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Title: Only Kin Could Slice So Deep
Chapter 5: Intrigue - Part I
Pairings: Kíli/Bilbo
Rating/Warnings: NSFW; angst, political maneuvering
Word Count: 18,665 (for the entire chapter) (49,473 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned the hobbit, I wouldn't have to write fanfic
Summary: Thorin believes that his nephew betrayed the company in the goblin caves and leaves him there to die; Bilbo will not stand for this.

Chapter 1: Paranoia
Chapter 2: Courage and Despair
Chapter 3: Healing
Chapter 4: Guilt and Dissension


Punching Thorin in the face is the most satisfying thing that Bilbo has done in weeks. Indeed the crunch of bone beneath his hand makes him smile savagely and when he sees the wide-eyed stares of his companions, all he can think is that it serves them right for leaving him behind.

“You broke my nose!” The dwarf lord shouts, one hand clutching his new injury as his cheeks flush in anger. But before he can draw another breath, Bilbo cuts him off, the words that he has held inside for weeks now spilling out.

“Well you abandoned me! Even if I was not the burglar whom you hoped for, were we not listed as comrades on that contract which I signed? Yet the moment you could toss me aside without tarnishing your honor, you wrote me off without a second thought. I could have been injured or even dying and you did not care at all. You did not give a damn about my fate and worse, you abandoned Kíli to his as well. You disgust me, Thorin, because however little you may think of me, I would never turn my back on my kin. I did not leave an innocent to die.”

The hobbit knows that he should make these claims more cautiously, for while Bilbo had always tried to remain far removed from Shire politics, even he realizes that this is not the way to sway a disbelieving mind. Yet he is just so angry, his rage festering within his heart over the long, tense weeks he spent within the Mirkwood, and now the hobbit cannot seem to stop the hate from spilling out.

Thorin reacts to this venom with a terrible anger of his own and the dwarf's reply is practically a snarl, made all the more vicious by the blood dripping thickly down his face. “My nephew is a traitor and you may not speak his name.” He growls, one hand inching toward his sword, and Bilbo does not know what might have happened next if he hadn't chanced to meet Fíli's eyes. But when he does, the dwarf shakes his head frantically, and the plea within his gaze snaps the hobbit back to his senses.

So he cuts himself off, swallowing the remainder of his accusations, because there is more at stake here than his own overwhelming rage. In turn, once the hobbit stops shouting at him, Thorin seems to lose his steam. Perhaps the dwarf cannot fight without a worthy enemy, or perhaps he finally realizes how their argument must sound to the men standing guard outside.

Whatever the reason, the dwarf allows Óin and Balin to pull him back toward the doorway and with one more vicious glare, he leaves the room. Though he ducks back around the lintel to speak one last threat, warning his burglar to think twice before deciding to rejoin his company.

These words make Bilbo shiver, for they are a sharp reminder that Thorin could still decide to kill him and as he is only one small hobbit, he does not stand a chance against the other's sword. Certainly, considering how the dwarf treated his own flesh and blood, their contract isn't going to stop his blade from falling, and Bilbo cannot help Kíli while bleeding out upon the floor.

Although, Thorin will probably underestimate me, and it's not as if he has given me a reason to fight fair. I managed to take out nearly half a dozen goblins without using my ring, I'm sure its magic would let me handle one persnickety dwarf. Particularly if I can convince the others to join my side. In fact, I almost hope that he attacks me, because at least then I could have the pleasure of punching him again.

Once he reaches this conclusion, the hobbit feels much better about his chances and so he turns to face the rest of the company. Bilbo sets his shoulders, preparing himself to face their interrogation, but much to his surprise, no one pointed questions come. Instead the other dwarves surround him with beaming smiles, those closest to him reaching out to pat his arm, and for a moment, he allows himself to bask in their happiness.

Only for a moment, since this pleasant feeling doesn't last for long. How can it when none of them bothered to treat him as a friend before he nearly died, and none of them even attempted to help Kíli? Besides, the hobbit may not be much of a warrior, but it's rather insulting that the entire company apparently thought it was impossible for him to survive the mountains on his own. Indeed they seem to think that he should have keeled over from the fright, and the third time Bofur asks how he could have possibly escape, Bilbo has to clench his teeth to keep from screaming.

It's either that or curl up in a ball to hide from the attention since a lifetime of conditioning does not fade so fast. When he was growing up, the hobbit had learned that his best defense was to be boring and unremarkable, treating his tormentors politely no matter how much he might hate them deep inside. Yet now he has done exactly the opposite and the fear of what might happen threatens to bring him to his knees.

However, Bilbo had had a great deal of time to think while in the Mirkwood and if he had not stumbled upon any brilliant wisdom, one thing had become clear. He had realized that even if Kíli understands the hobbit's fear of being ostracized and is willing to hide their love to make him happy, the dwarf deserves someone who can stand beside him without shame. He deserves someone who loves deeper than he fears and Bilbo wants to be that person more than he has ever wanted anything before.

So the hobbit had promised himself that he would hold his head up high, and yet this was a far easier vow to keep when no one else was there. As long as he was alone, he could believe that the others would not judge his desires, but now all his doubts are bubbling up again. Now his former companions are crowding in around him and their eyes are a piercing weight upon his skin.

