Chapter 2: Courage and Despair
Warnings: torture aftermath, discussion of injuries, angst, internalized homophobia
Word Count: 9407, (14,548 so far)Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit, I wouldn't have to write fanfic
Summary: Thorin believes that his nephew betrayed the company in the goblin caves and leaves him there to die; Bilbo will not stand for this.
Chapter 1: Paranoia
Bilbo cannot believe what he is hearing.
He had been so happy to see the dwarves again after his ordeal within the caves and had followed them out of the mountain as quickly as he could. However, before the hobbit could remove his stolen ring to reveal himself, Thorin began speaking and his words quickly turned Bilbo's joy into revulsion.
The hobbit does not mind his own dismissal for he knows well how little the dwarf lord thinks of him, but the abandonment of Kíli shocks him to the core. What kind of person could leave anyone to suffer beneath the goblins' hands, let alone a relative, and the thought of that happy laughing face twisted in agony makes Bilbo feel ill.
No matter what Thorin believes he knows, his nephew has been the hobbit's best friend among the company and Bilbo is certain that two dwarf could not have done this thing. There is no deception in Kíli's soul and even if there were, the lad has wanted nothing more than his uncle's approval during their entire journey and probably throughout his life.
How can Thorin not realize this? How can he abandon his own kin so easily without any proof other than his own paranoia and the ill words of an enemy? Why isn't Gandalf stopping him?
So Bilbo watches in disgust and disappointment as the dwarf cajoles and threatens Fíli into leaving his brother behind before herding the rest of the company into motion. There is doubt on some of their faces but no one speaks up and the idea of joining them makes the hobbit's stomach turn.
I don't care what suspicions Thorin has, this is wrong, and if no one else has the courage to stop it then I will.
The hobbit walks away from his former company to stand once more before the tunnel entrance, preparing himself for what he is about to do. Bilbo does not know how he will find Kíli within the goblin's warren, all he knows is that he has to try. He will rescue his friend or die in the attempt because he would never be able to live with himself if he walked away.
So Bilbo squares his shoulders and reenters the passage, uncertain if he will ever see the sun or sky again.
Although the hobbit lacks a torch, the ring on his finger adds a strange glow to the world as he creeps further into the mountain's depths. This sickly grey light is enough for him to see the dwarves' footprints in the dirt and Bilbo thanks the Valar for his luck because he knows that without its magic, his search would have been doomed to failure from the start.
He hopes that retracing the dwarves' path will lead him back to Kíli and the hobbit has followed it for a long while when he hears a noise from up ahead. There is just enough time for Bilbo to throw himself to the side of the tunnel before a horde of goblins rushes past him and even with his ring, the hobbit does not dare to breathe until the last one is long gone. Then he stands up, brushes himself off and continues deeper into the mountain, listening carefully for anymore footsteps in the dark over the wild pounding of his heart.
However, while Bilbo encounters no more enemies, the hobbit faces another conundrum when the path splits up ahead. To his dismay, he discovers that the dwarves' footprints have been obliterated by the goblins that passed him by and the creatures came from both directions in nearly equal numbers.
There are no obvious defining features to separate the tunnels and so for lack of a better plan, the hobbit eventually decides to take the route that angles upward, remembering the great height from which he fell. By this point, the absence of clear landmarks has caused Bilbo to lose all sense of distance or direction and he knows that he might be lost forever if he fails to retrace his steps. Yet the hobbit can do nothing but press onward, ignoring the smaller side tunnels and using his grumbling stomach as a guide to the passage of time.
After what must be several more hours of walking, Bilbo's tunnel finally meets with the enormous cavern in which the goblins built their makeshift town. The place is strangely deserted now but the hobbit can see signs of the dwarves' presence in the corpses and wreckage strewn across the ground and he is relieved to see them even as he has to look away and gag.
So the hobbit is picking his way carefully through the debris when a shrill scream echoes through the caves and his chest clenches painfully when he recognizes Kíli's tortured voice. The cry halts Bilbo in his tracks for it seems to stretch on endlessly in a wail of agony from which there is no escape.
Yet it is almost worse when the scream cuts off abruptly and throwing caution to the wind, the hobbit sprints forward toward the source. Kíli did not sound as though he had much strength remaining and Bilbo cannot bear the thought that he might arrive seconds too late. He runs recklessly through the cavern, leaping gaps and obstacles without hesitation and correcting his course each time that the dwarf cries out again.
Finally Bilbo skids to a halt outside a smaller cave that adjoins the main one, and his heart almost stops when he peers cautiously inside. Kíli is there, chained to a rack with his arms stretched far above his head and if he were not breathing, the hobbit would think him dead.
The dwarf's weapons and gear are piled on one side of the chamber and he has been stripped almost bare, every inch of exposed skin covered in blood and bruises. Along with the smaller cuts that litter his body, there are deep gashes across his ribs, whip-marks crisscrossing his torso and a enormous, angry burn running down his side.
Bilbo is about to rush inside and help him when there is a grunt from the shadows and a large goblin limps into view, moving toward Kíli as he spins a wicked flaying knife between his hands.
“Stubborn dwarf, stupid stubborn creature. Your friends have left you and still you resist, but Zarg will break you soon enough.” The creature mutters through his misshapen mouth. “You'll scream and scream and then you'll finally squeal. Spill your secrets in my ears so that I'll let you die.”
