Actions

Work Header

Prayers to Broken Stone

Chapter Text

Thorin’s head had fallen against Bilbo’s shoulder within the first hour of his slumber, his body unconcsciously seeking comfort. No dragon would ever do such a thing, or so Bilbo assured himself, as he threaded an arm around Thorin’s shoulder and drew him close. Thorin’s long hair fell in a curtain around his face, and tickled beneath Bilbo’s neck as he placed his chin on the top of Thorin’s head. The heat from his body banished the chill that permeated Bilbo’s, and his warm weight was welcome for that alone. Stone was never a comforable resting place, much less when it had never known the light of the sun, and there was a pervasive dampness in the air, some vestige of the many fountains that ran through Erebor.

Bilbo tried not to think too much of those, or of the beginnings of hunger that rumbled in his belly. He also tried not to think of what would happen if they were well and truly lost. Gandalf would find them, he assured himself, or one of the other dwarves. For now he simply pushed the thoughts of hunger aside, as he had learned to do in Mirkwood when there was no hope of sustenance for many days. It was a distinctly unhobbit-like thought, and he was quite sure his relatives would be scandalized if they knew.

They’d likely be scandalized by a great many things he did these days, Bilbo thought glumly. Serving as a pillow for a sleeping dwarf lord would be the least of those.

Bilbo wondered if he too should try to rest, in this first rare moment of quiet granted to them since that morning, when Thorin told him it was time they parted. Bilbo closed his eyes and pulled Thorin closer, feeling a peculiar sort of protectiveness, as if his arms alone could shield him from all harm, from the curse that ate away at him from the inside out. Someday he would very much like for them to sit like this again, Thorin’s larger body flush against his as they dozed, perhaps sitting in the sun somewhere with their pipes, or beside the fire while Bilbo read.

Sleep must have taken him then, his imaginings mingling with dreams, conjuring images of his sitting room far away, a fire crackling in the hearth and the smell of cooking food. Of Thorin nudging against him as they sat together and his low voice murmuring into Bilbo’s ear, “You’re drooling into my hair.”

Bilbo came awake with a snort, blinking rapidly and mumbling something garbled that was meant to be, “Just a moment!” but came out more like “Jusamimfugle!”

He saw by the blue glow beside him that Thorin was indeed awake, but with his gaze directed elsewhere and Bilbo settled back down. He noted that his arm was tingling and that it had gone slightly numb. Still, loathe to remove it, he leaned in closer to Thorin, but was mindful to wipe the drool from his mouth with his free hand. “Terribly sorry about that.”

“I’ve had worse,” Thorin said wryly, but nonetheless scrubbed a hand through his hair. “How much time has passed?” 

“No idea,” Bilbo admitted. “I must have dropped off as well. How are you feeling, love?”

The endearment seemed to startle Thorin, but he recovered quickly and said, “Like I have the mother of all hangovers.”

Bilbo clucked sympathetically. “That bad? I don’t suppose somewhere in there is the way out of here?”

Thorin shook his head. “It is as before. I remember speaking with you, and then awakening to the feeling of ice. But I was here both times, and if I left I have no memory of it. I do not suppose you heard the word spoken?”

“I’m afraid not,” Bilbo said. Thorin sighed beside him and shivered, pulling the coat tighter around himself.

“We’ll get out of here, Thorin, don’t you worry,” Bilbo said.

“You always have been the hopeful one,” Thorin said, with an air of resignation. There was doubt there too, but Thorin went silent then and remained thus for so long that Bilbo thought that he had fallen back to sleep.

“Why do you look away from me, if not for my appearance?” Thorin said, so softly that Bilbo wondered for a moment if he could pretend he had not heard.

“I promised I would tell you later,” Bilbo said, but could hear how pathetic the excuse sounded still in his own ears.

“Yes, in the afternoon, or whenever we escaped. It seems in the hours we have slept that one of those conditions has been met,” Thorin said, and the steadiness of his words gave Bilbo some confidence that perhaps it was indeed safe to tell him.

