Disclaimer: Not mine.
AN: Uhmm, de-anon from the kink-meme on lj. Hope you enjoy reading.
It's perhaps the seventh time within an hour that Bilbo sighs and turns to Thorin.
"It'll be dark soon," the hobbit remarks, "Maybe we should head down to one of the settlements tonight."
There's a ball of rage rolling in Thorin's stomach – has been for a while, really. He'd barely slept the night before, having taken on double shift of keeping watch. Then they'd been set on by robbers in the morning, and while defeating them hadn't been difficult, their taunts had stung.
"Oh, look, a ragtag bunch of dwarves. Now where would they be going? Do they even possess anything of value?"
Needless to say, said man's head had been smoothly removed from his torso by Dwalin's axe. His bandit friends perished soon after, though one had gotten a blow at Thorin's shoulder, and while no blood was drawn, it ached.
Carrying heavy luggage had not helped.
Neither had the sun, bearing down on them mercilessly all through the day.
At lunch Bombur had complained about their small meals – there were settlements not too far, they could go there for at least one decent meal. Or a bed, as Bilbo had taken to suggesting not too long ago.
Then Gandalf had chimed in saying he knew Elves in the area who'd welcome them.
Behind Thorin many of the company kept groaning – about empty bellies, sore feet and heavy packs. His nerves were fraying: the company may be out of acute danger, but that was no excuse for dallying. They'd barely covered ground today, what with somebody demanding a rest here or a break there at every other moment.
So when Bilbo gets in his face and starts arguing about needing to stop and how taking a break won't hinder them, something in Thorin snaps.
He whirls, raises his hand – Bilbo's eyes widen in that split second – and then he brings down the blow with all the built-up fury rolling in his gut.
Thorin regrets his actions the moment his hand connects with the soft skin of Bilbo's cheek. The slap echoes through the clearing like an explosion, drawing gasps and a shocked exclamation, and the power of the hit is strong enough to throw Bilbo off his feet and to the ground.
Around them the company draws to an abrupt stop, but all Thorin knows is the hot rush of shame and fear as Bilbo fails to get back up – fails to move from where he has fallen, entirely. Gandalf brushes past Dori harshly, stalking over, but Thorin is closer and sinks to his knees at Bilbo's side first.
He almost hesitates to reach out – the last time he laid hands on Bilbo was in violence, and he isn't certain he has any right to reach out for the hobbit now – and somewhere among the members of the company Balin radiates disappointment. Bofur doesn't even attempt to hide his disapproval.
Gently Thorin reaches out to brush the hair out of Bilbo's face. The hobbit's eyes are closed, his expression is peaceful, and when touched his long lashes flutter. Bilbo comes to with a groan, and Thorin and Gandalf help him sit up as he gathers his wits.
There's a rapidly darkening bruise on the delicate skin of his left cheek with a small, sluggishly-bleeding cut at its center – caused by one of Thorin's rings. And there are no words to name what Thorin is feeling.
Behind him, the rest of the company watches in uneasy silence. Fili and Kili especially look pale and shocked – they know their uncles temper, but they have never seen him raise his hand against anybody.
Because he has not. In all of Thorin's memory he has never struck at anybody in anger, and he doesn't quite understand why he did it now – and at one who has already born so much of Thorin's displeasure without complaint and never deserved any of it. This new mistreatment constituted merely the last in a series of unjust sufferings.
"Gandalf? What…?" Bilbo blinks at the wizard who runs a hand through Bilbo's hair in a gentle, paternal caress. Thorin doesn't want to think what he'd be seeing instead of the relief now on the wizard's face had his blow had harsher consequences.
Still, even with this seemingly harmless outcome Thorin feels shame and guilt coil in his stomach, and clears his throat. Bilbo glances his way, and even though the hobbit must remember Thorin's actions he does not appear afraid.
"Master Baggins," Thorin says and straightens his spine. Even under Gandalf's angry glare and his companies wary eyes he will hold his head up – as a King, even an exiled one, an apology can never be a hushed over affair.
"My deepest apologies. My actions toward you have been inexcusable – both, as a man and as the leader of this company," he swallows and Bilbo's eyes widen.
It's a little reminiscent of that scene on the Carrock – which feels as if it happened a lifetime ago, though it can't have been more than a month. The memory serves to twist the knife in Thorin's gut even deeper, mocks him with his failure.
Hadn't he promised not to mistreat the hobbit any longer?
The bruise blossoming on Bilbo's cheek makes him burn with shame. "Consider myself deeply in your debt, Master Baggins. If, at any point of this journey, you desire any service of me, do but ask."
Bilbo blinks, flustered, and then laughs nervously. "Ah, no, well, that is…," he shrugs, "I was being a nuisance. Though, to be honest, I'd prefer if you'd just tell me the next time?"
There's some chuckling in response, and the tense atmosphere dissolves. The hobbit attempts a smile, but grimaces – the cheek must hurt.
"You're far too kind," mutters Gandalf. The comment is directed at Bilbo, but Thorin feels the wizard glare at him. And he has to completely agree with Gandalf's judgment. He shouldn't have hit him – how could he ever be a good King if he can't control his own actions?
So while for a part of the company the affair is done with at Bilbo's dismissal ("Shall we make camp here, then? There's a river nearby," suggests Dori), others remain thoughtful and disappointed. Without looking up Thorin knows Balin is among that number – he has tutored Thorin to be better than that, and while Dwalin may not say a word or move a muscle, Thorin knows that to Dwalin the utmost important skill for a warrior or ruler is to be in complete control.
With one last scolding glance cast at Thorin Gandalf gets to his feet and joins the rest of the company in their efforts to set up camp. Bilbo shudders slightly – perhaps due to the cooling air.
Thorin presses his lips together. "I'm truly sorry," he says. He means it, far more than he has ever meant any ill word he cast Bilbo's way – if only the hobbit could understand that.
"Don't worry," says Bilbo and smiles. Subconsciously he carefully touches his cheek, checking the painful bruise, and Thorin's heart clenches at the sight.
"Oin has some cooling salves," Thorin offers, "You should treat it."
"It's not that bad," Bilbo replied immediately. When Thorin's intensive gaze doesn't turn away he insists "Honestly."
But to Thorin, no matter what Bilbo says, this is beyond bad. It's luck that the injury turned out superficial (though it is not. Every bruise sustained by a member of his company rests on his conscience, and that applies tenfold to the bruises he has caused himself) – however beyond it lies another problem.
Is there a darkness encroaching his mind like it happened to his grandfather? So that, instead of obsessing over gold, Thorin has put the quest over his companions? A good ruler, that was what he had been taught first, back when Erebor was still a rich kingdom, puts his subjects first.
Hitting them in a fit of pique is beneath despicable, really.
"Perhaps we should head over," says Bilbo and draws Thorin from his thoughts. Twilight has fallen by now, and from the corner of his eye Thorin can see a fire has been set up.
He nods, stands, and notices Bilbo shiver again as the hobbit climbs to his feet. His clothes do offer little protection from the cold, so Thorin shrugs of his fur coat and in one smooth movement lays it over the hobbit's shoulders.
"But…" Bilbo makes to protest, though his fingers close appreciatively over the warm material.
"Keep it," says Thorin. It's a small token in compensation for the deed he committed, but at least the hobbit looks warm. Even if the coat is a little long and tails on the ground (and once more Thorin is reminded of how much more harm he could have inadvertently done. Bilbo is far smaller and less sturdy than a dwarf).
Yet, the hobbit follows him like all of this company do. Even if Thorin has to question how far the darkness that is obviously preying on his soul has already led them astray.
He can only hope he will not misstep again.