They reached the mountain proper with no trouble and no sign of the dragon. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be any sign of Gandalf, or of the secret door either. The dwarves and their lone hobbit ranged about the side of the mountain with their map, following the rune's directions to where it was written that the door would be waiting. They found nothing.
"It's useless! Durin's day passes us by and we'll not find it at all!" Bombur had clearly given up what looked to be a futile search. Thorin glowered at him.
"I will not wait for another year to pass as that beast lies within our home. We will find the door!" The rest of the party fell into a shouting match as Dwalin, Gloin, Fili and Kili took up Thorin's ire and agreed, while Nori, Dori, and Oin thought the whole endeavor was now useless. Biffur's babbling was unintelligible, therefore whose side he was taking was anyone's guess, and Ori strove to remain silent and wait for the arguments to end.
Bilbo, being fed up with the lot of them, quietly slipped away. They were constantly fighting and it was beginning to give the rather quiet hobbit something of a headache. The pressure of feeling so close to Sherlock wasn't helping.
Swift movement and a flutter of wings had him looking up, the monumental statue of a dwarf hewn out of the rock face meeting his view. The way up was clear and Bilbo chuckled. He shook his head over how they'd all missed this.
"Thorin!" The yell went unheard over the fight.
"Thorin!" Again no response and with a sigh Bilbo turned towards them and summoned Captain Watson's best shouting voice.
"THORIN!" The entire group froze as one and turned to gape at the hobbit. Bilbo merely pointed, trying not to smirk as they all gaped at what had been right before them.
"Well done, Mister Baggins, yet again you bring us luck." Thorin passed by the now flushing hobbit, He clapped a heavy hand over Bilbo's shoulder before starting the ascent. The rest of the party followed.
Bilbo was last up, and as he touched the rock face a shock echoed through him. Apprehension and anticipation flared through the link with Sherlock. He resolutely ignored the emotions and the budding suspicion that still lingered in his mind. This was no time to get distracted.
The climb was difficult for the shorter hobbit, but not impossible, and all were in high spirits when they reached the platform and what must be the hidden door. The mood rather quickly turned sour as the fading sun revealed nothing. The last of the sun slipped away and no door, not even a hint of a sign. No attempt to force the door open, or tap out its location, did any good and the dwarves gave up, to a one defeated. They gathered off to the side, another argument simmering into life in low voices as climbing back down in the dark would be nothing short of suicidal.
Yet again Bilbo ignored them. Something was teasing at his mind as he continued to stare at the rock face.
He stared at the wall, knowing they were missing something. Sherlock's voice echoed briefly from his memory, 'There's always something'. Without warning the bird that had first gotten his attention to look up made its appearance. It was a thrush, swooping down to grab up a large snail from the mossy rock. With a peculiar knocking sound it began to bash the invertebrate against the stones, cracking open the shell to feed. Bilbo felt his eyes go wide as things slotted neatly into place in his mind.
'Where the thrush knocks twice, at the last light of Durin's day.' Well, the sun was down and nothing had been revealed, but didn't a day officially end at midnight? And were not the map's crucial instruction revealed by moonlight?
As if summoned by the very notion, a break in the cloud cover appeared. A single beam of moonlight lanced down to wash the stone wall with quicksilver. Bilbo turned and stared, quick eyes searching nooks and crannies. For a moment he thought he was wrong, but then a tiny glimmer caught his eye. He rushed forward, fingers dancing over the spot and finding a hold just the right shape for the key. Excitement flared and was echoed with curiosity by Sherlock. The hobbit sent reassurance in response and the presence on the other side of the bond subsided again.
"Thorin!" This time he didn't have to repeat himself to be heard. There was a mass scramble behind him as the dwarves lunged up and came to investigate. Bilbo looked up and grinned at them, fingers still on the key hole so as not to loose it as the clouds shifted.
"It was the moonlight! The 'last light' wasn't the sunset at all." He stepped back, allowing Thorin access to the rock face and showing him where the key hole was. The dark haired dwarf said nothing as he slotted the key into the lock, everyone holding their breath as he turned it and it gave a hollow click. With shaking hands Thorin pressed against the door, and it swung open without resistance.
"Your keen eyes help us yet again. It seems that bringing you along has done nothing but good." Thorin's voice was a little raw as he gazed for the first time in many years upon the carved halls of his home land. He rested a hand briefly on the hobbit's shoulder before passing him and walking into the halls.
