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like warriors from the ancient sagas

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Bilbo Baggins was sitting on what little stoop his quarters had, drinking a cup of tarkalean tea, when he glanced up just far enough from his padd to see a tall figure looming over him. “Good morning, sir.”

“What do you mean?” the figure said. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?”

“All of them at once, I suppose,” Bilbo said, beginning to feel a sinking sense of defeat as he realized this visitor was going to keep him from reading the news. “However sir, I can’t seem to read your thoughts, so if you want to know something I’m afraid you’re going to have to use your words and be marginally less cryptic.”

The man seemed to grin, or he did from the tone of his voice, “Your urgency is appreciated but unnecessary, but if you must know, I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

“I would think so in these parts. We’re just a bunch of business owners and families out here--nobody has any time for anything like an adventure. Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things that make you late for dinner. No, nobody in these parts is looking for anything like that.” Deciding to keep on pretending to ignore his visitor, Bilbo went back to focusing on his padd, still feeling slightly unsettled that he couldn’t read the man’s thoughts, or even sense any of his emotions. He must know enough about telepaths to be shielding, and have some telepathic sensitivity himself, Bilbo thought. But it seemed as though the man could sense that he was bothering Bilbo, and was staying anyways. Bilbo still didn’t glance up, but said, “Maybe you should try and grab one of those Starfleet kids, they always seem to be getting into adventures if the holos are to be believed.”

The man remained silent.

“Good morning?” Bilbo repeated, growing more uncomfortable by the minute.

“You sure do like that phrase, don’t you? Are you trying to get me to leave?”

Bilbo finally accepted his defeat, and plastered on a fairly fake looking smile, looking up at the man. “Not at all! Although I don’t believe I’ve gotten your name?”

“Of course not. I haven’t offered it, although I do know your name, Mr. Bilbo Baggins, son of the fourth house of Betazed. And you know my name, or you did once. In these parts I’m known as Gandalf. To think that I was just good-morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, like I was some kind of Ferengi going door to door selling gold pressed latinum bonds.” At the end of this statement, he let out a loud “hmmph” and leaned against the opposite side of the hallway, crossing his arms.

Gandalf? As in the Gandalf who used to come bringing fabulous gifts and stories from as far away as Regulus? Who used to program the most incredible holo programs with the most beautiful places in the galaxy? It can’t be!” Bilbo stood up to his full height, which was still quite a bit shorter than Gandalf even with the other man slouching. “You were the one who’d encouraged a bunch of the kids around here to join Starfleet and the Diplomacy Corps and really made things inter-I mean, chaotic around here. I also don’t remember not being able to read your thoughts. But more recently, the last I heard you were a Flag Officer, I’d had no idea you were doing anything differently.”

“Technically, I’m still affiliated with Starfleet, although in a slightly different role. However, I’m glad you still have fond memories of my holography, that’s hopeful. And I’m here to ask a favor of your mother.”

Bilbo’s stomach sank. “Mr.-Admiral-Officer Gandalf, sir, surely you’re mistaken. My mother’s been dead for over 15 years.”

Gandalf sighed and placed a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. “I know, and I’m beyond sorry for your loss. But the point remains that your mother owed me a favor when she died, and as the heir of her house the responsibility to see that debt paid falls to you, my lad.”

“Fair enough,” Bilbo said, feeling a migraine coming on and beginning to want the conversation to just be over, regardless of the output. “What do I owe you?”

“I need to host a meeting at your home tonight, with a few of my friends.”

“Sure. Fine. Whatever. Do you need me to make dinner?”

Gandalf waved him off. “Feel free to just replicate something. They’re a sophisticated bunch, but they’ve been in a strange set of circumstances. Good morning, Mr. Baggins. I’ll see you later this evening.”

And with that, Gandalf strode off, leaving Bilbo with nothing but a slowly rising sense of panic and a mug of already gone cold tarkalean tea.

Miraculously, Bilbo had managed to put the conversation mostly out of his mind by that evening. He’d gone about his normal day: he’d gone down to the arboretum on the promenade and visited with one of the Gamgee’s, discussing his current botany project (attempting to hybridize Vulcan orchids and a flowering bush from Alpha Centauri), and then had his biweekly and always painful lunch with his rude cousin, Lobelia. By the time he was settling back down in his quarters, a replicated pasta dinner in hand, to watch a holoprogram, his meeting with Gandalf was completely forgotten. Until, there came a buzz at the door. Bilbo shouted, “Give me a sec!” and stopped at the replicator to replicate another dinner before rushing and opening the door, at which point he promptly froze.

It wasn’t Gandalf at all. Instead, looming in the doorway was the biggest Klingon Bilbo had ever seen--not that he’d seen any, mind you, outside of holos and news reports--wearing a dark green cloak tied with a golden belt and a massive blade strapped to his back. He strode inside, managing not to touch Bilbo but still making him feel as though he’d been shoved out of the way, and took off his cloak and dropped it on the counter, revealing muscles that were massive even on his already huge frame.

Then he turned back to Bilbo, slapped him on the shoulder hard, and said, “Dwalin, son of Fundin, of the house of Durin, at your service.”

Bilbo cleared his throat. “Bilbo Baggins, at yours. I assume you’re here for Gandalf’s meeting?”

The Klingon--Dwalin--grunted. “He is called Tharkûn amongst my people.”

Bilbo swallowed again, trying to quell the sense of foreboding that he could feel rapidly growing. “Of course, of course. Please, follow me, I’ll grab your dinner.”

Bilbo had rushed to grab his guest’s meal from the replicator--a pointless move, as Dwalin had already began eating Bilbo’s--and was going to sit back down when there was another buzz at the door. Bilbo stood up, and began going back to the replicator. Surely it was Gandalf this time. “Computer, open the door.”

But once again it was not. Another Klingon strode in. This one was a little older, his long hair and beard gone white, and not quite as big as the first. He let out a large laugh as he set his bag beside Dwalin’s cloak. “I see my fellows have already begun to arrive!” He crossed the kitchen to where Bilbo stood and shook his hand firmly. “Balin, son of Fundin, of the house of Durin, at your service.”

“Uh, thanks,” Bilbo said, one arm still trapped in the firm grasp of this new Klingon’s handshake. “I’m replicating dinner, but would you like anything specific to drink--tea, soda, water?”

“If you have any bloodwine or saurian brandy, really anything with liquor, that’d suit me better,” Balin said, grinning and showing a fair amount of teeth. “Dinner smells delicious though--it may be no gagh , but a pot roast is always good, even if it does come out of a protein resequencer.”

“Good, good.” Bilbo’s hand had finally been released, and he placed a hand on the Klingon’s shoulder, which was about the same height as his head, in an attempt to steer him into the living room. “Here’s dinner, will Andorian ale do?”

However, Balin ignored his question in favor of rushing forward and throwing his arms around Dwalin, who’d stood up to greet him. “Brother! Truly, the blessing of Kahless is upon this journey if you and I are fighting side by side again.”

Deciding to dodge the family reunion, Bilbo had fled back to the kitchen to fetch three glasses of Andorian ale--he had a feeling he was going to need it by the end of the night. The door buzzed again. Bilbo let out a loud groan, which he was grateful the Klingon’s did not hear as they were too busy recounting stories of their most recent battles, and darted back through the kitchen. “Please in the name of the four deities let this be Gandalf,” he thought, buzzing open the door again.

However, his luck had not returned, and this time not one but two Klingons stepped into Bilbo’s home. These two looked like the Klingons that you would see in a holo: the young, handsome warriors that began populating romance novel covers almost immediately after the Khitomer accords. They were both tall and broad, although not quite as broad as Dwalin, with dark tunics and silver armored vests over them. They also both wore a black sash, with a bunch of pins on them--perhaps showing their military achievements. And of course, on their backs were two more blades. One of them was tanned with golden hair, while the other was fairer but with the more average dark hair. The two grinned at each other and then turned, completely synchronized, to Bilbo.

“Fíli,” the blonde one began.

“--and Kíli ,” said the one with the dark hair in continuation.

“Sons of Dis, of the house of Durin, at your service,” they finished together, bowing.

“At yours and your family’s,” Bilbo stuttered.

“You must be Mr. Boggins,” Kíli said, throwing a massive arm over Bilbo’s shoulder and causing his knees to buckle. “Tharkûn hadn’t mentioned that you were Betazoid.”

“Oh! Of course not,” Bilbo croaked out. “But yes, I am. Son of the fourth house, although that doesn’t mean much since I’m a son.”

“Tell me, are your people’s women as sensual and beautiful as I’ve heard?” Fíli said, jokingly wiggling his eyebrows and making his brother laugh loudly.

“I wouldn’t know,” Bilbo remarked dryly. “They’re just like all women, I suppose. Please, I’ll replicate you two some dinner while you go sit down with--”

“Dwalin and Balin,” Fíli finished, grabbing the bottle of Andorian ale as they went through the kitchen.

Bilbo cleared his throat and they turned back to him in exact unison. “Could you two please also leave your swords out here, and tell your friend Mr. Dwalin to do the same?”

Kíli’s eyebrows knitted together. “You would ask us to be unarmed in your home?” Apparently Bilbo’s face had looked especially distressed, because he immediately started laughing. “Yes, Mr. Boggins, we can do that. You don’t seem too dangerous, but it’s always the quiet ones.”

Kíli had gone off with his and his brother’s swords, and Fíli grabbed Bilbo’s shoulder again, although slightly more gently. “He means no offense. And thanks again for hosting us tonight, Tharkûn probably didn’t tell you that Klingon parties can get more than a little out of hand.”

“Party?!” Bilbo had cried, but the brothers had already moved into the living room and sat down beside their companions. The door buzzed again, seeming to grow harsher every time. “How many more of you are there?”

“At the door right now it should be four,” Kíli said, taking Dwalin’s bat’leth and twirling it around as he carried it back to the counter with the rest of their belongings. “They were a few spots behind us to get a docking permit for their shuttles."

Bilbo ducked into his  kitchen, leaned up against the kitchen counter, splashed some water on his face, and took a deep, sobering breath. “At least my guests are having fun,” he murmured, allowing their joyful mood to wash over him.

The door buzzed again--they must have gotten tired of waiting--and Bilbo sprinted the last few feet and opened it. It turned out to be five, not four, and they all swept past him with bows, handshakes, and a few firm pats on the shoulder. These five, were Dori, Nori, and Ori, sons of Drori, house of Mubok, who all had very ornately done beards, and Óin and Glóin, sons of Gróin, house of Durin. They all demanded drinks, but the four Klingons already there had finished off the Andorian ale, forcing Bilbo to break out the rest of his limited liquor collection: three bottles of springwine and a bottle of kanar from planets so far out of Federation space he couldn’t name them, a twelve pack of Miller Light, a human drink the Gamgees had turned him on to, and something unidentifiable but very green.

They were quickly burning through the remaining alcohol in toasts to great battles, both throughout the ancient history of the Klingon Empire as well as from the far more recent Battle of Khitomer, when Glóin, distinguishable by his massive amount of red hair and equally impressive beard, pulled Bilbo to the side and pressed a credit chip into his hand. “Lad, we’re gonna need more than this if you expect us to keep a fight from breaking out.”

Bilbo took the chip with no small amount of hesitation, and asked, “You’re certain that giving them more won’t make a fight happen faster?”

Glóin shrugged. “In my experience, getting them drunker means they do less damage to each other. Now go on, and get us some of your people’s drinks while you're at it.”

Bilbo sighed, but he could sense Glóin’s earnestness and let it lie. “Please try to keep them from breaking my house.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Glóin said, placing his hand over his chest. “I swear it on my honor as a--”

“That’s quite enough, just try not to break the lamps, they’re vintage.” Bilbo waved him off. “I’ll be back in a few! Anybody have any requests?”

A few minutes later, he was back from the station’s liquor store, the Green Dragon, armed with over a dozen bottles of booze and his shopping list, when he found three more Klingons at his door.

One of them, wearing an abnormally large fuzzy hat, let out a big laugh and playfully shoved one of his companions. “Oy, look at that, Glóin must’ve gotten to him.”

“Good evening,” Bilbo said. “Can one of you three hold the bags while I get the door?”

The one who’d been shoved turned to Bilbo and took the bags, and it was then that Bilbo saw--

“Good gods, is that an axe?”

“Part of an ushaan-tor, actually,” the first one said, “but it’s only a flesh wound. One of the doctors said it’s embedded in the part of the brain that deals with language, so his universal translator doesn’t work anymore, but he’s still fairly good at communicating his demands. His name’s Bifur, and he’s my cousin, and I’m Bofur, and this other one--” He pointed to the fattest Klingon Bilbo had ever seen, who was still sitting on the floor across the hall from Bilbo’s porch. “--Is my brother Bombur.”

“You three aren’t going to tell me your house?” Bilbo asked absently, keying in his code for his door.

“Oh, we would if we were from one of the High Houses, but unlike the rest of our companions we’re strictly working class,” Bofur said, pulling a bottle from Bifur’s bag and popping it open. “Oh, this is good stuff, cheers.”

Bilbo shook his head and stepped inside before he could watch his newest Klingon friends drink straight from the bottle. “Go join everybody else on the couch, leave your bat’leths here please, and I’ll be right over after I replicate dinner.”

Bilbo had just brought over their dinners when there was another buzz at the door, and Bilbo could sense from his guests that this was the final one. They all were quiet as he opened the door, and there was one last Klingon, as well as the familiar face Bilbo had been waiting for all evening.

“Gandalf, do come in!” Bilbo said, gesturing with his arms and allowing the tall man to move in with a serene smile on his face. “I must say when you mentioned this meeting I didn’t expect it to turn into such a party or have quite so many people, or that they’d be Klingons of all species, but it’s been fine so far. I see there’s one final guest, and you are?”

This last Klingon was tall, with a head of dark hair and piercing blue eyes. He gave off an aura of pride, and he was dressed similarly to Fíli and Kíli, with a silver sash covered in medals and awards. Bilbo, who had never followed anyone into battle in his life and certainly never planned on, finally understood why people did it: this was a man, or a Klingon, he supposed, who was deserving of leadership, who people would follow. When he spoke, his voice was deep, and he seemed less cheerful, less outgoing than the rest of them. “I am Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, of the house of Durin, Captain of the ISS Oakenshield.”

Bilbo still felt slightly in awe of him, but finally managed to force out, “Bilbo Baggins, son of the fourth house of Betazed, at the service of you and yours.”

Thorin smiled, and although it was a small one, Bilbo could sense deep joy. “You already have been. It is good to see you, sister-sons.”

“Aye, uncle,” Fíli said, standing up and touching his forehead to the man who was his uncle. Kíli must have done the same, but Bilbo had turned away, feeling that he was interloping on something very personal.

Gandalf, who had been suspiciously silent thus far, cleared his throat. “Well, now that we’ve all eaten and made merry, it is time to get down to business.” He pulled a small object from his pocket and set it on the kitchen island, and after clicking a button on its side, it projected a 3D map of the quadrant. The Klingons had stood up and gathered around it and Bilbo, who had been there to replicate more food for his two most recent arrivals, was trapped between Glóin and Ori who were gazing up at the map in undisguised interest.

“Far across the stars, in a region of space known in the Federation as the Triangle, and specifically in the Celindi nebula, lies a small Minshara class world,” Gandalf said, pointing at a planet near the center of the map.

“‘The Lonely Planet’?” Bilbo read.

“Aye. Erebor.” Óin, Glóin's brother, who inexplicably carried what appeared to be a large ear trumpet, nodded. “I’ve read the sacred texts, and they all say it is time. The RAVENHILL system has finally reset, and its been broadcasting all the way to Qo’nos. The time of the beast is ending.”

“The beast?” Bilbo repeated.

“Smaug the Terrible,” Bofur added helpfully, “chiefest and greatest calamity of our time. Flies, breathes fire, claws bigger than baby’s first bat’leth--”
“Wait, wait, wait, are you talking about a dragon?” Bilbo’s dark eyes went wide. “Surely you’re not serious.”

“He does not jest,” Thorin said, and his voice caused all the little whispering to stop. “Our task is to cross the stars and reclaim our homeland from a dragon that wiped out over half the house of my ancestors over a century ago.”

“Captain, we number only thirteen in this room today,” Balin said. “Did you not seek aid from the High Council?”

Thorin’s blue eyes seemed to darken, like a bright sky becoming a thunderstorm, and his jaw was set. “I did. I went to them, I went to Dain and his house, and I went back to the High Council again. They will not help us. They say this quest is ours and ours alone.”

The soft murmurs started up again, and several of the Klingons, namely Dori and Glóin, looked and felt more than a little concerned.

“It does not matter how many warriors we have. What matters is the strength of the warrior.” Fíli had leaned over the counter, and was looking around at the group. “We’re fighters, all of us.”

Dwalin nodded, and crossed his arms over his chest, making his biceps appear about as large as one of Bilbo’s thighs. “Four thousand throats may be cut in one night by a running man.”

“We also have an asset nobody is expecting us to have: Tharkûn. He’s certainly killed space monsters before,” Kíli said in a conspiratorial stage whisper. This drew further nods and soft murmuring from the others.

Gandalf let out a soft, noncommittal hum and took a drag on--good lord, when had he found time to light a pipe? Dori, who had shown up in the group of five and had a very ornately done beard like his brothers’, although his was pure white, gave Gandalf a sharp look. “Well, how many dragons have you killed?”

Gandalf choked on a puff of smoke, and stuttered out, “Well, I haven’t specifically done that but--”

Immediately twelve of the thirteen Klingons seemed to get into the discussion all at once, and Bilbo was hit with a wave of so many different variations of “irritated” he couldn’t have specifically identified them. Suddenly, there was the sound of broken glass, and Bilbo looked up to see one of the bottles of liquor shattered into a bunch of pieces on the corner of his kitchen island, and the rest of it in Thorin’s hand.

Thorin bellowed something in such rapid fire Klingon that Bilbo’s translator couldn’t keep up, but just before it started working, he switched back into standard. “If we have seen the signs, others have as well. Eyes throughout the Empire and beyond look to Erebor, nestled right in the triangle, one of the most strategic points in the quadrant. We can not wait for others to claim what is ours, we must take it ourselves. Do we let them take it, or seize our destiny like the children of Kahless we are?”

The room filled with cheerful Klingon roars, and aside from the fact that he wondered if his eardrums were going to split, Bilbo was grateful that Thorin had redirected them back to making plans instead of starting trouble. Balin, however, shook his head. “We’re still locked out of the RAVENHILL system. There’s no way to get onto the planet without putting it at risk of destruction.”

“Actually, that’s not quite true,” Gandalf said. He reached into the pocket of his long robes, similar to the Vulcan style, and pulled out what looked like a credit chip and handed it to Thorin. The room quieted once again, and Bilbo felt Thorin’s shock at this item that Bilbo couldn’t quite see to identify.

When he spoke, Thorin’s voice was soft, almost choked up. “How did you come by this?”

“The last time I saw your father, about a year before the Battle of the Binary Stars, he gave me this for safekeeping. I have kept it safe for long enough, and now I am giving it to you,” Gandalf said.

Fíli's blue eyes (Durin blue, Bilbo thought, unsure if it was his own idea or one borrowed from one of his new companions) brightened. “Does that--”

“Yes,” Thorin said, holding the info stick up into the light, where small engraved symbols could be seen. “It holds all the emergency access codes we need to retake control of RAVENHILL.”

“Which means there’s another way in,” Kíli said, “we just have to find it.”

“The answer may not be so simple,” Gandalf said, blowing out a big smoke ring. “I know that stick has the information to tell us where the door is, but it’s heavily encrypted. There are some in the quadrant who could decrypt it, but it is beyond my abilities. And even after that, getting in will pose its own set of problems. We’ll need to play it smart.”

“That’s why we need a burglar,” one of the quieter Klingons, Ori, said.

“I imagine you’d need an expert,” Bilbo mused aloud.

“And are you?” Glóin asked, breaking up Bilbo’s still slightly distracted chain of thought.

“Am I what now?” Bilbo replied, making Glóin and several of the other Klingons laugh. After sensing the reason for their amusement, Bilbo’s dark eyes went wide. “Wait, no, I’m not a burglar. I’ve never stolen anything in my life, I swear it on my mother’s house.”

“I must say I believe Mr. Baggins,” Balin said.

Dwalin continues, “Aye, he looks more scared than a cornered targ just thinking about it. At least targs meet death bravely.”

Suddenly Gandalf seemed to pull himself up to an even taller height, almost taller than Dwalin and Thorin, and his voice grew deep and heavy in a way Bilbo wouldn’t have guessed it could. “You asked me to find you a burglar, and I have. Trust me!” His voice returned to normal, and the atmosphere seemed to go back to the way it was. “Betazoids are light on their feet, and capable of passing unseen when they need to. And while the dragon is very familiar with the scent of Klingon, it has never encountered a Betazoid before, which will be a definite advantage. You asked me to find the fourteenth member of your company, and I have chosen Bilbo Baggins. He has more to offer than you or even he realizes, if you just give him the chance to reach his potential.”

Bilbo felt warmed by Gandalf’s praise, but when Thorin grunted out, “Fine, give him the contract,” he immediately back tracked.

“No, no, no, I really must decline,” Bilbo said.

Bofur whistled loudly in support as Balin pressed a padd into his hands. “It’s the usual summary: out of pocket expenses, time required, which one of us will avenge you if you’re killed, that sort of thing.”

“Seems normal,” Bilbo muttered, and then, “wait, vengeance?”

Thorin and Gandalf were having a conversation off to the side, while Bilbo, for reasons even he couldn’t identify, actually read through the contract. “Why’s there a clause in here for incineration?”

“That’s cause Smaug’ll light you up and burn the flesh off your bones quicker than anything,” Bofur cut in, in what he thought was a helpful tone.

Bilbo went very still, which Nori took as permission to keep going. “Think furnace with wings. Hotter than the fires of Gre’thor.”

“It’s a quick death, though,” Óin said pragmatically. Bilbo felt like he couldn’t breathe. “Flash of light, searing pain, then your soul is back in the house of your father.”

“Or mother. We believe in equal opportunity afterlives,” Fíli said, reaching across the island and clapping Bilbo on the shoulder again. “Wait, are you alright?”

“Not exactly,” Bilbo breathed out, and that was the last thing he remembered before fainting on the deck.

***

Bilbo woke up 20 minutes later sitting in the chair in what used to be his father’s study, with Gandalf leaning over him. “I’m alright,” Bilbo said, accepting the glass of water. “I just need a few moments of quiet.”

“You’ve been quiet for too long,” Gandalf muttered. “Sitting here, putting around this station.”

“I’m Betazoid,” Bilbo argued, feeling suddenly defensive. “This was the house of my mother, and her mother, and--”

“First of all, you’re lying, this was your father’s mother’s house, and second of all, there’s more to the universe than being your mother’s son, as fine a son as you may be,” Gandalf said, not unkindly. “You have bold blood in you. You know, your great grandfather on your mother’s side Bullroarer Took was part of the contingent that first made contact with the Vulcans, all those years ago? Your people beat humanity by nearly 25 years. And deny it as much as you want, but you are your mother’s son. You crave adventure, the unknown, a chance to boldly go where no son of the fourth house has gone before.”

Bilbo was quiet. “If I follow you out into the black, can you promise that I’ll make it home again?”

Gandalf sighed. “I can not, and even if you do, I know for a fact you won’t be the same.”

“I knew you’d say that,” Bilbo said. “I can’t sign this. I’m not cut out for this. I’m not as much like my mother as you think.”

Gandalf stood up and left, and as the door slid open to the living room, he could see the Klingons gathered outside. They probably aren’t too disappointed with my opting out at least, Bilbo thought glumly, staying in his the study. However, even through the walls, he could still hear their discussion.

“Burglar opting out?” Balin asked, and Gandalf only hmmphed. “It’s not like our odds were great anyways.”

“There are fine warriors among us,” Thorin’s deep voice replied.

“Old warriors,” Balin said.

Bilbo felt a swell of Thorin’s passion, and heard him saying, “I will choose each and every one of these Klingons over an army that’s the pride of Qo’nos. For when I put out the call, they answered. Loyalty, honor, a willing heart. What more can I ask than that?”

“You still don’t have to do this, Thorin,” Balin said. “You’ve built us a fine life in the Blue Sector. The happiness of our people is more valuable than Erebor.”

“This has been the burden of my father and his father. It is my turn to live up to the standards of my forefathers. I have no other choice,” Thorin said conviction unwavering.

Bilbo felt Balin’s resolve grow stronger. “We’ll see it through, lad. Faith is a better weapon than the sharpest blade.”

Bilbo stood up to go back out there and be a good host again, and had reached the doorway when all the Klingons began humming, so low and deep Bilbo could feel it in his bones. Then Thorin began to sing,

“Far over the misty parsecs cold

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away ere break of day

To find our long-forgotten gold.”

The other Klingons--Bilbo could pick out Bofur, Balin, and Dwalin’s voices--joined in on the next verses.

“The mountain smoked beneath the moon;

The Klingons heard the tramp of doom.

They fled their hall to dying fall

Beneath his feet, beneath the moon.

“Far over the misty parsecs grim

To dungeons deep and caverns dim

We must away, ere break of day,

To win our harps and gold from him.”

As the song went on, Bilbo felt something shift inside him, and understood the love of beautiful fine things and of testing their strength in your own hand, of being in your father’s house, and he understood the desires of the hearts of the Klingons. But he knew it wasn’t meant to be, and stepped back into his father’s study to be alone. But even as he lie down to go to sleep, he could still feel the Klingons’ almost subsonic humming, and hear Thorin’s voice singing “we must away, ere break of day” into his dreams.

Chapter Text

The next morning when Bilbo awoke, he immediately sensed that he was alone in his apartment, which thrilled him for all of about thirty seconds and then the revelation hit him.

If I don’t get out now, I never will.

He slumped back against the replicator, head in his hands, and attempted to take deep breaths. He had looked up to replicate himself a glass of water when he saw it: the padd containing his “employment” contract, resting on the far edge of the counter by the door.

Suddenly, a future full of wonder and possibility seemed to stretch out for miles in front of him, far beyond any part of space he could imagine. He raced back into his bedroom, throwing on the first clothes in his closet and his father’s red jacket and threw a few more shirts and a few extra articles of clothing in an old backpack he had. He replicated himself an earl grey tea for the road, and headed for the docking ports, praying to the four deities that he would make it to them before they all got underway. He’d tore past several doorways uninterrupted when he heard Hamfast Gamgee yell out, “Oy, Mr. Baggins, what’s got you all in a rush?”

“I’m going on an adventure!” Bilbo cried, laughing and not stopping to say any more even at Hamfast’s shocked look. “Watch the plants for me!”

He made it to the turbolifts in less than a minute, and reached the main deck only a few seconds later. The docking ports were on the far side of the station, but he could sense that his soon to be crew hadn’t left yet: he was going to catch up with them. And a few minutes later, after winding through the corridors and having to circle back to their dock because he missed it, he did, shouting, “Wait! Wait, I’m coming! I’ve signed it.” as one of the last of the group--Bofur--climbed through the access port.

Balin, who was still waiting to board the ship, grinned at him, all sharp teeth but no malice. He took the padd from Bilbo’s hand, scanned the contents, and then shook Bilbo’s hand hard enough to rattle his teeth. “All seems to be in order. Welcome to the crew of the ISS Oakenshield!”

“Thank you, thank you very much,” Bilbo said, unable to stop himself from beaming. He boarded the ship alongside Bofur, and wandered its strangely configured and oddly dim halls, lit only by blood red lighting, until they reached the bridge, where Thorin was sitting in the captain’s chair with Gandalf standing at his side. When the door slid open as Bilbo entered, Gandalf turned around and dropped his pipe.

“Mr. Baggins, you’ve made it! I told them you would come,” Gandalf exclaimed, while a few of the Klingons groaned and several exchanged credit chips.

Bilbo frowned and stepped to Gandalf’s side, opposite from Thorin. “What exactly are they doing?”

“There was a fair bit of betting on whether or not you would change your mind and join us on our little trip,” Gandalf said, holding his hand out to receive a credit chip from Glóin. “Obviously, I never doubted you. You make your mother proud.”

Bilbo nodded, feeling Gandalf’s affection for his family drift over him like warm sunlight. “I certainly hope so.”

Balin stepped onto the bridge a moment later and moved to Thorin’s other side. “Captain, all personnel aboard. We’re ready to get underway.”

Thorin nodded, and leaned back in the chair. “Fíli, are we cleared to disengage from the station?”

“Aye, sir. The docking clamps are disengaging now,” Fíli replied, and Bilbo could hear the clamps release the ships.

“Take us out of docking range, one eighth impulse.”

“Aye, sir.”

Bilbo looked around the bridge. Dwalin was at tactical, tapping buttons and scanning the displays, that ever present frown on his face. Bofur was at the communication station, earpiece already in and looking thrilled to be there. Fíli had the helm, with Dori beside him at navigation. On Fíli's other side against the wall, Ori was at the science station, glancing through the scope. Balin had sat down beside Thorin, in the first officer’s seat. The rest of the Klingons had left the room, although Bilbo could guess most of them were probably down in engineering or other posts around the ship.

“Station says we’re clear, captain,” Bofur said. “We have permission to jump to warp at any time.”

Fíli, set course for Erebor. Warp factor 6,” Thorin said.

“Course set.”

Thorin grinned, even as Bilbo could feel the weight of both his people’s and his own expectations settling heavily upon his shoulders. “Engage.”

The ship jumped to warp smoothly, the stars on the viewscreen blurring into lines as the Klingons on the bridge cheered and sang together the last verse of the song from the night before, but this time more upbeat. Bilbo let their excitement fall over him like a blanket, and grinned. An adventure indeed.

***

However, he soon realized that he individually was not actually doing a whole of the work of adventuring. Over the next several days, he did try to make himself useful, but he soon realized that although he knew a lot of theories about a lot of things, he had far less practical experience, and especially not in the Klingon way of doing things. He’d gone down to engineering, where Glóin had told him in no uncertain terms that if he tried to touch his engines, he’d be gutted and his intestines hung on the wall like a trophy, which made Bifur snicker and Bilbo shake where he stood and then backtrack out as quickly as possible. He’d gone to the armory next, but Nori kept glaring at him every time he touched a weapon, so his visit there was even shorter. He wandered to the galley after that, but soon realized that although he could program a resequencer like nobody’s business and was even a decent baker with an old-fashioned convection oven, he knew less than nothing about Klingon cuisine and was mainly just in Bombur’s way. He ended up spending most of his first few days napping, and scavenging the kitchen for any food that didn’t look like it was about to come back to life. But after spending several days that way, he was still bored, which led him to up to the top deck, to the ship’s astrometrics lab, which was Kíli's field of expertise.

“Mind if I come in?” He asked as the door slid open.

Although the speakers were blasting what was either Klingon opera or the sounds of a massacre, Kíli heard him and spun around in his spinning chair. “Course not. Computer, pause music. I’m glad for the company. It’s a bit quiet up here all by myself.”

Quiet was not the word Bilbo would’ve used to describe the lab, but he supposed it didn’t quite have the same energy that Klingons brought to their interactions in person. He sat down in the other chair, next to Kíli. “Thanks. What was just playing, if I may ask?”

“It’s called Aktuh and Maylota.” Kíli turned back to the control panel and propped his legs up. “It’s my mother’s favorite opera. She always asked Fíli or I to sing Aktuh’s part, but neither of us got the family voice. She does a beautiful Maylota, though.”

“It’s interesting. I’ve never heard anything like it.”

Kíli laughed. “I’m sure you haven’t. Now, what brings you to my humble lab?”

Bilbo sighed. “I’m not really sure what I should be doing, and whenever I try and help anybody I’m just...in the way. I feel sort of useless.”

“You don’t need to be doing anything. Your job doesn’t start until we get to Erebor, Mr. Boggins,” Kíli said, pressing a few buttons and showing a map of their route on the viewscreen. “We’ve got a ways yet, even at high warp.”

“Of course,” Bilbo said, looking up at the map of their trajectory and frowning. “I’m just not sure how good I’m going to be. I’m not even sure exactly what I’m going to be doing, and I read minds.”

“I won’t lie to you, the captain hasn’t exactly told me everything. But my guess is, they’re going to send you in to unlock the RAVENHILL system.” At Bilbo’s confused expression, he kept going. “The RAVENHILL was the planetary defense system. It’s a low powered, polarized shield, like the ones that go around starships, but on a planetary scale. Nobody got in or out of Erebor without access codes that could only be granted by--”

“RAVENHILL,” Bilbo finished. “I’ve heard about security systems like that. Betazed doesn’t have one, we’ve always been better at making friends than enemies, but a lot of planets do. I’ve heard Andoria’s is the most advanced in the Federation.”

Kíli nodded. “Apparently, when Smaug attacked, he caused the system to get a virus and turn on itself. Attacking its own people, that sort of thing. The house of Durin was decimated. It used to be one of the greatest Klingon houses, with a seat on the high council, but during Smaug’s attack, we lost the Arkenstone.”

“The Arken-what?”

“Arkenstone. It was a piece of metal from the shield of Kahless himself, passed down from Durin to his son to the next son and on and on and on. It was the key to Erebor and the house of Durin’s seat on the High Council. If we had the Arkenstone, the High Council would’ve had to send more troops to help us. But until we get the Arkenstone back, we’re on our own. That’s probably what the captain’s gonna want you to do: take Smaug down, reset the codes, find the Arkenstone.” Kíli sighed, ticking them off on his fingers. “Losing the stone meant we lost part of our identity. Since then, the people of Erebor have been wanderers. We’ve been in the Blue Sector, out in deep Klingon space, for about half mine and my brother’s lives, but it still isn’t home. The captain was young when Erebor fell, but he remembers, and so do Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Óin, and Glóin.”

“I can understand wanting to go after your home. Goodness, I never thought I’d leave mine,” Bilbo said.

“It was a fine home, even if it was just civilian quarters on a space station. You said it was your mother’s?”

“Well, technically it was the house of my father’s mother’s, but Betazoid is matriarchal and matrilineal, so after my parents got married the place was put under her name,” Bilbo explained. “And it’s just tradition really, that if you stay in the family home to call it your mother’s house.”

“I get that,” Kíli said. “You know, because my brother and I are uncle’s, I mean, the captain’s, heirs, we actually claim our line through our mother as well. Sons of Dís. It’s a bit unusual, but not unheard of, especially since my father is from a lower house.”

“It’s fascinating, the way people identify themselves,” Bilbo said, and Kíli nodded. “I must ask, why do you keep calling your uncle the captain?”

Kíli frowned, and jabbed at the controls for a second, disabling the map on the viewscreen and making Bilbo feel he’d intruded. “He’s being a dick to us.”

Bilbo coughed. “I beg your pardon?”

“He told us, me and my brother, before we headed out here that he was just going to treat us like any other member of the crew. But it’s stupid , because Óin and Glóin and Balin and Dwalin are all second-cousins of his, and they all call him Thorin, which is stupid because aside from Balin and Dwalin, me and Fi outrank them and we still have to call him Captain all because he doesn’t want it to look like he’s babying us.” Kíli let out a loud groan.

“He’s trying to do what’s best for you,” Bilbo said. Even after only the small amount of time he’d spent around Thorin, he knew that the Klingon always had the best intentions, and was trying to do the honorable thing. “He doesn’t want to give anybody else reason to doubt you.”

“I understand why he’s doing it,” Kíli muttered. “But it’s still stupid.”

Bilbo didn’t know what to say to that, so he just said, “I’m sorry,” and they sat in silence for a few minutes while Kíli put in some numbers. Eventually, Bilbo asked, “What made you decide to study astrometrics?”

Kíli's expression turned from an almost-scowl to immensely fond, and Bilbo could feel his passion for his work. “Ever since I was little, I’ve been fascinated by the stars. My mother says that because I was born in space, they’ve always been trying to call me home, but I think it’s more than that. We’re carbon based lifeforms. The only place carbon comes from is stars. Stardust is what makes all of us, and I just think I’m in tune with it.” Kili looked at Bilbo oddly. “You seem quiet.”

“That was just--” Bilbo began.

“Very smart sounding?” Kíli laughed, arching a dark eyebrow. “Oh, Mr. Boggins, you may be a telepath, but we all have hidden depths. I’m not all jokes and games.”

“Of course,” Bilbo said, hastily. “I never thought that, though. You’re a fascinating bunch of people, er, Klingons, really.”

Kíli laughed again, leaning back in his chair. “Glad to hear it. Computer, time?”

The computer answered in Klingon, and Kíli stood up.

“What time is it?” Bilbo asked.

“Almost the end of first shift,” Kíli said. “Which means that soon Fíli's gonna have the bridge for a few hours, and I’m gonna go sit down there with him and watch the scanners. You’re welcome to join us.”

“Only if I’m not intruding,” Bilbo said, although he already knew what Kíli was going to say.

“Of course you’re not,” Kíli replied. That was quickly becoming one of Bilbo’s favorite things about this group of Klingons: they were all very honest and not afraid to say what they meant. “It’ll be fun. Here, you can even use my replicator rations and have yourself a snack instead of taking your chances with whatever Bombur’s cooked.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo said, touched. The two of them took the turbolift down past two decks (where the quarters and mess hall were) and got off on the third, above engineering. Fíli was sprawled out in the captain’s chair, and a different Klingon opera was playing.

“Gav’ot toh’va, good choice,” Kíli said. He turned to Bilbo, and waved an arm to let Bilbo step onto the bridge first. “Bofur actually sings this one really well. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who can do the solos.”

“Welcome to the bridge, crewmen,” Fíli said, pausing the music from his control pad on the chair. “Feeling ready for burglary, Mr. Boggins?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Bilbo said, sitting down in the first officer’s seat at Fíli's invitation while Kíli sat down at the science station. “I assume the ship is on autopilot?”

“You assume correctly,” Fíli said. “Our course is pretty direct at this point. We don’t have to adjust course at all until we get closer to Vulcan. Everything looking good on scanners, Mr. Kíli?”

“Aye, sir,” Kíli said, laughing. “There appears to be a small vessel in the distance, but it’s pretty far. Nothing to be concerned with.”

“Excellent.” Fíli turned back to Bilbo. “Have you ever been on a starship before, Bilbo? And I’m not just talking about a civilian transport, but a vessel designed for more ambitious goals?”

“Once,” Bilbo admitted. “My mother was actually a Starfleet officer for a while.”

“Really?” Kíli said, abandoning the science station's scanners and going to sit at the tactical station, closer to the captain’s and first officer’s chairs.

Bilbo nodded. “One of the first Betazoids in the fleet. She gave up her commision after I was born--”

“Why?” Kíli asked, interrupting. “Wouldn’t having a child made her more bloodthirsty, and prepared to face the dangers of the unknown?”

“I don’t think that’s how Betazed parents are, Ki,” Fíli said.

“Quite right, Mr. Fíli,” Bilbo huffed. “Anyways, she resigned her commision, but when I was about five we hitched a ride with my mother’s old captain, a Vulcan fellow, from Shire Station back to Betazoid. It’s one of my fondest childhood memories, actually, but I haven’t thought about that trip in many years.”

“How long have your parents been gone?” Kíli asked, kindly.

“Seventeen years,” Bilbo answered. “My father died of one of the only cancers that hasn’t been eradicated, and after losing him my mother just...deteriorated and passed away less than nine months later.”

“That’s terrible,” Fíli said as an alarm went off. He immediately snapped to attention. “That’s the proximity alert. Status?” He barked out.

Kíli had already pulled up the scans at the tactical station. “The unidentified vessel from earlier has moved into transporter range.” He frowned, and then his eyes went wide. “Fi, they’ve got some sort of hacking algorithm. They’re transporting something through our shields, from our ship to theirs.”

Bilbo heard Fíli's loud, mental exclamation of shit, but externally he stayed cool. “What’ve they got?”

Kíli winced. “Based on preliminary scans, they just pulled two of our shuttles out of the shuttle bay. It’s looking like Dwalin’s and Glóin's.”

“Just my luck,” Fíli muttered. “Can we transport through their shields?”

“We could send something in, but not back out.”

“Is there anything I can do? Should I go get the captain?” Bilbo asked.

Fíli's expression was tight and focused, and Bilbo could feel his mind racing. “You won’t be telling the captain, but there is something you can do. Kíli, get him a communicator.” He gave Bilbo a hard look. “You’re a burglar. We’re going to transport you to what should be their cargo bay, and you’re going to steal our ships back.”

“Wait, what?” Bilbo exclaimed. “That’s a terrible idea! I have no functional burglary experience!”

“You’ll be fine,” Kíli assured him, putting a communicator in his pocket. “We’ll have a transporter lock on you at all times. We just need you to disable their shields from their ship so we can actually get you back. If you need us, just turn the knob on the communicator twice, and we’ll do what we can on our end.”

“This is an awful idea!” Bilbo cried, in spite of the fact that they both were shockingly at ease.

“You’ll be fine, Bilbo, if you quit acting like a human,” Fíli snapped. “You’re being a coward. Ki, energize.”

Bilbo felt himself dissolve, and we the world refocused he was at the edge of what appeared to be a large room, where there were in fact two large shuttles. The rest of the room ( they got me into the cargo bay after all, Bilbo thought) was full of a variety of other things, from what looked like kegs of beer to a Vulcan lyre. In the middle of the room stood two beings, that at first Bilbo completely didn’t notice until he realized he couldn’t read them: their thoughts were completely silent. He could feel himself panicking, and tried to quell it: Fíli and Kíli are counting on me. Thorin is counting on me. Gandalf is counting on me. I can do this. His breathing soon came under control, but he was still terrified, especially as the two moved closer to where he was, at which point he ducked behind a replica Rembrandt, where he could still see them but they wouldn’t immediately notice him. Even though he couldn’t hear their mental chatter, he took a moment to study them. They were both in oddly patterned clothes, short colorful jackets and equally bright pants, and had massive ears and no hair.

One of them spoke. “This is one of the best scores we’ve had in ages.”

The second one spoke. “Aye, the boss better be thrilled with this. The amount of gold pressed latinum we could get from the Romulans for Klingon tech is enough to make my lobes tingle.”

“He’s on his way down here right?”

“Yeah, Tod. Ooh, he’s gonna be so impressed.”

“We’ll tell him we were just following rule of acquisition number nine,” Tod said, and then they both spoke in unison. “Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.”

The door swished open, and Bilbo ducked again.

“By the great Grand Nagus, are those Klingon shuttles?” A third voice, their boss, Bilbo assumed, exclaimed as he stepped into the hall.

“Yes, Wil,” the first one said. “We saw an uncloaked Klingon ship travelling through space and knew we could get something valuable. I figured we could sell ‘em, along with those other weird weapons we got--” he banged on a silver case, presumably containing the weapons “--to the Romulans.”

“Excellent work, friends,” Wil said. “You two might have what it takes to cut it in the Ferengi Free Market after all.”

“See? We knew we had the lobes for this,” Tod said, and all three of them grinned, revealing short, pointy teeth.

“You and Bern may make better partners than I ever imagined,” Wil mused. “But remember rule twenty-one: never place friendship above profit.”

“We would never expect you to,” Bern said, as Tod nodded profusely.

“Good,” Wil snapped. “Let’s get back to the bridge and head for the Romulan Star--”

Bilbo jumped out from behind the fake Rembrandt, knocking over a metal lamp with a loud clang, and stood in front of the shuttles. “Wait, you don’t want to do that!”

The three turned around, and Bern and Tod squealed. Wil looked aghast. “Who are you?”

“I’m Bilbo Baggins, a bur--Betazoid,” Bilbo forced out, his brief moment of bravery already over.

“What’s a burazoid?” Tod asked, and Bern shrugged.

“He’s a betazoid, dipshits,” Wil snapped. “A mind reader from the nasty socialist Federation.” Wil turned his steely, dark rimmed eyes to Bilbo and reached for the phase pistol on his hip. “What am I about to do, telepath?”

Bilbo swallowed. “Well, ah, I think you’re about to kill me,” he said, slipping his hand in his pocket and blindly turning the knob, hoping Fíli and Kíli got the message.

“He wouldn’t have to be a mind reader to know that,” Bern said, but Wil had stepped over to Bilbo and pressed the phase pistol into his chest.

“On your knees, Baggins,” he said, and Bilbo complied. He turned to his companions. “Your score was better than you guessed. He’ll fetch a high price in the syndicate.”

Bilbo gulped. “Please, don’t do--”

He didn’t get a chance to finish, because there was the sound of a transport and suddenly the cargo bay was brimming with Klingons, bat’leths raised and armor shining. However, before anybody could do anything, Tod ran to the door, hit a few buttons on the keypad, and the doors and airlocks sealed.

Thorin groaned from where he stood at the front of the group. The three cackled.

“Stupid Klingons!” Tod laughed. “Now you’re all gonna be sold to the Orion Synd--”

For the second time, he was cut off, as the world dematerialized around Bilbo and rematerialized with him, the rest of the company, both shuttles, and all of his would have been captor’s other goods (but thankfully, not the captors themselves) in the Oakenshield’s own cargo bay.

“That was incredibly stupid,” Gandalf said, with Dori, who Bilbo assumed had been left behind, nodding emphatically behind him. “What in the quadrant possessed you to transport onto a Ferengi vessel of all places? And what made you send all but one of you, leaving the ship practically defenseless?”

Before anybody else could say anything, Bilbo pointed at the silver weapons case. “They had some type of advanced stolen weaponry. Fíli realized it was dangerous in the wrong hands, and sent me to steal it.”

“Our plan clearly got derailed,” Kíli said, jumping in on the story. “But our signal worked, eh, Mr. Boggins?”

Bilbo nodded as Thorin commanded, “Glóin, Nori, open the case.”

Glóin used his knife to break the locks, and the lifted the lid up. Nori let out a low whistle. “This is some advanced weaponry alright. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, lifting up what appeared to be some kind of plasma rifle.

Gandalf frowned, but Thorin went over and clapped Fíli hard on the shoulder. “Well done, sister-son.”

Fíli blushed and did a slight bow. “Thank you, captain.”

The rest of the Klingons cheered, shouting, “Q’apla!” in not quite unison. Finally, the only word in Klingon Bilbo knew: Success.

“There was no harm done, Tharkûn,” Thorin said. “Besides, where have you been? You weren’t showing up on our internal sensors.”

“I assure you I was here,” Gandalf said, and despite his sophisticated mental shields, Bilbo could tell he was lying. “I was resting of course, but I had a feeling you all needed me, so I went to the bridge. You’re fortunate my rescue was so timely.”

“Thank you, Gandalf,” Bilbo said. “Moving forward we’ll be appropriately more cautious.”

The Klingons all nodded, and Dwalin even agreed, saying, “Aye, but what’s a good quest without a healthy amount of risk?”

Gandalf sighed. “Let’s just get on with it.”

“Agreed,” Thorin said, and Bilbo heard him shift back into his serious Captain voice. “Bofur, Glóin, Nori, you three have the night watches. The rest of you, get some sleep.”

Bilbo didn’t have to be told twice. He used Kíli's gifted replicator rations to make himself some soup and then went to bed, where he fell into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

The next day began what Bilbo hoped would be his new daily routine, at least while on the Oakenshield : he slept late, went up to the galley, ate the one bread-like product on board, and then went to sit with Kíli in astrometrics. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be: it hadn't even reached midday when the ship's alarms started blaring, and Kíli and Bilbo both flinched in surprise.

"Good heavens, what in the world is that?" Bilbo cried, accidentally knocking his tea onto the console.

Kíli stood up and saved his work. "Get to your quarters, Bilbo. It's a tactical alert, all crews to battle stations." Bilbo must have looked as panicked as he felt, because Kíli's next words took on a reassuring tone. "I'm sure it's no big deal. I'll even take you there before I head to the bridge."

He essentially grabbed Bilbo by the arm and led him out of the lab, down the ladder to the living deck. however, as they were turning down the corridor, something slammed into the side of the ship, knocking both of them off balance. Kíli gave Bilbo a nervous look. "I have to get to the bridge like, now. It alright if l leave you here?"

"Absolutely not," Bilbo snapped. "I'm still safer with you than l am in quarters anyways. If you're going to the bridge, I'm going with you."

"Fine by me," Kíli agreed. "Just try and stay out of the way once we get there."

They took the lift down to the bridge instead of risking the ladders, and a minute later they were on the bridge and Kíli was taking his station alongside Dwalin. Gandalf was sitting in the first officer's seat, but upon noticing Bilbo, he stood up and let Bilbo take his seat. "Bilbo, what are you doing here?"

"I am as safe here as l am in my quarters," Bilbo insisted, glancing around. The bridge seemed even darker than it did normally, with the flashing lights casting strange shadows on everybody’s faces. "What's happening?"

"Romulans," Thorin growled. "Nori, status?"

"Shields at 47 percent."

"No response on any hailing frequencies either, captain," Bofur cut in.

"It looks like they're charging photon torpedoes,” Ori added.

Thorin growled. Gandalf, who had moved to stand behind him, leaned down to Thorin. "Captain, remember my suggestion?"

"If you're going to question my authority, you can get off my bridge,” Thorin snapped as the ship was rocked again by another blast.

"Shields down to 38 percent, captain,” Nori supplied, as blandly as if he was talking about the weather.

“Thorin.” Gandalf implored.

Bilbo looked between the two of them, watching as Thorin rubbed at his cranial ridges. “What exactly is your suggestion, Gandalf?”

Before Gandalf could answer, Kíli cut in. “Captain, there’s another ship on scanners.”

“Aye,” Bofur added. “It isn’t Romulan, and it’s hailing us.”

“On screen,” Gandalf and Thorin said in unison, glaring at each other.

Momentarily, there was a strange man on the viewscreen. He had long graying hair and a long beard, both of which appeared to have twigs in them, and was wearing a brown fur cloak. His eyes were slightly glassed over as he gave them a dazed smile. “Oh, Gandalf, am I glad to see you.”

“Radagast!” Gandalf laughed. “Impeccable timing, as ever. And Saruman thinks you’re going soft.”

The two laughed like they were sharing an old joke. “Gandalf, what was your idea again?” Bilbo asked.

“I have a friend on Vulcan who would be willing to help us,” Gandalf said, causing Thorin’s expression to turn stormy. “Not only will entering Vulcan space protect us from Romulan attack, I’m also almost certain that he’ll be able to decode the messages on Thrain’s info stick.”

Bilbo turned to Thorin. “Why don’t you want us to go to Vulcan?”

“Two Federation interlopers on my ship is enough,” Thorin grumbled. “I have no desire to seek council from another.”

“That’s stupid,” Bilbo said, to both Thorin and Gandalf’s surprise. “If we don’t try and make for safe space, we’re going to die. I don’t see how there’s any honor in dying of causes that could’ve easily been prevented.”

“The Betazoid is right. You’re running out of time,” Radagast stated, reminding them of his presence on the screen. “There are five more Romulan warbirds heading in at high warp, and even if you can disable these here, you won’t be able to stop those. I can hold them off, but I’m going to have to draw them off in the direction they came from, which means you have to make for Vulcan space.”

Gandalf looked smug, and Thorin snarled, baring his teeth. He glanced down at his fist, clenched so tightly against the armrest that his knuckles had gone white, and grimaced. Bilbo could feel his resolve crumbling, and he and Thorin both let out a deep breath at once. “Fine. Dori, set our course for Vulcan, maximum warp.” He looked up at Radagast. “Our fate is in your hands now.”

“You could have no one better,” Radagast said, and ended the transmission.

I’m almost certain we could, Bilbo heard Thorin think, and Bilbo just barely managed not to laugh at loud.

“Do we have the dilithium we need to maintain that?” Dwalin asked.

“We’d better,” Thorin said darkly. “Fíli, engage. Keep an eye on those Romulans, Kíli. We need to make sure Radagast does as he claims.”

Kíli spun around and pressed a few buttons on the panel. His eyes went wide. “He just targeted the warp core on one of the vessels, and got a direct hit. They’re making a pretty hasty retreat, sir.”

“Let’s hope they tell their friends.” Thorin grinned. “Do we have enough fuel to redirect away from Vulcan?”

“We have less than I’m comfortable trying to make it to Erebor on, Thorin,” Glóin said. Bilbo hadn’t even noticed him at the bridge engineering station. “We’d be running on fumes by the end. We’re going to eventually have to resupply.”

Gandalf was smiling. “I’m certain this will be a productive and informative stop, Thorin. No need to worry.”

“We’ve entered Vulcan space, and the Romulans have just dropped off of our long range sensors,” Ori said. “We’re in the clear.”

“End tactical alert,” Thorin said, and the lights went back to normal. While Thorin seemed calm, Bilbo could hear his confusion, and it essentially mirrored his own thoughts: What were Romulans doing this far out of Romulan space? What made them decide specifically to attack the Oakenshield?

“Perfect,” Gandalf replied, when Thorin made no move to speak. He tapped a few buttons on the control panel at Bilbo’s seat. “Mr. Bofur, hail on these frequencies I’m transferring to your station now. They’ll give you codes to authorize landing.”

Bofur glanced at Thorin for permission, but when his captain made no physical or verbal response, he shrugged. “Hailing them now.” A moment later, he took out his earpiece. “We need to drop to at most one quarter impulse, but we have permission to go down to the surface. Transferring landing coordinates to the helm.”

“Excellent!” Gandalf said, speaking to no one in particular. “This is just like shore leave. I can’t wait to experience Vulcan hospitality. Not that Klingon or Betazoid hospitality isn’t great, of course.”

Thorin ignored him. “Stay close to each other. No one goes off alone, and trust no one outside our number.” He projected his voice over Gandalf’s. “We’re getting off this planet as quickly as possible.”

Gandalf harrumphed, as the non permanent bridge staff went back to either their stations or their quarters. Fíli took the ship down to the surface, and Bilbo looked at the personal monitor at his station, watching as they dropped out of the clouds above what looked like a sea of vivid red sand. He glanced up at Gandalf. “Are we staying in the desert?”

Gandalf smiled fondly. “Technically, yes, but also no. Geographically, our location will be in Vulcan’s Forge, one of the biggest deserts in the quadrant, but where we’re staying won’t feel like it. We should be grateful--there’s a reason for the expression ‘hot as Vulcan.’”

Bilbo nodded, and went back to watching the viewscreen as their ship soared across the desert. There were a few mountains, and then-- “My goodness,” Bilbo breathed.

Beneath them was the most vividly green valley Bilbo could’ve imagined, nestled between the burnt red mountains. Even Thorin looked impressed. Gandalf beamed. “That, my friends, is Rivendell, known in the Vulcan tongue as Imladris, the jewel of the forge. It used to be a Syrranite sanctuary, and is now the home of a very old friend of mine.”

Fili let out an admiring whistle, and even Dwalin’s answering grunt sounded rather impressed to Bilbo’s ears. Soon they’d engaged their landing gear and dropped to the surface. Bilbo was one of the last ones off the bridge, aside from Fíli, Bofur, and Dwalin, and as the three headed for the airlock, Kíli and Bifur handed them their respective bat’leths. The rest of the crew had theirs as well.

“What are those for?” Bilbo asked, aiming for conversational but probably landing closer to anxious.

“Trouble,” Thorin replied, stepping next to them. “Stay close to Dori. We need you intact if we’re gonna have any shot of getting into RAVENHILL.”

“Right,” Bilbo drawled, both touched by Thorin’s concern and frustrated by his paranoia. “Of course.”

Dori fell into step beside him, and as the ramp descended from the airlock they all moved out in one big mass, with Gandalf, Thorin, and Balin leading the group, Bilbo, Dori, Fíli, and Kíli following directly behind them, and everybody else jumbled up at the rear. There was a pair of Vulcans standing just outside, wearing robes of soft red and blue and with long, slick straight black hair.

One of them stepped forward and raised his hand in a Vulcan salute, which Gandalf mirrored. “Mithrandir, it is pleasant to see you again after all this time. Although, I would have preferred more warning about the amount of company you were bringing with you.”

“I would’ve given you greater warning if I could have,” Gandalf said. “Everybody, this is Elrond. Elrond, meet the crew of the the ISS Oakenshield .”

“Wait, Elrond?” Bilbo moved forward, pulling away from Dori. “You wouldn’t happen to be a former Starfleet captain?”

Elrond inclined his head gently, and glanced down at Bilbo with an expression that was not quite a smile but Bilbo sensed was full of fondness. “Indeed I was. Specifically, a captain under which your mother served for several years. The last time I saw you and your family, you were a young child, but your mother and I continued to stay in touch. Belladonna was an exceptional woman, and I grieve with thee.”

Bilbo was taken aback. “Thank you very much. She spoke immensely highly of you as well.”

Elrond turned to directly face Thorin. “You must be Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, of the house of Durin.”

Thorin frowned, and his response was flat and apathetic. “It appears you have me at a disadvantage. I don’t believe we’ve ever been introduced.”

“Many years ago,” Elrond said, “I knew your grandfather when he was head of the house of Durin, and ruler of Erebor.”

Thorin frowned, and flipped his long hair over his shoulder. Drama queen, Bilbo thought absently. “Really? He never mentioned you.”

Elrond didn’t seem to notice the insult, and instead just nodded and turned back to Gandalf and the rest of the group. “My associate, Lindir, will see to having rooms prepared for you. If you will follow me, I can lead you to where we are currently serving the midday meal. Today the offering is plomeek soup, which is filling and nutritious.”

“That will be more than sufficient,” Gandalf cut in, before Thorin or anyone else could argue. The company trailed after Elrond, and they entered a vast hall made of the red stone so common on Vulcan. There were big windows, and many were open, allowing a warm breeze to blow through the room. Groups of Vulcans were gathered around round tables, while some played a slow melody on musical instruments. As the group of 13 Klingons, one Betazoid, and one Gandalf entered, conversation paused, then resumed slightly more quietly. Thorin seemed very pleased, his royal strut growing more exaggerated, believing they had inspired fear in the Vulcans, but Bilbo knew that they were more curious than anything else. Turns out Vulcans are just as gossipy as the rest of the galaxy, Bilbo thought, smiling.

Most of the group settled at two of the round tables, while Thorin, Bilbo, and Gandalf were led by Elrond up to a shorter, rectangular table, where apparently he was sitting. Elrond took his seat in the middle gracefully, but despite the empty, just used plate at his side, gestured for Gandalf to sit there.

“Isn’t that somebody else’s seat?” Bilbo asked, not wanting to be seen as impolite.

“My daughter Arwen was sitting here, but she has already finished her dinner,” Elrond said, passing her plate to a nearby attendant. “She will not be back. It is exam season at the Vulcan Science Academy, and she is busy revising. Your concern is appreciated, but unnecessary. Nobody will feel slighted by me offering the seat to an old friend.”

“Good,” Bilbo said. Thorin sat down beside him with a huff.

Bilbo hadn’t noticed him carrying it, but Gandalf set one of the silver cases in front of Elrond on the table. “I was wondering, old friend, if you could tell me anything about the weapons inside this case.”

Elrond opened the case, and one of his eyebrows lifted dramatically. “Where did you acquire them?”

“We got them off a Ferengi vessel,” Thorin said. “They were probably planning to sell them.”

“Do you mind if I run a quick tricorder scan?” Elrond said, already waving over another attendant.

Thorin shrugged at him, which was permission enough, and Elrond grabbed a tricorder, similar in style to the ones used by medical doctors, and his eyebrow rose even higher. “They have an unusual temporal signature.”

“How so?” Gandalf asked.

“It is from 400 years in the future,” Elrond said. “If I am correct, these are weapons of the Suliban Cabal.”

“I remember reading about them in my Pre-Federation history class,” Bilbo said. “They got into a few scuffles with early Starfleet, during the NX days, but disappeared about the same time the Federation was founded. They had advanced weaponry then as well, which was odd because they’re a nomadic people, and the other Suliban, who weren’t part of the Cabal, were fairly pacifistic.”

“You are mostly correct. However, Starfleet and Vulcan High Command took notice of them because they were one of the main factions in the temporal cold war,” Elrond explained. “A war between those who sought to protect the timeline and those who sought to change it. It is still an ongoing thing, or technically is not yet, but they have not drawn any attention to themselves in a while.”

“So these weapons could legitimately be from the future?” Thorin asked.

“They almost certainly are,” Elrond confirmed. “Technically, according to the Prime Directive, they need to be confiscated and then delivered to the Federation Vault in San Francisco.”

“Are you going to do that?” Gandalf asked.

Elrond shook his head. “If the Ferengi had them, other pieces of this technology could be spread throughout the galaxy. Furthermore, you are Klingon, and although you are in Federation space, I see no reason to take from you your spoils.”

“Thank you,” Thorin said, sounding vaguely pained. “They will be valuable in the coming days.”

Elrond nodded. “There is no need for thanks, Captain. I am simply choosing to take a less involved position in the enforcement of Federation Doctrine.”

“Quite right,” Gandalf said, jabbing at a hunk of vegetable in his soup. “I have another question for you as well, old friend. Thorin here is in possession of an info stick with heavily encrypted and coded data. Do you think you could take a crack at it?”

“It would be no trouble,” Elrond said. “Finish your meals, and we can go to my study.”

Bilbo and Thorin said, in unison, “I’m not hungry” while Gandalf said, “If you’ve already eaten there is no need to wait on us.”

Elrond raised that eyebrow again, but rose and brushed nonexistent lint off his robes. “Very well. If you’ll follow me.”

He led them out of the dining hall, down a warm tiled hallway and up the stairs to a large office. There were big windows here too, and the room was full of sunlight filtering through the big green leaves of a tree outside. Elrond sat down at his desk, which had several monitors and a big keyboard. He held out his hand for the info stick, and at Gandalf’s urging, Thorin handed it over. He plugged it in and immediately the screens filled with blue and orange code. Elrond’s ridiculous eyebrow raised again, which prompted Thorin to roll his eyes.

Gandalf gave him an odd look. “You seem surprised, old friend?”

Elrond’s voice stayed steady, but Bilbo could sense his shock. “I know this code. I have not seen it in many years, but it is familiar to me. It is actually based on a combination of both ancient Vulcan and Klingon, as well as human binary code, the old language used to program computers.”

“Who even had time to come up with something like that?” Thorin tried to whisper just to Bilbo, but Elrond still heard.

“It was invented by famous linguist Hoshi Sato, engineer Commander Charles Tucker the Third, and science officer Subcommander T’Pol after their time on the Enterprise NX-01. I’m running the translation algorithm now.”

Bilbo almost laughed out loud again at Thorin’s eye roll and mental I couldn’t care less , but luckily, Elrond was no mind reader, and Thorin’s thoughts were safe. About 30 seconds later, the monitors repopulated and all the text was in green. Thorin let out a gasp, and both he and Bilbo leaned in. Thorin softly read aloud as he scanned over the text: “The outside of RAVENHILL, a person sized access port on the left hand side near the plasma ejection vents, where the backup generator and computers are.” Thorin slammed a fist on the table, turning to grin at Bilbo, who grinned back. “This is exactly what we needed: a way in.”

“It almost seems too good to be true,” Gandalf said, and it was then that Bilbo sensed Elrond’s concern.

“Indeed,” said Elrond. He turned away from the monitor to face Thorin. “Is it correct to assume that you plan on returning to Erebor and reclaiming your homeland?”

Thorin huffed. “That depends. Are you going to try to stop me?”

Elrond’s expression hardened into what passed as a scowl on a Vulcan face. “I will not do anything directly, but I do think it is unwise. 45 years ago, you had far greater numbers and resources, yet Smaug still managed to defeat your people and decimate your house. Today, you have a group of aging warriors, weaponry beyond your comprehension, and a Betazoid civilian. I do not see what makes you think you will win this time.”

“RAVENHILL has been broadcasting to Qo’nos, which means the chaos Smaug caused has reverted back to its original programming. It is waiting for me, or somebody else, to put new programming in and reset it. It is my home, and it is vulnerable.” Thorin’s voice cracked, and Bilbo wanted to swallow the sound, cover the pain he felt with happy thoughts and warm memories. “I will not abandon the ancestral home of my people on the word of some pointed eared bastard.”

Thorin stood up and stormed out, leaving Bilbo and Gandalf sitting uncomfortably across from Elrond.

“Well,” Bilbo said. “That was...unusual. How about some tea?”

***

Bilbo spent the rest of the day getting the grand tour of Imladris, first from Elrond and then from Erestor, one of his councillors, who’s idea of a tour turned out to be just leading him to the library and then leaving him there. When Bilbo finally found his way back to the Oakenshield crew, they were all gathered around a fire they’d lit (which Bilbo thought was ridiculous, Vulcan was hot enough as it was, unless the firelight was just for atmosphere, which was even more ridiculous) and eating out of one big container of what appeared to be fried chicken, and when Bilbo entered the room--one of many that they’d been given, but the one they’d all decided to stay in--Bombur passed him a plate. Thorin was gazing out the window at the moonless sky, and both his face and mind were a thunderstorm of emotion.

Bilbo walked over and stood beside him. Neither said anything for a minute, until Bilbo said, “You don’t hide your emotions very well.”

Thorin’s eyes narrowed. “Klingons see no point in lying, to one’s companions or oneself. It is dishonorable to both you and the one you’re lying to.”

“Betazoids don’t make a habit of lying either,” Bilbo agreed. “But more because it’s just challenging in a room full of telepaths to keep track of what one says and what one thinks if they’re two different things. It’s less about honor, more about laziness. And I didn’t mean that dismissively either. I think it’s a good thing that you show how you feel.”

Thorin cracked a smile. “It makes sense. Or at least, it makes as much sense as any telepathic things do. Klingons have no fear of mind readers, but we do have a healthy amount of respect for their abilities.”

“I wouldn’t call them abilities,” Bilbo said. “In Betazoids at least, it’s more like a sixth sense. There’s not an off switch. I hear other people’s thoughts and sense their emotions all the time, I just know how to focus on my own above all others. It’d be like complimenting you on your “ability” to taste.”

Thorin chuckled. “Aye, but telepaths hone their abilities like I and my companions have honed our weapons skills.”

Bilbo blinked, and smiled. “I suppose you’re right.”

Thorin turned away and looked across the sky again, “We’re all warriors with a sword in one way or another, Mr. Baggins. Some of us more literally than others.”

Suddenly, the door slammed open. Several Klingons--Nori, Dwalin, and Bifur--jumped to their feet, weapons drawn. Gandalf strode in. “Put those down, you look foolish pointing them at me of all people.”

“You have news,” Bilbo stated, sensing Gandalf’s confliction.

“Unfortunately, I do,” he agreed. “And for you it isn’t good. Elrond is calling a meeting of the White Council--I’m a member, as are a few other Vulcans, along with Radagast and another member of our species--to discuss your plans to reclaim Erebor. It is almost a 100 percent guarantee that they are going to elect to try and stop you. How committed they’re going to be to that goal, I don’t know yet.”

“Those petaQ!” Fíli swore. “Who do they think they are to stop us from our destiny, from saving our home?”

“Fortunately for you, Mr. Fíli, I agree. I believe it is time for Erebor to be won back,” Gandalf continued. “However, all I will be able to do is buy you time. Tomorrow, when the council is meeting, you need to sneak out of here.”

“Won’t they...sense it?” Óin asked. “Our plans to escape?”

“Vulcans are not Betazoids,” Bilbo cut in. “They’re touch telepaths, so they would have to be touching you and more specifically, touching you when you’re thinking about escaping to know.” He turned to Gandalf. “However, I must ask why you choose to side with us? What do you gain?”

“Your cunning and perceptiveness is impressive, Mr. Baggins,” Gandalf said. “However, my motives are not personal gain but for the grand scheme of things. For the greater good of the alpha quadrant, Erebor needs to be securely under Klingon control, and the sooner that happens, the better. At this point I can say no more than that.”

Thorin grabbed Bilbo by the shoulder, turned them both around and whispered in his ear, “Is that a good explanation?”

“He isn’t lying,” Bilbo replied. “I can’t read anything more than that, but for lack of a better way to explain it, he strongly believes he’s telling the truth.”

Thorin nodded, and easily turned them back to face the group, and nodded at Gandalf, who was giving them both a strange look. “What time approximately do we need to be ready to launch?”

“The council meeting is happening at midday,” Gandalf said. “You need to be in the air as soon as possible after that.”

“We can go in and prep the ship for launch tomorrow morning,” Glóin said, and Bifur nodded vigorously from beside him, the ushaan-tor in his skull bouncing the light from the fire onto the walls.

“What about you, Tharkûn?” Balin asked.

“Oh, I have my ways of catching up with you,” Gandalf said. “Don’t worry about what I’m doing. Focus on getting yourself as far from Vulcan space as quickly as possible. But do try to stay out of trouble while I’m occupied.”

“We make no promises,” Nori said serenely, and several of the Klingons chuckled and nodded in agreement.

“There’s a reason I didn’t ask you to,” Gandalf agreed. “But please give it a shot. Get some rest while you’re here as well. This’ll be the last chance you have to relax for a while yet.”

The group was pensive and quiet for a moment, and Thorin nodded gravely. “The road only gets rougher from here.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo groggily awoke the next morning to Fíli and Kíli leaning above him. Kíli had been shaking him by the shoulders, while Fíli was holding a bucket of water, clearly planning to dump it on him if worse came to worse and he remained difficult to awaken. “I’m up, I’m up,” he groused, forcing the covers off his body and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “Is it time…?”

They nodded. “Aside from Gandalf, you’re the last one here,” Fíli said, setting the water down on the floor. “Everybody else is waiting near the ship.”

“Thorin needs you to read the Vulcans and guess if they’re going to try to keep us here,” Kíli whispered.

“Seems a bit unnecessarily paranoid, but alright. Anything else I should know about?” Bilbo asked.

Fíli shrugged. “Not really.”

“There are some...attractive Vulcans here,” Kíli said, attempting to sound vaguely disinterested. “But I wouldn’t even try. Not sure they could handle me, ya know.”

Bilbo barely kept from rolling his eyes. Fíli didn’t even try. Yeah right . “Well, if that’s all, let’s get out of here.”

The three of them head out of the room, while Bilbo relaxed his focus on his own thoughts, and broadened it to include everyone else’s. Fíli and Kíli were open books, with Fíli wondering when he was going to get another bridge watch, and Kíli being vaguely distracted by every reasonably good looking Vulcan, but from the Vulcans themselves, Bilbo was mainly reading the effort they extended for shielding, and no underlying suspicion about the Klingons at all. Fíli turned around and gave Bilbo a questioning glance, and Bilbo shook his head. He had nothing so far.

It was only when they were just inside the door to go out to the courtyard when somebody said, “Mr. Baggins.”

Bilbo spun around and plastered a smile on his face. “Erestor, how are you this morning?”

He inclined his head gently. “I was wondering if you would like to spend some more time in the library.”

Bilbo winced. “Ah, no thanks, I’m gonna spend today with my friends.”

Erestor’s eyes narrowed and his mouth briefly slipped into a frown before he smoothed his expression back out into the perfectly neutral Vulcan mask. “I see. Have a productive day with...your crew.”

“Ah. You too, of course.” Bilbo waved awkwardly as Erestor walked away.

Fíli and Kíli gave him a wide eyed look, but Bilbo shook his head. Erestor wasn’t on to them either, and all he thought about Bilbo’s behavior was that it was odd to prefer rambunctious Klingon company over that of the logical, intelligent Vulcans. The three of them opened the door and strode out into the courtyard, acting like they owned the place as the rest of the Klingons piled aboard. Pre launch sequences had already been completed, so they lifted out of orbit and jumped to warp before the sun hit its highest point in the sky.

After that, Kíli and Bilbo grabbed lunch from the mess--according to Kíli, Bombur had outdone himself with the gagh stew, but Bilbo was so repulsed he could barely force it down--and then made their way up to astrometrics.

“I know everybody is super stressed about the rest of the journey,” Kíli remarked. “But honestly? I feel pretty good about it.”

It turned out those were famous last words. There was a loud blast, and the ship lurched, knocking Kíli into Bilbo and causing them to fall like dominos to the ground. Kíli let out a string of something Bilbo’s translator wasn’t picking up, but that he knew by Kíli's hot temper were swears. Bilbo swallowed and used the wall he’d fallen against to help pull himself back to standing. He turned to offer Kíli his hand, but the Klingon had already pulled himself up. “I suppose I’ll be following you back to the bridge?”

Kíli grinned. “Looks like we’re both getting used to this. We’re taking the lift this time though, I have no idea what just hit us and I don't want to waste any time.”

They raced back down the hall to the lift they’d just come out of and took it down to the bridge. When they got there, Bilbo sat down in the first officer’s chair beside Thorin, who’d gone all white knuckled again.

Thorin nodded at him in acknowledgement. “Mr. Baggins, how close does somebody have to be for you to be able to read their mind?”

Bilbo pursed his lips, already knowing what Thorin was really getting at. “I can typically start hearing the edges of their thoughts and emotions from about a hundred yards, give or take.”

“Take us in, Fíli,” Thorin commanded his nephew, who replied in the affirmative. He kept his eyes on the viewscreen, but leaned in closer to Bilbo. “Their ships aren’t in our database. It’s several small, pod-like vessels. When they come back around, I’m hoping you and your...Federation education may know something we in the empire don’t.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Bilbo said. But as the ship looped back around, Bilbo’s dark eyes went wide. “Thorin, those are the Suliban Cabal.”

“Wait, like the people that had the advanced weapons that--”

“--we took from the Ferengi?” Bilbo finished. “Yes.”

Thorin barked out an order in Klingon, and turned back to Bilbo. “Tell me everything you know about them, as quickly as possible,” he said, and it did need to be as quick as possible, because more Cabal ships were closing in around them and wrapping themselves around the Oakenshield like a blanket.

Dwalin turned to Thorin from tactical, and Bilbo knew his message wasn't good. “It’s like we can’t land a hit on them, Thorin. I don’t know what they have on their shields, but it’s damn good.”

“I have an idea that would be faster, but it’s a bit intrusive,” Bilbo said. “I’d basically be dropping what I know about them into your mind, like copy and pasting. It’ll be easier than speaking.”

Thorin nodded. “That’ll have to work. We’re running out of time.”

Bilbo swallowed, suddenly wishing he hadn’t offered. It wasn’t as though there were any taboos about the sharing of thoughts on Betazed--they all read each other’s minds all the time, completely unabashedly, and it didn’t take long to get used to somebody’s mental company--but it was something Bilbo had never done with somebody who was both not Betazoid and not somebody he’d known his whole life. “I need to know that you trust me completely.”

“You read minds, Mr. Baggins,” Thorin said, getting a strange look in his eye. “You know that I do.”

Bilbo nodded in agreement. “Just needed to hear you say it. Alright. I’m gonna hold your hand, to cement the mental link, and then you’re gonna get a mindful of my memories. I’ll count down, give you some warning.” He took Thorin’s hand and clasped it between both his own. “Four, three, two, one, now.”

Reaching his telepathy into Thorin’s mind felt incredibly natural considering they’d only known each other for a short time. He felt their minds brush together, and the edges of their individual consciousness’ blend and become a link. Bilbo found himself overwhelmed by a desire to stay wrapped in Thorin’s thoughts forever, but he had a job to do, so he mentally shook himself, pulled what he knew about the Suliban from his mental filing cabinets, and sent them along the link to Thorin.

He released Thorin’s mind after he was certain he’d gotten everything, and although he’d been walking amongst his thoughts for less than a minute, he’d borrowed some of Thorin’s coolness under pressure and his blasé attitude about death, and found himself soothed by it. Although they were almost certainly about to be boarded by genetically enhanced humanoids, Bilbo felt calmer than he had in a long while. Thorin took a bit longer to shake off the thought sharing, bright eyes wide and dilated. “Sorry I didn’t give you more warning,” Bilbo said. “It is difficult to explain, especially to non telepaths.”

Thorin shook his head. “It was certainly interesting.” It was then that they noticed almost the entire bridge crew staring. “Thank you for sharing.”

“Of course,” Bilbo said. “It was no trouble. You’ll feel normal again soon. It’s hardest the first time.”

Balin had seemingly come out of nowhere, but it was obvious he had bad news. “They’ve got into our access ports and are towing us...somewhere.”

“Their helix,” Bilbo said.

“The mothership of all these little ships, essentially,” Thorin explained.

“Are we in immediate danger from them?” Balin asked.

Thorin looked to Bilbo, who shook his head. “I don’t believe so. I’m not going to lie, I can’t tell exactly what they want, but they have no plans to immediately harm or kill us. They want...information, I believe.”

“They won’t be harming or killing you at all,” Thorin said. He gave Bilbo a hard look. “I need you to stay here and stay hidden. If we don’t manage to fight our way back or get released in six hours, I want you to assume we’re dead and take one of the cloaking enabled shuttles and get out of here.”

“Absolutely not!” Bilbo said. “I signed up to join this crew and all that that entailed, and I’m sticking with it.”

“Aye, you did join this crew. Meaning you have to take my orders.” Thorin snapped. “Whatever happens, don’t come after us. That’s an order.”

“Alright,” Bilbo said.

Thorin shook his head. “I need you to promise. To swear.”

“I swear it on my mother’s house, I will not go after you,” Bilbo promised.

Thorin seemed to marginally relax after that. “Nori, show him to one of the...smuggling hatches. The rest of us, prepare to be boarded.”

***

About an hour and a half later, the Klingons were being led out, single file. The cell ships had towed them into a docking port, and then they’d been boarded. In spite of their slighter bodies, the four Suliban who dragged the 13 Klingons from the Oakenshield over to the helix were strong enough to physically manhandle them, which they discovered when Dwalin tried to fight the man who’d cuffed him.

“That’s enough,” Thorin barked, when Dwalin was still struggling, wrapped up in the man’s slippery grip. Dwalin relaxed, and the Suliban officer shoved him towards the rest of the group, knocking him into Balin and Nori.

The Cabal woman who was leading Thorin by his handcuffs gave him a patronizing smile. Like the others, she had rough textured yellow skin, yellow eyes, and no hair. “If only your crew could understand that this would be much easier if they just followed your example and cooperated.”

“If only indeed,” Thorin replied.

From his position in line behind him, Fíli asked, “Who are you?”

“I am Commander Hala,” she replied.

“Where are you taking us?” Kíli asked.

“To our central vessel.”

“No shit,” Fíli groaned, unsatisfied, but after a hard look from Thorin neither he nor his brother said anything else and they fell back into their spots in line with the rest of the group. They wandered through meandering passageways, going deeper and deeper into the helix, until they reached what must have passed for their brig. Their were cells, but only two, and they were both fairly small.

“Accommodations seem a bit tight,” Bofur drawled, making several of the crew snicker.

“We are typically not forced to confine such a large number of people to our brig,” the brig officer answered. “You will have to share.”

“Lucky us,” Dori muttered under his breath.

They were ushered into the two cells, still handcuffed, with Thorin, Fíli, Dwalin, Óin, Nori, and Bombur in the first one, and Balin, Kíli, Ori, Dori, Glóin, Bifur, and Bofur in the other. Two Suliban officers stayed behind to guard the cells, while the other three, including the woman Thorin had spoken to, left.

After a while, Thorin spoke. “If my crew and I are going to be held here against our will, I’d like to know what we’re in for.”

“That’s unfortunate,” the brig officer said, “seeing as we’ve been told not to answer any of your questions. They are preparing to brief you as we speak.”

“Know how long that’s gonna take?” Balin asked, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“No,” the brig officer snapped. “And that’s enough questions.”

Thorin sat down on the floor, and Dwalin sat beside him. Dwalin glanced at their captors. “Got any plans on getting us out of this one, Thorin?”

“Something like that,” Thorin said. “Not here.”

Dwalin nodded. It was quiet in both cells for a while after that, with the only noise being the sounds of somebody tapping against the wall. In the other cell, Bofur stood up. “This is quite dull in my opinion. How about some music?”

The Klingons in both cells cheered, and Bombur rolled his eyes good-naturedly. Bofur stood on top of the small bed in the corner and cleared his throat loudly. “This is an odd little ditty I heard on a human holo programme. If you know the words, feel free to join in.

“There's an inn, there's an inn, there's a merry old inn
Beneath an old grey hill,
And there they brew a beer so brown 
That the Man in the Moon himself came down
One night to drink his fill."

On the next verse, Kíli, Fíli, and Ori joined in, while Dwalin leaned to Thorin and muttered something about “kids these days.”

"The ostler has a tipsy cat 
That plays a five-stringed fiddle;
And up and down he saws his bow
Now squeaking high, now purring low,
Now sawing in the middle.

"So the cat on the fiddle played hey-diddle-diddle,
A jig that would wake the dead:
He squeaked and sawed and--”

Their song was cut off by the sound of a disruptor being fired against the containment field. “That’s enough,” the brig officer ordered. The other officer just looked blandly disinterested. “Sit quietly. If anybody speaks, I’ll--”

“You’ll what?” Nori joked. “Throw us in the brig?”

The brig officer looked like he was about to disable the containment field and fight Nori himself, but just then Hala returned. She and the brig officer murmured something in their native language, and he seemed to cool down.

“You’ll be accompanying me to speak to our captain now.” The containment fields dropped. The other two security officers from before returned to escort them, and soon they were brought into a large chamber, with a big round table, where only one seat was taken. Hala saluted as the man in the chair stood up. “Captain.”