But this time Bilbo is determined not to buckle, and while he cannot quite bring himself to mention his feelings for Kíli yet, he manages to stay upon his feet. It is his anger which supports him in this endeavor and the hobbit calls upon it as he asks Fíli the question at the forefront of his mind. “Why did you stop me from speaking out for your brother? I know you must agree that he has been falsely accused.”

The dwarf pauses for a long time before he responds and Bilbo feels his nerves grow tighter with every second of delay because he was counting on the other to help him change his uncle's mind.

I cannot do this alone and Kíli was so sure that you would support him. Please don't make me tell him that he was wrong; I barely managed to keep him together when he discovered that he had been abandoned, and this, this would shatter him beyond all repair.

Yet eventually Fíli responds, whispering his answer with a wary glance toward their companions, and the dwarf's words lay all those doubts to rest. “Of course I agree with you, but Thorin does not and arguing with him will only set him further in his ways. I have a plan to clear my brother's name and if it is going to work then my uncle cannot become suspicious yet- he already looks at too many of us with distrust in his eyes. And unless you have proof that is unequivocal, your word alone will not help our cause.”

While this hobbit wishes that he did have evidence with which to prove Kíli's innocence right now, this is simply not the case, and he cannot doubt the truth of the dwarf's words. Even if some of the company will believe that his love was wronged once Bilbo has a chance to tell his story, Fíli is in the best position to predict his uncle's reaction and Thorin's decisions on this journey have shown that he has mistrust to spare.

So although he regrets the necessity, the hobbit has to shake his head, and it hurts to see the hope flicker out of the other's eyes. Yet it is not his regret which causes Fíli's expression to twist in confusion, but rather that he speaks of their lost friend as though he still lives and breathes.

“My brother is dead, Bilbo. I seek only to have him honored for his sacrifice as he deserves.” The dwarf tells him, his voice hollow and despairing and the hobbit realizes that in his anger at Thorin, he failed to mention the most important thing.

“No he isn't, Kíli is alive.” Bilbo blurts out loudly and the room goes silent as all of the dwarves stare at him in shock. He continues with his next breath, stuttering out an explanation before anyone can think to challenge what he claims, and if there is a hint of judgment in his words, then he still thinks that it is justified. But while the hobbit speaks of his rescue mission and the injuries which his love had suffered, he remembers that for this at least, the company need not trust his word alone.

This at least I can prove, Bilbo thinks, rummaging through his pockets for the clasp which Kíli had given to him before he left. The dwarf had pulled it from his hair and placed it in the hobbit's palm, folding the other's fingers over the silver piece before dropping a kiss on top.

“Show this clasp to my brother and he will have to believe that I am still among the living. Fíli knows I would never have removed it without cause and if I were truly dead then the silver would have tarnished, for he forged it with my blood and his own hands.”

This was one of those strange statements that Kíli would sometimes make, statements assuming a reality which bore no resemblance to the world the hobbit knew. These assumptions always reminded Bilbo of just how much he had to learn about his lover's people and the thought filled him with anticipation. Because if it was slightly terrifying to be running into the future blindly, it was also freeing to know that the rules which had denounced him no longer applied. Besides, dwarves are known for their secrecy, and so every time Kíli granted him a glimpse into their culture, it helped to silence the hobbit's insecurities.

Eventually Bilbo's hand brushes his goal and he pulls out the clasp, its silver shining just as brightly as it had on the day when it was forged. For dwarves may not wizards to reshape the world with words alone, but his love had spoken of a quiet magic in their blood. It is the power of stone and sweat and mastery, and there is more than steel in a well-forged blade.

Indeed dwarven metal does not lie and when the hobbit places that shining circle in Fíli's hand, he can see the joy of realization wash across his face. For a moment Bilbo is afraid that the dwarf will collapse from the relief, but he only wobbles slightly, and no one can look away from the incandescent smile on his face.

“My brother is alive,” He whispers in wonder, not seeming to realize that he has spoken, and it warms the hobbit's heart to know how much the other cares. How much all of them care, because the same dawning joy is visible on the faces of their companions and here at last Bilbo can believe that Kíli has not been forgotten after all. Whatever their faults and failures, none of these dwarves bought into Thorin's madness without reservations, and knowing that the blood of their youngest does not stain their hands seems to give them all new life.

Dwalin is the first to thank him, stepping forward to grip the hobbit arms and bless him for doing what he could not. Then it is as if a dam has broken, for the rest of the company soon follow suit. So Bilbo is hugged and held and patted on the back, and he begins to think that setting things right may be easier than he had expected. Certainly, this a far better reaction than he had thought he would receive.

With so much support on our side, how can Thorin fail to see his nephew's innocence? And even if he remains stubborn, there is always Fíli's plan. He has obviously not been idle and if anyone can convince that stone-headed dwarf of his mistakes, surely it would be his heir? So do not lose hope my love. By the time you are healed enough to join me, I will have the gift of your forgiveness to lay at your feet. A dowry worthy of a prince of Erebor.

---

Once the furor finally dies down, Fíli takes Bilbo aside. The young dwarf tells him of everything which occurred in his absence, and the first thing the hobbit learns is that their chances are not so rosy after all. Yet neither are things as bad as he had feared during his long trip through the Mirkwood, those dark moments when he had wondered if he was walking toward his death.

