After his last spanking Bilbo told Thorin, "There won't be a next time." Well . . .
part one is here.
part two is here.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. This story is not meant to violate the rights held by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any disrespect intended. I don’t own Tolkien’s original characters. I just like to play with them.
An Entity Apart - part 3 (3/3)
As before, he struggled to get anything through his weeping and hiccuped coughs. But that was alright. I began rubbing his back and his sore bottom, murmuring, "Shhhh. All over now. No more spanking. Shhhh. Breathe for me. Deeeep, slow breaths. That's it. Goood. My good little fauntling."
I should have felt ridiculous speaking to him in such a manner. I called my nephews by special names, but those names were not as 'little' in nature and sound. I could not seem to help myself with my hobbit, though. I enjoyed his special names. They did fit him, and when he was over my knee I used those names freely, pleased by how easily they spilled out of me. Aye, he had lodged a small protest earlier, but I knew 'twas merely a token complaint. If Master Baggins truly hated those names he would be voicing his objections more loudly and more often than he had been thus far. No, my burglar-grocer-fauntling-little one relished those names that I alone called him.
I reached over to pet his curls again and his crying slowed to ragged weeping and shuddery gasps, then he turned his head to one side and peered back at me. "Sorryyy," he said. "Sorry I-I went to petted the p-ponies. Should've listen-ned. S-Shouldn't have left the garden. Big-Biggest s-sorry."
I moved my hand down to rub his back, saying, "And why should you not have left the garden?"
Seeming to remember where his hand was, he drew it away from his back and brought it around to begin rubbing his eyes with his wee fists. "Danger-rous," he said, coughing to clear his raw-sounding throat. "Was life-thred'ning. The meadow w-wasn't safe. Orcs could've got me. And you told me, 'don't wander,' but I did. I-I disobeyed y-you. Sorry,sorry,sorry!"
I grinned at him. "Apology accepted, my burglar," I said, eager to scoop him up and hold him. He was settling down well where he was, though, and I had one more question for him. My halfling was still new to this and I needed to make certain he understood an essential truth. So I rubbed his back and his bottom, calming him further by murmuring words of comfort, and when he lay boneless and melted over my lap, I asked, "Am I angry with you, my little fauntling?"
He studied me for a long moment, then he dropped his gaze. I watched him think. "No," he said. He turned his eyes on me again. "No. N-Not angry at me, Thorin Oakenshield. Y-You were angry 'bout w-what I did."
I cannot say what surprised me more, the fact that he answered so flawlessly or that, amidst his endearingly stammered 'little fauntling-speak' he had managed to say my name without tripping over it. I smiled down at him. "Aye. Very good," I said. "I am not, nor was I ever, angry with you. I was angry about what you did, putting yourself in danger."
He nodded. "Yessirr. And they're big-ly differ-rent."
Chuckling under my breath at his wording, I said, "'Big-ly' indeed. Well said, little one. And now you have taken your spanking and said your sorries and all is forgiven. 'Tis over and done with. I am proud of you, my burglar." My praise triggered fresh tears, as it often did from my nephews - 'good' tears, as Kili had dubbed them.
I thought of the first time I spanked him and how I had longed to hold him afterward. Instead I'd walked away, leaving him alone and uncomforted, a crucial error in judgment nearly costing me my hobbit's trust. I vowed to never again abandon him after a spanking. So now, unable to hold back a moment longer, I picked up my boneless halfling and held him close. He drew a deep breath, then a quiet sigh shuddered through him and he wrapped his arms around my shoulders. Holding him this way was unique to the two of us. After spanking my nephews I would embrace them and console them, but that was a far cry from gathering this little one in my arms when he was weeping and upset and needing to be held. I cannot recall how I'd been able to resist this the first time. I enjoyed my new closeness with him, and earlier, when I scooped him up to comfort him, I realized that from the time of his first spanking until now I had begun to crave holding my burglar as much as he clearly craved being held.
Now I knew why I'd been withdrawing from him. It was simple. But, just as my burglar had been unable to admit to himself that he'd been seeking my attention, I had been unable to admit to myself how much this little one now meant to me. It all went back to that whispered notion: I chose to keep him at a distance because I feared he would not survive. If I cared too much about him it would hurt too much to lose him. So when I sensed I was growing too close to my burglar I backed away from him thinking to spare myself the pain of his possible loss. A rush of shame burned through me. I had been cowardly and self-serving. I never used to entertain such gruesome imaginings. Life was brutal and loss was part of it.
