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Before The Storm

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Bofur is sitting hunched over on the floor behind one of the towering stone pillars when Nori finds him. He looks awkward and uncomfortable in the bulky armor, his trademark scarf and hat looking as out of place as the misery written clearly across his face. It is late, and the tense, restless silence of the night hangs over the entire mountain like a fog. They march into battle tomorrow, and no one expects to win.

It is difficult to kneel in so much stiff leather and chain, but Nori manages, pulling off his massive helm and setting it at Bofur's feet. Even with the snow falling outside, inside it is oppressively hot, the foul stench of the dragon thick enough to choke. In the armor it is worse, and damp, sweaty hair is stuck to his face and matted to the back of his neck. He wipes it away in silence, waiting for acknowledgement, but Bofur doesn't even look at him, his eyes horribly empty and staring ahead at nothing.

"You should sleep," he murmurs, testing for a reaction.

Bofur still doesn't turn to him, but he shakes his head the tiniest bit and rasps, "Can't." Nori is hardly surprised. The request was both hypocritical and pointless anyways- as much as they all need it, there isn't much rest to be had for anyone tonight.

"Afraid of a few tree-shaggers?" he asks too-lightly. The joke earns him a response, but not the one he wanted- Bofur whips around, cheeks red and eyes wide and wild.

"Am I afraid o' the elves?" he echoes, breathy and hysterical. "Come sunup, there'll be a thousand arrows pointed at us. Fourteen of us, an' no idea if any help is comin'. The way things are goin' now, they'll send us all to Mahal without even gettin' their hands dirty." He laughs, but it has none of the warmth it normally carries. "Of course I'm scared o' the elves, an' so are you."

"Scared of death, maybe," Nori admits quietly. "Not of the ones dealin' it." Even after his outburst, Bofur hasn't relaxed at all, and Nori (who takes pride in being able to read people, if usually for less friendly purposes) can discern more behind his eyes than just fear. There is sadness there- a bleak despair of which he never would have thought Bofur capable. "There's somethin' else, though."

Bofur's jaw clenches tightly, and for a time, he says nothing. Then he sighs, pulling his knees up and letting his shoulders slump in defeat. "The Lake-men. Kili had the right of it. They've got nothin' left, and we've not brought 'em anything but sufferin' and death."

The thief purses his lips. He isn't wrong, but- "That don't entitle 'em to what's ours."

"D'yeh think I give a shit about that?" Bofur's voice is rising in volume again, and Nori glances around the room furtively to make sure no one else is there. This is near treason, and the last thing they need to do is give Thorin's obvious paranoia an outlet. "I and mine aren't of Durin's folk. That gold's not ours, never was." Nori opens his mouth to interject but Bofur cuts him off. "Yeh weren't there, Nori. After all we put him through, that bargeman still took us back in an' helped us after the Master turned on us."

That is news Nori hasn't heard yet. "Did 'e?" he asks. "Figures. He was an oily snake if I ever met one, and I've known plenty."

Bofur shakes his head. "He was a piece o' work, but last I saw he was dead, or at least still missin'. They were scared shitless of 'im, that's why they acted like they did. There's a lot of good in 'em too."

"You see good in everybody," Nori grumbles, skeptical, "even when it ain't there. Bastards were quick enough to throw their lot in with the tree-shaggers. It's never taken much for men to turn on our kind." It's true enough, even if a nagging voice in the back of his head seems to think that Bofur might have a point. As a rule, he spares as little thought for his childhood before Ered Luin as possible, but it is difficult to forget the sneers of the big folk at a pair of dirty, underfed young dwarves and their destitute mother. The men are much more useful now, and their coin is as good as any, but he has no love for them.

Suddenly, Bofur's usually kind face is stony. "Way I hear it, Thror and his lot woulda been just as quick to take help from the elves when they were in the same position." Reflexively, Nori casts another nervous look around the room. No one can hear this, not speaking against Thorin's grandfather like that. Bofur's eyes soften, revealing something that looks like pain. "They're desperate," he whispers, voice hoarse with emotion. "I've been there, so've you. Yeh oughta know better than anybody that there's nothin' you won't do when yeh have nothing."

