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Conundrums in the Deep

Title: Conundrums in the Deep
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo
Rating/Warnings: R for creepiness, minor canon-level violence
Word Count: 4855
Disclaimer: If I owned the Hobbit, it would have a happy ending.
Summary: Kíli and Bilbo face Gollum together.


This had not been a good night and it was only getting worse.

First there had been the storm, worse than any that the burglar had ever known. The rain came down in a torrent, soaking through Bilbo's tunic and chilling him to the bone; the wind had howled like a wild thing as it clutched the hobbit's cloak, trying to grad him from the path to his demise. It was hungry, starving, nearly claiming his life a thousand times before the mountains themselves came uprooted beneath the feet of Thorin's company.

From then on it was chaos, rocks and rain and screaming and when the dust had finally settled, the halfling was hanging from the cliff by fingertips. No matter how he tried, Bilbo could not find purchase on the slick rocks of the mountain and the burglar could feel his grip failing inch by inch. So when Thorin pulled him to safety, the hobbit was too relieved to mind the embarrassment of having to be rescued once again, at least not until the dwarf started ripping into him.

Their leader scolded Bilbo in front of everyone as though he were a child and by the time his ears had finished ringing, the hobbit had decided that was quite enough of that.

What has this adventure gotten me but scorn and danger and an empty stomach? He asked himself bitterly. What has it gotten me but contempt from those who should be my allies? Thorin obviously doesn't want me here, whatever the others may think of my presence, and a Baggins never outstays his welcome.

So the halfling waited until everyone had fallen asleep within their shelter and then made his way carefully toward the entrance of the cave. He was sorry to leave without saying goodbye to the few friends he had made but a clean break would be easier to bear. Yet even this could not go right for Bofur was on watch and the dwarf's earnest expression as he wished Bilbo all the best made the hobbit feel like scum. Here he was, abandoning the company while the other prayed for his safe travels, and he did not deserve a friend like that. Though perhaps the burglar would have been better off without one since Bofur delayed him their party was attacked by goblins, tumbling deep within the mountain to be taken prisoner.

This is so not my day, Bilbo cursed as he landed hard on top of Dwalin and Fíli's elbow caught him in the gut. I was almost free of this, Valar damn it all.

A moment later the goblins were upon them, foul creatures full of hate, and although he tried to resist their grasping fingers, the halfling was dragged off with the rest. Until he tripped, catching his foot on a loose stone and slamming hard into Kíli who was walking at his side.

The dwarf teetered on his feet as he tried to keep both of them upright and for a second, Bilbo thought he would succeed. But in a moment of inattention, Bombur collided with the hobbit's shoulder and their precarious tangle tipped just a bit too far. Kíli overbalanced, stepping back into thin air and with a scream, the pair fell into the dark.

---

Bilbo woke with a start, the movement turning to a wince when it jostled his aching head. Where am I? The hobbit wondered while poking at the bruises on his skull, but then everything came rushing back and he looked around frantically for the dwarf who should be there.

“Kíli?” His voice trembled as he called the other's name and the lack of answer only made his worry grow. For the archer had become a friend over the course of their travels, his irrepressible cheerfulness impossible to dislike, and Bilbo refused to believe that he was gone. So the halfling kept searching through the rocks and rubble, his path guided by the blue shine of iridescent mushrooms like those that broke his fall.

In the end, the hobbit tripped over Kíli before he saw him, falling to his knees by the other's still form. But when Bilbo reached out to lay a hand on his friend's chest, he could feel that the dwarf was breathing and the knot of panic in his throat began to ease.

“Kili, wake up.” The hobbit spoke softly, tapping the other's shoulder as hard as he dared. “Please wake up.”

At first there was no answer, no response other than the sound of water hitting stone. But after what seemed like an eternity, the dwarf stirred beneath his hand, those brown eyes fluttering open as he muttered Bilbo's name.

“I feel like I've been hit by a troll,” Kíli groaned, trying to sit up until the hobbit shoved him back with a stern glare.

“Stay down, you idiot. I need to check your injuries before we try to get out of here.” Considering the length of their fall, the archer had been extremely lucky, but he was still bleeding sluggishly from several gashes and seemed to find breathing difficult.

Probably cracked a rib when he hit the ground, Bilbo thought, never more thankful that he had been prone to accidents when he was young. For his mother had taught him the healing arts out of sheer desperation and while he wasn't as skilled as Óin, the hobbit knew the basics of how to treat a wound. So once he tracked down his pack amongst the mushrooms, it was a simple enough task to patch up the worst of Kili's injuries.

