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Sinking Stones

Chapter Text

If there was one perk, one perk about this miserable, uncomfortable journey... it was this.

Bilbo never swam much. Of course he knew how to – it is one of the first things you were taught as a small fauntling! He actually remembered swimming together with his childhood friend Pinto, when he was so very small, and their mothers would sit by the edge of the water, chatter and laugh. He and Pinto would play together, splash water!

Now, that was back then. The weather in the Shire was often pleasant, not much rain, rarely any snow. Mostly sun, come to think of it. But it had never before been warm enough to lure Bilbo Baggins from his hobbit hole, towards a river or a pond or a lake.

But now was different. It was not warm, but he was filthy beyond believe with whatever grime was keen on sticking to him. Never in his life has he felt as dirty as he did during this journey, so seeing some clean water was often a highlight of his day, or week. Granted, it could be rather negative, seeing that this small victory came with a major defeat, in which he'd be forced to look upon... unclothed dwarves.

Bilbo shuddered. No. That was not at all a perk. And when he would try and sneak off, bathe in privacy, he'd be whistled back and told to stay together, in case something would go awry.

Even so, he got used to it. And at some point, the dwarves realised they were not welcome, being only ignored by the hobbit if they tried as much as approach him when they were bare. Bilbo would stand on his own, far removed but not far enough to be beckoned back, washing himself and swimming in circles, either underwater to get completely lost in his thought and in the serenity of silence, or on his back, floating while the sun tickled his tummy.

“You can swim quite well,” he heard one of them say. Bilbo glanced up to see Kili watching him. He was just busy wringing water from his relatively short, dark hair. “Don't you sink? When you float like that?”

Bilbo shrugged. “No, I do not.” He shuddered a bit and turned his head away. Talking to any of them was such a difficult chore when they stood presented before him like that. But then he grimaced, and turned back around. “Wait – sink?” Kili only nodded at him, so he grumbled. “Elaborate.”

Kili shrugged. “Have you ever seen one of us swim?”

“We're swimming now,” Bilbo said.

Swim,” Kili repeated. “With our feet off the ground.”

Bilbo thought for a moment, but then he snorted. He had not. He has ever seen them bathe... Never had they swam, not in circles, not towards something, or away from something. And while Bilbo would swim far and wide, the dwarves always remained at shore, where they could stand.

He found that rather hilarious, actually!

Back at camp, with his wet hair dripping down on his shoulders, he was smoking his pipe and watching the fire before him. The dwarves were merrily chatting, but Bilbo still found amusement in the mere thought that dwarves couldn't swim. None of them! For he'd not seen anyone do it.

To see if his guess was correct, he lowered his pipe. “Say, do any of you know how to swim?”

He was met with a very unfamiliar silence. He did not know the dwarves were capable of it, nor had Bilbo ever thought he'd hear the sound of nature again while still in their company.

“I will take that as a no,” Bilbo hummed with satisfaction.

Gloin was the one who cocked his head. “Dwarves ain't very buoyant.”

“But still,” Bilbo said with a snort of ridicule. “The act of swimming. Moving your arms to remain afloat.” Still, no one answered him. Bold as it may be, Bilbo laughed rather mockingly. “Unheard of!”

“With this, you are suggesting you have mastered the art of swimming?” Bilbo looked to his side. Thorin was sitting against a tree, looking not at all pleased.

Just because of that, Bilbo felt keen to challenge him. “I'm proud to say that I have indeed, master dwarf!” Thorin scowled very silently and sat back, which made Bilbo frown and huff. “Swimming is very simple. In fact, I have done it all my life!”

“And yet you cannot wield a weapon,” Thorin said. To Bilbo, that comment held no value. The others, on the other hand, were gasping and chuckling, looking as though Thorin had just roasted the hobbit alive. And to make it even worse, Thorin bore the most horrendous grin, one that did not sit well with Bilbo at all. As though that man was any more superior than him – he could not even swim!

So, really, the joke was on him, the dwarf. He found it almost sad that the rest did not realise this.

Since that conversation, every time they bathed, Bilbo watched them. They remained nicely ashore or in the shallows, not once even attempting to take one step farther than they usually would. Rather cowardly, he would think, and to prove his point he would swim even more. No, he could not wield a weapon, but he could function like a natural being, how was that for a victory!

Bilbo was sitting on his pony two days after their last bath, and they were being rained under as though all the Valar were weeping. Bilbo found it almost difficult to breathe, actually, the way it was crashing down upon them. He was thoroughly soaked, as were they all, and they were moving very slowly on pony. There was no shelter for them, at least not here, and Thorin had been urging them to go on. Something he wanted to scold him for, eventually; he was shaking and his pony even more so!

They came to a halt, which made Bilbo quite happy. He was prepared to dismount – rather, he was elated to get off his steed, but word was carried back that they had reached a very treacherous current.

Bilbo passed the word back, as he was told to always do, and then he looked ahead. Or tried to, it was nearly impossible with this rain... “Why don't we just stay here?” Bilbo cried out. Only the two ahead of him heard, Bombur and Dori. No one else caught his squeal of distress.

No, they began to move instead. Bilbo grumbled loudly and shrank together. He couldn't wait for people to start taking his word for granted...

One after the other dwarf moved through the current. Bilbo hadn't felt this nervous since the day the dwarves invaded his house, and he was shaking not with cold, but with fear. And he knew his pony wasn't any different! It was shaking twice as hard as he was! Every dwarf he did see cross, eventually, was having quite a difficult time. The others that had already passed, which were no more than a handful, were waiting on the other side, making sure the rest would pass safely. Thorin stood in front, overseeing the trail of dwarves.

Bilbo had found it most dreadful to cross, since he wasn't very good on horseback either way, and he had not felt at all in control when his pony fought its way through the strong current... But he made it to the other side, safe and sound.

And then he was forced to watch as the six dwarves behind him had yet to cross the water.

He did not feel well, not at all. And he found that his gut, as often, was not mistaking. It were Fili and Kili that were moving through the trenches, and Bilbo felt it happen before he saw it happen. Fili's pony lost his usual sure footing, and slipped. The pony lost its balance entirely and the current was swift to pull the poor animal along. But as it did, it bumped into Kili's, and both of them fell, into the current, disappearing completely beneath the surface. “No!!” he heard Thorin roar beside him. Bilbo hadn't even had the time to look at him before he saw Thorin sprinting towards the current.

But he did not dive in.

The hobbit felt his throat slip shut. He had no idea what to do, but everybody was in panic. Some were galloping over there, some were running, but no one, no one, was going into the water to actually help them out.

Bilbo kicked his pony, immediately steering it to follow the current. He could see the two young men try to remain surfaced, but it did not come easy to them, he could see this too. They were gurgling and couching, while on either sides of the current, Dwalin and Thorin were busy trying to get them out – extending their hands, tossing ropes, whatever they could come up with that did not involve touching the water. But that would not help. Bilbo has seen many hobbits getting swallowed by water, and only extending an arm was usually not enough.

“Boys!” he heard Thorin cry with dismay. “Reach!!”

They couldn't. Clearly.

Bilbo leaped off his pony when he was nearby, and dove into the current. It had been especially dangerous, not knowing how deep the water was, but he managed just fine. He swept through the water, straight towards Kili. The one he's seen struggle the most.

He wound himself around Kili before he surfaced. These dwarves were far too big, he could hardly hold them at all! And they were so heavy! But he could do it. He locked one arm around Kili's neck and held out his other arm. “Dwalin!” he shouted. Dwalin held out his arm now, and with Bilbo's help, he swam Kili closer to the edge of the current, so that he could actually reach out. Dwalin had almost fallen in himself, but managed just fine to stand his ground. Kili frantically grasped onto the bald warrior.

The second Bilbo was assured that Kili would be okay in Dwalin's arms, he dove back under and went straight towards Fili. He'd thought he had been doing better, but no longer – he was barely above the surface anymore.

