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honey I don't know (what you're doing to me)

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Bagginshield: Revisionist History

“I look absurd,” Bilbo scoffed, tugging at the elaborately chained mithril hanging down his chest. “I’m a hobbit, not a warrior!”

The silence that followed was endowed with a distinct air, one of pregnant pause and burning emotions. Thorin’s gaze was red-hot steel on Bilbo’s face, scouring his expression and running all over the vacant lines of his face.

“Thorin?” The silence lasted until Bilbo rested a hand on the dwarf king’s upper arm. “Are you – are you alright?”

The answer was a most definite no, but, at the time, Bilbo hadn’t know that. He let himself be drawn away by the fierce dwarf, stunned into silence by the fierceness of his expression, and rendered fearful by the manic gleam in his eye. He listened to him talk of betrayal and enemies, all while feeling the Arkenstone in his pocket like a heavy weight upon his chest. Smaug reared his ugly (dead) head in Thorin’s voice and Bilbo panicked, hands fluttering and gentle sensibilities worked up into a frenzy over the dwarf king’s madness.

“You need to rest.” Bilbo moved closer, hesitantly pawing at the metal armor across Thorin’s broad chest. “You need sleep. And-and food and drink. You cannot continue like this. You cannot –”

“I am fine.” Thorin grabbed Bilbo’s hand and held it tightly in both of his, with a grip cold and hard from metal gauntlets. “Believe me, I am.”

No you’re not, Bilbo wanted to stay, but he let himself be assured into silence, gaze tracing over the lines of madness in Thorin’s strong face.

“Right.” Bilbo withdrew his hands and Thorin let go of them reluctantly, a hint of madness rising up in his gaze. “Right, then. I’ll just.” He backed off a step and the dwarf king followed, pinning him back against a strong stone column.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked and his voice held within it a roar of something cold; a dark aggressive power that threatened to seal up Bilbo’s voice and hold him still in the grip of Thorin’s madness.

“To the –” He looked to the gate of piled stone where Fili, Kili, and the others were waiting. They were all watching him carefully, dwarven eyes glimmering brightly in the darkness.  He looked back to Thorin and his eyes were the same. “The, uh.” His voice fizzled into nothing when Thorin grabbed his arm, dragging him forward a few jerky half-steps.

“Balin!” he called, voice roaring in the thunderous emptiness of the dwarven city of Erebor.

The dwarf stepped up hesitantly, white beard glowing in the dim light of the cavern. “Yes, my lord?”

“Take Bilbo to the king’s chambers.” Thorin thrust him forward and Bilbo stumbled, catching himself against Balin’s arm and a great stone column reaching up to the cave ceiling. “Lock the door and meet me back at the ramparts.”

“Wait, hold on!” Bilbo squirmed in Balin’s arms – curse the dwarves and their confounded metal grip! “No, hold on. Hold on!” He managed to twist free and ran a few steps after Thorin, grabbing his arm and releasing it quickly when Thorin turned, face burning with madness.

“This is madness!” Bilbo huffed, swallowing loudly at the dark expression stealing over Thorin’s face. “Madness!” he repeated, fingers fumbling in his pockets for the weight of the ring and the glowing Arkenstone.

“I want to help!” he continued hesitantly. “Fight!” he uttered quietly after a moment’s deliberation. “With you and the others!”

He looked up into Thorin’s face, compensating for the height difference between them with a solid glare. “I am as much a part of this company as you or Balin! And I deserve a chance to prove it!”

When Thorin’s hard gaze did not melt, Bilbo’s chest deflated and he backed off a step, leaning back as Thorin leaned heavily forward.

“Oh, my dear Master Baggins,” Thorin said with a tone attempting gentleness and missing wildly. “You are a part of this company. You need not prove yourself in this way.”

“But I want to!” Bilbo interrupted. “I want –”

“This is not up for debate.” Thorin latched onto Bilbo’s arms and pushed him back into Balin’s chest. “You are to go to the King’s chambers and wait for me. Is that clear, Master Burglar?”

“I want to fight!” Bilbo had already lost against Thorin’s hard will, but something inside him pushed him further. A little hot seed growing in his gut pushed him onward, onward, urging him to stay at Thorin’s side. “Please. Let me fight.”

Thorin’s steely expression cracked and for a moment Bilbo thought he had won. But, as quickly as it had come, that little sliver of tenderness vanished and Bilbo was being scooped up by his armpits and carried swiftly down the dwarven corridors.

“If you will not go on your own,” Thorin said, over Bilbo’s head as he kicked and struggled against the arms that held him. “Then I will take you there myself.”

“Put me down! Thorin! Thorin! Put me down this instant, or so help me –!” It was an empty threat and no sooner had the words left his mouth than he was set down and thrust into a dusty old room, falling and catching himself upon a stone bed with cobwebs for pillows and blankets.

“Stay here until I come for you,” Thorin said from the doorway. “No thief, no elf, no man from Laketown will take you from me on this day.”

And with that he turned and shut the door, disappearing in a flourish that left Bilbo breathless and pounding on the door with his fists.

“You ruddy bastard!” He called, hitting and kicking at the stone door. “You cock, you fucking cock!” He threw himself at the door, calling Thorin all kinds of names he could think of until his breath came fast in his chest and his heart beat hard behind his ribcage.

“Bastard,” he breathed, collapsing onto the stone bed and sending empty cobwebs and dust balls flying into the air. “Fucking bastard.” He dipped his head, grabbed at his temples and massaged them gently.

He spent the next five minutes pitying himself and cursing the absurdity of the situation in which he’d found himself in. He spent the ten minutes after that searching for a way out of the room Thorin had locked him in. Aside from the bed, the room was decorated much like the others rooms of the dwarven halls with great stone pillars and aged, decaying tapestries flying from banners long gone and rotted away. The room was filled with dusty artifacts, old dwarven helmets and daggers and a display case in one corner that held a rather decrepit-looking sword.

Beside the bed, there was a chunk of stone that seemed to have caved and fallen away. The hole was no bigger than Bilbo’s head and he could hear wind whistling through it, but it was something, and possibly the only way Bilbo was going to get out of that nasty room and back to Thorin’s side – where he belonged.

He grabbed a helmet off a dusty old desk and started banging away at the little hole, cursing his luck and his pathetic hobbit strength between every knock of the helmet against carved dwarven stone. He’d made some progress – the hole was now about the size of his palms pressed together – but not much when he noticed the long scratches in the stone beside the little hole he was trying to chisel out. Bilbo dropped the helmet and moved closer to the stone, pressing his fingers and his face against the long grooves in the bluish rock.

“What are these?” he breathed, tracing his fingers across them. “They look like –”

He thought back to the day he first arrived at the Lonely Mountain, to the day he crept inside the dragon-infested hole and poked around while the dwarven company waited upon his return. On the wall behind where Smaug slept, he remember seeing a great and numerous grooves just like the ones before him. He remembered shivering at the thought of the great terrible dragon sharpening his claws on the old stone, much like a cat he’d once had back home sharpening his claws on a piece of old wood.

“Huh,” he breathed, dragging his fingernail down the curve. “Is there another –?”

He never got to finish that thought because a great hissing reached his ears and suddenly there was a weight upon him, digging into his back and rooting sharp claws around in the delicate folds of his hair.

“What the –!” he crowed, reaching back to throw the thing off him. “Stop! Stop!”

“We meet again, burglar!” A thin voice rasped in his ear, a shadow of a growl that plagued his dreams and haunted his every nightmare. “Thief! Barrel-rider from Bag-End!”

“What?”

Bilbo at last succeeded in throwing the thing off him, grabbing him by the tail and pinning him to the ground in front of the little hole he had made. The sight of the creature shocked and disturbed him and he sat back with a cry, scrambling away from the little creature on all fours.

“What the hell?” he cried as the little creature advanced upon him, small tail quivering as he stalked Bilbo like a cat. “You’re dead!”

“I am not!” The creature – great Smaug the Terrible in miniature form – raised himself up and spread his wings through which shone light like through a thin paper bag.

“Uh, yes you are.” Bilbo nodded, regaining himself slowly and easing the shock and fear off his expression. “I saw you fall. In Lake-town. Bard the Bowman killed you. I saw it! I saw it all!”

“Lies!” the creature hissed, mouth opening to reveal rows of sharp pointy teeth. “I am not dead, but you soon shall be! For it was you, terrible theif and burglar, that lead me to my almost-doom!”

And with that he pounced, latching onto Bilbo’s knee with tiny claws and nudging his small head into his hand. For a moment Bilbo was frightened, but then the little thing nipped at his fingers and he laughed, throwing his head back while Smaug tried to bite down on the end of his finger.

“It’s not working!” he hissed around a mouthful of finger. His red eyes glimmered as he raised them to Bilbo’s and his white teeth chomped harder around Bilbo’s singular digit. “Why aren’t you dying?”

“You’re so small!” Bilbo laughed, using his other hand to pull the little creature up and hold him to his face. “My goodness, no more Smaug the Great and Terrible for you.”