But Master Baggins had shifted much within me. We were, indeed, changed together. I could lie to myself and try to push away the truth all I liked, but I had grown fond of my little fauntling, and in trying to spare myself any possible future pain I had been causing him pain every time I withdrew from him. Unacceptable.
I realized I was rocking my body slightly back and forth. He was clearly enjoying it. Burrowed in against my shoulder and snuggling his head under my hair, he was breathing evenly, calm and settled.
I gave him a squeeze and said, "Still awake?"
He croaked a soft, "Uh huh."
I waited a moment, then said, "I have been thinking of your first spanking today."
"What I said still stands: No matter what you have done, my burglar, you cannot disappoint me. And, as you just said, I may be angry, especially if you have endangered yourself needlessly, but I shall be angry because of what you did, not angry with you."
"Then you also remember my promise: When you have been disobedient I shall not turn away from you, nor dismiss you, nor leave you alone with your guilt. I shall spank you, then let you say your sorries and all will be forgiven."
"I 'member. And you kept your p-promise."
"Aye, little fauntling. And I always will. You can count on that."
"I'm glad. I-I mean . . .." He paused a moment, thinking. "I-I'm glad you're there and . . . and . . . I--" He paused to think, then huffed and rubbed his face on my shoulder, clearly frustrated. "I don't like getting s-spanked, but, deep inside, I'm glad you won't let me d-do anything life-thred'ning. I-I know I do things and I shouldn't be reck-kless, and you're right, I . . . I do it to get your attention, but, I . . . I don't think about that, I just do it, and-and--"
He paused to huff again, struggling. I patted his taut back and murmured, "Shhh. 'Tis alright. Take a breath. You are doing so well."
He sighed, his tension easing a bit, then: "It-It's hard to say this, because I love being on this adventure, but sometimes . . . sometimes, with all the scary orcs and the scary other things that keep happening, I-I feel safe when you see me do things I sh-shouldn't do and then make me stop. I-I know that doesn't make sense. And I 'special-ly like . . . this." He gave me a quick hug, then he went quiet for a long moment and finally he buried his face against my shoulder again and released a long, low groan.
I also went quiet, moved by what he had said. He had shared his deeply private thoughts. Some he could scarce confess even to himself, much less to me. It was an extraordinary act of trust and courage. As Balin had said, the courage of hobbits. Had my burglar been in a less 'little' frame of mind I wondered if he could have been so honest about so much. He seemed to be fighting to sputter it out quickly ere full awareness of what he was saying caught up to him. But now he had plainly lost the race and he shuddered with embarrassment, awash with second thoughts.
I hugged him back, saying, "I 'specially like this, too, little one. And I am proud of you yet again. You told me something that was hard to talk about. I appreciate your trust in me. And I understand what you are saying."
He drew back and looked at me. "You do?" he asked with a searching gaze.
"Aye. You bespoke yourself well," I said. "Come. Sit and talk with me." He gave a whimper of protest, but I pulled his languid body away from mine and lowered him with care on my lap.
"Owwwww!" he exclaimed, arching and squeaking, his back rigid. "Ow!Ow!Ow!"
"Would you prefer to lie over my lap?" I asked, swallowing my chuckle.
He wiggled around, seeking a comfortable perch whilst thinking over my offer and casting me an accusing glance from the corner of his eye. Now I allowed myself the chuckle.
"'Tis no use looking at me as though I have maltreated you, little one," I said. "Did I drag you into the meadow against your will?"
Ever fair-minded, my burglar winced and said, "No, s-sir. You din't. Sorry. I'll-I'll stay here, sitting up, thank y-you."
"My brave hobbit," I said with a grin. I was in danger of grinning myself silly today. I began to rub his back again, triggering a low purring sound from deep in his throat. He gazed off, his eyes half-open and unfocused, and when he felt settled, I said, "I was impressed by everything you told me. Why did you say that it made no sense? I thought it made a great deal of sense."
He blinked from his stupor, saying, "Well, I . . . I didn't say it too g-good. I couldn't seem to say it gooder. It was hard to say."
"Indeed it was. But you did say it. And you said it well. It was a very brave thing to do."
He 'tsked' and looked away. "Brave," he muttered. "Why 'brave?'"
"When you know something is going to be difficult, or scary to do, and you do it nonetheless, you are being brave," I said. "You struggled, but you persevered. Aye, you were brave indeed, my fauntling."
Eyes downcast, he picked at the edge of his long shirt pooling over his lap. "I said . . . a lots."
"I am glad you did say a lots," I said with a small grin. "The more you said the better I understood. You told me that you sometimes do certain things so that I will notice and put a stop to it, and that you feel safe when I do."
