Summary: In which Thorin is basically Tony Stark, and it's his fault that the S.M.A.U.G. weapons platform malfunctioned and brought on the apocalypse. Cue population cuts steeper than Walmart markdowns after Christmas and throw in some deadly radiation and you've got a good idea of what's waiting outside the door of Bilbo Baggins's fallout shelter- and he's having none of it, thank you very much.
That is, until some miscreants in dusty pickup trucks led by a tall drink of dark water in leather called Thorin come knocking on his door spewing nonsense about Erebor Conglomerates and demanding that he trek all the way to Vegas- of all places- to help them get it back. And Bilbo asks -who goes to Vegas after an apocalypse?- but somehow finds himself carefully putting Tolstoy and gouda into a backpack and leaving anyway. (And just who is this Gandalf character, and why does Bilbo feel like he's been scammed by him before?)
A/N: I know that there are other post-apocalypse AU Hobbit fics out there, and I've been meaning to read them- honestly, I have, because they look really interesting- but instead of reading them I wound up writing my own instead. Whoops. Disclaimer: I make no guarantees that this won't contain an unhealthy amount of Modern!AU cliches.
The world ended at precisely 9:45 on a March morning. It may have been a Wednesday, but Bilbo Baggins cannot quite remember. He is cross with himself for forgetting such a seemingly important piece of information, but the can opener in his hand suddenly slips on the metal edge of a can and his thoughts divert. Perhaps fiddly dates are not the best things to be worrying about at the moment.
"Damn and blast," he mutters, debating (not for the first time) the relative merits of abandoning the blasted contraption and just beating the can to pieces against a rock. Because then all that lovely "100% Tomato Puree" would be wasted, he patiently reminds himself. Sighing, he bends back to his task. With a little effort and a small cut on his thumb, he manages to pry open the stubborn can and slurp carefully at the red sludge within. Lunch is served.
He sits back and stares at the desolation before him: former suburban paradise, now mounds of reddish sand, a dull imitation of the tomato puree, and a ruddy sky to match. He may not remember the day of the week, but gods be damned if Bilbo hasn't kept track of every single day and hour and second that has passed since: 65 days, 2 hours and… with some quick mental calculation he comes up with the minutes- 13. 65 days 2 hours and 13 minutes since the Event, and nothing has been the same since.
Even the tomato paste tastes different. Bilbo has dozens and dozens of cans of it stored in his pantry- all those fools who mocked me for being prepared are rolling in their graves now- and lining the shelves behind the tomato puree is cans of corn, beans, soup, flour, rice, honey, sugar, cocoa powder, water, spaghetti… the list goes on. For several pages, in fact. Bilbo keeps it tacked up beside the dead bolted and triple-locked door to his cellar.
The view of the desolation is only a live feed, anyway. The picture is grainy and flickering because Bilbo was a bit behind the times before the Event and never learned how to properly maintain his top-of-the-line security and CCTV system. He suspects the problem has something to do with wires, and rats. All too many rats hanging around these days, Bilbo believes. As if he'd venture above ground to check in any case. Radiation poisoning was not his cup of tea, thank you, and he was plenty content in his cellar holding a cup of actual tea to be bothered. According to his meticulous calculations his pantry would feed him for a little under a year. There was no sense in worrying about anything else before then. (Although thoughts of what came after kept him up on the bad nights.)
Bilbo gets up from his comfortable armchair in front of the security feed playing on the TV and rummages in his bookshelf. Consequently, he does not see the blank landscape begin to change on the screen behind his bent back. Bilbo rummages for a while longer, and several black dots appear, diversify, and spread out at the end of the hill of his long street, patiently growing larger. Bilbo pays it no mind.
In the end his security is quite the waste of the $13,456 Bilbo had originally paid to have it installed because it fails to warn him about his unexpected house guests until his front door is being pounded upon.
Thump goes the book Bilbo was holding, straight to the ground. Another bang on the door. Devoid of an object to drop, Bilbo flinches.
"No one's home!" he calls. More banging. A reaction is slow in coming, but once it does, it is quick to metastasize. Quick steps bring him to the shotgun above the pantry door; never mind he has never learned how to load it (nor does he know where the ammunition is), Bilbo has always counted on the threat of imminent gunshot wounds to be enough of a deterrent.
Down a long curving hallway and up two flights of stairs leads him to the entryway. He hasn't been up here for about a month, and a thin film of dust and sand covers everything. The itch for a duster springs up in the finger poised over the shotgun's useless trigger.