“I am great!” the little dragon growled. “And terrible! Just you wait! You will die by my claw soon enough!”

Five minutes passed and the dragon had barely managed to make Bilbo bleed when finally the hobbit pried his finger out of the dragon’s small mouth.

“You’re so cute.” The words flew unbidden from Bilbo’s lips and he ran a finger down the crest of his rigid spine, lightly tapping the scaly spikes that would one day grow to a formidable height. “I mean, fierce.” He cleared his throat. “Very fierce.”

“I don’t understand.” The little dragon sat back on his haunches, an expression very close to melancholy stealing over his scaly face. “Why aren’t you dying, retched thief that you are?”

“You’re not big enough to kill me, oh Smaug the Great and Terrible.” Bilbo chuckled, rubbing his finger harder into the dragon’s back.

“I soon will be.” Smaug arched his back into Bilbo’s hand and the fierce expression left his face, replaced by one of sheer ecstasy. “Mhhmmm. But keeping doing that and I may just let you live.”

“Whatever you say, oh great dragon.” Bilbo sniggered to himself, scratching his finger a little harder into the dragon’s scaly plates.

“So if you did not die at Laketown,” he mused after a moment. “Then how did you find yourself back in the Lonely Mountain? And why are you so small and cuddly?”

“I am not cuddly,” the dragon huffed and a puff of grey smoke left his nostrils. But he refused to continue his story until Bilbo resumed petting him. “I am a dragon,” he said simply. “I cannot die. Not now, nor ever.”

“Sure,” Bilbo nodded. “Sure, little Smaug.”

“What are you doing here, Thief?” he asked, closing his eyes. He rested his head on Bilbo’s lap and curled himself around his feet, chest rising and falling slowly with a great contented heartbeat. “This was supposed to be my sanctuary. A place to rebuild myself in peace.”

“Oh, well.” Bilbo turned to glare at the door, mouth twisting down into an angry frown. “I was locked in here by a pig-headed dwarf.” He touched the mithril on his chest gently, pulling it away from his skin with a finger before letting it thud back against his skin. “He seems to have gotten it into his fat, bullish head that I am not worthy to fight in his company. Cursed dwarves,” he muttered lowly to himself.

“Ah, I see.” Smaug lifted his head, crawling up onto Bilbo’s knee and nudging his head against the shiny mithril. “He has marked you as his betrothed and desires to keep you safe above all else while he is fighting.”

Bilbo choked. “His what?” he hissed, finger stilling on Smaug’s scaly back.

“His betrothed,” Smaug bobbed his head in a gentle nod. “That mithril is by far the most precious thing in my hoard.”

Your hoard?” Bilbo interrupted, scowling down at the small dragon.

Red eyes rolled and a puff of smoke left one scaly nostril. “His hoard,” he scoffed. “Besides the Arkenstone, that mithril is the most valuable thing the dwarves own. It is only natural that the dwarf king would give it to his precious one as a symbol to safeguard them both.”

“What?” Bilbo rested his hand against the silvery metal. “He – no!” A blush raced up his cheeks and he pushed the little dragon away from him, shaking his head fiercely. “No, no, no. You don’t understand. He hates me, Thorin –”

“Loves you.” Smaug rolled his eyes again. “If you were a dragon, I could simply say that he wants to be your mate, but as you are human, or dwarf, or halfling, or whatever you are, I cannot say for certain what his intentions are.”

“I’m a hobbit, thank you very much,” Bilbo sniffed indignantly.

“You are his love.” Smaug dug his claws into Bilbo’s knees, climbed up his chest until they were eye-to-eye. “Surely you would have noticed his affections towards you by now?”

“Uh.” Bilbo blanked. He looked away and a new blush rolled over his cheeks, turning them a great fiery red to rival even Smaug’s brilliant scales.

He recalled all the times he and Thorin had fought; how those fights had given way to begrudging compliments and relatively normal interactions; how Bilbo had come to respect the calloused dwarf and how he’d imagined Thorin had come to understand the fragile young hobbit; how Bilbo would do anything to stay at Thorin’s side, and how fierce Thorin had looked when Bilbo tried to argue against him.

“Stay here until I come for you,” Thorin had said. “No thief, no elf, no man from Laketown will take you away from me on this day.”

“He –” Bilbo stuttered, eyes widening as he touched the mithril resting on his shoulders. “He loves –”

“Now do you want to fight with him, or not?” Smaug leaped off his chest and ran to the little hole he’d been carving. “If so, I think I can help you find a way out of this nasty room.”

“What’s in it for you?” Bilbo shoved his feelings down, locking them in the same dark cupboard hole he kept his burning desire for home and the gentle way he looked at Thorin when the dwarf wasn’t watching.

“You entertain me, Burglar. And I’d like to keep you around.” Smaug breathed on the stone and it began melting away, falling in great molten chunks as he scratched at it with long claws. “Plus, I have to see my gold. Make sure it hasn’t been ruined by that filthy dwarf and his nasty friends.”

“Alright.” Bilbo moved to Smaug’s side and began hacking away at the molten stone. “We’ll get you some gold, but then we have to leave. I’ve got a plan to save Thorin that involves the elven army.”

“Army?” Smaug spluttered. “What-what army? What exactly has happened in the time I’ve been away?”

“An awful lot,” Bilbo chuckled, reaching down and setting the young dragon on his shoulders when the hole was big enough to slide through. “And I’m afraid there’s still an awful lot of terrible yet to come.”

*

Smaug insisted on riding in a pack Bilbo strapped onto his back.

“I want to rest in my gold!” he whined, nostrils puffing dangerously. “It’s been so long since I’ve touched it, my precious gold!”

“It’s not just yours, you miserable lizard!” Bilbo huffed, gathering up a few handfuls of gold and shoving them into the cloth pack. “And I can’t carry much, so you won’t be swimming in gold as you once were.”

“Of course it’s my gold!” the dragon huffed, head sticking out of his pack to rest on Bilbo’s shoulder. “I won it fair and square!”

“Well, you’re going to have to learn to share!” Bilbo huffed, running along the corridors towards the entryway. “Much like someone else I know.”

He made it to the ramparts unseen, pausing just in front of the piled stone doorway with his back to a wall. Fili and Kili were standing guard while the others rested in a room off to the side, their snores echoing loudly through the chiseled halls.

Bilbo crept up on the two brothers slowly, reaching into his pack and drawing out a handful of gold coins much to Smaug’s dismay.

“Quiet, little beastie!” Bilbo hissed as the dragon snorted in his ear, falling silent when a great figure stepped through the halls ahead of him. “Blast!”

He fell back as Thorin moved towards his nephews, sweeping across the floor with a great kingly stride.

“What do you see?” he asked them quietly and Bilbo sighed, flattening himself against the wall and willing the king not to peer too closely into the shadows.

“Nothing, Uncle. I mean, my lord,” Fili replied, his disgruntled voice leaping out of the darkness too close to Bilbo’s hiding place.

“Keep looking. I expect an attack any minute now. The elves are surely planning their assault as we speak.” He moved to sweep away, but Kili’s voice called him back and Bilbo held his breath as he heard his name mentioned.

“What are you going to do about Bilbo, Uncle? He is probably mad with worry in the King’s chambers.”

“Master Baggins is none of your concern,” Thorin said hotly. “Keep watching and leave the matter of the Halfling to me.”

“Don’t call him that.” Bilbo held his breath as Kili spoke out against his uncle. “I know how you feel for him. You don’t have to hide it.”

“He would not be pleased with you.” Fili added his voice to the quiet argument. “He cares for you, Uncle. And he sees what the gold has done to you!”

“You’ve changed, Uncle,” Kili said with a finality that shivered through Bilbo’s bones. “And not for the better, I’m afraid.”

“Enough!” Thorin’s voice lifted in a rage. “Bilbo Baggins is none of your concern!”

“We care for him!” Fili argued.

“He is our friend!”

“Then you should be happy that he is safe!” Thorin roared and a twinge of guilt pricked at Bilbo’s chest. “Leave his happiness to me and worry not for his safety!” His voice dropped into a low whisper. “When this is all over, I will have time to apologize. To make excuses for my actions and beg for his forgiveness.”

“He may not give it,” Kili whispered. “There is a dwarf’s tenacity in our dear hobbit. And I fear he may not forgive this betrayal so easily.”

Bilbo closed his eyes, hand fumbling around the Arkenstone, heavy in his pocket.

“He will,” Thorin said with ferocity and Bilbo pictured his expression, eyes red and wounded like that of a dying man. “He will, damn you! He will.”

“Can you fly?” Bilbo whispered to Smaug.

“I’m a dragon,” he sniffed, claws digging into his fleshy shoulder.

“I’ll cause a distraction,” Bilbo nodded towards the men guarding the stone entryway. “You fly out through the gate and wait for me at the bottom.”

“How will you escape?” Smaug asked, flapping his thin wings quietly. He lifted off Bilbo’s shoulder and hung in the air before him, head cocked delicately, awaiting his orders.

“I’ll be fine.” His finger grazed the smooth edge of the ring in his pocket. “Now, go!”