As fast as he could, he swam along with the river, and he clutched around Fili the second he could. “Bilbo!!” Thorin held out his arm. “Over here!”

Easier said than done, he thought angrily. Especially for Thorin – extending an arm wasn't really helpful at the moment! Fili was much heavier, and his clothes far more absorbent! Like carrying a bloody rock!

And because of that, Bilbo found it hard to remain surfaced as well. With all the strength he could, he began to push Fili towards the shore. He did this by kicking the ground underneath his feet when he sank down to it, pushing them closer to the grass bit by bit.

Somehow... somehow, but don't ask how, Bilbo managed to get him close enough to shore for Thorin to reach out.

When he had, Bilbo immediately swam himself to shore, and threw himself on there. He was panting – gulping for air, but he watched Thorin drag Fili out of the water best he may. And even though it did not come easy, at long last he saw Fili clutch at the riverbank, and heave water. “That's it, that's a good lad,” he heard Thorin encourage, crouching by his side.

Bilbo dropped his head in the grass and grunted. What a load of good those dwarves were... Running after someone who was drowning...

Bilbo was just vomiting water when two other dwarves came to him. He knew one of them was Bofur, and he believed the other to be Nori. They hoisted him to shore, where he shook and quaked. “Are ya alright?” Bofur asked him.

Bilbo sniffed wildly as his response. He could see Thorin and Oin together with Fili, and in the distance Dwalin, Dori and Kili. The rest of the dwarves were busy fussing, but not doing anything very useful. But they were alive, it seemed, though Fili was white and also throwing out water, while Thorin sat crouched by his side and soothed him through. Kili on the other hand was already on his feet, with Dori there to carry him over his shoulder.

Nori and Bofur both helped him back to their... well, 'camp' – it was more of a resting spot now, where they granted Fili and Kili some time to heal. They couldn't look after them as well as they would've liked, since they had nothing dry. No blankets they could wind around them, no fire they could light to warm them. Bilbo would kill for a fire and a blanket, maybe a warm beverage or meal...

While the others fussed over Fili and Kili, Bilbo sat on his own, removed from the company. “Master Baggins?” He glanced up through the pouring rain best he could. Thorin came moving over, his boots thumping in the slippery mud underneath his feet. “Are you well?”

“I'm quite fine,” he assured their leader. “How are Fili and Kili?”

“Alive. Thanks to you.” Thorin stood by his side, but did not sit down. “I wish to apologise for having mocked you earlier,” he said, his voice not nearly as heavy and strong as it would usually be. “You have saved my nephews' lives, and I shall forever be in your debt for – “

“Nonsense, none of this,” Bilbo muttered, waving his hand around. Thorin raised his brow. “I did not help them for you to be in my debt, to prove you a point or otherwise. I helped them because they would have drowned. Because none of you can swim. If I had not gone in there, they surely would've sunk like stones.”

Now, Thorin sat down. He did so with a sigh. “We do not swim, master Baggins, and this has nothing to do with our preference, skill or otherwise. We simply cannot swim.”

Bilbo scoffed and shook his head. “Things can be taught. Can be learned.”

“Not if your body is incapable of staying afloat,” Thorin said. Bilbo glanced up at him. “I cannot teach you not to have hair on your feet, can I not? The simple fact remains that it is there. We are carved out of stone, master Baggins, and stone does not resurface after you toss it in the water.”

He supposed that made sense...

Thorin pushed himself back up on his feet. All his clothes were filthy with mud now, and Bilbo dreaded the moment that he would get up and see his own clothes just as dirty. “Thank you,” Thorin said sincerely. “Now get up and join us, you do not want to get lost.”

Rumbling, Bilbo began pushing himself up. He was halfway there when he was suddenly looking at a hand. Following the arm upward, he found Thorin's face, looking at him rather neutrally. Grinning briefly, Bilbo took his hand and let himself be hoisted up. After that, Thorin walked away from him, expecting to be followed, needing not to check.

And Bilbo followed him at once, back to camp. The moment he was there, the rain tapered off, and in less than two minutes it had stopped completely. So, he had the privilege to sit next to the roaring fire, together with Fili and Kili, where he bathed in the heat of the fire.

He loved being able to swim... He really did.

Chapter Text

“So what do we do now?”

Would it be mean to laugh?

“Perhaps we can find some stones.”

It probably would be.

“Don't we have something to keep us afloat?”

There were numerous murmurs and mutters. Bilbo, on the other hand, swam past them without a care in the world. Yes, they hated him for it, and yes, Bilbo Baggins enjoyed this much more than should be allowed. But he's been wishing to take a swim and his wish was granted, so he hardly felt sorry.

“Can't you teach us, mister Bilbo?” Dori asked.

Bilbo moved past them on his back, his large feet paddling him forth. “Not if you sink like stones, I can't,” Bilbo said.

After having climbed down the Carrock, they called for a mandatory break. Yes, they were still in danger, and being hunted, but their leader had been damaged quite a bit, and has been advised not to take another step. And while no one was at ease taking a break so soon, they did found a nice spot by a river. Or rather, a very small lake at the side of the river. The major difference between this lake and any other was that this was a pit. There was no natural descend and there was absolutely no way for the dwarves to stand.

What had that left them with? Well, the dwarves huddled up on shore, is what. All looking down into the darkness of the water with fright, wondering if they would ever surface again if they tried to dip a toe. A fear Bilbo was oddly unable to relate to at the moment, for he was moving about like a duck in a pond.

“Honestly, I would love to help, but I wouldn't know what to do,” Bilbo admitted. To seem a touch more sincere, he stopped swimming and moved back over to the shore.

Bofur began to look around. “Can't we go and try the river?”

“No!” Gandalf's voice warned from behind. All of them made sure to look at him. Gandalf was the only one at the camp together with Thorin, who lay at rest while recovering from his wounds. “Those are treacherous waters! If you wish to bathe, master Bofur, I would advise you do that here, or nowhere at all!”

Bilbo snorted with a smile. “It's really not that hard.” All the dwarves now looked down at Bilbo. “I would love to teach you all, if you manage to stay above the surface, of course.”

Young Ori was nudged forward. The boy looked up with fright, practically shaking after having been pushed by Nori. “Try it,” Nori said.

“M – Me?” Ori asked nervously. “Why me?”

“Yes, why him?” Dori scolded.

Bilbo moved over to the dwarf. “Come, Ori, I am sure there is nothing to be afraid of! I will be here to assist you, and you are in very capable hands! Rest assured that the very second something goes wrong, there are plenty here to help!”

Slowly but surely, Ori began to sit down. Once he did actually sit on shore, Bilbo held onto one of his hands. Dori even crouched down and held onto Ori's shoulders. To Bilbo, this was all hilarious. All of them were fretting as though Ori was about to leap into an abyss, off a rocky mountainside. At some point, all eleven of them were nervously watching and trying to help along best they may. Dori and Dwalin were the ones that sat ready, in case they had to haul the boy right out of the water.

“What if I'll sink?” Ori asked Bilbo.

Bilbo shook his head. “You won't. You are not actually made of rock, so y – “

Several gasped.

“Oh come on,” Bilbo spat. “You can't actually believe that, it's clearly superstition.”

Ori needed to heave multiple long breaths, but eventually he nodded. Bilbo braced himself, and helped catch Ori when he did manage to slip into the water. Ori gasped with a minor panic, being so very deep in the water, with no ground underneath his feet. “He's sinkin'!” Oin cried.

And then they were all in panic.

“No, no he is not!” Bilbo bellowed at them. “I've got him. He's perfectly safe!”

Ori still managed to gurgle, even though he wasn't underwater.

“I'm getting him out – “

“Don't!” Bilbo warned Dwalin. “Ori, come on, you are doing incredibly well! You must move your legs!”

“I can't!” the boy almost wept. “I can't stand!”

Bilbo shook his head. “You're not meant to stand, or it's not swimming. Now come, move your legs. Please try! You might yet be the first dwarf that has learned to swim! Wouldn't that be something worth documenting, hm?” Bilbo began to carefully swim away. A bit frantically, splashing water everywhere, Ori tried to move along. “Yes, very good!”

