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This Long and Winding Road - Chapter 9

Title: This Long and Winding Road
Chapter 9: Tager
Pairings: Mostly Platonic Kíli/Fíli, Kíli/Bilbo/Fíli, Dwalin/Ori, Dwalin/Nori, Bilbo/Thorin, minor and background pairings
Rating/Warnings: None for this part unless you count canon injuries and more pining
Word Count: 4448 (48,566 so far)
Disclaimer: If I owned it, there would be more threesomes.
Summary: Fíli and Kíli have spent decades searching for the last piece of their hearts, but meeting Bilbo is just the beginning of the tale.  Because hobbits believe in love, not destiny and someone else catches their burglar's eye.

Chapter 1: Ze'                           Chapter 6: Ges
Chapter 2: Nu'                           Chapter 7: Haded
Chapter 3: Gem                        Chapter 8: Gimon
Chapter 4: Ramekh
Chapter 5: Gamekh


The dwarf lord ordered his kinsfolk to their feet as soon as it grew dark. They packed up their gear and left the house despite Bain's protests, though Bilbo did pause to thank Bard’s children for their hospitality.

The hobbit and his friends traveled through the streets of Laketown, keeping to the shadows whenever one of the city’s guards walked by. These men roamed the town in groups of two and three, their pikes and halberds gleaming in the moonlight. Despite the quality of their weapons, the guards were not particularly skillful. They talked and joked amongst themselves instead of marching quietly, their voices carrying clearly through the crisp lake air.

This was good for Thorin and his comrades. The dwarves had plenty of warning before they had to hide and when one guard announced that he was returning to the armory, they followed him straight there.

Now Nori and Bilbo are scouting out the building, looking for the best place to break in while the rest of their friends skulk in the shadows underneath some stairs nearby. Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s really Nori scouting. The hobbit is just trailing after his companion and happily agreeing with everything he says.

Bilbo hasn’t exactly done this kind of thing before and he has to wonder why Thorin needed a burglar when he appears to have a perfectly competent sneak thief in his company. Maybe the dwarf lord doesn't know about Nori's other talents or perhaps Gandalf simply convinced Thorin that thirteen was an unlucky number with which to start his quest.

Whatever the reason, Bilbo is glad to be here. Well, maybe not here exactly. The hobbit would rather be negotiating with the Lakemen than stealing from them but he won't question Thorin now. The burglar knows that time is of the essence and he is more than ready for this journey to be over. Not because of Erebor's fabled treasure but because of the future that Thorin promised him. He wants peace instead of danger, romance instead of pain, and the chance for Kíli to heal until he smiles bright again.

“Up there,” Nori says, drawing Bilbo's attention to the back of the building. He points to a high window, far away from any guards. “I used to case houses and no one ever locks the entrances on the upper floors.”

“Seriously,” the hobbit mutters under his breath. “Why am I the burglar?”

Apparently Bilbo isn't as quiet as he thinks. Nori looks down at him and answers with a smirk, “Because I'm not mad enough to steal from dragons. I prefer light thievery or picking pockets and I don't advertise. Besides, Gandalf was probably right about Smaug not recognizing hobbits; if he smelled a dwarf like me, he'd go on a rampage instantly.”

“If that's meant to be comforting, I think you missed the mark,” Bilbo retorts.

He means the words but Nori just laughs and slaps him on the shoulder. “You'll be fine. What's one little dragon after Azog, those spiders, and a mountain full of goblins? If you didn't get eaten in the Mirkwood, I doubt you'll get eaten here.”

That's still not very comforting but Bilbo will cross that bridge – or dragon – when he gets there. For now the hobbit has to rob this armory.

He and Nori return to Thorin and tell him about the window. The dwarf lord nods, waving his companions closer to listen to their burglar.

“Kíli and I will keep watch,” Fíli volunteers. His brother is fading again, his wound worse for the walking, and he doesn't need to be climbing up any buildings now.

Thorin's eyes narrow a bit but he doesn't argue. Their uncle just nods shortly and leads everyone else to the armory. At the dwarf lord's command, his companions create a living staircase, standing on each other's shoulders until they reach the windowsill. Nori climbs up first, then Bilbo, Bofur, and Bifur, while Dwalin, Glóin, and Ori bring up the rear.

“We'll return in a few minutes,” Thorin tells Fíli before following his companions. “We head straight for the mountain afterwards.”

