Brooding in the Dark & Bets in the Morn
This story is sort of a companion piece to Memories: Beautiful and Painful Things. But you don't have to have read the other to read this. They are only really connected by the fact that this could be viewed as the dream that Bilbo has at the end of the first one. Mainly this was inspired by the idea of what could have happened if Bilbo would have handled the business with the Arkenstone differently.
For the first time since they had left Rivendell Bilbo was truly content. There was warm food on the table—even if it had been put there by dogs—a fire in the hearth and a roof over their heads. What more could he ask for. While it was true that Beorn, the skin-changer whose home they were staying in, was rather intimidating due to his large size and booming voice, he was a good host. Bilbo had to admit that much, even if he did resent the fact that earlier that day Beorn had lifted him off the ground and poked his belly calling him a "little bunny."
The dwarves, with the exception of Thorin, had found endless amusement in his new epithet. Fíli and Kíli, in particular, had taken to calling him "Master Bunny" to the ever increasing amusement of the others. Even though their mirth at his expense irritated Bilbo, he was comforted by it and allowed them to do it—not that he could have stopped them—since he took it as a sign that they were beginning to accept him. Teasing seemed to be a way that dwarves—or at least these dwarves—showed affection to one another.
Even so, he hadn't been upset when Thorin had put an end to it for the night citing the need for sleep. Bilbo had gratefully shot their leader a look of thanks, and had felt crestfallen when Thorin had ignored it. Ever since Thorin had hugged Bilbo on the Carrok where the eagles had left them the Dwarf King had been more distant than ever. Though at least now there was not a feeling of hostility to the distance.
The hobbit assumed that it was because Thorin was embarrassed by his actions. The dwarf didn't exactly strike Bilbo as the hugging type. In fact, he had never even seen any of the dwarves exchange hugs. Other small signs of affection, yes, but those consisted of a grasped arm or a shoulder pat. Even Fíli and Kíli had seemed shocked at their Uncle's behavior, almost as shocked as Bilbo himself had been. That alone was enough to explain Thorin's current coolness towards the hobbit. Given time, things would equalize again, though Bilbo knew that the new equilibrium would not be the same as the old one.
Had Bilbo chosen to ask the Dwarf King about his actions—and had Thorin decided to answer—he would have said that he was embarrassed with himself, but not for the hug. He could easily explain that. Thorin had been more than pleased to see that the Halfling had survived his foolish decision to step between an orc and himself. Not to say that Thorin wasn't pleased and grateful that he had done it. He was. However, he was embarrassed that he had placed Bilbo in that position in the first place.
He was a king, and more than old enough to control himself . . . or so his conscience reminded him. He never should have given into his rage and frustration and charged Azog. He should have stayed in the tree with the others and waited to defend his people rather than rushing headlong into a situation that he knew was hopeless. If he would only have controlled himself the Halfling would never have needed to place his life in danger. Even though it had all worked out for the best, Thorin could not stop himself from feeling guilty about the possibility that it might not have. How could he be a good king to his people when he could not even govern himself?
The last question plagued his mind and as the rest of the company settled down for the night he continued to sit and stare into the dying embers of the fire thinking. He thought of the many errors he had made in his life and wondered how many more he was going to make before he made a fatal one. His rejection of the hobbit as the fourteenth member of the company would have been a fatal one if not for the stubbornness of hobbits—or perhaps just Bilbo. At the last thought a small, fond smile crossed Thorin's face.
He felt that he could be forgiven for his doubt of the hobbit, even if he had been wrong. With his beardless face and soft hands that looked as though they had never done a day's labor—let alone held a sword—what was Thorin supposed to have thought. He still thought that the hobbit looked more like a grocer than a burglar, but he had to admit that he had been wrong. Despite his initial softness, Bilbo had proven to have a steel core that no one would have ever suspected. Thorin was not ashamed in the least to count him as a member of the company.
It was like this that Balin found him some hours later when he arose to relieve himself. Thorin was lost in thought and staring into a dead fire as though it held all the answers in the world. With a sigh Balin cautiously approached his King so as not to startle him. Thorin was a formidable warrior and dangerous when startled. Despite his caution, when he spoke softly Thorin still jerked violently and his hand moved to the hilt of his sword before he turned to face the other dwarf.
Thorin was shocked to see that the room was much dimmer than it had been. Through the dimness he could still see Balin's soft smile and the concern in his eyes before he spoke.
"Thorin," Balin said gently, the words a suggestion, "do you not think you should rest? It has only been a few days since you almost died."
Thorin sighed. He didn't desire sleep, but he could see the logic in Balin's words. As a dwarf, he might be better able to resist fatigue but he had been injured. Eventually he nodded.
"I will sleep," Thorin said his voice a quiet rumble in the sleeping hall. He didn't say anything else, but he had no need to. The other knew that his suggestion had been heard and accepted. With a small bow he turned and returned to his borrowed bed.
"Good night, Thorin," He called over his shoulder before he laid himself down though his dark eyes continued to stare at the King for a time. Knowing that Balin would not stop until he at least lay down, Thorin stood from his chair fighting down a groan as his bruised muscles protested the action. Even though he knew that sleep would still be a long time coming, he had to admit that after so long sleeping on the ground a real mattress felt exquisite. He couldn't blame the hobbit for missing the comforts of his home.
