"If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together!" Bilbo blinked. Together, yes. That would be better than to die like the poor souls that had died here, in the guardroom. The hobbit's heart had gone out to the dwarves the moment they saw the corpses. Women and children, trapped by Smaug. Dying of thirst more likely than the way Thorin clearly believed. It must have been a horrible death; and they had been alone and without any hope of rescue. "We make for the forges." The plan was ludicrous at best, but at least the dwarf king's voice was no longer chilling Bilbo to the bone. On the contrary. When he turned to Bilbo to explain the hobbit's part in this little plot to kill the dragon, Thorin's tone was almost warm. Like it had been ever since they had stood on the Carrock.
"Dwalin. Take Nori and Bifur and find out where he is. And Balin, explain to the rest where they have to walk. Do not forget, we are the only ones who have ever lived in these halls." The two brothers nodded, and while Dwalin shooed Nori and Bifur into the hallway, Balin herded his flock to the side of the guardroom, giving Thorin and Bilbo some space. Worry began to claw at the hobbit's heart again. What did their leader want with him. "Come with me, Master Baggins. Before we go, I think you deserve to see what we will most likely be dying for. Follow me."
Thorin strode from the chamber without a backwards glance, and Balin caught the hobbit's eye for a second, shrugging his shoulders. He was worried, and clearly not only because of the likelihood that they were all going to meet a rather untimely end that night. But then the old dwarf smiled and nodded, as if he had seen, or realised something. And so Bilbo turned towards the doorway again, following after the king. Who had turned to the left, walking down the corridor to another doorway and then they were in a grand hall. "I do not think he will come this way, Master Burglar, but I wanted you to see how grand Erebor once was." And it was, even now, with only the light of the moon streaming in through the high windows on the side of massive cavern illuminating it. Green marble gleamed like emeralds in places, and it wasn't hard to imagine how magnificent it would be with all the lanterns around lit.
"I ... I am sorry for how I treated you earlier. I cannot explain why I acted as I did. You said the dragon was coming and yet, all I could think about was the Arkenstone. When we did not even explain to you why it is so important. I think you deserve to know. Especially since we will probably be dying because of it." Bilbo could not make himself turn to face the dwarf, but Thorin's words were reverberating in his very core. "I did not stick to the plan, you see. And not only by not waiting for the wizard. Bilbo," Oh? They must truly be lost if Thorin was calling him by his given name. "We were only supposed to get into Erebor to retrieve the Arkenstone; nothing else. It is why we needed you to join us. You see, the idea was to slay the dragon with the force of the seven dwarven families combined. But they swore their allegiance not to the House of Durin as such, but to the one who bears the King's Jewel. In order to call them to our aid, we needed the Arkenstone."
Oh. That explained a few things. And proved Smaug right where others were concerned. "So I was ... I was a tool to retrieve the stone, and nothing..." He swallowed and nodded to himself, missing the gasp that escaped Thorin's lips. "Of course. He said so. Smaug ... he said that you sent me into his den to do your dirty work. That you had measured me and found me and my life worth..."
"No!" Dwarven hands were heavy on his shoulders as he was forced around to face Thorin. "No! I do not deny that on the outset of our quest, I did believe you would be a burden, a hindrance. But you should know that changed. Bilbo..." The hobbit blinked, and Thorin's face lit up as a gentle smile spread across his face. "Yes. Bilbo. Do you know what I told Gandalf back in your little hobbit hole? That I would not be responsible for your fate, nor be able to guarantee your safety. And yet, both were on my mind. On the Misty Mountains pass, and after, when you were gone. We have all come to care about you, Master Hobbit, only some of us have a harder time showing it." Was Thorin Oakenshield actually apologising? Maybe Smaug had burned him to cinder after all and he was dreaming this up?
"When we heard the rumbling from within the mountain, all I wanted to do was... But I knew I couldn't. Even though Balin admonished me for it. Had we rushed in, Bilbo, you surely would have been dead. We all would be. And still we will very likely be, and it will be my fault. I am sorry. You, you should have stayed in your hobbit hole. You'd be safe there, and alive." There was sadness in those sapphire pools, and Bilbo's heart beat faster at how close they were standing.
Ever since that morning on the Carrock, the hobbit had known. He had realised why Thorin's words on the mountain pass had hurt so much, he finally knew why he had to climb off his perch on the tree to put himself between Thorin and death on the slopes of the Misty Mountains. He was falling for their leader, and there was nothing he could do about it. Not that he wanted to. And after Thorin began to seek his counsel, started listening to Bilbo's suggestions. And in Thranduil's cellars, he even told his kin to follow the hobbit's orders to climb into the barrels though it must have been against his better judgement. And now ... oh dear Valar, he was so close. And if they were going to die anyway...
And thus Bilbo Baggins of Bag End did the bravest thing he'd ever done. Something that made fighting giant spiders look like childsplay. He moved just a little bit closer and buried his face against Thorin's chest. Surprisingly enough, the dwarf did not push him back but wrapped his strong arms around Bilbo's frame, pulling him closer yet. Emboldened, the hobbit tilted his head up, their faces mere inches apart, and then closed the gap and touched his lips to chapped and yet so very soft lips. Softer than they had been in his dreams. Not that he had ever been dreaming of this.
