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 Four

Bilbo Baggins was not one for ponies at the best of days – they were too big and strong and liked to bite. A week on a pony getting from Hobbiton to Bree had not done anything to improve his opinion on this matter. He had sores in places he didn’t want to think about, he couldn’t walk properly and he had a headache pressing up behind his eyeballs since that very first day.

And hd smelled like pony. Couldn’t forget that one.

He couldn’t imagine how the three Sentinels in their group were coping with the smells, although he expected they had probably recorded training for it. At least Dwalin had Ori as his Guide to help balance his senses (and hadn’t Bilbo been embarrassed, on the third day, when he finally figured that relationship out!). And he had been told that Bifur was ‘latent – he’s not dormant Mr Boggins, not even with the axe in his cap!’ By the Crown Prince. He didn’t actually know what any part of that meant but he understood that Bifur did not have the Sentinel senses.

The King Under the Mountain, however, was a different story. Bilbo could see hives raising across his exposed skin and the grimace he wore almost permanently was a sign of the sensory induced headache he had been suffering for the last few days. Bilbo knew he was a Sentinel but he didn’t understand why he was being affected this way.

They arrived in Bree in the early afternoon, while Men, Hobbits and Dwarves where still roaming around, trading and socialising. Bilbo went almost dizzy with relief when the King started moving them towards lodgings for the night. He’d been somewhat worried that they would try to push on for the extra few hours of daylight and end up sleeping somewhere in the wilderness outside the town.

As part of the agreement between Dwarves and Hobbits for protection, the Dwarves had set up Guardhouses in every large town in the Shire and a few places along the routes so that the Dwarves patrolling could stay in comfort and safety without putting anyone out.

Their company had been welcome to stay in guest rooms in each Guardhouse specifically appointed for travelling Dwarves (mostly those trading with Bree). The Dwarves in each Guardhouse had been overjoyed, in their Dwarfish way, to have their King and Alpha Sentinel staying with them.

It made it hard for Bilbo to relax around the King when he was constantly reminded of the honour and awe that the Dwarves felt for their Saviour King; Oakenshield, the defeated of Azog the Defiler, the King that had led them to safety and comfort in the White Downs. He was quite used to speaking to the Thain of the Shire with familiarity, being his family, but that didn’t stop him from feeling awkward and vaguely scandalised at calling the King Under the Mountain by his given name, and the reactions from those they met along the way did not make this feeling ease away.

The original agreement between the Dwarves and the Hobbits of the Shire did not extend as far as the town of Men at Bree, but they had been allowed to install a Guardhouse-and-lodging house in Bree to host those who travelled there regularly for trade. And, agreement or not, Bilbo recognised the patterns of patrolling guards in the town square with fond amusement. He watched, fascinated, as a ripple of acknowledgement seemed to spread through the Dwarves that their King was in their midst.

Somehow, he was not surprised that when they arrived at the Guardhouse, there were Dwarves ready to take their Ponies and usher them into a room with food, ale, fresh clothes and steaming baths already richly appointed for their King and his honoured companions.

Bilbo moaned at the sight, overwhelmed by his choices. Did he want to fill his hungry belly with a delicious (Hobbit made, he noticed) feast, or did he want to strip off the dust and sweat and horsehair and sink into a soothing, healing bath?

The King, surprisingly, provided the perfect answer – he took a goblet of ale and a platter of meat cuts and cheeses to the bath, where he stripped off all of his clothes unselfconsciously and slid into the water. Bilbo rapidly followed suit – there were six baths set up so they would have to share or have second-hand water, but a lot of the Dwarves had settled down with the food so Bilbo was able to slip modestly into a bath of his own.

He had been so relaxed with his clean body, warm ale and delicious food, to the point that he was oblivious to the Dwarves around him until a voice suddenly startled him.

“Thorin? Thorin!” Bilbo’s eyes jerked open and to the side, where Kili was bending over the bathtub the King was lying in. The King was… blank. His eyes were almost completely closed, his face blank and his breathing shallow, and he made no sign that he was aware of anything around him. Yet he was not asleep, or in any form of repose.

“Should I try…” Bilbo looked to the other bathtub beside him, where Ori and Dwalin were sharing a bath. Ori was leaning half out of the bath, Dwalin’s hands curled possessively around his hips. He didn’t know what was going on, didn’t know what Ori was offering, but somehow a part of him was violently unhappy with the suggestion. He launched himself out of the bathtub, tugging a bath sheet around his hips with minimal discomfort.

He stepped up beside Kili, staring at the King lying in the tub. His skin was red – the bath wasn’t steaming any more but it looked like it was burning the King’s skin. His chest, shoulders and arms had painful looking hives dotted across them. And, despite Kili now shaking him roughly and calling his name, he was still completely oblivious to the world around him.

Bilbo touched Kili’s arm lightly, drawing him away from the King. He dipped a finger into the water to test the temperature, finding it warm but not overly hot. He frowned over the lotions at the side of the bath, discarding them one by one until he came across a soothing lavendar oil that he knew was made by Hobbits for their fauntling’s sensitive skin. He wondered why these Dwarves had it, but it was probably the best thing for the King’s skin right now.

He poured the oil over his hands and rubbed it gently to warm it up. He heard someone behind him begin to speak, before being hushed by someone else, but resolved himself to ignoring his audience as he began soothing the oil over the worst of the King’s hives.

“I think, your Highness, that you are worrying your company. I know you are worrying me. I hope this will soothe the pains you are feeling here, and make these welts go away. I would quite like you to open your eyes for me now, your Highness, if you don’t mind the requests of a simple Hobbit.” He sighed, pouring a little more oil over his hands. It seemed to be working, the welts were already looking less red and angry. His babbled words, as soothing as he tried to make his tone, were probably only helping himslef at this point.

“Bilbo,” Kili started, “I appreciate you trying to help, but Thorin can only really be helped by a Guide at this point.”

Bilbo looked over at Ori, who was being held resolutely in place by Dwalin. He had a feeling that, if needed, they would both be willing for Ori to help the King, but he was certain that they felt as deeply as he did that it would be wrong.

“Never you mind, Kili, go on back to the feast for now. I’ll see to his Highness for a bit longer before we look to disturb Ori’s bath.”

With that, Bilbo turned away from Kili, and resumed his gentle administrations to the King’s chest. “I would really like it if you would come back to me, your Highness,” he murmured, “I don’t like seeing you like this.”

He put the oil away, satisfied that it had done as much as it could, and sighed. He wasn’t quite ready to give up.

“Please open your eyes now,” he asked, gently stroking over the King’s shoulders. “Please Thorin.”

And somehow, Bilbo really didn’t understand why, the last soft request worked – and with a soft gasp, Thorin looked up and stared right at Bilbo’s face.

Chapter Five