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 Three

By the time Bilbo settled down for an early dinner the following day, the whole conversation with Gandalf had been, if not forgotten, at least put out of his mind. So much so that, when a knock sounded at his door, Bilbo hurried to answer it with only a mild curiosity as to who would be visiting at this time of the day.

He was not expecting to open his door to find a horde of Dwarves standing on his doorstep, and was rendered quite speechless for several moments. This proved to be a mistake as, in his stunned state, the Dwarves were all able to bundle themselves into his Smial. He could only gape in disbelief as they began piling weapons and cloaks and packs in his hallway, burying his mother’s glory-box in a heap of Dwarven garments and blatantly ignoring his cloak-stand. He quickly began picking up the cloaks, shaking them out and hanging them up.

“Is there any dinner?” One of them called out to him, “we were promised dinner when we arrived.” Bilbo turned around to respond, and found that the Dwarves had already found his pantry and were unloading food from it. He frowned irritably as they took over his table and began passing around his food and his mother’s best crockery without so much as a by-your-leave. One of them – the really large one – had even taken Bilbo’s dinner plate and was devouring the food on it!

“Well,” Bilbo huffed, “well I never-! What are you all even – I – why are you here?” He exclaimed finally. One of their heads popped up, and shot him a beaming smile, a fistful of bread in one hand and cheese in the other.

“We’re here for the quest of course!” He exclaimed, before suddenly jumping up. “How rude, we did not introduce ourselves! Kili, at your service, and this here is my brother, Fili, Crown Prince of Erebor,” he waved at the blonde Dwarf sitting beside him, who lifted his head from his food and nodded briefly.

“And these are our cousins – or second or third cousins of sorts: there’s Balin and Dwalin, they are brothers;” he motioned to a Dwarf with a truly magnificent white beard who offered a smile and a nod, and the bald-headed Dwarf beside him who grunted in acknowledgement. “And there’s Oin and Gloin,” Oin bowed his steely grey head gracefully, Gloin followed shortly after.

“And there’s Dori, Nori and Ori, they’re brothers and related to us somewhere down the way;” he motioned a Dwarf with very neat grey hair and a purple hood, then one with odd star-shaped hair and a third with a grey knitted hood and gloves.

“And finally we have Bombur,” he motioned a truly magnificent sized Dwarf with large red beard braid; “his brother Bofur,” a Dwarf with a funny hat and warm smile waved gracelessly at him; “and their cousin Bifur.” He pointed towards the last of the Dwarves, with wild black and grey hair. He then turned back to Bilbo and bowed with a flourish.

“And we are the company of Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain. He should be here soon; I believe he was meeting with Gandalf.”

“King Under – I cannot have the King of the White Downs in my Smial, I haven’t dusted!” Bilbo exclaimed, then shook his head at his inanity. “Oh my, oh bother. Gandalf you say, of course Gandalf is behind this with his stupid adventure talks!”

Bilbo tugged fretfully at his curls and turned away from the company of Dwarves at his table. They had been quite raucous up to this point, but now they were all staring at him with varying expressions of amusement (except Bombur, who was still happily munching away on all of Bilbo’s provisions). He took a deep breath, trying to will away the confusion in his mind. The Dwarves all returned to their eating, and gradually the noise level rose again, until suddenly a few of them broke into song. He turned back to his table in time to exclaim in horror as one of them (Fili, was that Fili or Kili – or Nori?) jumped on his table and started dancing of all things, dancing on his table between his mother’s best crockery and the contents of Bilbo’s pantry. The other one (it must be Fili and Kili, he decided) jumped up as well, and they started dancing and spinning a ditty, while another yelled and threw a bread roll at them. The roll missed and bounced off another Dwarf, who let out a yell and threw it back, where it promptly bounced off another one. Bilbo whimpered and finally quit the room when the contents of the table began flying back and forth at each other.

