon regretted doing it when the movement made him feel more pain. These dwarves... why couldn’t they take two steps without falling into a trap? First there were the trolls, the goblins later, and of course, Azog after that. Bilbo was sure that if he had read the contract carefully, he would have seen that his role in the Company of Thorin Oakenshield was not as they burglar, but as their personal savior. Bilbo deserved at least a second bowl of food tonight, and a ‘Thank you’ would be welcome as well.

"Thorin!" Bilbo shouted and then he started coughing. The pain on his left side was excruciating. That…had been a bad idea.

Bilbo waited for a while, but no answer came. The Hobbit frowned in confusion because the dwarves should be somewhere nearby.

"Balin!" Bilbo shouted again, calling for another dwarf this time. Perhaps they had split to look for him.

He listened to the sounds of the forest, but he didn’t hear no voice calling his name. He didn’t hear the voice of any of his friends, all he could hear was the sound of his own breathing.

"Fili?" He tried, his voice did not sound so loud this time. "Anyone?" His heart pounded inside his chest. Where were they? "Please!" He shouted.

Bilbo began to feel the panic growing inside him. He had freed his friends, all of them, before falling from the tree. He was sure of it. Before the clash against that spider, he had seen the dwarfs cutting their cocoons from inside out and starting to fight against the creatures as well. They were safe when Bilbo had last seen them, bruised but safe. Then… where could they be?

The pain on his side was unbearable and Bilbo could no longer ignore it. He knew that the pain was coming from his left side, but he had yet not dared to look at it. With difficulty, he managed to move enough to see what was causing him so much pain. Bilbo almost fainted again when he saw a thorn buried into his flesh. The thorn was about six inches long and it was buried just below his ribs on the left side, his shirt and his vest were soaked in blood.

"Help!" Bilbo cried helplessly.

The dwarves had to be around, they had to be! Bilbo kept shouting. The despair began to take over him. He had fallen among the thick bushes. What if the dwarves had called for him while he was unconscious? What if they had not found him? Could they have moved on thinking he was dead or something? Could they have left him behind?

'No, no, no, no, no... They can’t have done that, they have to be somewhere around here.' He thought in panic. 'I have to find them.'

Bilbo had to move. The incident with the spiders was not a long time ago, if he could stand up and look for the dwarves he was sure he could find them. He looked at the thorn like dagger buried in his flesh, he had to take it off. Bilbo raised a trembling hand and touched the part of the thorn that was visible and hesitated. Tears of despair began to roll from his eyes.

Bilbo had never been in a situation like this before, he was a Hobbit, he was not used to feeling this level of pain. He would not be able to do it himself.

"Help!" He shouted one last time, but he knew it was useless.

He tried again. He raised his trembling hand, closing it around the thorn. He closed his eyes and held his breath. He would do it quickly, maybe he would not feel so much pain.

‘One… two… three…’ he counted before pulling the thorn out. His cry was loud and reverberated through the silent forest.

Bilbo stood there, leaning against the rock, dazed and panting as if all the air of the forest had disappeared. He had one hand pressed against the wound to stop the bleeding and he stayed like that for a while. But he had managed to get the entire thorn out of him, so let's count that as a victory. When Bilbo regained his strength and felt a little less like he was going to pass out, he remembered that he had to find his friends. He tore a strip of his cloak and improvised a bandage with it. That was not the cleanest bandage ever made, but it would have to be enough until he could find Oin, the healer of the company.

With great difficulty, Bilbo managed to get up, but he got dizzy and almost fell again. Once he managed to stand, Bilbo started walking through the forest.

He continued to shout the names of the dwarves, walking wobbly through the trees. He didn’t know if he was on the trail or not. His head was buzzing and he felt very cold. After a while, every step was torture. He felt as if he had walked for hours and yet had found no sign of Thorin and his company.

"Thorin ..." Bilbo whispered leaning on a tree and slipping to the floor.

The pain was too much. He was so tired. He knew he had to keep going, but he had no more strength to keep himself upright. 'I’ll close my eyes, only for a moment...' he thought before falling asleep.

 

****

 

The next morning - at least Bilbo thought it was morning, it was hard to know in the darkness of that forest, so let's say 'when he woke up' - he started looking for the thirteen dwarves again. The pain was worse than it was the day before, but he could not let that hold him back. During those months in which he was traveling with the dwarves, all he heard were stories of how they were brave in battle, how they kept fighting despite being injured. They were warriors, and an injury like the one Bilbo had would be considered only a scratch by the dwarf standards. No reason at all to give up. It was with great effort that Bilbo had been trying to prove he was worthy of his place among them, he was worthy of their respect, so he had to show he was strong. Thorin… he would be so disappointed. So he went looking for his friends.

