When he opens his eyes again, he is kneeling on his little cushion by Azog's throne. A sharp tug on his hair lets him know that his master is not at all pleased by his dozing off. He had dreamed of something nice, too -- of a tall Dwarf with blue eyes and a soft bed of clean blankets.
He sits up straight and puts on a blank expression, but the Orc commanders who must have been groveling for some transgression or another are smirking and snickering, muttering foul things about him to each other. The instant one of them says thos-karkû, Azog barks a command at them, and they all scuttle off to prepare for something, Bilbo had missed it -- oh, they are having a hunt tomorrow.
Bilbo looks forward to it, then. Two, three, maybe even four whole days of peace without Azog.
Until then, he has to deal with his master's temper. As soon as the commanders are gone, Azog is out of the stone chair, dragging Bilbo by his hair out of the room. Bilbo whimpers and grabs onto his thick wrists, but Azog continues to stalk through the halls, even though the Orcs around them laugh and make nasty comments.
They reach their room, and Azog pushes Bilbo inside first, making him trip over his chain, but Azog catches him before he can hit the floor.
"You embarrass me," his master mutters, and Bilbo shudders, looking away and pulling out of Azog's grip.
"I didn't mean to doze off," he begins, but Azog has no patience for him, merely picks him up and carries him over to the bed, drops him on the torn furs and sneers down at him.
"In front of my commanders, you fall asleep. You will be punished," Azog growls, and despite pretending for years that he cannot understand, Bilbo's eyes widen at the threat in that voice. He backs away, but Azog kneels down and grabs his chain, yanking him forward.
"I will make you beg, my pain-bearer," Azog murmurs, and it does not take much before Bilbo begins to scream --
Cloth? His master was wearing... a shirt?
Bilbo opened his eyes and looked up, and instead of Azog's fierce grin, he found Thorin Oakenshield staring at him with wide eyes. The visage shocked him, and he froze in the act of hitting his captor, long enough for Thorin to grab his wrists and hold him still -- but his touch was gentle, light, and Bilbo realized he could pull away. Oddly enough, this calmed Bilbo, to the point that Thorin could lower his arms and help him sit up, and Bilbo did nothing to fight him.
When Thorin asked, "Are you alright?" in a quiet voice, Bilbo was distressed to the point that he burst into tears. He hid his face in his hands and sobbed, hating himself for being so affected by his nightmares, for hitting Thorin, even for waking him. He had woken with nightmares during other nights in this tent, but never with a scream, never to the point of disturbing his tent-mate.
Thorin said nothing, but a hand came to rest on Bilbo's shoulder, and though he first tensed, he appreciated the warmth, even leaning into the hand a bit. The chance for comfort from a real person was too much for him to deny himself, even though it shamed him and made him very nervous. He trusted that Thorin would not hurt him, though.
"'m sorry," he whispered, and the hand squeezed his shoulder. "I can't... I can't stop thinking about it, dreaming about him. I didn't mean to wake you," he said, voice muffled by his hands, and he felt those broad fingers spread over his thin skin like a blanket. Then the hand retreated, and Bilbo felt impossibly alone for a moment that stretched like eternity.
Then the hand returned with its pair to Bilbo's wrists, and his breath hitched. Slowly, gently, his hands were pulled away from his face. Bilbo looked up in confusion, blinking through his bleary gaze to see Thorin kneeling in front of him. Those impossibly blue eyes were somewhat dark, but Bilbo could sense nothing but a soft compassion from Thorin, who gave him a small smile.
Slowly, carefully, to the point that Bilbo wondered if Thorin was alright, Thorin pulled him forward, and when Bilbo's head hit the blue silk of the Dwarf's shirt, he realized that Thorin was being gentle for him, as if the smallest spook would scare him off. He realized how tense he was and how warm Thorin felt, and he felt his tears return, but he swallowed against the hot heat, against the burn in his eyes, not wanting to ruin Thorin's shirt.
Then Thorin's arm touched his back, and he felt fingers curl into his hair, which reminded him for an awful moment of Azog -- but no, there were no claws scraping over his scalp, just blunt fingertips. Thorin was not Azog, would never be Azog, would never even attempt to be Azog, and Bilbo felt his breath seize in his chest, knowing that he would never have to wake up in fear of Azog's temper ever again.