One final bang and then all is silent. Perhaps they've given up and gone away, Bilbo thinks. Who could it have been, after all? He is mostly sure that scavenger gangs are only a thing in young adult dystopian novels. And the neighborhood went to hell along with the apocalypse, so it is most assuredly not Lobelia come to borrow flour and maybe sneak a spoon or two into her apron.
"Who's there?" he cries, just to make sure, a slight quaver in his voice. Clumsily juggling the shotgun he unlatches the deadbolt, growing surer every second that this is a very, very bad idea.
The door flies back on its hinges with a sound like a car crash. Bilbo holds onto his shotgun through sheer force of will and levels its barrel at the huge hulk suddenly looming in his doorway. It slowly steps forward.
A man appears silhouetted against the grainy filtration of the sun through the ash clouds, his bald head barely three inches below the top of the doorway. Tattoos galore trail from his bare head to his bare arms- exposed by a leather vest that looks suspiciously like it was once a jacket. Huge boots thunk along Bilbo's dusty wood floors as they step inside slowly and purposefully.
"Wh-who are you? What do you want?" Bilbo asks, brandishing the shotgun.
"Dwalin, at your service," the man rumbles.
"Dwalin…?" Bilbo prompts. Manners die hard, and he never feels comfortable addressing acquaintances by first names alone.
"Just Dwalin," Dwalin says firmly.
"Ah." Right then. Dwalin hasn't made any threatening moves other than to step inside his house, so Bilbo feels confident in daring another question. "What do you want?"
"Are you alone?"
A certain stern hardening of Dwalin's brow. This is not a man to suffer fools gladly. Bilbo picks up the pieces of his wits, scattered by the first human contact he's had in months, and says, "I'm alone, yes."
Dwalin turns away and plucks something from his belt that glints as he turns it on and speaks into it. "All clear. Mark is alone. House is secure."
"Hey, now, wait just one minute!" Bilbo protests as Dwalin pushes past him. "I might not be alone, I could have friends waiting in the kitchen! And this house is not secure-" Bilbo swings the forgotten shotgun up to his shoulder- "I'm armed, dammit!"
Dwalin pauses, halfway down the hall, and walks back to Bilbo languidly. "That gun ain't loaded, son," he informs him.
Bilbo's already shaky confidence wavers and finally fails. His visitor is in the kitchen before he can get another word out. In any case, it's not a very useful word- simply a very tremulous "but…"
"Where's the cellar?" comes Dwalin's voice from the other room.
"Um…" Bilbo helpfully supplies. Dwalin's head appears from behind the lintel. Clouds of his earlier black look gather over his face. "Down the hall," Bilbo says quickly. He's already practically declared him a houseguest, after all. And let it not be said that Bilbo Baggins, of Bag End- which was a most respectable street in the days before the asphalt became pock holed and even the cats stopped foraging- was remiss in his duties as host.
Although he isn't needed. Dwalin has no trouble stomping his way down into the fallout shelter once he finds the door. Bilbo makes an abortive move towards him, intent on supervising the man and making sure he doesn't get into his stash of semi-hard cheeses, when the doorbell rings.
At least this one bothered with the bell, Bilbo thinks.
"That'll be Balin," Dwalin's voice drifts up.
Who is…? Bilbo turns, unasked question answered as an older fellow walks through the still-open door, a halo of fluffy white hair around his temples and chin putting off a rather jolly Santa Claus air.
"Watch it there, lad," the man says, carefully pushing the muzzle of Bilbo's shotgun down with one hand, "you'll put someone's eye out."
"Oh," Bilbo says, throwing the thing aside, "it's not loaded anyway."
Balin- for this must indeed be Balin; Bilbo's powers of deduction have steered him this far without too much trouble- raises one eyebrow and inquires of the whereabouts of his brother.
"Your brother? You don't mean Dwalin?" Mentally, Bilbo compares the short and rounded man in a red Cardinals jacket before him to the towering bald mass currently in his cellar. Two and two do not appear to make four in their case. Adopted, perhaps?
"Ah, he's here, then?" Bilbo steps aside as Balin follows in his brother's footsteps. "Send the others down when they come, will you?"