Bilbo leaned against the wall, closing his eyes and pressing his head against the stone. “Very well. Back in the library, before you found Mîm’s account, did you have any chance to read the other histories of dragons?”

“Not with any depth, but those tales are well known to my people,” Thorin said. Bilbo felt Thorin shift his arms, drape one out over his folded legs, as he settled in to listen.

“Of course, but did you have the chance to look up the…symptoms, of a fully grown dragon? Their, uh, characteristics?” Bilbo added in a smaller voice, “Their weapons?”

“Bilbo, I faced Smaug twice in battle,” Thorin pointed out. “I assure you, I am aware of their weapons.”

Bilbo swallowed and nodded. “Then you must understand that it’s not that I’m disgusted by you. Quite the contrary. It’s only that there are side-effects of this curse, more than the scales, and the fire. It’s…it’s the dragon’s gaze, Thorin. That is what I am afraid of.” Bilbo flinched, barely able to speak above a whisper, as if the words were wrested from him.

Thorin went still beside him. Then his breath hissed out from between his teeth. “Glaurung,” Thorin said. “The dragon-spell, that bends the victim to its will. But how could I…?”

“I don’t think you’ve done it on purpose,” Bilbo said hurriedly. “Like the fire, it’s just part of all of this. But I can’t take that risk, not again.”

“It has happened already?” Thorin said, and Bilbo’s stomach dropped. Stupid, stupid! He could have given the warning without hinting at that! He could still deny it now, but Thorin’s voice was a cold, harsh whisper that ground with painful memories all too recent, as he said, “Do not lie to me about this, Bilbo.”

“…Yes,” Bilbo said wretchedly, and Thorin made a choked sound at the back of his throat.

“When? How?” Thorin said, and while the threat had not lifted from his voice, behind it there was a breath of desperation.

“Just now, the last…attack. You told me to get away from you, and I had no choice but to obey,” Bilbo said. It had been fleeting then, perhaps knowing of the dragon-spell was enough to combat it, but that brief second of lost time might have been all that prevented him from escaping. What was worse, it may have been all that kept him from helping Thorin stave off the possession. He still felt sick and miserable at the thought. “And…other times.”

Bilbo,” Thorin said.

“I don’t know,” Bilbo said. “I don’t know how much it changed. It might have had no effect at all…”

“But you do not believe that,” Thorin said, and Bilbo was never more unhappy that they’d grown so much better at reading one another. There was no way around it, for Thorin was tense beside him, his body braced against a lie as if it were a blow.

“When we sat by the throne,” Bilbo said in a hushed and agonzied voice, “and you asked me not to seek help. Then again when you asked me to kill you. I would never help you die, Thorin. Never, and nothing you could have said would have convinced me otherwise.”

“You stayed… because of the dragon-spell?” Thorin said, and his voice was hollow. Bilbo could feel him squaring himself, as if the thought of rejection was such a surety that it lent strength of its own.

“That’s what I don’t know,” Bilbo said. “I think without the dragon-spell I would have gone for Gandalf sooner. We had a deal, after all. But all the rest? Thorin, if you were ever truly dying and asked me to stay… I would never leave your side.”

“But you cannot be sure,” Thorin said, and where his voice had been hollow before it was now dead. “Neither of us can be. All of it, all that took place there may be only because I forced you, because I stole your will.” There was a blankness to Thorin’s voice as if he dwelt on a horror too great to imagine and could only say aloud what the mind rejected.

“Forced me to... what? Tell you stories and keep you company?” Bilbo said, and even managed a small laugh. “Thorin, if that is what you do with the power to control others, than I really don’t think I have all that much to fear.”

Thorin’s breath hitched, but none of the tension went with it. “It is foul. It is the most vile of crimes. How can I trust anything that has happened here, that every moment you spend with me is not because I wish it, and have forced it upon you?” His voice grew fainter with every word. “How can I know I am not doing so even now?”

