Chapter 1 - I Will Have War
"I will have war!" Thorin's words, condemning them all, were still echoing in Bilbo's head as he made his way further into the Mountain, and higher. While the dwarves were searching for something they wouldn't find in the treasure chamber, the hobbit had been exploring Erebor. And he had stumbled on a jewel of great beauty. Not made me gold and gems, but earth and sun and seeds. A garden, set into the slopes of the Mountain in such a way that it was all but invisible from the outside.
When the hobbit had first happened upon it, he had contemplated not only hiding the Arkenstone here, but also himself. It was too painful to watch his companions, his friends change after that night of fire, the night Lake-town was destroyed by Smaug. But he had quickly learned that his pillow was the best hiding place for the jewel, for Thorin began to search each and every nook and cranny for the stone, so keeping it right under the dwarf's nose was probably the best course of action.
Thorin. The hobbit's heart constricted in his chest. They'd had a bond, or so Bilbo believed. After that morning on the Carrock, Thorin had started to seek the hobbit's counsel, trusted him to do things that before he had barely entrusted his own men with. There was something, friendship Bilbo assumed, but that was fading now, and fading fast. The dwarf was no longer listening; to anyone. And now he had sealed their fates. His nephews and Ori were the only ones seemingly resisting the call of the gold, but even though it had been obvious that Fíli and Kíli did not agree with their uncle and his willingness to bring war upon them, it was equally apparent that they wouldn't voice their objections. Not that Thorin would have taken any heed anyway.
He finally reached his hiding place and sank to the ground. The grass was slowly dying with the cold that was creeping down from the Grey Mountains, and soon winter would be upon them. And there, storm clouds hanging above him, he allowed himself to weep for the first time since ... well, since he had run out of Bag End so many moons ago. He was such a fool, such a big fool. He gasped when he realised just why his heart was breaking, why it felt as if he was bleeding out inside. Somewhere along the way, probably in the gentle vale of Imladris, he had grown more than fond of their leader. Fond enough that Thorin's words upon the mountain pass had nearly driven him away. Fond enough for Bilbo to risk his life for the dwarf not just once, but on numerous occasions.
Shaking his head, he rubbed his eyes. Surely he could admit it, if only to himself. He was in love with Thorin, and while it had always been but a dream, now that dream was crumbling and it was becoming increasingly obvious that his hopes were for naught. Not only because the dwarf had almost certainly signed their death warrants at the gate, but also because... Thorin was a king of his people. A king. Even to hope was ludicrous. The best Bilbo could have hoped for was to know that he held the friendship of a king, and that was it. And now it didn't matter anymore anyway. They would all die together, just like Thorin had said while hatching that plan to make for the forges. Unless... Unless the hobbit could somehow force the dwarf into agreeing to Bard's demands. And in doing so, Bilbo would probably become an outcast. But... Maybe he could take the Arkenstone to the men of Esgaroth and then they could trade it back for some of the gold within Erebor. His share of the treasure for all he cared. Thorin would have to agree to such a trade, desiring the stone as he did. The only question was ... what would he do to Bilbo once he realised who had betrayed him.
The hobbit shrugged. It didn't matter, did it? Gandalf had been right, all those months ago. He wasn't the same hobbit he used to be anymore. He cared less about his own survival than that of his friends, that of Thorin. So whatever price he might have to pay, it would be worth it. He would try, of course, to talk to Balin, and Fíli and Kíli. Maybe even the dwarven king. But in his heart he knew it would be futile. Thorin had made his decision, and there was nothing shy of a miracle that could convince him otherwise. Or maybe that accursed jewel. Smaug had been right after all. At the end of the day, it was the Arkenstone that meant everything to Thorin, and he was nothing in comparison. The friendship Bilbo so treasured, was worth less than a single coin inside Erebor; at least to their leader. More tears fell from his eyes and he raised his head to the clouds, waiting for the first drops of rain to fall.
So immersed was he in his own misery that he did not hear the fall of dwarven boots behind him, and when he heard someone clear his throat behind him, he nearly fell over. "So this is where you sneak off to when I'm not looking, is it, Master Burglar?" Thorin's voice was cold, the way it had been since ... since they had reached Esgaroth and he had bargained with the Master of Lake-town. But there had been glimpses of the dwarf who had embraced him on the Carrock. When he had said Bilbo's name in the forges, shouting at the hobbit to run. There had been concern, hadn't there? Or had he simply been fooling himself yet again? "I'd have thought you would help us in our search for the stone. Not sit around here and stare at the sky."
