Chapter 9: A River Flows
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo, hints of a couple others
Warnings: Can I warn for epic fluff?
Word Count: 2722 (25,178 so far)
Summary: Kíli is a virgin. Bilbo is a unicorn. Together they fight goblins and cuddle epically.
Art: Unicorn!Bilbo 1, Unicorn!Bilbo 2.
Chapter 1: A Wizard Meddles Chapter 5: A Mountain Shakes
Chapter 2: A Quest Begins Chapter 6: An Archer Dreams
Chapter 3: A Burglar Woos Chapter 7: A Company Walks
Chapter 4: A Romance Grows Chapter 8: A Hobbit Bargains
It was long past dawn when Bilbo finally woke, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and smiling at Kíli cheerfully. The rest had done him good; the unicorn was completely recovered from his healing now. If anything, he seemed brighter than he'd been since walking into Mirkwood and it was good to see him close to his old self again.
So Kíli followed Bilbo when he went to find the others, the pair promptly getting lost within the elf king's hall. A little embarrassing to be sure, but the captain of the guard tracked them down before they delved too deep into the cellars and it was hardly their fault that every turning looked the same.
She brought the pair to Thranduil's dining hall where Kíli and Bilbo found their companions well on their way to decimating the elf king's breakfast feast. The archer and his unicorn were quick to join them since neither had eaten anything for hours and soon nothing remained on the table but a few crumbs of bread.
“I trust you've all dined well,” Thranduil said, sweeping into the room as soon as the last spoon fell. He must have been watching through the keyhole to have such perfect timing and the thought made Kíli hide a giggle in his hand. The archer did not want to offend the elf king now.
“You should be grateful, Thorin. Master Baggins here has bargained for safe passage through my forest and so I will allow you to continue on your quest. You will still most likely die and I cannot claim that I will mourn you, but I suppose even the largest fools should have their chance. My guards will escort you to the foot of the mountain; you can make your way from there.”
“The dwarves of Erebor accept no char...” Thorin started before Nori and Dwalin tackled him. The rest of his companions were quite happy to take the help that Thranduil offered; there was pride and then there was damn fool stupidity.
So with Thorin out of the way – and most importantly kept silent – Balin stepped forward to handle the details with his usual brisk efficiency. The dwarves were ready to float down the Forest River less than an hour later, Thranduil's barges packed high with supplies and two somewhat disgruntled elven guards. These elves hadn't been happy about escorting Thorin and his companions but a few stern words from their king had made them see that transporting a boatload of dwarves was preferable to a few nights in the dungeons and preparations had moved much faster after that.
“All right. Everyone aboard,” the first elf ordered briskly. “Quickly now. Thranduil wished for speed.”
“Good idea. The sooner these louts arrive at their destination, the sooner we can go back home again,” the other elf muttered to his friend.
How rude, Bilbo thought with a scowl. Sure the elf had said that last in Sindarin, but knowing another language was no excuse for gossiping behind a stranger's back. However, before the unicorn could give these elves a proper scolding, Kíli grabbed him by the hand.
“Come on, Bilbo,” the archer said, tugging him toward the front of the boat excitedly. “If we sit up here, we'll have the best view of the river. I want to watch the water as we float.”
“That's a fine idea,” the hobbit agreed, though his words and his actions didn't match as he gently pulled his beloved to a stop. “However, I don't think that we'll both fit. Why don't you sit up front and tell me what you see? I'll stay back here where I can have something a bit more sturdy underneath my feet.”
“Oh. Are you sure?” Kíli asked, his shoulders slumping slightly. “I don't want you to miss out because of me.”
“I promise; I will be perfectly happy sitting in the center of this barge,” Bilbo promised. “Hobbits and rivers do not mix and I would prefer to watch your excitement from a distance than risk falling in the water. I never did learn to swim and I don't trust these elves to rescue me.”
“I'd rescue you,” the dwarf told him, crossing his arms across his chest a touch indignantly.
“That's good to know, my dear. But such heroics won't be needed. I have no plans to get wet at the moment. Drowning is so undignified.”
“You really can't swim?”
“I'm afraid not. Most hobbits never learn so there was no one to teach me,” Bilbo explained. “Except the naiads and they have trouble understanding that some folks need to breathe. It was safer not to ask.”
“Well, that seems rather foolish,” Kíli said with a frown. “What if you fall in a lake when I'm not around to save you? That would be a stupid way to die.”
The hobbit opened his mouth and discovered that he didn't have an answer. In truth, it would be a stupid way to perish and his excuses seemed rather flimsy now that his dwarf was concerned.