Bilbo sat down in his study with a book, and spent the next hour or so reading and trying valiantly to ignore the sounds of the Dwarves making merry in his dining room. He knew enough of Dwarves to know they would be respectful of his belongings, and he had no desire to try and wrangle eleven rowdy Dwarves to behave like Hobbits. Dwarves were not Hobbits, after all, everyone knew that, and this was hardly a dinner party.

He jerked his head up from his book some time later to find the noises from the next room had changed. He set aside his book without bothering to mark his place, shuffled back into his slippers and set off to investigate. He went to the dining room first and found the whole room had been returned to its original state (aside from some stray breadcrumbs). His mother’s crockery was clean and stacked neatly back in the cupboard, and a quick scan of the kitchen showed that had also been returned to its original state. His pantry was, unsurprisingly, bare aside from a wilted and sad-looking lettuce.

He followed the sounds of music and song to the next room, where the Dwarves had all settled into his parlour. Several of them had broken out instruments, and a few of them were singing along to some ditty that, after a few moments, Bilbo realised with a flush was a rather bawdy inn song. In fact, if he wasn’t much mistaken, it was a Hobbit inn song that had been rendered for Dwarven instruments and voices.

Before he could decide if he wanted to join them or return to his study, a knock came at the door. He answered it with trepidation, not really ready for there to be a King at his door, and slightly concerned it might be another horde of Dwarves that just hadn’t been mentioned yet. Thankfully, or maybe not, when he opened the door it was to one rather stern looking Dwarf and a familiar tall Wizard. Instantly, all the low simmering irritation and annoyance that had been sitting in Bilbo’s stomach since the first Dwarves arrived exploded, and before he knew it he was tugging Gandalf into his Smial by his beard and snapping irritably at him.

“What have you done, you, you – you over-tall, irritating, meddling Wizard?! What part of no adventures did you not understand yesterday and how could you invite a whole horde of Dwarves to descend on my home without any warning so I could make sure I had food in for them and they wouldn’t raid my pantry and my mother’s best crockery!”

Bilbo wound down from his rant to find the previously mentioned horde all standing in the doorway to his parlour, grinning widely at him, while the King Under the Mountain stood in his doorway with his arms folded. Bilbo flushed and carefully untangled his fingers from Gandalf’s beard, stepping back from the Wizard. Gandalf had the gall to look amused at him, and waved his guest into Bilbo’s home.

“Bilbo, my boy, of course I didn’t warn you that they were coming, they were already a day’s journey towards Hobbiton and I would rather you answered the door to them when they called! Now, this is Thorin, son of Thrain, King Under the Mountain.” He motioned to the new Dwarf, who stepped forward and stood, regal and expectant. Bilbo stared at him for a few moments, before he startled and realised he should do – something, but what?

“Um, well, welcome, I suppose, to Bag End. Can I take your cloak and offer you a cup of tea?” He asked finally. He heard a muffled snort from behind him, and clearly the Dwarf heard more, because he shot a hot glare in the direction of his company.

“Here.” He thrust his cloak rather abruptly at Bilbo. “No tea. Is there food?”

“Err, well,” Bilbo stammered, still holding the cloak. There was something about this Dwarf, more than all the others, that he found quite intimidating.

“We saved you a plate, Uncle.” Kili called from the doorway, “and there is some ale as well.”

Thorin nodded his head towards his nephew, who hurried off towards the kitchen. He then turned his stern gaze back on Bilbo, who finally realised he was still standing in his open doorway in his slippers and robe, clutching the King Under the Mountain’s cloak to his chest. He hurried to hang the cloak up, and tried to cajole his guests back to the parlour.

