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Bruised and Battered Heart

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Many would say true warriors knew no fear. Some would insist on it, actually. It was utter rubbish, of course. Warriors knew fear just like everybody else.

Dwalin certainly knew fear, had experienced it plenty of times in his long life.

If someone had asked him before the quest he would have explained that, in his opinion, there were three different kinds of fear: first, the one that was more of a foreboding feeling than an imminent threat, a niggling sensation of sorts that gave a brief lurch in the stomach; second, the one that had him hesitate going to sleep, knowing he’d be plagued by night terrors. And third the one that could choke him in a terrible grip, nearly suffocating, momentarily making the knees feel like jelly and the blood rush in his ears. This one happened frequently when there was danger and it was the one he was most familiar with.

All of those fears Dwalin could face, and had faced more times than he cared to remember.

The first one was easiest to brush aside, as foreboding feelings couldn’t be helped and were nothing to worry about when every dwarf’s future was in Mahal’s hand. Often the foreboding feeling went hand in hand with instinct, honed in a century of a warrior’s life. It had saved him more oft than disturbed him.

The second type of fear could easily be remedied by drinking more ale, until he passed out in a dreamless stupor. Didn’t work of course when there was no ale to be had or when he was on duty. Which had led him to learn to cope with very little sleep.

The third type of fear usually only lasted a moment, freezing even the stoutest, bravest heart, prompting Dwalin immediately to grind his teeth and grip his axes tighter, readying himself to face the enemy in a surge of adrenaline.

Dwalin could recount the times this third kind of fear held him in its utterly suffocating, terrible grip without difficulty: the day Smaug came, when the trek of survivors crossed the Misty Mountains and was ambushed by orcs on wargs, causing carnage amongst the already vulnerable weakest amongst their numbers. Then the endless terror of Azanulbizar, where days and weeks and months of terror bled into each other into one seamless nightmare. Then during the quest, when they saw Azog alive and his fool of a king went after the white orc on his own.

Overall that wasn’t so bad for a lifetime of hardship.

Or so he thought.

Mirkwood, however, had taught him a new kind of fear. The blasted forest had been a terror no axe could fight and Dwalin had almost been glad when the spiders came upon them.

Being stuck in the wood sprite’s dungeons had been yet another new kind of fear. One that had him feel utterly helpless and with the dread of all hope lost, yet again. The same fear he felt when they were finally in the mountain and Thorin fell to the gold sickness. Helplessness and all hope lost.

Charging into battle had been good. Dwalin had not felt fear then. He was ready to die a warrior’s death if need be.

If not for Bilbo that would have concluded his knowledge of fear. 

But the quest had taught him yet another fear. The kind that made his heart feel as if it had been set on fire and doused in ice cold water at the same time. The one that had his big hands go sweaty and his mouth go dry. The one that had his stomach churn and his dwarfhood twitch. The one that made him acutely aware of his age, of every scar on his face and hands, of every bad and depraved thought he ever had in his life, of every time he rejoiced in smashing something and killing someone, of every time he had been less than gentle and more than happy to be rough.

That fear had entirely to do with Bilbo Baggins.

He had not liked bringing the hobbit along as their burglar. Not at all. She was a soft creature and her place was in her warm, comfortable home, not in the Wilds. Yet both his King and the damnable wizard had decided otherwise.

Dwalin had kept his distance. She was one more chore to him after all, one more weak link whose safety fell to his responsibility. He had barely spoken to her for months, trying to keep her firmly in the realm of annoying oddity during the day and of lonely fantasy during the night, and the fear at bay. Because that new kind of fear gripped him almost constantly when in the proximity of Bilbo Baggins.

Fear to open up to her, only to be rejected. Fear to show the softness in his heart he had buried so deep inside of him that he was almost sure it could never be uncovered. Fear that it would be another night’s watch where she sought him out to simply sit next to him in silence, rendering him speechless and dumb, with his blood rushing so loudly in his ears that he would not even have heard an army of orcs racing towards them, and with the blood rushing from his brain to his dwarfhood, making him painfully hard and uncomfortable. The fear that every time Bilbo raised her gaze to look at him with her hazel eyes she would finally see all his scars and recognize his age and decrepitness and step back in disgust.

Oh, aye, he had tried to keep his distance and used his gruff manners like a shield. She was undeterred by his hard exterior though. In fact, her unerring kindness and friendly manners had continuously chipped away at his hard shell. He could say with all honesty that nobody had ever treated him with as much care and courtesy as Bilbo Baggins; she had never looked at him as if he was a beast either - apart maybe on the first night, when he had barged into her home and eaten her dinner without so much as a by your leave.

By the end of the quest she had well proven her courage and loyalty, and completely ensnared him with her sarcastic, witty character. Under all her prim and proper manners she was a little firecracker and there had been many a night where he had to take himself in hand at the thought of soft curves in his arms and his nose in honey-golden curls.

But even that worst fear he’d ever known was nothing compared to the fear that gripped his very soul when the ice broke under Bilbo’s feet and her small figure disappeared into the freezing water on Ravenhill.

A part of him cursed viciously. He should have known, he should have foreseen it, he was a warrior, he should have anticipated it: The thick ice on the frozen water of Ravenhill had cracked during the battle between Azog and Thorin. The king had barely managed to stay on his feet on the floating shards, and Azog had shattered them even more when he broke thorough the ice to pin Thorin down. Dwalin’s heart had clenched and he could only stare, too far away to intervene and busy with the never ending stream of goblins and orcs alike, his mouth agape and his breath hitching, sure that this would be the end of his King. But then Azog suddenly howled in pain and collapsed to his side. And while Thorin managed to roll out under him and take his head with one mighty swing of his sword, the small, slight figure of Bilbo materialized on the ice not ten feet away from the victorious Durin, her little letter opener dripping with Azog’s black blood.

They had stared at each other for a moment, the king and the hobbit, and Thorin had fallen to his knees and said her name, reaching for her with his head bowed low in a gesture that showed his remorse about his actions with the whole damnable affair regarding the Arkenstone.

And then there had been a crack and the ice broke under the hobbit’s furry feet and Bilbo fell without even the time to shriek. She instantly was swallowed by the dark, icy water, honey-blonde curly hair and all. Before Thorin had even managed to stagger to his feet Dwalin was already moving, dropping his warhammer and sprinting along the water’s edge and as good as leaping across several broken ice shards like a fucking frog over lily pads (and wouldn’t she have laughed at that analogy!). Without hesitation and no consideration for himself he had lunged into the water after the hobbit. He had to dive deep to grab her and nearly lost her twice when she thrashed so much in her panic that she almost slipped his grip. When Dwalin finally broke through the water’s surface with a harsh gasp he had a hard time to find purchase with his right hand, the ice too slippery to hold on to. He ground his teeth and kept furiously kicking his legs, ignoring the weight of his armour and the twang of exhaustion and the pain of the freezing water that embraced his chest in an ice cold grip.

A grip as hard as the one he had on the limp hobbit in his arm.

Suddenly the blonde elf was there, laying belly down, flat on the ice, reaching for him. How he managed to drag them both out of the water Dwalin would never be able to tell, his movements careful and deliberate, if agonizingly slow; dwarf and elf freezing in their struggles and staring at each other wide eyed every time the ice cracked ominously again.

But then they were out and on blessedly solid rock.