Smaug nodded and flew up out of the corridor, disappearing from sight as the darkness folded over him. Bilbo took a deep breath and pushed the pack off his shoulders, sending it tumbling down the stairs and into the cavern below him. He threw the gold down after it, listening to plummet down the stairs with the sound of crystalline running water.

“What was that?” Thorin hissed and Bilbo quickly slipped the ring on, waiting until he and his nephews raced past his hiding place to head for the wall with a quiet pattering of feet.

He threw a rope over the side and clambered down, finding Smaug waiting patiently for him at the bottom.

“Where is my gold?” he hissed as Bilbo took off the ring, rolling his eyes.

“C’mon!” he huffed and they took off towards Dale, moving from rock to rock to stay out of sight of two watching armies.

*

They made it to Dale in one piece – thank God – and arrived at the elven king’s tent, delighted to find both Bard and Thanduil inside as well as Gandalf, a blessed sight to see. He explained his plan to them quickly, offering the Arkenstone as proof that he had come from the mines of Erebor.

After he’d finished his explanation – and after Gandalf and the Bard had their questions about the little dragon sitting on Bilbo’s shoulder answered – he took a deep breathe, readying himself for the second part of his plan.

“That may not work,” he said quietly, causing all to look over at him.

Bard was currently poking little Smaug in the belly, his expression cross between contempt and a fondness that only came from looking at small babies or cute helpless animals. Thranduil was sharpening his sword and barely turned to Bilbo, inclining his head in his direction so that he would know the elf-king was listening. Gandalf gave him his full attention, leaning heavily upon his gnarled wooden staff.

“What is it, my dear Bilbo?” Gandalf asked, leaning down to rest his hand on his shoulder. “You look positively frightened.”

“I have another idea,” he said slowly, fingers playing with the mithril draped across his chest.

“Yes?” Gandalf prodded, grey brows knotting together.

“In case he doesn’t –” Bilbo’s voice faded out and he toed the ground hesitantly, stalling as he tried to come up with the right words to express his plan.

“What?” Thranduil asked, voice dripping with malice. “Continue, Halfling, or I will force the words out of you.”

“Let him speak,” Bard cast the elf-king a side-eyed glance, before letting his gaze rest fully on the young hobbit. “What is it, Master Baggins? What is your plan should the Arkenstone fail to convince him?”

Bilbo took a breath. Let it out. Took another and turned to Gandalf, cracking his knuckles nervously. “You’re not going to like it,” he finally said and the wizard’s attention peaked, brow folded in deeper lines of confusion.

Behind him, the elf-king smiled, something knowing and wise sparking across his flawless features. “Go on.”

Bilbo swallowed nervously.

*

The next day, he stood in front of the wall Thorin had made, facing off against the dwarves he’d come to respect as friends, as family. As kin.

“It is a ruse!” Thorin laughed in Bard’s face, eyes gone wild with rage. “The Arkenstone is here! In these halls!”

“It is not a ruse.” Thranduil laughed coldly. “It was found in your mines and given to us by someone close to you. Someone who desired to see peace founded between us.”

Thorin’s face fell and he cast a dark look at the dwarves standing around him. Bilbo watched the roar begin in his chest, watched it fold over his brows and send his muscles quivering mad with rage.

“Which one of you –!” he began, but before he could finish Bilbo was thrust out into the open, knocked off Bard’s horse and thrown to the ground with his arms tied behind his back.

He fell heavily and he cursed as an elf lifted him to his feet and held him up before Thorin and his company.

“Behold, the one who tried to keep the peace!” Bard boomed and Bilbo kicked his legs weakly, struggling against the rough binds tied around his wrists.

He glanced up at Thorin, read the shock and horror on his expression, and fought harder, cursing when the elf dropped him so he laid flat on the ground.

There was an angry mumbling from the dwarves above the ramparts and several shouts that molded themselves into curses and oaths and desperate cries of his name.

“Bilbo!” That was Fili shouting.

“Are you alright, Bilbo? They didn’t hurt you, did they?” Bofur. That was Bofur. Leaning over the ramparts with a worried shout.

“You captured him?” Thorin asked and the dwarves went silent, looking toward their king with various expressions of horror on their faces.

“He came to us in good faith,” Thranduil answered, gesturing at Bilbo’s prone form. The elf above him kicked him roughly and Bilbo cursed, struggling to sit up and crawl away from the elf looming above him. “But we realized that his usefulness was far beyond that of messenger hobbit.”

“Thorin!” Bilbo sat up, straining his wrists against the binding ropes. “Thorin, please!”

The elf behind him kicked again and Bilbo went down, tasting a mouthful of stone and dirt. He was then lifted off his feet and held on level with Thranduil’s arm which stuck out to hold a shimmering blade to his throat.

“Gods,” Bilbo kicked and cursed, flailing futilely against the grip of the elf and the sword of the elf-king.

He went still when the sword dug deeper into his throat, pricking his flesh and putting strain on his airway. He blinked, tipping his head up to read Thorin’s expression, to read the multitude of emotions running rampant across his face.

“You would do this, Bard?” The dwarf-king asked after a moment, never looking away from Bilbo and the sword held in front of him. “Kill an innocent Halfling that came to you as a friend?”

“I’m afraid I have no choice in the matter.” Bard nodded to Thranduil, eyes cold and flinty. “I cannot raise my hand against him, for I fear the wrath of the Woodland Elves.”

“Gandalf!” Kili cried through the silence. “Where is Gandalf?”

“He would never allow this!” Bofur shouted. “Where is Gandalf? Where is –!”

“The wizard’s fondness of the Halfling rendered him useless to me,” Thranduil said coldly, mouth twisting cruelly around the words. “He is currently detained in Dale until we can come to an agreement. One which, for your dear hobbit’s sake,” – his hand around the sword tightened and he dug it tighter into Bilbo’s throat – “will come soon, lest I lose my patience.”

“Thorin,” Bilbo coughed, closing his eyes and breathing in through his nose. “Don’t.” He tried shaking his head, but the blade across his throat dug deeply into his skin. “Not for me,” he coughed instead, lowering his eyes and looking up at the dwarf through shadowed blonde lashes. “Please. Not for me.”

“Bilbo . . .” Thorin’s hands were shaking. His face was pale and sickly. Balin and Dwalin were at his side, whispering to him, and Bilbo watched, a hopeful shred of joy burning in his gut, as he turned to them, listening to their urgent words.

But that joy was snuffed out when Thorin drew away from them, standing with a flourish and glaring down his nose at Bilbo and the elves before him.

“The Halfling is nothing to me,” he said in a booming voice, waving his hand dismissively. “Do with him what you will.”

“Thorin!” Bilbo gasped, falling to his knees as the elf dropped him. He tried to stand up, jerking his bound wrists, but Thranduil stepped on his back, pinning him to the ground with a long elven foot.

“Then you won’t mind if I kill him where he stands and take his mithril as my own?” The blade moved to the back of Bilbo’s neck and rested there, scraping along his scalp and resting ominously on his prickled skin.

“Bilbo!” Kili shouted. “Bilbo, no!”

“Thorin, be reasonable!” Dalin, maybe. Or Bofur. Bilbo was only half-listening. His other half was panicking, trying to find a way in which he made it out of this scenario alive and Thorin did not, in fact, start a war over his cold dead corpse and a mound of gold.

In his pocket, the ring wriggled, burning his flesh through the fabric of his clothes like it was a living, breathing thing. He thought of it desperately and wished he could reach it, but his hands were firmly tied.

Behind him, Bard was getting antsy. He looked down at Bilbo with a wary eye, sending both the dwarf-king and the Halfling a cautious glance.

Bilbo sent him a frantic look, straining against his bonds and Bard drew his horse close to Thranduil, leaning down to whisper in his ear.

“Killing the hobbit was not part of the plan!” he hissed.

“Indeed,” the elf-king responded, too low for Thorin to hear. “But having Thorin refuse was also not part of the plan.”

Bard reared his horse back, a pained expression on his face.

“He will give in,” Bilbo breathed, more to himself than anyone else. “If what I know of him is true, he will give in. He will. He must.”

He gave a passing thought to Gandalf, milling about in the throng behind him, and Smaug, the tiny dragon, resting on his shoulder, but forced them down. He tipped his head up against the blade Thranduil held to find Thorin’s eyes above him, blinking a silent message to Thorin’s stony expression.

“How valiantly he resists,” Thranduil scoffed, holding the blade closer to Bilbo’s vulnerable neck. “Let’s see how hard he fights when his head rolls separate from his body.”

“Gods,” Bilbo hissed, ducking his head in tight to his knees. “Thorin. Give in. Just give in!”

His cry was echoed by the dwarves watching helplessly above him. If Bilbo was not two seconds away from death, he would have been heartened to know that the dwarves he thought so fondly of were, indeed, fond of him in return.

“For fuck’s sake!” Someone crowed, voice piercing the web of fear cast low over Bilbo’s every breath. “Take the deal, Thorin! Gods, he’ll take it! He’ll take the deal!”