Bilbo followed, the rest coming in shortly after. He listened as they spoke with each other with half an ear, gaze focused on the carving above the doorway and the stone that seemed to be radiating light above the throne.
"What's that then?" His voice was hushed, as he had the sense things were about go get a great deal more dangerous.
"That is the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain." Balin's voice was hushed as well, caught in memory.
"And the reason you are here, burglar." Thorin turned from the tunnels and stepped up to the hobbit, towering over him, expression grim. The rest of the company turned to face Bilbo as well. The hobbit swallowed and nodded.
"You want me to go in there and find the Arkenstone." It wasn't a question in the slightest. Thorin merely nodded and gave the hobbit a small nudge down the corridor.
"We will be waiting here for you." Said the leader of the Company.
"What, exactly am I looking for?" Bilbo was resigned now, and trying to drown out his nerves. Balin stepped up, taking his arm and leading him down into the dark.
"Its a large jewel, white like a falling star, about the size of your fist." His voice was quiet, a touch reverant. The old dwarf paused out of sight and hearing of the others.
"You don't have to do this you know. No one would blame you for turning back." Balin sounded like he didn't quite believe his own words. Neither did Bilbo, not with the look of hard longing Thorin had bestowed upon the carved image of the Arkenstone. The hobbit merely chuckled and squared his shoulders, meeting Balin's gaze.
"No, but I believe I need to. I swore to help you regain you homeland, and help you I will." He grinned a little, John showing through for a moment, "Besides, I'm small enough to not even be a meal; the dragon might not even bother to try to eat me."
Balin just stared at him a moment and then chuckled, shaking his head.
"The courage of hobbits." He stepped back, "Go on then, Mr. Baggins. Go and steal the Mountain's Heart from beneath the last Fire-Drake of the north." The old dwarf turned and left before Bilbo could respond.
For a long minute the hobbit stood alone in the dark, staring down into the lightening blackness that lead to the dragon and the mountains of gold beneath the mountain. He reached out to Sherlock, and the bond thrummed in response, pulling him forward. He followed, remembering at the last second to move silently and slip on his ring. He thoroughly ignored any thoughts of why Sherlock would be in the mountain with a bloody dragon.
Warmth blasted up the tunnel, and the light grew slightly stronger as he went down. Nothing in his imagination could have prepared him for the view that opened before his eyes at the end of the secret passage. No cave this, but a once glorious city inside the mountain; walkways and tunnels and columns so tall they were lost to the dark crisscrossing and hollowing the vast space. The treasures of the Dwarven Kings lay before him, a sea of gold and gems. All of the wonder marred by scorches to the stone and great gouges that looked to have been done by claws.
Heat washed over him in a breath that smelled of molten metal and he was reminded that he was not alone in the massive halls. Careful not to move, he cast his gaze about and finally laid eyes upon the beast that had so long ago driven the dwarves from their mountain.
The hobbit could see little of the creature, for it was buried deep into the mounts of gold. Its nose, from which the glow and plumes of smoke rose, appeared beyond the glittering gems and golden coins. Its horns jutted free, massive spikes of ruby gilded with gold, the webbed ear frill twitched slightly and laid still again. It seemed to be asleep, if the even rise and fall of the gold was any sort of indication and Bilbo drew up his courage.
'Right then' Bilbo thought to himself, 'Old Smaug is asleep. He can't see me and if I'm careful he won't hear me. Might get away with this yet.' He stepped out into the gold only to have it cascade beneath his feet like shale. A frantic scramble brought him to a platform jutting from beneath the gold and he froze in fear.
One ear frill twitched and its breathing paused for a moment, but the sound didn't seem to wake the massive creature. With a snort and a shift that moved so much gold Bilbo staggered at the creature's size, it settled again. The hobbit waited, afraid to move for what felt like an eternity before he stepped off the platform, stepping carefully, as lightly as he'd ever walked. He was desperate to avoid another avalanche of gold.
Time passed while he searched and found nothing. Frustration built, not at all helped by the amusement Sherlock was emitting from the other side of the bond. The hobbit resolutely ignored the feeling as his search led him through the hills and valleys of gold. He grew bolder, as it seemed that his rummaging about wasn't going to actually awaken the beast, and passed far closer than he should to the sleeping fire-drake.
He did not see the fiery golden eyes slide open. Did not see the way the slitted pupils contracted to follow the footsteps of the invisible being through the gold. Did not hear the change in breathing as the dragon stopped pretending to sleep.