With that thought, Bilbo once again rose to the front of his mind. He knew that it was wrong, but he couldn't help but remember how fragile the halfling had felt when he had hugged him. He hadn't realized just how differently hobbits and dwarves were built. Instead of hard muscle and thick bones, Bilbo was all soft flesh over thin, small bones. He hoped that he hadn't hurt the burglar in his show of gratitude. Thorin sighed at the thought. He knew that he should ask, but he couldn't bring himself to broach the subject with the hobbit.
Even though he had not thought sleep would come, soon Thorin entered into the realm of dreams with the image of a beardless face in his mind and something akin to warmth in his heart for the first time in longer than he could remember. He didn't understand what caused it, but he was not going to delve too deeply into it. Even without knowing the cause, it was a pleasant feeling.
The next morning dawned bright and, too early for his taste, Bilbo awoke to the suppressed sound of dwarven laughter and the strangest feeling along the bottoms of his feet.
"Told you it wouldn't work," he heard Kíli mutter. "Pay up." The next sound he heard was the distinct chink of coins that had been in the air being caught.
"Maybe you didn't do it right," he heard Bofur say, not bothering to keep his voice down. "Let me give it a go."
"Just pay up already," Fíli demanded exasperated. He had known that Bofur would try to get out of the bet somehow. Questioning their ability to complete the task was a cheap trick. "There's only so many ways to do it."
"Let him have a go," Kíli replied causally. He knew that they had done their job well. There was nothing that Bofur could do differently. "Then he can pay up."
Bilbo wondered what they could possibly be talking about when he felt what could only be one of the flaps of Bofur's hat move across the arch of his foot. Once he realized what was happening he sat up with a shout of "I beg your pardon!" and pulled his feet under the blanket. He glared at the foot of his bed, where a grinning Bofur and a disappointed Fíli and Kíli stood.
"Told you you didn't do it right," Bofur smirked before holding out his hand expectantly. Without making eye contact with the other dwarf, Kíli sullenly gave him the bag of gold in his hand and dug in his shirt to retrieve another to join it while a dour Fíli tossed the gold back to a grinning Dwalin.
"I knew with feet that big they had to be ticklish," Dwalin said with a smirk at the youngest two of the dwarves.
"You should have known better than to bet against Dwalin, lads," Balin replied laughter coloring his words. "He never takes a bet he cannot win."
"Still don't see how they could be," Fíli muttered darkly. "With him going barefoot all the time."
"Excuse me," Bilbo cut in having just figured out what all this was about but wanting to be sure before he said anything more. "Were the lot of you taking bets on whether or not my feet are ticklish?"
The assembled dwarves muttered in agreement with shrugs and unconcerned gestures as though betting on the sensitivity of a sleeping member of the company was common practice. With a sigh and a shake of his head Bilbo looked at them attempting to keep his expression stern even though he was amused and slightly flattered that they cared enough to learn something about him . . . even if it was an odd something.
"You could have asked," Bilbo said finally his tone exasperated. "It would have saved you time and effort."
"But where's the fun in that?" Kíli asked suddenly, his eyes alight with mischief. He only hoped that his brother would realize what he was hinting at.
"Besides," Fíli added realizing that he could still have his fun even if he couldn't have the gold from the bets. Riling Bilbo was fun, as long as he didn't push too far. He figured that his Uncle would have something to say if he did. "You could have lied. This way we knew for sure."
"Why would I have lied about that?" Bilbo demanded, slightly affronted that they would think he would lie to them about something so trivial. With a twinge of guilt he remembered the ring in his pocket. He had lied to them about it and it really was a trivial thing, even if it was useful.
"So that we wouldn't know it is a good way to get you out of bed in the morning," Bofur replied. "I would have thought that the sounds of others eating would do it, but you didn't even stir." At his words, the thought crossed Bilbo's mind that the room was incredibly bright and made him wonder what time it was. He panicked a little as he realized that he may have missed the morning meal entirely, and there was no way there would be food left. Not after thirteen hungry dwarves had had their way with it. He still remembered what they had done to his pantry.
Seeing the panic on the hobbit's face, Kíli laughed and walked to where the dwarves had eaten breakfast not long ago. He picked up a bowl that was still filled with food. A couple of the others covered their mouths and snickered into their beards as they saw what was in the bowl. Noticing this, Bilbo eyed the young dwarf warily. Kili smirked at the suspicious look in the eyes of the hobbit.
As Kíli lowered the bowl, Bilbo half expected it to be empty, but it wasn't. In the bowl, filling it nearly to the brim, was a fresh garden salad. Wondering what had the dwarves so amused about a garden salad he looked up at them curiously.
"We saved it for you," Bombur explained with a grin of his own.
"Thank you," Bilbo replied graciously. Even if he was still waiting for the punch line it was no reason not to be polite. "That was very kind of you."
"It was the least we could do for you. We know how much you like salads, Master Bunny," Fíli said, completing the joke his brother had begun. Bilbo said nothing, but laughed with the others as the joke was completed. Despite what he had initially thought about dwarves, they really weren't half-bad once you got to know them.