"You might be used to living underground, but hobbits are not," Bilbo replied without thinking, and once he realised what he had said, he covered his mouth with both hands, his eyes widening in shock. But Thorin did not shout at him, he simply ... nodded as if deep in thought. "I ... I mean, I simply need a few hours a day, out here. The Mountain is beautiful in its own right, I just, to be honest, I am somewhat afraid of taking a tumble on some stairs and..."
"And yet you came up here. Using the stairs you say you fear. Is there something you are hiding, Master Burglar?" Oh no. Those sapphire eyes were boring into the hobbit's very core, and Bilbo shivered. No, he wasn't hiding anything. Except maybe the Arkenstone. Nothing major. Did Thorin suspect? Did he know? "You do not agree with me, do you? That is why you seek solitude over the companionship of the Company. I thought you had come to understand what Erebor means to us, that you were truly a part of my men. Someone I can turn to for advice at times. I now see that I was mistaken. You still are but a hobbit and not interested in things beyond your garden and..."
"No!" Bilbo cried. "I am not the hobbit I once was. That hobbit would have remained in Rivendell. Or would have run away, just like you thought I had, in the Misty Mountains. I am not the gentlehobbit I once was, and I am glad for it. And I know that reclaiming your home means the world to you, that you fought for it ever since you lost the Mountain to Smaug." He could not say what gave him the bravery to speak to Thorin in this manner, but he also couldn't stop himself. "But it is not Erebor and her beauty that you crave now, it is the gold and that stupid stone! You are but a slave to them both, and before long you will forget even your sister-sons over them."
The dwarven king's eyes sparkled dangerously, and he was seething with anger, but Bilbo kept going. What was the worst that could happen after all? Thorin might kill him. Well, that was a possibility anyway, wasn't it? So what did it matter? "You have changed, Thorin. In all the ways you feared you might. You remember how we both overheard Master Elrond and Gandalf in Imladris? They spoke of it, and I could see the horror in your eyes. And now everything Lord Elrond spoke of, it has come to pass. You are no longer thinking straight, because if you were, you would have remembered how you promised the people of Lake-town a share in the wealth of Erebor. You did, and now that they come and ask for your help, you only seek war with them. Why? We brought Smaug down upon them. Because of us, their livelihoods have been destroyed. It is only fair that they ask for our aid now."
"So you are siding with them, are you?" Thorin sneered, and the hobbit recoiled and would have fallen on his back had he not quickly propped himself up on his arms.
"Is that what you think? There shouldn't even be sides at all! We should all be working together now, to restore both Erebor and Dale to their former glory. Besides," Bilbo got to his feet but kept his distance. "If you won't hold to your promise to the people of Esgaroth then at least hold to my contract. Take my part of the treasure and give it to them. I don't need riches, and there is still the chest in the troll cave that I can pick up when I will eventually return to the Shire." Not that he wanted to. The mere thought of it pained him. But to stay here and see Thorin succumb more and more to madness...
The dwarf was eerily silent and still suddenly, his eyes staring through Bilbo at something far away. "So you plan on leaving us?" Thorin's voice broke at the end of his question, and he swallowed. "Of course. I forgot that your home is not here after all." What was he talking about? Had he thought the hobbit would stay in Erebor? "You are free to go, of course. However," his eyes were as steel again when he looked at the hobbit. "I will not allow you to use your share in the treasure on those undeserving humans!"
"So you would break the contract? It doesn't say anything about what I can and can't do with my share. Do you really want to not only break your word, but also the contract I signed? Rendering Balin's signature just as much null and void as your own?" Bilbo suddenly had the urge to laugh, but he held it in, and simply smiled mirthlessly. "Are you that far gone already that you cannot even part with enough gold to let me have my share? How long until you demand the mithril shirt back, oh great King of Durin's Folk?!" Oh yes, he was going to get himself killed, for there was murder in Thorin's gaze now. But the hobbit did not care. Maybe taking Bilbo's life would wake him from his stupor. And other's could live even though he did not.
The thought of Thorin demanding the shirt back, though ... it filled the hobbit with dread. He remembered that night in the treasury when it had only been the two of them. It was the last time he'd seen a glimpse of the dwarf he had followed. The dwarf he had fallen for. Thorin had been so gentle when he helped the halfling into the mithril shirt, and for a moment they had been frozen in time, and in that moment they had almost, almost kissed. But that had clearly just been in Bilbo's mind. Wishful thinking, nothing more.
