Title: The Gold Zone
Author: Alania Black
Fandom/Genre: The Hobbit
Relationship(s): Bilbo Baggins/Thorin Oakenshield
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Explicit sex, canon-typical violence
Summary: In a world where the Dwarves exiled from Erebor stumbled into the warm embrace of the Shire and built their new homes in the hills surrounding it, Thorin Oakenshield has grown into one of the strongest and most well-respected Alpha Sentinels the Dwarven race has ever had. But the King Under the Mountain has never taken a Guide amongst his kin, and after almost 100 years of struggling with his gifts on his own, his people grow concerned for his mental well-being.

Meanwhile, tucked safely away in his Smial, Bilbo Baggins has grown accustomed to his quiet, respectable life. Until the day a Wizard emerges from his past with promises of an adventure Bilbo never asked for and doesn’t want, and Bilbo mind awakens gifts that no Hobbit has ever had…

Chapter Five

“So, Bilbo is a Guide?” Fili asked. Bilbo looked down at his hands, and shook his head.

“No, I’m not. I can’t be – Hobbits do not have the Gift.” He protested softly. It was the first thing he’d said since the incident at the bath. Bilbo had been gently shuffled off to dry and settle by the fire with the food – Thorin had been carefully led to his room by Kili and neither had so far returned.

“But you soothed Thorin’s skin and brought him out of a zone. Bilbo, only Guides can do that for a Sentinel!” Kili protested. Bilbo shook his head quietly, still unable to bring himself to look up.

“Bilbo Baggins, what have you been up to now?”

Bilbo wilted with relief when Gandalf carefully ducked into the room, and walked across to where he was seated. The Guardhouse was designed for the short-statured Dwarves, and Gandalf looked as large and out of place here as he did in Bilbo’s Smial. But despite his almost comical height, he was still a very welcome sight for the confused Hobbit.

“Gandalf,” Bilbo sighed quietly.

“I have seen Thorin,” the Wizard said, “he looks relatively well for all that he has been through today. I understand that has something to do with you.”

“No, I- no.” Bilbo said, and nodded his head sharply. “No, this has nothing to do with me.”

“Bilbo, it has everything to do with you!” Fili protested, “Gandalf, he helped Thorin control his skin reactions and brought him out of a zone!”

“Yes, that does sound like you had an effect Bilbo. Hmm, perhaps you would give Bilbo and I some time for a discussion?” He asked Fili.

“Of course Gandalf, I’ll go check on Thorin.” He nodded, and hurried away from them both. Bilbo watched him go, then looked around the room. Dwalin and Ori were nowhere to be seen. All six baths were taken up by Dwarves who were doing a poor job or pretending they weren’t watching and listening to everything going on around Bilbo. The final two members of the company, Gloin and Bombur, were sitting at the other side of the common room with the remains of the feast spread out on the table in front of them.

“Hmm, perhaps we should take this discussion outside, my dear Bilbo?” Bilbo laughed quietly and nodded. He patted his pocket to ensure he had his pipe and tobacco, and he followed Gandalf outside.

The bench they finally settled on was a short walk down from the Guardhouse. Bilbo was struck with how big everything was – he had only really left the Shire a handful of times, and all of them had been on journeys with his parents as a child here to Bree. The town and the people had seemed huge to him – but he was a Fauntling, and everything seemed huge. Now, he was aware how truly big it all was, even to an adult Hobbit.

They both sat in silence for a few minutes while Bilbo tapped out his pipe, refilled it, lit it and took a slow, deep inhale. The routine was so soothing, Bilbo was momentarily tempted to tap out his pipe and re-do the whole thing, but settled for just taking another deep inhale and blowing out a long, exasperated stream of smoke.

“I’m not a Guide.” He said flatly. “Hobbits do not have the Gift.”

“Do you know what I find interesting about that statement, Bilbo? I find your word choices quite interesting.”

“What?” Bilbo spluttered, finally looking up (and up) at the Wizard.

“Dwarves call them Guides and Sentinels. There is a rune in the Angerthas Erebor, used among Thorin’s kind, that represents both; but there is no word. You use the term ‘Guide’ because you have learned it from the Dwarves and the Princes said it of you. But, you also use the term ‘Gift’.”

“So, that’s what we’ve always called them?” Bilbo replied. Gandalf smiled and nodded, pointing his pipe briefly at Bilbo.

“Exactly, Mr Baggins. Exactly. And when did ‘always’ start?”

“Always is always, I didn’t realise it had a start.”