His first realization that all was not right was when the long red and gold tail rose and slammed into the hoard in a circle around him, trapping him in a wall of scales each the size of a dinner plate. Bilbo fell back with a strangled squeak of shock, staring in horror as Smaug's head rose over the wall of his tail and stared down into the coil, cascading wealth from his horn crowned head. Its eyes blazed, glowing brilliantly in their focus on the living fence its tail had created.
Bilbo was shaking hard enough to rattle the gold about him as that head snaked forward and took a deep breath of the scent of the invisible hobbit. The creature snorted, sending hot breath washing over him and the dragon reared its head back. Hesitant reassurance from Sherlock rolled across the link even as the beast tilted its head, narrowing intelligent slit-pupiled eyes into the curl of his tail.
"I can smell you, hear you, and see the gold move beneath your feet, thief." Painful familiarity fluttered in the part of Bilbo that was John at the dragon's deep sonorous voice, "If you do not wish to become a pile of ash marring my gold I suggest you show yourself. If you can," It paused, the silence menacing, "And woe to you if you are not my expected company."
Dangerous amusement flared through the bond with Sherlock as Bilbo stared up at the dragon, disbelief and confused shock radiating from his end.
"Ah... Ah, forgive me... oh... oh Tremendous, and Great Smaug... I did not mean to disturb you, I..." He paused to swallow, "I merely came to have a look at you! I had heard tales of your magnificence, but, you see, I did not believe them." He rattled off the words, not really thinking about them as it felt as if his brain had shut down.
The creature rumbled low in its chest, setting the gold around it vibrating and massive wings of ruby and amber rose and settled back again. It's ear frills were flared wide as if to catch every little nuance of the voice of the invisible hobbit.
"Show yourself." The words a demand. The emotions from Sherlock were hesitant now.
"Forgive me, Magnificent Smaug, but I cannot."
"Liar." Bilbo swallowed thickly at the amused rumble, and babbled out flatteries, hoping to draw himself more time as he tried to figure out what was happening.
"I have heard of the severity of your talons- which can rend stone with a mere swipe. As well as the deadliness of your teeth! Like the sharpest, well crafted swords! Your wings, which can fell forests in a single swoop! I wanted to see your glory for myself, Oh Great and Terrible Smaug." Even to Bilbo the words rang false with fear.
The dragon snorted, washing smoke over him in a breath that reeked of molten metal.
"Are you done? If I had wanted to immediately kill you, you would have been down my gullet before you even realized I was aware of your presence." It dipped its nose to breath his scent again, "However, yours is a scent I've not encountered before. There is but one species in Middle Earth I can think of that I've not met and have only recently learned of. I ask again; show yourself." The dragon's thunderous words were demanding and harsh. The drake's voice was amused, though for some reason Bilbo thought it felt slightly forced.
"If you could devour me without seeing me, then why should I show you and all but ensure my own death?" It was entirely the wrong thing to say as the dragon tightened the coil of its tail until it was pressing against the hobbit's sides. Bilbo let out a gasp as he waited for the tail to squeeze the air right out from his lungs.
"You are right there, little thief." To the hobbit's shock it loosened its tail again, "However, and fortunately for you, you are interesting, and why would I eat something that is breaking the monotony of my boredom?"
Wary, hesitant anticipation was curling through the link and the evidence to support the theory that Bilbo was desperately hoping was wrong was piling up. The hobbit took a deep breath.
"Most Deadly and Disastrous Smaug, if I reveal myself to you, will you at least." He hesitated, heart beating fast and hard, "At least grant me a moment to speak before you eat me?" Bilbo wasn't quit sure about how he felt about the dragon being clearly amused at the request. The creature rumbled what could only be a laugh and settled down into the gold, cupping the invisible hobbit with its claws and pulling its long tail away.
"I see no harm in that. I've not made up my mind to eat you after all."
It was the hesitant, hopeful reassurance over the link that finally had the hobbit, against his better judgment, pulling off the ring. Bilbo knew the image he presented, ragged and thin and dirty from the long journey, pale from fear and clutching the ring behind his back. But his dark eyes were hard as he stared up into the dragon's face.
The creature looking down at him sighed gustily, and all tension went out of its frame. The massive head tilted, pale golden eyes focused and examining him with an all too familiar intensity.
"When you told me how small hobbits were it did not quite register to me how very tiny you would be in reality." The harsh growl of the creature's voice evened out now that he was not trying to be threatening and there was no mistaking the deep baritone of Sherlock Holmes thrumming out of that long scaled neck. Had the hobbit not already been sitting he would have fallen back into the gold, gaping up at the creature in shock as all those ignored and shoved aside suspicions proved true.
