The entire time Bilbo was gone, Thorin paced along the "front porch" muttering to himself. They watched him with concern but were not surprised. Many of them wanted to pace and would have had there been room. They had all grown close to the hobbit, but none of them quite so close as the king.

When the roar came from below, it was only Dwalin's arm around Thorin's chest and Fíli's voice in his ear that stopped him from charging down the tunnel to save his hobbit.

"It won't help," Fíli breathed, glancing over his shoulder with worry in his eyes. "You can't help him. And the smell of dwarf will only enrage Smaug further. It's why he had to come, remember?"

"Besides, if he's caught then he's already dead," Dwalin added. "You getting killed will help nothing." Dwalin's restraint soon became unnecessary as Bilbo himself emerged from the tunnel still smoking slightly.

"I'm fine," the hobbit promised as the dwarves closed in around him. "I swear. I'm a little singed but I'm fine." Even with his reassurances, it was only once each and every one of them had examined him to their satisfaction that he was allowed any kind of space. Needless to say, that space allowance from the other dwarves did not include space from Thorin. Even as Bilbo sank to the ground smiling up at the sky and laughing to himself Thorin refused to leave his side.

"I fail to see the humor in this situation," Thorin said testily when Bilbo had done nothing but laugh for more than a few moments.

"Oh, it's quite funny, I assure you," Bilbo promised. "How many people, let alone hobbits can say that they not only saw a live dragon but spoke with him and lived to tell the tale."

"You spoke with him?" Thorin breathed, feeling the blood drain from his face at the idea of his hobbit being near enough to a living, fire-breathing dragon to exchange words with it. Despite himself, Thorin began checking Bilbo over once more, knowing that they had to have missed something. There was no way that Bilbo had escaped the mountain unscathed. Fate was not that kind.

"Yes, I spoke with him," Bilbo replied before batting the dwarf's hands away. "And will you kindly stop that. I've already told you that I am fine and endured the poking and prodding of both you and the entire company. He managed to singe my coat and the backs of my feet and legs but I will suffer no lasting damage if you lot will just leave me be! I had one mother, I don't need thirteen of them."

"Right," the dwarf king muttered placing his hands in his own lap and surveying the hobbit with a critical eye. Bilbo's rejection of his care had hurt him more than he would admit but if the burglar did not desire his touch he would not force it on him.

"What did the dragon say, laddie?" Balin asked, breaking the tension that had developed between the couple since Bilbo had batted at Thorin's hands.

"What's it matter what he said?" Dwalin snapped waving away his brother's question. "Did you see any weaknesses? Broken limbs, loose scales, anything we can use against him?"

"You want to fight a dragon?" Bofur asked. "Are you mad? What part of furnace with wings don't you get?"

"And what would you have us do?" Glóin demanded. "Go home? Because those are our options, lads. We can either face the beast head-on and meet whatever fate awaits us and, Mahal willing, reclaim our homes or we can go home in disgrace and face telling the rest of our kin that we made it to the mountain, gained entrance to the treasury and still returned home empty-handed. I, for one, would rather face the beast than the ridicule of our kin."

"Kin who wouldn't come?" Ori demanded. "What right have they to ridicule us? We came. We faced danger. And we made it to the mountain. Do they truly expect us to sacrifice our lives in a futile attempt to kill a dragon?"

"It may not be futile," Kíli added enthuastically, the idea of killing a dragon exciting him. "Tell us, Bilbo, does the dragon have any weak spots? Is there anywhere other than an eye that I could sink an arrow? Somewhere more lethal? Somewhere he can't protect with scales if he sees it coming?"

"Yes!" Dwalin agreed clapping the young dwarf on the shoulder. "I told your uncle that bringing along an archer would be beneficial. True, I was thinking you could bring down game and not a dragon but really, he's just a big bird, isn't he?" Bilbo blinked at the warrior incredulously. A big bird? Had he never seen the dragon? No bird was so well armored! Nor a beast for that matter. And before he'd met the Eagles he would have said that no bird was so cunning.

"Did you notice anything of the sort, Master Baggins?" Balin asked quietly. That quiet question reminded Bilbo that he had a part to play in this yet. With a sigh he closed his eyes and replayed his encounter with Smaug in his head. All he could remember was unbelievable size, and heat and cunning. He hadn't figured on the dragon being so intelligent. He'd been imagining a mindless beast with a lust for gold not the cold calculating thing that he'd been presented with. But as for weaknesses, he'd noticed nothing. Not that he'd been looking, per say. He'd been a bit preoccupied with the live dragon in the room.

"I . . . I didn't see anything," he said eventually, looking from one hopeful face to another. "I'm sorry. I didn't notice any weaknesses. But . . . but I wasn't looking for them. I was too overwhelmed by the sheer size of everything. Including the hall and the gold. I . . . I can go back. Look for them this time." He wasn't sure what made him offer such a thing at the time, but if you were to ask him later he would have said that it was the disappointment on their faces.

No matter what caused it, he couldn't deny that their cheers and pats made him feel their joy rather than his own fear at facing the dragon once more. And he most likely would have been shuffled down the tunnel right then were it not for Thorin's voice cutting through the revelry.