He groaned, covered his face with his hands and hunched over again. "Can we please s-stop talking 'bout this now?" he said.
"No. Come, little one. Sit up and listen to me. This is important." I helped him straighten and pulled his hands away from his face, holding them between mine, little good it did me. My stubborn halfling kept his gaze lowered and sat with an air of sulky detachment. I thought for a moment, then said, "When Fili and Kili were younger they sometimes used to stray too far from home, hunting, or so they would try to tell me later when they faced me."
He looked up and studied me with his puzzled little frown and knit brow. "They weren't hunting?"
"Aye, they were. But there was plenty of game within the safe boundaries I had given them."
"Then why did they go too far?"
"Because they were doing more than just hunting. They were testing their boundaries. Do you know why?"
He shook his head in a quick, half-hearted manner, as though trying to deny that he knew the answer.
"They wanted my attention," I said. "When they decided to test their boundaries they would misbehave or do something they knew was forbidden to them. And if I did not respond right away they would push their boundaries more and more until they had what they wanted. They were seeking consequences for their actions. They wanted me to see what they were doing, and to make them stop."
"Like I just did," he murmured.
"Aye, my little fauntling," I said, releasing his hands to brush the curls from his eyes. "Like you did today in the meadow."
"So you'd spank them?"
"Aye. And they knew what to expect when they misbehaved." I lightly patted his bottom. "As you did."
He hurriedly said, "But I don't like to be spanked."
"Neither do they," I said, fighting a grin. "Trust me, little one; they hate being spanked. Nevertheless, they would test their boundaries any way they could until they earned my attention and ended up over my knee. They do so to this very day."
"Like with the trolls," he said.
"Indeed. They disobeyed my orders to guard the ponies and scouted around instead. They told themselves that they were adults; they were able to make decisions on their own; they were trying to be helpful. But deep inside Fili and Kili had another reason for what they did, a reason they kept hidden even from themselves."
"Like I just did," he said again.
"Aye. Fili and Kili were seeking my attention."
"Testing their boundaries."
I patted his knee. "They needed to be reassured that I was watching over them, that I cared enough to discipline them when they chose to ignore my orders. I've given them rules and boundaries, and when they disobey and I enforce those boundaries . . .."
"They feel safe," he murmured.
"Aye. They need to know that I'm there, as I have ever been there for them. Sometimes they seek my attention because they think I have been too busy and neglectful of them. Sometimes they do something appalling just to see what will happen, even though they know the consequences if they're found out. And sometimes they need attention simply because they need attention. There is nothing wrong with that."
He watched me with wide-eyed fascination. "You said that you feel safe when I see you do things that you know you shouldn't do," I said. "You feel safe when I make you stop, and you said that this made no sense. But it makes a great deal of sense, my fauntling. You are a long way from home. You were not trained to be a warrior, yet you have faced monstrous evil and bravely battled it. You are ever needing to adjust to the ways of a people not your own. You are doing things and seeing things you never imagined possible, some of it most terrifying. And through it all you have shown yourself to be patient and accepting and courageous, even heroic. You are an asset to the Company."
His cheeks grew rosy from my praise. Incredibly modest, my hobbit. I doubt he gave much thought to all he had been through and how well he had been doing.
"Thank y-you," he murmured.
I gave him a soft grin and ruffled my hand through his curls, then said, "There are times, however, when everything becomes overwhelming and you long for the comfort of safe boundaries, as my nephews do. 'Tis easy to understand why. Aye, you are a grown-up hobbit, but there is also a little fauntling inside, and at times you feel frightened and alone and you long to feel comforted. Just like Fili and Kili, you feel safe in knowing that someone is watching over you and cares about you, and that someone will pull you back and discipline you when you go too far. Of course you would seek out that safety and comfort, despite the consequences. So I think what you told me makes a great deal of sense. Can you see that, my burglar?"
Still pink-cheeked, he gazed off past my shoulder, thinking. "Yes," he said, "I-I see, and it makes sense. You're right." He nodded, but an uneasy shadow flickered in his eyes. He darted me a sideways glance then looked down at his lap again, little fingers nervously working the hem of his shirt.
"There is nothing wrong with needing attention," I said, feeling I could not say this enough, "nothing wrong with wanting safety and comforting, especially when you are feeling alone and abandoned, as you have been, my fauntling."