“Fine work, Commander. You four are dismissed.” He waved a long, speckled arm towards the door, and they all saluted again and then proceeded out. Once they had all left, the door sliding shut behind them, he sat down again. “Now, I suppose we haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Captain Gobral, of the--well, the name of my ship doesn’t really matter does it? You won’t be going anywhere. And you are?”

Thorin stayed silent. They sat in the awkward quiet for about 30 seconds when Gobral said, “Well, that doesn’t matter either. I know who you are, Captain Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, captain of the Klingon bird of prey Oakenshield . I’ve read much about your valor and skill in battle, both that you’ve already exhibited and haven’t yet lived out in this timeline. It is my absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“I wish I could say the same,” Thorin drawled, and he could almost hear Bilbo’s answering laugh at his sarcasm. It was odd: although the mind sharing had only lasted a brief time, he still felt like Bilbo had left almost a piece of himself and his personality behind. If this was what being Betazoid was like, he was almost jealous. He walked over to the round table and sat down on it, propping his feet up on the chair beside Gobral.

Gobral beamed. “He speaks! An excellent sign. Which means I can now ask you: what are you doing with my weapons?”

“The better question is how are you so careless with your technology that you would let it fall into the hands of the Ferengi?” Thorin replied.

“An unfortunate oversight. If it brings you any comfort, the crewman responsible paid for it with his welfare,” Gobral said. “Mistakes in the Cabal have consequences. Surely the Klingons understand that?”

His welfare? Thorin wondered, and Bilbo’s thoughts answered, Whoever they get the weapons from has advanced medical technology as well. They can give or take away genetic modifications at any time. “Aye, we do. Ours don’t typically involve eugenics experiments, but to each their own, I suppose.”

Gobral arched an eyebrow. “I see you’ve done your research, Captain. I have done mine as well: I know somebody who would pay a high price for your head--just your head of course, nothing else attached. However, you still haven’t answered my first question: what are you doing with my weapons?”

“We took them from the Ferengi, who took them from you. We were going to use them. It’s not actually that complicated, Captain.”

“It’s good that you’re not pretending they were going to be essential for some noble quest. Sentimentality gets nowhere with me.” Gobral stood up, hands clasped behind his back and pacing around the table. “Especially since you aren’t going to be permanent receivers of my hospitality. I know of someone in the Romulan Star Empire who would pay a high price for your head, Thorin, son of Thrain.”

“Romulans are no friends of Klingons,” Thorin growled. “It would not be hard to find one of them willing to hate me.”

“The one I know seems to hold a more personal grudge than that. But no matter.” Gobral sat back down next to Thorin and chuckled. “‘We were going to use them.’ How quaint.”

“Aye, we were going to use them. Something like--this!” Thorin kicked Gobral across the face, hard, and turned back to his crew. “Phase pistol--my boot--”

Dwalin, hands still cuffed together, went to pull the phaser out of Thorin’s boot as Gobral stood up. Fíli, rather than trying to fight him bound together, just threw himself and his not insubstantial weight on top of him, but as they both hit the ground, Gobral’s body went thin and slippery and he slid out from underneath him. Luckily, Dwalin had gotten his hands on the phaser and shot him, twice, both nonfatal but enough to stall him.

Gobral shook off the blows, but not before Dwalin had fired at the control panel next to the door and forced it open. As he stood up, Thorin turned around and headbutted him, knocking him backwards again.

“Go!” The crew took off, and Dwalin used the phaser to burn through everybody’s handcuffs as they ran. Bifur was leading the group, retracing their steps the way they’d been lead in, from the main room past the brig to where they assumed the docking ports were, when they encountered Commander Hala and the other security officers, who were unseen at first but shimmered back into visibility in front of them. Dwalin shot three of them right off the bat, but before he could get Hala, she’d made her arm go flexible and stretched it the extra distance to knock the phaser out of his hands.

“You really thought that that would be enough to stop us? The strength of the Klingons is clearly overstated,” she said, as the other three officers were standing up behind her. However, before they could restrain the group again, Dori and Nori scooped Ori up by the arms and legs and launched him at them, knocking them down like bowling pins.

When everybody turned around, shocked, Dori just huffed. “Just grab the phaser and get out of here!”

They were quick to cooperate, Fíli bending down to offer Ori a hand and pull him back to his feet, and raced uninterrupted back to the Oakenshield. They were scaling the steps up to their docking port, when they heard, “Wait for me!”

“Bilbo?” Thorin growled, but Bilbo just shook his head.

“I wasn’t going after you,” he said, slipping his hand into his pocket and pulling it back out. “It’s kind of a long story, actually. Let’s just get out of here.”

Chapter Text

Bilbo had spent three hours following Thorin’s instructions, hidden in the smuggler’s compartment. “This kind of thing is exactly why I didn’t want to come on this crazy trip,” Bilbo muttered to himself. “I already ignored my own advice, and now I’m stuck in a box barely big enough to fit me because they know how incompetent I am.”

However, after laying there a little while longer, he realized he couldn’t sense any other beings around him. The ship was clear, and so was the area on the helix immediately around him, but a little farther away, probably down a corridor, was something interesting. Bilbo could sense it in his mind, but it didn’t quite feel alive, which meant it wasn’t one of the Klingons, or another telepath projecting. To him it felt more like a telepathic beacon: like a mental SOS, calling for help. How unusual, he thought, and suddenly the decision he hadn’t even known he was making was made. I’m going to go see what it is. I’ll never get any good at burglary if I don’t get used to breaking the rules.

He used the emergency latch to open the door and crawled out from under the floor panelling. He used the ladder to go up the deck to the armory and grab himself a phase pistol, then crawled back down to head for the Oakenshield’s airlock that was against the helix’s docking port. He mentally scanned the hallway, and when no lifeforms aside from whatever not-quite-alive thing was reaching out came into his mind, he slipped out the doors and turned to left to pursue the telepathic signal.

He could sense himself getting closer to the beacon, and was following the outer edge of the helix when he heard a hacking cough. He pressed himself against the wall, going as flat as he could, which was when he saw it, a small, flat disk on the floor across the corridor from him, with a small blinking light, and knew that that was what was giving off the signal. He bent down to pick it up, and realized that it wasn’t a disk, it was in fact, a ring, at the same time that a wave of something heady and undescribable washed over him, that made him feel disconnected from his body. He looked down at it, where it was pressed and almost sealed against his palm, and noticed that the light had stopped blinking. He heard that hacking cough again, and decided that having had one apparent success, there was no reason not to be two for two, and slipped the ring in his pocket. He pulled his phaser out, and followed the coughing down the hall to the open door of a cell ship, where a strange man was inside. He was leaning over a replicator and muttering to himself. He hadn’t seemed to notice Bilbo yet, who was hovering just outside the doorway.

Bilbo gave him a long look. He looked about Bilbo’s size, with stringy, short hair, and he had what looked like an ankle monitor on. He looked around the cell ship, where there was only a small metal chair and table and a small thin cot. Perhaps another prisoner of the Cabal? Bilbo wondered, then noticed that the man was no longer standing by the replicator. Soon he felt a cold, clammy hand settle on his shoulder.

“Is he smart? Is he clever, precious?” the voice hissed.

Bilbo spun around and pressed the phaser against his chest. “Back off. Right now, take a step back, do it.”

The man cooperated and slunk backwards, and Bilbo suddenly realized: it wasn’t an ankle monitor, it was a telepathic inhibitor. His eyes were as dark as Bilbo’s, but Bilbo couldn’t sense anything from him, and Bilbo could feel his stomach twist itself up in knots. Even humans projected their emotions and thoughts constantly, but from a member of (what he assumed) his own species? He should’ve been able to hear him loud and clear. And how did he even get out here, anyways?

“He’s got a Klingon phaser,” the man said. “Not a Klingon, too little, not enough forehead. What is it, precious? What is it?”

“My name is Bilbo Baggins,” he answered, surprising himself.

“Bagginses? What is a Bagginses, precious?”

“I’m Betazoid. From Shire Station.” Bilbo recentered his phaser on the creature’s chest, and steered the man further into the cell ship. “Now, I don’t want any trouble. What’s your name?”

The man frowned and sat down, scratching at the raw, blistered skin under his ankle inhibitor. “Gollum.”

“Very well,” Bilbo said. What an unusual name for a Betazoid . “I’m going to leave you here now, and you’re not going to tell anybody.”

“But we has to tell them,” Gollum cried. “They make me tell, precious, don’t you know?” Suddenly, Gollum convulsed, and growled, “Shut up!”

“I didn’t say anything?”

“We weren’t talking to you,” Gollum muttered.

Bilbo’s phaser arm was growing tired, but he didn’t love the idea of killing or stunning Gollum in cold blood just to dodge a conversation, regardless of how many times he’d wanted to do it to Lobelia. “Now, Gollum, I don’t know what your game is--”

“Oh, we love games, don’t we, precious?” Gollum beamed, black eyes seeming to refocus slightly. “Here’s one: What has roots as nobody sees, is taller than trees. Up, up, up it goes, and yet, never grows.”

Riddles? Bilbo thought, but answered, “The mountain?”

“Oh yes, yes, let’s do another!” Gollum laughed, then shook and coughed again, “No, finish him off, just finish him now.”

Gollum snarled and moved to stand, but Bilbo held his hands out, and put his phaser back in the holster at his side. “Wait, no, I want to play. If I win, I get to leave, and you don’t tell anyone about me.”

Gollum beamed up at him. “And if I win, I get to kill you.”

“I suppose that’ll have to do,” Bilbo said, having no plans of dying. I’ll kill him if it comes down to it. Do this the Klingon way. Q’apla and all that. “Thirty white horses on a red hill. First they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still.”

Gollum sat quietly for a moment, then his eyes went wide. “Teeth! It’s teeth, precious. But we only have nine.” Gollum opened his mouth, where he did, unfortunately, only have nine teeth. Bilbo winced, while Gollum paused, seemingly reflecting on the sorry state of his teeth, then continued. “Our turn. Voiceless it cries, wingless flutters, toothless bites, mouthless mutters.”

“Oh, it’s wind,” Bilbo answered.

“Very clever, precious,” Gollum says, crawling forwards.

Bilbo held up a hand to stall him, and said, “Okay, um, a box without hinges, key, or lid; yet golden treasure inside is hid.”

Gollum was stumped by this at first, throwing himself at the ground and muttering to himself. For a second, Bilbo wondered if he was seizing, then Gollum sprung up. “Eggs!”

Gollum jumped back again suddenly, and stood up. Bilbo’s hand dropped to the phaser on his hip again, and Gollum smirked, lips curving into a twisted smile. “We have one for you: All things it devours, birds, beasts, trees, flowers. Gnaws iron, bites steel, grinds hard stones to meal. Answer us.”

Bilbo frowned. I don’t know this one, he thought, as Gollum circled around him, whispering, “How to kill him, precious?”

“Give me a second,” Bilbo snapped. “I gave you a long time on the last one.”

Gollum leaned closer. “Snap his neck, precious?”

Bilbo winced and tried to pull away, but Gollum kept moving closer. Almost a minute had passed when Gollum cackled, “Almost out of time, prec--”

“Time!” Bilbo said, snapping his fingers. “The answer is time. Not actually that hard.”

Gollum let out a loud wail, and Bilbo prayed that this part of the ship was as empty as he’d thought. He scowled at Bilbo again. “Last question. Your turn to ask us.”

“Very well,” Bilbo said, and his hand fell to the ring inside his pocket. He mused absently, “What have I got in my pocket?”

“That’s not a fair question, precious,” Gollum said. Bilbo barely hid his wince--he hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “We don’t know that one. Ask us another one, Baggins.”

“No, it’s very fair,” Bilbo said, crossing both hands across his chest and trying to make himself look bigger, like how Dwalin or Thorin did it, puffing their biceps out to make their shoulders look broader. Unfortunately, he knew it wasn’t remotely as effective when done by him. “You told me to ask you a question, and I have. You get three guesses this time.”

“Hands?” Gollum asked.

Bilbo held up his hands and wiggled his fingers. “It’s like you’re not even looking. Guess again. Two more tries.”

Gollum laid down, and muttered a bunch of guesses to himself, before saying, “Knife?”

“Wrong again. Last try.”

“String! Or nothing,” Gollum added as an afterthought.

“That was an extra guess, but it doesn’t matter. Both wrong.” Bilbo held up his phaser again, as the ring in his pocket seemed to get heavier. “Now, you’re going to let me leave, like you promised.”

“Did we promise?” Gollum asked. “And what does he have in his pockets?”

“It doesn’t matter. You lost,” Bilbo said.

Gollum’s dark eyes went wide. “Lost? Lost? Where is it, precious?”

“What have you lost, Gollum?” Bilbo asked, lowering the phaser.

“You can’t ask us,” Gollum said. His whole body shuddered again, and the next look he turned on Bilbo was one of pure malice. “What does he have in his nasty little pockets? He has it. He took it!”

Gollum’s last words were at a fever pitch, and Bilbo could sense in the distance bodies coming towards him, but it was too far to tell if they were Suliban or his friends. While he was trying to focus, Gollum lunged for his legs, and before he even realized what he was doing, he pulled his phaser and hit Gollum over the head with it. Gollum dropped like a bag of rocks. I’m getting out of here, Bilbo thought, stepping over Gollum’s body and out of the cell ship into the helix’s exterior corridor. Bilbo ran back towards the bird of prey, and realized that the people coming his way were in fact Klingon. How nice, he thought absently, until he heard Gollum’s lurching footsteps behind him, and closing in fast.

“Give it back, precious! We needs it!” Gollum cried. “We hates it, precious, we hates it forever!”

Bilbo turned around, pointed his phaser, and stunned Gollum, leaving him unconscious on the floor of the corridor. “Nasty business,” Bilbo said, holstering his phaser and taking off at a sprint towards the corridor.

He was moving well along when suddenly he collided head on with a Suliban officer.

“Who are you?” the officer asked, grabbing him by the arm. “How’d you get on this ship?”

Bilbo felt the ring in his pocket grow heavy and heat up, and before he knew what he was doing, he reached in and grabbed it, slipping it onto the first finger of his right hand. The heady feeling returned, but Bilbo compartmentalized it, and instead focused on the rush of energy he could feel moving into his body. The Suliban officer’s hand went slack on his body, and when Bilbo looked up, the officer was looking at a point behind Bilbo’s head.

“Where’d you go?” the officer asked. After a second, he shook his head, and barely avoiding brushing against Bilbo’s body, he continued walking down the hallway.

Bilbo let out a deep breath before wincing as he realized the Suliban was only a few feet away. However, the Cabal officer made no moves that he had heard Bilbo, and didn’t stop.

“What in the holy rings is this thing?” Bilbo asked, holding up his hand with the ring still on his finger and looking at it. At first glance, it almost reminded him of his father’s wedding band. It seemed to hum in his hand, and he reached two educated guesses: one, this was an object with incredibly powerful psionic energy, and two, it enhanced it’s holders natural telepathic abilities. The second one Bilbo realized because in spite of Gollum’s telepathic inhibitor, he could now sense him and his state of unconsciousness, and he could also tell exactly where the Klingons were and who was leading them as they sprinted through the halls (Bifur, an unusual choice).

Bilbo slid it off his finger and held it, feeling it’s warmth buzz in his palm like a heartbeat. After another second, he shook his head, put it back in his pocket, and ran back towards the Oakenshield. Only a few Klingons were still going through the airlock onto the ship, and Bilbo cried, “Wait for me!”

Thorin turned to him, a scowl on his face, and whined, “Bilbo?

He shook his head, slipping his hand into his pocket to make sure the ring was secure, and then pulling it out and wiping his palm off on the leg of his pants. “I wasn’t going after you. It’s kind of a long story, actually. Let’s just get out of here.”

Thorin scoffed, which Bilbo decided to take as agreement. They stepped back on to the Oakenshield and as they sealed the airlock, they felt the ship groan as it pulled free from the docking equipment and jump to warp in one smooth move.

Chapter Text

As soon as they were on the ship again, feeling the low pulse of the warp engines beneath their feet, Bilbo turned to say something to Thorin, when Thorin grabbed onto his bicep and squeezed hard. There were only a few Klingons--Kíli, Balin, and Glóin--left in the decompression room, which was good because it meant there were fewer around to hear his squeak of pain.

“Ow?”

“If you wanted out of this crew, you could’ve asked,” Thorin said. “You disobeyed my direct order and wandered around an enemy ship. It’s stupid at best and downright suicidal at worst, yet also posed many opportunities for escape in a stolen cell ship. So I have to know: why did you come back?”

“Thorin, it's alright. He isn’t Klingon, he doesn’t know our ways. He returned, so it doesn’t matter,” Balin said, trying to placate him. He stepped forward and placed a hand on Thorin’s arm, but Thorin just shook it off. Bilbo swallowed; Thorin was past livid and moving rapidly into homicidal, and his emotions were choking him like a noose.

“No, it does,” Thorin growled. His grip on Bilbo’s arm tightened, and suddenly Bilbo realized how much Thorin was holding back. Good gods, he could snap me like a twig, Bilbo thought with awe before the squeeze of Thorin’s blunt nails in his flesh distracted him again. “Tell me, burglar, what made you return?”

“Look,” Bilbo said, “I know you doubt me, I know you always have. You’re unsure of where my loyalty lies, and frankly that’s justified. I’m a bit more than a bit out of my element here, and it makes me miss my home something awful. You all may just see them as civilian quarters on a space station--” He looked up, and Kíli had the grace to look a little bit embarrassed. “--but to me, it’s the house of my mother. See, that’s where I belong. That’s home. And that’s why I came back, cause you don’t have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.”

The pressure on Bilbo’s arm immediately relaxed, and he let out a sigh of relief. Glóin and Kíli were nodding, and Balin was beaming at him. Apparently he’d said the right thing: Thorin’s face still looked stoic, but Bilbo could sense how touched he was. Thorin gave Bilbo’s shoulder a much gentler squeeze, and for a second Bilbo thought he was about to be pulled into a hug, but then the emergency lights came on and the alarms went off.

“Really?” Bilbo asked. “Is this what our entire journey to Erebor is going to be like? With everybody and their mother trying to attack us?”

“It isn’t what I would choose either,” Thorin said turning and walking quickly to the bridge. Bilbo could feel him trying to avoid running, because he thought it looked unseemly, but then the ship was rocked by a hard blast to the starboard side and Thorin growled and took off at a sprint. The other Klingons sped up after him, with Balin and Glóin breaking off to go to engineering, leaving Bilbo as the last one to step on to the bridge. He was out of breath as he sat down beside Thorin again, who was livid.

“Who is it this time?” Bilbo asked.

“Romulans again,” Thorin said. “Unfortunately this time our wizard is still absent. We’ll have to hold our own.”

There were three warbirds on the viewscreen, all pointed their way, when suddenly a fourth ship decloaked in the center, easily twice as big as the other three, and Thorin’s emotional state shifted from anger to distress. “Tactical, status?”

“We’re severely outgunned, Thorin,” Dwalin said. “Our main advantage is that we’re lighter, more maneuverable, but that would only help us in a fair fight.”

“How long can we outrun them?”

Fíli winced from his seat at the helm. “That main blow took out a lot of our dilithium stores. We could hold warp 8.75 for maybe five minutes, and hope they decide to give up pursuit?”

“I think we should stand and fight,” Dori said, adding in his two cents. “Maybe today is a good day to die.”

“I hate that saying and that idea,” Bilbo muttered.

“Mr. Baggins is right,” Thorin said. “Today is not the day we fight for our place in Sto’Vo’Kor.”

“Yeah, we can’t reclaim our home if we’re dead,” Bofur piped up from the comm station. “Also nobody is replying to my hails. Quite rude, really.”

Bilbo almost laughed, except the emotional atmosphere on the bridge was so thick with tension you could slice a bat’leth through it. They were hit by another blast, and Nori said, “Shields at 26 percent. If we’re going to run it has to be now.”

Thorin looked at Dwalin, almost expectantly, and his tactical officer and old friend nodded back. “Jump to maximum warp, Fíli. We’ll put as much distance between us and them as possible. We just have to buy time.”

“Keep taking chances till the chances are spent,” Bilbo murmured, and Thorin gave him an odd look. “Old Betazoid proverb, sorry.”

“It is...fitting,” Thorin gruffly admitted, as the ship jumped to warp 8.75.

The bridge was quiet except for the sounds of the alarms for a minute, then Kili let out a loud groan. “They’re matching us, pace for pace. The biggest warbird is closing in at warp 9.25 right now, which means we have about twenty seconds.”

“Bofur, broadcast visual and audio,” Thorin said, standing up and moving closer to the helm station, directly in front of the viewscreen. “This is Captain Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, of the house of Durin. Identify yourself, or we will fire on you as any enemy of the empire.”

“You should’ve said please,” Bilbo whispered, earning himself matching glares from Thorin and Dori, who turned around from his seat.

“They’re replying, audio only,” Bofur said, pressing a few keys and redirecting the audio through the speakers.

A cold, emotionless voice came through. “Oh, Thorin, I would’ve thought we knew each other well enough to recognize a few small changes on each other’s vessels. The Whitewarg has only undergone a few modifications. I certainly found you soon enough.”

Bilbo couldn’t identify the voice, but Thorin could, and Bilbo felt his stomach turn to ice. He was full of anguish, rage, and a desire for revenge all at once, and it took him a moment to compose himself enough to be able to speak. “Azog.”

“It is good that you remember me after all. Perhaps my reputation in the Klingon empire will earn you the favor off your gods when I send you to whatever paranoid, superstitious afterlife you believe in.” Azog had begun transmitting visually, and Bilbo found him as scary to see as he was to hear. He was Romulan, with soft forehead ridges that sloped down parallel to his eyebrows, but he had long scars criss crossing his face, trailing from each jaw to the top of the ridge on the opposite side of his forehead. His eyes were icy blue, and he had no hair. Perhaps some type of Romulan albinism, Bilbo wondered before returning his thoughts to the matter at hand.

“I could say the same to you, Defiler. Perhaps your defeat the last time didn’t make enough of a statement for you?” Thorin drawled, as Kíli slipped behind him, just out of range of the viewer, and placed his bat’leth in his hands. He swung it in front of him, teeth bared in a silent snarl.

“How original,” Azog said, lifting up his left hand, which Bilbo realized when it reflected the light was a metal prosthetic. “As you can see, I have upgraded. Perhaps a rematch? We may be more evenly matched this time. You have a minute to make up your mind and transfer over, or you can stay on your ship and allow us to destroy you like a coward. Like your father. End transmission.”

“That bastard ,” Bofur said once he was offscreen.

Fíli stood up from the helmsman’s seat. “Uncle, you can’t do--”

But Thorin had already rose and holstered his bat’leth on his back. “I will not be called a coward on my own ship. Nor will I allow my father’s honor to be brought into question. Kíli, energize.”

Kíli hesitated. “Uncle, please--”

“Fine,” Thorin barked. “If you’re unwilling to do it you can get off my bridge.”

“Uncle!” Fili cried.

“Thorin, your nephews may be right,” Bilbo said. “Azog is trying to rile you, get you on his turf.”

“You two as well. You’re all dismissed.” Thorin ignored them and turned to Dwalin. “We’re running out of time. Send me over. That’s an order.”

Dwalin was still for a split second, and Bilbo saw him swallow before moving his hands to the transporter controls. “Aye, sir. Ready on your command.”

“Energize,” Thorin said, and he dissolved into thin air.

Fíli yelled something in Klingon at Dwalin, who yelled back, and it was about to turn into a full blown shouting match when Bilbo decided he’d had enough. He whistled loudly enough to get their attention, and they turned to him, but before Bilbo could say his piece, Bofur cut in. “Watch the screen, they’re still broadcasting.”

Fíli, Dwalin, and Bilbo joined the rest of the bridge in staring at the screen, and it wasn’t pretty. After so many hours in the Klingon red light, the Romulan’s bridge was lit up in a weird green, and everything looked sick. Azog swiped his metal arm out, and it triggered something that changed the tip into-- “A plasma sword?” Bilbo cried. “There’s no honor in that! What are either of them thinking?”

“They’re not,” Kíli said, glumly. His eyes were glued to the viewscreen, and he winced as Thorin took the first blow, a hard swipe at his armor that knocked him back against one of Azog’s crew’s stations. Thorin’s growl could be heard over the transmission, and he swung at Azog, who blocked him and sent him backwards again. The next time Thorin rushed, Azog aimed higher, and caught him across his left cheek.

“At least it’s already cauterized,” Ori said.

“Why are you all watching this so calmly?” Bilbo asked. “Your captain is in danger, and you’re all just going to stand here?”

“Thorin may not have said it, but his orders were clear. This is his fight, regardless of what we want.” Dwalin shook his head, and Bilbo finally became aware of the everyone else’s feelings, no longer as immediately distracted by his own fear. Fíli and Kíli were beyond distraught, while Dwalin and everybody else was already preparing to mourn Thorin, both as a leader and a friend.

“But why does it have to be his fight? Why can’t any of you go over and help him?” Bilbo said, trying to read them and get the answers.

“If we go over and try to fight this fight, while Thorin still breathes, it would bring him dishonor,” Kíli explained. “Even if it’s already an unfair fight.”

Bilbo frowned, then his eyes went wide. He turned to Dwalin and grabbed his shoulder, trying to emulate his Klingon friends in this. “What if I went?”

“Absolutely not!” Dori cried from the helm. “Azog would kill you where you stood. No hesitation.”

The rest of the bridge crew, including Fíli and Kíli, made similar protests, but Bilbo wasn’t swayed. He watched (and winced) as Thorin took another hit and flew backwards, and realized he didn’t have any choice. He had a phase pistol, he had a communicator, he had his courage, all he needed was to get there. And his ticket out was in Dwalin’s mind. I’ll have to apologize for this later, Bilbo thought. When he spoke, he barely managed to keep his voice steady. “Computer, transport my life sign over to the coordinates of last transport. Authorization Dwalin-gamma-8-4-8.”

The last thing he heard was the Klingons rabid protests as he dematerialized and then reappeared on the Romulan ship’s bridge, directly in between Azog and Thorin.

Thorin grunted from where he was laying on the ground, back pressed up against the console behind him. “Bilbo?”

Bilbo pulled his phaser and pointed it at Azog. “Drop, uh, turn off the plasma sword. Please?”

Azog waved a hand and several members of the bridge staff stood up, disruptors in hand. He waved his arm, and said something indistinct in Romulan, which prompted the crew to train their weapons on Bilbo. Bilbo stepped back, closer to Thorin, and cranked the phaser all the way up. He held it in the air. “I’ve set this pistol to overload. In a few moments we will all be killed.”

Azog seemed unimpressed, and murmured something to one of his officers that Bilbo could tell by his thoughts was kill him.

Bilbo braced himself for impact, but it never came as the Romulan ship took a hit and lurched to the side. Azog growled in Romulan at one of his crewmen, and as he turned his head away from Bilbo, Bilbo changed the setting to stun, pointed it at Azog’s head, and fired. He dropped like a rock.

“Huh,” Bilbo said, hand immediately going to the communicator in his pocket and frantically turning the knob again. Please, in the name of the four deities let them hear it . Everyone on the bridge was frozen with shock. Bilbo blinked a few times and turned to Thorin. “It gets easier every time. I wouldn’t have expected that.”

Azog stood up, shaking his head and growling, and the stillness of the previous moments shattered like glass. All the Romulans seemed to spring to action at once, yelling and closing in on Bilbo and Thorin with disruptors drawn. Bilbo could feel Thorin growing more macabre by the second--his thoughts had essentially been stripped down to, maybe today is a good day to die, and Bilbo would not have that, thank you very much--and in a last ditch effort, threw himself bodily on top of Thorin, phaser drawn and heartbeat racing in his ears.

“Great,” Thorin muttered, “now I’m going to face death with a Betazoid trying to protect me.”

“Well,” Bilbo said, “that’s not very positive of you, and I’m pretty sure there’s worse things.”

Before anybody could actually fire though, the ship took another blast from straight ahead, and everybody was knocked across the bridge. Bilbo managed not to go too far by clinging onto Thorin like the Terran koala bear, who just grunted in response underneath him. Bilbo crawled further around and wrapped himself more around Thorin, then let go of him with one hand to grab his communicator and flip it open.

“Bilbo to Oakenshield , requesting transport as soon as possible,” Bilbo hissed, watching as the Romulan officers pulled themselves back to standing.

“Working on it,” came Bofur’s cheerful reply. “Good job holding them off, Bilbo. We lost visual when the Whitewarg was fired at by an unknown vessel. We’ll get you in a sec just---hold them off.”

Bofur’s channel closed and there was only static, and Bilbo snapped his comm shut, swapping that for his phaser as the ship was rocked by another blast, this time from the other direction. “Transporter down?” Thorin whispered.

“Not sure,” Bilbo said. “Didn’t get many details. I think they’re---”

But whatever Bilbo’s thought was, he didn’t get to finish it, and he felt his molecules dematerialize just as Azog got one last shot off.

Chapter Text

Bilbo and Thorin were on the (previously unseen) transporter platform, with Bilbo barely managing to support Thorin’s weight, when he let out a laugh. “You didn’t get hit by that last shot did you?”

Thorin huffed, but Bilbo could hear the shock and relief in his voice. “No. You did a fine job protecting me, son of the fourth house.”

“Well, I’d hope so,” Bilbo replied. “Have to do my mother proud and all that.”

Glóin came over from the transporter station and took over supporting Thorin, and Bilbo suddenly noticed a change in the situation: the tactical alert lights were off, and the Oakenshield was no longer being fired at.  “What’s going on out there? We’re not being hit anymore.”

“A ship dropped out of warp and knocked out the Romulans’ weapons. They beat a pretty hasty retreat after that. I think our new friends have got us in their towing cables now, seeing as our warp core is completely offline,” Glóin said, grunting as he tried to navigate Thorin, who was still dripping blood much to Bilbo’s distress. “Help me get him to sickbay.”

“No. I’ve got to get to the bridge, speak to our rescuers,” Thorin said, forcing the word out like it tasted bad. “That’s an order, Glóin.”

Glóin looked to Bilbo, seemingly for support, but he just shrugged. Glóin nodded, and readjusted Thorin’s arm over his shoulder. “All right. Bilbo, I still need your help.”

“Of course,” Bilbo agreed, moving to Thorin’s other side. They’d gotten him all the way off the platform and were slowly moving towards the door when it slid open, revealing Bofur and Balin.

“Gandalf’s on the other ship,” Bofur said. “He said to beam Thorin over to their medical bay, since ours lost power during the attack.”

“Chain of command leaves Dwalin in charge of the ship. Fíli and Bifur are down in engineering, trying to start working on repairs. Bofur and I will accompany you, along with Mr. Baggins if he wants to,” Balin said.

“Well, sure,” Bilbo agreed. “They’re friends of Gandalf’s, I suppose?”

“Very good friends, apparently,” Balin said. “There aren’t many people I’d call on to rescue other friends of mine from battle, especially battle with the Romulans.”

“I see no reason to change my plans based on Gandalf’s orders,” Thorin muttered, but allowed himself to be maneuvered back on to the transporter, where Bilbo, Balin, and Bofur stood beside him.

“Aye,” Glóin said. “Would’ve been nice if he’d shown up a bit earlier. Ready to transport whenever you are, Captain.”

“Energize,” Thorin said, and the world dissolved around them.

When it came back into focus, they were in the other ship’s medical bay. It was surprisingly homely, in Bilbo’s opinion at least, a small room with light pink tiling, and a single biobed in the corner. Balin and Bofur steered Thorin over to the bed and had him sit down on it, and a moment later the door swished open to reveal Gandalf and a woman, with short dark hair and spots that trailed the sides of her face, along her hairline and jaw and down her neck, where they disappeared under her collar.

“It is immensely good to see you all here mostly in one piece,” Gandalf began. “I apologize for not being able to catch up with you sooner--I wouldn’t even be here now if it weren’t for my old friend over here. This is Loren Egal. She’s from a non-Federation planet in Federation space called Trill. We are currently on her cargo ship, the Alexandria. ” She smiled and waved, and Gandalf continued his introductions. “On the biobed is Captain Thorin of the ISS Oakenshield , the Betazoid next to him is Mr. Bilbo Baggins, next to him is Commander Balin, and the one in the ridiculous hat is Lieutenant Bofur.”

Bofur took the aforementioned hat, and swept it into a low bow. “At your service, beautiful lady. It is my absolute privilege to have been saved from the Romulans by you.”

Balin snorted and Thorin made a disparaging sound, but Bilbo could sense Bofur’s interest returned. Loren grinned shamelessly and gave him a long once-over. “It was my absolute privilege to save you, hot stuff. My medic will be up here for your friend in a minute, but everybody else can follow me and I’ll show them around.”

“If you don’t mind, I have a few words I need to say to Thorin,” Gandalf said. “I’ll catch up with you later.”

“Sure thing, old man,” Loren said, waving him off. She gestured to the door, and Bilbo, Bofur, and Balin allowed themselves to be led into the hallway. “My ship’s small, definitely compared to your bird-of-prey, but she gets the job done. Three decks, we’re on the top one right now, crew quarters and the medbay are on the other side of this one, the bridge and the mess are on the middle deck, along with some storage, and the engine room and the rest of our cargo storage is on the lower deck.”

“At least your ship is all in one piece,” Balin said. “We are immensely grateful for your hospitality.”

“It’s really no trouble,” Loren said. “Your quarters are at the end of this hall, by the way. You’ll have to double up, but they’re decent sized, have their own sonic shower, that kind of thing.”

“Our current ship has one big communal room and communal sonic showers, so doubling up sounds like a dream. What’s the crew complement?” Bofur asked.

“There are 22 of us right now. My pilot and her wife are on maternity leave right now, so her younger sister is playing helmswoman while she’s on break from school. We do a two shift rotation, so half of us work what passes as nights in space and the other half take the day shift. All of us are cross trained on everybody else’s stations, and the only people who have set jobs are the licensed engineers and the medics,” Loren shrugged. “It’s pretty casual.”

“How’d you get into the shipping business?” Bilbo asked. He could see how well her ship had been maintained; it was an older model, probably about as old as he was, but the places it had been repaired and patched together had been done well, with a lot of love. He was also interested in her as a telepath: her thoughts seemed to have an unusual duality, with half of them feeling truly like hers and half of them feeling still like hers, but less so than the rest, like she was warring between two personas. It was unusual to sense such a strong polarization in one person.

“I grew up in space, actually,” Loren explained. “My dad was a freighter captain--he’s still out there doing the Trill-Denobula-Vulcan run in an old, warp 5 vessel. I always wanted something bigger, to see more of the galaxy. My ship’s old; we can barely push warp 8, and we can’t even maintain warp 7 for very long, but it’s still taken me places I never thought I’d get to see growing up. It’s really special. Out here, I’m getting to do something none of the other Egal’s had ever done before.”

“That’s amazing,” Bofur said, and Bilbo snorted, sensing his primary amazement at her, not her job.

“It’s a living,” Loren agreed pragmatically. “You guys want some lunch next?”

They all agreed, and took the ladder down to the mess hall. They only had one replicator and limited rations, but there was a jug of sweet iced tea and a big pot of dense stew, with a variety of veggies and meats, so they all made themselves a bowl and sat down at one of the few tables. Loren sat down to eat with them but kept glancing at a watch on her wrist.

“Places to be?” Bilbo asked.

“My bridge,” Loren said, smiling apologetically. “I know they all can handle it, but I just don’t like leaving others in charge. I’m a little bit possessive.”

“We all understand duty better than most,” Balin said. “There’s no reason to stay just to babysit us.”

“Thanks guys,” she said, finishing the last few bites. “If you need anything, feel free to ask anybody. You know where your quarters are, and I’ll try to catch up with you for dinner.”

She left them at the table, and Bofur sighed.

“You sound ridiculous,” Balin said, and while Bilbo agreed with him, the romantic in him liked the idea of star crossed lovers and the excitement and drama of an interspecies romance. “You’re a Klingon warrior, and she’s a Trill freighter captain.”

“She’s obviously a formidable woman if she’s made it in the shipping business,” Bofur argued. He was still gazing at the doorway she’d left through. “How long are we gonna be on her ship again?”

“Maybe a day or two,” Balin answered. “But laddie, don’t give yourself hope where there is none.”

Bofur grunted in partial agreement and turned back to his soup. Bilbo cleared his throat. “Balin, how long have you known Thorin?”

“I’ve known Thorin since he was a child, and I knew his father before that.” Balin gave Bilbo a quizzical look. “Ah, you want to know about Azog.”

“He and Thorin had, well, for lack of a better word, history,” Bilbo explained. “If it wasn’t personal, Thorin wouldn’t have beamed himself into danger like that. The feelings I sensed off him, both before and while he was over there, were all over the place. He was torn between shock and anger and deep sorrow, with a healthy dose of vengeance-seeking in there as well. But through all that mental chaos, I couldn’t sense why.”

Balin leaned back in his seat and sighed. “It’s a bit of a story, laddie, but I’ll share. Have any of the crew told you about life for the people of Erebor after Smaug’s attack?”

“I heard a bit from Kíli,” Bilbo said. “He told me that after Smaug, you were nomads for many years because you lost the Arkenstone and with it, your seat on the High Council, until you settled in the Blue Sector.”

“You’ve got the gist of it, Mr. Baggins,” Balin said. “I must say, I’m surprised that it was Kíli who told you. I tutored him and his brother for many years and history was never either of their strongest subjects. What he told you is basically true, except it leaves out one of the other most devastating events for the house of Durin this lifetime: the Battle of Azanulbizar. In the common tongue, the battle for Moria.”

“Moria? I’ve never heard of it,” Bilbo said.

“Moria was a Klingon mining colony, on a rogue planet, meaning it didn’t have a set orbit. We actually called it Khazad-dum,” Bofur explained. “My grandfather worked there for a while. Where he met my gran, actually.”

“It was one of the most prosperous mines in the Klingon Empire, because it was where mithril was found.” At Bilbo’s confused expression, Balin chuckled. “It’s a metal that looks like silver but is stronger and lighter than steel. Much of our armor and weapons in the old days was made out of it. We had uninterrupted access to it, until Moria drifted across the border into Romulan space. They won the planet and forced out the Klingons about 70 years ago, when I was a young man.”

Balin paused and took a sip of tea. “However, 34 years ago, 21 years after the attack of Smaug, the people of Erebor, many of whom had actually been from Moria originally, were feeling dangerous and reckless. The planet had drifted back closer to Klingon space, and were willing to fight for it. Thorin’s grandfather Thror led our what little was left of the army of our people to Moria, as a last ditch attempt to secure a home for our people. It didn’t end well for him.”

“He was decapitated,” Bofur said, miming the motion to Bilbo of somebody getting their head chopped off.

“Good gods!” Bilbo gasped.

“It was a tragic day for our people. Aside from the head of our house, we never got a final count on the number killed. Beyond the count of grief, they said,” Balin continued, ignoring Bofur’s display. “And as for Thror, well--Thorin did not find out until he saw Thror’s killer on the viewscreen, holding his head up as a trophy.”

“Azog.” Bilbo realized out loud. “My god…”

“Thorin was filled with righteous fury, transported onto his bridge, and they duelled, Azog with his plasma sword and Thorin with his bat’leth. It was not a fair fight by any means, plasma weapon against mithril, but Thorin was fueled by his anger. Eventually Azog left his right side unguarded and Thorin--”

“Sliced his arm off,” Bilbo finished. “So today’s fight...”

“Aye, was a repeat of a fight from decades ago,” Balin said. “Honestly, after cutting his arm off and being beamed back, Thorin and the rest of us had thought Azog was dead. Apparently we underestimated the strength of Romulan medicine.”

“But that still doesn’t explain why Azog wants him dead so badly,” Bilbo said.

Balin sighed. “No, it doesn’t, does it? It could be one of all sorts of reasons. One theory is that after killing Thror, Azog decided he wanted to wipe the rest of the line of Durin out of history as well. Another is that it’s some idea conflating killing Thorin, a member of a high Klingon house, with getting revenge on the Klingons for stealing Romulan cloaking technology all those years ago. Romulan logic is nonexistent. It’s easy for us Klingons to forget the differences between them and their distant Vulcan cousins, but really they’re opposites.”

“Vulcans are just emotionless. Romulans are either emotionless or assholes,” Bofur said. “Those are their only two moods.”

“That also doesn’t explain what happened to Thrain before he was killed--by Azog, I;m guessing?” Bilbo wondered.

“I honestly am not sure either,” Balin said, shrugging. “He disappeared a few years after the Battle of Azanulbizar, and all we know of his time after that is that at some point he ran into Tharkûn and passed over that info stick. Gandalf would probably be able to tell us more than we know, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely that he’s going to.”

"No, it doesn't," Bilbo agreed.

They were quiet for a moment, until Bofur cleared his throat and stood up. "Well, I'm gonna head to my quarters. Who's bunking with who?"

"I'll stay with Thorin," Bilbo said, and both of them gave him surprised looks. But it wasn't until he'd suggested it that he realized he did need to stay with Thorin: he was furious. "He needs a stern talking to, if I do say so myself. I've never been more frustrated with another person in my life. Really, the audacity of transporting onto a Romulan vessel by himself. Outrageous."

"It's very typical Thorin behavior, honestly, Bilbo," Bofur said. "Obviously, he sees himself as very important, so has to be dramatic in order to live up to his own self standards. A bit silly to me, but to each their own I guess.”

“I don’t care that it’s typical,” Bilbo said. “It was still a ridiculous choice.”

Bofur and Balin exchanged a surprised look, then Balin shrugged. “Very well. Bofur and I will bunk together, and you can share with the Captain. Although it does make me wonder where Gandalf is staying.”

“With all the friends he’s got scattered across the galaxy, I’d be surprised if he sleeps at all,” Bofur said, laughing. “I’ll just pick a room and catch up with you later.”

They exchanged their goodbyes, and Bilbo and Balin were left at the table, Bilbo still poking through his stew. Balin sighed, glancing up at the doorway that first their host and then Bofur had left through. “Is he actually going to our quarters?”

Bilbo blushed, feeling as though it was him having his crush pointed out, and shook his head. “No, he’s definitely heading to the bridge.”

“I can’t believe he thinks he’s going to make anything happen with that woman.”

“He has a better chance than you think he does,” Bilbo said, feeling a little defensive. “She thinks he’s handsome, he thinks she’s the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen. There’s no reason it won’t happen.”

"It's just odd," Balin explained. "Personally, I don't see anything wrong with it, it just doesn't normally happen."

"Is it that rare for Klingons to marry or, uh, get involved with those outside their species?" Bilbo asked.

"Not particularly rare on the 'involvement', as you put it," Balin said, chuckling at Bilbo's redder cheeks. "But it's probably more rare for us than others. Is it common for Betazoids?"

"Oh, immensely," Bilbo said. "I have several cousins who are married to humans, and my mother almost broke off her engagement with my father for an Andorian girlfriend she had while she was at Starfleet Academy."

"Your mother and father were engaged before she left?"

"Yep," Bilbo said, popping out the "p" sound. "It's common for Betazoids to have marriages arranged as children. It's important for telepaths, you see. Because of our telepathy, we have an unfortunate tendency to pick up pieces of other people's personalities without even trying, and if we keep doing that as we get older, it means we ourselves start to lose touch with our own selves a bit. But having a bondmate means you primarily draw from their personality--you're just becoming more like them and the few other people they and you are close to instead of losing touch with yourself by becoming more like everybody."

Balin nodded pensively, appearing to take it all in. "So were you engaged as a child?"

"I was," Bilbo said. "She went into the Diplomatic Corps and we broke it off, but she was an old family friend of my father's. That’s how most of the matches are set up: friend of a friend, that kind of thing. After that, and then after losing my parents, I just never looked for anybody else."

Balin’s eyebrows furrowed, forehead ridges knitting together in concern. “But you’re doing all right?"

"Oh, yes, don't worry about me," Bilbo said, taking another sip of his tea. "Most of the people on Shire Station are relatives and close friends, so I've stayed pretty steady. Every once in a while, I have to get tested to make sure, well, basically that my mental pathways aren’t unraveling, but I'm doing all right, really. At this point I think bonding would be even more a shock to my system than not."

"It's important to take care of yourself, even in regards to love," Balin said. “I am curious about another thing about Betazoids: are the thoughts of other species more difficult for you to read than your own, or is a similar level of difficulty?”

"Hmm, no, there’s not really a huge difference," Bilbo said, "Most humanoid thoughts work about the same. Honestly, it’s more of our own expectations about things that cloud Betazoid judgment more than anything. I’d made a lot of fortunately wrong assumptions about Klingons that it took me a bit to realize were off.”

"Like what?"

"Well," Bilbo drawled, "I had guessed that you would think a lot more about murder. And death in battle."

Balin chuckled. "An unfortunate result of our tendency to pick fights with the Federation."

"Is that what your people called it? Picking fights?" Bilbo shook his head. "Starfleet usually referred to it as 'acts of war'."

"Our peoples haven't always seen eye to eye," Balin said. "We still have much to learn about each other, I think. And we have our wrong ideas about your people as well. When I found out Tharkûn wanted you to join our crew, while I respected his judgement, I'd thought he was way off. I thought you unprepared to face the unknown, embrace danger, and I thought you would sooner flee than willingly go into the battle. But seeing you transport yourself into danger on the Whitewarg , all to protect a captain you'd only known for a short time, really showed me, and all of us, what you're made of. Mr. Baggins, you are immensely brave. I know you don't feel ready to help us fight Smaug, but I have full confidence that you're really the only man for the job."

"Balin," Bilbo started, touched, but Balin shook his head.

"No, I should've said it sooner. You've got nothing to prove anymore, not to us. If anybody can do it, it's you."

"I--" Bilbo started again, but stopped, flushing. "Thank you. It really means a lot to me. And you really should call me Bilbo."

Balin’s thoughts grew pensive, but his expression was kind. “Of course, Bilbo. I hope that after Erebor is reclaimed, history looks back on this as one of the first successful Klingon-Federation joint ventures with fondness.”

Bilbo beamed. “So do I.”

A communications panel on the wall chirped, and Gandalf’s voice came through the speaker, “Tharkûn to Balin.”

Balin stood up and went to the comm panel, and Bilbo followed him. “Balin here. Everything all right?”

“Thorin’s all stitched back together, if that’s what you’re referring to, and would like to see you, Bofur, and Bilbo.”

“I’m not entirely sure where Bofur is right now,” Balin said, turning to Bilbo, who shrugged. He hadn’t known Bofur (or any of them, really) long enough to be able to find them by sense. “But Bilbo and I can head up now. Balin out.”

They took the vertical crawlway back up and went to the medbay, where the cut on Thorin’s cheek was gone, looking as though it had been dermally regenerated. He was stretching, seeming to follow along with a blonde Denobulan man who Bilbo guessed was one of Loren’s medics, but when the door swished open to allow Bilbo and Balin to enter he stood up. He gave Balin a nod, but moved to stand directly in front of Bilbo and clasp his shoulder. When he spoke, his voice was low but warm. “I’ve been thinking, since we came over to this ship. I was wrong about you.”

Bilbo huffed, the anger he’d felt towards Thorin over almost getting killed basically evaporating against his will. “Well, I don’t blame you.”

“I thought there was no place for you in my crew, that you were a coward, and that you were looking to flee at the soonest possible chance.” Thorin’s hand gave his shoulder a squeeze as he paused, but Bilbo could sense that he wasn’t done so he let him continue. “I’ve never been so wrong in all my life.”

Bilbo had less than a second of warning of what happened next, and not even from his telepathy, simply from realizing that Thorin closing in on him with his arms extended could only mean one thing: a hug. Thorin wrapped around him, and leaned down slightly to press his forehead to Bilbo’s. “I’m sorry I doubted you,” he whispered, and Bilbo’s heart swelled, basking in the closeness that had begun to tentatively grow between them but was now strengthened by Bilbo’s most recent move to prove his loyalty. Even during the thought sharing, Bilbo hadn’t felt he’d been able to see this much of Thorin, but now his emotions were truly on his sleeve.

“No, I would’ve doubted me too,” Bilbo said, patting his back slightly awkwardly and trying to project the same amount of kindness and trust back. “I’m not a hero or a Klingon warrior or even a burglar.”

There was a cough from the side, and Bilbo and Thorin stepped apart just enough for Bilbo to turn his head and see Gandalf, who now stood next to Balin. Gandalf beamed. “Well, that is very promising. Now that you two have worked that out, let’s see what’s next.”

Gandalf pulled out the same small, pocket projector he’d placed on Bilbo’s counter what felt like ages ago and set it on the biobed. It was the same map, but this time it was zoomed in on their current location on the journey. Thorin, Bilbo, and Balin circled around it, and Gandalf pointed as he spoke. “Now that we’ve made it past Vulcan, the next part of your journey is going to take you through the Fuin Nebula, then on to--”

“No,” Thorin said. “How long will it delay us to avoid the Fuin?”

“3.4 years,” Gandalf stated.

Bilbo could sense Thorin’s temper heat up, but when he spoke his voice was still as steady as ever. “It shouldn’t take us remotely that long at warp--”

“Captain, we can’t jump to warp.” Balin reminded him. “We used up the last of our dilithium stores trying to outrun the Romulans, and one of their shots severely damaged our exhaust manifolds. We can’t even do full impulse right now.”

Bilbo absently noticed the door slide open again, allowing Loren to enter, but didn’t pay attention to what she was doing, instead raptly watching the back and forth of Thorin’s emotions. Thorin huffed and set his forehead in his hand. “How long will it take us to repair the exhaust ports?”

Balin winced, and Bilbo knew the answer wasn’t good. Gandalf sighed. “Thorin, there’s no reason to be so set against going through Fuin space.”

“I have every reason to avoid the Fuin Nebula,” Thorin said.

Bilbo coughed, getting their attention, and both the Klingons and Gandalf turned to face him. “If I may ask, why exactly do we want to avoid the Fuin Nebula so badly? Who lives out there that we, er, you hate?”

“The Fuin Nebula is occupied by a group of Vulcans who are….different than the other Vulcans we’ve encountered. They are called the v’tosh ka’tur,” Balin said.

“Vulcans without logic,” Loren translated from the place she’d taken next to Balin, and he nodded.

“Indeed. When Erebor fell, the closest Federation starbase, Dale Station, was abandoned, and the next closest settlement that we could hope to get help from was Eryn Lasgalen, the v’tosh ka’tur’s colony in the Fuin Nebula. But when we went to them for help, they turned us away,” Balin said.

“Well, I’m certain they had their reasons,” Bilbo said, immediately feeling Thorin’s anger spike, like a physical pain, beside him.

“They abandoned my people when we were starving and had no homes,” Thorin said, voice thick with emotion. “There was plenty of help they could have given us, but they did not. They’re even worse than Elrond’s Vulcans. They were cold and cruel then, without the excuse of logic to defend them, and I doubt the years have changed their ways. If we can get our ship back to full impulse, will that change the delay?”

Balin grimaced again, and Bilbo sympathized, but then Loren held up a hand, making Bilbo notice how her spots showed up on her wrists as well, and spoke. “I actually have a suggestion. It won’t help you avoid the Fuin Nebula, but it will mean you can get your impulse drive fixed.”

“I’m listening,” Thorin said.

“There’s a friend of mine who hangs out in this sector and keeps his ship equipped for repairs,” Loren explained. “He’s….a bit unusual, even by my standards--” she gestured at Gandalf, which made him shrug and Bilbo laugh “--and I’m not gonna lie, I don’t know how he feels about Klingons, but I’ve never seen him turn anybody who needed help away. He’s a good soul.”

“What do you mean unusual?” Thorin asked, but Bilbo could sense his hope and prayed that it wasn’t a deal breaker, for all their sakes.

“His name’s Beorn, and he’s an allasomorph,” Loren said. “A shapeshifter from Daled IV.”

Balin’s eyebrows rose. “I’ve heard the tales, Ms. Egal, but I’d thought they were just legends.”

“Nope, they’re real. Or at least he is. I’ve never seen the transformation happen, but I’ve heard it gets pretty intense.” Loren shrugged. “I remember him running around in the same trader’s circles as my Dad, but then we didn’t hear from him for a while and when he showed back up again he’d traded his cargo vessel for the repair ship he has now.”

Thorin turned to Bilbo, and he heard the question in his mind, Can we trust her? Will he help us? Bilbo took a second to scan Loren’s motives, but sensing nothing concerning, he gave Thorin a small nod back.

“If you could tow my vessel to his repair craft, we would be immensely grateful,” Thorin said.

“Of course!” She beamed and nodded. “I’ll tell the bridge to change course right away and try and contact him. He isn’t always the easiest person to reach by hails, but if we can get a hold of him, I’ll see if he can meet us halfway, which should help us get you there by tomorrow afternoon.”

Gandalf clapped his hands together, which both reminded Bilbo that he was there and made him jump, feeling very pleased with himself. “Well, personally I feel much better now that we’ve worked out what we’re doing next.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Thorin drawled, making Balin and Gandalf give matching sighs. “I still don’t want to go through the Fuin.”

“Thorin, there’s no other choice,” Bilbo said, cutting in before Gandalf could say anything else. “I would tell you if Gandalf had any other ideas, but he doesn’t. Unless you want to add over three years to your trip home, this is the only way.”

It was true, but Bilbo mainly said it to prevent an argument from starting. Thorin took it as what it was, and nodded, resolved but immensely unhappy, and crossed his arms. “Fine. Tharkûn, how long will the delay be with us at impulse through Fuin space?”

“A couple of weeks. That small of a setback won’t be a big deal--while I want to see Erebor reclaimed as quickly as possible, it doesn’t need to be immediate,” Gandalf said.

Thorin turned to Bilbo, who shrugged once again. As he got more used to being around Gandalf, he was getting better at reading him through his shields, but he still wasn’t getting much. “That’ll have to do,” Thorin answered gruffly. “And Captain Egal, thank you. Let us hope your friend is as hospitable as you are.”

Loren smiled. “I’m sure he will be. Also, Doc says that there’s no reason to keep you in the medbay, so if you want to go to your real quarters or the mess, that’s fine. Also, I don’t mind if you don’t but one of your crewman is trying to convince me to let him work a bridge shift. Should I let him?”

Balin sighed and rolled his eyes while Bilbo snorted, both at Bofur’s moves and Thorin’s confusion. “I don’t care if Bofur decides to work instead of resting while here, but I would like to know why.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Loren demurred. “I’ll head back and tell him he has the boss’ permission, though.”

“If you don’t mind, I’ll also head down to your bridge. There’s a few more things you and I need to discuss, Loren,” Gandalf said, putting the holoprojector back in his pocket.

“Sure thing, old man,” Loren said. “I’ll catch the rest of you later.”

The two of them left the medbay, and Thorin turned to Bilbo. “Was she lying?”

“Only a little,” Bilbo said, opting for a partial truth. “It’s nothing to worry about though, Thorin, really. Bofur knows what he’s doing.”

That sentence, unfortunately, was more revealing than Bilbo had meant it to be, because Thorin tipped his head forward and groaned. “Is he trying to sleep with her?”

Bilbo flushed hotly. “Thorin! It’s none of your business!”

“It is when he’s part of my crew,” Thorin said, “but I suppose it isn’t a huge deal. Bofur’s actually known for this kind of thing, always looking for par’mach in all the wrong places.”

“Par’mach?” Bilbo asked.

“The Klingon word for love,” Balin explained. “Not that you know anything about looking for it or par’mach at all, Captain--”

“That’s enough, Balin,” Thorin said, but his eyes were laughing. “If you would be so kind as to show me to my quarters and not give me lip, that would be helpful.”

“You’re actually bunking with Bilbo,” Balin said, and Thorin turned to give Bilbo a strange look.

Bilbo shrugged. “I wanted to share with you so I could get on to you about recklessly endangering yourself like that, but I’m not angry anymore. You’ve lucked out. We Betazoids are a force to be reckoned with when we’re mad.”

“Of that I have no doubts,” Thorin said. “In that case, if you would lead the way.”

“I’m going to head to my own room as well,” Balin said, and the three of them headed down the hall and split up. Upon entering his and Thorin’s quarters for the first time, Bilbo found them much like the rest of the ship: worn, but well loved. The bunks were built into the walls like pockets, and there was a small porthole window on the far wall, which had a small desk beneath it. At some point, the Oakenshield must have transported over some of their belongings, because Bilbo’s bag was resting on the end of what would be his bed, the end of his father’s red jacket hanging out of it, and there was a similar bag on Thorin’s.

Bilbo sat down in the desk chair, while Thorin slowly lowered himself to lay in the bunk, which was slightly short for his tall build. Bilbo waited until he was as comfortable as he was going to get, then asked, “Is Balin always getting on you about your love life?”

Thorin let out a huff of laughter, shaking his head. “Unfortunately, yes. He’s more traditional than I am, really--I’m the first son of a high Klingon house, I should find myself a good woman and have strong sons and daughters to bring honor to the family name.” He paused for long enough that Bilbo wondered if he was done before speaking again. “I wanted that for a time. Then my people lost everything, and the moment was never right. Besides, I have my sister-sons--they’re the best heirs I could ask for, really. No fierce Klingon lady could’ve given me better.”

“They’re good lads,” Bilbo agreed, and he could feel more than see Thorin’s answering smile. “What does Klingon romance even look like?”

“The women roar and throw heavy objects. The men read love poetry and--duck a lot. You can probably guess why it wasn’t my scene.”

“Obviously. You would just let the heavy object hit you and brood about it later.” Bilbo deadpanned, surprising Thorin into an actual laugh. “If it makes you feel better, he asked after mine as well.”

“I have a feeling Betazoid women aren’t quite so violent.”

“You would be correct. And I’m also not involved with anybody.”

“I knew that as well,” Thorin said, and Bilbo recognized the tone in his voice as somebody trying very hard to be kind. Bilbo wasn’t sure if it was patronizing or sweet. “Things like this….people who are completely happy with their lives don’t tend to just uproot themselves to help a bunch of Klingons get their home back. And I know you aren’t most people, if nothing else you’ve proven that, but--”

“No, you’re honestly right,” Bilbo said. He sighed, letting his breath out in a whistle. “I love the Shire, and I love my home, but it was lonely. I don’t think it was good for me to be by myself, without any close family for all those years. I’ve only known you Klingons for a minute, but I’m quickly realizing there’s nothing I would not do to help you. This is already the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done with my life. I know it’s going to get hard, but I hope you’re done trying to not very subtly talk me out of it.”

“I am. If I thought I could stop you before, I know now that that isn’t the case.”

“Well. Good.” Bilbo sat up a little straighter. “I don’t know about you, but I had some soup in the galley earlier, and I think I could go for some more. Do you want me to go grab us both a bowl?”

Thorin swung his legs over the side of his bunk and stretched out, seeming almost cat-like. “Actually, I think I’ll accompany you. I would like to see more of the little cargo vessel that could take out the Romulans.”

“Well, I’m certainly no expert, but I may know enough to give you a bit of a tour,” Bilbo said, and when Thorin held the door open, his heart felt full and ready for the rest of their journey, come what may.

Chapter Text

The next morning Bilbo and Thorin rose early and headed to the galley together, where there were some delightful Terran pastries for breakfast (Bilbo loved a cheese danish) and, to Thorin, at least, a disappointing absence of meat. He poked the sugary pastry for a few minutes, frowning.

“If you’re not going to eat it, I will. It’s a danish, it’s delicious,” Bilbo said, prompting Thorin to shake his head and finally take a bite.

“It’s sweet,” Thorin conceded. “But just sugar. Not filling.”

“It’s just supposed to be a nice start to the day,” Bilbo said. “A sweet treat for an early morning.”

Thorin hmm-ed, but didn’t say anything else, as Loren Egal chose then to make her entrance with Bofur at her heels. They had an arm wrapped around each other’s waists, and it looked like they each had a hand in each other’s opposite back pocket. Her hair was messy from sleep-- really a lack of it, Bilbo mused--but her eyes were bright. She was also wearing a scarf, which Bilbo didn’t understand until Bofur turned to their table and his eyes went wide and Loren turned after him, giving Bilbo and Thorin a view of her from the front, where there was a massive bruise on the underside of her jaw, by her pulse point. Bofur was in a similar state of disarray; his ever-present hat was nowhere to be seen and his hair, which was usually pulled back in a couple of braids, was loose and wavy.

“Good gods,” Bilbo said.

Thorin groaned, setting his forehead on the table. That can not be comfortable with the ridges, Bilbo thought, as Thorin said, “I already knew what he was up to. I didn’t need to see the proof.”

Bilbo elbowed Thorin hard in the side, as their two friends were coming over and sitting down.

Loren placed her glass of juice on the table with a loud click, and turned to Bilbo. “Morning.”

“Good morning,” Bilbo said brightly. “Looks like you two had a fun night.”

Thorin, who had never picked his head up off the table, groaned again, and Bofur choked on a sip of juice. Loren, however, looked like the cat who got the cream, with an almost wicked smile on her face. She didn’t say anything, but nodded and winked at Bilbo, making them both laugh.

There was a cough from behind them, and Bilbo turned around, beaming. “Good morning, Balin. Thorin, scoot, we’ll make room on the bench.”

Thorin slid over, finally sitting up and taking another bite of danish. Balin caught a glimpse of Loren’s neck, and gave a barely noticeable shake of his head. “Thank you, Bilbo. Ms. Egal, I was wondering if you could tell us our ETA to Beorn’s.”

“Who’s Beorn?” Bofur asked, yawning widely.

“A friend of mine,” Loren said, rubbing his upper arm absently then pulling away when she noticed everyone’s eyes on her. “And the last time I checked, it was estimated about--” She glanced down at the watch on her wrist, and her eyes went wide. “--well, now actually.”

“Excellent,” Balin said. “A little ahead of schedule.”

Thorin nodded. “That is good news. Are you going to say anything on our behalf?”

“Already done. I told him all about you guys’ situation.” Loren paused, taking a small sip of juice and frowning slightly. “I didn’t mention that you were Klingon, but it shouldn’t be a big deal. He agreed to help you, your species shouldn’t change that.”

Thorin huffed, and stabbed another piece of danish. Guess that’s the end of that conversation, Bilbo thought.

Loren cleared her throat and stood up. “Well, I’m going to head to the bridge. Prepare for contact, that sort of thing.”

“I’ll go with you,” Bofur said, far too quickly to be casual, and Bilbo barely held in his laugh. They left the galley as Gandalf walked in, giving them an odd look. He settled down in what had been Bofur’s chair.

“Did that just--?” He started, then shook his head, muttering something that sounded almost like, “ Klingons.”

“Did she tell you anything about this Beorn fellow that she didn’t tell us?” Thorin asked.

Gandalf was quiet for a second, and Bilbo knew the answer was yes. “She did, but they were things that I don’t feel are my stories to tell. I suppose Beorn will tell us if he thinks it is relevant.”

The comm panel by the door buzzed. “Egal to Gandalf.”

Gandalf stood up, and Bilbo noticed that he hadn’t grabbed a plate-- does he even eat?-- as he stood up to answer the comm. “Gandalf here.”

“Beorn’s about five minutes out. You and the others want to meet me in the transporter room so I can send you back to the Oakenshield ?”

“Sounds perfect,” Gandalf said, nodding at Bilbo, Balin, and Thorin, who had already begun standing up and getting ready to grab their things. “We’ll see you there. Gandalf out.”

They made brief pit stops at the rooms to grab their things, which made Bilbo realize that there were far more strange things about Gandalf than there were normal things. He didn’t eat, he didn’t have a bag for clothes or anything like that, and it didn’t seem like he slept either. His thoughts were slowly becoming more clear to Bilbo, but what Bilbo was hearing and sensing from him didn’t make a whole lot sense either. What an odd man, Bilbo mused as he and Thorin met Balin in the transporter room. Bofur joined them a few after that, with his bag tucked under his arm.

Loren entered about a minute later, arms holding Bofur’s hat. He dropped his bag and stepped off the platform as she held it out to him. “Here ya go.”

Bofur took it, expression more than a little fond, with crinkles at the corners of his eyes. He turned it over in his hands, and Bilbo noticed the pilling on it, the places it had been stitched back together and gently repaired, and the silk lining on the inside, labelled in Klingon writing. After a long second, he lifted it and set it on her head. “Keep it.”

Her green eyes went wide, and she reached up to take it off. “Bofur--”

“It’s yours,” Bofur said, stopping her hands and giving them a squeeze. “You can give it back to me when we see each other again.”

Loren turned bright red but grinned. “Okay. You can give this back to me then, too--” she said, and put her hand on the back of her neck and pulled him down into a kiss.

Bilbo turned away from what was, objectively, one of the most sickeningly sweet scenes he’d ever witnessed in his life, and spared a glance at Thorin and Balin, who were both hard  looking away, and Gandalf who looked torn between fascinated and shocked. He looked back at the couple just as they stepped apart, Loren feeling and looking immensely pleased with herself and Bofur feeling faintly dazed. He joined the other four on the platform, and scooped his bag back up.

“Well,” Loren said, tucking a short piece of hair behind her ear. “If I were Vulcan, I’d say live long and prosper, but I’m not, so I’ll just say good luck. I hope you guys get your home back.”

“Thank you,” Thorin said.

She stepped up to the controls and gave them a quick once-over. “I’m ready to transport on your command, Captain.”

“Energize.” The word had barely left Thorin’s lips when they found themselves dematerialized and back in the soft red lighting of the Oakenshield.

“Ah, good to be home,” Balin said.

“I guess,” Bofur said glumly, flipping his hair back over his shoulder. “To the bridge, Captain?”

“Drop your stuff off, first,” Thorin said. “Balin, if you could take mine--”

“Aye, Captain,” Balin replied. “Bilbo, I could take yours as well?”

“Ah, certainly,” Bilbo said, handing the duffle over.

“Mr. Baggins, Gandalf, if you can follow me,” Thorin said, and the three of them left the transporter room to head to the bridge.

When they got there, Dwalin was reclined in the Captain’s seat, but at Thorin’s entrance he stood up and stepped aside. “All clear, Thorin. We repaired several of our non-essential systems, just got to wait on this guy to help us with our impulse drive. His ship’s already on our sensors as well, and he’s coming in pretty quick.”

“Excellent,” Thorin said. “Any hails yet?”

Kíli was standing at the comm station, and he shook his head. “Nothing yet, captain.”

“Good,” Thorin said, settling down into his seat and gesturing for Bilbo to take the first officer’s chair again. Gandalf remained standing.

The door swished as Bofur came on to the bridge, which prompted both Dori and Fíli to whisper about where his hat was, but Kíli wordlessly left for him to take his station. There was a beep, and Bofur popped his earpiece in. “We’re being hailed, Captain.”

“On screen,” Thorin said, and the viewscreen lit up with the image of a massive humanoid, with hair that looked like a-- no, that is definitely a mullet, it’s all teased out and everything, Bilbo thought. He had ridiculously thick eyebrows, and his eyes were dark and shrewd. His expression was stony, and he stayed quiet, apparently waiting for Thorin to speak first. “This is Captain Thorin, son of Thrain, of the house of Durin and the ISS Oakenshield. I assume you are Beorn?”

“You are correct,” Beorn answered. “The Alexandria is about to release you from their towing cables, and I’m going to put you in a tractor beam.”

“That will do,” Thorin said.

Beorn’s eyes narrowed fractionally, and then the screen went black.

“He hung up on me,” Bofur said. “How rude.”

“He doesn’t appear to be great company,” Fíli muttered from the helm.

“He is the only person in this sector who can repair your impulse drive, Mr. Fíli,” Gandalf said, reminding everyone of his presence on the bridge. “I suggest you show him some well deserved respect.”

“Yes, sir,” Fíli said, appropriately chastised.

The ship shifted slightly as it was released from the cables, and then seemed to kind of float up slightly when picked up in the tractor beam. “Feels like a smooth ride,” Bilbo mused, and the edges of Thorin’s lips quirked up in a smile.

Something at the comm station beeped. “We’re being hailed again,” Bofur said.

“On screen.” Thorin was still leaned back. “Mr. Beorn?”

“You and your crew are welcome to transport over at any time,” Beorn said.

Thorin frowned. “Who’s going to do the repairs if not us?”

“I’ll send my droids over once you’re on board , ” Beorn said. “They work best without interference.”

Thorin frowned, but before he could say anything Bilbo leaned over and whispered, “Don’t say anything about his robots or a ‘Klingon touch’ or anything like that. He loves them like family.”

Thorin nodded and turned back to the screen. “That will do. My crew will prepare to transport, and we’ll comm when we’re ready to.”

“Fine,” Beorn said, gruffly, and hung up again.

“Still not very nice,” Bofur muttered.

“Thorin, I don’t love the idea of a bunch of droids working on our ship,” Dwalin said.

“Neither do I,” Thorin said, rubbing a hand over his jaw. “And I already know Glóin’s going to throw a fit.”

“He’s just going to have to get over it,” Bilbo said as he followed them off the bridge and down the hall.  “I can read Beorn surprisingly well for not being in person, and he believes strongly in the rights of all creatures, whether flesh and blood like us or synthetic like androids. It’s commendable, really.”

“Huh,” Dwalin said. “Don’t meet a whole lot of android rights activists out in the Empire.”

“I’ve never met any either,” Bilbo said. “And Dwalin, I do need to apologize. I didn’t get the chance after we got picked up by the Alexandria, but I am sorry I took your authorization codes out of your head without permission. Even with other Betazoids, it isn’t very nice. I would do it again to save Thorin, but I am sorry I got in your head like that.”

Dwalin grunted, pressing the door for the turbolift, and stepping inside, along with Bilbo and Thorin. “It’s fine.”

“But--” Bilbo started, but Dwalin raised a hand, cutting him off.

“Bilbo, I don’t care. Don’t use them again.”

Bilbo swallowed. “Okay. Sorry.”

The lift stopped and Dwalin stepped out first, shaking his head as he went.

“That’s pretty typical for Dwalin,” Thorin said. “He knows you made the right choice in the end, so he thinks it’s pointless for you to apologize for it.”

“I have a feeling he is very unsatisfying to argue with,” Bilbo said, “because he probably just doesn’t.”

Thorin chuckled. “You aren’t wrong. What do you think about droids doing….person work?”

“I take no issue with it,” Bilbo said. “It’ll eliminate some amount of sentient error, that’s for sure. Their sensors may even notice damage our eyes don’t.”

Kíli was coming down the hallway, bag already in hand, when he saw them coming and turned to walk with them. “Uncle, why are we transporting over to his ship?”

“Because he is leaving the work of repairing our vessel to his….droids,” Thorin said, and Bilbo frowned at his attitude.

“Well, that’s weird,” Kíli said. “Why’d he want droids to do it when he’s got us to do the manual labor?”

“Just personal preference, Kíli,” Bilbo said. “He has no plans of sabotage, if that’s the seed you’re trying to plant, Thorin.”

Kíli’s eyes went wide, and Thorin looked embarrassed. Serves him right, Bilbo thought. “Of course you are capable of sensing his motives,” Thorin said. “Sorry for being overly suspicious.”

“It’s the way you were raised,” Bilbo said. Both Klingons turned to look at him, and Bilbo felt himself flush slightly. “What?”

“Bilbo, can you read my thoughts more easily now?” Thorin asked.

Bilbo pursed his lips. “Only slightly. I know it isn’t going to reassure you much, but I could read them pretty easily before.”

“But since the thought sharing--”

“Yes, it’s easier.” Bilbo winced. “Sorry.”

“Whoa, that’s so cool,” Kíli said, dark eyes going wide. “Is that how it always is? After linking minds with somebody?”

“To some extent,” Bilbo explained. “Families share thoughts all the time, so I could read my parents incredibly well. The more connected your mind is to another’s, the easier they are to….anticipate, I suppose would be a good way to describe it.”

Kíli nodded, expression looking like he understood but Bilbo could sense he really didn’t. “Huh. Neat. I’m going to head to the transporter room.”

Kíli turned on his heel and Bilbo watched him go. Thorin rolled his eyes. “Is he planning on telling everybody?”

“In his defense, he really does just think it’s neat,” Bilbo said, and Thorin laughed again.

“My nephew can be easily impressed,” Thorin said. “I suppose I should be grateful that after the life we’ve all had, he still gets excited by the little things.”

“I think you should.”

They went their separate ways after that--Bilbo going to the communal quarters to grab his duffle and things again, and Thorin heading to the Captain’s quarters for his. Bilbo headed to the transporter room, where almost all of the Klingons were there. Gandalf was already waiting as well, standing behind the controls, and counting the Klingons.

“We’re two short. Who still isn’t here yet?”

“Glóin’s still getting his personal tools from engineering,” Nori said, rolling his eyes. “He really doesn’t want to come back and find anything missing.”

“Thorin hasn’t made it down yet either,” Bilbo said.

Gandalf nodded. A moment later, the door slid open and both Thorin and Glóin stepped in. Thorin had only the same black bag that he’d had on the Alexandria , while Glóin was carrying a large suitcase and rolling a toolbox along the floor. Gandalf frowned. “Is that everything, Mr. Glóin?”

“Captain over here told me it had to be,” Glóin muttered, shooting a rude look at Thorin’s back.

“Well, since we’re all accounted for, it’s time to transport,” Gandalf said. He pressed a few buttons, apparently setting it to voice control, then stepped onto the transporter platform. “Computer, energize.”

They transported over to Beorn’s vessel, where the man was waiting for them. He was even bigger in person, towering by at least a foot and a half over even the tallest Klingons, and his biceps looked about as big around as one of Bilbo’s thighs. He was wearing a dark sweatshirt and ripped jeans. “Welcome to the Honeybee, friends of Loren.”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Thorin said, as three Klingons snickered at the name of the vessel. “We greatly appreciate you and your drones’ assistance.”

Beorn nodded and pressed a button, opening the door. “Come on, I’ll show you to your quarters.”

The guest quarters were up a deck from what Bilbo guessed was the primary engineering deck, the location of both the warp drive and the transporter. Similarly to Loren’s quarters, there were four rooms, excluding Beorn’s quarters, meaning they would have to group up, but each room had its own bathroom and the beds felt soft to Bilbo’s hands. Bilbo expected everyone to group up by family, but they immediately started calling dibs on bunking with anybody else, except, naturally, Fíli and Kíli, who Bilbo was realizing were willing to do everything at each other’s side, and Dori and Ori, one of whom was significantly less pleased with the arrangement.

“Dori, I don’t want to room with you,” Ori whined as Dori tugged him into one of the rooms.

“Those Durin boys are loud and you need your 8 hours of sleep,” Dori said, ignoring his brother and taking his bag, supposedly to set it on one of the beds. Ori’s shoulders slumped, but he followed his brother in.

Bilbo watched the exchange and chuckled to himself. Families really are the same universally, he thought. Thorin was also watching them divide up, and seemed similarly amused. “Mind if I stay in yours, Captain?” Bilbo asked.

Thorin shrugged. “Not at all. Let’s go with Dwalin.”

Bilbo frowned (Dwalin was one of the loudest snorers of the bunch) but followed him to the room, where Dwalin had already thrown his stuff down, lost his shirt, and claimed one of the top bunks.

“Well, you’ve gotten cozy,” Bilbo said.

Bifur joined them a moment later, taking the bed under Dwalin and signing something at Thorin, who replied, apparently in the affirmative, in Klingon, leading Bifur to kick his shoes off and settle in.

“You know whatever Bifur speaks, er, signs?” Bilbo asked.

“It’s called iglishmêk,” Thorin said. “Bifur actually uses a different one than I’m used to--he grew up using the Morian type, while I was raised with the version we used in Erebor. They are many variations throughout the Empire.”

“What specifically is it used for?”

“It’s fairly subtle,” Dwalin cut in, “so we can use it in front of outsiders while they’re none the wiser. We can say one thing and sign another, keep secrets that way.”

“That’s not very nice,” Bilbo said, perching on the other lower bunk. Thorin tossed his bag onto the top and then sat down beside Bilbo. “Who do you mean by outsiders?”

“We don’t normally have to use it with Starfleet or other groups, because we can just speak Klingon,” Thorin said. “Because the dialects tend to be so local, it’s mainly used when dealing with those outside our house. Klingon history is full of bloodshed between the houses.”

“Klingon present is full of bloodshed between houses,” Dwalin said, and Thorin shot him a look.

“Well, nobody’s perfect,” Bilbo said, making Dwalin snort. “I think I’m going to go find some food. Anyone care to join me?”

“I’ll go,” Thorin said too quickly.

“Thorin! You just want to spy,” Bilbo said. “Beorn is being very nice to us.”

“I think it’s smart to be cautious. Let’s go get something to eat, Bilbo.” Thorin stood up, and took Bilbo’s elbow to pull him to his feet.

“Hmm. Alright,” Bilbo said. “But I trust Beorn, and I read minds so you should listen to me.”

Thorin ignored that literal statement in favor of laughing at it and led Bilbo to the door. “I make no promises.”

“Ridiculous,” Bilbo muttered, but followed him anyways. Apparently that’s becoming a recurring thing, Bilbo thought, feeling both annoyed at himself and….something he wasn’t quite ready to identify yet towards Thorin.

They’d only taken a few steps into the hall when a little droid rolled up to them. “Do you require assistance?”

“No,” Thorin said.

“Actually, yes,” Bilbo said, shoving in the side. “Does your vessel have a mess hall? Someplace for….organic lifeforms to eat?”

“The mess hall is up one deck. You will turn right when you step out of the turbo lift.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo said. “Do you have a name?”

“My designation is R-38,” the droid answered. “I and several of my brothers, 33 through 41, will be staying on the Honeybee while the others go to your vessel to work on it.”

“Well,” Bilbo said, ignoring Thorin making faces beside him, “I hope we speak again, R-38. Thank you for your assistance.”

“You are welcome, Bilbo Baggins,” R-38 answered, and Bilbo smiled. The little droid wheeled down the hallway and disappeared around the corner.

“I hate that,” Thorin said, as soon as it was out of sight.

“I think they’re cute,” Bilbo said. “You should’ve seen your face while I was talking to it.”

“You were talking to it like it was a person.”

“There’s no reason to speak to it rudely. My mother always told me if I’m going to talk at all, I may as well be kind.”

“Your mother would not have made a very good Klingon. But, I can see how that attitude would have made her an exceptional Betazoid,” Thorin said, and Bilbo felt himself flush.

“Yes, she was,” he said, as they stepped into the lift and the doors slid closed.

“Computer, one deck up,” Thorin said.

They waited for around 15 seconds. Nothing happened.

“Computer, one--”

“Oh!” Bilbo said. “Oh my goodness, this is like in the old Starships! You have to grab a handle on the side, there’s one by the door.”

Thorin shook his head, but took the handle. “It still isn’t doing anything.”

“Give it a twist, forward,” Bilbo said. Bilbo had already twisted his, and when Thorin turned his into place, a ring of lights around the turbolift lit up. “Oh, this is fantastic . What a throwback. One deck up, please.”

The turbolift finally moved. “That seems like a waste of time,” Thorin said.

“Clearly it was meant to deter unprepared Klingons for being on Federation starships,” Bilbo quipped, and Thorin laughed.

The turbolift stopped and they got off, heading through the sliding double doors to the mess hall. Bilbo was surprised to see Beorn sitting at one of the tables, watching his droids at work on the monitor. When they entered, Beorn looked up but didn’t move. “Replicators are open. Take what you will.”

“Thank you,” Thorin said, surprising Bilbo with his earnestness.

They went to one of the replicators on the side, and Thorin tapped to scroll through the options. After a moment he frowned. “Beorn, are there any meat-flavored options?”

Beorn shook his head, causing Bilbo to get briefly distracted by his mullet again. “I will not condone anything that supports the killing of animals. You’ll survive on vegetarian food while you’re on board, or you won’t eat.”

Bilbo saw Thorin scowl, but he said nothing. Bilbo leaned forward to look at the screen. “Ooh, he has spring rolls programmed in, those are good.”

Thorin selected it, apparently done with looking through options. “Would you like a serving as well?”

“Yes, thank you,” Bilbo said, watching as two plates and two servings of spring rolls and sauce appeared. A few more taps to the screen and two glasses of water appeared as well, cloudy with condensation. They each took a plate and glass, and then Thorin, much to Bilbo’s surprise, led them to sit at the table with Beorn. A few of the other Klingons had entered--Bofur, Fíli, and Kíli--and settled down at one of the other tables, a deck of Terran-style playing cards in front of them and playing what looked like Slapjack. I wonder if they took the service shaft or eventually figured out how to use the lift, Bilbo thought.

Beorn spoke first. “So, you’re the captain of the Oakenshield.”

“I am,” Thorin said, taking a bite of one spring roll and looking down at his plate.

“Why are you being hunted by Azog the Defiler?”

Thorin’s head shot up, and the roll was immediately forgotten. “You know of Azog?”

