Chapter 2 - The Burglar's Admission
For the longest time, Thorin did not move and the hobbit began to fear that he'd overstepped. That he was not allowed even this much. A simple display of friendship, of affection. Of worry and care. That was all. It wasn't as if he was taking deep breaths to memorise the scent of the dwarf, to have something to cling to in the dark days that were surely about to come. It wasn't as if he was dreaming of those strong dwarven arms around him, the way they had been on the Carrock, or of lifting his head to...
Thorin suddenly shuddered, and with a strangled cry he enfolded the hobbit's slighter form in his arms, pulling Bilbo impossibly close and holding him tight. And all the while he was muttering words Bilbo did not understand, words in Khuzdul that sent shivers up and down the burglar's spine. Some words he thought came again and again, but he was never quick enough to pick them up. It wasn't curses though, that was for sure. On the contrary. Thorin's voice was warm and gentle in a way Bilbo had never heard before and his heart skipped more than a beat. And then the hobbit felt it. The wetness against his shoulder, seeping through both his coat and vest. He was shocked, and exhilarated at the same time. Did Thorin trust him this much? To show such weakness? For that's what this must have been in the dwarf's eyes.
Slowly, Bilbo moved his head, daring to reach up and touch a bearded cheek. They were as close as they had been that day in the treasure chamber, if not closer, and despite the voice of reason warning the hobbit against what he was about to do, he still moved closer yet and pressed his lips to the tears staining Thorin's face. The dwarf froze momentarily, gasping for air. But he didn't push Bilbo away. No. One minute Bilbo was kissing away the wetness, the next... The next his lips had been captured by Thorin, and the dwarf was kissing him with a passion that Bilbo hadn't known existed. He hadn't been dreaming then. The dwarf did feel ... something for him. Something that was threatening to overwhelm them both.
Bilbo had never before kissed another. Well, no one who wasn't family. And most definitely not like this. He felt light-headed, following his instincts more than actual knowledge. He felt Thorin's tongue licking at his lips, begging them to part, and the hobbit complied with a sharp intake of breath. He felt so very light, as if he might soar up into the sky and the only things holding him down were those arms around him. He clung to the furs on Thorin's shoulders just as desperately, feeling the dwarf shift and moments later, Bilbo found himself lying on the grass, the dwarf a comforting weight above him. Still the kiss went on, and something stirred inside the hobbit he had never known before and yet, somehow, he knew what it was. Desire. He desired Thorin's touch, wanted more. He did not know what, did not know how. But he wanted. His hips moved wantonly of their own volition, and Bilbo was so far gone he could not even feel embarrassment, and he could feel something ... hard press into his thigh.
It was then that Thorin broke away with a groan that should have made the mountain itself tremble. "No!" he cried, his eyes wild. "I cannot ... I cannot replace the lust for the gold with something else. I cannot! Bilbo, I ... I am sorry. I am so sorry." His voice broke, and he moved off of Bilbo and away, kneeling on the ground, shivering. Moving his feet from under himself, Bilbo slowly sat up, blinking in confusion. The dwarf just shook his head. "I can't do that to you. You offered counsel and comfort, and I... I took what I wanted without sparing even the most fleeting of thoughts for you. I..."
Oh no. Did Thorin truly believe that the hobbit hadn't wanted this as well? Did he think he had forced himself on Bilbo? "No," the halfling began, but clearly Thorin did not hear him. And so he moved closer, bravely cupping the dwarf's face in his hands, catching those wildly rolling eyes. "No! This is not your fault. Nor did you take what you wanted without ... without my consent. I kissed you back, didn't I? I know I can't have done it very well but I don't regret it. I don't... I never felt like this before, ever, and I think... I think Gandalf was right, though not the way he meant it. I'm not the hobbit I once was because I..." he blushed, but there was no way to stop now. This moment, fragile as it was, deserved nothing but his honesty. Thorin deserved his honesty. "I found something I never thought I would. I thought it was just me, but now I wonder if maybe it wasn't?" He was still beating around the bush, but he was afraid, so very afraid of Thorin laughing in his face.
Not that the dwarf looked like he would. He seemed pensive, lost in thought, and yet he did not break eye contact, did not look away even for a second. "I cannot do this to you, no matter how much I long to. You should flee this place before it is too late. Before I drag you down with everyone else." His hands closed around Bilbo's wrists as if to push the hobbit away, but he didn't.
