When Dwalin finally awoke, the first thing he did was reach for his hammer.
Instantly, Bilbo leaped back and out of the way as the Dwarf swung it out without restraint around himself. He pushed himself to one knee as another hand went to one of his axes while the hammer was swung overhead. It was not until he finally got to his feet and his eyes were clear and open, did Dwalin finally seem to realize that he was no longer being attacked.
"Burglar," he greeted as his dark eyes singled out the Hobbit. "What happened?"
"You were knocked out by a falling rock," Bilbo replied, having decided to lie in order to save Gollum. It was, admittedly, a difficult decision to come to. But he knew that if he told the truth then Dwalin would end up killing the little scavenger whether out of common sense or a bruised ego. And he couldn't let that happen…
"I was knocked out… by a piece of rock," Dwalin repeated slowly, staring at him.
He nodded and held up his bloody handkerchief as proof. "Yup. Hit you on the head and knocked you clear out."
Dwalin just stared at him. 'Stared' was the polite way of terming it.
"Do you feel better?" he asked, attempting to break the awkward air that was growing between them.
"I'm fine. It will take more than a pebble to take me out," the Dwarf scoffed, finally sheathing his weapons once more.
Bilbo bit his lower lip and tried his best not to smirk. "Maybe not take you out for good, but it did knock you out for awhile there."
Dwalin just gave him another 'stare'.
"Do you think we can find the surface from here?" he continued speaking, ignoring the look. The Dwarf really had nothing on Gandalf when the wizard was angry.
"… Yes. I can lead us out from here. I think it will be easier from this point on," the warrior admitted, scratching at his head where some of the blood that he had missed had dried up.
Bilbo felt vaguely disgusted. He had a feeling that blood was going to stay under the Dwarf's finger nails for the next few days.
"We should get moving then if you're up to it," he pointed out, trying to ignore his revulsion. The bathing habits of Dwarves were none of his concern. "I don't like lingering here. This place makes me uncomfortable."
Dwalin grunted and sheathed all his weapons but his hammer. "Agreed. Let's get moving before another 'rock' falls on me."
Bilbo bit his lip to prevent himself from snickering. No one ever told him Dwarves were so insightful. It was just another new fact to add to his ever growing list.
"Which way are we going?" he asked, carefully putting his body between Dwalin and the rock where he had dragged the unconscious Gollum behind. He had tied the scavenger up with some rope he found on Dwalin; but he didn't know how long it would hold, or when the little termite would awaken and cause more trouble. All he could do was try and get Dwalin and himself away as soon as possible.
The warrior rolled his shoulders back and raised his face to the ceiling. He sniffed the air a few times and then tapped the ground with the tips of his boots before giving a firm nod.
"To the east now," he declared, hiking his hammer up to rest on one broad shoulder, and then swiftly moving towards their destination.
Bilbo followed the Dwarf without complaint. "How do you Dwarves understand mountains so well?"
"We were born to the stone, burglar, and it is in the stone that we spend our lives. We learn to listen to her voice before we ever use our own. Learning to navigate through a mountain is as easy for us as it is for them rangers to go through a forest," Dwalin replied with a snort.
He had not known that. "Is it hard then? Living above ground, away from the stone?"
"Yes," Dwalin answered bluntly, never pausing in his steps. "It is difficult but not impossible. We prefer to do without it."
"Why? Does it cause you pain? Do you greatly miss it?"
Dwalin finally stopped and Bilbo found himself almost running into him. He took a few steps back and looked up at the Dwarf that was now glaring down at him.
"Living away from Erebor is like living without an arm or a leg," the Dwarf explained slowly, staring at him with eyes that could have been carved from stone. "It is unbearable in the beginning but in time you get used to it because there's no other choice. Most days you'll be fine; other days you'll burn with the memories of how it used to be. It is a phantom ache that never goes away because you live with the reminder of it every day. Now did that satisfy your curiosity, burglar?"
He nodded, feeling like an insensitive fool. "Yes."
"Good. Now quit yapping. We got a great deal still to travel," Dwalin snarled, spinning back around and continuing on his way. Bilbo quickly followed and they continued their trek on through the mountain in silence.