****

On the third day, Bilbo stopped calling for his friends, not because he had given up, but because he no longer had voice. He had been screaming for three days non-stop and he hadn’t drink a single sip of water. He had no words to describe how his throat was dry and sore. Like a ghost, Bilbo was still wandering in the woods, alone in the dark. When night fell, Bilbo leaned against a tree and curled up in a ball, trying to make as little noise as possible. Because he could hear all the noises that the darkness brought and it was terrifying. He knew that those spiders were still there, and there were other evil things wandering in this forest and he was unable to defend himself. He laid there, trembling from head to toe, praying for daylight to arrive soon, and before he slept, he thought: "Thorin, where are you?"

 

****

 

Was it the eighth day or was it the tenth? Bilbo was not sure. Everything looked the same, the darkness had no end and nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed real. One day he thought he heard Kili laughing, far away beyond the trees. He was so happy because he had finally found his friends, but his joy was short lived. He followed the voice, and it seemed like he was wandering deeper and deeper inside the forest. He kept hearing that laugh, but then he realized that it was he who was laughing. Then he cried.

The pain was so intense that he couldn’t feel it anymore, it had become part of his being, as well as the hunger and the thirst. He chose to ignore these things.

He had to accept the truth: he was lost.

He knew that from the very first day, but he didn’t want to believe it. He finally acepted that he was walking in circles when he went through the same tree fifteen times - fifteen times after he started counting. Another thing he had to accept was that he wouldn’t find Thorin and the others. Never.

Damn those dwarves, who took him from his comfortable home in the Shire just for him to die alone in the forest, listening to his own cries until the last hour. And damn Gandalf, who convinced him to partake in such nonsense. And for what? For the adventure? Pff, a great adventure indeed. He was alone in the forest, the dwarves had abandoned him and he would die there, maybe by starvation, or because of his wound that was infected, perhaps some horrifying beast would come his way and put an end to his suffering. At this point he no longer cared which way he would die as long as it happened soon.

That night, as usual, he leaned against a tree to sleep. Before falling asleep, he thought about Thorin again and the words he never said to the dwarf king and would never say given the circumstances. He slept peacefully that night, not really caring if he would wake up the next morning.

 

****

 

The blond elf and the red-haired one walked side by side in the forest. They were not hunting nor patrolling the perimeter, but occasionally they liked going out, just for the fun of it. The two were friends since they could remember, and it was natural that they would take long walks on the forest just to talk.

"The prisoners have not spoken yet?" The redhead elf asked brushing a leaf that had been tangled in one of her braids.

"No." The blonde replied, frowning. "The King interrogated their leader, but it was worse than talking to a stone."

The elf woman giggled.

"I'm sure the King, persuasive as he is, will make them talk sooner or later." She said.

"I hope so. I don’t feel comfortable with so many prisoners in our kingdom." He said thoughtfully.

 

They walked a few more steps until the she stopped halfway, making the blonde elf stop by pressing a hand on his chest.

"What is that?" She said before running towards a tree. There was something lying at the roots of the tree, something really small, and she knelt down to see what it was.

"Tauriel!" The blond elf said, following her.

Even before the blond elf knew what it was he grabbed his bow and aimed toward that thing. Slowly he came closer and saw Tauriel turning around to look at him with wide eyes. She had wrapped the creature in her cloak and held it in her arms like it was a baby.

"It's alive!"

 

Chapter Text

The blond elf led Tauriel right to the infirmary. She was still holding the creature they had found in the woods carefully in her arms, as if the slightest pressure could hurt him even more. They reached the infirmary and found it empty - elves hardly got sick - so he sent a young guard to find the healer.

Once they were alone, the blond elf took a few steps back but didn't take his eyes of Tauriel, still feeling a little bit wary about that unknown creature. He saw Tauriel gently placing the little creature on a bed.

"Are you sure it was a good idea to bring it into the palace?" The blond elf asked, eyeing the creature with suspicion as Tauriel unwrapped him of her cloak.

"Would you have left him out there to die?" She asked.

"I don’t know." He answered truthfully. "This forest doesn’t shelter innocent things anymore. The darkness has tainted everything that was once green and good." he said with a pang of sadness "There are only evil things lurking out there."