His head shot up and he looked at me, curious. What I had to say now would be difficult, but I was eager to say it. There were things I could never tell him as they would bring him more pain than comfort. I would never be so callous as to admit that I'd withdrawn from him because I feared losing him. Not only would it be cruel and morbid, but Master Baggins would turn it around and assume the blame for making me so uncomfortable. I knew him. He would seek to protect me as he had from Azog's minions, even if it meant foregoing my company in future and withdrawing from me as I did to him. I rubbed my palm over his knee, thinking over my next words.
The first time he spanked me he left me, then came back and apologized for leaving me alone and uncomforted afterwards. I thought it amazing that he so willingly apologized like that. Now I sensed that he was preparing to once again tell me he was sorry. There was that look of raw honesty in his eyes, the same look I first saw atop a high eagle's perch when, bloodied and battered and just roused to consciousness Thorin apologized for doubting me. He had apologized to me several times since, and he was always so decent about it, blurting out his sorries with straightforward certitude and not a moment's hesitation. Being able to humble oneself is a sign of greatness. It explained why Thorin Oakenshield could acknowledge an offense more willingly than several hobbits of my acquaintance. So now I waited, barely breathing.
"I've been letting you down, little one," he said. Then he hesitated, staring at me in a faraway manner, as if thinking too hard to really see me. I waited, feeling jittery and uneasy, hating watching him struggle. I didn't want him to explain anything to me if it was hard for him. I didn't. I again longed to cry out, 'Can we please stop talking about this now?'
But he lifted his chin, clearly ready to go on, and said, "I think you'll agree with me that since your last spanking you and I have become more companionable."
'Companionable.' Not, 'you and I have become closer,' but 'you and I have become more companionable.' Nothing wrong with what he said, but, honestly! Sometimes Thorin's archaic manner of speaking was too endearing. It was. It truly was endearing.
"Yes." I nodded. "Companionable."
"We have spoken late at night, sharing a pipe while you told me stories about your home and your people, and I've enjoyed our time together."
"Me, too," I said, swallowing 'round a sudden sore lump in my throat. He studied me, then his big palm began moving over my back again. I hadn't realized he'd stopped rubbing, but oh, how I loved him starting up again! I eased back against his hand, my fists unknotting around the crushed hem of my shirt.
"But sometimes I've withheld my companionship, letting you down when perhaps you were hoping for a listening ear and some company. I left you alone after promising not to do so. Aye, the conditions of my promise were different. But withdrawing from you, ignoring you, is just as wrong as leaving you uncomforted after a spanking. I apologize for doing so, little one."
I couldn't bear this. He wasn't apologizing for doubting me or abandoning me after a spanking. This went to a deeper place between us, and hearing Thorin Oakenshield say he was sorry for failing to pay enough attention to me made me want to writhe out of my skin. I truly could not bear it. I began squirming from his lap again, moving so swiftly this time that I caught him off guard and nearly succeeded. My feet actually hit the ground before he grabbed me under my arms, saying, "And just where do you think you are going?"
I had no idea, and I hoped he wasn't expecting an answer because I didn't have one. He hauled me up whilst I yammered as fast as I could, slipping back into that mortifying 'little fauntling speech' I thought I'd moved beyond: "No need to 'pol'gize. Please d-don't. 'S alright. Don't worry 'bout it. 'S fine. I-I'm fine. Don't hafta 'pol'gize." And whilst I cringed at what was spilling from my mouth he plunked me, with considerable firmness, back down on his lap. "EEEE!" I squealed and cupped the part of my bottom I could grab.
"Settle down, little burglar," he said. My backside freshly stinging, I kept squirming, none to eager to possibly hear any more sorries. "Very well," he muttered in a decisive voice.
He picked me up, flipped me over and two seconds later I lay face down across his lap again, one large palm on my back, rubbing again, one on my bottom. Well, this was familiar. He'd done the same thing after my first spanking. He'd returned, picked me up and turned me over his knee to calm me down and talk to me. Merciful lands! Odd post-spanking ritual we were forming.
"Don't make me swat this little red backside, Master Baggins," he said in a softly stern voice. "I vow you would not enjoy it. Settle. Down."
I settled down, drawing several large breaths. He was right in his droll understated way - I surely wouldn't enjoy more spanking. "Sorry," I exclaimed, a shiver racing across my skin. "I'll be good now."
He patted my bottom. "You are always good, my fauntling. But, as you seem uncomfortable sitting up and facing me, we shall continue our talk like this."
"Yessir." If Thorin was going on with more of this apologizing I'd rather bury my face in my balled up britches than look at him . . . as long as . . .. "No more spankin'?" I asked, sounding every bit like the fauntling he kept calling me.
"Not unless it is called for."
"I-I won't call for it."