"He is gone, Bilbo," Thorin said quietly, and Bilbo could hear the rumble of his deep voice against his ear. He turned his face into Thorin's shirt, shoulders shaking, and said nothing in reply, the tears falling from his eyes as something in him broke. He could not hold them back anymore.
Thorin said nothing else, merely held Bilbo while he sobbed, that gentle hand sometimes carding through his hair, sometimes rubbing Bilbo's back. He did not hug Thorin back -- he did not dare -- but Bilbo leaned into him all the same, taking the comfort as it was given. They sat there for a long time, until Bilbo's tears slowed and all he could feel was a wary emptiness, sore and muted. He wondered if he had been in denial this past week. He wondered when it would stop feeling like a dream.
"I want to go home," Bilbo whispered, and then let out a pitiful noise when he realized what he had said. There was no home for him. He had nowhere to go.
The thought made his eyes sting again, but he did not have the energy to cry anymore. Thorin did not respond, and Bilbo was grateful, knowing that hearing Thorin affirm his thoughts would make it worse. Instead he rested, lulled by Thorin's warmth. His eyes kept drifting closed, but he forced them open again and again, not wanting to fall asleep on the Dwarf King who had shown him such kindness. A vaguely familiar tune caught his attention, and he lifted his head a bit, blinking sleepily.
"What is that you keep humming?" he asked softly, and Thorin's hand paused in rubbing his back.
"Something I used to sing for my nephews," Thorin said quietly, and Bilbo blinked, surprised to find out that Thorin had nephews. Did he have no sons? "I put it together when they could not sleep... Is it bothersome?"
Bilbo shook his head slightly, feeling just tired enough that he did not stop his mouth when it moved next. "Would you sing it? Not just hum..."
There was silence for a moment, and Bilbo shifted a bit, wondering if he had pressed too far, before Thorin's deep voice began to rumble in his chest again, the soft vibrations soothing to Bilbo's ear. A small smile found its way to his lips, and Bilbo's eyes drifted closed again as he listened, remembering a time when his father would carry him around the house and sing to him when he was too excited to fall asleep. He imagined Thorin doing the same to a young Dwarf, and the thought made him oddly happy.
"Night is nigh, and you should sleep.
My dear boy, no thoughts should creep
Through your head, where dreams delight,
So rest now, 'fore morning seeps
Into the night.
Lay down your weary head, child.
Stone sings and trees rustle wildly
Ere dawn comes, and you rise.
So rest now, with dreams beguiled.
Now close your eyes."
Thorin sang softly, and when he looked down again, the last note fading from his throat, Bilbo had fallen asleep, a faint smile on his face and tear tracks on his cheeks. Thorin felt an odd softness in his chest at the sight, making him miss his nephews briefly. He was careful in wiping away Bilbo's tears and tucking him beneath the furs again, and though he was tired, he did not fall asleep easily when he returned to his own bed. He lay there for quite some time, his thoughts returning again and again to the scream that had woken him, though he tried to think of anything but Bilbo crying for help.
He poured himself some water and leaned against the table, pressing the glass to his warm face and letting himself think. More than a week after he had been liberated from Azog, nine days after Azog had fallen to his sword, Bilbo still could not believe how much his life had changed.
He was allowed to eat as much as he wanted. He had a warm, soft bed in an area all of his own, and he was encouraged to sleep often. He was not forced to do anything against his will. He was not a pet anymore. He was not a slave anymore.
He was gaining weight. The food the Dwarves gave him was delicious, and even though he had given himself several stomach aches from eating too much, he still could not resist that extra helping of stew or that last potato. He had wondered where the Dwarves got all this food, and Bofur had explained that during the war, they regularly sent out parties to trade with cities of Men for supplies, easily paid for by the gold found in the Orcs' and goblins' treasure hoards. So Bilbo paid it little mind and enjoyed what they gave him, though he mostly avoided the larger tents and busiest meal times. There was only so much Dwarf singing he could take in a day.