As he marched through that endless gloom, Bilbo had worried that Thorin might decide to kill him without even allowing him the chance to speak his news. He had worried that the dwarf might name him a traitor for daring to save his nephew's life and that everyone would watch as their leader cast him out.

For truly the hobbit had not known how the company would treat his revelation and while Kíli had been optimistic, Bilbo knew how false a friend could be. He knew it far too well and so beneath his anger, there had been a current of blinding terror which he simply could not shake.

But now this fear is gone and even the struggle which Fíli outlines cannot dampen the hobbit's relief at knowing there are allies at his back. Still Bilbo listens intently while the dwarf explains where each of their companions stand. He is not sure how much help he will be in convincing the rest to join them, but the hobbit is willing to try, and Fíli believes that they will need a strong majority to make Thorin hear their case.

For once dwarven reasoning makes perfect sense to Bilbo, since in Hobbiton the beliefs of the majority might as well be law. So he nods his agreement and the two unlikely allies begin to plan out their attack.

With Ori, Bofur, Nori and Dwalin already recognizing Fíli as their leader, those dwarves can help persuade their relatives and now that they know Kíli is alive, Bombur, Bifur and Glóin should be easier to sway. While Fíli will spearhead their efforts, he asks Bilbo to talk to them as well, hoping that his story will overcome their remaining doubts. All of this seems reasonable and the hobbit only balks when the dwarf warns him not to speak of Thorin too harshly for now.

“There's a difference between believing in my brother's innocence and defying their king, so I need to ease them into the idea slowly.” Fíli explains in a whisper that Bilbo must lean in to hear. “I'm not sure if everyone has realized just how far this road might take us and we can't afford to have them falter before Kíli's name is cleared.”

There is such conviction in the dwarf's voice and Bilbo should probably be terrified by how far the other is willing to go in order to see their purpose through. He is willing to lie to his companions, lead them into revolution, and would probably sacrifice life itself to restore honor to his kin.

Yet if the hobbit truly shares his determination, how can it scare him to see the fire which burns within his heart mirrored on Fíli's face? So Bilbo agrees to the dwarf's terms, swearing that he will control his anger until the right moment comes, and then realizes that he has no idea when this day might be.

He is actually rather embarrassed to admit to this, particularly since Fíli keeps looking at him with such admiration in his eyes, but really the other should learn to explain things anyway. As much as Bilbo wants to help him, he is only a hobbit and not a particularly sneaky one at that. If he had any true talent for manipulation, he would have done much better in the Shire, and he needs to know whether he can actually accomplish what the other plans him to do.

So the hobbit bites the blade and asks the dwarf about all the details which he has yet to say: when exactly will he confront Thorin and for Aulë's sake, what are they going to do about the dragon?

Although thoughts of Kíli have kept Bilbo strong so far, his voice wavers plaintively on this last question and he hates how weak he sounds. However, the dwarf doesn't seem to mind, or to notice, for he's staring off into a future that only he can see.

“Didn't I mention those things already? Sorry, I guess I'm still a bit distracted by your news.” Fíli says, patting the hobbit's arm in reassurance. Then he looks around furtively and once he ensures that no one else is close enough to hear his words, the dwarf continues. “But I promise I do have an actual plan to convince my uncle of the truth, we're just waiting until we retake Erebor. I'm hoping that regaining our homeland will make Thorin more willing to listen to reason and if not, by then our allies should have seen the madness which clouds his mind. We must show them his weakness so that they will follow me when I stand against him for the crown.”

Well that all makes sense, as much as the intricacies of dwarven politics make any sense to me. But he still failed to answer the most important question, the hobbit thinks in exasperation before he speaks up again. “Fine, but what about the dragon? You know, Smaug the Terrible, furnace with wings?”

“Bofur does have quite a way with words, doesn't he?” The dwarf replies with a grin. “But don't worry about him.” He waves one hand dismissively as Bilbo looks on in surprise, wondering if his lover's brother has actually cracked beneath the stress. “I made a deal with the elves while we were imprisoned, though that's also a secret for now. All we have to do is find his weak spot and lure him out of the mountain so that Thranduil's best archers can take care of the rest. Since you are our burglar, Thorin will probably expect you to sneak inside, but I am willing to try if you do not have the heart.”

“I- is that really going to work?” Bilbo asks, voice tinged with disbelief. Surely if killing the dragon was that easy someone would have done it years ago?

“Actually, I have no idea.” Fíli admits and the hobbit finally sees the hint of uncertainty that lingers in his eyes. “If Smaug doesn't have a weak spot then all of us are doomed, but it's the best plan we have and so I must try, even if this turns out to be madness after all.”

We must try, because we are in this insane venture together and I will do the job for which your uncle hired me. If one of us must risk being eaten by the dragon, it might as well be me, since you have a much better chance of proving Kíli's innocence on your own than I.” Bilbo tells him, now certain that both of them must be crazy after all.

This is the only possible explanation for what he has just promised and yet perhaps embracing their madness is the way to succeed. Perhaps it truly is that easy and no one else has managed it simply because no one else was desperate enough to try. But I snuck through a mountain of goblins to rescue Kíli before I knew I loved him, how can I not face a dragon for the chance to keep him at my side?