I knew it! I knew Thorin had to be mistaken and Kíli is no betrayer. The hobbit is incredibly relieved to know that his friend is as blameless as he thought, but he still needs to free the dwarf before he can worry about clearing his name. So Bilbo creeps slowly into the cave while he tries to gather his courage to attack.
Yet when Zarg raises his knife to carve another slice into Kíli's skin, the hobbit's vision flashes red and he charges forward instantly to bring the goblin down. There is no remorse within him as he tackles the creature and slams his blade into the other's chest on the way down to the floor. Zarg's knife goes flying and Bilbo stabs him again and again, blood splashing onto his face and hands. One last slice across the goblin's neck ends his miserable life for good, and the hobbit shakes the gore off his sword before turning to help his dwarf.
The commotion has brought Kíli out of his stupor and he stirs weakly, eyes cracking open and widening at the bloodbath that meets his gaze.
“Is someone th-there?” The dwarf asks cautiously, looking around as best he can. His voice is dry and harsh from screaming and it breaks upon the words, making him cough roughly. Each cough jerks his body against the chains that bind him and Kíli winces, teeth clenching tight against the pain.
Bilbo grabs the keys off Zarg's belt and rushes to the other's side but the dwarf pulls back sharply at his touch, face blanching once again. Why...? Oh damn it all, the ring. The hobbit quickly pulls the gold band off to reassure his friend and the world returns to its proper color and tone as its magic dissipates.
“It's all right, Kíli, everything's all right. It's Bilbo and I'm going to get you out of here.” He whispers soothingly as he tries to find the right key amidst the rest.
At his words, the dwarf relaxes slightly, tilting his head down to look the hobbit in the eye. “Bi-Bilbo? How? Am I hallucinating again?”
“No. No, I promise I am real and I'm here to rescue you. But I need to free you before anyone else comes back.” The hobbit replies, patting Kíli gently on his leg to prove the truth of his statement before he climbs onto a crate to unlock the dwarf's shackles. “Can you walk?”
Kíli nods shakily as he cautiously lowers his arms, face bleaching white when the blood rushes back beneath his skin. “I'll have to, won't I?” He says, voice strangled by the pain while Bilbo moves to gather up his gear. “But they were interested in suffering not damage so my legs are mostly all right. I'd move faster with a sling though.”
When the hobbit turns back, he sees what the dwarf means by this for Kíli's right arm is hanging limply at his side as he sways upon his feet. So following the other's directions, Bilbo fashions a rough sling from his shirt and binds the injured limb tightly against the dwarf's chest to stop it from jarring while they walk.
Then he helps Kíli into what little clothing he can manage before throwing the rest of their gear over his own shoulders in an awkward bundle. By the time they've finished, the dwarf is pale and trembling again but he nods in determination when Bilbo asks him if he is ready to leave.
“I'll manage. Better some pain than dying here. But what about Fíli, Thorin and the rest? Are they all right?”
The honest worry in Kíli's eyes makes the hobbit's heart ache for his abandonment and so he offers the only truth that he can bear to speak. “They're fine. Everyone is fine and they escaped already, while I came back for you.”
Thankfully the dwarf does not question Bilbo any further and simply nods in relief as he shoots the hobbit a sweet smile. “I'm glad to hear that, and thank you for this in case I don't have another chance to say it. Now let's get out of here before we get caught and waste your efforts.”
Kíli is so injured that the hobbit is almost afraid to touch him but Bilbo eventually finds a position where he can support the dwarf without hurting him too badly and the pair starts slowly on their way. As they reach the opening to the main cavern, Bilbo stops the other, leaning the dwarf against the wall before ducking out to see if any goblins are around. Luckily the area is still deserted and he turns back for Kíli but when they cross the threshold, the hobbit has a thought and pauses to pull his new ring out of his pocket.
“You should take this,” he says, handing the small gold circle to the dwarf. Although something in him screams possessively to see it leave his hands, Bilbo ignores the voice because it's just a loan and really, Kíli's life should be far more important than some bit of jewelry. “If we run into any more goblins put this on and get out of the way. It will let you pass unseen beneath their gaze.”
“But what about you?” The dwarf protests, the gold of the ring glinting in his eyes. He shakes his head and tries to hand it back until Bilbo overrides him, folding his fingers around the band.
“I am far smaller than you and uninjured so I can hide more easily or fight if it comes to this. I promise that I will hide if possible for I do not plan to throw my life away.”
When Kíli finally agrees, the hobbit ducks back under his good shoulder and they make their halting way over the wooden bridges and rocky paths. It is slow going for the creatures are not the sturdiest of builders and every time they have to jump a gap, Bilbo is afraid that the dwarf will keel over from the pain. Yet somehow he perseveres and the pair continues on.
Despite the hobbit's worries, they do not see another soul on their trip across the cavern and it is almost like walking through a grave. However, Bilbo can hear a great commotion and angry shouting in the distance and he is thankful that they need not go that way.
