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Hiding in Plain Sight

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“Move,” Fili demanded, and when another dwarf stepped into his path, he brusquely continued pushing through. “I said move!”

“Fee, wait!”

Fili wasn’t waiting. Not a moment more. Not when his stupid uncle was going to do something even stupider, because how could he possibly imagine that this was the truth?

How could he possibly believe that Bilbo was to fault for his attempted assassination?

It had been a long few months since the battle, Bilbo and Thorin both fighting to forgive and forget. Fili had honestly thought that his uncle had believed Bilbo was less to blame for what had transpired with the Arkenstone. He’d thought, as had everyone, that Thorin had put the blame on himself. There had even been talk of reprising the courtship, which had died a swift death as quickly as Thorin had laid hands upon Bilbo and threatened him.

But there had been forgiveness, damn it all, and Thorin’s attempts to “woo” Bilbo back had been disastrously hilarious. Bilbo, at least, had taken it all in stride, had only grinned and accepted Thorin’s attempts at reviving their courtship. Thorin had been calm and without a single hint of the gold lust in his eyes, Bilbo had been less hesitant around them all – and hadn’t that hurt, even as well deserved as it had been – and had begun being his usual witty and chipper self. There had been held hands and sitting closer together and even a few tender moments that Fili and Kili had accidentally stumbled into and immediately disappeared from before Thorin could take his eyes off of Bilbo as they quietly spoke to one another.

Then the threat against Thorin’s life had been made. The attempt, made during Thorin’s welcoming speech to the dwarves from afar, had caused Thorin to fall on Bilbo, and Thorin had been wounded in the attack. Not severely, but enough that Bilbo had fretted and even Dwalin had been grim. For two days, Thorin had lingered in pain, and the dwarves that now called Erebor home had held their breath.

When Thorin had emerged, he’d been a completely different dwarf. And not, apparently, for the better.

Fili managed to get to the front of the crowd and stopped only because arms grabbed him to hold him back. Bofur had a surprisingly strong grip, and Bombur as well. Both were silent, but Bofur’s face held the same fear that Fili could feel twisting his insides into knots.

There, standing before the throne, wrists and ankles wrapped in chains, was Bilbo. The hobbit looked utterly baffled, staring up at the throne with such hurt in his eyes that Fili could barely stand to see it. Thorin sat upon the throne, eyes dark and stormy, pinning Bilbo to his spot. He was already giving the sentence, and Fili pulled against Bofur’s hold to no avail.

“You plotted against me, and for how long?” Thorin demanded. “To wound me? To take back what I reclaimed from your conspirators?”

Conspirators?” Bilbo stammered. “Thorin, there are no conspirators, I wouldn’t dare think of-“

“You dare to address me by my given name?” Thorin bellowed, and Bilbo shrunk back. “You lost that right when you tried to have me killed!”

“Uncle!” Fili shouted, and he would tear his tunic if it meant getting free. Kili was right behind him, a coiled bundle of nerves that was as ready to strike as he was. “Uncle, stop!”

Thorin ignored him. “You beguiled your way into my heart, you struck me with your blade-“

“I didn’t do that!” Bilbo cried desperately. The chains rattled around his wrists as he reached towards Thorin. “You know it wasn’t me!”

“-and you thought I would never know,” Thorin finished. He glared at Bilbo with such anger and hatred. And Fili couldn’t stand it for a moment more.

“Uncle, enough!” he shouted, but Bofur all but shoved him back into the crowd. “Let me go!”

“You go up there, you’re liable to be tagged a conspirator with him,” Bofur hissed. “Our best chance of helpin’ Bilbo isn’t here, lad. Your uncle’s gone mad. Nothin’ more to be done right now.”

“And if he condemns Bilbo to death?” Kili hissed frantically.

“Can’t execute him here,” Bombur said lowly. “Has to be scheduled to give everyone a chance to view it.”

Fili felt sick. Bilbo, executed.

What in Mahal’s name had happened?

Perhaps Uncle hadn’t tossed the Arkenstone down to the depths like he’d promised. Maybe he was sleeping with it, and his long hours abed with his wound had left him filled with the gold lust once more. Maybe there was an explanation that didn’t involve this, this tragedy, this almost farce of an idea. Bilbo setting up his uncle’s assassination. It was unthinkable.

“Have you anything to say for yourself, Burglar?” Thorin snapped, and Fili struggled against Bofur again.