When they finally found their way out of the mountain, Bilbo realized it was early afternoon.
We were there all night and into the next day, he mused, carefully climbing over a large rock. From what I recall, the sun was setting when we encountered Azog. Which means the others must be on their way out if they got caught by the goblins. But if they didn't get captured then where would they be now?
For the first time in a long while, Bilbo found that he didn't know what to do next. Their group was splintered, he had no clue where the others were, and there was a possibility that some of them were now dead. He was stuck.
Find them. Search them out. Hunt them down, the ring whispered to him in the back of his mind.
He firmly pushed the whispers away. Not now! I don't have time for this!
"What should we do now?" he asked Dwalin, turning his complete attention to the Dwarf in order to block the ring.
Dwalin sniffed and looked around the area before shrugging. "Doubt the others have made it this far yet. We'll wait here and see if anyone shows up."
"And if they don't?" he pushed, feeling his stomach twist up into knots.
"Then we'll go back and look for them," the warrior replied, walking over to a tree and making himself comfortable under it.
Bilbo bit his lower lip in order not to groan. "I hate waiting. It never gets easier, no matter how old you get."
Dwalin snorted and didn't hold back the small smirk that tugged at his lips. "Don't know anyone who does like to wait."
"I don't know how the elves handle living for centuries. I think the memories alone would drive me insane," he admitted because it was something that had secretly horrified him for a long time. He could not imagine how Lord Elrond or even Lady Galadriel could handle memories that spanned over lifetimes. The weight of a hundred years alone already weighed him down like a boulder.
Dwalin shrugged and closed his eyes. "Who cares? Get some rest for now. You might need it for later."
Bilbo really hoped he wouldn't.
He never thought that he would fall asleep with all the worrying he was doing, but his body surprised him. Or he was just that tired. Either way, one moment Bilbo swore he was thinking of possible entries back into the mountain, and then in the next moment he found himself jerking awake at the bellow next to him.
"Wha…?" he began to speak, blinking around the area and searching for the noise. He realized that the sun was settling to set in the horizon, and that the air was growing chilly. Finally he noticed that Dwalin was on his feet and was grinning without restraint.
He soon realized why when Balin came sprinting into the clearing.
"Dwalin!" he yelled, barreling straight towards his brother. Dwalin caught him without hesitation and the two were gripping each other in a fierce hug that looked rather painful with all that armor. Bilbo watched them from the sidelines as they spoke to each other in low Khuzdûl. He could not understand a word of what was being said, but he felt that the meaning behind it was pretty clear.
If Balin is here then maybe…
He turned back to where Balin had come from, and soon found the rest of his companions making their way at a more sedated pace. He looked over each face hopefully but found that none were his missing companions.
They didn't find them, he realized, and his stomach twisted into more knots.
Thorin led them into the clearing and Bilbo carefully avoided looking the Dwarf in the eye. Instead, he took note of each Dwarf and realized though they were dirty and bruised, they were all relatively unharmed. Physically, at the very least. It was one less thing for him to worry about.
"Dwalin," Thorin greeted as he drew closer, his stern features relaxing slightly. "It is good to see one of you alive."
Bilbo had a feeling that he wasn't included in that statement.
"Did you find the others?" Kíli asked from his uncle's side. His dark eyes seemed very wide in his pale and bruised face.
Dwalin shook his head solemnly as his brother finally released him. "I'm sorry, lad. We didn't come across any of them."
"Not even their bodies?" Dori asked quietly.
"No bodies. We landed further down the mountain then them," Bilbo answered.
"Then there's a chance they could still be alive?" questioned Ori, his face lighting up.
Bilbo looked at the other Dwarves and knew they were all thinking the same thing. There was a chance that their comrades could still be alive, yes, but it was a very, very slim chance.
"What do we do now, Thorin?" Glóin questioned while nursing a rather large and sickly yellow bruise on his forehead.