He was not sneered at everywhere he went. After the first day he had woken, the Dwarves no longer always called out to him or cheered when he entered the room. Some of the Dwarves still smiled at him and tried to chat with him whenever he ventured near enough for their notice, but Bilbo noticed that not all the Dwarves cared or worried about him. They merely acknowledged him and continued with whatever job they had, and Bilbo was fine with that. He was treated with respect, not ignored or scorned like the Orcs had. That moment he tried not to think about, but which everybody else tried to talk about, had made him something of a hero -- which completely bewildered him. All of the Dwarves around him were warriors and powerful in their own right. Each one of them had protected or saved someone before. Yet he was special, different -- because he had killed the leader of the Orcs and protected the leader of the Dwarves. So strange. But he did not resist it too much -- it was nice not to be glared at.
He was not molested. Not a single Dwarf attempted to hurt him, ridicule him, degrade him, or force him to do anything he did not want to do (aside from the healers, but that was part of their job). No one gave him nasty looks or threatened to hurt him. No one spit at him, or muttered thos-karkû -- and wasn't that a culture shock, to hear Westron and occasionally Khuzdul everywhere, instead of Orc speech? Azog had forbidden his clan to speak in anything but their own rudimentary language, which was how Bilbo had learned so much of it.
He was engaging in normal interactions with relatively normal people. The cousins Bofur and Bifur would find him and drag him off to supper or lunch or whatever meal they thought he was missing, and they would spend the entire meal telling him stories about Erebor or regaling him with songs that made Bilbo want to cry, they were so bawdy. He suspected they had been put up to it by Thorin, as he saw Bofur go into Thorin's tent one morning, but he did not mind that much. He thought Bofur and Bifur were being very kind, as was Óin, who was quite content to prattle on to Bilbo about herbs and salves when he was not busy taking care of his patients.
Most surprising of all, he was sleeping. Sleep, for the past seven years, had been an act of mercy by his body to give him some reprieve from Azog. He had slept only because of exhaustion and survival. His mind was always strained from it, but Bilbo's body had been conditioned over the years to handle the pitiful amount of sleep and the high amount of stress he experienced. But now -- now sleep was a gift, where he spent long hours simply snoozing, napping away the day, relaxing into the soft warmth of the bed Thorin had put together for him.
Out of consideration for his privacy, Thorin had set up a screen in the tent to give Bilbo some semblance of a room for himself, which had surprised him, but he was thankful for it. He could change and sleep in relative peace, the thick walls of the tent enough to keep out most of the noises during the day, and Thorin never disturbed him if he could help it.
He thought about Thorin often. The Dwarf King confused and entranced him. Always watching, always worrying -- Bilbo could tell when someone's attention was on him, after years of training his senses to watch out for Azog's shifts in moods -- and yet Thorin never pushed him, never treated him as anything more than a respectable guest. The King was obviously keeping a close eye on him, but Thorin never attempted to control him.
It was different, and it made him all the more aware of how strange his thoughts had been, to compare Thorin to Azog. They were nothing alike. Thorin was not looking to push himself into Bilbo's life -- and it gave Bilbo courage. He had worried, in the back of his mind, that he was trying to find a new 'master,' a new person to cling to, but Thorin had removed himself from that position, keeping his distance and treating Bilbo politely.
It was nice, not to have someone trying to consume him.
In many ways it felt like a dream, still. Yet when he slept, he usually did not dream of Azog's halls, but of his family and the Shire, normal dreams for him. Some nights he woke from strange dreams that he could not remember, but he did not mind these, as he did not think they were bad, just strange.
He thought about his former life often, though. Every moment that he was not with a Dwarf, he thought about Azog, about those last moments of his life. Azog haunted him -- and Bilbo sometimes worried that his master's ghost would come after him and drive him to insanity.
Hence the nightmares, but Bilbo wondered if maybe, just maybe, he would be able to deal with them better now, after hearing Thorin sing a lullabye for him. The thought made his face turn pink again in embarrassment, and he debated going right back to bed for a moment. His stomach growled then, deciding for him, and he sighed and looked around for the sweater Thorin had given him to replace the one lost in the battle, hoping that there was bacon this morning.
Even as a lad, Bofur had been considered charming. All of the progeny of the line of Úr were charismatic and genial to the point that every single adult, save one, was married, and their large family was full of children and happiness. Bofur was the only Dwarf in his family, other than the children, who did not have a spouse.