Eventually they reach the tunnel through which the hobbit entered and he grabs a torch from the wall as they duck into the passage. Walking on stable ground is easier for Kíli and the pair starts to make better time, but the dwarf's energy is fading fast beneath the strain of his injuries and his ordeal. In fact Bilbo is concentrating so hard on supporting his friend that he does not hear the footsteps until the goblins are nearly upon them. When he finally realizes what he's hearing, the hobbit shoves the torch against the wall and tosses Kíli's gear aside, urgently ordering the dwarf to put on the ring. However, while he watches in relief as the other disappears from view, there is no time for Bilbo to hide himself.
So without any hope of avoiding conflict, the hobbit chooses to begin it and the first goblin to round the corner dies quickly on his blade, eyes wide with surprise. However, his dying scream alerts the others and Bilbo soon finds himself struggling just to stay alive.
He blocks and ducks frantically, relying more on instinct than any actual skill, and a lucky slash across the throat takes another goblin down. This minor victory gives the hobbit courage to be more aggressive in his strikes and his spirits lift further when Kíli starts to aid him, chucking rocks at their enemies from the dark.
While the stones do little damage, they distract the creatures and Bilbo ducks under one's attack to bury his own sword deep in the monster's gut. Yet as he turns to meet his last foe, he trips over the bundle of gear that he threw away so hastily and tumbles to the ground.
As he falls, Bilbo loses his grip on his weapon and his hands scrabble uselessly in the dirt when he looks up and sees his death in the goblin's grinning face. The hobbit throws an arm up and braces for the killing blow but it is the creature that falters as something slams into the back of his head with a sickening crack.
When the goblin crumples, his arms flail out like sledgehammers and one of them must find Kíli for there is a choked cry and a thud from the air behind him. At the sound, Bilbo scrambles up and shoves the dying creature to the side, “Kíli, are you all right? Where are you damn it?”
There is no answer so the hobbit searches blindly and finally his groping hands touch skin. He follows the line of the dwarf's arm down to his fist, which is clenched tight around the jagged rock that saved Bilbo's life. As quickly as he can, he eases this hand open and works the ring off Kíli's finger, slipping it back into his pocket while his friend reappears.
The dwarf looks terrible where he kneels upon the stone, his face twisted and teeth clenched and he does not respond when the hobbit calls his name. This is when Bilbo really starts to worry and he reaches out to grab the other's good shoulder in distress.
“Kíli, Kíli, Kíli. Come on I know it hurts but we have to go. Please, I can't help you here and I can't carry you myself. Kíli!”
Finally his eyes crack open but they are hazy with pain and the dwarf does not seem to recognize the other's worried face. Despite this, the hobbit manages to cajole his friend onto his feet but Kíli cannot seem to focus and is swaying too much to walk even with aid.
Bilbo feels desperation well up within him at the sight and with no other hope resorts to begging. “Kíli please. You have to concentrate. We need to get out of here before more goblins show up or then you'll never see your family again.”
“Fa- family? Fíli!” This seems to cut through the dwarf's muddled thoughts and though he hates to do it, the hobbit continues in this vein.
“That's right, Fíli. He's waiting for you but you have to walk there. Your family's waiting for you farther on and you don't want to disappoint them, do you? C'mon one foot in front of the other, just like that.”
Kíli nods shakily and starts moving, mumbling to himself as he stumbles along. “Going to see Fíli, but have to walk. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Don't want to disappoint uncle, not again.”
The hobbit winces, feeling incredibly guilty at this litany, but right now he would say anything if it meant saving the dwarf's life and at least they are on their way again. Under the weight of their gear and the other's stumbling progress, the journey seems to last forever and Bilbo knows that they are doomed if they encounter anymore goblins along the way.
However, this time luck is with them and the pair reaches the tunnel entrance without further mishap, walking unmolested out into the open air. The hobbit thanks Yavanna's grace as he extinguishes his torch and takes more of Kíli's weight so that they can travel faster. He is torn between letting the dwarf rest and fleeing as far as possible, but when Bilbo sees a clear stream flowing out from the mountainside a fair distance from the tunnel, the decision is all but made.
As the hobbit settles his friend gently against a tree, he wishes that he had more supplies but the water is pure and thankfully the night is not too cold. The dwarf passed out nearly the moment he sat down, so Bilbo takes this chance to clean the other's wounds, wiping the blood and dirt carefully from Kíli's skin.
Yet the more he uncovers the more horrified he is, for there is almost no part of the dwarf's body that is uninjured and Bilbo knows that he lacks the skill required to properly treat such wounds. He does the best he can, cutting strips from his waistcoat to wash and bandage Kíli's deepest cuts but the hobbit can do nothing for the swollen purple mess of the dwarf's shoulder or the angry blisters that cover his burned side.
Infuriated by his own helplessness, Bilbo swears that if they somehow manage to survive this, he will learn the skills he lacks. He will study everything there is to know about the healing arts so that he never has to be stuck in this position again, able to do nothing to help those whom he loves.
Yet for now all the hobbit can do is curl up against Kíli and wrap his coat around them to share warmth, and it is not until dawn peeks over the horizon that he finally allows himself to sleep.
When Bilbo wakes it is mid-morning and Kíli has tucked himself under the hobbit's chin, left arm wrapped around him tightly. He smiles fondly down at the dwarf for a moment but when he catches himself admiring how the soft light plays across the other's skin, Bilbo turns his head away firmly.
Don't be stupid. He's a friend and he's going to stay that way because you are not going down that road again. Anyway this is hardly the time for such foolishness.