Tauriel sighed.

"Look at him, Legolas." Tauriel said almost pleading. "Does he seems evil to you?"

No. He didn’t seem evil. But that was the problem.

It made him think about one time when they were children. Tauriel had found a kind of feline in the woods, injured and hungry. Probably he had got into a fight with another of its kind and had been defeated and then abandoned. She also had brought the poor animal to the palace. She took care of him and fed him. But she did not tell anyone and kept it hidden in her quarters. When the cat was healthy enough, it managed to escape her quarters and ended up attacking one of the guards. The elf had not been badly injured, but the cat had to be put down. She did not understand that a wild animal could not be a pet, no matter how cute it was.

It was all happening again.

"Not all you see is what it seems to be, Tauriel." Legolas said. He did not need to go on a lecture about the subject.

"I know." She said looking away. She understood his wariness, at least.

"I will report this to the king." He said.

Tauriel nodded, but made no move to follow him. Legolas sighed and left the infirmary.

Legolas walked with quick steps through the corridors of the palace of the Woodland realm. He had to find the King, this kind of things had to be brought to Thranduil's attention as soon as possible.

In one of the corridors, Legolas ran into a guard. He took the opportunity to ask him where he could find the King. The guard bowed to him before answering. The king was in the throne room, interrogating the leader of the group of prisoners who were currently filling their dungeons. Legolas nodded and headed to the throne room. He knew he should not disturb the king when he was in a 'meeting', but the matter was quite urgent.

The throne room was located three floors above, so he ran up the stairs. When he reached the large wooden doors of the throne room, he found them closed. Usually, this kind of 'meetings' were held behind closed doors, away from prying eyes. But he could hear the voice of his king from the other side of the thick doors.

"Stay here if you will, and rot. Maybe some time in my dungeons may loosen your tongue. A hundred years is a mere blink in the life of an Elf. I'm patient. I can wait." He heard Thranduil's voice saying, probably to the prisoner.

His father had always been dramatic.

Then, Legolas heard footsteps approaching and what seemed to be someone cursing in a foreign language. He took a step back at the same time as the doors were being open. Two guards came out of the throne room, holding the prisoner by his arms. He struggled and growled, demanding to be freed. Legolas paid him no mind and stepped into the throne room.

Legolas saw Thranduil, the King, sitting on his throne. He was dressed in his gray velvet robe, he had a crown made of berries and red leaves adorning his head and his blond hair covered his shoulders. The King was pinching the bridge of his nose, apparently tired.

"The prisoner is already giving you a headache, father?" Legolas said, approaching the throne.

"I will live yet another thousand years before meeting someone as stubborn as this one. But sooner than later he'll tell me why he and his cronies were trespassing my lands. I do have my suspicions, but I want him to confirm it." Thranduil sighed and raised his head to look at Legolas with a raised eyebrow. "What brought you back so soon, my son? I thought you were in the woods with Tauriel doing... you know... things."

"Father!" Legolas said with a shocked face. "We were just talking!"

"Uh, that's how you younglings are calling it these days? That is odd." Thranduil said with a smile.

Legolas rolled his eyes. He knew his father liked to tease him since he found out about his unrequited feelings for Tauriel and it was quite annoying sometimes. On the other hand it was good to know that his father loved her like a daughter and would be happy to see their friendship evolve into something more serious.

But Legolas had no time to think about it now, there were more important things to be discussed.

"Father, please." Legolas said shaking his head. "I'm here to tell you that something happened in the woods while we were there, something intriguing.” He could not come with a better word.

That smile left Thranduil's face and was replaced by a frown.

"What happened?" The king asked, becoming serious. Everything that happened in the Woodland Realm should be analyzed with caution. That was his kingdom, his territory. He had caught the intruders a few days ago, but would there be more of them?

"We found something in the woods, Tauriel and I, and I think you should see it."

Wordlessly, The Elven King rose from his throne and walked down the wooden steps to reach the floor. He approached his son with an unreadable expression on his face.

"Show me."

 

****

 

Thranduil followed Legolas back to the infirmary. While they were walking, the prince told the king that Tauriel and he were walking through the woods, just talking - no pun intended - and then, they found the creature curled on the floor next to a tree and Tauriel had insisted that they had to bring the creature to be cared for by their healers. The king remained silent as he listened to the story. Legolas knew that Thranduil was considering whether he should kill the creature right away or if he should interrogate it first. Legolas had said he was wearing clothes when they found him, so he must have some intelligence - or must be in the company of someone intelligent. Maybe he was a pet. He did not know it yet, but he would find out.