“All right. It's decided,” Kíli concluded when Bilbo paused too long. “Once this quest is over, I'm teaching you to float. You don't have to be a brilliant swimmer, but you need to learn the basics. Otherwise I'll worry about you every time it rains.”
Wait, what? I'm pretty sure I didn't agree to anything, the unicorn thought. But he knew that he would do exactly what his virgin wanted. He would learn to fly if the dwarf required it – anything to keep Kíli smiling.
Which was how Bilbo found himself sitting dead center in the barge, Ori on one side and Fíli on the other, while Kíli gave both dwarves strict orders – if something happened, they were to keep Bilbo from drowning until the archer came for him. Once Ori and Fíli had agreed, Kíli kissed the hobbit on the cheek and then made his way to the prow of the boat while Bilbo stared after him with slightly stunned disbelief.
“Don't feel too bad,” Ori said, patting the unicorn on the shoulder. “No one can stand against Kíli when he's worried about something. Those pleading eyes of his are practically a weapon and the dimples aren't much better. He's talked me into more scrapes than I like to admit.”
“Even I still crumple sometimes,” Fíli chimed in from Bilbo's other side. “You held out longer than most and you're in love with him.”
“I suppose you're right,” the hobbit replied. “As long as he doesn't realize that I'm completely wrapped around his finger, I think we'll be just fine.”
“Don't worry. No one is more oblivious to his own charms than my brother,” Fíli told him. “And he's just as besotted as you are; I can't decide if the pair of you are sweet or sickening but he'd do anything to make you happy now. He only frets because he loves you; you should have seen him hover when I broke my leg.”
“Well, at least the feeling's mutual,” Bilbo sighed. He couldn't stay annoyed with Kíli even without his brother's insight, and when the dwarf waved cheerfully from the front of the boat, the hobbit found himself waving back.
The first portion of their river trip was largely uneventful as Bilbo watched the banks flow by. Seen like this, Mirkwood was far less depressing and Kíli's cheerful updates from the front made the hobbit grin. The dwarf seemed to have forgotten his worries, pointing out each new rock and forest creature with sincere delight. He nearly fell out of the boat trying to get a look at the intricate pulley system on the river sluice gate, exclaiming over every little detail as the elves lowered them. Of course, the other dwarves weren't much better about that one; even Thorin craned his head to keep looking at the stonework when their barge went around the bend.
“Look, Bilbo! There are rapids up ahead!” Kíli called, pointing farther down the stream. The archer sounded thrilled by the prospect, though he also looked back and narrowed his eyes at Ori until the other dwarf wrapped one hand around their burglar's arm.
“Your friend is right. You had best hold on,” the elves warned. “If you fall, we can't turn back.”
“Oh dear lord. I think I'm going to be sick,” Dori groaned behind Bilbo. Most of the dwarves weren't enjoying the trip as much as Kíli – even Dwalin seemed a little green – and the hobbit had to admit he was slightly nervous about falling in.
Maybe walking to Erebor would have been the better option, Bilbo wondered, though it was much too late for that.
“Wheee!” Kíli shouted, throwing his hands up in the air as they hit the first rapid and their boat tilted dangerously.
“We're all gonna die!” Bofur screamed, covering his eyes when the vessel hurtled over a waterfall, the barge landing with a thump while Ori clutched at Bilbo's arm. On the hobbit's other side, Fíli was clearly having almost as much fun as his brother, though not quite so vocally. Still, the dwarf was smiling widely when Bilbo glanced his way.
“Having fun yet?” Fíli murmured and to the unicorn's great surprise, the answer was a most emphatic yes. Kíli's excitement was infectious; the archer had a way of living every moment to the fullest – no cares, no doubts, no second-guessing – and Bilbo could only try to do the same. The unicorn hadn't really been living before meeting his beloved; a lack of sorrow was not the same as being happy, not at all. But then Kíli had walked through his door and woken something Bilbo hadn't known was missing, dared him to risk and reminded him that life was beautiful.
So the hobbit was done waiting for happiness to find him; he was going to go out there and grab it with both hands. There might be dark times in his future. There might be grief and tragedy. But this moment was lit with love and sunshine and Bilbo would remember every detail until the day he died.
So he threw his arm around Ori's shoulders when their barge entered the next rapid, white water and sharp rocks flying by. Dangerous, yes, but also exhilarating, the elves steering them down the river skillfully. Bilbo couldn't do anything but hold on and enjoy the journey, his smile almost painfully wide as Kíli cackled with delight. Indeed, the hobbit's cheeks were aching when the river finally slowed.