The blade dropping slowly above his head stilled and Bilbo took a minute to catch his breath, closing his eyes against the black dots crowding in around his vision.

He risked a look up, saw Thorin holding his nephew by the upper arm.

“Do not speak for me,” he hissed, but his tone lacked any malice or anger.

He released Kili and stepped away, flattening his hands down the front of his royal get up. He frowned when they caught on something sharp and he looked down, as if suddenly realizing what exactly he was wearing. His mouth pursued in a frown and he tugged sharply at the clothing, letting it fall in a great puddle of fur and armor around his feet.

A relieved grin tugged at Bilbo’s mouth as he watched Thorin shed his royal façade, relaxing into himself, into Thorin Oakenshield, and stepping out of the role as Dwarven King.

“Release him to me,” he shouted, feeling up for the crown resting jaggedly on his dark brow.

He gripped it and pulled it off his head, fisting it with tight fingers. The metal bent under his grip and he tossed it away with a roar, sending it skidding into the stone at Bard’s feet.

“I, Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, heir to the line of Durin, do accept your bargain, Bard of Laketown and Thranduil, King of the Woodland Elves.”

Bilbo let out a great sigh of relief, dipping his head so his forehead rested on the stone and just breathing into the dust pooled there. Bard too, relaxed, laughing and thrusting his hand in a fist up into the air.

“I honor our bargain, Bard of Laketown,” Thorin nodded in his direction. “And agree to give you as much gold as you require to rebuild your once-great city.”

“We thank you for your generosity,” Bard inclined his head, eyes bright as he cast a grateful look to Bilbo.

“And you, Thranduil, Elf King.” A shadow passed over his gaze and for a moment Bilbo was afraid he would repeal his statement and once again leave Bilbo hanging under the shadow of a sword. “To you I give all the gems you need, as I know the kind you wish to take from me.”

“I thank you,” Thranduil said coldly, pulling his blade back from Bilbo’s throat. “And I will stay on for assistance in rebuilding the once great city of Erebor.”

Thorin looked less than pleased at this, but he inclined his head and said, “Much thanks.”

“We will keep the hobbit until you have held up your end of the deal,” Bard said, moving forward and scooping Bilbo up onto the saddle before him. “Then we will send him back to you with the Arkenstone, as you desire.”

“Leave some men at our gates and Bilbo with them,” Thorin directed. “We will bring the gold to you within the hour and expect our hobbit to return to us presently.”

“We shall keep him in your line of sight,” Bard nodded with a sly smile. “King Under the Mountain.”

*

True to his word, Bard left Bilbo and several other men at the gate while he rode back to spread the news. Thranduil took his elven army and made camp in the valley between Dale and Erebor, conveniently placed to watch them both.

“Must they stay?” Bard asked to Gandalf when the wizard rode to the front lines before he returned to his people in Dale. “While there are good friends to have, they make me and my men very nervous.”

“I asked them to stay. Orcs are coming,” Gandalf said to him. “Keep your men ready. A battle the likes of which you’ve never seen is nearing. Every day draws it closer.”

Bard nodded and rode off, and Gandalf turned, directing his rage upon the little hobbit standing in front of him.

“Bilbo Baggins!” he shouted, advancing upon the hobbit with a wizard’s boiling rage. “As I live and breathe, I have never been so angry in my life as I am now with you!”

“What a brave plan, my thief,” Smaug agreed, slithering out of Gandalf’s pocket and flapping his wings to land on Bilbo’s shoulder. “But, indeed, a very stupid one.”

“It worked, didn’t it?” Bilbo clapped his hands, backing away from Gandalf and his anger. “Thorin agreed! I told you he would!”

“You are lucky Thorin is standing at the gates watching you like a hawk, or I would thrash the very life out of you for concocting such a cockamamie scheme!”

“Thorin’s what –?” Bilbo spun, directing his eyes toward the gates of Erebor and up above the fortified door. “He’s –?”

Sure enough, standing above the ramparts, watching Bilbo with a keen eye, was the great Thorin Oakenshield. Kili stood at his side and whispered something, nodding and turning away when Thorin answered him sharply. He saw Bilbo looking and inclined his head and something hot and dark began boiling in Bilbo’s gut.

“Oh.” Bilbo cleared his throat. “He’s. Oh. Okay.”

Gandalf shook his head and turned away, rolling his eyes dramatically. “Hobbits,” he muttered to nobody in particular, disappearing into the shadows to discuss battle strategies with Thranduil.

It was just getting dark when two ropes dropped over the side of the fortified entryway. Bilbo stood watch at the edge of the men’s camp and shouted for Bard when he saw two dark shapes climbing over the side, laden with heavy bags of gold.

“At last,” Bard said, riding into the camp. He hopped off his horse and moved to stand at Bilbo’s side with the dwarves approached with their gold.

It was Fili and Kili, and Bilbo waved to them, absolutely delighted to see them again. Especially after he’d feared he never would, struck dead at their feet by Thranduil’s fearsome sword.

“Hello, Bilbo!” they called as they moved into camp, relaxed, but still carrying weapons in case Bard of the elves tried anything.

“Thorin’s pretty mad with you!” Kili laughed, swinging an arm around Bilbo and hugging him tightly.

“Yeah, you’re in a good bit of trouble when we get back!” Fili agreed, reaching over his back to draw the bags of gold off his shoulders. “Here, you are, Bard!”

They presented the gold – a right healthy sum – to him and waited patiently while he counted it out, mentally assessing the number they would need to rebuild their town.

“If you stay close, we can help you rebuild Dale,” Kili said. “That way you can at least have a home for when you start dredging up Laketown.”

“That’s a good idea, considering all the damage Smaug did to our lake-home.” Bard nodded at the dwarves, casting a side-eyed look at Bilbo and the little dragon puffing on his shoulder.

“Whoa!” The dwarves moved closer, inspecting the tiny Smaug with great interest.

“Is that –?”

“No, it can’t be!”

“I regret nothing!”  Smaug growled, flapping his wings up out of the dwarves’ reach.

“You should, you scaly excuse for a lizard,” Bard snapped, but even he could not find it in him to be too mad at the small creature that had once been the dragon they all feared.

“And where is our cut?” Thranduil stepped forward, cold eyes zeroing on the untouched pack on Kili’s pack.

“Your gems, as requested.” Kili presented them, stepping back when Thranduil had the gems safely in his grasp. “Now, please, if you must stay, make peace with our brothers, for the King of Dane comes to aid us in rebuilding Erebor.”

Thranduil’s expression dropped and he looked over Bilbo’s shoulder to where Gandalf sat smoking in the shadows, but he remained stoic and cold, nodding and turning back to his elvish camp.

“What a dick,” Kili muttered under his breath and Bilbo heartily agreed, rubbing his hand over the shallow cut in his throat the elf-king had left there.

“Now,” Fili said, turning to Bard with a gentle grin. “I believe you have something we want. In addition to our Master Burglar, of course.”

“The Arkenstone.” Bard dropped it safely into Bilbo’s hands. Then he turned to Fili and Kili with a raised brow. “Now promise me your king won’t strangle Master Baggins upon seeing him.” Bilbo flushed brightly and glared up at the man as he looked down at the hobbit with a wry grin. “I’ve become quite found of the little Halfling.”

Both Fili and Kili laughed heartily, clutching their sides and falling against each other for support.

“Won’t Thorin be glad to hear that!” Fili roared with laughter.

“He won’t strangle Bilbo, but I cannot promise he won’t strangle you!” Kili cackled and they fell into another round of raucous laughter.

“Dwarves,” Gandalf muttered, puffing absently on his pipe. “Between hobbits, elves, and dwarves, I think I’ve quite had my fill of the unnatural species.”

Bard just shook his head smiling and Bilbo frowned at Gandalf, reaching up to grab his hand when the great wizard offered it.

“Now promise me, you’ll stay safe in those halls.” He nodded to Erebor, face clouding with pain and darkness. “War is coming, my dear Bilbo, and you must keep yourself safe.”

“I’ll be fine.” Bilbo released Gandalf’s hand and stepped back. “I can take care of myself, Gandalf.”

“I will check up on you shortly.” Gandalf nodded. “When this present business is over, you can expect a long lecture on the benefits of self-preservation.”

Bilbo rolled his eyes and turned back to Erebor, Smaug puffing quietly on his shoulder.

“What is he talking about?” Kili asked as they turned away from the camp of men.

“I’ll tell you later,” Bilbo whispered as they approached the gates of Erebor. He found Thorin’s shadow moving away from the ramparts and swallowed nervously. “Assuming I survive through the night, that is.”

*

No sooner had Bilbo clambered up onto the ramparts then he was being thrust backwards, pinned to the wall by a strong hand across his shoulders.

“Whoa, okay!” he breathed, more to himself than to the angry person looming over him. “Here we go then.”

“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”

“Oh, dear. Um, Thorin. Thorin, can you um –?”

“DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THRANDUIL IS CAPABLE OF? DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT HE COULE HAVE DONE TO YOU?”

“Well, yes, Thorin. I was – I was right there, you know. That was my throat the sword was pressed to.”

