Chapter 8

A/N So I promise I didn't die, I just kinda fell off the face of the planet and then my brain decided it didn't know what to do with the story anymore. But having seen DoS the inspiration has returned, even if my story doesn't follow the movie so much as the book now. Anyway, please enjoy and I really am sorry for such a long absence.

The next time I awoke it was to the soft light of a new day. I felt stiff and sore, but well rested. I was surprised both at my ability to sleep a full day through and at the fact that no one had woken me earlier. I sat up slowly, gauging the aches and pains from the days previous that might have been aggravated from sleeping on hard rock.

As I stretched I saw that most of the company was up and about. I searched the company until I found Bilbo sitting quietly nursing his foot. I moved to join him, but was halted by Thorin.

"May I have a word Miss Baggins?" His tone was polite even though his request felt more like a demand. I supposed that being royal left one with an amount of certainty that others would just listen.

"Yes I suppose so," I replied cautiously. Even though Dwalin had expressed his acceptance of me, I wasn't so sure that Thorin would accept me as he finally had with Bilbo.

Thorin led me to a more secluded area before staring holes into the ground in silence. I waited to see if he would speak for several moments before breaking the quiet.

"What is it that you have brought me over here for?" I tried to keep the impatience out of my voice, but worry was creeping in. I wanted to see again for myself that Bilbo was alright and I hadn't yet failed Mother in protecting him.

Thorin waited for a while more before answering my question. "First I would apologize for my behavior. Towards you as well as towards your brother. I was…wrong." Thorin's words were slow, but sincere.

"Thank you." I was sure there was more that he wanted to say, but Thorin had once again returned to scrutinizing the ground.

After another excruciating pause Thorin started to speak. "I know you are Bilbo's younger sister, but as you are the only living relative he has near-by, I wish to ask for your blessing. I know this may be sudden to you." Thorin trailed off, he must have been searching for the right words. "From the moment I met your brother a part of me knew he was going to be very special to me. I rejected that notion in fear that if I gave in to it I would have yet another I could lose on this quest. I did not know that I would be so wrong about your brother's courage and strength. I thought that at any moment I could lose him and any relationship that could arise would be gone just as quickly."

"What changed your mind?" I knew a little of Bilbo's own feelings, but I knew nothing of Thorin's. If he wanted a blessing he would have to prove to me the depth of his commitment.

"His bravery. His foolishness. He defended me from my death without a single thought to his own safety. I could have lost him forever in that moment." I could see Thorin's composure falling away to his fear and worry. I could see the beginnings of a powerful love underneath. "When I realized that he would give his life for mine, even after I had treated him so poorly, I knew I could not hold my feelings back any more. I love him."

I gasped softly at the open declaration of feeling. I remembered how Fili had been quick to declare his love to me. "Is he your one?" I asked. Thorin only nodded in reply, his voice stolen by emotion. I stared into the exile king's eyes, reading emotions there that before had been deeply buried. "Yes. You will have my blessing. I will warn you however that should you break his heart I will make sure yours is just as broken." I held up a hand to stop Thorin's protest. "But from what I have heard of the love of dwarves, you are not likely to do so purposefully."

"I thank you, Bella." Thorin bowed shallowly to me before moving to rejoin the company. I followed soon after looking for Bilbo.

I found him sitting in the same spot where I had seen him before Thorin had pulled me aside. I smiled and walked over to him.

"Not dead yet I see, dear Brother." I gave him a strong hug and heard his small grunt of surprise. "I haven't failed Mother yet." I sighed into his curls.

"Not dead, very happy actually. I saw Thorin talk to you. What did you two talk about?" Bilbo had always been curious as long as I had known him, even longer if what my Mother had written about had been true. I laughed and only winked at him. "You can't really want to keep it from me, do you? It can't be anything secret!"

"Nothing secret," I told him. "Thorin wanted my blessing. I suppose you two are courting now?"

"Yes, I promise I was going to tell you first, but Thorin wanted to ask you himself. He's very stubborn you know." Bilbo's smile would have been apologetic if he hadn't been so ecstatic. "I didn't believe him at first. It was so sudden."

"I think I know how you feel." We fell into a companionable silence as we each thought about what had happened these past few days. I wondered once more at Thorin and Bilbo's behavior after Rivendell. What had happened between them? Did something happen there to give Bilbo hope that was crushed by Thorin's harsh words? Or was Thorin's affection as sudden to Bilbo as Fili's was to me? "Bilbo, may I ask you something?" I wasn't sure how my brother would take my prying, but I needed to know more.

"Anything, Sister, you know that." Bilbo's smile was still wide enough to light the world.