The king closed his eyes and took in a deep breath before releasing it slowly. "We will wait the night out here to see if they show up. If they do not appear by morning…"
Thorin trailed off but they all read the message clear enough. They were continuing on in the morning with or without their lost companions.
Bilbo looked to the west where the sun was slowly making its way down. He didn't know how much things had changed now, and he didn't know if Azog was coming or not. But if the fiend did come, then they would not have till morning to wait for their comrades.
"How did you all get so bruised?" he asked, his mind spinning though possible plans.
It was Óin who answered him. "We ran into some goblins on our way here. Nasty little bastards managed to capture us, but we sliced through them like butter. Even took out their king along the way."
Bilbo nodded and tried to make himself look surprised and awed. "Impressive. But what did they capture you for? Why not just kill you where you stood?"
"A good question, Master Baggins," Gandalf said, speaking up for the first time. The wizard seemed deep in thought as he stared off in the direction they had come from.
"Master Oakenshield," he called out slowly, and all attention turned to the wizard. "Do you happen to remember what the Great Goblin said to you?"
Thorin blinked twice before his eyes widened and he began to curse in Khuzdûl. Balin and Óin caught on as well if their wide eyes were anything to go by, but the rest looked lost and confused.
"What? What did that fat goblin say to you?" Kíli asked, tugging on Thorin's coat.
"That someone would pay a price for his head," Gandalf answered for the king. "My guess is that 'someone' are Orcs, and that the goblins may have informed them of our location. If that is true, then they may be heading in our direction at this very moment."
It took a moment for the realization to settle, but once it did, pandemonium immediately followed. Bilbo watched as his Dwarves broke out into arguments and a great deal of gesturing and cursing. He couldn't follow all of the words being said, but he understood that the gist of the arguments were about whether to stay and wait for their lost companions, or move on before the Orcs caught up with them. It was a mess of words and heated emotions, but it was the results that he was hoping for.
Bilbo didn't know if Fíli, Bofur, or Nori was alive or dead, and he didn't know if Azog was coming for them or not. But what he did know was that he couldn't let his remaining comrades be unprepared for whatever was coming.
This is all I can do to warn you lot of Azog, he thought miserably. I can't do anything more. Not when I don't know what's coming anymore.
He didn't know how long the bickering lasted, but eventually Thorin decided to put a stop to it.
"We make camp here for the night!" he bellowed over the voices, drowning them down until there was silence. "We will set up a watch and traps, and make preparations for any attack that may come. If we are attacked then we will be ready for them. If not, then at least we still give our comrades a chance to catch up with us. I will hear no more on the subject!"
There was no more argument after that. The assembled Dwarves and wizard nodded and went about following the commands given. Bilbo watched them all before deciding that he would be most helpful in setting up traps. Eru knew he had enough practice watching Merry and Pippin.
"Master Óin," he called, hurrying over to the healer. "I have an idea of some traps we may use with some of the plants I picked. Would you care to help me put them together?"
The Dwarf smirked. "Why, I would be delighted to, Master Baggins."
Bilbo kept an eye on the slowly setting sun, and an ear out for the howls of Wargs. To his dismay, he only got to set up half of his traps before the piercing howls of the Wargs brought the entire camp to a stop.
"They're coming," Ori gasped, his hand moving to his slingshot on reflex.
"Time to act. Everyone to their places," Thorin ordered, reaching out a hand to push his nephew toward his designated tree. Everyone moved without complaint and either began to pull themselves up into the trees, or into the bushes around them. Bilbo himself climbed up a tree with Sting in one hand, and made himself comfortable next to Ori. Across from him he could see Kíli and Balin and Bombur crouched on their branches, while Bifur and Óin made themselves comfortable on a branch above him. Below them Gandalf, Thorin, Dwalin and Dori took their places in the bushes around the camp.
The camp was silent except for the crackling of the fire that they had set up in the middle of the camp. Around the fire were the few bedrolls they still had; stuffed so it would look like they were all sleeping. It was a very simple ruse that probably wouldn't fool most people, but they were dealing with Orcs so it could still pass. Bilbo only hoped that Azog wasn't the first one on the scene.