When the halfling finished, he helped the young dwarf climb to his feet and watched anxiously as the archer swayed. However, he managed to find his balance without further assistance so Bilbo walked around the cavern one more time to see if he had missed anything.

But even though he stumbled over a few of Kíli's arrows miraculously unbroken, his friend's pack appeared to be long gone. This absence worried the burglar since he barely had a day's provisions on him and yet when Bilbo mentioned this concern, the dwarf gave him a strange look.

“What are you talking about?” He questioned, a perplexed note to his voice. “The surface is about three hours that way; even if we dawdle it would be rather hard to starve.”

Kíli said this with such utter certainty that Bilbo couldn't doubt him, no matter how impossible the claim sounded to his ears. But maybe dwarves simply can't get lost when underground, the hobbit wondered as his hopes began to rise. Kind of like Uncle Isengrim in the East Farthing woods.

So with the dwarf navigating, the two companions set forth toward the surface, stepping carefully over the cracked stone beneath their feet. It was dark enough that Bilbo sometimes stumbled, but thankfully, the strange glowing mushrooms seemed to flourish within these tunnels and by their dim light the pair made decent time. Soon enough the small passage opened into an enormous cavern, the hobbit staring up in awe at the rock above his head. The ceiling was so high that the light of the mushrooms could not pierce the shadows and it almost felt as though they were outside again.

When they ventured further into the chamber, Bilbo could see that it held an underground lake as well, the water dark and still upon the stone. This sight so mesmerized the burglar that he stopped paying attention to the rest of their surroundings until he was halted by Kíli's arm across his chest.

“Something's coming,” The dwarf growled, stepping in front of the hobbit and pulling his sword free from its sheath.

Now that he was listening, the halfling could hear the scratching of claws on stone and a sing-song muttering moving their way. Something about that voice chilled Bilbo to the bone, making him scrabble for his own blade with shaking hands. But before he managed to draw the weapon, a creature crawled into view. It was grotesque and twisted and yet more graceful than any goblin and there was a feral intelligence in those narrow eyes.

“What in Mahal's name is that?” Kíli whispered in horrified fascination, shuddering when the monster began to speak.

“Look, Precious, we have a visitor. We have a dwarf, so firm and tasty. We haven't had any dwarfses to eat for so long.” He muttered, eyeing the archer hungrily. “All we've had is goblinses, skinny and scrawny and full of crunchy boneses that hurt our teeth. Gollum, Gollum.”

His strange speech was broken by a fit of wild coughing, giving Bilbo the courage to peer around Kíli's shoulder and ask curiously, “Is that your name? Gollum?”

Suddenly the creature's whole countenance changed, eyes widening with an innocent glee. “Gollum is us, Precious. Yes he is. But what is it? We like dwarfses, batses and fishes, but we've never seen such a meaty mouthful before. What is it, Precious? What is it?”

Gollum circled the pair while rambling excitedly, Kíli turning with him so that Bilbo was never unprotected as he replied.

“My name is Bilbo Baggins. I'm a hobbit from – ”

“Somewhere that doesn't matter.” The dwarf interrupted, nudging the creature back with his blade. “It was nice to meet you and everything, but I think we should be moving on.”

He began to walk Bilbo toward another side tunnel, only to stop short when Gollum leaped in front of them with a snarl. “We can't lets you go, can we Precious? We're so very hungry, yes we are, and we've had nothing tasty for so long. Gollum. Gollum.”

The creature snarled again and Kíli prepared for battle, baring his teeth in a snarl of his own. However, before either of them could move to attack, Bilbo leaped between.

“Wait! Wait!” He shouted, not wanting the dwarf to fight in his condition. “Isn't there some way to resolve this peacefully? I don't know what your game is but we didn't mean to disturb you or anything.”

At these words, Gollum's eyes lit up again, sitting back on his haunches and cocking his head to one side.

“Games? We love games, don’t we, Precious? Does it like games? Does it like riddles? Does it? Does it like to play?

“Shut up! No games. No puzzles. No riddles. We kills it. Kills it and eats it. Gollum. Gollum.”

The creature's face kept twisting from innocence to madness as though he were arguing with himself and Bilbo interjected quickly when he paused. “No! No need for eating. I wa – I want to play. I do. I want to play. S – so why don’t we have a game of riddles? Yes, just you and me. And – and if I win, you show us the way out.”

Kíli seemed skeptical when Gollum agreed to the hobbit's terms, his sword arm twitching every time the monster coughed. But Bilbo was determined to escape this without bloodshed if he could so he just soldiered on. Though he couldn't entirely suppress a shudder of his own when Gollum grinned to himself.

“If it wins, Precious, we will show it the way out. And if it loses? What then?