The dragon shook his head, ear frills twitching, and sighed heavily.
"Do remember to breath, John." There was an almost painful fear through the link. The name and that emotion broke the hobbit out of his paralysis.
"Sh-Sherlock?" The name was cracked out past the way his mouth had gone dry. The drake snorted and rumbled softly, dipping his long muzzle in a nod. Warmth flooded the hobbit, resonating across the link. The longing that had been a part of his life since his first remembrances vanished, replaced and filled with the feeling that he was finally whole. The bond echoed, and Bilbo could feel Sherlock's own empty pain being soothed away to nothing, filled with the sensation of relief at finding each other.
The dragon sighed, the sound thrumming out of his throat almost like the purr of a massive cat, but his voice held none of that pleasure.
"Yes John. And a name I much prefer to Smaug...stupid name, really, don't know what I was thinking when I called myself that. Though, I suppose to be fair I was very young at the time." He tilted his head down at the hobbit. Pale eyes bored into him, holding warmth and reassurance despite their predatory nature.
"Okay. I'm … I'm fine. Entirely fine." Bilbo shook his head, "No, no I'm not." He collapsed backwards in a dead faint. Sherlock blinked down at him and snorted.
"I see you still overreact on occasion." He remarked carelessly, not caring that the being he was speaking to was currently unconscious. The dragon settled himself down into the gold, cupping the hobbit up into his massive hands with exaggerated care. Nothing to do but wait for him to awaken and hope that his dwarves did not attempt a futile rescue before then.
Fortunately, Sherlock didn't have to wait long as shortly the hobbit began to stir. Dark eyes blinked open and the tiny creature froze, staring up at the long scaled muzzle looming over him. Without a word he searched for the link, hesitant and wary and more than a little afraid. What he got back was warmth and reassurance, a possessiveness that nearly had him flushing, and the dragon's eye's half closing as the bond between them hummed and settled in deeper and tighter and stronger.
"I...I wasn't dreaming." Bilbo's own eyes were wide as he stared up at the beast that housed the mind and soul of his closest friend of his previous life. The dragon snorted, though he lifted his head enough to not blow smoke in the hobbit's face.
"No you were not, for once." He sounded pleased, but there was a trace of apprehension to be felt across the bond.
Bilbo flopped back against the warm pebbled skin of the dragon's palm, one hand flung over his face.
"You couldn't have just told me, could you? You bloody great bastard." He groaned it out and then sat up, glaring up at the massive creature, "Come find me, you said. Come and find me!" He was more John than Bilbo at the moment and lurched upright, reaching for Sting.
"I should put my sword through your bloody hand for that you massive git!" Logically the hobbit knew he couldn't so much as put a scratch on the dragon's scales, but that didn't abate his anger at finding out that Sherlock had been deliberately keeping this from him.
The dragon blinked, and then threw his head back and roared out a laugh. Flames gouted from his jaws in a blast of heat and light. The sound reverberated through the mountain and shaking dust from the rocks above.
However, beneath the laughter Bilbo could feel Sherlock's unease, and a faint thread that felt like fear. With a shake of his head the beast got himself under control and looked back down at him, pale eye glittering.
"Really John, what would you have done if I'd told you?" His voice took on a mocking note, bitter and pained, "Oh, by the way, not only am I not human but I am, in fact, Smaug Red-Death, the Destroyer and the very monster that routed your friends from their home and the beast you're journeying to kill. What a conversation that would have been!" His voice rose, louder and louder until he was shouting, and again flames billows from his jaws. Though he was careful to lift his head up and away from the hobbit.
Bilbo gaped at him. For a moment he was struck dumb by the bitter rage in the dragon's voice. The feeling through the bond spoke of pain and fear, giving lie to Sherlock's tone, but the hobbit was too enraged still to give in to what he felt from the other side of the bond.
"You could have something at least! Not left me completely in the dark. We could have been trying to figure out a way around all this!" The dragon merely blinked at the yelling.
"All what?" He didn't sound concerned and it fanned Bilbo's frustration further.
"I'm not alone you idiot. There is a pack of dwarves up there that want nothing better than to hang your hide on the walls and mount your head on the battlements!" There was a frantic note entering the hobbit's voice that he could do nothing about. Sherlock didn't seem to share his fears.
The dragon snorted and arched his neck. He fanned his wings out slowly and they glowed with the light of his inner fire, the gold reflecting it back in a haze of ruby and amber.
