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A Shot in the Dark

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"Um, uncle? I hate to interrupt this… moment. But what do we do now?"

Bilbo and Thorin looked up in unison at Fíli. The young prince was carefully looking off to the side while scratching his cheek. It took Bilbo longer than he liked to realize exactly why the Dwarf was avoiding eye contact with him.

"Mmp!" Bilbo pulled himself free of Thorin's embrace and scrambled to his feet. He made a show of fixing his coat and adjusting his shirt and sash; all an attempt to avoid meeting the eyes of the two Dwarves. He could feel his face growing hot and hoped he didn't look too much like an overly ripe tomato.

Thorin got to his feet at a more sedated pace; all while glaring at his nephew. "Speak clearer, Fíli. No matter what Kíli thinks, I cannot actually read your mind."

"I'm talking about the dragon. What do we do with the body?" explained Fíli, gesturing to the deceased Smaug. "And how are we going get out of here? The main entrance is caved in."

The king sighed and looked over the mighty corpse of his greatest enemy. "For now we can leave Smaug here. It is more important for us to focus on clearing the entrance."

Bilbo thought back to the gates that had caved in and wrinkled his nose. "That will take more hands than we have now. We need help."

"He's right," agreed Balin, joining in on the conversation with Óin and Gandalf. "We will need others if we want to get the gates operational again."

"I'm sure the Men of Lake-town would be willing to help if you pay them," pointed out the wizard as he leaned against his staff. His hat had gone missing somewhere during the fight, and his hair now fell into his face in a mess of silver waves.

Thorin pulled his lips back in an ugly sneer. "Those Men are greedy and will ask for more than they deserve."

"Actually, they're poor and hungry and have a selfish leader," Bilbo retorted, determined to nip the stirrings of greed in the bud. "And in case you didn't notice, you have mountains of treasure here. You can afford to part with some of it for the sake of rebuilding your city."

The king blinked a few times before a hint of shame crossed his face. "You're… You're right. It would not hurt to pay them for their help."

"I can go tomorrow to speak with them," offered Balin, quickly jumping on the idea. "I can also send a letter to Dáin while I'm there. I'm sure he'd be happy to help us."

Thorin nodded. "Do so. Also send a message to my sister. Tell her to begin sending Dwarves and supplies. We will need all the help we can get if we want to rebuild this place."

"Great, are we done here? Because I have a Hobbit to examine," drawled Óin with his arms crossed and one foot tapping.

Bilbo blinked and pointed to himself as everyone turned to stare. "Me? Why do you have to examine me? I'm fine!"

"I'll believe that when I see it," retorted the Dwarf, already moving over to pull on the bottom of his red coat. "Come now, off! Time is wasting."

He scowled and yanked his coat out of Óin's hand. "No, there's no need. I'm fine."

Óin paused and stared at him for a moment with unblinking eyes. Then, quicker than Bilbo thought possible, the Dwarf poked him sharply in the ribs. He instinctively yelped as pain raced through his body, and wrapped his arms around his side.

"Still feel fine?" deadpanned the healer as Thorin rushed to his side.

"What happened? Where does it hurt?" asked the king, his blue eyes tracking down his body.

The Hobbit waved a dismissive hand and stepped away from the Dwarves crowding him. "It's nothing, just a bruise! I probably got it playing 'Keep Away' with Smaug. Nothing to worry about."

Thorin looked to Óin, who nodded back with a scowl. Before he realized it, Bilbo found himself trapped between the two stubborn Dwarves with Thorin behind and Óin in front. Thorin held him by the shoulders with a firm grip while the healer begun to pull up his coat and shirt without an ounce of shame. The Hobbit yelped at the sudden prodding to his bare skin, and squirmed back in order to escape those cold fingers. Unfortunately, he had little room to maneuver with a king standing at his back.

"Óin, stop that! I never gave you permission to touch me there!" he objected, trying to push the healer's hands away. Behind him, he felt Thorin sigh deeply before both his hands were captured by the king. The Dwarf easily linked their fingers together and then forced his arms down to his side where he could not reach Óin.

"Just accept it. Óin is very stubborn over these matters. He will win one way or another," advised the king, leaning down to speak into his ear. Bilbo scowled in answer and tried to resist the urge to head butt the royal Dwarf.

"Just as I thought. Your ribs are bruised," Óin declared, finally pausing in his poking to glare at the Hobbit. "Nothing to worry about, huh?"

He sniffed and raised his nose. "It is nothing to worry about. My ribs will heal in time. There is nothing you can do about them."

"What were you doing that ended with bruised ribs?" wondered Thorin, rubbing his thumb against Bilbo's knuckles.

"I fell down the stairs and onto the treasure," he replied absently, his attention mostly on the healer. "Óin, what is in that jar?"

"Something that will help with the bruising," the healer said as he pulled out a small glass jar and some bandages from his pack. He gestured to Bilbo's jacket and shirt and then motioned to the ground. "Take it off now and sit down. Don't force me to make Thorin do it."