“Well, if it loses, Precious, we will eats them! If Baggins loses, we eats them whole.”

It should not be possible for a creature to look so adorable while planning to kill him but they did not have a lot of options right now. So the hobbit nodded shortly and replied, “Fair enough,” ignoring Kíli's whispered, “Are you crazy?” and Gollum's disturbing glee.

“Oh, oh, me first, Precious,” The creature cried out, clapping his hands together.

“What has roots as nobody sees,
Is taller than trees,
Up, up it goes,
And yet never grows?”

He knew his craft, reciting the riddle without pause or stumble, and Bilbo felt a sinking sensation in his stomach as he realized this might be harder than he'd thought. However, before the halfling could even guess at a response, Kíli burst out with, “Oh, that one's easy. It's a mountain.”

Both of the players turned to look at him in surprise since they had rather forgotten he was there, but after a moment Gollum grudgingly admitted that his answer was correct.

“Fíli always liked that one,” The dwarf explained with a sheepish smile, blushing slightly beneath Bilbo's gaze. He was dazzling then, all modest pride and brilliance, and for a moment, the hobbit could only stare dazedly. Until he was sharply reminded of their current danger by Gollum's irritated growl.

“Cheating Baggins, dwarf was not part of the bargain. Dwarf should not be playing the game.

“But there's two of us, Precious. Two of us and two of thems is fair. And it's Bagginses' turn to gives us a riddle now. Gives us a riddle, Precious.”

“Oh, right.” Bilbo muttered, trying to think of something hard. “How about...?

Thirty white horses on a red hill,
First they champ,
Then they stamp,
Then they stand still.”

At first the creature seemed rather muddled by his question, but sadly this confusion didn't last. Indeed it was only a short time later when Gollum asked, “Teeth, Precious?” He didn't seem entirely sure about his response but when the hobbit's wince gave him away, the monster crowed, “Teeth!! Yes, my Precious. But we – we only have nine.

He bared his teeth with a snarl, the feral sound making Kíli jerk back against Bilbo and mutter, “So very creepy,” under his breath.

The burglar rather agreed with him, filled with a mixture of terror and pity for this strange being they'd encountered in the dark. Although at the moment terror was winning as Gollum circled them hungrily and recited his next clue.

“Voiceless it cries,
Wingless flutters,
Toothless bites,
Mouthless mutters.”

I should know this one, the hobbit thought, the answer teasing at the edges of his mind. But he couldn't quite grasp it while the other was staring at him and Kíli's nervous twitching wasn't helping him to concentrate.

“Give me some space, will you?” Bilbo asked petulantly as his opponent circled ever closer, his skin crawling beneath the other's hungry glare. “I can't think if I can't breathe.”

If I can't brea- Oh! Of course! “It's wind, isn't it?” The burglar said and he knew by Gollum's annoyed snarl that he was right. “Hah! It is wind. My turn now.”

He took a moment to gather his thoughts before speaking again, looking idly around the cavern as he tried to think of another riddle to recite. I wonder how long it's been since Gollum has been outside these mountains? Or maybe he never has considering the way he seems so at home here in the dark. Well then, let's try this one next.

“An eye in a blue face
Saw an eye in a green face.
'That eye is like to this eye'
Said the first eye,
'But in low place,
Not in high place.'”

When he finished, Gollum frowned furiously, hopping from rock to rock for several minutes while slapping at his head. “Only light here is the mushrooms, Precious. Only color dusty grey. The colors is outside where the light burns us and the men hurts us, Gollum. But we do miss the flowers, Precious. Yes we do. That's the answer, Precious, the nasty burning sun upon the flowers. Tricksy Baggins cannot tricks us.”

“Fine then. Your turn.” Bilbo huffed, folding his arms across his chest. Damn. I thought I had him there. I need to think of something harder when my next turn comes around.

Thankfully, his opponent's next question was easy and the hobbit knew the answer the moment that he heard:

“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter.”

After all, the burglar had just been contemplating the lightlessness of these caverns so “Dark” was the obvious response and in return, he offered:

“A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.”

Gollum had trouble with this one as well and his opponent was rather fascinated by the way he argued back and forth. He truly seemed to be two different people and Bilbo had never seen anything like it before. Crazy hobbits tended to be hoarders or shut-ins like his aunt Belba, weird but harmless in comparison to Gollum's wild insanity.

Though in sharp contrast to Bilbo's interest, Kíli was just becoming more freaked out with every feral mutter and the pain of his injuries made him impatient for this contest to be done.

“Well? Do you have an answer for us or do you concede?” The dwarf demanded after Gollum had been silent for some time.