“Everything has a start, Bilbo. And an end. But I digress. Did you start calling them Gifted when the Dwarves arrived, with Sentinels and Guides among them? It does not seem likely, since you’ve already proven that you have no issues using their own terms. No, you use the term ‘Gifted’ because it is part of the Hobbit language to describe these types of people.”

“But there have never been Guides and Sentinels among our people.” Bilbo said.

“As you are now, there are no Sentinels or Guides, that is true. But you use words that no other race uses, which means you have to have had something in your past – something that is still possible among your people now.”

Bilbo fell into a contemplative silence for a while, just watching the people. It had fallen to twilight, and the people of Bree were hurrying about to finish their necessary tasks before the night fell true and the last of the light disappeared. There were some lamps set up with candles for those who were out at night, and the Inn across the way was already glowing warmly and spilling merry sounds and the occasional early drunkard out into the square. They were not, he decided, so different from Hobbits like this – a little more interested in their trades and their goods, a little less interest in the welfare of their neighbours, but essentially quite similar.

“My mother used to tell me stories, on nights like this,” he started, “we would sit in the garden and have tea and she would tell be stories before we went to bed. She would sometimes tell me stories of our ancestors – those who lived in the Anduins. She would tell me about the Gifted ones – she said that during the Longest Winter, the Gifted ones could hear the trickle of fresh water from a mile away, could see safe shelter or feel a coming storm before it hit, could smell if food was edible or poisonous. She said they saved many hundreds of Hobbit lives. But when we found the safety of the Shire, and our people no longer needed it, the Gift went dormant in our people like a bulb goes dormant in the soil during the winter months. But that’s not… they weren’t really Sentinels. There weren’t any Guides.”

“I have to admit, at that time, I didn’t know of your people or spend time with them. But I do know how the gifts emerged among other races – Dwarves, Men – they were warrior races so they needed the gifts for war as well as survival and it made them develop stronger. But all started the same way, with the advanced senses. Eventually they developed, their senses sharpened and strengthened, their powers grew and they became what we know today as Sentinels. And with their strengthening powers came their Guides, their connection to the earth and their tribes, who kept them steady and helped them control their senses.” Gandalf explained solemnly. Bilbo watched a Hobbit couple wander past, and considered the new information Gandalf had given him. It was strange, to have his certain knowledge of his people changed around him.

“So we did have Sentinels and Guides.”

“You had the… precursors to them. I think that your people never needed the full power of the Gifts and so they never developed, and when you settled in the Shire and became Hobbits, those Gifts went completely dormant.”

“I guess that maybe that explains this… me, I mean. I must have the Gifts dormant inside me and when there was a Sentinel in distress near me the Gifts came out enough for me to help and now they will go away again?” Bilbo asked hopefully. A small spike of pain lanced through his head, and he realised that the headache he had been carrying around for a week had gone away. But now it was coming back.

“Do you really think that’s what is happening, Bilbo?”

“I don’t know, but I would like to hope so.” He answered softly. Gandalf sighed and patted his shoulder.

“My dear Bilbo, I know you are not one to hide from the truth for long. So, I will tell you this: what you did for Thorin is nothing like the Gift your people had. You have emerged as a fully empowered Guide. I should have seen it – that headache you have been suffering with for the last week is one of the first signs of an emerging Guide without a bond.”

“But my people have never had Guides before!”

“No, and it is very strange. Still, the potential was there inside you and the world is changing. There is a darkness growing and spreading across the land, like nothing your people have seen since they moved to the Shire. It is possible that you are just the first of the Hobbits to start to emerge with the gifts.”

“But what does it all mean, Gandalf? And why me?” Bilbo cried.

“That, my good man, is something I do not have the answer to. For some things, only time can ever truly answer our questions.” He looked over the square again, and nodded. In that moment, Bilbo thought he could see the Wizard as he truly was – ancient and wise and full of knowledge of things Bilbo could not comprehend, nothing like the peddler of fireworks and fun that Bilbo had once known. “I am going to go and get a good night’s sleep. I can only advise that you try to put this from your mind for now, Bilbo. Time will tell what will come of this.”

Bilbo stayed seated, half-heartedly pulling on his pipe. He watched the square for as long as the light allowed, barely noticing himself growing colder as the last of the light disappeared. The people continued to move around in their own lives, ignorant of the huge changes taking place around them. For a moment, Bilbo felt breathless with it, so alone on that too-large bench, in too-large town; sitting in the cold and the dark and wondering if anything in his life would ever go back to how it was again.

Chapter Six