“Be careful!” Dori cried.

And then, Dwalin and Dori were forced to release Ori, lest they would be yanked into the water themselves.

Once Ori was no longer held up, he went under. It was a moment of true panic to Bilbo too, he hadn't expected for him to actually... well, sink. But he had been holding Ori tightly, so was quick to hoist him up.

Ori was bobbing, the sounds coming from him very much like whimpers. But he remained afloat. “Oh, Ori, you are doing so very well,” Bilbo complimented. “See! You are swimming!”

The company erupted in cheer, but Ori looked ever as miserable. “I – I can't swim!”

Bilbo shook his head, gently moving the dwarf around. “You are doing exactly that, Ori!” When Bilbo moved farther away from shore, Ori finally began to properly kick his legs. It made Bilbo, and the rest of the company, laugh. Even Gandalf! “Yes, yes! Incredible!” Bilbo praised loudly.

Ori gasped briefly, but then smiled. “I'm swimming!”

“Yes!”

“I – I'm swimming! Dori!”

“Very good, lad!” Dori cheered. “Keep swimming – oh, you do me so proud!”

Bilbo directed Ori back to shore. Once he could hang there, they hauled Ori out, patting his back with triumph and pride. “Who is next?” Bilbo asked.

At least five of them had almost jumped into the water at that question, trusting Bilbo entirely to finally teach them how to swim.

The next was actually Kili. Letting the young ones – and light-weighted ones – go first seemed like the most clever idea to him now. Seeing Fili and Kili had gotten themselves in trouble due to their lack of skill, he wished to teach them first. They were the most vulnerable, but also some of the most valuable.

With Kili, it went just as well. The greater difference was that Kili hopped right in, and although he'd surfaced coughing and gasping with fear, it flooded off him the moment Bilbo began to gently tug him along, swimming him in a small circle. And the boy was laughing the lungs from his body, moving... quite decently, considering!

Fili went next. He was more cautious to slip into the water, but was more determined to teach himself before Bilbo could. So Bilbo was more of a back-up plan if he couldn't do it himself. As ever, Fili was quick to catch on and swam together with Bilbo, swimming as though he's done it before!

After those three, they were all keen to try, and if they weren't lining up, they were pushing each other away so they would get to go first.

Nori had leaped right in, fearless as he was, and Bilbo had to be quick to actually catch him. Nori surfaced with a proud cheer, though he couldn't swim at all, Bilbo noticed when he dragged him around. However, he remained ever as optimistic and boasted about his skills, even though... well, he barely managed to swim at all.

Bifur was more than frantic. Bilbo was sputtering and coughing with all the water that was being splashed at him. Though he would blabber at Bilbo in his own language, he was patient enough with his guide, and let Bilbo set a pace. It would've been easier had he not been trashing like a dog, Bilbo thought, but he still had to appraise Bifur's courage!

Bofur was so afraid of getting his hat wet he barely dared to get in, but was laughing with joy as he was moved along. Bilbo however didn't enjoy it very much. Bofur was clutching at him and Bilbo almost carried all his weight, though Bofur did sometimes try and kick his legs!

Gloin muttered and grumbled, being slightly averted, but Bilbo could see the sparks of joy in his eyes. Yes, he did try to keep his cool – and his grudge – about him, but eventually Gloin was booming about how he couldn't wait to meet up with his wee lad, so they could both go swimming.

Dwalin refused to be touched at first, and... that barely changed. But the company, including Bilbo, were nearly choking with laughter to see him struggle and flounder. Did that keep Dwalin from looking so very serious and determined during this act? Not at all! And while he'd made quite the fool of himself, one could argue, he stepped out of the lake with nothing but pride.

This left Bilbo with a small group that was almost too averted to even get near him. Oin, Dori, Balin and Bombur.

Be that as it may, Oin heaved a deep sigh and stepped forward. “Never too late to try!” he proclaimed.

Bilbo smiled and held out his hand. “Indeed, my friend! Come!”

Oin was very cautious, but terribly interested. Bilbo could see him study himself as they swam, seeing how his body responded to the water, and how it felt to be afloat. While being so terribly focused, he picked up the skill swiftly, and was soon swimming. But the second he was shaken from his haze, he bobbed under and surfaced sputtering and coughing.

Dori would ever remain close to Bilbo, and was busy cussing, fearing for his life, but that did not keep him from learning, not at all! He too was quick to adjust, and Bilbo soon found Dori was almost carrying him, keeping Bilbo above the water, and himself, with ease!

Balin muttered, having his beard all wet. He was not very content to get into the water, and exclaimed to be far too old. But even so, while swimming a circle, his chuckle changed into an enchanted laugh. He would try. Saying he succeeded at swimming would be very generous, but Bilbo definitely respected his change of heart, and his courage to try, even at that age.

Bombur was... a bit of a hassle, to put it kindly. Mainly because he did not want to, and the others were almost forcing him. “Now now, there is no need for this!” Bilbo had called out. “I have taught you all! Come, we will swim with him together!”

This had proven to be the actual challenge. Swimming with a guard was one thing, but by themselves...

Fili had been the first to shrug. “If we stay close to the shore, nothing can go wrong.”

And he had been the first to hop in.

All of them gasped – Dwalin and Kili took the hardest blow, both of them almost falling to their knees to where Fili had jumped into the water.

But there was no need for worry, clearly! Fili surfaced, doing so with a wide smile. That was the only trigger the others needed to jump in. Some remained ashore, some swam with Bilbo.

Bombur was not at all at ease, but he could hardly be blamed. Yet Bilbo could barely observe how he was doing. The dwarves were aiding Bombur themselves. Bilbo was more of a life-guard in this scenario, and had the luxury of watching the dwarves clumsily paddle around, carrying big, fat Bombur with them.

Balin sat himself down, so with a chuckle, Bilbo leaned a bit closer to him. “Ever thought you'd see the day?”

“Not at all,” Balin said with a smile. “I think you have broadened many horizons, Bilbo!”

“Good,” he hummed, watching the others drag Bombur around. “And thank goodness that included my own!”

Chapter Text

Bilbo's attention was drawn by a soft, little grunt on the other side of the campfire. Usually he wouldn't be so very frightened, but this time he unsheathed his sword at once.

It was of no use, clearly. All the soft sound had resulted in was a weary head moving up from the ground. “Ah,” Bilbo said with a relieved sigh. Thorin's narrowed eyes met his, searching through the darkness to find the origin of the sound. “You're finally awake.”

“Mm...” Thorin leaned up a bit clumsily, looking as though he had no strength to push himself upright.

To give Thorin some credit, things had been rough on him. After having descended the Carrock, Thorin had quite literally crashed down with pain, having gone so very sick after continuously proving he was doing well. Bilbo had wished to scold Thorin for always needing to push through, but it turned out to be terribly difficult to correct someone who was near to fainting.

But he looked a bit better now, so Bilbo dared to let Thorin do as he may. He watched as Thorin tiredly scanned his surroundings, looking disoriented beyond belief. As ever, he was quick to gather his energy and strength, and was sitting in a matter of moments. His hair was a mess and he definitely looked sleep-deprived. “Everybody is asleep,” Thorin remarked.

“Yes, they are. It's well past midnight.”

Thorin began to frown. “You are on watch?” Bilbo nodded. “You should not be on watch, it's too dangerous.”

“I can look very well after your company, thank you very much.”

It made the dwarf grumble, and he shifted on the spot, clearly in pain. “Then at least not on your own... especially not now that we are being followed.”

Bilbo didn't entirely disagree with him. When they offered to put him on watch he'd not felt very much at ease, but he had long proven his worth, apparently... The others felt happy to entrust him with their safety. Probably by having helped them learn to swim earlier this very same day.

Thorin began to look a little bit more miserable with every passing second. “Do you know if there is clean water nearby? I wish to bathe,” Thorin said.