“My people have been in this sector for a very long time,” Beorn said. “But his people have been here longer than I’ve been alive. They sowed discontent on my homeworld, and a civil war still rages out there. But some of us they took for experimentation, investigating the unique abilities of our DNA. When they grew bored with that, they sold the few of us who’d survived to the Orion Syndicate.” Beorn wrapped a hand around his opposite wrist, and Bilbo felt him feeling the Orion tracker, still embedded in his wrist after all those years. When Beorn spoke again, his voice was quieter. “I have had no contact with my people since then.”

The room was silent, and even the brothers and Bofur had stopped pretending to play cards, completely devoting their attention to Beorn’s story.

“Gods, that’s so awful,” Bilbo said, breaking the silence.

Beorn shrugged. “I barely remember Daled IV, and the parts of it I remember were torn apart by war.”

“What made you leave the shipping business?” Thorin asked. “You can make good money doing that.”

Beorn frowned. “This is the Federation. I have no need for riches. I realized that here, where there’s no scarcity, no poverty, I could devote my resources to helping others at no price to myself except my time.”

“It’s a good thing that you’re doing,” Bilbo said, “even if you aren’t sure yet.”

“I see why Loren liked you, Bilbo Baggins,” Beorn said, edges of his lips quirking up into a small smile. “She said you were exceptionally kind, always trying to ease difficulties between people.”

Bilbo felt himself flush a bit at the praise. “Well, she was very kind herself. She said you’ve known each other for a long time?”

“Since she was very little,” Beorn said. “She’s always been that sweet, even before she was joined.”

“Joined?” Bilbo asked.

“It’s a Trill thing,” Beorn said. “She didn’t tell you?”

“Tell us what?” Bofur asked, pulling up a chair beside Thorin and sprawling out in it. Thorin rolled his eyes.

“She’s got a worm in her belly,” Beorn said.

“A worm?” Fíli said, wrinkling his nose. “That doesn’t sound very healthy.”

“It is very prestigious for Trills to get a symbiont,” Beorn said, and all the pieces clicked into place.

“Oh my goodness, that explains so much about the way her thoughts were,” Bilbo said. “I always sensed this duality within her--I guess it was symbiont versus host. Oh, that is fascinating . Are all members of her species like that?”

“Oh my god Bofur, you’re such a freak,” Kíli said, and he, Fíli and Bofur all cracked up, with Bofur shrugging in tacit agreement. Thorin was still scowling, but Bilbo could sense his amusement at their joke.

Beorn opted to ignore the other three, but shook his head. “Only about a third of all Trills get to join. Her father didn’t, and he’s very proud of her. Still talks about it even though she’s had her worm almost 15 years.”

“What exactly does her having this worm entail?” Bofur asked after getting Fíli and Kíli to be quiet.

“Basically, the worm shares all the life experiences of its past hosts with its current host, and then when the current host dies it gets to go to another Trill,” Beorn said. “The most significant Egal symbiont up to this point was Thorondor, one of the most important military leaders in Trill history.”

“How fascinating,” Bilbo said.

“How bizarre,” Thorin said.

“It is their way,” Beorn said. He gave Thorin a hard look again. “But you never answered my question: why is Azog after you?”

“He and I have history,” Thorin said. Beorn just arched one thick eyebrow. “He killed my grandfather.”

“You think his blood for your blood will make you feel better?”

Beorn was cool and steady, while Thorin was winding up like a Klingon time bomb. “I think it is my right.”

Beorn scoffed. “That’s how all you Klingons think--you’re greedy and blind, blind to the lives of those you deem lesser than your own.”

Bilbo swallowed, and all three other Klingons had frozen in place and were staring at Beorn, while Thorin’s eyes were glued to a speck on the table, his fingers white knuckled around his glass. If Beorn doesn’t backtrack, Bilbo thought, Thorin might try to kill him, and I genuinely don’t know who would win.

“But I hate Romulans more,” Beorn finished, and Bilbo felt the mental sighs of relief as everybody relaxed, even if only marginally. “You are very lucky that I spoke to Loren first.”

***

“Do you think he’s that intense all the time?” Kíli asked. He, Fíli, and Bofur had pulled Bilbo away when Balin, Dwalin, and Gandalf had shown up, apparently to talk strategy with Thorin and Beorn.

“I’m afraid he is,” Bilbo said. “Gods, his headspace was tragic. He’s suffered so much pain--we should be grateful that it has made him generous and kind, instead of the alternative.”

“I’ll be grateful when I’m back on the Oakenshield, ” Fíli muttered, pressing the button and opening the door to their room. Nori was laying on one of the top bunks, completely awake and scrolling through a padd.

“How was the galley?”

“Not so good that you want to brave the angst-fest going on in there right now,” Bilbo said, making the other three laugh.

Nori just raised one braided eyebrow. He, like his brothers, had very ornately done hair most of the time, but right now it was loose aside from the brows. “I think I’ll take my chances. Catch you cats later.”

He tossed the padd back on his bed and sat up, stretching as he went. He lifted himself over the ladder and dropped to the floor, surprisingly light on his feet.

“Tell us if you hear anything interesting,” Bofur said, and Nori absently waved in response.

“So. Everybody here knows Nori is a spy?” Bilbo asked when nobody said anything about his strange exit. They all sat down on the floor in a circle, with Bilbo closest to the door, Bofur on his right, and Fíli and Kíli on his left.

“He’s….mostly on our side,” Bofur said, sitting cross legged.

“He’ll work for the highest bidder,” Fíli said. “He’s only on the quest because my Uncle agreed to get him pardoned for some crime he committed on Andoria.”

“I think he has cool hair,” Kíli said. “And I heard that he used to work for Imperial Intelligence until he was banished from Qo’nos.”

“It’s still wild that he, Ori, and Dori, the three dwarves who seem to be the least alike, are brothers,” Bilbo said.

“Half brothers,” Fíli corrected. “Same mother, different fathers.”

“Wait, really? All three have different dads?” Kíli asked.

“Yep.” Bofur said. He’d pulled the deck of cards back out and started shuffling. “They’re actually kind of like you two, what with them claiming their mother’s house and all that. Ori’s dad is the only one who paid child support, poor things. Their mother must be a saint to have put up with those three.”

“That’s….actually really sad,” Bilbo said.

“What’s the divorce rate like on Betazed, Bilbo?” Kíli asked, rolling onto his back to stretch out on the floor with his head resting against his brother’s knee.

“Practically non-existent,” Bilbo said. “I mean, I didn’t grow up on Betazed proper of course, but I can’t think of anybody I know who’s actually broken a marriage bond with somebody, it’s so rare. We have very little conflict.”

“Really? I feel like if everybody on Qo’nos could read each other’s minds, they’d kill each other,” Fíli said.

“I think it’s actually because we read each other’s minds all the time. It’s a subconscious thing, but everybody knows what everybody else has going on. It encourages--” Bilbo paused, searching for the words. “--empathy, not anger. We all take care of each other. It’s--I think you three would like Shire Station, aside from the quiet.”

“Quiet?” Bofur asked, casually bridging the cards as he shuffled. “I didn’t think it was all that quiet when we were there.”

“That was you,” Bilbo said, making all of them laugh. “Most Betazoids are pretty quiet--we make such a habit of communicating telepathically we can forget to speak out loud. My grandfather used to tell me that spoken communication was for offworlders and people who didn’t know any better.”

“Is it weird for you to only talk out loud to us?” Fíli asked. “Uncle would probably let you talk into his brain, if you wanted.”

“No, it’s alright. It actually keeps things simpler, because sometimes you’ll think one thing but say another,” Bilbo said. “If I had to track verbal and mental communication, I’d go insane. By the way, how were things for you two on the Oakenshield, while me and Bofur were on Loren’s?”

“Boring,” Kíli said. “Dwalin put everyone on repair teams, and we only broke for a few hours overnight. I feel like I didn’t sleep at all.”

“He had me and Kíli trying to tie in the astrometric sensors with the main sensors, because the astrometric sensors have better range but less definition, but it would still be enough to give us a heads up on any Romulans,” Fíli explained.

“We may have gotten a little more range on it, but not enough to justify only getting two hours of sleep,” Kíli said.

Bofur apparently had decided the cards were shuffled enough, and he set the deck on the floor and cut it. “Alright, boys we’re going to play a Terran game I learned last year called Texas Hold--”

He was cut off by the sound of a comm panel beeping, and Thorin’s voice coming through. “Thorin to Fíli.”

Bofur and Kíli groaned while Fíli gracefully popped to his feet and stepped over Bilbo to get to the panel. “Fíli here.”

“Crew meeting in the mess,” Thorin said. “Tharkûn wants to talk to us. Bring your roommates and everybody else in quarters. We’re missing your brother, Bofur, Bilbo, and Ori.”

“I’ll get everybody,” Fíli said. “Fíli out.”

“Do we have to go?” Kíli whined.

“Get up,” Fíli said. “I’m gonna go get Ori.”

“Ugh,” Kíli said, but there was no heat in it and he stood up, offering Bilbo and Bofur a hand as well.

They met Fíli and Ori down the hall and Bilbo discovered that they had in fact, taken the service passages down, because they were very impressed that he knew how to make the turbolift work. When they got there, the meeting was already in progress: Gandalf had his little projector, and Beorn was leaned back against the table beside him, arms crossed and looking fairly surly.

“Ah, welcome--” Gandalf paused to count, and continued when it turned out everyone was present “--everyone else. As you can see, we are approximately two thirds of the way to Erebor.”

The Klingons cheered. Beorn continued to look surly, and Bilbo stayed quiet as well, waiting for Gandalf to finish.

“However, this last stretch may prove the most perilous. We must pass through the Fuin Nebula, which can be challenging under the best of circumstances,” Gandalf finished. “After that, it should be smooth flying--Esgaroth shipyard will pose no obstacles, and Dale Station has been abandoned as long as Erebor, but the Fuin can be devastating.”

“It has been many years since I crossed the Fuin,” Balin said, and amongst the old crowd--Thorin, Dwalin, Dori, Óin and Glóin--the mood became somber as they reflected on the years since they’d lost their home. “But it is a dangerous region of space. It is full of subspace anomalies, chronitons and neutrino particles. These things can wreak havoc on a vessel after only a short period of time.”

“Beorn has agreed to tow us at warp to it’s edge, and says we should arrive there about the same time our repairs are completed on the Oakenshield. We’ll only have full impulse, but it’s better than nothing,” Gandalf said.

“I am also preparing supplies for you to take,” Beorn said, “foodstuffs, clean water, and extra parts for your impulse drive and sensor array.”

“Thank you,” Thorin said, and Bilbo was pleased to note he meant it.

Beorn shrugged.

“Any additional concerns, questions, irrational fears?” Gandalf asked.

Dori cleared his throat. “I remember when I was a lad--”

“Shut up, Dori,” Ori said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You always said they were just stories.”

“Most stories have some seed of truth within them,” Balin said. “Go on, Dori.”

“When I was a lad, there were legends of strange things in that nebula,” Dori said.

“Probably just consequences of the anomalies,” Beorn cut in. “It has been a while since I travelled Fuin space as well, but those particles can mess with your scanners, make things that aren’t there show up.”

“This wasn’t like that!” Dori insisted. Nori rolled his eyes, and Ori was still super embarrassed. “I heard there were space monsters. Strange creatures that would climb onto your ship and break it apart.”

“Mr. Dori, I am certain that that is in fact, just a story,” Gandalf said. “Beorn is probably right.”

Dori crossed his arms and said nothing else. One of the others coughed, breaking the brief silence.

“Anyone else?” Gandalf asked.

“What route do you plan on taking through the Fuin?” Beorn asked. He wasn’t who Gandalf wanted to ask anything, Bilbo thought.

“When we were on Vulcan, I picked up a copy of their Fuin navigational charts. As far as I know, that path is still safe,” Gandalf answered.

“Safe?” Beorn shook his head. “The Vulcans of the Fuin are not like their kin. They’re less wise and more dangerous. But it matters not.”

Several of the Klingons began to protest, but Thorin slammed a fist on the table, causing the holo to flicker and the room to go silent. “He is right. There is no other way, we have to go through the Fuin.”

Bilbo raised his hand, and when Gandalf nodded at him, he spoke. “How much longer before we reach the Fuin Nebula?”

“Repairs will be finished on your ship overnight,” Beorn answered. “We should reach the Fuin by tomorrow morning. The only thing that would delay us is if we run into your Romulans again and they want to know what I’ve got a Klingon bird of prey for.”

“I see,” Bilbo said, frowning.

“Well, if nobody else has any questions, that concludes our crew meeting,” Gandalf said. “Feel free to go back to whatever you were doing before.”

The group immediately divided up, but as Fíli and Kíli started to pull Bilbo back towards their card game, a hand on his shoulder stopped him. “Nephews, I need a word with my burglar.”

“Yes, sir,” Fíli said. “If you want to come by later, Bilbo.”

“I might,” Bilbo said, and Fíli grinned and nodded, then turned to follow his brother. “Something wrong?”

“I need--” He shook his head, huffing. “We need to share thoughts again.”

“Uh, okay,” Bilbo asked. “Thorin, what’s wrong?”

Thorin sighed. Everyone else had left, even Gandalf, and the mess hall was quiet, aside from an occasional beep from the replicators as they went into power conservation mode. “Ever since we lost Erebor, my people have constantly had to plan for the worst. Everything that can go wrong has tended to go wrong, and this journey--it has been no exception. I need to share with you how to run my ship, how to work all the stations, so if anything happens to any of us--”

“Say no more,” Bilbo said. “As long as you’re willing to share with me, I’m willing to learn.”

“I should’ve started training you on different stations from day one. I don’t know why I didn’t, aside from the fact that you’re not Klingon, and I’m sorry.”

“You had your reasons not to trust me right at the start,” Bilbo said. “Don’t beat yourself up about it. And besides, we’re about to get me all caught up, right?”

“I still should have been mature enough to put aside my prejudice,” Thorin said.

“It’s really okay,” Bilbo said. He clasped his hands in front of him. “Well, do you want to thought share here or back in our quarters or?”

“I think we might as well do it here,” Thorin said. “So I don’t have to answer a million questions from Dwalin.”

“Well, that’s just what best friends are for: looking out for us even when we don’t want it,” Bilbo said, and Thorin cracked a smile. “Here, let’s go sit down. We’ll do it the same way we did last time.”

They sat down side by side at the nearby table. Thorin held out his hand and Bilbo took it and covered it with both his own. Thorin wasn’t looking at him, but Bilbo could see his smile on his profile. “Bilbo?”

“Yes, Thorin?”

“Thank you for continuing to have faith in me.”

Bilbo rolled his eyes. “What can I say, you’re an easy man, uh, Klingon, to believe in. Ready for the countdown?”

“At your convenience.”

“Five, four, three, two, one.”

Faster than light, no left or right. Disengage inertial dampeners. Hailing on all frequencies. Polarize the hull plating, Nori. Take us in, one quarter impulse. Calibrate scanners. Redirect sensor array. Flush the exhaust manifolds. Target their…

This time, the sharing went smoother and faster. Unlike Bilbo’s fairly limited knowledge of the Suliban Cabal, Thorin had spent most of his life on the bridge of a bird of prey, and knew it’s systems and quirks like breathing. Wave after wave of images came through, and after a while, Bilbo realized he was seeing through Thorin’s eyes, running through the motions with Thorin’s hands but feeling them as if they were his own, looking at his crewmen (including Bilbo) with the same sense of fondness and protectiveness.

There were also other people Bilbo hadn’t met--a tall woman, with dark eyes and that same small grin Thorin did when he didn’t want to really smile that had to be Dís, and who usually had a handsome, dark haired man at her side, who had to be Fíli and Kíli’s father. Bilbo couldn’t help but think What a beautiful family , and he mentally heard Thorin’s laugh in response. Two others that showed up were a tall man, with long hair streaked almost all the way through with silver, who even from Thorin’s height was exceptionally tall, or seemed to be until Bilbo realized the ship in those memories was different, a scene from Thorin’s youth, making that man Thror. In Thorin’s memory, he was always running through pre-flight checklists, but he’d be talking to little Thorin about other things at the same time, like music or snacks or the new holo they’d got. The other was usually at Thror’s side, and he looked so much like Thorin and even Dís that he had to be Thrain. He sat tactical, and Bilbo got to live Thorin’s memories of standing up on the chair behind him, watching him program attack sequences and check that the weapons were calibrated. Dís was usually there in those memories as well, along with a young boy with Fíli’s blonde hair who Bilbo guessed was a cousin of some sort, and the three of them would play around on the bridge during routine patrols.

But in a lot of the memories about his father and even more with his grandfather, Bilbo could sense the worry they’d felt for them. He couldn’t tell what it was for--were they worried about these two heads of house just having to bear the weight of their responsibilities to their people, or worried about something specific? One of the last things Thorin shared was of Thror, standing tall and proud on the bridge with Balin beside him, facing Thorin and Dwalin, who in his youth had clearly been a bit more punk and even gone so far as to have a mohawk, and Bilbo knew without having to search too hard that that was the last time Thorin saw his grandfather alive, right before the battle of Azanulbizar.

Bilbo eased his way back out of Thorin’s mind, putting his shields back into place and staying quiet until Thorin spoke.

“It was easier that time, I think, even though we shared more,” Thorin finally said. He’d taken his hand back, but that arm was now just resting on the table, palm pressed flat against it’s cool surface.

“This time it was something you’re an expert on: running a starship. Compared to how much you know about operations, I know barely anything about the Suliban,” Bilbo said. “And I meant what I thought about your family. They’re very lovely. I know I saw Dís, and Thrain and Thror, but there were a couple of guys I’m not sure about.”

“One of them was Víli, Dís’ husband,” Thorin said. “And the other?”

“He had Fíli’s coloring--the blonde hair and the Durin blue eyes. He looked a little younger than Fíli and Kíli are now.”

“Then that was Frerin, my little brother. He was killed at Azanulbizar.”

“Oh gods, Thorin, I’m so sorry.” Bilbo gave his shoulder a somewhat awkward pat. “You and him and Dís seemed to be very close, I can’t even imagine.”

Thorin smiled sadly. “I just wish he could’ve lived to see Fíli and Kíli grow up. He would’ve loved them. But I think--were you sharing memories in response? Because I think I saw yours as well.”

“...Maybe.” Bilbo paused. I suppose I could’ve been. “Typically thought-sharing is a call and response sort of thing, so I could have. Who’d you see, what’d they look like?”

“A woman with dirty blonde hair, kinda short and flippy, and dark eyes, and she’s kinda short overall, and a man, with dark blonde hair, shorter than yours, and they were always smiling at you, and you were little. There was another person as well--a woman with curly dark hair and really long eyelashes. You um--” Thorin flushed a bit, which Bilbo thought was very strange. “If I got it right, you were in love with her.”

“Oh yes, those were my parents. It’s so strange how the mind focuses on how we remember them best, truly fascinating.” Bilbo paused to smile at the memory. “And the other woman was actually my fiancée.”

“Your fiancée.” Thorin’s tone had gone carefully flat, it’s absence of emotion very measured, at least by Bilbo’s ears.

“Yes,” Bilbo said. “Arranged childhood marriages are common on Betazed. I haven’t heard from Layla in years, she went off to join the Federation Diplomatic Corps. I don’t know if I would say I was truly in love with her or not, but I thought I was supposed to be. She was lovely, wasn’t she.”

Thorin gave him a strange look. “Well, yes, she was but Bilbo, it seems the more I get to know you, the more strange you are to me.”

“Well, at least it keeps things interesting,” Bilbo said.

Thorin shrugged and stood up. “Do you feel you’re missing anything? About working on a starship?”

That’s the end of our family sharing, I suppose, Bilbo thought. “No, I think I’m alright. When we get back on the Oakenshield you can quiz me.”

“Sounds good. Back to quarters?”

“After you, Captain,” Bilbo said, and Thorin grinned and stood up.

They didn’t speak again as they went back to their room, and Bilbo fell asleep that night with his back pressed against the wall, where he could both feel and hear the low, droning hum of the warp core.

***

The next morning came far too quickly, and Bilbo was woken up to the sound of Dwalin singing.

“Is he singing in the shower?” Bilbo asked, scratching the side of his neck.

Bifur grunted.

“You’re lucky that we only have sonics on the Oakenshield, because it’s really hard to sing when you’re being hit with sonic waves ,” Thorin said. “Also he’s pitchy.”

Bilbo laughed, and stood up to change and get ready. Thorin and Bifur left while Dwalin was still in the restroom, and Bilbo took the opportunity to lay down and meditate for a few minutes, something he’d been slacking on since he’d joined the Oakenshield ’s crew. When Dwalin stepped out, a wall of steam rolled out with him.

“Bathroom’s all yours,” he said.

“Thanks. Thorin and Bifur went down for breakfast,” Bilbo said, walking past him and shutting himself in the bathroom. He turned on the fan to try and get some of the steam out, but ended up scrunching out his hair and brushing his teeth with the mirror still fogged up. When he finished, Dwalin had gone, so Bilbo threw everything into his bag and headed to the mess as well.

All the Klingons and Gandalf were already down there. Bilbo replicated himself a cup of tea and a bowl of cantaloupe with cottage cheese, and sat down by himself to eat. The comm panel beeped, and Gandalf stood up to answer it. Whatever it was, he answered in the affirmative, and then went and whispered to Thorin, who nodded.

“Everybody, we have 10 minutes to finish breakfast. We are about to reach the Fuin, and Beorn is prepping the transporter as we speak,” Gandalf said.

The meal wrapped up fairly quickly, and in fewer than that they had all gathered in the transporter room, which was currently crawling with Beorn’s drones.

“They are all back from your ship,” one drone said, and as it rolled closer to Bilbo he realized it was the same one from yesterday, R-38. “They give the Oakenshield a clean bill of health.”

“That’s very good,” Bilbo said. “I’ll have to take your word for it, seeing as I don’t speak binary.”

R-38 rolled away again, and it’s spot was occupied by Thorin. “I’m ready to be home,” Thorin said, and Bilbo knew that he meant both the Oakenshield and Erebor.

“I know,” Bilbo replied, and Thorin gave him a small smile.

The drones rolled out and most of the Klingons--everyone except Thorin, Bilbo, and Gandalf--moved into place on the transporter platform.

Beorn cleared his throat. “They’re going first?”

“Aye,” Thorin said. “Dwalin, whenever.”

“Energize,” Dwalin said, and they dematerialized.

“That we made it this far without trouble is a good sign,” Beorn said. “But I and my ship must leave you here.”

“The name of the--- Honeybee will be renowned throughout my house,” Thorin answered.

“See that it is,” Beorn said. “Avoid the chroniton and neutrino particles, and you should be fine. Good luck on your quest.”

“Thank you."

The comm panel in the transporter room beeped, and Beorn frowned. “Must be your crew.”

It was, in fact, Bofur. He looked very concerned, perhaps especially so on the small monitor. “Captain, we’re picking up an odd transmission. I can’t trace the frequency that it’s on, but it’s just an image: an eye.” He projected it on screen, and Bilbo felt himself involuntarily gasp at the sight. Gandalf frowned sharply.

Thorin and Bilbo stepped onto the transporter platform, but Gandalf stayed still. “You going with them?” Beorn asked.

“Unfortunately, I can not,” Gandalf said, and Thorin growled and Bilbo immediately held up a hand to argue. “There is something else, something that bigger that I must devote my attention to.”

“Gandalf, if this is a joke, it isn’t funny. You can’t leave us,” Bilbo said.

“I wouldn’t do it unless I had to,” Gandalf replied. He gave Bilbo a hard look, silver brows furrowed. “You’ve changed, Bilbo Baggins. You’re not the same Betazoid as the one who left Shire Station.”

Bilbo paused, and reached one hand into his pocket, where he noticed the ring. He’d almost forgotten it was there. “I was going to tell you; I…found something when we were captured by the Cabal.”

“What did you find?” Gandalf leaned forward, and Bilbo felt the ring slip past his fingertips. “Bilbo, you found something?”

Bilbo pulled his hand out of his pocket, and looked up at Gandalf, smiling. “My courage.”

Gandalf smiled back, and Bilbo could sense his fondness. “Well, that’s good.” He turned to Thorin. “Keep the infostick safe. I’ll meet you outside RAVENHILL--whatever you do, do not try to go down to that planet without me. Beorn was right: you need to be very careful to avoid the chronitons and neutrinos. If you lose your way in distorted space, you will never find your way out.”

Thorin nodded. “Beorn, whenever you’re ready, energize.”

A moment later, he and Bilbo were back on board the Oakenshield , and Glóin frowned from his spot at the controls. “Where’s Tharkûn?”

“He had other places to be,” Thorin muttered, and Bilbo desperately hoped that the seed of anger growing in Thorin’s mind didn’t completely take root. I know they can’t see it, but I know Gandalf is trying to do the right thing, Bilbo thought. Glóin scoffed, in agreement with Thorin. “It looks like we’re on our own.”

Chapter Text

They went down to the bridge, where Bilbo was tested (and apparently passed) on starship operations by Thorin, Dwalin, and Balin. After they stopped asking him questions, they took a few minutes to discuss things between themselves, and Bilbo just stayed where he’d been hanging out to answer questions by the helm.

“Any guesses on what they’re talking about?” Dori asked Fíli.

“No idea,” Fíli said. Bilbo could tell he was lying--even without telepathy, he’d answered far too quickly--but didn’t say anything.

Thorin banged his fist on the bulkhead, and everybody turned to face him. “Bilbo Baggins, son of the fourth house of Betazed, step forward.”

Bilbo did, feeling more than a little self conscious. “Um, yes?”

“In honor of your contributions to this crew and in celebration of your functional understanding of operations, I offer you a field commission, with the rank of Lieutenant,” Thorin said.

“Oh! Thank you,” Bilbo said. When nobody else moved or said anything, he added, “I accept.”

Thorin nodded, and reached down into his boot and pulled out a knife. He held it out to Bilbo, who took it after a second of hesitation. Then Thorin clapped Bilbo on the shoulder. “May you meet death as a warrior, and do all things with honor.”

Everyone on the bridge roared so loudly that his ears rang for a second after. “Thank you, Thorin. Do I have any new jobs or anything like that?”

Dwalin snorted, which Bilbo supposed was enough of an answer on its own, but Balin shook his head, smiling gently. “No, we really don’t need you anywhere. You can go hang out with Kíli or whatever you normally do.”

“He needs to get his codes,” Thorin said, grabbing Bilbo’s arm and stopping him on his way to the turbo lift. Bilbo winced--Thorin could’ve been a little gentler, but he didn’t have time to make that suggestion before he started speaking. “Computer, create authorization codes, level 4, for Bilbo Baggins.”

The mechanical voice of the computer replied, in standard for once, “Bilbo Baggins, state desired authorization codes.”

“Um, Baggins-sigma-1-4-7?”

A beat of silence. “Confirm authorization voice command.”

Bilbo swallowed, and tried to project his voice a little louder. “Baggins-sigma-1-4-7.”

“Authorization codes and voice recognition saved. Welcome, Bilbo Baggins.”

“Thank you, computer,” Bilbo said. He turned to Thorin. “Am I dismissed?”

Thorin shrugged. “Do whatever you want.”

Bilbo waved to everyone on the bridge and took the lift up to the astrometrics lab. Kíli had turned off the opera before he even walked in the door, and was spinning around in his chair.

“Congrats on the field commision.”

“Thanks. Don’t really know what I did to deserve it, but it’s nice to be included I suppose. Are we going to be busier today?” Bilbo asked. “What with all the serious navigational stuff to do?”

“Nah, not really,” Kíli said. “The charts are downloaded to every station. I’ll alert them if the sensors up here pick up anything else. Wanna see the visual?”

“Visual of wha--- oh. ” Bilbo barely breathed out the last word.

Kíli’d switched it so the map was offscreen, and changed the setting so the viewscreen was showing what was outside the ship. The viewscreen was full of light of all colors, red and green and purple and combinations that he couldn’t even name, all tinged with gold underneath.

“It’s beautiful,” Bilbo said. Understatement of the year.

Kíli stood up and went over to the viewscreen, pointing. “We’re in the nebula proper right now, but there’s a kind of--it’s a human food with a hole in the middle?”

“A donut?”

“Yes! It’s basically shaped like a donut--the actual nebula is around the outside, but there’s a hole and a star system in the middle, and that’s Eryn Lasgalen, the Vulcan colony that Uncle wishes he could avoid.” He pointed at a spot barely above his head. “We’re not at a great angle, but this is where the hole of the donut and that star system is.”

“That’s incredible,” Bilbo said.

Kíli grinned. “Bet you didn’t see anything like this your last time on a starship.”

Bilbo laughed, and stood up to look more closely at it. “Oh, this is fascinating.”

“I can pull it up on the monitor on your station, so you can look more closely at it,” Kíli said.

“Please do,” Bilbo said, going back to his seat. There was a monitor in front of him, and Kíli hit a button on the corner and made the nebula appear. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Kíli said, but instead of the joy he’d (justifiably) felt at making Bilbo’s day, there was a frown behind his tone.

Bilbo looked up, and saw that Kíli had switched back over to the navigational chart. “Something wrong?”

“We’re off course,” Kíli said.

“How? I thought you said they have the charts?” Bilbo asked.

“They do,” Kíli said. He pressed the button for the comm at his seat. “Kíli to the bridge.”

“Balin here.”

“What’s your current heading?”

“226-mark-017.”

“We’re about to move right into a patch of chronitons.” Kíli’s fingers flew across the panel, pressing keys. “I’m transferring the correct heading to the helm now.”

“We’ll redirect immediately. Balin out.”

Bilbo felt the ship hum lightly, apparently as it changed direction. He let out a long sigh. “Well. Good thing that that’s resolved.”

“We’ll see,” Kíli said, cryptically. “Computer, calibrate map to show our updated trajectory.”

Whatever the computer said was not what Kíli wanted to hear, and the crease between his brows deepened.

“What’s wrong?” Bilbo repeated.

“I know they changed course. I could feel it. But the computer still says we’re on the same heading.” He hit the comm again. “Kíli to the bridge.”

“We changed direction, Kíli.” This time it was Thorin, but he sounded a little off. “If we’re off course, it’s because you transferred us the wrong heading.”

Kíli flushed angrily. “Okay. Kíli out.” He hit the comm button hard enough to push his rolling chair backwards a few inches.

They sat there for a few seconds. “Kíli, do you want to head down to the bridge?”

“Please,” Kíli answered. “You coming with?”

“Sure! We can use me as an excuse,” Bilbo said. “Say I wanted to see the view from the bridge or some nonsense like that.”

Kíli was still frowning, and Bilbo felt intrusive, like he wasn’t supposed to see this embarrassed side of his friend. Kíli downloaded his view of the charts onto a padd, and he and Bilbo left astrometrics and went down to the bridge. Thorin barely glanced backwards as they entered, but Balin stood up to offer Bilbo his seat, which Bilbo declined with a wave.

“Captain, my report from astrometrics,” Kíli said, handing Thorin the padd.

Thorin took it and sat it in his lap. “This says we’re off course.”

“It looks like it, sir,” Kíli said, rocking back on his heels. “Can I see your charts down here?”

Thorin nodded, and Kíli went to look at it on the monitor by his brother. Whatever he found though only added to his confusion. While his nephew was doing that, Thorin looked up, and Bilbo felt his adrenaline spike. He hit a button on his console and there was a phaser blast, directly into the corner which was filled with nothing except vivid purple light.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Bilbo said. “Bad luck.”

“Thorin, what in the name of Kahless was that?” Dwalin asked.

“I thought I saw--” Thorin shook his head, squinting. “Kíli, have you figured out what’s wrong yet?”

“It’s…strange,” Kíli said. “I know the view I have in astrometrics has extra data on it because it corresponds with what shows up on our sensors as well, but the two versions of the chart shouldn’t be this different. Computer, compare the astrometrics chart of the Fuin with that on the bridge.”

The computer answered in Klingon, and Ori stood up. “They barely have any overlap. I thought Gandalf said this was the road the Vulcans used?”

Bilbo looked between the two maps and something clicked. “Key word used.

“Mr. Baggins?” Thorin asked.

“Right, okay, the gist of it,” Bilbo said, “is that the Vulcans from Vulcan haven’t been out here in ages.”

“The nebula’s changed,” Ori finished, and Bilbo shot him a grateful look. Thank god for science officers. “The chart Gandalf left us is just out of date.”

“Is this common nebula behavior?” Thorin asked.

“It isn’t uncommon ,” Ori explained, and now Bilbo understood what he, a science officer amongst this group of warriors, was here for. “The gases are exactly that: gases, so they’ll move around. The particles we’re trying to avoid behave like gases, so they do the same.”

“How do we avoid it?” Dwalin asked, cutting right to the heart of the issue.

Kíli and Ori exchanged a look. “Long story short, we can’t,” Kíli said.

“We’d need better scans, and we just don’t have that kind of time,” Ori said. “But the flipside would be us just….going through it, which could be even more damaging to our ship. I don’t think it’s a risk we can take right now.”

“What are your recommendations?” Thorin asked. His voice was so low Bilbo barely heard it, but he didn’t have to to know that he was furious: at Gandalf, at having to go through the Fuin, at all the injustices of his adult life really. And at Kíli for being the bearer of bad news, which Bilbo thought was wildly unfair.

Ori paused, scratching his jaw. “We could get the scans we need at warp.”

Thorin barely bit back his growl. “But we don’t have warp.”

“The shuttles,” Bilbo realized. “They’re warp capable.”

“Exactly,” Ori said, and he felt both grateful to Bilbo and relieved that Thorin’s anger was currently banked. “We can split into a couple of groups, leave one of the shuttles here to prevent it from being damaged unnecessarily, and be back with all the data we need in about 3 hours, give or take?”

“Let’s do it,” Thorin said. “Ori, you and your brothers take one shuttle, Bofur, you and your brothers can take another, I’ll tell Óin and Glóin to take one of theirs and leave the other, Fíli and Kíli can take theirs, and I’ll go with Dwalin and Balin.”

The bridge crew split up, either heading to their appropriate shuttles or going to tell their fellow crewmen where to go. The only noise on the bridge was Thorin tapping at his console and the ever present hum of the impulse drive.

“Thorin, what about me?” Bilbo asked.

“You’re staying here and watching my ship,” Thorin said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Me? Shouldn’t you leave, I don’t know, literally anybody else instead? The entire crew has more experience than I do!”

“Bilbo, you’ll be fine.”

“But--” Bilbo pointed at himself and then back at the helm, trying to find the words. “I just feel like splitting up is a bad idea, especially if I’m the one being left by myself.”

“Bilbo.” Thorin leaned down and pinched the bridge of his nose, then spoke again. “Do you remember how to engage the cloaking device?”

Bilbo swallowed and nodded. “Yes, I do.”

“Good,” Thorin said. “That’s all you’ll need. Keep the cloak on, stay out of sight, don’t try and find us unless we call you. It may take longer than we expect.”

“Alright,” Bilbo said. Not exactly what I’d call reassuring, but it’ll have to do. “And Thorin? Thanks for trusting me with this.”

Thorin clapped him on the shoulder. “You’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” Bilbo said. “If you’re certain.”

He was, and Thorin gave him a look that basically summed it up: you know I am. Thorin was about to leave the bridge, door already swished open, when he turned back around. “Wait until all five shuttles are clear to turn on the cloak.”

“Got it. And good luck, not that you really need it.”

Bilbo didn’t know it at the time, but those turned out to be famous last words.

***

“That was a fine job, on the bridge,” Dori said.

Ori frowned from his seat beside the helm, tapping through pages on the sensor controls to go ahead and presort the data. Dori had turned to face him, and was giving him an expectant look.

“I guess,” Ori said.

“What’d he do on the bridge?” Nori asked. He was seated behind them both, at the weapons station, but he was currently tapping a beat on the counter with a pen, or maybe one of his smaller knives.

“He stood up and explained everything to the Captain,” Dori said. “He sounded very smart.”

“I sure hope he did,” Nori said. He’d stopped tapping, but Ori could see him tossing his knife in the air and catching it. “What with him being a science officer and all.”

Here it goes, Ori thought.

“Do you have to be such a smart ass about everything all the time?” Dori snapped, turning around to face his brother.

“I don’t know, do you have to state the obvious all the time?” Nori said, tone still carefully even.

“You should be proud of your brother,” Dori said, and Ori had never wished for their gods to still be alive this badly in his life, because he would give anything for some deity to hear his prayers and keep his brothers from making a scene. At least there’s nobody else around to see this.

“What is there to be proud of? He did his job, Dori! People do harder jobs every day and get far less praise for it.”

“Most people’s jobs don’t involve standing up to Thorin, son of--”

“Can you two please focus on what we’re supposed to be doing?” Ori interrupted.

“Sure,” Nori said. Dori just turned back around with a huff.

“Thank you,” Ori said. Neither of them answered.

After a long moment, Dori let out a loud sniff, and both his brothers groaned.

“Real mature, Dori,” Nori drawled.

“Oh, shut up, Nori!” Dori said, and Ori would’ve thrown himself out the airlock if it wouldn’t have shamed the two of them. Not that they didn’t deserve it. His eyes had gone all teary, just like always, and he looked like he was about to throw a full blown fit. “It isn’t my fault that you don’t care about this fam--”

A sensor beeped and Ori shushed them and leaned forward. The panel however, had gone silent, and there was nothing on his sensors. “Nori, anything at tactical?”

“No, but--I think something’s up on our internal systems,” Nori said, scrolling down the screen.

“Internal systems? Like engineering?” Dori asked. His eyes were still red, but his expression and voice were back in work mode instead of throw-a-fit-about-your-brother mode.

“Like life support,” Nori said. “Have either of you noticed?”

Ori paused, and focused on the way it felt in the cockpit of the shuttle. “I think it’s a bit warm?”

“That’s because you're wearing that ridiculous sweater.”

“No, he runs cold,” Dori insisted. “If he feels warm, it probably is. I’ll watch the scanners, you two check the engine room.”

“Engine room is seriously overstating it,” Ori said, but either his brothers didn’t hear him or just pretended not to.

Nori was a few steps ahead, not that it made any difference when the engine closet was only six feet away from your seat. They stepped inside, and immediately smoke poured out and Ori started coughing. “God, what is that?”

“I don’t know,” Nori answered, and his voice sounded light and hazy and far away, and not just because of the mist. “But I don’t think it’s good.”

***

“So,” Bombur started, “you ever going to tell anybody about what happened to your hat?”

“I thought it was obvious,” Bofur said. He and Bombur were piloting--their shuttle was an older model, their lone inheritance from their father, and the tactical and helm stations were combined into one. Bifur was in their engine room in the back, double checking something on the exhaust.

“Was she pretty?” Bombur asked. He’d leaned back in his seat, resting his palms on the shelf of his stomach. Bofur knew he was no pilot, and that he was staying out here for the company and because Bifur could be downright possessive (and sometimes a little mean) when working on engines.

Bofur turned to face his brother, who looked earnest and, thankfully, non judgemental. “Yeah. Prettiest lady I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Prettier than my Shazra?”

“Oh, you know your girl’s a looker,” Bofur said, teasingly, just to make his brother blush, “but Loren was--different pretty.”

“I hadn’t realized all the jokes about your ‘taste for the exotic’ were true.”

“Those are mostly just jokes. I mean, you heard everybody talking about how I had my eye on Bilbo, but you know I never did. Not that he isn’t handsome, of course, but I’m not trying anything once just for the sake of it!”

“Of course not.” Bombur rocked back farther and his chair let out a loud squeak in protest. “Especially not since our noble captain’s got an eye on him.”

"Exactly. I’ve got my share of issues, but having a death wish isn’t one of them.”

“But what was different about Loren? Aside from the obvious, like the spots and the smooth forehead.”

“She just seemed so free, I think.” Bofur adjusted course slightly, checking that the sensors were still picking up data. As far as he could tell, all was well. “She was in charge of her own ship, and the only agenda she had to answer to was her own. She told me she’d been as far as Ferenginar. I’d never even heard of Ferenginar, Bombur.”

“Did she say it was nice?”

“Actually, she kind of hated it. Super misogynistic.”

“Bummer.” Bombur paused. “You’ve never wanted a command of your own, Bofur. You love being a comm officer.”

“Yes, I do. But I--”

“Do you actually think you love her more?”

Bofur shrugged. “I don’t know. I gave her my hat, didn’t I?”

Bombur sighed, and Bofur didn’t need to look up from the helm to know his brother’s expression was pitying. “Yes, you did.”

“You don’t think I’m being realistic.”

“I just think you shouldn’t force expectations on to a woman you barely know.”

Bofur looked up. “I would never force her to do anything. She belongs in the stars, and I’d never think to pin her down.”

“Good.”

“What do you think I am, somebody who would try and change a woman to be something she’s not?” Bofur shook his head, loose braids flipping beside his ears. “If I’ve learned anything from you and Shazra, it’s that you don’t really choose who you fall in love with, and they’re never what you expect.”

“I guess that’s the gist of it. Or at least the gist you’d pick up on, alien lover,” Bombur said, rolling his eyes. He didn’t say anything else.

“Well, good heart to heart,” Bofur said, standing up and cracking his back. “I’m going to go check on Bifur. Yell if anything beeps.”

Bombur said something in the affirmative, but Bofur had already taken a few long strides to their back room. He keyed in the code to open the door, but when it slid open, a wave of gas blew out, and he immediately started hacking, eyes watering. When he could finally focus again, there was a figure on the floor, and it didn’t take a whole lot to guess who it was.

“Bombur!” He yelled. “Grab the defibrillator! Something’s really wrong.”

***

“This is so boring,” Fíli said.

“I know.”

“I wish Uncle had come with us.”

“I’m glad he didn’t. Maybe some time with his friends will make him chill out some.”

Fíli hummed softly in response. “True.”

They were sitting side by side at the front of the shuttle. Fíli had Bofur’s deck of cards, and had played two hands of Vulcan style solitaire already, another game Bofur had taught them last night. The cards now sat abandoned on the console top, and instead both brothers were watching the four monitors they’d set up. One was a scrolling view of the status of their internal systems, including their warp drive, the second had the percentage of sensor data they’d collected, the third showed their new and improving map, and the fourth showed the status of their shields and their hull polarization.

“We ready to change course?” Fíli asked.

“Sure. Adjust angle to mark 33.9.”

“Done.” Fíli pushed his seat back, and propped his feet up on the console. “I just feel like we should’ve seen something by now.”

“Like what?” Kíli said, shaking his head. “It’s a really good thing you didn’t choose to study science. You would hate my job.”

“I dunno. One of Dori’s monsters maybe?”

Both brothers laughed, and Kíli stood up. “Want something from the replicator? I’m thirsty.”

“Whatever your usual raktajino order is,” Fíli answered. Kíli nodded, and a few seconds later was back with two iced drinks in hand. He lifted his glass and tapped it against Kíli’s. “Cheers to our dangerous and thrilling mission.”

Something on the sensors beeped, and Kíli sat down and spun back to look at the screen. Kíli frowned, and smacked the side of the monitor.

“Hey,” Fíli said, “what was that for?”

“It says we need to calibrate sensors again. But I just did that.”

“The life of a science officer. Your noble work is never done.”

Kíli punched his brother in the arm, who hit him back. “I’m going to go ahead and reset them I guess.”

Fíli leaned back and sipped his raktajino, watching the monitor while Kíli made his updates.

“Sensor reset in three, two, one--” Kíli hit the switch, and what they saw made Kíli push back in his seat and Fíli spit out his current drink.

“What the fuck is that?”

“Shit, I don’t know!” Kíli answered, frantically keying in information. “Nothing like this recorded in our database. God, we’ve lit up like a house on fire!”

Their shuttle, according to the monitor, was covered in something-- Fíli couldn’t tell if it was some space living creature or weird space gel. Either way, there were small wiggling blobs all over them. But as Fíli leaned forward to get a closer look, the screen went black and the lights in their shuttle dimmed. “Shit, is it sucking out our power?”

“I think so,” Kíli answered. “Do we still have communications?”

“Yeah.” There was a loud snap from the engine room. “I think that was temperature control.”

“Shit. Hail Bilbo. Send him our coordinates, and tell him we’re losing power and fast. Text only.”

Fíli fired off the message. “Okay, it’s done.”

There was another loud snap, and both brothers immediately began floating out of their chairs. Kíli groaned. “And that was artificial gravity.”

“Computer, engage seatbelts,” Fíli said, trying to anchor himself and Kíli to their chairs by hooking one of his legs around the armrest. The computer however, gave no response. “Shit, we’re offline.”

“Please let Bilbo have gotten our message,” Kíli said. But before he could try and start swimming through the air to his own chair, their shuttle jerked, the lights came back on, and Fíli dropped a few inches back into the seat. Kíli, unfortunately, fell to the floor like a stone. “Ouch.”

Fíli stood up and gave Kíli a hand while turning to the monitors. “You good?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Kíli said. “But what just made those things go away?”

“Something that may be worse,” Fíli said. “We’re in somebody’s tractor beam now. Database identifies the ship as an old Vulcan High Command D'kyr type vessel.” He swallowed. “It’s big, Ki. There’s no fighting our way out of this one.”

“You sure? We have disruptors.”

Fíli shook his head. “Ship that size easily has a crew complement of over a hundred.”

“What do we do? Uncle would say--”

“Kíli.” His brother turned away from where he was eyeing the phasers and looked at him again. “I care more about us both staying alive than what Uncle would want. Okay?”

“Okay,” Kíli said, nodding. “Okay.”

They’d been pulled into the vessel’s cargo bay, where there were at least two of their crewmates’ vessels as well. “Who is it?” Kíli asked.

“I think Óin and Dori,” Fíli answered, trying to get a better look at the emblems on the side, but before he could, something shoved their shuttle, and the door slid open. Fíli pulled out the disruptor pistol he’d stashed under the flight controls, but it was of no use: the two Vulcans, one male and one female, who had stepped onto their shuttle both had phaser rifles raised and charging.

“Do not think I won’t kill you, Klingon. It would be my pleasure.” The blond male on the right was the first to speak, and Fíli let his disruptor drop at his words. The man was in a bright red uniform, and like most of Elrond’s people, his hair wasn’t cut into the stereotypical bowl cut, but was instead chopped off around his jaw and brushed back.

As soon as he said the words, the woman beside him turned and said something in rapid fire Vulcan. The man answered, tone almost snide, and then she shook her head and turned back to them. “I apologize for my companion. He’s picked up some strange ideas since he left for school.”

He’s a Fleet cadet, Fíli realized, noticing the Starfleet Delta on the uniform.

“It’s fine,” Kíli said. His eyes were glued to the woman, and Fíli suddenly had a feeling that this was going to go very badly. “It would be a little extreme to kill two innocent Klingons who you have technically kidnapped.”

“You were trespassing in our space,” the man said.

“We didn’t know,” Fíli said. “We’re lost. The charts we were given of the public route through the Fuin Nebula were out of date. And then we were trying to leave when those weird--”

“Space worms,” Kíli said.

“--Attacked us,” Fíli finished. “What even are they?”

“We call them tevanu risov-ha-vel,” the man said. “Space scavengers. They hitch a ride on vessels at warp and drain the energy.”

“They can be devastating. I understand your situation.” The woman had lowered her weapon, and Fíli relaxed. “However, you were still trespassing, and several of your fellows have been far less cooperative. You’re being held for questioning.”

Fíli opened his mouth to protest, but Kíli beat him to saying anything. “That’s also understandable.”

The woman pulled two sets of handcuffs off the back of her belt, and then her face, which had been coolly neutral in that classically Vulcan mask until now, split into an almost apologetic smile. “I don’t really feel like we need to put you two in these, but it is protocol with prisoners.”

“Wait, you smile?” Kíli exclaimed.

The woman smiled again, bigger this time, and gestured for him to hold out his hands. He did, and she slipped the cuffs on and tightened them, while her companion did the same to Fíli, who at this point was just mirroring his brother. “Clearly, whoever gave you the charts left out a lot of information about us.”

“They called you v’tosh ka’tur,” Kíli said, and if they didn’t have two Vulcan guards on them Fíli would’ve strangled his brother for not knowing when to shut up. “Vulcans without logic.”

“That’s not true,” the man said. “We follow logic, we just don’t believe that we need to completely suppress our emotions to do it. I believe that our approach is frankly the true interpretation of Surak’s teachings.”

“Well, that makes way more sense than what all the other Vulcans do,” Kíli said. “Don’t you think, Fi?”

Fíli just shot his brother a look. Kíli, selectively oblivious in that way only younger siblings can be, ignored it.

Their Vulcan guard ignored the exchange as well, and the woman strapped her phaserto her back. “Follow us to the holding cells, please.”

They led them from the cargo bay (or maybe it was a shuttle bay--Fíli didn’t know enough about Vulcan ships to tell) through a lift and then around a circular hall to one of the upper decks. The woman keyed in the code to enter, and then they were led down a long hallway, where at the end were their companions. They were all in one cell, and most of them, except Bofur, Balin, and Bombur, were still handcuffed, and Dwalin was cuffed at the knees too. Thorin had been counting on his fingers and he mouthed “ Bilbo?” at Fíli, who just shook his head. He could only hope that their Betazoid had gotten the transmission before all their systems started completely losing power.

Fíli and Kíli were ushered into the cell as well, and their handcuffs were removed. Before the dampening field could go up, Kíli asked, “Aren’t you going to search me? I could have anything down my trousers.”

Both the Vulcan man, Fíli, and all eleven of their other companions groaned, but not even that response was as good as the woman’s delicately raised eyebrow and, “Or nothing.” as she keyed the code in and activated the energy fields, trapping them all in.

***

Bilbo had received the message.

He’d immediately changed course, the motion feeling foreign to watch through his own eyes with his own hands after seeing Thorin’s much larger, steadier hands doing it for so long, and soon came upon the massive ship that had Fíli and Kíli’s shuttle in a tractor beam, and according to rudimentary scans, had pulled the rest of the Klingon shuttles inside as well.

“Computer, identify vessel.”

“Vessel identified as the Korsovau. It is of the Vulcan High Command class D’kyr. Ships of that class were combat cruisers most commonly used during the mid 22nd century. They feature circular warp nacelles. The crew complement is typically in the mid 100s, and the ship is armed with both particle beam and photonic--”

“That’s enough,” Bilbo said. He’d been drumming his fingers on the edge of his chair, so he stopped that and bit his lip. Then, he stood up from where he’d been sitting in the pilot’s seat, and put his hands on his hips. “Well, this is unfortunate. Computer, are there any Klingon life signs aboard the Korsovau?”

“There are currently 13 Klingons aboard that vessel.”

Well, I suppose that’s something, at least they’re all together, Bilbo thought, trying to find literally any upside to this unfortunate situation. He sat and stared at the image of the massive Vulcan ship on the screen. “Computer, is this bird of prey smaller than the main body of the vessel?”

“Affirmative, by over 100 meters.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo answered. “Alright, here goes nothing.”

He took the controls off of autopilot, and set it to manual. Then, slowly but surely he maneuvered the cloaked bird of prey to rest against the bottom of the Vulcan ship. He activated landing gear, and locked himself on like a barnacle.

“Let’s hope this works,” Bilbo said, and he sent a little prayer up to the four deities as he felt the smooth glide of the Vulcan ship jumping to warp, unknowingly pulling the Oakenshield along.

***

“Tauriel, why does that Klingon stare at you?” Legolas said. They’d arrived at the bridge, where he took off the armor he’d been wearing and dropped his rifle on the seat beside him. Tauriel sat herself firmly in the captain’s chair.

“Who can say?” Tauriel said. Her hands traced over the keys as she ran through the pre-flight sequences. “Your acting has improved since you’ve been at Starfleet.”

“You haven’t gotten any better at deflecting,” Legolas said, running a hand backwards through his peroxide blond hair. “Maybe he’s just never seen a red haired Vulcan before. I never had until we dyed your hair.”

“Duh,” Tauriel said, rolling her eyes and inputting their home coordinates. She turned to Legolas, who had a strange look in his eyes. “Something wrong?”

“I thought I saw something out there.” He shook his head. “Probably just a trick of the light. The whole thing with all those tevanu risov-ha-vel threw me off. I don’t remember them coming in this close to the center.”

“They only have been for the past year,” Tauriel said. “They’re getting bolder. They destroyed an Andorian freighter about six months ago and we barely managed to save their crew before they lost backup life support. We haven’t had any outsiders come through since then.”

“Huh.” Legolas shrugged. “Still, it’s weird that that Klingon was so focused on you. Kinda like he was into you or something.”

“I don’t know.” She looked up at the viewscreen, where the bright colors of the nebula were splashed across like a watercolor painting. She relaxed a little bit, slouching into the chair. “He was very tall though, wasn’t he?”

“I guess. He had nice broad shoulders, too.” Legolas said, shrugging. “But he’s still ugly. Did my father give you any orders for after we picked them up?”

“I think he knew who they were, beforehand,” Tauriel said. “Because one of them let slip and called one of the others Thorin. That’s one of the names on---”

“My father’s watch list,” Legolas finished. At her confused look, he shrugged. “He keeps the names and pictures of his most wanted list hanging up in our living room. I think I know which one you’re talking about, now that you mention it.”

Tauriel was still for a moment, giving Legolas a strange look. “Your dad has some serious issues.”

“Yeah. Let’s go home.”

“Agreed,” Tauriel said, disengaging the external inertial dampener and letting the ship jump to warp.

Chapter Text

Less than an hour later, the captive crew of the Oakenshield had made it to Eryn Lasgalen and was being transported down to its surface. When they beamed down, additional Vulcans met up with the two Vulcans who had captured them and split them up. Thorin and Balin were taken away from everybody else by two Vulcans, and even splitting them into just pairs was not enough for their captors, because eventually they put Thorin into a cell by himself. As the Vulcan keyed in the codes for the containment field, their guard said, “Don’t get too comfortable. Our Administrator will want to see you soon.”

Balin gave him a last sympathetic look as the containment field went up, and then he too was led away, leaving Thorin alone with his thoughts. The cell had a bed and some sort of toilet, but Thorin opted to sit down on the floor, feeling his joints crack in protest. The situation was, in a word, not good. Tharkûn had given them a bad map, they’d split up in order to make their own, and then they’d all been taken captive when something in the nebula had started draining power from their systems. Now, not only were they prisoners, but they’d had five of their six shuttles confiscated. And they were all alone.

Not my best move as a fearless leader, Thorin thought, and then heard a response in his mind that was equally likely to be either Bilbo or Dís saying, Trust me, it could’ve gone way worse. After a moment he decided it had to be Bilbo, because Dís would’ve told him something like That’s what you get for deciding to go on this suicide trip anyways.

When he’d gone to recruit her sons, he’d known his little sister was going to be less than thrilled. But after knowing her for her entire life, he really should’ve just prepared for livid.

“Dís--”

“Thorin, they aren’t going.”

“They’re grown men. This is a choice they get to make for themselves.”

“He’s got a point there,” Víli added. Dís shot him a look.

“Fíli almost fought at Khitomer. If they’d called in the Seventh Fleet--”

“But the High Command didn’t, so he didn’t!” Dís shouted. “They were too young then, they’re too young now.”

“Glóin is thinking about bringing Gimli along.”

Dís scoffed. She’d stood up and began to pace, walking the length of the living room. “If you think our littlest cousin is going, it’s clearly been too long since you’ve spoken with Glóin’s wife.”

“Still. They know what it means to be part of this family! The boys are old enough--”

“You just called them boys, Thorin!”

“You can’t hold them back forever,” Thorin said, lowering his voice. “The blood of Durin runs deep--”

“Durin’s blood is dying out,” Dís said, flopping back down onto the couch beside her husband. He put an arm around her shoulders. “I have no wish for my boys to die for a house that already is. Fíli and Kíli are happy, Thorin, and the only reason they see any of the shortcomings of our life out here is because you’ve always been there, planting these seeds, these delusions of Erebor’s grandeur--”

“Just because you don’t remember--”

“I do remember! I remember everybody worrying after grandfather, I remember the madness, and I remember how it felt to lose Frerin. I won’t lose any other members of my family to--”

The door to the house swished open, and they went silent. They could hear the sounds of Fíli and Kíli leaving their boots and jackets at the door after a night out, and their heavy footsteps as they went into the living room.

“Uncle!” Kíli said, running over and throwing his arms around Thorin. “It’s great to see you. I thought you didn’t get back from the border until--”

“My plans have changed. I’m taking leave from the KDF, until further notice.”

“Is something wrong?” Fíli asked, stepping up beside his brother.

Thorin gave them both one last, long look. They’d grown into fine men--they both graduated with excellent marks from the Imperial Academy, were cool under pressure, and had a perfect blend of their mother’s ambition tempered by their father’s pragmatism. He’d known them since they were shorter than knee high, and now they were both as tall as Thorin, and they’d even broadened out since he was last home. Dís was wrong, they were ready.

“I’m putting together a crew. We’re going after Erebor.” He heard movement from the couch, and knew Dís had stood up, but all his attention was on his nephews. “Sister-sons, I want you to come with me. I’m leaving to go recruit everybody else tonight.”

“You don’t have to go,” Dís said. “Fíli was just offered a posting as chief helmsman on the Klinzhai, and Kíli, I know you got that scholarship to go back and do research. You don’t have to put your lives on hold--”

“Mom, are you kidding?” Fíli said. “Uncle, we’re with you.”

“Yeah. We’re gonna help get our home back,” Kíli said.

“That’s my nephews. We’re going to rendezvous at a place called Shire Station in 6 weeks. I suggest you start preparing for the trip soon,” Thorin said, clapping Fíli on the back. The boys immediately took off, heading upstairs, probably to go discuss this exciting turn of events. He turned to Dís, who was glowering from her spot by the couch. “Of course, you are welcome to come as well, sister.”

“I’m too old to be chasing the fool dreams of our family,” Dís snapped. “And so are you, Thorin. You’re on your own.”

Thorin shook his head, leaning further back against the wall. Going without Fíli and Kíli was never an option--they were his heirs, and they knew what that meant, both the good and the difficult. He would’ve sooner left one of his limbs behind. He wished Dís had been more supportive, but she’d never longed for Erebor like he and their father had. She’d built her own home in the Blue Sector--found love, had a family, earned her own command, and she’d never looked back.

But a fool’s dream it may be, it was Thorin’s, and he’d passed it along to his sister-sons whether she approved or not.

Lost in his thoughts, he barely noticed the buzz of the containment field as it turned off. There were three Vulcan security officers waiting, one of whom was holding up a set of handcuffs. The other two were armed with phase rifles. “The Administrator is ready to see you now.”

Thorin held out his hands silently, and they cuffed him again. They led him out of his cell a different way than he’d come in--the way Balin had been taken, actually--but he saw no sign of his trusted first officer, or any other member of his crew. Eventually, they came to a stairwell, and they took the four flights of stairs up to the top. The top floor was in fact, a large space, not dissimilar in aesthetic to Elrond’s halls. It had the same big windows, but the ceilings were higher, and there were large, dark curtains covering the windows, making the room cooler. There were also candles lit around the space, and lots of abstract art on the walls. At the far end, was a man reclining across a large plush chair. As Thorin was led to the center of the room, the man stood up and walked towards him, leading Thorin to be able to recognize him once he got closer. Thranduil. He was slightly taller and slightly slimmer than Thorin, and wore his dark silver hair combed back in the same style as that weird blond Vulcan who’d captured them. He waved a hand, and the guards stepped back to the edges, leaving Thorin alone in the center to face his stare.

“Some may imagine that a noble quest is at hand. A quest to reclaim a homeland and slay a dragon. I myself suspect a more prosaic motive: attempted burglary, or something of that ilk.” His voice was of the same silky tone that Thorin remembered from diplomatic meetings he was forced to attend with his father and grandfather in his youth. It made him feel sick as he continued, and Thranduil’s cool stare only contributed to the unease. “You have found a way in. You seek that which would bestow upon you the return of your house’s seat to the Klingon High Council, the Arkenstone. It is precious to you beyond measure. I understand that. There are gems on that planet that I too desire. White gems of pure starlight. I offer you my help.”

“I’m listening,” Thorin said.

“I will let you go, if you but return what is mine.”

Thorin turned around, pacing a few short steps back and forth. He knew what he was talking about, the gems of starlight he mentioned. If Thorin recalled correctly, they’d been mined on either Orion or Andoria, and Thranduil had purchased them for his wife, and then sent them to Erebor for a Klingon craftsman to set them in a necklace. But when that commission was never completed, Thranduil had come asking for the gems back, and Thror had refused, saying he had debts to pay. Thorin had thought the entire exchange petty at the time, just assuming his grandfather had his reasons,

“A favor for a favor,” Thorin said, keeping his voice quiet and casual.

“You have my word. One leader to another,” Thranduil said, his tone as calculatingly neutral as Thorin’s.

“I would not trust Thranduil,” Thorin said, biting out the name with a snarl as he turned back around, “the great Administrator of Eryn Lasgalen, to honor his word should the end of all days be upon us! You lack all honor! I’ve seen how you treat your friends. We came to you once, starving, homeless, seeking your help, but you turned your back. You turned away from the suffering of my people and the evil that destroyed us. You can die in the fires of Gre’thor, you bastard.”

Thranduil stepped up until he and Thorin stood almost chest to chest, and it wasn’t until then that Thorin noticed the pale, streaking scars up his left hand side, all the way from the exposed skin of his hand and wrist to his neck, poking out from above his robes. “Do not speak to me of loss, Thorin Oakenshield. You are not the only one who knows suffering.”

Thranduil pulled away, straightened his robes, and went back to sit down in his seat before turning around to speak again. “I warned your grandfather of what his greed would summon, but he would not listen. And you are just like him.”

He gave another wave of his hand, and the guards stepped forward to grab Thorin and lead him back towards his cell. As he was pulled back towards the stairwell, Thorin heard Thranduil say one last thing, his voice thick with sarcasm. “Stay here if you will and rot. How long is your lifespan, another 100 years? A blink of an eye in the life a Vulcan. I am patient. I can wait.”

Thorin gave one last roar as he was pulled away, but as he was thrown back in his shuttle, his thoughts turned to Bilbo. He could only hope that somebody had commed the Betazoid before all power was lost, and that their burglar would figure out a way to get them all out of this soon enough.

***

When the Korsovau had begun its descent through the atmosphere, Bilbo had disengaged the landing gear and put the (still cloaked) Oakenshield into a high synchronous orbit, just within transporter range and locked directly above the only point of life signs on the planet: a massive compound near the equator. Bilbo went through the steps to flush the exhaust manifolds and set all the systems to power saving mode, then went up to the galley and replicated himself some soup for lunch, anything to bring himself comfort. Unfortunately, he couldn’t think about anything except his friends and the situation they were in. Eventually, he put the bowl into the recycler and went back down to the bridge.

“Computer, can you lock onto any Klingon life signs on the planet?”

“Negative.”

“Well, great.” Bilbo said. “Any reason it is impossible to find Klingon life signs?”

“It is impossible to track life signs that are confined within an energy dampening field. Also, our orbit is high enough that it would be difficult to distinguish a Klingon life sign from any other life sign.”

“That...actually makes sense. Is it possible to transport somebody down via voice command?”

“Affirmative, as long as coordinates are specified beforehand.”

“Excellent. And is there any way to transport back up to this vessel via voice command?”

“Affirmative, if you take a communicator with you down to the surface you are transporting yourself too.”

“Perfect. Anything else required to transport down?”

“Recommended take at least two security officers when transporting into a potentially hostile situation.”

“If only I could,” Bilbo said glumly. He still had his trusty communicator on him, and he grabbed one of the phasers stashed around the bridge and got a holster to hold it to his hip. “Computer, lock onto a point just outside the compound, at least 10 meters away from any life signs.”

“Location found.”

Bilbo swallowed. “Here goes nothing. Energize.”

His particles reassembled just outside the compound, which was built both above and underground. He glanced around to make sure nobody could see him--he couldn’t sense anybody, but that didn’t necessarily mean they weren’t there, especially with all the stress he was under--and when nobody was there, he reached into his pocket and slipped on the ring. He felt that rush of power again, but knew how he was focusing it: I will not be seen. I will not be heard or sensed. I will find my crew.

He wandered around the outside of the building until he found a door in, locked by a keypad. From where he was and with the ring’s psionic energy charging him, he could easily sense the thoughts of the Vulcans inside, and soon found the access code he was looking for. He keyed it in and slipped inside.

To some extent, it was similar to Rivendell, with the big windows and amount of natural light. Many Vulcans were bustling around, and Bilbo slipped unseen past all of them. He was light on his feet, and he felt surprisingly good about this. He, as unobtrusively as possible, was glancing into their minds to see who knew the location of their Klingon prisoners, but nobody did--frankly, most of them were thinking about tonight’s upcoming party, a feast in celebration of the holiday Mereth-Nuin-Giliath. After a while, he realized he was in the civilian part of the compound, and he needed to find a higher up, somebody in their defense force. After a bit more thought reading, he realized the leader he was looking for was their Administrator, a man named Thranduil, and that his office was at the other end of the compound. He ducked down the hallway that led directly that way and followed the thoughts of the civilians like a trail of breadcrumbs.

The door to the Administrator’s office was open and he slipped right in and stood up against the wall, right by the open door. Bilbo thought his office was as comfortable as it could be, considering there were several weapons hung on the wall, just at and above arm’s reach. He was surprised to recognize them, from a class he took at University on Vulcan history, and knew the two crossed in an “X” shape were lirpas, and the third one hung below was an ahn-woon, and that they were all traditional Vulcan weapons, from the time before Vulcan became notorious for logic, used today only in the ritual ceremony of pon farr, which the class had been weirdly vague about.

The Administrator was standing behind his desk and facing the opposite direction out a window, and after a long moment he spoke, his voice cool and silky, and surprisingly emotional. V’tosh ka’tur indeed, Bilbo thought. But his words were immensely concerning: “I know you’re there. Why do you linger in the doorway?”

Bilbo’s eyes went wide, but before he could freak out, he heard a voice from beside him. “I was coming to report to you.”

She stepped forward, long red hair trailing down her back. Thranduil turned to face her and sat down at his desk. “Tauriel, I thought I ordered that sector to be cleared not two months ago.”

“We cleared the region as ordered, sir, but more space scavengers keep coming up from closer to Federation Space. I think they’re coming from out near Dol Guldur, and if we could kill them at their source-”

“That abandoned station lies beyond our borders. Keep our space clear of those foul creatures, that is your task, Sub-commander.”

“And when we drive them off, what then? Will they not spread to other places?” Tauriel gave an emphatic wave of her arms, then dropped her hands back to her sides.

“Other space is not my concern. We can leave them to Starfleet or the Klingons or wherever they end up. The fortunes of the galaxy will rise and fall, but here in this nebula, we will endure.”

Bilbo had already found what he was looking for--his crewmates were on the lower levels, and trapped within dampening fields, which he’d gotten the access codes for, thanks to the two of their minds--and he’d even added more details to his quickly developing plan--he was going to wait until tonight, when a feast was going on and they’d be operating with the station equivalent of a skeleton crew while most people had the night off--but he’d been drawn into their conversation, and wanted to hear how it ended.

“Have your prisoners been at all forthcoming, sir?” Tauriel asked.

“No, and they do not need to be,” Thranduil said.

Tauriel’s dark eyes went wide. “Sir, you haven’t mind melded against one of their wills?”

“Of course not,” Thranduil said, rolling his eyes. “There is no need. I knew Thorin before Erebor fell, and I knew his grandfather before him. I know what their motives are. It is not overly complicated to guess they want the Arkenstone.”

“Of course, sir,” Tauriel said.

“Legolas said you fought well today.” Thranduil said. Bilbo quickly determined that Legolas was Thranduil’s son, and a good friend of Tauriel’s. “He is very fond of you, you know.”

“He is one of my closest friends, sir, and I can promise you he sees me as no more than that,” Tauriel said, flushing faintly green with embarrassment.

“That isn’t even what I’m worried about.” Thranduil reached into a drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of what looked like Aldebaran whiskey and a glass. He poured himself a drink before speaking again. “I do not want him to abandon his dreams for you.”

“He wouldn’t, sir. He’s wanted to go to Starfleet Academy since he first heard about the adventures of James Kirk and Spock and the Enterprise. He loves it there,” Tauriel said. “He’s going to be a fine officer.”

“Of course, you are right. Still, he cares about you.” He took a long sip of whiskey. “I would ask that you not make him feel so sorry for you that he chooses to stay. You’re dismissed.”

Thranduil turned back to the window, reiterating the end of the conversation. Tauriel left, cheeks hot and emotions rolling inside her like a storm, and Bilbo tailed after her, deciding to go find a closet or a nice quiet corner or an empty, unused office, someplace to bide his time while waiting for the planet.

***

Kíli had never been so bored in all his life--well, that wasn’t exactly true, as his upper level “History of the Great Houses” class at the Imperial Academy had been so dry and dull he’d slept through every lecture and just managed to skate by with a barely passing grade, but still. This was one of the most boring experiences of his life. After he’d been led into his cell, away from everybody else, he’d taken a nap, attempted to sing four of the seventeen verses of Aktuh and Maylota, taken another nap, and now messed with one of the few personal articles the guards had left on him: the runestone he’d gotten from his mother. He was pacing back and forth, tossing the stone up and down, when he heard footsteps outside his cell. He turned, and it was the beautiful redhead from earlier, who’d saved them from the space scavengers. She cleared her throat. “The stone in your hand, what is it?”

“It is a talisman. A powerful spell lies upon it. If any but a Klingon reads the runes on this stone, they will be forever cursed.” Kíli quickly held up the stone toward her, making her take a few steps back, but she stopped when he spoke again. “Or not, depending on whether you believe that kind of thing. It’s just a token.”

Tauriel smiles, cheeks tinged slightly green with a blush. “What is it really?”

“A runestone. My mother gave it to me so I’d remember my promise.”

“What promise?” Tauriel asked. She leaned back against the side panel of the containment field, and Kíli felt himself blush a little in response.

“That I will come back to her. She worries. She thinks I’m reckless.”

“Are you?”

“Nah,” Kíli said. He tossed the stone again, but when he reached out to catch it it bounced off his fingertips and hit the floor by the cot. He almost went to grab it, but Tauriel was still standing there, and he didn’t want her to go yet. “I’m Kíli, by the way. Son of Dís.”

“House of Durin,” Tauriel finished, and blushed again. “Sorry.”

“Clearly you have me at a disadvantage,” he said, laughing. “What’s yours?”

“I am Tauriel, daughter of Itaril,” she said. “I’d say my clan name, but it’s unpronounceable for most humanoids.”

“You don’t have typical names out here,” Kíli said. “But before this trip, the only Vulcans I’d ever heard of were Spock, Sarek, T’Pol, and T’Pau.”

“You already know that we’re not typical Vulcans out here,” Tauriel quipped back.

“You don’t have typical hair either,” Kíli said. He knew he was searching for anything to keep the conversation going, and he would’ve been embarrassed by it if she didn’t still have that smile on her face. “I didn’t know Vulcans could have red hair.”

“We don’t. It’s dyed,” Tauriel said.

“Really?”

“Yeah,” she said, laughing. She absently reached up and tucked a piece behind one pointed ear, and Kíli felt himself tracking the motion like a hawk. “Legolas learned how to bleach hair at the Academy, and wanted to test his lessons on me. I didn’t like the platinum blonde look, so we dyed it red after.”

“Huh,” Kíli said, shrugging. “It looks good on you. Is Legolas the guy you were with when you captured us?”

“Yes, that’s him. He’s on break from school right now, doesn’t go back for six more weeks.”

“You two seemed close.”

Tauriel let out an actual laugh at that, hard enough that she threw her head back and her shoulders shook up against the wall. “I mean, yeah. Legolas is like my weird brother or cousin or something. We’ve grown up together--obviously everybody out here grows up together, but he and I are the same age, which is rare because Vulcans don’t have very many children. He’s my best friend.”

Kíli let out a mental sigh of relief, but managed to mostly keep his cool. What a relief. There was a pause of silence. “I haven’t seen many guards tonight.”

“Most of us have the night off. I’m one of the unlucky ones.” Tauriel looked up, and her eyes seemed almost misty. “It is Mereth-Nuin-Giliath, the Feast of Starlight. All natural phenomena are almost….spiritual to Vulcans, but out here we love best the light of the stars.”

“I always thought it is a cold light, remote and far away.”

Tauriel turned back, and shook head, and her voice was even more earnest when she spoke again. “It is memory, precious and pure. Like your promise.”

Kíli glanced at the runestone on the ground, then turned back to her. She’d gone even more misty eyed, and she looked at him as fondly as she, apparently, looked at the stars. “I have walked there sometimes, beyond the dunes of sand and up into the night. I have seen the desert fall away and the white light of forever fill the air.”

Fuck, that was beautiful, Kíli thought. It felt…more personal than he’d expected, especially from a Vulcan. He tried to think of something equally personal to share. “I saw a fire moon once. It rose over the pass on the planet Dunland, another planet just on the Empire side of the triangle. It was huge, red and gold, and it completely filled the sky. My dad was working as an escort for some merchants from Ered Luin, and my brother and I went with them. They were trading in latinum for furs. We transported down to the planet, but they didn’t want us to transport into their city, so we had a meeting place set up in the countryside. We went out into this big prairie, alongside one of the planet’s main rivers, and then this huge fire moon rose up, right in our path. It was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it since.”

Tauriel had been focused completely on him as he spoke. But when she replied, it caught him more than a little off guard. “Eryn Lasgalen has two moons, but did you know Vulcan has none?”

Kíli paused and then gave her a shrug. “You know, after meeting you and meeting them, I’m not at all surprised.”

Tauriel laughed again, and shook her head. She stood up from her spot against the doorway. “I’m afraid I have to go.”

“Other prisoners to check on?” Kíli asked.

“I’m afraid so,” Tauriel said. “Unfortunately none of them are as good for conversation as you.”

“Well, some of the older ones can be a bit ornery,” Kíli said, making her laugh again. As Tauriel moved past his cell to where he almost couldn’t see her, he called out, “Tauriel?”

She turned around.

“Thank you. You’re pretty good for conversation, too.”

She left right after, but Kíli was pretty sure he saw her blush again.

Chapter Text

The twin moons had long set over Eryn Lasgalen when Sub-commander Tauriel finished her rounds of checking over the prisoners. As the door to the cell block closed behind her, Bilbo slipped in, and that was that.

He’d spent quite a bit of time over the afternoon in an empty laboratory studying the layout, and he knew that the first cell he would come across was Balin’s. This guess was correct, and the good Klingon first officer was very thrilled to see him.

“Bilbo, how are you here?” Balin asked. Once the dampening field was dropped, Balin pulled Bilbo into a warm hug.

Bilbo had slid off the ring so as to not startle Balin, and he swallowed, feeling its weight in his hand like an anchor. When Balin released him, he spoke. “Okay. It’s a long story but I’m gonna give you the gist of it: I found a ring with psionic energy on the Cabal ship. I’m capable of using it to make myself basically invisible, but when I put it on again to mask us both it may make you feel super weird.”

Balin’s expression as he gave the brief summary of the tale was neutral, and when he finished he just shrugged. “Alright. Give me a warning, lad.”

Bilbo let out a loud sigh of relief, chuckling at the end. “Thank you so much for just--I don’t know, believing me. Right off the bat.”

“Of course. Whenever you’re ready.”

Bilbo shook his head. “Okay, we’re going under now.”

Bilbo could feel the psionic energy settle into him and barely noticed Balin’s gasp at his side, but then he shook it off and focused on projecting the shield over them both. They slipped around a corner of the block, and the next Klingon they found was Glóin.

Bilbo slipped the ring off, but before he could even try to explain, Balin cut in, and said something in rapid, percussive Klingon. Glóin answered apparently in the affirmative, because Balin turned to Bilbo and said, “We’re ready. I explained.”

“Okay,” Bilbo said. “Now.”

The next three they found were, in order, Dori, Óin, and Nori, who was the one who seemed most affected by the psionic energy. Unfortunately, this led to Dori going into his more maternal mode and literally carrying Nori as they went to the next cell, which led to the two of them bickering behind Bilbo until he had enough.

“Can you two knock it off?” Bilbo snapped, and they both quieted immediately. “I’m literally just projecting ‘we’re not here’ vibes as hard as I can and hoping nobody notices, and it works better when you all behave!”

“Sorry, Bilbo,” Nori said, still faintly out of breath.

“It’s fine, just--no more,” Bilbo said, as he pulled the ring off and went to plug in the access codes at Fíli’s cell.

“My brother?” He asked as soon as the field dropped.

“Haven’t made it to him yet,” Bilbo said. “Be quiet and don’t freak out. 3, 2, 1.”

This was essentially how the system went as they found the rest of the Klingons. When they reached Kíli’s cell, Fíli pulled his little brother into a hug, and Bifur did the same with both Bofur and Bombur when they found them a few cells later. At last they had everybody but Thorin, who seemed more than a little surprised when they showed up out of thin air.

“Long story,” Bilbo said as Thorin opened his mouth to question everything. “I’ll give all the gory details when we’re back on the Oakenshield. Stay quiet, don’t freak out, I already know where the closest exist is.”

They went under the ring once more, Thorin being caught enough off guard by it that he fell against Bilbo, who’s knees buckled slightly under his much more substantial weight. Everything was fine as Bilbo ushered the Klingons out the same door came in, until a flashing alarm started blaring and the door tried to close and lock itself while Bombur was going through. Dori and Dwalin managed to force it open as the last few Klingons emerged out into the desert, but as soon as they were all through, they let it slam shut and heard the ominous click of the lock behind him.

“They’ve caught us,” Ori moaned. “What are we going to do?”

“This,” Bilbo said, reaching in his pocket and pulling out his communicator. He’d already taken off the ring and replaced it in his pocket, and he finally felt like he could breathe again. “Computer, 14 to transport.”

A moment later they were all back on the Oakenshield , and Thorin immediately turned to Glóin. “See if you can get a lock on our shuttles.”

“If you’re going to do it, it has to be fast,” Bilbo said. “Thranduil has already guessed that there’s something in orbit, a getaway car, if you will. He’ll have ships in the air in the blink of an eye.”

Thorin looked torn, until Dwalin cut in. “We’ve still got one shuttle, and it’s Glóin’s. I say we cut our losses and get out while the getting out is good.”

“I think you’re right,” Thorin said. “Everybody, battle stations. Fíli, as soon as you get there take us out at one quarter impulse--we don’t want anybody to be able to guess we’re up here.”

Fíli took off at a sprint, and Thorin took Bilbo’s elbow as he steered them to the bridge. “Bilbo, what the hell was that thing?”

“I found a psionic ring on the Cabal ship,” Bilbo said. “I got it off another prisoner they had--a telepath, a member of a species that seemed a lot like me. On my way off, I ran into a guard, and I just had this feeling I should put on the ring, and I did, and he couldn’t see me anymore. It’s incredibly powerful, Thorin, if it can enable me to exert my will over others like that.”

Thorin’s brows were knitted together. “Does it affect you? To use it like that?”

At first, Bilbo was a bit confused by that question, and then he realized that Thorin was actually worried about him. “Oh, no, I’ve gotten used to it. Don’t worry about me--we telepaths grow up learning how to manage excesses of psychic energy, I was far more worried about you all.”

Thorin nodded, right as the door slid open and they entered the bridge. Most of the crew was at their stations already. Balin was nowhere to be seen, which Bilbo knew meant he’d gone down to engineering, so Bilbo sat in the first officer’s seat. The ship was already moving at impulse, when an alarm went off at tactical.

“Four ships on short range sensors,” Dwalin barely had time to say as the Vulcan vessel Korsovau dropped out of warp behind them and three Romulan warbirds decloaked in front of them. “Should we--”

“Don’t fire weapons,” Thorin said. “They may be about to face off with each other, not us. Give it a second.”

Bilbo could sense barely a moment before it happened that that was, unfortunately, not the case, as the Oakenshield was hit with a blast so hard it knocked their cloak offline, and Thorin swore loudly as they reappeared.

“Fire,” Thorin said.

“At who?” Dwalin asked.

“Whoever just fired at us!” Thorin yelled, and Dwalin quickly fired off a series of phaser pulses at all three Romulan ships.

“All direct hits, no notable damage,” Nori said.

The main Romulan ship fired at them again, and the ship rocked so hard Bilbo was almost thrown out of his seat, and he would’ve flown clear if Thorin hadn’t grabbed him and held him down.

“Anybody identified that vessel?”

“It’s the Goldara, ” Bofur said, climbing back to his feet at the comm station. “Captained by a Bulb or Bolb or something like that, my monitor just went out on me--”

“Not Bolb.” Thorin said, sharing a look with Dwalin. “Bolg. Son of Azog.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Bilbo said. “What is wrong with that family?”

“Can you target weapons?”

“Aye, firing photon torpedoes now,” Dwalin said, but just as he did that, they took another hit, and Bilbo felt more than heard Nori’s wince.

“Bad news, everybody,” Nori said, and Bilbo could tell he was really dreading being the messenger on this. “That lost shot was a direct hit to our shields, so we’re flying unguarded right now.”

There was a brief moment of complete still, aside from the blaring of the klaxons of the tactical alert and the beeping noises coming from various stations. Thorin had never been so devastated to say anything in his life. “Bofur, broadcast over intercom: we’re abandoning ship. Make for the shuttlebay--we’re taking Glóin’s.”