 

The king walked with long strides and soon they reached the infirmary of the palace. He opened the door and saw Tauriel and the healer next to a bed. They seemed busy tending to the mysterious creature. Thranduil could see what seemed to be rags lying on the floor in a corner of the room, probably those were the clothes that the creature had been wearing. Beside the bed in a small table, there was a bowl filled with bloody bandages and the king could also smell the herbs they were using to disinfect the wound.

He could not see the creature from that distance, so he approached the bed silently, Legolas walking beside him. Tauriel and the healer were so focused on their task that they had not realized that the king was in the room.

"Is It going to live?" The king asked, startling the Tauriel and the healer.

Tauriel turned around and looked at the king as a child caught doing something wrong. She bowed slightly and looked at the king again.

"I think so. He has an infected wound and he is also malnourished and dehydrated, but he will survive." She seemed hopeful. "We found him...”

"My son told me." Thranduil said, raising a hand to stop her. "What is he?"

"We don't know, I've never seen anything like it before." The healer said.

Thranduil waved his hand and that was Tauriel's clue to give him space. She walked around the bed to join the healer on the other side of the bed, watching the king approaching the sleeping creature.

A heavy silence fell in the room.

Thranduil saw that it was a very small creature and he was definitely male. He was lying naked on the bed, but Tauriel had covered his lower region with a blanket. He had blond curled hair, but it was dirty, and dry leaves were tangled on it. His face had delicate features, young, with pale skin and long eyelashes. He looked very small and thin, as if he had been starving for a long time.

Thranduil was puzzled.

He was not human, he was sure. Humans had not pointed ears.

He was not an elf. He was too little in height.

He also was not a dwarf. The lack of hair on his body and face was evident.

Thranduil was an old elf, old enough to see some things that ordinary eyes could not perceive. Sometimes he could see the character of a person without even needing to speak directly to them. It was like there was a kind of aura around them. He could see the arrogance of the elves, the greed of the dwarves, the ignorance of the men, but this creature... the aura around him was… pure. As if the evil of the world had not corrupted him. It was innocent, chaste, virginal. For a moment Thranduil was flabbergasted. That creature was simply...

"Beautiful." Thranduil whispered.

"Is he dangerous, my king?" The healer asked, taking the king of his reverie.

"No. He is not." The King cleared his throat and looked at Tauriel. "Once you have finished taking care of his wounds, take him to my quarters."

"My king?" Tauriel asked not understand what the king meant by that.

"My quarters. I want him to be comfortable while he is recovering."

“Oh, yes. Of course." She said.

Thranduil looked at the little creature again before leaving the infirmary, his heart pounding in his chest. He felt a desire to protect that creature, like he hadn't felt since Legolas was just a child.

Perhaps Thranduil was making a mistake by choosing not to kill him, after all, he still didn't know what that creature really was, or what he was doing wandering in Mirkwood of all places, but he would find out. Meanwhile, he had no reason to harm the creature. He would keep him safe and comfortable, he would take care of him.

"This is going to be very interesting." Thranduil mused as he walked to his quarters.

Chapter Text

Bilbo wasn't sleeping, but he wasn't awake either. He was somewhere between nothingness and moments of consciousness that were filled with excruciating pain, during which he pleaded for the nothingness to take him again.

He heard voices around him, voices he did not recognize, but he couldn't pay attention to them, not when he was feeling such pain, mixed with the feeling that he was burning from the inside out.

He was so thirsty.

Bilbo tried to open his mouth to ask for some water, maybe those voices belonged to someone who could help him, but he just couldn't do it, he didn't have strength enough. But then he wondered if those voices were just in his head and even if he could talk and scream for help, no one would help him.

He didn't fight the nothingness when it came to take him again, and silently he prayed he wouldn't wake up again.

****

Thranduil was watching the pained expression on the little one's face as he changed the bandages of his wounded side. The little one had been brought to his quarters last night and so far he hadn't shown any sign that he was waking up, that is, not exactly. Sometimes the little one would open his eyes, but they were empty and unfocused and Thranduil doubted that he was aware of where he was or what was happening around him. However, the injury no longer seemed to be life threatening, the infection seemed to be receding, but he still had a high fever and he was pale as the sheets of the bed.