Alarm shot through Bilbo, he was immediately up and facing Thorin, his eyes downcast, taking in Thorin’s hard, scaled chest and the faint blue glow that illuminated the black scales. His coat had fallen from Thorin’s shoulders and was now folded over his lap. “I’m still here, aren’t I?”

“By your own will, or only because I wish it?” Thorin said, and Bilbo felt the tremor that went through him.

What could he possibly say to that? Thorin had regained some calm, some stability, but it was so terribly fragile and already unraveling with the onslaught of this new revelation. So much of his current calm seemed to come from his trust in Bilbo, and finally accepting that he was there of his own accord. Bilbo could almost see the faultline as it threatened to split Thorin, that hint of uncertainty as he questioned whether even the best of moments between them were only a product of the curse. Words were no longer enough to tread the treacherous paths of Thorin’s fears, with the creature lingering somehow at the edges of his consciousness and so little time left to them, and so much that was at stake. No amount of grand speeches or declarations would be enough to penetrate that doubt once it was given room to grow.

“Close your eyes,” Bilbo said desperately.

“Why?” Thorin said, but nonetheless obeyed. Bilbo saw the glow of his eyes wink out, plunging them into darkness that should have been be stifling, and it seemed worse somehow that Bilbo was growing used to it.

“Because I want to show you something,” Bilbo said, and if there was any Baggins side left in him it was thoroughly quashed by the Took. Perhaps it was the reminder of their days upon the throne, of chances missed but not gone forever.

“I cannot see,” Thorin said, sounding lost, as if he spoke of more than just his vision.

“Neither can I,” Bilbo said, his voice faint as an echo. He could feel the heat that radiated from Thorin’s skin, could tell from the slant of his body where his limbs were arranged. Bilbo propped himself up by placing a hand on Thorin’s shoulder, the other against the side of his face, against the patchwork of beard there. Thorin breathed in, and went still at the sudden closeness.

When Bilbo leaned in and pressed his lips to Thorin’s it was perhaps the hardest and most desperate kiss of his life. Bilbo felt the tremor that raced through him, felt Thorin stiffen at the contact…then crumble. Thorin’s mouth was hot against his, and he inhaled against Bilbo’s mouth as he pressed the flat of his hand against the back of Bilbo’s neck. Thorin’s other arm snaking around his waist to draw him closer, pulling Bilbo into his lap. There was no sight, only touch and taste and scent, the heat of Thorin’s body and the dry, hardened lips against Bilbo’s own.

Bilbo kissed harder, feeling bold, more bold than he dare even examine. It seemed imperative that he show it somehow, that he put it into something other than words that this was real, and that Thorin should know this. That it existed despite these days of madness, with the darkness and weight of Erebor pressing down around them, the curse that curdled Thorin’s skin, that made terror the most natural state of being, and when good sense was so twisted in survival that they were inextricable.

Bilbo freed a hand to comb his fingers through Thorin’s hair, bringing them around at the end to cup Thorin’s face. The muscles of Thorin’s arm flexed against his back, strong but not crushing, cradling him close. Bilbo lost himself in it all, in the taste of Thorin’s mouth, the sound of his breath in his ears, eyes clenched shut. He allowed the faintest brush of teeth against Thorin’s lower lip, and was rewarded by a moan from the back of Thorin’s throat, Thorin’s hand clenching around his side, tight, the claws nevertheless held back.

Their noses brushed as Bilbo pulled away, dazed and gasping. “Do you understand now?” he said, his breath still coming in a rush, and just the faintest of grins twitching his lips. Mad, quite mad, is what all the other hobbits would call him if he ever returned to his home, but how distant that all seemed here with Thorin breathing hard beside him and his lips still warm from their first kiss.