"I..." Thorin suddenly looked almost shaken, as if he had just realised something of great import, but he had trouble wrapping his mind around it. His voice had lost its hard edge when he continued, that look of surprise still on his face. "I could never do that. You have earned it, and more. It was a gift, a gift to let you know that your aid was more than appreciated. That you are appreciated. I cannot..." He brought his hands to his face, rubbing it as if he were only just waking up. His crown was dislodged in the process and fell to the remains of the grass that had survived all these years and that had flourished where everything else had died.
"I am just like him, aren't I?" Thorin whispered eventually. "Like my grandfather. I have become that which I so feared to be. But..." his hands fell away, and his expression had changed completely. This was no longer the cold-hearted king who was courting death, but a younger Thorin, a dwarf prince, afraid and confused. "I need the Arkenstone, Bilbo. It is the only thing that will bring our people together once more. If not for me, then for Fíli. I want his rule to be of peace and not of squabbling with our own kin. I need..."
Bilbo's heart was splintering into a million pieces, and at the same time put itself back together again. Maybe not all was lost? "You need allies, Thorin, more than gold and jewels. More than even the Arkenstone. You cannot survive, only relying upon your own people. You will need to trade with others, and put your faith into them. You did it with me, didn't you? Eventually. And Bard ... he aided Kíli in his time of need even though we gave him no reason to do so. On the contrary. Your nephew would not be alive now if it wasn't for Bard. Isn't that enough to trust him? At least a little?"
"Allies are only there to betray you in your hour of need," the king spat, that dangerous glint back in his eyes. "I do not need allies that will only come to us for aid and who won't..."
"Save your own flesh and blood? Bard did that! And he took us in, despite the risk it put him and his family in. I know he did it for coin, but still. He knew we weren't telling the truth, and still he aided us." Thorin made a noise that was close to a growl, but the hobbit did not falter. "He is not Thranduil. And believe me, I'll be the first to admit that my opinion of the elves has been altered after seeing how he treated you. No matter what you called him. To turn you away before, when you were fleeing Erebor, that was cruel. Unjust. But Bard didn't do that. On the contrary. And he had more reason to turn Kíli away. But no. He helped. He helped save Kíli's life, your nephew's life. Do you truly wish to repay him with war? This ... this is why I am thinking of making my way back to the Shire, Thorin." Bilbo's voice failed him, and he drew in a ragged breath. "I care about you all too much to see you throw your lives away. Let them have my share of the treasure. Please. Anything to avoid bloodshed." He was pleading now, and Thorin couldn't hold his gaze.
The dwarf turned his face up to the sky, that now truly looked ready to open its floodgates. Already the first drops of rain were falling, and before long they would both be soaked. But it did not matter. Somehow, this was the most important conversation they had ever had, and Bilbo felt rather keenly how it was truly just the two of them, how there was no one else around. "You care for us? For ... me?" There was a sense of wonderment in the dwarf's voice, as if he couldn't quite believe his own words. "You ... you shouldn't. I don't deserve any kindness from you, from anyone. You ... you are right, Master Baggins. Bilbo. I am about to bring a war upon us all, but I do not know that I can stop myself. There is nothing that could counteract the call of the gold, nothing at all that is truly good in my life."
For a moment Bilbo wondered if the dwarven king even remembered that he was here as well, but then those sapphire eyes caught his, and within them was such ... longing and fear it took the hobbit's breath away. "All my life, ever since I can remember, I watched my grandfather and feared the day I would become like him. I fought so very hard to regain our home that I forgot to fend off the sweet song of the treasures within Erebor. Is it too late, Bilbo? Do you ... do you think I can still change? It started affecting the others as well. Safe Ori and my nephews. I..." He turned away again then, and for a moment stood there, swaying. And then he dropped to his knees, his head in his hands. "My nephews... Have I lead them to their deaths? Have I condemned them myself?"
As if in a trance, Bilbo moved to the dwarf's side, kneeling down in front of him. And then he threw his arms around Thorin, the way he had secretly dreamed of doing since the dwarf had hugged him on the Carrock. "There are many good things in your life, Thorin Oakenshield. Your nephews amongst them. And I am sure that you will find more with time. You just have to open your eyes and close your ears and heart to the call of the gold. Of the Arkenstone. It is but an heirloom. It cannot give you the respect and loyalty of your people. But you have it in you to win both. All by yourself." And Bilbo held on tight, fearing to be rebuked, but hoping against hope for ... more.