He was just fine with that, too; he made a good living as a soldier and enjoyed his work protecting the city. Despite having every bit as much charm as his brother and cousins, he had never desired getting married and settling down. In a family that prided itself on having lots of children each generation, he was considered something of the black sheep, though they all loved him despite his choices.
It could be stifling, though, which was why he had signed up for the war effort when Thorin's decree had been posted. A chance for adventure and battle, not to mention a handsome reward when he returned? No way would Bofur not take that advantage. He had been surprised, though, when his cousin Bifur had joined him, despite having a bondmate.
What about Boro? he had asked one night after a particularly awful fight in the beginning, his gaze fixed on Bifur's forehead, which had nearly missed gaining an axe for a decoration.
He found a whole new part of his caves to dig through before we left, told me he'd give me lots of pretty beryls when I got back, Bifur said, rubbing at his forehead, still a bit bloody beneath the bandages.
But he's your bonded. The war's not worth losing him, Bofur said, confused.
You need someone to look after you, too, Bofur, Bifur grinned, and Bofur remembered uncomfortably that the axe had been meant for him, before Bifur had shoved him out of the way.
He thought back to that moment often, and each time it left a happy ache in his chest. Happiness, because of the proof of his family's love for him, and an ache that sometimes left him breathless, that he had drawn one of his family members into a war he had chosen for himself. Bifur had nearly died that day, and so Bofur had taken it upon himself to protect him as hard as he could, even though Bifur was older and technically a better fighter.
But Bofur loved him, and he would do right by Boro and send Bifur home to him, whole and healthy.
It was a considerable relief when, the morning after the final battle with Azog's clan, he woke up in one piece, and he turned over to find Bifur snoring away, looking whole and healthy as he had wanted. Both of them had made it through the war, and he would return to Erebor a richer man, in both reward and experience. Best of all, Bifur would go home to his bonded and be rewarded in love and gems, and Bofur would smile and nod and feel a little sad that he had no one to welcome him home, save his family.
It seemed, though, that he at least would not be returning immediately. Thorin, who had been the commander of Bofur's regiment back in the day, had pulled him aside and asked a personal request, which Bofur was determined to fulfill:
Take care of the Hobbit. Keep him safe, help him eat, take him to the healers, watch over him. Escort him home.
The Hobbit in question was an interesting fellow. Painfully shy, terrified of most of the Dwarves, skinny as a rail, and yet he had just enough of a spark left in him after years of being a slave for Bofur to like him. Bifur, who had noticed his efforts and joined him quickly enough, had thought the Hobbit a little simple, but Bofur believed otherwise. He likened Bilbo's behavior to the Dwarves to his own reactions to his family, after being gone a long time and returning home to every single relative swarming his small house and offering him every foodstuff under the mountain. He could see how overwhelming it might be to someone used to solitude. Bilbo was just shy, and Bofur was glad to help him.
It amused him, though, to see the little Hobbit hiding from the Dwarves, who always cheered for him when he entered the food tent -- but then, most of the Dwarves in the army liked to cheer for everybody who came into the tent. His fellow soldiers were nice folk, rowdy but good at heart, and Bofur had wondered once if Bilbo realized that there were other 'heroes' in the war that were being cheered. But he never said anything about it, considering the poor Hobbit's terribly low self-esteem.
It might help Bilbo, to be celebrated for something other than surviving an Orc master.
Sometimes he thought about the painful scar he had seen on Bilbo's stomach, that first time that Thorin brought him out of a bedroom in the back of Moria's halls. He never mentioned it, never even told Bifur about it, only ignored the thought and offered Bilbo another story, since the Hobbit seemed to like them. As far as missions went, this one was particularly easy, and it was nice to make someone happy. Most of his nieces and nephews had outgrown his stories by now, after all.
He grinned when he saw Bifur trying to sneak some potatoes onto Bilbo's plate, which already had enough from his own efforts to fill it without the Hobbit noticing. At least his cousin agreed with him that the Hobbit was too skinny. Between the two of them constantly foisting food onto Bilbo's plate (save the mushrooms, which Bofur had noticed that Bilbo would not touch, no matter how hungry he was), it would take no time at all to fatten Bilbo up. He had to hide his smile behind his ale when Bilbo noticed Bifur's movement and became flustered.