“I believe I have the shape of it,” Thorin said wryly and a bit breathlessly as he leaned in to claim Bilbo’s lips for his own—

—And faltered. Thorin’s lips trailed from Bilbo’s, leaving him feeling strangely cold and bereft. Thorin settled back against the wall with a long sigh, his hands falling from Bilbo’s waist.

“Thorin? Is something wrong?” Bilbo said, catching Thorin’s hand in squeezing it.

“Tired,” Thorin said, his words slurred and vaguely puzzled. “It struck all at once, but there is something.... I’m sorry, Bilbo, it is not you. I know we should be trying to escape from here but it is all so… exhausting. I am weary to the bone and nothing on the quest, in Ered Luin… not even the fall of Erebor could have prepared me for this. Enemies without I can understand, but enemies within, against which I must always guard but cannot hope to stave off, who can overwhelm and outwit me at any turn… The thought alone steals the strength from my limbs. And then there is you, whom I cannot hope to protect from this, whom I cannot even send away for your own safety. Were I alone here I would not be so fearful. I no longer need to eat, or drink. It might even be a blessing to be where I cannot harm anyone, hidden from sight. But you… we must get you out somehow,” Thorin said.

His other hand moved, and Bilbo could feel from the movement that Thorin was rubbing it over his face. “I don’t know the word, Bilbo. I have searched my mind and I cannot find it there. I feel as if even the memory of these store rooms is gone as well, as if it were hidden from me. I don’t know what to do, save that I would give anything to free you from this place, even my life.”

A chill went through Bilbo. “Don’t say such things. I would never leave you here.”

“It does not matter anyway, the point is moot,” Thorin sighed. “Do not misunderstand me: I do believe you, Bilbo, even that you wish to be here with all the danger that entails. It is only that I am weary with it all.”

“Then sleep, Thorin,” Bilbo said, though it was an effort to do so. He remembered too well Thorin falling into a sleep like the dead for hours at a time, and there was the rumble in his stomach and the first pangs of thirst on his tongue. “Goodness knows these have been a hard few days.” Thorin huffed a weary chuckle at this.

“It is not fair to you,” Thorin said. “Every hour I sleep…”

“Is an hour I can spend thinking in peace,” Bilbo said, offering a smile Thorin could not see it. “I’m afraid you are rather distracting, love. Who knows? Perhaps I will have us out of here before you wake up.”

“Perhaps,” Thorin said, and relented. “You will wake me before too many hours have passed?”

“You have my word,” Bilbo said. “Smaug slept for decades after all, and I really don’t feel like putting it to the test yet whether you can do the same.” Somehow it felt easier to joke about the curse, made it seem smaller and manageable. He was not sure if Thorin saw it the same way, but there was no tension in him now, no knee-jerk pained reaction, so Bilbo had some hope that it had worked. He leaned in, pressing a quick kiss to Thorin’s lips and one to his forehead. “Sleep, love. I will do what I can.”

Thorin nodded and leaned his head back against the wall. He was asleep between one breath and the next, and Bilbo wondered how deep his weariness must have been to be able to do so, sitting up and against a cold stone wall no less. Bilbo picked up his blue coat from Thorin’s lap and draped over the dwarf’s shoulders, tucking him as best he could.

Bilbo’s back cricked as he stood, and he raised his arms over his head to stretch before allowing them to fall swinging to his side. Sitting and sleeping on a cold stone floor was certainly not the most comfortable way to wile away the hours, and he doubted the various aches and pains would be swift to disperse when compounded with the time he spent sleeping on the stone next to the throne. Dreams of feather beds and hot meals, hot baths, were never far from his mind but they were ruthlessly pushed aside. If Mirkwood had taught him anything, it was that such thoughts only served to drive one mad.

Nevertheless, it seemed having Thorin awake was indeed a distraction. Now without having to worry about the dwarf Bilbo found his thoughts clearing. His brow furrowed and his fingers twirled in the air as he tried to dial his thoughts back to what he had seen as he navigated the corridors with Gandalf. There’d been no sign that there were rooms hidden within the walls, but he supposed that was rather the point if they were meant to be secret.