"What happened between you and Thorin in Rivendell?"

Silence answered my question. Bilbo's smile had disappeared and instead a frown clouded his face. "I…"

"I'm sorry ta interrupt, lad, lass," Bofur had walked up without me noticing, "But Thorin is calling for move out. We gotta get off this giant rock and find some more food soon."

I sighed loudly. Something had happened in Rivendell and now more than ever I wanted to know what, but it would have to wait. Bilbo and I wouldn't have time for a private conversation until the next time the company would rest.

"Nothing to apologize for Bofur." Bilbo's happy smile was back. His relief was clear to me, even if none of the dwarves would realize something was off. "Come Bella, let's get ready to go. Would you be so kind as to help me up?"

As I helped Bilbo up and held up some of his weight I whispered that we would finish our conversation later. Clean up of the camp site was quickly finished, we didn't have much with us anymore, and soon we were all making slow progress down the steep stairs carved into what Gandalf called "the Carrock".

"Gandalf." Bilbo called the wizard to our side as we walked across the grasslands. "Do you perhaps know of a place we can rest?" I could hear the exhaustion in Bilbo's voice. He had worked hard to keep pace with the company all day without complaint. Unfortunately his injury was taking a toll on him and he leaned more and more upon my shoulder.

"I know of a man who lives near-by, but I would not necessarily consider him a friend. We could perhaps stay there, but I would have to introduce you all in a specific way." Gandalf hummed to himself as he thought his idea through. Bilbo and I waited in silence, trudging slowly behind the company. "Hmmmm, yes, yes that could work. I will go tell Thorin."

Gandalf's long strides took him quickly to the front where Thorin was pushing stubbornly forward even as exhaustion took over the company. I could not hear the specifics of the conversation, but I could see the angry glare Thorin gave Gandalf. Could the dwarf not trust anyone? We would die sooner rather than later from lack of food or sheer exhaustion; though it probably only felt that way.

"We will make our way to this acquaintance of Gandalf's," Thorin's clear voice rang over the whole company. "There we will rest for the night."

Even though there was no noise, the company seemed to slump in relief at the prospect of rest. I hoped it was going to be a safe rest. The orcs following us couldn't be that far behind. Azog would not stop hunting our group until we were all dead. I did not doubt his malice, not after I had seen his cruelty and brutality. We moved more quickly once the thought of rest and food was put in our minds. We made it a field filled with over sized flowers and bumblebees that I would have loved to appreciate if Bilbo hadn't been tripping more often than not. Next we found ourselves at a gate taller than any of us, Gandalf included.

"Now, to introduce you all will be a particularly interesting problem. I should think that I will go alone with Bilbo first." Gandalf raised a hand to stop protests from myself as well as from Thorin. "And then the rest of you shall come in two by two every five or so minutes. That should give me plenty of time to get Beorn used to the idea of company. Yes, that will do. Come along Mister Baggins, don't worry I will take plenty good care of you."

I reluctantly let Gandalf take over the job of supporting Bilbo's weight. I itched to go with them, but was stayed by Thorin's hand on my shoulder. His look showed as much discomfort as I felt, but we both trusted Gandalf's judgment enough to put aside our worry.

"Miss Belladonna and I will go next." Thorin still fell back on formality which brought a small smile to my lips. I hardly listened to his orders to who should go when. I thought only on how long the time had been and if I could go to Bilbo yet.

When Thorin once again touched my shoulder to get my attention I realized it was time to go to Beorn's house. I nodded and we headed past the gate side-by-side. We walked in silence and I took the chance to observe our surroundings. We were on a dirt path that led past apiaries where more giant bumblebees floated contentedly. There were horses and sheep that watched Thorin and me with an intelligence I'd never seen before in such beasts. I was inclined to show them the same respect I would hobbits I had never met before and nodded my head in greeting. When we reached the front steps of the house, I noticed how absolutely massive it was. I once thought that Rivendell had made me feel small, but this house was built for a man greater in stature than man or elf.

"One or three you meant I see!" A great booming voice greeted us as Thorin and I entered the house's courtyard. I saw Bilbo leaning wearily on Gandalf and, after bowing and introducing myself to a man taller than any I had ever seen, I rushed to his side to take some of his weight. The man, Beorn I guessed, did not want our "service" nor did he care much as to who we were. He did, however, recognize Thorin's name and lineage. Beorn's attentions were drawn back to Gandalf while he continued to recount our misfortunes in the Misty Mountains. Soon enough Fili and Kili were walking up to the courtyard and Gandalf made sure to have come to a part in the story that left Beorn waiting for more. He dismissed Fili and Kili's arrival in hopes for more of the story.