Even as the hobbit has this revelation, something in his words must strike a chord in Fíli, for the other's expression turns softly wondering. “You truly are willing to die for our cause. You're willing to die in order to clear my brother's name, just as you rescued him without thought for your own life.”

“What of it? He's my friend. My dearest friend.” And my heart, but I am not ready to tell you that. Indeed the thought of the dwarf figuring out his secret makes all of Bilbo's instincts scream. The two of them had only just come to an understanding and despite all of Kíli's reassurances, there is a part of the hobbit's mind which simply cannot believe that Fíli will take the information well. Even if the dwarf does accept such relations as natural, which still seems improbable, surely he would want someone better for his younger brother than one old hobbit with no honor to his name. So Bilbo tries to keep his face bland and unassuming, hoping against hope that the other will let this question be.

However, he is not that lucky and so with every word that Fíli speaks, the hobbit's stomach churns. “Perhaps he is your friend, but Kíli would not have trusted his clasp to simply anyone. Nor would he have given a friend the pendant which I can see outlined beneath your shirt. So perhaps I should be asking whether you are playing with my brother's heart.”

“What? Of course not! How could you even think that?” Bilbo nearly yells, his offense at the question overriding his fear. One hand clutches his chest, grasping at the pendant which lays under his tunic and he forces himself to lower his voice again when Dwalin looks their way. “I know the pain of rejection far too well to ever want to inflict it on another and I count myself lucky that Kíli even noticed me. I would never do anything to make him regret his choice.”

As soon as these words leave his mouth, the hobbit blanches, for he truly did not mean to reveal so much about his heart. Yet to his surprise, Fíli does not seem angry, instead clapping Bilbo on the shoulder as a smile spreads across his face.

“You have no idea how pleased I am to hear that.” The dwarf tells him cheerfully. “Kíli deserves to have the best and it is a relief to know that my brother will not have to face the world alone, even if our quest should fail miserably.”

“Wait, you think I'm the best?” Bilbo asks incredulously, his mouth dropping open in shock. “Why would you possibly believe that... I mean, me?”

“Of course you.” The dwarf replies, looking at the hobbit as though he is the crazy one. “Do you see anyone else around here who risked their life to save my brother from certain death? No gold or jewels could hope to surpass your courtship and if we succeed, they will sing tales about your love for generations: the hobbit who braved a mountain full of goblins to save his prince's life.”

“Oh... You know it really wasn't that romantic. I was scared out of my mind for most of it and I only ever killed five of them. Four actually, your brother took down the last.” Bilbo mutters, unable to really comprehend the thought of his life in a song.

However, Fíli simply laughs at his confusion and promises gleefully that his lack of heroics will not be a problem at all. “That's what the bards are for. They'll make it seem like you took on a score of the creatures empty-handed and swept Kíli off his feet along the way. In fact, if we do succeed then I'll commission the first song myself just to see my brother squirm.”

The hobbit shakes his head in consternation, for although he can no longer deny that their relationship will be accepted, Kíli had certainly never mentioned a response like this. Ballads about deviants like us? My relatives would die...... maybe I should send a singer out Lobelia's way?

However, eventually the dwarf manages to get himself under control and he stops laughing long enough to issue some threats as the older brother in him comes out. “Romantic songs aside, if you do break my brother's heart, I swear that you will suffer for weeks before I finally let you die. That pendant is a promise as much as any ceremony and you should be ready to face the consequences before you take it off.”

Fíli says these words in the same tone that one might comment on the weather and the hobbit thinks that this might actually be the scariest thing that he has ever heard. People should not sound so polite when they're threatening to skin you and yet Bilbo cannot fault the sentiment.

Kíli deserves to have someone fight for him like that, and if the hobbit ever is stupid enough to throw his love away, then he will submit to Fíli's vengeance without complaint. So he nods his acceptance even as he wonders whether this means that he should tell the others after all.

However, before the hobbit can speak the question, the door to Thorin's room slams open and the dwarf lord finally stalks back into the hall. His very presence ends all thought of further conversation and when he roars for his company, everyone gathers around quickly to hear what he has to say. Even Bilbo, who stands on the fringes to listen to his enemy.

Though he has to resist the urge to punch him again when Thorin's first action is to denounce the hobbit's claims as lies or hallucination, despite the clasp which still shines in Fíli's hands. Indeed their leader doesn't even seem to notice the mumbled outrage that spreads through his companions when he declares his heir's creation faulty, for even those who will not fight for Kíli's innocence would never so disparage his brother's skill.

Something is terribly wrong with that dwarf, Bilbo thinks, watching the seeds of rebellion grow stronger beneath Thorin's oblivious gaze. The king of whom his love had spoken would never have been so blind to the mood of his people and the hobbit wonders what could have changed him so. Of course, then the dwarf pauses in his rant to sneer at him once more and what little sympathy Bilbo may have been feeling quickly disappears.

So he tunes out, restraining his more violent impulses by focusing on the faint bandage across Thorin's swollen nose and in his head, he is the one who scoffs. Not quite so majestic now, are you Mr. Oakenshield? Most of the others are listening closely, but Bilbo is not the only one who thinks the dwarf needs mocking as he discovers when he meets Fíli's sidelong glance. The young dwarf rolls his eyes and mouths, 'a bit long-winded, isn't he?' and his annoyance is quickly replaced by laughter.