"Oh, no, Mister Bifur, I cannot possible eat all of those, please --"
"Ye need more starch, Mister Baggins! Look at that belly, nothing there!" Bifur said, and Bofur sat up a bit and shot his cousin a look when he noticed Bifur's hand move as if to poke the Hobbit. Bifur gave him a confused look over Bilbo's head but stopped, and Bofur sighed to himself. He loved his cousin, but he was a very friendly fellow, and it was hard to keep him from bothering the Hobbit too much.
Bilbo, thankfully, had not noticed. "I have quite enough, thank you! If I eat any more of those, Healer Óin will fuss at me again," he said, his small voice becoming a bit firmer, and with a sigh, Bifur subsided.
"Jus' trying to help, Mister Baggins," Bifur said, and Bilbo relented after a moment, giving him a small smile.
"I'm grateful, Mister Bifur," the Hobbit said, making Bofur smile again.
Then their attention was caught by a cheer, and they all looked over to see Thorin entering the tent with Balin and Dwalin. The King waved a hand distractedly and went to eat, never one to stand on ceremony during meal times, and Bofur returned his attention to his plate. He raised an eyebrow when he saw that Bilbo's cheeks were rather pink, but he said nothing, refusing to speculate on how affected the young Hobbit was by their King.
The three of them sat in contented silence for a few minutes, as Bofur and Bifur returned their attentions to their own meals, and Bilbo picked at his plate. After a time, Bofur noticed how lost the Hobbit's expression looked, and he finished off his bite and nudged Bilbo's plate closer to him.
"Have some more of the chicken stew, Mister Baggins. Wouldn't want Óin to come fuss at us, too," he said, giving Bilbo a wink, which made the Hobbit smile at him, just enough that Bofur could tell it was real.
For a moment, anyway, as the expression faded quickly, but Bilbo dutifully took a bite of the stew. "Mister Bofur," he said quietly, hesitantly, and Bofur raised an eyebrow.
Bilbo seemed to blush, but he continued anyway, his voice getting a little braver. "What... um, well, what is Erebor like? I know it's underground, but I can't imagine..."
Ahh. That was an easy enough question, and one Bofur was pleased to answer. "Well, Erebor is... hm, you know how the halls of Moria were? Bigger than that, and it goes all through the mountains and deep into the earth, so deep you can see the earth's fire-blood some places. Different caves are kind of like different towns, different neighborhoods, where people live anyway. Some folk who do really well have their homes built into the rock high in the caves, while the poorer folk live closer to the bottom of the halls. But there are roads and streets connecting everybody, and it's not like we've got anyone who's really poor, you know?" he said, smiling when he saw how interested Bilbo looked.
"Really?" the Hobbit asked.
"Aye," Bofur said, and Bifur nodded along with him. "Erebor's not like cities of Men. We don't have homeless, don't have too much violence or anybody who starves. Somewhere in the city, there's always a job, yeah? So even if you haven't got much money, you can still go to the mines or the forges or the shops and work for a while, and no one's really badly off."
"Don't forget the markets," Bifur said, drinking from his tankard. Bilbo's eyes widened, so Bofur agreeably continued.
"The markets, aye! Erebor's got three massive halls dedicated completely to selling an' buying. You can get to 'em from the main hall, which can connect to jus' about anywhere in the city. Manar-dûm, that's the first market, has your food and household goods --"
"We get our vegetables and grains from the farmers of Dale, an' most of our meat, too," Bifur interjected.
"And there's a lot of Dwarves that go foragin', make their own spices and ales, so that's a good place to visit," Bofur said, giving Bilbo a grin. "Then the second hall, Torvîd-dûm, that's got all your craftwork. A lot of people sell wares from Dale, but most Men don't come into the city, so most of the stall workers go to Dale's markets a few times a week to trade. Anyone who makes anything sells their stuff there, 'cept the furniture an' some of the finer smithers."
"Do Dwarves really do that much craftwork?" Bilbo asked, his meal forgotten by now, so Bofur nudged his plate again and waited till Bilbo had taken another bite before he answered.