"Aeron, please, go fetch some more of that concoction, he seems to be in pain." The king said to the young assistant of the healer, who had been in a corner of the room, silently waiting for orders.

"I will be right back, sir." Aeron said and bowed his head respectfully.

He promptly left the royal quarters and headed to the medical ward to get some more of that tea the elder healer had made with some medicinal herbs that worked both to fight infection and to minimize the pain, helping the little one to sleep peacefully.

Thranduil had dismissed the help of the elder healer, claiming that he would be the one responsible for taking care of their little guest. However, the healer had insisted that at least his assistant should be there to help him if he needed, but Thranduil was doing everything by himself, asking for Aeron's assistance only when it was necessary to bring more medicine from the medical ward.

Thranduil finished patching the little one's wound. The king then proceeded with the task of gently get him dressed again with a small white nightgown made of silk, a child's nightgown, giving him the modesty he did not have back there in the infirmary. His frame was so small and fragile that Thranduil felt like he was dressing a sleeping baby. The feeling warmed his heart somehow, making him remember the time when Legolas was a newborn and that sometimes it had been him, Thranduil, who had bathed him and dressed him.

A fond smile found its way to his lips at that memory, but it did not last long, because the small blonde creature soon began to squirm on the bed and small beads of sweat began to trickle down his forehead.

He was in pain.

Thranduil didn't know why he had the urge to do that, but he reached out his hand and touched the little one's cheek, stroking it affectionately. His skin was hot with fever, but it was so soft...

He was so... fragile.

Once again, the king wondered  how the little one had come to his lands. He was too small to have reached Mirkwood on his own, so, someone had brought him. And probably had abandoned him when he had been hurt, judging him a burden to be carried.

Anger ran through the veins of the elven king. He could not accept that someone could have abandoned such an innocent creature to die in the forest. Oh, he must have been so afraid alone in the woods, abandoned, betrayed by the people who should have taken care of him.

Well, if the little one belonged to no one, Thranduil would take him for himself. It was his right. He was the king of Mirkwood, therefore, the owner of everything that wandered into the Woodland realm.

And he took good care of everything that was his.

"Sshhh, it's okay." Thranduil whispered, trying to comfort the blond little one and himself, covering him with a blanket. "I'll take care of you, I'll make the pain go away."

****

Bilbo walked the path through the forest. He felt so cold, so hungry... so tired. Bilbo walked right behind Bofur - he could see the shape of his funny hat even in the darkness - being careful not to stray from the group. Gandalf had said it was very important that they should not leave the path, or they would get lost. He knew he was not alone because he could hear the footsteps of his other friends echoing in the silence of the forest and their voices as they talked with each other. Right ahead, Fili and Kili were arguing about something silly - as usual - and Thorin was scolding them, although he could not discern the words that were being said. The sounds seemed so distant, muffled, as if he were under the water.

He wondered that even cold, hungry and tired as he was, at least he was not alone.

Suddenly, Bilbo felt a terrible pain on his side, right below his ribs, making him scream and fall to his knees. He brought a hand to his side, trying to figure out what had happened. He felt that there was something sharp buried in his flesh, a thorn, and when he looked at his hand, it was soaked with blood.

The worst part was his dwarves did not seem to be realizing that Bilbo was hurt, and they kept walking undisturbed as if nothing had happened.

"Wait! I'm hurt!" He croaked in desperation, trying to draw the attention of the dwarves. "Thorin! Wait! Come back! Don't leave me here!" He shouted, but it was too late, he could no longer hear the echo of the voices of his friends and could not see their shadows in the darkness of Mirkwood. He was alone, he had been left behind.

"Thorin!"

****

Thranduil was still keeping watch over the little one through the night. He didn't know how long he had been there sitting in that chair beside the bed without taking his eyes of that little form covered by the blankets, but when he turned his head to look around, he saw that Aeron was sleeping in a chair near the door of the room, head tilted to the side and snoring softly.

"Aeron." Thranduil called softly.

Poor Aeron woke up with a start and almost fell off his chair, then he stood on his feet awkwardly. Thranduil couldn't help but chuckle when he saw the frightened face of the young elf.

"It's everything alright with the little one, my king?" The young elf with blond hair asked, visibly worried.

"Yes, nothing has changed." Thranduil sighed. "It's late. You may go back to your quarters and get some sleep. Today was a long day for all of us."

"Are you sure?"

"I'll watch over him." Thranduil assured him.

Aeron nodded, smoothing the wrinkles on his robe.