Next to him, he noticed that Ori's free hand was shaking. Silently he reached over and took it into his own, and squeezed it lightly.
"It's going to be fine," he said quietly. "We are all going to come out of this alive. I promise."
"I don't think that's something you can promise," Ori whispered back even as his hand finally stopped shaking.
Bilbo smiled. "Watch me."
The sounds of running and hissing grew closer and closer to their camp until soon enough a pair of Orcs with Wargs came dashing into the camp. They each landed on a stuffed bedroll and proceeded to either stab it with their weapons, or tear into it with their jaws.
Well, there goes my good coat, he thought with black humor that quickly died as the rest of the Orcs joined their fellows. With them came a (familiar) tall white Orc that made Ori tense again, and the hate in him rise swiftly.
Then he saw who the Orc was dragging behind him, and his whole world came to a complete stop.
"Fíli!" Ori gasped before slapping a hand over his mouth.
Bound and chained to Azog by rope, Fíli stumbled into the clearing before falling to his knees. He was dirty and bloody, and Bilbo could already make out the bruises and welts on his face. He looked exhausted and weary, but still managed to glare up at his captor with his bright blue eyes.
"They have Nori too!" Ori whispered to him fiercely; drawing his attention away from the bound prince.
His eyes scanned the clearing before he finally spotted both Nori and Bofur; each also tied to an Orc. They were dirty and wounded, and were sporting more welts and bruises than the younger Dwarf. He had a feeling he knew why.
He glanced up across to where Kíli was, and found that he was being restrained by Balin and Bombur. He glanced to Ori and wondered if he would have to do the same, but found that the young Dwarf looked more horrified than angry.
"Don't draw any attention," he ordered quietly just in case. "We need to wait for the signal."
Ori nodded, but still didn't tear his eyes away from his brother. Bilbo could not imagine what Ori was feeling at seeing his older brother bound and beaten, but he knew that anger would follow soon enough. He only hoped that the anger helped him in battle and didn't cripple him.
Below them, Azog had been surveying the camp before barking something to the other Orcs in his harsh mother tongue. Then he reached behind him and yanked Fíli forward until he stood close enough for the Orc to place his sword at his neck.
"Dwarf King," he growled in common. "Come out so I can give you another head of your kin."
—"I'm scared of being king," Fíli confides one cold night. They're all huddle up in groups to keep warm, and he's squished between Fíli and Bofur. The toymaker is fast asleep with his hat pulled low, but Fíli is still wide awake so he decides to keep him company.
"Why? I think you'll be a fine king," he whispers back.
Fíli smiles slightly at the compliment. "I feel too young. I don't think I'm wise enough yet to rule. I don't know if I ever will be."
"Wisdom comes with age. You'll learn how to be a good king as you grow," he reassures.
Fíli snickers. "I guess I have something to look forward to other then going gray."
He huffs and cuddles closer for warmth. "I think you should be more afraid of going white or bald. You're related to Balin and Dwalin, after all."
Fíli laughs again but this time he is so loud that he wakes Kíli, who is sleeping on his other side—
Azog pushed the blade closer until it broke skin and began to bleed. Fíli didn't move or flinch, but his blue eyes widened ever so slightly before closing. He was resigning himself to his death.
—sometimes he catches himself calling Merry and Pippin another set of names. He doesn't mean to do it, but it's hard; so very hard because the two are so very much like the Dwarves he lost. It makes him want to cry when he sees them because they deserved to live; Fíli and Kíli should have lived, but they didn't and Merry and Pippin are living the lives they should have had, and why did it turn out this way, whywhywhwy—
The grief that swallows him whole surprises him for a moment, but only for a moment. He was familiar with grief; knew it like an old friend by now. He knew how to push it back until it was only a distant ache in his heart.
But the rage… the rage was new.
Kill it, the ring suggested, rising to his anger like a serpent to music. Save him. Save him. Kill it.
"Ori," he whispered as he gripped Sting tightly in one hand. "Tell Kíli to aim for the eyes."
Then before Ori could reply, he dropped out of the tree.