Bilbo groaned but dutifully nodded. Once his hands were released, he stripped off his coat and shirt before sitting down on the cold treasure with his legs crossed. Behind him, Thorin released a strangled groan that had both Óin and Bilbo looking at him.

"Thorin… are you all right?" the Hobbit asked, blinking up at the king. Thorin had his eyes closed and looked to be in great pain as he clenched his hands into bloodless fists. When he looked closer, he saw that the Dwarf's face was even turning a light shade of pink that extended down to his neck and collarbone.

"Are you sick?" he wondered before looking back to Óin. "Is he sick? Do you need to examine him first?"

Óin snorted and shook his head. "He's fine. Just being a fool. Now hold still; this ointment took me weeks to prepare. I don't want to waste even a drop of it."

Bilbo reluctantly did as told, and allowed the healer rubbed a light yellow mixture over every inch of his chest and back before wrapping it with clean bandages. As Óin finally tied the last wrap, someone dropped his dirty shirt on his head.

"Get dressed now. It's cold down here," ordered Thorin, staring fixedly at something off to the left. He glanced to where the Dwarf was staring just to make sure he wasn't missing out on anything. All he found was more treasure.

Maybe he's basking in being rich again? he wondered as he pulled his shirt on and then his coat. Or looking for the Arkenstone. Either reason is bad.

"No heavy lifting or taking on dragons for the next few weeks," Óin ordered as he packed up his supplies. He stood tall and pointed a finger at the short male. "I mean it, Bilbo. Don't do anything reckless any time soon. You may end up breaking your ribs next time."

"Yes, Óin," he replied, rolling his eyes.

Óin clucked his tongue and gave him one last poke before rambling off to harass his next victim. Bilbo scowled and rubbed at where he poked. The old Dwarf was stronger than he let on.

"So what's next?" he asked Thorin, turning to the remaining Dwarf. Balin and Gandalf had wandered off to make plans to return to Lake-town at dawn while Fíli had rejoined the others in their celebration. From what he could see, Kíli, Fíli, Glóin and Bifur had climbed onto Smaug's head and were singing a rowdy song of the dragon. Nori, Bofur and Dwalin were attempting to pull the drake's scales off while Ori was drawing a sketch of Smaug. On one of the platforms above, Bombur and Dori sat smoking their pipes.

"We'll get some rest. It has been a long day for all of us," answered Thorin, glancing around the massive chambers. "Tomorrow we will explore the upper levels and see what must be done with the entrance. We have a lot of work ahead of us before winter hits."

The Hobbit agreed. They did have a lot of work to do, and not nearly enough time to do it all in. Smaug was finally gone but the Battle of the Five Armies still loomed in the coming days. And then, if he survived that, he still had the ring to take out. He had a lot to prepare for in the coming days. Bilbo sighed deeply; feeling old for the first time since he had begun his journey.

"You should probably go to sleep," the king said, watching him with sloped brows. "You look exhausted."

"Sleep does sound nice right about now," he admitted, feeling his bones ache and his head throb. "But I'd hate to miss the celebration."

"I'm sure we'll be celebrating plenty in the near future," the Dwarf pointed out as he reached out and gently placed a hand on his back. He allowed the king to guide him to the stairs and help him up to where Bombur and Dori sat above the rest.

"Bilbo?" said Bombur, putting his pipe down at their approach. Next to him, Dori raised a single eyebrow as he looked over the Hobbit with his hawk eyes.

"Will you watch over him for the moment? I'm afraid he may fall asleep on his feet," Thorin explained as he guided the Hobbit over to the two Dwarves. Bilbo allowed himself to be maneuvered like a doll, and easily slid to sit down between his two friends as they made room for him.

Vaguely, he heard Thorin speak some more about supplies and packs, but he paid the words no mind. All he wanted to do was curl up and sleep for a hundred years. Without much thought, he made himself comfortable against Dori's shoulder, and allowed himself to relax his weight against the Dwarf. He must have drifted off for a few minutes because soon after Bilbo found himself being guided to lay down on something soft. He groaned before burrowing into what felt like a firm pillow, and heard the distant buzz of mumbling voices before something heavy and warm was draped over him. He pulled his new blanket close without thought, and breathed in the scent of fire and iron as he drifted back to sleep.

 


 

When Bilbo woke again, he found himself on his bedroll between Dori and Ori with Thorin's coat thrown over him. He stared at the dark ceiling for a long moment as memories from the night before washed over him. When he finally realized where he was and what had happened, he groaned and rubbed his face.

Smaug is dead, Bard didn't do it, and Thorin is possibly going to go insane. Oh, and that army of Orcs and goblins are probably on their way here, he listed, rubbing his eyes clear. What a lovely way to start the day.