The creature had growled something just as they were dragged in, something like… “Amnar?” Bilbo said aloud. Nothing happened. “Amana? Ambar?” Still nothing. “I swear, if I do ever get my hands on that creature…” Bilbo growled under his breath.

“You’ll do what, exactly?” drawled a voice behind Bilbo that made his blood run cold.

“Thorin?” Bilbo said, whipping around, quickly remembering to drop his eyes to the floor.

“Asleep, I’m pleased to say. It was the only way to make him shut up. After all, I think it is high time we had a little chat.” There was a sibilant quality to the voice, the words smooth, hissing, and altogether menacing for all their pleasant tone. “You know, there is so much in here that is sentimental, and that was even before I awoke. Disgusting, really, it’s a terrible mess.”

“What are you talking about?” Bilbo said. The voice was nothing like Thorin's, more akin to the snarl of a beast, and seemed terribly amused by itself.

“His mind, of course. Our mind. With time I can polish those rough edges but, dear me, there is so much work to be done. But there is some hope, some fertile ground, for all that it is twisted up on itself. Like his love of gold, all bound up with his grandfather, this place,” the voice remarked.

“What are you?” Bilbo said, edging back a step.

“A ghost,” the voice said pleasantly, “and a memory. I know you, riddle-maker, just as I know that trinket you carry. It will do you little good in here. I smell you.”

“Smaug?” Bilbo breathed, taking another sliding step back, knowing it was useless. Then the voice did laugh, a dry and crumbling sound.

“No,” it said, “and yes.” A clawed hand appeared on the floor in the field of Bilbo’s vision. No, not just appeared, took a step forward, crawling towards him on all fours like a lizard. Terror rose in Bilbo’s throat and the wall bumped against his back as he stumbled back. He pressed himself to the wall, wishing he had the power to melt into the stone.

“Now you are the one who speaks in riddles,” Bilbo said accusingly, marveling at how little his voice shook.

The voice chuckled. “Then have a few more. Dragon gold has made me and dragon gold I make. I am newborn, yet long have I dwelled in the darkness of the mind. My sires are thought and memory, and my children are dominion. I am King under the Mountain, but soon king with mountains beneath me.”

“What have you done to Thorin?” said Bilbo.

“Nothing at all. He is in here, burglar,” the voice shifted, became softer, more familiar. It became Thorin’s voice, and the sound rose the hair on the back of Bilbo’s neck. “As ever I have been with him. Every silenced thought, every word locked behind discipline, his control and suppression goes back…back so long I don’t think even he knows where it began. But I do. It is the peculiar nature of such control, that in time all such buried things come forth.”

“Foul things are buried,” Bilbo retorted. “You are not him.”

“Not him?” The first flickers of anger caught at the edge of the voice. “I am his heart.” In a blink Bilbo was surrounded, talons piercing his shoulders, their points digging into his flesh, stopped only by the mithril shirt. “Do you not remember this? When he cursed you and would have cast you to the rocks? I was there, that was me. I am his desire and his rage. I am the heart that brought him to the gold and the one who reclaimed this city. I am all that he has ever wanted that he lacked the courage to seize!”

Bilbo kept his eyes low, and in the witchlight glow could see that the powerful muscles of Thorin’s chest and arms were now slick with the oily black scales and somehow broader, tougher. The tilt of his body was unnatural as he hunched forward. The creature in Thorin’s body stood without any grace, like a four-legged thing propped unnaturally on its hind legs. His hands digging into Bilbo was no longer the grasp of force and intimidation, but rather a prop to keep himself upright.
But strangest of all, Bilbo’s fear was draining away. It occurred to him why, and that was the sheer absurdity of it. He blinked and no longer saw a creature of nightmares, the shadow that crawled out from the depths of Thorin’s mind. The realization trickled in with the awareness that he was, against all probability, still alive, albeit pressed against a wall and locked within a darkened room.