“We have got to do that again,” Kíli crowed, taking Ori's place next to Bilbo.
“Maybe once my heart stops pounding,” the hobbit said. “But I have to admit, that was fun. The most fun that I've had in quite a while. And Thranduil likes me now so I should be able to convince him to let us make the trip again.”
“There is something wrong with both of you,” Thorin groaned from his place on the stern. The dwarf lord was hanging over the edge of the boat and trying not to lose his breakfast, a fight that Dori and Glóin had already given up. “Fíli, talk some sense into your brother, will you? It's unseemly to be so happy when I'm suffering. No sane creature would ever travel like that willingly.”
“Sorry, uncle. I happen to agree with Kí on this one,” the blond dwarf cheerfully refused. “I know half a dozen lads who would pay good coin for the ride that we just took and I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't one of them. It's hardly my brother's fault that you get motion-sick.”
“You're a cruel lad, Fíli,” Thorin replied, holding his stomach and moaning dramatically. “No pity for your uncle. No sympathy for your elders. Which Valar did I anger to get an heir like you?”
“Oh, you know you love me,” Fíli answered, laughing off his uncle's rudeness. “You would have been bored to tears in the Blue Mountains without Kíli and I to keep things interesting. All that running was good training, don't you know?”
“It was something, all right. I've got grey hairs because of you,” Thorin retorted before the boat lurched in the water and his face went green again.
“Do you think that I should heal him?” Bilbo whispered to Kíli. The hobbit wasn't particularly fond of the dwarf lord but that didn't mean he wanted to see him suffering and nausea was an easy thing to fix.
“You can if you want,” the archer told him with a shrug. “But uncle will be fine either way. Mother always says that he has a taste for melodrama and as soon as he remembers that Thranduil's elves are watching, his nausea will mysteriously disappear. Thorin never gripes in front of strangers; he saves the moaning for his kin.”
Kíli's complete lack of concern made Bilbo curious since his dwarf was usually the first to help. So instead of healing Thorin, the unicorn sat back and watched as he moaned and groaned and cursed. The variety was quite impressive but halfway through a particularly inventive sequence, the dwarf lord's words cut off. It seemed his nephew had been right because Thorin was looking at their elven guides with something close to chagrin and suddenly there was a proper king where the cursing dwarf had stood.
“Yes, well. Do continue rowing,” Thorin told the elves, waving his hand pretentiously. “We are in a hurry and there's nothing to see here.”
“These dwarves are crazy,” the guards muttered to each other, trading exasperated glances before bending to their task. Somehow this was the last straw for Bilbo and the hobbit started laughing helplessly.
“My life is ridiculous,” the unicorn choked out between his giggles, the glare that Thorin sent him setting his nephews off as well.
Soon the three of them were cackling with laughter, Bilbo and Kíli leaning against each other as their shoulders shook. The hobbit tried to stop but whenever he was close to regaining control, he would glance over at the archer or his brother and completely lose it once again. They laughed, Thorin sighed, and the elves both rolled their eyes, their continued mutterings about crazy dwarves seeming rather justified.
“Don't look at me; my face hurts,” Fíli groaned as their barge neared the mouth of the river.
“It's not my fault. Bilbo's the one who won't stop giggling,” his brother retorted.
“Sorry, love, I just can't help it,” the hobbit said, burying his face in Kíli's shoulder in an attempt to make his laughter die.
Like this, Bilbo didn't notice the man standing on the riverbank with his mouth agape. He had been dragging barrels from the water but he'd stopped when the elvish barge drew nearer, unused to seeing other vessels here. He had certainly never seen a boat of laughing dwarves and his face twisted with consternation when Kíli waved at him cheerfully.
“No one is going to believe this,” Bard the Bowman muttered, watching the boat until it drifted out of sight. Once it was gone, the man returned to his work and tried to ignore the laughter still ringing in his ears.
This encounter was enough to keep Fíli and Kíli giggling halfway across the Long Lake, muffling the noise in their hands so that the Lakemen would not hear. Bilbo had regained his dignity by this point – mostly because he'd run out of air to breathe – and he watched his beloved's joy indulgently. A joy that turned to wonder when the mist began to dissipate and a mountain rose before them on the plain.
“Look,” Kíli breathed, grabbing Bilbo and Fíli by the arms. “Look, we made it. That's the Lonely Mountain over there.”
A low murmur ran through Thorin's company as they looked up at the mountain. The dwarves of Erebor had returned to claim their homeland and while he would never admit such weakness, even Thorin Oakenshield had to brush tears from his eyes.
Chapter 10: A Dragon Wakes