"Good night, my king." Aeron bowed and left the royal quarters, leaving Thranduil alone with his little guest.

Thranduil smiled to himself. Just like Tauriel, Aeron had fallen in love with the little one as soon as he had laid his eyes on him. Thranduil could not blame him. Aeron was a good lad, always smiling, always helpful, trying to help everyone as much as he could. One day he would be a great healer.

"Please..."

Thranduil heard a muffled voice that snapped him out of his musings. It took a while for him to realize that the voice had come from the little creature lying in bed in front of him.

With incredible speed, the elven king stood up from his chair and leaned over the little one, examining his face. For a moment, Thranduil thought that the little one had woken up, but even in the dim light of the candles arranged around room, he could see that his eyes were not open. He was still unconscious, and he was probably having a nightmare.

"P-please..." The little one said again, and this time the king could see tears falling down his rosy cheeks. "Don't... don't leave me a-alone..."

Thranduil didn't know what he should do. Should he call for Aeron to come back? Should he give him some more medicine? But then he remembered one time when Legolas was still a child and had been sick and he had terrible nightmares induced by fever.

Only one thing had soothed his son.

Without thinking, Thranduil sat on the bed, leaning his back on the headboard. Then, he gently took the little one in his arms - with the blankets and everything - and once he was sure that the little one was properly wrapped and comfortable in his arms, the king began to rock him, whispering reassurances in his ear.

"Sshhh, it's alright, nothing is going to hurt you. You are safe."

"Please ... don’t ... leave me… alone ..." The little one sobbed, and somehow, Thranduil felt his own heart breaking.

Thranduil tightened his grip around the small body in his arms because that was what he needed, to feel comforted, to feel that he was not alone.

"I’m here. I won’t go anywhere. You are not alone." He whispered and kissed the little one’s temple.

Thranduil started humming an old song he had sung to his son whenever he needed comfort. Not that he was seeing the little one as his child, but now he felt very protective towards him, and all he wanted to do was take care of him and wipe his tears.

A few minutes later the little one seemed to settle down and he went back to sleep, relaxing in the arms of the elven king and snuggling against his chest. But even if the little one seemed not to be suffering from nightmares anymore, the king kept him in his arms all night. And while he was there, only one word kept echoing in his head.

"Mine." Thranduil whispered smiling.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next morning - after having spent all night guarding the little one’s sleep - Thranduil was sitting in his throne, listening to his guards while they were giving their daily reports about what was happening in the Woodland realm. He had one long leg crossed over the other and a restless foot bouncing up and down. He was also braiding a small section of his long blonde hair absentmindedly.

The picture of boredom.

Not that he thought the affairs of the kingdom were boring - after all he was the King, and as such, he had to be aware of what was happening in his kingdom - but these reports were taking too long and his head was somewhere else, far away, with the little treasure he had left sleeping in his bedchamber.

Once again Thranduil caught himself wondering where that creature had come from, how had he come to his lands, how had he been hurt and who had left him to die alone in the forest. But now, other questions were flooding his thoughts: How will he react when he wakes up? Will he be scared? And of course: Will he like me?

The Elven King had no doubt that the little one would be a bit skittish for waking up in a different place full of strange people. Thranduil would have to win his trust as he would do to a kitten. Thranduil had to approach the little one carefully, he would have to talk to him with a low, soft voice and move slowly so as not to scare him, make sure he would be comfortable and fed. In fact, he was looking forward to that, to have something to take care of and pamper and protect. That would be good for the little one because he definitely needed someone to care for him, and it would be good for Thranduil as well. Exercising his caring side wasn't something he did very often.

"Sir?" Thranduil heard a soft, feminine voice taking him from his reverie.

"What?" he asked distractedly

The Elven King lifted his head and saw Tauriel standing there, right in front of him, looking at him questioningly. She had just given her report and Thranduil heard nothing of what she said. Somewhat embarrassed by his lack of attention, Thranduil straightened up on his throne, tossed his new braid over his shoulder and cleared his throat, assuming a posture more fit for a King in a meeting.

"My apologies, Tauriel, I was distracted. What were you saying?"

The she-elf smirked, but soon her usual stoic expression was back on her face.

"I was saying, my King, that we've found that group of orcs who managed to cross the borders of our lands. We've already dealt with the problem."