Nori breathes deeply. Bofur is more perceptive than people give him credit for- he's touched a sore spot, and he knows it. But it still isn't that simple. "Aye, we've been there. We were there not five days ago, and that's what the lake men are hangin' over our heads now."

Bofur shakes his head almost violently. "Doesn' matter now, not when we're about to start killin' each other. Bard's a good man," he insists, and his voice breaks a little through a sad-looking half-smile. "His wee ones reminded me of some o' Bombur's back home. I did my best to look after 'em during the attack, we all did. How can I go out on that field tomorrow and raise my axe to their Da?" He looks at Nori with pleading in his eyes, as though he expects an answer to his question, but Nori doesn't have one to give him.

His answer would be to leave- his answer is always to leave, at the first sign of trouble. But he waited too long and got himself in too deep, and there's no leaving now. Even if he could sneak out without anyone in the company noticing and without ending up as an elf pincushion, it's like a hammer to the gut to realize that he wouldn't. It's more than his brothers, or Bofur- it's that he is no longer an outlaw without a king. He would die for them, but he will swallow the bitter taste of his misgivings and kill for Thorin Oakenshield. It's loyalty, bone-deep, and it is not a pleasant feeling.

He used to know better than this.

Meanwhile, Bofur is staring at the backs of his gloves, his face wan and colorless, looking like he is trying for all the world not to cry or be sick. Comfort has never been Nori's strength, but he places a steadying hand on his companion's knee and waits for him to speak. "So many o' this company are warriors. Seems like war is our folk's lot in the world, sometimes." He shakes his head, hat crooked over his unkempt braids. "But I never figured I'd see it, or be part of it. I'm no soldier."

"You're not the only one," Nori murmurs. He isn't thinking of himself- he is more a carrion-bird than a warrior, but he has always been one who can stomach even things he would rather not do. But he remembers Ori looking too small even in the best-fitting armor they could find, picking nervously at the fraying yarn of his mittens while Dori adjusted his helm over and over with slightly shaky fingers. He squeezes his eyes shut to forget it.

"I signed up for an adventure," Bofur rasps. "I signed up for fightin' orcs an' trolls an' dragons. Free beer." He doesn't laugh. "Mostly I did it in the hopes o' bringin' some money back to our family, makin' their lives at least a little better. It woulda been worth it if somethin' happened to me, long as we managed that." He clenches his jaw in what looks to Nori like disgust. "I didn' sign up to go to war against innocent folk that ought to be our friends.  Not for a hunk o' rock, and not for every coin in this mountain."

He's right, of course. None of them signed up for this. But there is nothing Nori can say, because there is nothing to be done. Unless there is some sort of miracle, they are going outnumbered onto the battlefield, either to death or a victory perhaps too dearly-bought. After so many years of slipping the noose, he knows well enough that if he can find no escape from a situation, there isn't one to be found. He thinks of Thorin, hard and hollow-eyed and immovable as stone amidst his sea of gold, and doesn't allow himself to wonder whether or not it will be worth it.

"I oughta look in on my brothers," he says instead of goodbye. He isn't sure whether or not it's true yet- later he will, maybe, but for now he needs dark and quiet and solitude to collect what resolve he has for the morning.

Still pale and weary, Bofur nods. "'S about time to switch, I've got second watch." He moves to stand, but something tugs painfully in Nori's chest, and without consciously deciding to do so he has latched his fingers around Bofur's arm.

"Zangel, bahûnê," he whispers, lightly knocking their foreheads together, before pulling himself to his feet with as much grace as his tired legs can manage. Bofur does the same, shooting him an unreadable look before walking heavily away towards the wall of rubble at the front gate.

Lost in his thoughts far more than he usually allows himself, Nori nearly trips over Bilbo in one of the hallways. Their burglar looks startled at being knocked into, but there is an odd set to his jaw that looks like determination. He doesn't even mumble an apology as he goes, and bemused, Nori realizes that he too is headed in the direction of the front gate. He finds himself hoping that the halfling will run into Bofur. Nori, after all, has never been the comforting sort. Maybe he can do better.