You know, I think we could be good friends in time, the hobbit muses, fighting the urge to giggle madly. If nothing else, at least one of my in-laws likes me, which is more than my relatives have ever done. And it's nice to see him a bit more cheerful than he was when I arrived.

Indeed Bilbo rather believes that life is looking up and certainly the future is filled with brighter possibilities than it has ever been before. Bright possibilities with just a few small obstacles standing in their way and when Thorin sends everyone off to finish resupplying, the hobbit tags along after Bombur, hoping to catch him on his own. He has to start his campaign somewhere after all and perhaps their shared love of cooking will help to grease the wheels.

---

As it turns out, Bilbo's hopes are realized and he bonds with Bombur over food, recipes and the joy of finally being able to purchase fresh supplies. The trip through the Mirkwood had been sadly lacking in proper meals and although the dwarf is reticent at first, he seems pleased to have the company.

So they wander the markets looking for the best prices and while the hobbit watches for a way to bring the other to his cause, all he discovers is that the chef has quite an eye for bargains. However, not even Bombur can surpass a hobbit in full haggle and when he has finished, the dwarf's admiration finally gives him the opening he needs. For the other asks if Bilbo will show him his technique and although the hobbit does not know it, the openness with which he shares his mastery must met with equal trust. Thus Bombur has begun treating him as a dear friend by the time the pair returns to the company's borrowed residence and this gives him the courage to offer up his tale.

Even Fíli has yet to hear Bilbo's story in all its gory detail, for in truth he much preferred to forget the terror which gripped him in its claws. However, it is worth the pain of remembering to see the chef begin to lose his faith in Thorin's judgment with every bitter word.

As the hobbit speaks, some of the other dwarves trickle in to listen and he meets their eyes one by one, sparing them none of the fear or anger which his memories incite. The only thing he does not share is the love which drove him, because, while they might accept it, Bilbo does not think that they have earned this knowledge yet.

Despite this omission, his companions are near to weeping by the time his voice trails off and at the shame in Bombur's eyes, the hobbit knows his point is made. Indeed all of the dwarves who listened to his tale have the same look upon their faces because they have finally realized just how completely their courage has been outmatched. Their courage and their honor and now it is their duty to help him set things right.

So as the crowd slowly disperses, each dwarf pauses on their way out to offer their support to Bilbo and the hobbit is rather proud of what his words have wrought. For not only did he touch those who were already Kíli's allies, but Bombur and Bifur speak of their new beliefs as well. While at the time he could not understand a word the latter said, Fíli assures him later that both of the cousins are now firmly on their side.

Unfortunately, none of Thorin's closest allies were there to have their hearts swayed by the hobbit's story and Glóin remains strangely reluctant to pledge his axe to their cause. Although everything the dwarf has said makes Bilbo think that he does not believe in Thorin's judgment, he still refuses to stand against his lord and the hobbit does not understand this at all. However, Fíli tells him not to pressure Glóin too hard for this is the kind of loyalty which must be given freely and as long as the other does not actively work against them, that will be enough for now.

In this the burglar must bend to the dwarf's judgment and so he tries to turn his mind to other things, drowning his worries in preparation. There is much to do before they start the last stretch of their journey, and as the days pass, Bilbo realizes that he will be sorry when they go. Staying in this village is a lovely break from the danger which haunted their steps throughout the beginning of their travels and he will miss the luxury of sleeping through the night without fear.

This is not to say there is no danger, but the perils of Laketown are rather more political in nature and so do not strike when the sun is down. It is only during the days when one must worry and if Thorin seems to have lost his diplomatic touch completely, Fíli and Balin manage to keep his harsh words from igniting any feuds.

This allows the company to simply enjoy their surroundings and Bilbo takes advantage of the freedom while he can, talking Bard the Bowman into showing him the sights. While everyone he meets has an annoying habit of assuming him a child, the hobbit soon manages to convince them otherwise. Indeed, Bard seems quite impressed by his ability to hold his liquor and the ale in Laketown is quite good indeed, even if it would taste better with Kíli by his side.

Yet no matter how he tries, Bilbo cannot forget that Durin's Day is fast approaching and they must find the secret door in order to lure the dragon out. So it is also a relief when the company finally marches out of Laketown, waving farewell to the men who gathered to wish them luck.

Of course, then the dwarves crest the eastern ridge and the hobbit sees the destruction which Smaug's fire has formed. The men of Laketown have named these plains the Desolation and their description is apt, for there is no life around the mountain's base. No life, no sound, not even insects buzzing and the Bilbo is struck by a sudden onslaught of terror.

I am supposed to face the creature which did this?! Alone and with naught but my ring to aid me, I am supposed to find a way to bring the dragon down? It's impossible. Even if I manage to stay hidden, what weakness could this monster have? I know I promised to aid you, Fíli, but you knew not what you asked.

His thoughts whirl together in a nightmare of dread and panic, only the force of habit keeping his feet moving across the ashy ground. They walk in silence, no one attempting to speak through the clouds of dust, and Bilbo is thankful for this small mercy because the hobbit feels as if he is being torn in two.

His mind wants to run as far and as fast as his feet can carry him and leave all of this behind. Run until he makes it back to the Shire and never come out of his hobbit hole again. His hobbit hole where his life may not be pleasant but it is safe. Safe and comfortable and easy and yet the thought of living his next fifty years in the same way he lived his last, makes panic swell within his chest.