Once his feet touched the ground he forced his body to roll to absorb the impact. Then he sprung to his feet and realized that every Orc was now focused on him. Including Azog.
"Using a hostage I see," he said casually even as the Orcs pointed their weapons at him. "Guess you lot are as weak and cowardly as they say."
Azog narrowed his pale, pale eyes as the others began to hiss and curse and growl. He made a sharp gesture with his hook, and they all fell silent.
"Halfling," he acknowledged, his voice sounding like rocks scraping again each other. "I see the Dwarf King has grown desperate. Pathetic."
The Orcs snickered and jeered at him, and Bilbo allowed himself to smile. He was under no illusion that it was a nice smile. "Indeed. Almost as pathetic as an Orc torturing an unarmed child. Really, you couldn't find a full grown Dwarf to capture? At least they would put up a fight. But him? I'd be surprised if he even knew how to hold a sword."
By now, Fíli was staring at him with wide eyes while Bofur and Nori looked alarmed and considering. He had a feeling that the later was thinking up a plan thanks to his distraction. He only hoped it didn't interfere with his own.
Azog eyes widened at the insult, and he pulled his sword away from Fíli's throat to point at Bilbo. The moment he did an arrow hit him in the eye, and chaos erupted.
Gandalf, Thorin, Dwalin and Dori finally revealed themselves and attacked the nearest Orc to them. Above them, Ori and Kíli were unleashing arrows and stones on the unprotected eyes of their enemy. Bombur, Balin, Bifur, and Óin jumped into the fray as well, and Bilbo soon lost sight of them all.
All except Fíli.
Azog had broken off the arrow in his eye, but it was still gushing blood down his face and neck. Below him his Warg had also been blinded, and was whimpering as it attempted to claw the arrows out of its face. The Orc was obviously in a great deal of pain and confused, but that didn't stop him from attempting to behead his captive. Fíli was doing a good job of dodging the now half-blind Orc, but he knew that it couldn't last; not while the Dwarf was still tied to Azog.
Bilbo dug his feet into the dirt and ran.
He ducked and dodged as much of the combat as he could, and scrambled behind his fighting comrades when he couldn't. All the while, he kept Azog and Fíli in his sight, and as soon as he got close enough, he raised Sting high and brought it down swiftly on the rope that bound the two together.
"Run!" he yelled, pushing Fíli away from the pale Orc and towards the trees. Fíli tripped but scrambled to his feet as Azog roared something guttural and vicious behind them. He glanced over his should to see if they were being followed, and found that Dwalin and Thorin had blocked the fiend off from following them.
"Give me your hands," he ordered as soon as they were far enough away from battle. Fíli held his bound hands up and he quickly cut through them until the Dwarf was free. "Get up into the trees. Kíli and Ori are there. They'll protect you."
"Wha—" Fíli tried to protest, but Bilbo was already moving; back into the battle and into his pocket to where a cold ring rested.
Just this once, he promised himself, and slipped the ring on.
The effect was instant. Everything around him seemed to slow down and the colors became paler and less vibrant. A chill went down his spine, and he swore that he heard the ring laughing at him in the back of his mind.
Shut up and let me focus on the Orcs, he snarled back, and then went to work.
The first thing he did was focus on taking out the Wargs. They were the most dangerous with their massive jaws and claws, and offered a significant advantage to their riders in height and protection. He didn't know if the Wargs could smell him coming, but he didn't care. He had to help his friends.
The first Warg he came across didn't seem to notice him as he stalked up to it. He leapt to the side to avoid one of its hind legs, and then ran Sting into its ribs as hard as he could. The Warg screeched a high and agonized sound that made his ears hurt, but he pressed on; attempting to push the blade further into the thick flesh before jumping back as the Warg twirled around to face him. He found himself looking at its face and his eyes wandered over it and then down, down, down until he found its neck.
He swung Sting out in an arch that sliced open the throat of the Warg like paper. The blood sprayed across his face and he blinked as some of it got into his eyes. He wiped it away, and then watched the Warg as it backed up and struggled to breathe before finally collapsing.