The hobbit carefully extricates himself from Kíli's embrace and digs a waterskin out of their gear before walking to the stream to freshen up. He splashes cold water on his face and fills the skin, returning to find the dwarf awake and this time, thank Yavanna, there is recognition in his eyes.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” Bilbo asks, kneeling down by Kíli's side.
“Like death,” The dwarf croaks in response, motioning for the water and the hobbit lifts the skin to his lips to help him drink. When he has finished, Kíli sits back again and a frown forms on his face as he looks around. “Where are the others? I thought you said they all escaped.”
Bilbo is caught off guard by the question and he freezes, panic running through him, When he doesn't answer, the dwarf's eyes widen and he asks again more urgently, “Where are they? They are alive?!”
“Yes, everyone is fine. Or at least they were all fine when I last saw them.” The hobbit is quick to reassure his friend, stopping Kíli as he struggles to rise. “I just have no idea where they are now.”
“What are you talking about? Weren't they waiting for you? For us?” The dwarf asks in confusion and Bilbo finds that he has run out of excuses.
“Not exactly, okay. Look, everyone escaped and they were fine but they aren't waiting. The others left without us and they aren't coming back; they don't even know we're still alive. I returned for you on my own because I couldn't leave you there to die.”
Kíli looks at the hobbit with shocked disbelief as he slumps back against tree and shakes his head. “I don't understand. Fíli would never have left me.”
“He didn't want to. Most of them didn't want to, only...” Here Bilbo pauses for there is no gentle way to say this. Maybe it would be better to wait but the dwarf deserves the truth and the hobbit has never been very good at lying anyway. “Thorin forced them to leave. He's convinced that you were sabotaging his quest and named you a traitor to his cause. I am so sorry but he refused to listen to reason.”
With these words Bilbo discovers that it is possible to see a heart break and he watches helplessly while Kíli's face crumples in betrayal and despair. “What? But why...how could he think that?”
The hobbit has no answer for him; there are no words to ease his pain. So he just wraps an arm around the dwarf and tries to tell him that it will be all right, Kíli will be all right once the pair finds shelter and someone to treat his wounds.
However the dwarf just shakes his head in denial of these platitudes, “No it won't. You should have gone with the others because my life is over anyway. Dwarves do not take to traitors kindly and with my own uncle against me, I will never be welcome among our people again. Even my name will be erased from our history and any of the Sigin-tarâg who recognize me would be honor bound to strike me down.”
“But Thorin is wrong! We both know that he's wrong and you just need to make him see the truth. I'm sure the others will support you once they know you live, so you cannot lose hope now.” Bilbo pleads, attempting to make the other see that he still has reason to go on. The hobbit knows that he would not enough but surely Kíli still wants to see his family once again.
“Uncle does not admit to mistakes and he would not take our word as proof. No, you should just leave me and save yourself because like this I'll only slow you down. Better for one of us to survive than for you to perish trying to rescue one already dead.”
Kíli's voice is bitter but sincere and the hobbit knows that the dwarf truly is willing to sacrifice himself again. But all this knowledge does is make him angry.
In fact these words infuriate Bilbo and he slaps the other across the face, hard enough to sting. “I did not drag your sorry ass out of that mountain for you to give up so easily. Your life has value even if you can't seem to see it and your mother and Fíli would be ashamed. Now either you are going to pick yourself up off the ground and come with me or we are both going to sit here until we die of starvation because I am not leaving you now. Have I made myself clear?”
The dwarf tries to protest but Bilbo stands firm and eventually Kíli has to give in. No matter what he may think about his own chances, he cannot let a friend die needlessly and so he staggers upright as the hobbit repacks what few supplies they have.
Both of them have stiffened from sleeping on the ground but their progress is better than Bilbo expected and they reach the base of the mountain before night falls. In the distance, he can see a tall stone spire stretching above the trees and he uses it as a landmark to keep them walking straight. If nothing else, the hobbit hopes that from the top he might be able to see any settlements nearby and Bilbo does not allow himself to think about what he will do if there are none.
As the hours pass, Kíli's shoulder is only getting worse and he knows that the dwarf will not survive long if any of his wounds become infected. Although it may be a moot point if starvation or exposure kills them first because they have neither food nor shelter. So the hobbit pushes Kíli as hard as he dares, continuing to walk even as darkness falls until they cannot see to place their feet.
When they finally stop to rest, Bilbo lights a fire with his tinderbox and hopes this will be enough to keep any animals away, for he cannot afford to watch a whole night without sleep. Then the pair dine on the small handful of edible plants that he managed to pick while they traveled. The greens are a poor meal indeed for ones already so rundown and the hobbit's stomach protests at the lack, but hopefully this small nourishment will help them continue one.
After Bilbo's inappropriate thoughts that morning, he tries to keep his distance as they prepare to rest to give himself time to clear his mind. Spending the day pressed to Kíli's side has not helped his situation and the hobbit knows that he needs to get a handle on his desires before things go too far.
However, when the dwarf rests his head on his shoulder and falls asleep instantly, Bilbo does not have the heart to push him away, though he himself dozes only fitfully, startled awake by every unfamiliar sound.
The next day passes in a similar manner, only Kíli struggles to keep up their former pace and the hobbit's hope dims when evening comes and he sees how far the pair has left to travel. That night the dwarf doesn't sleep so much as fall unconscious and when Bilbo curls up next to him, the unnatural heat of his friend's skin dismays him even more.
