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Dealing with Dragons

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Bella leaned against the wall, ignoring the black specks that swam across her vision. It was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little food and sleep, but since neither of those were an option, she settled for just ignoring them. Although she supposed they could also partially be from relief. She’d finally managed to locate the last dwarf, Thorin, tucked just out of sight and hearing a level below the other dwarves. She hadn’t removed the ring or talked to him, because she knew that he would demand answers that she didn’t have yet.

She grumbled internally. If it weren’t for the stupid forest and the stupid elves and the stupid spiders that tried to eat them, maybe she’d have more answers. But she’d been starving before they’d been captured and the week that the dwarves had been captured hadn’t been any easier than their trek through that Yavanna forsaken forest. To be honest, Bella had always liked elves, but these Mirkwood ones were quickly souring her opinion of them. And then there was the redhead. The one that had rescued Kili. The one that he had flirted with when she locked him into the cell. Her eyes narrowed. Oh yes, she’d been close enough to hear that.

Bella sighed, letting her hands drop from the loose fists that she couldn’t remember forming them into. She couldn’t remember exactly when she’d started falling for the frustrating dwarf, although she’d been attracted to him from the beginning. But it was too late now, her heart entirely in his keeping. And since Carrock, it seemed like they’d been growing closer, although that might’ve been her imagination.

Pushing to an upright position, she disregarded the way her head swam and her stomach begged for food. Now that she had located all of the company, she could start looking for ways out and maybe even find a morsel to nibble on and an out of the way corner to catch a quick nap. But first, she was going to let Kili know that she was there and that she’d located Thorin. Although she hadn’t revealed her presence knowing how noisy the dwarves could be, she hadn’t been able to resist checking in on them throughout the day. She’d noticed how all of their spirits had dropped, but especially Ori’s and Kili’s. The rest of the dwarrow seemed to vacillate between angry, obnoxious, or brooding. But she wanted to bring a smile back to Kili’s face. He just seemed wrong without his bright cheer and cheeky grin.

Keeping a careful eye out, just because she was invisible doesn’t mean that she couldn’t run into something, she quietly made her way to where Kili was imprisoned. She was almost on top of them before she registered the low voices. Silently cursing her fatigue, she scrambled behind a wall and peeked cautiously out. She scowled, it was that redheaded elf, what was her name again? Tari, Tori, Tauriel, that was it. She was chatting quietly with Kili, her expression relaxed. Shifting her gaze to him, Bella sucked in a harsh breath, feeling like she’d been sucker punched in the stomach. He was staring at Tauriel with what he undoubtedly thought was a guarded expression, but his fascination and interest were as plain as the nose on his face.

When Tauriel handed Kili back his rune stone, Bella could’ve sworn that she literally felt her heart crack. She’d always known that Kili was attracted to elves, but somewhere along the way, she’d forgotten. Her legs gave way and she sank to her knees. She vaguely heard the elf talking about starlight, but tuned her out, the pain in her chest overwhelming. Swallowing hard, she pushed the pain down. This was on her. She’d signed on to burgle from a dragon. It was her own fault for falling for someone that wasn’t interested in her as anything more than a friend. But she couldn’t let it interfere with her job. She had signed the contract and given her word and a Baggins never went back on their word.

Not daring to move least Tauriel hear, Bella shifted until she was sitting and could lean against the wall. Letting her head rest against the wall, she closed her eyes as exhaustion swamped her. What was even the point of this quest anyway. She couldn’t return to the Shire, her respectability was shot after running off with a company of dwarves, even if nothing had happened her reputation would be in tatters. And there was no guarantee that she would have a place in Erebor either. Even if they did manage to win the mountain back from the dragon, would she be able to face seeing Kili every day knowing that she was in love with someone who couldn’t love her back? Maybe she could return to Rivendell or stay with Beorn. Still, the largest problem facing her at this moment was getting the dwarves out and then facing the dragon. She felt a tiny smile tug at the corner of her mouth as she thought with morbid cheerfulness, it wouldn’t be a problem of where to live if the dragon got her first.

Only half listening as Kili started describing a fire moon he’d seen once, obviously trying to keep the pretty elf close by, Bella started planning. After all, if her Baggins side couldn’t solve the problem, she’d just have to start thinking with her Took half.

* * *

Kili sat, fidgeting with his rune stone. He’d lost track of the days they’d been held in these dungeons. The boredom of being locked in was wearing on him, along with being separated from Fili and the rest of the company. It helped that he was able to hear the rest of the company except Thorin, even if he couldn’t see them. But that wasn’t what was worrying on him, driving him to near insanity. No, that honor belonged to the company’s burglar, the tiny hobbit woman. No one had seen Bella since the spiders. His rare bouts of sleep were filled with nightmares of her being eaten by spiders or wandering aimlessly until she collapsed from starvation, weakly calling for him. A call that he couldn’t answer because he was locked up by those thrice cursed elves.

Each time that he’d woken in a cold sweat, he tried to remind himself that she’d pulled through several situations that had seemed hopeless. However, those incidents upset him in their own way, thinking of all the danger that the tiny lass had endured already. Closing his eyes, he pictured her and smiled. He’d noticed from the start that she was a comely lass, but it was the sparkling emerald of her eyes as they sparkled with anger at his and his brother’s antics that had truly first caught his attention. He’d never seen eyes that sparkled so, putting the loveliest emeralds to shame. Her hair had caught his notice next while they were riding the ponies, it looked to be made of spun gold, but with curls that would be the envy of many a dwarf. His favorite discovery was the way the tips of her pointed ears turned pink when she was embarrassed or when he teased her.

However, as he became more accustomed to her looks (he was only male, after all), he started noticing her personality. Although she’d fussed and fluttered at them the first night, she was surprisingly practical and down to earth. Even though she wasn’t fond of riding, she always made sure that her pony was well tended and cared for. She had a sharp wit and once she’d gotten used to them, her sass and teasing had amused him to no end. She was also patient, listening to Gloin drone on about his family for the hundredth time or gently extracting Ori from Dori’s fussing. Kili frowned as he noticed the growing crush that the scribe had for the hobbit, feeling excessively possessive of the tiny female for some reason.

It wasn’t until the goblin caves, Bella’s fall, and then her reuniting with the company for him to realize exactly what he felt for her. When she’d reappeared after they’d escaped from the caves, he’d almost fallen to his knees. It was like his life had been void and dark after she had fallen and her return had summoned the dawn, bringing life and light back into the world. He knew then that she was his One. But before he could speak, the warg howled and they were running for their lives again. After surviving the encounter, although he could’ve sworn his heart had stopped when Bella had scampered after Thorin, they’d been exhausted but so relieved that everyone was alive and relatively unharmed. When he woke the next morning, he changed his mind about speaking to her. True, he was a prince, but he was a prince without home or inheritance. Bella deserved to be courted properly, like the treasure that she truly was, not the haphazard efforts of a reckless younger prince on an insane quest. After the mountain was won, then he would court and win her.

Despite resolving this, Kili made an effort to get closer to her, to show his suitability as a suitor. And the more he got to know her, the harder he fell. As it was, having to watch her struggle in Mirkwood had been a torment all of its own. Hobbits were creatures of nature, of the earth, and Mirkwood was rife with poison. He’d watched her fade a little more every day and had been unable to do anything to help. He’d tried to lift her spirits and help however he could, but she’d grown more withdrawn every day until she was struggling through the day like a sleepwalker, her eyes unseeing, lost in a torment that only she could feel.

Then had come the spiders and the elves. Opening his eyes, he clenched his hands into fists. Had he found his One, something every dwarf dreamed of, only to lose her right away? Maybe the line of Durin truly was cursed. And he’d never even gotten the chance to tell her the truth. He shook his head abruptly, fiercely banishing the thought. His Bella was strong, he would see her again. He just had to get out of this cursed dungeon and find her. He had spoken with Tauriel, a captain of the elvish guards in the hopes of figuring a way out of these cells, but it would take more time than he could afford to coax along a friendship.

Every moment away from Bella, worrying whether or not she was alive, was agony. There were times that he could’ve sworn that she was close enough to touch, but every time he looked, there was nothing there. He prayed that Fili or one of the others dwarves would be able to figure out a way out before he lost his mind entirely.

* * *

It took three days after what Bella called The Incident for her to work out all of the details. It had been more luck than anything that she’d stumbled into the cellars right as the elves sent a shipment of barrels back to Lake town in order to make room for the barrels that would be emptied for the Feast of Starlight. It was apparently a mandatory attendance event, even the guards would be attending. Something about a sacred ceremony, her aching brain not allowing her to translate everything as fast as they were speaking. The Feast would be in four days, so she’d have to hustle in order to get everything in place.

The first thing that she did was track down everyone’s belongings. That took the better part of a day, most of the items having been shoved into an empty storage room, but others were taken to other locations, including but not limited to Gloin’s locket, Fili’s knives, and Thorin’s key. While the others probably could’ve survived without their items, the key was vital to the success of the quest. She finally located it hanging next to a key that could’ve almost passed as it’s twin. Glancing back and forth between them, a crazy idea whispered in the back of her mind. No one ever said that the whole company had to be there or that it had to be a dwarf that used the key. Just that the person had to be in a certain location on Durin’s Day. And she’d been hired to enter the dragon’s lair, no one else. And if she had to bet, she’d bet that the dwarves had lost track of time in the dungeons. No need to risk the whole company. And if the dragon was dead or gone, no harm done. If he was awake, then they were just out a burglar and no dwarves to trace it back to. She was sure that other thieves had tried to steal treasure before, that if she failed, Smaug would hopefully just write it off as a one off. After all, who would miss her if she died? The company? Maybe. Gandalf? Hopefully. But she had no kith or kin left, she truly was the best choice.

Mind firmly made up, she took both keys, tucking the real one in the vest pocket where she usually kept the ring and placing the other one with the rest of Thorin’s things. Hopefully the escape and the rush to get to Erebor before Durin’s Day would keep him from examining it too closely. She hid their items in an unused storeroom next to the cellars, where it would be easy for them to grab on the way out. She also took enough provisions to resupply them. After all, it was only fair after making them go through the nightmare that was Mirkwood. This proved to be trickier as the kitchens were bustling in preparation for the feast, but the chaos worked to her advantage. She’d had a few close calls but she’d managed to get everything needed and also snag enough to eat that her head finally stopped pounding. The keys were simple, as the guards kept them hanging in the guardroom, which would be empty during the feast.

Satisfied that everything was in place and her stomach full and her head clearer than it had been in days, Bella found a discreet corner and passed out. Her sleep was deep and uninterrupted and when she woke, the shaking that had been present in her hands for the last week was finally gone. With her head clear and plan in place, Bella wandered the halls, watching as preparations reached a frantic pitch. She’d swung by Kili’s cell a few times, unable to stay away despite her broken heart, but he was either talking to Tauriel or asleep, twitching from his dreams. She told herself that it was for the best.

Finally it was time and the last of the elves headed for the feasting hall. She still waited for an hour after they had departed just to be sure. She was glad that she did as Legolas decided to do one last sweep. However, he just checked the cells quickly without his usual taunts before heading back to the banquet hall. Her heart pounding like a drum, she grabbed the keys and headed towards the level where they were keeping Thorin. Fighting down her impatience, she observed his hallway closely for a few minutes before creeping over to the cell door. The sight that meet her eyes startled her. Thorin was sitting hunched in the corner, a look of defeat on his face. He looked like he’d given up, which was just wrong. He was Thorin Oakenshield, a stubborn egotistical dwarf who decreed that the only way was his way.

Tugging off her ring and shoving it in her pocket, she ignored the explosion of color around her and hissed, “Thorin.”

He didn’t even look up, his shoulders slumping even further. He mumbled, “Go away, wraith. I know that I failed you. Why must you haunt me?”