With another groan, he pulled himself up and took in the treasure chamber. On the other side of Ori, Fíli and Kíli slept tangled up together in a mess of limbs and hair. Leaning against a far wall, Bofur slept alongside Bombur, Glóin and Óin. But other than those eight, he could not find any sign of the other Dwarves and wizard.

Perhaps they're already awake? he wondered, carefully scooting out of his bedroll and tugging on the large coat. Thorin could afford to let him borrow it. Erebor was cold and he had spent the night running from a dragon. The king owed it to him. When he finally stood up, he noticed a small and unknown pouch sitting on top of by his pack. Curious, he picked it and up and opened it up, and found that it was filled with an assortment of nuts.

Did Bombur leave this here? Or perhaps Dori? Bilbo mused before dismissing the mystery to nibble on his new treat. It was an unspoken rule among hobbits that when faced with free food, one never turned it down. With his snack in hand, he began to search for the rest of his comrades.

He found them, eventually, on the upper levels of the city. Following the sound of echoing voices, he wandered on until he came to the main gates of Erebor. The massive doors had long been destroyed into rubble by Smaug. Standing in front of the wreckage were Thorin, Dwalin, Bifur and Nori. Thorin and Bifur were in deep conversation as they examined the gates while Nori and Dwalin leaned against a nearby wall. The thief was cleaning his finger nails with the tip of a dagger while Dwalin looked as if he was trying to master of art of sleeping with his eyes open. At Bilbo's approach, they all stopped in their tasks and turned to him.

"Well if it isn't our brave little burglar," cooed Nori, waving his dagger in greeting. "Have a good sleep? You certainly earned it with all that running around last night."

Bilbo shrugged as he stuffed another handful of nuts into his mouth. "Better than I expected considering the circumstances. I'm surprised to see you all up. I thought you would be sleeping your victory away with the others."

Dwalin snorted. "Lightweights, the lot of them. Can't even handle Man made ale. I'm embarrassed to call them Dwarves."

"Says the Dwarf who lost to one of those Men in a drinking contest," drawled Thorin, giving his friend a wicked smirk.

"I did not lose! It was a draw!" denied Dwalin as Nori and Bifur cackled.

The king just looked at him. "You passed out under the table in nothing but your skivvies. She kept drinking for the next hour and proceeded to beat us all at dice. I don't think that counts as a draw."

"You lost to a Woman?!" Nori shrieked, looking as if his greatest wish had just been granted. "Oh, I'm never letting you live this down now."

"You mention this to anyone and I'll tell Dori why you really ended up naked in that jail cell in Gondor," the warrior threatened, glaring at the other Dwarf.

Nori immediately stopped laughing.

"Where's Balin and Gandalf?" Bilbo asked, deciding to ignore the peanut gallery because it was far too early in the morning for such nonsense.

"They left for Lake-town at dawn," replied Thorin, tilting his head to the side as he regarded the Hobbit.

"I see you like my coat," he remarked, lips twitching at the corner and threatening to turn into a smile.

The Hobbit shrugged. The coat was actually far too big on him and dragged across the floor behind him like a heavy veil. It was also quite ugly, in his opinion, but Thorin always had horrible taste in clothing. But it kept him warm and was soft so he was willing to overlook such flaws. "It's very warm and I don't like the cold."

"Will I be getting it back in the near future?" the king wondered.

"No," the Hobbit replied bluntly, munching on more of his snack.

Bifur snorted while Thorin sighed. "Are you at least going to share your food?"

Bilbo scoffed and hugged the small package closer to his chest. "You're more likely to get your coat back."

"You are a selfish little thing, aren't you?" Thorin asked though it sounded more like a comment than a question.

"Only when it comes to food," he reassured, popping another nut into his mouth.

Thorin's eyes became hooded as he watched him. "I will keep that in mind."

"So, Bilbo, what the hell did you say to get Smaug so angry last night?" asked Nori, sharing a look with Bifur and Dwalin that he couldn't read.

Bilbo shrugged one shoulder. "I told him his fire couldn't melt everything."

Bifur groaned and signed something that he loosely translated into, 'Are you stupid? Why would you do that?'

"It was an accident. I didn't think he would get so angry," he admitted, pushing his hair back with one hand. It was partly true that he had questioned Smaug's ability to burn everything, but the others didn't need to know what started the topic off. "What was that arrow that Kíli used? I noticed that it glowed."

"Gandalf says he put some sort of spell on it," explained Dwalin, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "Supposed to make the arrow stronger, or something. Guess it did its job 'cuz it took the bastard out in the end."

"Still can't believe he's dead," Nori admitted, shaking his head. "After all these years, Smaug is finally gone. We… We can come home again."

The Dwarves all went quiet at that, and Bilbo felt his heart soften. At that moment, Nori looked very young and open. His eyes were wide and the lines in his face were softened as he took in the realization that Erebor was free once more. It made his resemblance to Ori even more pronounced. Carefully, the Hobbit tucked his bag against his side, and reached out to give the thief a one armed hug around the waist.