Once he finally drifts off, the hobbit's dreams are dark and fragmented and when he jerks awake it takes him a moment to remember where he is. The fire has burned down to coals so several hours must have passed but Kíli still sleeps soundly at Bilbo's side, face pressed awkwardly against his chest. There is no blue glow either, his blade is reassuringly dim and so the hobbit is not sure what woke him from his doze.
I suppose I might as well restart the fire since I'm up, he thinks and untangles himself carefully from the dwarf before kneeling by its dying embers. However, just as Bilbo begins to stir the coals to life, he hears a noise, the sharp crack of a twig snapping underfoot. Though his sword remains unlit, the hobbit snatches it up and draws it from its sheath, heart racing as he peers nervously into the night.
There's something out there! His hand clenches tightly around the hilt of his blade when a black shape stirs beneath the trees. Bilbo moves quickly to stand between Kíli and the figure, ready to defend the dwarf as best he can, but he nearly drops his weapon instead when a deep voice calls out.
“You must be Mr. Baggins then, the wizard said you would be small. A fierce rabbit to challenge one like me. But he did not mention your companion.”
“Who's there? How do you know my name?” The hobbit asks, voice trembling only slightly as he tried to subtly nudge Kíli awake in case they have to run.
In response to his questions, the figure moves closer and the dim firelight reveals an enormous man who, despite his rough appearance, crouches by the coals and smiles kindly. “I am Beorn and this is my territory. Gandalf asked me to watch for you when he left my house this morning; he feared you might be lost within the woods, or worse.”
Bilbo relaxes at these words for the man's face is honest and he is pleasantly surprised that the wizard stopped to think of him at all. “Can you help us? My friend was injured by the goblins and I have neither the skill nor supplies to heal his wounds.”
Beorn moves to Kíli's side and scrutinizes the dwarf intensely, eyes lingering on the hobbit's make-shift bandages. He is almost afraid to breathe as he waits for the other to speak because he knows that if this man cannot help them then Kíli is probably doomed. So it is with great relief that Bilbo watches Beorn sit back on his heels and nod slowly in assent.
“I can aid him, yes, though he may not heal as fast as he would like. It is lucky that I found you when I did for your friend would not have survived the two-day journey to my home, not with injuries like these.”
“Two days?” Bilbo asks faintly, wondering if this is just some cruel joke after all. With the dwarf already struggling, he knows Kíli cannot manage that, not unless the man works some magic here.
“Two days walking, yes. But do not fear, I will have you there much faster. Can you wake him up?”
The hobbit kneels by the dwarf's side and taps him gently until he finally stirs, eyes cracking open with a disgusted groan. However, when Bilbo turns back to Beorn to ask what he should do next, the man is no longer there. Instead a gigantic bear is standing in the clearing and the hobbit would have screamed if it were not looking at him with wise and kindly eyes.
“Beorn?” He asks tentatively, although the idea seems impossible, but indeed the creature nods. When the bear lays down on the ground and gestures toward his back, Bilbo regains his senses and coaxes Kíli to his feet. The dwarf is still half dozing and out of it with fever but thankfully he is malleable enough beneath the hobbit's hands. So he maneuvers Kíli forward, settling him onto Beorn's large back and then climbing up behind.
Once they are seated, Bilbo wraps his arms around the dwarf to keep him upright and takes a firm grip on the bear's fur before telling the skin-changer that they are ready. As soon as the words leave his mouth, Beorn charges forward like an arrow, making the hobbit gasp and grab on tighter in surprise.
Yavanna's mercy! He is fast. Bilbo thinks as he holds on for dear life. Maybe we'll make it in time after all.
These thoughts lighten his heart and he has hope now that they might actually survive this- that Kíli will survive and his struggle won't have been for nothing. So the hobbit settles himself more comfortably on the bear's wide back and tries to ignore the way his friend whimpers each time his injuries are jarred. Despite Bilbo's best efforts and the smoothness of Beorn's stride, this is more often than he'd like and the hobbit is almost grateful when Kíli passes out again.
The trip lasts for hours at the same breakneck pace and Bilbo's hands are cramping by the time the bear finally slows down. In the distance he can see a large wooden hall standing in a meadow, its roof glowing softly beneath the sun's first rays. Truthfully the building could be a shack and it would still be the most beautiful thing that he'd ever seen because it means salvation and the skin-changer lopes over to it before kneeling by the door.
The hobbit hops off quickly and turns just in time to catch Kíli's unconscious form as he slides limply toward the ground. He staggers under the dwarf's dead weight, supporting him as best he can until Beorn shifts again and lifts Kíli from Bilbo's arms to carry him gently inside.
Trying not to hover, the hobbit follows a few steps behind and watches with worry from the sidelines as the man lays his friend out upon his table and strips him down to see his wounds.
After three nights the dwarf looks like death, his bruises dark against his skin. Now that his cloak is off Bilbo can see that his right shoulder is swelling black and purple, blisters have formed and cracked all along his side and when Beorn removes the bandages, several of his wounds appear inflamed. Finally, when the skin-changer checks Kíli over one more time, he discovers that several of the dwarf's ribs are broken and more are likely cracked.