Except even that perception shifted and he saw that it was not so much a pit of nightmares where this creature had trapped him, but rather a small and pathetic storeroom, with bare walls and dusty floors. Why, it was no more than a closet compared to the majesty of Erebor!

“I see,” Bilbo said. Gently, Bilbo disentangled the talons, unhooking the tips of the claws from where they caught on the fabric of his shirt. Then, prompted by that streak of his own madness, that peculiar brand which no doubt had only grown since he dashed out his front door, he said, “That does explain a great deal. But I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree.”

There was a stretch of silence and he released Thorin’s hands. Bilbo saw Thorin sway on his feet. The talons on his feet were not so good for remaining upright. The whole scaly body swayed along a line of tension, barely catching its balance. Then it gave a deep snarl of frustration, laced with a thread of confusion. “What?”
And it was just that, Bilbo realized. Even if it spoke from Thorin’s lips and used his body, that was all it was. Just a voice. “For starters, you may be many things but you’re certainly not his courage. You’re not very brave, or clever. Your long-term planning is frankly dreadful, and you probably couldn’t lead your way out of an open basket, let alone rule under the mountain. Oh, and your idea of a riddle is embarrassing. It’s no wonder Thorin buried you.”

Bilbo supposed he should have expected it, but his vision still spun as the claw closed around his throat and his head slammed against the wall. Darkness and stars exploded across his vision and the heated scales pressed into his throat, choking off air. He retched, bile catching beneath the talons and pain seared across his scalp, split by the impact.

Hot breath licked Bilbo’s face as the voice hissed in his ear, “You are one to talk of foolishness, who insults the one who could so easily kill you.”

“But you won’t,” Bilbo wheezed. He swallowed against the dizziness but managed to steady his voice, his feet finding purchase on the ground so he could stand and steady himself despite the hand locked around his throat.

“You know, I was terribly afraid of Thorin up on the wall,” Bilbo said conversationally. “Not only that he would kill me, but that I deserved it. You see, he’s a noble sort, but gets very caught up in matters of duty and honor. There was nothing I wanted less than to anger him, except that he should die because of his stubbornness. I suppose that won out. I feared I would lose his friendship, and what esteem I had in his eyes, but I feared that because I respected him. He’s a good leader, you know, I would have followed him on this journey twice over, even knowing what I do now. I hated the thought of losing his regard, I hated myself more than a little at the offense I caused.”

The blow to the head must had scrambled his thoughts, Bilbo realized as he rambled. “The point is…the point is, I was afraid because Thorin was angry with me. But you’re saying that was you? Well, I know what you are. You’re not his strength. He buried you and defeated you every day, with every part of himself. He was terribly afraid of letting you out, of giving in to foolishness and pride, of losing himself to that treasure like his grandfather. When he lost that battle against you he lost his followers, his kin, his companions, and he lost the goodwill of the Men that Erebor needed so very badly in order to rebuild the mountain.”

“I have no need for traitors and thieves,” the voice snarled.

“Which is why it’s probably for the best that your idea of being King under the Mountain is hiding away in a broom closet,” Bilbo remarked.

Bilbo’s esophagus flexed inward as the hands tightened and his vision speckled and darkened as he wheezed a breath, and yet the calm remained and sure enough the hands released their hold and he heard hard breathing, as if Thorin fought a battle of his own.

“Let us say I am wrong. What is your plan? What will you do with your kingdom?” Bilbo wished he had asked these questions sooner, when he first learned of the Arkenstone and seen the first glints of something more than resolve in Thorin’s eyes. Yet there had seemed to be little point at the time, when he might have said he knew all that Thorin was, and all he desired for reclaiming his homeland. What anyone would desire. Yet not this one. This one spoke only of his future rule.

“Erebor is mine,” the voice said and beneath the snarling strength there was a plaintive whine.