Panic bubbles in Bilbo's throat. Only moments ago he was alone, and content to be that way, and now his home is being invaded by what appears to be an extended family. He hadn't even known there were this many people left alive in the whole world, and suddenly they are all converging on his little house! What could they want, and- his thoughts go back to every action movie ever watched out of sheer boredom in those seemingly endless hours between one and three a.m.- are they going to hurt me to get it?
Still struggling to control himself, Bilbo closes the door and leans heavily against it. The shotgun lies against the baseboard, looking strangely comic. Where did I put those bullets again?
The next knock Bilbo can feel reverberating through his back. With a deep breath, Bilbo steels himself and wrenches the door open, prepared to face anything from a biker gang to a church choir standing on his doorstep. Anything but what actually greets him: a tall, stately old man, much older than Balin, flanked by two tweenage boys wearing identical expressions of unease.
The sight of the children comforts Bilbo. The sight of the old man, however, does not. Bilbo has the unplaceable feeling that he has seen him somewhere before. Not television… not news or magazines… not at work at the botanical nursery or the coffeeshop he used to frequent on his breaks. He can't put a finger on it. It niggles at him for a long time after the man shakes hands with Bilbo- he has to stoop to do it; he's even taller than Dwalin- and introduces himself.
"Good to see you, Bilbo- I'm Mr. Grey; but I doubt you recall."
"Sorry, do I know you?" Bilbo asks, puzzled.
"There will be time for that later," Mr. Grey says curtly, ushering in his two young charges before following them and shutting the door behind him with a snap. He pulls out a device identical to the one Dwalin had used (it's not a cell phone; Bilbo may not be the most tech savvy man on the block but he certainly knows what a cell phone looks like) and growls something that sounds like German into it. A staticy response in the same language comes through in Dwalin's voice.
"They're downstairs, if you want to talk face to face," Bilbo says weakly, at this point no longer fit or able to put up an argument. He has merely begun to hope that Mr. Grey and the two children will be the last of his visitors.
Mr. Grey nods in acknowledgement. "Kili, Fili. Come along," he says, a hand at the back of each, guiding them towards the stairs. Mr. Grey then shatters Bilbo's vague hope by saying "Be a good chap and wait here for a moment, please. We're expecting one more."
"Of course!" Bilbo says, half sarcasm and half politeness, a combination mastered at the heels of his mother, who played hostess perpetually in her day but unfortunately to a very disagreeable extended family. It is no use standing and so he puts his back to the wall and slides down it. He picks up his shotgun and sets it across his lap, waiting for the door to ring or bang or in some other way announce another visitor. Mr. Grey sees Kili and Fili safely downstairs before joining him, though he remains standing.
Conversation would have gone a long way to dispel the strange, tense air hovering between them, but Mr. Grey is focused entirely upon the door and Bilbo has not the courage left to try. So they sit there awkwardly, Bilbo's eyes occasionally darting from the door to Mr. Grey's face and back again.
A prickling feeling starts in his gut and worms its way around. Bilbo thinks of his half finished tomato puree, but knows that this feeling is not hunger. Every time Mr. Grey catches Bilbo watching him out of the corner of his eye, the feeling grows. Eventually he stops looking at the tall old man altogether and simply fixates on the door, as if through sheer force of will he can force it to open. The anticipation, at that point, feels more deadly than the radiation outside.
A surprisingly gentle knock startles Bilbo. The shotgun slips off his lap as he stands hurriedly, Mr. Grey already opening the door. Bilbo hangs back, curious; but not eager to be seen.
Standing on Bilbo's front step is a tall drink of dark water wrapped in a leather trench coat that goes all the way to the man's shins (which is a long way, considering his height- it must be an extended family; the statistical probability of so many giant people gathering in one place must be astronomical-) whose voice, when he greets Mr. Grey softly, is like a kitten's purr and warm butter and James Earl Jones all rolled into one seductive range.
"Gandalf. A sight for sore eyes. I thought you said this place would be easy to find?" Tall dark and handsome steps inside, drawing his trench closer around him.
Wait, is that fur Bilbo sees in its lining? Sure, New England winters are cold, but it's May, and according to Bilbo's outdoor thermometer readings the weather has been exceptionally mild that year.
"I got lost twice on the way," this newcomer informs Mr. Grey (Gandalf Grey?) mildly. He then steps around Mr. Grey and comes face to face with Bilbo, heretofore hovering nervously somewhere in the background. "Is this him?"
"Is this him who?" demands Bilbo.
"Yes, it is," Mr. Grey cuts in, ignoring him.
"Well, he certainly looks the type."