Bilbo pushed himself to full standing, as best he could with the chains about his wrists and ankles. “You know I didn’t do this,” he said. “Thorin, this is just the gold lust, you know that. Fight against it! You did it before, you can do it again. I’m innocent!”

“Lies!” Thorin roared, shooting to his feet. “And I will hear no more! I sentence you-“

No!” Fili screamed, and Thorin finally looked up at him. Bofur and Bombur both froze in surprise, and Fili took advantage of his freedom to dart forward. “You will not! Don’t you touch him!”

Kili raced after him but said nothing. Still, his presence, in front of all the other dwarves, spoke volumes in and of itself. “Gentle, Fee,” he murmured, and Fili had to swallow back his righteous anger. It would do him no good here.

Not if he wanted to save Bilbo’s life.

“You don’t want to do this,” he said in a more reasonable tone. Probably not that reasonable, given the way that Kili winced behind him, but he didn’t care. “You love him, Uncle, you know you do.”

“I hold no love for a thief and a liar,” Thorin spat, and it was like falling through time, landing on his feet to the day when Thorin had dangled Bilbo above the gates and nearly killed him. Except this time, this time Fili wouldn’t stand by and let Thorin have his way and hurt Bilbo. No, this time Fili would stand with the hobbit and speak out.

“Yes you do. This is the gold lust, you know that. Fight it.”

“Do you conspire with him, too?” Thorin bellowed. Bilbo was frantically shaking his head, his eyes pleading with Fili to back down, but Fili gritted his teeth. He refused.

“No one is conspiring against you, least of all me, Kili, and Bilbo. We’ve stood by you all this time, and I would defend you with my dying breath. But you are not yourself, and you are threatening the one person you love-“

“I hold no love for him any longer. He is cast out from me,” Thorin declared ruthlessly, and Fili watched as Bilbo flinched and ducked his head. “For his treason against me and his attempt on my life, he deserves nothing short of death.”

“No!” Kili shouted. Fili caught his brother and managed to hold him back in time. Dwalin, standing beside the throne, had a hand already on his axe, watching Fili and Kili warily. Do something, Fili pleaded with him silently, but the guard remained immovable. Loyal to Thorin, even when it would cost the dwarf a good friend. More than a friend, Bilbo was kin.

“Thorin, please,” Bilbo choked out, eyes wide in fear and pain. “Thorin, I didn’t, you know I didn’t-“


Bilbo shrank back, tears falling from his eyes. Thorin just continued glaring at him, his rage almost a palpable figure in the room with them. “You are hereby condemned to the lowest of dungeons where none other may go. There, you will rot until I decide to give you the mercy of death. You will welcome the blade, in due time.”

“No!” Fili shouted, but Bofur and Bombur hauled him back before he could start towards his uncle. Kili was clinging to him, fingers digging grooves into Fili’s arm, and Fili could only watch helplessly as Bilbo was taken away by Dwalin. Thorin left the throne room shortly thereafter, Balin trailing behind him, and the older dwarf’s eyes were sorrowful as they cast over Fili and Kili.

It was done. Thorin had decreed it. And now, Bilbo would suffer in the pits of Erebor forever.

Not if Fili had anything to say about it.

With a snarl he spun around and pushed his way through the crowd once more. “Fili, wait,” Bofur called. Waiting wasn’t going to happen, though. No, this was far more important and Bilbo’s life was literally on the line, and if Fili could change his fate, if Fili could just, just talk to Thorin, maybe he could break the gold lust.

Or just threaten his uncle enough that Bilbo could be freed. Now there was a thought.

“Where are you going?” Kili called after him once he’d reached the main halls. “Fili!”

Fili finally stopped and rounded on his brother, then blinked when he saw Bofur, Bombur, Ori, Dori, and Gloin there as well. “What are you all doing?” he asked dumbly.

“Followin’ you,” Gloin said grimly. “Because we’ve all got a feelin’ you’re headin’ to give your uncle a piece of your mind. And quite frankly, we’d all like to give him one.”

“It’s not right,” Dori said, shaking his head. “Bilbo wouldn’t dare. He loves Thorin. I can’t even begin to fathom how the King would think that Bilbo would hurt him.”

“Where’s Nori?” Bofur asked.

Ori made a face. “Trying to tail Dwalin, I think, to try and spring Bilbo free. I don’t think it’s going to work.”