There was a struggle visible on the dwarf's features, a great battle he was fighting with himself by the looks of it, and Bilbo shook his head to stop him. "It isn't too late, Thorin. Not all is lost. Quite ... quite the contrary. All it takes is a word, your word, and you can still build an alliance with the Men of Lake-town. You haven't condemned us, not yet. And I will not leave. I cannot. I will not." His voice was surprisingly steady, and he did not know where his bravery was coming from, but he made use of it all the same. He stroked the dwarf's cheeks with the pads of his thumbs and brushed Thorin's lips with his own. "Should I worry that I forced myself on you now?" he asked, just the slightest hint of a smirk in his voice.
Thorin's hands fell away, but only for a second. Then Bilbo found himself once again in an almost crushing embrace, felt the dwarf's breath on his cheek. "I don't deserve this. I don't deserve to find what was missing from my life all this time. I will only break it, break you, the way I destroy everything I touch. But I do not know that I have the strength to push you away anymore. I don't know if I have the strength to do anything at all." The words were little more than a whisper and they shook Bilbo to his core. "You don't know how hard it is to hear it, the call of the gold. How hard it is not to give in. But that's not the worst, Bilbo. It's the stone. I need the Arkenstone..." The hobbit's blood ran cold. "And yet, I need something else even more. And I can't. I can't..."
"You can," Bilbo replied without thinking. "Let me be your strength, lean on me." Tears were streaming down his face now as well, mingling with the raindrops that fell from the skies above, soaking through their clothes but neither of them paid it any heed. Somehow, instinctively, Bilbo had known what the dwarf was speaking of. What it was he desired more than the Arkenstone. It didn't matter at all if want and need were all there would be. It still was so much more than the hobbit had ever imagined. And so he began to rain kisses upon Thorin's cheek again...
But this time the dwarf's hand moved to Bilbo's shoulders, pushing him gently but firmly away. "No, Bilbo. I will not taint you like this." His voice was warm and those sapphire pools clear. And something that had not been there before was now evident in the dwarf's words, his gaze and the way he held on to the hobbit. Hope. "Is this truly what you desire? Do you really care for me, or are you simply trying to save your friends; yourself? Are you sure, Bilbo? I might not be able to stop myself once I... Are you sure?" There was nothing else the hobbit could do but to nod. He didn't know what he was agreeing to, but agree he did. Wholeheartedly. "If you truly wish it, I will do this the right way. You are kind and pure and gentle, and I feel that it is those qualities that may yet save me. Maybe. I cannot give in to my baser needs and destroy such a chance as well. I can't and I won't, Bilbo."
Had Smaug been wrong after all? Had he simply tried to confuse Bilbo? To make him fear something that wasn't true? This wasn't the dwarf who had pointed his sword at him, or the one who had been courting death and war. There was light in his eyes, not that terrible sheen of greedy lust that had been placed upon them the moment they stepped foot on the mountainside. "What would you have me do?" It was the only question he could come up with, and it entailed so much more than just the here and now.
"You said that there is good in my life, that I only have to open my eyes to see it. They are open, Bilbo, but I still hear it, feel it. The pull of the gold. I do not know if I can do what you ask of me. I don't know if I can give even the smallest part of the treasure to Bard. But if I don't, we will perish. One way or another. Even though I sent for Dáin, it will not be enough." He paused for a moment, his hands now running up and down the hobbit's arms as if to soothe them both. "But I can see that you have faith in me, foolishly and misguided though it might be. I will try to be worthy of it. I will try. Go ... go to Bard and tell him that I had a change of heart. That he is welcome to a share of the treasure. That I would rather count him amongst my allies and not my enemies."
Bilbo shook his head, "No. Come with me. He should hear it from you, not from a messenger." Besides, it would get Thorin out of the Mountain and maybe help him clear his head even more. "Show them that you are a dwarf of your word, and that you won't allow anything to break it once given. Show them that you are to be trusted. And maybe... maybe thank Bard for helping Kíli?"
He was pushing his luck now, but miraculously, Thorin nodded and then he pulled Bilbo closer and touched his forehead to the hobbit's, breathing in deeply. "Be my strength when I lose sight of what is real and what is not, my burglar. Be the voice of reason when I lose my way. Tell me when you fear the gold is taking hold again and I will try to fight it. Be the advisor you were ever since that morning on the Carrock. When I overstepped all bounds of propriety. You saved my life then, and I... I had no kind word for you until then. I..." Whatever the dwarf had been about to say was drowned out by a crack of lightning, followed by the loudest roll of thunder Bilbo had ever heard. And then, the heavens opened. "I think we should return inside and continue this conversation somewhere less ... watery." There was a sparkle in Thorin's eyes. Of humour not madness, and Bilbo found himself drowning in those blue eyes. But getting inside became a priority rather quickly.