"What is that supposed to mean? Who are you, anyway?"
The newcomer looks around at Mr. Grey. "You've not told him?"
"We were waiting for you." He shrugs apologetically.
"No use delaying. Let's get on with it. I don't like leaving the trucks out in the open like this."
"Agreed. Everyone else is already waiting in the cellar, if you'd like to join them."
"Safe and sound, as promised."
A small, satisfied grunt. The newcomer then follows Mr. Grey as he leads the way to the cellar, and Bilbo, torn between indignation at this most unceremonious intrusion into his home and implacable curiosity finally rekindled, throws up his hands and follows a few feet behind.
His emotional meter flicks back into the "indignation" range when he sees the scene waiting for him two floors down in his private bunker. His own foodstuffs are laid out on a folding table with Dwalin, Balin, Kili and Fili gathered round.
That is the last straw. These people come out of nowhere, invade Bilbo's privacy and his house, and now they eat his food? Everyone is tucking in greedily, for all appearances men who haven't seen food in weeks. The scathing rebuke fluttering on the tip of Bilbo's tongue hesitates for a moment at the thought. Well, this is a post-apocalyptic world, Bilbo reminds himself. Maybe they really are starving. Even Mr. Trenchcoat- who hangs back with Gandalf- is looking on with jealousy.
"Make yourselves at home," Bilbo ends up muttering, the sarcasm merely half-hearted. At worst, the cans laid out before his visitors- upon closer inspection, quite the meager selection, Bilbo notices reluctantly- will set him back barely a week of rations, if even.
"Uncle!" the blonde boy exclaims from Dwalin's side. Dwalin looks up expectantly at Mr. Trenchcoat, whose visage vaguely softens.
"Fili," Trenchcoat greets, taking a step forward. "And Kili. Have you been minding Mr. Grey?"
"Yes, uncle," the other child, dark-haired, mutters dully. He is younger than his brother by a couple years- thirteen, fourteen years old, perhaps? The long, ragged hair makes it hard to guess. Bilbo doesn't mind children, as long as they stay out of his garden, and used to be friendly with his right hand neighbors' two girls. Before, that is.
A sudden stab of pains run through his heart at the tenderness and worry, now obvious, that the newcomer is directing at his nephews. Any remaining bitterness over his six houseguests pilfering of his pantry dissipates like air being let out of a balloon.
"Thorin," Balin greets, standing, and Bilbo is grateful that he no longer has to refer to him as "Trenchcoat." They embrace briefly before standing back and holding each other at arm's length for a moment. "What's the situation at the northern headquarters?"
"It was grim," announces Thorin, taking Balin's vacated seat and spinning it round to straddle it. He picks at some corn mournfully while Balin grabs another folding chair from the closet and joins the company again. Gandalf gravitates behind Thorin's chair, and Bilbo once again hangs back, surreptitiously seating himself in his armchair, away from the gathering. "Abandoned and looted, same as the others, though this time deserted. I took what was still usable and left."
"No sign of him. Dead or gone, it makes no difference to us now. He can't help us."
Balin grows quiet. Thorin sedately finishes his corn and starts on some peas. Bilbo doesn't know when he'll get a better opening, so he chooses the moment to pipe up.
"Ah, excuse me."
Five heads swivel towards him as he struggles out of his deep armchair. (Kili is far too focused on the food in front of him.)
"Yes, hi. Um. You may not be aware of this, but the cellar you're sitting in is mine, as is the food you're eating-" Dwalin protectively slides a can towards him across the table- "and you're welcome to it," Bilbo hastily amends. "But the thing is, I think that entitles me to ask a few questions."
Silence, as though a collective "go on" was uttered and understood.
"Well." Bilbo clears his throat. "First of all, who the hell are you?"
Gandalf Grey comes forward and places a hand on Bilbo's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Bilbo, I've been inexcusably rude-introductions are of course in order- I believe you've already met Dwalin and Balin-"
Dwalin grunts. Balin nods and smiles.
"And these two are Kili and Fili,"
The two boys look up briefly, though Bilbo is at a loss to distinguish who is whom.
"And you already know myself."
That sense of déjà vu hit's Bilbo again. "We've met before, haven't we?"
Gandalf smiles with a twist of the left corner of his mouth. It is less of a smile and more of a promise of secrets he has no intention of revealing. (Which sums up the man very well, Bilbo is to learn later.)