The man sends the hobbit out to gather water and other supplies and when he returns Beorn is gently straightening Kíli's injured arm. Within the man's giant hands his friend looks tiny, small and fragile like he never has before, and Bilbo cannot keep from gasping when the skin-changer jerks the limb sharply.
However, although the dwarf moans even while unconscious, his arm moves easier afterward and his pinched expression eases when Beorn wraps a poultice around the joint.
That is what I want to learn, the hobbit thinks, for there is something almost magic about such healing skill. So he watches intently as the man leeches pus and infection from Kíli's wounds even though the sight makes his stomach turn. Bilbo is there to hand Beorn bandages when he holds out his hand and empty the bucket when the water becomes foul. He helps bind the dwarf's ribs to make them will heal correctly and rubs salve across a score of burns and cuts.
When the man realizes that his interest is more than worry over his friend, Beorn starts explaining each of his actions and the reasoning behind them beneath Bilbo's avid gaze. The hobbit listens carefully, soaking up as much information as he can for he has an ill feeling that he might need such knowledge again before their journey is complete.
It takes them hours to finish treating Kíli and when they are finally done, Beorn carries their patient into a spare bedroom before pulling Bilbo to the side.
“Your friend will be all right and there should be no lasting damage if he is careful while he heals. It seems the tales of dwarven strength are true for no man of my acquaintance could have walked so far carrying those wounds. However, such feats have their cost and he will sleep for quite some time while his body recovers from the ordeal. You should also rest now for you will do him no good exhausted and the bed is large enough to fit two small folks like you.”
“Oh no, I couldn't,” The hobbit protests, blushing deeply at the impropriety. Even without his deviancy such a thing would not be done back home, but the skin-changer just overrides his refusal gently.
“You do not want your friend to hurt himself further if he wakes disoriented and alone, do you? Sleep little rabbit and leave propriety for another day. Everything will seem clearer once you rest.”
Beorn ushers Bilbo into the room and closes the door softly behind him, but even though the hobbit is exhausted he cannot sleep, not with Kíli laying there so pale and still. It is unnatural to see the dwarf this quiet for even in his sleep he usually mumbled and moved around and the hobbit finds himself placing a palm on the other's chest just to check that he still breathes. The faint but steady heartbeat and slow breaths are reassuring and Bilbo grasps the dwarf's hand in his when he sits beside the bed.
“You'll be all right now,” the hobbit tells him, as much hope as promise. “Once you've healed, we'll find a way to prove the truth to Thorin and I'll help you get your life back, no matter what it takes. So you can't give up again, not now. Fíli would be devastated and I would miss you terribly as well because I-”
I think that I could love you-
“I care for you as a friend.” Bilbo finishes with a whisper, burying the other thought deep within his mind. He had tried so hard to be accepted in the Shire but he had never been able to overcome the stigma of his past and sometimes he hated that fauntling who had not known to hide the truth.
Even though it had been years since that ill-fated day, hobbits do not forgive and gossip had followed Bilbo long before he left to go on this mad adventure, whispers which kept him friendless and alone. So he is not going to ruin Kíli's opinion of him now by revealing his abnormal desires; friendship will be enough, it must be, and he will be satisfied simply to have the other in his life.
The hobbit falls asleep like that, one hand on the dwarf's heart and the other holding his hand, and for the first time in days his dreams are free of sorrow.
When Bilbo wakes he discovers that he has slept the day away and the light of the setting sun shines through the western window. Kíli is still sleeping on the other half of the bed so the hobbit takes a moment to check his friend's condition before stretching carefully and tiptoeing out of the room.
Beorn's house is bafflingly enormous for one used to hobbit holes and he becomes lost for quite awhile before finding his way back to the kitchen and his host. As he enters the room, Bilbo breathes in deep because the air smells fantastic and when he looks around, the hobbit sees Beorn skillfully cooking something over the fire.
The man has obviously been at his task for some time since the entire table is laden with an impressive spread of food that would be fit for the Shire Thain himself. The hobbit walks closer, staring at the feast in awe and trying not to think about how long it has been since he had a proper meal. He is also trying not to drool but he can't stop his stomach from rumbling and at the sound, the skin-changer turns to smile at him cheerfully.
“Hello little one, did you sleep well? I thought you would be hungry. Please, take a seat.” The man says, waving toward the table with one hand.
“Yes, thank you. I slept like a log and this looks amazing.” Bilbo replies as he climbs up onto a chair. “Though I hope our unexpected arrival didn't put you out?”
“You are no trouble at all. I do not have guests often so my stores are full and the last company I had was not nearly as appreciative or deserving of my aid.”
The hobbit's mood dims at the thought of the other dwarves for Beorn's words remind him of Kíli's situation. “I'm sorry to hear that. Are we very far behind them then?” He asks, wondering how they're going to clear the dwarf's good name if they can't even manage to catch up.
“Thorin Oakenshield and his company left yesterday morning and Gandalf not long after.”
This news surprises Bilbo for he thought that the wizard would be traveling to Erebor as well. “They didn't leave together?”
“No,” Beorn shakes his head while he takes the last dish off the fire. “The dwarves headed into the Mirkwood while Gandalf was called north on some secret business. I tell you, nothing good shall come in days when wizards gather. But he also left this for you in case you passed my way.”