“Understood,” Bofur said, speaking into his headpiece.

Nobody on the bridge moved, and Thorin slammed his fist down on their shared armrest hard enough to make Bilbo jump. “You heard me! Abandon ship.”

Everybody sprung into action at once, with Thorin leading the way down the lift to the shuttlebay. Dwalin was still watching tactical updates on a hallway monitor, and Fíli and Kíli were the only ones left in the lift when he shouted, “Shit! They’re transporting something into the lift!”

Bilbo spun around to look back in horror just as the doors were sliding shut and Kíli gave Fíli a hard shove out of the turbolift, and whatever the Romulans transported in was dropped in and went off.

“Kíli!” Thorin yelled, and Dori and Fíli were already forcing the lift door open again. When they finally unjammed the doors, a wall of smoke blew out, making everyone cough, and Bilbo was starting to fear the worst when Kíli pushed his way out of the smoke, off the back wall apparently, and fell almost directly onto his brother.

“You alright?” Dwalin asked, and Kíli coughed but nodded. Bilbo of course could tell that this was a lie, both by the burning pain Kíli was feeling in his stomach and chest and in the way his brother was reacting to it. Fíli had slung his arm over his shoulder, supporting him, and was very much afraid for his brother, but didn’t say anything as they all went down to the shuttlebay, their trip only stalled by the ship getting hit hard enough to tear the bulkheads off. Different alarms were blaring now, creating a discordant symphony of sound, and Bifur was especially bothered by it, but it was much quieter in the shuttle. Bilbo let out a sigh of relief as he sat down on one of the non-station chairs.

“Glóin, just fire your way out,” Thorin said, and it was then that Bilbo both heard and felt his devastation. Bilbo suddenly recalled once how he’d asked his mother why she’d left Starfleet, a flash of memory he hadn’t thought about in years.

“But, mother, if you loved it so much, why’d you leave?” A young Bilbo had asked, as he sat on the couch eating ice cream as his mother watched newsreels of the awards ceremony for decorated officers during the Klingon Federation War. She’d pulled him closer to her side and pressed a kiss to his curly hair, in spite of his protests.

“Cause I love you more, baby,” Belladonna had answered, releasing his head slightly, but keeping him close enough to comb her fingers through his dirty blond curls.

“But you’d only had me for a minute then,” Bilbo argued, and both felt in his mind and heard out loud her laugh.

“And if I’d stayed in Starfleet they would’ve made me their first Betazoid captain and then I never could have,” Belladonna had said.

“But didn’t you want to be Starfleet’s first Betazoid captain?”

“Of course, I did, before.” Her eyes flicked to the screen for a second, watching several officers have their commendations for valor pinned onto their dress blues, but then she turned back to Bilbo. “When you’re a Captain, you have to love your ship more than anything else. You have to choose your ship, your ideals, your mission over whatever you want every time. And I realized when I got married and I had you that that wasn’t a sacrifice I could make anymore. Because when you were born, Bilbo--” she paused and sniffed, and Bilbo hadn’t even noticed the tears come to her eyes that she was now wiping away. “--I realized that I didn’t want a starship, because you were it for me. You’re my dream, Bilbo. You are my greatest discovery. And I was never going to make you share me with a ship. For the best captains, losing their ship breaks something inside them that never heals, even after they get a new one. It’s like losing a limb. It hurts like dying.”

Bilbo shook himself out of the memory, and could feel Thorin’s pain for the physical thing it was. Thorin’s heart was beating a tattoo in his throat, and as Glóin fired through the damaged shuttlebay doors and Fíli guided the ship to warp, Bilbo could feel the lump in his chest, the ache in his very core as they abandoned the ship. The lights dimmed slightly as the cloaking device was activated, and Bilbo could distantly hear the discussion going on between the crewmembers about avoiding the particles and the space scavengers, but was more distracted by watching Thorin’s silhouette against the backdrop of stars as he turned around to get one last look at his ship, in what would turn out to be its last moments.

Bilbo watched in horror as the Goldara fired a photon torpedo directly at the Oakenshield, and the ship exploded in a bright flash of light. Bilbo could see where the warp core had been, as the explosion was centered there and the rest of the ship almost seemed to shatter around it, like a piece of glass. He turned to Thorin to offer his condolences, but he barely had a moment’s warning before Thorin tilted his chin up and let out a roar so loud it made Bilbo’s ears ring for almost a minute after.

Thorin slumped down into the passenger seat beside Bilbo, leaned back into his seat with his head still turned upwards, but Bilbo could faintly see his torso shaking with silent sobs. Bilbo checked to make sure the crew was still doing their jobs, and he saw that Balin was giving the orders. Balin turned to him for just long enough for them to make eye contact and nod at Bilbo, before he turned back to the helm and front stations.

Bilbo knew what Balin wanted him to do: try and offer comfort to Thorin. His first instinct was that Thorin would not want it, but after a moment of thought he realized he was the only person who could give this to Thorin. Unsure of exactly what to do, Bilbo was still for a moment, until he leaned over and put his head on Thorin’s shoulder and took his hand. Thorin let out a choked gasp, and squeezed his hand hard enough to pop Bilbo’s knuckles.

“We’re going to be alright,” Bilbo said, keeping his tone soft and even. “This is a very nice shuttle, I’m glad you all chose to leave this one here. It’s roomy.”

Thorin sniffed loudly, and Bilbo still hadn’t looked up at his face because he didn’t want to embarrass him. Bilbo had almost decided to keep speaking, when Thorin’s gruff voice answered: “He’s a family man. He uses it to run his kids around.”

Bilbo cleared his throat. “Well. It’s very nice. I like the leather seats.”

“It’s not leather. It’s targ.”

“Oh. Well, that’s nice too, I guess.” Bilbo said, and Thorin let out a hiccup that was either another sob or a laugh. Bilbo squeezed his hand, then Thorin squeezed back, and this went back and forth a few times until Bilbo stilled the motion by rubbing his thumb along Thorin’s knuckles. “You know, we are going to be okay. I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose your ship, it probably hurts something awful and I’m not going to dig too deeply into your mind to get the exact experience, but we’ll survive this. We’ve made it past a lot so far. We’re going to be alright. You’re gonna get it all back and then some.”

Thorin let out another choked off noise, which Bilbo realized was in fact a sob, and leaned his head over to rest on Bilbo’s. Some of his hair fell in front of Bilbo’s face, but he certainly wasn’t going to point it out and ruin the moment. Plus, his hair smelled surprisingly good for somebody who had been under quite a bit of stress for the past few days, including that of being on a planet that runs just hot enough for one to be sweaty all the time, so really, it was far better than it could have been. Bilbo just sat there, trying to project soothing energy and breathing in Thorin’s scent for several minutes, until eventually Thorin sat part of the way up and kind of shook himself off. He was still holding Bilbo’s hand, but his grip had relaxed, and although the physical ache at the loss of the Oakenshield was still there, some of the tension had drained out of his body.

“Bilbo,” Thorin said, sitting forward and turning to look him in the eye. “I’m realizing I’m just always going to be thanking you for believing in me, aren’t I.”

This moment, when Bilbo looked Thorin in his still red from crying eyes, would later be recognized as the point which marked a cosmic shift in the way Bilbo and Thorin related to each other. Because as Thorin and Bilbo made eye contact, Bilbo realized he could no longer ignore something he’d been pretending not to notice so far: Thorin was in love with him. Head over heels, mentally composing sappy love poetry about his black as midnight eyes, in love with him. Bilbo, had of course, known this fact before this moment. However, he had been making the polite decision not to acknowledge it, both because he had no desire to embarrass Thorin in front of a crew that sees Thorin as the Ideal Klingon, and because he, in a surprisingly un-Betazoid move that would’ve had his mother rolling in her grave, didn’t want to face the music of his own feelings either.

Betazoids loved easily--in the same vein as how being able to read minds grows empathy and understanding instead of anger, it is drastically more likely to breed love than hate. Bilbo’s parents had deeply loved each other, and also been a fair bit in love with a handful of other people, especially in Belladonna’s case, and their decision to stay together was a conscious choice. Bilbo’s statement about being in love with Layla had been not quite true: he was still a little bit in love with Layla, just like he was a little bit in love with the first guy he’d kissed at college and both Gamgees. That was just how Betazoids were: you leave a little bit of yourself in everyone you love, and they leave a little bit with you, and you grow and learn and love more because of it.

However, that was something he could not have explained very easily to Thorin, who was not Betazoid, but was in fact Klingon. Klingons did not love easily, and their love was hard and could border on suffocating. They really only loved a few times in their lifetime, and Thorin never had: his great love had been Erebor, which was an idea, not a person. Klingons loved rarely but when they did it was fierce, which Bilbo had first realized after seeing Bofur go from more than a little bit attracted to Loren to making promises to see her again that he may not be able to keep. They only had two mode when it came to romance: “meh” and “I would die for you”, and frankly they liked it that way.

Bilbo had noted his own feelings about the same time as the first thought sharing had happened, but at first he’d just assumed that like with Layla and all his other previous lovers, it was just a little bit in love, not in the kind of love that Klingons write operas about. He’d noticed Thorin’s feelings after the second thought sharing, forcing him to reevaluate his own, at which point he’d come to the conclusion that he wasn’t just a little bit in love with Thorin but was in fact a lot in love with Thorin. And Thorin was a lot in love with him back. However, Bilbo couldn’t help but notice there was a slight imbalance here: Bilbo knew both of their feelings, while Thorin was barely identifying his own. And so, like any well mannered Betazoid, who knew how to pretend he wasn’t digging into anyone else’s business even when he certainly was, Bilbo knew what he was going to do with this knowledge: absolutely nothing.

It was simple: as a telepath who could sense feelings of a personal nature from a non-telepath, it was Bilbo’s responsibility to wait until the non-telepath admits their feelings and then they can both move forward and pretend like Bilbo hadn’t known the whole time. Because in Bilbo’s experience, it was easy for non-telepaths to think and feel one thing, but then decide to do something completely different instead, which Bilbo found completely ridiculous, although it would be rude to tell them that. So Bilbo was going to wait until Thorin fessed up, treat him exactly the same, and pretend like he hadn’t realized anything.

He only wished that knowing this was what he was going to do made him feel better about having to actually do it.

He had all these thoughts in a very short period of time, and so replied without missing a beat, “Of course, Thorin. You’re immensely believable. And I genuinely believe that we are going to be alright.”

Dwalin cleared his throat from beside Thorin, and both he and Bilbo looked up. Immediately Bilbo sensed that what he had to say was a mixed bag. “There’s good and bad news, and Balin says it’s your call.”

Thorin let out a long sigh and took a deep breath. “Hit me with it.”

“We’ve cleared the nebula, and didn’t suffer too much damage to do it.” Dwalin pinched the bridge of his nose. “Unfortunately, we did burn through quite a bit of our dilithium to do it. If we drop to warp 3 we can sustain it all the way to Esgaroth Shipyard, and then take it at impulse into Erebor.”

“I take it dropping to warp 2 or 1 doesn’t make a much bigger difference?” Thorin drawled, and Dwalin shook his head.

“Warp 3 is the best in-between of what we want.”

“We can’t risk the Romulans catching up with us though,” Thorin said. He stood up and went up to the front where most of the bridge crew was either at a station or standing behind one. Bilbo stood up and followed him down, at which point he noticed Kíli’s absence from the group in the front room, and that he’d gone to the back to lie down. He hoped his friend started feeling better soon as he took the spot at Thorin’s side, standing up. “Any non-enemy vessels on scanners?”

There was a long moment as they all checked their monitors.

“It looks like there’s a cargo vessel a few clicks ahead,” Nori said. “Based on the warp signature, I’d guess human, although out here you can’t be sure.”

“Do we have enough dilithium to catch up with that vessel at maximum warp and hail it?” Thorin asked.

“Yes, sir,” Fíli answered. “Coordinates set and ready to go.”

“Engage.”

The stars blurred as they made the jump to maximum warp, and a few minutes passed before Bofur spoke up. “We’re within hailing range, captain.”

“Transport on usual Federation hailing frequencies,” Thorin said, but Balin had set a hand on his shoulder, quieting him.

“Thorin, I believe it would be best if I spoke,” Balin said, and Bilbo felt Thorin prickle with pride. “You’re--well, to put it frankly, you’re compromised right now. Go sit down, Bilbo can go replicate you both some tea. Bofur, broadcast a general distress signal, usual Federation frequencies.”

“Of course,” Bilbo said, taking Thorin’s forearm and steering him back to their seats. He replicated them both the only tea in the replicator (which Bilbo was pretty sure had some type of liquor in it, but it would have to do) and returned with two mugs. He took a sip of his, and almost winced at the burn of whatever was in there, but Thorin just held it in his hands, focusing instead on what Balin was up to.

Bofur looked up at Balin from his seat. “Our potential rescuer has sent us the standard response, and we’re being hailed. Audio only.”

“Speakers, Bofur,” Balin answered. “We’ll respond audio only.”

A man’s voice came through, and even from however far they still were, Bilbo thought he sounded….scruffy. Bilbo was surprised to note a British accent, and his voice sounded a bit rough. “This is the Barge, responding to your distress call. You’re running out of fuel, you said?”

“Yes, sir,” Balin answered. “If you’re heading that way, we’d be grateful to have a ride to Esgaroth Shipyard, but if not, any dilithium you could spare would be a blessing.”

“Now hold on a minute,” the man said, and Bilbo had the sinking feeling that he may have just begun to have suspicions about who (or in this case, what) they were. “I’ve gotta see you before we go any further.”

“I expect you’ll return the favor?” Balin said.

“What the hell, sure. Transmitting visually now,” the man answered. When he came on screen, Bilbo saw his first assumption was correct, although maybe a bit harsh: the man had shoulder length hair, and the top half was pulled back in a little bun. He had a mustache, and a bit of scruff on his chin and along his jaw. But there were also dark circles under his eye, lines of stress on his forehead that didn’t belong on a man so young.

Balin gestured for Bofur to transmit visual in response, and Bard’s eyes widened for only a split second before his face relaxed again, eyebrows raised. Balin cleared his throat. “I’m Commander Balin, of the ISS Oakenshield. And you are?”

“Bard. Bard Bowman,” the man answered. “So you’re looking for a ride? What makes you think I’m going to help you?”

“Your coat has seen better days,” Balin said.

“And?” Bard’s expression had turned defensive, and Bilbo sure hoped Balin knew where he was going with this.

“Your spacecraft has also, although I can see it’s doing its best.” Balin’s tone turned almost sweet on his next sentence. “How many kids?”

“A boy and two girls,” Bard said. Bilbo relaxed--if Bard hadn’t been pissed off by that invasion of privacy, he was probably going to handle the rest of them fairly well.

“And your wife,” Balin continued, “I imagine she’s a beauty?”

Bard paused, and Bilbo panicked. Balin just hit a rare sore spot on this man. “Yeah, yeah, she was.”

Balin winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--”

“It’s fine,” Bard said. Bilbo knew it was, in fact, not fine, but that was the way of non-telepaths, he supposed. He waved off any more apologies. “What business does a group of Klingons have in these parts?”

“We are simple merchants. We’ve been selling our wares in the Federation, and we’re now returning home to the Blue Sector to see our kin. I was a security attachment, making sure they stayed safe. We’re willing to pay for a ride, and a refuel.” Balin’s lie was good, Bilbo thought, but Bard still didn’t buy it.

“Simple merchants you say?” Bard leaned back away from the screen a bit, and Bilbo could see his arms cross in front of him.

Thorin had stood up and walked forward, taking a spot beside Balin in front of the viewer. “We’ll need food, supplies, weapons. Can you help us?”

Bard gave them another long, appraising look. “You know, I can only see a few of you, but I’ve never seen any Klingons so unarmed before.”

“What of it?” Thorin asked.

“I don’t know what business you had with the Vulcans, but I don’t think it ended well.” Bard was feeling smug, and in Bilbo’s mind rightfully so. “No one enters Esgaroth but by leave of Mr. Masterson. All his wealth comes from commerce with our good friends in the Fuin. He will see you in prison before risking the wrath of Administrator Thranduil.”

“I’ll wager there are ways to enter that town unseen,” Balin said, as Thorin nudged him.

“Aye. But for that, you will need a smuggler.” Bard gestured to himself. “And I am clearly a simple cargo pilot.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Balin said. “Because we’d be willing to pay a smuggler double.”

Bard looked like he was considering saying no for a moment, but Bilbo knew he was hooked. After a long pause, his mouth stretched into a grin. “Commander, you may be a better businessman than they are, because you just got yourself a deal.”

***

Back on Eryn Lasgalen, the energy was quite different. After the bird of prey had been destroyed, the Korsovau had only had to fire a few warning shots before two of the warbirds recloaked, and, as far as they could tell, made their way back to the Romulan Star Empire. However, on one warbird, the Nurohko, they’d disabled the warp core, and then towed it back to the planet. They’d taken the cloaking device to study and then imprisoned its crew in the same cells as the Oakenshield’s had been just earlier that day, but Thranduil had ordered its commander to be taken to his office for interrogation.

“Do I have to come for this?” Legolas asked, whining as he trailed along behind his father and best friend.

“Yes, Legolas,” Thranduil said, and Tauriel looked up just in time to see him roll his eyes. “You’re in Starfleet now, you should have the stomach for this sort of thing.”

“I'm not that kind of--ugh, nevermind, it’s not that,” Legolas said. His nose wrinkled as he frowned. “I just don’t want to watch.”

“Sir, what exactly do you hope to get out of Commander Tomit?” Tauriel asked as they reached the door.

Thranduil had begun keying in the codes for his office, where the security officers and his prisoner were already inside. “I don’t really know. Such is the nature of evil. Out there in the vast ignorance of the world it festers and spreads, a shadow that grows in the dark. A sleepless malice as black as the oncoming wall of night. So it ever was; so will it always be. In time, all foul things come forth.”

Tauriel turned to Legolas and mouthed, “ What the fuck?”, but he just shrugged and stepped up to the chair the Romulan Commander was in. He pressed his phaser to the back of his neck, and set it to high stun.

At his father’s nod, he spoke. “You were tracking a company of thirteen Klingons, the skeleton crew of the ISS Oakenshield . Why?”

“Not thirteen; not any more. We got one of them with an experimental weapon--if I’m correct it was one of the younger ones, the dark haired science officer.” He looked away from Legolas’ phaser at his neck, and turned to Tauriel, who barely masked her worry when facing his sneer. “The damage is done. He’ll be choking on it soon.”

She crossed her arms. “Just answer the question.”

“I don’t answer to Sub-Commanders,” he drawled, rolling his eyes. Fortunately, he was too busy being sarcastic to ready himself for her smack, backhanded, right across his jaw.

“I would not antagonize her.” Legolas grinned at her, then turned to share his amusement with his father, except his father was currently distracted by pouring himself a drink. Figures.

“You like killing things, soldier?” Tauriel snapped. “You like death? Then let me give it to you!”

Tauriel pulled her phaser from her hip, but as she flicked the switch and it charged, set to kill, Thranduil spoke. “That’s enough, Tauriel. You’re dismissed.”

The Romulan let out a laugh, cut off when he choked as Legolas pressed the phaser more sharply into the side of his neck. At first, it looked like Tauriel was about to protest, until she turned on her heel and left in a few quick steps.

Thranduil stepped forward, glass of whiskey still in hand. “I do not care about one dead Klingon. Answer the question. You have nothing to fear. Tell us what you know and I will set you and your crew free.”

“You had orders to kill them--why? What is Thorin, son of Thrain, to you?” Legolas said. He relaxed the press of the phaser against Tomit’s neck.

“That Klingon will never return the house of Durin to the High Council.”

“The house of Durin has no seat on the High Council, and it never will. They cannot return to Erebor, not since the dragon’s attack.”

“You know nothing,” Tomit said, his teeth curling into a snarl. “Your world will burn.”

Legolas frowned. “What are you talking about? Keep it simple.”

“Our time has come again. My general serves the One. Do you understand now, Vulcan? Death is upon you. The flames of war are upon you--”

Thranduil had stepped forward when he mentioned the One, and before Tomit could finish his sentence, Thranduil had pulled one of the lirpas off the wall and sliced his head off. It rolled off his shoulders and hit the ground at Legolas’ feet.

“Ew,” Legolas said. He stepped away from the head, and Tomit’s body slumped slightly where it was handcuffed to the chair. It gave a twitch, and Legolas shuddered. “Ew! Why did you do that? You promised to set him free.”

“And I did. I freed his wretched head from his miserable shoulders.”

“But wasn’t there more he could tell us?” Legolas asked.

“There was nothing more he could tell me.”

Thranduil turned, wiped the green blood on the blade of the lirpa off on the Romulan’s tweed jacket, and then returned it to the wall. He finished his drink while Legolas went and sat down in his desk chair. “What did he mean by the ‘flames of war’?”

“It means they intend to unleash a weapon so great it will destroy all before it.” He turned to the security officers, who still stood at the corners of the room. “Double the border patrols. Nothing moves without my permission. If there’s a single flicker in this nebula, I want to know about it. Legolas, go send word to ground all shuttlecraft.”

Legolas nodded and left, heading for the main shuttle garage. When he got there, Tulvak was at the center hub and the checkout center, and he looked up from his monitor when Legolas approached.

“Ground all shuttles,” Legolas said, leaning over the desk. “Administrator’s orders, effective immediately.”

“What about Tauriel?” He asked.

“What about her?”

Tulvak shrugged, typing a few things in on his computer. “She checked out a shuttle about an hour ago. She hasn’t commed since, and she hasn’t answered our hails.”

Legolas glanced at the garage, and saw the missing shuttle that apparently contained his best friend. After a long moment, he slammed his fist on the counter, which made Tulvak jump. “Shit.”

He reached over the desk and grabbed a shuttle access key, the first he could reach, and let out a wry grin when he saw it was the Orchid. As Tulvak stood up to protest, Legolas held up a hand. “Don’t call my dad unless I’m not back by morning. Also, sorry in advance for the headache.”

He darted his hand out and pinched Tulvak’s shoulder, hard. The man crumpled to the ground and Legolas made his escape.

***

Legolas caught up with Tauriel much quicker than he expected. He grinned, mentally giving thanks to his Navigation 101 class at the Academy, and hailed her. When she answered, she looked pissed.

“You are so lucky you aren’t a Romulan.”

“You’re lucky that I’m not a Romulan too,” Legolas said. “If I were, you’d be dead already. You can’t actually be chasing after those warbirds on your own.”

“But I’m not on my own.”

Legolas groaned. “You knew I would come. Am I actually that predictable?”

“You may have changed some since you went off to join the ‘fleet, but you haven’t changed that much. You’re still my best friend.”

“And you’re mine too. But Tauriel, my dad is going to be royally pissed when he realizes we’re gone. If we’re back by morning, he’ll get over it--”

“But I won’t.” She shook her head. “Don’t you get it? If I go back, I won’t forgive myself. Your old man has never been a friend of Romulans, but he let three warbirds swoop in and attack our prisoners!”

“We shouldn’t interfere. It’s not our fight.”

“But don’t you get it? It will be. It will not end here. With every victory, this evil will grow. If your father has his way, we will do nothing. We will hide within our nebula, live our lives away from all society, and let danger sweep across the galaxy. But that’s stupid, because like it or not, we are part of this galaxy, and I think we should fight for it. Tell me, Legolas, what would your Starfleet professors do?”

Legolas slumped in his seat. “I hate it when you’re right.”

Tauriel laughed. “Come on, transport over.”

“Nah, I’ll transport you over here,” Legolas said. “Didn’t you notice I’m in the Orchid? If you’re going to drag me on this fool’s mission, we might as well do it in style.”

“Dude, you took your grandpa’s old shuttle? I knew you were game!” She beamed again, cheeks flushed faintly green with excitement. “It’ll be just like old times, won’t it?”

Legolas thought back on all the good times, joyriding across the nebula at one half impulse with Tauriel in the Orchid , the two of them sitting on the floor listening to the newsreels and playing Tri-D chess, and all the fun they’d had before he decided to go for an officer’s position. “Yeah. Yeah, it will be. Except with like, more murder this time.”

“I think I can live with that,” Tauriel said. “Alright, I’m ready to transport whenever you are.”

“Energizing now,” Legolas said, feeling surprisingly carefree as he transported Tauriel over and he and his best friend prepared to chase Romulans across the galaxy.

Chapter Text

Bard had opened up his cargo bay and allowed the shuttle to enter soon after he and Balin settled on a rough estimate for the payment, with adjustments in place in case of additional issues. They’d spent the night on Bard’s vessel, since his ship could only get up to warp three, and the next morning, Balin woke everybody up bright and early and took them down for a more formal introduction. Bilbo was relieved they hadn’t tried to do it the night before--everyone’s emotions had been running so hot, Bard would’ve been in serious danger of becoming a human shish kebab. They’d all moved up to the main deck of the shuttle, where the bridge was, although there were only four seats and stations total and it appeared that Bard could manage all necessary operations from the main seat, in the front on the right side. He’d mounted a few extra screens around him, and as he ducked under the low ceilings to meet the Klingons at the door, Bilbo noticed that he was almost as tall as some of the shorter Klingons, and had a couple of inches on Bilbo, easy.

Balin shook Bard’s hand once again. “Thank you again, Bard, for your services. May I present to you my Captain--” he gestured to Thorin, but Bilbo noticed he did not say his name “--and the rest of our crew: Dwalin, Bofur, Fíli, Bom--”

“I don’t need everybody’s names,” he said, so bluntly that it made Bilbo laugh, and Bard turned to look at him, eyebrow raised. “You aren’t a Klingon.”

“Certainly not,” Bilbo agreed. “Bilbo Baggins, son of the fourth house of Betazed. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Bard said. “I hope you’re a bit less rowdy than our guests. And what’s a...betazed doing with a group of Klingons?”

“Oh, well, nothing really,” Bilbo paused, flushing, and knew before he even tried to say anything that he’d be caught in his lie. “I’ve heard Qo’nos is lovely this time of year.”

Bard snorted and rolled his eyes. “ Right. Anyways, there isn’t much space up here, so a few of you can sit down but the rest of you are gonna have to stand.”

“Got anything to eat?” Dori asked.

“In this old junker?” Bard shook his head, lowering himself down into his chair and sliding forward. “I think if I tried to install a replicator it might be the last straw, and I ate the rest of my ration packs last night before you came on board. We’ll be there soon anyways--you can tough it out another half hour.”

“What’s between there and here?” Thorin asked, settling into one of the other seats. He’d had Balin and Dwalin follow him, and Bilbo came as well, standing up behind Balin’s seat.

“Small asteroid field right--here,” Bard said, taking the ship out of warp right on top of it. He was navigating and flying manually, with the joysticks pulled out to maneuver thrusters, and barely dodged one spinning asteroid.

Dwalin huffed, standing up and walking closer to Bard, arms crossed in front of his chest. Bilbo took the opportunity to steal his seat. “What are you trying to do, kill us all?”

“I was born and raised in this space, sir. If I really wanted to kill you, I wouldn’t do it here,” Bard said.

“He’s not lying,” Bilbo said. Dwalin shot him a look, both over his statement of Bard’s intent and the fact that he’d taken his chair.

Dwalin walked over to his brother and bent down. “I don’t like him.”

“You don’t have to like him,” Thorin muttered, moving to stand beside him. “All we have to do is pay him.”

Balin stood up, and the three of them went towards the rest of the group. Bard turned around for a second, then just shook his head, focusing back on the controls, and Bilbo stood up to join the rest of the crew. Balin looked around the group. “Alright, you heard him. Turn out your pockets. I know you’ve all got some latinum stashed.”

Several of them handed bars over, and Dwalin leaned over to whisper to Thorin. “How do we know he won’t betray us?”

Thorin rolled his eyes, but he too was a bit stressed about trusting this stranger. “Bilbo?”

“Yes sir?” Bilbo answered, straightening up.

“Is Bard’s intent to betray us?”

“Not at all,” Bilbo said.

“There you go,” Thorin said, and Dwalin sighed but remained tense.

Balin had been counting off the bars, dropping them into Ori’s hands. “There’s, um, just a problem: we’re ten bars short of the number Bard and I worked out last night.”

“Come on, Glóin,” Thorin said. “Give us what you have.”

Glóin flushed, and Bilbo knew he had more but was withholding it for as long as he could. “Don’t look to me. I have been bled dry by this venture! And what have I seen for my investment? Naught but misery and grief and--”

A comm signal beeped at the front of the ship, and they all went silent. Bard flicked the switch and answered it, sounding both irritated and faintly amused. “Hilda, what is it?”

The voice that came through a moment later belonged to an older woman with a similar accent to Bard’s, apparently the aforementioned Hilda. “I’ve been trying to comm for 15 minutes, is everything alright?”

“Yeah, it’s fine,” Bard said. “Must have hit some interference. Is everything all right there?”

“Sort of,” Hilda answered. “Your kid came by a few ago, and he told me to tell you this: ‘the walnuts are in the sack.’”

Bard groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose, and Bilbo could feel his anxiety spike. “Just my bloody luck,” he muttered, low enough to be missed by the Klingons but that Bilbo could catch it. He sighed. “Alright. Thanks, Hilda.”

“Course. See you later.”

“What does ‘the walnuts are in the sack’ mean?” Bilbo asked.

Bard turned around, looking more than a bit apologetic and slightly more embarrassed. “It’s a code--my youngest came up with it. It means our house is being watched.”

“And why is your house being watched, exactly?” Dwalin asked.

“The authorities of Esgaroth and I are not on great terms,” Bard said. “It’s fine, just means we have to go in the back way. I need that payment now.”

Thorin frowned. “We’ll pay you when we get our provisions, but not before.”

Bard finished keying in the landing sequence and stood up. What a grim man, Bilbo thought as he stepped forward. “If you value your freedom, you’ll do as I say. There shouldn’t be anybody back here, but if there are I’ll need that money to pay them off, and I can guarantee you it’ll cause a lot more trouble coming from you than me.”

Dwalin growled, and Balin stepped forward, holding the bars of latinum in his hands. “This is half of it. Can we call it a deposit for now, with our word that we’ll pay you the rest later?”

Bard looked at for a long time, then shrugged. “That’ll work for now.”

He took the bars, keyed in a different code for a locker, and put the latinum inside. Then he went back to his seat and sat down. They had made it out of the asteroid field, and could now see Esgaroth proper.

“I thought this was a shipyard?” Dori asked.

“Yeah, it was,” Bard answered, steering them away from the obvious, shielded entrance over to a side dock. “This was going to be the Starfleet’s big shipbuilding facility to cater to the frontier, the edge where Klingon, Romulan, and Federation space met. But after Erebor fell and Dale was abandoned, nobody came, the refugees moved in, and it’s just been Esgaroth ever since. Esgaroth station, if you wanna be formal.”

Bard engaged the docking clamps and pulled them in. Bard stood up and gestured to the door they’d come in. “Airlock should be depressurising in 3, 2, 1--”

They heard a loud swoosh of air as it depressurised, and the light above the door turned from red to green.

“Alright,” Bard said, “I’m going to go out first, make sure that nobody’s around, and then--”

“No need for that,” Thorin said. “Bilbo, is anyone in this part of the station?”

“There’s somebody further in,” Bilbo said. “But they aren’t close to where we are now, no.”

Bard’s eyebrows were raised, but he didn’t comment on this revelation of Bilbo’s abilities. “We won’t be taking the main corridor that far in anyways. We need to be more discreet, so we’re going to take the service shaft up to my flat.”

When Thorin gave him another look, this one clearly asking can we still trust this guy? , Bilbo nodded. "That'll do," Thorin said, and in spite of Bilbo's attempts to control his emotions, he could feel himself swell with pride at the realization that Thorin really did trust him, and unconditionally so.

"Alright,” Bard said. "Follow me--stay close and stay quiet."

Bard pushed the door open and ushered the Klingons out, waiting until they were all off his vessel before pulling the door shut and slipping out the airlock after them. The hall was empty. He moved ahead of the group and led them up a ladder, and then down a narrow service or storage hallway. Apparently it was dusty--Bilbo didn’t notice, but he could hear Ori sneezing near the back of the group and Dwalin trying to shush him. Soon they’d reached the end of the storage hall, and Bard leaned around the corner--to check if it was clear, Bilbo supposed--before stepping out. They were in a wider hall again, with what looked like storage building, garage-style doors on the opposite side from them. Bard walked to the door three to the left of the one straight in front of them, and then knocked three times. There was no response, and after a few seconds Bard bent down and lifted the garage door up by himself. It was a storage room, but on the back wall was the door that led into Bard’s home. Everyone followed him in afterwards, and Bofur and Bifur pulled the door back down while Bard keyed in the code to unlock the door. Before he could get it unlocked though, it slid open.

“Da, is something wro--” The person who’d answered the door was a young woman, and she audibly gasped when she looked past Bard and saw the group of Klingons in the garage. “Oh my god.”

“Sigrid, it’s fine,” Bard said.

“No, it’s not!” Sigrid cried, wrapping her arms around herself and squeezing. “Da, why are there Klingons in our garage?

“It’s a bit of a story,” Bard started.

Sigrid opened her mouth to say something else, but Thorin let out a sharp growl and she flinched back. Bard pulled a phaser from the holster at his side, formerly concealed under his jacket, and pointed it at Thorin’s head. He didn’t even flinch, Bilbo thought.

“We don’t have time for this,” Thorin snapped.

“Don’t frighten my daughter,” Bard said. “Sigrid, step back.”

“Bard, he’s sorry,” Bilbo said, stepping forward to the front of the group as Sigrid took another step away from the doorway. Thorin was, in fact, not sorry at all, but Bard didn’t need to know that. He lowered the phaser as Bilbo addressed his daughter. “Hello, dear. Sorry we’re all barging in on you without any warning. I’m Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins.”

“You’re not Klingon,” Sigrid said, and Bilbo could see the wheels in her mind turning. Sharp as her father. “You’re Betazoid.”

“Betazoid?” Bard asked, eyebrows raising. “I thought it was Betazed.”

“That’s the planet, not the people. He’s a telepath,” Sigrid explained. “Your species is incredibly psychically powerful.”

“It isn’t as cool as you think it is,” Bilbo said, and she still looked anxious but she cracked a smile.

“Sigrid, where’re your siblings?” Bard asked. He stepped out of the garage into his home. The Oakenshield’s crew followed a moment later, with Bilbo and Thorin in the lead. Behind them the others were whispering.

“Tilda’s in the living room. I’ve got no clue where Bain is,” Sigrid answered. She stood in front of a doorway, her bedroom’s Bilbo guessed, and shrugged. “He saw….you know, and left to go ask Hilda Bianca to call you and then never came back.”

“Probably gone to go bum cigs off Percy or something,” Bard said, frowning. Bilbo had noticed he frowned a lot, which was understandable considering the amount of stress he was under. They moved further into the main room of Bard’s quarters where in the center of the room a girl a few years younger than Sigrid--the aforementioned Tilda, Bilbo guessed--was twirling around to something Bilbo vaguely recognized but couldn’t place.

“Computer, pause music,” Bard said.

“Da!” Tilda said, spinning around to face him. Upon seeing their guests, she gasped. “Klingons! Are they going to bring us luck?”

Bard didn’t answer. “Sig, can you replicate everybody something?”

He and his daughter headed into the kitchen, while several members of the crew pulled out barstools from somewhere Bilbo wasn’t overly interested in investigating and the rest sat down on Bard’s couches. Tilda was still standing in the middle of the room, and Bilbo could tell she was pleased as punch to be the center of attention.

“Computer, play my song again,” Tilda said. The song she’d been listening to resumed, and she started her twirling again, this time singing along as well. She had a blanket wrapped around her like a cape, and with her arms spread out it looked kind of like wings. “The clouds will be, a daisy chain, so let me see, you smile again--”

“Oh!” Bilbo said. “I know why that’s familiar. It’s Lennon-Mccartney, isn’t it?”

“That’s not Lennon-McCartney, it’s Siouxsie and the Banshees,” Ori said, surprising everyone with his knowledge.

“Why in Kahless’ name do you know about Siouxsie and the Banshees?” Dori asked.

“I like terran music,” Ori said defensively.

“Lennon-McCartney did write it, I think, but I kinda like this version better. This type of new wave, punky shit is good,” Bofur agreed.

“It’s my dad’s favorite genre,” Sigrid said, stepping back into the living room with several bowls of soup. “Hope chicken noodle’s alright.”

“It’s perfect, thanks,” Bilbo said, and he and Sigrid shared another tentative smile.

Thorin hadn’t taken a seat, and he, Dwalin, and Balin were stood near the garage door. There were schematics tacked up on the wall, and Thorin ran his fingers over the engraving. “Are these the plans for this station?”

“Yep,” Bard said, doling out bowls of soup to the three of them. “My son could tell you more about them than--”

Speak of the devil, Bilbo thought as the front door swished open and the boy stepped in. He gave the group a wide eyed glance, then shoved his hands deeper in his pockets and shook his head. “Hey, Da.”

“Don’t ‘hey, da’, me,” Bard said. “Where have you been?”

“Out,” Bain said, flushing slightly. He gave the Klingons in the living room a blasé look. “You three planning an invasion or something? You’re looking at those diagrams pretty hard.”

“Bain.” Bard pinched the bridge of his nose.

“There’s a Klingon style torpedo launcher,” Thorin said, pointing at part of the plans.

“You sound like you’ve seen a ghost,” Bilbo said.

“The last time we saw one of these, Dale Station was falling apart,” Balin explained.  “The Klingons of Erebor had given it to the station, as a sign of goodwill between our peoples. The day that Smaug destroyed Dale, Girion Atwater, Starfleet’s station commander, rallied his officers to defend the station, but there was little to be done. He and many of his men were killed, and the refugees fled here, to Esgaroth.”

“Had the aim of men been true that day, much would have been different.” Thorin was still staring at the map, and Bilbo felt almost nervous at just how focused he was on it and nothing else, barely even noticing Bard’s approach.

“You speak as if you were there,” Bard said.

“All Klingons know the tale,” Thorin said, finally looking away.

“Then you would know that Commander Atwood hit the dragon,” Bain said. “He loosened a scale under the left wing. It wasn’t a direct hit, but it was close.”

Dwalin barked out a laugh. “Ha! That’s a fairy story, lad. Nothing more.”

Both Bain and Dwalin looked like they had more to say, but Thorin spoke again and they calmed. “Mr. Bowman, you took our money. Where are the weapons?”

“You still owe me some, but I’ll look into it,” Bard said, just as there was a knock on the door. Bard groaned. “Shit. Computer, music off. Everybody, go into Tilda’s room. Sweetie, keep the door shut.”

Tilda gasped. “Dad! What do I do if somebody wants to come in?”

Bard closed his eyes. He was thinking about what a terrible idea it was to teach children to lie, but there was no other choice. “Just come up with something, alright?”

“Okay!” Tilda said, shrugging, and then in a surprising move, she reached up, grabbed Óin’s, of all people’s, hand, and tugged him into her room. The rest of the crew followed suit, barely dodging the strange scattering of toys on the floor. Bilbo shut the door behind him, and then there were 13 Klingons, one Betazoid, and one small human girl crammed into her room. The actual front door swished open again, and Bilbo found himself opposite Thorin, pressed against the wall to listen.

“Honey, I’m home.” The words were almost sung, but Bard’s tone was all snark.

“Welcome back, Bowman,” a man’s voice said.

“Well gee, thanks, Alfrid,” Bard answered. “You must have had a real boring day with me gone if you show up at my door as soon as I get home.”

“Oh, it’s always boring when you aren’t around,” Alfrid answered, his voice sickening in its fake sweetness. “But it does make things a bit more interesting when you sneak in the back door like a thief in the night. Behavior like that is Mr. Masterson’s business, which makes it my business.”

“I came in the back because I had nothing to show for my excursion,” Bard said. “I was trying not to waste anyone’s time.”

“Of course, of course, ever the saint.” Alfrid and several other men took a few more steps into the home, and Bilbo heard Thorin suck in a breath. “If that’s the case, you won’t mind me searching your home, right?”

Bard scoffed. “Get a warrant, Lickspittle.”

“Don’t need one.”

“How so?” Bain asked.

“Probable cause.” Alfrid’s voice was even more smug, and Bilbo winced at the realization that he was right.

“Da, he’s not wrong,” Sigrid said.

Bard sighed. “Suit yourself. You’re not going to find anything.”

Alfrid and his lackeys moved further in, and Bilbo could hear them walking around, and the sounds of two of them as they went into the storage room. Bilbo was relieved nobody had came to look at Tilda’s room, until there was a knock on her bedroom door.

“Little lady, you better let me in,” Alfrid said, trying in vain to slide the locked door open.

Tilda gestured for everyone to press up against the far wall, pointing and gesticulating wildly, and when they were hidden enough for her liking, with Fíli and Kíli even squished onto her twin bed, she turned and slid the door open just enough to see Alfrid.

“Hello?” Tilda said.

“Hello, little one,” Alfrid said, and Bilbo got his first look at the man through Tilda’s mind. He was slimy, on both a mental and physical level, and had a rather unfortunate unibrow. “Are you going to let me in? Show me some of your new dance moves?”

“No! I’m having a tea party in here and you are not invited!” Tilda snapped, sliding the door forcefully shut. Several Klingons sighed silently in relief, and Bilbo cracked a smile at Dwalin’s mental prayer of thanks to Kahless.

The men had finished their search, and Bard and Alfrid argued for a minute about if it was acceptable to force Tilda to open her door (the answer was no, but Alfrid wasn’t happy about it), and eventually Alfrid called it a day. He let out a dark laugh. “You may have the people’s love for now, Bowman, but it won’t last. Mr. Masterson has his eye on you, and it would do you well to remember. We know where you live.”

Bilbo almost laughed when he felt Bard roll his eyes. “It’s a small town, Alfrid. Everyone knows where everyone lives.”

As soon as Alfrid and his lackeys left, they were all freed from Tilda’s room, although she’d managed to talk Ori and Óin into staying for an actual tea party, with “actual replicated tea, even”, Tilda had very excitedly said. The other Klingons were scattered around the living room. Dori and Nori were sharing Bard’s couch and arguing over who got what pillows, Dwalin, Balin, Thorin, and his nephews were by the schematics again, and the rest were in the kitchen, trying to get booze out of the replicator. Bilbo had his eyes on Thorin, who looked like the exhaustion of the past few weeks were finally beginning to catch up with him. He trailed his fingertips over the engraving again, and murmured, “We’re so close."

“We are,” Balin said.

“Close only counts in sark shoes and hand grenades,” Dwalin said. “If we can’t get in now, we still won’t be able to get the support of the High Council.”

Percy, a friend of Bard’s had come by to drop something off-- our weapons, Bilbo knew--and he and Bard stayed out to chat for a few minutes before Percy headed home to his wife. When Bard came back in and displayed the wares, Thorin’s shout was loud enough to lure both daughters from their rooms.

“What in Kahless’ name is this?”

Bard shrugged. “That’s a phase pistol, mate.”

Kíli and Fíli had each picked up another weapon, one that Bilbo couldn’t quite identify, and Fíli was testing its weight in his hands when his brother spoke. “And this?”

“It was Percy’s granddad’s old plasma sword. It’s a bit unwieldy when it’s activated, I’ll give you that, but it works in a pinch. Mainly good for getting everybody the fuck out of your way,” Bard said.

“Da! Language,” Tilda snapped, making Sigrid snort.

Thorin and Dwalin exchanged a disgusted look, and Bilbo had a sinking feeling this wasn’t going to end well. Glóin slammed his fist down on the table, scattering the weapons. “This is what we paid you for?”

“It’s a joke,” Dori said, holding one of the phasers up. He scoffed and set it down. “Most of these look as old as I am!”

“It’s the best I can do, all right?” Bard said. He threw his hands up and sat down on the couch, facing away from them all. “You won’t get anything better outside the city armory.”

Thorin and Dwalin exchanged another look, and Bilbo knew this wasn’t going to end well. Balin leaned over and said, “Thorin. Why not take what’s been offered and go? I’ve made do with less; so have you. I say we leave now.”

“You can’t go anywhere right now,” Bard said, standing up. “My house is being watched. I’m going to step out for a few--if it’s clear I’ll let you know.”

Bard headed from the living quarters to the rest of the station, and at this point Bilbo was sure of only three things:

  1. Bard was definitely onto them.
  2. Thorin and Dwalin were already planning the break in of the armory.
  3. This could all go downhill very quickly.

He could only hope that the sense of foreboding he felt was all in his head.

***

Bard had stepped out onto the small stoop of his quarters, where Bain was sitting on the lowest step smoking a vapor cig.

“Kid, the name Thorin mean anything to you?” He asked.

“Should it?” Bain asked. “Is that one of the Klingons?”

“Yeah,” Bard said. He bit the inside of his cheek, turning to look down the hallway through the viewport, where he could barely make out half of the shape of the lonely-- “Son of a bitch.”

“Dad?” Bain said, turning off his cig and standing up.

“Whatever you do, don’t let them leave.” Bard said. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Bard ran down the steps and out to the main common area of the station. Most of the crew members had just been let off shift, and Bard barely stopped himself from colliding with several of them as he made his trek through the promenade. He glanced around, watching to make sure Alfrid wasn’t lurking as he ducked into the old archival office.

“Cait, you got a minute?”

“For you? Always,” Cait said, standing up. Cait was one of the few people on the station Bard trusted, and even better, she was alone for once, instead of being surrounded by the same friend’s she’d hung out with since Bard’s wife was part of the clique. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Bard. Did one of those Klingons you snuck in do something?”

“Jesus, news travels fast,” Bard said, keying in his password to look into the computer’s archives. “Who all knows?”

“Percy told Hilda, she told me. I haven’t told anybody else, but you know Hilda.” Cait paused. “Want a glass of lemonade?”

“Nah, I’ve gotta be home soon.”

“Well, in that case I can make it something stronger. I don’t like the idea of all those warriors being in your house with your kids, and if you’ve gotta scrap--”

“It’ll be fine. They’ve got a Betazed, I mean, Betazoid with them, and he seems to be a calming influence.” Bard tapped on the screen until the section on fairly local Klingon houses finally loaded, and then groaned at the long list of subfolders. He turned to Cait, who was watching him work with undisguised interest. “Cait, you look like you paid attention in history. Who was the ruling house of Erebor?”

“Durin,” Cait answered. “Bard, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know yet,” he said. He selected the folder for the house of Durin, opened the section on all known members, and then sorted it to members who could still be alive. The third name down he found what he was looking for: Thorin, son of Thrain. “Son of a bitch.”

“You don’t think this is about that prophecy, do you?”

“Prophecy?” Bard said. His eyes went wide. “Oh, son of a bitch.”

“You know the one I’m talking about, right?” Cait said. “The lord of silver fountains, the knight of carven stone, the son of the lonely planet shall come into his own--”

“--the bells shall ring in gladness at the blessed son’s return, but all shall fail in sadness and the stars will shine and burn.” Bard groaned and dropped his forehead to the computer panel. “Shit.”

“Oh no,” Cait said. “If members of the line of Durin are in your house--hon, you’ve gotta go.”

“Yeah, I do,” Bard said. “Thanks for the help, Cait.”

Bard didn’t stop to listen to her response as he took off back towards his home. The halls had emptied some, making his run of shame slightly less embarrassing, but when he got to his quarters, it was far too quiet. He keyed in the code for the door and stepped inside. All three of his kids were on the living room couches, and the thirteen Klingons and one Betazoid who had been here when he left were gone. “Oh, shit.”

“Dad, I tried to stop them, I swear,” Bain said, standing up.

“I know you did. How long have they been gone?” Bard asked.

Bain shrugged helplessly, but Sigrid answered, “Twenty minutes, give or take a few.”

“Great,” Bard said, running a hand back through his hair. “This is very not good, kids.”

“Da, who are they?” Tilda asked.

“Their leader is Thorin, son of Thrain, of the house of Durin,” Bard said. “They want to retake Erebor.”

“Oh, shit,” Bain said, echoing his father’s earlier statement. “What’ll happen to us?”

“They’re going to destabilize the entire sector,” Sigrid said, thinking aloud. “If that dragon attacks again--where would we even go?”

Tilda tugged on his jacket, and Bard looked down. “Are we going to die? Is the dragon going to kill us?”

Bard looked between the three of their faces--Sigrid and Bain, the twins, looked resolved to their fate, and they suddenly seemed much older than 16. But Tilda looked absolutely petrified, and Bard knew that he would do whatever it took to get that look off his daughter’s face. He stepped over to the wall, where the plans were, and ran his fingertips over the piece of paneling he knew was hollow. “No, we’re not going to die.”

“How?” Sigrid asked.

Bard found the loose edge and yanked the panel off, revealing the dim glow of a ready to launch photon torpedo.“Because I’m going to stop it.”

***

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Bilbo said, before he was shushed by several Klingons. They had studied the schematics posted in Bard’s quarters a bit more, before Thorin and Dwalin had managed to subdue Bard’s children and get the company out of Bard’s homes. They had rented (ridiculously expensive, in Bilbo’s opinion) guest quarters near the center of the station, and when the lights had dimmed to signal space-night, Bilbo, Thorin, Dwalin, Fíli, Kíli, Nori, and Ori had snuck out to the armory, easily dodging the guards with Bilbo’s help. When they’d arrived at the armory however, Bilbo had fessed up that there was no way he could help them steal things and keep them cloaked, which had put him temporarily on their shit list.

“Quiet,” Dwalin said, somewhat unnecessarily. He looked down at the crewman who was currently arms deep in a bunch of live wires, trying to get the door opened. “Nori, what’s taking you so long?”

“This isn’t an exact science!” Nori said, but before anyone could shush him, the wires he was messing with sparked and he jerked his hand back, wincing. “Fuck!”

“Alright,” Thorin said, his voice dangerously --and erotically, the baser part of Bilbo’s mind decided as he tried to shush it and focus--low and quiet. “While Nori finishes up, here’s the game plan—Dwalin and I are going to go in and disable the security cameras. While we do that, Bilbo, Fíli, Kíli, and Ori are going to sneak in and start taking anything you can grab. If it fits on your person, take it. Nori will stay out here and keep watch.”

“Aye, sir,” Fíli said. Bilbo’s eyes fell to Kíli, who had gone from looking not great to even worse. He was constantly out of breath, and Bilbo could see the dark vignettes around his vision that appeared when he moved too quickly. Whatever the Romulans had got him with, it wasn’t good. On the other hand, Thorin had either not noticed or was waiting for his nephew to point out the agony he was in. Bilbo had no idea how he could miss it, and was trying not to think about it too hard.

A moment later the door swished open. Thorin and Dwalin moved into the room in unison, and a few moments later there were a few phaser shots followed by Dwalin calling out, “All clear.”

The remaining four stepped in. The walls were lined with weapons, and the three youngest Klingons wasted no time in loading up their arms, boots, pockets, and everything. Dwalin and Thorin joined in a moment later, while Bilbo lingered in the doorway, wondering exactly when the other shoe was going to drop.

That answer came soon enough, when the outside door sealed without warning. Nori’s yelp could be heard from the other side, and Dwalin slammed his fist into the door and swore in Klingon. Bilbo grabbed Thorin’s wrist and projected hard, About a dozen armed men outside, with weapons trained on this door. They’ve got Nori in cuffs.

“Move,” Thorin said, pulling a phase rifle off his back. Dwalin stepped out of the way, and Thorin cranked it up and hit it with a maximum force blast that knocked the door off its track. Immediately it erupted into a firefight, and Bilbo could barely keep track of who was shooting at who when there was a loud roar from his side (he later realized it was Thorin’s voice) and he turned just in time to see Kíli drop to his knees. He must have been hit with a low level stun, Bilbo thought, and he soon saw the culprit: a man was standing behind Kíli, with a phase pistol pointed at his neck. Without saying a word, all the Klingons and Bilbo raised their hands in surrender.

“Mr. Masterson,” the man said, pressing his phaser into Kíli’s neck hard enough to make him wince.

“What the hell is this?” Mr. Masterson said, walking forward. He was a big man, easily as tall and broad as Thorin, wearing a gaudy brocade vest and a poorly done toupee. “Somebody better tell me what’s going on here right now!”

“We caught them stealing weapons, sir,” the man answered.

“Ah, enemies of the state,” Mr. Masterson said. “Fine work as ever, Lieutenant Braga.”

“Probably Klingon mercenaries,” a familiar, snide voice said. Alfrid had come to stand at Mr. Masterson’s side, looking like the cat who’d got the cream.

Dwalin growled. Bilbo thought he still looked ridiculously proud even with his arms held in surrender. “Hold your tongue, petaq! You don’t know who you’re talking to,” Dwalin gestured at Thorin, who stepped forward. He still had his arms held in surrender, but the look in his eyes and the tilt of his jaw was proud. “This is no common criminal--this is Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror!”

“We are the Klingons of Erebor,” Thorin said. At this point, a crowd had begun to gather beyond the security guards, and Bilbo could hear their whispering in the background. “We have come to reclaim our homeland. I remember what this place was going to be, before. Scores of ships and shining, top of the line vessels were going to be built here, the gem of the Fleet. This place was going to be the center of all trade in this sector. And I would see those days return. I would relight the great forges of my people and send wealth and riches flowing once more from the halls of Erebor, to Starfleet, the Empire, and beyond!”

The people who had gathered cheered, and Bilbo watched Mr. Masterson’s expression grow pensive and calculating. Before Thorin could continue, another voice was heard, pushing through the crowd.

“Wealth? Riches?” Bard scoffed, stepping forward. He was sweaty and slightly winded, and Bilbo knew he’d just sprinted here. He took a deep breath. “Death! That is what you will bring upon us. Dragon-fire and ruin. If you awaken that beast, if you try to go down to that planet, it will destroy us all.”

The gathered crowd grew silent.

Thorin cleared his throat. “You can listen to this naysayer, but I promise you this: if we succeed, all will share in the wealth we generate. You will have enough credit to rebuild Esgaroth Shipyard ten times over!”

The people cheered again, and the crowd was growing by the minute. Bard however, was managing to shout over the din. “Listen to me, you must listen! Have you forgotten what happened to Dale? Have you forgotten those who died in that massacre?”

There was a quieter chorus of “no” in response.

“And for what purpose?” Bard said. “The blind ambition of a Klingon so driven by greed, he could not see beyond his own desire!”

Thorin snarled and stepped forward, but Bard didn’t even flinch.

Braga fired a few warning blasts into the air, and Mr. Masterson spoke. “Now, we shouldn’t be so quick to point fingers, Bard. Wasn’t it your grandfather who failed to stop Dale’s destruction?”

“That’s the truth,” Alfrid agreed. “As station commander, it was Girion Atwater’s job to protect it, and his failure that led to the loss of the station.”

Bard’s expression was stony and undeterred as he listened to Alfrid, and his cheeks were flushed red and angry. He turned back to Thorin. “You have no right, no right to go to that planet.”

“I have the only right,” Thorin said before turning towards where Alfrid and Mr. Masterson stood. “If you allow me to reclaim Erebor, all will benefit, this I swear.”

“Why should we trust you?” Alfrid asked. “We know nothing about you. Who here can vouch for your character?”

Thorin turned to Bard, who looked down at his feet. The gathered crowd had quieted again. Bilbo stepped up, pushing through the Klingons to stand at Thorin’s side, and raised a hand. “I will. I’ll vouch for him.”

The look Thorin gave him was so full of naked affection that Bilbo almost crumbled under it, but he continued. “My name is Bilbo Baggins, son of the fourth house of Betazed. If you know anything about my people, you would know that we do not lie. It’s far too confusing. But anyways--I have travelled across many light years with these Klingons through great danger, and if Thorin, captain of the ISS Oakenshield, son of Thrain, heir of Durin, gives his word, he will keep it.”

Thorin clasped his shoulder gently for a few seconds, then turned back to Mr. Masterson. “I speak now to the leader of Esgaroth. Will you see the prophecy fulfilled, share in the great wealth of Erebor?”

Mr. Masterson smiled, cruel and predatory, like a vulture closing in. He cleared his throat, and opened his arms wide. “Welcome, heir of Durin, to Esgaroth!”

The crowd burst into cheers once again, excepting of course Bard, and the last Bilbo saw of him before he was dragged away by Braga was the look of sheer devastation on his face.

Chapter Text

Thorin and Balin had gone off with Mr. Masterson to negotiate the details of the aid that Esgaroth would give them and what Erebor would give back in return, but the rest of the crew had been dragged off with the crowd to Fairweather’s, the station’s bar. They’d been caught stealing weapons around 2100 hours—with the security of hindsight, Bilbo could now be amused by how quickly the tables had turned from them nearly being arrested to having a party thrown in their honor—and it was now almost 2300. Drinks had been flowing since they got to the bar, and as the night drew on, the group had only begun to get rowdier. Earlier, most of the group had started off at the dart board, where they proved that Klingon hand-eye coordination was truly superior, but as the night went on, they’d dispersed through the bar. Ori had racked up over five hundred credits beating human men at tongo, with Nori watching him approvingly while keeping a wary eye on the books. Bilbo had spent most of the night watching the game as well, and nursing a beer while waiting for Thorin to return. Thorin had pulled Bilbo aside before the party started, and asked him to wait up for him so they could talk. Bilbo had agreed, of course, but now over two hours had passed since they’d gone to hash out the details, and Bilbo was tired--not in the sense that he really needed sleep, but because he was tired of being around so many people and hearing so many thoughts. He was doing his best to filter out the others’, but it was largely futile.

He nudged Nori’s side with his elbow. “I think I’m gonna head back to our rooms. Just so you know if anyone asks for me.”

“Alright. Night, Mr. Baggins,” Nori said, then cheered as Ori won another hand with a full consortium.

Bilbo moved away from the table and almost immediately ran into Fíli, who was supporting his younger brother and steering him out. “Oh, sorry about that. You two heading out so early?”

“Yeah,” Fíli said, adjusting his arm around Kíli’s shoulders. His brother looked awful, his skin pale and eyes gone glassy. Fíli just looked nervous, like he’d just gotten caught with his hand in the replicated cookie jar, and Bilbo hoped for their sakes that Thorin didn’t see them. “He drank too much too quickly, you know. Needs to get some rest.”

“Of course,” Bilbo said, and heard Kíli groan softly as Fíli shifted him again. “It’s good of you to take care of him like this, you know.”

“I know,” Fíli said. “We’ll see you tomorrow, Bilbo.”

Fíli finally got a good grip on his brother, and their walk the rest of the way through the bar was much faster. Bilbo watched them as they slipped out, and then turned back to look at the bar, trying to figure out if there was a place for his glass to go. As he scanned the room, his eyes fell on Bombur, leaned over a figure with his head dropped down to the bar-- wait, that’s Bofur, Bilbo realized, and headed over to investigate.

“Bofur?” Bilbo asked, taking the stool at his side. “Everything alright?”

Bombur shot him a look, and Bilbo realized he’d just reopened a can of worms.

“I miss her,” Bofur said, picking up his pint glass and draining it. He sniffed loudly, and although he’d never say it aloud, Bilbo thought he looked almost pitiful, which was rare for a big, strong Klingon. “I miss her and her pretty spots and--”

“It’s alright, there, there.” Bilbo gently patted Bofur’s arm. He waved the bartender and got his friend’s beer refilled. “I’m sure she misses you, too.”

Bofur sniffed again, and took another long drink of his beer. He shoved his brother. “See? Bilbo gets it. I thought you’d understand--”

Bombur sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. This was a conversation they’d already gone through. “I do get it, Bofur, really. But I’m married, little brother. Did you and Loren ever talk about anything beyond that night?”

“She took my hat,” Bofur said, helplessly. His elbows were up on the bar, and he glanced down at his hands, like he wished the hat—and the woman who had it—would magically appear in his arms.

Bombur sighed again. “Yes, she did.”

“Bofur,” Bilbo said. “She doesn’t know know, but she kind of knows. She doesn’t know what sex means in your culture, but she knew what your hat meant to you. And I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I know her feelings for you are as real as yours are for her. I’m certain, you’ll see her again.”

“Only if I don’t die tomorrow,” Bofur said sourly, but he gave Bilbo’s forearm a squeeze. “Thank you, though. I wish you knew a way I could not feel so much right now, though.”

“Well, the humans always say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I understand. You’ll be alright,” Bilbo said. “I’ll see you two bright and early. Good night.”

They gave him their regards, and Bilbo had (finally) almost made it to the end of the bar when a large arm clasped him around the shoulders. He wilted, experiencing a feeling not dissimilar to that he felt before a confrontation with Lobelia, but plastered a smile on his face as he turned to Dori. “Mr. Dori, are you enjoying the party tonight?”

“Every party is a good party with the house of Durin,” he said, the sageness of his tone belied by the whiskey Bilbo could smell on his breath. He wrinkled his nose. “Even when they don’t have bloodwine.”

“I see.”

“Come,” Dori said, tugging him back further into the bar. “Let Glóin and I pick out something for you, my mad skilled friend. My favorite burglar. The best son of the Fourth House and—”

Dori continued his rambling--Bilbo couldn’t tell if they were jokes or genuine accolades, and decided it was best not to ask--as Bilbo accepted defeat and allowed himself to be tugged over to the table the two of them were sitting at.

Glóin was finishing off a beer when Bilbo, Dori, and one of the waitresses arrived at the table at the same time.

“Okay, let’s pick out something for Mad Baggins over here,” Dori said, and Bilbo spluttered.

“Mad Baggins! Why I never--” Bilbo protested, but he was ignored as Dori and Glóin pored over the drinks menu.

“What’s that, Bilbo?” Glóin asked, then handed the waitress the menu. “Three breshtanti ales, if you don’t mind.”

Bilbo opened his mouth to further argue against the nickname, but Dori spoke again. “Good choice, old friend. A warrior’s drink.”

Glóin raised his now empty glass of beer in acknowledgment. “Aye, it is. We’ll need that warrior’s strength when we head for the lonely planet tomorrow.”

The waitress returned with their drinks, and Bilbo took a long drink. “You know, it’s not bad.”

“Of course not. You’re a man of fine taste,” Dori said after putting his own glass down. “But indeed we will. Tomorrow is a good day to die, although I have no plans of it. We’re so close.”

Glóin grunted in agreement. “Aye. Closer than we have been since the day Erebor was lost.” They both sounded so wistful that Bilbo was about to ask about it when he continued. “Has anyone told you the story of how I met my wife, Bilbo?”

Bilbo blinked. “No, I don’t believe they have.”

“Emiza is and was--” Glóin paused, expression going even fonder. “Well, there’s hardly just one word for it.”

“Bold? Ambitious?” Dori supplied.

“Faintly terrifying?” Bilbo added, making them both laugh.

“Exceptional,” he finally settled on. “She’s a beautiful woman, thoughtful and warm, but with a strength and spirit ferocious enough to rattle any warrior. Gimli got all his best qualities from her, aside from the hair.”

“I’d like to meet her someday,” Bilbo said, and Glóin beamed.

“I think she’d like you,” he agreed. “But anyways. When she and I met, we were both ensigns on the Thowror , with her working in security and I an engineer. I saw her from across the mess hall one morning and I was lost—from that moment on, it was her or no one. She, of course, had no idea I was alive. And for a long time, I did nothing to change that. We Klingons speak often of bravery, but I was nervous. She was far too good for me, and I decided it was best to never know or even try.”

“What changed your mind?” Bilbo asked.

“I didn’t,” Glóin said, shaking his head. “My hand was forced. She was going down as the security attachment for a high risk landing party—the colony we were at had been overtaken by rebels, and they were being sent to negotiate. I was working the transporter, and just before they beamed down my courage returned to me. I gave her a knife from my belt—it had belonged to my own mother, who perished when Erebor fell, and my son carries it now—and told her it would always find its match, as my own heart had found its in her. She was completely shocked--I’ve never seen her look so surprised since--but she took it and thanked me for it. When I transported them back up that evening, she handed me the blade and told me she would have me.”

Bilbo sprayed his drink, coughing. “She said that? Right there? In front of everybody?”

Dori laughed, clapping him on the back. “Not like that.”

“Kind of like that,” Glóin allowed. “It was a really nice knife. It was made of mithril, so it was still super sharp, and it was perfectly balanced.”

“Klingons,” Bilbo sighed.

“We wed a year later,” Glóin said. His eyes looked misty, and his tone was more than a little fond. “And all the years since have been the happiest of my life, made even better by our children. Gimli’s turning twenty one in a few months, and our daughter is second in her class at secondary school.”

“It’s truly amazing how time flies,” Dori said.

Bilbo looked between the two of them, expression somewhere between confused and concerned. He pursed his lips, thinking, then said, “I get the feeling there’s a specific point to all this.”

“There is,” Glóin confirmed. He turned to Bilbo, the fond look that had been on his face while talking about his family replaced with one that was all business. “You may not realize it yet, but you’re easily the bravest person on this mission.”

“I highly doubt that.” Bilbo held up his hands, scoffing. “I mean, I’ve been horrified every step of the way!”

“But your fear hasn’t stopped you,” Dori said. “And that’s what bravery is about, really: being scared, but doing it anyways.”

“But there are matters outside those of the quest that require bravery as well. There is more to honor than what we we earn in great battles and by performing deeds of justice. We prove our honor every day,” Glóin said. “I guess the point of what I’m saying is this: we could all very easily die tomorrow.”

“Our odds are more than a little bad,” Dori said.

“You don’t want to go into tomorrow with any regrets,” Glóin finished. “I know you know what I’m talking about.”

Bilbo flushed, but both of their expressions were the same: earnest, fond, and free of judgement. He sighed. “I do know. Thorin’s coming to talk to me later.”

“Damn right he is,” Dori said into his beer. “It would be shameful for you two to go into an incredibly dangerous battle without resolving this, and he knows it.”

“When did you realize? About the unspoken thing?”

“When we first ran into Azog,” Glóin said. “But I wasn’t one hundred percent sure until we lost the ship.”

“Honestly, I wasn’t either,” Bilbo said. “I’m still not sure that it’s the best call. I mean, we’re so different. You and your people have totally different expectations of this than I do.”

“I had totally different expectations than my wife,” Glóin said. “What was important was that we were patient with each other and took the time to talk and figure it out. You have less time than we did, but if I were going to bet on it? Bilbo, you’ll be fine. And it’ll make you feel better.”

“I hope so,” Bilbo said. He finished off the rest of his ale, then brushed off his jacket and stood. “If you two don’t mind and have finished with the giving of advice, I think I want to head back to my room.”

“Of course,” Dori said. “If we see Thorin, we’ll send him your way.”

Bilbo left the bar and made his way to his temporary quarters. He laid down on his bed, planning to briefly meditate before talking to Thorin, but before he could stop himself he’d dozed off, slipping into a dreamless sleep.

***

He was jarred awake by a loud knock on the door, and as soon as Bilbo realized who it was, he shot to his feet with an “oh, shit.”

He sprung to his feet, straightening out his shirt, and willing the sleep lines caused by the sheets off his face--the chronometer said it was just after one in the morning, and Bilbo hoped it didn’t look like he’d slept that long. When he opened the door, Thorin was standing alone on the mat. His cheeks were warm, his smile gentle, and Bilbo could tell he’d had few drinks— liquid courage— before coming here. “Hello.”

“Hi,” Bilbo said, dumbly. “Oh, please, come in, excuse my manners.”

“It’s no trouble,” Thorin answered, stepping into the room. It suddenly seemed far smaller, more intimate, instead of the cold, sterile place it was when Bilbo was alone. Thorin was also dressed more casually than Bilbo had ever seen him--even out of his uniform and armor, he was always fairly buttoned up and tucked in, but now his tunic was loose, the collar dipping down to the middle of his chest and hanging slightly towards one shoulder, revealing the sharp edge of one collarbone. He had canvas sneakers on his feet in place of his heavy leather (or maybe targ-skin) boots, and he’d traded his usual straight leg pants for a looser fit. “Were you asleep?”

“I was supposed to be meditating,” Bilbo said. He ran a hand back through his hair, messing curls already ruffled by sleep up even further. “It’s been a draining day.”

“Yes, it has,” Thorin agreed.

They were standing in the middle of the room, centered on the mustard colored rug. Bilbo cleared his throat, and Thorin gave him a fond look. “Should we, um, should we sit down?”

“Sure,” Thorin said. “It may be forward but—”

“Not in my culture,” Bilbo said, leading him over to the bed. They sat down, side by side, not as close as they had on the shuttle earlier, but close enough that Bilbo could have reached out and given his knee a squeeze. He didn’t, of course, but he could have.

Thorin let out a soft breath. “Betazoids seem to have few qualms about many things.”

“That’s a fair assessment,” Bilbo said. “Nudity is the one that most people are aware of, but there’s—”

“We should share thoughts,” Thorin said.

Bilbo paused. “Oh. Alright.”

“If you want, of course,” Thorin said.

“I want,” Bilbo said, then flushed hotly. One of Thorin’s thick brows raised. “To share thoughts.”

That eyebrow was still lifted, and Thorin’s smile was still warm but a little more smug. “Alright. Countdown as usual?”

“Sure,” Bilbo said. He took a deep breath, then let it out with a snort. “This is probably silly, but I’m nervous.”

Thorin broke the imaginary barrier between them and took his hand. Immediately Bilbo felt calmer. “So am I.”

Bilbo gave his hand a squeeze. Nothing more needed to be said, just shared. Thorin squeezed back. “Five, four, three, two, one.”

The world was brighter, contrasts more stark in the way they always looked through Thorin’s eyes. He was standing with Gandalf, looking at the front door of Bag End, back on Shire Station. The door slid open, and Bilbo was there, and he looked radiant, like a being of pure light.

Stay with me, Bilbo, Thorin thought, and if you could swallow in a non-corporeal state, Bilbo would have. Let me show you this first.

The next moment they were sitting under the window in Imladris, on Vulcan. Bilbo was explaining telepathy, and the walls Thorin had built up for so long against everyone, including a telepathic bachelor from the Federation, began to slip a little bit.

Thorin’s vision was oddly hazy in the next space, which Bilbo soon realized was the bridge of the Whitewarg . He’d just thrown himself on top of Thorin, and could feel himself projecting panic but in both times, now, reflecting on it, and then while it was happening, Thorin had it handled.

Then they were in Beorn’s mess, speaking about a fiancée that Bilbo hadn’t thought of in years and Thorin’s dead younger brother, but they were also in Loren’s sickbay, and Bilbo was breaking the crew out of jail on Eryn Lasgalen, and every moment in between that led to Thorin realizing his initial feelings and the depth that they had grown to have over time. It was heady, and Bilbo felt Thorin think, You knew.

I’m Betazoid, Bilbo thought back. Of course I, and I, well, wait, I’ll show you--

Bilbo pulled Thorin into his own memories, and let himself experience them again: Listening to Thorin sing in his home, hearing the songs written by a people in exile, and feeling the ache of that loss. Then when Thorin showed up, bat’leth raised, looking like a hero out of a legend on the Ferengi vessel, and when they laughed about Bofur’s misadventures in romance on Loren’s ship, looking fondly at Thorin’s broad back on….many occasions, and when Bilbo took Thorin’s hand on Gloin’s shuttle and he squeezed back, holding on like a lifeline. Bilbo could feel himself rushing through his memories, because he’d realized halfway through how he was going to show Thorin, and when they reached the end, Bilbo and Thorin stood opposite each other in a field of tall grass and wildflowers, under a sky full of stars.

Thorin looked up, and he didn’t speak but Bilbo could hear him. Where are we?

Bilbo glanced around. You must know this place. It isn’t from my memory. You tell me.

You’re right, Thorin thought, taking a few steps. This is Erebor. My brother and I used to take our father’s ground speeder and race the other children out here. I haven’t thought about this place in years.

It’s lovely, Bilbo replied. Just like you.

Thorin turned to him, flushing, and Bilbo felt both Thorin’s and the echoes of his own desire. The sensation was almost overwhelming, and then Thorin spoke again, his voice in Bilbo’s mind as low and deep as it was in reality. As are you, par’mach’kai.

Bilbo gasped, and suddenly the connection between their minds snapped. Thorin growled out a swear, then looked to their still clasped hands, and stroked his thumb along Bilbo’s knuckles.

“Did I do something wrong?” Bilbo asked.

Thorin let out a nervous laugh. “No, that was actually on me. It was too much, for a second. But I don’t care. I wanted to tell you this in your mind, in the way of your people, but--I love you.”

Bilbo laughed as well, feeling a weight that didn’t really need to be there slip off his shoulders. “And I wanted to tell you in the way of yours. I love you, too, imzadi.”

“Imzadi?” Thorin asked. “I’ve never heard that.”

“It, um, most closely translates to ‘beloved’,” Bilbo said. “Because that’s what you are. To me.”

Thorin smiled, and Bilbo barely heard the muttered “good” under Thorin’s breath before he leaned in and thoroughly kissed him. For a few seconds, Bilbo forgot to breathe, and when Thorin temporarily pulled off, he was breathless. “I love you.”

“We should share thoughts again,” Bilbo said, taking breaths in between phrases. “If you’d like.”

Thorin’s cheeks turned bright red then. “We could try, but I don’t know how long I would last.”

“Then we should waste no time,” Bilbo said, and began to take off his shirt.

“Bilbo,” Thorin said, and he sounded oddly nervous. “What are you doing?”

“Nudity is a fairly common component of sex.” Bilbo said, tugging the shirt off over his head. His hands fell to his belt, and he’d almost undone the buckle when Thorin’s hands wrapped around his and pulled them away. “Thorin?”

“Bilbo. I don’t just want one night with you, you know.”

“Of course, but Thorin, everyone has been pointing out to me the entire quest that we could all die. And--we’re there. This might be the end of the line. There’s a dragon and everything. I don’t want to think about it anymore than you do, but this could be it. Should we not take this happiness while it’s here?”

“Well, yes, we should,” Thorin said, and Bilbo dropped his hands to the bedspread. “Bilbo, are you listening to my thoughts right now?”

Bilbo shook his head. “No, not really. I’m a bit distracted by sensation right now, actually. I am not going to lie it’s been a while-- oh.” Bilbo felt his stomach twist. “Thorin, oh gods, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be rushing you into this--”

“Bilbo, there’s no need to apologize for that, just let me finish,” Thorin said. Bilbo could tell he would’ve been laughing if he wasn’t wound up on a heady combination of arousal and nervousness. “We’re not rushing, not really--frankly we should’ve done this way sooner and it’s embarrassing that I waited this long to tell you. I just--I need to know that this isn’t a typical Betazoid romance. That, if we live through this, we’ll be together, and you won’t just wake up someday and be in love with someone else.”

“It isn’t.” Bilbo said. “I swear to you, on my honor as a son of the Fourth House of Betazed, that this isn’t a passing fancy. You’re it for me, imzadi. And I’ll promise you something else as well.”

Thorin’s eyebrow went back up. “And what’s that?”

“If we live through this, I’ll marry you.” Bilbo paused. “That’s what you’ve wanted since you realized, right? Well, if we live through this, we can bond in the ways of both our people’s. So--” Bilbo shrugged, feeling suddenly very small and hyper aware of his partial nudity. “You should live. If that doesn’t give you a reason that tomorrow is not a good day to die, I don’t know what will.”

Thorin’s expression lit up, and he was still beaming when he pulled Bilbo in for another kiss, and when he stopped to breathe he stayed very close, with his hand still cupping Bilbo’s jaw and their lips barely touching. “You mean that?”

Bilbo laughed. “Yeah, yeah, I do.”

“All right.” Thorin paused. “We should share thoughts again.”

“You sure you’re gonna last?” Bilbo teased, and Thorin growled in response, his smile turned far more predatory.

“I think you will be impressed with Klingon stamina,” Thorin said, and when their minds reconnected, that was the last thing either of them said for a long time.

***

The next morning, Thorin rose early, pulling himself away from Bilbo’s warmth to go get ready for the day. He’d returned to his assigned room to take a shower and change into a freshly replicated uniform, and was replicating Bilbo breakfast when he heard the bed shift and Bilbo’s breathing change.

“Is that breakfast?” Bilbo asked, sitting up slightly.

Thorin nodded, walking over and placing the tray on the bed beside him. Bilbo was only a bit more charming like this than usual--with his hair mussed from sleep and other things, he looked more playful, and Thorin wanted to ruffle it. “It was the most highly reviewed option in the replicator: scrambled eggs, a slice of toast with aldebaran honey, and a few links of vegan sausage. And a cup of tarkalean tea.”

“This is lovely,” Bilbo said, trailing off into a yawn. “What time is it?”

“0800 hours.”

Bilbo sighed. “We’re set to vacate the airlock in an hour, right?”

“Yes,” Thorin said. He sat down beside Bilbo on the bed, on top of the covers. “Reality always returns too quickly.”

“It sure does,” Bilbo said. He let out another sigh. “Everyone is going to know, aren’t they?”

“Apparently we have only been subtle to ourselves.”

“You mean only been subtle to you, right?” Bilbo took a bite of toast and gestured to himself. “I am a telepath, you know.”

Thorin just ignored him, opting instead to steal a sausage link. Bilbo smacked his hand, and he grinned. “Of course, Bilbo. I love you.”

Bilbo beamed back. “And I love you.”

It was good in a way Thorin wasn’t sure he would ever be able to express that he could just say that now, whenever he wanted, instead of keeping it trapped inside him. They were quiet after that as Bilbo finished off his breakfast and Thorin pretended not to be hungry again as he stole a few more bites. When he was done, Bilbo hopped in the sonic shower while Thorin recycled his plate. By the time Bilbo got out, Thorin had packed up his new duffle, courtesy of Masterson and staff, made the bed, and drank a cup of tea himself. He was looking out the porthole window when Bilbo spoke. “Time to go?”

“Aye,” Thorin said, eyes still locked on Erebor. “We’re on the final stretch.”

“You’re almost home,” Bilbo said, sliding the door open. “Come on, let’s go meet the others.”

Thorin hummed in response and followed Bilbo out the door. “Did anyone tell you what docking port the Albatross is at?”

“Albatross?” Bilbo mused. “What an odd name. And no, they didn’t, but I’m certain we’ll find our way.”

The airlock wasn’t very far, and when they got there, the Esgaroth Security officers told Thorin that Balin was already on board. He dismissed them, and turned to Bilbo. “Go on board, I’ll catch up with you in a minute.”

“Alright,” Bilbo said, and disappeared onto the ship. It was small, largely unshielded, but as long as they didn’t get into a firefight they’d be fine. Thorin prayed that they’d reached the end of their troubles, but had a feeling they weren’t going to get that lucky.

Glóin and Bifur arrived next, followed by Nori and Ori, and then Dwalin. Dwalin gave Thorin an appraising look, then nodded to himself. “So. You finally took him.”

Thorin smacked him on the arm hard enough to make him wince, but the effect was dampened by Dwalin laughing. “I can’t believe it. After all this time--”

“There is no reason to make me sound like a blushing teenager,” Thorin said.

“Yeah, well, with how long it’s been, I hope you acquitted yourself honorably,” Dwalin said. A long moment passed, and then they both snickered.

“Go gossip with your brother, Commander,” Thorin said.

“I’ll take that order, Captain, but one last thing,” Dwalin said. “I looked for Bofur when I left the bar last night, but I couldn’t find him then, and I’ve got no clue where he is now. What do you want to do if he doesn’t show?”

Thorin sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “If he’s not here, we have to leave him behind.”

Dwalin nodded, but neither of them were happy about it. “I know. We can’t risk any more delays. But I don’t feel good about it.”

“Nor do I,” Thorin said. “You’re dismissed, Dwalin.”

Dwalin half-heartedly saluted, and Thorin was alone at the airlock door, watching as Dori and Bombur showed up together, then Óin, and then, running nearly late as usual, Fíli and Kíli. Fíli easily scrambled through the airlock, which was designed for humans and a few inches smaller than was comfortable for one so tall, and then reached out to give Kíli a hand, but Thorin stilled him with a hand on his shoulder. He heard Fíli’s sharp intake of breath, and hated having to do this. Kíli had looked progressively worse all day yesterday, and after the mishap in the armory, he was a liability Thorin couldn’t have. “Not you, Kíli. We need every one of us in top shape, and you’re not there.

Kíli snorted, and a little color came back into his face, but not enough. He frowned. “What are you talking about? I’m coming with you.”

This isn’t going to be pretty, Thorin thought. He shook his head. “No.”

Fíli’s jaw was dropped as he looked between the two of them, like Thorin had grown a second head. Kíli’s dark eyes--still so glassy with whatever illness he had--were wide, and for the first time all trip, he looked exceptionally young. “I’m going to be there when we go down to that planet, when we first look upon the halls of our fathers, Thorin.”

Kíli’s voice had cracked on the end of that statement, and Thorin wished he could do something to fix it but there was nothing. “Kíli, nephew, stay here. Rest. Join us when you’re healed.”

Thorin squeezed his shoulder, aiming for reassuring but realizing he fell short, as Kíli pulled back like he’d been burned, shock and betrayal etched into the lines of his face.

Óin cleared his throat, coming up to stand beside Fíli, who’s expression mirrored his brother, at the airlock. “Thorin, I’ll stay with the lad. My duty lies with him.”