Once he disappears into the armory, the remaining dwarves slip back into the shadows. Kíli leans heavily against a nearby crate while his brother finds a better vantage point to watch for guards. The minutes drag as Fíli waits for the others to complete their thievery, but eventually Thorin reappears at the window and signals to his sister-sons.

Fíli and Kíli move over to the window, standing ready while their uncle maneuvers a bunch of weapons through the opening. But the dwarf lord has only just begun to lower this bundle when Dori hisses, “Hide! Quickly! There's a guard patrol inbound.”

Thorin ducks back inside the window, dropping his stolen blades into the princes' arms as the dwarves outside scatter instantly. But the bundle is heavy and when Fíli and Kíli move to follow their companions, the archer’s leg gives out.

He tumbles to the ground, pulling his brother off-balance as he falls. The bundle of stolen weapons slips from the princes' hands and Fíli flinches when it hits the street with a deafening clatter, steel clanging on steel like a violent thunderclap. The noise seems to last forever as it splits the night in two and the dwarves barely dare to breathe until the last echo dissipates.

For a moment, there is silence and Fíli prays that their mistake might not have ruined everything. But then someone starts shouting, a clamor rising up all around Thorin's company.

The prince pulls his brother to his feet, looking for a hiding place while Dori, Óin, and Balin turn to run. A sensible reaction to be sure; if the dwarves outside manage to flee, perhaps the Lakemen will not think to check within the armory. But Fíli cannot join them; he and Kíli cannot leave their amrâbulnas in danger, no matter how practical such a choice may be.

In truth, it makes no difference. Laketown's guards surround the other dwarves before they make it twenty feet and Fíli can hear his uncle shouting from inside the armory. With twenty halberds pointed at their throats, Thorin and his companions have no choice but to surrender. Although these men aren't particularly skilled, the dwarves do not wish to kill them and escaping would require bloodshed now. Fíli can only growl and grumble, glaring at the guard who grabs his brother's arm.

The Lakemen shove the dwarves together and then escort their prisoners through the city toward their leader's house. The guard captain makes a production of the journey, gathering a crowd of curious men and women on the way.

By the time the group reaches the main square, half of Laketown seems to be following. Bilbo can see the men muttering amongst themselves, the expressions on their faces bright with curiosity. There is some suspicion as well, hints of worry and fear that make the hobbit wince. He doesn't know how their company is going to escape the Master's justice – honestly, they don't deserve to – but he knows how convincing Thorin Oakenshield can be.

If the Master is willing to listen, then the dwarves still have a chance. Hopefully Thorin will be able to show Laketown the value of his quest and repair the rift their actions caused. Either the Master will support them or he'll throw them in a dungeon and Bilbo is getting pretty good at rescuing his company.

So the hobbit tries not to panic when their procession comes to a halt in front of the Master's house. There's no announcement as such, but it's rather obvious. No fisherman could have afforded that much gilding and even if Laketown's ruler had chosen to decorate in a less gaudy style, the wind-lance on his roof would still be a dead giveaway. As would the rotund man in expensive clothing who is standing on the porch.

“What is the meaning of this?” the Master roars. He glares at the crowd with indiscriminate anger, his irritation falling upon his people as much as Thorin's company. “You'd best have a good reason for disturbing my evening meal.”

“We caught these dwarves stealing weapons,” the captain of his guard replies. “Red-handed in the armory.”

“Is that so?” the Master asks. He turns his gaze on Thorin, curiosity lessening the anger in his eyes. But when the man sees the dwarves' worn and ragged clothing, he dismisses their importance instantly. These intruders cannot help him consolidate his power – they're simply troublemakers – and a man of his stature doesn't deal with peasants. That's what he has Alfrid for.

Indeed, the Master is already bored with this conversation. He waves his hand, signaling his adviser to take over. The skinnier man has always been good at punishing Laketown's enemies and the sooner these dwarves are dealt with, the sooner the Master can get back to his meal.

“You have shown yourselves to be enemies of Laketown and thus enemies of the Master. A bunch of vile mercenaries, I am sure,” Alfrid says with a sneer. “What do you have to say in your defense? Speak truth, you filthy buggers. We don't want no excuses for your treachery.”

The Master's adviser clearly expects the dwarves to fall begging at his feet. However, Mahal's children have never been blessed with great humility and they will not plead for forgiveness even when they're in the wrong. In truth, there is little to say and while he wishes things were different, Bilbo cannot judge his friends too harshly when he is their burglar. So the hobbit bites his tongue even as his companions keep their silence, the dwarves staring back at the Master's adviser until he shifts uncomfortably.