Still, the fact that he was willing to try spoke volumes. Fili took a deep breath, then another. “You do realize that by doing this, we are, in fact, more treasonous than even Bilbo,” he said lowly. “I will risk my life, but you don’t have to-“

“With all due respect, your princeliness, shut your gob,” Bofur said, waving him off. “We know what we’re doin’. We’re not lettin’ Bilbo die. Not when we can do somethin’ about it.”

All of them seemed to be of the same mindset. All of them stood before him, jaws clenched and fists primed. All of them were willing to risk their lives, to risk banishment or torture, just to speak the truth against their gold lust maddened king.

“Right,” Fili said, and that was that. “Then let’s go.”

The walk up to the royal chambers felt less like a death walk and more like a battle march. Fili kept rolling over words in his head and coming up empty. What could he possibly say? “Uncle, you’re mad, and we’re here to stop you”? “Uncle I’ll fight you to release Bilbo”? “Please let Bilbo go and no one gets hurt”?

He found his fingers tightened around his blade and forced himself to breathe. This was his uncle. The one who’d helped raised him, who’d helped him with studies, showed him how to wield his blade, had carefully bandaged little cuts with a smile and a forehead tap. This was Thorin, and the thought of pulling his blade against him made Fili sick to his stomach.

But Bilbo’s life was on the line. He had no idea what the bottom pits of Erebor looked like, but he had to assume that they were vile and would kill Bilbo just as quickly as a sword would. If his real uncle Thorin, the one who’d fought so hard to win Bilbo back, could see himself now, he would do the same thing. This was about saving more than Bilbo, it was about saving Thorin, too. For his uncle’s own good, Fili would have to do this.

The hallway to the royal chambers was empty, save for two guards who saw Fili and gave quick nods. “Be elsewhere,” Fili told them.

One of them frowned. “I’m sorry, your highness-“

“I said be elsewhere,” Fili growled, and the eyes of the dwarves went behind him to the Company. Their eyes went wide, and they both immediately disappeared. That was done, at least.

“Right behind you,” Kili whispered to him. Fili glanced at his little brother, still standing stalwart by Fili’s side, and for a moment, he wished he had words that would make Kili go elsewhere, too. He wished he could send him away to where he wouldn’t be involved in this, but he knew it wouldn’t happen.

Everyone else also stood at the ready. With a single deep breath Fili pushed the doors open, already speaking. “Uncle, we will not be silent-“

Only for his voice to completely fail him as he took in the scene before him. The Company pushed in around him, half with their weapons drawn, and they, too, stopped where they were.

Standing behind the grand table in the center of the chamber stood Balin and Dwalin, both blinking in surprise. Seated in front of them at one end of the table was Thorin, hair already down from court, also staring in shock.

In fact, the only person who didn’t seem surprised was Bilbo, seated across from Thorin at the table.

Fili stared. No chains, no marks, nothing that denoted that the scene in the throne room not twenty minutes before had transpired. His hair looked unruly, as if he’d tried to brush it back into place and failed, but his clothes were his usual comfortable clothes, and his face was clean and dry of tears. He looked exactly like the Bilbo Fili had seen only yesterday, worried for Thorin and thinking he was up doing too much too soon.

Balin sighed. “Well, he did warn us,” he muttered, and he glanced at Bilbo.

“Get in here, all of you,” Bilbo said, pursing his lips. “Well? Shut the door!”

In an instant everyone was hurrying around Fili and further into the room, and Gloin raced to shut the door. “Wait, Nori,” Ori began, but Dwalin cut him off.

“Don’t bother. Your brother’s off doin’ what he does best: disappearin’ into a crowd and hearin’ things he ought not to hear. In this instance, we need him to.”

Dori furrowed his brow at that – his displeasure clear – and Bofur spoke next. “Someone mind tellin’ me why Bilbo’s not in the deepest and darkest depths of Erebor? Because that’s what we, um, sort of came up to stop. And it seems to have already been stopped.”

“I did warn-“

“I know, you warned us,” Thorin said with a sigh. He pinched the bridge of his nose, and without his hair up in the braids of the court, he looked more relaxed and nowhere close to as cruel as he had earlier. Of course, the fond exasperation he tossed Bilbo’s way probably had something to do with that. “Why must you be right about everything?”