For the first time that day, Fíli spoke, his voice with a low tremor in it like he might cry. “Uncle, we grew up on tales of the planet. Tales that you told us. You can’t take that away from him. You’ve really already got your happy ending, let us have this.”

“Fíli, I have to do this,” Thorin said.

“I will carry him, if I must, Thorin, please--”

“One day you will be the head of our house, and you will understand why I’m doing this. I cannot risk the fate of this quest for the sake of one Klingon, not even my own kin.” Óin had climbed back out of the airlock and gone to stand beside Kíli, who’d leaned against the wall and was starting to look pale again.

Fíli scoffed. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

“Yes,” Thorin said.

“Not always,” Fíli said, and stepped out of the airlock.

“Fíli, don’t be a fool. You belong with our crew,” Thorin said, grabbing his arm and gesturing at the ship.

Fíli easily pulled out of his grip and shook his head. “No, I belong with my brother. Maybe it’s a lesson I’ll have to learn, but until then, I will never turn my back on him.” He slung Kíli’s arm over his shoulder, still looking at Thorin. He looked like he wanted to say something else, then thought better of it. “Good luck, Uncle.”

The three of them turned back into the station, and the padd in Thorin’s back pocket buzzed, alerting him that it was 0900. Whether he liked it or not, it was time to go, and he boarded the ship, pressurized the airlock, and sent word to the bridge that they were four short. Please, Thorin prayed, unsure if it was to his ancestors or the four deities Bilbo spoke of, let this not be a sign that fate is against us.

***

Since both Fíli and Kíli had remained behind and Bofur had never shown up, the bridge was short two officers, which put Balin at the helm and Nori at communications. Bilbo had spent the first half of the morning being quizzed over the plan, and then spent the rest of it pacing around the ship. It had made his chest hurt when he walked past the astrometrics lab--the lights had been dimmed, giving all the shapes an eerie glow, and no music was playing. Bilbo didn’t linger there long. When he’d gone back down to the bridge, they only had fifteen minutes till their expected arrival at RAVENHILL. He sighed, loudly enough for Thorin to turn to him and raise a questioning eyebrow. Bilbo shook his head.

Balin cleared his throat from the front of the bridge, and they both turned back to face him. “Bilbo, tell me the plan one last time.”

“Again?” Bilbo asked. “Balin, I’m pretty sure I’ve got it.”

“It’ll give me emotional security, laddie,” Balin said.

“Alright,” Bilbo agreed. “Firstly, it is less like a plan, more a set of guidelines, or a list of priorities. I’m going to be wearing an environmental suit, with two hours of oxygen. Two hours may cut it close, because we don’t know exactly how long it’s going to take me to go through the service shaft and get into the actual control center, so once I’m there, my first priority is to get life support back on, so I don’t have to worry about running out of air.”

“Your first priority,” Thorin cut in, “is to find the Arkenstone. If you have to get life support running so you can do that, so be it, but that’s the number one goal.”

“Yes, I’ve got that,” Bilbo said, shooting Thorin a look. “In regards to the dragon, I’m ideally not going to have to worry about it."

“Why?” Balin asked.

“As far as we know, the dragon is resting on the planet’s surface, unbothered and oblivious to any activity in RAVENHILL. Also, he could be dead. No other creature like Smaug has ever been spotted, so his lifespan could be short. He could have died on Erebor, of either old age or some other cause,” Bilbo finished. He glanced over at Ori, who gave him an approving nod. “We don’t know for certain, however. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know what will set the dragon off until it happens, if it happens.”

“Why can’t we be sure where the dragon is?” Ori asked.

Bilbo paused for a second, then nodded to himself again. “Because of RAVENHILL reverting to its defaults, we can’t scan the planet’s surface. The deflector field is still active.”

“Exactly,” Balin said.

“So, to reiterate: get the Arkenstone, get life support up if I need it, and--”

“Actually, Bilbo, there’s one more thing that if you could get it done would be immensely helpful,” Balin said. “We’re giving you the infostick with the command codes as well, and if you could reinstate those into RAVENHILL, we would have access to the surface again. If you can’t, of course, we understand, but it would be nice.”

“Alright, so--get the Arkenstone, life support, get RAVENHILL reprogrammed, don’t wake up the dragon.” Bilbo let out a breath and shook his head. “Deities save me.”

“You’ll be fine, Bilbo,” Thorin said, taking his hand and squeezing it. “You’ll have us in your ear the whole time, and more than that, I have complete faith in you.”

“Thank you, imzadi,” Bilbo said, then winced.

The bridge was silent for a split second. “I fucking knew it,” Nori said, gracefully dodging the punch Dwalin aimed at his arm. “What? I fucking knew it! You two should’ve gotten together three days ago--looks like Glóin’s won the pool.”

“You all were betting on us?” Thorin asked.

“Not us, you,” Bilbo explained. “Specifically on how long it would take for you to make a move.”

Ori spluttered. “You knew?”

“Oh yes, I’ve known about it since--Beorn’s, I think?” Bilbo shrugged. “It was never relevant, so I never said anything. Even Gandalf was in on it--he had even less faith in you than Glóin did and thought the quest would be over before you did anything.”

“That old bastard,” Thorin said under his breath, but it had just reminded Bilbo of something.

“Wait,” Bilbo said. “Didn’t Gandalf specifically tell us to not try and enter RAVENHILL without him?”

“He did,” Balin said.

“But do we see him? Did he leave us a way to reach him when he left us? No. We’re on our own,” Thorin said. “With all the troubles we’ve faced, both with and without him, we can’t risk waiting on him any longer. We’re on our own.”

“Sir, we’re coming up on RAVENHILL. Automatic pilot system disengaged,” Balin said.

“Take us in at one-eighth impulse,” Thorin said, leaning forward with his elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand. He was silhouetted in red light, and Bilbo was tempted to reach out and trace his features: his sharp forehead ridges, the set of his brow, his prominent nose and the line of his chin. Beautiful, Bilbo thought, flushing when Thorin turned his way. Bilbo didn’t say anything, just reached out and grabbed his hand.

Thorin squeezed in response. “Balin, take us around to the side with the plasma ejection, where the backup generator and computer are.”

“The ones I can’t use,” Bilbo said, frowning at the idea of having to find his way to the main computer.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Thorin said.

“There it is, Thorin,” Dwalin said. “The hatch is straight ahead. We’ll lock on with our clamps and get the airlock ready to decompress. You go help Bilbo get ready, I’ve got the bridge.”

“Thanks, Dwalin,” Thorin said, standing up and taking Bilbo’s arm.

“This doesn’t seem like the usual duty of a Klingon Captain,” Bilbo asked as they headed for the armory, where the EV suits were also stored.

“It’s not the duty of a captain, no,” Thorin said. He pressed the button for the door, and gestured for Bilbo to enter first. “But it is the duty of a lover.” The door slid shut and Thorin gave Bilbo a small smile. “It’s traditional for couples to help each other into their armor before going into battle. This is no great battle, but--”

“That’s alright. We aren’t exactly traditional, either,” Bilbo said, leaning up and pressing a kiss to Thorin’s bristled jaw. His beard had filled out some since the quest began, and specks of silver could be seen amongst the still mostly dark hair. “Thank you for doing this for me. Mainly because I’d be lost. I’ve never worn an environmental suit before. Before the quest I would’ve been shocked to even think about it!”

Thorin pressed a mirroring kiss to Bilbo’s cheekbone. “I am glad to help. You’ll have to lose your outer layers and your shoes, but you can keep your pants, socks, and undershirt on.”

Bilbo stripped down, and Thorin went to work putting the pieces of the suit on him and buckling him in to all the pieces. His hands were sure and steady, and soon Bilbo had everything on but his helmet, and Thorin stood up after double checking the fit in a few spots. “I guess it’s time to head for the airlock.”

“Aye, it is,” Thorin said, adding one last touch to Bilbo’s get-up: a phase pistol in the holster at his belt. “They will all be waiting to send you off.”

Bilbo nodded, and they didn’t speak again until they reached the airlock door. All the Klingons had gathered, and were lined on either side of the hall. Bifur stepped forward first, and clapped him on the shoulder. The gesture was quite honestly more than Bilbo had expected from him. Next, was Glóin, who pulled Bilbo straight into a hug, hard enough that he could barely breathe. “Thank you for taking my advice.”

“Glad I could help you win that bet,” Bilbo whispered, and Glóin was laughing as he released him.

Dori was next, and after letting him out of his hug, reached up and straightened an errant curl. “Good luck, Mad Baggins.”

Nori was at his brother’s side, and he shook Bilbo’s hand. “We’ll be listening on the other end of the comm the whole time, Bilbo.”

A throat was cleared behind Bilbo, and he turned to see Ori stepping forward. “Here’s the infostick and your padd, Bilbo. The infostick’s got the codes, and on the padd I uploaded what limited information was on the infostick about the layout of this station. There’s a partial map of the service shafts as well--I tried to get more, but this was all that I could decrypt and be pieced back together.”

“Thank you, Ori,” Bilbo said, patting his hand as he took both items. He slipped them both into the pocket on his chest, the same one he’d stashed the ring in, and patted it for reassurance.

Next in line was Bombur, who started out by shaking his hand before pulling Bilbo the rest of the way in for a hug. When Bilbo was released, Bombur handed him a tricorder. “If you need to scan anything, organic or otherwise, this should help you out. It’ll be wired into your headset as well, so you don’t have to manually type out commands. Take care of yourself, Bilbo.”

“Thank you very much. I’ll do my best,” Bilbo said, and Bombur gravely nodded back. He turned to Dwalin, who was standing there with his arms crossed, the last on that side of the hallway. “You got any advice for me?”

“Don’t fuck it up,” he said.

“Thanks, Dwalin,” Bilbo deadpanned as he turned to face his brother. Balin was standing there, and his eyes were glistening.

Balin took both his hands and squeezed them. “Bilbo, I’m as proud of you as if you were my own kin. I don’t know what you’re going to find down there, and if you can’t do it, there’s no shame in going back. We would figure something out.”

“No, Balin.” Bilbo shook his head. “I promised I would do this, and I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t try.”

Balin gave his hands another squeeze, and chuckled wetly. “It never ceases to amaze me.”

“What’s that?”

“The courage of Betazoids. Go now with as much luck as you can muster,” Balin said. “May the light and courage of Kahless be with you.”

“Thank you, Balin,” Bilbo said.

Thorin cleared his throat, and Bilbo turned to see him standing beside the latch for the airlock. “Bilbo.”

“Thorin.”

“Good luck. Don’t die.”

Bilbo laughed anxiously. “Yeah. That’s the plan.”

“I--” Thorin started, then just shook his head, took three steps forward, and kissed Bilbo solidly. When they pulled back, several crewmen were clapping, but stopped when Thorin shot them a look.

“Thanks,” Bilbo said, barely stopping himself from touching his lips.

“You’re welcome,” Thorin said.

“Break it up, lovebirds, there’s an Arkenstone to steal,” Nori teased, then let out an “oof” when Dori punched him in the stomach.

“He’s right,” Bilbo said. “It’s time for me to go.”

Thorin nodded, and placed Bilbo’s helmet on his head. He clicked the latches into place, then leaned his forehead against the glass. Bilbo felt a few tears prick his eyes, and tried to will them away. “I love you.”

“And I you,” Thorin answered before stepping back. “On three, we’ll open this door. Then, when you’re in the airlock, we’ll count off again, and open the hatch for the service shaft. Are you ready?”

“As I can be,” Bilbo said.

“One, two, three,” Thorin said, pulling the lever to open the airlock. Bilbo stepped through, and heard the door slide closed behind him. He took another step forward and placed his hand on the hatch. When Thorin spoke again, his voice was staticky through the comm channel. “You ready?”

Bilbo took a deep breath. “I am.”

“One, two, three,” Thorin said, and the hatch slid open. It was a smaller space than Bilbo had expected, and he now saw why’d he’d been a good pick for this position, none of the other Klingons could have fit. Bilbo leaned in and used the handle of the hatch to pull his knees up to fit in. He was on all fours. “Bilbo, we’re going to seal the hatch now. We’ll be with you the whole time.”

“Alright, I’m clear,” Bilbo said, and there was a split second as the hatch closed before he was plunged into total darkness.

Chapter Text

“This is lame.”

“Only because I keep winning. You’ve lost your touch,” Tauriel said, picking the cards up and shuffling them together. “I thought speed was a human game?”

“It is, but nobody plays it anymore,” Legolas said. After losing for the fourth time, he’d thrown his cards down and rolled over. Several minutes later, he was still staring up at the ceiling. “This was way more fun when we were kids.”

“So you mean like nine months ago?”

“I guess,” Legolas said. He rolled back over onto his stomach. “What other card games are good for two people?”

Tauriel shrugged. “I don’t know. Do you think that tri-d chess set is still hidden under the seat?”

He sat up, brushing dust off his shirt as he went to check, but instead of standing, just scooted along the carpet until he reached the cushion. He lifted the seat up and grinned. “It is! I’ll start setting it up.”

“Sounds good,” Tauriel said. “Computer, any change on long range sensors?”

“There is nothing on scanners at this time.”

“Thank you,” she answered. Legolas was reassembling the levels of the board, and Tauriel began divvying up the pieces. “So. If you’re not playing cards with your friends at school, what do you do for fun?”

Legolas shrugged. “I dunno. I mean, I do the normal things. I go out.”

“On dates?” Tauriel asked.

“Nah, just to clubs,” Legolas said. “My friends like going. It always really surprises them when I come along.”

“Why?”

“Well, I don’t really like them,” Legolas explained. “They’re so noisy, it gives me a headache. But I think that they think it’s because I’m too logical for it.”

“Are you?”

“No,” Legolas snapped. His eyes narrowed for a second and then he sighed. “But they might think I am.”

Tauriel stopped setting up the pieces and gave Legolas a long look. “You’ve been acting like a regular Vulcan.”

“Yeah. It’s easier that way.”

“Easier for who?” Tauriel asked incredulously. “You, or them?”

“Both!” Legolas said, throwing his hands up. “Taur, you’re gonna think I’m crazy but there may be something to be said for the embrace of logic. Now that I’ve been keeping my emotions more in check, I get why Surak decided it was so valuable for our people. It’s--our emotions run hot, you know that.”

Tauriel nodded. “Hot as the desert.”

“And when we don’t learn to think with our heads instead of just our hearts, people get burned. Sometimes even ourselves, you know?” Legolas stretched out one leg, and bumped her knee with it.

She sighed. “You know about Kíli.”

“I didn’t know his name. He’s the one that Tomit thought was hit with the bioweapon or whatever?”

She pulled her legs into her chest, wrapped her arms around her knees, and nodded. The chess pieces sat abandoned on the shuttle floor. “Yeah.”

“If we catch up with them, we can probably treat whatever it gave him,” Legolas said, and Tauriel looked up in shock.

“Legolas,” she said, her dark eyes gone wide. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Legolas said. “If they still had their ship, I’d say we should change our heading directly to Erebor but since they would have had to escape in a shuttle--”

“They would have had to stop in Esgaroth to stock up on dilithium and probably other supplies as well,” Tauriel finished. She hopped to her feet and was going to reprogram their new destination in when the computer beeped.

“Activity detected on long range sensors,” the computer stated. “Three small vessels just uncloaked and then cloaked again.”

“Romulans,” Tauriel and Legolas said in unison.

“Computer, what’s their projected heading?” Tauriel asked, sitting down at the helm.

“Four possible headings, the most likely with a seventy three percent probability is Esgaroth Shipyard.”

“If they’re heading to Esgaroth, that must be where the Klingons are,” Legolas said, joining her at the navigational station. “What should we do?”

“Computer, what was the speed of the cloaked vessels?”

“Approximately warp four.”

“They’re closer than we are, so I’ll set our speed to warp 7,” Tauriel said.

“And I’ll change our heading to Esgaroth,” Legolas finished, programming in the new direction. “We’ll drop out of warp a little early, sneak around the back.”

“Perfect,” Tauriel said. She turned to Legolas and smiled. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For going into this with me. For not trying to change my mind. And--” Tauriel paused and shook her head. “It may be a good thing that you’ve embraced some logic. Only some, of course.”

“I’ll always be a little illogical,” Legolas reassured, then grinned, his tone turning teasing. “If I wasn’t I wouldn’t be running around with you.”

Legolas barely dodged her smack, but she was laughing again so it was alright.

***

Fíli was, in a word, panicking. Kíli was getting sicker by the hour, and although Óin was doing his best to be reassuring, Fíli had seen enough death to recognize the barge at one’s door. If they were going to save his brother, it had to happen soon. To make matters worse, Alfrid had come by and told them they needed to vacate the rooms they’d been given because they had only been promised them till this morning. Fíli had growled at him, but the man hadn’t cowed, and now he and Óin were hauling Kíli from door to door, hoping someone would offer them a couch and some medicine. So far, they’d had no such luck. They’d worked through most of the civilian doors on this half of the station, and Fíli was about to steer the three of them towards a door to what was apparently the archival office when it slid open and Bofur stumbled out. He looked a mess--his braids were half undone and he couldn’t stop blinking at the fluorescent lights, but he was a sight for Fíli’s sore eyes.

“You alright, lad?” Óin asked, and Bofur spun back towards them.

He was still squinting, but his face had split into a wide grin when he recognized them. “Hey! You three missed the ship too?”

“Not exactly,” Fíli muttered.

Three women with glasses of lemonade were standing at the door Bofur had come out of, and the woman in front looked first at his brother, and then back at Fíli. “Is he doing alright?”

Fíli swallowed and shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Her expression softened. “Go back to Bard’s, kid. If you tell her Cait sent you, Sigrid’ll let the four of you stay. Aside from sicky next to you, Bofur’s gonna need a place to sober up, and they’ll have more medicine at their place than I do at mine.”

“Wait--why am I asking Sigrid? Where’s Bard?” Fíli asked.

“Didn’t you know?” One of the other women, a redhead Fíli faintly remembered seeing at the bar last night, said. “Bard got arrested. Braga said he was ‘disturbing the peace’ or some bullshit. Masterson’s always had it out for him, but he’s really been getting on him the past few weeks. But smuggling Klingons in? That made it easy to seal the deal.”

“Great,” Fíli said. “Thanks, Cait.”

“Hey, as long as you don’t let anything happen to the Bowman kids, we’re all good,” Cait said, and she and her ladies ducked back inside.

Bofur’s footsteps were starting to be less unpredictable, and he came over and took Kíli’s other arm from Óin. “Alright. We going back to Bard’s?”

“I guess,” Fíli said, and he and Bofur began steering his brother the right way. “What were you doing with them?”

“I’m not gonna lie, I’m not entirely sure,” Bofur said. “I’m pretty sure that after my brother left they were the next poor people I latched onto to cry to.”

“They probably got a kick out of watching a Klingon cry over his missing girlfriend,” Fíli said.

“I hope they got something out of having to put up with me. I still feel drunk now, I can’t even imagine how bad I was last night.” Bofur shook his head. “So, we’re the only ones left behind?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Figures. I’m glad my brother didn’t wait for me. He deserves to be there when it all works out. My head’s been somewhere else since we left the Alexandria.”

Kíli let out a soft groan, and Fíli and Bofur exchanged a concerned look. “My head’s been somewhere else since we lost the Oakenshield.”

Bofur nodded, and patted Fíli’s shoulder with his unoccupied hand. “He’ll tough it out. I just know it.”

They were only a few doors down from Bard’s when his door opened and Bain stepped out, dragging a poorly wrapped and oddly shaped package along the floor. When he saw the Klingons coming, he stopped. “Oh, hell no.”

Sigrid poked her head out the door and groaned. “Nope, we’ve already reached our quota for Klingon hospitality for the week! I’m afraid you’ll have to go somewhere else!”

“Sigrid, please,” Fíli begged. “Nobody else will take us, and my brother’s really sick.”

Sigrid’s expression wavered for a second, before she took a deep breath and shook her head firmly. “No. You can’t stay here. You got my dad arrested.”

“We’re really sorry about that,” Bofur said, at the same time that Fíli said, “Cait sent us. Please, Sigrid.”

“Kíli’s running out of time, lass,” Óin added, and Sigrid frowned.

“Cait sent you?” She asked. Fíli nodded. “Alright. Come on in. Don’t sit him on the couch until I put some sheets down--I don’t want to have to scrub vomit or anything out of the cushions.”

“Sigrid, are you sure?” Bain asked, sitting his package down on the floor. The longer Fíli looked at it, the more it began to look about the same shape as a torpedo, and Fíli decided he wasn’t going to look at it anymore. He did not need to know.

Sigrid leaned against the doorway and shrugged. “Yeah. What else can they do, they’ve already got Dad.”

Bain sighed and nodded, then turned to Fíli. “Here, I’ll help you get him in.”

“Thank you,” Fíli said.

“I’ll go in and see what medicines they’ve got, help the lass,” Óin said, stepping around them.

By the time the three of them had managed to steer Kíli’s unconscious weight through the door, Sigrid had gotten the sheet on the couch, replicated a bowl of broth and a glass of cold water, and was going through their medicine cabinet with Óin. Music was playing in the living room again, and Fíli figured it sounded enough like what had been playing before that it was more of the “punky, new wave” stuff. After placing his brother on the couch, Fíli took a moment to feel his forehead and winced. “Óin, he’s burning up.”

Óin came over and felt his forehead, expression turning even darker. “Sigrid, give me that acetaminophen. It’ll help get his fever down, but we’re going to need something stronger. Fíli, lift his head up so we can give him the pills.”

Sigrid tossed him the bottle, and he dumped about half the bottle into his hand. While he was counting out ten for the dosage, Tilda came out from her room and stood behind him. “How come I can only have one and he’s having 10?”

“He’s a Klingon,” Sigrid said, walking back to the kitchen. When she came back, she had a damp rag, and she placed it on Kíli’s forehead. “Also you’re only ten.”

“Only ten?” Tilda protested. “But that’s so old!”

Kíli had just swallowed the pills with a glass of water, but he managed a weak laugh. “If you think ten is old, you’re going to think I’m ancient.”

Óin leaned over to Fíli and whispered, “Let’s hope she keeps him talking. He’s got to stay awake or--”

“I get it,” Fíli said, just in time to hear Tilda’s gasp.

“Twenty-three? That’s like, twice as old as I am!”

Kíli nodded slightly, trying to keep the damp washcloth in place. “I told you. Ancient.”

“Wow,” Tilda said. “That’s amazing.”

Óin turned to Bofur, who was still standing by the door with Bain. “Bofur, I need you to go to the pharmacy. Sigrid told me they’ll rent out a medical tricorder, and I need you to buy some kingsfoil--it’s an extra strength painkiller, comes in a hypospray. It’s non-prescription, but you’ll have to ask the pharmacist to replicate it for you.”

“Kingsfoil,” Bofur repeated, nodding. “Got it. I’ll go to the--where’s the pharmacy?”

“I’ll take you,” Bain said, “if you help me carry my package.”

Bofur squinted at the shape, then shrugged. “Works for me.”

The two of them left quickly as Óin went into the kitchen to prep something else for Kíli, and Fíli’s attention was so divided between the interactions between his brother and little Tilda and his brother’s condition in general that he nearly jumped when Sigrid put in a hand on his shoulder.

“Sorry,” she said. “Got you a glass of water. And if you want, you can move the armchair so you can sit and still be close to him.”

“I’ll take you up on both of those offers,” Fíli said, and she smiled. He pushed the armchair close enough that he could still reach out and stroke his brother’s hair, then sat down and let himself sink into it. He drained half the glass before he realized Sigrid had asked him a question. “I’m sorry, what was that?”

Sigrid waved it off, smiling. “I just asked how much older are you than him.”

“Five years,” Fíli said.  “The only time I’ve really felt the age difference was when I almost got sent to fight at Khitomer, when I’d just graduated and he was barely starting at the Academy, but even with the gap he’s my best friend.”

“I get that,” Sigrid said.

“Who’s older between you and Bain?”

“We’re twins but--” Sigrid pointed at herself and grinned. “--I’m older by five minutes.”

“Of course,” Fíli said. “How old are you two, if you don’t mind?”

“Seventeen. We turn eighteen in a few weeks.”

“Gods, seventeen,” Fíli said, carding his fingers through his hair. “You’re all so young. I am really sorry about your dad, you know.”

“I know,” Sigrid said. “And I know that somehow it’s going to work out, I just don’t know how yet.”

A smaller hand tapped his knee, and Fíli looked down to the concerned face of Tilda. “What’s wrong?”

“He’s not answering me,” she said, and Fíli let out a Klingon swear.

“Watch your language, there’s kids here,” Kíli muttered. “There’s kids here.”

Fíli could’ve cried with relief. “Sorry, little brother. You’ve got to stay awake or there’ll be no one here to watch my mouth.”

“I’m so tired,” Kíli said. “And it hurts.”

“I know. I’m sorry,” Fíli said, running his fingers through his brother’s dark waves. “Medicine is coming soon.”

“I hate hypos,” Kíli whined, looking back at Tilda. “Talk to me, Tilda. What song is playing right now?”

Tilda beamed and perched on the edge of the couch, next to his stomach. “It’s called ‘Dreaming’. It’s by the band Blondie and it was released over 300 years ago.”

“Oh nice, vintage. Very cool. I’ve never heard of Blondie,” Kíli said. He tried to shift up to look at Tilda better, but just winced. “She has a cool voice.”

“She is cool,” Tilda agreed. “This was actually my mom’s favorite song.”

“Really?”

Tilda nodded. “I don’t remember her, but Daddy said that the first time he saw her, she was sitting on a stool outside Fairweather’s singing this song, and he knew she was going to turn out to be the coolest person he ever met.”

“Was she a good singer?”

Sigrid snorted. “God, no. Dad and Tilda are the only singers in the family. Neither me, Bain, or Mom have any sort of musical talent.”

“My mother’s a great singer,” Kíli said, and was about to launch into a tale about her, but that was the exact moment the front door was kicked down and all gre’thor broke loose.

***

“Have you found them yet?”

“Legolas, please get off my ass,” Tauriel snapped. “The scanner is calibrating as fast as it can go!”

When they’d come up on Esgaroth, a big cargo shipment was coming in the front, where the Romulans had been aimed, so they’d flown their shuttle around to the back, used the landing gear to latch on to the outer hull of the station, and transported themselves into an unoccupied corridor.

“You know, we could probably just ask around. Thirteen Klingons and whoever busted them out are hard to miss.”

“I think he was either human or Betazoid. The scans were inconclusive. And--” Tauriel held up the scanner, grinning. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve got them.”

“Lead the way, Sub-commander,” Legolas said, and Tauriel took off.

Legolas was right behind her as she rounded the corner and turned to face a large garage door. Tauriel frowned.

“It should be right in here, but this is probably just a storage unit--” Her statement was cut off by the sound of phaser fire from inside. “Never mind, we’re here.”

“Step back,” Legolas said, and shot the door’s lock. “Help me lift it up.”

They bent down and pulled up the gate, then slipped inside, phasers drawn. The immediate room behind the door was a storage unit, but there was another door on the far wall that led to where the living spaces were. They heard what sounded like a child’s scream, and Tauriel ran forward and kicked the door down. Legolas went through first, and looked down the hallway. “Clear!”

“Not clear,” Tauriel said, shooting a Romulan as he turned around and made eye contact.

There was a roar to her right, and Kíli’s older brother came barreling into view with a Romulan by the neck. Tauriel shot him, and when he slipped from Fíli’s arms, he turned to face her and his eyes went wide, first with shock then relief. Another Romulan came up behind him while he was distracted, but he was stopped by a hard whack of a frying pan to the head, wielded by a young human female. Legolas shot him as he fell, and then he and Tauriel moved the rest of the way into the room. Between them, Fíli, another Klingon, and the two humans, they took out the rest of the remaining Romulans with a few well earned blasts, excepting one, who shoved a bookshelf over and raced out the front door.

“I’m going after him,” Legolas said, clearing the bookshelf with ease and pausing in the doorway. “Stay here and keep an eye on them.”

“Got it,” Tauriel said. “Hurry back.”

Legolas nodded and took off.

“That was badass,” the male human said.

The other Klingon was breathing hard and squinting slightly as he looked at Tauriel. “You two didn’t come back to capture us again, right?”

“Nope,” Tauriel said. “We were actually tracking those Romulans down. Nobody gets to fire at our prisoners except us.”

“Bless you,” he said, and Tauriel remembered his name was Bofur just as he came up and pulled her into a hug. “Me and the kid just got back, but they’d been fighting Romulans for twenty minutes. They’d been swarming in like flies. This is Bain, by the way--” the young man gave her a timid wave, and she waved back “--the one with the frying pan is his sister Sigrid, and the little one is Tilda. Thanks for that assist.”

“I’m glad to help,” Tauriel said, forcibly removing herself from the hug, which had been a bit sweaty for her taste.

A throat was cleared behind her, and she turned to see another Klingon, Óin, the Oakenshield’s CMO, and the little one, the aforementioned Tilda. “Lass, I’ve heard Vulcan medicine is quite advanced.”

“Please. He started groaning and thrashing when the Romulans showed up, but now he’s gotten quiet,” Fíli said. He’d sat down on the edge of the couch next to his brother, and was stroking his hair. Kíli had been fair to begin with, especially by Klingon standards, but now his skin was waxy and almost devoid of color, and when Tauriel reached down to touch his forehead he was hot and clammy. At the feel of her cooler hand, he shifted away and groaned, and she jerked back.

“Have you sent for medicine?” Tauriel asked.

“Aye,” Óin said. “Kingsfoil, and a medical tricorder as well.”

“We couldn’t get the tricorder but I got the hypospray of kingsfoil. Had it stashed in my chest pocket during that whole ruckus,” Bofur said, holding it out to Óin who directed him to give it to Tauriel.

“Kingsfoil? That must be the brand name.” She turned it on the side to see the contents, and almost cried with relief. “Athelas.”

“Is that good?” Bofur asked.

She gripped the hypospray in her hand and glanced down at a patient who’s odds had just gotten far better. “It’s very, very good.”

“What are you going to do?” Fíli asked.

“I’m going to save him,” Tauriel said, watching the tension drain out of Fíli. “I’ve seen this before--well, not me personally, but I’ve heard about it, and I know how to treat it. I’m going to give him this hypospray and then perform a mind meld.”

“Mind meld?” Fíli repeated. “Is that safe?”

“Very safe,” Tauriel said. “I have to wake him up, or at least get him partially returned to consciousness. I swear, I will not harm your brother.”

“Do what you’ve got to do, lass,” Óin said, and Fíli nodded. “Just thinking about that Vulcan mumbo jumbo gives me a headache, but if that’s what it’s going to take.”

“I’ll need you to help hold him down,” Tauriel said, dropping to her knees beside the couch. Fíli shifted out of the way, and she shot him a grateful look. “He might start moving around, and some emotional transference is common, but he’ll be alright as long as you keep him still and don’t let him hurt himself or anyone else. Bain, Sigrid, and Tilda, if you three could help as well that would be greatly appreciated.”

“Got it,” the older human girl answered, and both her siblings nodded in agreement.

“I’ll help too,” she said.

Tauriel pressed the hypo gently into his neck, listening for the full click and release as the medicine was injected. She then moved her hand to his face, resting her wrist on his jaw, and barely contained a full body shiver as her fingertips found his psi points and she felt the spark of a tentative mental connection. She took a deep breath in, and on the exhale said, “My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts. Our minds are one.”

She slid into his mind with the ease of wind cutting across the desert, and soon found what she was looking for. As soon as she saw him she’d recognized the symptoms--it was an ancient tactic, one from Vulcan’s bloody past before the Romulan-Vulcan civil war that lead to the division between their peoples. When the victim inhaled the gas, it not only gave them symptoms fairly similar to the terran virus influenza, but also caused their mental pathways to begin unraveling, and if allowed to progress too far, it would leave the recipient a vegetable, keeping them alive but unaware until the flu-like symptoms killed them. Kíli was still safe enough that the damage could be reversed. She found the loose threads of his mind, and pulled them back together, weaving them back into one cohesive mental landscape. Although she was careful to avoid his memories, she found the overall energy of his mind pleasing, and was careful not too cause too much of a ripple as she ended the meld.

She took a deep breath, ignoring the shocked looks on everyone’s faces. “Alright. That’s it.”

“Holy shit,” Fíli murmured. He reached down and touched his brother’s forehead and laughed wetly in relief. “His fever’s broken.”

“Well I’ll be damned,” Óin said. “I’d heard about the wonders of Vulcan medicine, but that was a pleasure to witness.”

“Is a mind-meld kind of like the Vulcan version of Betazoid thought sharing?” Bofur asked.

She gave Bofur a confused look before it dawned on her. “Of course you had a Betazoid.”

“I probably wasn’t supposed to tell you that,” Bofur said, wincing.

“Don’t worry, I still have no plans of stopping you from your mission,” Tauriel said. “It just explains a lot. And to answer your question, it’s similar but different. Most Betazoids are also capable of performing mind-melds, but most Vulcans are incapable of thought sharing without serious telepathic support.”

“That’s because Vulcans are touch-telepaths, while Betazoids are what the Federation classifies as subconscious telepaths,” Sigrid explained. “Betazoid telepathy just runs in the background all the time, whereas Vulcans have to pursue telepathic connections through touch and with more focus.”

“You’re exactly right,” Tauriel said, receiving a winning smile in return. “How do you know that?”

“I’m doing an online pre-professional program for nursing school,” Sigrid said proudly. “I just finished my online comparative anatomy and physiology class a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed it.”

“You have a good demeanor for it,” Tauriel said. “And you are lucky to have found your passion so young.”

“That’s neat,” Bofur said, and he and Sigrid continued talking about it while Tauriel stood up to go help put their house back together.

Before she could make it very far, she heard a soft groan from the couch below her. She looked down at her patient, and was surprised to see him gazing up at her. His eyes were still glassy, but the color was already starting to come back into his cheeks. She was even more surprised when he spoke. “Tauriel.”

“Lie still,” she said, bending down to pat his hand before standing back up. He still hadn’t stopped staring fondly at her.

“You cannot be her,” he said, his voice soft and full of wonder. “She is far away. She, she is far, far away from me, and she walks in starlight in another world. It was just a dream. Do you think she could’ve loved me?”

Tauriel felt her cheeks heat up but even as tears pricked the corners of her eyes, she pressed her fingertips to his and said nothing, just felt the faint spark.

Chapter Text

Bilbo was only in darkness for a few seconds before the lights from the helmet kicked on, and he let out a sigh of relief.

“You alright?” Nori’s voice asked, staticky through his headset.

“Yeah, I’m good,” Bilbo said.

“Describe your surroundings, Bilbo,” Balin said. Bilbo imagined them all back on the bridge, gathered around the comm station, and smiled.

“All I can see is a long crawlspace,” Bilbo said. “It gets dustier, further away from the door. There’s no side tunnels or anything yet.”

“Keep going forward,” Thorin said. He’d gone back into his captain voice, cool and collected, but Bilbo could still hear the barely disguised worry and affection. “If anything changes, tell us. You should be able to get out of the air vent and enter the main service corridor soon.”

“Thank goodness,” Bilbo said. He started the long crawl on his hands and knees, pushing massive dust bunnies out of his path and off his suit and feeling the steel panels groan slightly beneath him. He could hear somebody breathing through the comm, making him feel slightly anxious, and eventually asked, “Can one of you keep talking to me? It’s making me nervous that you’re all just...chilling out and listening in.”

They must have taken a moment to discuss amongst themselves because the comm went completely quiet for about a minute, but then the low hum returned and Thorin spoke. “What do you want me to talk about?”

“Well, you can always tell me a story,” Bilbo said. “You come from a fairly big family--you’ve got to have some good ones.”

“I suppose,” Thorin said. “Did you know my sister’s a Captain as well?”

“I didn’t.”

“Dís took a few years off when Fíli and Kíli were really little, but once they were both in elementary school she and her husband would swap off, who was off world and who was staying grounded with the boys. Dís probably thought they were about even, but she spent far more time in the air, which suited them both fine since Víli’s more of a homebody anyway. However, when Fíli was eleven and Kíli was six, the KDF requested for them both to be assigned to the same vessel, the Jakora, for a diplomatic mission to one of the more... estranged Klingon houses, the house of Antaak.”

“How did that house get estranged?”

Thorin hesitated. “That’s complicated. And slightly classified. And not important to the story. Anyways, when the KDF calls, you answer, so Dís and Víli both had to go, which meant that for the first time neither parent was going to be around to keep an eye on the boys. So they called me.”

“How’d that go?”

“It was one of the most draining experiences of my life, and I fought at Azanulbizar.”

Bilbo laughed. “Oh, I’m certain they weren’t that bad.”

“They weren’t. They were worse. The mission was only six weeks, but Kíli threw a fit every night before bed for the first three, I couldn’t get Fíli to eat anything but terran-style chili, and I couldn’t get Kíli to wear any shoes other than his fuzzy targ house slippers, even in public. I had to sneak them away while he slept to wash them when they started to stink. The first few weeks, I was worried none of us were going to survive because I was going to strangle them if they didn’t let me get more than four hours of sleep.”

“But it got easier, I presume?” Bilbo asked, and Thorin hummed in the affirmative.

“Eventually, they realized that they weren’t the only ones having to deal with something new. I’d helped Dís take care of them when they were little, but very rarely by myself, and not for such a long length of time. When you only spend one day with the boys, it’s alright to be the fun uncle who gives them sweets and lets them get away with things, but when you have to keep an eye on them for six weeks? Being the fun uncle just isn’t sustainable. It was a hard adjustment for all three of us, but around the fourth week, Fíli asked if he could go on my morning runs with me. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I know now that it was both a peace offering, a sign that he was going to stop wreaking havoc, and an attempt to reach out and connect with me.” Thorin’s voice grew slightly wistful as he reached the end. “I’m going to have to do the same when I see them again.”

“Oh, Thorin. Fíli’s upset about it now, but he won’t be forever,” Bilbo said. He took a second to pause, stretch out his arms, and pull the padd out. “Later on, he’ll understand that it was the right call.”

“I know,” Thorin said. “It still sucked to do it.”

“How did your time keeping an eye on the boys solo end?”

“Very well. I found out afterwards that Dís had very low expectations of me as a parent, and that I actually exceeded all of them. I also came out of it with far more respect for Víli.”

“You didn’t respect him before?”

“No, I did--any man who could court and win the heart of my sister is a man of honor, but Víli wasn’t like the rest of us. He can be a warrior when the situation calls for it, but by trade he’s an engineer, and I just thought it was odd that my sister ended up with a man so much more--pacifistic than herself.”

“There’s a human phrase: opposites attract.”

“That’s a fair assessment of their relationship,” Thorin said. “But after keeping an eye on those two rowdy boys by myself for six weeks, I was very impressed by how Víli could do it and keep his cool for several months at a time.”

“So he’s not on the quest because he’s an engineer, and you didn’t need anymore of those?”

“No, he’s not on the quest because he agrees with Dís, that it's not worth it. I would’ve loved for Víli to be here--I think you two would get along well. You can see a lot of him in the boys.”

“You know, when we live through this, one of the first things I look forward to is meeting the rest of your family.”

“I look forward to it as well,” Thorin said, voice cracking from some type of interference. “Would you like another story?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll tell you--the time I recei---commendation,” Thorin was cutting out, and Bilbo crawled back a few feet, to where the audio was clearer.

“Thorin, wait, I’m losing you.”

Thorin swore in Klingon, and that combined with the cracking hissing in his ears made Bilbo wince. “Nori’s going to try and get through the interference, but--”

“You might not be able to.” Bilbo sighed. “I saw another hatch up ahead, which according to Ori’s map leads to the main service corridor. I think I can find the rest of the way.”

“Bilbo--” Thorin hesitated and then let out a sigh. “Take care. I love you. We’ll try and get the comm back up.”

“I know you will. I love you, too.” Bilbo let out a wet laugh, sniffing. “I’m sure I’ll be hearing from you soon, imzadi.”

Thorin didn’t speak again, and a few seconds later, the comm stopped buzzing in his ear. They must have turned it off while they try and fix it, Bilbo thought, taking another moment to stretch before crawling back towards the other hatch. There was writing above the handle, and it only took a few seconds before his visual universal translator kicked in and he could read the words: Main Service Corridor Hatch #2. Bilbo opened the hatch up, and saw it did in fact open up into a real hallway, a space big enough for several Klingons to comfortably walk in. Looking at the map again, he determined that the main service corridor circled along the outside of the station, like a ring, and it made it possible to perform repairs both on external systems--like the outer hull, plasma ejection units, and air ventilation system--and internal systems--like the main computer and replicators--from the same space. He was coming out of the middle air vent, and the main door into the operations center was near the first air vent. He managed to turn himself around and climb backwards out of the hatch, and left it open instead of closing it behind him. He brushed a little more dust off himself, and checked the map again. He rounded the corner, still looking down at his padd, and almost gave himself a heart attack when he tripped over a rifle and fell on top of a dead Klingon.

Later on Bilbo would be immensely grateful they’d lost connection, because his scream was more than a bit embarrassing. The body had shifted slightly underneath him, but as he climbed up, he was disturbed by the stillness of his expression: his eyes were blown wide, and his mouth was partially open. When Bilbo finally clambered back up to standing, he saw there were three other bodies as well, all with the same expression on their faces, and that they were gathered around the operations door.

They must have died trying to get back in, Bilbo thought, and then pulled out his tricorder. “Scan for cause of death.”

The tricorder whistled, and then answered, “Cause of death: involuntary oxygen deprivation. Approximate time of death unknown.”

“What do you mean unknown?” Bilbo asked, and then realized that the bodies appeared to be perfectly preserved. They’ve been in the vacuum of space, essentially. With no air or living things or bacteria to eat away at them, they’ve been perfectly preserved, even after nearly sixty years.

He involuntarily shuddered, then took a deep breath and stepped over them to reach the door. RAVENHILL had been built before electric doors, and Bilbo’s muscles protested as he grabbed the large latch on the door and pulled it open.

The room was dark, except for a big window that probably doubled as the view screens for audio-visual communications, and his helmet lights threw weird shadows on everything, but Bilbo easily figured out the layout. Operations was divided into two main spaces: closer to the door was the main tactical space, where the weapons’ stations probably were and a low table in the far corner that was faintly glowing blue, and then, further from the door and separated by stacked computer components that stood taller than Bilbo, was the main computer system. That’s where I need to be, Bilbo thought.

Once inside, he saw the main screen had a loading bar on it that read TRANSMISSION STATUS: UPLOADING 47% COMPLETE. “Computer, change audio mode on the helmet from internal frequencies only to include projection through external speakers,” Bilbo said.

“Audio mode updated,” the computer stated.

Bilbo cleared his throat, and almost cheered when he heard it faintly echo around the room. “Excellent. Computer, cancel transmission.”

“Command codes required.”

“Command codes?” Bilbo repeated, then snapped his fingers. “Oh, of course.”

Bilbo unzipped his front pocket, replaced the tricorder and his padd with the map inside, and pulled out the infostick. He looked around for the appropriate port, and quickly found it on the front of the console, about waist high. He pressed it in until the light on the end turned on, and the screen changed from the transmission progress screen to a screensaver-type page, featuring the symbol of the house of Durin, a sort of geometric, stylized bird.

“Welcome to RAVENHILL,” the computer stated. “State your commands.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo said. “Please go over system status.”

“RAVENHILL is currently in factory reset mode, allowing no travel to the surface of Erebor. Two transmissions are in progress. According to reset protocol, a distress signal is being broadcast to Qo’nos, on all known Klingon hailing frequencies. There is another transmission in progress, directed to an unknown region of space, on a previously unused frequency. All primary systems are currently offline.” There was a pause, and then the computer said again, “State your commands.”

“Cancel the second transmission, please.”

“Request completed. Uploading of transmission cancelled. State your commands.”

“Disable factory reset mode, and return station to prior settings.” Bilbo crossed his fingers, praying that that information was still available.

“Request completed. Access to the planet’s surface is now permitted with usage of security codes, level three or higher. The deflector field is also disabled.”

“Excellent! Can you turn on life support?”

The computer beeped a few times. “Affirmative. Would you like to reactivate the replicator, air filtration, and plasma exhaust systems as well?”

“Yes. Turn on all necessary systems.”

The computer beeped again, and then there was a snap and a hum as all systems came online. Something behind Bilbo made a hissing noise, like it was depressurizing, but Bilbo ignored it. He took off his helmet and gloves and took a deep breath of freshly filtered air, sighing in relief.

“Action completed. State your commands.”

Bilbo wanted to ask the computer to stop saying that, but he didn’t want to be rude. “Add new authorization codes and voice recognition.”

“Ready to comply. State name and security clearance level.”

“Bilbo Baggins, level four,” Bilbo said.

“State desired authorization codes.”

“Baggins-sigma-1-4-7.”

The computer beeped. “Repeat codes one more time for voice recognition.”

“Baggins-sigma-1-4-7,” Bilbo said.

“Authorization codes confirmed,” the computer said, right as Bilbo heard footsteps coming from behind him.

Bilbo panicked for all of four seconds before remembering what was in his possession. His front pocket was still unzipped, so he reached in, slipped on the ring, and felt himself slip under its psionic pull. This is probably when I should make my escape, Bilbo thought, and he was slipping back past the two computer towers when he collided with a shaded figure. They both turned around to face each other, and Bilbo’s eyes went wide. He’s either looking right at or right through me--but that’s impossible!

“Well, how unusual,” the figure said. “I can smell you, oh hidden one, and I just felt you, but I can’t see you. Come out, we can be reasonable about this.”

Bilbo remained perfectly still, barely breathing.

He let out a loud huff. “Alright, have it your way. Computer, lights at seventy five percent.”

The lights immediately brightened, and the man came into view, except he wasn’t any kind of man Bilbo had ever seen. He was wearing a blue jacket with a mock turtleneck cut, but even it wasn’t high enough to conceal the prominent vertical ridges on both sides of his neck, which appeared to be covered in scales. His neck ridges were the same color gray as the rest of his body, at least as far as Bilbo could see, and they trailed along the side of his face, making up the undershell of his ear. Another set of ridges framed his eyes, and then went up into his hairline, and he had another ridge on his forehead that was roughly the shape of a spoon. His eyes were darting around, but overall he seemed composed. He gave the room a quick once over, then smiled. “Come on, don’t be shy. Step into the light, my dear friend. There’s something about you--I can feel the unnatural psionic energy, but I still can’t find you. Whatever it is, it must be very precious.”

Bilbo let out an involuntary shudder and bumped into one of the consoles, causing the man to spin around. Bilbo still had the ring on, but he knew he’d given his approximate position away. The man’s grin turned feral. “Well, you must be somewhere over on the other side. It’s not polite to hide like a thief in the shadows, you know. And it isn’t wise to hide from someone as infamous as I surely am.”

Bilbo swallowed, focused as much of his energy as he could on keeping himself invisible, but decided to take a chance on speaking. “Smaug?”

Bilbo took a few steps back. Smaug’s gaze remained where Bilbo had previously been, and he gestured to himself, bowing slightly. “I prefer to be addressed as Dr. Smaug, but yes. What brings you here, my dear hidden friend?”

“I’ve--” Bilbo paused. Okay, so that’s Smaug. Not at all what I was expecting. I can’t read his mind because he must be shielding, which is just another sign that he’s obviously highly intelligent. He even sounds like a doctor. “I’ve studied you, and I wanted to see if you were as great as all the stories say.”

Smaug smiled. “And? What’s your conclusion?”

Bilbo swallowed. “Truly, all the reports do not do you justice. Your work was phenomenal. They call you many things, you know. Smaug the Conqueror. Smaug the Stupendous. Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities.”

“You’re quite charming,” Smaug said. He was leaned up against the console. “But you don’t actually think this flattery, kind as it may be, will keep you alive?”

“No, no, I don’t.”

Smaug chuckled. “No, indeed. You seem familiar with my name, but I don’t remember sensing your kind before. Who are you, and where do you come from, may I ask?”

Bilbo wrung out his hands. “I come from a fine house in the stars.”

“‘House in the stars’? Well, I already knew you weren’t a Klingon, but that is quite interesting,” Smaug stood up suddenly, but he was just walking over to the replicator. “Please continue--I’m just getting a glass of water. Spending so long in stasis has made me parched.”

A stasis chamber! Bilbo realized. That must be what that glowing table was--some sort of stasis pod. As lightly and quietly as he could he walked over to the pod, having a hunch that Smaug would have kept something very important very close to him. “And across stars and through the air my path has led. I am he who walks unseen.”

Smaug took a sip of water and clucked his tongue. “Impressive. What else do you claim to be?”

“I am...luck-wearer. Riddle-maker. I see what would be hidden.” Bilbo now stood right next to the stasis pod, and tucked slightly under a blanket he could see a sliver of sparkling, iridescent stone. There it is.

Smaug laughed. “These are such lovely titles! I’m beginning to be annoyed that you haven’t given me a name yet, but I can’t say I’m not intrigued. We Cardassians do love a good story.”

He’s a Cardassian. Not something I’ve ever heard of, but if I make it out of here alive, I’ll ask Gandalf about them. “Well, I am--”

“Unless you’re going to tell me your name, I no longer have time for this,” Smaug snapped. “What about your Klingon friends? Are they hiding behind the door, with their dead comrades?”

“Klingons? There’s no Klingons here. You’ve got that all wrong.”

“Oh, I don’t think so, telepath--and yes, I caught that one. You must be very powerful to wield psionic energy like this--Vulcan, perhaps, although you sound far too emotional to be a member of that species. I’m not sure yet. But I do know that there are Klingons here, and for all they speak of honor, they are still not above sending in someone else to do their dirty work while they hide outside.”

“Smaug, I mean, Doctor, I’m afraid you’re mistaken.”

Smaug tisked disapprovingly. “And you’re a terrible liar. I respect a good liar, you know. Lying is a skill like any other, and if you want to stay good at it, you must practice constantly. Something most telepaths aren’t used to. You would think that people who read minds would know how to make themselves less transparent.”

Smaug was replicating another glass of water, and Bilbo gingerly moved the corner of the blanket back. He was about to reach out and snatch up the stone when Smaug turned back around, setting his glass on the console. “Did you think I did not know this day would come, when a pack of power hungry Klingons would return to the planet?”

Bilbo swallowed, and tried not to shift around or rock back and forth on his feet. “Of course you knew. I’m certain you planned for all possibilities.”

“Of course I did! My contingency plans had contingency plans! But you think I can’t account for the sentient, in this case Klingon, variable?” Smaug had sounded almost insulted, but by the end his voice and smile had turned smug again. “You must come under the orders of a Durin. I’ll give you credit for taste--I watched their people for long enough that I know how compelling they can be. They sent you here for the Arkenstone.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Smaug began pacing around the console, gesturing as he spoke. “Once again, a terrible liar. Even if you were better, I still could’ve guessed. But it matters not. The line of Durin will never reclaim this planet, and if they try, well, they’ll see what comes to them once they’re down there. Bigger things are coming. Not for you, though. You’re going to die here. You have been used, thief in the shadows. You were only ever a means to an end. Those Klingons have weighed the value of your life against a rock and found it worth nothing.”

That’s not true. Thorin loves me. The crew admires me. I’m doing the right thing. Bilbo gritted his teeth, and gave the Arkenstone a sharp look. I am getting that damned rock.  “You’re lying.”

“I’m not.” Smaug said. “Come on, mind-reader, you know I speak the truth. What did they promise you, a share of their wealth? Please.”

Smaug moved back towards the computer station, and with his back turned away, Bilbo was finally able to snatch up the Arkenstone and shove it in his pocket. Finally . However, when Smaug saw the computer screen, he gasped. When he turned back, looking directly at Bilbo, his eyes were narrowed. “My transmission was cancelled.”

“Oh, that was yours?” Bilbo said coyly. “My apologies.”

Smaug inhaled sharply. “It’s not kind to delete other people’s mail.”

“Um, sorry?” Bilbo took a step back, and Smaug stepped towards him, shaking his head.

“You are a fool, just like those dead Klingons in the hallway who choked to death on their own honor and the Klingons who brought you here who will soon be choking on theirs,” Smaug snapped. “Do you know why I was here, telepath?”

“No clue,” Bilbo said.

“I was here because my people are stripping our homeworld of natural resources. I travelled to this place, so far from my home, because I, a student of the sciences, saw the signs of a people who were doing the same. So I travelled all the way here, over a hundred light years from my home planet, beautiful Cardassia Prime, to warn them against the path they were taking. But they didn’t listen.”

“You were trying to help them?” Bilbo asked.

“Of course I was,” Smaug said. “But they didn’t care. They laughed off my concerns and sent me on my way--but it had taken me years to get here. If I were to return with nothing, I would be the laughing stock of the scientific community. And for no reason other than that I was too smart for them. I had so much to offer.”

“Why do you think they didn’t take it?”

“Damnable Klingon honor. They think they’re all that, but brawn only gets you so far. I knew from the moment I stepped down on that planet that I was the most advanced lifeform there, but if they didn’t care, well I didn’t have to either. So I left, and I bided my time on Dale Station, where I took advantage of Commander Atwater’s hospitality and built myself a weapon and then, when the time was right, I attacked. Even with all their Klingon strength, my dual attack was able to decimate their population. It was a shame that Dale was caught in the crossfire, but needs must and all that.”

Bilbo swallowed. “Where was the transmission going?”

“Home. So my people could colonize this planet and save it from the destruction the Klingons are going to bring.” Smaug sighed. “It’s a pity, but I don’t have time to wait for another message to send, even in stasis. In regards to the Arkenstone, I’m almost tempted to let you take it, if only so you can have the privilege of seeing what the Klingons are like at their worst. But I’ve decided against that. I think our little game ends here. I’ve enjoyed this conversation--it’s easily been the most interesting one I’ve had in, oh, 50 years, give or take, but I’m afraid it is time for you to die.”

Smaug pulled a phaser from a holster on his hip and fired several scattered shots. Bilbo dove under the table and prayed he didn’t look too hard. Another half dozen shots were fired as Smaug hissed, and after a minute of quiet, Bilbo poked out his head just in time to see him place his weapon back in its holster. “I certainly got him that time. Computer, is the transporter back online?”

“Affirmative.”

“Beam me down to--” Bilbo didn’t pay attention as he rattled off the coordinates, just watched and waited until he was dematerialized. Once he was gone, he stood up and tried to get the ring off, but his hands were shaking so badly he could barely pull his finger out. Once it was off, he slammed it down on the table with a loud click.

“Fuck!” Bilbo yelled, running a hand through and messing up his hair. “Fuck! That was not great! Computer, anything on scanners?”

“The human vessel Albatross is in high orbit above planet. An unidentified vessel just broke through the atmosphere.”

“Fuck!” Bilbo repeated. “Computer, what’s the heading of the second vessel?”

“Unable to determine that at this time. Vessel moving into visual range.” Bilbo glanced out the window and his eyes went wide.

“Oh, so that’s the dragon,” Bilbo said. “It’s Little Smaug flying around in Big Smaug. Guess that makes sense.”

Smaug the vessel was huge--easily double the size of the Albatross and almost as big as the Oakenshield had been. It was fairly true to the terran concept of what a dragon should look like, and as it flew past the viewscreen it let out a breath of--well, fire wouldn’t work in space, so it was probably superheated exhaust fumes or something--and its chest glowed like a furnace, which was when Bilbo saw it. He let out a low whistle. “Well. Girion did hit a scale under the left wing. Probably compromised its shielding.”

Smaug finally flew out of view, and Bilbo took a deep breath. “Computer, approximate the vessel’s heading now.”

“Approximate destination is Esgaroth Shipyard, in eleven minutes.”

“Of fucking course it is,” Bilbo said. “Hail the Albatross. Audio and visual, please.”

The computer beeped, and a moment later Thorin appeared on screen, beaming. “Bilbo! You’re alright!”

“Thorin, I’ve got to get off this station. I’ll explain when I get there. Transmit your coordinates to me, and I’ll transport over.”

Thorin was giving him a long hard look, but after a moment he nodded. “Transmitting coordinates now. I’ll see you in a few.”

The computer beeped, and a blinking light appeared on his console. “Coordinates received.”

Bilbo snatched the ring off the console and tucked it back in his pocket. Then, he squeezed his eyes shut, already trying and failing to brace himself for the feeling of transporting. “Transport me there.”

When he opened them again, Balin was at the transporter, and as soon as Bilbo moved he stepped up and pulled him into a hug. “Laddie, are you alright?”

Bilbo nodded as much as he could with his face pressed into Balin’s white hair. “Yes, but I’ve got to get to the bridge.”

Balin nodded and led him that way. When they got there, Thorin stood up from the captain’s chair, and pulled Bilbo into a tight hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

“So am I, but Esgaroth won’t be.” Bilbo took a deep breath. “I met Smaug. The person, or Cardassian, technically, not Smaug the big ship which just left the planet. He’s closing in on Esgaroth as we speak, we’ve got to stop him--”

“Wait,” Ori said, “Smaug is a person? I thought he was a big space creature!”

“I mean, I guess Smaug the ship is like a space lizard mecha that is controlled by Smaug the person,” Bilbo said, speaking less to Ori and more to the bridge in general, “but the details don’t really matter. He’s heading for Esgaroth, and he’s going to get there in less than ten minutes now, and they won’t stand a chance. We’ve got to go there.”

“We can’t.”

Bilbo turned to Thorin, who was standing in front of his seat with his arms crossed. “Thorin, you can’t be serious.”

“Bilbo, we’re one ship, and if we go to Esgaroth, we’ll be destroyed as well.” Thorin’s eyes were bright with tears. “We can not go there. We need to cut our losses now and go down to the--”

Bilbo spluttered in outrage. “What the hell do you mean? What--what happened to ‘today is a good day to die’ and all that jazz? Is it honorable to abandon helpless people to save your own skin?”

“You don’t understand,” Thorin said. The rest of the crew had gone eerily silent as they watched their Captain and burglar fight, and even Bifur looked uncomfortable. “You have never had to lead, Bilbo! This isn’t about my own skin, this is bigger than us--this is the end of almost sixty years in exile for my people! This gives us our lives back!”

“You have friends there! Your nephews are there, Thorin--”

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!”

“Seven hundred people live in Esgaroth, Thorin,” Bilbo said. He didn’t know when he’d started crying, but now he couldn’t stop. “Please.”

“Bilbo, I’m sorry,” Thorin said. “If I thought we could save them, we would try, but the odds are stacked too high against us. We can not lose it all now.”

Bilbo let out a choked sob, and a moment later felt Dwalin put a surprisingly gentle hand on his shoulder.

Thorin shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dori, set course for the capital.”

“Gods, what have we done?” Bilbo murmured, as the Albatross dropped out of orbit and made for the surface.

Chapter Text

“Gods, that was the worst day of my fucking life,” Fíli muttered. He and Sigrid were sitting beside each other on Bard’s porch, which was really just a flat space marked off by a rug that had a few house plants on it, and smoking vapor cigs she got from her brother. Fíli’s was root beer flavored, which he’d never heard of before but Sigrid said was one of the better flavors. Several hours had passed since Kíli’s miraculous healing, and now the lights had been dimmed for Esgaroth’s evening setting.

Sigrid snickered, then took another drag. She breathed out a cloud of vaguely pomegranate scented air, then said, “So what happens now? Are the four of you going to head for Erebor?”

Fíli shrugged. “I guess we should.”

“You don’t sound thrilled about it.”

“It’s complicated,” Fíli said. “As in, actually complicated, not just ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ complicated. For one thing, I have no idea what we’re going to find there. The carnage that must have been left behind after--I mean, I don’t even know if the rest of our crew has survived.”

“Do you think they did?”

“If anybody could, it’s them.”

“Are you still mad at your Uncle? Cause if you are, you’re just gonna have to move on.” Sigrid tucked her vape in the pocket of her t-shirt and sat up a little straighter. “I mean, it really sucks, like, super super sucks, that he didn’t wait on you, especially with Kíli as sick as he was, but with family you’ve just got to get over it.”

“I’m not mad about that. Or, not as mad. You know, my Uncle said that as the heir of our house, I would understand why he did it someday. And being left here has taught me something, but I don’t think it was what he wanted me to learn.” There was a strange groaning noise, echoing through the metal in a way that made it sound like it was on the other end of the station, but Fíli ignored it. “I think a day is coming, quicker than we want to admit, when the Klingons are going to have to change.”

“How so?”

“The High Houses have always prided themselves on not merging with each other, but conquering. But that cycle of violence--I don’t think it can sustain itself forever. The Khitomer Accords have set us on a path towards becoming an equal player in the universe, not an Emperor, and I think it’s for the best.” Fíli heard another strange noise-- sounded almost hydraulic- -but instead of commenting on it, he took a drag on the vape--root beer was, unfortunately, a bit too sweet for his tastes--and blew it out through his nose. “We’ve got a lot to learn from our...tentative allies in the Federation.”

“And I think we humans and Vulcans can learn a lot as well,” Sigrid said, then gasped. “Holy shit, are you alright?”

The blonde Vulcan--Legolas, Fíli had found out his name was--had finally arrived back at Bard’s house after disappearing before Kíli was healed, and he was covered in green blood. “It isn’t mine. How’s your...brother?”

“He’s alright, thanks to Tauriel,” Fíli said. “Come on, Sigrid, let’s go inside with him.”

“Kay.”

Sigrid stood up, took the offered vape back from Fíli, and followed them inside. When Tauriel saw Legolas and the state he was in, one sharp eyebrow rose in question, and he repeated his answer, “Not mine. But I’ve got news.”

“What is it?” Tauriel asked.

Legolas hesitated, then spoke in Vulcan. Tauriel’s eyes widened, and she answered in standard, “You’re certain?”

“Half the station has been sealed off. Emergency bulkheads in place.” He turned to Sigrid. “Is your home computer wired into the main station computer?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure,” Sigrid said. “But I think it would be weird if it wasn’t, if that makes sense?”

“It’s probably connected, but locked out of most administrative capacities,” Kíli said, standing up from his seat at the kitchen table. “It’s over in the corner, I’ll see if I can override the system security.”

Kíli went to go work on the computer, and Tauriel turned to Sigrid and Bain, who were both watching the exchange with overt curiosity. “Can you two do something for me?”

“Sure,” Sigrid said. Bain nodded beside her.

“I need you two to go pack an overnight bag. Sigrid, if you’d get one for your sister as well, that’d be very helpful.”

Sigrid and Bain exchanged a concerned look, but disappeared down the hall to their bedrooms without any questions.

Fíli turned to the two Vulcans, who both looked somewhat guilty. “What else is going on?”

“We’re not entirely sure,” Legolas answered. “Those Romulans were from Gundabad, an elite military unit under Bolg--”

“Son of Azog,” Fíli said. “Not surprising, they’ve been tracking us this whole time. But that’s not enough to make you want to get the Bowman kids ready to evacuate.”

“No,” Tauriel agreed, turning to the blond. “It is not.”

“I--it’s mainly just a hunch,” Legolas said. “But I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.”

“I’m in,” Kíli called from the other side of the room.

Legolas crossed the room in a few short strides and leaned over to look at the screen. “How much access do you have?”

“Partial. I can’t see personnel files, but I can see all ongoing station operations.”

“That’ll work,” Legolas said. Tauriel and Fíli had joined them around the computer, and were just close enough to hear him drop his voice down, low enough so that Tilda, who was playing cards with Bofur and Óin at the coffee table, couldn’t hear. “I need you to see why the emergency bulkheads are up.”

Kíli’s tongue was sticking ever so slightly out as he concentrated on inputting the access codes. The answer he saw made him frown. “I--that can’t be right.”

“What is it?” Fíli asked. “Keep your voice down.”

Kíli pointed to a line of code. “That’s the code for hull breach, but if there were hull breaches, the station would be on red alert. Klaxons blaring, flashing lights, all the works.”

“What is going on here?” Tauriel asked, and maybe one of them would’ve answered if the station hadn’t chosen that moment to lurch, hard enough to knock the furniture over a few feet and cause both Fíli and the two standing Vulcans to stumble. Soon, an emergency siren could be heard echoing through the halls.

Kíli turned around as much as he could while pinned slightly between Legolas, his seat, and the computer station. His dark eyes were wide. “That’s what it sounds like when there’s a hull breach.”

“What was that?” Tilda asked, as Óin pulled in her in to steady her from the side. “Is Esgaroth okay?”

“Um,” Tauriel hesitated. After a second, she dropped to kneel in front of Tilda. “I’m not sure, but don’t worry. We’re all going to be okay. I’m going to go talk to your sister and brother really quick, okay?”

Tilda nodded. “Okay.”

Tauriel popped back to standing and pushed the knocked over lamp out of her way as she disappeared down the hall.

“Go with her,” Kíli said, pleadingly.

“Already on it,” Fíli answered, “Legolas, help him out.”

He quickly scaled the jarred furniture and met the twins and Tauriel in the hall. Tauriel was doing her best to keep her tone even, but the speed she was speaking exposed her anxiety. “Now that the alarms are going, the next order is almost certainly going to be for evacuation--”

“I’m not so sure,” Fíli cut in. Tauriel’s brows furrowed, and he explained, “You haven’t seen the quality of Esgaroth leadership.”

“Count your blessings,” Bain muttered.

“Do you two know the pre-flight sequences? For your dad’s ship?” Fíli asked. “Whether that evac order comes or not, we need to be ready to go.”

“We both do,” Sigrid answered.

“Alright. One of you is going to need to stay and get those started and keep an eye on Tilda. The other one I need with me.” He turned to Tauriel. “Have Legolas get your ship going, and I’ll have Óin do the same in the Milura, the shuttle of ours we were in. You, me, Kíli, and Bofur will take one of the twins to the station common and see what’s going on.”

“I’ll stay,” Sigrid said. “Tilda’ll be less nervous with me, especially since Óin will still be around also.”

“Alright, looks like you’re with us, Bain,” Fíli said, clapping him on the shoulder. Tauriel disappeared to go pass orders to Legolas and the others and Bain followed, while he turned to the other twin. “Sigrid, please take his bag to the ship--”

“Wait, if you’re going to be in your ship and we’ll take ours--I’m trying to say that neither of us know how to actually fly the Barge. Dad only ever taught us how to play navigator,” Sigrid said.

“I won’t be in mine,” Fíli said. “If we can’t get your dad, I’ll fly. Are we good now?”

“Yeah,” Sigrid said. “That’ll work. Hurry back.”

“We will,” Fíli said, heading back to the living room and brushing past Óin and Legolas on the way. “You all ready?”

“Yes, sir,” Bofur teased, and they stepped out of Bard’s front door into a scene that looked very familiar after their journey. “Ah, good old red alert!”

“Bain, lead the way,” Fíli said. “Where would the people be gathered?”

“Near Fairweather’s,” Bain said. “This way.”

They quickly moved through eerily silent hallways until the main frosted glass doors opened up into a crowd of people. It seemed like even more of the people of Esgaroth were here now than they had been last night, and as they pushed into the crowd a voice from their right called out, “Bain, sweetheart?”

“Hilda!” Bain cried, allowing an older woman with long dark hair to pull him into a hug.

“We’ve been worried,” she murmured into his hair, then stepped back. “Your sisters alright?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Bain said. “Hilda, what the hell’s going on here?”

“I’ll tell you what’s happening,” a man’s voice answered as he stepped up beside Hilda. “The apocalypse.”

“Percy!” Hilda cried smacking him in the arm.

“Where’s Masterson?” Bofur asked.

“He did what I feel like he always did whenever going got tough,” came a different, familiar voice, and Cait from the archival office joined the circle. “He split. How’s your hangover?”

“Not awful, thanks.”

“That’s it,” Kíli said, thinking aloud. “That’s why the alarms didn’t go off. That bastard wanted to make sure he got out first, even if it put the lives of his people at stake.”

“It didn’t just put them at stake,” Percy said, sounding wrecked. “That last shot was the first to knock us off kilter, but those bulkheads aren’t just up for a hull breach. That whole half of the station is gone.”

In their little circle, you could’ve heard a pin drop. “What,” Kíli said.

“How many dead?” Tauriel asked gently.

Cait sniffed. “At least four hundred eighty. Primarily our engineering staff and their, their families.”

“I’m so sorry,” Fíli answered.

Percy cleared his throat. “I was trying to get the logs up earlier--even if our dickish overlord wouldn’t report any trouble, the computer would have it, and there have been several passes by--”

“It’s Smaug,” Cait said.

“We can’t be sure of that,” Percy said.

Fíli swallowed. “No, you can. I’m the nephew and heir of Thorin. He was heading for Erebor. It was obviously not the plan, but I guess the dragon woke up.”

“We’re doomed,” Hilda said. “There’s nowhere to go.”

“No, we’re not,” Percy said. “It’s circling the station right now, and it hasn’t gotten any faster. It’s breathing something--some superheated substance, probably plasma--every few minutes, but it isn’t breaking pattern yet.”

“As long as we organize the evacuation around the pattern, we should be able to get everyone off,” Tauriel said.

“And we make for Dale,” Fíli added.

“Make for Dale? More like what’s left of it,” Cait scoffed, wiping a tear from the edge of her eye.

“No, he may be onto something,” Percy said. “As long as we can get emergency shielding in place, Dale can keep us alive for a few days. Maybe the damage in the administrative sections won’t be too awful.”

“Going to Dale will buy enough time for Starfleet to get here with aid,” Fíli said. “We’ll need a couple of engineers, Bofur and Kíli both have the background--”

“So do I,” Tauriel said.

“And so do I,” Percy added. “It was my day off. I’m actually engineering’s second here. First was one of Masterson’s darlings.”

“What warp factor does your ship get up to?” Fíli asked Tauriel.

“The Orchid can do warp 7, but not for long,” she answered.

“The Milura’s got warp 8, almost 9,” Bofur said. “Bard refilled our dilithium after Alfrid searched his house. We’ll make it to Dale in a flash.”

“There’s no way the dragon won’t notice a bunch of ships and escape pods trying to leave,” Cait said. “He’s not stupid. We’ll need a diversion if we want to--”

“Wait,” Hilda cut in. “Where’d Bain go?”

Tauriel and the other two Klingons spun around, looking for Bain, and the station lurched again. As he righted himself again, it dawned on Fíli and he closed his eyes. “He’s gone to be our diversion.”

“Shit, you’re right,” Bofur said. He twisted one braid anxiously. “I remember where we stashed that torpedo--”

“Torpedo?” Percy asked. “Oh, what the hell, Bard.”

“I can go after him,” Bofur said.

Fíli paused for a long time. “No, you can’t. He was going to go after his dad either way, but we don’t have time for it. Not if we want to save as many lives as possible.”

“You’re going to have to justify this to Sigrid,” Tauriel said.

“I know,” Fíli said, and Tauriel gave him an approving nod. He turned to the three humans. “One of you’s bound to have been on Bard’s ship. How many people, maximum, do you think we can get on there?”

“30, 35,” Hilda answered.

“The Orchid’s suggested maximum capacity is eight, but I think we can squeeze twenty on there,” Tauriel said before Fíli could even ask.

“Station’s got some escape pods as well, right?”

“Yes, sir. They’re big, seat 12 a piece,” Cait answered.

“Send fifty people to Bard’s and get everybody else into the escape pods. Between the Barge and the Orchid, we should be able to get them all in tow,” Fíli answered. “But make sure to leave one behind for--”

“Bain and Bard,” Hilda finished. She gave Fíli a watery smile. “You’re a good man. Well, a good Klingon, I suppose.”

“We have to leave them, but we don’t have to leave them without a way out,” Fíli said. “Everybody ready?”

“As we’ll ever be,” Cait said. “Go on, you all get your ships ready. We’ll get everyone together, meet you there.”

Three Klingons, one Vulcan, and a different human than the one they started with raced back to the Bard’s room, and by the time they were there Óin must have finished his pre-launch sequences, because he was sitting on the couch telling Tilda stories. “You know, Milura was actually my mother’s name, may her soul be fighting the good fight in Sto’Vo’Kor, and my little brother was always a mama’s boy--”

“Óin, sorry to interrupt, but they’re taking your shuttle,” Fíli said. “You and Tilda are both going to come with me on the Barge.”

“Alright,” Óin said. He turned and jabbed Bofur in the chest. “Not a scratch on her, young man. Understood?”

Bofur frowned. “You know I’m not going to be flying, right?”

Óin hmmph-ed in annoyance and ignored him. He took Tilda’s hand, apparently to lead her to the Barge, but she pulled out of his grip and went to the family’s entertainment console, where she pulled out an infostick. “What’s that, little one?”

“It’s Dad’s music. He’ll need it when he gets back,” Tilda said, sticking it in her pocket. Fíli’s eye twitched. “We can go now.”

Tilda now allowed herself to be shown to Bard’s ship, and Fíli meant to follow, but was stopped by his brother’s hand at his elbow. When he turned around, Kíli was beaming. “You did really good, you know. If Uncle were here--”

“He’d tell me I just did my job,” Fíli said.

“Yeah, well, Uncle’s kind of a dick. Now if Mother were here--”

Fíli laughed and pulled his brother into a hug, knocking their foreheads gently together. “Stay safe, little brother.”

“You too,” he whispered. “Try not to worry about me too much.”

Fíli stepped back. “Bofur, not a scratch.”

“Óin’s lucky he’s old enough it passes as senility,” Bofur muttered. “I’m a comms officer, not a pilot, dammit!”

“And a damn good one you are,” Fíli said. “Percy, get her ready for your people.”

“Aye, sir,” Percy said, performing a human style salute. “You just make sure my people make it out.”

“And Tauriel?”

“Yes?” She seemed surprised that he mentioned her, and Fíli could tell by how stiff she went that she was even more surprised when he pulled her into a hug.

“I will never be able to thank you enough for saving his life,” he said. “But I will always try. Take care of yourself.”

“You too,” she whispered, and then she and the rest of the Milura’s temporary crew remotely transported to the shuttle.

He trailed the same route Óin had taken Tilda, and was soon crossing the airlock onto the bridge. He had one moment of peace in the pilot’s chair before Sigrid was at his side. “Where the hell is my brother?”

“He gave us the slip,” Fíli said. “He’s going to find your father and give him the torpedo. We--we can’t wait on him. I’m sorry.”

Sigrid clapped her hand over her mouth as she dropped into the navigation seat. “But Bain--you left them a way out?”

“An escape pod,” Fíli said. “But Sigrid--we need them there. We need the distraction to get out.”

Sigrid wiped her tears, nodding. “I know. They’ll either kill the dragon or--yes, they’ll kill the dragon. I know they will.”

“Of course,” Fíli said, and said a silent prayer to the warriors waiting in Sto’Vo’Kor: If there is any strength that you can give to Bard, please, make him the warrior he needs to be. Give him strength to succeed where both our people have failed.

***

When the emergency protocols finally kicked in and released Bard from his cell, the first thing he did was let out a loud whoop. The second thing he did was take a phaser the security guards had left when they apparently abandoned him. And the third thing he did was head back out to the main corridor, which was where he ran into his son.

“Bain?” He shouted. The kid was leaned over oddly, and after a moment he realized it was because he was hauling the, poorly-wrapped, but still recognizable, photon torpedo.

“Dad!” Bain said, expression lighting up. He set the torpedo down and let Bard hug him, harder than usual with the relief.

“What the hell is going on? Nobody’s walked by me just to be a dick in like, three hours,” Bard said.

“Masterson and his people are gone.” Bain paused. “Half the station has been destroyed.”

“The dragon,” Bard said.

Bain nodded, and bent down to pick up the torpedo again. “We need to get this to the weapon’s bay. It should still be intact.”

“Should be intact?” Bard repeated, bending down to help as he realized. “Oh my god. How many?”

“Over four hundred.”

“God,” Bard breathed. “What about the rest?”

“I think these two Vulcans who showed up and a few of the Klingons--a couple of them had to come back because one of them was sick, but he’s fine now, the Vulcan chick healed him--are helping evacuate everybody.” Bain paused. “I think they’re using the Barge.”

“Good,” Bard said. At Bain’s look, he continued, “They’re probably going to need it more than we do. Let’s hope they save us an escape pod, yeah?”

Bain nodded, brows furrowed. “Yeah.”

Between the two of them carrying the torpedo went far more quickly, and soon they’d made it to the weapons center. Bard shot the door panel to open the door, and then while Bain set everything else up, he dropped the torpedo into the loading tube outside. Please still work after all this years he prayed, and then whooped when it did.

“We’re ready to go as soon as the dragon comes back around,” Bard said. “Computer, what weapons are still online?”

“Phase cannons are ready to fire. Contents of Torpedo Launcher: one torpedo,” the computer answered.

“Okay. Okay, we can work with that. Bain, take the phase cannons. Over there,” he said, pointing. “We’ll hold off on the torpedo for now. Computer, give us a view from all four sides of the station.”

“Camera four can not be reached. Showing cannons one through three on the viewscreen.”

Bard looked up and watched as a blast of fire or whatever the hell it was just barely missed a small shuttle and his ship. “Its coming back around, Bain.”

“I’m ready,” Bain said, and as it crossed directly in front of the phase cannons, Bain let out three rapid blasts.

“Direct hit,” the computer said.

“Nice,” Bard said, then winced as the dragon paused mid flight and spun around to face them again.

Something beeped on Bain’s console. “Uh, Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s hailing us.”

“What is?”

“Smaug. The dragon.”

“How is that--” Bard started, then shook his head. “You know what? I don’t really need to know how. I don’t think it’ll make me feel better.”

“What do we do? We’re being hailed!”

Bard shrugged. “Well--fucking answer him, I guess.”

“Audio only,” Bain said.

Bard swallowed. “Smaug?”

“Who are you that would stand against me?”

The voice was...not British, but surprisingly posh sounding, for a dragon, and Bain and him exchanged a shrug. “This is Bard.”

There was a pause. “You’re human. And you think you’re capable of defeating me?”

“I don’t know about that. I think--I know I’m going to try.”

“Of course you are. You just don’t know when to quit. Just like the last human who tried to reason with me, Commander Atwater. And I’m going to kill you too.”

“Why? What do you gain?” Bard was circling the center console, hoping he could catch him monologuing while waiting for a clear shot.

“Oh, nothing, except the sweet satisfaction of the act. Because like it or not, you’re just like the Klingons I killed. You’re blind, ignorant fools--blind to the fact that you are always going to be the inferior race in the galaxy. What do humans have? You don’t have telepathy, you became warp capable on a fluke--you don’t even have Klingon’s physical strength! But you do have one other thing in common with them: your foolish pride.”

“Shut up!” Bard yelled, stopping in his pacing.

“Dad, stop,” Bain said, pointing at something on the opposite side of the central console from Bard.

Smaug laughed darkly. “Oh, and you brought your child along as well? You’re more foolish than I thought. That’s exactly what I was talking about! Even when you look death in the face, you keep wearing your pride like armor.”

“Prideful, eh?” Bard said. “I don’t know about that.”

Bain was brilliant. The targeting algorithm was almost done, at 93%--he almost had the shot, it just needed a few more seconds.

“You will see it soon enough, you pathetic human.” Smaug’s obviously mechanical wings flexed on the viewscreen, and Bard could see the spot where his grandfather had hit him, all those years ago. “All that is left for you and your son is death!”

“You sure about that?” Bard’s wrist was rested on the edge of the table above the torpedo launch button.

“I am certain. You are completely outmatched in every way. And you and your son will burn!”

“Actually, I’m not,” Bard said, and fired the torpedo at the same time that Smaug soared towards them and let out a superheated blast of plasma. A second later, they heard a massive boom and Smaug’s head and upper torso exploded in a flash of light, as Bain cheered. Unfortunately, the lower half was still soaring towards the station, kamikaze style. “Okay, kid, pause on the celebration--computer, time of impact?”

“Thirty-three seconds.”

“Shit, we have to go,” Bain said, and the two of them began a mad dash from the weapons center to the closest evacuation spot, where lo and behold an escape pod remained. They climbed in and fired off, and were then knocked slightly off kilter by the wave of radiation as Smaug collided with Esgaroth.

“That was too close,” Bard said.

“More like too badass!” Bain said, throwing his arms around his father. “Dad, you--you killed Smaug! Or destroyed him, I guess? That would make sense if he wasn’t actually alive, right?”

“I think there was a person--not a human person, but an alien person--inside the, er, dragon ship, but yeah,” Bard said. It still felt like his heart was in his throat. “I guess I did.”

“That was so fucking cool,” Bain said.

“Language,” Bard said dully. “Oy, did you stick around long enough to know where they were evacuating too?”

Bain’s silence was answer enough, and Bard sighed. “Great. Well, once the emergency transceiver boots up, we’ll comm for help.”

“What are you going to do right now?”

“Sleep.” At Bain’s look, Bard shrugged. “Jail’s not comfortable. Wake me up when the transceiver is ready.”

“Okay, but Dad?”

Bard cracked an eye open from where he’d leaned back. “Yeah?”

“You’re amazing. And I’m proud of you.”

Bard stood up and moved over to the side where Bain was and pulled him into a side hug. “I couldn’t have done it without you. If you hadn’t got him with the phase cannons, we would never have gotten our shot.”