"Let them come then. I am armored above and below by iron scales and glittering treasure. I have faced armies of thousands and come away with naught but a scratch." He arched his neck, eyes flashing as he voice rumbled and echoed through the chambers.
"My claws are spears, my teeth are swords," His voice rose again, deeper and menacing, "My wings call up the hurricane and my breath an inferno! I am fire! I am Death! Let them come and be scattered as chaff before a firestorm!" Smaug roared, flames engulfing the darkness of the ceiling and his gargantuan wings flared, their wind such that even the gold tumbled from the wind. His pale eyes blazed, a sudden territorial rage overtaking the normally rational mind.
Bilbo fell back in his hands, gaping up at the dragon and quite easily now believing that this creature routed the whole of a dwarven city from their home.
"You...you really are Smaug. Aren't you?" The words were torn out of his throat in a breathless whisper, fear fighting with resignation.
The dragon heard him, regardless of the volume. Instantly the bond slammed closed, only allowing the thinnest thread of Sherlock's emotions through. He stared down at the tiny creature in his claws and settled down again, closing his wings and looking away from him.
"Yes, John. I am. I was gold-mad as any my kin have ever been when I took this place. Completely mad from the lack of a hoard and for the fact that for an age I was missing half my soul with no knowledge of why living alone caused me such unending grief." The link might have been mostly closed, and Sherlock might not have been looking at him but the hobbit could still hear the ancient pain and feel the ache of loneliness from the dragon.
Bilbo gaped at him again, something he seemed to be doing a great deal of. Sherlock was willingly sharing emotions. That was...awful. It must have been far, far worse than he was letting on to even admit that much.
With a heavy sigh the hobbit let go of his anger. Instead he reached for the bond, tugging on it once to get Sherlock's attention and then opening himself to the dragon. He let go of the old pain of his own loneliness, let go of the anger he'd felt with Sherlock's deception, and allowed warmth and forgiveness to flood the link. It was his turn to offer up reassurance to the dragon instead of the other way around, his turn to sooth the other's fears and pain.
In response, the link opened, allowing the emotions to flow through. The dragon settled with a sigh, dipping his head down so that his muzzle hovered at chest height to the hobbit still cradled in his hands. He was afraid to initiate the contact and so Bilbo did it for him. Without hesitation the reincarnated hobbit placed his hands against the dragon's nose, leaning against the almost soft scales covering teeth larger than he was tall with no fear.
"The dreams never were quite enough, were they?" Sherlock's voice was as soft as he could make it, and still Bilbo felt the words in his bones. The hobbit shook his head, remembering only belatedly that Sherlock likely couldn't actually see him where he was. His eyes blurred as the long years of empty longing echoed from both sides of their bond.
"No!...No they weren't..." His breathing hitched and he felt tears pouring down his cheeks but made no motion to wipe them away as it would mean loosing contact with Sherlock.
"I was...Oh God I was so lonely." A creature with lesser hearing than a dragon would not have been able to pick out the thin, almost whimpered words.
"I know John." That pain echoed again across the bond, Sherlock's even deeper and more damaging than John's own. Beneath it, bubbling to the surface, supplanting the hurt, was relief.
"Its over, now. We've found each other at last and nothing will tear us apart ever again." The bond thrummed with the dragon's promise, clamping tighter about their souls. Bilbo let it, the tears turning from old pain to those of happiness. Tears of the kind that only came when a broken soul was torn to nothing before being rebuilt again. The cleansing tears did not last long as the hobbit suddenly recalled that there was someone, several someone's in fact, that would quite happily tear them apart.
Bilbo pulled back from the dragon's nose, wiping his eyes and regaining his composure as best he could.
"How long have I been down here?" His voice only wavered a moment at the beginning. Sherlock reared his head back, glancing towards the tunnel the hobbit had come through.
"Long enough for your companions to no doubt begin to grow nervous of the state of your health. Though I surmise it will be a while yet before they build up their courage to try and retrieve you." His voice was mild, unconcerned.
"Oh dear. I should probably go and tell them I'm fine..." He trailed off as Sherlock snorted and tilted his massive head down at him, one molted gold eye pinning him.
"And tell them what? That the beast that rent their home from them is no longer a threat? They will neither believe you nor let you return and I have not just gotten you back to allow you to walk away from me now." Possessiveness flared over the bond, hot and nearly smothering. There was true affection beneath the dragon's instinctual greed, and that alone kept Bilbo from yelling at him over the feeling. The hobbit blinked at him.