This is the new Bilbo, the one who found courage where he least expected it and wonders why he is so worried about what might go wrong. So he might be eaten by a dragon, so what? At least if Smaug eats him it would be quick and then his pain would be over, no long slow decline into despair and loneliness. Surely this is actually the better fate, for the hobbit does not think that he could bear to be that lonely again, not when he knows now what it is to be loved.

Not only loved, but treated with friendship and respect and how could he live with himself if he abandoned Fíli to his fate? How could he live with himself if he allowed his fear to ruin his one chance at happiness and how could Kíli continue to love him if the hobbit hated himself?

He would turn away from me in disgust and he would be right to do so, for I would not deserve him then. It is this last thought which makes the difference, for Bilbo wants so dearly to be worthy and he uses this motivation to shove his terror down deep. The fear is not gone but at least it is buried enough for him to function and that will have to suffice for now. This is probably not the most healthy way to conquer his emotions, but the hobbit cannot afford to fall apart until their quest is done; if he survives, he will panic then.

So by the time the company makes camp at the base of Erebor, Bilbo has himself under control and although he still twitches every time the mountain rumbles, he neither screams nor flees. And when Fíli wakes him with a hand on his shoulder, the hobbit follows him into the darkness without complaint. There is just enough moonlight to walk without tripping and the dwarf leads him into a cluster of boulders before he stops.

“It's time to find out if Thranduil has kept his end of the bargain,” Fíli whispers, pulling a small white object from his pocket. It is a whistle and when he raises it to his lips, a shrill note echoes through the air. Bilbo winces for the sound is high and piercing, covering his ears when the dwarf blows it a second time.

“Twice for good measure.” He mutters, settling down to wait. “Hopefully that will be enough for their fancy elvish ears since sound carries in the night and we do not want to wake our friends.”

The wait is long enough that Bilbo starts to wonder if anyone is coming and from the tense set to the Fíli's jaw, he is having similar thoughts. Maybe this is simply an elaborate trap and Thranduil always meant to leave us hanging in payment for Thorin's disrespect. But if the elf king wanted my friends dead, wouldn't it have been easier to just kill them in the Mirkwood? He could have blamed it on the spiders easily enough if they truly are as terrible as Bofur described. Doing it this way doesn't make any sense, but then why are they taking so damn long?

Eventually Bilbo cannot stand it anymore and he has to ask: “What will we do if the elves never come? We don't have any archers of our own and we cannot kill a dragon face to face.”

In the darkness, the hobbit cannot see Fíli's expression, but the dwarf's voice is determined when he answers and his surety helps to ease the hobbit's fear. “No matter what happens we will continue with our plan. Perhaps Bard the Bowman would like to be known as the Dragonslayer and if not, we will search out another way. While we must find the secret passage tomorrow, once it is open, there is no hurry and I will learn archery myself if that is what it takes.”

“While that might be amusing to watch, it will not be necessary.” A soft voice whispers in the night and the hobbit nearly jumps out of his skin when two shadows appear on the boulders by his head. They seem little more than ghosts at first, moving with the silence of wind and dust, but as the shapes draw closer, Bilbo can see that they are elves.

“You are late.” Fíli growls to their new allies, before continuing in clear surprise. “Captain Tauriel? It's you?”

“I said I would be sending my best; I never said that I was not one of them,” The female elf replies with a soft laugh. “But I apologize for the delay; we were not expecting you to call so soon.”

“Do not worry about it. You are here now and that is what matters.” The dwarf says, ever the diplomat, before pulling the hobbit forward. “May I introduce Bilbo Baggins; he only recently returned to our company and so was not with us when we met before.”

“You're not a dwarf! And hardly more than a stripling!” The captain shoots her companion a quelling glance at this exclamation and Bilbo adds a glare of his own, frowning at the elf in annoyance.

“If you must know, I am a hobbit of the Shire,” And I am very tired of being thought of as a child. He informs them, the cold tone of his voice making it clear what he thinks of such assumptions. “I assure you, I am quite old enough to be here and if you're going to be rude, you could at least do me the courtesy of introducing yourself first.”

For a moment the two elves stare at him with wide eyes, probably not used to being scolded quite like that, and the captain recovers her composure first. She nudges her companion sharply and he mumbles an apology, the hobbit's ire softening in spite of himself at the chastened look upon his face.

This elf is obviously young by the measure of his people and hobbits tend to confuse the other races anyway. So Bilbo grants his forgiveness and the group moves on to business for their absence has already run long. However, it take only a few short moments to bring the elves up to speed, Fíli explaining that they should be able to enter the mountain the next evening, and once the burglar has discovered Smaug's vulnerability, the dwarf will whistle again.

Neither of the elves have any objections to this plan and Tauriel promises that they will remain closer this time. Though she does ask the hobbit to wait until daylight before sneaking inside, so that if the dragon chooses to take wing too soon, she and her companion will still have the best chance to succeed.

Bilbo is quite happy to make this promise and so the conspirators bid each other farewell. Then the burglar follows Fíli back to their camp, curling up in his cloak by the remnants of the fire while the dwarf wakes Bifur to stand watch. No one seems to have noticed their absence and the hobbit falls asleep to the rumble of Bombur's snoring, trying not to worry about what the morning brings.