Ignoring the nonsense he was babbling, he’d obviously been locked up too long by himself, she crammed the key into the lock and wrenched the door open. “C’mon Thorin, we don’t have long.”

The sound of the keys seemed to draw him from his thoughts and he looked up, his eyes widening in shock. Shooting to his feet, he said, “Burglar?”

“Yes. I’m here and I’m not some figment of your imagination. You can think about it later. We need to move now!”

A fierce grin on his face, Thorin clapped her on the shoulder, “By Mahal, am I glad to see you. Lead the way. The company?”

She was already moving. “Everyone’s fine. Bored out of their minds.”

“And you have a way out? How long have we even been in these cursed dungeons?”

Bella didn’t even pause in her stride, although her conscious gave a small twinge at the lie. “I found a way out. We’ve been here for two weeks tomorrow.” They’d been there for two weeks in actuality, but she needed them a day behind her.

He grinned, startling her. “We can still make the mountain then. It’ll be close, but if we don’t make any more stops, we should arrive right on time.”

Bella was thankfully spared from having to answer as they drew near to where the other dwarves were imprisoned. Several of them were singing what was undoubtedly a bawdy song in Khuzdul. When they saw her, they gave cries of disbelief and joy. She hurried forward, shushing them. Thankfully they quieted down at an abrupt hand gesture from Thorin. She freed Nori and handed him a set of lock picks that she’d found, knowing that it would go quicker if two of them were working on it. The dwarves that she freed gave her a gesture similar to what Thorin had done before scurrying off to reconnect with their kin.

She saved Kili for last, unable to slow the racing of her heart as she made her way over to where he was locked up. He was standing silently at the door, his fingers wrapped around the bars and his eyes boring unblinkingly into her. He breathed, “Bella. You’re alive.”

Mustering up her best smile, even if it was fake, she said, “Sorry it took so long. This place is like a maze and it took forever to work out a way out.” She cursed how her hands trembled as she inserted the key into the lock, finally freeing him.

Her skill as an actress must’ve been rusty because instead of getting his sunny smile in return, his expression grew even more concerned. “Bella. What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

He shoved the door open and started looking her over, ignoring her protests that she was fine. Then Fili was there and she let out a sigh of relief as he distracted Kili from her. Moving away hastily, she hissed for them to follow her. Reaching the storeroom where she had stashed their belongings, she shooed them inside and instructed them to hurry, shushing their exclamations of joy over their possessions. She kept watch in the hall, but they were quick and in short order her dwarves were back. Kili tried to talk to her but she acted like she hadn’t heard him as she led the way to the cellars. Bofur complained that she was supposed to be leading them out, not farther in, but her fierce glare as well as a swift elbow from Kili silenced him. She shot him a grateful glance but turned away quickly.

In the end, it took Thorin ordering them to get them into barrels. She carefully distributed the supplies between the dwarves and made sure that they were as padded and comfortable as she could make them. She’d just closed the last barrel (Bifur), when she realized her error. There was no way that she could be in a barrel and pull the lever. And if the elves came and did it, they would be suspicious about the weight of the barrels. In the end, there was no other option. Pulling the lever, she ran down the ramp, just barely managing to latch onto the barrels in time. Firming her grip, she slipped her ring back on. The last thing she needed was word of a small woman clinging to barrels to make it back to the elves. Better that it appeared like the dwarves had disappeared into thin air.

The ride down the river was something that Bella never wanted to repeat again, ever. She lost track of how many times she almost drowned and the number of bruises she would have was truly impressive. Not to mention that she was soaked through and freezing cold. By the time they reached the shore of the lake, it was all she could do to pry her frozen fingers off the barrels. The water was thigh deep, but she managed to wade enough to push the barrels up onto shore. Knowing that she was running out of time, she flexed her fingers frantically until they stung with the pins and needles of returning sensation.

Fighting down the leftover nausea from the trip, Bella looked for the barrel that she’d marked as Dwalin. She freed him quickly and then freed Bifur and Dori. She’d thought about freeing Nori, but knew that the thief was smart and would quickly figure out that she was there. She was counting on the three dwarves disorientation as well as their need to see their kin to cover her presence. Once she was satisfied that they would get others out, she wrapped her cloak around her, sodden as it was, bit back a sneeze, and headed for the mountain. She didn’t look back. If she did, she’d never have had the strength to leave.

* * *

The clamor of the other dwarves drew him from his dark thoughts. Standing, Kili strained to hear what they were saying. Moving to the bars, he barely caught her name. Grabbing the bars, his heart thudded in his ears. Bella was here? Was he hearing things? Had the elves captured her?

His hands held the bar in a white knuckled grip as he tried to see what was going on. When she finally appeared, he could hardly believe his eyes. She was thin and covered in spiderwebs, but she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Light headed from relief, he breathed, “Bella, you’re alive.”

She smiled, but it was so wrong. It was empty, not reaching her eyes. And the look in her eyes, it was so lost, so broken that he almost swore. Seeing her hands tremble as she unlocked the door, he barely listened to what she said. Shoving the door open, he started checking her over. “Bella, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?” He’d been so relieved that she was alive, but was she hurt somehow?

Fili was suddenly there, dragging him into a hug. He hugged him back fiercely, glad to see that he was in one piece. They’d been inseparable for as long as Kili could remember and the forced separation had been hard on him. Although this only took moments, when he turned back, Bella was gone. He snapped his head around looking for her and let out a harsh breath when he saw her at the front of the group. If she was moving that fast, she probably wasn’t hurt, but there was still something wrong with her. He barely noted his surrounds as they made their way through the palace, too focused on her. She was much too thin for a hobbit and there were deep circles under her eyes, indicating that she hadn’t been sleeping. He was amazed that she had made it into the elven king’s dungeons unnoticed, let alone rescued them.

When she’d led them to their belongings, Kili was even more amazed. How in the world had she managed all of this without getting caught? He muttered the question to Fili, but he didn’t have any more idea than Kili did. As they rejoined Bella, he tried to talk to her, but she turned away. He was frustrated but let it go. After they escaped, they’d have plenty of time to talk. Who cared about Erebor? He was never letting her out of his sight again and he was making sure that she knew exactly what she meant to him.

He was relieved when she glared at Bofur, glad to see that she hadn’t lost her spirit entirely. When Bofur opened his mouth again, he elbowed him harshly and couldn’t stop his smile when Bella gave him a grateful look. Whatever had happened, they could fix it. He would fix it for her. He was reluctant to get into the barrels without Bella but did it when Thorin ordered it. He tried to help Bella as much as he could arrange the barrel, but couldn’t resist tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She gave him such a sad smile that it stole his breath. Before he could protest, she closed the barrel and he could almost have sworn that she whispered, "Be happy."

This puzzled him and he fretted over it for a good portion of the trip. The cramped space and motion were unbearable, so he spent the time imagining his life with Bella after the quest was over. Once they had reclaimed the mountain, he would woo her properly, although she’d already be wearing his courting braid if he had any say in the matter. Time would pass and he would introduce her to his mother when she joined them at the mountain. He couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted them to get along, but he knew that his mother would adore Bella as much as he did. After a proper period had passed, he and Bella would be wed and have a family, they’d be blessed if they had any dwarflings, but he would love her regardless. Still, the idea of a lass with her eyes and his hair or a little boy with her hair and his eyes was a tempting thought. She would have a garden and, in the evening, after he finished either crafting or statesmanship, he would come home and she would welcome him with open arms. They’d have dinner and tuck the little ones in with stories and kisses. Then they’d stroll in the garden, either sharing their days or just spending time in comfortable silence. Then they’d retire and he’d adore her like she deserved.

It was such a tempting vision and he found himself impatient for the barrel ride to be over so he could share it with her. There was one point where it felt like they’d stopped, but he thought that he’d heard elvish voices, so he refrained from making any sounds. Bella would let them out when it was safe. After an untellable amount of time, they were back into the river judging by the gentle roll of the barrels, although their movements seemed to be less than they were before.

Finally they seemed to stop and he waited impatiently. His muscles felt like they had tied themselves into impossible knots and he needed to see that Bella was ok. She had looked off in the dungeons and he needed to know that she was ok. After what seemed like an eternity, the lid to his barrel was pried off and he drew in his first lungful of air that didn’t smell like a vegetable in far too long. It took several minutes to convince his muscles to move, during which time Dwalin dragged him unceremoniously from the barrel and dumped him on the shore.

Once his head stopped spinning and his mind finally convinced his body that, yes, he was still alive, he forced himself to his feet. Scanning the other dwarves, mostly in groaning piles, Fili was muttering something about apples, he did a quick count and came up one short. A second count had the same result. Spinning in a circle as he scanned the area frantically, he called, “Where’s Bella?”

There were only groans from the others. Striding over to where Fili lay, he pulled him to his feet. “C’mon, we need to find Bella!”

Thorin pulled himself together first. Staggering to his feet, he asked, “Who saw the burglar last?”

The dwarves glanced uneasily back and forth before Bifur rumbled that she had closed his barrel last. More of the company climbed to their feet as they realized that they’d mislaid the burglar somewhere between wherever they were and the elven king’s dungeons. Thorin asked impatiently, “Well, who let you out? Who was the first out?”

Dori, Dwalin, and Bifur argued for several minutes, but they couldn’t straighten out the order of events, although none of them recalled having seen Bella. Kili was growing more frantic by the moment, only half listening to the arguing dwarves while he scanned for any sign of the missing hobbit lass. Eventually, Thorin roared, “Enough! We don’t have the time to debate this. Does anyone know if the lass got into a barrel or if she stayed in those thrice cursed dungeons?”

No one could confirm if she had or not and Kili’s heart fell like a stone. He argued, “But Uncle, what if she’s lying hurt somewhere just out of sight. Please, let me look for her.”

Thorin looked torn, glancing back and forth between the mountain and the company. “What about the deadline? We need to be at Erebor by Durin’s Day.”

Oin spoke up, “Half of the company ain’t fit to move for a bit yet. Let the lad look. We need the wee lass.”

Fili piped up, supporting Kili, “Yeah, Uncle. We need her to get the Arkenstone. Gandalf said…”

He was cut off abruptly by Thorin, “I know what that blasted wizard said, but he isn’t here and neither is his burglar, is she?” At Kili’s scowl, he backpedaled slightly, “Through most likely no fault of her own. You have until dark to find her. If you cannot locate her, we’ll simply have to go on without her. Once we reclaim the mountain, we can ransom her from the elven king if he still has her captive and she hasn’t managed to burglar herself by then.”

Kili started to protest but Fili pulled him away. “C’mon. Arguing doesn’t do any good. Besides, we need to look, we’ve only got until dark."

Shooting his brother a desperate look, Kili took off, determined to scour every inch of shore between here and Mirkwood if he had to.

* * *

Bella lost all track of time as her world narrowed to putting one foot in front of another. She’d taken her ring off when she was sure that she was far enough ahead of the dwarves that they couldn’t catch up. However, she’d caught a nasty cold, causing her head to feel like it was stuffed with cotton and every bone in her body to ache miserably. It was all she could do to keep moving forward, but she was truly determined to win Erebor back for her family, even if she died in the attempt. She smiled with grim humor. That might not be as farfetched as it had sounded back in her cozy smial in the Shire.

Already, she had come to a couple of times with no clue as to how she’d come to be lying down. She suspected that her body had just given out, refusing to go any farther until it had rested. She’d foolishly taken no food and only had her small water flask. By the end of the second day, she’d emptied the flask completely and her stomach seemed ready to stage a coup. She discarded the flask as unnecessary and considered doing the same with her cloak, but the nights were truly freezing. Hunting for a dry spot on her much abused handkerchief, she contemplated giving up then shook her head. She was a Baggins and she had given her word. Besides, a few missed meals would not kill her, there was a dragon waiting to do the task.

Forcing herself back to her feet, she staggered onward. Although the land around the mountain was truly desolation, it wasn’t poisoned like Mirkwood. There was taint from the dragon where Smaug had burned, but it was faded, nearly gone. The land had rested and soon it would be ready to be woken up and it would be bountiful beyond belief. On the third and fourth day found her somewhat delirious as she chatted with the land and passing birds about what she would do to bring the land back to fruitfulness. She fancied that one little bird, a thrush, seemed to listen attentively, but chalked it up to her wits wandering.

On the fifth day, Durin’s Day, Bella finally reached the base of the Lonely Mountain. She felt strangely clearheaded and disconnected. She knew that those were bad signs, but simply couldn’t bring herself to care. She also found that she had to take longer breaks to catch her breath. Consulting with the earth, it was a simple matter to discover where the hidden stairs were, but it took most of the day to make her way up the stairs.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs, she thought about making a temporary camp, but couldn’t muster the strength or desire. Instead, she started stripping everything unnecessary. Her cloak, pack, and coat were bundled off to one side. She thought about cutting off her hair, but couldn’t bring herself to do it, remember the time that Kili had complimented its curl and shine. Instead, she braided it back clumsily. The dwarves would’ve had conniptions if they’d seen it, especially Dori, but they were not there, so it was a moot point. She wavered before finally pulling out a piece of parchment and outlining her plan for the company. If she died, she hoped that Smaug would believe that she was a single burglar, as the river trip had removed all traces of dwarf from her. If that proved to be the case, the dwarves might still have a chance to reclaim their mountain.

She went back and forth several times over whether or not to leave Kili a note or not. In the end, she decided against it. Just because he was her One didn’t mean that she was his. He cared for Tauriel and it would be no good to leave him a letter that would just make him feel guilty. She propped the letter where it would easily be seen, made sure that all of her belongings were safely tucked away in her pack, and then napped until sunset.

She was tired, so, so tired, but the bird would not be quiet and let her sleep. She cracked her eyes open, expecting to see her bedroom at Bag End and suddenly shot up into a sitting position. Her bones and head protested but she ignored them. She let out a sigh of relief when she saw that the sun was just starting to set. Climbing slowly to her feet, she blearily rubbed her eyes and waited. When the sun set and nothing happened, she felt a small spark of panic start. Had she been passed out longer than she thought and missed the day entirely? Before the tiny spark could ignite and become a full blown panic attack, an odd knocking caught her attention.

Abruptly remembering the moon runes, she looked over to where the small thrush that had kept her company throughout the trek was knocking a snail against a rock. Right that moment, the moon shone through the clouds and the hidden doorway light up.

She whispered thank you. Pulling the key from around her neck, she inserted it into the lock and turned. It turned like it had been oiled yesterday rather than centuries ago. She pushed the door open and rapidly blinked back tears. Her dwarves should’ve been here with her, sharing this moment. Whispering an apology, she made her way inside, being careful to block the door open. It was time to slay the dragon.

* * *

Fili watched his brother with some concern. Kili had said barely two words since they had failed to find Bella. Kili had been tempted to forsake the quest altogether but agreed to continue after Fili had reminded him of their oath to both Thorin and their mother. If he broke his oath to either of them, he would be outcast and never see any of them again. What had worried Fili was that Kili had looked like he was seriously considering it before nodding his head and agreeing.

Thorin had declared that the elves must have somehow captured the burglar although she’d managed to get them away. This was after he was met with rebellious glares when he suggested that the hobbit had seen her chance and scarpered. Thus, the best chance they had was of reclaiming the mountain and ransoming the hobbit from the thrice cursed elves. They would have to kill the dragon instead of just stealing the Arkenstone, but it could be done.

Fili moved over to where Kili had collapsed after setting up camp on the third day. He was huddled by himself, flipping his rune stone over and over in his hands. Since they’d left the river, Kili’s eyes were haunted, he hadn’t eaten and barely slept. Plopping down, Fili shoved the bowl into Kili’s hands. “Eat. You need your strength.”

He listlessly took a couple of bites before setting it aside. “Not hungry.”

Dropping his voice so that the others couldn’t hear, Fili demanded, “Kee, what’s wrong? You haven’t eaten, haven’t slept, haven’t spoken since we escaped the dungeons. We’re so close to Erebor and everything that we’ve dreamed of since we were dwarflings. Why aren’t you more excited? Just because the elves captured the burglar...”

Kili interrupted, grinding out, “Bella.”

Fili was startled by the vehemence behind the single word. He said soothingly, “Bella, then. Just because the elves have Bella doesn’t mean that we won’t see her again. She’s probably sitting pretty in their throne room as she spins fantastical tales like she did on the journey here. Why are you acting like you’re mourning her?”

Kili whirled to face him, anger dancing in his eyes as he hissed, “Don’t ever say that.”

Fili spread his hands helplessly, “Then tell me what’s going on? I’m worried about you and the others are getting there as well. We need you sharp to face the dragon, what’s bothering you?”

Kili hung his head and let out a heart weary sigh. “You’re right, everything is wrong. This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”

“What do you mean?”

“She was supposed to be here, wearing my courtship braid. I was going to face the dragon with her. Now, she’s not here and all my mind can do is run over all the things that could’ve happened to her, all the ways she could’ve been hurt or…” He couldn’t force out the last word.

Fili felt his eyes widen as he absorbed his brother’s words. He stuttered, “C..C..Courtship braid? Since when have you and Bella been courting? And why didn’t you tell me? I can understand why you haven’t told Uncle yet, but I thought that you trusted me.”

Kili offered him a wan smile. “We’re not. I was going to offer courtship once we got out of the barrels. I had initially planned to wait until after we reclaimed Erebor, but after being separated in Mirkwood, I didn’t want to waste the second chance I’d been given.”

Fili glanced around to make sure that none of the other dwarves were paying attention, but they were all caught up with planning on what to do when they reclaimed Erebor. “Nadad, how long have you been planning this?”

Kili chuckled humorlessly, “I know that I’ve never been the brightest dwarf. You know that I’ve been attracted to Bella since we meet.” Fili just shrugged, he knew his little brother and knew well what it looked like when the dwarf had a crush. “It wasn’t until she rejoined us after the goblin caves that I realized.”

Fili leaned in closer, “Realized what?”

Kili smiled and it lit up his whole expression, “That she’s my One.”

“What?!” Yelped Fili, falling backwards.

The other dwarves glanced over but quickly dismissed it as the brothers’ usual foolishness. Fili scrambled back upright. “Sorry, sorry. You’re sure?”

Glancing down at his rune stone, Kili smiled shyly, “Yes. After she fell, it was like all the color had been sucked from the world, night with no hope of a dawn. And when she stepped from behind that tree, it was like an unexpected dawn, light and color burst back into my world and I could breathe again. It was like finding jewels where you thought there was only shale.”

Fili stared at him in awe. Every dwarf dreamed of finding their One, but it happened so rarely. To think that his brother had actually found his! “Why didn’t you tell us? Why didn’t you court her? No one, not even Uncle Thorin, would deny you your One! Why didn’t you say something at the river?”

Kili snapped, tears in his eyes, “Because Bella would’ve wanted me, wanted us, to keep going no matter what. If she found out that I had jeopardized the quest for her sake, I would never win her heart. I was going to tell her, but then the orcs happened and I had some time to think. I wanted to wait so that I could court her properly, but I’ve been trying to show her that I’m a worthy suitor. And I’ve been so caught up in that and then worrying about her in Mirkwood that I simply never thought to tell you. I’m sorry, nadad.”

Pulling him to his feet, Fili shoved his bowl back into his hands. “Eat that. She’ll have your hide if she finds out that you were worrying about her for nothing when she was perfectly fine. And we’re going to tell Uncle and the others. They need to know what is at stake here. Don’t worry, nadad. We’ll get your One back.”

* * *

Although Bella listened carefully before slipping into the mountain, she couldn’t make out any sounds. However, she had seen smoke during her lucid moments approaching the mountain, so she knew that Smaug was not dead. Hopefully he was still asleep though. Slipping on the ring, she padded noiselessly through the halls. She had to hurry because she knew that this period of clearheadedness would be brief. That was all right though, she only needed to be lucid long enough to handle Smaug. And for that to work, she didn’t plan to fight fair.

It took searching through several rooms off the back-door tunnel before she found what she was looking for. It looked like one of Lobelia’s fancy three pronged forks that she only brought out when she wanted to impress someone. It has enough reach that Dwalin could’ve used it easily but light enough that Bella could lift it without a problem. She was worried that it was flimsy (and oh wouldn’t the dwarves have kittens if they knew she’d accused dwarven craftsmanship of being shoddy), but after lodging it firmly and trying everything she could think of to damage it and not even leaving a scratch, she decided that it would work for what she needed.

Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. It was time to take back Erebor. It was time to end this. Opening her eyes, she headed back into the hallway and headed down the tunnel. Bella lacked the dark sight of the dwarves, but it didn’t matter. There was a reason that Gandalf has insisted upon picking a hobbit for the journey. While, yes, Smaug would very likely not recognize the scent of hobbit, there was another very important reason. Hobbits had been gifted by Yavanna with the ability to sense corruption and to heal it. There was a reason that the Shire was so green and bountiful. Right now, all of her hobbit senses were telling her that there was a large concentration of corruption in the room at the end of the hall.

She made her way carefully through the hallway. When she reached the actual treasury, she paused and gaped. The mounds of gold gleamed, dotted here and there with small glowing stones of some type. Although the dwarves had sung the praises of the treasure of Erebor, Bella had always believed that they had exaggerated it. The truth now lay clear before her eyes and she had to shake her head. Thorin had thought that she could slip in and somehow find and take a single stone without waking the dragon and slip back out.

Reminded of the dragon, she scanned carefully for any sign of the dragon. He had buried himself under the coins, but she could feel a large knot of corruption in the center of the room. She made her way carefully over to where it lay, taking her time so that she didn’t dislodge any coins or jewels. Once she was centered over the wrongness. Pushing down her dizziness that was growing from the proximity to the illness, she opened her senses wider and fine tuned it. She appeared to be standing over Smaug’s chest, somewhere near his heart. She thought briefly about trying to pierce his heart, but all her reading about dragons had mentioned their jeweled breastplates, grown by laying on their golden hordes.

Instead, she headed towards where his head was located. Moving so that she was standing next to him, not directly over him, she breathed a prayer to Yavanna. Using the tines of the strange weapon, she carefully dug through the coin. She had just uncovered his eye when the lid flicked open. Without pausing to think or try to reason with Smaug, Bella drove the weapon into his eye, putting all of her weight behind it.

He reared back, letting out a deafening roar. Bella held on with all of her might, being flung around like a rag doll. He staggered all over the treasury, thrashing and roaring, but Bella refused to let go. He swiped blindly at the weapon, but she kicked his talons away and he couldn’t aim any closer to his head in fears of hurting himself worse. It was a low hanging stone outcrop that finally ended the mighty Smaug. He was flailing blindly trying to dislodge the weapon when his head smashed against the outcrop, driving the trident into his brain and ending the mighty wyrm that had laid the mountain low.

When Smaug smashed against the outcrop, Bella was knocked loose and flung across the treasury. This is what saved her life as Smaug crashed lifelessly to the ground, causing a cascade of coins and shaking the very mountain itself. Bella didn’t know how long she laid there, her head reeling and every breath an agony. She had several broken ribs at the very least judging from the difficulty drawing breath. She half expected Smaug to rise again as she lay there helpless, but he remained still and lifeless. Satisfied that the dragon was dead and not just faking, she fumbled the ring off and slipped it into her waistcoat pocket. Bella contemplated just laying there and giving up. After all, the dragon was dead and the company could reclaim the mountain. Then her Baggins side kicked in and she had to bite back a Tookish curse. Her contract didn’t state anything about a dragon but the fact that she was supposed to retrieve the Arkenstone.

Dragging herself to her feet, her head spun and she staggered several feet. Feeling wetness on her ear, she reached up and brought back bloody fingers. Just great, she had ruptured an ear drum it seemed like. This would make finding the Arkenstone just a whole barrel of fun. She muttered, “Go on an adventure, Bella. It will be good for you to see the world, Bella. Your mother went on adventures, Bella. Next time that dratted wizard can deal with the dragon and I’ll stay safely in my armchair.”

Sinking to her knees, she tried to figure out how she could find the Arkenstone before a company of dwarves arrived, dwarves that would be extremely upset that she’d lied to them and had stolen Thorin’s key. Carefully taking slowly breaths, Bella tried to find the Arkenstone by sight. Now that Smaug was dead, the overwhelming corruption was gone, although its marks were still there. All of the gold was covered with a miasma that would make any would be thief fall sick with gold sickness, an insurance against thievery. She would need to spend some time in the treasury before it would be safe for the dwarves to enter. Although this miasma would fade given time, it would take years to fade completely.

However, now that the overwhelming corruption of Smaug was gone, another tiny knot of wrongness caught her attention. It was like an instrument out of tune with the rest of the orchestra. Crawling carefully over to where it lay so she wouldn’t trigger a gold avalanche, Bella was surprised to find a large white gem laying there glittering innocently. It could only be the heart of the mountain. Picking it up, she flinched in revulsion as the greasy feel of sickness rolled over her. Drawing up the last of her reserves, she brought her purifying gift to the surface and let it play over the jewel.

The jewel didn’t want to give up the disease it carried, but Bella coaxed it gently along until it glowed with a pure light again. She sat there and cradled it in her hands, exhausted. Tears welled up in her eyes as she felt an overwhelming need to be out under the stars in clean air that didn’t reek of dragon and death and greed. Pushing to her feet, she staggered back towards the back doorway, her body aching and her lungs burning with her inability to draw a deep breath. Her head pounded and she felt her vision narrowing. She had pushed her body too far and now she was going to pay the price. At least she had fulfilled her contract. She had just enough time to feel a fresh breeze on her face before the darkness rose up and claimed her. With a sigh, she welcomed the darkness gratefully.

* * *

After the uproar over the revelation that Bella was Kili’s One died down, Kili was heartened by how the whole company vowed to help him get her back. Although Thorin had asked him some hard questions, once he was satisfied that his sister son was indeed in earnest, he gave his support and blessing, although he told Kili that he was on his own when it came to facing his mother.

As they trekked towards Erebor, the other dwarves did their bests to keep his spirits up and Kili found himself joining in as they made plans for the future. That didn’t stop him from wishing the Bella was at his side, especially when Fili pointed out a couple green patches growing randomly in the desolation. He knew that Bella would’ve know exactly what sort of plants they were and that she would’ve been excited over the possibilities that the land contained.

As they walked, they tossed ideas back and forth on how to actually sneak into the mountain and find the Arkenstone. All of their hope rested on Nori now, the only question would be whether or not he went alone or if the company would face the dragon together. As they drew closer to the Erebor, the older dwarves grew excited and melancholy by turns as they recognized landmarks. Kili was silent during these times, soaking in every word so that he could share it with Bella. His heart would love to hear all about these things.

However, it wasn’t until the evening before Durin’s Day that Kili was glad that Bella was far away from the mountain. This close, they could see the smoke emerging from the gates, indicating that Smaug was still alive. He suddenly realized that if Bella were indeed with the company, she had signed a contract stating that she would enter the mountain and steal from what a dragon considered his. He paled at this realization. If she had been here, he wouldn’t have been able to let her do that, to enter Erebor alone and face a dragon over a gem. Sure, the heart of the mountain indicated that the Line of Durin had the right to rule, but it was just a gem at the end of the day and it’s value paled beside the worth of his One’s life.

Thorin pushed them hard and they reached the base of the mountain just before sunset. Thorin and Balin vaguely remembered where the stairs were. They stumbled onto the hidden stairs right as true dark fell. Although the moon was full providing light for them, Thorin instructed them to rest for an hour before they started making their way up. He wanted to be by the hidden door before morning, but knew that tired dwarves were more likely to make mistakes and one does not make a mistake around dragons and expect to see the next sunrise.

As they rested at the base of the mountain and talked in low murmurs, Kili felt his spirits rising. After so many obstacles and covering so much ground, they had finally reached Erebor. He and Fili had been hearing stories about Erebor all their lives and to have finally reached it. He could tell that Fili was just excited as he was as they laughed and joked quietly.

Before they knew it, the hour passed and it was time for them to start climbing. It was as they were gathering the packs that it happened. The mountain veritably shook with the roar of an enormous beast. Kili looked at Fili and Thorin frantically. Before he could speak, Balin cried, “It’s Smaug. The dragon’s awake.”

Thorin’s eyes were wide and horrified before they narrowed and determination covered his face. He ordered, “Climb! He must’ve caught our scent! If we can reach the back door, we might be able to hide.”

The dwarves scrambled to obey, dread driving them swiftly up their stairs. They expected Smaug to pounce on them any moment, but after a few minutes and nothing happened, they slowed their breakneck speed. Fili blurted out what they all were thinking, “Why isn’t he chasing us?”

Thorin called abruptly for them to halt. “Balin. What are your thoughts?”

Panting slightly, Balin stroked his beard absently. “If it were us the beast were after, he’d be on us already. Nay, it was something else that disturbed the beast. Maybe a stalactite fell on him and ended him, may we be so lucky.”

“Dwalin?”

The guard grunted, “Doesn’t matter, our luck’s nae that good anyway. But we need to get moving, we’re just easy targets sitting here.”

Thorin nodded, “Dwalin’s right. Let’s keep moving, but keep your eyes peeled and your weapons out. If it’s not us and wasn’t a Mahal blessed rock taking out the cursed dragon, then we have to consider that something else roused him.”

The dwarves scrambled up the narrow pathway, anxiously clutching their weapons. They had nearly reached the top when Nori suddenly stiffened and whistled quietly for them to halt. They huddled anxiously against the wall, straining against the silence to listen for the sound of wings. When they heard nothing, Thorin rumbled, “What is it?”

His nimble fingers playing absently with a length of knotted rope, Nori answered, “Someone got here first. They’re likely the ones that roused the wyrm.”

Dwalin and Thorin roared, “What?!” and were quickly shushed by the company. Perceiving no immediate danger, the dwarves scrambled up onto the ledge the contained the back door. A door that was not closed but instead propped open.

Feeling dread rising in his gut, Kili pushed his way onto the plateau. The flat area was devoid of any people beside the company and he felt his fists clenching. Although she should be safe in the elven king’s kingdom, maybe locked up in the dungeons but still unharmed, his gut was insisting that she was somehow in the mountain facing down Smaug. Alone. His eyes, unhindered by the near darkness thanks to the excellent night vision that all dwarves possessed, he saw an abandoned pack at the same time that Nori let out a quiet exclamation. Ignoring the thief, he made his way over to the pack, his steps leaden. Fili followed him silently, running a dagger through his fingers.

Dropping gracelessly to his knees, Kili dragged the pack over to him and fumbled the latch open. He let out a hurt sound when the pack opened and revealed Bella’s bright red waistcoat. Leaning over to get a better lock at what had upset his brother, Fili sucked in a sharp breath. Fili muttered, “But no one even saw her get into a barrel. How did she get ahead of us so quickly?”

Thorin called for them and Fili helped Kili to his feet, Kili refusing to relinquish his grip on the bag. The pair made their way over to where the company was hunched over a piece of paper. Getting closer, Kili could see that the handwriting was definitely Bella’s, although it was shakier than her normal hand was, the words wavering and dipping in odd places. He thought disjointedly that she would be distressed about the letter if she saw it again. She had always been proud of her fine handwriting, something she confided to him that she had spent countless hours as a faunt laboring over.

Dragging in a ragged breath as his burning lungs informed him that he hadn’t drawn breath recently, he forced out, “What does it say?”

Thorin’s eyes were oddly sympathetic as they met his and Kili hated that fact. Bella was fine. She had just gone ahead to scout and hadn’t decided to foolishly face the dragon alone. Smaug’s roar had just been him rolling over in his sleep onto a sharp object, it hadn’t been him devouring a tiny hobbit woman. All this passed through Kili’s mind frantically in the few seconds that passed until Thorin spoke. He started, “The burglar.”

Kili interrupted, “Bella. Her name is Bella.”

Thorin nodded gravely, “Bella left this note for us. She did manage to come downriver and left while we were still disoriented. She has gone into Erebor to fetch the Arkenstone for us and determine whether or not the wyrm still lives. She said that the river washed our scent from her, so even if Smaug is awake, he won’t know that she is associated with dwarves. That way, if she is caught, our quest will still have a chance of succeeding. She bids us to wait a day and if she hasn’t returned in that time, then she is not going to return and to either turn back or proceed with caution, because Smaug will most likely be awake and angry.”

Clutching her pack in a crushing grip, he shook his head frantically in denial. He all but shouted, “No! We have to go after her. Uncle, she can’t face the dragon alone.”

Balin tried to reason with him, “Laddie, she’s a burglar and her contract is to retrieve the stone if at all possible.”

Kili whirled on his, his distress and anxiety clearly visible in every line of his body. “My One is in the mountain, ALONE, facing down a DRAGON that laid waste to an ENTIRE dwarven kingdom in a handful of hours. I don’t even know HOW long she had been in there or if she’s even ALIVE. I don’t care what her contract says or whether or not the bloody quest FAILS, she needs me and I am going to get to her no matter what. Now get out of my way!”

Before Thorin could respond, Kili’s attention was snagged by movement in the propped doorway. A small figure staggered into view before suddenly collapsing into a lifeless heap. Feeling his blood run cold, Kili dropped the pack and sprinted for them, screaming for Oin. Skidding to a halt, he crashed to his knees. His heart stopped as he saw how injured she was. His whole world crashed to a halt and it took him several seconds to notice the slow rise and fall of her chest.

This kick started him back into action and he gingerly gathered her into his arms, trying to assess her injuries. Fili and Thorin appeared at his side moments later and Kili looked at them, wordlessly begging them to not let his Bella die. Oin was at their sides right after that, dropping to his knees with a grunt, already rummaging through his medical pack.

However, before Oin could do anything, Bella stirred slightly in his arms. Half afraid that he had imagined the minuscule motion, Kili forced out, “Bella?”

He had to place his ear right over her face to hear her, her voice a tiny thread of sound, “Kili? What… are… you… doing… here?”

He gave a small laugh which sounded more like a sob, “Erebor is where everyone was coming, remember?”

She lay there for a minute appearing to gather her strength before her eyes slowly fluttered open. He stared into them, his heart in his throat. Seeing his anxious expression, she offered him the smallest of smiles, a bare twitch of her lips, but he understood the gesture and felt his heart tighten in a mixture of grief and joy. Her voice only a thread stronger, she forced out, “Thorin?"

Thorin reached out and covered her hand gently with his, “I’m here, lass.”

Kili shifted her slightly so she could see Thorin. Upon seeing the dwarven king, her resolve seemed to firm and she rallied slightly, “Take. My hands.”

Confused, he did as she asked and she pushed the stone into his hands. “Found this. Smaug is dead. Welcome home… King… Under the… Mountain.”

Thorin stared at the stone in awe. “You found the Arkenstone. Well done, Bella.”

She said sharply, “Thorin!”

He ripped his gaze away from the Arkenstone and refocused on her. Her lips moved, but he couldn’t make out what she was. Leaning closer, he said, “I’m sorry, can you say that again?”

Her voice barely audible, she said, “Stay off the gold. Dragon sickness. Will cure. Once. I. Rest. If. Don’t. Make. It. It’ll fade. In. Time.”

He nodded sharply. “You have my word.” Bowing his head to her, he rose and started making arrangements.

Turning back to Kili, Bella’s heart ached at the distraught expression on the young dwarf’s face. He picked up her hand and rested it on his cheek. Tears glittered in his eyes as he asked, “Why? Why Bella, did you face Smaug alone?”

Her voice nearly gone, she smiled and said, “Silly dwarf, had to keep you safe. Erebor is safe now.”

“But it’s no good if you’re not there with me, Bella.”

Feeling herself fading, she whispered, “Be happy, Kili. Live long and well with Tauriel and be happy.”

Her hand went limp in his grasp and he pleaded. “No, Bella. Open your eyes. Stay with me. C’mon Bella. Fight this. You took down a dragon, you can do this.”

Oin grunted and said something to Fili that Kili didn’t catch. Then Fili was pulling him away and Kili fought wildly against him. Finally Fili shouted at him, “You need to move back so Oin can work. She’s still breathing but she needs his help!”

He collapsed in Fili's arms, unable to take his eyes off the prone form of Bella. Oin worked quickly over the still hobbit, checking for any signs of major bleeding or broken bones. Kili found his lungs burning as he held his breath until Bella took one. His One's breaths were slow and shallow and he found himself feeling lightheaded from lack of oxygen.

He was dimly aware of Dwalin and Nori slipping through the door to investigate whether or not Smaug was really gone, but as soon as they disappeared from sight they were gone from his thoughts as well.

Kili couldn't see any major bleeding from Bella, nothing that would cause this level of unconsciousness. Although she looked battered and much too thin for a hobbit, she didn't appear to have any wounds that would cause this. Fili's attention was distracted by the other dwarves setting up camp and Kili slipped from his loosened grip easily. Making sure to keep out of Oin's way, he knelt and gently took Bella's hand. He didn't try to speak to her or wake her, he simply sat there and willed for her to be ok. They had crossed all of Arda and he hadn't found his One just to lose her now.

Seeing that he wasn't going to cause a scene, Fili let him be and went to help set up the camp. Kili didn't know how long he sat there while Oin worked, lending a hand to help move her how Oin demanded or hold a jar of salve or the end of a bandage. Finally Oin straightened and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. "I've done all I can, laddie. The rest is in Mahal's hands. C'mon, let's move her over by the fire, she shouldn't be chilled. It's dangerous in her condition."

Kili absently helped up the elderly dwarf before tenderly scooping up Bella and carrying her over to where Fili had already carefully set up her bedroll near the fire. He tucked her in with utmost care and then settled down right next to her. Bofur handed him a bowl of stew. He took it with a nod and set it aside for later, his stomach tied into knots. Checking Bella again, he noticed that her breathing was slightly easier, so he reluctantly turned his attention back to the company.

To his surprise, all of them were gathered around the fire. He hadn't seen Dwalin and Nori return. And if they were back, it meant that Bella had spoken the truth and Smaug truly was dead. He glanced at Fili, but Fili just shrugged.

Thorin saw the movement and nodded to himself. His voice was quiet but it sounded like a roar in the silence of the camp. "Dwalin, Nori, report. Is it true that the wyrm is dead?"

Dwalin pulled out Grasper and started to sharpen it absently. "Aye, it's true enough. The wyrm is dead, just as the lass said."

The company stared at the burly warrior in shock but he ignored them and focused on his task. Shaking his head at the taciturn dwarf, Thorin turned to Nori and ordered, "How?"

Nori scratched at his beard thoughtfully. "Well, near as we could tell, the wee lass took a trident and drove it through Smaug's eye trying to get to his brain and scramble it like she would eggs, ya know?"

Thorin grunted. "Not bad tactics, eye's a weak spot. But the burglar doesn't have the strength to the job properly. So how did Smaug die?"

"As near as we can tell from the mess that is the treasury, Smaug woke up when Bella drove the trident into his eye. He thrashed about trying to get it out while Bella hung on for dear life. Of course, this is all guessing on my part, but I think the dragon would've removed the trident easily enough if there weren't something stopping him."

Ori's eyes went wide as he wrote frantically. "But how could a hobbit manage to do that? She doesn't have strength like Dori does."

Nori grinned at seeing Ori's intense concentration. "Remember, Tharkun said that hobbits will surprise you if you let them. I think the wee lass is more tenacious than many people think."

Thorin grudgingly admitted, "You all know that I was against her joining us, but Gandalf was right to insist that she join us. She couldn't have done any better than if she'd been a dwarf."

Everyone gaped at the unexpected praise from the taciturn dwarf. Kili felt his heart warm at his uncle's words even as it ached. His One should have been sitting awake next to him to hear the words herself directly from Thorin. His curiosity getting the better of him, Kili asked, "But how did Smaug die if Bella wasn't strong enough to drive the trident in deeply enough to kill him?"

Nori winked at him. "Aye, that's the question, innit? As near as I can reckon, he was thrashing about so much, blind in one eye, that he didn't see the stalactite and smashed into it, driving the trident in and effectively killing himself. And thus the Mighty Smaug perished at the hands of a tiny hobbit. However, we won't know until the lass wakes up and tells us herself."

Thorin turned to the healer and said loudly, "When will that be?"

Eating, Oin said irritably, "When will what be? Speak clearly, laddie."

Thorin raised the volume to a near shout, "When will the hobbit wake?"

Oin grunted and set aside his empty bowl. He stroked his beard absently. "Hard to tell. The lass is suffering from a myriad of things."

Bofur's mustaches drooped as he asked, "What ails the lass?"

Oin ticked off on his fingers. "To start off, the lass is malnourished, looks like she hasn't eaten in days and that's not even counting the time wandering in Mirkwood. Also, I doubt that she came down the river in a barrel, but rode outside from the amount of older bruises not to mention the pneumonia that she's on the brink of developing. Tis the truth of the matter that I don't like the sound of the congestion in her chest, that I don't. From the circles under her eyes, she's not been resting either. As a matter of fact, I'm surprised that she even had the strength to make it to the mountain and that we didn't find her passed out unconscious somewhere on the road."

Kili reached out blindly and took Bella's hand in his. He noticed that her hand was cooler than it normally was and he felt a trace of fear cross his heart.

It was Gloin that urged his brother to continue, "So she'll be ok with a bit of rest?"

Oin snorted, "Maybe but unlikely. After pushing herself in this condition for days, she faced down Smaug. She most likely has ruptured eardrums, whether or not they'll heal remains to be seen. She's got burns all over her, most likely from being to close to Smaug. After all, he runs much hotter than a dwarf and many many times hotter than a delicate hobbitess. She's all over with small cuts, again from either Smaug or the treasure itself. I've cleaned them to the best of my ability but who knows what foul substance could be in them from where the dragon was laired. Also, her arm is most likely broken from where Smaug shook her like a rag doll and she has several bruised and broken ribs. Those could complicate the congestion and send it into full blown pneumonia which in turn would most likely definitely kill the lass."

The company looked grave at this news, the pencil still in Ori's grip while Bofur twisted his hat back and forth roughly in his hands, and the others were frozen with concern etched into their faces. Thorin was grave as he asked, "What are her chances of survival? Truthfully."

Oin sighed and scratched at his head. "It's hard to say. The lass is more delicate than dwarves but she's every bit as stubborn as we are. She might pull through and make a full recovery, she might live but be injured like Bifur, or she might pass on into Yavanna's Garden. It's out of my hands, it's between her and the Valar now."

Thorin nodded. "When will you have a better idea of her chances?"

Oin grumbled but thought it over for several moments before sighing again and saying, "If the lass makes it through the night, the odds are slightly better that she will pull through. But she could improve and then fade away just as quickly. I wish I had better news, especially for the lass's One." He nodded at Kili. "But I've been a healer long enough that I just can't predict what will happen. I'm sorry."

Thorin rose and made his way over to where Kili was sitting frozen. He laid a hand gently on his nephew's shoulder. "Don't lose hope. Your hobbit has surprised us again and again. And the Company and I will do everything in our power to help her. As soon as it's light, we'll go into Erebor and clear out a room where she can rest and recover. Bombur will make nourishing broths for her. And don't discount Oin. He's a canny healer and has helped many a dwarf other healers had deemed too far gone."

Kili nodded, numb and overwhelmed. As the other dwarves settled in for the night, he carefully tucked himself into Bella's bedroll so his body heat could help keep her warm. Although it was pushing the boundaries of propriety, none of the others said a word. Laying there with her gathered carefully in his arms, he watched her breath while his mind whispered one thing over and over. 'Please Mahal, don't let her die.'

* * *

Kili felt his spirits rise slightly when the dawn rose and Bella was still breathing steadily if shallowly in his arms. Knowing what he did about her ribs, he wasn't surprised that she was not taking deeper breaths. As he studied her in the early light, he thought cautiously that her color looked better. The fact that she had made it through the night brought the tiniest flicker of hope to his heart. She hadn't stirred in her sleep, but she had always been a quiet sleeper, barely a mumble or a twitch once she had finally settled for the night.

Smoothing the hair from her face, he smiled slightly as he remembered how restless the lass had been when they had first started out, clearly unable to get comfortable on the hard ground. She would toss and turn for hours before finally dropping off into a exhausted sleep. He could've sworn that he had seen tears of joy in her eyes when they reached Rivendell and the prospect of comfortable beds. But she had adjusted and by the time they reached the goblin mountains, she was able to drop off to sleep with the ease of one used to sleeping on the hard ground.

He had been pleased to see her stamina increase and her cheerfulness, even as she grew distressingly thinner. He had promised himself that once they reclaimed Erebor, he would help her create an enormous garden so that she wouldn't have to go hungry and could grow those prizewinning tomatoes that she boasted about. Although he loved to tease her about gardening, he loved how her face lit up as she spoke of it, her passion for green and growing things coming through as clearly as any dwarf's that spoke about their craft.

Bringing his mouth to her ear, he whispered, "C'mon Bella, wake up. You have always been a stubborn little lass, stubborn enough to rival any dwarf. Be stubborn enough to wake up and come back to me. Somehow you got the idea into your head that Tauriel is my One. You're wrong, ghivashel. She's not my One, although she's is comely. But I only have eyes for a tiny hobbit lass with curls of gold and eyes that rival the purest emeralds, one who has a spine of pure mithril and enough heart to love us ragged dwarrow and keep us in line. Please come back to me and I'll handle your hair, I'll braid it so that its out of your way while you garden and so that it tells the world that you are mine. I won't even joke about how hobbit hair is as stubborn and willful as hobbits are. Besides, you need to meet my mother. I know that you and she will be fast friends. She has despaired of ever finding anyone to keep me in line. She'll adore you when she hears about how you managed to keep all of us stubborn Durin's alive and well on this quest. And you slayed Smaug. I'm almost green with envy about that, even as my heart nearabouts stops with dread at the thought that you faced him alone."

Despite his pleading, her eyelids didn't so much as twitch. Gathering her closer, he hummed a lullaby his mother used to sing when he was ill as a pebble, trying desperately to convince himself that she would wake up and everything would be ok. He only distantly heard the sound of the others stirring. It was only when Oin came over and knelt next to them that he reluctantly disentangled himself.

Unable to watch Oin work and Bella remain unconscious, he walked over to where Fili was standing next to the fire. He just stood there wordlessly, drawing comfort from his brother's solid presence. Fili squeezed his shoulder briefly but didn't tell him that everything was going to be all right, something that he appreciated. Only a few minutes had passed before Oin motioned him back over.

Striding swiftly over, he pushed past the lump in his throat, "So?"

"Her lungs are sounding a little better today. With some proper care, we might be able to bypass the risk of pneumonia all together. Her breathing also seems stronger today. I'm not saying that she'll wake up, but I'm cautiously optimistic that she might pull through this."

Kili smiled at the aging healer. "You know how stubborn she is. She's gonna pull through this just fine."

Oin rose to his feet with a grunt. "May Mahal make it so. Eat something, lad. You need to take care of yourself as well. I'm not going to have my ears blistered when she wakes up for allowing you to neglect yourself. We'll find a room and move her right after we've eaten."

Fili chose that moment to wander over and hand his brother a bowl of porridge. Kili took it absently, nodding his thanks. Fili asked, "How is she?"

Kili said quietly, "Oin said that she's doing better, that she might actually have a chance. Want to help me scout out a room for her? Oin can watch over her until we return." Although his instincts were protesting against leaving her, another set of instincts were clamoring to make sure that she had the best possible everything provided for her. Fili nodded and headed off to speak to Thorin.

Kneeling next to Bella, Kili spoke quietly. "I'll be back as soon as I can, amralime. I just need to find somewhere safe and warm for you to get better. Fili's gonna help me, he's always had better stone sense then I do. We'll find you a pretty little room and when you wake up, you can chose your own and I won't fuss at all, promise. Just keep fighting and I'll be back before you know it."

Oin chose that moment to stump back over. "Quit your fussing and finish your food. I'll sit with her while you're gone, so you can quit your fretting." He scowled at him. "Unless you're questioning my ability to care for her."

Kili grinned at him. "Not at all. I've heard the stories about you. Still, I won't be long.

"Oin muttered "Arrogant pup." but settled back down.

Scarfing down his food, he waited impatiently until Fili was done to drag him off. Entering Erebor beside his brother was bittersweet. This was something that they had been dreaming about since they were dwarflings. But he hadn't expected to meet his One of the journey and her absence at his side put a damper on his enjoyment. Still, they paused and drank in Erebor when they entered. These were the halls of their ancestors and now it was once again their home.

Although the corridors were dusty with disuse, it was still plain to see the quality of the craftsmanship, even in this, an escape path that would be seldom if ever used. Fili whispered to him, his tone hushed and reverent. "Can you hear her? She's singing to us."

Kili listened carefully and barely caught it. His stone sense wasn't as strong as Fili's but he could still feel Erebor welcoming her dwarves home. He let out a whoop, "We did it, we really did it Fili! We've reclaimed Erebor and we're finally home."

Fili grabbed the nape of his neck and bashed their foreheads together, tears gathered in his blue eyes. "Aye, Kee, we did it all right. All those who turned their backs on us, said that it could never be done. We've shown them. And won't they have to swallow rocks when they have to vow their allegiance to Uncle in front of the throne of our forefathers."

Kili grinned, "Amad is going to be so happy to be home. She can finally take the time to take her craft up again with materials worthy of her skill. Too long has she been forced to use substandard material."

Fili's grin was an edged dangerous thing. "I can't wait to see amad and uncle put everyone that doubted them in their place."

Kili chuckled, picturing it. "C'mon, let's go look at Smaug and then we have to find a room. I want to get Bella out of the open as soon as possible. She needs to be warm and comfortable in order to heal."

Fili shook his head, "I still can't believe that that tiny lass took out the dragon. You may have bitten off more than you can chew, nadadith."

Kili smirked at him, "If you think that she's gonna be content with just bossing me about, you're in for a world of surprise."

Fili groaned good naturedly. "Let's go, we've got to get her better before she can start getting us into shape."

They quickly worked their way down the corridor. Reaching the treasury, they marveled at the sheer size of Smaug. Kili paled slightly, Bella had faced, that, alone, and somehow managed to survive. The only explanation was that the Valar had been looking out for her. Thinking back over the quest, he realized that there were at least a dozen times that she should've been dead. That she had survived both the quest and the dragon was a miracle, one that he wasn't taking for granted.

Staring at Smaug, Kili felt Erebor's song alter. He turned towards Fili, knowing that his brother's stone sense was stronger than his own. "What is she saying?"

Fili's eyes were distant, like he was listening to a song only he could hear. He mumbled, "She wants us to go this way." He took off and Kili quickly followed him, drawing his sword just in case. Fili didn't go far, just to a small room situated in an alcove right off of the treasury. "She says that she wants Bella to be here, so that both the earth lass and herself can heal."

Kili questioned, "Earth lass?"

Fili nodded absently, "I think that's how she must see Bella. She considers dwarves stones and Bella being a hobbit is more closely tied to the earth and growing things. I don't know what she thinks of men or elves."

Kili shrugged it off as unimportant. Resheathing his sword, he made his way into the room. To his surprise, the room was fairly empty, only containing a single chest and a cot. It must have been a rest room for the treasury guards. He called to his brother, "I need you to come in and make sure that the room is safe, no weaknesses in the walls or ceiling."

He saw Fili roll his eyes at him because Erebor wouldn't direct them to anything dangerous but did as he asked anyway. Kili was glad that he didn't argue so that he didn't have to admit out loud that what was dangerous to a mountain and what was dangerous to a dwarf or hobbit were two entirely different things. While a rock slide or a cave-in might be part of normal life for a mountain, both of those could prove fatal to dwarves, as well as improper ventilation. While Fili inspected the walls, Kili inspected the two pieces of furniture. The chest was mostly empty, containing only a single blanket and a small dagger. Both the bedding in the chest and on the cot turned out to be still intact, the dragon's presence having obviously kept smaller nuisances like mice or moths away. The cot was still in good shape as well, it's make plain yet sturdy. If he flipped the mattress and shook out the blankets, it would make the perfect place for Bella to convalesce.

His examination done, he turned his attention back to Fili. One thing that both their amad and uncle had drilled into them was thoroughness and that haste could cost lives. Fili carefully went over every inch just to be sure that nothing had been missed. Finally he turned to Kili and grinned, "Everything's safe and sound and the ventilation system is still intact, so no worries there. We'll have to figure out a way to get rid of Smaug before he begins to smell, but we'll shore up that shaft when we reach it."

"Excellent, let's go tell the others." Grabbing up the blankets, Kili hurried from the room, desperate to get back to Bella, and Fili quickly chased after him.

* * *

While the company waited for the princes to return, Thorin quickly divided them into groups. He put Bifur and Bofur in charge of making their packs into a litter for Bella. Planning for when Fili and Kili returned, Thorin assigned the dwarves their duties. Bombur and Dwalin would search out the kitchen, Oin and Gloin the infirmary, Dori and Nori would be in charge of finding habitable rooms for the company, while Ori and Balin would ascertain the state of the library. Bifur and Bofur were charged with going to the forges and seeing what would be necessary to get them going again. Kili would of course be staying and caring for Bella, so that left himself and Fili in charge of gathering proper armament for the company. The weapons and armor of Erebor had been legendary and he would feel better once the company was properly equipped.

When Balin questioned him about the treasury, he shrugged. "Bella said to stay away from it because the dragon laid a poison on it. I will abide by her wishes until she wakes and explains exactly what she meant. There's plenty enough to keep us busy until then." Looking around, he lowered his voice, "If she doesn't make it, we'll revisit the question then. But if we lose Bella, we'll more than likely lose Kili as well. I pray to Mahal that Oin has the skill to truly save the lass."

Balin stroked his beard thoughtfully, "I've seen him save many a dwarf that other healers deemed too far gone. Many consider him less than and washed up because of his hearing impairment, but he truly has a gift. If anyone can save her, it'll be him." They looked over to where the cantankerous dwarf was patiently feeding Bella watered down porridge.

Thorin sighed, "I hope you're right."

Before he could add anything else, Fili and Kili came bounding out of the back door. Kili grinned at Thorin, "We've found the perfect place, Uncle. Erebor guided us there. She's alive, just as you said."

Feeling the stress ease from his shoulders at the thought of the half forgotten connection that Erebor had with her dwarves, Thorin smiled back. "Well done, lads. As soon as Oin finishes feeding her, we'll move her inside. Then, Kili, you'll stay with Mistress Baggins. Fili, you're with me. We'll be sorting out weapons and armor for the company."

Both princes nodded, moving quickly to prepare their belongings for the move into the mountain. Leaving Fili to shake out the bedding, Kili moved over and knelt beside Bella. Taking her hand, he whispered what was going on to her. To his surprise, when he finished speaking, he felt the slightest pressure from her hand. If he wasn't so hyper aware of her, he would've missed it entirely. The gesture, so slight it was no more than the barest brush of a butterfly's wing, made his heart soar. She was in there and she was fighting her way back to them. This battle would just take a little longer was all. It was one that he couldn't fight for her, but he could at least stand beside her through it.

* * *

The next few days flew by as the dwarves worked hard to reclaim Erebor. The great forges had been re-lit and life was humming through the mountain once again. The ravens had already been dispatched to inform Ered Luin of their success. The only cloud that remained was that Bella still hadn't woken up. Her lungs had cleared up and the threat of pneumonia had faded away entirely. Her breathing had grown stronger, but not as strong as it normally was, probably from the broken ribs. Kili was sitting in a chair beside her cot, keeping an eye on her while he worked on twisting wire into an elaborate bracelet. It would be his first courting gift to her when she awoke

.He was surprised when she started thrashing and mumbling. Setting the bracelet hastily aside, he dropped to his knees beside the cot. Smoothing her hair away from her face, he murmured, "Bella, are you ok? Are you in pain? What is it?"

Her thrashing stilled but she kept mumbling. Leaning over, he turned his head so that his ear was right over her lips. After straining to hear, he could barely make out the words, "Men, elves, coming this way. Armies. Coming."

Unsure if she was having a nightmare or if she sensed something, he straightened. Squeezing her hand reassuringly, he said, "It's all right, thank you Bella. I'll make sure that Thorin knows."

This seemed to be what she wanted as she settled back into her stillness. Uncertain if she had had a bad dream of if she'd really been able to sense something, he rested his hand on the stone floor and sent a thought to Erebor. Communicating with the mountain was tricky. She was still half asleep and sick from the miasma of Smaug. Maybe if he had been born here he might've had a stronger connection, but it was taking time to build it.

After waiting for several minutes without a response, Fili appeared in the doorway. "Hey Kee, Erebor says that you have something?"

He knew that Fili had a strong stone sense but was slightly envious how easily he was able to communicate with the mountain. "I don't know. Bella suddenly got agitated. She seems convinced that there are armies of men and elves marching here. I was trying to see if Erebor noticed anything unusual, but I imagine that's an odd question to ask of a mountain."

Fili frowned at the still hobbit. "She still hasn't woken up?"

"Other than that, she hasn't moved at all. I'm checking every few minutes to make sure that she's still breathing." Bowing his head, he mumbled, "I'm not sure how much longer I can take this."

Fili came and stood next to him, resting a hand lightly on his shoulder. "Maybe this is some strange hobbit form of healing that we don't know about. She could wake up any time now completely healed. But are you sure that she wasn't just having a nightmare?"

"I don't know, but it seemed very important to her. She wouldn't settle until I promised to tell Uncle about it."

"Well, on the off chance that she wasn't just dreaming, I'll go swing by the battlements real quickly. I'll let Thorin know about this one way or the other, ok? Then I'll come back here and give you a break. When was the last time you stretched your legs or left this room?"

"I can't, Bella would..."

"Not be happy about you not taking care of yourself. She fought the dragon so that we wouldn't have to. Do you think worrying yourself ragged over her is going to make her happy when she wakes up?"

"What would you do if you were in my place? If it were your One laying there?" His voice wasn't confrontational but pleading.

Fili shrugged. "I can't say until I've been through this. But think of it this way. What would you want Bella to do if your positions were reversed? If it was you lying there in the bed instead of her? What would you tell her if she was doing what you're doing? I'll be back as soon as I check it out."

Kili struggled with his brother's words after Fili had left. If he were lying there and Bella was watching over him, he wouldn't want her to spend every waking minute around him, but to take care of herself, eat, sleep, take walks, talk to the company. Not push everyone away like he had.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed before he heard running footsteps. Fili burst into the room, breathing hard. "Get your armor on and get to the battlements. Bella was right and the elves and men march on Erebor."

Kili quickly started shrugging into his armor, "But what about Bella?"

Fili seemed torn but finally asked, "Didn't you say that she's been quiet, other than the brief commotion to warn you?"

"Yes."

"Then she should be fine until you return. If things look like they're going to stretch on at all, I'm sure that Uncle will excuse you. It's better to keep her down here out of sight and protected. No one knows about her, even the elves."

Kili nodded. Although he hated it at times, he knew that his duties to his people would take priority over his personal desires at times. And Fili was right. She was warm and safe and protected here. Still, he would feel better if she would just wake up already. Strapping on the last of his armor, he knelt and pressed his forehead gently to hers. "I'll be back as soon as I can, love. I can hear the lecture that you would give me for shirking my duties, so I'm going. But please, wake up soon. Come home to me, love."

Taking one last glance at her, he hurried after Fili.

* * *

The situation went about as well as expected, with threats made and received on both sides. In fact, it would've devolved entirely into chaos if Gandalf had not chosen that moment to reappear. After scolding them like school children, he arranged for talks to be held the next day in a neutral area. A tent outside of Erebor, away from the camps of men and elves. Once that had been settled and the armies pulled back, Gandalf called up, "Thorin Oakenshield, where is my burglar?"

Sighing, Thorin motioned for Dwalin to go escort the wizard in. "I would not shout of these things where any may hear, Tharkun. Please come inside and all shall be explained."

The company made their way down to the entry hall and waited while Dwalin fetched him in. They were back shortly, an anxious expression on the taller man's face. "I ask again, where is Bella Baggins, master dwarf. I would not have had harm come to her."

Thorin's expression was grave, "I will not lie, Gandalf. She lies gravely injured in a chamber below. Oin has done all he can, all we can do now is wait and see if she wakes or not."

He thundered, "Take me to her at once! What has happened to her?"

Kili took the lead, anxious to get back to her side. Thorin answered solemnly, "She has had more heart and courage than that of any dwarf. She chose to face Smaug alone and killed the fell beast. However, in doing so, she was dealt grievous injuries. What she has done will be passed down for ages and she will be honored for the selflessness she has shown for those not of her own race. I have named her dwarf friend and she will always have a place in these halls, no matter who sits on the throne."

They reached the chamber where Bella lay within and Gandalf moved over to stand beside the bed. Examining her, he sighed, "Oh, you brave fool of a Took. When I talked you into going on an adventure, I never expected you to face a dragon alone, dear heart."

Kili asked quietly, his throat thick, "Can you help her, like you did with Uncle at Carrock?"

"I will see what I can do, young Kili, but I make no promises."

Sitting on the side of the cot, he ran his hands gently over her still figure, muttering quiet words that they couldn't make out. After several minutes, he straightened and sighed, chuckling slightly. He murmured, "Truly, hobbits are incredible creatures. You can study them for a hundred years and they will still find a way to surprise you."

Moving closer to Fili for strength, Kili asked again, "Can you help her?"

Gandalf turned and examined him closely, "You care for her."

Kili smiled but it felt strained. "I love her, Tharkun. She is my heart and it beats for her alone."

Gandalf chuckled again, "To think, a proper Baggins and a dwarven prince are Ones, the ways of the Valar are strange indeed. Fret not, Prince Kili, Bella will indeed pull through. It is a little known fact that if a hobbit is severely injured, their body shuts down after danger has passed to repair the worst of the damage so that they have the best chance of survival. She is not so much asleep as her body is keeping her unconscious while it uses all of her resources to heal itself. When she is no longer in danger, she will wake up. She will be starving and need to eat at least twice as much as normal to restore what has been lost."

Oin, having found a new ear trumpet, told Gandalf, "We've been doing our best to get food and drink into her, but it hasn't been as much as I'd like. How much food would a hobbit need to heal properly?"

Gandalf tugged absently on his beard. "While it's good that you've managed to get at least some nourishment into her, she's going to need a lot more. Typically, hobbits eat six meals a day, seven if they can get them."

The dwarves looked at each other incredulously and Dwalin blurted, "Surely you jest!"

He answered gravely, "I do not. Hobbits take food and drink very seriously, Master Dwalin. Surely you at least noticed how much she managed to eat at Beorn's?"

They had to admit that they hadn't. Thorin asked the question that was preying on all of their minds. "Have we been starving her this whole time?"

Gandalf thought deeply for several minutes. At last he replied, "Hobbits are hardy creatures and can adapt to the most unusual of circumstances. I'm not saying that it was the most pleasant trip for her, but she was most likely not in as dire straits as you all are imagining right now. I imagine that most of you have had to tighten your belts and will appreciate a hearty meal again. She will not have any lasting harm from this journey and fewer meals."

Thorin nodded, relieved. "As soon as it is possible, we'll throw a feast in her honor and she can eat to her heart's content. It may take some time, but it will happen. You have my word on that, Tharkun."

Fili asked, "Is there nothing else you can do for her?"

Gandalf shook his head, "I have done what I can to ease her injuries. The rest of it is up to her. She will wake when she is ready and not before. Simply keep caring for her like you have been and it will all come out right in the end."

Standing, he rubbed his hands together. "Now, I would like to see Smaug and hear the tale of how the burglar lass ended up being the one to slay the dragon."

Thorin nodded and led the way, most of the dwarves following him out. Bofur lingered for a moment behind the rest, taking advantage of the moment to slip a carved rune into her hand, the dwarven one for health and healing, before following the rest of them out. Soon, the room was empty again save for Bella and the two princes. Kili sank down into the chair, his knees refusing to hold him up any longer. He raised up his shaking hands and studied them dispassionately.

Fili squeezed his shoulder and beamed at him. "Hear that, Kee? She's going to be just fine. She'll wake up any time now and you can finally get your act together and talk to her properly. Have you started on a courting gift yet?"

Kili picked up the wire and passed it over to him. "I'm working on creating her a bracelet, one that has her favorite flowers that she showed me at Beorn's. She told me that they meant heart's desire. Once I get a little farther, I'm going to weave some tiny gems in as well, something light that won't weigh down her arm while she's writing or gardening."

Fili turned it over several times, examining it from different angles. "Have you decided on what gems yet?"

He shrugged, "I'm decided as I go, working with what feels right, what feels like Bella. When I reach that point, will you help me find the right stones?"

Handing the bracelet back, Fili nodded. "It would be my honor, nadadith. Now, I'd better catch up with Uncle and remind him that Bella warned us not to spend too much time in the treasury."

Kili turned his attention back to the bracelet. If Bella was going to wake up any time soon, he needed to get a move on with the bracelet, because he wasn't letting her get away a second time.

* * *

The next several days fell into a pattern. Chastened by Fili's words, Kili made sure that he took care of himself, eating and resting. Bofur's rune had reminded him that the others cared for Bella as much as he did, so they took turns watching her when he had to be elsewhere, such as at the interminable meetings that were going nowhere fast. Although it could be amusing to watch and listen, the constant bickering and posturing started to wear on his already frazzled nerves. He started to train with Dwalin again just to get rid of some of his pent up energy, but he couldn't help but feel like he was racing against some sort of invisible clock.

It was on the seventh day after the talks had started and Kili had been excused so he could spend some time with Bella after being gone for all of the day before. He had just started working in tiny chips of emerald into the bracelet for the leaves, when she started thrashing again. Abandoning the bracelet, he knelt beside her bed and cupped her cheek. "Bella? What is it? Are you in pain?"

She stilled, turning her face in his palm as if seeking his warmth and presence. She mumbled something, but he couldn't make it out. "What is it, Bella?"

Leaning in closer, this time he caught the single word, Kili. Weaving his free hand together with hers, he squeezed it gently. "I'm here, Bella, I'm here."

She seemed to gather herself before speaking. "Azog, Bolg, marching. Two armies. Coming here. Attack. Ambush from Ravenhill. Want to... End... Line of Durin."

His breath caught harshly. "Are you sure?"

She nestled fractionally deeper into his hand and breathed, "Yes."

Easing his grip to keep from crushing her hand, he asked, "Do you know when, Bella?"

She was quiet for long enough that he thought she had slipped away again when she whispered tiredly, "Two days. Azog. Drives them. Mercilessly. He burns. With hatred."

He brought their joined hands up to his mouth and gently kissed hers. "Thank you Bella. I'll warn them." But she was already gone, back into the depths of unconsciousness.

Panicking inside, Kili quickly found Bofur and sent him to watch over Bella. Putting on his armor, he took the time to carefully braid his hair and tend his appearance so that he looked like the Durin prince that he was. Once he was satisfied, he quickly made his way to the meeting tent. The sound of shouting greeted him as he entered, a familiar sound as Thorin  and Thranduil were once again engaged in a shouting match. From his position beside Thorin, Fili looked over and did a double take when he saw him. Standing, he quickly made his way over to his brother's side. He murmured quietly, the other's shouting easily keeping them from being overheard. "What's going on?"

"I need to speak to Uncle. No, I need to speak to everyone."

Gandalf's eyebrows raised in curiosity as he somehow managed to overhear them. Fili eyed the arguing kings, "They've been at this for hours. They haven't heard anyone else speak for the last hour or so, too lost in the argument. Are you sure that we need to interrupt them? Can this wait until the meeting is over for the day?"

Kili shook his head resolutely. "It can't wait, it's life or death. Bella spoke again."

Fili nodded, determination filling his features. Making his way over to Balin, he spoke heatedly to the advisor. Balin nodded solemnly and tried to get Thorin to stop, but the king under the mountain was too lost in his argument to take notice. Frustration growing, Kili tried shouting but he was ignored just as thoroughly. It was then that Gandalf took matters into his own hands. Like the night that he insisted Bella Baggins was their burglar, the wizard seemed to grow in size, an ominous power swirling around him. His voice boomed as he cried, "Silence!"

The tent fell silent and the quiet was a welcome respite. Resuming his guise as a harmless old man, Gandalf sat back down. "That's better. Now I believe Prince Kili has important news to share."

All eyes turned to him and he fought not to squirm with embarrassment. Straightening as he remembered that Bella had entrusted him with this message and knowing that he had to make them hear, he pitched his voice so that it carried calmly and clearly through the tent. "Two armies march on Erebor, led by the white orc Azog and his son Bolg."

Silence fell again over the tent as those present absorbed the news. Thranduil sneered and spread his hands, "And how, pray tell O prince, would you know that? We in this tent have received no word of armies marching, no intelligence of enemies gathering or on the move."

Gritting his teeth, Kili just barely held onto his patience and diplomacy. "I have just received the news myself.  The intelligence is good, two armies march on Erebor and will arrive in two days time."

The master of Lake Town, an oily little toad of a man that Kili had instantly loathed, said, "And how did you gain this information. Bring the person who brought this news before us so that we may question him ourselves and see if he speaks the truth or has merely had too much ale."

Seeing red at the accusation that his One was lying, it was all he could do not to lunge over the table and strangle him with his own hands. Only Bella's voice in his mind held him back. Disdain dripped from her tone as she commented wryly that the toad of a man was even worse than a Sackville-Baggins and that took real work to do. Clenching his fists, he said, "I can't do that."

Thorin stared at him, understanding filling his eyes. Turning to face the rest of the table, Thorin said, "I vouch that the information is good. We need to start making plans at once."

The master chuckled nastily, "Of course you would say that the dwarf is speaking the truth. If you are that sure of them, surely you have no problem letting them speak to us themselves and answer our questions."

His voice pure ice, Thorin said, "As a matter of fact, it's not a dwarf but a hobbit that has given us this warning. Mistress Bella Baggins is of irreproachable character and any slight to her good name will be answered by me personally. However, she is gravely injured and cannot leave her bed to speak with us at this time."

Thranduil sat a little straighter, interest gleaming in his eyes, "This is the first time that I have heard of a hobbit amongst your company. Although I accept your word that her character is honorable, how do you know that her information is true and not just a battle dream brought on by the strain of healing?"

Seeing that Thorin was pushing back the urge to throttle the elven king with his own hair, Balin stepped forward. "Eight days ago, while we were busy restoring the mountain, she told us that there was an army of elves and men approaching. We were skeptical but checked to put her mind at ease. If she says that there is two armies approaching, then there are two armies approaching, no two ways about it."

Gandalf chose this moment to speak up. "I also vouch for Mistress Baggins. Hobbits have a strong connection to the earth. If she can feel the armies approaching even in the depths of her healing from two days away, the very earth must be crying out at the wickedness of their passage." Turning to Kili, he asked, "Did she say from which direction they came?"

He nodded, "She was unable to determine exactly where, but she said from the direction of Ravenhill, it two day's time. She said that Azog is driving them hard, burning with hate and determination to end the line of Durin."

Gandalf smiled grimly. "It seems that we have been given the gift of two days to prepare, gentlemen, I advise that we do not waste this time with petty squabbling. We can work out the treaties after the fighting is over. Right now, I suggest we start figuring out how to survive."

* * *

Later, tales would be sung about what would eventually be called the Battle of the Five Armies. They would sing about how men, dwarves, and elves joined together for the first time in ages to face off against the forces of darkness that were lead by the white orc Azog and his son. Tales about the great deeds that were done that day and the world was rid for a time of evil, although it had just been banished and would return again. Songs of mourning would be composed for all those that had fallen that day to stop the threat from spreading to the rest of Arda.

But all of that would come later, after the dead had been properly buried and the rest of the fleeing enemies hunted down. Right now, Kili just felt numb. Too many times that day, he and the company had come close to death. If he'd been even a fraction of a second slower with his arrow, Azog would've succeeded in killing Fili. And if Dwalin hadn't made it to Thorin's side in time to help him fight the great orc, they would most likely have lost him. As it was, the company had made it through the battle mostly intact. A couple had broken bones and there were various gashes and slices. Kili had a bandage wrapped tightly around his shield arm from a sword that he didn't see coming until it was almost too late.

Although it was almost dusk by the time they made it off the battlefield, Kili refused to rest for the night in the healing tents. He needed to get back to Bella and reassure himself that she was still alright, that nothing had managed to slip through and injure her. He was limping towards the gate, battle was hell on muscles, when he realized that someone was standing on the battlements watching him. Fatigue and blood loss made his vision blurry, but as he peered through the gathering dusk, he could just make out a head full of unruly curls.

Feeling his heart hitch and his breath catch, his fatigue suddenly fell away and he made a beeline for the battlements. After several excruciating minutes, he finally made it to the battlements and he cast about frantically for the figure that he thought he had seen. His heart started racing when he saw her leaning weakly against the battlement. Staggering over to her, he fell to his knees, drinking her in. "You're awake."

She slid down beside him. "And you're hurt. How badly? What about everyone else? Fili? Thorin? The company?"

Cupping the nape of her neck, he pulled her forward enough for him to rest his forehead on hers. "It's nothing. Everyone's alive, a bit banged up but nothing that won't heal. Thanks to you."

She sighed, relaxing against him. "I wasn't sure if I got the message through or not. The earth was screaming as they marched underneath it."

"When did you wake up?" He couldn't believe that she was actually awake and talking to him.

She shrugged, the motion weaker than he would've liked. "Sometime during the battle. I woke up in a tiny room off the treasury and knew that something was wrong. I made my way up here, but I couldn't tell which ones were you in the fighting. I was so scared."

He crooned soothingly, a wordless noise that he associated with childhood and the comfort of a mother's arms. "It's all right, we all made it. Maybe with a few more scars, but nothing more serious than that. Azog and Bolg are dead and can never harm us again."

She said savagely, "Good!"

They sat in silence for several minutes, just content to drink in the other's presence. Right as his knees started to protest and his arm to ache, she drew away from him.

Her voice was barely more than a whisper when she asked, "What about Tauriel?"

There was pain lacing her voice and it took him a moment to work out what she was asking, "Who?"

"Tauriel, you know, the gorgeous red headed elf captain from Mirkwood? I know that Thranduil and his forces are here and that they fought today."

He frowned, "Oh, her. I think I saw her during battle, but I'm not sure. Why?"

Settling herself more comfortably, he took the opportunity to do the same. She inched slightly away from him, but he didn't react, waiting patiently for her answer. She finally admitted reluctantly, "I saw the two of you talking in the dungeon. I know that she's your One. You might have to hide it around Thorin, but you can be honest with me."

He groaned, "I thought you might have something like that in your head. For your information, Tauriel is not my One. She's nice enough for an elf, I suppose, but she is most definitely not my One. I was talking to her in the hopes of gaining an ally to help us escape. You can ask Fili if you don't believe me."

She studied him dubiously, weighing his words carefully. Looking away, she said, "Even if she's not your One, you could still court her, right? I mean, not every dwarf finds their One, right?"

Shaking his head over her blindness, he grinned at her. "It's true, not every dwarf is blessed enough to find their One. Fortunately, I've already found my One."

She frowned at him and his sudden cheerfulness. "Do I know them?"

His grin widened. "Indeed you do, Mistress Boggins."

Instead of laughing like he intended, her eyes turned unbearably sad. Climbing to her feet, she said, "I think we should probably go in. I'm still healing and you need rest as well."

He rose as well, but instead of turning to head inside, moved forward, crowding into her space. She backed up but he matched her step for step until she was backed up against the battlements. Caging her in with an arm on either side, he leaned in, his voice lowering and becoming intimate, "Are you sure that you don't want to know who my One is?"

He could see the frantic beat of her heart in the rapid pulse on her neck. She stared at him, struggling to find words. He continued, "Because, I really want to tell you. She's amazing, my One. So brave, clever, and beautiful beyond compare. Strong as well, in both heart and body. I've been wanting to tell her for forever, but wanted to have something to offer her first."

Swallowing hard, she said, "You don't need treasure to add to your value, Kili. You were already perfect and any woman would be lucky to have you."

He smiled and it was unspeakably tender. Voice rough, he said, "Thank you, Bella."

A tiny shiver went through her when he said her name and she was unable to tear her eyes away from him. She whispered, "Is she at Ered Luin then?"

His voice deepening even farther, he whispered back, "No, silly hobbit, she's standing right in front of me."

He was leaning in to kiss her when shouting caught his attention. Before he could straighten, Fili ran onto the battlements shouting for him, only to stop dead in his tracks as he took in the scene before him. Straightening up, Kili allowed his hand to drop to his sword hilt as he turned and faced his brother fully. He demanded, "What is it?" This had better be an emergency, he'd been so close to finally kissing Bella.

Pulling himself together from where he was gaping at them, he said weakly, "Bella was missing, but I see that you've found her."

Suddenly it seemed to sink in to Fili that she was standing there, roses blooming brightly in her cheeks from embarrassment. "Bella! You're awake!" Striding over, he gently hugged her, mindful of her ribs. "It's so good to finally see you awake! You scared us. Don't ever do something like that again!"

He backed away and she offered him a lopsided smile. "It's not like I planned for that to happen. How long have I been unconscious?"

"Two weeks or nearly so. We didn't know if you'd wake up or not. Gandalf said that it was a hobbit healing thing though."

Her face sobered, "I'm sorry for worrying you. It's a miracle that we're alive at all, any of us."

Both princes nodded.

Taking a deep breath, Bella said firmly, "Why don't you let everyone else know that you found me? I have something that I need to talk to your brother about."

Looking back and forth between them, he finally nodded. However, just as he started back down the stairs, he called cheekily, "Behave, you two. If you're not down in ten minutes, someone's gonna come looking and it won't be me."

Kili groaned and mumbled under his breath. Turning reluctantly back to face her, certain that he was going to scold him, he was shocked when she pulled him down and kissed him hard.

The kiss was brief and after a few moments she ended it and stepped back. In a startling contrast to her bold behavior, she admitted shyly, "I've been dying to do that for the longest time. But you see, my One is a prince and I'm just a simple Shire lass. He deserves someone better than me but I couldn't help falling for him anyway."

He smiled at her, "You're beyond everything he could've ever hoped for. There is one thing though."

"Yes?"

"One kiss just isn't going to be enough"

He drew her back into his arms and proceeded to kiss her until she was thoroughly breathless.It took every last ounce of his willpower to draw back from the kiss. Leaning he forehead against hers, he panted, trying to catch his breath. It didn't help that she looked both thoroughly kissed and utterly kissable. He groaned, "We have to stop. They're going to be coming up here looking for us any minute now."

She signed, leaning more heavily against him. "We really shouldn't worry them. And I'm afraid that I need to rest soon. My body is still healing."

His tone stern, he said, "Don't think that we aren't going to talk about you facing the dragon alone." Pulling back, he offered her his right arm to lean on.

She accepted it gratefully and murmured, "I didn't think that anyone would miss me if something went wrong. I thought you and Tauriel..."

He groaned, "So you thought that a suicide mission was the way to go? Seriously, as soon as we are rested, we are going to straighten some things out. This not talking only makes more problems."

They met Nori coming in search of them. His arm was in a sling and his elaborate braids disarrayed, but his eyes lit up when he saw her. He grinned and it was tired but genuine, unlike his usual smirk. "Yer awake. Thought you were gonna hibernate the winter away like a wee badger."

She rolled her eyes at him. "It was tempting, but look at the trouble you lot get into if I take my eyes off of you for just a minute."

He shrugged, "It's just a small break, be good as new in no time. There was an orc sneaking up on Ori, had to think on my feet is all." They headed back to where the company had set up their quarters, just down the hall from where Bella's chamber was. Noticing their linked arms, he couldn't contain his curiosity. "So are you two courting now?"

Kili grinned, but Bella shook her head no. "Not yet. He still has to create a courting gift and declare his intentions to my family." They walked into the common room where the rest of the company was gathered. "Since my parents have passed, I hope that Balin will be willing to stand in their place as my family."

Nori's eyes twinkled, "I see that Ori's been talking again.

"Bella ignored him, turning a hopeful gaze on the royal advisor. The older dwarf was speechless and his eyes were wet, although he would later deny both facts. Clearing his throat, he asked gruffly, "Are you sure, lassie? Claiming kin is a serious business to dwarves."

She let go of Kili and walked slowly over to stand in front of him. Smiling with tears in her own eyes, she said, "All of you are kin to me, in different ways. But since the very beginning you and Dwalin have been watching out for me. I consider both of you my protectors and I would be honored if you would be willing to take care of me since my parents no longer can, like honored uncles."

Dwalin stumped over, a bandage wrapped around his head. "Like we're gonna turn down a bonny lass like you. Welcome to the family. Now, you need ta eat sumthin. The wizard said that it would take time for yer body to recover fully. It's just hardtack and jerky, but it'll tide ya over until the morning."

Grinning, she grabbed the warrior in a giant hug. He hugged her back surprisingly gently, and if his eyes were moist, well no one dared mention it. Taking the food that Dori passed her, she declared that everyone needed to rest. Her family had survived against all odds and they could face the rest of the world in the morning. Meeting Kili's eyes, she grinned tenderly at him. It looked like everything turned out right in the end after all.