“AND WHAT OF THE ARKENSTONE? HOW DARE YOU STEAL THAT FROM ME? HOW DARE YOU –!”

“I took it as my share, Thorin, now would you please –!”

A moment of struggling threw Thorin’s arm off of him and Bilbo stood back, breathing heavily, face flushed in the darkness between them. He was dimly aware of the other dwarves standing around them, but pushed that to the back of his mind, focusing on the singular – angry – dwarf in front of him.

“I took it as my fourteenth share of the gold.” Bilbo cleared his throat and stood tall, as tall as he could to the towering presence of the dwarf. “And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. And I’m sorry I didn’t give it to you, but I had a feeling this would happen.” He looked away, closed his eyes, looked back at Thorin. “You are just so stupid sometimes. So bull-headed and stubborn and –”

He cut himself off. “I knew you valued the Arkenstone above all else. And I knew that, if it came down to it, you would be willing to make a deal for the stupid rock.”

Bilbo pulled it out of his pocket and thrust it at Thorin’s chest, each breath a jagged inhale. “So here it is. Take it and be done with it! You have your precious gem and I have my peace!”

He stepped away from Thorin, back hitting the stone and spreading a cold chill up through his back even through the cloth of his jacket. “And now, maybe, just maybe, we can talk about the fact that you proposed to me, not in so many words obviously, and then locked me in a closet because you thought I couldn’t –!”

It was a moment before Bilbo could think to speak again.

“Gandalf said there’s orcs coming,” he ducked his head, running his hand along the bare line of his jaw. “And he made the elves stay to fight them. So can you put aside your idiotic attitude for one second, for one bloody second, and think about helping them defeat whatever orc monstrosities are coming our way.”

Thorin was silent, his face closed and shut off from Bilbo. His eyes raked feverishly up and down his face and Bilbo squirmed under his gaze, digging his toe into the rough stone of the Erebor entryway.

“Are you going to say something?” Bilbo said after a moment, clearing his throat to try to break the silence. “Or are you going to lock me in your room again?”

He thought he heard a few dwarves laugh nervously at that, but he kept his eyes on Thorin, watched the careful shift in his expression from something cold and angry to something warm and living.

“It’s tempting,” he whispered after a pause.

Bilbo blinked, leaned his head closer. “Sorry, what?”

“I said, it’s tempting.”

Bilbo pulled away and Thorin smiled, that rare singular expression a real treat for Bilbo to see on Thorin’s usually dour face.

“Oh my God.” Bilbo dropped his head into his hands as the dwarves gathered around them laughed in nervous exhales. “Oh my God, you cock! You uttering fucking –!”

The sounds of war drove the two apart.

“Get ready!” Thorin called to his kin, pulling out his sword and making quick orders for the fortified stone to be smashed. “We have orcs to fight.”

“And elves to aid!” Kili called in a laugh, racing down the corridor.

“Don’t remind me,” Thorin grumbled.

“Are you okay?” Bilbo asked when the other dwarves had scattered, leaving just the two of them alone in the entryway together.

“I should be asking you that question.” Thorin looked down at him, a dark guilt clinging to his smile as he looked Bilbo up and down.

“I’m fine,” he waved off Thorin’s concern, tracing his eyes across the folds of the dwarf-king’s brow. “But really though, are you okay?”

“I am.” Thorin nodded. “If not entirely at peace with what I have done in the last few days.”

“That wasn’t your fault.” Bilbo reached out for Thorin’s arm before he could stop himself. “It wasn’t –”

“It was.” Thorin’s voice was harsh, but he didn’t stop Bilbo from resting his hand against him, stroking his arm softly through the plain mesh armor he always wore. “The same weakness that ran through my grandfather’s veins runs through mine it seems.”

He turned to gaze down at Bilbo, an expression of wonder overtaking the guilt on his face. “Lucky that I have you, my Master Burglar, to keep me on the straight and narrow.”

Bilbo flushed, fingers catching in the fabric of Thorin’s shirt. “Well, I, uh –”

“Very glad I stayed around,” Smaug growled in satisfaction, flying down to rest on Bilbo’s shoulder. He licked his claws delicately, arching his back like a cat and nipping at Bilbo’s ear. “You two are quite entertaining, I must say. Certainly better than anything I saw while buried in gold.”

“What?” Thorin blinked, stretching a finger out toward the tiny dragon. “Is that –?”

“Not important,” Bilbo huffed, swatting Smaug off his shoulder. “Come on,” he said, grabbing for Thorin’s hand. “We have a battle to win.”

Thorin smiled and the guilt in his expression finally cracked. He nodded and the two moved away from the entryway as a great golden bell came swinging towards the fortified stone.

*

Azog was a great and terrible enemy. He led his forces well and attacked the combined dwarf and elven armies with a fierceness unmatched before in battle. The army of men retreated to their city to protect their young and Thorin lead his kin up the hill toward where Azog lead the battle to cut off the head of the wretched snake.

Bilbo saw them and cheered, going still and pale when Gandalf told of another goblin army coming in from the north. He ran to Thorin and gave him the news, heart beating fast in his thin chest.

“We have to leave!” he shouted. “This place will be overrun!”

But on the tower opposite Thorin, Azog lifted Fili and ran him through, stopping the dwarf-king in mid-flight and sending him raging after the pale orc. Bilbo ran to Fili and quickly bound his wound, thanking the Gods and whatever heaven there was above that Azog hadn’t paid any mind to where he’d stuck his sword. The orc had just jammed his sword in, hoping to make a hole big enough for Fili to bleed out through. Thankfully, he hadn’t hit anything important and it was quick work for Bilbo to bind off his wound and keep the blood from flowing.

Bilbo piled snow on top of Fili to hide him, muttering curses and slapping the young dwarf to keep him awake.

“I’m fine,” he coughed, helping Bilbo draw snow on top of his form. “Go find my brother! Save him, if you can!”

Bilbo did find him, but he didn’t need to save him. Kili’s elf friend, Tauriel, saved him just find, prying the beast off Kili just before it shoved a sword through his gullet. The two of them toppled over the edge of the cliff together, Tauriel shaking the goblin’s grip off and just barely managing to hang onto to the cliff side. Together with Kili, Bilbo drew her up and dropped her safely away from edge, moving to find the last member of the Durin line, Thorin himself.

He found Thorin on the crest of the icy lake, grappling with Azog and several other goblins that dared attack him. Bilbo helped as much as he could, throwing stones off all shapes and sizes directly at the offending goblins. But after drawing too much attention to himself and finding no place to hide from the great beast looming in front of him, Bilbo found himself at the sharp end of a goblin spear, in the middle of the icy lake with Thorin at his back.

“Down him!” He shouted, pulling Sting out of his holster at Bilbo’s side and thrusting the weapon into his arms. “Quickly! Aim for the armpits, the stomach, the weak parts in their armor!”

Bilbo followed Thorin’s instructions, using his small size as an advantage against the lumbering goblin. But Bilbo, a hobbit not meant for battle, tired easily and managed to drop his enemy at the cost of his own strength.

And that’s how he found himself dangling far above the ice, hanging loosely from Azog’s grip while Thorin balked beneath him.

“Let him go!” Thorin roared, swinging his sword in a vicious arc.

“Puny Halfling!” Azog roared in his guttural tongue. “So small and weak! I could crush him like a bug in my fist!”

He swung Bilbo upside down by one foot and held him over the sword that was his other arm. Bilbo shouted and cursed and Thorin roared like a madman, trying one last time to get Azog’s attention before he ran Bilbo through with his sword.

“You love him, yes?” Azog snarled. “Then watch him die before I come for you!”

“NO!” Thorin roared as Azog tossed him across the ice, flattening Bilbo beneath him and pinning him to the ground with his sword arm.

Bilbo braced himself for the pain, grit his teeth against the crush of death that was to follow. He even closed his eyes, praying for a quick end while Thorin roared in coherently behind him.

But death did not come.

After a moment, Bilbo blinked, opening one eye, then both and staring blankly at the orc growling murderously above him.

“Why don’t you die?” The Pale Orc muttered, crushing his sword arm further into Bilbo’s chest.

But that’s when Bilbo remembered the mithril he was wearing, strong and light and impenetrable by a sword. He whooped, grinning fiercely and reaching up to grab Azog’s arm with the last of his strength.

“Bilbo!” Somewhere off to the side, Thorin was shouting at him, kicking something silver – Sting – across the ice and waving his own sword wildly above his head. “Use the sword!”

Bilbo nodded and grabbed for his weapon, fingers gripping its hilt as Azog roared and moved to tear his arm from Bilbo’s grip. But he was too late. Bilbo swung his arm up with the knife and hooked it onto the sharp protruding end of the blade stuck through Azog’s arm. He pulled with the last of his hobbit strength, growling fiercely when, at last, the sword ripped free in a horrendous arc of blue-black blood.

Azog howled and fell back, clutching at the bleeding stump of his arm. He stumbled away and his sword-arm fell upon the ice, clattering at Bilbo’s feet. With a grunt, he managed to kick it away into the water, grinning as it disappeared through the ice with a quiet splash. Azog’s horror at once again having a useless stump of an arm gave Thorin the opportunity he needed to thrust his sword up through the beast’s chest and into his heart.