“I think the question you need to ask yourself is why are you always wrong,” Bilbo teased, a gentle smile on his face. Dwalin snorted in amusement, Balin grinned, and Fili had never felt so lost before in his entire life. He stared, his heart still racing, and he realized that his hands were shaking a little, clenched into tight fists. He tried to find words to speak, tried to figure out what was happening, but he couldn’t seem to find the air to do it with.

Bilbo glanced at him, and his smile fell in the wake of Fili’s distress. “Thorin,” he said, and that caught his uncle’s attention. Thorin rose from his seat and carefully made his way to Fili. He looked just like the uncle Fili had always known and not the creature that had worn his face in the throne room.

“What’s going on?” Fili managed to choke out. “Uncle?”

Thorin began to speak, but Bilbo cut him off. “That’s a longer story. I promise you, however, that everything’s fine. We’re all fine, Fili.”

Fili looked his uncle over. There was no hatred or rage in his eyes, just growing concern for Fili. No gold lust, nothing. Just Thorin. “No gold lust?” he asked, because he had to know, he had to.

“No,” Thorin assured him. “The Arkenstone is lost to the depths. I promise. Are you all right, Fili?”

Fili tried to say that yes, he was fine, because obviously he was losing his mind and he’d imagined the entire court sentencing. Dwarves went mad sometimes, right? He’d faced a dragon and it had obviously done things to his brain.

“No, you are not,” Thorin said, and he took Fili into his arms. Then he shifted and held Fili with only one arm, and the next thing he knew, Fili had Kili tucked in against him. Fili shut his eyes and clung to his uncle, leaning fully against him. Nothing made sense and he was still half certain he was going mad.

But Thorin was calm and the uncle Fili had always known, and Bilbo was still there, still alive, and for some reason, still all right. He took a breath, then another.

When Thorin let him go, then, he was ready. “Tell me what’s really going on,” he said.

Kili spoke up before Bilbo could explain. “Bilbo’s really not in trouble, then? You’re not going to kill him?”

Thorin flinched, and Bilbo sighed. “It had to be done,” he said. “You know it did.”

“That does not mean I approve of it,” Thorin said lowly.

“There was a second option.”

“Which all of us liked even less,” Dwalin snapped.

“I’d have been fine-“

“And given them a chance to kill you while traveling to the Shire?” Thorin yelled, but it wasn’t with rage, but rather, fear. He caught Bilbo’s face gently between his hands and pressed their foreheads together. “I will not risk your life. I will not. I have only just gotten you back; I will not lose you now.”

Bilbo’s face went a bit red at such a bold declaration, but he finally nodded slightly. “That’s why we did it this way.”

“Did it what way?” Bofur asked, exasperation clear.

Thorin finally parted from Bilbo, his eyes stormy and troubled. “The arrow that pierced me during the attack was poisoned. I’m well,” he assured them when the Company surged forward with worried exclamations. “I am well. The poison was slight, and I am fully recovered. Oin found it to be balsat berry juice. A mere inconvenience at most.”

Fili frowned. Balsat berries left your stomach a little sick for a bit, and that was if you were foolish enough to eat more than a few handfuls. “There’s no concentration of that to be considered deadly,” he said.

“Not to dwarves,” Balin said gently, and as one everyone’s eyes went to Bilbo. Bilbo swallowed but finally nodded.

“Balsat berries are highly poisonous to hobbits. It’s fairly common knowledge, if you ask a hobbit. The rangers might know it, now, but no one else would unless they asked.”

“How many berries does it take to make a hobbit very ill?” Kili asked.

“A few, at most. And it doesn’t just make us ill.”

Fili turned to Thorin, his mind spinning. “The arrow wasn’t for you,” he said, his stomach churning with dread. Thorin said nothing, but the look on his face spoke volumes.

The arrow hadn’t been intended for Thorin. It had been meant for Bilbo. Thorin had just been in the way- or had he? Had his uncle moved to cover Bilbo? It had been such a flurry of moments, and everyone had assumed it was Thorin who’d been the target-

“My head hurts,” Kili muttered. Dwalin snorted.

“You think your head hurts, you should see where we’ve been the past few days, tryin’ to muddle up what to do about it.”

“What good’s a mock trial?” Dori asked, perplexed, even while Gloin lamented the fact that his brother had known and hadn’t told him. “You’re giving them what they want, aren’t they? They obviously see fit to inflict pain and death upon Bilbo, and if you’ve ‘condemned’ him to death-“

“But he hasn’t,” Bilbo stressed. “I’m not dead, not yet. I’m just languishing in prison, oh dear.” He put his hand up to his head as if he would faint, and Fili grinned despite the situation. Thorin seemed to be swallowing back his own smile.