“I'm not sure if you could. Shouldn't you be resting?” All he got in response to that was a dismissive growl. “And no. Well – yes, there is water nearby, but it's for swimming. Right over there.” Bilbo pointed away to the deep lake. “Should I come?”

“Someone should,” Thorin admitted, and he began to push himself to his feet. Surely he made no sound, but Bilbo could very well see on his face the tension it put on there, having to move his injured torso. “Wake one of our companions and tell them to meet me by the water...”

Bilbo raised his brow. “Shouldn't you wait?” Again, Thorin left his question unanswered. Rumbling, Bilbo swiftly got up and moved over to Bifur, who was supposed to take the next shift. Thorin was already limping into the blackness of the night and if there was anyone who shouldn't wander off alone right now, that would be their leader.

Bifur woke with a start, but Bilbo was quick to explain he needed to follow Thorin. Bifur agreed – or so Bilbo could only assume. There was swift nodding along with some murmurs in his own language. Whether this was true or not Bilbo wasn't sure of, but he took his own presumption for granted and left to find Thorin.

He moved silently through nature towards the small lake, and found Thorin exactly where he had hoped, unharmed and alone. Sighing with relief, Bilbo moved over to him. “You shouldn't have gone off alone,” Bilbo said.

There was a silence until Bilbo stood literally next to Thorin. Their leader was emptying cupped hands full of water over his now bare chest. “My body was ablaze, it could not wait,” he said.

“Oh dear, are you alright?” Bilbo swiftly crouched down, trying to inspect Thorin's chest best he may. Those many teeth-marks always made him a bit queasy to his stomach.

“I will be. I only need the wounds cooled, rinsed and cleaned.”

Bilbo shrugged weakly. “Then go in.”

“I'd wished. The water is too deep.” Bilbo grinned. “Yes, please, do laugh at my expense.”

“Oh come now, don't grouse,” Bilbo said. He sat himself down beside Thorin in the grass. “I am not here to rub it in that you can't swim.”

“Though I have never lacked the skill, I will say I would've killed for a bath, wash away some blood and filth,” Thorin admitted silently, leaning down to cup some more water into his large hands. The soft sloshing resulted into many ripples, rolling over the surface of the black water. “Sadly this water is only suitable for swimming.”

Bilbo shrugged, and offered him a smile. “I could teach you how to swim.”

“You couldn't. I have long explained to you that we can't.”

“Oh. You sound very certain.”

Thorin snorted loudly. “I am. Dead certain. I speak from experience, master Baggins. You can toss a dwarf in a pond but he will not come up again. The water would swallow us whole.”

Bilbo raised his nose and sniffed. “Well, a shame that you think that way. A swim does sound very appealing. I think I might swim myself. Join me! It will be fun, no doubt!”

Thorin shook his head. “I shan't, master Baggins. Push all you will but I stand behind my statement. Dwarves can't swim.”

“Hm. Funny that you say this.” Bilbo climbed to his feet, so that he could start undressing. “Perhaps you should sound your statement to the company, see how they respond.”

“Agreeing, no doubt.”

“I wouldn't be too sure about that.” Bilbo began to remove his trousers. “They can swim.”

Thorin frowned. “Nonsense. They cannot.”

“Ask them.”

The dwarf scoffed loudly and shook his head. He knew well enough his own convictions. “I do not know what you have done to them, perhaps paid them in riches or reward, but I do not believe you. I saw my own nephews sink, have I not? If you had not been there – “

“Had they known how to swim, Thorin, that whole ordeal might not have been such a spectacle.”

Bilbo squeezed his nose shut before he hopped into the water. Surfacing was made twice as fun, seeing how frustrated he'd gotten Thorin; he was drying himself from water that Bilbo had splashed onto him.

“Oops.”

Thorin shook his head at the hobbit. “We can't swim.”

“Stop saying we, that is very judgmental,” Bilbo pointed out, and he started to swim around. “They can.”

“They can't.”

“They can, I taught them.”

He heard Thorin scoff. “What?”

“You were sleeping. They have all been swimming, Thorin.” To bathe in the delight of proving Thorin Oakenshield wrong, he swam on his back, his hands underneath his head. Oh, he loved how defeated Thorin could look. “Every one of them.”

Thorin parted his lips, but then shook his head and grimaced. “Even Bombur?” he whispered.

“Even Bombur.”

He'd clearly shaken Thorin, but evidently, not hard enough. He straightened his back and scoffed. “Doesn't sound very plausible. I think you are taking me for fool.”

“You may think what you wish, Thorin, but they have all been swimming. Your nephews did a particularly good job at it! Fili most of all! Outstanding!” Thorin raised his brow, looking twice as interested. “If you want, I could teach you.”

“But... we can't.”

“Oh, Thorin, you can be so gullible,” Bilbo said. It made Thorin frown, but he was not angry. Mainly confused, if anything. “You clearly can, else the entire company would long have drowned, and there would not have been a single soul left to prepare your meal. I am serious, Thorin! They have all been swimming! They had all wished to, quite like yourself. Ori was the first to attempt it, that brave little soul! After that, they were standing in line for me to teach them.”

Thorin's legs began to move through the water. “You taught them?”

Bilbo smiled. “And it was my absolute pleasure.”

“... You taught them here?”

“Right here. In this very lake.”

Thorin scraped his throat weakly. “If you are jesting, master Baggins – “

“I am not,” Bilbo almost groaned. Thorin was far too pigheaded for his own good. “Come! Join me!”

His friend was trying so hard not to believe him, but the glimmer in Thorin's eyes told Bilbo a whole different story. “How did you teach them?”

“I swam with them.” Bilbo held out his hand. “And I could swim with you.” Thorin dipped his head. “I shall protect you best I may, and while I do admit that I have not carried Bombur, I have carried everybody else through the water and safely back to shore. If you were ever in doubt that I could not hold your weight, you are mistaken. Now come, stop this delay and join me in the water. Your wounds do need cleaning and the pain might be taken away by the water.”

Thorin swallowed audibly, pressing his hand to his sore chest. “You will swear on your life that this is no prank of some sorts?”

“Your nephews must have meddled with your trust when they were little. When have I ever lied to you, Thorin?”

“I wish to believe you... But you must excuse me for not wishing to – to cloak myself into this endless void of water, knowing I will sink straight to the depths of – “

“Och, what drama, Thorin,” Bilbo muttered. It made Thorin scowl. “Come now. Together. We'll do this together. Let me help.” He pushed himself back to shore, taking a hold of Thorin's shoulder. It was warm... Yes, he had just been in water that was rather cold to touch, but Thorin was definitely a little bit feverish. “Some cool water will do you much good. I shall be there, and no harm will befall you as long as I am. This, I promise.”

Thorin's legs swayed through the water for a moment before he nodded. Smiling, Bilbo took it upon himself to wash Thorin's bloody bandages, while Thorin wiggled out of his trousers and undergarments, until he was ready for a swim. But even then he still looked at the water with terrible doubt. “Should I go first?” Thorin asked.

“No, I will. All you will have to do is slide into the water, and I will catch you.” This time, Bilbo hopped into the water with more caution, so he wouldn't splash as much. He reckoned now was not the time to be funny. Once he lay ready, he held out his arm. It made Thorin close his eyes, and heave a deep breath. “You shall be well...”

“Yes...” Thorin held onto Bilbo's hand and leaned on his shoulder, but soon he moved, his hands searching for the best place to put themselves, so he could yet change his mind, or boost himself to shore if things did not turn out well. And while it took time, his hands found their place, one in the grass and the other on Bilbo's shoulder. Bilbo tried hard not to wince – this grip would surely leave bruises on his skin!

And yet, even when having found his support, Thorin made no second move. “You will not sink?”

Bilbo frowned. “What? No – I won't, and you won't either. You don't have to worry about me, Thorin.”

“Wouldn't I drag you down?”

Bilbo snorted. “Is that what you are worried about?”