Azog stumbled back further, collapsing onto the ice, scrabbling for the blade stuck out of his hideous chest. Thorin stepped back and watched him struggle, grinning fiercely when the orc finally succumbed, falling over the side of the frozen waterfall.

“Are you alright?” he turned to Bilbo hurriedly, grabbing for his arm and hauling him up blindly. “Get up. Get up. Are you alright?”

“Fine.” Bilbo shook his head. “Gods, that was a mess. But I’m fine. Fine. Perfectly fine.”

Thorin’s eyes were all over him, running over his chest, his arms, his face.

“Mithril,” Bilbo panted. “Wonderful stuff, isn’t it?”

Thorin laughed, tipping his head back in a great chuckle. His eyes were bright when he looked back down. “Look!” Thorin gripped his shoulder tightly, eyes locked on something far over Bilbo’s shoulder. “I believe we have won the battle.”

“Huh?” Bilbo turned, smiling broadly as eagles came swooping out of the heavens to decimate the goblin army running over the hill behind them.

He laughed tiredly, collapsing against Thorin’s chest when the orcs were all dead and the goblins, fleeing, running from the eagles who easily picked them off one-by-one.

“We did it,” he breathed, running a shaky hand through his hair. “I can’t believe we actually did it.”

“The worst is behind us, Master Burglar,” Thorin said, eyes bright, and Bilbo turned to look at him, an appraising tilt to his mouth.

“Is that all I am to you?” he asked, drawing back a step from the proud dwarf-king. “A petty burglar?”

“No.” Thorin shook his head hurriedly.  “No. You are much, much more than that, my dear Bilbo Baggins.”

He dipped his head and they shared a brief, chaste kiss. As far as first kisses go, it wasn’t great. Thorin’s lips tasted of blood and sweat, and Bilbo knew his tasted the same. He smelt awful, his clothes were covered in orc blood, and there was dirt in every crevice, in every pore, of his body. There was grit in their mouths and it shifted as they kissed to grind against Bilbo’s small teeth. It was gross and disgusting and terrible.

But it was their first kiss. And it was beautiful, in its own right.

They pulled away and Fili and Kili were behind limping toward them, supported by Dwalin and Tauriel. The younger dwarves whooped in unison, grinning through the pain at their lovesick Uncle.

“Bout time!” Kili called.

“You owe me some coin, brother!” Fili laughed and even Dwalin gave a little chuckle.

“Right,” Bilbo muttered, burying his face in Thorin’s chest. “That’s not embarrassing or anything.”

Thorin did not spare his nephews a glance. “Will you stay with me?” he whispered into Bilbo’s ear, thick finger caressing his sensitive pointed tip.

“Pardon?” Bilbo pulled his head off the dwarf king’s chest to look him in the eye, stretching up onto his tiptoes when the expression hiding in those great eyes eluded him. “Thorin?”

“Will you stay with me?” Thorin closed his eyes, brought them back down to Bilbo. He let them fall all over his face before they finally settled on his mouth, watching Bilbo’s lips part with a newly discovered hunger. “In Erebor? Will you stay with me, Bilbo?”

Bilbo blinked dumbly. He blushed and turned his face away, looking over Thorin’s shoulder to the mess of orc bodies scattered across the lake surface. “Are you asking to marry me?” he said after a moment, barely believing the words even as they left his mouth.

Thorin chuckled softly, pressed his lips to Bilbo’s forehead. “Maybe.” They were quiet for a moment as Thorin ran his fingers softly through Bilbo’s curly blond hair. “Will you?”

Bilbo pulled away from his chest. “What?”

“Stay with me?”

Bilbo licked his lips. Cast his eyes down to the ground. “But you’ll be king,” he said after a pause. “You won’t need me anymore. No use for burglars in the Kingdom Under the Mountain, hobbit or otherwise.”

“Oh, you silly hobbit.” Thorin laughed into Bilbo’s forehead, pulling away and bending in a great roaring howl. “You silly, stupid, naïve brave, foolish –”

“Alright, yes, I get it. I’m an idiot.” Bilbo smacked him soundly upside the head. “Get to your point please.”

Thorin framed his face with his big palms, silver ring scratching gently along Bilbo’s cheekbone. “I need you,” he whispered, breath blowing warmly over Bilbo’s blushing face. “Now more than ever.”

Bilbo pressed his lips back over the instinctual self-depreciating comment that threatened to ruin the beautiful moment Thorin had carved between them. Instead, he stood on Thorin’s toes and fisted his hands in his hair, holding two great handfuls of his silky black-grey mane.

“Then yes,” Bilbo breathed into his forehead. “I will stay with you.”

A smile roared over the great king’s face, bringing with it a sound like horses galloping and a hundred birds rushing overhead. Thorin swept him up and pulled them together, mashing his lips over Bilbo’s dry, cracked ones.

Their second kiss wasn’t any better than the first. And it was cut short when Bilbo let out a cry and collapsed into Thorin’s arms, bleeding from a nasty cut on the side of his forehead that he hadn’t noticed until right that second. Thorin then scooped the hobbit up and carried him down to his kingdom, the best spoil of war a king could ever hope for.

*

It took less than a year to get Erebor back up and running again. The damage was quiet extensive and the task seemed near impossible at first, but after some much-needed down time and a just amount of bickering, Thorin worked out a deal with the Men of Laketown and the Elves of Mirkwood.

The first thing Thorin did as King Under the Mountain was declare the battle won, and put an end to all the petty squabbling. Then, heeding Gandalf’s sage advice, he asked that all able bodied men and women of Laketown, those not injured or caring to their own – would come to Erebor and help clear away some of the debris the great Smaug had left behind. He promised food and shelter to all who came, as well as a generous handful of gold from the Dwarven Treasury.

A few of Dain’s dwarves stayed behind as well, but those who had not lost their lives in battle needed to return to the Iron Hills to protect their own from an orc attack they feared would follow. Thorin let them go and watched them ride off with Dain leading the charge atop his battle-pig.

Needless to say, the Elves did not stay behind long. Tauriel offered herself as emissary of the Elves and stayed on, but most others left for their homelands. Thranduil stayed long enough to congratulation Thorin on the victory over the Pale Orc.

“And I must also commend you your claim on the Halfling,” he said, inclining his head in Bilbo’s direction. “Hobbits are honorable pets among our people.”

Bilbo, who was sitting at the elf king’s side munching on a delicious blueberry biscuit, choked at his words and threw the cookie to the ground.

“I AM NO PET!” he huffed, spinning on his heel and striding dramatically out the door with Thranduil’s silver eyes on him the whole time.

Mine!” Thorin hissed, spinning out of the elf’s tent after Bilbo – a greatly distressed hobbit who fumed and raged against the Elf King for a whole day before finally settling down enough to let Thorin hug him.

A few days later, Smaug drifted down from whatever hole he’d crawled into for the duration of the battle. He landed on Bilbo’s shoulder and began nipping at his ear lightly, murmuring in his rough voice about how wonderful the battle had looked from so high up and how marvelous it must have been to be down in the middle of it.

“Hush, you,” Bilbo said, flicking his nose gently. They were seated on the edge of the hardened pool of gold he and the other had tried to drown the dragon in, watching the others work at clearing away some of the debris.

“And what are you doing, Master Baggins?” Bard appeared, quite literally, out of nowhere, wheeling a big cart full of debris down the hall.

“Keeping an eye on Thorin,” Bilbo said without looking at him. His eyes were riveted on the dark-haired dwarf across the hall, watching keenly as he stacked rocks and dumped them into a wheelbarrow by his side.

“Why?” Bard dropped his cart and sat down at Bilbo’s side, poking his finger at Smaug the Little Dragon.

“I’m worried about him.” Bilbo liked Bard. He found him easy to talk to. And while his – what was Bilbo supposed to call him? friend? lover? fiancé? – King might have thought the human treacherous and shifty, Bilbo thought he was a nice fellow with a good home and a good family to go back to.

“You do know that wasn’t him, right?” He looked at Bard sharply, head tilted in Thorin’s direction. “I mean, earlier. Before the battle. You do know that wasn’t him.”

“Aye.” Bard nodded slowly. “I think I do.”

“It was the gold. He was – he was sick. Dragon sickness. Gold sickness, whatever you want to call it. That wasn’t really him, Bard, I assure you. This place changed him and I’m glad we could finally change him back,” Bilbo said in a quick rush of words.

“Easy, little one,” Bard laughed calmly, resting his large hand on Bilbo’s shoulders. “I respect your King. Maybe even more now that he’s actually holding up his end of the bargain.”

“I’m just afraid for him.” Bilbo looked back toward Thorin to find the dwarf watching him, keen eyes looking back and forth between Bard and Bilbo. “I’m afraid he’ll feel it again. And that maybe we won’t be able to pull him back.” He sighed heavily. “And he’s not my King,” he added as an afterthought, pushing away the little niggling part of him that whispered he had been Bilbo’s King long before he’d ever put a crown on his head. “I’m a hobbit, not a dwarf. I owe him no allegiance.”