Thorin took off his furs and threw them over the hobbit before standing and holding out his hand to Bilbo. The hobbit took it, surprised when he wasn't released once he'd found his footing. No, the dwarf held on to his small hand all the way inside, stopping for just a moment to pick up his discarded crown and to place it back upon his head. He was laughing by the time they made it to the doorway, his hair sticking to his face. "What is it about you, Master Hobbit, that always results in me getting soaked?" Bilbo was about to point out that it had only been the one time when Thorin's gaze turned from carefree to concerned. "You need to change out of these wet clothes before you catch cold again. Come."
He was about to turn and pull Bilbo with him, but the hobbit shook his head. "I'd only get wet again going out to speak to Bard. No. Let us do that first and then I will find something dry. Also ... we will have to inform the others." Thorin nodded, brow furrowed. "It won't be easy, I know, but surely there is still enough reason within them to appreciate that you made a promise. And that it is a bad omen if a king were to break his promise. Like ... like Thranduil once did."
"Do not compare me to that snake," Thorin spat, and for a moment the hobbit feared that he had truly crossed a line, and the dwarf was once again riven with madness. But then his eyes softened again, and he nodded. "But I see what you mean. It will be hard though, to convince them that this is right. Especially since we still do not know where the stone is. I know you think it is but a trinket, an heirloom. But Bilbo, it is so much more. It is the King's Jewel, and I can only truly claim my right to rule our people once I hold it. And yet ... I fear it. Was it truly the gold that drove my grandfather to madness, or was it ... was it the stone? He loved the gold, yes, but he was willing to share. But once the stone had been found..." He sighed. "Thranduil might be a snake, but maybe he had a reason to turn us away. I remember him visiting one day, after the Arkenstone had been found, having been promised the gems he so coveted. And grandfather wouldn't let him have them after all. I ... I had forgotten that."
He slumped back against a column, confusion written all over his face. "But despite all this, I want the stone in my hands. I want to know that it is safe, want to put it in its rightful place again. Above my throne. I cannot rest until it is found, Bilbo. I shouldn't even be here..." He looked around then, as if he suddenly didn't know where he was and why. And then his gaze fell upon Bilbo again, eyes narrowing. "What have you done to me, halfling?"
Oh no. Valar please no. Surely Thorin couldn't have forgotten. With a heavy but still hopeful heart, he moved closer to the dwarf, reached out his hand to touch the king's face. Thorin recoiled, but only managed to hit his head on the column. His eyes were wide, but when Bilbo finally managed to lay his hand against a bearded cheek, he seemed to breathe easier again. And when the hobbit stepped even closer, close enough that their chests touched, Thorin groaned and gathered the burglar to him. "I don't know what came over me. I just... I need the stone, but it is different than the way I need ... your aid." Bilbo was certain the dwarf had been about to say 'you' and he allowed himself a small smile. "Think, please Bilbo, think. You must have seen it, haven't you? Where did it roll? Where did Smaug hide it?"
Thorin's voice was pleading now, broken, and Bilbo felt like the most wretched creature in all existence. He knew he had to tell the truth, and yet was terrified to do so. If just thinking of the Arkenstone made Thorin nearly lose himself once more, what would knowing where it was and who had taken it do? What would he do to Bilbo? The hobbit swallowed. "I ... I don't know. I..." Smaug's words were filling his mind, the dragon's malice weakening his knees. He would surely have lost his footing if it wasn't for Thorin's strong arms around his waist.
"What is it, Bilbo? What is the matter? You can tell me. Trust me, whatever it is. He can no longer harm you. Oh Mahal, I should never have sent you into the Mountain on your own. What ... what did he do to you?" No. No, Smaug could no longer harm the hobbit, but his words could. Words promising loss and madness, corruption and death. He was shivering now, and not from the cold and wet garments he was wearing. Thorin's hands were rubbing his back, to keep him warm, but Bilbo couldn't stop shaking.
Then, his voice small and weak, he said, "I saw it. I knew what it was the moment my eyes fell upon it. And he saw me look at it. He knew. And he said he would kill me, but I managed to escape..." Thorin nodded, his eyes warm and filled with worried concern. "But Thorin, before I ran, before I slipped on my magic ring, the one I told you about in Thranduil's Caverns, I ... I took it. I took the Arkenstone."
Warm hands transformed into heated claws, and those beautiful eyes turned to steel, that terrible veil once again over them. Thorin held the hobbit by his shoulders again, pushing him away so he could stare into Bilbo's eyes and then he sneered, voice devoid of any kindness, "You stole from me, Master Burglar?!"