He half expected to be pushed away for his daring. But no. Thorin froze for but a moment and then the dwarf deepened the kiss, pouring into it all the passion that Bilbo knew was hidden just under the surface. He pulled the hobbit closer yet, as if to drink him in like someone dying of thirst, but then he groaned and stepped back, rubbing his side. Oh. Oh no! The dwarf looked confused, and Bilbo knew that he had to be honest now. There was no way not to be. And so he reached into his jacket and...
"Bilbo, you ... you found it." Thorin's voice was the softest of whispers, and as he moved his hands down to reach for... But he didn't. Those strong hands did not close around the Arkenstone at all, but around Bilbo's smaller hand. "It doesn't matter now. Not anymore. We were so close, and I failed us. Had I heeded your words..." One hand came up to stroke the hobbit's face. "At least you know now. I would have taken it to my grave, but once again you have proven yourself braver than me. Even though I knew it the moment I turned around and saw you that night. All my life I have been missing something; who would have thought I would find it in the Shire of all places."
Bilbo was confused now. What was Thorin saying? "My good for nothing nephews, they knew as well. And I am glad they are not with us. Maybe they will be able to return to the Blue Mountains and live long and happy lives. I wish you could do the same, my hobbit." Then he leaned closer yet, close enough to whisper into Bilbo's ear. "My One." That the hobbit understood. Was Thorin truly saying that this whole time he had... He shivered. "We have to return to the others. Keep, keep the stone. I do not need it when I have a living and breathing Arkenstone standing right in front of me. You may not be able to help me rally the seven armies, but knowing that you ... you care; the stone will never lay claim upon me like it did my grandfather." His eyes, those beautiful blue eyes, were clear and the dark mist that had been lying over them had lifted.
"Smaug said it would corrupt you, would destroy you. That is why I didn't... I am sorry, too. And yet, I am not. Not for these few moments that we would have never had if I had given you the stone." He swallowed, lowering his gaze. He was afraid. Before, it had been only his own life that he stood to lose. But now...
The dwarven king seemed to read his mind and a gentle hand moved his head so their eyes met again. And then he touched his forehead to Bilbo's, breathing in deeply. "If we survive this, I will do this the proper way. But would you allow me to ... braid your hair? When I held you in my arms on that rock, my fingers were itching to touch your beautiful locks, to place a braid of intent into them. If we fail, we might find each other again ... after." Bilbo did not want to think of that. But for Thorin to ask... He simply nodded. "Good. Stand still, my hobbit. It will only take a minute."
And it did. Those thick dwarven fingers were remarkably dexterous, and Bilbo barely felt anything but soon Thorin was smiling and stroking at a small braid he had placed just above the hobbit's left ear. From his tunic he withdrew a small bead and placed it at the end of the braid. "My sister gave it to me before we left. With the words 'Just in case'. You would have liked her, Bilbo. And she would love you. Maybe..." He cupped the hobbit's face, kissing him gently and ever so briefly, then took his hand and lightly squeezed it. "We have to go. But know this. By dwarven customs, you are now my betrothed. If that is not what you want..."
"You silly dwarf," Bilbo admonished, but then his eyes widened at his own bravery. "I mean ... that is to say..."
He found himself in Thorin's arms once more, and felt the rumble of words in Khuzdul more than he heard them. Soft words that could only be an endearment of sorts. He could not make out the words, but he vowed that somehow they would survive. He had not found love only to lose it again. No. And thank you very much. When Thorin finally stepped away, he whispered, "Hide the stone, my burglar. Keep it safe if you can." And then they walked back, fingers entwined. But their return to the guardroom was anything but what the hobbit had expected.
"Well finally!" Balin exclaimed, and Nori grumbled about having no coin anymore for some reason. Dwalin. Dwalin was staring at them both, and then, quick like lightning, embraced them both, almost crushing Bilbo in the process. "There, there, brother," Balin tried to calm the warrior, "I believe they still need air for they cannot live on love alone." There was a twinkle in the old dwarf's eyes as if he had expected this for a while. Thorin once again muttered something in Khuzdul and Balin shrugged. "Please. We're not blind. I've known since Rivendell, and most of the company since you saved Bilbo's life in the mountains. The rest caught on when you embraced him." He turned to Bilbo. "We don't do that sort of thing if we do not truly care about someone, you see? Though we were about to give up hope... At least you know now. And I see our king has not wasted any time." He pointed at the braid. "Now. I'm afraid the festivities have to wait until after we have dealt with the dragon. So lets get it over with."
The plan, of course, did not work out, and the hobbit had to look on in horror as Lake-town burned. Not even Thorin could ease his feelings of guilt. But when word came of the dragon's demise, Bilbo finally breathed again, and when he revealed the Arkenstone to the dwarves of the Company, there was much rejoice. They had found what they had come for, and so much more as far as Bilbo was concerned.