However, to his eternal disappointment, the creature looked up and shouted, “Eggses! Crunchy little eggses, yes. Grandmum taught us to suck them, Precious.”

I'm sure she did, Bilbo snorted, the thought giving him a brief moment of respite from his fear. Actually the thought of the monster as a child seemed nearly impossible in its absurdity, filling him with the urge to chuckle like he was the crazy one. Though this urge only lasted until his foe spoke again.

“Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking.”

The moment that Gollum fell silent, the hobbit was sure that he didn't know the answer and a wave of panic welled up in his chest. But Kíli was counting on him so Bilbo tried to keep the terror from showing on his face as he wracked his mind for a clue.

All of the creature's earlier riddles had spoken of things in their environment and surely this one must be the same. However, the hobbit couldn't see anything that fit all of Gollum's requirements, nothing but earth and rock and water all around. Think Bilbo! He admonished himself as Kíli stared at him worriedly and Gollum's mouth up into twisted in a feral grin.

Yet just when the burglar was becoming truly desperate, Oromë smiled down on him. For there was a splash within the lake that caught Bilbo's attention, the halfling glancing over just in time to see a pale fin disappear from view.

At this, the riddle's solution became obvious and he turned to Gollum with a huge sigh of relief. “Fish. The word you're looking for is fish.”

Even as the creature snarled his acceptance of this answer, the statement sparked a memory within the hobbit's mind, an old riddle that his father used to tell:

“No-legs lay on one-leg, two-legs sat near on three-legs, four-legs got some.”

“Stupid questions, Precious.” Gollum grumbled, glaring at Bilbo with narrowed eyes. “Stupid questions from stupid hobbitses. But we knows this one from the time before. Yes we do, Precious, we knows. Gollum, Gollum.”

“Well, what is it then?” Bilbo asked, tapping his foot impatiently and hoping that the other would be wrong.

"It's fishes on the table and man on the stool. Hungry man eats everything and leaves his kitty only boneses. Just like us, Precious, nothing but skins and boneses.”

Despite the unique phrasing, the hobbit had to admit that this was correct and thus it was the other's turn again.

“This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”

Another riddle that the burglar did not recognize and he was beginning to regret trusting their lives to this game. For while he still wanted to avoid any bloodshed if he could, Bilbo couldn't bear the thought of Kíli getting hurt because of him. The dwarf was his friend, his dear friend, and far too young to die like this. But Gollum didn't seem like the type to let them bow out gracefully.

In fact, Bilbo probably couldn't delay the inevitable for too much longer before Gollum lost his patience and attacked them anyway. It's not as though a creature like that would have a strong sense of honor and indeed the other barely gave him any time to consider this new riddle before his voice echoed from the stone.

“Bagginses is getting tired. Bagginses is getting weak. It doesn't know the answer and we shall eats it, Precious. We shall feast!!

The creature hissed these last words from just behind the hobbit and Bilbo shrieked in surprise at the hot breath on his ear. How did he get there? He wondered, heart pounding wildly as Kíli jumped in front of him again.

“Stay back, monster,” The dwarf ordered, his sword steady despite the tremble in his voice. “You have to give him time to think.”

Gollum backed off reluctantly when faced with cold steel but the hungry light was still shining in his eyes and Bilbo felt like prey beneath that gaze. Yet the archer's words had triggered a revelation so he had a response ready when his friend asked, “How much longer must we continue this madness? We should just run for it while we can.”

“Not yet. Not until we win,” The hobbit replied stubbornly even though he knew that Kíli was probably right. “If we run, he'll probably just follow us and we can't fight off an ambush in the dark. Our best hope is for Gollum to keep his promise and let us go.”

So Bilbo ignored the archer's muttered, “If he keeps his word,” and met his opponent's eyes firmly as he declared that the answer was: “Time.”

At these words, the other sank back on the stone and pouted, looking for all the world like a child denied his favorite treat. If children were terrifying and liked to eat raw meat. Gollum motioned impatiently for Bilbo to speak again but the burglar didn't want to just blurt something out this time. This last riddle had to be impenetrable since he and Kíli were clearly running out of chances, and yet the other had managed to solve everything with little more than a stumble so the hobbit couldn't think of anything new to say.

“I have a riddle for you. One that you should find difficult.” The dwarf spoke up from behind Bilbo with an offer of reprieve that the hobbit had not been expecting. His friend hadn't really been a part of their game since he answered that first question, but Gollum had agreed to let him participate so the hobbit motioned for Kíli to continue with an encouraging nod.

“I am just two and two
I am warm, I am cold,
I am lawful, unlawful
A duty, a fault
I am often sold dear,
Good for nothing when bought;
An extraordinary boon,
and a matter of course,
and yielding with pleasure
When taken by force.
Who am I?”