“So…?” Kili pressed.

Thorin shook his head. “With such a calculated attack, we believe that there is more to it than simply killing Bilbo. We believe there are other plans and motivations. Bilbo, however, has to be out of the way first. And now he will be, safely. This gives us time to uncover the truth of what is going on.”

“There’s no deep and dark dungeon in Erebor, is there,” Ori said, crossing his arms and looking just as annoyed as Dori and Nori could look. Dwalin seemed highly amused by him.

“There is,” Balin admitted. “But it’s sort of blocked in by rocks at the moment. And the only way to get in there is to get past the guards.”

“So how is Bilbo going to be safe by hiding up here? Someone’s going to find him!”

In reply to Kili’s lament, Bilbo merely pulled something from his pocket. It glinted in the light of the room, and Fili realized instantly what it was – his golden ring. It would keep Bilbo invisible and keep him safe.

Slowly Fili felt himself beginning to truly relax. “Why not tell us?” he asked, however.

“Because we needed you to be genuine,” Thorin said regretfully. “We needed your response, your fear and righteous anger, to be genuine. You would have been told after today.”

“I, however, told your uncle that you wouldn’t wait that long, that you’d be up here right after the trial,” Bilbo said, and he sounded a bit smug about it. He flipped the ring into the air and caught it neatly in his palm. “And I was right.”

“Of course we were coming straight up here afterward,” Fili said. “Your life was on the line, and we were terrified that Uncle had fallen back into gold lust. There was no hesitating. Not when it was something this important.”

Bilbo’s cheeks went a bit red at the implication that he had been important enough to fight for. “Well, thank you,” he finally said, voice soft with emotion. “That, well. Yes.”

Thorin just gazed fondly at him, making Bilbo all the redder. “All right, enough,” Bilbo finally said, waving them off. “We have work to do. Assassins to find and plots to uncover and all that.”

And hobbits to woo, but Fili would leave that for his uncle. He had a feeling Thorin had already mapped out a chunk of Bilbo’s hair fit for braiding. Given that the hobbit’s hair was growing a little on the longer side, and he hadn’t brought up the idea of cutting it, Fili had a guess that that conversation may well have happened already.

“So we may get approached,” Bofur said. “You think we might get pulled in to whatever this is, am I right?”

“You are. There are two clear stances here: those against Thorin, and those for him. Now it’s just a matter of seeing who gets spoken to by whom,” Balin said. He stroked the end of his beard. “This stays within the Company.”

“Can we tell Bifur?”

“He already knows,” Bilbo said, and Bofur sputtered at that. “We had to – he was ready to charge Thorin to rescue me before the trial, so we had to tell him. I think he’s wading through Erebor the same as Nori is right now.”

“And Oin knows,” Gloin muttered.

Bilbo’s lips turned up. “And Oin knows, yes. Sorry. He was sort of the first one to know besides myself and Thorin, actually.”

Gloin looked more highly put out at that. Thorin rolled his eyes but turned more seriously to the Company. “Never I have needed your aid more than now. I worry less for the throne and more for the life of Bilbo and my kin. Will you lend me your loyalty once more?”

Bilbo blinked, surprised at his words. Fili, too, was a bit shocked at the easy acceptance that Bilbo was worth more than the throne, but he quickly put that thought away for later. “Uncle,” he said, “you never lost our loyalty. We’ll stand by you and act however we need to. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”

And they would. Not just for Erebor’s sake, but for Bilbo’s sake, Thorin’s sake. Because Fili seemed to be a hopeless romantic at heart, and he wanted to see Thorin gift Bilbo with a bead, wanted to call Bilbo his uncle, too.

Thorin gave a nod, his gratitude shining in his eyes. “Thank you.”

The Company began speaking with each other, most going up to embrace Bilbo and seemingly baffling the hobbit. Good. He needed to know that he wasn't just adored by Thorin, that Thorin was not the only dwarf looking to make amends for the hobbit who had given his everything to save them and their quest. It was Bilbo who needed help now, and he would have it.

Kili stepped closer to him. “I thought we’d already won Erebor,” he said quietly in Fili’s ears. “Seems like the battle’s not over yet, eh?”

“No, not even close, Kee,” he said quietly in return. “I think that it’s just starting.”