When they were finally joined by Fíli, Kíli, Óin and Bofur, more gold exchanged hands and Bilbo was shocked to find just what the dwarves had been betting on. "No! I will not tell you whether or not Thorin and I..." he blushed a bright scarlet. "That's private!" Dwalin had simply chuckled and made some rather rude gestures before walking away from the hobbit. The rather dishevelled hobbit. Which had nothing to do with the fact that Thorin had taken him to the quarters of the royal family and more exactly his old bedchamber. Nothing at all. And if he was limping slightly, it was because he had stubbed his toe on a rock, not because... Thorin had felt rather ashamed of himself, but Bilbo had laid his worries to rest with a tender kiss. The dwarf had broken another rule of courtship, but as far as the hobbit was concerned, that was just fine.
Emissaries appeared. From Esgaroth and the Woodland Realm. Asking for help and demanding what was Thranduil's. The Men of the Lake received more gold than Bilbo had ever seen in one place, well, until entering Erebor. But Thranduil... Things could have gone rather ugly with the wood elves if it hadn't been for the king's son, Prince Legolas, who had pointed out that Thorin had very likely saved his life when they had been ambushed by orcs. Thankfully he neglected to mention the fact that the dwarves were escaping in barrels at the time. And so the King of Greenwood the Great, for he refused to think of his lands as Mirkwood, bowed his head to Thorin and pledged his allegiance once more. Once the deed was done, Gloin walked up with a chest filled with the clearest gems Bilbo had ever seen. They shone like stars... "I ... I thank you, King Thorin, Lord of Erebor." There was no contempt in the voice of the elven king, only gratitude. Which startled Bilbo somewhat.
But both Thorin and Thranduil had something that united them now. Their dislike of what was going on between Kíli and the elf maiden Tauriel. She had saved his life in Lake-town it turned out and after the dragon fell from the skies, they had... "They kissed!" Fíli had complained. "Right in front of me. Bilbo, it was horrible! He's my brother. I do not want to think of him in that way." But Fíli got his back when rumours began to spread about a dalliance between Thorin's blond heir and his own bodyguard and best friend. And rumours became reality when both Bilbo and his betrothed walked in on the two. Luckily, they had just been kissing, but still Thorin had turned beet red and started stuttering. Now it was Kíli's turn to cry on Bilbo's shoulder about not wanting to know what his brother got up to with Dwalin. And if the hobbit was honest with himself, he enjoyed himself rather thoroughly.
Until the news came of the armies marching on the Lonely Mountain. Word was sent to the Iron Hills; and soon they knew that Dáin was on his way with a large host of dwarven warriors. The other families were too far afield to help, and so the dwarves of Erebor turned to their new allies, and both the elves and men rallied. The battle was chaos, as far as Bilbo remembered and when he woke in one of the healing tents that had been erected, he found himself facing two sets of blue eyes; one worried and the other rather cross. "That ring of yours is not a toy, Bilbo Baggins. Take care how you use it," was all Gandalf said before walking out of the tent, shaking his head.
Thorin, on the other hand, was simply holding Bilbo's bandaged hand, smiling through the tears he had been shedding. "You are not getting out of our agreement so easily, Master Baggins," he whispered, and Bilbo laughed. Or tried to, but his ribs complained rather loudly. "Lie still." Loud cheers rose outside the tent, and the hobbit frowned. "It is the Company. They were worried for you, my hobbit. And then, when Óin declared that you would be hale again, they were rather busy placing bets. Again. It seems that Kíli won. And Tauriel." He glared, but there was no fire behind it.
Thorin's disgruntlement lessened somewhat over the year that followed, but flared up again the morning of the wedding. "To think that my own flesh and blood is marrying a pointy-eared tree..." Bilbo raised an eyebrow. "...hugger. And Dís supports it! The thought!" Bilbo once again found himself explaining how firstly, he also had pointy ears, and surely Thorin didn't complain about that, and secondly, Tauriel had proven her valour time and again and Kíli loved her, and besides, their own bond had caused just as much of a stir as Kíli's and Tauriel's. Which made the dwarven king sit down on the edge of the bed, where he was most definitely not sulking. But by the time his younger nephew kissed his bride, Thorin was smiling, almost as brightly as he had only a week ago when he had made Bilbo his husband and consort.
And Bilbo's ring ... well, according to Shire rumours Mad Baggins not only went east to become the consort of a dwarven king, leaving Bag End to his undeserving relations from Buckland and not the more respectable Sackville-Bagginses, but years later, he also went south, by eagle if one were to believe such things. And there he threw something into some mountain and apparently that destroyed a dark lord or whatever.
One thing though was for certain. When Bilbo Baggins returned to the Shire, passing through on a journey to the Blue Mountains, he looked happier than he ever had before. Which might be because of the rather handsome dwarf that was riding by his side. Or maybe it was because his cousin Lobelia was made to bow before the two of them. By another rather handsome young dwarf and a tall elf maiden. Afterwards, Lobelia did not show her face in public for a good long while, and when she did at last emerge again, she would never say a word against Drogo and Primula again. And surely that was an achievement!