“Our kind is quite heavy, master Baggins... What if I sink you along with me?”

He let out a short breath, but began to smile. The man wasn't all that selfish after all, it seemed. “If it does occur that you start dragging me under, I promise to release you and let you sink to the very bottom of this pit on your own, how does that sound, hm?” Somehow, having said this urged Thorin closer to the water. “I will be well.”

And that was what Thorin needed to hear. Bilbo held his arms open, and welcomed Thorin in them once he finally dared to get into the water.

Thorin gasped, but not at all with happiness. Bilbo could feel his entire body strain. “I've got you,” he soothed, while Thorin tried desperately to clutch at the hobbit. “You shan't sink, Thorin – “

“This is madness,” he said, his voice shaking. “This is no place for a dwarf!”

“And yet.” Bilbo tried to meet Thorin's eyes. “Try and move your legs, Thorin.” Thorin sniffled, his arms winding more tightly around Bilbo's shoulders. “You're not swimming until you try and remain above the surface – “

“I can't swim!”

Thorin sounded in genuine panic. Not to mention he looked it, too.

Bilbo had been so eager to scoff and roll his eyes, but Thorin was looking at him as though they were about to die. His eyes were tremendously urgent and anxious.

That's why, instead of being skeptical, he hugged the shore and began to hush Thorin. “We are not sinking.” Be that as it may, Thorin was gulping for air, his legs kicking frantically beneath the water. As though he wasn't anywhere near the surface. “You're not drowning, easy now,” he said. Bilbo pinned Thorin between the shore and himself. “See? We are safe here.”

Thorin latched onto him, his arms looped around Bilbo's neck before he began to look around rapidly.

“We are safe,” he assured Thorin again. The dwarf in his arms swallowed hard. “The shore is right behind you. I am right in front of you. Nothing can happen.”

“I... I'm...” Thorin looked Bilbo straight into his eyes. “I'm... not sinking...”

Bilbo began to smile at Thorin's child-like innocence. “Indeed, you are not.”

“I'm not sinking...” Thorin's legs began to kick more weakly. “Are we afloat?” Bilbo smiled at him. “What if we sink?”

“You wouldn't. I am holding you, am I not?” Thorin nodded subtly. This was Bilbo's cue to start swimming.

He gave Thorin quite a scare, moving away from the shore, but it went well. Thorin did move his legs, but there was something off about their movement. They were random and uncoordinated, almost as though Thorin had no control over them. Not only that, but he was in visible pain, his jaws clenched as he tried to move his body as little as possible. “You're doing great,” Bilbo encouraged kindly.

Thorin's hand was suddenly in his hair, and pulling at his curls. Bilbo yelped. “Oh – I'm sorry.” Thorin's nervous hand sought for another place to find something steadfast to hold onto.

This was clearly not working. Bilbo could see that he was not at all doing well... Surely he did try, but it was obvious that Thorin had no strength to move himself as such yet, and if not that, he was too wounded to undertake something this large. Yes, it was the simple act of swimming, but this was a huge step. The others had been able to support each other, but Thorin was on his own, it was nighttime, the water was inky black – he must indeed be feeling as though he was suddenly in some weightless, bottomless void, with nothing but a hobbit half his size to grip.

In an attempt to calm Thorin down, he began to smile. “You're doing it. You're swimming!” Thorin looked at him with the biggest eyes. “You are not sinking. See! I told you that you could do it!”

Thorin made a soft oh sound, looking around himself. Then he scraped his throat. “Only because you are there to aid me.”

“Which was no different with the others,” he told Thorin. “How is your chest?” The fact that Thorin did not respond told him enough. Thorin wasn't heavy... In fact, he weighted approximately the same as his nephew Fili had. “Let me try something. Do you trust me?”

Thorin needed no time to think. “I do.”

It took a moment, but Bilbo managed to swim around Thorin, so he was facing Thorin's back. He pushed his own arms underneath Thorin's armpits, drawing him up to his neck. His own father used to swim with him like this when he was ill, he remembered, and he found that it brought him much rest to do the same with Thorin. He would swim on his back, and gently drag Thorin with him, through the cool water that would help soothe Thorin's wounds, and mind.

One circle of swimming later, and Thorin's heavy head settled entirely on Bilbo's shoulder, resting there with all the faith in the world that he was not being drowned, and that he was not on his own. “Thank you, master Baggins,” Thorin murmured at him.

Bilbo only grinned, wishing not to disturb his peace. Instead, he swam and swam, circle after circle, while Thorin dozed on top of his chest, overtaken with peace as he floated weightlessly through the water. Thorin could learn how to swim. And he would do it just like Fili, Bilbo thought – he would force upon himself the skill to swim and would be good at it in a matter of time! But now was not that time... He was injured, and in the end, he'd only needed a bath. It was something Bilbo had giggled at before, but the only thing he wished for Thorin in this very moment.

It's okay that he couldn't swim... He tried. Because of that, he deserved to bathe, and Bilbo was more than happy to let him.

When Bilbo's body grew tired, he dipped under a bit, which resulted into an unexpected gurgle and cough. Thorin was off him in a second, alarmed and wary, but Bilbo shook it off and muttered, “I'm well, my legs gave out, is all.”

In that moment, Thorin took him by his body, and while Bilbo was positively certain he was doing most of the work, Thorin did his best to bring him back to shore by swimming. Bilbo smiled to see Thorin's face full of strength and determination, his legs kicking through the water to propel him and Bilbo to shore. The major difference between then and now was that Thorin felt in perfect control of his own body.

Bilbo hopped on the shore and helped haul Thorin out of it, who plopped down with a tired grunt. His hand was immediately pressed on his chest, but he grinned. “Your words rang true. I'm alive.”

“And you learned swiftly, even though you were compromised! I am very proud of you, Thorin!”

The face Thorin tried to put on was one that proved he cared little for those words, but even in this darkness Bilbo knew better. He could tell that Thorin was in fact very flattered. “I do feel like a fool...”

Bilbo cocked his head, sitting down beside Thorin in the grass. “How so?”

“You have proven me wrong.”

Bilbo shrugged. “So?”

“So, I sincerely hope I am now not expected to teach you how to not grow hair on your feet.”

The hobbit sputtered out a laugh, resulting in a smile on Thorin's face. “I fear you'll have to! After all, they stand equal in ridicule, do they not!”

Thorin hummed silently, but did not stop smiling. “Perhaps, when I am more capable, we could try again.” He looked at Bilbo with somewhat timid eyes. “If you do not mind, of course.”

“No, not at all. In fact, I would be more than happy to, Thorin. I have no doubt that you can swim as well as the next person, and I can't wait to teach you this!”

Thorin smiled widely and bowed his head gratefully at him. “Me neither.”

Chapter Text

 “And what is your name?”

The tall man looked down at him, though not nearly as skeptically as he had with the others. “They call me Bard.”

“Hm. So you have many names, then?” Bilbo tucked his hands in the worn pockets of his cold, damp blazer. “Or do humans call each other whatever they fancy calling them?”

“It was the name given to me by my parents.”

“So that's quite normal, then.” Bilbo sniffled loudly. “You could've just said that. Or answered my question with just your name, while you were at it.” The tall figure began to smile down upon the hobbit. “And you live where again?”

“I live in Lake Town.”

“And is it much farther?”

Bard threw him a questioning look. “Is your kind not well on water?”

“Ah, well...” Bilbo looked at his companions. All of them were pale-faced, huddled up against the sides of the boat, so no one would have to see the water around them. “One kind certainly isn't.”

If it hadn't already been bad enough to ride on a river in barrels, the dwarves were punished by sitting on a boat almost no more than five minutes after. Though Bilbo had to give the dwarves credit – they'd done remarkably well in those barrels! Perhaps the excessive amount of adrenaline, being... pretty much almost murdered throughout the entire endeavor. But even after all of that, being on this barge didn't offer the dwarves the slightest of ease.