The rest of the company was similarly introduced to the great man and he was so entertained by the story that Gandalf told him that he offered the company food, rest and even a wash in the stream near-by for it. Beorn did warn us to not stay out past night fall. "It is not safe for you outside after the dark has fallen." His voice was grave and I did not like the danger I felt, but Gandalf trusted the man and so would I.

I had taken Bilbo down to the stream for some privacy and to get him washed. I would not let his injury become infected. (Neither would Oin if he learned of Bilbo's hurt foot, but for now I would content myself by caring for the cut.) After pacing the shore for a small while, I found a portion of the stream that was calm enough to leave Bilbo in privacy for his wash. I found another section, close enough to Bilbo to listen for trouble, but far enough to give him his much needed modesty.

After I finished washing I wrapped myself in modest under things and hoped Bilbo's sensibilities would not be too offended by his sister's impropriety. I found Bilbo mostly where I had left him, though now with wet hair and damp clothes. I laughed that he had dressed so completely. He turned at my laugh and frowned at my state of dress, but I waved away his lecture before he could even start.

"It is just you and me here. The company knows enough to leave hobbits to their privacy when bathing." Bilbo's humph of annoyance was enough to let me know that I should worry more about my own decency. The time we had spent on the road had left me with much less worry than a proper hobbit should ever have and I couldn't find it in me to feel ashamed of it. "And I need to tend to your foot since you are too stubborn to mention it to Oin, which you will need to you know. He's the one with the knowledge of herbs and healing ointments."

Bilbo's sigh was enough to let me know he would listen to me this time. "I should tell you…" Bilbo trailed off miserably. "About Rivendell that is. What had given me hope. What had led to such a crushed heart when Thorin said those words on the mountain cliff." Bilbo looked like it was the last thing he wanted to talk about. I was about to reassure him that it was a conversation we could save for later when he began to tell me of a Thorin much different than the one I saw. Bilbo told me how Thorin had searched him out in the library when he was alone. How Thorin had said words as close to comfort as he seemed to know and how his expressions were softened for Bilbo alone. Bilbo continued to tell me how Thorin had explained dwarven love. About a dwarf's One and about how a dwarf will search all of Middle-Earth for his or her One once the feeling grips their heart.

"Oh Bilbo!" I pulled my brother into a hug. "I'm glad that dolt of a king came to his senses then. Giving such hope that like would have nearly been an admission of desire in the Shire! It's a good thing you didn't tell me before Thorin had gotten his feelings straight, I would have made him see reason." I laughed with Bilbo at the thought that anyone could get Thorin to do or feel anything other than what he had set for himself.

Before we were ready it was time to head back to the house to let the others have their time at the stream. I rewrapped Bilbo's foot after making sure it was clean of all dirt. I dressed quickly, my clothes being much less damp than Bilbo's because I dried in the air before dressing. Together we hobbled back to Beorn's large house to find that the dwarves were more than ready to head down to the stream. My laughter bubbled up once again, my delight at our relative safety making me prone to mirth.

"Go Master Dwarves! And get rid of that awful stench you have all been carrying for days." My words were met with varying degrees of humor and many commented that I had smelled just as rank the past several days since Rivendell.

Before long the dwarves were back and Beorn's animals had set the giant table for a dinner of bread and honey and cheese. The company was so glad to have food in front of them that not even Ori or Dwalin were willing to complain at the lack of meat. There was also plenty of milk and honeyed mead to go around the table.

"I will leave soon to see if the wonderful tale you have told me is true," Beorn addressed Gandalf, but looked around the table as he spoke. "I am not overly fond of dwarves, but I abhor goblins and orcs. Even if I find your tale untrue it was amusing enough that you are safe here for a little while and are welcome to supplies when you go." With that Beorn left us at the table and walked out the front door. I was shocked at his quick departure, but quickly figured that his animals would keep us in line as well as report to him when he returned.

The sun was just setting as the last of the company left the table to go find a place among the furs that had been left out as beds. Compared with just a cloak between me and the hard surface of the Carrock, the furs felt heavenly. I barely had the presence of mind to search out Bilbo's form before sleep overtook me. I found him settled beside Thorin and the lazy thought that I wouldn't be sharing my brother's company at night any longer crossed my mind. With a smile and the knowledge that Fili and Kili would soon join me I let sleep claim me.

A/N The first thing Beorn says is from the book, word for word, so if you recognize it that's why. I love how the dwarves had to go one by one to his home as Gandalf told their story and wanted that to be the way it was in my story. Also I want Bella and Fili's braid problem to stew a bit more before it gets resolved so don't worry, some light angst to follow next chapter, but hopefully also lots of fluff.