"Not tonight," the Dwarf King said, his tone broking no argument. "If Master Baggins wishes to tempt fate and bait the dragon once more, that is his prerogative but it will not be this night. I will not allow him to goad the beast further when it has already attempted to incinerate him once. We will allow it time to calm then he may attempt it if he has yet to come to his senses."

"Thorin," Bilbo muttered reaching for his lover, only to have the dwarf yank his arm out of reach, unwilling to bear the hobbit's touch when there was a chance that after tomorrow he would never feel it again. Especially not with Bilbo shunning his touch and recklessly courting death.

"I will hear no more on this matter tonight," the dwarf said to the company, his back to his lover. "We will discuss Master Baggins' death-wish more tomorrow."

"Thorin?" Bilbo asked moving forward to try to figure out what was upsetting his lover. It had been ages since Thorin had called him 'Master Baggins' and to hear it now, after everything they'd shared . . . it hurt. However, the dwarf said nothing more but merely walked away down the path into the darkness.

"Sho-should someone go after him?" Bilbo asked. "He clearly doesn't want it to be me but . . . he shouldn't be alone."

"Thorin can handle himself, lad," Dwalin said. "Come, let me tell you what to look for tomorrow." Bilbo nodded and moved to sit beside the large warrior, even if he couldn't help but sneak glances in the direction Thorin had gone. He only hoped that time alone would not cause yet another slip. He wasn't sure that he had it in him to pull the dwarf out of it again. Especially as Thorin was currently shunning his touch and he wasn't sure that he could forgive himself for being the cause this time.

ooOO88OOoo

He needn't have worried. Recognizing what the hobbit's words had actually meant, Fíli and Kíli had followed their uncle. They found him a little way down the path, sitting on the edge and staring out at the Desolation. Neither of them said a word, but simply sat themselves on either side of him and stared out at the landscape themselves, allowing him the solitude he craved and the companionship he needed.

Neither of them knew how long they had sat there before Thorin sighed.

"That once was green," he muttered nodding to the land below. "The men of Dale grew crops along the river, there. And below us here . . . there were pines. And the rest . . . forests, meadows. There were flowers there once, scattered throughout the green like bright gems. Your mother and mine loved the flowers. And game. Deer, boar, fish . . . this land was once fertile, alive. That's how I remember it. Green and alive not . . . Smaug destroyed it. Killed it. Along with men and dwarves. I hate to think what damage he has wrought inside the mountain. I fear he has destroyed more than just the gates."

"The forests will grow back, Uncle," Fíli said quietly. "The game will return. The men will rebuild and begin farming again and . . . and we're dwarves, crafted of stone to craft stone. Any damage he caused we can repair. And once we're done no one will ever know the damage was there. You know this."

"And Bilbo?" Thorin asked. "Can we repair him if Smaug damages him? Will he grow back like the plants? Can he be rebuilt? Revived?"

"That won't happen, Uncle," Kíli offered. "Bilbo is both cunning and sneaky. Smaug will never touch him."

"I cannot believe that," Thorin replied, still staring out at the destroyed landscape. "That beast has taken nearly everything from me. Why should this be any different? Had he not come we would never have been exiled. We would have remained here, happy, alive. Our line would not be reduced to a mere four dwarves. There would be many of us."

"And there will be again," Fíli promised, not pointing out that there were decisions that had been made by Thrain and Thror that contributed to the decline of their line than Smaug had. "Kíli and I both carry the blood of our line. We can sire more. The line will not end with us, Uncle. You will have many more grand-nephews and, Mahal willing, perhaps a grand-niece or two to dote on. But first we need to reclaim the mountain so that you can dote on them as a king should. And to do that, we must kill that dragon."

"Bilbo is our only hope, Uncle," Kíli added. "And he knows that. Do you think he would go back in otherwise?"

"Perhaps," Thorin replied sadly. "He does seem to have a lack of regard for his own well-being."

"Only where your own is concerned," Fíli countered. "All the dangerous things he's done . . . they were for you. This is no different. He does this for you, for your home and kingdom. Or have you forgotten that he already has a home?" Thorin did not reply and the conversation lapsed into silence once more.

Eventually Thorin spoke once more. "I was wrong, wasn't I?" he asked. "To react the way I did."

"We understand why you did," Fíli answered diplomatically unsure which of the bad reactions that day his uncle was speaking of. "However an apology might be in order. You did hurt him."

"I thought as much," Thorin sighed before pushing himself to his feet. "Come, there may be food back at camp. Perhaps even something warm in celebration of obtaining entry to the mountain." They said nothing but rose to their feet to follow him back to camp, more than pleased at the idea of a warm meal and a small celebration.

ooOO88OOoo

And I'm back! It was even less than a month this time :) I hope you enjoyed the newest chapter and I hope to have the next posted next week :)

April Flowers: Thank you!

Fanfiction Queen: Mahal and lembas in the same sentence? Sacrilege! Just kidding. I'm glad that you feel it's worth celebrating. And thank you. I'm glad that you enjoyed it and that it's coming off as realistic.

Kyle:I don't know if you made it this far but I hope if you did the changes that came later were at least enough to keep your interest.

And that's all for now folks. I hope you enjoyed it and would love to hear what you thought.

Stickdonkeys