Bilbo made sure to check on them best he could. The weather on this lake was quite dreadful. Not the worst of circumstances, it turned out – the fog made it harder to show distinct differences between water and ground. That's the only reason Bofur had been standing, he'd said. It looked more like a blue, rocky landscape than water!

That being said, they weren't comfortable. “Bilbo, laddie. Do ya have some coins to spare?”

Bilbo shook his head at Balin. “Where do you assume I've been keeping those? Although I – “ Bilbo began to pat his pockets then. He did pat against the ring in his pocket, and he'd wondered if he should... but no. No, that was his own little keepsake.

“I have some left.” Thorin was suddenly leaning beside him, their arms brushing together as he leaned towards Balin, depositing a small handful of silver into his open hand. “Consider Bilbo's share paid.”

Bilbo smiled at their leader. “Thank you, Thorin.”

Thorin took Bilbo by his arm and drew him away from the others, to keep their conversation private. “I saw you were speaking with that man. What are your thoughts on him?”

“He seemed fine to me. I don't think he'll lead us astray.”

Even though Thorin had grown to trust Bilbo's word as much as any other's, he looked in doubt. “Humans are unpredictable and selfish. Heed their words.”

Oh, right, yes. The advise Thorin had given him everywhere they stopped for a break. With a roll of his eyes and his arms folded, Bilbo began to move around again. He'd heeded that 'shady wizard' that saved them many times over and led them away from danger, he'd heeded the kind elves that were hospitable enough to house them west of the Misty Mountains, he'd heeded the skin-changer that lend to them his ponies for safe and swift travel... And he should be heeding Bard now too, but he felt little energy for it. He'd pulled enough weight today.

Bilbo never felt proven wrong. The dwarves, however, did. When they swayed in the barge after Bofur's cry, Thorin looked ready to murder. “What are you trying to do, drown us?” And Thorin wasn't the only one. Every single dwarf looked either terrified or livid beyond their wits...

Very curious, Bilbo heard himself think. Very curious indeed...

Things didn't look up when they were in Lake Town. Being smelly and sticky with fish-bits, all the dwarves had to step onto the docks of this small village.

Lake Town wasn't very pretty to the eye. The only thing Bilbo heard himself wonder was if it had ever prospered. A town such as this wouldn't likely have seen any better days... At some point the wood must have been pristine and strong, but... Seeing how very rotten and eaten the wood was, he could hardly imagine this was less than a hundred years ago.

After having studied his surroundings – and having dealt with quite the unpleasant encounter with some guards – Bilbo walked a bit closer beside Thorin. “Have you ever been to Lake Town before?”

Thorin scowled. “Master Baggins, it is a town. On a lake. Funny of you to assume that any dwarf got anywhere near this treacherous city. Death on poles and stakes, splintery wood that should betray us at any given moment. Matters that needed discussing with their Master would be scheduled in Dale, or simply not at all.”

Bilbo cocked his head. “Sounds like poor city-planning then.”

“Humans care little for their own safety... Thinking they were unsafe in Erebor instead. Piteous folk,” Thorin muttered, though more to himself. “I myself have never been here before.”

“To be fair, you dwarves have a knack for overreacting.” Thorin frowned at the hobbit walking beside him. “Let's not sugarcoat this, I saw your fingers twitch when you thought Bard would drown you – “

“Tempting to drown a dwarf is the worst you can wish upon them,” Thorin explained. “There is no greater insult, other than the threat to cut their beard. No one should get away unpunished when they attempt to drown a dwarf. It is inhumane.”

Bilbo folded his arms and sighed. As was cutting off someone's beard, apparently... At least he was glad to have been taught that drowning someone and cutting someone's hair stood equal in crime.

What a nonsensical... but proud folk.

“This way.” Bard slipped around a corner, ducking underneath a low-hanging beam that the dwarves needn't worry about.

“Da!” The entire company froze, watching a human run closer. Bilbo had been ready to brace himself, but the child stopped moving once he'd approached Bard. “Our house. It's being watched!”

It was Dwalin who frowned. “What does tha' mean?”

“It means we can't get you there unseen,” Bard said. “I have an idea... It might be bold but...” Bard looked down at the dwarves. “If you want your weapons, you'll have to trust me.”

Thorin folded his arms. “What do you have in mind?”

“The watchers only look at what's on the planks. Not beneath them.”

“An' what does that mean?” Nori asked.

Bard took a backwards step closer to his son. “My house is the one over there.” Bard managed just fine to point in a general direction, but it didn't help much. “Two stories. The privy is downstairs. It'll be cold, but it's our only option. There'll be guards everywhere, so do not be reckless. And wait for the signal.”

Bilbo sighed deeply, running his hands down his face. The others, on the other hand, were frazzled, immediately flocking together and murmuring. “Master Baggins, what does he mean?” Thorin asked.

“He means, Thorin, that the guards only have eyes for humans.”

“But we're dwarves,” Bofur cheered. All the others nodded.

What a bunch of oblivious – “They are looking at people. Not at fish.”

And finally, they all began to look down at the water that was sloshing underneath their feet. “I will kill him,” Dwalin muttered.

“What other choice do we have – we'll be seen if we follow Bard,” Bilbo explained to them. “And the fisherman is right, whatever moves through the water isn't of much importance to those guards.”

“So what? We swim?” Thorin asked.

All the dwarves were watching Bilbo with desperate eyes. That made it only harder to nod. “Yes.”

Bilbo found for them a place to get into the water, one that made it at least a bit easier on them. He had no idea how to go about this, he sincerely didn't. Being in that lake had been fun and all, but this was the real deal. He couldn't assist all of them, there was ice in this very water! He'd surely freeze before he'd gone back and forth twice!

The first one to crouch down and touch the water was Fili. “It's dangerously cold,” he confirmed.

Thorin looked severely worried. “Can you swim through it?”

“I can, but I can only do so twice,” Bilbo warned them. “After that I'll surely have turned into an icicle!”

“So what do we do? Pair up?” Dwalin asked. Almost as an instinct, groups had been formed, and Bilbo was discussing their tactics with Thorin, Dwalin and Fili. The others stood murmuring with worry, or cursing their poor luck. “I did fairly well – “

“No,” Bilbo said. “No, you didn't. Let me see.” He nervously tapped his fingers on his lips. “Some have done well but others haven't at all, and I haven't been able to teach you any better.”

“We don't have much time,” Thorin told him. Bilbo almost groaned. “Master Baggins we ought to hurry.”

“Well I have no plan, alright!” Bilbo hissed at him. Thorin did not frown, he only looked more concerned than he had before. “I know for a fact that some of you did quite well. Fili, you did good. Very good.” Fili looked up, mostly flattered but also intimidated. “I will need your help to aid some of our friends. Do you think you could swim twice?”

Fili nodded. “Aye.”

“No, you will get too cold,” Thorin said, shaking his head at his nephew. “I won't risk it.”

“I will be fine, uncle. I've battled colder temperatures – “

“I have seen you drown once, I won't have it again.”

Dwalin shook his head. “The lad will be fine, Thorin. He can swim.” The old prince sighed, but after taking a deep breath, he remained silent. “Who else?”

“Yes, yes – “ Bilbo turned around so he could have a look at his company.

In his head he began to count, and he used his finger to aid him. He remembered well swimming that day, so he had quite a good idea of who could be trusted on their own. When done, they all gathered together. “Before you begin, master Baggins, I will think it vital for you to get out of the water first,” Thorin said. “We will last longer in these waters than you ever could.”

“I suggest he is the first and last to bring someone, then,” Balin said.

Thorin nodded, while Bilbo had been ready to shake his head and wag his finger. “Agreed.”

“Now hold on a moment, who says I need to swim twice!” he cried. All of them looked at Bilbo. “A handful of you did very well when we swam, a couple of you did... agreeable work. That is already more than enough. As of now I have six of you I think are capable of carrying someone over to Bard's house.”

“Do tell us,” Thorin said.