"Yes, Nori. You can all come home now," he said against the thief's collarbone as he patted his back. "You and Dori and Ori and everyone else. You all have a home again."

Nori tensed for a very long time before he slowly relaxed into the hug. He slipped one arm around his shoulders and bowed his head against Bilbo's hair. The Hobbit carefully pretended not to hear how shaky the Dwarf's breath was, or even the trickle of warm water that dripped down his neck. He just held his friend and kept patting his back.

None of the others spoke. Some things were just better left unsaid.

 


 

After the tears had been shed and vows were made ("We never speak of this again, Bilbo. Dori will get jealous and try to hug me too. I can't afford to break my ribs. Again.") the Dwarves dragged him back to the treasury. There they found the others were finally awake and were basking in their newfound wealth.

"Uncle! Bilbo! Come join us!" yelled Kíli in greeting, waving from his place on the mountain of treasure. A gold crown sat lopsided on his head, and around his neck were several jeweled necklaces. The others were dressed similarly and were shifting through the collection around the room.

"Where did he find that gaudy thing?" Thorin muttered, raising his brows.

"Do you mean his crown?" wondered Bilbo, squinting at the gold and diamond piece that sparkled brightly. It was certainly very… flashy.

Thorin grunted. "Yes. I need to find him a decent one that is properly made. Something with rubies to match his coloring."

Bilbo rolled his eyes. "Save that pressing concern for later. We have bigger things to worry about. Like how we're supposed to equally split all of this treasure up amongst each other without leaving Erebor penniless."

"That's what Glóin is here for," the king replied, making a shooing gesture with one hand. "He will see that everyone gets a fair portion. Do not be too concerned. You will get your due reward in the end."

"I don't care about my portion," he replied, shrugging. "It will all be going to Thranduil anyways."

Thorin frowned darkly. "I had forgotten about your deal. What possessed you to offer up your portion to that weed-eater?"

"The desire not to remain in his Company any longer," the Hobbit said, pushing his hair back. He really needed to cut it. The ends were starting to tickle his cheekbones and block his vision.

Thorin's face grew even darker. "Aye, I remember now. Disgusting wretch. If I ever see him again, I will show him why no one dares to steal from a Dwarf."

"Except for dragons," he reminded the king, "and I'm not a thing to be stolen, thank you. Try to remember that."

"You are part of the Company. You belong with us," the Dwarf stated firmly, looking at him with smoky eyes.

Bilbo froze. "You… Do you all really think that?"

"Do you think we would take on a dragon for anyone?" pointed out Thorin.

"No. No, I suppose not," he admitted quietly. Some part of him was aware that the Company had grown to care for him over the journey. But he didn't want to face it because if he did than he would have to face the guilt and longing that came with it. He wanted their love again, yes, but had firmly told himself that it was not important this time. He had known their love once already; he did not need it a second time. All he needed was to keep them alive. But his heart never seemed to listen to his mind.

"It is not right that you do not get anything after all the help you provided," the king commented, rubbing his jaw. He looked around the massive chambers and over all the treasure before them. "There must be something here that I can give you."

Bilbo shook his head. "No, keep it. I do not care for treasure. I have no use for any of it."

Thorin looked at him as if he had just started speaking Sindarin again. "Did Smaug happen to hit you in the head last night? Shall I get Óin to examine you again?"

The Hobbit rolled his eyes. "There's nothing wrong with me, Thorin. I simply do not care for treasure. I cannot eat it or use it to keep me warm. It cannot speak to me or keep me Company. All it can do is shine."

"But it can buy you food and clothes and shelter," the king argued back. "It can even bring people together, and create relationships. All this treasure can do that for you."

"I can grow my own food and make my own clothes easily," he retorted, bracing his hands on his hips to stare the king down. "Gold and silver can bring people together but it can also drive them apart. It can destroy any bond and drive kingdoms to war. Just look at everything Smaug did just for some shiny jewels and pretty coins."

"You don't understand," replied Thorin, shaking his head. He glanced around at their feet before kneeling down to pick up a gold coin and sapphire ring. He held them out to Bilbo and forced the Hobbit to look at them.

"Do you see this coin? Do you see the designs and words etched into it on both sides?" he asked, and when Bilbo nodded, he held up the ring as well. "Do you see the ring? Do you see how smooth and polished the silver band is? The designs engraved in it? Do you see how carefully cut and shaped the jewel is?"

He nodded and pushed the Dwarf's hand out of his face. "Yes, Thorin, I see it but I'm not following—"

"This is the legacy of my people," the king interrupted without care. "This is what our creator blessed us in. This talent—this craft—to turn rocks and stones into something beautiful. To take an uncut and rough mineral and transform it into a beautiful jewel. All of the treasure you see here was made by Dwarven hands. Through hard labor, dedicated persistence, and practiced skills, we created all of this wealth. No other race can do what we do here. No other race can take a useless stone and craft it into something useful. When you dismiss this treasure as nothing, you dismiss the hard work and talent of my people."