---

“Everyone up! Move your lazy hides.” He wakes to the sound of Thorin yelling, the dwarf driven to impatience by the nearness of their goal. “Time is wasting and we must find that door.”

Although Bilbo would have dearly loved to stay in bed, duty calls, and so he drags himself upright with a groan. A few weeks of actual beds and I've gone soft, he thinks, trying to stretch out his stiff muscles. Though in his defense, their midnight meeting did not allow the hobbit long to sleep and no one else seems any happier to be awake so early in the day. Indeed there is quite a bit of grumbling amongst the dwarves as they pack up their camp and even Thorin's staunchest allies wonder why exactly they are rising with the dawn.

Only their leader is dressed and ready, his eyes shining with a fevered glow as he looks toward his kingdom and in less time than Bilbo would have thought possible, the company is moving again. They hike quickly around the base of the mountain to reach the fabled gates of Erebor and for a moment, the hobbit's exhaustion is forgotten in his awe.

He grew up reading tales of the splendor of the great dwarven kingdoms but he had not expected the legends to be true, and even ruined it takes his breath away. For standing on either side of the blocked entrance are two statues, warriors gazing out upon the road and Bilbo never dreamed that living hands could shape such monoliths. They are truly giants, rising up against the mountain almost as far as he can see and for the first time, he realizes just what it means to be a dwarven king. This is not the simple duties of the Shire Thain or even Elrond's ageless wisdom, this is power in its purest form and for a moment, the hobbit wonders how he could hope to alter such a ruler's fate.

But then Thorin turns to face his company, the mad light in his eyes burning ever stronger and Bilbo realizes that this does not change what must be done. In truth, it only makes their quest more important for while Fíli is young, he understands his duty, and the thought of what Thorin would accomplish with this kingdom makes the hobbit tremble in his bones.

It will be war and never-ending. War with the elves and with men and anyone else whom he thinks may challenge him. The future spreads before him in an instant, bloody and desolate as the Fell Winter but on such a scale as to shake the foundations of their world. It will be death. He is certain of it and everything in his being cries out that he cannot let this come to pass. For this is bigger than Kíli, and even their companions, and if Thorin nearly started three feuds while in Laketown, what hope is there for the long years of his life?

Bilbo shakes himself sharply, chasing away the dark premonition and the shadows in his thoughts. What does he know of kingdoms and politics? He is just a hobbit who wants to clear his lover's name. Yet he cannot entirely throw off the sense of foreboding and when he thinks of his vision, the ring in his pocket burns.

“Are you all right? You're falling behind.” A hand touches his arm and Bilbo looks up to see Fíli staring at him in concern. The others have already started climbing, Thorin leading them up the statues to reach the upper paths, and the hobbit forces a reassuring smile onto his face.

“I am fine, sorry. It's just a bit overwhelming,” He says, a wave of his hand attempting to encompass the sheer scale of what stands before them, and the dwarf nods his head.

“It is, isn't it? Mother would tells us stories of the wealth of Erebor, but I always thought she must be exaggerating. Ered Luin is little more than a troll cave compared to this.” Perhaps Fíli too has now realized the weight of their responsibility, for his eyes are serious and he squares his shoulders as though preparing for a fight. However, there is no doubt on his face, only determination and the hobbit finds himself comforted. So he follows Fíli onward and turns his focus to the uneven stone beneath his feet.

Bilbo is out of breath by the time the company reaches level ground again, but Thorin allows them only a moment to rest before he splits them up to search the mountainside. While it is only mid-morning, there is still a great deal of ground to cover before the sun begins to set and no one wants to miss their chance.

So the hobbit joins the hunt without complaint, his gaze fixed on the cliff face as he searches for any kind of sign. While the door will be invisible when closed, perhaps sharp eyes will be able to find some other evidence of its existence: a faded rune or the trace of footsteps in the rock.

Hours pass and while the company discovers a few possibilities, none of the places seem quite right. So when they pause for a brief meal, Thorin pores over the map again, looking desperately for any clue they missed. However, there are none and all the dwarf can say for certain is that the door must face west, it is made of grey stone and perhaps a thrush will be found there.

Personally, Bilbo thinks this last hint may be nothing more than a poetic turn of phrase, because how would the hand which drew those runes have known where any bird would fly? Even if a thrush nested nearby when the map was written, a generation has passed since Smaug took Erebor.

However, you can never be too careful and so the hobbit keeps one ear open as the shadows lengthen. Then, to his surprise, he hears a soft knocking to his right. Bilbo follows the sound around the corner and stops dead, for a small bird is tapping its beak against a smooth slab of grey stone. While he does not recognize its coloring, this coincidence is too great to dismiss and he calls for Thorin as loudly as he dares. The hobbit would run to fetch his companions himself, but he is certain the sun would set the instant that he left to search them out. So he calls again and a wave of relief washes over him when he hears footsteps, Ori and Nori answering his cry.

The two dwarves agree that this must be the place described by the moon runes and Nori sends his brother to bring the others here. Then he settles down next to wait with Bilbo, murmuring that at least if the door appears before the rest of their company arrives, there will be two of them to remember what they've seen.