Only then does Dwalin step forward to introduce his leader, holding his head up high as he proclaims, “You do not know to whom you speak. This is no common criminal. This is the rightful king of Erebor!”

The warrior gestures to Thorin as the gathered crowd murmurs in shock and recognition, those standing in front passing on the news to those behind. None of these Lakemen were alive when Smaug took the mountain, but they all know the stories of Thrór's kingdom – of the wealth and wonder that existed in those halls.

“I am Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, and I have come to reclaim my people's homeland,” the dwarf lord announces proudly. He does not bow and he does not apologize for his companions' actions; sniveling to the Master would only make them all look weak. Instead, Thorin appeals to the Lakemen's baser instincts, to the hunger on their faces and the desperation in their eyes. The dwarf lord does not want to trade on his people's future and if he cannot barter with honor then he will prey on hope and greed.

“I intend to restore Erebor back to wealth and glory and in so doing, I will restore your home as well. I remember this city when it was more than a forgotten group of hovels on a lake. This town was once the center of all trade here in the North; fleets of ships lay anchored at the docks and bright flags waved in the wind. Those days are gone now but they can yet be recovered. I will light the dwarvish forges, sending goods and coin flowing from the Lonely Mountain once again. All of you will share in my people's wealth and riches; your children and your spouses will grow strong and happy once the dwarves of Erebor come home.”

Thorin's voice is strong and the effect of his words on the Lakemen is clearly visible. This city isn't wealthy – that much is obvious – and hungry people are far more ready to grasp at shreds of hope. No one wants to see their children starving and the dwarf lord is offering them a future that is better than today.

“Your words are pretty, but you will bring us only death,” Bard interrupts sharply, pushing his way to the front of the crowd. “You will bring dragon fire and ruin down upon this city if you wake Smaug from his slumber; the wyrm's rage will burn us all.”

Thorin's turns to face the bowman as his audience starts to mutter. The dwarf's eyes are hard as flint but he keeps his expression open; Bard has reminded the Lakemen of their fear and yelling will not sway them. Tonight the future king of Erebor must coax these men into compliance; he must convince the Master that his prize is worth the risk.

“If you listen to this man, nothing will ever change,” the dwarf lord says, sweeping his gaze across the crowd. “You have two choices now. You can remain huddled in the dragon's shadow for the remainder of your days or you can dare to dream of better things. I admit our quest is dangerous; that I don't deny. But if we succeed, all of us will share in the great wealth of Erebor. You will have enough gold to rebuild the ruins of Esgaroth twice over, better and brighter than before.”

“Have you forgotten what happened to Dale?” Bard asks his kinsmen almost desperately. “Have you forgotten everyone who died in flames due to Thrór's unending greed?”

Thorin can’t hold back a growl at the bargeman’s insult. He and Bard glare at each other fiercely as the surrounding Lakemen argue back and forth. Neither side appears to be winning, the clamor growing louder and louder until the Master of Laketown speaks again.

“You are quick to lay blame,” the man says, pointing his finger at Bard. “But we all know that it was your ancestor Girion, Lord of Dale, who failed to slay the dragon.”

The accusation falls into a sudden silence and the bargeman flinches, unable to meet the glow of triumph sparked in Thorin’s eyes. But the Master hasn’t finished yet.

“And you,” he continues, turning his gaze on the dwarf lord. “How do I know that you are truly the prince of Erebor? What proof have you of kingship? You and your companions have shown yourselves as thieves, filthy beggars who would say anything to avoid your proper punishment. Why should I trust the word of any dwarf right now?”

“What about a hobbit?” Bilbo asks. He didn't mean to speak up but he couldn't let this man question Thorin’s birthright, not when that loss hurts his beloved even now. Although the hobbit falters slightly when everyone turns to look at him, he does not take back the words. Bilbo can do this; for Thorin the burglar can do anything.

“I have no stake in Erebor,” the hobbit says and this is almost true. He does not care about the mountain or its treasure, only what reclaiming Erebor means to his beloved and his kin. “My people live in fertile lands to the west and I say that this is Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, and the rightful King Beneath the Mountain. He is here to take back his people's homeland so that Durin's Folk may finally cease their wandering. I understand your fears but surely you cannot deny them such a thing?”