"Then I shall restrain myself, however you do present me with a tempting target, Master Baggins." He patted my bottom a few more times. He certainly seemed to enjoy doing that. "There may be no more spanking, but I'll not hesitate to award a swat or two to any uncooperative young hobbit. Understood?"
"Unnerstood. I mean, un-der-stood." Enough of this. If I could think like a grown-up I could very well talk like one. I lay braced up on my elbows, head bent, waiting.
"Good," he said. "A moment ago you said I didn't need to apologize, but I do, little one. I have wronged you. You deserve better than to be treated kindly one moment and shoved aside the next, to be left alone, wondering why I'm suddenly indifferent to you and what you might have done to cause it. You are worthy of my attention any time you feel the need of it." He paused and released a long quiet sigh. "My withdrawal was never due to anything you did or failed to do, little burglar. You did nothing to cause it. The problem was mine alone, but you felt the brunt of my troubles. It was unfair of me to treat you as I did. So, you see, I do owe you an apology. I truly am sorry."
I stared down at my britches, and this time I made myself really listen to him and think about what he was saying. He knew. He knew he'd been pushing me aside. And he said it wasn't my fault! It wasn't because of something I'd done. He'd withdrawn from me because of some private something churning inside him that made him act that way towards me. As to what that something was, who knew what drove Thorin Oakenshield? I couldn't begin to imagine the pressures bearing down on him. But I wasn't the cause. I hadn't done anything to drive him away. A hot flood of relief shuddered through me and my vision blurred, his words echoing 'round in my head. He didn't like what he'd been doing to me. He felt bad about it. And he'd said, "You are worthy of my attention any time you feel the need of it." My throat burned and I felt trembly inside and I started to cry big silent tears, some so heavy they tumbled from my eyes, skipped over my cheeks and plopped straight down onto my britches.
"Are you alright, my fauntling?"
His voice was deep and warm, his legs solid under my body, his big, heavy hand smoothing over my back, the other resting on my hot, bare backside, and at that moment I felt much, much more than just alright. I nodded my head and smushed my face into the damp cloth of my no-doubt unwearably wet britches, wiping the fresh tears from my cheeks. He felt bad enough without having to put up with more crying.
"Talk to me," he said. "Are you alright?"
"Uh huh. Fine, th-thank you. How'r you?"
He made a small chuckly sound and patted my bottom again, saying, "That wouldn't be a lie, now would it, my little burglar? You already have one soaping coming. Are you daring to risk another?"
"No! No, I'm not daring! I-I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine!"
"But you are crying."
Well done, Bilbo. I sniffed and rubbed my face on my britches. "Uh huh. But I'm fine. Finest of fine."
"Finest of fine," he repeated with a grin in his voice. "Mmhmm."
But I heard something else in Thorin's voice, too, something I couldn't place. And I suddenly wondered what he must be feeling right now. When I'd told him my private thoughts he'd praised me and called me brave. I couldn't very well praise Thorin Oakenshield and call him brave. A burglar tell a great dwarf Prince that he was brave? It seemed unbearably awkward. Such praise was the kind of thing you told to a little one. And for all I knew Thorin didn't consider his confession to be difficult, so he wouldn't consider it brave. Well, I thought it was brave of him to admit what he'd been doing and why, and to apologize for something he wasn't proud of having done. Now his words hung between us, and he sat there, unflinching, waiting for my reaction. Oh, my, but Thorin Oakenshield was brave.
I braced myself up on my arms and twisted 'round, and he turned, his gaze meeting mine, and there it was again, the look Thorin had worn atop the eagle's perch when he'd said to me, "I am sorry I doubted you." Everything he was feeling was in that . . . that vulnerable look, a glimpse of his protected inner self. And suddenly it didn't matter if he was a great majestic prince and I was just a burglar. He was a person who had revealed something about himself and was now looking at me, waiting, seeking forgiveness. Thorin Oakenshield awaiting my forgiveness. A tremor of compassion and concern shot through me. I scrambled back up into his lap, silently fighting my wince. Once again, he allowed it, trusting me, watching me with that unguarded expression still in place. I put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Thank you for explaining. That means a lots to me."
He flashed a quick wry half-grin and raised a brow. "A 'lots?'"
I grinned back. "Uh huh." Most of the 'little fauntling' speech had fallen away, but I'd said 'a lots,' hoping it would amuse him as it had before and perhaps help him relax and see that he needn't worry, that all truly was well with me now. And it was. I was so relieved to know that I hadn't done something to cause Thorin's withdrawal that I really was quite fine indeed. Thorin's eyes were now crinkling at the corners, joining his grin, and I knew that he felt relieved, too. It just didn't get better than that. I hugged him again, because he deserved it, and I just had to do it. "It's alright. Let's forget all about it," I murmured in his ear, quickly adding, "You're brave, too."