"You can't expect me to just stay down here, Sherlock. They're going to come down here and try to kill you! You might be armored but you've a spot almost over your heart that's bare as a snail's belly. Kili's an expert bowman; I don't doubt he could put an arrow there easily enough!" Bilbo was yelling as he pointed, trying to drown out the thought of his friend piercing the heart of the other half of his soul. The dragon gave him a bemused look in response and craned his neck down to see for himself.
"So I have. A thing easy enough to fix. " He settled his massive bulk down into the gold, burying the bare place in treasure. A mere thought and the smallest flicker of heat and power was enough to fuse the naked place closed into a mat of glittering armor to match the rest of his underbelly.
"Better?" There might have been a faintly mocking tone in the dragon's voice. Bilbo glared and threw his hands up in exasperation.
"Yes, oh Greatest of Calamities, your waistcoat of diamonds is whole again." The dragon merely chuckled at the hobbit, but the small creature wasn't done.
"What now, Smaug the Golden, the Red-Death?" Bilbo asked, his voice sharp with sarcasm and a touch of fear, "Are you going to kill the dwarves when they try to rescue me? Kill the ones that have kept me safe through fire, air and water? Kill my friends?" The hobbit was starting to sound a bit frantic as the reality that the death of someone he cared for might be imminent. Sherlock stared at him and sighed heavily.
"If they mean that much to you then I give my word that I shall do them no permanent harm." Magic thrummed for the briefest moment as the dragon's binding promise was made. Bilbo stared at him, letting out his breath and nodding. He placed a hand against the massive digits cupped about him, gaze steady as he stared up at the reptilian face of his greatest friend.
"I believe you, Sherlock." His voice was soft, tired suddenly, "But they won't, I don't think." There was fear flickering through the bond again, the fear of being alone. It would destroy them both now.
"I will not loose you again John, not to anything this world can throw at us." Sherlock pulsed reassurance across the link.
He would have said more but the unmistakeable stench of dwarf and the sound of heavy booted feet careening through a corridor cut him short.
"They gathered their nerve faster than I would have anticipated." The words were offhanded, but Bilbo could feel tension tighten the creature's body.
"Dwarves." Was all the hobbit offered in their defense. Sherlock snorted, relaxing a bit again and dipped his head to nudge gently against the tiny form of the other half of his soul. Then with a sigh he raised his head, ear frills flaring wide.
"Enter, Thorin, son of Thrain!" His voice boomed through the chamber like thunder, and the dwarves froze in the passage, "Enter with no fear for the lives of you and yours."
For a full minute there was silence from the passage. Then they rallied their courage again and charged into the hoard, weapons raised. It would have been a far more impressive entrance had several of them not skidded on the gold on the platform. To their credit they recovered quickly and Thorin perfectly ignored the chaos behind him as they sorted themselves out. The dwarven prince's only focus was the dragon before him.
"Smaug! You thieving worm! What have you done with our burglar?!" The dwarf packed every bit of authoritative fury he could into the words, to the amusement of the dragon at his show of bravado.
"I'm here Thorin!" To Sherlock's irritation Bilbo waved up at the dwarves from his hands, "I'm fine! I'm not hurt!" They ignored him.
"Unhand him you disgusting lizard!" Kili raised his bow in warning.
The dragon merely snorted, amusement waring with irritation covering unease roiling through the bond.
"Amusing that you call me thief when, by your own admission, you sent a burglar into my hoard." In a deliberate kind of insult Sherlock didn't even bother to haul his massive bulk up out of the gold. He arched his neck, golden eyes flashing, and spread his wings. The amber glow reflected from the gold light them up yet again. A low growl vibrated through his long throat and behind his teeth the light of his inner fire gathered.
"Do not threaten me with your puny weapons, dwarf. My hide is impenetrable and I have already stated that I will not harm you, do not force me to defend myself." He actually manged to sound bored and Bilbo didn't bother to stop the low groan of exasperation.
"Don't antagonize them you great git!" Muttered, loud enough for the dragon to hear but the dwarves were oblivious.
Thorin stepped in front of Kili, lowering the younger dwarf's bow. The rest kept their weapons at the ready, but none raised them. Yet.
"If you do not intend to kill us, then release our halfling and begone, beast!" Adding to further insult the dragon yawned in the face of the demand, allowing the fire in his throat to fade.
"I"m fine, really!" Yet again all parties involved ignored the hobbit.