While the archer wasn't as practiced in his recitation as the hobbit or his opponent, his voice was pleasant and he got his point across. Indeed, Bilbo found the other's unpolished delivery somehow more compelling than any master, though that may have been hope skewing his perception. Because he had no idea what the answer to Kíli's riddle was and Gollum seemed to be just as perplexed, crouching down amidst the rocks and muttering again.

Eventually he looked up and asked, “Is it food. Scrumptious, crunchable, foodses?” and at the dwarf's negative reply, Bilbo felt a rush of relief-tinged pride.

However, their opponent refused to accept his defeat so easily, growling deep in his throat as he demanded three guesses, three chances to win their lives.

“Fine,” Kíli agreed flatly. “Two more and then we're leaving just like you promised us.”

“Did we promise, Precious?

“We did. But only if they win, Gollum, only if they win. Is it power?” The creature asked, his face darkening when the dwarf shook his head again. He was practically running now, jumping from rock to rock like some wild beast until he stopped above their heads.

“The answer is... your lives!” Gollum roared, leaping for the hobbit's neck with his teeth bared. Bilbo fell hard onto the stone as Kíli shoved him out of the way and the hobbit watched them collide with his heart in his throat. But then the archer was turning, swinging his blade like a hammer to slam into the monster's head and although he sank to one knee in pain at the impact, it was Gollum who flew backward to slam into the wall.

“Are you all right?” The hobbit cried out, racing to Kíli's side. “I knew you were too injured to be fighting. What were you thinking?” Bilbo scolded, his worry over the dwarf's injuries transmuting to anger at his recklessness. However, given what the other had just done, he couldn't stay angry for too long and so the burglar's tone softened despite himself. “Though I suppose I should say thank you for saving my life again.”

“Anytime,” Kíli replied with a soft smile. “I much prefer this world with you in it, you know.”

His sincerity made the hobbit blush and Bilbo ran over to check on Gollum to hide his embarrassment. However, before he reached the creature, something sparkled in the darkness, something gold amidst the stone.

“What is that?” The burglar murmured, reaching down to pick up a small ring from the ground. He had never cared much for jewelry in the past but this piece had a strangely alluring glow and Bilbo found himself slipping it into his pocket without thought or explanation when Kíli asked him what was taking so long.

Instead the hobbit simply laughed off the other's question awkwardly, returning to the dwarf's side to help him to his feet. They needed to get moving again before they encountered something else that wanted to eat them, something which succeeded in its attempt.

So the pair set out once more, leaving Gollum unconscious in their wake as Kíli searched out their escape. Perhaps they should have killed the creature while he was defenseless but Bilbo simply didn't have the heart and the dwarf's honor demanded that his opponents receive a fighting chance. Even if it might have been a mercy to end the other's pitiful existence instead of abandoning him to the dark again.

And with what's probably his greatest treasure tucked away in my pocket. But the company hired a burglar so it's time that I started acting like one, Bilbo justified, though he was too relieved that both of them had survived to worry much about the means right now.

He would feel guilty when they had reached the light again, which shouldn't take too long with the dwarf leading them. For the archer's sense of the mountain was unerring and while the trip was slow, eventually there was the gleam of sunshine up ahead.

“We did it,” Bilbo exclaimed, hugging Kíli as they stepped out into the open air.

“Yes we did. Though I hope the others managed to escape from the goblins too,” The dwarf replied, looking around for a sign of their companions on the mountainside.

“I'm sure they're fine,” The hobbit was quick to reassure him, the statement as much to fight off his own worry as to put the smile back on Kíli's face. “They'll probably show up soon with tales of their own to tell; although, speaking of stories, what is the answer to your riddle anyway?”

“You don't know?” Kíli asked, eyes widening in surprise, and while Bilbo was rather flattered by the other's faith in him, he had to shake his head.

“Well in that case I guess I'll have to show you,” The dwarf said with a grin, reaching out to lay his hand on the hobbit's cheek. Then they were kissing, soft and warm and yet with a hidden edge of passion that washed over Bilbo like a wave.

When they finally parted, he didn't have the breath to speak as he stared up at Kíli with a dazed smile on his face.

Well that was unexpected but I'm certainly not complaining, Bilbo thought, only realizing that he had spoken aloud when the other smirked at him.

“Good. Because I've been wanting to do that for a while and I'd hate to think that this was my only chance. Now come on, I think I hear my brother over there.” The archer threw his arm around Bilbo's shoulder and as the two began to limp along again, the hobbit decided that maybe staying wouldn't be so bad after all.


End