I felt a faint hesitation from him, a gentle pressure instead of an all-out hug. And suddenly I knew why. When did Thorin Oakenshield allow himself to be comforted? How often did the opportunity arise for someone to comfort him? It seemed unlikely he would ever seek it out. Little wonder it would give him pause. But he faltered only a few seconds before he lifted me up into a true big-armed hug.
"Thank you, little one," he said close to my ear.
I pressed my face to his shoulder, feeling so very privileged. "Not at all."
After a few minutes he drew me back and studied me, his eyes shining with the same fond look he often gave Fili and Kili, and while I basked in that he gently settled me back down in his lap. Ow. This time I didn't hold back my honest reaction. I hissed and arched. Owww!
"Problem?" he asked, still with his lopsided half-grin.
"Well, yes," I replied, feeling a scowl coming on. Problem indeed. As if he had to ask. "My bottom hurts a bit, you know."
"I dare say."
Suddenly I wanted to blurt out, "And it's all your fault you awful, awful dwarf!" But it wasn't all his fault and he wasn't awful. I just wanted to blame him for my sore backside rather than placing the blame with myself, where it belonged. Nevertheless, I mumbled, "It does hurt. Really, reeeally hurts. Maybe you spanked me too much."
He rumbled a deep chuckle. "I wouldn't push your luck. I should spank you every other night for a week."
"What?" I cried. Every other night? For a week? Horrid notion! "You wouldn't!"
"Well, Master Baggins, I'd sooner have you sitting here in my lap, pouting about your sore little bottom rather than sprawled out dead in the meadow, your wee hobbit body shot through with orc arrows. Perhaps a stronger lesson will help you think twice before wandering around unawares."
I shook my head rapidly. "It wouldn't help." He raised a brow and looked to be holding in a laugh, so I winced and rethought my words. "I-I mean, every other night - that wouldn't - it wouldn't work . . . I mean . . . I'll remember. I will. Please, Thorin. No every other night. No,no,no. Tha's too horrible. I'll be good." Oh, lovely. More fauntling speak.
"Mmm. Perhaps not this time," he said, reaching behind me to grab my balled up britches-pillow. "We need to finish our discussion. But first, let's put these back on you."
I'd forgotten that I had nothing on below the waist. My long shirt hung halfway to my knees, covering me in front, and I'd just, well, forgotten about my britches. Thorin shifted them over my feet and up my legs, then he handed them to me and let me do the rest. I huffed and squeaked a bit, but I managed to get dressed with a bit of dignity still intact. My backside stung more with my britches on than off, like last time, but if the rest of our discussion took a turn for the worse I'd just as soon have something between my bare skin and Thorin's huge hand.
"Damp?" he asked, eyes twinkling.
Wriggling to get comfortable, I said, "Yes. Back of my thigh this time."
He grinned, then he quickly grew thoughtful and serious. "Master Baggins, do you understand the difference between taking a risk and doing something truly dangerous?"
Sometimes when Thorin looked grave and called me 'Master Baggins' a shiver crept up my spine. I peered at him. "Well, I . . . yes, I-I think so."
"Fili and Kili took a risk when they disobeyed my orders and scouted around instead of watching the ponies. Approaching the trolls as you did, alone, unarmed and untrained, was truly dangerous."
"Yes," I said with a swift nod. "Yes, I see the difference between taking a risk and doing something truly dangerous."
"Good," he said with grim intensity. "Because while I can tolerate the former to a certain degree, I shall not tolerate the latter. Am I making myself clear?"
"Yessir," I said, knotting my hands together and wishing I still had the hem of my shirt to abuse.
"You have been taking more risks of late, usually while in the company of my nephews. I know Fili and Kili can protect you if need be, so I am willing to put up with it, as I said, to a certain degree. However what you did today was . . . ?" He waited, gazing steadily at me.
"Truly dangerous," I said without hesitation.
He gave a nod. "We both understand that you had your reasons for what you did, but I cannot allow you to take life-threatening chances because you feel in need of some attention." A pause, then a softly-spoken warning: "Stop that."
I spat out my bottom lip. I hadn't realized I'd been biting it but it hurt pretty good right now so I must've bitten down hard. I gave it a quick lick, expecting to taste blood. "Sorry," I muttered, pretending to study my fingers. I know he said there was nothing wrong with wanting his attention, but revisiting the manner in which I sought it today made me feel more naked than when I was sitting around without my britches.