"And this is Thorin Durin," Gandalf announces, mischievous smile still in place. Thorin does not look up or acknowledge his name. Surly fellow, Bilbo thinks, and close on the heels of that thought comes rude as well. "We are survivors of S.M.A.U.G., much like yourself, though I would daresay from very different circumstances."
"I'm sorry, did you say 'smog?'"
"Sma-ug," Balin corrects, drawing out the "u" sound. Gandalf rolls his eyes. Bilbo gets the feeling that this is a long-standing argument.
"S.M.A.U.G." Gandalf waits a beat, obviously expecting some sort of reaction.
"… and what, exactly, is that?" asks Bilbo, raising his eyebrows and leaning forwards, the perfect attitude of polite, puzzled inquiry.
A few of the heads around the table perk up, intrigued.
"You mean you don't know?" Fili says, quite impertinently if truth be told. He receives a pointed look from Thorin for his trouble, and the boy is silenced. Bilbo folds his arms huffily, beginning to feel that he is missing a very, very important piece of information.
"No, I don't know. Will someone please, please tell me what all this is about?" His turn now to look expectantly at the rest, and it seems none of them know how to react. Finally, Gandalf shakes his head.
"I thought you knew. I'm afraid this will take some explaining. You might as well sit down."
"I'm not going anywhere," protests Bilbo. When he wants to be, he can be as stubborn as any mule. The fact brings him pride.
"Suit yourself. Thorin, perhaps you would be better suited-"
And then Gandalf begins a long story, and Bilbo does find himself sitting down halfway through it, because this is the kind of news you only hear once in a lifetime, and you either sit down and let it wash over you or you fall into a dead faint. With occasional interjection from Balin, Gandalf tells Bilbo the story of how the world ended, and the story goes a little like a horror novel blurb, and a little like a bad soap opera, and sounds a lot like this:
"I trust you know of Erebor Conglomerates?"
"No-o… wait. Yes. I think my security system is manufactured by them, actually."
"It was," Dwalin interjects. "Old model. Bad hardware. Easy to fool."
"I tried to warn you," Gandalf says. A light goes on in Bilbo's head.
"You're the salesman!"
Gandalf doffs an imaginary hat.
"Yes, yes-" Bilbo warms to his topic, his enthusiasm growing as the fog of his memory clears- "you came to my house not four months ago, trying to get me to upgrade my security! You told me you had a better version, or- or something," Bilbo relates. "You were gonna charge me an arm and a leg for it, too. Probably a con artist, I said to myself, no use mucking about with-"
Several pairs of eyes are staring at him, and Bilbo breaks off, embarrassed. "Sorry. Got off on a tangent. You were saying?"
"Erebor Conglomerates," says Gandalf sternly, "made a great many things besides security systems. Communications technology, for instance. Server systems. Clean energy. And within the last five years, it developed weapons."
Something in the line of Thorin's shoulders stiffens. Though all the others have stopped eating and are now focused solely on Gandalf, Thorin is steadfastly ignoring him.
"The American government approached Thrain Durin with a request. As he was acting CEO in his father's stead, he listened to what Congress was asking of Erebor-"
"Thor would never have allowed it," Balin puts in. He raises his eyes from the table and looks straight at Bilbo. "Never."
The solemnity with which he delivers the word "never" strikes a chord in Bilbo. He sits down at this point and starts really paying attention. Something about this story has just taken a turn for the worse, and it is a turn that is etched into the countenances of every single stranger sitting around his cheap folding table.
"The government," continues Gandalf, as though there had never been an interruption, "was growing nervous about the Russians. This was, oh…" he does some quick finger-math. "Say six years ago. Putin had just been 'elected' for his fifth term, they were shutting down embassies by the tens and withdrawing ambassadors in droves. The president was nervous. No one wanted another Cold War- ironic, really, considering what they asked of Thrain."
Gandalf pauses, seemingly sucked away by other, darker thoughts.
"What was it?"
Gandalf jerks back to the present, smiling serenely. "Hmm?"
"What did they ask of Thrain?" Bilbo prompts patiently.
"Oh, yes. They wanted a weapons platform. A nuclear deterrent on a scale never before seen on this Earth. And Thrain said he'd build it."
"It was a fool's idea," Thorin breaks in suddenly, rising from his chair.
When someone of that height suddenly stands up and places his feet wide apart, by golly you sit up and listen. "From a fool's mind. I told my father this- I told him a thousand times! There was nothing to be gained by it!" He brings a fist down on the table, clattering aluminum silverware.