"No." Sherlock rumbled out. Only The hobbit could tell there was anything beneath that calm, arrogant facade. Thorin bristled at the refusal.
"The we will take him from you, slay you and hang your hide from the battlements!" He raised his sword, fully prepared to make good on the threat. The rest followed their leader's example without question, even though it was clear several of them were doubting the wisdom of such a course of action.
Smaug rumbled deep in his chest, head rearing back and fire gathering hotter in his long throat. He had given his word to not kill them, but a few gouts of flame in the right places would scatter them back to their hole. If they got burned, well, they didn't run quickly enough.
Bilbo felt the dragon preparing to attack them and panic drove him to act. He scrambled up until he was standing on the edge of one of the hands cupped about him, heart pounding in his chest and praying he would be heard even as he used Captain Watson's best shouting voice.
"NO! Don't attack him! I...I made a bargain with him!" A desperate idea took hold and Bilbo threw it out like a cast line, hoping the dwarves bought it and that Sherlock would follow his lead for once. To his great relief and pleasure the dragon settled slightly, surprise and approval flickering from his side of the bond. His threatening posture did not abate, but he swallowed back his fire and waited to see if the hobbit's ploy would work.
The dwarved pulled up short, as a one staring blankly at the hobbit. Then several of them spoke at once.
"A bargain? With a dragon?" Dwalin's shock was evident in his voice.
"Bilbo, have you gone completely mad?" Boffur's tone held a great deal of incredulity.
"What's he talking about." Fili sounded bewildered.
"No idea." Kili's tone echoed his brother's.
"What do you mean, Baggins? What bargain?" Thorin held himself tightly, hands clenched about his sword and voice grating out between clenched teeth. Bilbo allowed himself to relax a hair as they all stopped. Now came the difficult part. He took a deep, steadying breath before answering.
"I...I've traded myself for the mountain and the gold, and your lives. The dragon is...well he's bored with this place and its inanimate wealth." He paused and took a deep breath, ignoring the way he was radiating tension, "And I am excellent with riddles and puzzles. He finds it entertaining. So, me...in exchange for the mountain. He has sworn to not harm you, and I gave him my own word that he would not be harmed so long as he kept to his bargain." Bilbo straitened his shoulders and met Thorin's eyes squarely.
"Do not make a liar out of me, Thorin Okenshield." His voice deepened, a dangerous cast lighting his face that would be amusing but for the fact that he knew Sherlock would back him up. A glance showed the dragon was actually smirking the smallest bit.
"One can only go so long without some sort of mental stimulation and a clever tongue and heart of gold is a far rarer and more precious treasure than any trinket forged by dwarven hands." Sherlock sounded almost dismissive but warmth flooded the bond and Bilbo felt himself flushing ever so slightly under the praise.
Thorin stared, sword lowing in his hands. Kili was the first to recover.
"But its a dragon, Bilbo! Cruel and vicious and spinners of lies!" The young dwarf was beginning to sound a touch panicked.
"Have you gone completely mad?!" This time it was Ori who spoke the words with shock in his voice.
"No I have not! I know what I'm doing. Please, just...go on. The mountain is yours again. Just...leave us be a while. I'll be fine, he won't hurt me." The strength was beginning to fade from his voice and a pleading note entered instead. Above him the dragon snorted, smoke roiling from his nostrils.
"I very much doubt they will listen to you. Even knowing that I have given my word, and am thus bound to the agreement, I do not think they will merely go on without you." He sounded perfectly calm, confident in his own power and armor. The thread of unease that had been lingering had faded to all but nothing under the hobbit's plan.
The dwarves stared for solid minute and then began to argue amongst each other, talking over one another and raising in volume until their voices echoed from all sides. Sherlock snorted and folded his ear frills flat, opening his mouth to snap at them. Thorin beat him to it.
"ENOUGH!" The dwarf's yell was impressive and his men snapped to silence. He glared at them a moment and then turned to Balin.
"Balin, what say you? You are the oldest and wisest of our company and your counsel has always been true." Balin hesitated to answer Thorin's question. His gaze went to the dragon and their hobbit, held almost gently in the creature's claws. The creature was calm, his gaze even and intelligent. No gold mad, rabid beast bent on destruction was this. Arrogant, yes, but the dragon did not appear as if he were about to attack them all.
"I trust in Bilbo. He has not once failed us. If he says the dragon will do us no harm so long as the bargain is upheld then I believe him" The old dwarf sounded hesitant, but open to the idea that Smaug the Terrible was no longer a threat.