“You will truly stand for this dwarf?” the Master asks as the Lakemen murmur quietly. “You swear on your honor that he will keep his promises.”

“I give you my word as the Baggins of Bag End.”

Bilbo's oath rings out clearly and the watching crowd cannot doubt the hobbit’s words. Even Bard cannot call him a liar; the bargeman can only turn to Thorin and plead for sanity.

“You have no right to enter that mountain.”

“I have the only right,” the dwarf lord replies and this is truth as well. The Lakeman’s fears do not change what was stolen or who the dragon stole it from. Thorin does not owe anyone else part of his kingdom’s treasure – Smaug alone should pay for his victims’ suffering – and he offers now only because he needs the Lakemen’s help. The dwarf lord has nothing to barter but his rightful heritage and he curses his circumstances fiercely even as he meets the Master’s eyes.

“What say you? Will you aid my cause and share in the great wealth of my people? Or will you huddle on this lake like cowards and die without a dream?”

The man doesn’t answer at first, his eyes flickering across the crowd to gauge his people’s mood. However, while Bard is well respected by his friends and neighbors, the combination of Bilbo’s oath and the dwarf lord’s silver tongue has swayed the men of Laketown toward Thorin’s company. What do they care if these dwarves tried to steal weapons from the Master? There are few souls in this city who have not wished to do the same. Indeed, when the winter wind bites sharply, many talk of revolution and these men would forgive a murderer if he only changed their children's fate.

So the Master nods sharply, turning back to Thorin and spreading his arms wide. He may not like this dwarf lord’s arrogance or his refusal to bow down properly but the man has always been good at reading the prevailing wind and he’d sup with Smaug himself for a chance at the gold and silver in the vaults of Erebor.

“I say welcome,” he announces. “Welcome to the company of Thorin Oakenshield.”

Most of the Lakemen give a resounding cheer even as Bard shakes his head disgustedly. The bargeman pushes his way through the crowd and heads back to his family, but sound carries on the water and he can't escape the Master's speech.

“Come, come, we are allies now and you must come inside,” the rotund man says tells Thorin's company. He waves the dwarves forward while signaling his guards to hold back the filthy masses – he wouldn't want his people to get ideas now. “Tonight we shall feast together. Fill your bellies on food and wine and tell me all about the precious heirlooms that your people left in Erebor. Such wonderful things, heirlooms, so important to remembering our history. That is why I keep all of Laketown's treasures locked away where they are safe from thieves and prying eyes.”

Every word drips with pompous smarm and several of the dwarves can't quite hide their distaste as the Master leads them into his mansion. Thankfully the man doesn't seem to notice; he just ushers his guests into the dining room and shouts for his servants to bring wine. The Master heaps abuse upon those women when they don't move fast enough, proving his true nature with every word he speaks.

Thorin's companions barely have the self-control to keep themselves from attacking and looking around the room does not abate their rage. This mansion is grand, far grander than the rest of Laketown, and the Master's gaudy decorations make a mockery of his people's hardship. No true leader would gild his walls while those he leads go hungry; even in his madness, Thrór hadn't gone that far.

To tell the truth, the glint in the Master's eyes reminds Bilbo of his cousin Otho. The other hobbit has looked at Bag End with a similar expression every time he's come to visit, nothing but entitlement and a hungry avarice. That sort of greed is never satisfied, that sort of desire swallows kingdoms, and Bilbo worries that Thorin's bargain may yet prove disastrous.

However, the burglar is distracted from his fears when the Master's servants start to bring out supper. The man's kitchen has done well despite the lack of notice; while the rest of Laketown may be starving, Bilbo sees no sign of famine here. Indeed, there is food enough for everyone and the hobbit digs in with the others; it feels like forever since he's eaten properly. Not since Beorn have the dwarves seen such a feast.

Only when Bilbo is comfortably full does he lean back with a sigh, picking up a goblet of wine on which to sip as the dinner carries on. The burglar isn't the only one drinking and the mood quickly grows more raucous as the dwarves choose to forget about their worries for a time. Indeed, his companions' boisterous air reminds Bilbo of an unexpected party many weeks ago.

When thirteen dwarves barged into Bag End quite uninvited, the hobbit could never have imagined that he would end up here. He never would have dreamed of fighting orcs and goblins, of seeing trolls and elvish kingdoms, or of learning a tavern song from Bofur while Elrond's kin looked on. The hobbit never would have believed that he'd find love and friendship on the road or that he could ever be some kind of burglar.