Bilbo began to count on his fingers. “First of all, Dori. He's one of our strongest assets – “

“As ever,” Nori grumbled with a roll of his eyes.

The others began to mutter, which made Bilbo frown. “Could you all just listen for a second? You can complain when I'm done.” So, he continued, “I think you should be in charge of carrying Bombur.” Dori didn't look all too pleased, but welcomed Bilbo's command with a decent nod. “The others I dare to put in charge are Ori, Fili and Kili, as well as Gloin and Oin.”

“What? Not me?!” Bofur exclaimed.

And they all began to mutter and chatter again.

Bilbo had almost groaned, so luckily he had Thorin who was standing beside him. “Be quiet, all of you,” he growled at them. It was silent at once.

Bilbo truly did need to heave a breath for courage. “Oin, I think it would be wise if you would look after Bifur.” Oin bowed his head. “Fili, you should take Nori with you.” Fili bowed his head. “Gloin, you can swim with Dwalin.” Gloin bowed his head. “Then Ori, perhaps you pair up accompany Balin. Kili, you will take Bofur with you.”

All of them were nodding and talking to their assigned buddies. Thorin grimaced. “Where does that leave me? Does this imply that you shall assist me?”

“Indeed! You haven't had the chance to be taught properly, so you'll need the one with the most expertise!” Flattering himself, Bilbo pulled a bit at the ends of his blazer. Though he believed it well deserved – there wasn't much he was better at than the dwarves were! “And as it turns out, there is no need for me to swim twice!”

“Very well.” Thorin's words quieted the group at once. “Master Baggins and I shall swim to you last, I need him removed from the water as long as possible. He will be overseeing you all, I'm sure.” Thorin did toss him a questioning glance, one that Bilbo answered with a confident nod and a beam of assurance. “Once there, you stay down. Do not get out of the water until we are all together. I don't entirely trust those men yet.”

Dwalin took a step forward. “I'll go first,” he said. Thorin and Dwalin shared a look that, apparently, counted as confirmation.

“Master Baggins will go after, once Dwalin has secured our safety. The rest will follow.”

“Who goes first?” Fili asked.

Bilbo shrugged. “I believe Bombur and Dori – “

“No, Dori might be needed in charge of helping dwarves onto the docks,” Thorin said. “His muscles will go stiff with cold if we send them in first.” Thorin looked straight at Gloin. “Go on.”

Gloin and Dwalin moved over to the edge of the scaffolding. Bilbo did feel very nervous... Gloin had been doing quite well, yes... but this felt as though he was prematurely giving them tasks they should not be given. Perhaps this feeling compared to him needing to kill enemies while he'd only just been given a sword. The dwarves had not trusted him then, and he did not trust the dwarves now. He wanted to, badly... but he's seen them... 'swim'. And those were perfect conditions! This water was cold and unforgivable, not to mention they wouldn't have their teacher with them.

But Bilbo made sure to encourage Gloin before they went in, telling him he ought to take it easy, that there was no need to stress, and if anything would happen, Bilbo would dive in at once to aid him.

However careful, it was quite a short fall into the water. Some others sat crouched down, holding the arms or hands of the other two when they fell in. Bilbo bit his knuckles bloody, seeing them dip under entirely. They surfaced sputtering, a bit more frantic. “Just stay calm, please, the water won't swallow you,” Bilbo said loudly. “You've been swimming with me before, trust me.”

“Aye,” Gloin said. He took Dwalin by his arm. “We will!”

Thorin's eyes were pasted on some of the guards, and only nodded when he was certain they would be safe. “Go, go.”

This was a newfound terror, having to watch them swim! Bilbo wasn't holding his breath on purpose, but rest assured, Bilbo Baggins wasn't breathing at all as his friends swam away.

Gloin hadn't been trained too well. He'd been average, but he'd been focused, which had been a very important asset to convince Bilbo that he was capable. Dwalin too had given his best efforts, but truth be told, he hadn't been swimming well. He was doing better now, though.

“Go,” he suddenly heard Thorin say. Two more slipped into the water, Oin and Bifur.

Bilbo sighed and took a small step back, closer to Thorin. He did not stop watching the others, of course. “I think we need to be slower... We might draw attention like this.”

“The water is freezing.”

“Yes, and they will too, but I'm sure one minute won't stand pale in comparison to ten years of jail time.”

Thorin huffed quietly and folded his arms, but obeyed. Fili and Nori sat ready to get into the water, but Thorin gave them no command.

Oin and Bifur did very well. Oin had been one of his stronger pupils, and because of that he'd matched him with Bifur, who was then – as he was now – flailing around a bit. But Oin was very much capable of keeping Bifur in check, and they stayed above the water's surface, both of them.

When having reached Bard's house, Thorin squeezed Fili's shoulder and nodded. “Go.”

The two of them slid into the water. Bilbo was nibbling on his nails. Nori had been one of the worst, but Fili wasn't anything if not terribly pigheaded. The young heir had almost taken Nori in a headlock to secure their safety, dragging him along more than Nori was attempting to swim along. Yet, halfway there Nori began to decently kick his legs, and they went faster.

Next were Bombur and Dori. As could be expected of the strongest member of the company, he dragged Bombur along with ease, but it didn't keep Bilbo from stressing out! Bombur looked to be sinking much deeper than the others, and was often heard gurgling and coughing up some water. However, he remained afloat, thank Yavanna...

Ori and Balin sat ready now. Bilbo felt almost nervous watching Thorin. Ori hadn't been the most excellent, but Balin hadn't been the worst. They were equally neutral, and he hoped this would work in his advantage. Neither of these dwarves liked getting wet, and it showed. That being said, they moved through the water almost flawlessly, though Ori was again bobbing a bit.

Kili and Bofur were last. This was a couple he was a bit worried about... Kili had done well, undoubtedly, but Bofur had almost sunk Bilbo himself! “I should come with,” he told Thorin. Thorin, however, did not agree. He only shook his head. “Bofur will need more help – “

“Kili will do well.” Thorin spoke with absolute faith. “As will Bofur.”

“Thorin – “

“I will not risk your health, am I making myself clear?” Thorin said. Bilbo sighed deeply. “I almost lost you during that endeavor with those barrels and I shan't again.”

Bilbo cocked his head weakly. “I?”

“We,” Thorin corrected. “But they were too busy dragging themselves out of barrels, excuse my language.” To quickly remove himself from this conversation, Thorin crouched down by Kili and Bofur. “Are you ready, kid?”

Kili nodded. “I am.”

Bilbo didn't feel well about this at all. He should've paired Kili up with someone else. “Will you be fine? With your leg and all of that?” Bilbo asked.

Kili was quick to scoff. “I have told you, it's nothing but a scratch. I'll be fine.”

It did not ease one of all his triggered nerves, but there was little else he could say. Instead, when Thorin gave the word, they went into the water. “Be careful,” Thorin whispered at his nephew. Kili nodded, and while Bilbo had charged Kili as the one to take someone with, he felt this decision bite him in the wrong places. He hadn't thought of Kili's injury at all...

As they were swimming, Thorin and Bilbo stood unmoving, watching with terror as those two moved. Kili wasn't doing well. And honestly, Bilbo was about ready to dive in. It was Thorin that halted him. “Stand your ground.”

“Thorin, they might – “

“Give them a moment...” While Thorin had surely meant to sound confident, Bilbo could feel the dwarf's fingers curl into his chest as Kili sank a bit deeper with every movement.

“Thorin – they are going to drown, Kili is – “

“Quiet.”

“Exactly!”

“No, quiet.” Thorin took his shoulder and suddenly went through his knees, dragging Bilbo along with him. Steps sounded above their heads as well as voices. Bilbo looked with urgent eyes at Kili and Bofur, his entire being itching to dive into the water. He could surely pick Thorin up later, if that meant no dwarf would drown today.