Bard laughed soundly at that, thumping Bilbo hard across the back with his big hands. “Aye, but you do! I can see it in your eyes, Master Hobbit! You may not owe him anything, but I can tell you’d give the world for him to be happy.”

He picked up his crate and moved on and Bilbo sat back against a column, relaxing slightly as Thorin waved at him before going back to work on the rocky debris.

“He’s right, you know,” Smaug said quietly. His long tail flicked out and wrapped gently around Bilbo’s arm. “You do love him.”

“I know,” Bilbo sighed, reaching up to pet the little dragon’s scaly head. “I’ve loved him a long time now. The only hard part is going to be telling him.”

“Hmm,” the dragon snorted. “That may not be as much of a problem as you think,” he said with traces of smoke curling out of his nostrils.

*

The first winter Bilbo spent in Erebor was cold and relentless. Snow came over the mountain and buried the valley in white fluff, sealing the dwarves in as surely as it sealed the men out. People died in Dale. Every day, more were found dead and the news slowly trickled back to Erebor. Though the city was not yet restored, its halls were warmer than the open air, so it was with great welcome that Thorin extended an invitation to the Men of Laketown who had seamlessly became the Men of Dale.

They came into the dwarven halls and awed at the restoration underway, gasping as great green pillars struck up into a cavernous ceiling traced with gold. The huge dwarven centurions stood watch outside as men and women streamed through Erebor’s newly carved gates, but the masters of the dwarven halls were far more kind in their disposition as they welcomed them in. Thorin, who had not yet been crowned king upon his own request, stood passing out blankets and food with Fili and Kili. Dwarf princes they were and their Uncle, Dwarf King, even if he had not yet been crowned so.

No sooner had the city been evacuated than a larger snow fell upon the valley, burying the town and everything visible. Bilbo spent that cold winter with Thorin, learning Khuzdul and other dwarfish customs.

By spring, Erebor was ready and the City of Dale with it. The men of Laketown had worked diligently to clean away the debris from Erebor before turning their sights on their own wrecked town. They restored it anew with the wealth earned from their hard work and with coins from Erebor’s vast collection.

The mines of Erebor stuck up again in spring, hammering and echoing away as everyone worked to reestablish the once-great dwarven city. The sound filled Throin with a great pride and watching him, Bilbo couldn’t help but be as proud.

The date of Thorin’s coronation was set for a month after the first of spring and the mines got to work to forge a new crown for the simpler King Under the Moutain. It was with this new crown in mind that Thorin thought of a new project in the redesign of Erebor, one that brought warmth to his chest whenever he thought of it and the young hobbit at his side.

It was quite unfortunate then that Bilbo should choose that moment to leave, stealing away in the night with no one but the moon to accompany him.

“Gandalf calls you to the Shire,” Tauriel said, approaching the King’s throne without warning one day when the four of them – Thorin, Kili, Fili, and Bilbo – were discussing coronation plans. She knelt swiftly then bounded up the stairs, dropping a kiss on Kili’s head before dropping to her knees at Bilbo’s side.

“What?” he spluttered. “Gandalf wants – what? What could he possibly –?”

“No.” Thorin looped his arm over Bilbo’s shoulder, pulling him solidly into his side. “You cannot leave. I need you here. Now especially.”

“I’m afraid it is urgent,” Tauriel said, her tone gentle and insistent.

“What’s happened?” There was something grave in her face that Bilbo read instantly, going still while a twinge of fear whistled up his spine. “What’s wrong? Is everything –” He stopped himself shortly, drawing breath to try and calm the fragile nerves he knew were shaking out of sight. “Is everything alright? What happened?”

“Primula is dead,” Tauriel whispered and Bilbo gasped softly. She lowered her eyes and paused a beat in respect before continuing. “Her son Frodo is without family.”

Bilbo closed his eyes, turning away sharply while every nerve in his body tried to scream out at once. “Drogo?” he asked in a whisper, voice rough and scratchy with emotion.

Tauriel met his eyes calmly before shaking her head once.

“Right.” Bilbo’s hands made fists at his sides and he tipped his chin against the sadness that came to him, fluttering across his collarbone before stabbing viciously into his heart. “Right.”

“Bilbo?” Thorin rested a large hand on his shoulder and Bilbo turned into it, allowing himself a moment to grieve before pushing his hand away.

“Well, I should be off then,” he said roughly, ignoring the cries of outrage from Thorin and his nephews.

Tauriel just nodded, face cool and impassive. “Gandalf sent me to accompany you.”

“Right.” Bilbo’s hands fluttered around his person and he realized he had nothing on him but the clothes on his back. “Well, uh, give me a moment. I’m going to need – hmm. I’m going to need a lot of things.”

“Bilbo, you can’t leave, this is important!” Kili whined, hanging on his arm with concern in his eyes. “We need you here! Can’t Frodo come to Erebor himself? He could stay for the coronation!”

Bilbo laughed humorlessly. “He’s hardly –” He stopped, cleared his throat and gently pulled his arm away from Kili’s grasp. “He’s just a child, Kili. I need to get himself. He’ll never survive out there on his own. Hell, I barely survived and I –”

“You can leave tomorrow. At first light.” Thorin’s arm slid easily around his waist. “I will get him packed and ready for you at dawn,” he said to Tauriel over Bilbo’s head. “For now, leave me alone with my burglar.”

Bilbo bristled lightly at the nickname, but let himself be dragged down the hallway towards Thorin’s room.

It was the same chamber Thorin had locked him in the day before the Battle of the Five Armies, as that gruesome day was dubbed. Granted, the bed was much nicer, the cold walls much warmer, and the scratches Smaug had dug smoothed by a sure dwarven hand. It was a worthy of a King, Thorin’s chamber, and a great sight bigger than the little alcove Bilbo kept next door.

Honestly, he didn’t know why he kept the room anyway. Thorin went straight past it as he strode down the halls and opened the door to his chambers, pulling Bilbo inside before pressing him tightly up against the wall. Most of his stuff was in Thorin’s room anyway. His pack, his sword, his books, his food, his love, his life.

Thorin caged him in with two thick arms on either side of his head, torso pressing him forward into the stone wall with no remorse.

“I will give you something to remember me by,” he breathed, tone low and dangerous in a way that opened up all of Bilbo’s insides and sent them pouring out through his mouth.

“I do believe you will,” he said in a breathy voice, unable to help the little quiver that accompanied his tone.

Thorin just grinned, pressing his lips to Bilbo’s and claiming them as the greatest treasure he’d ever owned. Bilbo stretched onto his tiptoes and looped his arms around Thorin’s neck, tipping his head back for the dwarf king to press kisses along his throat.

“I’ll miss you,” he whispered, repeating it against Thorin’s lips when the King moved up to seal them together. “But I’ll be back. I’ll be back.”

“See to it that you will.” Thorin grabbed Bilbo by the waist and threw him onto the King’s bed, climbing over him and resting his muscular body flush against Bilbo’s much smaller one. “Or I might find myself a new burglar to consort with.”

“Stop it!” Bilbo laughed breathless, drawing his head down for a kiss. “You rotten – oh!”

It wasn’t until later, much later, that Bilbo breathed the words he’d kept locked up for a long, long time.

“I love you.”

He said them quietly, but with great intent, half-hoping Thorin was too sleepy to hear his bold declaration.

“I love you,” he repeated, thinking of Frodo’s little face as he last remembered it. “I love you. I love you. I –”

Thorin rolled over to press his lips against Bilbo’s, pulling the words into his mouth and sighing softly over them.

“And I love you,” Thorin said, pressing their foreheads together. “My hobbit. My burglar. My great Bilbo Baggins.”

“Stop, you big oaf.” Bilbo raised his hand and flung it over his face. “You’re making a right fool out of yourself.”

But he let Thorin hold him and he let himself cry, praying silently for the little cherubic face of a nephew he’d never really known.

*

It took Bilbo and Tauriel quite a while to make the long trek back to Hobbiton and, once they were there, longer still to convince a distraught Frodo to come with them. Finally, after much screaming and crying on the part of both parties, Tauriel managed to wrestle the little tyke into Bilbo’s arms, cupping his chin and murmuring a soft word that put him to sleep.

Gandalf met them as they stopped in Rivendell and accompanied them all the way back to Erebor, just in time for Thorin’s coronation.

Bilbo was hailed at the gate and quickly led inside by a guard on the verge of tears.

“He said he’d have my head if you didn’t make it! He was going to wait but Prince Fili begged him to continue! Said the longer he waited, the less people would respect him, but I don’t see that ever coming to pass, Master Baggins. I just know all people, from the Elves of Mirkwood to the dwarves of the Iron Hills respect him!”

“Yes, yes, alright!” Bilbo shushed him and walked quickly down the halls the guard pointed to, pausing a moment when he realized neither Gandalf nor Tauriel were still behind him.