"I… I never thought of it like that," Bilbo stuttered, feeling his face heating up. After watching Thorin go mad over the Arkenstone, he had grown to hate the gold and jewels the Dwarves horded. He did not ever stop to think deeply over why they treasured it because it was enough that Thorin had chosen it over their friendship. But now, hearing the king speak of it, he realized how unfair he was being. Just because he did not care for gold coins and emeralds did not mean that he had the right to look down on those who did.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Thorin. You're right; I didn't understand. I didn't understand any of it, and in my ignorance I dismissed it as worthless. That was wrong of me. I had no right to do that," the Hobbit said, forcing himself to meet the king's eyes. "Please forgive me."

Thorin shook his head and tossed the coin and ring back to the floor. "I am not angry over your words. I have heard them many times, and I understand why others would call us greedy and cold. Dwarves feel emotions very strongly, and sometimes our pride for our craft can consume us. When it does, we become as greedy and cruel as the rumors say."

He flinched at that. "I understand. I just… How do you control it? This madness for treasure? How do you keep yourself from sliding into it completely?"

"It depends on the Dwarf," the king said simply, shrugging. "Some resist the pull easily while others struggle. In the end it is up to them."

Bilbo felt his heart sink. Thorin had resisted the pull of treasure up until he faced the Arkenstone. He had fallen completely under the madness of his people then. The Hobbit did not know how the king would handle it this time around, but the odds were not in his favor.

"But enough of this grim talk," the Dwarf declared, narrowing his eyes at something in the distance. "I think I know what to repay your service with. Wait here."

The Hobbit did as asked and watched the king trot off to one of the treasure mountains. He watched the Dwarf kneel down and begin to dig something out of the horde of gold coins. With a muffled curse, Thorin yanked something long and white free from the pile, and then stood up straight and turned around. When Bilbo saw what he was holding, his mouth dropped open.

"Is that… Is that mithril?" he asked as the Dwarf approached, staring hard at his new (old) gift.

Thorin stood taller and gave him a wide smirk. "It is indeed mithril and it is now your mithril."

"What am I supposed to do with it?" he asked as the king forced it into his arms.

"Wear it."

He rolled his eyes but didn't argue. He rather did want his old shirt back. "Fine. I accept this but nothing else. Thranduil can have the rest."

Thorin frowned but did not argue with him. "As you wish. But do not think we will forget your services. Everyone here knows what you did for us, and what you gave up. We won't forget that."

Bilbo bit his lower lip in order to stay quiet. He recalled the last time around when he had helped them drive Smaug away, and how they had feasted in his name and called him friend. He remembered how, after stealing the Arkenstone, Thorin threatened to kill him, and how no one bothered to stop it. He recalled it all, and wondered how long it would take them this time to forget all the he had done for them.

 


 

Later that day, Bilbo found himself somehow roped into helping Thorin explore Erebor. They all had broken into groups of twos or threes and were given sections of the city to scout. Somehow he found himself put with the king, and before he could protest, the others were already running off in their own groups. Thorin had simply shrugged when he looked at him in question.

"I don't pretend to understand them either," the king said in answer. "Shall we go now?"

He sighed and nodded. "Might as well."

The section they were to scout turned out to be the palace. Bilbo had never thought of Erebor having a palace since it seemed like the whole mountain was their castle. When he told this to Thorin, the Dwarf laughed.

"Why wouldn't we have a palace? We have houses and markets and schools of trade," the king pointed out. "Erebor is a city even if it does not match your idea of one."

"I suppose I've simply thought of the mountain as one big house," he admitted, scratching his nose. "The Shire is nothing like this."

"No, your Shire is very simple and practical," the Dwarf agreed, sidestepping a broken column.

Bilbo side eyed the king. "I don't know if I should be insulted or not."

"It was not an insult," Thorin quickly reassured. "I simply meant your people don't seem to care for dramatic architect."

"No, we don't," he agreed, thinking back on his homeland. "We see no point in it. As long as it keeps you warm and safe, what does it matter if it is large or small? It is enough that it is filled with family and friends."

Thorin paused and looked at him with pursued lips. "Your home was empty."

He stopped and nodded. "It was. My parents are gone and I have no siblings or spouse."

"I'm sorry to hear that," the king said, his eyes a sky blue and his tone honest. "Do you ever miss it then? Your house was empty but the Shire was still your home. Do you not long for it?"

Bilbo tilted his head back and tried his best to recall his old home. The Shire was beautiful and safe and comfortable, but it wasn't home. He had realized that when he settled in Rivendell. It had been so easy to leave it all behind that it made him realize that his heart no longer saw the Shire as home. Rivendell, of course, was lovely and soothing, but it too never felt like home to him. The truth was he could not recall when a place had felt like home. It had been lost the moment he took that first step out of his door for Erebor.