"Tons of it, yeah. Dwarves are masters of metalcraft and smithing, and we've got an excellent demand for weapons and jewelry of Dwarvish make. That's what Torvîd-dûm's mainly for, anyway. All the smithers and crafters, they put out their wares, and the traders come buy from them, then go travelin' to sell them. The crafters get a percentage of the total profit afterwards, so everyone's happy at the end of the day," Bofur said, and Bifur shot him a grin.
"Don' forget the last one, Bofur. Can't leave Mister Baggins wondering. Here, listen to me tell it, I've spent a lot of time there sellin'," Bifur said, and Bilbo turned his gaze around to the other Dwarf curiously, making Bofur roll his eyes.
"The last market is the smallest, but it's got the best stuff, in my opinion," Bifur said grandly, holding Bilbo's attention easily. "It's called Buknad-dûm, and everyone there sells something really special. Furniture, or exotic things, right, like herbs from the west or yellow diamonds from the Blue Mountains. Stuff that people've put a lot of effort to make or get. The really good weapons, the kind you gotta work hard for, and the good engagement broaches and rings. That's what my husband does," Bifur said proudly, and Bofur resisted the urge to roll his eyes again.
Bilbo's eyes were very wide. "Your husband?" he asked, and Bofur frowned a bit, wondering if he had misheard Bilbo's hesitance.
"Yep, my Boro! He mines for one year, crafts the next, then goes back to mining," Bifur said, beaming. "Has a small cave that's been in the family for years, produces great green and blue beryls. Makes the best emeralds, aye, and very pretty river-colored gems. Verra' popular with the ladies! He works with his brother, too, and they learned from their da, who made the broach that King Thráin gave to Thorin's mother!" Bifur looked proud about this, and Bofur felt rather glad that Bifur would get to see Boro soon.
Bilbo looked enthralled, but also a little disturbed, so Bofur cut in with an easy smile. "When he's at home, Bifur sells the broaches while Boro's craftin', sometimes. Buknad-dûm's a good place to go when you're ready to settle down. You can also hire cavers, yeah, the ones that can make you a real nice home for a new family."
"Home," Bilbo echoed softly, his gaze turning down to his plate, and Bofur raised an eyebrow, watching him curiously. Then Bilbo lifted his head and looked at Bofur, his expression strangely solemn.
"What's your home like?" he asked, and Bofur blinked, scratching at his beard.
"Mine? Well, it's nothing special, just a little house a few miles down from the palace. Gotta live close to work, yeah? It has a nice view of one of the bigger suburbs, so I like it. There's a study where I keep my books and a couch in case a friend comes to visit, and my own little kitchen, since I've only got me, so it's not too big," he said, watching Bilbo and wondering at his thoughts.
Bilbo offered him a vague smile. "Do you miss it?"
Bofur considered Bilbo's expression for a moment, but he nodded genially. "Yeah, I do. 's nice to get away, but I like going home, at the end of it all. Even if my family's there, though I gotta love 'em." Bilbo said nothing, his smile fading again, and Bofur leaned over a bit. "Okay there, Mister Baggins?"
Bilbo looked up again and gave Bofur another smile, though it seemed very sad, enough that Bofur immediately wanted to smack himself, for talking about his home to a Hobbit that probably did not have one anymore.
"I'm alright, Mister Bofur," Bilbo said quietly, and Bofur's smile faded a bit, wondering if he had crossed a line. Then Bilbo shook his head, as if reading Bofur's expression, and the Hobbit's smile became a little more real. "Thank you for telling me about Erebor. It sounds lovely," he said quietly, and Bofur felt a little better for it.
"I hope you get to see it someday," he offered, and the Hobbit looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Maybe I will," Bilbo said, and returned to his plate, only to realize that Bifur had snuck two thick slices of ham between his potatoes and his chicken stew. Bofur caught the twinkle in his cousin's eye and laughed, pleased at Bilbo's dismayed expression, and he chose to spend the rest of the meal with Bifur urging Bilbo to eat every last bite.
After they were finished, Bifur walking with Bilbo out the entrance, Thorin caught his attention with a subtle wave, and Bofur nodded briefly before following his cousin and charge. Seemed that Thorin wanted to speak to him later, probably about the Hobbit. For now he would make sure Bilbo got to Óin's tent, then spend the rest of his day helping the others in his regiment pack, since they would be leaving the next day.