"Oh, yes. Good to know." Thranduil smiled approvingly. "There are too many of these abominable creatures wandering in my lands lately, tainting everything with their filth presence." Then, Thranduil looked at Tauriel in the eyes. "You did well, Tauriel, but try to bring me one alive next time, so I can interrogate it. I want to know why they suddenly chose Mirkwood as a traveling route."

Tauriel nodded and bowed, to show that she had understood the King's request and that she would obey him. But then, she lifted her head and looked to the King and he could see hesitation in her face.

"Uh... My Lord, may I ask you something?" The red-haired elf asked hesitantly, as if she didn't know if she was allowed to ask.

Curious, Thranduil nodded and motioned for her to approach because it seemed like it was a delicate matter. He just wondered if it had something to do with Legolas. The she-elf took a few steps forward and when she was close enough to be heard only by Thranduil, she spoke:

"I was wondering if the little one is alright." She said with a hesitant, soft voice "I know your quarters are the most comfortable place for him to be, and that he's being taken care of... but... I just wanted to know if he's alright ... If he's awake."

Thranduil looked at his most skilled guard in silence for a moment. He knew Tauriel was worried about the little one because it had been her who had found him and brought him to the Palace. In fact, he was actually surprised that Tauriel hadn't asked it sooner.

"He's fine, don't you worry. He hasn't woken up yet, but I believe that soon he will." Thranduil assured her and he could see the relief that flooded the red-haired elf's face.

"I'm glad to hear that, Sir." She smiled.

"As soon as he wakes up and he's feeling well enough, you can pay him a visit, if you want." Thranduil added, knowing very well that it was one more thing that Tauriel wanted to ask but has refrained herself from doing so for thinking it was improper.

Tauriel face lit up.

"Would you allow me, my king?" she asked hopefully.

"Would it stop you from sneak into my quarters if I forbid you to see him?" he said raising one thick eyebrow.

Tauriel looked away like an elfling caught with her hand in the honey jar, but a smile was in her face, nonetheless.

"No." she answered what he already knew.

Thranduil looked at her unimpressed.

"Is that all, Tauriel?"

"Yes, my king." she said.

The king waved dismissively and Tauriel understood that her meeting with the king was over.

Thranduil shook his head and sighed. Tauriel wasn't the only elf who had expressed the wish to see the little one, they were curious and anxious to meet that exotic creature and he couldn't blame them. Thranduil giggled fondly. Even unconscious, the little one seemed to have smitten all the elves of Mirkwood.

It didn’t matter, the little one belonged just to one elf.

 

****

When Bilbo finally woke up it was as if he were emerging from under the water, gasping for air, confused and disoriented.

The first thing he noticed about his surroundings was that he was lying on something soft and comfortable like a bed. He could feel a soft pillow under his head and the soft fabric of the sheets and blankets wrapped around him. He noticed a faint aroma of lavender and mint that seemed to come from the bedding, which was funny because his bedding smelled of roses.

Wait a minute, something was wrong.

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and for a moment he was amazed by what he saw: He wasn't in Bag End! Bilbo was in a bedchamber fit for a King!

Bilbo could only assume that it was really a dream.

Abruptly he tried to sit up but he felt a terrible pain in his side, causing him to scream in agony.

Okay, he wasn't dreaming, then.

Bilbo breathed deeply a few times to calm down. Only when he felt that the pain was more or less under control he dared to open his eyes again and look around. Yes, he was lying on a bed in the middle of a huge, sumptuous chamber with a fireplace on the other side of the room to make it warm and cozy. Bilbo frowned in confusion. He didn't know that place.

With difficulty, Bilbo tossed the blankets to the side. He was amazed at noticing that he wasn't wearing his clothes, but a white silk nightgown and nothing underneath it. He blushed embarrassed, because logically, if he hadn't put it himself, someone else had.

Oh, it was so inappropriate for a Baggins!

Determined to stand up and find out where he was, Bilbo sat up in the bed, but he leaned against the headboard of the bed, feeling dizzy. Also, his throat was terribly dry and it seemed like there was a hole in his stomach, as if it had been quite some time since he had drank or eaten anything.

He was getting more and more confused.

Once the room seemed to stop spinning around, Bilbo slowly stood up, standing on shaky legs. He was clutching his aching side and breathing deeply and slowly, trying to ignore the pain that the movement had caused him. The fact that he was in pain – probably hurt if the throbbing pain was anything to go by - was alarming in itself, but first he had to figure out where he was.

The hobbit looked to the side and saw that there were three large windows on the wall that was parallel to the bed and long white curtains were swaying with the wind that was blowing. Maybe if he could take a look on the outside, he could have a clue as to where he was.