He shook his head and pushed onwards, stopping once when a young dwarven woman grabbed him by the ear and brushed his hair, tisking quietly when she thought Bilbo couldn’t hear her. Frodo, who’d spent most of the journey torn between his childish grief and the great wonder that accompanied an adventure of this magnitude, sat up straighter in Bilbo’s arms and hugged his neck tightly.

“Where are we going?” he whispered.

“I don’t really know,” Bilbo whispered back, squawking indignantly when a little birdie – dragon – landed heavily on his shoulder. “Oh, what do you want?”

“I was merely passing on a message, thief. No need to get so defensive.” Smaug had gotten bigger in Bilbo’s absence, and was now a bit too large to be resting comfortably on Bilbo’s shoulder. He licked his claws, seemingly oblivious to Bilbo’s discomfort, and froze, blinking at Frodo who, in turn, sat blinking at him.

“What is this?” he hissed, sniffing Frodo’s curly dark hair. “It’s so tiny?”

“That,” Bilbo huffed. “Is my nephew! And I trust you to keep your claws off him, you mangy little beast.”

Bilbo took off down the hall, muttering quietly about dwarves and their confounded hallways.

“Oh come now,” Smaug murmured. “Don’t be shy.” It took Bilbo a moment to realize Smaug wasn’t talking to him. “My! Look at its eyes! They’re so big! And so round!”

“Oh, shut up!” Bilbo snapped, but he couldn’t find it in his heart to discourage the little dragon from complimenting his nephew.

“Hello, little one,” Smaug crooned over Bilbo’s shoulder. “Hello! You’re so tiny! And so cute! Cute? No. No, you’re not cute. You’re – you’re . . . adorable!”

Bilbo snorted. “And what was your message, oh chiefest and greatest of calamities?”

“Oh yes.”  Smaug flapped his wings and dropped something heavy onto Bilbo’s head. “That’s for you. You’re to give it to Thorin when he asks for it.”

“What is –?” he reached up to feel the metal thing, but Smaug slapped his hand away.

“Don’t touch it! Now, come this way! I think it’s almost time.”

Bilbo groaned, but followed the dragon down a long corridor that ended at the Hall of Kings with Bilbo standing right at its head. He skidded to a stop as he saw all the people gathered there, dwarves, men, and elves alike. He then looked down at himself and the ridiculous image he must have presented – a travel-weary hobbit with a fauntling in his arms and a heavy circular thing on his head with feet that hadn’t been brushed in god knows how long – but forgot it all when he looked down the hall to see who was walking towards him.

Thorin. In all his kingly glory.

He was wearing the same clothes Bilbo had first seen him in, armor with a blue shirt and fur-lined coat. His beard was trimmed neat and his hair was shimmering darkly, coiled in perfect braids threaded with big silver beads.

He caught Bilbo’s eye and smiled, walking calmly down the rows of people who parted easily for him and his two nephews behind him. Fili and Kili were wearing clothes a little more elaborate than their Uncle’s. They at least, we were wearing some of the strong dwarven armor Bilbo had seen on them before the Battle of Five Armies, but they too appeared plain, without much jewelry or rings adorning their stately brows.

Bilbo tore his gaze reluctantly from Thorin to find the Company standing at his side, dressed in their best with grand smiles on their faces. Bilbo blinked at them, raised one hand in hello, before reaching up to feel at the solid circlet of metal resting jaggedly atop his head.

He pulled it down and found a plain silver crown in his hand, a thin wiry thing peppered with round balls as big as his thumbnail. It was only on closer inspection, that Bilbo saw the balls were acorns, painstakingly carved into the silver. He gasped quietly, raised the crown to his chest and watched Thorin walk towards him with a trembling chin. He felt Frodo reach for the circlet, playing with the acorn-balls and whispering questions into Bilbo’s chest. Smaug flapped his wings behind Bilbo and flew towards the ceiling, paying respects – in his own special way – to the King Under the Mountain.

It felt like an age from the moment Bilbo saw him to the moment he stepped up beside him, but it was only minutes; minutes passed in quiet agony until he could once again be at his King’s side.

He tried to keep his face still and diplomatic, but he couldn’t help the great smile that broke out on his face at Thorin’s dopey expression.

“And is this the young Master Baggins?” he asked softly.

“Go on, Frodo.” Bilbo smiled down at his nephew, jostling him softly. “Say hello.”

“Hi.” He whispered, leaning out of the protective circle of Bilbo’s arms to very gently rest his hand against Thorin’s cheek. His eyes widened as he pulled his fingers though Thorin’s beard. “Whoaaaa,” he breathed. “Scratchy!”

Thorin laughed quietly, looping an arm around Bilbo’s waist and drawing him into his side. “Nice to meet you too.”

“On this day, we are gathered here to witness, the crowning of a King: Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror. King Under the Mountain.” Gandalf’s booming voice interrupted the quiet and Thorin turned away, keeping his hand on Bilbo’s hip. “We are also gathered to witness the uniting of two great families; that of Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield. May the line of Durin be forever entwined with the Baggins family of the Shire.”

Bilbo blushed brightly as a roar of whispers went up from the crowd and he turned to Thorin with an angry whisper, a few sharp words hiding behind his teeth. “What is going on?”

“Didn’t you hear him,” Thorin whispered, smiling maliciously. “We’re getting married.”

“Thorin!”

The King dropped Bilbo’s hip and took a few steps away from him, kneeling in front of Gandalf who, very carefully, took a simple gold circlet from Dwalin’s outstretched hand.

“With this, you are King Under the Mountain!” he declared proudly, letting the golden metal fall against Thorin’s black brow.

A great cheer went up from the crowd and Bilbo forgot his stunned anger long enough to clap, still glaring daggers at Thorin whenever his back was turned.

“And now.” Thorin boomed in that great deep voice of his. “With this crown.” He brandished the silver circlet he’d taken from Bilbo and held it up for all the crowd to see. “I take Bilbo Baggins, son of Bungo, hobbit of the Shire, as my one and only. May we pass through life together and take our joy and sorrows as one until death do we part.”

He gestured for Bilbo to come closer and Bilbo did, hesitantly slipping to kneel at Thorin’s feet.

“My friend,” Thorin whispered, reaching down to cup Bilbo’s chin and raise his face to him. “You bow to no one.”

Bilbo blushed and the crown was placed on his head and he was gathered into Thorin’s arms and pressed tightly against him. Frodo squirmed and Bilbo let him go in favor of throwing his arms around Thorin’s neck that he might kiss him deeply, burying his hands in silky black hair.

 Everything came together quite quickly after that. There was a grand reception and Thorin and Bilbo got perhaps a little too tipsy on old dwarven mead. Frodo was passed around the Company and admired by all, even Gloin who seemed to find an insult in every child that was not his. When Frodo rubbed his eyes and whispered that he wished to go to bed, Bilbo indulged him, scooping him up in his arms and turning to Thorin.

“Wait.” Thorin grabbed his arm before he could move off and stood, walking with him.

“I have a surprise for you.”

They walked along the corridor towards the King’s chambers, stopping just before them and turning down another hallway. Bilbo frowned, looking up at his king with a questioning gaze, but Thorin just smiled, lips parting in a grand display of affection that suffused warmly over his regal expression.

They went down a flight of stairs and stepped out into a well-kept garden, one with several green bushes and flowers and a large oak tree growing proud and strong from the center.

“How did you –?” Bilbo’s words ran dry as he stared at the great tree, ten dwarves round and tall as the cave ceiling, limbs swaying gently in a nonexistent breeze.

“Tauriel helped it grow.” Thorin nodded, hooking his elbow through Bilbo’s and drawing him closer to the tree. “Look.”

Bilbo blinked and peered closer, surprised to find a round green door carved out of the wide base of the tree. It had a golden yellow knob and the faint trace of a mark in the corner, the same mark that Gandalf had carved upon his Bag-end door all those months ago.

If Bilbo had not just visited his home, he would have sworn it was the same door. Growing out of the tree, with the great knob and everything, the door in front of him was the same as the door to Bag-end and when Bilbo opened the door, he stumbled back and gasped.

Bag-end was here, in Erebor! He didn’t know how Thorin had managed it – probably with some help of a codgy old wizard – but he had somehow brought Bilbo’s home in the shire to the Lonely Mountain, in all its resplendent glory.

“Oh my.” Bilbo clapped a hand over his mouth, and dropped Frodo who began roaming the halls with his usual delighted expression. “Oh.”

“Do you like it?” Thorin whispered in his ear, looping his arm around his waist.

“Love it? I –” Those were his books. And that was his desk! And, goodness gracious, those were his mother’s doilies! They had to be!

Bilbo turned to Thorin and surged up in his arms, kissing the life out of him with every fiber of his being.

“I love it,” he breathed, pulling away. “I love it so much. So much.” His voice cracked and he ducked his head, but Thorin brought his gaze up with a finger, smiling with his whole face, his whole heart.

“I’m glad, my dear Master Hobbit,” he said. “I hope you shall be very happy here.”

“I know I will,” Bilbo grinned, resting his head comfortably against Thorin’s chest.

And he was.