“Yeah, but did you see how he--”

Bard knew Bain would keep himself busy talking for a while, with or without an audience, so he leaned back in the seat, closed his eyes, and allowed himself to drift off while listening to his son’s voice.

Chapter Text

“Crossing into lower atmosphere now, Captain.”

Bilbo let out another sob from the first officer’s seat. Thorin reached out, perhaps to give his knee a squeeze, then hesitated and pulled his hand back to its armrest. “Excellent, Balin. Take us down at your leisure.”

“Wait,” Bilbo said, quietly, sniffing again. “Wait.”

“Bilbo?” Thorin asked.

Bilbo took a deep breath and tried to keep his voice steady. “Ori, can you double check? That the surface is clear? And that its safe?”

“Clear of what?” Thorin asked.

“I’m not certain. Just something--” Bilbo trailed off into a whisper when he noticed everyone staring. “I just have a feeling.”

Bilbo heard the computer beep as the scans completed, and Ori turned around and shrugged. “If there’s something wrong on the surface or in atmosphere, it isn’t showing up on scanners. I’ll run some more tests when we’re on surface, if it makes you feel better. This ship isn’t a science vessel so it only has rudimentary sensors anyway.”

Thorin took a deep breath. “You’re still upset, par’mach’kai--”

“Don’t tell me what I am,” Bilbo snapped, then let out another hiccupping sob and wrapped his arms around himself. The rest of the bridge was eerily silent, except for the white noise of the warp core and the comm system, and Bilbo wished for anything that would make more noise so he wouldn’t seem so hysterical. For one of the first times since joining their group, he wished they’d be louder.

Thorin huffed out a sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose. Bilbo barely heard him when he finally murmured, “I’m sorry.”

Bilbo took his hand on their shared armrest and squeezed it, gently, and Thorin squeezed back. “I know,” he whispered.

“Engaging landing gear now, Captain,” Dori said, hands moving gracefully over the controls. “And--there it is.”

The Albatross dropped to the ground with a soft bump, and soon Bilbo heard the hiss as their departure ramp extended out from under the airlock. As soon as the landing in progress lights went off, Bilbo stood and left the bridge, beating the rest of the bridge crew to the airlock door. Glóin and Bifur were both there, signing to each other, when Bilbo moved into their little group. They both looked more than a little concerned about him, and he knew Glóin was about to ask when Bilbo cut him off with a wave and an, “I’m fine. Sorry about my outburst.”

Bifur grunted in protest and Glóin shook his head. “Oh no, don’t apologize for expressing your emotions. You aren’t a warrior, Bilbo. You’ve lost people, but compared to us, you’ve seen so little death. You’re not used to it.”

“No,” Bilbo said, “I’m really not, am I.”

Someone tentatively cleared their throat from behind him, and Bilbo turned to see Thorin. “We’ve dropped down in the capital city, Khazora.”

“How close are we to the Raven Hall?” Glóin asked.

“Maybe a few blocks,” Thorin said. Balin was handing out communicators to everyone as he spoke. “We should be able to see its spires when we disembark. I--” he shot Bilbo a worried glance, and Bilbo turned to look at his shoes “--I don’t know what we will find here.”

“Most of the carnage would be gone after fifty-five years,” Dwalin said, and Bilbo was surprised to note that it was for his benefit.

“Still,” Thorin said. “We shouldn’t prepare for any happy sights.”

“We’re ready whenever you are, Captain,” Balin said as he finished his distribution, and Thorin nodded.

He took another second to compose himself, then said, “Open the airlock door, Nori.”

Nori keyed in the command and the door slid open. The Klingons walked down the ramp in silence and something close to reverence, with Bilbo at the back of the group, trying not to interfere. When they all had stepped out into the city square, Ori gasped, “Oh, its lovely. Sad, but beautiful.”

“It is,” Bilbo agreed. He hadn’t been sure what he expected, but when he’d pictured Erebor in his mind, it hadn’t seemed so lush. Without almost sixty years of pruning, all of the greenery had begun taking over the streets and buildings, and there were tall flowering weeds growing up through cracks in the pavement. All the branches on the trees were weighed down with large, multi-colored fruits, and they were scattered around the courtyard as well. On one side of the courtyard was a fountain, no longer flowing after so many years, but with its sculpture of birds still intact. Around it were several overgrown flower beds that were so fragrant Bilbo could smell them from where he was standing. It was also warmer than Bilbo had expected, and surprisingly humid.

Thorin had walked to the edge of the courtyard, where there was a green oxidized copper statue of a Klingon woman, decked out in full armor with her bat’leth held high and her long hair splayed out behind her, as if blown in the wind. Thorin trailed a hand along the engravings on the base, and his voice was thick with an emotion Bilbo couldn’t quite place. “I know this place--these streets. Do you remember what it was like? In the glory days of Thror’s reign?”

“Aye, Thorin,” Balin said, and when Bilbo turned towards him, his eyes were glistening with unshed tears. “It was always so busy out here. People from all walks of life would gather in the courtyards to buy food, spend time together, befriend their neighbors. The streets were full of joy and laughter, children playing in the fountains.”

“It will be that way again,” Thorin said. “Come, we need to head for the Hall.”

He gave one last adoring look to the statue, then made for the main street, dodging a fallen willow-type tree and a broken street lamp. As they trailed after him, Bilbo leaned over to Ori and asked, “Do you know who that statue was?”

“Erezla,” Ori answered, “His grandmother, the wife of Thror.”

“Oh,” Bilbo said, and didn’t ask any more questions as they followed Thorin to the Raven Hall. The rest of the group was quiet as well, and even Dori and Nori had ceased their (mostly) friendly bickering in accordance with the somber mood. There were many collapsed buildings, although if they were from Smaug’s attack or just consequences of time and the weather, but there were also lots of birds flying in the blue sky, and little rodents scurrying around as well. Life still exists here, Bilbo thought, Smaug didn’t win. They can bring it back.

Without noticing, Thorin had fallen back in the group and was standing beside Bilbo, and he took Bilbo’s hand and pointed up above a rooftop. “See up there? That’s the main dome of the roof.”

“It must be massive,” Bilbo said, taking the conversational peace offering.

“When I was little, most of the family lived there--Dwalin and I were closest in age, and Balin was training for his first command with my father. It was the happiest time of my life,” Thorin said, and Bilbo took his hand and held onto it.

Dwalin and Glóin were now at the front of the group, and they lead them past more stone houses which were largely still intact, rounded metal roofs and all. They rounded one last corner and then Glóin let out a pained roar. Thorin, still gripping Bilbo’s hand, rushed back to the front of the group. “Glóin? What is--”

“Oh gods,” Bilbo said.

They had come upon the great wall that surrounded the Raven Hall, which was easily eighteen feet tall excluding the cast iron spikes atop it. At the front and center, aligned with the middle axes of the Hall itself, was the gatehouse, with the gate lowered and in front of it, a massive number of skeletons, all leaned towards the door. Balin had stepped up to stand beside them as well.

“They were trying to get in,” Balin said.

“How’d they all die though?” Dwalin asked. “It doesn’t look like Smaug’s handy work--there’s no burn marks on the surrounding stone, and the extreme heat would’ve shrunk the bones. It doesn’t make sense.”

“They thought the house of Durin could offer them protection,” Thorin said. His voice didn’t crack, but it was close, and Bilbo gave his hand a quick squeeze. “They died afraid and alone. Nobody roared for them.”

“Well,” Bombur said, slightly nervously, moving from the far edge of the group into the center. “Maybe it’s a little late, but there’s no reason we can’t roar for them now.”

“Damn straight,” Nori said, and immediately tilted his head back and let out a roar. Bombur quickly followed, and one after the other, the remaining Klingons joined in--Bifur, Dori, Ori, Dwalin, Balin, and then at last Thorin, by which point Bilbo had covered both his ears and they were still loud enough to make Bilbo’s ears ring. When they finally stopped, Thorin stepped forward and cleared his throat.

“These people--my people, died here, hoping beyond hope, afraid and lost. But no longer is hope lost to us. No longer is Erebor lost to us. We have beaten the odds, defeated the dragon, and made it home, after fifty-five years,” Thorin said. The crew roared in response, and Bilbo clapped along, and even thought he might have heard somebody throw out a “qapla’!” When they quieted again, Thorin continued, “Their loss will not be in vain. I will not forget the desolation Smaug has caused, and I will avenge it. This does not end with the reclamation of Erebor for the Klingons of the house of Durin. Whatever great battle comes to Erebor next, and I know it will come, will be fought and won in their name and memory, to ensure their rightful places in Sto’Vo’Kor!”

The group cheered again.

That marked the end of the speech--references to Klingon heaven usually were--and Balin was the next to speak, returning their minds to the task immediately at hand. “Ori, do you think you can analyze these remains, find out who their identities are, if they’ve still got family out there?”

“Well, I took one class on forensic science and another on anthropology, but neither were my focus. If Óin was here we could probably do more, but….” Ori trailed off, shrugging. “I’ll give it a shot.”

“Do what you can,” Balin said. “The rest of us will see if there’s any help we can give you. Glóin, do you think you could get the power on, in the Hall at least?”

Glóin nodded, looking pensive. “If I remember correctly, there was a backup generator at one of the electricity substations that could power most of the city. Obviously I never learned all the specs, but I know it was solar based. If I had help I could probably get it fired up again.”

“Bifur will go with you,” Balin said, and the member of their group with an ushaan-tor in his skull nodded in agreement.

“When you get your job, you can head there right away,” Thorin said. “There is much work to be done. Keep your comms on and close.”

“Aye, sir,” Glóin said, and he and Bifur took their leave from the group.

“Dwalin and Nori, you two go to the city communications tower,” Balin directed next. “Back in Thror’s day, we were linked with RAVENHILL down here and long distance, high speed subspace comms could be sent from the surface as well. Once the power comes on, assess the damage.”

“We’re on it,” Dwalin said, and he and Nori headed down the messy streets to the comm tower.

“Bombur and Dori, you and I are going to help Ori get remains sorted,” Balin said. “Afterwards, we’ll see if we can help him out with the analysis as well, and then we’ll figure things out from there.”

“What about Thorin and I?” Bilbo asked, raising a hand.

“Well, as much as I sometimes wish I did, I don’t give orders to the Captain,” Balin answered, giving a teasing wink. “But my recommendation would be that you two should take a break. It’s been a long day for all of us. The Raven Hall should be largely undamaged. Maybe Thorin could show you around.”

Bilbo glanced at Thorin out of the corner of his eye, and he could see that his face was carefully neutral. But Bilbo could also sense him, and the amount of hope there…. “I would like that,” Bilbo said, and Thorin’s face lit up.

“I’m glad.” Thorin’s smile was warm and earnest, and Bilbo was equally glad to have caused it. “I shall help you four clear the area directly around the gate.”

“Excellent,” Balin said.

Ori scratched a hand through his beard and frowned. “I think for right now, we’re just going to have to put all the bones together in one container. I can take DNA tests and get them sorted later, but we just need them moved for right now.”

“I saw a few old crates before we turned the corner,” Dori said. “I’ll be right back.”

Balin, Thorin, and Bombur gingerly gathered the bones, and when Dori returned they had already cleared most of the immediate gateway area. Bilbo stepped up to the gate, and bent down to help when he was stalled by Thorin’s hand on his shoulder. “Bilbo. You don’t have to.”

“Okay,” Bilbo said, quietly relieved. “I would, you know.”

“I know,” Thorin said, placing the bones he gathered in Dori’s box. His hand trailed the length of the cast iron, then he reached down, gave a solid tug from the middle of the main bottom bar, and it rose with only a few scraping noises. When it stopped a few feet above Thorin’s head he just shrugged, then turned to Bilbo and held out his arm. “Bilbo?”

Bilbo stepped up and linked their arms together. When Thorin didn’t move, he said, “Well. You lived here. Lead the way.”

“That I did,” Thorin said, chuckling, and tugged Bilbo along. They stepped under the gate into a beautiful courtyard--a bit overgrown, but still lovely. There had been hedges here once, probably carved into beautiful shapes, but they’d gone wild over much of the pathway, and in some parts were even taller than Bilbo. On the inside of the wall, thick ivy grew, giving the space a magical feeling.

“This is beautiful! It reminds me of Gaffer’s greenhouse, back on Shire Station,” Bilbo said. “It’s still so lush, even without being cared for. I bet this was considered quite the romantic spot, back in the day.”

“It was. I’m glad you like it.” As they passed one flowering bush, Thorin plucked off a small bunch and tucked it behind Bilbo’s ear.

“Thorin!” Bilbo laughed, flushing darkly as the fingers of his opposite hand reached up to touch it. “What is it?”

“I can’t recall the name,” Thorin said, “but I do remember that they were my mother’s favorite. My father had these bushes planted the summer after they wed, a few months before I was born.”

“I wonder what she would think of this. Of us,” Bilbo clarified after a pause.

“I can’t say,” Thorin said. His tone was serious, but he didn’t seem overly upset by the direction of the conversation. “I was very young when Erebor fell, and after, when we were living like peasants on Qo’nos, I was so focused on getting into the Academy and being the youngest commissioned Captain ever that I made no efforts to look for a partner.”

“There’s nothing wrong with ambition,” Bilbo said.

“No, but I think she wished to see me in love,” Thorin said. “We Klingons are romantics at heart.”

“You say that like I don’t already know. But my mother would have loved you.”

“Would she have?”

“She would be so happy for me. Gods, she always wanted to see me married well, and now look at me,” Bilbo bumped his hip into Thorin’s, “promised to the heir of a great Klingon house.”

“Great may be overstating it.”

“Still,” Bilbo shrugged, trying to ignore how wistful his tone was. “Not too bad for a son of the Fourth House.”

“I suppose,” Thorin conceded. They passed a tall tree, with leaves of rich green and dark violet, and then Bilbo could see more of the hall itself. It was composed of large, blocky towers, with domed roofs done in red clay tile. There were arches above all of the doors and windows, which were made of leaded glass that appeared to be largely intact. A few big, black birds flocked around it-- the ravens it was named for, Bilbo realized after a moment, feeling a bit stupid that it took him so long to figure it out. When Thorin lifted his arm up, one of the birds came and rested on it, turning to squawk at him. Thorin smiled. “I always was the favorite.”

“What, child?”

“No, that was Dís,” Thorin said, laughing. “Of the birds. The ravens always came to me first, even before my grandfather.”

“You know, most animals are a bit like Betazoids,” Bilbo said. “Very good judges of character.”

Thorin just smiled again, and when he extended his arm out the raven flew off, cawing happily. They had reached the staircase leading up to the front double door, which was also made of iron except instead of being wrought it was two solid pieces, with a few decorated elements bolted on. It had turned dark, dark red with rust, but when Thorin took the handle of the door on the right it gave as easily as the gate, and the two of them stepped into Thorin’s childhood home in respectful silence.

The door opened into a grand space that was both more and less ornate than Bilbo had expected. The floors were smooth gray tile, with a long rug that crossed from the front door to the door on the opposite side that dust came out of as they walked across it, and the walls were the same pale beige stone as the exterior, but on the domed ceilings were painted incredibly ornate scenes--in the few moments they walked beneath it as the crossed the main entry room, Bilbo noticed a few bat’leths, some ravens, and a Klingon man drawn climbing out of a flower, but they were far too detailed for him to catch all the details in one go. They reached another door, this one carved of a wood about the color of solid oak but that was probably native to Erebor, but before Thorin pushed it open, Bilbo stopped him. “Wait. You should tell me about this room.”

“Oh. Of course,” Thorin said. “This was the grand entry hall, where Thror met visiting dignitaries. Thror would stand in the center, right where we are now, and my father and grandmother would stand at his right, and my brother and I at his left, and anybody who came to petition us would have to walk all the way across, close enough for my grandfather to shake his hand before he would speak to them.”

“It’s a beautiful space. Intimidating.”

“That was the goal. The next room is the council chamber,” Thorin said. As he pushed the door open, he added as an unhappy afterthought, “This was where we all were when Smaug attacked.”

“Oh, it’s completely untouched. It’s like a time capsule,” Bilbo said. There were still old padds and papers scattered across the table, and the chairs had been left out, pushed haphazardly away as their occupants were made aware of the chaos.

At some point, Thorin had unlinked their arms, and wandered over to a chair a few seats down from the head of the table. A mug had been knocked over, and there was a jacket thrown over it. That was Thorin’s old seat, Bilbo realized as Thorin spoke, running his hands reverently over the carved wood of the seat. “I was so proud when Grandfather decided to allow me to sit in on these meetings. Frerin was furious--he was six years younger than me, but of course, he had the privilege of younger siblings everywhere to get things earlier than their older siblings did, but Thror promised me he would not set foot in this chamber until he was fourteen, just like I was. It turned out not to matter--he never got the chance.”

He pulled the jacket off the back of the chair and shook it out, coughing when the dust floated up, then folded it and gently placed it back down, halfway over the arm of the chair this time.

“Are you ready to leave?” Bilbo asked.

Thorin nodded, scratching a hand over his jaw. “I’m afraid I’m not a good tour guide, so wherever you wish to go next--”

“Your bedroom,” Bilbo said, and laughed when Thorin flushed. “Oh please, not for that. I just want to see your space that you had growing up.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be overly impressed with it,” Thorin said. “Klingons don’t tend to be overly sentimental.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Bilbo said, deciding not to point out how gingerly Thorin had handled his childhood jacket. “Come on, lead the way.”

Thorin took them out of the council room through a door to their left, and they took a staircase up two flights into the tower. “This was the great room of my immediate family’s wing,” Thorin said, as they entered a room with almost as many windows as the council chamber had had, but in a smaller space, and several couches that still looked fairly plush after all these years. In here, several of the walls were more ornate, with colorful tile on them, and the rugs were brighter as well. “My parents and siblings’ rooms are up here as well, but my room is through the far right door.”

It had apparently been left open for the past fifty-five years, and Bilbo and Thorin stepped in. This room was simpler again, the walls plain and the floors smooth tile again, although there was a blue and gold rug under his bed. There were few things on the walls, only a small bat’leth, a shelf with a few padds on it, and a drawing of three people, who Bilbo soon guessed were Thorin and his siblings.

“Goodness, Fíli must take very strongly after his uncle,” Bilbo said. “His other uncle, I mean.”

“Aye,” Thorin said. “Víli had blonds in his family as well, but he got more of the Durin features.”

“I hope they’re all right,” Bilbo said, knowing he didn’t have to specify who he was referring to.

“As do I.”

“You could’ve gone after them.” Bilbo paused and shook his head. “No, you should’ve gone after them.”

“I don’t want to do this right now.” Thorin said, turning away to pace the length of his floor.

“We’ll have to do it eventually,” Bilbo snapped. “You know, my mother was almost the first Betazoid captain in Starfleet.”

Thorin seemed caught off guard by the topic change, but asked, “And?”

“And she always told me that the most important things for a Starfleet captain to remember were to always keep your shirt pressed, go down with your ship, and never abandon a member of your crew.” Bilbo threw his hands up, leaning back against the stone wall. “Thorin, they weren’t just your crewmen, they were your nephews! What if something’s happened to them? What if you’ve lost--”

“I didn’t go back because I couldn’t risk losing you too!” Thorin shouted, his voice echoing in the domed room. Bilbo flinched back, and Thorin’s emotions immediately shifted from angry to guilty. “Bilbo, I’m sorry--”

“I never wanted you to choose me over them,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “I would never ask that of you. They’re your family.”

“I love you,” Thorin said, helplessly. “This is what that means for a Klingon. We love so fiercely, but it’s not just grave proclamations, it’s blood and sacrifice--”

“Don’t you love your nephews that fiercely as well?”

“They can defend themselves.”

“So can I. But what about--” Bilbo started to say Esgaroth, but he knew that argument was already lost, along with the station itself. Deities help them. “You know what, never mind. I don’t want to fight about this anymore.”

Thorin crossed back over to where Bilbo stood next to the wall and took his hand. “I don’t know what to say except that I am sorry.”

“I know you are.” And as easy as it was for Thorin to rationalize his choices, his guilt was genuine. “It’s fine.”

Thorin sighed. “What do you want to do instead?”

“I don’t know.” Bilbo said, almost laughing at how petulant the echo of his voice sounded. He wanted a distraction--he hadn’t drank that much at the party in their honor, but he desperately wished for a chance at that liquor now. He just wanted to ignore everything, just for a moment--the uncertainty of Fíli and Kíli’s fate, the loss of Esgaroth, how shaken up he still felt from Smaug. “I know I said I didn’t want to see your old bedroom for that, but you know, there is a perfectly good bed right here.”

“Ew, no, it’s covered in dust--but I think I’ve got a better idea,” Thorin said, dropping to his knees in front of Bilbo, who figured that for a distraction he could do far worse.

***

By the time they headed back down, Bilbo could feel several serious hickeys springing up on his collarbone, and he’d managed to do a similar level of damage with his short blunt nails on Thorin’s back. They were both still a bit giddy from what Thorin had dazedly referred to as the “Betazoid sex thing”, but that Bilbo knew was just a simple telepathic feedback loop that caused all sensations to be shared between them. It wasn’t until they encountered Dwalin and Nori in the council room downstairs that Bilbo realized they both looked as fucked out as they felt, and Nori snickered. “Have fun, you two?”

Thorin and Bilbo exchanged sheepish grins, and Bilbo said, “Yes, we did, and no, we’re not going to talk about it.”

“Thank Kahless,” Dwalin muttered, punching Nori in the arm when he dared to look disappointed.

“Anything to report?” Thorin said, pulling out his “captain” voice.

“Aye, sir, and it's all good news as well,” Nori said. “Comm tower was undamaged by Smaug and we found a portable generator, which we’ve already wired into the comm system in this very room. We’re connected to RAVENHILL, so if you want to call anyone, now’s your chance.”

“That is good news,” Thorin said. He leaned back against the table, looking equal parts relaxed and poised for attack. He ran a hand back through his hair and sighed. “What do you think should be our next move?”

“I’ve got no damn clue,” Dwalin said.

Thorin laughed. “Frankly, I didn’t think we were going to get this far. I thought we were all going to be incinerated before we hit the surface. It would’ve been a good day to die.”

“Apparently it was a good day for other things,” Nori said. Dwalin punched him again without missing a beat.

“It was,” Thorin agreed. “I guess we should test the comm system. Do you think we can transmit a message to Ferohihl?”

“You wound me,” Nori said, kneeling down by the communications console and keying in the address and frequencies. “Give it about twenty seconds. If it isn’t going to be cooperative we’ll know by then.”

“Ferohihl?” Bilbo asked. “Where or who’s that?”

“Place,” Dwalin answered. “In standard it translates as the Iron World. It’s where Dain, Thorin’s cousin from the House of Nain, is ruler. It’s a decent enough place--I spent a lot of my first commision out there.”

“And it’s your lucky day. We don’t have live communications, but we will be able to transmit a recorded message. Whenever you’re ready, Captain,” Nori said, cranking the microphone sensitivity up.

“Cousin Dain, it has been far too long,” Thorin said, crossing his arms and beginning to pace again. “Many years have passed since we last fought at each other’s side, and I have longed to see you again, either on or off the battlefield. I have considered you a brother in all ways but blood since our shared losses at Azanulbizar, and I hate to call on you again, but there is no one else whom I am certain I can trust. The house of Durin’s fifty-five year exile has been lifted. Erebor has been freed from the clutches of Smaug, and will soon be home to my people once again. However, since I am here only with a small group, I seek your support to secure this world for the house of Durin and the Empire as a whole. I fear that enemies from all over, opportunistic thieves and honorless bastards will soon be closing in on this world, and without help, we may all join our ancestors in Sto’Vo’Kor sooner than we would like. I hope to see you soon, cousin. End transmission.”

“Well that was sophisticated. Do you wanna hear it back or should I go ahead and transmit?” Nori asked.

“Go ahead and transmit,” Thorin said. “I have no desire to listen to my recorded voice.”

“Are you kidding?” Bilbo asked. “Your voice is gorgeous!”

“Burglar’s got a point,” Nori said. “But it’s done. Dain’ll probably comm back in a few hours.”

“Keep me posted,” Thorin said. He took a seat at the chair next to where Bilbo was perched on the table and gave Dwalin another look. “Now what?”

Dwalin shrugged. “Still no idea.”

Bilbo had leaned over to rest against Thorin after he’d sat down, but at Thorin’s next words he felt his whole body tense up. “The Arkenstone. That’s our next goal.”

Dwalin made an appraising noise. “I mean, I guess we can do that. Do we really need it though, now that Smaug is dead?”

“It’s a piece of the shield of Kahless,” Nori protested. “I think if for no other reason, we need to track it down as a historical artifact. Do we have any idea where it is?”

My right pants pocket, right next to my psionic jewelry, Bilbo thought, but for reasons unknown, he couldn’t say it. Something about how longing they all sounded--if the object weren’t a hunk of very shiny metal, Bilbo would say it was almost lustful--made him hold his tongue.

“Thror was incredibly paranoid about that damn rock,” Dwalin said. “No offense to the dead, of course.”

“None taken,” Thorin said. “And he didn’t start out that way, but you’re right. When I was little, he kept it on display in the council room, but after several people tried to break in and steal it he hid it away. He would’ve kept it close, but not too close. He agonized for years over having been unable to get to it in time.”

“It’s got to be somewhere in the City, probably in the Hall,” Dwalin agreed.

They were probably right, Bilbo thought. Obviously I didn’t get a chance to ask Smaug where he got it from, but it must have been somewhat obvious. Or maybe he had an advanced scanner. And technically they are right--it is in the Hall.

“Comm the others,” Thorin said, jarring Bilbo from his train of thought. “Start with Glóin and Bifur. We’ll check in on their progress, and tell them finding the stone is the next goal.”

“Alright, although Balin might protest this being our next move later,” Dwalin said. He pulled out his communicator and flipped it open. “Dwalin to Glóin.”

“Glóin here.”

“I’m with Thorin, and we’d like a status report on the power grid.”

“We’ve almost got the whole city back online,” Glóin said, sounding appropriately pleased with himself. “Raven Hall should already have power again, and it should be on in the rest of the city in about three hours.”

“Good news,” Thorin said, leaning over to speak into the comm. “After it’s all finished, I’d like you and Bifur to come back to the Hall and start looking for the Arkenstone.”

“Understood. Glóin out.”

The transmission ended, and Dwalin flipped his comm shut. “Alright. Who next?”

“Does it super matter?” Nori said. Dwalin looked like he wanted to smack him again, but Thorin shrugged.

“Guess not.” Dwalin opened his communicator again. “Dwalin to Balin.”

“Balin here.”

“Thorin’s here as well. He wants a status report.”

“We gathered all the bones from outside the gate, and just walked Ori back to the shuttle to see if he can start analyzing them since we can’t use the labs in the hospital until the power comes back on. Have you checked on Glóin?” Balin asked.

“Aye, he says give it three hours.”

“That’s good news! It’d be a bad sign to have no power after dark,” Balin said.

“I’ve also decided our next move,” Thorin said. “After we’ve got the city up and running, our focus is on the Arkenstone.”

“Of course,” Balin agreed. “It’ll be an auspicious sign to have the great heirloom of our house back.”

“Return to the Hall as soon as possible. You may have more ideas since you knew him longer, but Dwalin and I both think that Thror would’ve kept it close.”

“I think you’re probably right. I’ll see if I remember anything else on the way over. Balin out.”

“Alright, so I guess we should start in his and Erezla’s wing of the castle?” Dwalin said.

“Good plan,” Thorin said. He held out his arm for Bilbo to take, but at his hesitation, he frowned. "Bilbo?"

“Actually if it’s no problem I think I’d like to stay here instead of joining the search for right now,” Bilbo said. “I’m getting a bit of a headache, and I think I’ll go find a fairly undusty place and lie down.”

“Of course,” Thorin said. He reached up to cup Bilbo’s cheek with one hand and brushed something off his sleeve with the other. “Take as long as you need, and join us when you feel better. You’ve already done your part. Nori, Dwalin, with me.”

“Aye. sir,” Dwalin said. A moment later the three had left the council room, and a minute Bilbo heard the huge door slam shut behind them.

Bilbo went to the comm system, checked to make sure it was broadcasting on all frequencies, and then checked the room again to make sure he was well and truly alone. He pressed the transmission button, and said, “Bilbo to Esgaroth.”

His only answer was static. He swallowed, and said, “Bilbo to Esagroth. Please, if anyone from Esgaroth picks up this signal, respond. Please, in the name of the Four Deities, let someone be out there. If anyone from Esgaroth can respond to this, please, I need to know if, if you’re…”

He trailed off, but it wasn’t until he’d cancelled the transmission and sat down in one of the council room chairs that, for the second time that day, he burst into tears.

Chapter Text

“Well. At least it’s over,” Percy said.

They were almost to Dale, only about three minutes out, when the Milura ’s sensors picked up an explosion behind them. Even from their location, they could see the impact as Smaug collided with Esgaroth, and Kíli winced from his seat at the helm.

“I guess that’s one way to look at it,” Bofur said, twisting one of his braids between his fingers. He was at the tactical station--“nowhere near helm control,” he’d joked earlier--but after the explosion nothing else of note was on sensors, so he spun around to talk to their other two passengers. “That’s very pragmatic of you, Percy.”

“Esgaroth was never supposed to be the permanent solution to Smaug,” Percy said, shrugging. “My granddad told me that the goal in the beginning was to fix Dale and move back there, but they never did for some reason. Better late than never, I suppose.”

“If everything went on schedule, the evacuation has been completed for over 20 minutes,” Tauriel added. She was sitting in the back of the shuttle, opposite Percy, and had been disassembling and reassembling phasers the whole ride as a way to pass the time. “Although Esgaroth may be gone, her people will survive.”

“I hope Bard made it out alright,” Bofur said. “He seems like a good man.”

“He is,” Percy agreed, and Kíli almost smiled at how carefully they were using the present tense. “Oy, Kíli?”

“Yeah?” Kíli answered without turning around.

“You think your uncle was telling the truth? About how we would all share in Erebor’s wealth?”

Kíli paused. “I think that my uncle has never aspired to reclaim Erebor for selfish reasons. And he wouldn’t lie.”

“Klingons don’t make a habit of it,” Bofur continued, spinning around in his chair again. “It shows that you don’t think whoever you’re talking to deserves the truth, which is very dishonorable amongst Klingons.”

“So far, the only stereotype about Klingons that I believed that has turned out to be true was that you were obsessed with honor,” Percy said.

“Bofur, we’re less than a minute out,” Kíli pointed out before he could launch into an explanation of Klingon honor, and Bofur spun forwards again. Dale Station was directly ahead, and farther away but just visible on the screen was a planet, apparently the one Dale was locked around. “Is that planet populated?”

“Nope,” Percy answered. “They used to mine for raw minerals and material down there, but nobody could live there. It’s class Y--Federation calls planets like it demon planets. They’re so unpredictable that even going into standard orbit can be dangerous. It’s why Dale is so high up.”

“Demon planets? Damn, that’s dark,” Bofur said, laughing. “And scanners just found a breach large enough to fit us. Sending the coordinates to you.”

“Got it, and we’re dropping to one-eighth impulse,” Kíli said. “Tauriel, Percy, the EV suits are stashed under a couple of the seat cushions.”

“Ah, hell,” Percy said, “I hadn’t even thought about EV suits.”

Tauriel had already pulled several cushions off the chairs, and soon the four EV suits were laid out on the floor. “Truthfully, I hadn’t thought of them either.”

“What’d you think we were going to do?” Kíli asked, laughing.

Tauriel’s cheeks greened slightly, and she shrugged. “I don’t really know. I guessed we’d scan the station for them and then transport them to us?”

Kíli paused. “You know, that actually would’ve probably worked.”

“You weren’t accounting for Klingon preparedness,” Bofur said. “It’s standard protocol for family vessels to be equipped with one for each family member, in case of damage or a breach. Something to do with insurance, I think.”

“Huh. Klingon insurance,” Percy mused. “I’m going to need help getting into one of these things.”

“I’ve got you. I need to figure out who’s getting which one anyways--see if we can get everybody the best fit,” Bofur said, standing up. “You’ve got the helm, right?”

“Yeah, go sort them out,” Kíli answered. He pressed the button on the helm to change the controls from auto to manual, and used the maneuvering thrusters to steer them in first through the opening and then further into the center of the station. He couldn’t remember if he’d read about or if his Uncle had said it, but he remembered that it was considered ahead of its time, the best and most current Federation technology to show off to their less than friendly neighbors. The station was built roughly like a terrarium--the top half was enclosed in a reinforced glass or polycarbonate shell, and inside was something sort of like a tree, except on all the branches were either living quarters or other non-essential station features. The base of the terrarium was where it began to look like a normal station, all steel and titanium hulls to enclose the essential operations. He’d seen pictures once where on the “tree” there were plants growing up and down all the pieces, and could imagine how it had been beautiful, once, before destruction came to its door. He activated the landing gear and anchored them onto one of the lower branches, near to what Kíli guessed was the hatch to get into operations. “We’re set. Pass me my suit.”

He dressed quickly--somewhere between them losing the Oakenshield and his being left behind, he’d lost his armor, so he was already in just his pants and blacks--and turned to see Tauriel, having difficulty with the clasp between her shoulder blades. He reached and clicked it into place, and she spun around. “I had it.”

“Of course,” Kíli said, holding his hands up in surrender.

“It’s just about a size bigger than I’m used to,” Tauriel said.

“Used to? You’ve worn an EV suit before?”

“Legolas and I used to space walk all the time,” Tauriel said. “If I’d thought about it, I would’ve grabbed mine from the Orchid.”

Kíli frowned. “Wait, you were being literal?”

“What?” Tauriel asked.

“You talked about walking amongst the stars,” Kíli explained. “When you had us in jail.”

Tauriel let out her aborted half laugh again, and Bofur shot her an amused look. “Oh! Yes, I did tell you that.”

“Wait,” Percy said, “you put them in jail?”

“Don’t worry, she’s past that now,” Bofur said. “We ready to get going?”

“I guess,” Kíli said. “There should be a piece of rope or a cable stashed somewhere Bofur, so if you can grab that too that’d be great. There’s only two tricorders, so we’ll have to share. We’ll use them to get our bearings.”

“Don’t really need to do that,” Percy said. “The power source is straight down. Inside that hatch, there should be a way down to the very bottom.”

“What is the power source?” Tauriel asked.

“It had a patented name, but I can’t remember it right now. It’s a matter-antimatter generator.”

Bofur whistled. “So like a warp core.”

“Yeah. More efficient like this, though, because it isn’t trying to power anything going faster than light speed, so a small amount of dilithium would last forever,” Percy explained. “Esgaroth was powered the same way. It’s how the orbit hasn’t really decayed over the past fifty-some years.”

“Fascinating,” Tauriel said.

“So we’ll head straight down, get the generator generating, and then figure out our next moves from there,” Kíli said. There was a window beside the shuttle door, and Kíli pointed out it, at the ladder on the trunk of the tree that led down to the hatch. “And that is our way down.”

“Can’t we just jump?” Percy asked.

“You’ve never space walked, have you?” Tauriel asked, almost teasingly. “It’s the microgravity. If we jumped, we’d float all the way up and out. It’s sort of like a reverse free fall.”

Percy muttered something faintly self deprecating under his breath and then facepalmed hard enough to leave a red mark on his forehead, making Bofur snicker. “Duh. You kids don’t listen to me. Ladder’s a good idea.”

“Okay, we’re all on the same page,” Kíli said. He turned to Tauriel. “Between the two of us, who’s got the most space-walk experience?”

“It’s probably me,” Tauriel said, “but you’re probably stronger, even in low gravity. You should start our line to the ladder.”

“Makes sense,” Kíli said. Bofur had attached one end of the cable to a handle on the wall of the shuttle, and Kíli took the other end with the hook and used the ring on his chest to clip the cord to himself.

“Percy, what’s going to happen is Kíli’s going to take one end of the cable and tack on to the ladder,” Bofur said. “He’ll be using the rocket thrusters on his back to steer his way down there, which we could all do in theory, but it burns through more of your power and oxygen more quickly, and since we’ve only got two hours we don’t want to do that. So he’ll get a line for us from here to the ladder, and then we’ll use it to pull our way out there”

“Got it,” Percy said.

“Okay, helmets on,” Kíli said. He put in on and latched it into place, waiting for the swish as the oxygen kicked in. When everybody else had theirs on, he turned to the latch beside the door, and said, “Opening airlock door in three, two, one.”

The airlock door slid open, and they all swayed slightly as the ship compensated for the loss of artificial gravity.

“Kíli?” Tauriel said, her voice slightly higher than normal through the comm. “Please be careful.”

“I always am,” Kíli said, and engaged the thrusters to fly off. It only took about twenty seconds to steer himself down to the third rung down from the top of the ladder, where he attached the hook and disconnected it from himself. “Alright, we’re attached. I’m going to start climbing down.”

“Got it,” Bofur answered. “Percy, you go on.”

Kíli began his careful descent down the ladder, and he’d made it about six rungs down when he felt Percy reach the end of the cable and join him on the ladder. Bofur was next and Tauriel took up the end, and she’d made it a third of the way when Kíli reached the bottom and found that his height and strength did come in handy as he could just barely reach one of the safety bars above the hatch and pull himself down onto it. After he’d activated the magnets on the bottoms of his suit’s shoes to anchor himself, he was able to give the rest of them a hand as well, and it only took a few more minutes for them to all reach the entrance to the base.

Percy slowly dropped to his knees to turn the airtight valve wheel handle, and it gave easily, opening with barely a creak. He lifted it up, and gestured down. “Well, who’s first?”

“I’ll lead,” Tauriel said. She took the edge of the opening, and Kíli heard the click as her boots demagnetized before she pulled herself into the base, like a swimmer doing a dive. Percy and Kíli went next, followed by Bofur, who Kíli had to hold in place by the hips as he pulled the hatch closed around them.

“Alright, where to next?” Bofur was floating around, doing twirls in mid air before he magnetized his shoes.

“This sign says the engine room is directly below us, through this Jeffries tube,” Percy said, pointing to the opening where a ladder could be seen. “If you’ll follow me.”

Percy led the way, and Kíli gave Bofur a tug to pull him the right direction as they headed down. He still felt floaty, but he could tell the gravity was getting stronger as he moved towards the bottom of the base. They reached the floor, reengaged their magnetic boots and walked to the engineering door, which Tauriel opened using the big lever on one side. It slid open with a groan, and when they stepped inside the room was pitch dark.

There were several clicks as they all turned on the lights on their wrists, pointing them around the room like searchlights. The warp core was directly in front of them, and Percy looked at it appraisingly, letting out a hmm as he walked around it.

“What’s your verdict, chief engineer?” Bofur asked.

“Well, normally like this we’d need to give it thirty minutes to restart and stabilize but--” he turned around and pointed his wrist light at the console directly opposite the core. “Yeah, I think I can do something else. You three, there should be a backup generator somewhere in here, and it should still be working. Check under--”

“Found it,” Tauriel said, opening a cabinet door and revealing a faintly blue lit tube. “It’s at forty percent charge.”

“There should be a switch somewhere near the top, that’ll give power to this room,” Percy said.

Tauriel ran her fingers along the top, and as Kíli walked over to help he saw it. “It’s on the side.”

She gave him a grateful look and flipped it to the on setting, and immediately all the consoles lit up and a few of the ceiling lights came on, leaving them in a soft white glow.

“Perfect,” Percy said. His hands gracefully moved over the controls, and he plugged a few numbers in, took a deep breath, and then lifted up a clear cover and pressed the button underneath it. There was a moment of complete silence, then something above them groaned, and immediately the warp core lit up in blue, and they could see the dilithium swirling around in it.

“Alright, Percy!” Bofur said, and he and Kíli playfully applauded, as loudly as they could with the EV suit’s padded gloves. “That was a damn good cold start.”

“Did it bring life support back online?” Tauriel asked.

“Not quite,” Percy answered. “That’ll take about half an hour to get going again. And more than that, I think we should figure out where everybody is going to be before we start having life support and power reach all over the station, just blasting into space.”

“That makes sense,” Kíli said. “Percy, maybe you and Bofur can figure out where the bridge or operations is, while Tauriel and I scout out a place for the refugees to go.”

“Works for me,” Bofur answered, walking over to a diagram on the wall. “I think these are the emergency schematics--come look at these.”

Tauriel and Kíli came to stand on either side of him, with Percy behind them.

“That should be Operations,” Tauriel said, pointing. “You two can probably get the communications and other systems up from there.”

“And that looks like a big shuttle or cargo bay,” Kíli said, pointing at a different space on the other corner, on the same half of the station but the opposite side as Operations. “I think I remember seeing it as we came in--if I’m right, it looked like the launch door and the sides were intact.”

“What are our goals in Ops?” Percy asked.

“Life support and other essential station functions. We’ll call and confirm about directing power to--” Kíli checked the plans again “-- Combined Bay #3, and then you can send power there and along the corridors between those two spaces, and then focus on getting both internal and external communications up.”

“Got it,” Bofur said. “Alright, mate, let’s head out.”

Kíli checked the amount of air left on his wrist--the timer said he had just over an hour left, which meant everyone else had about an hour and fifteen minutes--and then switched their comms from a four way channel to a two way, with plans to check back in in forty minutes, and then the group split up.

***

“So, everybody else sees how weirdly smitten those two are with each other, right?” Percy asked as they walked down the corridor.

They’d been silent so far, and that being their conversation starter made Bofur laugh hard enough for his wrist and the light to shake for a second, and was still chuckling as he said, “Yeah, I think everybody sees it except for them.”

“It’s not something you hear about. A Klingon and a Vulcan,” Percy said. “But good for them, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Bofur agreed. “Is that the Ops door, right up ahead?”

“It looks like it,” Percy said. “Looks like two levers to get this one open.”

They went to opposite sides of the door and each pulled a handle. It slid open with ease, and apparently starting the warp core up had began the process of getting all other station functions back online. One of the consoles was flashing the message “hull breach, all levels of civilian zones” and Bofur pressed the button to turn off the notification. “Alright, what do we need to do?”

Percy had turned on the main console and pulled up a list of station progress. “Nothing, actually. Everything is coming online as scheduled. According to this, in sixteen minutes, we’ll have life support, transporter capabilities, and replicators in this room, and we can have it expand to wherever Kíli and Tauriel are once they confirm they’re ready.”

“Perfect. So we just wait?”

“Yep,” Percy said, pulling one of the station chairs up and settling down into it. “I thought it was going to be more complicated, actually.”

“I guess the universe has decided you need a break,” Bofur said, and Percy chuckled. “So, how long have you and Hilda been together?”

Percy seemed surprised by the change in conversation, but it didn’t stop him from answering. “Well, we’ve been married twenty, but we’ll have been together twenty-eight years this fall.”

Bofur whistled, impressed. “Damn, good for you.”

“Thanks,” Percy said. “She’s a hell of a lady.”

“I bet.”

“Neither of us make it real easy to be married to each other, but it’s not about it being easy. She’s the best.” Percy smiled fondly, then turned to Bofur. “What about you?”

“Me?” Bofur said, laughing anxiously and trying (and failing) to scratch his jaw through his helmet. “Oh, I’m not married or anything like that.”

“No, but you’re something,” Percy said knowingly. “And I saw you at Fairweather’s--you wouldn’t have been knocking back shots like that if you weren’t trying to forget someone. Who’s the lucky Klingon?”

“Not Klingon,” Bofur said, leaning back in his own chair and swivelling to put his feet on one of the consoles. “She’s a Trill.”

“Trill? I’ve never heard of that species.”

“Not Federation,” Bofur said. He sighed. “She has spots.”

“Huh. Neat,” Percy said. “Well, there’ll be other women. I mean, you’re still young, right?” Percy paused, frowning slightly. “Wait, how old are you?”

“Thirty-eight,” Bofur said.

Percy paused again. “I would’ve thought--is that young by Klingon standards?”

“Oh, yeah, we easily live into our 160s,” Bofur said. “Thorin’s seventy and Balin’s almost ninety, and they’re still considered to be in their prime.”

“Damn. I’m in my sixties, and to live that long out here is actually pretty impressive,” Percy said. “It’s real weird to think that your fearless leader is actually older than I am. How old is Kíli?”

“He’s 23,” Bofur said, then snickered. “He’s like a little baby. The only one younger than him is Ori, ya know, the one who was wearing the scarf with kind of a bowl cut, and he’s less than six months younger than him.”

“Huh,” Percy said. “But anyways--back to my point. You’ve got a whole lot of life yet, to either work it out with your spotted lady or find someone else. You’ll be fine, kid.”

“Thanks,” Bofur said. “How much time left before life support comes on?”

Percy checked the time again. “Thirteen minutes.”

“Ugh,” Bofur groaned. “I just want to get this suit off.”

“Me too,” Percy said. “Whenever I breathe this one long hair keeps drifting back in front of my face--and it’s way too dark to be mine.”

“Ew, sorry. If it makes you feel any better, it’s probably clean,” Bofur said.

“Great,” Percy said, blandly, and the conversation trailed off as he leaned back and closed his eyes and Bofur turned to watch the countdown.

***

“Okay, take a right up here,” Kíli said, glancing down at his tricorder. He’d used it to take a holo of the schematics, and now he was using it to direct Tauriel and himself through the halls to Combined Bay #3. “It should be after the next emergency bulkhead.”

“There is no logical reason to have so many of those,” Tauriel muttered, pulling the phaser from the hip, turning it to a mid setting, and beginning to slice an opening for them to walk through.

“In their defense, they didn’t have force fields to contain breaches back when this place was built,” Kíli said. “But there weren’t even any breaches down here, so I don’t really get it either.”

She finished drawing the circle with the phaser and kicked it out of the rest of the door. It popped out the other side, and she and Kíli went through. “It’s inside this door?”

“Yep,” Kíli said.

Tauriel frowned at the locked door, placing a hand on her hip. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to blast through the door we really want to use.”

“Let me see,” Kíli said, kneeling down and pulling the panel under the control pad by the door off. He handed her the tricorder and reached into the wires. “There should be power running through here again, it probably just hasn’t turned the controls on again. But if I--”

He let out a yelp as the wires he was messing with sparked, but the door slid open. The gloves on the EV suit would’ve absorbed any shock, so Tauriel moved in, pulling out the tricorder to scan for structural integrity. “I think we’re all set,” she said, snapping the tricorder closed. “Tricorder shows no signs of structural damage or breaches.”

“I wonder if I can get the lights on,” Kíli said, aiming his flashlight at another panel by the door. Before he could get into the machinery, Tauriel gasped, and he turned around. “What is it?”

“Point your light over here,” Tauriel said, and he came to stand beside her, flashlight parallel to hers. “Are those shuttles?”

“They must be Dale’s runabouts, used to get material to and from the surface,” Kíli said. “That’s why this is the combined bay--they used it for cargo and ships. Clever.”

“I mean, not really. It’s kind of in the name,” Tauriel said, then winced. God, I wish I could stop being so damned awkward around him. Who even says that?

“True,” Kíli said, apparently unphased by her stating the obvious. “Should we call Bofur and Percy?”

“Sure,” she answered. “Changing from two way back to the four way channel, and--Tauriel to Percy.”

“Percy here.”

“Combined bay #3 and the hallways between are ready for power,” Tauriel answered. “So whenever--”

Immediately the fluorescent overhead lights kicked on, and a thick layer of dust blew off the vents as air started circulating. They had a better view of the runabouts now--there were easily two dozen of them, and they all looked in pretty good condition to her eyes, preserved so well that she could see Dale’s symbol painted on, a triangle with a seven pointed star on the inside--and she could see how big the space was, easily a hundred yards from one side to the other.

“Give it about five minutes, and there should be enough oxygen for you two to take your helmets off,” Percy said. “We’ve already got enough air here, so if you two want to head our way and partake in it and help us get the station’s comms up, we wouldn’t mind.”

Tauriel exchanged a glance with Kíli, who shrugged, and then she said, “We’ll be there shortly. Tauriel out.”

“Once we get there, we’ll have them transport the shuttles somewhere else,” Kíli said as they headed back to the hallway.

“Perfect,” Tauriel said. “You know, I’d actually meant to ask you before now, but astrometrics?”

“Astrometrics?” Kíli repeated.

“I mean, it’s an interesting field of study,” Tauriel said, “but it doesn’t seem very--”

“Klingon?” Kíli supplied.

“Not for a son of a high house,” Tauriel said.

Kíli pushed one of their cut out panels over on the floor and shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know. I was born in space, you know, but more than that--we all come from the stars.”

“You said you thought them cold and distant.” He probably thought the same thing about me.

“I mean, yeah,” Kíli said. “There’s a big difference between a star and a person you love, even if they are both carbon based.”

“I suppose that’s fair,” Tauriel said. “Are you not interested in command?”

“Not really. Not like my brother is.”

“He seemed made for it.”

“He is,” Kíli said, a bit more quietly, and she wondered if he was just now noticing his brother’s absence. “He’s already brilliant at it.”

“Starfleet tests students entering command track on something called ‘command charisma’,” Tauriel said. She huffed out a laugh. “Legolas did well on all the other metrics, but scored really poorly on that one. But--I think your brother would’ve done very well. He took charge very easily, and made everyone else feel at ease while he did it. It was fascinating to watch.”

“He just has that something,” Kíli said, and she nodded. “But what about you? What exactly is your gig?”

“I’m ranked sub-commander. I’m in charge of all Eryn Lasgalen security,” Tauriel said. “Who comes in and out of the nebula, any news from outside, that sort of thing.”

“Sub-commander? Is that a Starfleet rank?”

“No, it’s kind of a throwback actually. They used it back in the days of the Vulcan High Command, before the formation of the Federation. On the Starfleet scale, it outranks a Commander and is below Captain.”

“Nice,” Kíli said. “Ori and I are actually tied for the lowest ranking members of the crew, unless you count Bilbo.”

“Bilbo?” Tauriel frowned, then realized, “Oh, that must be your mysterious Betazoid friend.”

“Friend may be understating it,” Kíli muttered, and at Tauriel’s confused look added, “I think my Uncle is in love with him.”

Both of Tauriel’s sharp eyebrows lifted. “I see.”

“He’s a good guy,” Kíli said. “We brought him in to help track down the Arkenstone, but…”

He trailed off, and neither of them spoke of what had likely gone down in RAVENHILL or on Erebor.

“I’m sure he was very qualified.”

Kíli snorted. “Not exactly. Until he met us, he had no combat experience whatsoever, but his intentions are good. Have you still got that tricorder?”

“Yeah,” Tauriel said, “I’ll check on that air.”

A quick scan showed that the air was, in fact, ready for them, so they took off their helmets and took a deep breath. “Thank Kahless,” Kíli muttered. “I only had about half an hour left. It was starting to get a little stuffy.”

Tauriel tucked the tricorder back in her pocket and the helmet under her arm and shook out her hair. “I like being in the stars, but I’ve never liked EV suits. They’re so...confining.”

“Agreed,” Kíli said. He pushed his fringe off his forehead, wincing when some got stuck in his glove. “You know, I’ve actually got a question for you too. Do all Vulcans claim their mother’s house?”

“Well, typically family names come from the mother’s side,” Tauriel said. “My full clan name is S’Trel T’Vei Tauriel. But what do you mean?”

“You said you were Tauriel, daughter of Itaril,” Kíli said. “That’s your mother’s name, but what about your father?”

“Oh.” Tauriel paused, shifting her helmet up on her hip. “I just--I barely knew him. He died when I was very young--shuttlecraft accident.”

Kíli winced. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, but I don’t remember him, so there’s nothing to miss,” Tauriel said. “My mother, my ko’mekh, is amazing. I have always embraced my emotions, but I’ve never really felt that loss. Between her and Thranduil, I never felt like I was missing a parent.”

“I’m glad.”

There was a minute of silence as he sat down and hotwired another door open, then Tauriel asked, “What of your family though? You and your brother claim your mother’s house as well, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but only because we’re Uncle’s heirs,” Kíli said. “My dad’s an engineer, and my mother is the most decorated captain in the KDF.”

“Your brother must get it from her.”

“Oh, definitely. She was actually part of the negotiations at Khitomer, you know. Helping forge peace between our two peoples.” Kíli held his hands out like he was framing a banner, and Tauriel laughed. “I think you two would get on, you know. Since you’re both like, boss ladies.”

“Boss lady?” Tauriel repeated, laughing. “That’s one I’ve never heard. She sounds--formidable. Perhaps once Erebor is repopulated we will get the chance to meet.”

“I hope so,” Kíli said, and the look he sent her way was so unmistakably fond she couldn’t quite meet his eyes.

They’d made it to Ops, and before he could force the door it slid open, revealing Bofur. “Welcome in,” he said, beaming. “I see you two sawed through a bunch of internal bulkheads.”

“Sorry about that,” Tauriel said, sheepishly.

“It seemed easier than doing anything else,” Kíli added. “At least, it did before the power started kicking back in.”

“Don’t stress about it,” Bofur said, ushering them in. “We’ve just about got the comms up, just waiting for the array to angle back into place for long distance, and internal communications should already be back. We’re also working on getting force fields up around the breaches in the snow globe, so that if we have to move refugees up there we can.”

“Speaking of moving, there’s a bunch of runabouts in the bay we were in,” Kíli said, making Percy turn around and raise an eyebrow. “You think there’s anywhere we can transport them?”

“There’s an empty shuttlebay nearby,” Percy said. “I’ll get those transported right now.”

“Awesome.”

“And--” Bofur said, leaning over another console. “We’ve got external communications. I’ll hail Fíli and what’s his face.”

“Legolas,” Kíli and Tauriel said at once.

“Yeah, that one,” Bofur said, entering the command codes. “We can only transmit audio, but I’m hailing the Barge, and we’re ready--now.”

Tauriel heard Kíli’s soft sigh of relief as his brother’s voice came through the speakers. “This is Fíli.”

“Hey, mate,” Bofur said. “We’ve found a place to stash everybody. Sending you the coordinates now.”

“Awesome,” Fíli said. “My brother still doing alright?”

“I’m fine, Fi,” Kíli said, rolling his eyes.

“You almost died literally yesterday. Forgive me for wanting to check on you,” Fíli said. “I’ll pass the news and the coordinates along to the Orchid. Fíli out.”

He ended the transmission, and Kíli took a seat at what looked like it had once been the tactical station. “So, what do we do now?”

“We wait,” Tauriel said, sitting down and tapping her fingers on the console. “And once Fíli and Legolas are here, we figure out our next moves.”

***

My father is going to kill me, Legolas thought, sitting at the helm of his grandfather’s shuttle and staring blankly at the blur of stars ahead.

There was a time when that would not have been the case. The last clear memory he had of his father being truly happy was right before he turned six, when his grandfather was still alive and his family had spent the winter at the house on Lake Tavoria, the only natural freshwater lake on Eryn Lasgalen. Aunt Itaril and Tauriel had come along as well, and he and Tauriel had spent the rest of the summer clambering over rocks and jumping into the surprisingly cold water. But one of his clearest memories of that time was walking along the shore, sitting up on his father’s proud shoulders, listening to his parents talk about something he’d long forgotten and their shared quiet laughter.

Now he knew that winter was also the beginning of the end: that was when Oropher was diagnosed with Bendii syndrome, which he refused to treat and was killed by less than three years later. Legolas didn’t think he’d heard his father’s laugh since then, and he knew he hadn't heard it since the loss of his mother--but now was not the time to think about how when she’d died, he’d lost more than just her.

She would be proud of me, he thought, knowing it was true without question. She’d been the one to keep up with the news from outside the nebula before Tauriel, and it was she who told him stories of Spock, a different kind of Vulcan, the first human hybrid, and his immense loyalty to the Federation and one Captain James T. Kirk. Before her death, he thought he’d had a good enough reach of the stars, but when she was gone, he realized that she was the primary reason he’d stayed as long as he had. His application and test scores were well received by both the Vulcan Science Academy and Starfleet Academy, but he had always wanted that final frontier, and so he’d accepted their offer of admission and left for San Francisco a little less than a year ago, with only one thing still holding him back.

Tauriel was more than his friend, she was his sister, in all ways but blood. Try as he might, he could never completely abandon Eryn Lasgalen, no matter how much he may have wanted to put the unhappy memories that place brought behind him. Up until this past week, he had thought there would never be anything that could make her leave. And despite of his general distrust of Klingons, he could understand why she found the younger brother--admirable. He just hoped she didn’t make any stupid mistakes over it.

“You seem to have a lot on your mind,” a voice said from behind him, and the woman Fíli had introduced to him as Hilda took the seat beside him. She pushed her hair over her shoulder and set one elbow on the console, being careful not to push any of the buttons in front of her. “Want to talk?”

“Not particularly,” Legolas said. “I mean, not about what I’ve been thinking about just now. I don’t want to talk about my father.”

“Well, what do you want to talk about?” She asked, sounding slightly confused but mostly amused by his answer.

“I know the destruction of Esgaroth was catastrophic, seemingly a be all, end all, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is just the beginning,” Legolas said.

Hilda made a thoughtful noise. “You know, my people actually used to talk about something called ‘Vulcan intuition’. You could be right.”

“Let’s hope I’m not,” Legolas muttered, then said more clearly, “Did you know that before Smaug’s first attacks, Romulans snuck in?”

“Romulans?” Hilda said, brows furrowing. “We haven’t seen any of those around these parts in years. But that may have been when Masterson disabled all the security alerts. Bastard.”

Legolas was a bit lost on who Masterson was, but didn’t press it, nodding. “Not just any Romulans, either. Romulans of Gundabad. And I don’t think that was the last we’re going to see of them.”

“It doesn’t help that we’re all so vulnerable out here right now,” Hilda said, and Legolas finally looked up all the way from his console. “Those Klingons probably would have been our best shot at defending ourselves, but if they were all killed by Smaug too--who else would come to our aid?”

“We will find you help,” Legolas said. “If I have to go to my father and argue your case myself, I’ll do it.”

“Thanks, sweet,” Hilda said, as the console beside her arm started beeping. “What’s that?”

“We’re being hailed,” Legolas said, pressing the button to pull it up on the screen in front of him. “This is the Orchid.”

“Legolas, Dale is ready for us,” Fíli said. “I’ve got the coordinates we’re going to park at, and can transmit whenever you’re ready.”

“I’m ready now. Legolas out,” he said, ending the transmission. He received the coordinates a moment later and input them into the navigational computer. He felt the shuttle shift as it changed course, before going back to the low hum it did when it was in partial autopilot. He turned to speak to Hilda again, but she had vanished, probably going to tell the others that they would have shelter for the night, so he sat in quiet, watching the stars on the viewscreen, and hoped that his intuition was wrong.

***

“I think I’ve got all the families sorted out together,” Sigrid said, holding out the padd to him. “Cait’s working on making a list of all the other survivors, so we can work out the numbers and figure out what sort of resources we’ll need.”

“Awesome,” Fíli said, accepting the padd and scanning the list. Getting everybody into the cargo bay that was now their temporary home had been both more and less difficult than he’d thought it would be. It was a good sized space, at least, and now that everyone was in, they could start planning how this would work in the short term. He planned on sending a group out into the rest of the station later to search for materials that could be used to wall off sections and create more privacy for families, but for now he just wanted a moment to breathe.

“It’s good to see, isn’t it?” Hilda said, coming seemingly out of nowhere to stand beside him. “Everyone so happy to be together, to be alive.”

“It is,” Fíli said, smiling as he watched two young children throw their arms around a school friend. All of these people looked as tired as he felt, but everyone was high off all the emotions: the relief, the joy, even the pain. “Your people are refreshingly optimistic.”

“I guess you and the other Klingons are going to head to Erebor now?” Hilda asked. She sounded resolved, but her expression lit up when Fíli shook his head.

“Not yet,” he said, “we’ll stay until we know you’ve got backup.”

“You don’t have to do that, sweetheart,” Hilda said, and Fíli would’ve rolled his eyes if she wasn’t so earnest, “but I’m really grateful.”

“We all are,” Sigrid said. “We should find Legolas and go to Operations to check in with Tauriel and your brother.”

“Sounds good to me,” Fíli said. He only had to search a moment to find the blond, leaned back against the wall near where Óin and Tilda were. He and Sigrid headed that way, and Legolas straightened up as they approached.

“Tilda, are you still having fun with Mr. Óin?” Sigrid asked.

“Yes!” she said, popping up from the ground to give her sister a hug. “Have you heard from Bain and Da yet?”

“Not yet,” Sigrid said carefully. “But as soon as I know anything, I’ll tell you. Promise.”

“Okay!” Tilda sat down back to shuffle the deck of cards she and Óin had been playing with, completely at ease.

“Óin, you’ve got her?” Fíli asked.

“Aye, lad,” Óin answered, waving him on. He looked more than content to rest and play cards with the girl, and Fíli faintly remembered him doing the same with him and his brother and cousins when they were little. “You kids go figure out what’s next.”

Legolas easily fell into step with them, and they walked down the one life-supported corridor to Operations. “We should probably contact Eryn Lasgalen.”

“Agreed,” Fíli said.

“Ugh,” Legolas muttered. “I’d hoped you’d argue with me.”

“Why?” Sigrid asked.

“His people arrested us like two days ago,” Fíli said. “I’m already over it. And unless there’s a Starship in the immediate vicinity, nobody else will get here faster.”

“I just know my father is going to be furious with me,” Legolas said.

“Is your dad like the mayor or something?” Sigrid asked.

“I wish,” Legolas said, “You might have heard of him. He’s Administrator Thranduil.”

Fíli’s eyebrows rose and he gave Legolas a look. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Legolas said. “He interrogated your uncle, I think.”

“I bet it didn’t go well,” Fíli said, laughing. “My Uncle hates him. I had no idea he was your father.”

“We don’t have a whole lot in common,” Legolas explained as they reached the door to Operations. Before he could manually open it, it slid open, revealing Percy.

“Hello, hello, welcome,” Percy said. He gave Sigrid a one-armed hug and shook Fíli’s hand. “I was just about to go look for you kids.”

“Well, we’ve made it,” Fíli said, clapping him on the shoulder. “If you want to go find your wife, I think we’ve got it from here.”

“Thanks, son,” Percy answered. “I think I’ll do just that.”

Percy walked through them and went to find his people as the other three stepped into Ops. Bofur was sitting on the floor, messing with something on the comms system, and Tauriel and Kíli were leaned over a console together, but they looked up in unison when they heard footsteps.

“Hey! You’ve made it,” Kíli said, walking over and throwing his arms around him.

Fíli squeezed back. “Course we did. Evacuation went off without a hitch, pretty much.”

“I’m glad,” his brother said, stepping back. “Bofur’s working on--”

“Not working on,” Bofur cut in, popping up. “There’s a vessel almost into hailing zone. If one of you can check the scanners--”

“It appears to be Starfleet,” Tauriel said. “Specifically a Constitution class vessel. No further information available at this time.”

“They must have picked up our distress call,” Kíli said. “Once they’re in range, do we hail them?”

“Yes. Audio only,” Fíli said. “And Tauriel, I think you should speak. It’ll be hard for them to miss our accent.”

Tauriel gave a brisk nod. “I can do that.”

“They’ve moved into hailing range, and although they’re transmitting visually as well, we’ll only be responding with audio,” Bofur said. “Not sure where the mic is though, so speak up.”

“Keep it vague,” Fíli added as an afterthought.

A moment later, a man came into view on screen, with brown skin and short dark hair. “This is Captain Joshua Caldwell of the Federation starship Phoenix. Can you identify yourself, confirm your location, and summarize your situation for me?”

“Of course,” Tauriel answered after a nod from Fíli. “I am Sub-commander Tauriel of Eryn Lasgalen, but I’m currently operating out of Dale Station. Esgaroth Shipyard has been destroyed in an attack by Smaug, but I and several companions helped organize the evacuation of the survivors. We’ve gotten enough of the station functional enough to support the refugees, but we have no food or other supplies.”

“Do you know what Smaug is up to now?” Captain Caldwell asked.

“He was destroyed,” Tauriel answered. “A couple of men stayed behind to distract the dragon while the evacuation was in progress, and we could see the explosion almost all the way to Dale. He was defeated by them. We also left an escape pod for them, as a way out, but we haven’t heard from them since.”

“We’ll keep an eye out for them,” Caldwell promised. “And we’ve got emergency supplies on board, easily enough to last a few weeks to a month depending on how many people you’ve got, but I’ll send for more as well. We can be there by 2100, so in about two hours?”

2100? Fíli wondered, belatedly realizing that he hadn’t slept since Kíli had gotten sick. That’s much sooner than I would’ve guessed.

Tauriel had experienced the same train of thought. “That is much faster than I was expecting. We can transmit the coordinates of our combined bay now, so you can just transport the supplies and any crewman there right away.

“We’re glad to help, and we can do that,” Caldwell said, and although it was audio only and he couldn’t see his expression, Fíli thought he sounded earnest. “I look forward to seeing you and helping get everyone sorted later.”

“As do I,” Tauriel said. “And thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Caldwell out.”

There were a few beeps from Bofur’s console, and then he said, “Alright, we’re hung up.”

Fíli let out a sigh of relief, slumping slightly. “That went surprisingly well.”

“Agreed,” Tauriel said, pushing her hair back over her shoulder.

“What now?” Bofur asked. He rocked back and forth on his heels. “I’m feeling pretty good about how things are going right now, so we should keep doing...more things.”

“We should hail Eryn Lasgalen,” Legolas said.

“You don’t sound very happy about it,” Kíli said.

“I know,” he replied. “But we still need to. We’re in range, right?”

“Aye,” Bofur answered, already keying in the commands. “It’ll also be audio only, and there may be a bit of a lag.”

“This is Salvek,” the Vulcan voice answered. “It has been many years since we’ve received a hail from Dale Station--to whom am I speaking?”

“This is S’Riath T’Dor Legolas,” he said, “Son of Thranduil. I am currently in Dale with the refugees from Esgaroth, who are in need of supplies and assistance as quickly as possible.”

“We picked up the destruction of Esgaroth on our long range sensors earlier, and the Administrator and several vessels are already on the way, with supplies of food and medicine. Their estimated time of arrival is 0800 hours, tomorrow morning,” Salvek answered. There was a pause. “Is Tauriel with you as well?”

“She is.”

“The Administrator would like you to pass along a message to her that upon his arrival, she will be facing court martial, if not a higher degree of disciplinary action. She’s been stripped of rank and will be sent--”

Salvek didn’t get to finish his sentence, as Legolas went over and hit the console, cutting the connection. The room was so silent, Fíli thought he could hear his own heartbeat, quietly thumping in his ears, when he heard a fist slam on one of the stations.

“Those petaQ , those filthy bastards,” Kíli swore, pushing back his chair and standing up. “How could they do this to you?”

Tauriel’s expression had gone carefully blank, in a different way than her usual neutral face. Her voice was quiet and flat when she responded, and it seemed to pull all the heat out of Kíli. “I don’t know.”

Legolas dropped into the chair Kíli had shoved back and set his elbows on the console in front of him, putting his head in his hands. “I’m so sorry, Tauriel, I never thought...I never thought he would do something like this.”

“I know,” Tauriel said, tone void of inflection. “It isn’t your fault. I knew what I was doing.”

“But you shouldn’t be punished for it,” Legolas said, and although she still seemed calm, he sounded like he was about to cry. “We were doing the right thing, I know my father--”

“He will not change his mind,” Tauriel said. She shook her head, sharply enough to toss her hair from side to side. “We both know that.”

The room was quiet again, until Sigrid cleared her throat. Fíli had almost forgotten she was there. “Look, I don’t know exactly what your rules are or what rules you broke, but there’s a lot happening right now. I think we’re all exhausted--I don’t know about you four that headed to Dale first, but I haven’t slept since the night my Dad got arrested. I think we could all use a break.”

“Somebody needs to keep watch,” Bofur said, raising a hand sheepishly. “I can do that, I had a pretty good catnap earlier. But Fíli and Kíli, Tauriel and Legolas, you all have to be ready for a meeting that may turn into an interrogation when the Phoenix gets here.”

“Thanks, Bofur,” Fíli said. “You’ve got a good point. Bofur can man Ops for a few hours, call Percy back if he needs to, while we all rest up--” he nodded at Sigrid, and she nodded back, including herself in the main group “--before Starfleet gets here. It’ll help us all be a little steadier, I think.”

“That would be agreeable,” Tauriel said.

“And Tauriel, I am unbelievably sorry,” Fíli added. “We owe you, both for Kíli’s life and for helping evacuate Esgaroth and readying Dale for the refugees. I’m no Captain, but if there’s anything I can say to un-piss off the Administrator, I’ll talk to him.”

Tauriel swallowed and nodded. “I...appreciate that.”

“We’ll work this out,” Kíli vowed, and she gave him a small smile.

“In the meantime, we should get some rest,” Fíli said. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think I’ll just crash in here. It’s quieter than the combined bay, at least. But before we do that, we need to figure out what we’re going to tell them.” He turned to the Vulcans and human. “We need to keep it vague. We’re here to reclaim our homeland, nothing more, nothing less. I know you all know, but we’ll try not to mention mine and Kíli’s ancestry.”

“You should go ahead and just tell them that we arrested you, though,” Legolas said, “because even if you don’t, my father definitely will.”

He’s probably right, Fíli thought, and when he turned to his brother, he just shrugged in tacit agreement. “You’ll try and keep it down, Bofur?”

“I make no promises,” Bofur said, but he gave them a joking salute. “There shouldn’t be much going on though.”

Tauriel had already found herself a spot on the floor, curled up beside a console, and Legolas dropped down beside her. Soon Sigrid was asleep as well, head propped up on her forearms on the desk in front of her, and Kíli did the same. Fíli was the last to doze off, and he slipped into a dreamless rest.

***

Joshua Caldwell had had, to say the least, a strange week. Going into Starfleet and even more since he’d gotten his own command six months ago, he’d been aware of the fact that weird was part of the job description, but this week had taken the cake. They’d been ordered to the Romulan Neutral Zone earlier this week--Starfleet Intelligence had made note of gradually increasing activity on the other side of the border, especially near the Triangle, and sent them to investigate. He’d confirmed the reports--the Romulans were definitely doing something, although all transmissions had been too heavily encrypted for him to get anything more out it--and was continuing along the patrol, waiting for new orders, when they’d picked up a massive explosion in space on the Federation side of the border and gone to investigate. That had been explained, of course, when they found out that Smaug had returned to destroy Esgaroth, but that had posed its own questions. How come we didn’t know there were Federation citizens and their descendants living in Esgaroth? How did we miss them? Joshua wondered. Luckily, they’d found the people who’d defeated Smaug--although it wasn’t several men as they’d been told, but just one man and his teenage son--but when they’d asked the father for more details, he’d been more vague than the sub-commander, which only added to his suspicions. Something weird is going on here.

“How much farther?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Joshua saw one of his First Officer’s antennae twitch and he barely bit back his laugh.

“Less than a minute and a half, Mr. Bowman,” Joshua answered. In spite of his non-forthcomingness, he’d decided he liked Bard, the cargo captain who’d made the shot of a lifetime.

“Just like it was less than two minutes about thirty seconds ago,” Yesena said. She raised one blue hand and gave her nails a bored glance before turning back to the father and son, who were just standing around on the bridge. She sighed, uncrossed her legs, and stood up. “But if you two are so antsy, we can go ahead and go to the transporter room now, if that’s alright, Captain?”

“Of course,” Joshua said, standing up and straightening his jacket. “Reagan, you have the conn. Bain and Bard, if you’ll follow me.”

Yesena steered them from the bridge with the same efficiency and briskness she used when training security ensigns, and soon they’d reached the transporter room, where the supplies were already on the platform, ready for transport. A moment later, the comm on the wall went off. “Bridge to transporter room one, they are ready to receive both you and the supplies.”

“Excellent,” Joshua said. “Go ahead and transport the supplies to their cargo hold.”

The containers vanished, and the four of them took their places on the platform. Once they were set, Joshua gave the transporter tech a sharp nod. “Energize.”

He took a deep breath as they transported and released it when they rematerialized on the transporter pad in Dale Station’s center of operations. I should have known today wasn’t going to get less weird, Joshua thought, realizing who her companions were. Tauriel stood directly in the center, but on either side of her were two Klingons, and another Klingon and Vulcan stood on the other side of the room, along with a young human woman, who threw herself forward when they rematerialized. “Dad!”

“Commander,” Joshua said, as he saw from the corner of his eye Yesena pull the phaser from her waist. Sub-commander Tauriel and the Klingons all look appropriately sheepish, and that does explain why they were so vague. “Let them speak.”

Meanwhile, Bard, Bain, and the girl, who Joshua guessed was his older daughter, were having a joyful reunion, and he couldn’t help but feel like this was only the beginning of the success they were going to have out here.

“I apologize for not being more forthcoming,” Tauriel said, pulling his attention from the family reunion. “We were uncertain of how you would react.”

“I don’t blame you,” Joshua said, shooting Yesena another look. She made a disapproving noise, but replaced her phaser. “Although I would like to be introduced now.”

The blonde Klingon at Tauriel’s right stepped forward, and in a surprisingly human gesture, held out a hand for a shake. “Lieutenant Commander Fíli, at your service. On Tauriel’s other side is Lieutenant Kíli, Lieutenant Bofur is back there at the comms station, and the other Vulcan is--”

“Cadet Legolas,” he cut in. “I’m going into my second year at Starfleet Academy.”

Yesena’s eyes narrowed--she was not one to tolerate disrespect for authority, whether it was her authority or not--but she said nothing as Fíli continued, “And that’s Sigrid Bowman, Bard’s daughter, although you could probably guess that.”

Joshua nodded to each of them in turn, then gestured to Yesena, and hoped they hadn’t noticed that she’d given them sharp, critical points with her antennae as they were introduced. “And this is my first officer, Commander Yesena Shaz. My crew has already started unloading supplies to the refugees as well.”

“Thank you,” Tauriel answered. “I’m guessing you have some questions. Both you and the Commander are welcome to sit anywhere.”

“Thank you,” Yesena said, and they each took a seat in front of what had once been the command table, but remained not functional even after the return of partial power to the station, and Fíli and Tauriel took seats across from them. The rest of their ragtag group was scattered around--Bofur was rubbing his eyes at the comms station, Kíli looked forcibly casual as he went over and leaned back against the tactical station, Legolas stood in front of the replicator, hands held behind his back and posture exceedingly straight, and the Bowman family was still gathered near the transporter pad, resting against the handrails in front of them.

“God, the report I’m going to have to write about this is going to be ridiculous,” Joshua said. He set a tricorder on the table, and they watched him set it to record audio and keep track of the story. “I can understand the presence of the Vulcans out here, but Fíli, I need as many details as you’re allowed to give me--and I already know you won’t tell everything--about how you and the Vulcans met, what you’re doing out here, and how you ended up assisting in the evacuation of Esgaroth. And I don’t know if I said it earlier, but thanks a lot for that. Starfleet had no idea that there were Federation citizens, descendents of the people of Dale, still out here, and without your presence, the loss of life could have been catastrophic. So thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Fíli said. “I will say, it’s kind of a long story. How much of the history of this area do you know?”

Joshua turned to Yesena, who answered, “Dale Station was installed here in 2228, to provide a Federation influence in this region. Construction of Esgaroth Shipyard was completed in 2245, only a few weeks before Smaug attacked and destabilized the two biggest settlements in the region--the humans of Dale Station, and the Klingons of Erebor.”

Fíli nodded. “Well, Erebor was ruled by the house I’m a son of, the house of Durin. After Smaug’s attack, like the people of Dale, our people were forced to abandon the planet. So to answer one of your questions, we came out here to reclaim our homeland.”

Joshua nodded, and tried to keep his tone neutral and free of judgement as he asked, “Did you think about what would happen if Smaug chose to attack again?”

“We did,” Kíli said, and although they hadn’t mentioned it-- and why would they?-- and they didn’t look very much alike, Joshua could tell by the way they both spoke that they were related, probably brothers guessing by the naming convention. “But honestly? There was no reason to assume Smaug was still around or alive. There was no reason to assume he wasn’t either, but there was only one way to find out: to try and go home.”

“We also received external guidance,” Fíli said. “From a former Starfleet Admiral, Gandalf--”

“--Greyhame,” Yesena and Joshua finished.

“Of course he was involved,” Yesena said. Her antennae twisted playfully as she continued, “he has a well-deserved reputation in Starfleet for this type of...behavior.”

“He has a similar one in the KDF,” Fíli said. “But he gave our Captain valuable information and put us in touch with another person to add to our crew. We picked him up, and that was where our journey began.”

“When did you encounter the Vulcans?” Joshua asked.

“We arrested them for trespassing in the Fuin, Captain,” Tauriel said, so bluntly that it made Yesena snicker. “We picked up several of their shuttles and their entire crew, except, although we didn’t know it at the time, one of their crewman was waiting in orbit in their cloaked bird of prey, keeping an eye on the situation. They were in our brig for less than 24 hours before they were broken out.”

“We transported back to our vessel, the Oakenshield, and tried to get back on schedule, but we’d barely made it out of atmosphere before we were cornered by Romulan warbirds and had to abandon ship in one of our shuttles,” Fíli said, “which is when we ran into Bard.”

“I picked them up and smuggled them into Esgaroth,” Bard said. “I got them refuelled, got them some weapons, the usual.”

“Most of our crew went on to Erebor, but Kíli was injured, so the three of us and another crewman, our medical officer, stayed in Esgaroth with him,” Fíli finished. “So that’s why we were there when Smaug attacked.”

“We ran into them again in Esgaroth because we were tracking the Romulans from our borders,” Tauriel said. “They hailed from Gundabad, and we got all but--Legolas?”

“All but one, Captain,” the blonde Vulcan said. “And the one we missed was Bolg, a prestigious Romulan commander. Their goal is obviously to wipe the House of Durin out of the history books, but I don’t know why. It wasn’t too long after he escaped that Smaug made his grand reappearance.”

“Thank you for answering our questions,” Joshua said, then reached out to flick the recorder off. Although you also gave us even more. “Alright, now that that’s over, what the hell do we do next? And aside from the Cadet, let’s ditch the formalities. Call me Joshua.”

“Oh, I can get behind that,” Bofur said, stretching out and crossing his arms behind his head and propping his legs up on one of the counters.

“And you can call all of us by our first names as well,” Fíli said, and both Tauriel and Kíli nodded in agreement. “As for a status update, there’s a group of Vulcans from Eryn Lasgalen on their way, but we haven’t reached out to my people yet.”

“Do you think they survived?” Yesena asked, surprisingly gently.

“I have to hope so,” Fíli said.

“Our Uncle is there, a few of our cousins, Bofur’s brother--” Kíli trailed off, running a hand back through his dark wavy hair.

“You know,” Joshua mused, “I’ve actually met Klingons from the house of Durin. Any of you know a Dís?”

“You’re joking. That’s our mom,” Kíli said, then winced, realizing just what he’d given up.

Dís, sister of Thorin, head of the house of Durin, Joshua thought. They aren’t just Klingon kids, they’re practically royalty. But there was no reason to let them know their secret wasn’t a secret anymore, so he continued with a smile, “I met her at Khitomer--I was a security lieutenant on the Excelsior and Captain Sulu was part of the negotiations. I’m pretty sure she was the most decorated Klingon in that room.”

“She’s the most decorated Captain in the Empire,” Kíli said, tone full of pride. “She’s brilliant.”

“You two seem to take after her,” Joshua said. “She was one of the ones who was more willing to cooperate. So many of the other Klingons wanted to fight about every detail, and your mother just kind of...ignored them.”

“That sounds about right,” Fíli said. He seemed almost relieved that their slight deception was out in the open and let out a sigh. “Everyone really wanted her and my father to come with us, but after all that’s happened? I can’t decide if I’m relieved they aren’t here or if I’m livid they didn’t come, because maybe things would’ve been different.”

“You can’t let yourself play that game of what-ifs,” Yesena said. “I totally get it, and I also know that it’s only going to piss you off.”

“What are you going to do next though?” Bard asked. “I mean, I think it would be good for you to stay, but you must want to go figure out what’s happened at Erebor.”

“We should stay until Administrator Thranduil gets here tomorrow morning,” Kíli said to his brother, “so we can talk about Tauriel.”

“What about Tauriel?” Joshua asked.

“She’s in major trouble with the boss for helping us out here,” Fíli said, looking away from Kíli and back at Joshua. “I was going to talk to her, see if he’ll change--”

“There will be no changing his mind,” Tauriel said. She shrugged, seeming even amounts apathetic and just exhausted. “And furthermore, I have no plans of being here when he gets here. I think somebody needs to go to Gundabad, and there’s no reason it can’t be Legolas and I. We can take the Orchid.”

“If that’s your personal shuttle, one of ours may be faster,” Yesena said. “You’ll have to come back with your report anyway, you can borrow one of the Phoenix’s.”

“That would be helpful. I believe it would be ideal if we left tonight,” Tauriel said, and the before the Administrator gets here went unspoken. Legolas nodded.

“After we check in with the people of Esgaroth, we can transport over, get you the hook up,” Yesena said, winking, and Tauriel gave her a slightly pained smile in response.

“In that case, I think we’ll go tonight as well,” Fíli said. “We need to get there sooner versus later.”

“Do you need a shuttle?” Joshua asked, and Bofur shook his head.

“The Milura, the shuttle we used to get here, still has plenty of dilithium from Bard’s refill,” Bofur said. “We’ll be alright. And I think our people might freak the fuck out if they saw us in a Starfleet issue vessel.”

Joshua laughed. “That’s a fair point. If we’re all set here, I’d like to go check out the cargo bay, see how the supply distribution is going. Yesena, ask Lieutenants Valix and McLeary to transport over, keep an eye out here.”

Yesena pulled out her comm and called the Phoenix, and less than a minute later the redheaded tactical officer and Denobulan helmswoman were both standing on the transporter pad. The rest of the group headed down to the combined bay, and when they got there, Bard was immediately isolated by another child, and Fíli made a few more introductions: first to Óin, who was their CMO and had been keeping an eye on the other Bowman child, Tilda, then to Hilda, Percy, and Cait, the three people who it seemed had been made the temporary leaders of the survivors of Esgaroth.

“We’re so glad you’re here,” Hilda said, throwing her arms around Yesena, who endured the hug without frowning too obviously. “We thought it was going to take far longer.”

“It’s real lucky you were in the area,” Percy said as he shook Joshua’s hand. “But we’ve been taken pretty good care of by them as well.”

“I’ll be sure to make note of that,” Joshua said, and he and Fíli grinned at each other over Percy’s shoulder.

Percy shook Kíli’s hand next. “You all are probably going aren’t you?”

“I’m afraid so,” Kíli said, “but we’ll be in touch. We made promises to your people, and we’ll make sure that they’re kept.”

“Good lad,” Percy said.

“We transported the Milura to the cargo bay we’ve got all of Dale’s runabouts in,” Bofur said as he pulled away from his hug with Cait. “It’s oxygenated by now, so I guess we should be going.”

Óin grunted in agreement. “Aye, I’d agree. We can head down, get pre-flight sequences going. You two catch up with us in a few.”

“Got it,” Fíli said. He turned to Joshua. “Comm if you need anything, Captain.”

“You too,” Joshua said, shaking his hand once more. “Good luck, Commander.”

“We hope everything’s alright,” Yesena said.

Tauriel and Kíli had been quietly talking a few feet away, when suddenly they heard him say, “You can come with us, you know. I know how I feel. I’m not afraid. You make me feel alive.”

Tauriel visibly winced, and Joshua turned away, giving them a semblance of privacy, but was still close enough to hear them. “Kíli--”

“Tauriel, par’mach’kai--”

Directly in front of him, Fíli flinched, and out of the corner of his eye, Joshua saw her pull back, straightening up to her full height. “I don’t know what that means.”

“I think you do,” Kíli said, but if he had anything else to add he didn’t get a chance.

Legolas must have finished his goodbyes, and he stepped up from behind Kíli. “Tauriel, shouldn’t we be going?”

She straightened up even further, and said, “Of course.”

“I’ll see you again,” Kíli said. He took her hand and put something in it, folding her fingers around it. “Keep it. As a promise.”

“Thank you.” Tauriel’s expression had softened again, but she raised her free hand in a Vulcan salute. “And--live long and prosper.”

“Same to you,” Kíli said, giving her other hand a final squeeze before falling back to stand beside his brother. “Time to go?”

“Yep,” Fíli said. “We’ll talk soon, Captain. Take care of yourselves.”

“Same to you,” Joshua said, giving a friendly salute. They gave one back as they turned and walked away, but before they could get very far, Bard’s younger daughter ran up.

“Wait, Fíli-and-Kíli!” She stumbled to a stop in front of them, then took Fíli’s hand and pressed something into his palm, folding his fingers around it. “I’ve got something for you. I asked Da, and we both think you need it more than we do.”

Fíli opened his palm and gave a fond grin at the contents. “Your music? Tilda, I can’t accept this.”

“You have to! It’s a gift. And Da says we can make another infostick,” Tilda said. “But it’s been a long time since we made such a good friend.”

Fíli gave the infostick another look, and after a beat, placed it in his pocket. “I’ll cherish it forever. And we’ll listen to it on the trip.”

“I’m glad,” Tilda said. “Good luck.”

Fíli ruffled her hair one last time, and she and Kíli managed a somewhat amusing hug, with her on her tiptoes and him crouched down, and then the two brothers made their way to join up with their crewman.

“There’s a lot to unpack here,” Yesena muttered under her breath, just loud enough for Joshua to hear, then turned to Tauriel and Legolas. “Are you two ready to head out as well?”

“We are,” Legolas answered. He gave his friend a worried glance, but Tauriel completely missed it while still watching the door the brothers had just walked through. Isn’t that interesting? Joshua thought. “Lead the way, Commander.”

Chapter Text

On Vulcan.

Gandalf always enjoyed an opportunity to visit with old friends, regardless of the circumstances. He didn’t get to see everybody very often--being one of the most active members of the Continuum did come with its challenges, and one of those was being forced to go long periods of time without getting to catch up. He followed Elrond into the room they were holding the council in, a wide open room with a skylight and many big windows. There was a round table with seven chairs, two of which were occupied by one tall, long legged Vulcan--Glorfindel, the last son of a house that didn’t exist anymore, probably saving a seat for Erestor. Elrond moved to take one of the other chairs, as Gandalf looked out across the room again and his eyes went wide. Knowing that they were meeting today still hadn’t prepared him to see a tall, blonde head, standing in front of one of the far windows, framed against the vivid Vulcan sky.

“Galadriel,” he breathed.

She turned around, and her face had what passed for a smile on it. She stepped away from the window. “Mithrandir. It has been a long time.”

Gandalf stepped forward and took her hand between his. “Age may have changed me, but not so the Lady of Lorien. You look as lovely and radiant as ever. I’m surprised you made the trip, my dear--I had no idea Elrond had sent for you.”

“That would be because he didn’t. I did.”

Gandalf turned to the corner of the room the voice had came from, and gave the other Q a nod. “Saruman. It is good to see you, old friend.”

“You’ve been busy as of late,” Saruman drawled, stepping further into the light of the room. He looked the same as when Gandalf and he had last spoke; he still had his hair long and white, and wore a set of white, not-quite Vulcan style robes. He settled down into one of the chairs, and Gandalf took a seat beside him. “Tell me, Gandalf, did you think these plans and schemes of yours would go unnoticed?”

“Unnoticed?” Gandalf shook his head. “No, I’m simply doing what I feel to be right. Shouldn’t we wait for everyone else to get here?”

“One of the chairs was for Radagast, who, based on what you have said about your escapades, will not be able to make it,” Elrond said. “The other is for Erestor, who will arrive shortly and be caught up by Glorfindel. There is no logical reason to not begin now.”

“Besides, the dragon has long been on your mind,” Galadriel said.

“This is true, my lady. Smaug owes allegiance to no one. But if he should side with the enemy, a dragon could be used to terrible effect.” Gandalf paused. “We still are not entirely sure what Smaug is that makes him such a powerful weapon, capable of forcing not one, but two settlements to evacuate in one fell swoop.”

Saruman laughed darkly. “What enemy? Gandalf, the enemy is defeated. Sauron is vanquished. He can never regain his full strength.”

“We don’t know that,” Gandalf cut in, but Elrond was shaking his head, his slanted brows furrowed.

“Gandalf, for four hundred years, we have lived in peace. A hard-won, watchful peace.”

“Are we? Are we at peace? Ferengi are growing bolder in their moves in to Federation space.” He gave Saruman a look, that he hoped was understood as before their time. Saruman nodded, distinctly unhappy about it. “Romulans have made similarly dangerous incursions, attacking us already on our journey, before we even get close to the neutral zone and the border.”

“You brought Klingons across the border as well, and here to Vulcan, one of the core worlds,” Elrond pointed out. “Not even ten years ago that too would have been considered an act of provocation at least, maybe an act of war, to the Federation.”

“Always you must meddle, looking for trouble where--” Saruman began, but Galadriel raised one elegant hand, the veins on her wrist looking greener in the vivid morning light.

“Let him speak,” she said, and Gandalf shot her a grateful look. She returned it with a nod, gracefully sitting down in one of the empty seats.

“There is something at work, bigger than the immediate evil of Smaug. Something far more powerful. We can remain blind, but it will not be ignoring us, that I can promise you. A sickness lies over the Fuin Nebula. Something sickens the planets within it, and they say...”

“‘They’? The v’tosh ka’tur?” Saruman scoffed. “Go on, tell us what those without logic would have us believe.”

Gandalf sighed. “They say there is something suspicious, in the old High Command Outpost at Dol Guldur. They suspect it to be some back alley eugenics operation, but I see a greater danger.” He turned to Saruman. “Do you remember tales of the Necromancer?”

Saruman rolled his eyes. “Gandalf, now you’re being ridiculous. That’s absurd. No such power exists in the mortal world, and even if it did, no mortal would be capable of wielding it.”

“I thought so as well, but Radagast--”

“Radagast is a fool at best, and self endangering at worst.” As Saruman spoke, the door to their room slid open and Erestor came in, moving Glorfindel’s feet out of the way and settling down in his seat. “His excessive consumption of Orion psychotropics has addled his brain and yellowed his teeth, and--”

“He gave me this,” Gandalf cut in, setting a package on the table with a low thud. He unclicked the case, and the lid popped open.

“It looks like one of the weapons you had me investigate yesterday,” Elrond said. He ran a tricorder over it, and his brows furrowed. “But this is….old.”

“Very old.” Gandalf gave Saruman a hard look. “You know you’ve seen it before.”

“It’s a morgul blaster,” Glorfindel piped in, standing up to get a better look at it. “A relic of Mordor.”

“Made for the one who called himself the Witch-King, of the vessel Angmar . He was killed in the Last Alliance, in Federation year 2020, and then he and his belongings were sealed in an orbital vault called the Crypt, that was locked in orbit around a planet in the Delphic Expanse,” Gandalf said.

“The probability is immensely low that this is actually that weapon,” Erestor said. “Those vaults were so heavily encrypted, we still haven’t worked out decryption algorithms that would work on unlocking it in fewer than 7.4 years.”

“What proof do we have that this is actually from that vault?” Saruman asked, giving it a shrewd look.

Gandalf sighed. “I have none.”

Saruman shook his head. “Because there is none. Let us examine what we know. A few Romulan vessels have crossed into Federation Space--unusual, and definitely something for our friends in Starfleet to be concerned about, but not unheard of by any means. A weapon from a bygone age has been found. And someone you think is a necromancer but that is in fact probably just an illegal geneticist is camped out in an abandoned station. It’s not so very much, after all. Nothing you have brought before us is concrete enough to demand any action be taken. The question of this Klingon company, however, troubles me deeply. I’m not convinced, Gandalf, and I do not feel I can condone such a quest. If they’d come to me, I might have spared them this disappointment. I do not pretend to understand your reasons for raising their hopes…”

Galadriel gave Gandalf a long look as he trailed on, and he realized what she wanted. He relaxed his mental shields, and immediately felt her presence. You’ve gotten good, my lady.

I’ve had much practice, she telepathically replied. Her lips quirked very slightly up. The Klingons are leaving.

Gandalf gave her a small nod. Saruman was still rattling on when the door slid open again and Elrond’s assistant Lindir entered. “Sir, the Klingons are gone.”

Saruman huffed. “Of course they are. Savages, I tell you.”

“There’s no need for that,” Glorfindel said flatly. “Leave the bigotry at the door. We do not make a habit of tolerating it.”

Elrond sighed. “I will go investigate.”

Saruman, Erestor, and Glorfindel followed Elrond and Lindir to check things out, but Galadriel stayed where she was. Gandalf stood up and moved closer to her. They’d both replaced their mental shields, and when she spoke, Gandalf could hear her meticulous control. “You will follow them?”

“Yes.”

“You are right to help Thorin, son of Thrain, of the house of Durin. But I fear this quest has set in motion forces we do not yet understand. The riddle of the Morgul weapon must be answered. Something moves in the shadows, unseen, hidden from our sight. It will not show itself, not yet. But everyday it grows in strength. You must be careful.”

“I always am, my lady,” Gandalf said. “By the way, would you happen to know how your husband’s cousin is doing, out in the Fuin?”

One of her golden eyebrows lifted. “We haven’t heard from Thranduil in over 5 years, since his wife died. But the last we spoke, he seemed well. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no reason, I just really don’t keep up with our old friends enough, you know. It’s good to hear he’s doing fine,” Gandalf said.

He knew Galadriel could sense the lie, but she just gave him a sweetly knowing look. It felt like a long while before she spoke again. “Mithrandir, why the Betazoid?”

“I don’t know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins?” He shrugged. “Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”

Galadriel stood up, and placed his weathered hand between hers. “Do not be afraid. You are not alone.” She squeezed his hand gently. “If you should ever need my help, I will come.”

Gandalf dipped his head in a slight bow, and if his eyes followed her graceful movement out of the room, well, there was nobody around to say anything about it to him.

***

When he finally decided to leave the White Council again, the Oakenshield was already too far out of Vulcan space, and Gandalf knew he would have to play catch up. “Glorfindel, if you could show me to a subspace comm panel, I would be very grateful.”

“Of course,” Glorfindel replied, waving for Gandalf to follow him to what counted as their ops center. “I assume you’re calling for a ride?”

“You assume correctly, although I would appreciate it if you could keep that knowledge to yourself, and particularly away from Saruman.”

Glorfindel nodded, brows furrowing in a scowl. “You have nothing to worry about. He is no friend of mine. Just input the frequency here, and if you can’t reach them right now, if they comm back later whoever is in here will take a message.”

“Thank you, my friend,” Gandalf said, and Glorfindel left him alone with the current ops monitor. He put in the frequency, and soon a familiar spotted face had appeared on screen.

“Hey, old man.” Loren said, grinning. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I need a favor, Ms. Egal,” Gandalf replied. “I hope those carry over between lifetimes.”

Loren laughed. “Course they do. What’s up?”

“How close are you to Vulcan?”

“We’re actually stocking up on Denobula right now, dilithium, an extra generator, stuff like that. I could be there in a couple of hours.”

“Excellent.” Gandalf paused. “You may want to stock up on arms as well. A few photon torpedoes would not be out of place.”

Loren’s left brow raised. “What have you gotten yourself into this time?”

“All I can say is that there are Klingons involved.”

Loren laughed and raised a hand. “Say no more. I’ll tell my first to double check on it, but we should be there by around, 1900 hours, Vulcan time?”

“Excellent,” Gandalf said. “Thank you so very much, Loren. I owe you one.”

“What else are friends for?” she said, and the last thing he saw before the comm ended and the screen went black was her smiling face.

Loren’s arrival several hours later was met with little fanfare, and soon Gandalf had transported up to their ship. Slow and irritating as it could be, travelling the mortal way did have more style to it.

“Welcome aboard, old man,” Loren said, pulling him into a hug. “It’s been a hot minute.”

“It has,” Gandalf agreed. “But it will be good to catch up.”

“We’ll go to what passes as my ‘ready room’,” Loren said, making air quotes with her fingers. “I have a feeling it’s a lot to catch up on.”

They wandered in, where Gandalf decided that mortal travel definitively had more style. “Nice fish tank,” he mused, settling down into the chair in front of the desk. Three little blue fish swam around in it, and he smiled as he watched them.

“Thanks,” Loren said, brushing a few padds onto the floor and opting to sit on the desk instead of the chair behind it, which was currently home to a box of what appeared to be plasma injectors. “So. What’s up.”

“We’ve known each other a very long time, haven’t we, Egal?”

She nodded absently, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear. “You’ve known me all the way since I was Thorondor. You can tell me anything.”

“Of course. And it’s mutual, old friend.” He took a deep breath. “I am assisting some old Klingon friends in reclaiming their home planet from an unknown entity.”

Loren whistled. “Sounds rough.”

“We are going to be catching up with them while they are fighting Romulans, and they’re going to need repairs.”

“I may know a guy.”

“You’re a godsend .”

“I don’t know about that, but you’re sweet.”

“After that, I’ll be disappearing for a while.” Gandalf sighed. “But would you mind doing me another favor? For later?”

“Not at all.” Loren shook her head, smiling. “How else am I gonna make sure this friendship lasts more lifetimes if you don’t keep owing me?”

***

Beorn had given the Oakenshield one last tow at warp before dropping them off at the edge of the Fuin. Most of the crew had already transported over, leaving only Thorin, Gandalf, and Bilbo behind. “That we made it this far without trouble is a good sign,” the giant allasomorph said. “But I and my ship must leave you here.”

“The name of the--” Thorin winced slightly, but pushed on “-- Honeybee will be renowned throughout my house.”

“See that it is,” Beorn drawled. “Avoid the chroniton and neutrino particles, and you should be fine.”

“We will,” Thorin said.

The comm panel beeped, and Beorn hit the button for on speaker, muttering about how it had to be their crew.

“Captain,” Bofur said. “We’re picking up an odd transmission. I can’t trace the frequency that it’s on, but it’s just an image: an eye.” He projected it on screen, and Bilbo let out a small gasp at the sight. Gandalf’s expression darkened, and he could almost hear Galadriel: Something moves in the shadows unseen, hidden from our sight. Everyday it grows in strength. If our enemy has returned, we must know. Go to the Crypt.

Beorn turned to Gandalf. “You going with them?”

“Unfortunately, I can not,” Gandalf said, immediately beginning a chorus of protest from both of them. “There is something else, something bigger that I must devote my attention to.”

“Gandalf, if this is a joke, it isn’t funny,” Bilbo snapped. “You can’t leave us.”

“I wouldn’t do it unless I had to,” Gandalf said. He turned to Bilbo, already more sure, harder than he had been at the start. “You’ve changed, Bilbo Baggins. You’re not the same Betazoid as the one who left Shire Station.”

Bilbo hesitated, and Gandalf saw one of his hands slip into his pocket. “I was going to tell you--I...found something when we were captured by the Cabal.”

“What did you find?” Gandalf leaned forward, and watched Bilbo fumble in his pocket. “Bilbo, you found something?”

Bilbo looked up at Gandalf, and pulled his hand from his pocket. He smiled. “My courage.”

Gandalf smiled back, equally gently. “Well, that’s good.” He turned to Thorin. “Keep the infostick safe. I’ll meet you outside RAVENHILL--whatever you do, do not try to go onto that station or down to that planet without me. Beorn was right: you need to be very careful to avoid the chronitons and neutrinos. If you lose your way in distorted space, you will never find your way out.”

Thorin and Bilbo nodded, and Gandalf watched them shimmer into nothingness, still feeling slightly sick to his stomach. He snapped himself away, with only one stop between him and his journey to the Crypt.

***

The Continuum could look like anything, both based on what the other Q wanted to be seen and what the viewer wanted to see. Today’s theme was minimalism, apparently, and Gandalf found himself surrounded by white, for as far as the eye could see. Deciding he had no time for pleasantries, Gandalf snapped his fingers again, trusting the Continuum to find who he was looking for.

When he felt their presence, he found his consciousness swathed in the glowing light of a fresh nebula. He turned to the dark haired woman at his side. “The Delta quadrant? Fine choice.”

Alatar shrugged. The physical form she’d chosen for the rare encounters with humanoids she had looked good--her hair was black and wavy, and she had dark almond shaped eyes. “Pallando and I have been keeping an eye on these two peoples--the Kazon and the Hirogen. Pretty neat shit, warrior cultures and all that.” She, to the extent that any non corporeal being can do anything, nudged him in the side. “Kinda like the Klingons in your neck of the woods?”

“Indeed,” Gandalf said. He glanced out across the stars, watching the speck of light that must be Pallando moving back towards them. “There are things we must discuss.”

“Guess we should go somewhere more familiar?” Alatar wondered aloud, and before Gandalf could say anything (not that he had to, really) the snap had happened and the three of them were all sitting in a familiar bar.

There was another light snap and then a huff from Gandalf’s side, and he turned to see Saruman tugging at the neckline of his Starfleet uniform. “Really? You’ve decided we should be fleet brats on Risa?”

“That one already is, Saruman,” Pallando reminded him blandly, clicking her long nails on the table. The bartender came over for their orders and she gave him a bright smile. “Samarian sunset, if you can.”

“Make that two,” Radagast added, straightening in his seat.

“Well, what are we here for?” Alatar asked, running hand through her dark hair. “Not that I don’t already know of course, but I still want to hear you say it.”

“I’ve came to attempt to renegotiate the terms of our agreement,” Gandalf began, but Saruman was already groaning. The bartender dropped the drinks off, and Radagast took a long swig.

“Curunír, let him finish,” Pallando said, giving her glass a flick and watching the liquid turn colors.

“I already know what he’s going to say,” Saruman snapped back.

“Really,” Radagast said, “we all know what we’re all going to say. A side effect of both omnipotence and being in the Continuum.”

He was met with stares from all four Q. “I hate it when he says something that sounds smart,” Alatar said. “Anyways. Our agreement last time was that we don’t play with mortals. Gandalf, you want to play with mortals, right?”

“That’s a gross understatement of what I am trying to do here. And calling it playing with mortals makes it sound weird,” Gandalf muttered.

“I thought it was because he’s in love with that one Vulcan chick. Artanis or whatever she goes by now?” Pallando asked, taking a sip of her drink.

“That is also not the point,” Gandalf said, but by this point, nobody was really listening to him.

“I object to a change in the agreement,” Saruman said.

“I object to Saruman, but I also agree with the agreement,” Pallando said. Saruman shot her a look.

“I object to Saruman as well, and I would like to hear what Gandalf has to say,” Radagast said.

“Alright, shockingly I agree with Radagast here, so. Gandalf, why do you want to change the agreement?” Alatar asked.

“Because there is much we can do to help the mortals. Because we did once, and it was incredible, and resulted in what we call the Last Alliance, but didn’t really have to be the last. Because---well, because with great power comes great responsibility!” Gandalf stood up on the last point, and Radagast tugged on his elbow to pull him back into his seat.

“Who’s that last quote from? Shakespeare or some other Terran nonsense?” Pallando asked, messing with something under her fingernail.

“Worse,” Saruman drawled. “Spider-man.”

Alatar waved a hand. “Doesn’t matter. But Gandalf, you keep forgetting: neither of us really care about getting involved.” She gestured at herself and Pallando, who was nodding. “We just wanna like, chill. Observe.”

“Maybe throw another nebula in there,” Pallando said. “Nebulas are cool. Or a wormhole.”

“We’re probably missing fascinating developments in Hirogen culture as we sit here,” Alatar said, dark eyes going wide.

“And I accept that you two don’t want to be involved with the locals,” Gandalf said. “But I do. I couldn’t help becoming invested, and I have the ability to make a difference, so I should make a difference.”

Alatar and Pallando shared a look, and after what felt like a long moment, Pallando shrugged.

“Honestly? You Alpha Quadrant boys can do whatever you want,” Alatar said. “As long as the rest of the Continuum doesn’t catch you, at least.”

“I object,” Saruman said.

“Overruled,” Pallando said. Radagast gave her a high five.

“Well, if that’s all worked out--” Alatar began, but Gandalf waved the rest of her sentence off in an echo from earlier.

“You two can feel free to get back to your….observation. Have fun watching the development of the Hirogen and your nebulas.”

“Thanks, Gandalf. Saruman. Radagast.” Alatar spun around and pointed finger guns at them. “Catch you on the flip side.”

Pallando gave Gandalf one last nod, then snapped and pulled herself and Alatar away. With them gone, Saruman turned on Gandalf and looked like he was about to say something, when instead he rolled his eyes and snapped himself elsewhere as well.

Gandalf turned to Radagast. “Wanna go check something out for Galadriel?”

“I love Galadriel! Oh wait, she’s the Vulcan they were talking about,” Radagast said, and Gandalf snapped them both away. When they came back to the physical world, Radagast shuddered. “This is a nasty place.”

They were in what was basically a metal box. There were so many layers of bulkhead it felt like being buried underground, and for good reason. There were a bunch of monitors, flashing code in green and white. Radagast trailed his fingers along the screens. “This is serious code. Following older encryption patterns, but still immensely complex for the average hacker to get through. What was held here?”

“If they had names, they have long since been lost. They would have been known only as servants of evil. The nine.” Gandalf sighed. “Security override, authorization code Olórin-sigma-3-7-9.”

There was a beat of silence. “Authorization accepted. Welcome, Gandalf Greyhame.”

“Thank you, computer,” Gandalf said. “What is the status of the security on the nine vaults?”

Another beat. “Security protocols have been disabled.”

Radagast gasped, and Gandalf groaned. “Who disabled them?”

“Unable to comply,” the computer said.

“When were they disabled?” Radagast asked.

“Unable to comply.”

Radagast frowned. “Gandalf, I don’t think we’re gonna be able to get anything out of this one.”

“We don’t need to,” Gandalf said. “We know where they are.”

Radagast’s eyes grew wide. “Dol Guldur. But I thought it was a backwoods eugenics experiment, not something out of mortal--”

“He isn’t mortal,” Gandalf said. “The Nine only answer to one master. We’ve been blind, Radagast, and in our blindness, the Enemy has returned. He is summoning his servants. Azog the Defiler is no ordinary Romulan. He is a commander, a commander of legions. The enemy is preparing for war. It will begin in the Triangle. His mind is set upon that planet.”

“That is very bad,” Radagast said blandly.

“I have to go after the company. I am leading the Oakenshield into grave danger, and I must--”

“Gandalf, if we’re right, which I unfortunately know we are, the fate of the quadrant is at stake. Maybe even the entire galaxy.” Radagast shook his head. “We have to go to Dol Guldur. A-S-A-P.”

Gandalf paused. “Of course. You’re quite right, my friend.”

He snapped his fingers, and they were once again away. They were perched on the outer hull of the old High Command outpost. Gandalf looked in one of the portholes, where it was dark. He frowned.

“What is it?” Radagast asked, shivering. “By the continuum, this place is worse than the last.”

“He masks his presence. Cloaking device,” Gandalf said. “Which means he isn’t ready to reveal himself yet. Radagast, I need you to carry a message to the Lady Galadriel. Tell her we must force his hand.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m going in alone. On no account come after me without reinforcements. Do I have your word?”

“Gandalf, what if it’s a trap?”

Gandalf paused. “I’ll be alright. I need to know that you’ll get the message to Lady Galadriel.”

Radagast sighed and nodded. “Of course.” He snapped himself away.

Gandalf shook his head. “It is undoubtedly a trap.” He took a deep breath to steel himself, and snapped in.

***

Everything was bright and white but hazy. Gandalf felt like he couldn’t focus: he could see shapes around him, but everything was blurry. He faintly recalled going to Dol Guldur, but he thought he’d already left, hadn’t he? He felt divorced from himself, like his soul and body were separated from each other--but that wasn’t right, he was still corporeal, this wasn’t the Continuum. He forced his eyes to focus on one of his hands, pressed against a flat white wall, and looked at the veins and sunspots on it. His thoughts were similarly off-kilter, and he couldn’t tell if it was real or imagined, but he thought he heard a voice, a woman’s voice, calling out for him, “Mithrandir, I am coming.”

He sure hoped she was.

He stayed in that blurred uncertainty, lying on the floor, for what felt like an age. The outpost was crawling with Romulans, he realized after a time, all bearing the regalia and mark of Moria. That can not be good, he thought, but he still felt off, almost unhinged--it wasn’t quite pain, but it was something he as a Q had never experienced before. Eventually, he heard the sound of a door sliding open and saw a pair of Romulan Imperial issue boots approaching him. The Romulan spoke, but he couldn’t hear it, and the Romulan kicked him hard in the ribs. Gandalf gasped.

“Get up,” the Romulan barked, and oh, now everything was starting to get clearer. If his ears didn’t deceive him, there was distant phaser fire, somewhere else on the outpost. “Get up now .”

Gandalf tried to raise himself to standing, pushing up on his forearms, but apparently he was moving too slow because the Romulan kicked him hard in the ribs again, and he dropped like a stone. He heard the sound of the Romulan charging his disruptor, and oh, this was a stupid way to go, if only he could remember how to--but before he needed to do anything else, there was the sound of a (Starfleet) phaser blast, and the Romulan hit the ground. Gandalf could barely raise his head to look up, but standing in the doorway, long hair tied back with a silver band and wearing a set of silver blue robes, was Galadriel.

She kneeled beside him. “Mithrandir.”

He managed to croak out, “Thank you,” and she gave him what he would never be able to prove but knew in his heart was a full blown smile.

She slipped one arm behind his shoulders and the other behind his knees and scooped him up easily, carrying him back through the station. It was as they were going that they heard a dark voice on the intercom, “Three for the Vulcans under the sky. Seven for the Klingons in their great houses.”

Galadriel’s eyes narrowed as she spoke along with the next phrase. “Nine for mortal men, doomed to die.”

Nine figures stepped forward, all wearing dark cloaks and vacant looks in their eyes. Nazgul, Gandalf thought, although he wasn’t sure if it was his own or one of Galadriel’s. They stepped forward, raising their weapons, and Galadriel took a few steps back, still carrying Gandalf, until she was pressed against the bulkhead.

The voice on the intercom spoke again. “You cannot fight the shadow. Even now you fade. One light alone in the darkness.”

Galadriel shook her head, expression steely. “I am not alone.”

A phaser fired on the opposite side of the Nine, and Saruman and Elrond rounded the corner of the hallway.

“Are you in need of assistance, my lady?” Saruman asked dryly.

Elrond pointed his phase rifle at one of them. “You should have stayed in cryo-sleep.”

Gandalf later wouldn’t be able to recall who fired first, but there were flashes on both sides. He felt like his ears were stuffed with cotton; firefights like this were always full of sound, but Gandalf could hear nothing. He noticed himself being sat down on the floor of the hallway, with Galadriel leaning over him, and could barely read Galadriel’s lips forming the words, “Mithrandir, come back.”

The cool fingers of her right hand trailed along his cheeks and jaw, and he felt sparks as they settled onto his psi points. “My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts.”

She only settled into his mind for a moment, but it was enough for Gandalf to come out of it gasping. Galadriel slumped forward, resting her head on his shoulder. Gandalf leaned forward and whispered, “He is here.”

“Yes,” Galadriel murmured, “the darkness has returned.”

There was the sound of something landing on the ground hard behind him, and then warm hands were shaking Gandalf by the shoulders. Radagast, Gandalf realized, as the new figure spoke. “We’ve got to get you out of here, eh?”

“He is weak,” Galadriel said. “He cannot remain here—it is draining his life. Go, and go quickly.”

As Radagast pulled him off the floor, Gandalf reached down and took Galadriel’s hand. “Come with me, my lady.”

Galadriel shook her head, as an expression dark and dangerous settled on her features. “No. Radagast, go now.”

Gandalf had barely opened his mouth to protest, as Radagast said “Yes, ma’am” and snapped them both away.

***

They’d gone non corporeal, Gandalf realized after a long moment. They were nestled in the heart of a star, bathed in light. He shook his head, already feeling mentally refreshed. “I have to get out of here.”

“You can not go back to Dol Guldur. I know we’re all-powerful, but I still feel like Galadriel will kill me.”

“I’m not going back to Dol Guldur,” Gandalf said. Radagast sighed in relief. “I have to get to Erebor, warn them of what is coming. I saw them with my own eyes--rank upon rank of Romulans from Moria. You must summon our friends, all kinds of kinds--the battle for Erebor is about to begin.”

Chapter Text

“Bilbo, are you ready to come join the search?”

Their first night on Erebor had gone quickly and largely without incident, thanks to the fact that Glóin had gotten the power up, but morning and the resume of the search had come far too early. The search teams had already been going at it for several hours this morning, and even through his closed eyes Bilbo could see how bright it was. Thorin’s voice was the quietest Bilbo had ever heard it, and he barely managed to clear the lump in his throat and steady his shoulders from shaking. “No, I don’t feel well still. I’m sorry, Thorin.”

Thorin had not been so quiet last night. Even from where he was holed up, Bilbo could hear the argument between him and Dwalin. He’d missed the first part of the argument; it wasn’t until Thorin shouted something about giving up that Bilbo started paying attention.

“You have always stood at my side, and yet you would allow this mission to go unfinished?”

“Thorin, hardly anybody’s slept since we left Esgaroth. They’re exhausted. What if one of them misses the damned stone because they’re so tired they’re seein’ stars?”

“They would not miss it,” Thorin had said gravely. “There is nothing in this house, this world, this quadrant like it. No amount of exhaustion would allow it to slip through unnoticed. It must be found!”

“I just think you need to lower your expectations of how quickly that will happen,” Dwalin snapped. There was a loud thud--one of them must have thrown something, and then he spoke again. “These things take time.”

“We need to find it,” Thorin shouted. “We’ll break when I say.”

Thorin had stormed off then, and Bilbo had barely managed to slow his breathing and create the illusion of sleep before his heavy footsteps finished climbing the stairs and entered Bilbo’s current room. He leaned over the bed and tucked Bilbo slightly further under the blankets, but made no other move to touch him.

Thorin’s soft, anguished whisper was the last thing he’d heard before he drifted off to sleep: “We need to find it.”

The mattress groaned slightly, and Bilbo shifted forward, over his coat, which he’d earlier been using as an additional blanket, as he felt Thorin sit down beside him on the bed. A moment later, a hand reached out and touched in between his shoulder blades, rubbing gently. Bilbo barely bit back another sob. “I can’t imagine how difficult this whole journey has been. You’re so good, so carefree. It must be so hard.”

Bilbo didn’t answer. As important as the Arkenstone was, he still couldn’t really imagine Thorin getting into a fight with Dwalin of all people about it. They were best friends, cousins, brothers in all but blood, and the idea of this or anything driving a wedge between them made Bilbo feel uneasy.

“You have proven yourself time and time again. I wish you hadn’t had to.”

Bilbo swallowed again, and instead of saying, sent the thought, It’s worth it, Thorin’s way, feeling the responding brush of affection. “I mean it.”

“Of course you do,” Thorin said. His hand had moved farther up, and he brushed a few of Bilbo’s curls under his fingers. “Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?”

This time, Bilbo kept his thoughts to himself. Go back in time. Save the people of Esgaroth. Wait for your nephews. Wait for Gandalf. “No, I don’t think so. I think I just need a little more rest.”

Thorin took a breath that Bilbo recognized as leading into a small lecture, but before he could, his comm chirped. He flipped it open with his spare hand, and Bilbo felt the fingers in his hair tighten fractionally. “What.”

“Dwalin here. The Milura just dropped into orbit and is requesting permission to land.”

Bilbo sat up and leaned forward. “Wait, Glóin’s shuttle? Does that mean Fíli and Kíli are alright?”

“And Óin and Bofur,” Dwalin said proudly. “They made it.”

“Send them landing coordinates near the Albatross . Bilbo and I will meet them out there. Thorin out.”

Bilbo himself had already stood up and begun putting on his shoes. He hated to leave his coat (although it was less about the coat, more about the items currently tucked in its inside pocket) alone, but it was too warm on Erebor to justify wearing it. He folded it and tucked it under the pillow, and turned around just as Thorin pulled him close, and with his face pressed to Thorin’s chest, he could feel as much as hear his words. “I told you they’d make it.”

“You did,” Bilbo said, and this time he let his tears be seen, since they were tears of relief. “Thank the Four Deities.”

“Next time do not be so quick to doubt the house of Durin,” Thorin said, but he didn’t sound overly upset. “Let’s go meet them.”

In spite of the dust, they were still sleeping in Thorin’s old bedroom, so they left it and took the stairs down and out the main hall. It was already quite hot, and Bilbo was glad he’d ditched the coat as he unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. They arrived back in the courtyard only a few seconds after the Milura had landed, and the leaves and dirt were still blowing away from it as the airlock door slid open.

At first, the only thing that came out was music, which if Bilbo was correctly identifying it was Depeche Mode, but after a few seconds, the Klingons started disembarking. Fíli and Kíli were the first to emerge, and the younger brother looked so healthy that Bilbo let out another cry in relief, and rushed forward. Kíli took the hug with grace, and a moment later he felt Fíli’s hand pat his shoulder as well. “Oh, thank the gods you two, I was so worried--”

“It was mutual,” Kíli said as Bilbo finally released him. “We had no idea what had happened.”

“There is plenty of time to catch you up later,” Thorin said, and spread his arms wide in invitation. “Welcome, my sister-sons to Erebor.”

“We’re honored to be here,” Fíli said. Óin and Bofur had soon disembarked the shuttle as well, and Bofur pressed the button to slide the door shut behind them.

“We need to call the group together,” Thorin said. “Everyone will be so thrilled to see you. And there will be a slight change in assignment as well.”

“We’re ready for it,” Fíli said, and Kíli and Bofur nodded from where they stood behind him. I still don’t know what happened in Esgaroth, but whatever it was, it helped Fíli into his own. He’s a real leader now, Bilbo thought, watching the ease with which his crewmen followed him.

Kíli, too, was changed--although he was no longer sick, his smile didn’t quite reach his eyes, and his mind was in a state of emotional turmoil. His heart ached in a way that reminded Bilbo of how Bofur had felt when they left Loren. He gave another half smile, squinting as he took in the space. “It isn’t what I expected. But it’s beautiful.”

“It is nothing compared to the Raven Hall,” Thorin said. “Follow me.”

Thorin commed the others as they walked, and Bilbo tailed after him, in between Fíli and Kíli, while Óin and Bofur took up the rear. Bilbo watched the brothers look around, taking in the scenery, and if they were disappointed that the trees looked less like the conifers that they’d grown up around, well they weren’t going to tell Thorin that. It didn’t take long before they reached the iron gate, and as they stepped into the courtyard, where everyone else had already gathered, a large cheer went up.

“Welcome home,” Balin said, wiping an unshed tear from his eyes and coming to clasp Fíli’s hands. “Welcome home.”

“How’d you survive?” Dwalin asked, cutting to the chase.

“Bard Bowman killed Smaug,” Fíli said, raising his voice to carry over the noise of the other reunions. “We and the survivors managed to escape the destruction of Esgaroth in a few shuttles and a handful of escape pods, but it was close. If not for Bard’s bravery, all would have been lost.”

“Did he survive?” Nori asked.

“He did,” Fíli said. “He met up with the rest of the survivors in Dale, yesterday. Their position isn’t secure yet, but--”

“They’re in Dale?” Thorin asked, abruptly.

Something in Fíli’s expression tightened, and it was with no small amount of hesitation that he answered, “Yes, they are. We shored up enough of the station to secure the survivors, and a Federation starship arrived last night to help with repairs--”

“Federation?” Bilbo barely hid his flinch at Thorin’s harsh tone.

Fíli straightened fractionally, and Bilbo prayed that he backed off sooner rather than later, or this was going to get ugly. “The people of Esgaroth are technically Federation citizens, Uncle. They needed help.”

Their icy blue gazes met for a second, then Thorin turned away. “Of course. It matters not. Our next move is for all of us to focus on finding the Arkenstone.”

“Shouldn’t Óin go help Ori go through the remains, work on categorizing them?” Balin asked.

“None can be spared from this task,” Thorin said, voice returning to it’s Captain tone. “Óin can take over, and Ori can join the search alongside his brothers.”

Ori frowned, but only said, “Of course, Captain.”

“The Arkenstone is somewhere in the Raven Hall,” Thorin said, and Bilbo felt his stomach twist itself up in knots. “Thror kept it close, I know that much. That stone is the key to gaining the support of the High Council, which in turn will protect us from any Federation incursions that may come about with them on our doorstep. Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, and Ori, Nori, Dori, I want you all to continue searching the upper rooms. Everyone else, with me to the Vault.”

“The Vault?” Bilbo repeated.

“It was where all the most valuable treasures of my family are kept,” Thorin explained. Several of the Klingons assigned to the top floors felt a flicker of offense, namely Dori, Nori and Bombur, but said nothing to argue it. The only ones in the Vault are close family, Bilbo noticed, trying not to notice the tensions that choice was causing. “Bilbo, if you are still unwell, you can go rest again, of course.”

“You’re not well?” Kíli asked, but Bilbo waved him off, and in a slightly bolder move, answered in his mind, Don’t worry about me. Kíli’s eyebrows raised slightly, but he made no other move that would give them away.

“I think I might,” Bilbo said.

“Everyone else, you know your tasks,” Thorin said. “Let’s go.”

***

Bilbo sat on the floor of the bathroom, coat on his lap, with the ring in one palm and the stone in the other, and he wished he could be anywhere else. He only knew three things. One, that he’d thought Fíli and Kíli returning would make Thorin feel better, but he was wrong. I know how compelling they can be. Two, that Thorin was slipping--he could only feel it in the edges of his mind right now, but this stage wouldn’t last. You can have the privilege of seeing what they’re like at their worst. And three, that if Thorin found out he’d been hiding the Arkenstone from him, their love wouldn’t be enough to save him. He’s weighed the value of your life against a rock and found it worth nothing.

Admitting that he was aware of the facts did not make him feel any better, nor did hearing Smaug’s voice echoing in his mind, and he rocked backwards, leaning up against the cabinet. He dropped both items in his lap and sighed, and at the same time heard a knock on the door. “Bilbo? Are you decent?”

“One second, Fíli,” he answered, putting the ring and stone back in the inside pocket of his jacket and then tucking both in the cabinet behind him. “Alright, come in.”

Fíli opened the door and stepped in, his footsteps heavy on the tile. He looked down at Bilbo, sitting on the floor, then gracefully dropped down to join him. “You feeling okay?”

“Does your Uncle know you’re up here?”

“He does, and he seemed pleased that I’m looking out for you. But you didn’t answer my first question. And why are you on the floor?”

“My father always said that a cold tile floor was a cure for many things, but I think he was just talking about hangovers,” Bilbo said.

Fíli laughed, and the sound echoed around the small room. “No, I kind of agree. Sometimes you’ve just gotta...sit on the floor. Kíli told me about your mind-speaking as soon as we got a moment alone, you know.”

“I figured he would.”

“Of course you did,” Fíli said. “You’re the most perceptive of all of us. It’s how you know something is wrong.”

Bilbo swallowed and let his eyes fall closed. “I think we need to leave this planet. There’s something terribly off.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Thorin is--he’s not doing so well. I don’t think the others are doing great either, but Thorin--he hasn’t slept since we left Esgaroth. He’s barely eaten and he keeps giving me his rations. And he doesn’t want to let anyone else do any of those things either. He’s not been himself. And I think it’s this place--I think a sickness lies on it.”

“How so?” Fíli was sitting cross legged, and he turned to face Bilbo, resting his chin in one palm. “Sorry if it seems like I’m asking a lot of questions, I’m just--”

“You’re trying to come to your own conclusion, and you don’t want to commit based on my intuition. And you’re right not too! I do have real reasons,” Bilbo said. “There were a few things Smaug said--he wasn’t just a dragon, by the way, he was a man in a dragon ship. Some species called Cardassian.”

“I’d kind of guessed it wasn’t a real dragon,” Fíli said, cracking a small smile. “But with all the wild things in the galaxy? Stranger things have happened.”

“Very true. But he mentioned something about a dual attack at one point, and at first I thought it was talking about Dale and Erebor, but he said he felt bad that Dale was destroyed as well. And he said, if the Klingons of the house of Durin ever tried to reclaim the planet, they would see what happens once they were down there.” Bilbo took a deep breath. “I think he might have dropped a bioweapon on the planet. I asked Ori to do more scans, but our vessel was limited, and he said he could do more once we were down here, but I’m not sure he’s going to get the chance. I’m afraid it’s going to be too late.”

“That’s a bold assumption, Bilbo.”

“I know. I wouldn’t blame you if you think I’m crazy.”

Fíli scoffed. “Bilbo, right now you seem like the most sane person down here. I need to think about it, but--I believe that you believe it. I’ll see if Kíli and I can run some more discreet scans.”

“Thank you.”

“I think it would do Uncle well to see you join the search party. My brother and I would be glad to have you as well.” Fíli pushed off the counter and back to his feet, and when he offered Bilbo a hand up, he took it, brushing himself off. “Did anything else happen, before we got here?”

“Thorin and I argued a bit, and he argued with Dwalin last night, although I was lucky enough to not be there in person for that one. And he called your cousin Dain, on Ferohihl, if I remember right?”

Fíli made a thoughtful noise low in his throat. “Maybe once Dain gets here he can smack some sense into him.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Bilbo said. “And I think you’re right. Maybe me rejoining the group would help.”

***

The scene they arrived upon in the Vault was less than promising. They’d emptied several massive safes, filled with gold, gems, and all the other spoils of war accumulated by the house of Durin through their conquests onto the floor, and Balin and Dwalin were digging through one pile. Distantly, Bilbo could make out Kíli and Glóin’s voices in another room, where they must have been working in a similar way. But in the same room, Thorin alone was at the far wall, and Bilbo nervously watched as he combed through a pile as fast as possible, then stood up, knocking over a small golden stand of some sort and causing the jewelry on it to scatter. Bilbo cleared his throat, and Thorin barely gave him a nod before turning back to the diggers. “Any sign of it?”

Dwalin barely bit back a snarl. “Nothing yet.”

Thorin didn’t even try to hide his growl as he kicked over a jewel-studded goblet. “Comm Nori.”

The answer from Nori was the same, as Bilbo knew it would be, but it did nothing to bank Thorin’s anger. “We need to keep searching!”

Óin’s shout carried surprisingly well through the walls. “Captain, that jewel could be anywhere!”

“The Arkenstone is in these halls--” He’s right about that, Bilbo mused before he could silence his own thoughts “--find it!”

Dwalin said, both into his communicator and to the group in the Vault, “You heard him--keep looking.”

“All of you,” Thorin said, and Bilbo knew that this time, there was no faking sickness to avoid it. “No one rests until it is found!”

Bilbo nervously took a seat at the group around the pile, and sat next to Balin, who aside from searching from the Arkenstone, was not so discreetly sorting the treasures into piles. When Bilbo set a bar of latinum with the rest of the stack he’d been making, Balin gave an amused chuckle. “I always wished Thror would categorize these things. It would make this far less of an ordeal.”

“Yeah, at least then we’d know the Arkenstone wasn’t stored in the bat’leth or d’k tagh safe,” Dwalin said, tossing one of the offending knives across the room, where it lodged itself into the plaster wall.

“You three could work more efficiently if you weren’t speaking to each other,” Thorin said abruptly, dropping to his knees and joining them at their pile.

“Thorin,” Balin said, sounding very much like a disapproving parent. “For Kahless’ sake, have some patience.”

He slammed his fist into the pile, sending coins scattering and snapping an old, rusted blade in half. Bilbo absently wondered if his tetanus shot was up to date and if Klingons could get lockjaw before Thorin’s voice startled him again. “It is here in these halls. I know this. I know what grandfather would have--”

“You don’t know anything for sure, and it’s too soon to call for an update up top, but we’re still searching,” Dwalin said. His fist clenched around nothing, and Bilbo, for the first time, was impressed with his patience. “Just let us search.”

“You’re not looking well enough,” Thorin said, and Bilbo could hear as the anger leached out of his tone, replaced by devastation. Bilbo swallowed.

“Thorin, we would all see the stone returned.” Dwalin said, as he and his brother exchanged a look over Thorin’s head, which was bent down in defeat.

“But it’s still not found,” Thorin insisted. Bilbo took one of his hands and squeezed it, and Thorin squeezed back in response.

“Do you doubt the loyalty of anyone here?” Balin asked. “The Arkenstone is the birthright of our people.”

“Not all of us,” Thorin said, and Bilbo barely held back his protest as he sensed Thorin think Not Ori, Dori, and Nori, or Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur. “It is the jewel of the house of Durin. Am I not the heir of that House?”

He stood abruptly once again. This time, the uneasy look was shared between the two brothers and Bilbo, but Thorin was too distracted to see it.

“We need to find it,” he said. “Know this--if anyone does find it and tries to keep it from me, I will be avenged.”

That was the last thing he said before storming out of the room, and Bilbo couldn’t decide if he was relieved or terrified.

***

Thorin did eventually let them take a break, in pairs for a meal and a short nap, and Bilbo, who had been sent on break with Balin, was awoken to the sounds of the other man’s sniffling. It was a moment later than Bilbo’s sleep addled brain realized he’d just been crying, and that was unacceptable. Bilbo had never even heard of a Klingon crying, but most humanoids did it.

“Balin?” Bilbo whispered. “Is there anything I can do?”

Balin sniffed loudly again. “You know how Klingons are, Bilbo, maybe better than we know ourselves. You know how fierce, how jealous we can be. How deeply we need. But this--this is beyond anything typical. I saw this madness in his grandfather, too.” Balin let out a choked sound, somewhere between a  sob and a laugh. “In the old days, we called it a name that would translate roughly as dragon-sickness. Isn’t that ironic?”

Bilbo didn’t answer for a moment, gathering his thoughts. When he did, his voice was so low he wasn’t sure Balin could hear him at first. “Balin, if we managed to find it, and Thorin had the Arkenstone--would it help?”

Balin made a thoughtful noise, wiping away one last tear. “That stone crowns all. It is the summit of this great wealth--it bestows the power of the High Council, gives the blessing of Kahless to our people. It is our inheritance. But will it stay his madness? No, lad, I fear it would make it worse. Perhaps it is best that it remains lost. Maybe once Dain arrives, Thorin will see that it’s not the only thing worth anything.”

“You all think I know so much,” Bilbo said, mostly to himself, “but I have no answers to this.”

“You don’t need all the answers. Your love helps,” Balin said. “I promise you that. You may not feel so much of it right now, but having you here is doing good things for him.”

“I hope so,” Bilbo said. He stood and folded the blanket he’d used, and then hung it over one of the other couches. “I’m going to go back. I’ll send Dwalin in for his break.”

“Thank you, Bilbo,” Balin said, and if those three little words were loaded with multiple meanings, there was no reason to share.

Bilbo was halfway down the staircase, looking at something in his palm, when a hard hand gripped his shoulder. “What’s that?”

Normally Thorin’s breath was only on his ear like that in very different situations than this, and Bilbo couldn’t suppress his full body shudder. “It’s nothing. I found it.”

“Let me see,” Thorin snapped, and Bilbo forced himself to unclench his fist, revealing the small bunch of leaves. “Oh. Why do you have a weed?”

Bilbo let out an aborted laugh. “It’s not a weed--it’s an air plant. I picked it up when we first got to the surface. They’re one of those strange types of plants that loads of M class planets have, but they’re all a little different because they all evolved independently. I was thinking of sending it back to Shire Station, so that Hamfast Gamgee can have it in the arboretum.”

“It’s a long journey for such a small thing.” He gave the tiny plant a strange look. “Do they get any bigger?”

“No, but they make little baby air plants, called pups, that when they land on something nourishing will give them nutrients and help them grow into another air plant, and then the cycle restarts,” Bilbo explained. He set the air plant in Thorin’s hand, and he pinched it between his thumb and forefinger and held it up, looking at it silhouetted against the light. “So, maybe someday, when we go back to visit, there’ll be dozens, and we can look at them together, and remember everything. The good, the bad, and how lucky I am that I found love and an adventure an a new home all in one person.”

Bilbo had had other things to say, but before he could, Thorin leaned down to kiss him. It was a brief kiss, but the mood was abruptly shifted when Thorin pulled back and said, “We should go resume the search.”

“I guess we should,” Bilbo said. “Just--don’t forget how much I love you and how lucky I am.”

“I could never,” Thorin said, and if it weren’t for the danger, the loss already at the edge’s of Thorin’s mind, Bilbo would have believed him.

***

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Kíli asked. When she realized he was looking at her, not the scenery, Tauriel didn’t even try to hide her blush, but instead, in a surprisingly bold move, just tightened their fingers together.

“It is.”

“Come on, love birds!” Bofur shouted from about fifteen yards ahead. Fíli was with him, and the older brother looked equal parts amused and embarrassed by their public displays of affection, but he just shook his head playfully. “The House of Durin waits for no man! Or woman, in Tauriel’s case!”

Kíli laughed and tugged her along, through the tall, dense pines that apparently covered much of the surface of the planet. It was cooler than she expected, the sun not fully risen yet, and surprisingly humid, but she didn’t find the sensations unpleasant. She was only glad Legolas wasn’t here, so she didn’t have to listen to him complain.

They soon arrived at a large building, composed of stone and wood, with a metal roof, and Kíli and her raced up the stairs, catching up with Bofur, Fíli, and Óin at the top.

“I’m so glad you get to see my home,” Kíli said, so earnestly it made Tauriel’s heart ache, although she didn’t know why. “My Uncle is going to be so proud of you.”

“I hope so,” Tauriel answered. He brushed their fingertips together again, sending her reassurance, and she sent her affection back.

Bofur and Fíli pushed open the heavy doors, and they entered a surprisingly cozy grand hall. Thorin sat in a throne on the far side of the room, with Bilbo Baggins and two other Klingons--perhaps Dwalin and Balin, although she wasn’t completely sure--at his side, and when her Klingon companions bowed slightly before him, she mimicked their move.

“Rise,” Thorin said, and they did. “So this is the she-Vulcan who has saved my nephew?”

“It is,” Bilbo said. His dark Betazoid eyes were warmer and more reassuring than she expected, and she couldn’t help smiling back when he grinned. “She has saved him, and they have bonded in the ways of her people. It comes down from the time of the beginning, without change. This is the Vulcan heart. This is the Vulcan soul. Kaiidth.”

“She has a warrior’s spirit,” Kíli said. “She saved me from the danger in my own mind. I have seen her kill Romulans as easy as breathing, but she makes me feel so alive.”

“She is strong?” Thorin asked. He climbed off his throne and took a few steps forward, and his footsteps on the wood floor echoed around the room.

“Vulcans have over three times the strength of humans,” Tauriel said. Dwalin, still beside the throne, made a grunt that sounded faintly pleased.

Thorin stood directly in front of her, and after giving her a long, speculative glance, he placed his hand heavily on her shoulder. “She has a name?”

“Yes,” she answered, tilting her chin up almost defiantly. “I am Tauriel.”

“Tauriel?” He repeated, giving her shoulder a firm shake.

“What?”

“Tauriel,” Legolas repeated, giving her another shake. “Wake up. We’re almost there.”

“Oh. Of course.” She sat up, flipping her hair over her shoulder. Sometime during her unintentional nap, she’d knocked the Starfleet issue blanket onto the floor, and she picked it up and sat it on the cot, not bothering to fold it. “Sorry. I was dreaming.”

“I thought you said you were going to meditate?” Legolas teased.

“I thought I was too.”

“Dream of anything interesting?”

“Not really,” Tauriel lied. “It was hazy. Fragmented. A typical Vulcan dream.”

She knew immediately that he could tell she was lying, but he gratefully chose not to comment on it. “Oh. Well, it was really boring out here. I’ve had the shuttle on autopilot pretty much the whole time.”

“You haven’t had to dodge any warbirds?” Tauriel asked. “We just crossed the Neutral Zone in a Starfleet shuttle.”

Legolas frowned, brows slanting sharply. “No, no, I haven’t. That’s weird, isn’t it?”

“You’d know more than I would, Cadet.”

“Right. It’s weird. I mean, they could be cloaked, but we’re in their territory. Why would you make yourself invisible in your own house?”

“That’s a weird way to refer to it,” Tauriel said, “but yeah. That would be unusual.”

Something on the helm control panel beeped, and Legolas slid his chair back over to manually take over flight control. “I know there’s a small moon in high orbit around Gundabad. It’s class D, and it doesn’t even look like they have any transmission or other equipment on the surface. I thought it would be a good place for us to camp out and run scans from.”

“It sounds good--how do you know about that?”

Legolas went very still, and Tauriel knew the answer before he could say it. “When my mother went missing, before we knew she was dead, my father thought she was out here. Gundabad is essentially the gateway to the Romulan Star Empire, at least from our part of the galaxy, and my father thought that because of her background with the V’Shar that she could be being held here, with them trying to get sensitive information from her.”

Tauriel bit her lip. “Was she?”

“I don’t know,” Legolas said. “My father was still away investigating when we both felt her die, when the bond severed. He came home and said he was sorry that he wasn’t there when I was hurting from it, and then we never talked about it again. There is no grave, no memory, nothing. Her katra is lost to us forever.”

Tauriel didn’t say anything else, but she placed a hand on his wrist, a small attempt at comfort. The moon came up on the viewscreen, and he steered their ship down to land on its surface, a small cloud of dirt rising up as their landing gear touched down. Tauriel set their scanners up, almost mindlessly going through the motions, until she felt a sharp pang at the realization that when the inevitable happened, if she returned to Eryn Lasgalen, she would never do this again.

Legolas gave her a strange look when she paused, and said, “You know, you could always join Starfleet.”

“I guess you’re right. But what we’ve been doing this past week--I’d never been so far from home before. I don’t think I would like being so far out in the black, searching for the next frontier.”

“It’s always an option. Captain Caldwell would probably write you a recommendation, even.”

“I don’t think he was that impressed with us.”

“I think he offered us a shuttle, and I haven’t even done my shuttlepod training.”

“I think he was relieved to have us out of his hair.”

“He shouldn’t be that relieved. Soon he’s going to have to deal with my father.” Legolas paused. “Maybe my father will be nicer to him when he gets the Orchid back.”

Tauriel laughed and stood. “I wouldn’t bet on it. You want anything from the replicator?”

“Hell yes,” Legolas said. “Any kind of spice tea--and if these replicators are the same as the ones on campus, Denobulan blend number twelve is really good--and a protein bar.”

“You are so spoiled,” she said, darting out of the way before he could take a teasing swing at her legs. “I’ll be back.”

The replicator did have Denobulan blend number twelve, so she made one for herself and Legolas, and was waiting for the protein bar to generate when Legolas shouted, “Taur? I think something’s wrong.”

The protein bar had finally appeared, so she tucked it in one hand with his cup of tea and went back to the controls. She attempted to pass Legolas his drink, but he was distracted, too focused on the scanner readout. “Legolas, if you don’t take this tea right now--”

“Look at these readings.”

She groaned, set down the replicated snacks, and leaned over to investigate. “Three thousand? That can’t be right.”

“That’s what I said.” Legolas reached across her for his tea, and she smacked his hand out of the way easily.

“Computer, recalibrate sensors.”

“Sensors are currently in correct calibration.”

“Computer, give a more a detailed readout.”

“It appears there are three thousand, four hundred, and eighteen vessels in sensor range. Based on warp signature, origin appears to be Romulan. One thousand and four hundred of these vessels are currently moving away from you, with a projected heading of the Alpha Quadrant. Would you like more information?”

“No, computer, that’s plenty,” Tauriel said.

Legolas gulped beside her. “Oh fuck.”

Silently, Tauriel agreed, but she just said, “We have to go back. We have to warn them.”

“And we need to go soon,” Legolas said. He’d already lifted the shuttle off the surface of the moon, and was quickly gaining altitude. “We’re going to have to hope the Romulans are too distracted by wherever they’re heading to notice a little Federation shuttlepod.”

“I just hope it isn’t too late,” Tauriel said. “We have no time to sneak--set course directly for Dale Station. If any Romulans pop up on sensors, we’ll start broadcasting distress calls on all Federation frequencies.”

“You’re right,” Legolas said, not fully managing to bite back his yawn.

“You should get some rest.”

He shot her a look. “I’m Vulcan, not human. I’m alright.”

“You’ll be nicer to your father if you’re more well rested,” she said, and watched Legolas’ face fall. “You know I’m right.”

“I hate it when you use logic,” he said, but he stood up and went back to the bunk Tauriel had used earlier. “Yell if you need me.”

If we get attacked by Romulans, I probably won’t get the chance, she thought grimly, but said nothing else, just waved one hand. She felt glad they’d taken their Starfleet friends up on their offer of a new vessel. She moved into Legolas’ vacated seat and took the helm control, where she made the jump to maximum warp. She placed one palm on the surface of the console to feel the vibrations, and thought, not for the first time, that it felt like a little heartbeat.

My own heart doesn’t know what it wants, Tauriel thought. The ship was already programmed to course correct if need be, so she pulled her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, trying to give herself some comfort. Logically, her and Kíli were a terrible match. But you’ve never confined yourself to only the pursuit of logic. You are no v’tosh ka’tur or follower of Surak. You have always weighed your options, and made your choices based both on what you know and what you feel.

Kíli was not so different from her really. She recognized her own impulsiveness in him, and although he may not be as intelligent naturally as a Vulcan, he was smart and he worked hard. But he loved so fiercely, so unguardedly--there was no way his affection for her had gone unmissed by his brother, in the same way that Legolas had noticed hers for him. But then, on top of everything else, he’d given her the runestone, and even now she could feel its weight in her pocket, an unintentional reminder of the weight of his mind, his life in her hands. She had no idea what his giving of that stone to her meant to Klingons, but amongst Vulcans, who kept few personal possessions, it would definitely be considered significant.

She spent the rest of the flight back trying to keep herself distracted by recalibrating all the sensors, making sure the plasma vents were clear, and keeping the warp core at maximum efficiency. They made it to Dale Station in four and a half hours--faster than they made it out to Gundabad, but they hadn’t taken maximum warp to get there--after what was, in Tauriel’s opinion, a suspiciously uneventful flight. She knew the Romulans knew a Federation shuttle was in their space, but they’d apparently chosen to ignore them. When she finally pulled Legolas up from his nap, only Commander Shaz was waiting for them. She looked bored, leaned up against the bulkhead with her red uniform jacket unbuttoned at the collar, but stood to attention when they disembarked.

Legolas gave a lazy salute, made even less impressive by his huge yawn halfway through, and Tauriel asked, “Where’s the Captain?”

“He’s in a meeting with your Administrator,” Shaz said. “They’re in Ops.”

Legolas groaned. “I guess I’ll head that way. We have information to share. Taur, you should come with.”

Tauriel couldn’t think of anything she’d rather do less. Not even last week she couldn’t have imagined herself living or even existing anywhere else but Eryn Lasgalen, but now she suddenly, irrationally wished she’d gone with Kíli to Erebor, fool’s dream that it was. She shook her head. “I can’t.”

“What are you going to do?” Legolas asked, frowning sharply. “Sit around and twiddle your thumbs?”

“The survivors need experienced leadership,” Shaz said. “Captain Caldwell wants somebody to assess the state of the runabouts, see what we’ve got.”

“I can do that,” Tauriel said.

Legolas made a frustrated noise and threw his hands up. “You’re never going to get your job back if you don’t even--”

“Yeah, I’m definitely going to go assess the runabouts,” Tauriel snapped, and was surprised and relieved to notice she didn’t feel guilty at all for shutting him down. “Have fun with your father.”

“I’ll walk you to the shuttle bay,” Shaz said. “You’re dismissed, Cadet.”

Tauriel had already started walking, but Shaz easily fell into step beside her. “Why aren’t you heading back there?”

“Thranduil has been arguing with Starfleet Command for over forty minutes,” Shaz said. “I just don’t want to listen to it anymore. They have intelligence that says something big is coming, from Dol Guldur.”

“Dol Guldur?” Tauriel echoed, frowning. “We just found something big coming from Gundabad.”

They’d reached the door to the other shuttle bay, but Shaz’s hand froze over the panel to open it. “How big?”

“Three thousand ships big.”

“Oh, shit.”

“Yes, that was mine and Legolas’ reaction,” Tauriel said.

“We aren’t just getting these vessels assessed for the sake of Dale, we’re going to need them,” Shaz said. “There’s going to be a fight, right on our doorstep.”

Tauriel hit the panel and the door slid open. Several rows of runabouts were spread out before them, and as she looked over them, noting a misaligned deflector array and off-kilter nacelle, she squared her shoulders. This , for all the problems that were inevitably going to come up, was something she could fix. “And we need to get to work.”

Shaz gave her an approving look, antennae raising in subtle praise, and she nodded. “You start on this row, and I’ll start on the far one. We can meet in the middle.”

Chapter Text

Bard woke from a lousy sleep in the pilot’s seat on the Barge to the incessant beeping of his communicator. At first, he was so disoriented that for a second he thought it was just another morning in Esgaroth, and that soon he’d take the ship out and go look for lonesome traders to swap with, but then he remembered his new reality, and that it may be worse. Esgaroth was not only gone, but its remaining people had...expectations of him, the dragon-slayer, now that they hadn’t had back when he was just a cargo pilot. After she’d walked him back to his ship last night, Cait even had called him a hero, and he hoped his blush hadn’t been too obvious. His kids were asleep on the other seats, which made sense since it was barely 0600, so he when he answered his comm, it was at a whisper. “Bard here.”

“Good morning, Mr. Bowman,” Shaz said. She sounded surprisingly pleasant, which was odd considering the looks she’d given him yesterday that him feel like she was going to burn him alive. It only consoled him slightly that she’d been giving those looks to everybody, brief Klingon guests included, but she must have now decided that he was alright. “More Vulcans have arrived, this time in warships.”

“Warships?” Bard said. He’d slept in yesterday’s clothes--he usually kept a spare set on his ship, but they were in his now incinerated washing machine back on Esgaroth--so he just threw his jacket back on and hoped he didn’t look too haggard. “I’ll be right there.”

“Excellent. We’ll be meeting in Ops. Shaz out.”

He closed the communicator, gave Sigrid’s sleeping head a gentle pet, and then left his ship, where he immediately almost ran into the red-headed Vulcan.

“Shit, are you alright?”

Tauriel gave him a strange look and her head tilted slightly to the side. “I am fine, thank you. We did not actually collide.”

“Still,” Bard said, blandly, “it’s early. By the way, I was hoping I’d run into you. Do you think you could keep a slight eye on my kids today?”

“Of course. Your people and Starfleet have put me to work, but I’ll check in on them a few times.”

“Thank you,” Bard said. He ran a hand through his hair and frowned at how generally slimy he felt. “If they do anything stupid, comm me.”

“Got it,” Tauriel said. “If you’ll excuse me.”

Bard, midway through a yawn, waved her off, and she left as he continued on his way. The activity in the hallways seemed to have tripled since yesterday, even as early as it was, and the halls were full of both red Starfleet uniforms and the copper colored uniforms worn by the Vulcans. He pushed past all of them with the same ease until a hand grabbed his elbow, and he sighed. “Hilda, they’re expecting me.”

“You need to eat,” she said, ignoring him in favor of pressing a cup of replicated coffee and a still warm muffin into each of his hands. “You can munch on your way.”

Bard glanced down and grinned. “Blueberry, my favorite. You’re the best.”

“I know it,” Hilda said. “Go take care of us.”

She was his last interruption, and he’d just finished his muffin when he finally stepped into Ops, where he saw a face he’d hoped was as gone as Masterson.

“Alfrid, where the fuck have you been?”

Alfrid seemed to shrink down where he sat, and didn’t even have anything snarky to say in response. “He left me. He stuck me in an escape pod all by myself. He didn’t even give me any gold-pressed latinum.”

“Join the club,” Bard muttered.

“One of my officers found him in a pod this morning,” Thranduil said. He was halfway leaning and sitting on one of those consoles, and even in his fairly casual posture he still looked intimidating.

“You should’ve left him there,” Bard said, making Caldwell crack a smile. A glance around the room found Shaz reading from a console and drinking out of a thermos, and no sign of Legolas, the other Vulcan who’d impressed his children.

“Unfortunately Starfleet doesn’t condone that kind of behavior,” Caldwell said, rubbing some sleep out of the corner of one eye. “Nor do they condone showing up at one of their stations with a bunch of warships.”

“You forget, Starfleet, that I’m not only here to help,” Thranduil said.

“Well, why the hell are you here?” Bard asked. Already he knew that today was just going to be a repeat of yesterday: Thranduil was going to make a bunch of cryptic statements, he and Caldwell were going to argue, and no resolutions were going to be reached.

“I heard you needed aid,” the Vulcan repeated, looking at the fingernails of one hand. “But I did not come on your behalf. I came to reclaim something of mine. There are gems on that planet that I, too, desire. White gems of pure starlight.”

“There are gems on the demon planet?” Alfrid said, perking up slightly.

“Not the class Y world below us, no,” Thranduil said. “Erebor.”

“So let me get this straight.” Caldwell pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’re not here from the goodness of your heart, but because you want a piece of jewelry?”

Thranduil didn’t answer, just arched his eyebrows in a way that showed he thought the conversation was stupid.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Bard said. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) for Caldwell, he had no diplomatic training, and no plans of playing nice. “You want to go to war with the Klingons over a handful of rocks?”

Thranduil’s expression barely changed, just a notch between his brows, but Bard thought he looked slightly affronted. “They are not just rocks . The white gems of Lasgalen are an important artifact. The heirlooms of my people are not lightly forsaken.”

“With all due respect, Administrator, even if your reason was better than that, I’d still have to try and stop you,” Caldwell said.

From her console, Shaz nodded. “We’ve finally gotten some peace with the Klingons, but it’s been a long road. We’re not taking any action to jeopardize that.”

“Look, Thranduil, if you want those gems so badly let me talk to him,” Bard said. “They owe us help, too. Maybe we can work something out.”

“Now look at that,” Alfrid said. He waved a hand towards Bard. “I always knew this was a man of noble-stock, a born leader.”

“Fuck off, Alfrid,” Bard said, still looking at Thranduil.

An amused smile tugged at the edges of Thranduil’s lips, but he still sounded incredulous. “You would try to reason with a Klingon?”

“To avoid war? Yes!”

Caldwell cleared his throat. “Shaz, are we in hailing range--”

“Of Erebor? Yes, sir.” She spun around in her chair. “It looks like they’ve connected RAVENHILL to the surface, so we should be able to get face time with one of the Klingons.”

“Make it happen, Commander,” Caldwell said. “Bard, I think you should be the only to talk. You have more of a rapport than either of us do.”

“You’re probably right.” Bard nodded. “I can do it.”

“Noble stock, I swear,” Alfrid repeated, and Bard reached over and smacked him on the shoulder.

“We’ve got audio and video now,” Shaz said. “Nobody has to move, because Bard’s the only one in range of the viewer.”

Bard spun around to face the viewscreen, and could barely contain his shock. To say Thorin looked rough would be an understatement: there were deep, dark circles under his eyes, his hair looked frizzy and tangled, and there was a vacant-ness to his expression that Bard found concerning. The Klingon leader hadn’t looked great when he and his crew had moved into Bard’s home, but now he was frightening for a totally different reason. He plastered a smile on his face and pushed through. “Hail Thorin, son of Thrain! We are glad to find you alive beyond hope.”

Thorin growled. “Why do you call me when you’ve got an army at the edge of Klingon space?”

Bard frowned. “Why haven’t you left that planet since you got there? Like a robber in his hole.”

“Perhaps it is because I am expecting to be robbed.”

“Thorin, we’re not here to rob you, but to seek fair settlement. Will you please just listen to me?” If Bard had been feeling more generous, he probably could have sympathised--it seemed like every decent thing Bard ever got trading had ended up in Masterson’s hands, and it frustrated Bard to no end. Unfortunately, it was still too early, and Hilda had told him to look out for his people, which he’d be damned if he didn’t do.

Thorin shrugged, looking bored. “I’m listening, Bowman.”

“On behalf of the people of Esgaroth, I ask that you honor your pledge. A share of the treasure of your planet so that they might rebuild their lives.”

Thorin answered with a scoff. “I will not treat with any man while an armed host lies before my door. Especially not when that army is composed of my enemies: the Vulcans of Eryn Lasgalen and the Federation.”

“Thorin, they want to attack you,” Bard said. “And they will if we can’t settle this.”

“Your threats do not sway me.”

Bard sent Shaz a panicked glance, but her antennae were twisting nervously, and her only response was a shrug. He turned back to Thorin, who had looked away and now twirled a small knife between two fingers. “But what about your conscience? Does it not tell you our cause is just? My people offered you help. And in return you brought upon them only ruin and death!”

“When did the people of Esgaroth offer us aid, but for the promise of rich reward?”

“We made a deal!”

“A deal? What choice did we have but to barter our birthright for blankets and food? To ransom our future in exchange for our freedom? You call that a fair trade? Tell me, Bard the Dragonslayer--”

Bard felt his eyes grow wide, and Thorin’s dark grin turned feral.

“--why should I honor such terms?”

Bard swallowed. “Because you gave us your word. Does that mean nothing?”

Thorin was quiet for a moment, staring at a point faintly above Bard’s head. “Do not come to Erebor for aid, or we will shoot you down.”

Somebody on his side cut the transmission, and the screen went dark. Bard turned back to the rest of the group. He cleared his throat. “Well. I guess he won’t give us anything. Uh, sorry.”

“Such a pity,” Thranduil said, the grin on his face showing he thought it was anything but. “Still, you tried.”

“Is he always that argumentative?” Shaz asked, one antenna lifting in question.

“I don’t get it,” Caldwell murmured. “Why would he risk war?”

“It is fruitless to reason with them; they understand only one thing. Approximately three hundred years ago, near H'Atoria, a Vulcan ship crossed into Klingon space. The Klingons attacked immediately, and the vessel was destroyed,” Thranduil stood up, and his smile turned sharp. “Unfortunately, they forgot that Vulcans do not make the same mistake twice. From then on, until formal relations were established, whenever our peoples crossed paths, we fired first. We said ‘hello’ in the only language the Klingons understood: violence. And eventually that led to peace. Unfortunately it has not today. I and my people will go to Erebor and attack at dawn. Can I count on your support?”

Caldwell looked torn, but he shook his head. “As unreasonable as Thorin is being, I still can’t condone this.”

Thranduil’s brows narrowed. “I don’t want your permission. Just don’t interfere.”

He left Ops in a swirl of red robes, and Bard could only hope that that was the worst news they got today.

***

Apparently the Arkenstone search had been paused for the moment, because when Bilbo was awoken from where he’d slept on the floor in the vault, it was to the news that he needed to assist in the repairs to RAVENHILL.

“Thorin, my background is in botany , not engineering,” Bilbo repeated, not for the first time, after they transported up. “What are we even doing up here?”

“Preparing for war.”

“Wait, war?” Bilbo cried. “What war? Who’s going to war? What in the Deities’ names happened while I was asleep?”

They’d made it to operations, where Fíli and Bofur were running weapons tests and Glóin was under a console, using a recoupler to make repairs.

“Bilbo, this doesn’t concern you.”

Bilbo went very still, and he could sense the exact moment Thorin realized he’d messed up. Good. “Excuse me? I’m a son of the Fourth House and it concerns me if I say it does. Also I’m currently living on this planet, and I’d like to know what is going to happen.”

Thorin pinched the bridge of his nose and turned away, giving Bilbo a moment to check the report on the sensors. “Mr. Bowman called. He wants more than I would give, and he’s got backup.”

“A Vulcan fleet from Eryn Lasgalen,” Glóin added. “And an unidentifiable Federation starship.”

“Thorin! We definitely can’t go to war!” Bilbo took Thorin’s wrist and turned him to face him. “If there’s an army of Vulcans, a Starfleet ship, and an unknown number of Esgaroth’s refugees, we are definitely outnumbered.”

Thorin growled, low and satisfied in his throat. “Not for much longer.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means Master Baggins, you should never underestimate Klingons,” Thorin said. “Dain and his forces are on their way as we speak. We have reclaimed Erebor--now it is time to defend it.”

Loud footsteps were heard from behind, and Thorin turned around sharply. When he saw it was Dwalin, he relaxed a little, but Bilbo could still feel the tension when his friend spoke. “Thorin, Balin and I’d like your help recalibrating the sensor array. Everyone else is busy.”

“I’ll join you shortly,” Thorin said. “Bilbo, if you’ll follow me to the armory.”

Please tell me he isn’t going to try and make me into a warrior now, Bilbo silently prayed as they walked past several other Klingons making repairs. But when they arrived at the armory, Thorin just handed him a closed box and gave him an expectant look.

“It’s a box.”

Thorin snorted, and leaned down to kiss his forehead. “Open it, par’mach’kai.”

Bilbo flushed at the endearment, but slid open the latch and opened up the package. Inside was what looked like a silver chain net, and when Bilbo lifted it up to the light, he saw that it was white mail.

“You are going to need this. Put it on.”

“It seems a bit absurd that I’m going to need armor when any fights will take place on board starships,” Bilbo quipped, but he slid the tunic on over his shirt.

Thorin ignored him. “This vest is made of silver steel. It was called ‘mithril’ by my forebears. Straight from the mines of Khazad-Dum. It is strong enough that no blade can pierce it.”

Bilbo finished tugging it down, and when he saw that it fell far past his hips, almost halfway down his thighs, he laughed. “I look absurd. I’m not a warrior--I’m Betazoid.”

“Can I not give a gift to my par’mach’kai?” Thorin asked. “It is hard to find true love and trust in times like this, but I have done it.”

His smile from just a moment ago had turned much darker, and he gave one last look to the hallway before sliding the door closed behind them.

“Great, Thorin, now everyone’s going to think we’re having sex on the job,” Bilbo sighed.

Thorin ignored him. “Let them talk. It doesn’t matter. I have been blind, but now I begin to see. I’ve been betrayed, Bilbo.”

Bilbo swallowed. “Betrayed?”

“The Arkenstone,” Thorin repeated, voice so low it was almost just a breath. Thorin moved in close enough that Bilbo could have felt the heat radiating from his body if he hadn’t been so distracted by his worry. “One of them has taken it.”

Bilbo felt the tension drain out of his shoulders. Thank the deities. “Are you sure?”

Thorin nodded, but as Bilbo looked closely at him, he could see how unfocused his eyes were. “One of them is false.”

“Of course, Thorin,” Bilbo said, frowning. He took Thorin’s hand and squeezed it. “But isn’t the quest fulfilled? You got the planet back. Isn’t that enough?”

Thorin sighed. “My own kin have turned against me.”

He’s not listening to me, Bilbo realized. He’s so out of it, he’s not even listening to me. “Look, you made a promise to the people of Esgaroth. Is your wealth, your treasure, really worth more than your honor? It isn’t even just your honor at stake here--I was there, too, and I gave my word to them.”

“And I’m very grateful for that. It was nobly done. But the treasures of my house do not belong to those people. They should consider themselves lucky to have their lives. This wealth is ours and ours alone. It will be parted from me over my dead body.”

Bilbo involuntarily shuddered, and Thorin, believing he was cold, put his arm around his shoulders. Bilbo wanted to cry, scream, anything, but he knew he couldn’t. It felt like the room had closed in more and more around them, and the truth was undeniable: whatever Bilbo had sensed on that planet as being wrong was affecting Thorin. Smaug had done something, and Bilbo needed to figure out what that was. But right in this moment, he just needed Thorin away. “You should go help Dwalin.”

Thorin didn’t seem overly put out by the change in conversation. “Of course. You can find your way back to Ops?”

“Yes, dear,” Bilbo said, purposely lightening his tone. “I’ll see you later.”

Thorin took his hand and pressed a kiss to his knuckles, then left the room. Bilbo took another moment to breathe, then left himself, going back to Ops. Glóin had left, and Kíli and Ori had taken his place. Bilbo joined them at the console, where the three were talking quietly, but they perked up at his appearance.

“Welcome back,” Kíli said, beaming. “What’d Uncle want with you?”

“Are you completely oblivious?” Ori said. “Look at that mithril.”

“It suits you,” Bofur said, teasingly winking. “Very becoming.”

“I look ridiculous and you all know it,” Bilbo said, attempting to make it look less large on himself. “I was wondering, did any of you do those scans I asked you to do?”

Bilbo was met with four blank stares (one of which was fine, since he hadn’t asked Bofur) but the other three still looked confused, until they all remembered and groaned at once.

“Shit, Bilbo, I was so distracted with the remains,” Ori said.

“Thorin didn’t let us break last night until Óin fell asleep on top of a pile of knives,” Fíli said.

His brother nodded along with him. “He literally fell on them, too. There was almost blood. We’re sorry though.”

“It’s alright,” Bilbo said, trying not to be too paranoid about why they were so forgetful. Damn you, Smaug.

“We can do the scans from here, though,” Ori said. “What do you think we’re looking for?”

“You would know more than I would,” Bilbo said. “Something that would make people sick. Both physically and mentally.”

“Try looking at atmospheric composition,” Kíli said. “If there’s anything, it should show up there.”

Ori ran the scans and he and Kíli leaned over to look at the results. “There are some odd levels--slightly higher amounts of carbogen, for one thing, and more nitrous oxide than the normal amount. I can’t figure out a source, though.”

“You’ve got time,” Fíli said dryly. “Nobody’s going to bother us for a while.”

“What is everybody else distracted with?” Bilbo asked.

“They’re all working on the weapon’s systems,” Bofur said. “That was actually why you needed to get in and reset RAVENHILL--it was the quintessential planetary defense system. It would shoot threats out of the sky before they could even break into our atmosphere.”

“It needs to be reprogrammed after the reboot,” Kíli added. “So that’s what they’re all doing.”

“It’s good to keep busy,” Bilbo said. They’re all distracted, and that’s how I’m going to turn the tide.

***

Gandalf snapped himself into an empty cargo bay of Dale Station, but as soon as he stepped from his space into the main corridor, he was met with a large crowd of people, all rushing different ways with weapons and engineering equipment. He pushed past them, avoiding contact as much as possible, and headed for Ops. It was when he collided directly with a man that he realized he may not have overdressed for the occasion.

The man, who aside from already having a bad attitude, also had an unfortunate unibrow, gave him a snide look. “No, no, no--we’ve reached our limit on Starfleet Brass! We want you out of here!”

“Who is we?” Gandalf asked. “Who’s in charge here?”

“That depends on who’s asking,” another voice said, and both Gandalf and unibrow turned around. “I’m Bard, Bard Bowman.”

“You’re Commander Atwater’s grandson,” Gandalf said. He held out a hand, and Bard shook it, looking faintly confused. “You have the same--well, the same look about you. I was his commanding officer for a time. I’m Admiral Gandalf Greyhame, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

One of his eyebrows lifted-- ah, my reputation must precede me, Gandalf thought, pleased--as Alfrid spluttered, “Bard, er, Bowman, sir, we really don’t need any more Starfleet here.”

“He didn’t come with a fleet,” Bard said. “Come on, there are several people in Ops who would like to have words with you.”

“Excellent news, for I’d like to have words with them as well,” Gandalf said.

“Alfrid, stay out of trouble,” Bard called over his shoulder. “If you’ll follow me, sir.”

“Of course,” Gandalf said. “You’ve been busy?”

“Yes, sir,” Bard agreed. “I’d hoped that after destroying a dragon, I’d get a bit of a break, but it looks like it wasn’t meant to be.”

Gandalf stilled, and Bard got a few steps ahead before turning around. “You destroyed the dragon?”

“I had help,” Bard said, shrugging.

“Well. Congratulations, Mr. Bowman,” Gandalf said. He didn’t say anything else, and neither did Bard until they reached Ops, where Thranduil, cousin-by-marriage of Galadriel, and a familiar Starfleet Captain. “Oh, Captain Caldwell, it is always a pleasure.”

Caldwell shook his hand, and smiled large enough for his dimples to appear. “Admiral, likewise. We had a feeling you’d show up.”

“Did you?”

“We met a few of your Klingons,” he said, smiling.

“I see,” Gandalf said. Behind him, the door slid open, and everyone turned around to watch the entrance of an Andorian officer, ranked Commander based on her insignia.

“Sorry, sir,” she said to Caldwell, “My husband wanted me to call him.”

“Husband?” Bard asked. “Didn’t you say that you were calling your wife last night?”

“I was calling my wife last night,” she said, at the same time that Caldwell said, “Andorian marriage partnerships are in groups of four, Bard.”

Bard’s brows went up, but he just nodded, and the Andorian herself turned to Gandalf. “Commander Yesena Shaz.”

“It’s a pleasure,” Gandalf said, taking her offered hand and shaking it.

“I assume you and Thranduil already know each other?” Caldwell asked.

“Of course,” Thranduil drawled. “Mithrandir has been a thorn in my side longer than you’ve been alive.”

“And I’m afraid I’m here to bother you again,” Gandalf said. “But there is no other option. You must set aside your petty grievances with the Klingons. War is coming. The cesspits of Dol Guldur have been emptied. You’re all in mortal danger.”

Bard frowned. “What are you talking about?”

Thranduil took a sip of his tea and sighed. “I can see you know nothing of his kind. They are like winter thunder on a wild wind rolling in from a distance, breaking hard in alarm. But sometimes a storm is just a storm.”

“What is his kind?” Bard asked, but nobody answered him.

“Not this time,” Gandalf insisted. “Armies of Romulans are on the move. And these are fighters! They have been bred for war. Our enemy has summoned his full strength.”

Caldwell and Shaz looked as confused as Bard did, and he asked, “What enemy are we talking about? What’s Dol Guldur?”

Once again, these questions were ignored. Thranduil stood up and went to the replicator. “Why show his hand now?”

“Because we forced him! We forced him when the company of Thorin Oakenshield set out to reclaim their homeland. The Klingons were never meant to reach Erebor, Azog the Defiler was sent to kill them,” Gandalf said. “His master seeks control of the planet. Not just for the treasure within, but for where it lies, its strategic position.”

“Computer,” Shaz said, loud enough to cut any further comments off. “Pull up a map of this region of space.”

The map appeared on the viewscreen and Caldwell stood up, pointing at Erebor. “Listen, you two need to slow down and not forget that everyone else is here. Especially, you, ex-Admiral. Catch us up.”

Gandalf went over to the viewscreen and gestured from the triangle into Romulan space. “The triangle is the most valuable and hotly debated region in the quadrant. If the Romulan Star Empire can claim another piece of it, no one in the Federation would be safe. All our worlds would be put at risk.”

“Okay, reasonable,” Caldwell said. He was a good officer, Gandalf realized, although short-sighted, as humans could often be. “What is Dol Guldur?”

“It is the suspected headquarters of a back alley eugenics operation,” Thranduil answered.

“It is suspected of far more,” Gandalf said. “I can say no more--it’s above your clearance level.”

“It was what I was arguing with Starfleet Command about yesterday,” Thranduil said. “But these Romulan armies you speak of, Mithrandir--where are they?”

Gandalf frowned. “They are on their way.”

“Of course they are,” Thranduil said.

“Legolas mentioned Romulans heading here from Gundabad as well,” Shaz said. Her antennae swirled eagerly. “Five thousand ships.”

“My son is just trying to make a good impression,” Thranduil said.

“In Legolas’ case, that may be so,” Gandalf agreed. The boy had always been eager to please, and that trait of his had only gotten more exaggerated as his father had grown colder. “But since when has my council counted for so little? What do you think I’m trying to do?

“I think you’re trying to save your Klingon friends. And I admire your loyalty to them, but it does not dissuade me from my course. You started this, Mithrandir. You will forgive me if I finish it.” He pulled his comm from one of the pockets of his robes. “Itaril, are our ships in position?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.” He gave Gandalf a look, then said to his comm, “Give the order. If anything moves from the atmosphere of that planet, kill it. The Klingons of Erebor are out of time.”

“What are you going to do about this?” Gandalf asked Caldwell, who looked displeased but resolved to the situation.

“We don’t have the backup we’d need to stop them,” Caldwell said. “But I don’t think this level of violence is necessary.”

Shaz made a disagreeing noise. “I can’t get behind the Administrator’s actions, but I don’t think Thorin is going to become more cooperative out of nowhere either. It isn’t going to be pretty either way.”

“What do you think, Mr. Bowman?” Gandalf asked. Bard had been slouched over, but he straightened up under Gandalf’s gaze. “Do you agree with this? Is money so important to you that you would buy it with the blood of Klingons?”

Bard shook his head. It was then that Gandalf noticed another presence with them, something just out of his sight and reach. Judging by Thranduil’s expression, he could sense it too, but both men ignored it when Bard spoke. “It won’t come to that. This is a fight they cannot win.”

“That won’t stop them,” another voice said.

“Bilbo Baggins!” Gandalf cried, as Shaz and Caldwell both pulled their phasers at the man who’d just appeared in the doorway to Ops. “At ease, officers!”

Bilbo had lifted his hands, although one of them was curled in a fist around something, and he smiled meekly. “You think the Klingons will surrender--they won’t. They will fight to the death to defend their own.”

“You’re their Betazoid friend,” Caldwell said. He and Shaz lowered their weapons. “Fíli and the others all spoke very highly of you.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.” Bilbo flushed slightly.

“And if I’m not mistaken, this is the telepath who broke thirteen Klingons out of my cells under the nose of my security officers,” Thranduil said.

Bilbo’s flush darkened even more. “Yes. Sorry about that. But I think this might make it up to you.”

He set an oddly shaped package, wrapped up in a bright red scarf, on the table in front of Bard. Bard picked it up and unwrapped it, and when it fell onto the table with a thunk, Gandalf and Thranduil both gasped.

Thranduil stood up and went to stand behind Bard, looking over his shoulder. “The Arkenstone. The Jewel of the House.”

“And worth the House’s ransom.” Bard gave Bilbo an awed look. “How is this yours to give?”

“I took it as payment for my services,” Bilbo said. “As bizarrely specific as it was, the contract didn’t specify an exact amount. Not that it really matters--I know nothing about currency.”

I will never cease to be amazed by the courage of Betazoids, Gandalf thought. Bard was thinking roughly along the same lines, and he asked, “Why would you do this? You owe us no loyalty.”

“I’m not doing it for you,” Bilbo said. Gandalf heard his unspoken, I’m doing this for Fíli and Kíli and Thorin. “I know that Klingons can be obstinate and pigheaded and difficult, suspicious and secretive, with the worst manners you can possibly imagine--I mean, it took the Federation over a hundred years to make peace with them. But they are also brave and kind. They love deeply, and they are loyal and honorable to a fault. I’ve grown very fond of them, and I would save them if I can.”

“How does the Arkenstone help us in this?” Caldwell asked.

“Thorin values this stone above all else,” Bilbo said. “I think that if you could come up with a good enough story, in exchange for its return, I believe he will give you what you are owed. There will be no need for war.”

Thranduil was silent for a long moment. “You believe this will work?”

“I beg your pardon?” Bilbo said. “Of course I believe it!”

“Do you genuinely sense it in them, or do you just want to?” Thranduil asked.

“I don’t--I know what I know,” Bilbo said.

“It doesn’t matter,” Shaz said. “This is currently our only chance at peaceful resolution. You’re going to hold your forces and we’re going to try.”

“The Commander is right,” Gandalf agreed, and Shaz beamed. “But Bilbo, stay and rest up tonight. You must leave tomorrow morning.”

Bilbo frowned. “What?”

Gandalf sighed. He isn’t going to like this at all. “I need you to get as far away from here as possible.”

Bilbo straightened up, and his expression turned focused as he tried to read Gandalf’s thoughts. When he sensed nothing, he made a frustrated noise. “Oh no, I’m not leaving. You picked me as the fourteenth man. I’m not about to leave the company now.”

“There is no company--not any more,” Gandalf said. “And I don’t like to think what Thorin will do when he finds out what you’ve done.”

“I’m not afraid of Thorin,” Bilbo said. “I love him.”

The room went silent. Bard and Caldwell shared a surprised glance, Thranduil’s eyebrows were practically in his hairline, and Shaz’s antennae had lowered in sympathy.

Gandalf stood and took one of Bilbo’s hands. “Oh, Bilbo. That’s exactly why you should be.”

“No, you’re wrong,” Bilbo said, and he snatched his hand from Gandalf’s grasp, shoving it in his pocket. “He loves me--everything we have done since we reached Erebor has been to protect me. I mean, look at this shirt! Isn’t it absurd?”

“Bilbo, you know there’s something wrong with that planet,” Gandalf said. Bilbo made a choked noise and dropped his head to the table.

“What do you mean ‘something wrong’?” Caldwell asked.

“Smaug dropped a bioweapon on the surface,” Gandalf said. “I had requested they not try and get into the planet, until I was there, but I understand their impatience. I would have guessed it would cause sickness in all who went down to the surface, but apparently not quite all.”

“He is a telepath,” Thranduil said. “His mind would not be so susceptible.”

“Don’t talk about him like he isn’t here,” Shaz snapped. She reached over and put a warm blue hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, giving him a reassuring squeeze.

“There is nothing else to say anyway,” Thranduil said.

“Quite right,” Gandalf answered. “Tomorrow morning, we’ll hail Thorin again and see if he accepts the Arkenstone in exchange for what is owed. I’m going to go find Bilbo a place to rest.”

This will not keep him out of Erebor, Gandalf thought. He gently pulled Bilbo to his feet, and he followed willingly as Gandalf steered him back through the halls. When he came upon Alfrid, who had been kicked out of Ops by Shaz and Bard around lunch, he flagged him down. “Mr. Lickspittle, I need you to find my Betazoid friend a bed, and get him a hot meal. He has earned it.”

“Of course, Admiral,” Alfrid sneered, grabbing Bilbo by the arm and easily steering him. Before they got too far, Gandalf took Alfrid’s shoulder.

“Keep an eye on him. If he tries to leave, I need you to tell me immediately.” He glared at Alfrid, and the man seemed to shrink under his gaze. “I need you to tell me you understand. Now.”

“Alright, sir, I understand. I’ve got him and this situation completely under control.” He raised one hand in a half-hearted salute. “Scout’s honor.”

He certainly does not, Gandalf thought, but he had no choice but to return to Ops as Bilbo was led away.

Chapter Text

Gandalf--sorry I couldn’t stay. I’ll call if I need you.

Bilbo jotted down the note and tucked it in with Alfrid’s pile of padds. He was already wearing the ring, and was pleased to note that his skill at managing it had improved--he felt less like he was drowning with it on now, and more like he could actually control his dive into the psionic energy--and when he had sensed Alfrid doze off in the middle of the night, he’d written his note, then slipped away, darting easily through the halls of Dale until he was close enough to transport back onto his cloaked shuttle, which was just behind Dale in its orbit. He slipped the ring off and then let the autopilot take him back to Erebor at maximum impulse.

His return to RAVENHILL was met with little fanfare-- they hadn’t even noticed I was gone, he thought, torn between relieved and affronted--and when he found Thorin wasn’t in engineering like he had been when he left, he went to Ops, where he alone was standing in front of the command table, looking at statistics. It was a new morning, and Bilbo let out a deep breath--he was far less tense now that the Arkenstone was out of his hands, and could focus more on other problems.

“Hey,” Bilbo whispered. “You alright?”

Thorin looked up and gave a slightly-pained smile. “Of course. Come see what we’ve been doing.”

“Alright,” Bilbo said. Thorin led him over to where the airlocks were, but he passed it, instead showing him over to the viewport. “Oh my goodness.”

“It’s a K’t’inga- class cruiser,” Thorin said. “About thirty years old, but it’ll still hold its own against Starfleet.”

Are you sure it has to? Does it have to come to this--to war? Bilbo thought, but before he could say it, Thorin continued, “We’ve renamed it. Oakenshield.”

Bilbo made a noise of acknowledgement, then yawned, making Thorin chuckle. “Mm. Sorry.”

“Do not apologize,” Thorin said. He placed one hand, heavy with expectation, on Bilbo’s shoulder. “I want you by my side on her bridge. My number one.”

“Balin won’t mind?” Bilbo teased.

“Of course not. We should head over now--my nephews have been watching the bridge all night, which still makes me nervous.”

Bilbo laughed, and he let Thorin lead him back to the airlock. The two boarded the ship, which had the same red lighting as the previous Oakenshield had had, and headed for the bridge. Fíli and Kíli were there, sprawled across the captain’s and first officer’s seats, but Bofur was there as well, digging around in the wires under the comm station. All three of them were in shining, ceremonial armor, although it wasn’t as bright as Bilbo’s mithril, and they looked equal parts handsome and dangerous.

“Captain on the bridge,” Bofur called when they entered, and both nephews sprung to their feet.

“At ease,” Thorin said, raising a hand. “If you two want to go get some rest, now is probably the time.”

“We’re alright,” Fíli said.

“Yeah, don’t worry about us. The day is young and we’re both already three raktajino’s in,” Kíli said, making Bofur snicker and Thorin roll his eyes.

“Go to your real posts,” Thorin said. “Kíli, go get the others. We need to head for Dale at 0800.”

“Aye, Captain,” he answered, and strode from the bridge.

“Do you two want anything from the replicator?” Bofur asked.

“I’ll take a raktajino,” Bilbo said. “I didn’t sleep well.”

Bofur replicated his drink and brought it to him as the rest of the crew trickled in. Dwalin was first, followed by his brother, who took the bridge engineering post, then Dori, Nori, and Ori, and lastly Kíli returned. Bilbo felt the ship shift as Fíli disengaged them from the airlock, and they lingered beside RAVENHILL in high orbit.

“Bofur, broadcast message to all areas of the ship,” Thorin said, standing.

“Alright, it’s ready for you.” Bofur looked so much more serious than his usual cheerful self, and it made Bilbo’s heart hurt.

“Crewmen of the second ISS Oakenshield, the road behind us has been long and full of peril,” Thorin said, and Bilbo suddenly realized that another speech was coming. “If asked again if I would pursue this journey, with only thirteen companions, I would say the same thing I said at the beginning: a Captain can ask for no more from his crew than loyalty, honor, and a willing heart. The battle that comes today, and it is coming, is in honor and in the names of those who died on Erebor, hoping for the house of Durin to save them. Today, they will be, as we earn them their places in Sto’Vo’Kor. As for us here today, I can say only this: today is a good day to die. May we make our ancestors proud.”

The group on the bridge cheered, and Bilbo swallowed, hoping that, although they would all be disappointed, there would be no battle. Something beeped at the tactical station, and Dwalin straightened. “Captain, two vessels are headed our way.”

“Let’s meet them,” Thorin said. “Fíli, take us within hailing range.”

“Aye, sir.”

Bilbo felt the brief jump to warp, and they dropped out at the same time the other ships did. They were facing off against a Constitution class starship that if Bilbo was reading right, was named the Phoenix, and the Vulcan vessel Korsovau, the same one that had brought all the Klingons to Eryn Lasgalen.

There was a moment of quiet, until Bofur said, “Captain, we’re being hailed.”

“Which one?”

Bofur paused. “It looks like--well, it looks like they’re both hailing us. At the same time. Like a three way comm.”

“Don’t put them on screen yet,” Thorin said. “Dwalin, aim for the Vulcan ship. Target one of it’s warp nacelles and fire when ready.”

“Direct hit,” Dwalin said. Bilbo couldn’t stop his nervous swallow, and Thorin absently squeezed his hand, then stood.

“They’re hailing us more urgently, Captain,” Bofur said.

“On screen.” One half of the screen was occupied by Bard and the Starfleet Captain Bilbo had met last night, and the other half was just a furious looking Thranduil. Thorin gave a smug smile. “Back off or the next one aims for the warp core.”

“My name is Captain Joshua Caldwell of the Federation Starship Phoenix,” Caldwell said, his voice surprisingly neutral considering their ally had just been fired at. “We have something we need to discuss.”

“Captain, they just uncharged their weapons,” Dwalin said.

“Indeed we do,” Thranduil continued, drawing Thorin’s attention back to the screen. “We’ve come to tell you, payment of your debt has been offered and accepted.”

Thorin scoffed, crossing his arms. “What payment? I gave you nothing. You have nothing.”

“Actually,” Bard said from his spot on the viewscreen beside Captain Caldwell. “We have this.”

He reached into the inside pocket of his leather jacket, and held the Arkenstone up to the light. Even through the viewscreen, it was unmistakable, and several Klingons gasped.

“They have the Arkenstone?” Kíli asked.

“Thieves!” Dwalin growled, loudly enough that the transmission certainly picked it up. “How came you by the heirloom of our house? That stone belongs to the heir of Durin!”

“And Thorin may have it--in our goodwill,” Bard said. He tucked the stone back in the pocket of his jacket. “But first he must honor his word.”

Thorin turned around and looked at his hand, muttering to himself, but getting louder on every word. “They’re taking us for fools. This is a ruse, a filthy lie from those honorless bastards. The Arkenstone is on Erebor. It is a trick!”

Thorin had turned back to the viewscreen and shouted the last sentence, and Bilbo winced at the noise, meeting Balin’s eyes and seeing his shocked expression.

“I don’t know why you think you can deceive me with this replicated joke,” Thorin growled.

Thranduil’s expression turned neutral, but even with the literal vacuum of space between them, Bilbo could sense his satisfaction. “It is not, I assure you. And in spite of what you may believe, Vulcans do not lie.”

“Dwalin, charge weapons. Target the Starfleet warp core,” Thorin said.

In the split second before they could fire, Bilbo watched all three of their faces--Thranduil’s, Bard’s, and Caldwell’s--turn to horrified shock, and knew then what he had to do.

“Wait, hold your fire!” Bilbo sprung to his feet and cleared his throat, sensing Thorin’s rage temporarily cool. Not once he finds out what I’ve done. “It--it’s no trick. The Arkenstone is real. I gave it to them.”

Across the bridge, Balin gasped, and on screen, Bard and Thranduil looked worried-- they must have thought I was still in Dale, Bilbo realized, feeling slightly guilty. Thorin’s face and emotions were rapidly shifting, and settling upon a twisted mix of sorrow and anger and betrayal, Bilbo realized with a pang. The other Klingons were silent, and their reactions ranged from shocked to disappointed.

“You--” Thorin started.

“Yes, I took it,” Bilbo said before he could finish. “I was due for a payment for my services anyway.”

“You stole from me?” Thorin said. His voice was so low it was barely a growl, and Bilbo could almost feel it in his own chest.

“Steal from you?” Bilbo shook his head. “No, no, I may be a burglar, but I like to think I’m an honest one. I’m willing to let it stand against my claim.”

“Against your claim?” Thorin slammed his fist down on the nearest console, making Bilbo jump. “Your claim? You have no claim over me you miserable Federation brat!”

Thorin’s anger was so tangible Bilbo could feel nothing else, and a treacherous part of his brain replayed Smaug’s words to him: Those Klingons have weighed the value of your life against a rock and found it worth nothing . “I was going to give it to you. There were so many times I wanted to, but--”

“But what, thief?”

“You’ve changed, Thorin!” Bilbo shouted. His voice cracked, and he could feel the tears springing up in his eyes. Neither of those things drew Thorin's sympathy, and he brusquely wiped them away. “You aren’t yourself!”

“You have never known anything about me, if you thought you could steal from me and not suffer the consequences!” Thorin closed the distance between them and grabbed Bilbo by his bicep.

Bilbo took a deep breath and matched Thorin’s volume, letting their mutual anger and rage fuel him. “The Klingon I met back on Shire Station would have never gone back on his word! Would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin!”

“Do not speak to me of loyalty!” Thorin shouted. His fist tightened around Bilbo’s arm, and Bilbo felt himself cry out.

“Thorin,” Balin said, his voice calm and steady in spite of the anguish Bilbo could sense from him, “there is no need for this.”

“You don’t decide what I need,” Thorin said. He drug Bilbo several steps forward to the helm station, and when he slammed him on the console, both Dori and Fíli sprung backwards.

“You’re hurting me,” Bilbo gasped, just as Thorin’s other hand went to his opposite shoulder to pin him down.

“Curse you,” Thorin said, and although his anger was still at the surface of his mind, Bilbo could feel the betrayal, buried deep underneath. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Bilbo felt himself aimlessly projecting, and Thorin tightened his grip. “Curse you, you mind-speaking son of a bitch!”

“Uncle, stop!” Fíli cried as Thorin lifted and slammed him back onto the console. Bilbo felt the breath being forced from his chest with every downward slam, and he couldn’t stop gasping. “Let him go!”

The hand on his shoulder loosened slightly, but the next shove knocked the wind out of his lungs. He opened his mouth to protest, but the only thing that came out was his gasps. I’m sorry I hurt you, let me go, please-- Thorin lifted him and slammed him down again, and the station beneath him beeped in protest. “Cursed be the bastard that forced you on this Company!”

“Captain!” Dwalin shouted, loud enough that Bilbo could hear him over the din of his own heartbeat in his ears. “We’re being hailed by someone else!”

In one fluid movement, Thorin stood and shoved Bilbo off the console, where he fell to the floor like a bag of bricks. One of the Klingons--he felt a bit light-headed and he could only see his hands, but he thought it was Fíli--took him by his other arm and pulled him to his feet.

“On screen,” Thorin barked, and Bofur was quick to comply.

Gandalf’s face appeared on screen, but he looked strange and sounded stranger, and there seemed to be a silver glow in his eyes. “You may not like my burglar, but for Kahless’ sake, don’t damage him! Return him to me! You’re not making a very splendid figure as heir of Durin, are you, Thorin, son of Thrain?”

“He’s ready for transport!” Fíli shouted. “Gandalf, please--”

Bilbo felt himself dematerialize, and when he came back to himself he was on the floor, on Gandalf’s vessel’s bridge. He heard Thorin say something, and recognized a few of the other Klingons’ voices as well, but it wasn’t until Bard spoke that he could make out any of the words.

“Holy shit, is he okay?” Bard asked. He and Caldwell both looked equal parts devastated and horrified.

Thranduil’s expression was tight in a way that reminded him of the other Vulcans, on Vulcan proper, and his voice was similarly cool when he spoke. “Are we resolved? The Arkenstone for what was promised?”

Thorin wasn’t even looking at the viewscreen--his eyes and focus were on the tactical station, where Dwalin must have been saying something. Bilbo realized he could have sensed out what it was, but his whole body felt numb, so he tightened his shielding and tried to focus on calming his heart rate.

“Give us your answer,” Bard said. “Will you have peace or war?”

Thorin turned back to the screen, and oh, that must be good for them, Bilbo thought. He smiled, baring his teeth, and tilted his chin up, the overhead lights casting strange red shadows on his face. “I am a Klingon of the house of Durin. I will have war!”

The sensors on Gandalf’s ship went wild, but Bilbo didn’t need to see the readout: even from his seat on the floor, he could see the hundreds of birds of prey decloak off their port bow. 

***

The plans for the takeover had, so far, gone off without a hitch. He had an immensely productive meditation session, anchored in the mantra there is no way we can lose. This is my victory. The door buzzed, and Azog finished his last calming exhale before rising to his feet. There were eight candles scattered around his quarters, and he blew out all but one before putting on the prosthetic attachment for which he was known, his plasma blade, and clicking it into place. He stood and in a practiced motion, straightened his uniform with his other hand, and called, “Enter.”

The room was quite dark, but he could easily make out his first’s figure in the doorway. “The rest of the Klingons you anticipated have arrived, Admiral.”

“Just as we expected,” Azog said. “Led by Dain?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

This is my victory. “Return to the bridge and hail my son. I will join you momentarily.”

She saluted, and the door slid shut behind her. The final candle was on his desk, beside the door, and he pinched out the flame as he went to the bridge. Bolg was already on screen when he entered, and both his son and the bridge crew saluted. “Admiral.”

“Son,” Azog said, and Bolg dipped his chin. There is no way we can lose. “You know what you must do. It is time.”

“Yes, father,” he said, then turned back to face his own bridge. “Send the message to all ships in the Gundabad fleet. Prepare to decloak at our lead.”

***

“Oh, shit,” Bard said, watching as row upon row of Klingon vessels appeared.

“Red alert! Hail their lead ship,” Shaz barked. Bard was sitting in between her and Caldwell on the bridge, and the way she was poised at the edge of the seat, antennae flattened like the bill of a hat, looked like she was about to spring up at any minute.  “We need to know who we’re dealing with.”

“We’ve got them on screen, sir,” Lieutenant Reagan answered, and Bard and Caldwell both looked at the new arrival in what Bard had been mentally referring to as the “groupchat”.

“Ironfoot,” Gandalf said.

“Must be an epithet,” Caldwell murmured, and Bard made a small noise of agreement before the new Klingon arrival spoke.

“This is Dain, son of Nain, of the ISS Sut’Habmo,” Dain drawled. He shook his head briskly, and something shining on the ends of his braids swung around, which after a moment Bard concluded looked like little boar tusks. “Well, good morning to you--it looks like the gang’s all here! Since I’ve got your attention, I’ve got a proposition I’d like you to consider. Would you all just fuck off?”

“The Vulcan fleet just charged weapons, Captain,” Shaz murmured, and it took Bard a second before he realized that it was in Andorian and his UT was picking it up. “We’re charging phase cannons, ready to fire. And there’s something else that’s weird on sensors, but I’m not sure--”

“Keep scanning,” Caldwell said to Shaz. Facing the viewscreen, he said, in standard now, “Captain Dain, I believe a peaceful agreement can be reached--”

“I’d like to see you try!” Dain shouted, and cut the connection. 

“Dumbass,” Shaz muttered. Privately, Bard agreed. Before she could say another word, Dain fired phasers, and their ship lurched hard to the left.

Caldwell straightened up in his seat, and Bard watched his fingers tighten on the armrest. “Fire at will.”

Bard supposed he hadn’t been paying attention to the rest of them, but it wasn’t until that order that the rest of the bridge seemed to spring back to life.

“Our shields are at eighty-seven percent, Captain.”

“We just got a direct hit to their secondary nacelle.”

Bard leaned over to Caldwell. “Should I still be here?”

“Of course,” he said, and when Bard looked lost, “You’re a face. The Klingons know you.”

“That may not be working in your favor,” Bard said.

Shaz had stood up somewhat between the Sut’Habmo’s blast and their own response, and now stood with one leg half propped up behind the bridge operation’s officer. “There’s something else out there, Captain. It kind of looks like more cloaked ships, but the echoes of the signature don’t look Klingon.”

“Captain, they’ve got Dain on screen again,” Reagan said. “But Thorin’s cloaked his ship, so he’s gone.”

Caldwell’s attention seemed torn, but he turned back to the screen.

“Come now, Captain Dain,” Gandalf said. There was a wide array of expressions among the group onscreen: Dain had a smile on his face, but it was dangerously smug with his pointed teeth on display, Gandalf was visibly distressed, and Thranduil looked...almost bored, which Bard was beginning to think was just his default expression.

“Tharkûn,” Dain said, and it took Bard a second to realize that must be another of Gandalf’s names, “Convince this rabble to leave, or I’ll water the stars with their blood.”

Yikes, Bard thought, as Shaz barked something out in rapid fire Andorian at Caldwell, and he stood up.

“As much as I’d like to see you try, we don’t have time for war between Klingons, Vulcans, and humans,” Caldwell said, firmly enough that Gandalf was cut off, “because there’s a fleet of cloaked Romulan vessels coming at us from all sides. Stand your army down.”

Dain snarled. “I will not stand down before any Vulcan. Not least this faithless desert sprite! He wishes nothing but ill upon my people, and if he chooses to stand between me and my kin--I’ll split his pretty head open! We’ll see if he’s still smirking then.”

Thranduil’s look of disinterest did sharpen into a smirk then, and his silver brows lifted. “He’s clearly as mad as his cousin.”

“I’ll show you mad, petaQ!” Dain snapped, and then disconnected.

“Please tell me you were bluffing about the--” Gandalf started, but before he could finish, the sensors went wild and his face fell. “Romulans.”

His and Thranduil’s faces disappeared from the screen, and now on the viewscreen Bard could see all the Romulan vessels decloaking. They seemed to split into two groups then, which half of them lingering back towards Erebor and the other half heading for--

“Oh, fuck,” Bard said, “they’re heading for Dale.”

“Ensign Nguyen, change course. We need to fall back to the station,” Caldwell said.

“Aye, sir,” the dark haired ensign replied, and they made the jump back to warp just to get to within hailing range.

“Backup?” Caldwell asked, glancing at Shaz.

She winced. “Not close enough. Nobody else in the neighborhood.”

“Number One, take an away team into Dale,” Caldwell continued. “You have to get those runabouts in the air as quickly as possible, and pull them away from the station. I’ll have Rodriguez and Landry meet you and Bard in transporter room one.”

Bard had already stood, and they made it to the transporter room in record time, due mainly to the fact that the Phoenix took another hit and they sprinted the rest of the way after that. Rodriguez and Landry were already there with extra phase rifles, and they passed them to Shaz and Bard.

“What’s taking so long?” Rodriguez asked.

The Tellarite transporter tech shot him a glare. “We were waiting on the Commander!”

Shaz cocked her phase rifle and one antennae lifted in challenge. “Well I’m here now, so make it quick, Petty Officer.”

“Ready to transport to Ops.”

Bard cocked his phase rifle, both feeling and hearing the hum as it charged in his hands. Shaz was doing the same, and once she was ready, said, “Energize.”

They rematerialized in Ops, and Shaz turned to the commander’s seat. “Valix, status.”

Valix must have answered, but Bard was distracted by a hand at his arm.

“Bard, we’ve got everybody ready with the runabouts, in shuttlebay four,” Hilda said, looking graver than he’d ever seen her. “But--I think they need you down there too, dragon-slayer.”

“What about the others?” Bard asked. He already knew he was going to have to pin a couple of people down, ideally with Percy as one of them, to play navigator and gunner on the Barge, because she was right: he did need to get out with them.

“Still in the combined bay. We couldn’t come up with a better place to put them,” Hilda said, shrugging helplessly.

Shaz must have finished getting her report, and she was watching the exchange between Bard and Hilda strangely. “Rodriguez, Landry, get to the combined bay. Keep an eye on things down there, and hail the Phoenix if you realize you need backup. I’ll join you shortly. Bard, lead the way to the runabouts.”

“Yes, sir,” Bard said, and the group headed out to the corridor. They half walked, half jogged, and Rodriguez and Landry had just entered the shuttlebay when Tauriel stepped out of a storage closet, carrying a box filled with some type of component.

“Tauriel, status,” Shaz said, then added, “Walk with us.”

Tauriel fell into step beside them as Bard wound through the rows of vessels to where he could see the Barge docked. “Commander, the first half of the runabouts are ready to engage at your command. The second half will be ready in about twenty minutes.”

“Where are these conduits going?” Shaz asked, at the same time Bard asked, “Percy on one of them?”

“The plasma conduits are going to Ops,” Tauriel said. “And yes Bard, he is. He’s commanding a squad of four ships, actually.”

Definitely can’t be spared, Bard thought. “Good.”

“But what about you?” Shaz asked. “Have you been assigned to one of them?”

Tauriel shrugged, adjusting the weight of the box in her hands. “Technically, no. I figured I can do more here.”

Shaz made a face and stopped in the hallway, putting one hand on Tauriel’s forearm. “Do you want to go to Erebor?”

Tauriel’s cheeks greened slightly, which made Bard concerned for all of about two seconds before he remembered that Vulcans bled green and he realized she was blushing. “I--I don’t know that I should.”

“I said to one of the Klingons that you can’t live your life in what-ifs,” Shaz said. “And I stand by it. Whatever happens here will happen with or without you. Drop those off and take one of the runabouts--I have a feeling you can fly it by yourself.”

Tauriel’s face shifted through a range of expressions, before she inclined her head slightly. “Thank you, Yesena.”

“You’re welcome.” Shaz squeezed her arm and smiled. “Dif-tor heh smusma.”

“Sochya eh dif,” Tauriel replied, then lifted her box. “I’ll just be dropping this off first. I--good luck.”

“You too,” Bard replied, and she turned back to Ops, making it to the door of the bay before taking off at a sprint. They’d made it to the Barge, where a ladder led up to the entry hatch. Yesena was still at his side. “What are you going to do now, Commander?”

“Don’t you need a gunner in this thing?” Yesena asked, but before Bard could answer, the emergency lights on the walls started flashing red and the alarm sounded, a high shrill noise that made them both wince.

“Shit, what’s that for?”

There was a comm panel on the wall nearby, and Shaz hit the button. “Shaz to Ops, status report.”

“Romulans have boarded the station. They’re swarming the combined bay.”

Bard shot Yesena a panicked look, and she answered, “If you can spare anyone from Ops, send them to the combined bay. We’ll meet them and Rodriguez and Landry there. Shaz out.”

“My kids are down there,” Bard said, swallowing. He re-shouldered his phase rifle, holding it closer to him.

“And they’ll be fine,” Shaz said. “This way.”

The main floor of the lower half of the station was circular, with Ops and the combined bay on opposite sides and several cargo and shuttlebays in the middle. Yesena led him further around the same way, and they were maybe forty yards away from the combined bay when they ran into their first Romulans. Bard didn’t even stop to think before he’d charged his rifle and fired at the closest member of the group. Yesena took down the other two, and they continued.

“Commander!” One of the Phoenix’s ensigns shouted as they rounded the last curve in the hallway. “It’s a shit show in there, is any other backup--”

Yesena ignored him in favor of stepping through the doorway and firing. “I hope so, but for now it’s just us. Bard, find your kids.”

“Thank you,” Bard said, and he began pushing past everyone, humans and Romulans alike, only pausing to shoot. There were several electrical fires around the edges of the room, and Bard barely dodged one flickering around his ankles. “Tilda! Sigrid! Bain!”

A figure bumped into his side, and Bard didn’t turn to look until he recognized her voice as Cait’s. “Bard, they’re in the far corner, near where we’d set up the nursing station!”

“Thank you!” He shouted back, but she’d already turned to fire at another Romulan. Shit show was right , Bard thought, ducking under a blast and turning to fire in the direction it came from. It wasn’t until he felt the phaser cooling off in his hands that he realized he’d killed people, and it made something heavy settle in his stomach. He shook his head, and tried to refocus on the task at hand, when someone else ran into him.

“Sorry,” Yesena muttered, blowing out a hard breath of air to blow her bangs out of her eyes. “You seen them yet?”

“No,” Bard said, and he knew based on her dark look that he hadn’t masked his worry very well. He swallowed. “But Cait told me they were by the--”

He didn’t get a chance to finish, because Yesena was shoving him out of the way as a loud hiss of phaser fire went past him, close enough he could feel the charge lift the hair on his arms. Yesena made a sharp noise, and Bard turned just in time to see her press her hand to her side, where a dark blue stain was rapidly spreading through her jacket. Out of the corner of his eye, Bard could see the trio of Romulans closing in on them, and barely turning, Bard shot them in close succession.

“Nice shot.” Yesena was still cradling her side, and her hand was already coated in blood. “So was theirs.”

“Shit,” Bard said. “Are you--”

“I’m Andorian, I’ll be fine,” Yesena snapped. “We need to get to your kids--you look, I’ll shoot.”

There was a lot Bard wanted to say-- thanks for saving my life and that would’ve killed a human, holy shit being chief of them, but all he did was swallow and say, “Alright. Stay right behind me.”

Yesena nodded, and the two went back to pushing through the swarm of people. They’d just shot through another group of Romulans when Bard heard a loud, familiar shriek, and his blood ran cold. He took off at a sprint. “Tilda!”

The makeshift barriers they’d put around the nurses’ station had been knocked over, and there were five or six Romulans cornering the group of people, and all Bard saw was the top of Bain’s head. He couldn’t tell if it was real or just his brain trying to cope, but in this corner, it seemed as though the rest of the fight had gone slow and quiet, like there was nothing else in the universe going on except for this right here. 

“Hey, asshole!” Bard yelled, and then shot one of the Romulans in the back.

He managed to make out Yesena’s groan, but less than a second later the cornered survivors sprung into action: somebody launched one of the IV stands at them, knocking two of the Romulans to their knees, and Bard and Yesena could make quick work of the rest of them.

“Dad!” Tilda rushed forward and threw her arms around him. He could still feel his heartbeat in his ears, but he bent down and squeezed Tilda.

“Nice throw with that IV stand, Bain,” Yesena said.

“Wasn’t it?” Sigrid said, grinning and appearing from behind her brother to join Bard and Tilda’s hug.

“I guess,” Bain said, scratching the back of his neck. “Dad, shouldn’t you be on the Barge?”

Bard hesitated long enough for Yesena to answer, “Yes. And you need to get going.”

“Wait, me?” Bain asked, eyes going wide.

Yesena’s right antennae lifted. “You and Sigrid and your father.”

Bard pulled back from his daughters. “Wait, what?”

“Dad, she’s right,” Sigrid said. “You need a navigator--”

“And a gunner,” Bain added.

“I should come too!” Tilda said.

“You can not and neither can I,” Yesena said, gesturing to where blue blood was seeping through her uniform. “I’ve got to get this checked out and then go to Ops. I don’t love this idea either, trust me.”

Bard paused, then reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “Take care of yourself. Your husbands and wife would be very upset with me if I got you killed.”

“You too,” Yesena said.

One of the security officers--Landry--appeared at Shaz’s side. “Commander, we’ve cleared the Romulans from the combined bay, but we can only get shields here back up from Operations.”

“Send everyone further into the station,” Yesena said. “Keep everyone calm, and tell your other security officers to spread out. I’ll take up the rear, and head to Ops to get the shields repaired and this checked out.”

“Aye, sir,” Landry said, and disappeared.

“I need to go,” Bard said, and Yesena nodded. “Keep an eye on--”

“I’ve got her. If they’re ready in the shuttle bay, get those runabouts in the air.” Yesena shook his hand. “Good luck, dragon-slayer.”

“Thank you,” Bard said, and then allowed his kids to lead him back the way he came through the corridors to the shuttle bay. The first group of the runabouts had already taken off, and the remaining ones were already running, getting their engines warmed up, so the plated flight door was opened, leaving only the shield in place and making the room about ten degrees colder. Bard, Sigrid, and Bain raced up the on-ramp to the Barge , and while Bain made his way down below the cockpit to the rarely used weapons seat, he and Sigrid started the pre-flight sequences. He flicked the switch on for the comm system as an after-thought, and was surprised to hear the voices of the other pilots fill his cockpit.

“Who just joined the comm?” Percy asked, voice crackling from the interference.

“It’s Bard.”

“Oh, hello, brother,” Percy answered. “The rest are going to be looping around, picking off Romulan ships in groups of three, but I think you’ve got the firepower to do it with just one other shuttle. Alfrid, where are you?”

“I’m here,” Alfrid answered.

“You can fly?” Bard asked. Sigrid and him shared a surprised glance from the cockpit.

“I’ve done the simulators,” Alfrid said, defensive.

“Stick with Bard, Alfrid,” Percy said. “If you get him killed I’ll shoot you myself. I’ll set it up so you two are on the same frequency. Percy out.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Bard said.

“I don’t,” Sigrid said. She reached over and took his hand. “We’re going to be fine. We’ve got this.”

Bard squeezed back. “I love you, kid. Let’s get this show on the road.”

He engaged the helm control and guided the ship to the edge of the bay. The rest of the runabouts had fallen in behind him, and after a moment, the shield dropped, and they all jumped to warp in sync.

***

“It’s madness out there,” Dwalin said.

“I think it’s about time we decloak and jump in,” Fíli said, enabling the helm controls and steering them towards Dale, where much of the fighting had shifted. A couple of voices cheered.

“Don’t bring us any closer,” Thorin said. He scraped a hand over the stubble on his jaw. “Hold back.”

“You kidding me, sir?” Somebody asked--it may have been Nori, the voice came from that side of the bridge, but Thorin hadn’t looked up from the floor, at a spot just in front of his feet.

“Uncle--”

“I said hold back,” Thorin growled, and Fíli spun back around, coaxing the ship to a complete stop. “I’ll be in my ready room. Balin, you have the conn.”

The door had barely slid shut behind him when the bridge filled with such a din it made his head throb. Dwalin’s and Bofur’s voices were easy to pick out, and so was Balin’s, although he was quieter than the rest. They were furious, but what for? They would live to fight another day. He flopped down into his seat, placing his elbows on the desk, and pushed his hair back with one hand.

The door beeped, and Thorin lifted his head. “Enter.”

The bridge had gone silent, and Dwalin stepped in, face flushed. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“You have never asked before.”

Dwalin grunted. “Guess not. Since when do we forsake our own people? Thorin, they’re dying out there.”

“We should never have left Erebor.” Thorin looked out the viewport. “We could have shored RAVENHILL further, secured the planet.”

“Did you not hear me?” Dwalin took several long strides into the room and slammed one fist on the desk. “Dain is surrounded! They’re being slaughtered.”

“Many die in war.” Frerin, Grandfather, Father. “Life is cheap. But we have our home back. A treasure such as that cannot be counted in lives lost. It is worth all the blood we can spend.”

“You may have reclaimed Erebor, returned to the great seat out our house, but you are lesser now than you have ever been.”

Thorin felt himself reel back like he’d been hit, and Dwalin seemed just as surprised that he’d said it. Thorin stood and jumped the desk, standing right in front of Dwalin, although he landed so hard he nearly stumbled. “Do not speak to me as if was some lowly son of a lower house, like I’m just some captain with more ambition than talent, as if I were just Thorin, captain of the Oakenshield. I am the head of the House of Durin!”

Dwalin was staring at him like he’d grown an extra limb, and after a long moment, he shook his head. “Thorin, you always have been. You knew that once.” Dwalin swallowed, and Thorin watched the muscles in his throat, absently realizing that it would be so easy to just reach out and close his fist around it, except--he was no Bilbo. Dwalin would fight. He may have come in here to kill me, like I’m an incompetent officer. “You cannot see what you have become.”

“Get out,” Thorin said. He felt nauseous, but he didn’t know why. “Or I will kill you where you stand.”

“Of course, sir,” Dwalin said, dipping his chin down but still managing to seem snide. He turned on one heel and left. Thorin followed him to the door, and locked it behind him.

When he turned back around, the room spun, and Thorin barely managed to stumble back to the desk. He knocked over several of the previous captain’s personal artifacts as he went--a Rigellian carving of a targ, a piece of Andorian crystal mounted on a smoke quartz base--but eventually managed to settle back into his chair. He first set his head on his desk, but when that did nothing to settle the swirling in his stomach, he stood once more and carefully made his way to the viewport. The stars were gratefully still and he set his head against the reinforced glass. His heart was racing and he felt hot, but when he turned back to the rest of the room, it wasn’t. He was back on the Oakenshield’s bridge, but not this Oakenshield, the original, and the lights were different--less red, more gold--and everything seemed faintly blurry.

Dwalin was at the tactical station. “You are lesser now than you have ever been.”

Balin stepped forward, into his familiar place at Thorin’s side, and absently straightened his chest plate. “A sickness lies upon this planet. It drove your grandfather mad.”

“Erebor is my birthright,” Thorin said.

“Just another Klingon driven by blind ambition and greed.” Bard’s face appeared on the viewscreen, but he too was washed in that golden light. “Still unable to see beyond your own desire.”

“You are the heir of the House of Durin.” Gandalf said. He placed a hand on Thorin’s shoulder. “It is time for Erebor to be reclaimed.”

“You did not have to do this, Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror,” Balin said.

“It was the burden of my father and grandfathers. I had no other choice,” Thorin said.

Dwalin pressed a few buttons on the console in front of him. “They are dying out there.”

“The end of their linear existence,” Balin said. “Your grandfather was sick, when his linear existence ended.”

“I am not my grandfather,” Thorin said.

“You are not yourself,” Bilbo said, from Thorin’s other side, and he looked beautiful in this warm, golden light. His dark eyes were full of concern. “You’ve changed.”

“Dain’s people are surrounded,” Balin reminded, as patiently as if he were asking Thorin to go over the officer’s logs. “They will die. Just like your grandfather.”

“What about your honor?” Bilbo asked.

Thorin stumbled to the viewscreen. Bard was gone, and in his place was Smaug, the vessel, flying right at them. Smaug’s chest swelled, glowing red, and then he let out a “breath” of superheated plasma and--

Thorin’s eyes snapped open with a gasp, and he pulled his forehead off the glass. His head felt clearer, lighter than it had in what felt like ages, but the peace only lasted for a second, when awareness of the consequences of his actions came back to him. Bilbo, the survivors of Esgaroth-- I must make this right, or my honor, my life, is forfeit, Thorin thought. Today, after all,  may be a good day to die. He took a deep breath, and left the ready room, the desk and the window behind. He’d only managed to take two steps onto the bridge when Kíli stepped in front of him. His nephew’s hands were raised in half-surrender, but there was a brightness in his eyes that showed he was ready to fight.

“If you don’t give the order to decloak, we’re going to mutiny.” He paused for a second, and when Thorin didn’t respond, a muscle in his jaw tightened. “I will not hide here while others fight our battles for us. It is not in my blood.”

“No,” Thorin said, cutting Kíli off before he could continue. He placed one hand on his shoulder, and gave it a gentle squeeze. “We are sons of Durin. And Durin’s folk do not flee from a fight.”

Kíli made a choked noise, face creasing in a warm smile although his eyes were wet, and Thorin leaned forward to rest their foreheads together. The rest of the bridge was watching in silence, until Thorin pulled back and cleared his throat. “I have no right to ask this of any of you, but will you follow me one last time?”

“Aye, Captain,” Balin said, and oh, his eyes glistened with unshed tears as well. If I live through today, I will have a lot of making up to do, Thorin thought. “We’re with you.”

Chapter Text

Whatever gods are out there, bless you, Fili thought. Thorin had let Kili go and settled into the Captain’s chair, perched at the edge of his seat. “Dwalin, sum up everything that’s going on out here. I need to know what we’re about to jump into.”

Dwalin straightened, clearing his throat. “Sir, a second Romulan fleet just decloaked, and their whole army has split: about half of them headed for Dale, while the rest are heading towards--”

“Erebor,” Thorin finished. “What are Dain’s folk doing?”

“Kinda hanging out in the middle,” Dwalin said. “They’re mainly trying to choke the Romulans off, keep them away from Erebor, but they’ve been covering for the Vulcans as well.”

“Alright,” Thorin said, and even without looking, Fíli could picture the concentration on his face as the gears turned in his head. “We’ll head for Erebor, free up some of Dain’s people. Nori, disable the cloaking device, and Fíli, take us towards RAVENHILL, full impulse.”

“Aye, sir,” Fíli said, and he turned off the inertial dampeners and allowed the ship to jump into motion.

“Bofur, hail--”

“No need, Captain,” Bofur cut in. “Dain’s hailing us.”

Fíli couldn’t bite back his grin as Thorin answered. “On screen.”

Dain’s face appeared on the viewscreen, and Fíli spared him less than a glance before turning back to his controls. The lord of the House of Nain looked furious. “Cousin! What the hell took you so long?”

“It’s a long story,” Thorin said. “I’m glad to see my lateness hasn’t dampened your spirits too much.”

Dain laughed. “And why would it? A vicious battle before me, glory to be won--what’s there to be angry about? Except--”

Something hit the Oakenshield II, causing it to lurch hard to the right and the image on the view screen to flicker.

“Shields at sixty-eight percent, but they’re holding for now,” Dwalin said.

“Except that,” Dain muttered. “It’s been a while since I went head to head with a Romulan Warbird. There’s too many of them, Thorin, and some of them are starting to get into RAVENHILL. If that system goes down--”

“All of this would be for nothing.” Fíli finally spared a glance at his Uncle, but instead of devastated he just looked determined. “Is there anything else I should know?”

Dain hesitated, then finally said, “The Romulan ship who’s gotten into RAVENHILL--it’s the Whitewarg.

“Good,” Thorin said. “It was time for Azog and I to have a rematch, and he will not be walking away this time.”

“That’s the spirit,” Dain said, grinning. “We’ll cover you. And try not to get yourselves killed, if you don’t mind. Dain out.”

“We’re within transporter range of RAVENHILL, Captain,” Ori said.

Thorin stood. “Dwalin, Kíli, Fíli, with me. Have Glóin meet us in the transporter room.”

They strode from the bridge, Dwalin and Thorin in the lead, and Fíli and Kíli following. His brother sighed and Fíli turned to face him. “You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” Kíli said, but he reached out and briefly squeezed his hand. “I’m ready.”

They grabbed phase rifles and, because Bifur was being very insistent and wouldn’t let them leave without them, bat’leths from the armory on their way, but it still took almost no time for them to reach the transporter room, where Glóin saluted. Thorin turned to the three of them. “Alright, we’re going to transport into the service corridor, assess the damage, and figure out our next move from there.”

“Got it,” Dwalin said, and Fíli and Kíli nodded.

“Azog and his ilk have done enough hurt to our family,” Thorin said, his voice so low Fíli thought he could feel it in his chest. “This ends here. Glóin, energize.”

When Fíli came back to himself, he shouldered his rifle. The hallway was dark--Azog’s crew must have killed the lights--and he felt for Bilbo’s having to brave the corridor alone. He could sense more than see Kíli at his side, and after a second, heard his brother take a deep breath. “It looks empty.”

Thorin hmmed. “I don’t think so. Fíli, you and your brother go to Ops. Scout out the top half of the station, and try to stay out of sight. Don’t engage unless you have to.”

Fíli was nodding until he realized they couldn’t really see it. “Understood. What about you and Dwalin?”

“We’ll head down to main engineering. Comm us if you have any trouble.”

“You too,” Fíli said, and the group split up. Kíli fell into step behind him, and when they reached the door to Operations, he pulled out his scanner. “Door’s not sealed, but I can’t pick out any lifeforms,” Kíli said. 

“Maybe the Romulans are all in engineering?”

He shrugged. “One way to find out, I guess.”

They were not so lucky. Kíli turned the hatch until it unsealed, but when the door slid open, it revealed six Romulans, gathered around the main computer console.

“Shit.” Fíli managed to fire off the first shot, taking one of them down, but their unwelcome guests sprang into action at the same time. He ducked back behind the door after firing two more blasts while Kíli turned into the doorway, and after his brother pulled back it was quiet.

He pulled out the scanner again. “Still nothing, but I think we got them. Uncle’s not going to be thrilled, though.”

“It’s fine,” Fíli said. He went to step over one, then paused. “Wait, help me move them into the storage closet in the hallway.”

Kíli made a disparaging noise, but helped his brother drag the bodies out. When they returned to Ops, he dropped his weapons off on the main command table and went to the computer core. He frowned sharply. “Shields are down to thirty-six percent and rapidly falling--they must have a power drain somewhere.”

Fíli leaned over his shoulder. “I don’t really want more bad news, but what’s the ‘critical failure’ referring to?”

“They’ve got a hole in the shield. Only big enough for one ship to go through at a time right now, but--”

“As the power drains it’ll only get bigger.” Fíli frowned. “Shit. Do you think we can stop it?”

“Not from here,” Kíli said. “Comm Thorin and Dwalin.”

Fíli pulled his communicator from his pocket. “Fíli to Thorin, come in.”

There was no response. “Let me see,” Kíli said, and he passed over the communicator. He snapped the outer casing off and messed with the tuner inside, but all he got was static, and his frown deepened. He pulled his own communicator out and passed it over. “Try and call the ship.”

“Fíli to the bridge.” Silence answered them once again, and something twisted in his stomach. He’d slung his phase rifle over his shoulder after they took down the Romulans, but he pulled it back around now. “Power here is draining, so they must be using one of their own vessels to create a dampening field. Can you run some scans?”

“Yeah,” Kíli said. His scanner was still on the console and he glanced down at it, brows furrowed. “I’m not picking anything up.”

“As in you’re not picking up any sort of dampening field or?”

“No. I’m not picking up anything. I didn’t notice it earlier, but I’m not even getting our own life signs.” Kíli raked one hand through his bangs and tapped through the scanner’s settings again, but nothing changed. “I--I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“It’s never a good sign when your science officer says that,” Fíli said, keeping his tone lighter than he felt. He spun around instinctively and pressed himself back to back, with his brother.

“Indeed it is not,” came a third voice, from the opposite side of operations. The accent was coolly indifferent-- Romulan, Fíli knew without having to look, but I don’t recognize him by voice, so its not Azog . He felt Kíli step back into him then, pressing their shoulders more squarely together. “You will both do exactly as I say, or I will kill your younger brother.”

“Okay,” Fíli said. “Give me a second to put my weapons down, and we’ll cooperate.”

“Fí,” Kíli said, but he just nudged his brother, hoping that his silent message of follow my lead was understood.

He placed the phase rifle down on the console in front of him with a loud clunk. “Alright, petaQ , any other requests?”

If he understood the Klingon insult, he chose not to respond.“Place your hands behind your head and get down on your knees. Just you.”

Fíli did. It was quiet enough that he could hear the Romulan’s light footsteps as he took a long path around Kíli and came to stand in front of him. It was still shadowy on the bridge-- that’s a rookie mistake, he thought, we should’ve turned the lights up-- and he couldn’t quite make out his features, but saw his lips curl into a smile.

“Do you know who I am, Fíli, son of Dís?”

“Unfortunately you’ve got me at a disadvantage.”

“Good. Kíli, turn around.”

He felt his brother’s movement, and then the Romulan stepped forward, pulling a set of handcuffs from one of his pockets and cuffing Kíli’s wrists to the edge of the console. Now that’s also a rookie mistake, Fíli thought, because I’ve never met a set of handcuffs my brother can’t get out of. He felt himself crack a smile as well, even with the sense of overwhelming panic, and tried to steady his breathing.

“Fíli, son of Dís, heir of the house of Durin, you said you don’t know who I am.” When Fíli didn’t answer, he continued, dropping into a squat to face him. He pulled something from another pocket that Fíli couldn’t make out in the dark. “You will.”

***

The Romulan Centurion and his officers in main engineering were easy enough to take out, and then it was eerily quiet in engineering. Thorin didn’t trust it, even less than he trusted the voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Bilbo telling him it was a trap.

“They’ve got a power drain on,” Dwalin said, yanking him from his thoughts before he could sink too deeply into his own self loathing. “Planetary shields at thirty-six percent, and dropping. They’ve got a hole in it, too, but it’s only big enough for one of our ships or the runabouts to get through right now, not a warbird.”

“Think you can stop it?” Thorin asked, flitting his eyes back and forth between the two entrances.

“You should’ve brought my brother for this.”

“I didn’t want your brother. I wanted you.”

There was a beat of silence, broken by Dwalin’s snicker. “I’m touched, but I’m afraid I don’t see you like that.”

“Shut up. You know what I meant. I--going into a suicide mission like this, there is no one else I want at my side.”

Dwalin was still typing away at the console. “Are you sure? Dying by someone’s side is very romantic.”

“Shut up,” Thorin repeated, biting back a smile, but when he turned around Dwalin’s face had split into a broad grin of its own.

“I won’t--oh, and I’ve stopped the power drain. I don’t know how long this’ll keep ‘em out if they’ve got any fail safes coded in place, but it’s paused for now. Our shields are holding steady at--thirty-three percent.”

“Not great.”

“The hole in the shield has stopped getting bigger as well, thank you very much. Besides, we’ve done more with less. We almost had to.” Dwalin stepped out from behind the console and placed a hand on Thorin’s shoulder. “We thought we’d lost you.”

Thorin’s eyes fluttered closed, and the fury at his own mistakes, at his own blindness, threatened to swell up within him. “Thank you for your faith in me. If you hadn’t came and ripped into me, I don’t--I don’t know.”

“You would’ve come back.” Dwalin said it with such certainty it almost brought a tear to his eye. “I know you would’ve.”

So did Bilbo, he thought. He could see clearly now Bilbo’s motivations: his belief that giving the Arkenstone to Bard would snap Thorin out of it, his hope that Thorin would just wake up and return to his old self. Bilbo had done everything out of love, because he cared, and Thorin had thrown that back in his face.

“Stop thinking about Bilbo,” Dwalin said, and at Thorin’s questioning look, added, “You’re looking all broody. I’m sure it’ll all work out.”

“You’re being strangely optimistic. Suspiciously so. Who are you, and what have you done with Dwalin, son of Fundin?”

“You’re back,” Dwalin said, flatly. “Seeing you walk out of your ready room and back into your old personality? Was a miracle like something out of the stories of Kahless himself.”

“Dwalin--I.” Thorin didn’t even know where to begin with responding to that. He shook his head, and swallowed. “Just--comm my nephews.”

“Aye, sir,” Dwalin pulled his comm from his pocket. “Dwalin to Fíli.”

They were met with silence. The little Bilbo voice in his mind repeated more insistently, It’s a trap, be careful.

“Can we run scans from here?” Thorin asked.

“Already on it,” Dwalin said, then his fingers stilled on the keypad. “I--that doesn’t make sense. It’s saying there’s nothing here. I can’t pick up any sort of dampening field, the Oakenshield, anything--not even ours or Fíli and Kíli’s lifesigns.”

It’s the Romulans. Thorin gently shushed Bilbo’s voice in his head. “I don’t like this. I need you to get back to the ship. I’ll keep an eye on things here.”

“How? They probably lost our lifesigns the second we transported on.”

“There must be a cloaked Romulan ship right on top of us.” Thorin glanced up at the ceiling, trying to think. “Set the scanners to look for our warp field. If you can find the outer radius--”

“I can just transport back, smack dab in the middle.” Dwalin nodded and keyed in the appropriate codes as Thorin turned back to the doors. “I’ve got it.”

“Good. I’ll transport you over, and I want you to take the conn and guard the gap.”

“Aye, sir. But I’d like to add for the record that I really don’t like leaving you alone here right now.”

“Dwalin--”

“I know, I know. You can’t make any promises. Just--try not to die, alright? If not for me, then for Bil--”

“I’m not going to be alone,” Thorin said, cutting him off. “I’m going to go up and find my nephews.”

Dwalin made a pleased-sounding grunt, and picked up his phaser and bat’leth. “That’ll do. I’m ready to transport whenever you are--you should be able to from that panel right by you.”

Thorin was able, and he and Dwalin exchanged one last pointed nod before transporting him back to the Oakenshield.

The quiet in engineering now was suffocating, and Thorin grabbed both his weapons, stopped to double check that the power wasn’t continuing to drain, and then crawled back up the ladder through the access tube to reach the main hallway. It was dark, and he couldn’t hear any voices--Fíli and Kíli must be securely in Ops.

Please be careful, Bilbo’s voice in his mind whispered.

He swallowed and tried to think back, I’m trying.

He was on the far side of the station from the Operations entrance, but as he rounded the first corner to get there, he saw a figure silhouetted at the end of the hallway, too short and with not enough hair to be a Klingon, and immediately guessed who it was. A second later, when there was a hiss and then a green plasma sword activated, he knew he was right.

“I see our heirs have found each other,” Azog said. “That is good.”

Thorin took a few steps forward. “It is, isn’t it? My nephews are going to kill your son, and I’m going to kill you.”

“You sound very certain.” Azog stepped forward as well, the gap between them slowly closing.

“I am,” Thorin said. Strangely enough, he found himself reflecting on the singing lessons his mother had put him through in his youth, and projected his next words. “Azog, commanding officer of the Whitewarg, defiler, you killed my father and grandfather. This ends here, with you and me.”

The distance between them was now about eight feet. Azog grinned, holding his plasma sword in front of him and dropping into a combat stance. “Yes, it does.”

They both sprung into motion.

***

“I feel like I’m going to spend the rest of my life repairing these god forsaken bulkheads,” one of the Phoenix’s ensigns groaned.

Tauriel privately agreed, but soon the wires weren’t sparking and they could replace the control panel. “Thank you for your assistance.”

“Of course, sub-commander,” he said. “Do you need anything else?”

To get to my runabout so I can get to Kíli. She started to shake her head, but stopped, and handed over the boxes she’d been carrying for the past twenty minutes. “Can you take these to Operations for me?”

“Sure,” the ensign said, and headed back in that direction.

Finally, Tauriel thought. She rounded the next corner, dodging the civilians and Starfleet personnel, until she came face to face with Admiral Gandalf Greyhame, as Starfleet called him, or Mithrandir, as Thranduil did.

“Sub-commander, have any more Romulans boarded?”

“Not as far as I’m aware.” She kept walking, and the Admiral--and Bilbo, who she realized was standing at his side--fell into step with her. “Why?”

“A second Romulan fleet just decloaked,” Bilbo said. “But if they aren’t coming here--”

“RAVENHILL,” she and Gandalf said at once.

“Divide and conquer,” Tauriel thought aloud. “They engage us and tie us up at Dale, then a second fleet chokes off Erebor from our support.”

“That’s why the Oakenshield is back in the fight,” Gandalf said. “Bilbo, you said you could sense which Klingons had boarded that station?”

Bilbo glanced at the ceiling, his dark eyes focused on something they couldn’t see, before he turned back to them. “Dwalin, Fíli and Kíli, and Thorin.”

Kíli.

Gandalf frowned. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

“I will tell you if your fears are founded,” Tauriel said, surprising herself. “I’m heading that way as soon as I get to my runabout.”

“Then don’t let us waste any more of your time,” Gandalf said, raising one hand in a ta’al. “Godspeed.”

“Good luck,” Bilbo added. He was focused on something else again, so Tauriel returned Gandalf’s gesture and then left them behind her in the corridor. There were familiar voices in the shuttlebay when she entered, and she froze at the sound.

“What do our numbers look like?” Thranduil asked.

Legolas sounded anguished. “It’s not good. The loss of life has been--appalling.”

“Once we’ve finished refuelling, give the order to recall the fleet,” Thranduil said, as Tauriel ducked behind a stack of crates.

There was a pause, until Legolas said, “Father, I thought Gandalf said we should go to RAVENHILL, to protect Erebor?”

“Gandalf knew well how I felt about that plan. He appears to see all ends--I would be shocked if he had not accounted for my refusal,” Thranduil said, voice dripping with bitterness. “Enough Vulcan blood has been spilled in defense of this accursed place--no more. Give the recall order.”

Tauriel stood and kicked over the crates in front of her. The top box dropped to the ground and shattered, and father and son turned to her in sync. Thranduil arched one dark eyebrow. “Tauriel.”

“No.” She straightened. “There will be no recall.”

“Tauriel, stand down,” Legolas warned. He stayed where he was while Thranduil kicked one of the fallen crates out of his way, and came to stand only a few steps in front of her.

“I won’t. You will go no further. You will not turn away--not this time.” One of her hands went to her pocket, where Kíli’s runestone sat, heavy as her resolve.

“Get out of my way,” Thranduil snapped.

“The Klingons will be slaughtered.”

“Maybe so.” As his father spoke, Legolas slowly stepped forward, closing in on his father from behind. “Whether today, tomorrow, one year hence, a hundred years from now--what does it matter? They are Klingon-- the only language they speak is violence, and the only way to glory is to make yourself a martyr.”

“How can you think your life is worth more than theirs while there is no love in it--while there is no love in you?” She pulled her phaser from her hip--it was only set to stun, but before she could even raise it to point at his chest, let alone think about firing a shot, he’d knocked it from her hand and grabbed her wrist.

“What do you know of love? Nothing!” She didn’t know who had started it, but he was shouting now. “What you feel for that Klingon is not real! You think it is love? Are you ready to die for it?”

Legolas appeared at her side--she must have been distracted during the loss of her phaser--and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Father, please, if you want to hurt her, you have to go through me. Tauriel, I’m with--”

“Legolas,” Tauriel said. “Don’t.”

“I know what you’re going to do,” he insisted.

“It isn’t hard to figure out,” Thranduil said blandly. “You’re going to throw away your life for the Klingon you think you love, and my son is going to follow you.”

“Legolas, I--this is something I must do alone.” Tauriel took a deep breath and a step away from the two of them. “Do whatever you want. But, if you see my mother, tell her I feel fine.”

Thranduil and Legolas still looked floored, but when she turned to sprint to her runabout, neither father or son made the effort to stop her. Her flight to Erebor was quick--she’d learned how to fly a shuttle in the Fuin Nebula, could dodge space scavengers in her sleep, and frankly the phaser fire was a slightly more predictable pattern--and soon she was within transporter range of RAVENHILL. The new Oakenshield II was engaged in combat right above the station, although Tauriel couldn’t tell what they were fighting, until they landed one good blast with a photon torpedo and a Romulan ship decloaked and made a hasty retreat. Good, she thought, feeling smug on their behalf, but as she started programming her transport, she paused. Logic and emotion-- she needed to think before she just jumped in. She tapped her fingers on the console, then stood to grab a phase rifle from the on board weapon’s case, a communicator, and an outdated tricorder. “Computer, scan the station. I need to know what I’m going into.”

“RAVENHILL’s shields just went down.” That explained why the Oakenshield had immediately moved to a spot closer to the planet--they must be covering a gap in its shields. “Life signs indistinguishable at this time.”

“Alright,” Tauriel said, thinking aloud. “Computer, lock onto a location within the station at least twenty feet and two bulkheads away from any biosign.”

“Location found.” She saved her current position into her tricorder, so she’d have a location to transport back to.

“Energize.” Tauriel rematerialized in an empty, dark hallway. She pulled her tricorder out and let it passively scan, and it gave her a rough map: she was on one side of the station, one Romulan and one Klingon biosign were on the opposite side, and in a space in the middle was another Romulan and two Klingons, one of whom wasn’t doing too well. Fíli and Kíli. She glanced at the readout again, and when it didn’t miraculously gather more information, she turned and headed around to the entrance to where Fíli and Kíli were. No what-ifs, she thought. I saved him once, I can do it again.

She put the tricorder back in her pocket and pulled her phase rifle around to her front. She started off going at a light jog towards her destination, but when she heard a loud roar, she took off at a sprint, setting her phase rifle to charge so it’d be ready to fire once she made it in. Tauriel slid to a stop outside the open doorway, and it was right then that Bolg and Kíli came tumbling across her view in front of it. They landed about eight feet in front of her, with the Romulan on top and he’d just closed his fist around Kíli’s neck when Tauriel took the shot, sending him flying backwards across the room.

Kíli pushed up on his elbows, a delighted look on his face. “Tauriel!”

Bolg was still reeling himself, and Tauriel offered Kíli her hand, pulling him to his feet. “What’s happening?”

“What’s happening--” Bolg had risen to his feet and stumbled back towards them, with one hand clenched in a fist and a scowl on his face. “--Is that I am going to kill her just like I killed your miserable excuse excuse of a brother.”

He gestured over his shoulder to where Tauriel could now make out the outline of Fíli’s blonde hair, splayed out across the ground in a pool of blood, but she could still make out the slight rise and fall of his chest. Unconscious, not dead. She tilted her chin up, defiant. “I’d like to see you try.”

He threw himself forward at the same time Tauriel kicked upward, and the top of her foot collided with his nose with a sickening crack of cartilage. He only faltered for a second before straightening again, although his nose was distinctly not, and grinned darkly. “You want to best me in hand to hand? You Vulcans may have your suus manha, but I’m a trained expert in kormerek. There is no way you come out of this on top.”

“Maybe so,” Tauriel said, right as Kíli stepped out from behind and his bat’leth sliced through Bolg’s wrist.

There was a brief moment of silence, where everything was still. Then Bolg let out the eeriest sound Tauriel had ever heard in her life, and after he took a deep breath--to compose himself, maybe--his whole attitude shifted. Kíli soon shifted over to cover Tauriel’s side, but even with both of their weapons and martial arts backgrounds, his hits kept landing hard. Suus manha was all about defensive moves, attempting to predict where one’s opponent’s hit was going to land, so Tauriel stayed light on her feet and got her strikes and shots in where she could. Kíli’s fighting style, she was surprised to note, was not actually too different from hers. He fought like it was a dance, and he moved around her, giving her space to work and covering her blind spots, with a grace and beauty that she really shouldn’t have been surprised by. The main contrast between them was that while she was constantly trying not to get hit, he, in typical Klingon fashion, tended to assume that he could take it.

Bolg suddenly caught the side of her rifle and shoved, knocking Tauriel off balance away from the action into one of the consoles on the outer edge of the room, then swung back with a side kick and caught Kíli in the ribs hard enough that it knocked the breath out of him and she could hear the bones crack. He barely had a moment to gasp for breath before Bolg kicked him hard in the chest again and slammed a fist onto where his neck and shoulder jointed together, the same place where one would target a neck pinch. Kíli’s dark eyes went even wider and he stumbled back into a table, bat’leth falling helplessly to the floor.

“Kíli!” Tauriel cried. Before she could try to stand up and help him, Bolg appeared in front of her, looming over her with a dark smile on his face.

He used his remaining hand to grab her by her jaw and tilt her face up to look at him. He pressed what remained of his other hand into her stomach, pinning her to the console hard enough that she could feel his blood seeping through her clothes. “It would be easiest to kill you now, veruul , but I think my purposes will be better served by making you watch.”

The hand released her jaw, but moved across her right collarbone, pausing to press hard enough on the trapezius nerve to make her limbs go numb. She struggled as well as she could against his grip, but he was stronger than her even without temporarily disabling her limbs, and soon his hand had settled on her shoulder, where it took hardly any effort on his part to dislocate the socket joint. She cried out, but her voice sounded hollow to her own ears, and when Bolg moved the hand from her stomach, she slid with her back against the console to the floor. She tried to move her marginally better arm to her shoulder, but her hands were shaking and she couldn’t steady them before Bolg cleared his throat.

She’d barely turned to him when he closed the same hand he’d just had on hers around Kíli’s throat, and she let out another hoarse sounding cry, trying to get to her feet. Bolg let out a hysterical laugh and tightened his fingers, and Tauriel felt her own pulse increase tenfold, as she tried vainly to stand.

“Kíli.” She’d managed to pull herself forward, up onto the console, so she was perched on her knees, but her time was running out: his face was rapidly turning more purple by the minute and his only response was for his eyes to meet hers. “Kíli, I’m sorry.”

There was a clattering noise across the room, and Bolg released Kíli enough to turn around. “Who’s there?”

Kíli was gasping for breath, but even over the sounds of his inhales Bolg could hear the scuffle as Tauriel forced herself to her feet. His eyes widened, voice turned hysterical. “No! Give up now, no Vulcan is going to get in my way!”

“You aren’t wrong,” Tauriel agreed, right as the long thin blade of a knife appeared through Bolg’s forehead, right in the center of his pointed ridge.

Fíli was standing there, covered in both his own blood and that of his newest defeated enemy, pressed almost front to back with Bolg. His mouth curled into a vicious smile that was all teeth. “You should’ve made damn sure I was dead, you stupid son of a bitch.”

Bolg gave one last twitch before he stilled, and Fíli dropped him to the floor. Bolg’s hand released Kíli at the same time and he too would’ve fell without his older brother there to catch him and lower him more gently to the floor. Fíli’s hand went to the side of his neck and then his expression turned panicked, and he barely bit back a cough as he cried, “Tauriel, I can’t feel a pulse!”

Her legs felt new, the muscles still tingling, but she stumbled over to Kíli’s side. Fíli was breathing hard, but he slid Kíli’s body along the floor to be a little closer to her. He rolled up onto his knees when Tauriel dropped down to the floor, and put his hands on his shoulders, pinning Kíli down. She glanced up at him, and at his wide eyed, jerky nod, took a deep breath and then reached out. She’d never felt more unsure in her life, but-- no what ifs. It felt strange to do it with her non-dominant hand, but her fingers stayed steady as they settled on his psi points: her thumb on his jaw, her first finger right beside his nose under his eye, and her remaining fingers following the contours of his cheekbone. The spark between them was still there, even now with his pulse faint and his life almost slipping away. “What grace is given me, let it pass to you. My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts. Our minds are one.”

The ease into his mind this time was smoother and more sure. His mind was in chaos as his body struggled for breath against all the pain, both physical and mental. Bolg must have put him under immense psychic pressure along with his beating, and Tauriel forced the anger she felt towards him down and focused on healing his mind. The last time she’d melded with him, she had lingered along the edges of his mind, only to secure his mental pathways from unraveling, but this time she had to go deeper. When she saw the core essence of his katra, washed in golden light like the heart of a star, it was trying to blink out, but she pressed her metaphysical hand against and fed his spirit with her own, watching until it lit up and stayed steady. Parted from me and never parted.

She knew the moment she’d gone too far, given too much of herself, and she pulled back from his mind with a gasp, but even back in her own consciousness all she could feel was him. Never and always touching and touched, the old vows said, but she had never believed it. If only she had.

“Is he alright?” Fíli asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.

I am an idiot, she thought, but forced herself to nod jerkily.

“Of course I am,” Kíli said, and his brother made a strangled noise that sounded halfway between a laugh and a sob. “All I feel is her.”

Fíli laughed wetly, grabbing Kíli’s hand and squeezing it. “You dumbass. You owe her your life twice now.”

Kíli tried to laugh, but he ended up coughing wetly and when he pulled his hand back it was splattered with red Klingon blood. “That’s not good.”

Fíli met Tauriel’s eyes across his brother’s body. “You’ve got a shuttle?”

“Yes.” She decided not to clarify that it was a runabout.

“Good.” Fíli nodded, more to himself than her. “Get him off station. Do what you have to do.”

“What are you going to do?”

He was already trying to stand, and groaning as he did so. It gave Tauriel an eye level view of the wound on his leg, and it wasn’t pretty. “I’ve got to find Dwalin and Thorin. I can’t leave without them.”

“I can’t leave without you,” Kíli insisted.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Tauriel glanced up at him, and his expression showed that he was not. “Fíli, you’ve got a wound that can easily kill you. Going after your uncle is more than illogical, it’s stupid and stubborn!”

“I can’t leave without them,” Fíli repeated. “Do you think you can support Kíli’s weight?”

“Well, yes, but--” She didn’t get the chance to protest that it was best for her and Kíli to keep their distance so that the bond may not take, as Fíli was already pulling him up off the ground. All three of them winced when he shifted Kíli’s weight over to Tauriel, and Kíli himself started coughing again. It didn’t sound good. “Fíli!”

“Go,” he snapped. “Tauriel, I trust you with both our lives. Do what you have to do to keep him safe. And--” He glanced over to where more of their combat had taken place, and picked a knife up off the ground. He wiped it on his pants and then held it out to her. “If anyone questions you, show them this d’k tagh.”

Kíli coughed again, his head drooping over to her shoulder, and she acquiesced with a nod, allowing him to tuck the knife in her belt. “I still don’t like this. But good luck, Fíli.”

He grinned wryly. “No ‘live long and prosper’ for me? I’m hurt.”

“I didn’t think your people liked being told what to,” she remarked dryly, surprising a laugh out of him. It was a bit of a struggle with her still weaker arm, but she finally got her communicator out of her pocket. “Computer, two to beam out.”

***

Bilbo’s head was pounding and he wasn’t sure where it was.

When the nausea in his stomach settled, he sat up, and a glance at his surroundings informed him that he was in the service corridor of RAVENHILL. He blinked, waiting for the throbbing in his head to ease and for the telepathic sense of his surroundings to return, but when it didn’t he realized he must have been nerve pinched, presumably by one of the Romulans he’d been told to avoid.

“Bilbo, I don’t like this,” Gandalf said.

“I don’t care.” Gandalf had been tailing him through Dale, as he headed for the shuttlebay to find a ride to RAVENHILL. He stopped, and Gandalf almost ran into him. “I’m going.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! You’ll never make it!”

“Why not?” Bilbo asked. People were rushing around them, and they didn’t even pause when Gandalf threw his hands up, frustrated.

“Because the Romulans will see you coming and kill you!”

“No, they won’t.” Bilbo shook his head and ignored the strange look Gandalf was giving him. “They won’t see me.”

“It’s out of the question--I won’t allow it.”

Bilbo felt his lips quirk in a smile. “I’m not asking you to allow it, Gandalf. I--I’ve got to do this. For Thorin. And because I’ll hate myself if I don’t.”

Gandalf’s expression looked torn, but when an ensign ran up, asking for something, he sighed and gave Bilbo a nod that was faintly disapproving. As Bilbo ran off, he heard in his mind Gandalf tell him where his ship was, and then he slipped on the ring and out of Gandalf’s telepathic sight.

His own telepathic sight was starting to return to him as he stood, and soon he felt it: a sharp pain in his head, different from the effects of the nerve pinch. Thorin. “Thorin!”

“He’s over here, Bilbo Baggins,” a familiar voice said, stopping Bilbo in his tracks.

“Beorn?” Bilbo’s nausea had gone away, but the surprise of the allasomorph and Thorin’s agony brought a different sort of twist to his stomach. He went around the corner of the station and noticed the two bodies on the floor first, and then Beorn looming over them. “What--how? Never mind.”

“Bilbo?” One of the figures on the floor croaked.

“Thorin,” Bilbo gasped, dropping to his knees. When Thorin tried to sit up, Bilbo set his hand on his shoulder. Thorin’s body was a mess of wounds, and he was covered in both red and green blood. There was a big gash on the center of his chest, right through his armor, and Bilbo tried to cover it but his hands were shaking too badly. “Shh, don’t move. Don’t move. Lie still.”

“I called for help,” Beorn said to neither of them in particular. “Egal is coming. He’s just being dramatic.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Thorin said, placing his hand over Bilbo’s. “I wish to part from you in friendship.”

There were footsteps behind them, and then Fíli’s voice. “Uncle?”

“Fíli, come here, help me put pressure on this wound,” Bilbo called. Fíli came and dropped to his knees, wincing as he did so--he must be injured too, but there wasn’t time to worry about that. Bilbo hadn’t even noticed the tears come to his eyes, but they must have since now his cheeks were wet. Thorin’s emotions were all at the surface: the guilt, the regret, but mostly the love. “No, no, you’re not going anywhere, Thorin. You’re going to live.”

“I would take back my words and deeds on the bridge. You did only what someone who love--what a true friend would do. Forgive me.” Thorin was crying too now, and Bilbo’s other hand moved to hastily wipe his tears. “Oh, forgive me, I was too blind to see. I’m so sorry that I have led you into such peril.”

“No, I’m glad to have shared in all your perils, Thorin--each and every one of them. It’s far more than any Baggins deserves.”

“You’re not going to die, Oakenshield,” Beorn said, attempting to remind him of his presence. Bilbo glanced at him long enough to see him comb his fingers through his hair, making his mullet stand up even more, before turning back to Thorin. “Egal is coming.”

Thorin cracked a smile, but blood was trickling from his mouth. “Farewell, son of the fourth house. Go back to your books and your armchair. Plant your garden and watch it grow, par’mach’kai .”

Fíli gasped, but Bilbo let out a sob as he felt Thorin struggling to take in a breath. Even without being in his mind, he could’ve felt Thorin dying from the hand on his wheezing chest. Still, the Klingon forced himself to say, “If more people valued home above gold this world would be a merrier place.”

Thorin’s blue eyes fell closed and Bilbo tightened his grip on his shoulder. “Thorin, no. No, no, no, no, no! Thorin, oh don’t you dare.”

Thorin’s breaths were coming more shallowly now, but as Bilbo’s hand fell to his chest, he heard a transporter activate, and when he came back to himself they’d left the station behind.