"We know, son," Balin says gently, placing a placating hand on Thorin's forearm. For a moment Bilbo thinks he will shrug it off, but he subsides instead, and slowly retakes his seat.
"Ah, but there was power," Gandalf says softly, unmoved by the whole performance. A hard glint replaces anger's light in Thorin's eyes, a fire banking itself, a defense mechanism. Against- what, Bilbo wonders? If what he says is true it was his father's business choices that brought about the existence of this weapon, but if Thorin was his son, perhaps he could have influenced him-
"A fool's idea," Thorin repeats, tense again. He sits and says no more.
Gandalf shifts- he has perched precariously on the edge of the folding table, and Bilbo has no idea how the flimsy little thing is supporting his weight- and sighs. "Nevertheless, the contract was lucrative, the government connections were irresistible, and Erebor's shares were already sky high. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain. Six months later Thrain gave the o-k to start the development of S.M.A.U.G."
"And five years later the world ended," Balin says bitterly.
Silence reigns for a little while, broken only by the agitated clinking of Kili's fork against the inside of a can. Bilbo glances from face to face, mouth slightly open. Has he missed something? How did the story go from the development of a weapon to the end of the world?
Oh. Oh, that was how it happened. Something must have gone wrong- Bilbo looks to Gandalf, a question for confirmation hovering on his lips, but Gandalf's closed countenance does not invite inquiry. Bilbo closes his mouth with a soft sound and sighs. Somehow, somewhere along the line, something went wrong with S.M.A.U.G., and Bilbo is not meant to know what it was. That rankles, a bit- the fact that a man possibly involved with the end of the world is sitting at his table and hasn't the common decency to say "yeah, I brought about the apocalypse, but I swear it was an accident."
An apology would be rather nice, Bilbo thinks to himself, staring at the back of Thorin's head. The man has nice hair, he realizes, growing out from a short cut and combed back neatly from the forehead and around the ears. But that's quite irrelevant and does nothing to stem Bilbo's irritation. He underscores rude in his growing mental list of Thorin's negative attributes.
Bilbo breaks the awkward growing silence by clearing his throat. "I- I'm sorry," he says hesitantly, because manners dictate that an apology is necessary somewhere and it might as well be from him. He looks at Kili and Fili, and realizes his words are sincere. He is sorry for the event that has brought them all here, to this point in their lives.
Unheeded goes his apology. He thinks a moment, and remembers another question that had burned so brightly in him only a half an hour before, and then he asks it with another apology prefaced: "I'm sorry, but what does this all have to do with me?"
Thorin goes from uncaring to suddenly intrigued, raking Bilbo over with a critical eye as he half-turns in his chair. Bilbo squirms a bit under the scrutiny, but manages to catch Thorin's eye and hold it. He hopes to convey a stern sense of "you-don't-scare-me" but fears it comes off more as a rabbit caught in a car's headlights.
Thorin stands once again with a giant scraping of metal against concrete floor. "Enough of this. We've wasted plenty of time here already. We have to get on the road. Is he coming or is he staying? It makes no difference to me."
Discomfort radiates from Balin, who turns a sympathetic look to Bilbo as Bilbo gapes at Thorin. Dwalin is merely shoveling in the last of his can's contents (strawberry preserves- Bilbo had been saving those!) and the teenagers have eyes only for their uncle.
"He is coming," Gandalf answers for Bilbo, moving to his side. He claps a hand on his shoulder firmly. It is not reassuring. Bilbo feels as though Gandalf is holding him in place. The feeling builds until it is all too much, and Bilbo shakes off Gandalf's hand, anger pricking in the furrow between his blonde eyebrows.
"I am not! You haven't even told me where you're going!" This is crazy, and getting progressively crazier by the minutes. He just wants these people to get out of his house and to leave him with his books and his cans- the tomato puree lies on the end table where he left it what feels like hours ago- and suddenly he is insatiably hungry.
"There are rumors," Gandalf says slowly, purposefully, "of survivors gathering in the southwest."
"Don't lie to the man, Gandalf," warns Thorin. "He might as well know the truth."
Then why don't you tell me yourself? Bilbo wonders angrily, but not angrily enough to lend the thought voice.
A sigh escapes Gandalf. "It is not a lie. Chasing down those rumors is our eventual goal. For the moment, however, we are bound for Las Vegas."