With slow steps, Bilbo walked to the window on the middle, still clutching his side with one hand. It felt like it took an eternity to cross the room, but he finally got there, and with his free hand he opened the curtain.

Bilbo's chin almost touched the ground. His eyes widened and he felt goosebumps on his neck and arms when he saw the image in front of him. First of all, what he first thought it was a window was actually the door a balcony. There were twigs like vines that twisted and tangled together to form a natural railing, but that wasn't the reason why Bilbo was so shocked.

All he could see were trees. Trees, trees and more trees, not even a square centimeter of lawn or open fields.

He wasn't in the Shire.

The impression he had was that he was in the canopy of a very tall tree, surrounded by other equally tall trees. It was morning, the sun bathed everything and somehow he could see there was an unnatural, almost magical glow coming from those trees.

How odd.

Then he saw some blue birds flying from one of the tallest trees to a smaller one. He followed the flight of the birds with his eyes, awed by the beauty of those birds that he had never seen in the Shire. That's when his eyes spotted something shiny far, far below. Taking a brave step forward into the balcony - Yes, Hobbits do have a fear of heights - Bilbo dared to look down. The shiny thing that he had seen was the sun reflecting in the waters of a river.

Bilbo didn't know if it was because of the persistent pain in his side, or if it was because he finally understood how far he was from the ground, or if he was just overwhelmed by what he was seeing, but he suddenly felt very dizzy and he began to lose his balance.

Bilbo could feel that he was falling backwards. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the impact and the certain pain that would follow, but instead of hitting the ground he landed on something soft, but firm. He was out for a second or two, and when he came around, he felt strong, gentle arms holding him.Bilbo had his back pressed against the chest of this person who also had one arm around his waist to keep him more or less upright. Someone had caught him before he could hit the floor of the balcony.

"Valar!" a male voice exclaimed from somewhere in the distance. "Is he alright, my Lord?"

"I don't know, Aeron, I think he fainted." the person who was currently holding Bilbo replied with a hint of concern.

Bilbo felt a hand gently touching his face. The hobbit was still feeling his head spinning like a windmill, but he forced himself to open his eyes and when he did, that gentle hand on his cheek moved to his chin, lifting it up.

The hobbit was met by a pair of eyes, so blue and clear as the waters of the river below the balcony. These eyes were accompanied by an impressive beautiful face, almost unnatural. It was only when Bilbo saw his pointy ears and his silvery blonde hair that he understood who his savior was.

An Elf.

Oh.

"Are you alright, my little one?" his Savior asked him with a deep voice, his piercing blue eyes roamed his face, probably looking for a sign that would indicate that Bilbo would pass out again.

"I..." Bilbo stammered. "I d-don't know." He frowned

That was a good question. He was alright?

He was confused. The last thing he remembered before waking up was that he was in Bag End, sitting at the table, ready to eat a fish he had roasted for dinner. He had just woken up in a strange place with no idea of how he got there, he was in terrible pain so probably he had been wounded, and now he was in the arms of an unknown elf.

So the answer was no. He was not alright. He was in pain, confused and frightened.

Bilbo felt a lump in his throat that he couldn't swallow. The air didn't seem to find its way to his lungs and Bilbo began to feel his eyes burning with tears.

"Are you in pain?" asked the elf and Bilbo nodded, letting a tear roll down his face.

"Oh, my little one." The elf tightened his grip around Bilbo - mindful of his injury - and said with a voice that was sweet and comforting. "Can you tell me your name?"

"B-Bilbo... Bilbo B-Baggins." Bilbo replied stuttering.

"Very well, Bilbo Baggins. Take a deep breath and calm down. We will take care of you." The elf told him, as if it was a decision already made.

"B-but, but I..."

"Shhh." The blond elf shushed him, taking him in his arms and lifting him up "You're safe now, there's no reason to be scared." He said, carrying Bilbo with no difficulty back into the chamber. "You're in the Woodland realm, I am the King, Thranduil is my name, and you are under my protection now."

Bilbo's eyelids started getting heavy. He was sure his little trip to the balcony had been too much for him and he was falling asleep again. He felt himself being gently lowered on the bed and he felt the covers being pulled over him. He tried to keep his eyes open, he didn't want to sleep because he was in a strange place with strange people and he was very vulnerable, but the elf -Thranduil - had assured that he was safe and that he was under his protection, so he had no choice but to trust the Elven King.