Thorin sighed heavily, but nodded.
"Then, Mr. Baggins, consider our arrangement ended. You've gotten our mountain back, albeit in a strange fashion. Your contract has been fulfilled. The worm's actions from this point are on your head. Understood?" His tone darkened and he cast the dragon a black look. Golden eyes met blue, unruffled and dispassionate.
"Yes! Yes I understand. He won't cause any trouble." Bilbo cast a slightly frantic look up at his dragon and received a sigh and a tiny nod in return. The link between them rippled in relief at Sherlock's affirmation that he would cause no trouble.
"Out of curiosity, how much did they offer you?" Sherlock managed to still sound bored.
"Ah...One fourteenth of the total treasure." Bilbo actually had to think a moment at the question, it felt like ages ago since the offer had been made. The dragon snorted.
"Offered knowing you wouldn't take even half of that, no doubt." He looked to the dwarves, resettling his wings, "And how, pray tell, was he supposed to get all that home? Or was it no concern of yours once his part was done?" The inquery got him glares.
"Logistics were to be discussed upon the regaining of the mountain and the, ah, death of the guard. " Balin was the only one to deign to answer the question and his voice wavered at conversing calmly with a dragon. Said dragon merely chuckled, pale eyes glittering in amusement at the dwarf's unease. Bilbo interrupted before the dragon could respond.
"It...its fine. Everything can be worked out later. Go ahead and leave us, we're fine." There was still a thin thread of fear in him, fear that a battle would start up despite his efforts.
"Then take what you will when you will, Mr. Baggins, if your beast will let you." With the sharp, dismissive words Thorin finally sheathed his sword and turned away from the gold, addressing the dwarves.
"Come on then. If the mountain is indeed ours we must be ready to defend it." His tone left no room for argument and he started up and away from the dragon and the gold. The rest wavered, looking between the dragon and the hobbit. Bilbo smiled, the expression stretching false and apologetically on his face and waved them off. They went, glancing back until the gold was out of sight. Faint protests could be heard that were quickly hushed as the dwarves moved away into the depths of the mountain city.
Bilbo sighed heavily and looked up to the dragon, his dark eyes unreadable for the moment.
"Now what, Sherlock? I don't fancy living in this mountain. I've got a home. In the Shire. You won't exactly fit into it. Where the bloody hell am I to keep you?" He sounded a touch frantic. The dragon winced and dipped his head, nudging gently against the hobbit.
"We'll manage something, John." Sherlock held still as Bilbo hugged his nose and leaned against the nearly soft scales.
"I just...I don't know what to do now. We've had such a long journey, all of us." He paused, hugging tighter for a moment, "And I think I've just lost my friends." His voice was thin. There was a flicker of possessiveness over the bond that Sherlock quickly suppressed. He sighed heavily, smoke from the nostrils above the hobbit's head curling up and away into the dark. The elation at finding John again was fading somewhat in the face of his friend's pain.
"I am...sorry, for that." Both voice and bond told the hobbit that Sherlock actually meant the words. Bilbo let go of his nose and stared at the dragon for a moment, then echoed his sigh and sat back in the creature's hands.
"No...no, Sherlock, don't. I...there really wasn't any other way this could have gone. Either I went with you or I went with them and they would try to hurt you. I wouldn't have been able to handle that..." He trailed off and shook his head, exhaustion creeping into his small bones.
"I'm...tired..." Sherlock stared down at him and sighed, shifting his long bulk into a loose coil about the hands still cupping the hobbit.
"Sleep then." He hesitated, "I'll not join you but I will be here when you wake. And I promise, I will not harm your dwarves no matter how they might vex me." Bilbo stared up at him and nodded slowly. The hobbit curled up in the dragon's palm, trusting and comfortable and allowing the warm to sooth his tired body.
"I'd rather you be there...but I understand why you can't sleep right now." He heaved a massive yawn and dark eyes fluttered closed, "We'll be alright, Sherlock..." His words trailed off as sleep took him.
Sherlock stared down at him before slowly settling himself down. His long neck curled protectively around his cupped hands. One wing draped down over his head and the hobbit, creating a living ceiling to shield them from view. His tail wrapped around his coil like an armored fence, creating yet another barrier between the outside world and the safe little haven of the dragon's clutches.
As promised, he did not sleep, even though his body rested. He had a new treasure to guard, one that took far more care and watching, and was far and above more valuable to him than any amount of precious stone and metal.