"Las Vegas?" Bilbo sputters. "Hate to break it to you, but the casinos are probably all closed-"
"Erebor's headquarters are located in Henderson, just outside Las Vegas," Gandalf cuts through, clearly fed up to the brim of his curious little grey fedora with all the interruptions he has suffered in the last hour. He speaks quickly from then on, as if eager to get it all out before anyone can stop him. "The late Thror Durin put precautions into place if ever there was a catastrophe like this. He grew up in the Cold War era, and therefore knew well how to have caution."
"Paranoia of an old man," Bilbo distinctly hears Thorin mutter. Gandalf closes his eyes briefly, biting out, "That paranoia will save your life, Thorin Durin."
The man is cowed. Bilbo is awed.
"As head of one of the world's top companies, Thror Durin was in a unique position to take very good precautions."
An idea is congealing slowly in Bilbo's head. He looks around his own concrete bunker, two stories below ground and financed for by ten years of savings and the money from selling his car and not having to pay for gas. If one small suburbanite man could do something like this, what could Thor Durin have done?
"This bunker is a stop gap, Bilbo," Gandalf says, lowering his voice. "How long will you last here? A year, or two, at most?"
Bilbo's heart flutters and clenches. Those are thoughts he has very carefully trained himself not to touch in the two months since the Event, and he has only recently mastered it. Even the barest prodding of the cold, gut-wrenching fear and panic is enough to set his eyes watering and the floor to pitching underneath him.
"I- I don't know. I don't know," he chokes out. Flicking his gaze over Gandalf's shoulder, Bilbo sees that (mercifully) the rest seem ignorant of their private conversation and his own momentary jelly-knees.
"Where we're going… it's different. Thror was a smart man, Bilbo. He was well prepared. It may not have been enough to save him, but- well. Wrong place, wrong time. A story for another day. Vegas may not have saved him, but it can save us."
"Why me? I've never met any of them-" Bilbo flaps a hand at the table- "before in my life, and you're barely an acquaintance. For that matter, how did you even find me-"
"That is also discussion for another time, Bilbo. It doesn't matter right now. What matters is this: do you believe I'm telling the truth?"
Bilbo looks into Gandalf's grey-blue irises, into the lines around his eyes and mouth, at the long hooked nose and the graceful gray hair framing his ears. His fist clenches and unclenches briefly at his side.
"Yes. I believe you."
"And do you trust me?"
Bilbo's answer comes quicker this time. "Yes."
"Then come with us. We're leaving now, while the roads are still good for traveling. We have a long way to go, after all."
Come with us echoes in Bilbo's ears. He puts a hand to his forehead and another to his waist, fighting the urge to faint. It is all too much, too much- an hour ago his world was confined to his CCTV feed and his pantry, and he had thought himself happy, and secure, and content, dammit, but maybe he was only fooling himself the whole time- maybe it had all just been an illusion he put in place to keep himself from going crazy.
After all, the world had ended, but Bilbo had just gone on as usual, four meals a day and head stuck in his books, etc. etc. And maybe there is something wrong with that. And- (but there is no maybe about this fact)- he knows that it cannot last.
He finds his answer wrung from his throat by fear, but he does not regret it- oh, no. Never, for the rest of his days, does Bilbo regret the choked words of "Yes, yes- yes, I'll come with you!" that he utters that afternoon in his concrete bunker. He does cover his mouth with his hands for a moment, and after recovering his courage a little bit, a hesitant smile spreads over his lips.
I'm really doing this, he thinks as Gandalf smiles in response. The tall grey man is saying something to the rest, but Bilbo does not hear. He is grabbing up a black, worn shoulder bag, and stuffing his first edition of Tolstoy into it (but quite carefully stuffing it, mind you) along with some hastily-wrapped gouda he's been saving for quite some time, and dashing into his bedroom for whatever clothes fall first underneath his grasping hands, everything traveling pell-mell into the bag.
When he emerges it is to find the rest of his company systematically emptying his pantry, and he hasn't given permission but he thinks well and good, at least we won't starve on the way, and for the first time since the Event- since S.M.A.U.G.- that ever-oppressive sense of dread niggling in the corner of his mind has lifted, and he is smiling.
Bilbo is going to Vegas.
A/N: No guarantees that this will progress beyond anything more than a one-shot, as lately my motivation to write has been hovering around 0. Although... this is the first piece of fic I've written in approximately six months, so perhaps that's a good sign.