The skin-changer hands the hobbit a letter and begins to serve their meal as Bilbo reads the wizard's note.
My dear hobbit,
I hope this message finds you well and I am sorry that I cannot be there to tell you this in person, but the leader of my order has summoned my brethren to council.
Thorin and his company are traveling on to Mirkwood even as I write this for the dwarves believe that you are dead or fled back to your home. However, I have faith that this is not the case and indeed I feel that we will meet again before this quest is through. That said, there is a difficult choice ahead of you and only you can decide the path that you will take.
Should you choose to return to the Shire and leave this adventure behind you, no one could fault you after the ill treatment that you've faced. However, if you decide to follow the dwarves instead, Beorn will be able to help with your supplies and I left him with a map of the route that you should take. While this choice must be yours alone, I hope that you think carefully before you decide for I fear that you may be more important than you know.
There is something dark stirring in the world and although I find that I cannot see which path will bring a kinder fate, I do know that the future may shift upon the smallest fulcrum. Trust your heart and your good sense and I am sure that you will come out all right in the end. Take care until we meet again.
Gandalf the Grey
Bilbo is not sure what to think when he puts down the letter and truly his feelings are mixed. First there is doubt, for while he is pleased to know that Gandalf trusts him, the hobbit is not sure that he deserves it. All this talk of fate and evil has him far out of his depth and what could he possibly do to save the world?
At the same time, part of Bilbo is still furious with the wizard for allowing Thorin to abandon them so easily and the fact that he did not mention the dwarf at all only fans this flame. Gandalf wouldn't have known that the hobbit had rescued Kíli while he was writing this message and did the wizard really think Bilbo wouldn't care to know about the other's fate?
Do they all consider him worth so little, even those that should be on his side? His fists clench tight around the paper and the hobbit shoves the crumpled note in his pocket when the skin-changer hands him a brimming plate.
The food is fantastic and some of Bilbo's anger abates as he focuses on eating his fill for the first time in almost a month. By the time he sits back with a satisfied sigh, Beorn looks rather impressed because the hobbit has matched him nearly bite for bite, and when the man offers him a pipe, Bilbo's day is finally complete.
Although his pouch of Old Toby was ruined by water in the tunnels underground, the man has a decent stash and the hobbit allows the comfortable familiarity of smoking to wash some of his cares away. Yet when he finishes they all come rushing back and Bilbo makes his excuses, wanting to return to Kíli before something, anything, happens and he would have rushed out of the room if Beorn had not grabbed his hand.
“Patience,” The man cautions, tugging him gently back into his chair. “You will do your friend no good if you run yourself ragged and you will need your energy for when he finally wakes. I will check on the dwarf again before you return to sleep, so rest now and tell me how he looked to you.”
“He is better, I think.” Bilbo replies as he tries to remember everything the skin-changer had taught him that morning. “He has more color and his breathing is stronger, but I am pretty sure that he has a fever as well and we should probably replace his bandages soon.”
“About what I expected then,” the man replies thoughtfully. “We will have to watch the heat but he is young and strong so do not worry too much. And by the sound of it we'll make a healer of you yet.”
Beorn laughs heartily at this last before handing the hobbit a steaming mug of tea which Bilbo takes happily, grateful for the warmth. Then the man sobers, face serious as he continues. “Now my small friend, now I think you must tell me the tale of your journey in those mountains and what happened to lead you to my door. How did you become separated from your companions and why did no one mention that dwarf to me?”
The hobbit wraps his hands tighter around his cup and looks down uncomfortably, but he can hardly refuse the man after everything he's done and maybe a new perspective will help him decide his course.
“I'm not sure that I would call it a tale for that implies deeds worth remembering and this is not a happy story. It was the goblins who hurt Kíli, physically at least, though I do not know why only he was tortured. Truthfully I know very little about what happened to him there, though some of it I can guess from the scars upon his skin. When we were captured, I fell into the depths and by the time I found my way to the surface the rest of the company had escaped. All of them but Kíli, whom they had left to die alone.”
Once he reaches this part of his narrative, Bilbo feels himself grow angry once again and his knuckles whiten when his fingers clench around the mug.
“I...They didn't see me but I heard them talking about it and...His brother wanted to go back but Thorin wouldn't let him...He thinks that Kíli betrayed him though I don't know why and somehow he convinced the others even though he's wrong. They all left, even Gandalf; they just abandoned Kíli and I simply couldn't...How could they do that? So I went back for him and when I found him....”
Words fail the hobbit as his throat closes with tears and he shrugs helplessly.
“The goblins were going to keep hurting him so I- I got him out of there and I did what I could for his wounds but it wasn't enough. If you hadn't found us ...I don't know what I would have done if he had died, so thank you. I am forever in your debt for this and I only wish I could have helped him more.”
Bilbo hangs his head dejectedly when he finishes, crushed by the weight of his failures and the emotions that the story brought to bear. However, he looks up when Beorn responds, patting his arm gently.
“I have experienced betrayal many times in my life and yet I do not have an answer for you because there are far too many things that cause loyalty to fail. However, I can tell you that the decision does not sit easily within the company and your story explains much of the tension that I saw. There are definitely those who are on Kíli's side, including his brother, and they will be overjoyed to know that both of you are still alive.