But Thorin's trust had not been misplaced. Bofur took hold of Kili when the youngest of the company threatened to slip, and it was Fili who immediately swam towards the duo. It would've looked more heroic would they... well, if they knew how to swim like a normal person! But Fili was swift and resourceful, taking a hold of Kili, and aiding him towards the house. “Good,” he heard Thorin breathe.

Good? You would've let him die,” Bilbo hissed.

“I wouldn't have told you to wait had I not anticipated Fili's behaviour,” Thorin groused. They were frowning at each other now. “They are already in the water.”

“I could've gone into the water.”

“But I need you,” Thorin snapped silently at him. Bilbo raised his brow. Thorin was quick to evade such moments, as he ever was, and looked ahead of them. “It's our turn. Go.”

Bilbo simply slipped into the water at the command, as the others had done. But when surfacing, Thorin was still sitting on the wooden planks. “Come,” Bilbo said. Thorin's eyes flooded with misery, his hands clutching at the wood. “Thorin.”

Their king inhaled deeply, closing his eyes before he dared to get into the water. Bilbo had to catch him – had he not done that, then yes, Thorin would've gone straight to the bottom. He hadn't tried to ease the impact at all.

Bilbo took Thorin in his arms. The dwarf gasped wildly upon surfacing, clutching at the hobbit. He was soaked from head to toe, that poor man, and twice as terrified as he had been back in the Vales of Anduin. “Take it easy now, we have yet to actually move.”

“I almost sank.” Thorin sounded in sincere panic again. “I can't swim –”

“Not with this again – man up,” Bilbo spat at him. Thorin's eyes grew. “Now is not the time to freak out, Thorin. Our companions are in this water, some for longer than five minutes, we have to go to them now lest they freeze to death. Gather yourself together and move your legs. The longer we stay in here, the bigger the chances that we are found, the greater the odds that our friends freeze, and the more likely that I climber out of here with hypothermia.”

Thorin swallowed audibly, starting to kick his legs a bit harder.

“You know how to swim. You have done it before.” A tremor of chill shook Bilbo's body. “We'll do it again.”

Thank the Valar that Thorin agreed. Now was not the time to be stubborn, if there was ever a good time!

Bilbo tucked Thorin underneath his arm best he could and began to swim. Thorin proved not to be too dependable. He did try, Bilbo could tell, but there was still something off about the way he moved. Something he hadn't yet seen any of the others do. They'd been more in control of themselves... Thorin wasn't like that.

“Try to push yourself f – forward,” Bilbo instructed. Thorin looked at him, his pupils still dilated with a faraway fright for his life. “And use your arms.”

“Like this?”

Bilbo nodded. “Try to make circles w – with your arms and legs.” After that, Thorin began to move more... naturally. He started moving his arms as well, and his legs were no longer aimlessly kicking. “G – Good, yes,” Bilbo complimented.

Thorin would smile, but it would literally be washed off his face when he accidentally took a small mouthful of water.

It wasn't something that halted Thorin in his process. In fact, as they were swimming, Thorin got the hang of it! Even so, Bilbo made sure to hold onto their leader tightly, helping to pull him through the water. “Y – You're d – doing great,” Bilbo encouraged, drawing Thorin closer to himself. The dwarf would attempt to wind around him, be as close to the hobbit as he may. “We're a – almost th – there.”

Thorin looked at him rapidly, then back to the others, and then back to the hobbit. “Are you well?” Thorin asked.

“A b – bit c – c – cold,” Bilbo said, quickly waving off the fact that he could not really feel his body at all!

Thorin was alarmed in an instant, and while Bilbo would never trust Thorin to carry him whilst swimming, he didn't have much of a choice in this matter. Thorin wound around Bilbo when he felt Bilbo move lesser and lesser, up to the point Bilbo was hardly moving at all. “We're almost there,” Thorin said, dragging Bilbo through the icy water.

Considering he couldn't feel himself swim, he thought it was quite an achievement that they'd made it to the others unharmed. They were all swimming underneath Bard's house, holding onto the wooden planks above themselves.

Once there, the roles took a sharp turn. Thorin took Bilbo into his arms at once, pressing him close. Bilbo was too busy clattering his teeth, incapable of getting his arm above the water. Therefor he felt no shame in burying himself against Thorin. At least there was some warmth there, and he hated to find out this way that he craved it so very badly. Thorin was hanging onto the scaffolding above them, so needed not to swim. “How is Bilbo?” Bofur asked.

Thorin gathered Bilbo even closer into his arms as his answer. “Did he sound the signal yet?”

“I swear, if this is a trick to drown us, I'll kill 'im,” Dwalin growled.

“What is the signal?” Kili asked.

Bilbo buried his head away in Thorin's shoulder, shaking terribly with cold. “Hang on a moment longer, master Baggins. You'll be okay,” Thorin told him.

“I – I kn – know,” he choked out.

Balin looked anxiously at their shriveling hobbit. “Maybe we should just get him out – “

“It will all have been for nothing if we betray our position. Now is not the time to act rash.”

The others were all muttering and mumbling about how much they hated Bard, what they would do to him were he to turn on his word. While this lasted, the sensation in Bilbo's body began to slowly decrease, and he found himself holding Thorin a little bit less with every passing second. He couldn't grip him well anymore, and was aching so very badly.

He felt Thorin nudge their heads together. “You're doing so very well. Stay strong,” Thorin whispered at him. “He'll be here any moment now.”

Bilbo blinked slowly, his head resting on Thorin's shoulder. As a response, Thorin set his face upon his head, nose buried in wet, brown curls, doing whatever he could to share even the littlest of warmth.

Their signal couldn't have come a second later. Some firm pounds on some wood, and Dwalin pushed himself out of the water with the help of Dori and Bifur. “Quickly – go, help him out,” Thorin urged at Dori.

The very moment Dwalin had pushed himself out of the privy, they pushed Bilbo out of the water.

The poor, drowned hobbit was lifted manually – he had no strength to do any of it himself. He felt so shocked, so befuddled, but at least he was helped. Bard's child did offer him a hand, and when he was out of the water, he was quaking harder than any hobbit ever should!

The house they were seated in was welcoming and warm. Bilbo was led straight to the fire, sat down and buried underneath blankets. Dwarves moved around him, drying and dressing themselves, and always making sure to check on their hobbit; all twelve of them had taken a moment to crouch down by his side, and ask if he was warm, if they could help.

Thorin was the first to truly draw Bilbo's attention. He took the wet blanket from him and draped his own blanket over Bilbo's shoulders, rubbing his back very slowly. “Are you well?” Thorin asked seriously.

Bilbo sniffled as his answer.

It made Thorin grin. “Good... Give me your hand.”

Bilbo held out his hand, as asked of him, so that Thorin could envelope it with his own. It took him a moment, but then he nodded. “Are they good?” Bilbo asked.

“Indeed they are. You're almost back on temperature already.”

Bilbo looked at their merged hands for a moment before he smiled. Thorin's nails had a blueish hue to them. “A shame that I hadn't had the chance to properly teach you. We'd do that, wouldn't we?”

“Surely that would have been useful now,” Thorin said with half a grin. Bilbo offered him one in return. “Though I think we've made tremendous headway, just now.... Thank you, master Baggins. Truly. For learning this skill to my men. For learning me this skill.”

“Not a problem at all. Let's hope you will never get in touch with water again. For what it's worth, you're all very kind but you are inexcusable swimmers.”

Thorin chuckled and bowed his head. “A good thing you aren't, then. You saved our company.” Thorin reached out, drawing the ends of the blanket together, so that Bilbo would be warmer and less exposed to the cool air around them. “I reckon I am already in your debt for saving my nephews, but do know that I am eternally grateful for your bravery.”

“You're right, you still owe me, don't you?” Thorin nodded. “How about you fetch me a warm beverage, then. We'll call it even if you sit with me and share some tea, unless we do encounter another lake or river that hasn't got chunks of ice floating around in it. Might we run into one, you shall accompany me into its waters!”

Thorin began to smile at Bilbo, his features relaxing and all the cold beaten from his body at the sight of the hobbit. “Agreed.”