"Look at me, please," he said.
I did, though it wasn't easy. But Thorin now wore his kind-eyed gaze, and he rubbed my back and closed one big palm over my clenched hands, working my fingers loose with his. My hands hurt, too.
"Stop, little one," he said with gentle seriousness. "Stop fussing. I'm as much to blame for what you did today as you are. I drove you to it. What we must do now is to make certain it doesn't happen again. So we are not leaving this shed until we come up with a mutually agreeable plan of action. Are you with me thus far?"
"Of course," I said, brightening inside. "I'm very with you."
He snorted a chuckle, then grew serious again. "Good. Then let's look at the matter. I withdrew from you and you decided to seek my attention in a way that would assure you would receive it. As you can see, I set this in motion, and most unfairly. So, in future I vow that I will, to the best of my ability, never again shove you away or withdraw my attentions in the manner I have been of late." He paused and looked at me, and when I merely gazed back he jogged his knee, giving me a good bounce.
"I should make myself more clear," he said. "I made a vow to help avoid this unfortunate situation in future, and now I expect you to do the same."
"I was getting to it," I said with complete dishonesty. He gave me a look. "Well, I-I was about to say that I vow to never again do something truly dangerous, but . . . but --" I had to gather my thoughts. Thorin waited patiently. Finally I said, "You see, the thing is, if it was up to me to save someone by doing something dangerous, I'd do it. So I'm just not sure I can make such a vow."
"I know," he said with more calm than I expected. "I'm not asking you to."
I felt my forehead clench. "But--"
"I don't expect you to cease doing what's necessary," he said. "I shall never restrain you when it comes to survival, Master Baggins. Were it not for your courage and your willingness to do what was truly dangerous I would not be here. You have proven your worth many times over, and I'm certain that ere our journey ends we shall need your courage again and you'll be called upon to engage in the truly dangerous."
His deeply rich, mellow tone entered me and lodged itself somewhere in the region of my chest. I was still somewhat baffled, though. "Well then --"
"Remember what I vowed, my burglar," he said. "I vowed that I would, to the best of my ability, never again shove you away or withdraw my attentions in the manner I had been of late. All we can ever do is to try our best. I may, on occasion, need privacy to think things out, but, if at all possible, I'll never turn away from you when I'm needed. Now, I reckon my clever little fauntling can come up with a vow for me in return."
I sniffed and smiled and said, "I vow that, to the best of my ability, I'll avoid doing something truly dangerous just to get your attention. But . . .."
"What is it?"
"How will I . . . I mean, how will you know when I want your atten. . .." My face went hot and I just couldn't think of how to ask . . . and suddenly my lip was between my teeth again.
Thorin reached up and tapped my lip free with one finger. "A certain quiet watchfulness enters your gaze and your eyes follow me when you are seeking some companionship," he said. "I've felt it, and I've seen it, and I've turned away from it. But if you were to continue as you have been, watching me with that steady, wide-eyed look when you need my company, I shan't turn away, and we can either wander from camp a bit and talk alone, or say nothing alone, or we can continue as we have been, sitting together by the fire and sharing a pipe or two when the others are sleeping, you sharing your stories of the Shire with me. You know how I enjoy your tales of the Green Dragon. So, what say you, little one? Does that sound agreeable to you?"
Agreeable? Ohhh . . .! "Yes! Yes," I said bursting out with a small chuckle. "That's most agreeable." And I suddenly remembered what I'd said to him last time. "Fair enough, Thorin Oakenshield."
Now Thorin laughed. "Fair enough, Master Baggins."
Kili nudged me in the ribs. I glanced over at him. Eyes forward, he gave a nod straight ahead and I looked further down the hall towards the door. Bilbo and my uncle had returned from their "stroll."
"Thorin and Bilbo went for a stroll around the place," Balin had told us earlier. "He said they might be a while."
"A 'stroll?'" Kili said.
"Aye, lad. A stroll," Balin replied in an 'it's bad form to question your uncle's choices; mind your own affairs, young beardling' tone.
"Wonder what Bilbo did now," my brother said when Balin was gone.
"Could be they just went for a stroll," I said. Kili merely snorted.
Thorin and Bilbo were now making their way through the hall, heading for the table where we sat eating a late breakfast and drinking our mead and pretending we weren't fascinated. That 'stroll' alibi would satisfy the rest of the company, but they didn't have the well-honed 'spanking alert' intuition my brother and I shared. We'd seen Bilbo like this once before, in Rivendell. He couldn't hide that well-disciplined look from two old spanking veterans like Kili and me. We shared a knowing sideways glance.