And you have nothing to be sorry for little one, nothing at all. You saved your friend's life when his own kin would not and that is worth far more than you might know. So even if Gandalf had not asked me to help I would still be honored to have aided one as brave and loyal as you.”
At these words the hobbit shakes his head in bafflement but the skin-changer's gaze is sincere and there is conviction in his voice.
“You do not give yourself enough credit, little one, and perhaps you do not realize that you are more fox than rabbit after all. There is no debt between us for claiming payment from two in such need would bring naught but shame upon my house and I think without me you would still have found a way. You did far more than any could have asked and your friend would tell you the same were he awake to hear this. Indeed your dwarf is lucky to have you and he will need your support in the days to come.”
“He's not my dwarf. I mean he's my friend so of course I helped him, I would have done the same for anyone.” But the statement feels like a lie beneath Beorn's steady gaze and Bilbo finds that he cannot meet the other's eyes as his wall of denial finally crumbles.
How can the hobbit deny that he is well on his way to falling in love with Kíli when he risked his life for him without a thought and he knows in his heart that he would not have done the same for all the rest? What else could it be when the idea of the other dying makes him feel as if all joy would leave his world and he would do anything if it meant the dwarf would smile at him once more?
Yet just because Bilbo admits his feelings does not mean he has to act on them and he resolves to guard his thoughts with care. Kíli doesn't deserve the burden of his regard and he wouldn't want the dwarf to be uncomfortable around him while he heals. Nor if he is being honest does Bilbo want to be rejected and called a freak again, in a repeat of Ruddo Brandybuck so many years before.
Thankfully the skin-changer seems to sense his discomfort for he turns the discussion to lighter topics and soon the hobbit is yawning in his chair. This time the man allows him to head back to his room, following along to check on Kíli's progress.
Beorn changes the bandages and poultices on the worst of the dwarf's injuries before declaring himself satisfied with his patient's condition, though he warns Bilbo that Kíli may wake up delirious and violent from the pain. Then the skin-changer wishes the hobbit a good night and leaves the room while his guest stares after him in shock.
He just...he trust me? Even though he knows... Bilbo is certainly not planning on molesting Kíli in his sleep but no hobbit would have believed that. No hobbit has so trusted him in decades, always watching him suspiciously when they talk to him alone and glaring as they herd their children to the other side of the path. He is so used to being the monster, the deviant that respectable society politely ostracizes that Beorn's calm acceptance leaves him standing in bewilderment.
Maybe other races allow it? Allow people like me to fall in love like any other? Bilbo wonders, a tiny flicker of hope igniting deep within. Maybe this could be normal?
But he quashes that idea quickly for the hobbit knows well the pain of foolish dreams. Yeah right. As if loving other men would ever be accepted and a male dwarf, impossible...Beorn probably just trusts me because of Gandalf or I was wrong and he doesn't actually know the desires of my heart.
The hobbit turns back to Kíli and now that his denial has been lifted, Bilbo realizes that he must have been pining over the dwarf for quite some time. There is a comfortable familiarity in the path that his eyes travel over the other's features as though it is something that they have done a thousand times before. Similarly, the ache in his chest when he looks down at Kíli and the desire to lean over and kiss those parted lips do not have the sharp bite of new sensations.
No these feelings are well rooted and almost overwhelming now that Beorn has dragged them into the light. However, Bilbo has a lifetime of practice at repression and after indulging himself for a moment, he shove those urges from his mind. So instead the hobbit simply tucks Kíli's hair behind his ears and kisses him softly on the forehead before laying down to sleep several feet away.
Although Bilbo can no longer deny the attraction that he feels, over the days that follow the hobbit is far too busy to worry about how he will manage to hide his interest from his friend.
When Kíli finally wakes, the dwarf is delirious with fever just as Beorn predicted and it takes Bilbo nearly an hour to convince him that there is no danger near so he can slip away to find their host. The skin-changer forces the hobbit to eat breakfast while he takes care of Kíli but as soon as he has finished, Bilbo is back at the dwarf's side.
Since he refuses to leave again except when he absolutely must, the man teaches him how to change bandages and keep wounds clean, how to reduce a fever and the herbs to use for sleep and pain. As the hobbit's skill grows, Beorn gives the dwarf over to his increasingly competent care and goes about his business, returning only periodically to check that nothing has gone wrong.
However, even with just a single patient, Bilbo discovers that there is always something that needs to be done, if only general housework and soothing the dwarf's fears. For with the fever come nightmares and delusions and the hobbit wants to weep at the anguish in Kíli's voice when he cries out for his brother or for the pain to stop. Only Bilbo's presence seems to calm him, so he spends hours sitting at the dwarf's bedside and holding tight onto his hands.
Nearly a week passes in this manner as Kíli's body slowly heals beneath the hobbit's careful ministrations so it is an enormous relief when his fever finally breaks and the dwarf sleeps peacefully for the first time in days.
Yet it is also terrifying because Bilbo is worried that when his friend finally wakes everything will fall apart. The hobbit has resolved to never speak a word of how he feels and help Kíli through the struggle still to come. However, he does not know how long he can hide his attraction and once the dwarf discovers the truth, Bilbo fully expects to be cast out.
When that day comes he will leave without a fight, but until then the hobbit swears that he will support Kíli, he will take care of him and he will always love him in the deepest reaches of his soul.
Chapter 3: Healing