To the next one, the ring suggested, and for once he found himself in agreement.
Bilbo did not know how long it took to kill the Wargs. He lost track of time, and could only focus on taking out the creatures that threatened his friends. It wasn't until the last Warg was dead that he finally stopped and looked around. His Dwarves had managed to kill most of the Orcs and all of the Wargs were obviously dead. There were a few stragglers left, but they were wounded and were obviously not going to last much longer. The biggest thing he noticed though was that Azog was gone.
He still lives. Fine. Let him come another day; we can kill him then, he thought with a wicked viciousness that made him pause. He was not usually so bloodthirsty, and actually wasn't fond of killing. So why was he feeling so damn hungry for battle?
Revenge. Kill it. It will feel good, the ring goaded.
Oh. That's why.
Bilbo slipped the ring off and blinked as the world returned to normal colors and shapes. Most importantly though the feelings of bloodlust were dying away as he slipped the ring back into his pocket, and ignored the voice taunting him in the back of his mind. Above them the sun had finally set and night had fallen during their vicious scrimmage with Azog and his ilk. The fire they had put together was now their only source of light in the dark forest. It cast an orange glow on the bodies of the Orcs, and made shadows dance across his comrades' faces. He slowly looked them over until he identified every Dwarf, and then allowed himself a sigh of relief when he realized that they were all alive.
We did it. We got through it this time.
Bilbo walked to where his comrades were gathering, and grinned when he realized that some of them were hugging the lost ones. Kíli was wrapped around Fíli like an octopus and seemed like he wasn't letting go anytime soon. Fíli was enduring it with a look that said he was well used to his brother's clingy ways. Nearby Nori was holding both Dori and Ori as they hugged him back. He seemed to be trying to soothe the crying Ori, while Dori looked like he was just basking in the fact that he got to touch his brother again. Beyond them, he saw Bofur laughing as Óin looked over him while Bombur and Bifur fussed over him.
They were all alive and well. No one had died despite his massive screw up in timing and control. He had not failed them yet.
Bilbo sniffed and rubbed his eyes as they began to grow wet. He didn't realize how much he had been holding back his fear and anguish at the thought of failing them again. It was only now—seeing them alive and safe—that the relief and gratitude engulfed him.
"Oh, what's this? I hope those are tears of joy and not sadness."
Bilbo blinked through his tears and realized that Balin was now before him. He looked concerned as he stared into Bilbo's eyes.
"Joy. These are tears of joy," he reassured, rubbing them away hastily. It wouldn't do to start bawling like a child in front of Balin. He didn't want to make the Dwarf uncomfortable.
"Aye, I think we all could cry in relief at this outcome," Balin agreed, still watching him.
"I thought they were dead," he admitted, wiping his cheeks clean. "I thought they were dead and then the Orcs dragged them in like that and… and…"
Balin's face softened, and he reached out to lay a comforting hand on the Hobbit's shoulder. "I understand. It was a hard thing to face for everyone. But you… you did us all a huge favor by distracting Azog. You even managed to save Fíli! That alone is a great gift. So thank you, Master Baggins. Thank you for saving him."
Bilbo felt his face warm and hoped it wasn't too obvious. "I-I only did what was right. I couldn't just stand there and watch him die. I wouldn't let any of you die if I can help it."
Balin nodded slowly as his eyes stared at him thoughtfully. "I'm beginning to believe that, Master Baggins."
The Dwarf gave his shoulder another gentle pat before wandering off to where Óin was attempting (and failing) to look over Bofur. He looked back to the group and found that Thorin had made his way to his nephews, and had managed to pry Kíli off of Fíli and pulled him into his own hug. He could see how tight the king was gripping Fíli's coat, and watched as his massive shoulders seemed to ease ever so slightly. Fíli in turn seemed to go boneless and relaxed into the hug like a child. He probably only now felt completely safe since his abduction.
Bilbo felt his own heart ease up as he watched them. The last time around, he had been the one in that fierce hug after he had saved Thorin from Azog. But, as he watched Thorin's eyes soften into a sky blue, he realized that he really didn't mind this outcome.