Bilbo glances across the table at Thorin, his eyes tracing every line of that dear face. It is good to see him happy; the dwarf lord's mood has been much improved by the Master's promise of assistance and a great deal of Laketown's wine, and the hobbit wants him to smile like this all the time. The only thing that could make this evening better would be the chance to curl up by his beloved, to have Thorin wrap an arm around his waist and hold him close again.

But Bilbo doesn't move. He won't push for more when the dwarf lord needs to focus. The hobbit has Thorin's promise to keep him warm until their quest is done. Just a few more days and they'll be able to woo each other properly.

Assuming that I survive the dragon, Bilbo thinks, the thought dampening his mood like a bucket of ice water. He'll do his best but he is not a burglar, not really, even if he's proved a thief. Only the hobbit's magic ring makes him think that he has any chance of success; his ring and the knowledge that he cannot back out now. Bilbo would never forgive himself for giving in to cowardice, not when entering the mountain is the only way for Durin's Folk to regain their stolen home. Kíli and Fíli and the rest of their companions deserve to have a home, a safe place to love and live and grow old in happiness.

Even if Bilbo were willing to abandon his friends, he could not abandon Thorin. In order to have Thorin, the hobbit must face Smaug. He must steal whatever he needs to steal for the dwarf lord's plan to work. Because Thorin could not live with failure – he could not forgive failure in someone that he loves.

So while the hobbit would dearly like to sit down by the dwarf lord, to feel his warmth and hear him promise that things will be all right, he doesn't dare to ask. Instead, he drinks and laughs and worries about Kíli when the archer slumps down at his side.

Only Fíli's quick catch stops his brother from face-planting in the pudding and the older prince gives Bilbo a weak smile when the hobbit asks, “Is he all right?”

“Fine. We're fine,” the blond dwarf mutters. “He's just never been able to hold his alcohol. No need to worry. Kíli just needs a little rest.”

This is obviously a lie since Bilbo has been watching and the archer never touched a drop. Indeed, Kíli barely ate his supper, picking at his food with little appetite, and his pallor now is troubling. There is something very wrong with the younger prince, the burglar is certain of it, and he wishes more than anything that he had a way to help.

But Bilbo is no healer. If Óin cannot cure Kíli's ailment, then the hobbit has no shot and there is no point in forcing Fíli to admit the truth right now. Let the dwarf pretend for one more evening. Bilbo doesn't want to add to his friend's troubles, not when the signs of strain are clear around his eyes and the thought of Kíli dying makes the hobbit want to cry. Instead, he simply helps Fíli lead his brother from the table, the two of them together keeping the younger dwarf upright.

“We should find Kíli a proper bed,” Bilbo says to Fíli. The hobbit intends to ask the Master or one of his servants for directions to a guest room but the latter have all disappeared and the former is quite drunk. Both he and Thorin are deep in their cups – too deep to interrupt – and Fíli stops Bilbo before he can go looking for the guest rooms on his own.

“Don't trouble yourself. I don't want to leave the others,” the blond prince tells him. “We can take that couch instead.”

In truth, the Master's couch practically is a full-size bed by dwarvish standards, large enough to sleep three or four dwarves comfortably. With Bilbo's assistance, Fíli lays the archer on the cushions and then covers him with his cloak to keep him warm.

“I will stay with Kíli,” he tells the burglar. “I could use the rest myself. But you might as well enjoy this party while it lasts.”

Fíli climbs up next to his brother on the couch and Bilbo starts to do as the prince suggested, turning around to rejoin the rest of Thorin's company. But the hobbit only takes a few steps before he stops right where he stands. The sight of his companions making merry is suddenly depressing; this feels too much like a last meal – one night of celebration before the burglar marches off to slaughter – and he hardly feels like toasting his probable demise.

If the hobbit must face a dragon, then he will do it sensibly. Which means a clear head and a full night's sleep even if Thorin and the others look prepared to carry on. His friends will likely regret that decision in the morning when they set out again.

So Bilbo turns back to the princes. Fíli is already asleep, the older dwarf curled around his brother. He's holding on to Kíli so tightly that the hobbit can barely tell where each prince ends, but there is space enough for Bilbo to lie down at Fíli's back. Indeed, the hobbit fits into this gap perfectly despite the difference in their sizes and he has no sooner wrapped his own cloak around his shoulders then he drifts off into dreams.


Chapter 10: Sasekh