"So," Kili muttered from the corner of his mouth. "Not just a stroll."
"No, looks like our little brother wasn't just strolling."
After the troll incident Kili and I had become closer to Bilbo, soon dubbing him our little brother. So now Kili had a little brother, and he seemed delighted with that. Bilbo seemed delighted, too. He'd never had a big brother, nor any brothers, or sisters, for that matter, and the loneliness of Bilbo's solitary life had hit Kili hard.
"What must that have been like?" he had asked me when we were alone.
"I'm happy to say that we'll never know, little brother."
Thorin was now drawn aside to talk to Gandalf, so we watched Bilbo climb up the few steps to the dining area alone, his gait slightly stiff. The few other dwarves sitting around the table in small murmuring clusters greeted Bilbo and he nodded and lifted a hand and returned their g'day's whilst heading towards where Kili and I sat by ourselves.
"No teasing," I muttered to Kili.
"Are you joking?" he muttered back. "It'll help him if he can laugh about it."
"Well, maybe a little teasing," I said. "But only a little, Kili. I mean it." I watched Bilbo snag a tankard and begin filling it, Dwalin jumping up to help him hold the huge pitcher. "Looks like he's been through enough."
"Alright, alright," Kili said, sounding disappointed. "Just a little teasing then."
"Think how you would feel."
"I said alright!"
"What's alright?" Bilbo said, joining us.
"Nothing," Kili replied, flashing Bilbo a wicked grin. "Have a seat, little brother."
I could've spanked Kili myself.
"Think I'll stand, thanks," Bilbo said. Then he glanced at the two of us and sighed. "I know you know."
"Know what?" Kili asked.
"You know why I'm choosing to stand," he said, his cheeks flushing.
"Was it bad?" Kili asked with sudden concern.
"Have you ever had one that wasn't?" Bilbo said.
"Are you alright?" I asked.
He looked down and thought. "Yes," he said. "And no." Then he thought longer, looked up at us and winced a little half-grin, adding, "Yes. I'm very alright."
He picked up his tankard with both hands, took a long swig of mead, and when he put it down he began making small movements with his mouth, swirling the mead around, as though trying to wash away a bad taste. He was discreet. I don't suppose anyone but Kili and me would have either noticed what Bilbo was doing or known what it likely meant.
"Oh, no," Kili said, eyes growing wide. "He didn't."
Bilbo shifted from foot to foot and cast us a wary glance. "Didn't what?"
"Bilbo," I said, "did you say something Thorin didn't like? Maybe something vulgar?"
He blushed to an even deeper tone and grimaced. "It slipped out."
Kili groaned. "What did you say?"
It didn't matter what Bilbo had said. Uncle found it foul enough to wash Bilbo's mouth out with soap, so Kili was just prying. But I was curious, too. So I waited with Kili, both of us mercilessly watching Bilbo squirm for a moment. Then he sighed, leaned close to us and muttered what was truly one of the nastiest Khuzdûl words going. It was actually startling to hear it come out of such an innocent-looking halfling.
"Where did you hear that word?" my brother said in a small voice, as it happened to be one of his favorite curses.
"Where do you think?" Bilbo said. Then he noticed Kili's guilty frown and said, "Look, don't blame yourself. I certainly don't. You didn't force that word out of me. I just all of a sudden heard it spilling from my mouth." Kili nodded and made an effort to smile. Bilbo then leaned close again and said, "Besides, take it from me, you're not the only dwarf who says that word."
Kili brightened, and I felt grateful to Bilbo who was preparing to swig down another gulp of mead. I reached out and stopped him.
"That won't help wash away the taste," I said. "Too mild."
"You need something stronger," Kili said.
I thought a minute, then said, "Have you eaten breakfast?"
"Hours ago," Bilbo replied.
I looked at Kili and said, "Wasn't there some mint growing out by the well?"
"Yes!" Kili exclaimed. We slipped from our chairs. "C'mon, little brother!" he cried, grabbing Bilbo by the hand.
Bilbo looked at me. "Nothing conquers the taste of soap like mint," I said, falling in beside him.
"Thank goodness something will," Bilbo muttered.
We hurried through the hall, past Thorin, who gave us an interested glance, and out into the garden where there was, indeed, lots of fresh mint beside the well.
"I'll never say that word again," Bilbo muttered, munching a mouthful of fragrant green. "Never, ever again."
"Never, ever again." Kili grinned at me and raised a brow. "Never, ever again, he says."
And I grinned back, "I heard him."