Yet this is not necessary because Thorin rounds the corner just as the sun begins to dip below the mountains, and its last rays are a blaze across the sky. This stream of liquid gold shines upon the Lonely Mountain and Bilbo gasps as a soft depression in the rock appears to grow deeper beneath its glow. The dwarf lord wastes no time in gaping, quickly pulling the key from his tunic and inserting it into the lock. Not a moment too soon for in the next instant, the sun disappears and the company mountainside stands in shadowed dusk once more.

Now that the light has vanished, the keyhole is nearly invisible again and the hobbit knows that without the map to guide them, he would never be able to find this spot again. However, when Thorin reaches out to turn the key, the lock clicks softly beneath his hands and the entire slab of rock slides smoothly to the side. Where it once stood, there is a tunnel leading deep into the mountain.

It is darker than night within that passage, dark as a tomb, and as a wave of hot air washes over him, Bilbo has to suppress the horrifying thought that it is breathing. He shudders violently, the foul scent reminding him of the tunnels through which he had dragged Kíli so many weeks before. Even if he had not promised Tauriel to wait until morning, the hobbit would balk at entering this passage in the dark, and he digs in his heels when Thorin attempts to shove him inside.

“You are our burglar, are you not? Go steal back my treasure.” The dwarf demands, his eyes gleaming almost golden in the night, and he doesn't even flinch when the mountain rumbles beneath their feet.

“I am and I will, but not yet.” Bilbo replies firmly. “Even burglars need their rest and if I am going to steal from a dragon, I am going to do it after dinner and a full night's sleep. A few more hours will make no difference now.” Although Thorin clearly wishes to argue, the rest of the company sees the wisdom in the hobbit's words and when even Balin agrees that waiting until morning is probably a good idea, the dwarf lord must give in.

So they walk back to one of the larger ledges and start to set up camp again, Bombur pulling out his cooking pot to prepare their meal. While Bilbo would usually have helped him, tonight he excuses himself instead, walking some distance off to think. This reprieve he has gained will not last and tomorrow he must face his trial. Tomorrow he must attempt to sneak past a dragon and even with his ring, this will be difficult for a drake's senses are sharper than those of any goblin.

Yet there is no other choice and the hobbit tugs Kíli's pendant out from under his tunic to remind himself of what he's fighting for. Even if Thorin wasn't clearly unfit to rule, the dwarf lord must be made to regret the pain he caused his nephews; Kíli deserves to stand with honor at his brother's side.

Valar, but I miss him, Bilbo thinks, calling up an image of the young dwarf in his mind. He focuses on each detail in turn until it almost feels as though his love is standing there before him: the crooked tilt to his smile, the warmth in his dark eyes, the way he laughed with utter abandon when truly amused. But it is not enough to remember the kisses and Kíli's strong embrace; the hobbit wants to feel him here.

He wants his love to hold him and promise that everything will work out in the end, even if the words are a lie. And as Bilbo recalls the heat which always filled him at the other's touch, he wishes suddenly that he had not been such a coward in the time they'd had. At least then, if he died tomorrow, he would still have the memory of their joining to warm him in his grave.

So the hobbit resolves that if he survives his encounters with Smaug and sees his love again, he will no longer allow his fear to hold him back. He will do everything of which he's always dreamed, and while the thought still terrifies him, it is strangely exhilarating as well.

“Dinner is ready Master Bag- What is that?!” Bilbo is startled from his daydreams by Dori's exclamation and he turns to see the dwarf staring intently at the pendant in his hand.

Damn it! Why him? Why not one of our allies? He wonders, trying to come up with a believable explanation other than the truth. However, as Bilbo takes a breath to speak, an enormous smile spreads across Dori's face and the hobbit chokes on his words.

“That's Kíli's mark, isn't it? Oh, this is wonderful.” The dwarf says, clapping his hands. “No wonder you came back to clear his name, you're in love with the lad. And risking your life to rescue his... that's so romantic.”

Dori doesn't seem interested in a response, ignoring the hobbit's shock to sigh dreamily and mutter about courtship to himself. Until he thinks of something that makes his eyes narrow and he turns to Bilbo with a growl. “You're in love and Thorin is ruining everything, isn't he? Well, we won't stand for that. Whatever you and Fíli are planning, you have my support because what kind of ruler would keep true love apart for a little thing like treason?”

The longer the dwarf speaks, the more the hobbit thinks he must be dreaming and yet when he pinches himself, Bilbo does not wake. Which means this insanity is real, but at least this time the crazy appears to be working in his favor, so he nods and smiles while Dori chatters on. If a secret love of romance is what sways the other to his cause, then the hobbit will take it and be thankful, even if he does not understand why dwarves always seem to react this way.

Maybe I should just tell Thorin and be done with it? He muses, wondering if this would sway their leader when all other logic fails. But as he remembers his bloody vision and the fell light in the dwarf's eyes, Bilbo shivers and vows not to take that chance.

Besides, before he can worry about his romance, he must deal with the dragon and so he follows Dori back to the camp to eat. Bombur has outdone himself and the hobbit takes second helpings since this may be the last meal he ever sees. For the next few hours, Bilbo manages to bury all thoughts of the future in stew and pointless conversation, but no matter how much he wishes otherwise, eventually the hobbit must lay down to sleep.


Part II