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A Light in Dark Places

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Despite his exhaustion, Bilbo could not sleep. The unconscious snoring contest between Gloin and Bombur and, to a much greater extent, the face of the Defiler behind his eyelids kept him tossing and flinching awake. It was with great frustration that he sat up at last, casting about Beorn’s hall for something to occupy him through the long hours until morning. There was a dwarf seated upon the long, tall bench by the fire-pit; Bilbo wrapped his blanket about himself and padded his way down the steps to join him.

He was pleased to find that it was Bofur. He was good company for warding off nightmares, and a smile from him in this strange, dark place would not be unwelcome. He was humming as he mended a singed spot on his coat; Bilbo drew quite near before he noticed him and asked, hushed, “Can’t you sleep?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Bilbo answered. He tilted his head towards the bench. “May I?”

Bofur lumped the coat into his lap, and Bilbo clambered up to sit beside him. He did not particularly feel like speaking, and the dwarf seemed content to continue his humming, so he hunkered down into his blanket and watched the embers flare.

The very next thing he was aware of was Bofur’s arm across his middle. “Careful, now,” said the dwarf, “you were nodding right off.”

Bilbo rebalanced himself and began to swing his feet to keep himself awake. He watched Bofur mend with the quick, neat stitches of a traveller; the longing for his own home, his own hearth and bed twisted in his stomach. Bag End seemed worlds away, and he thought he might never sleep comfortably until he was safe in it. Soon, though, he found one of Bofur’s braids poking him in the eye where his head had drifted down to the dwarf’s shoulder.

He quickly righted himself, embarrassed, but Bofur’s smile was kind. “I thought you said you couldn’t sleep.”

“It isn’t falling asleep but staying asleep that troubles me,” said Bilbo, rubbing away the itch. Bofur had been compassionate in his way, had tried to understand his fears and misgivings — perhaps in the telling, the nightmares would grow more distant. “Every time I close my eyes, I see the White Warg bearing down upon me.”

Bofur made a sound that startled him with its softness. “I know.”

Bilbo tilted his head and blinked in the beginnings of confusion (something far too common where Dwarves were concerned). “I’m sorry, what?”

“I see it, too,” said Bofur, his mending quite forgotten as he clenched his hands in the worn coat. The carven-bone pendant in his ear swayed when he shook his head. “You know, I’d sleep better if I were sure you would never be in such danger again.”

Bilbo smiled, a little bitterly. “No worries, I don’t have the courage left for such things. Or the foolhardiness. No — I’m just a simple hobbit, after all. I’m not meant for this life of adventuring.” He tipped his head back to follow the trail of smoke up to the rafters. He felt, rather than saw, the dwarf’s gaze upon him, both comfortable and uncomfortable at once.

“All the same… I never did thank you for coming back.” He bumped Bilbo’s shoulder companionably.

“Ah, well, I did it for you,” said Bilbo before he thought about it. He felt very small suddenly, and chuckled wryly. “I thought you should— I can’t believe I said that, actually.”

Bofur laughed, soft and sweet. “I’m glad you did.”

This nightmare-warding business was far too confusing for one sleepy hobbit, so, blinking again, Bilbo turned to study his companion. Bofur, with a gentle smile and gentler eyes, brought one careful hand up to rest on the back of Bilbo’s neck, and leaned in until their foreheads touched. Bilbo squeezed his eyes shut and dared not breathe.

Then, quick as a wink, Bofur drew back, gathered up his coat, and hopped off the bench.

Bilbo would never become accustomed to the strange ways of Dwarves.

Sleep still tugged at his eyelids; the Pale Orc and the White Warg still lurked behind them; but he found he had more to think of now, in a mind that felt full of cobwebs. He breathed sharply through his nose several times. He had been deep within a mountain, had soared on the back of an eagle, and yet the most out-of-place he’d felt these last weeks was here in his own thoughts — alone once more, before a dying fire, not at all pleased by this and thoroughly baffled.

That was when Bofur clomped back, folding his own blanket into a neat square, and climbed onto the bench once more.

Bilbo felt a little more pleased and a great deal more baffled. The dwarf toed off his boots and stretched out with his head pillowed on his blanket by Bilbo’s hip, without so much as a by-your-leave. It all seemed rather too simple to the poor hobbit.

Bofur smiled at him upside-down and reached over his head to tug at Bilbo’s sleeve.

It should have been hideously awkward, and yet Bilbo found his heart lightening as he shifted over, to lie nestled within comforting arms. No sooner had he spread his blanket over them than he fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.