The King followed them and settled himself into Bilbo’s favourite armchair, accepting a plate of food and mug of ale from Kili. He ate quickly but surprisingly neatly, compared to the other Dwarves, and had finished the plate within a few minutes. Bilbo accepted the plate when the King held it out for him, trying not to notice the odd sight of the larger, rough hand of the Dwarven King, holding one of his mother’s dainty and floral-patterned little plates. He hurried out to clean the plate off, relieved to be away from the parlour and the unsettling King there. He spent a few restless moments cleaning off surfaces and tidying things away, but the Dwarves had done a very good job of restoring his kitchen to a clean state and he ran very quickly out of things to do. So with one deep, steeling breath, he returned to his parlour.

“So, Gandalf,” the King addressed the Wizard, but his eyes were on Bilbo and he had clearly been waiting for him to return; “when you asked us to meet you here, you promised us a burglar. I have to admit, I don’t know what I was expecting you to produce in the middle of Hobbiton, but a Hobbit is not really what I had in mind.”

“Burglar?” Bilbo squeaked. They ignored him.

“Nonsense, I asked you to meet me in a Hobbit town, who else would I have brought for you but a Hobbit? They make fine burglars.”

“Now, really, Gandalf-“ Bilbo tried, fruitlessly.

“He doesn’t look much like a thief, and I have never heard reports of thefts in Hobbiton, aside from the odd teaspoon or mushrooms from the farmers. I think I would have been made aware if my Sentinels had discovered thefts in the Shire.”

“Now, wait, I’m sorry, but did you say thief? I’ll have you know I haven’t stolen a thing in all my life!” Bilbo exclaimed. He was getting tired of being ignored.

“Gandalf, this is not a mere jaunt to the neighbouring town or a childish attempt to steal apples from the orchards without getting caught. I need a proper burglar.”

“I assure you, Thorin, that Bilbo is the best burglar you will find in the whole of the Shire, and he is just what this quest needs.”

“Stop! Stop, no, this is not happening. Someone needs to tell me what is going on here and stop calling me a thief!” Bilbo exclaimed. Finally, they seemed to listen – and he suddenly found that all eyes were on him.

The King sighed and looked back at Gandalf. “Look, Gandalf, I appreciate everything you are doing to help me on this quest, especially when I cannot even get the support of the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. But you cannot expect me to take a Hobbit on this quest with me as a burglar! Hobbits may have proven themselves to me to be braver and stronger than they look, and generous enough that I’m sure they would be willing to aid us on our quest if we asked; but they are not trained warriors and they are made for the soft comfort of their Smials, with six meals a day – not months of hard travel and danger around every corner. You cannot expect me to accept a Hobbit on this quest!”

The other Dwarves were nodding in agreement, and their voices began clamouring with agreement. Bilbo nodded as well, and tried not to feel too offended when he was called soft by more than one Dwarf. It was true, after all, compared to the Dwarves, Hobbits were soft.

“Enough!” Gandalf shouted, and in that moment he appeared much larger than normal, like a proper, dangerous Wizard rather than the old firework maker he usually appeared. “If I say Bilbo Baggins is a burglar, than a burglar he is! Thorin, as a Sentinel you should know better than any that Hobbits are light on their feet and can pass un-noticed by many. And, while the dragon knows the smell of Dwarves, the scent of a Hobbit is all but unknown to us, so he will be able to pass by un-noticed. You asked me to find the fourteenth member of this company and so I have. Bilbo Baggins will be your burglar, he has more to offer than anyone could know – including himself.”

Thorin sat back and sighed. “You are right, Hobbits have long proven to be remarkably good at sneaking around my Sentinels. But I cannot guarantee his safety in the wild Gandalf, surely you must know this?”

“Understood.” Gandalf nodded solemnly, “but you must trust me on this.”

“Fine, Balin, give him the contract.” Thorin nodded, eyes landing on Bilbo again. Bilbo wanted to protest, he did, but something warm and insistent was stirring in his stomach as the King’s dark eyes remained steadily on him. He found he could not look away, could not escape the strange feeling overtaking him, even as his hand took up a quill.

The King finally looked away, and Bilbo found himself holding a signed contact. For better or worse, his fate had been sealed.

Chapter Four

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