“Yes, I believe we’ve established that,” Bilbo said dryly. “But tell me, will you let it languish another hundred years? Close off all the doors and sit on your pile of gold? Will you let your city rot and the bodies of your people fall to dust?”

One of the hands fell from Bilbo’s throat and he heard a hiss of breath. Daring to crack open one eye, he saw Thorin bent nearly double, one clawed hand tangled in his hair as he clutched his forehead. His eyes were screwed shut against some silent agony, white teeth digging into his lower lip. Then a great shudder ran through Thorin and he straightened, his breath coming hard and Bilbo closed his eyes against the dragon-spell gaze.

“Erebor will not rot,” Thorin said but his voice grew increasingly ragged and the remaining hand clenched at Bilbo’s throat had no force behind it.

“There are thee armies waiting for you outside these gates,” Bilbo continued relentlessly. “Will you throw open your doors to them? Will you pay them from the treasury of Erebor to arm themselves? Will you share your gold with the dwarves who have come to settle here?”

“I swore they would have none and they never shall. I will not treat with armies at my door!” the voice said.

Then what will you do?” Bilbo snapped and suddenly he was driving Thorin back. The wall was no longer pressing against him. If the stodgy hobbit of six months before could have seen him then he might have fainted dead away on the spot, as he shook a finger at a creature of scales and claws as if it were a naughty child. “If you will not spend the gold to rebuild Erebor or, good heavens, to pay these armies to expand your ‘empire’, then what will you do? You will have to close the doors, because there is little chance Bard or even Dáin will march home without laying siege to the mountain. You cannot face them alone. You could lock the doors, and then you will have to wait, hiding here in the dark like a worm.”

“Silence!” The other hand came up to seize Bilbo anew and Bilbo barely glanced at it, knocking it aside as if it were a poor thrust with a practice sword.

“You are not Thorin,” Bilbo said quietly. “You have nothing of his courage or his leadership, you have nothing of his strength. You lack even base cunning. A ghost, you said, but nothing more than that. Instinct, poisonous thoughts and petty revenge. You are no better than Smaug.”

The sound of breathing was harsh and ragged, such that Bilbo could barely make out the words that were torn from Thorin’s throat. “I will kill you for that,” the voice said. Bilbo shook his head, though he regretted it when his stomach roiled at the motion.

“No, you won’t. Thorin is still in there and in the end, I know he is the stronger of the two of you,” Bilbo said.“Go back to the shadows, back into the corners of his heart where you are stomped on and suppressed. Thorin is a noble king, a good king, and a good leader, who only cared for the gold because it was the work of his people and could bring good to them. He loved his grandfather and loves his nephews and all his kin,” And me, Bilbo thought but would not say aloud, not to this creature. It was still too new, too fragile and wonderful to expose to this creature’s hatred. But fury was burning in Bilbo, and purpose, and desperate hope. He fairly spat: “And I will never let him lose this fight to the likes of you!”

Bilbo froze and his lips stilled as something trickled down his stomach and a dull, throbbing ache began just above his hip. He looked down, dreamily noticing the claws as they retracted from his abdomen. A black stain was spreading over his shirt, which would be quite a bother to get out even with soap or water, he noted with annoyance. Then a hot, searing sensation was spread across his torso and it seemed a good idea at the moment to lower himself to the ground.

Yes, a very good idea indeed, a part of his mind noted as the agony increased ten-fold. Bilbo gave a soft whimper of pain as his legs gave out beneath him.

“It appears your Thorin is not here to stop me.” A shadow loomed above him and crouched down, blue eyes gleaming in a face gone gray in the shadows. “Or perhaps he had no interest.” The creature flicked his hand and hot blood spattered across Bilbo’s face, and trickled down his cheek. Bilbo’s breath came in short, shallow gasps. How strange, he thought, for when he tried to breathe deeper the pain flashed across his body like a lightning bolt.

And in that darkness, there was no telling the difference when his eyes slid closed.

 


Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom