Dragons have ever been magical creatures. From the moment they were called into being, their appearances marked unexplained events and holes torn into the fabric of history. Sudden shifts without explanation and unforeseen outcomes to ancient tales.
Yet as time went by, dragons have vanished from the surface of earth, one by one, and so passed from knowledge. Most remembered them for their fearsome size and terrible deeds, their terrible intellect and breath-taking grandeur.
Their magic and the events they altered, do not figure in these recollection.
So when Smaug is slain and his physical shape falls into the lake below, a large sigh of relief goes through the company of Thorin Oakenshield. Even the Laketown folks – those that have not perished and lost everything to the fire – feel how the great shadow that laid upon them passes.
Smaug the Great falls. His magical form, however, endures.
And he will have his revenge.
One moment Thorin Oakenshield watches Laketown burn. In the next gold shifts beneath his feet and he holds (preciouspreciousprecious) jewels in his hands.
He blinks, looks up.
A golden light fills the grand treasury, yet nothing moves. His companions seem to be missing – or perhaps he just cannot see them? The air feels hot, unnaturally still and suffocating; Smaug may have gone but his afterimage lingers.
Thorin hopes his companions will soon arrive and banish Smaug’s memory so that the mountain may be filled with new life and the curse removed from it. He drops the jewels back into the hoard and straightens. There are other things to do – the treasure will wait.
The dwarves cheer the moment they enter the treasury, and Bilbo feels his heart ease. Still the memory of Laketown burning is seared on the back of his eyelids and makes his insides twist with guilt. If he’d better controlled his words, if he had just managed to make Smaug stay –
But he failed, and the men paid the price.
Bilbo swallows glumly.
“Master Baggins,” a familiar voice calls out and Bilbo glances up to find Thorin has come up to him, “Why do you stay so far from us?”
The rest of the company has made their way into the treasury, marveling at their finds. Their laughter arrives at Bilbo’s current place as an echo: distant and pale, and Bilbo wonders whether all this treasure can truly cause a smile when they just watched so many perish.
He forces a small smile for Thorin’s sake. “I’m afraid I’m not feeling very celebratory,” Bilbo says, and watches for Thorin’s reaction. He’d seen the dwarf turn his back on the burning town. Back then he’d been too shocked to react. Now he wonders if Thorin truly cares so little.
How can he when he watched his own home fall to a dragon?
Thorin’s eyes soften. “I understand,” he says and reaches out to wrap an arm around Bilbo’s shoulder, “Yet you must understand that it was a matter of time until Smaug would have turned his eyes onto the town.”
A part of Bilbo understands and yet. “They might have prepared –“
Thorin sighs. “Every dwarven town and kingdom likely to be attacked by a dragon has plans for such an event. When we lost Erebor –“ his eyes grow distant, as an old pain creeps into them, “We lost many. And yet had there not been plans for such an eventuality we would have lost far more.”
He draws Bilbo a little closer and turns them to the treasure. “The Master obviously had no such plans even though he knew of the danger lurking on their doorstep – unless Laketown gained a competent Master I do not believe the town would have fared better at another time.”
Bilbo bites down on his lower lip, mind still struggling to catch up. Of course, Smaug is the one that burned and killed – but how about their responsibility? Does the fact that it was Smaug who wrought death and destruction truly absolve their company? The warmth flowing from Thorin into his own body makes him relax a little, though.
“And yet, such a needless loss of life. I wish there was something I could have done.”
“And that is proof of your kindness,” Thorin says, voice hardening, “For others looked upon the same situation and did nothing.”
He’s referring to Thranduil. And now that Bilbo himself has stood on the mountain and watched a town burn – too far to even hear the screams of the dying – he finds himself incapable of understanding. How could the elf king not at least have lent aid to the survivors?
“What will you do?” Bilbo asks.
Thorin grows quiet, eyes sliding over the treasure before them. “What I can.”
When morning comes, the light inside the mountain does not change. Bilbo yawns, and stretches, his back cracking. The small chamber next to the treasury does not provide much in comfort – but it is warm and with the cloths they carried in, he slept quite decently.
Next to him Thorin continues to breathe evenly, dark hair fanning out below him.
With a soft smile Bilbo reaches out. Already the memories of yesterday trickle in, and he finds the darkness returns to his heart. He wonders what the future will bring – now that Thorin has retaken his mountain, now that their quest has ended.
Will he still wish for the company of a strange hobbit?
Thorin shifts, his eyes flicker. They glow from beneath a lock of hair and Bilbo leans down to press a short kiss to those lips. Just a quick peck before they must go and face the day –
He feels Thorin’s lips part, a tongue sneak out. Hands come up, wrap around him –
And then he slams into the ground hard enough to knock the breath from his lungs. Pain explodes in his shoulder, the hands in his hair are hard, unforgiving. Bilbo opens his mouth to complain, but his shout is swallowed by a tongue pushing forward intently.
Bilbo twitches, hands flying up and clutching at Thorin’s shoulders, but he is helpless against Thorin’s hands. The King under the Mountain holds him tightly in place as his tongue delves deeper. Blackness begins to dance at the edges of Bilbo’s vision, but he just closes his eyes and allows Thorin’s warmth to surround him completely.
It’s like drowning; drowning in pleasant, wonderful emotions.
His body has turned to jelly when Thorin releases him. A deep chuckle echoes somewhere above Bilbo, and a hoarse voice murmurs: “Rest a bit longer, little burglar.”
Thorin finds himself walking toward the treasury. His steps falter momentarily – he can’t quite recall getting up, or where Bilbo is. They went to sleep together; he remembers watching the hobbit drift off and those worried ceased on his face smooth out.
Did Bilbo sneak out during the night? No matter how hard he tries, Thorin doesn’t know whether or not Bilbo was still with him when he got up in the morning.
He frowns. Small memory lapses in daily routines are not abnormal. But tomorrow, he promises himself, he will pay more attention.
Bilbo deserves that much at the very least.
Bilbo joins the company later than he intended. After Thorin left him, he needed rather longer to regather himself. His knees still feel shaky, but at least yesterday’s grief seems more distant – if no less dire.
He pushes those dark thoughts away.
When he reaches, though, he finds the company sifting through the treasure with deep frowns. Kili and Fili joke, but their good humor from the previous day seems to have evaporated.
“What is going on?” Bilbo inquires of the nearest dwarf.
Dori glances at him. “The Arkenstone, Master Baggins,” he explains, “Thorin demands we find it before the day is out.”
“Huh,” Bilbo comments airily, though his chest tightens. Whatever happened to helping Laketown and reclaiming Erebor?
“You didn’t happen to come across it when you first went down here?” Gloin asks from where he is more or less digging a hole into the treasure. With it piling meters high, none of them have made much progress.
“I don’t think so,” Bilbo says, “What’s so important about it, anyway?”
“The King’s jewel,” Gloin snorts, “Once Thorin has it he can ask the other dwarven kingdoms to stand by the oath they swore on it.”
“But the dragon’s dead,” Kili mutters, having drawn close, “Why would he need it now?”
Gloin shrugs and turns back to his digging project. Bilbo wonders the same, and the only answer Dori gives comes down to: “It’s a symbolic stone. Some say it’s magic, too.”
Half-way to the Hall of Kings Thorin realizes that he can’t remember what he told his companions. He remembers going up, commending them, intending to speak on future plans. But when he tries to recall what he said, his mind goes utterly blank.
It’s as if he never said a thing.
Thorin shakes his head with a frown. This is getting ridiculous.
Bilbo hurries down the corridor, a frown on his face. What on earth was Thorin thinking – ordering everybody to search for a stone when they have much more pressing issues to address? What about Laketown; what about food? Their supplies are dwindling, they need to make arrangements. The stone can wait.
When he bursts into the Hall of Kings, Thorin stands before the throne, eyes fixed on the empty spot above it. Bilbo freezes for a moment, then pushes on. This is Thorin – his ridiculous dwarf. Who is being particularly ridiculous right now.
“Thorin,” he calls, voice sharp and clear.
The King turns and watches Bilbo with a strange expression. Or perhaps it is the light – even his eyes seem to be another color right now.
A shudder runs down Bilbo spine, but he firmly ignores the drop to his left and right or the sacred atmosphere surrounding the pedestal around the throne and stomps up.
“Thorin, we need to talk,” he bursts out, “Did you really tell them to find the stone or else? Don’t you think we have –“
Thorin gestures at him to be silent, and Bilbo finds himself complying against his will. “I know you worry,” Thorin tells him, corners of his mouth twitching in a parody of a smile. Annoyance curls in Bilbo’s stomach. “But you needn’t concern yourself. Once the stone is found, all shall set to rights.”
His face darkens.
“Thorin, you are –“ Bilbo begins, shifting uneasily.
“Hush, little thief,” Thorin gestures, “There are more visitors here.”
He beckons for Bilbo to stand aside, as Balin and Dwalin march up the way Bilbo came. They stop below the steps leading up, and the air abruptly grows tense and heavy. Bilbo’s chest grows tight, and he freezes, wishing he had stayed in the treasury.
Thorin barely regards him, but he can feel both Balin and Dwalin watch him closely. I’ve got nothing to do with Thorin’s madness, he wants to scream. And hit Thorin over the head with his bloody stone – but there is a hint of true darkness to Thorin’s raving tones, and that keeps Bilbo glued to his spot. Instead he watches as Thorin lays into his oldest companions as if they were unruly and foolish children.
Something is not right.
All the hairs on Bilbo’ arms stand when Balin and Dwalin have shuffled away. Thorin paces like a caged animal, everything about him screaming coiled tension and danger, and a part of Bilbo wants to run.
But this is Thorin, he tells himself.
His foolish dwarf. The one that kissed him into an inch of his life just earlier this morning.
So he presses his lips together, shoves back the kernel of unease and walks up to Thorin. The dwarf’s eyes narrow – they still look off-color.
“Thorin,” Bilbo says without bothering to hide his exasperation, “What on earth has gotten into you? Do you truly doubt the loyalty of your company? The ones who faced a dragon on your behalf?”
Thorin whirls around faster than Bilbo has ever seen him move. He’s completely unprepared for the hands that shoot forward and wrap themselves around his shoulders like iron claws. Hard fingers dig into the muscle there and his bones creak in protest.
“What -, Thorin, Thorin, that hurts!” Bilbo shrieks, but the King does not let him go. Instead glowing eyes narrow as they focus on Bilbo.
“Where is it?” he hisses.
Bilbo’s eyes burn. “What?” he croaks, “What are you talking about?”
“The stone,” Thorin clarifies, a wild gleam filling his eyes, “You must know where it is, it was just there before, and now it’s gone. Do you truly not know where it has vanished to, thief in the shadows?”
Fear seeps into Bilbo’s heart. “Thorin?” he asks, because the dwarf before him suddenly looks like a stranger, and there is no light of familiarity in Thorin’s eyes to be found. Instead they rake over him as if he could read the answer and his grip grows ever tighter.
“Answer me!” Thorin shouts and shakes Bilbo hard.
The hobbit’s knees give out, and his vision flickers. He hangs from Thorin’s hard grasp, and the dwarf pays no attention to Bilbo batting weakly at his wrists. Instead he gives him another shake. “Answer now!”
“Thorin, no, Thorin, stop it,” Bilbo mumbles, his tongue thick and his head aching, “I told you already, I don’t know.”
“You lie!” Thorin hisses and dives forward. Scant inches separate his face from Bilbo’s, yet there’s no intimacy, and Bilbo hunches back as far as Thorin’s unforgiving grip allows.
“I don’t –“
“You lie, I know this,” Thorin says, “Where did you hide the stone, thief? Tell me and I may spare your life.”
Bilbo’s heart jumps in frights. This isn’t Thorin, Bilbo thinks with growing desperation, this isn’t Thorin, but whatever this is, it looks just like him. But what happened, when did it happen and how-
“I’m not lying,” he protests, weakly, turning wide, beseeching eyes onto the King under the Mountain.
Thorin’s face twists into an unrecognizable grimace. Rage burns into his eyes and he releases Bilbo’s shoulder, only to catch his wrist and twist his arm behind his back. Bilbo stumbles, and smacks into the cold marble of the throne, a sharp spike of pain running up from his nose. Thorin hikes his arm up behind his back, and the tendons in Bilbo’s arm scream in blinding pain.
“Stop it, stop it, Thorin, please!” he pleads, voice rising in terror. Fear makes his blood run cold, because Thoin won’t, can’t – But the pain spirals higher and higher as Thorin twists his wrist behind his back.
Thorin’s unforgiving grip tightens. “Then tell me where it is,” he demands.
But whatever happened to Thorin, Bilbo thinks, he cannot let him have the stone. Not when it’s driven him so mad already, not when he does not know what else might happen. His own heartbeat echoes in his head, frantic and fluttery, and breaking into pieces, because this can’t be Thorin.
“I don’t –“
“Liar,” Thorin judges and with a crack the bone in Bilbo’s arm gives.
He’s screaming. Even before the white, blinding noise turns into fiery pain, Bilbo screams, high and shrill, as his arm goes numb and icy and hot at the same time. Only the need for air stops him, and then Bilbo is barely getting enough. Tears burn in his eyes, and something wet and sticky runs from his nose, but the pain in his arm is so much worse than everything; it’s all-encompassing, devouring. His mind frazzles.
“Tell me,” Thorin demands, coldly.
With a choked sob Bilbo turns onto his side. The claws holding him have vanished, but Thorin still hovers above him, face unmoved and cruel.
Bilbo wishes he could wake from this nightmare.
Because this can’t be happening. This isn’t Thorin, and the pain in his arm can’t be real, and this –
“Speak!” Thorin shouts and Bilbo flinches.
The pain’s blurring his thoughts and time, and his vision fades in and out. He pulls his throbbing arm to his chest, carefully cradling it, though now the cold marble of the throne bores into his back, and he’s caught before the merciless King. Or that bad parody pretending to be Thorin.
“I’ve not hidden it,” Bilbo chokes out, “You’d have known.” Because his Thorin stayed at his side until Dale burned, because his Thorin came down to find him when Smaug went on a rampage.
Thorin’s eyes narrow, their pupils almost slits. Something eerily snake-like lingers in them, and for a moment they overlap with other, larger eyes and Bilbo is about to dismiss the notion as a pain-induced absurdity, when Thorin’s voice speaks as the echo of another: “But I watched you, thief in the shadows. I know you can go unseen if you wish. So tell me – where is the Arkenstone?”
He towers over Bilbo, fists clenched and eyes cold and unfeeling. Barely anything of the Thorin Bilbo knows and adores remains, and he finds his heart simultaneously breaking and hardening. The steady throb of pain shaking his body blurs his thoughts, but he clings to his resolution not to allow this betrayal.
Whatever this is, he will not be an instrument in Thorin’s downfall. For the sake of the dwarf he followed across Arda, Bilbo closes his eyes and shakes his head.
Thorin is half-way out of the Hall of Kings when he blinks, takes in his surroundings and realizes he has no idea what happened during the last hours. Last he remembers is making for this hall in order to see after the throne and assess the usability.
But if he has done it, he has no memory of it.
Thorin brings up a hand to rub at his aching temple. A dull pain resonates through his head, and maybe that’s behind his sudden onset of amnesia. But it doesn’t matter – he needs to assess the place, and now will have to do it twice.
With a sigh he turns around, marches back toward the throne. The hall has taken little damage, he notes to himself, eyeing the pillars and the ceiling. Some cracks in the marble, but nothing unfixable. Nothing that would undermine the structural integrity of the place.
Usable, Thorin thinks to himself, annoyed at having to do the assessment twice when he could be back with his company, discussing their future movements. They need to plan, and him forgetting time and things is not being useful.
Thorin notices a lump lying before the throne. From the distance he cannot tell what it is, but it does not look like fallen stone. Rather like a bundle of fabrics. He frowns, narrows his eyes.
Fabrics yes, his eyes inform him as he draws closer. A familiar blue coat – and fear surges through Thorin abruptly, he breaks into a run, because this is no bundle of fabrics, this is no left-over of fleeing dwarves, but a small hobbit lying curled up before Erebor’s stone throne.
“Bilbo!” Thorin shouts, voice hitching, “Bilbo!”
There’s blood on the stone’s green marble, Thorin sees. His heart races in panic, as he stumbles up the five stairs, and falls down onto his knees before the silent form of his beloved. What and when – he doesn’t remember Bilbo being here, why did he not see him?
What is going on?
Bilbo doesn’t stir, has his eyes closed and his face is pale, underneath the blood. He breathes, quietly, but it does not quell the nameless terror raging in Thorin, does not stop the ice from closing in around his heart.
What happened to him? How could this –
Thorin reaches out to touch Bilbo with a shaking hand. It freezes in mid-air.
Because his hand, he sees now, is covered in drying blood.