"No," he finally said, looking back to the Dwarf. "I don't miss the Shire. It has not felt like home for a long time."

Thorin's eyes widened and he took a step back. He opened his mouth for a moment before quickly shutting it and striving off again. He looked over his shoulder to call, "Come along then. The palace is just past this hall."

Bilbo blinked before he hurried to catch up. Thorin said nothing more until they finally came to a large set of marble doors. One of the doors had crumbled to the ground while the other was broken in numerous places. Carefully climbing over the mess of marble and stones, they entered the palace. He paused when they finally did, and looked around curiously. They looked to be in some sort of entrance hall if he had to guess. The floor was made of a dark green stone that he didn't recognize, and there were great statues placed around the room. There were five grand doorways before them; three of them still accessible and looking to lead into long and dark corridors.

"So where do we go first?" he asked, looking up to the Dwarf.

Thorin slowly looked over the room with eyes that were clouded with memory. His jaw tightened and he took in a quick breath through his nose before pointing to one of the doors to the left. "We'll start there. It is where my family… It is where our rooms were."

Bilbo nodded and followed the Dwarf into the dark hall. He could see very little in the darkness, and found himself tripping on rubble, but Thorin seemed to have no problems. The Dwarf led them with ease and familiarity through the corridor before suddenly stopping in front of a door. He stared at it for a moment before pushing it open and stepping inside.

The Hobbit followed him and squinted around the fairly large room. Like the rest of the city, it had fallen into disarray and ruin thanks to Smaug. But some things still remained intact and he took them in carefully. In the center of the room sat a large table that was surrounded by padded divans and chairs, and off to the side sat a fireplace taller than even Dwalin. On the other side was a door that was still, amazingly, intact.

Bilbo looked to Thorin and winced at what he saw. The warrior king looked as if someone had punched him in the stomach. His eyes were wide and glassy, and he was clenching his jaw so tightly that it looked painful. Slowly, the Hobbit moved closer to the Dwarf before softly calling his name.

"Thorin?"

The Dwarf glanced at him for a second before his eyes were drawn back to the room. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and raspy. "This… These were my brother's chambers. Frerin."

"Oh." Bilbo felt a needle prick his heart. Thorin had never spoken much of his brother in both lifetimes, and he had honestly never wanted to ask. It had always seemed awkward and invasive to ask about someone who died before he was even born. But now, standing in the room filled with the ghost of Frerin, he realized that perhaps it was time to ask.

"Tell me about him," the Hobbit said quietly while watching the king.

Thorin closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. "I don't know what to say."

"Say anything. Whatever comes to mind," Bilbo suggested softly because if there was one thing he knew well it was grief.

The king took in another shaky breath. "Frerin… Frerin was an archer, like Kíli. He had the same unruly hair too but it was golden like Fíli. He… He was the only one who inherited out mother's hair. Dís always envied him for that. He also got her chin and her nose. Out of the three of us, he was the only one who could make our father laugh. Frerin… He was always smiling, always happy even after Erebor fell. Nothing could ever keep him down for long. He was even smiling when he… when he died."

Thorin opened his eyes and looked at him, and Bilbo found that they were wet with unshed tears. The sight of those eyes made his breath catch because Thorin Oakenshield never cried. Not even on his death bed did he shed a single tear. But yet he cried for his brother who had been dead for decades, and somehow that seemed even sadder than if he had cried for himself.

"He died in my arms you know," the king whispered as if it was a terrible secret he couldn't bear to tell. "My only brother. He was the bow and I the sword, and it was my job to keep them away from him. It was my job to protect him. But I… I didn't and so he died. He died and now I will never see that smile again."

"You will!" Bilbo said before he could stop and think. "You will see him again one day along with everyone else who has passed on. You will see that smile again, and when you do you will never have to worry about losing it again."

The Dwarf blinked a few times before he released a choked laugh. "You're right. You're right, of course. I will see Frerin again one day. I will see them all again."

"But not yet," he quickly added before the Dwarf got any ideas. "Not for a good while still because… because you still have so much to live for! You have to rebuild Erebor and—"

"Bilbo, calm down," interrupted Thorin, holding up a hand. "I promise you that I'm not planning on dying any time soon."

"No one ever plans to die," the Hobbit pointed out, crossing his arms over his chest. It was still cold and he had—foolishly—given the king his coat back.

"No," acknowledged the Dwarf with a nod, "but that doesn't mean I won't fight to stay alive. I have lost much in my life, yes, but I also still have a lot left to live for."

That stopped him in his tracks. "Oh. That's good."

"You should consider doing the same," Thorin added, one of his eyebrows rising slightly. "Staying alive, that is. You might just find something worth living for."

You are reason enough to keep living.

"I have no interest in dying yet either," Bilbo said, glancing away from the royal Dwarf lest he spilled his thoughts. "But I'm also not afraid of it. I've lived a good life and have no complaints. If I fall on this journey, then at least it would be for a good cause."

The king scoffed. "And I suppose your dead love has nothing to do with this desire for death, hmm?"

"Actually, he doesn't," he admitted, trying not to smile over the irony. "I do not believe I will see him in the afterlife."

"Why not?" Thorin wondered, cocking his head to the side so that his braids fell in his face.

Bilbo simply shrugged and looked around the massive area. "Shall we continue on to the other rooms? Or would it be too much for you right now?"

"I can handle it," the Dwarf replied, standing up straighter. "Come; my sister's room is next door."

They managed to investigate two more rooms—one belonging to Dís and the other to Thrór—but found the rest inaccessible. Thorin did not look too putout that he could not visit his old room or his father's, and Bilbo privately thought that he was relieved. Facing all that you once held dear while knowing it was forever now lost was never an easy experience.

The final room they stopped at was the last room that was not completely damaged. Thorin looked greatly reluctant to enter it but eventually forced himself to push open the damaged doors. Bilbo followed quietly and found himself in a room similar to Frerin's, only much softer and warmer. The walls were a cheery red and the furniture was made of wood instead of marble and stone. The most delightful feature of all though was the massive bookshelves that lined the room from ceiling to floor. He couldn't help but give a low whistle of appreciation when he saw them, and quickly made his way over to the books. Some were damaged and illegible, but a few had stood up to the test of time and dragon. But when he picked one up to flip through it, he was disappointed to find that it was written entirely in Khuzdûl.

"These were my mother's chambers," Thorin explained, his tone not quite as wrecked as when he had spoken of Frerin. "Her name was Arndís and she loved to read. My father built this for her as a wedding gift. She would spend all her free time here with her books."

"She sounds interesting," he commented, looking through the different titles written in a foreign tongue.

"She was… gentle," the king said slowly, seeming to ponder over his words. "Always so calm and kind no matter the circumstances. She never lost her temper, never raised her voice, and never had a cruel word to say. But for all her tenderness, she was also so very fierce. No one dared to cross her because they knew she would repay any slight back tenfold. And she would do it all with a smile on her face."

Bilbo glanced over his shoulder to give the Dwarf a look. "She sounds like Balin."

Thorin chuckled as he traced his fingers along the fireplace mantle. "Aye, she does. But she was much prettier to look at."

"I'm telling him you said that," he said, picking up another book to flick through it.

"He'll agree. My mother was beautiful," the warrior king boasted. "Her hair was as thick as Dwalin's arm and fell to her knees when unbound. When she brushed it out in front of the fire, it would shine like melted gold."

Bilbo finally tore himself away from the books to look at the king fully. "You miss her."

"Not as much as I should," Thorin admitted, rubbing his thumb against a crack in the white marble. "I remember her hair and her laugh and her smile, but that is all I can recall. She has been gone for so long that the loss does not even ache anymore. I'm afraid that I am not a very good son to her."

"You are not a bad son," he reassured as he thought of his own mother. He found that he could no longer recall her face or her voice either. Even the ache of her death had dulled over the many years until it became nothing more than a bruise on his heart.

"I do not remember my mother's face or her songs either," Bilbo confessed. "She died long ago too and in time I simply… accepted it. I will always love her and miss her, but I do not ache over her loss. Not anymore."

The king tilted his head in thought. "You do not miss her more than him?"

Bilbo did not even bother to ask who he was referring to. "I miss them in different ways so I can't properly compare it. But in some ways, losing him did hurt worse. Parents… they are not built to last forever. Only a lover can do that."

Thorin blinked before looking away; his shoulders tensing and pulling back. "If you ever desire it… You may stay here."

"Here?" Bilbo repeated slowly, trying to follow the sudden change in conversation.

The king nodded; still refusing to face him. "Yes. If you wish it, then you could live here. You could… You could even stay here; in my mother's rooms with all her books. I think she would like it if someone took an interest in them."

"I can't read them. They're all in Khuzdûl," he replied blankly. His mind had not quite caught up with the words he was hearing.

"It would not be hard to translate them… Or even teach you how to read them," the Dwarf responded, somehow growing tenser. He abruptly turned away from the fireplace and met Bilbo's eyes head on.

"It is just a thought," Thorin said, his blue eyes striking against the red walls. "Think about it. We… We would all like it if you stayed here. With us. If you wish it… Erebor can be your home now."

Then the king spun around and marched out the door without another word.

 


 

"We should have a feast," declared Kíli as he stretched out with his head on his brother's thighs. He still wore his new jewelry but had at least gotten rid of his garish crown.

"We don't have enough food for a feast," Bombur pointed out as they had all settled to discuss what they had found in their explorations.

"We can have one later," comforted Bofur when the prince's face fell. "After we clean this place up and get some more supplies. It will be the feast to end all feasts! It will go on for days and everyone will talk about it for years to come!"

"Can we have fireworks?" wondered Ori, never pausing in his writing since he sat down. "Gandalf must have some stashed away."

"We'll ask him when he returns," Bilbo promised, glancing over at the scribe's writing. It was rather incredible how Ori could write so much and still follow the conversations around him. "Did you enjoy seeing Erebor?"

"It was amazing," Fíli replied before the younger Dwarf could speak up. "The throne room alone must have taken years to build. And the craftsmanship! I could never make something so detailed even if I spent the rest of life trying."

"Good thing you were born a prince then instead of an architect," muttered Nori, pulling out a deck of cards from his coat. "Who wants to play a round?"

"Deal me in," said Dwalin, standing up to move closer to Nori.

Bofur also got his feet. "Me too. But no counting cards this time, Nori. The moment you do I'm kicking your ass."

Nori scoffed as he shuffled the worn deck. "I don't need to cheat to win. You make it easy enough."

"Did any of you visit the mines? Or the deep halls?" Bilbo asked, ignoring the three as they began to bicker over their game.

"No, it was too damaged. We will need to clear it first and send an experienced group to investigate it," replied Bombur as Bifur nodded in agreement at his side.

"Most of the halls and staircases seemed to have held up," Dori added, pushing a loose braid behind his ear. "The upper levels have the most damage, obviously, but it looks like the rest of the city has been untouched for the most part."

Thorin nodded as he listened to them all with his fingers laced together. "We will start from the gates and move through the upper levels then. We will work our way down through the rest of the kingdom from there."

"We should prioritize housing above all," reminded Glóin, smoking his pipe. "If those Men from Lake-town help us, then they'll need a place to sleep. And if Dáin brings his people too then we need even more room."

"Not to mention more food," Óin pointed out, listing it off on one hand, "and supplies and tools to clear all the rubble. We also need a healing ward. There are bound to be accidents in all of this. Oh, and let's not forget the Orcs that were following us. We need patrols to keep watch for them. I doubt Azog has just given up."

Bilbo bit his bottom lip as he listened to the healer. If they did survive the battle that was to come, then they would have a lot of work to do. But listening to them discuss rebuilding their city made him anxious. He wanted to tell them to forget about it for the moment because they had bigger concerns to worry about with the coming armies. He wanted to start preparing for that; not for rebuilding a city some of them possibly wouldn't see again.

Kíli groaned and threw one arm over his eyes. "Ugh! Can't we save all this talk for later? When we actually have help? I don't want to worry about this right now."

"I agree. We should be celebrating still," Fíli added, leaning back on his hands. "Where's the ale?"

"We drank it all last night," replied Bofur, squinting at his hand of cards.

Kíli groaned again but Fíli didn't look discouraged. "What about music? We still have that, right?"

The Dwarves immediately perked up. Nori, Dwalin and Bofur paused in their game, and even Ori put down his book. They all looked at each other for a moment before scrambling for their packs.

"Bombur! Let's cook up what's left of the meat!"

"Where's my flute, Nori?"

"Other pocket, other pocket!"

"Bifur, pass me my clarinet!"

"Does anyone have any pipe-weed left?"

"Uncle, get out your harp! We need something besides flutes here!"

"You two still owe me money. I beat you both fair and square."

Bilbo laughed as he watched the chaos that erupted. He scooted back so he wasn't in the way, and then allowed himself to enjoy the celebration. Parties were quite possible the only thing that Dwarves could compete with hobbits in. Eru knew they couldn't beat them in eating or drinking.

Eventually, as the music picked up and the food was passed out, Kíli dragged Glóin into a complicated dance that involved a lot of jumping. Surprisingly, Glóin was rather agile on his feet, and was able to keep up with the younger Dwarf rather easily. Ori soon dragged Nori into the fray and even Bombur left his boiling stew to join in. Bilbo laughed in surprised delight and clapped along as the dance grew faster and more complicated.

Then, out of nowhere, Thorin was standing before him with a hand extended.

"Dance with me?" the king asked with a small smile on his face.

Bilbo quickly shook his head and scampered back even more. "N-No, no, no thank you. I don't dance."

Thorin's face and hand fell. "Oh? I see. Can hobbits not dance then?"

"Excuse me?" he said, blinking rapidly. Could hobbits dance? He had never heard a more absurd question. He may as well have asked Bilbo if hobbits liked to eat! "Of course we can dance. We can dance better than any Dwarf or Elf around!"

Thorin raised a single black brow. "What about Men?"

"They can't dance at all," he replied because it was a universal truth that Elves were beautiful, Dwarves were strong, and Men could not dance to save their lives. "I can dance perfectly fine. I just choose not to."

"Oh? Prove it," the king challenged, raising his other brow and smirking.

"I will," he retorted, getting to his feet and grabbing the Dwarf's hand to drag him into the throng. "Try to keep up."

In response, Thorin simply threw his head back and laughed.