A/N: Hi again. Sorry for the delay in getting this up. I was up on the sunny Gold Coast of Queensland, relaxing and getting an awesome tan and had no internet (or phone, after I dropped it on the second day!)

I've caught up on my chapters in reserve so I apologise if I can't get the next chapters as quick as I have been, but hopefully now that all the summer and Xmas holidays are over, I can get stuck back into it.

I was asked about a timeline for the story. Bella and Thorin's journeys aren't concurrent. Bella left days after the battle while Thorin didn't leave for at least five months due to healing and rebuilding. This means Bella is much further ahead than Thorin - in fact she would be crossing the Misty Mountains around the time Thorin was just setting off, or thereabouts. I haven't kept a strict day-by-day timeline but hopefully that gives you some idea.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this one as I did enjoy writing it.

I don't own anything - except the awesome Hobbit T-shirts I found at MovieWorld while on holidays. I've been sleeping with Thorin ever since!

Chapter 14

It had taken a good few hours before Thorin was able to speak normally with his companions and not bark at them in anger. Fili and Kili, along with the others, except Dwalin, had the good sense to ride a little way back from their uncle and avoided speaking to him whilst he was in this mood, instead, talking quietly amongst themselves.

"How long before he stops being so mad?" whispered Kili to his brother.

Fili just shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows? He seemed alright this morning and then Dwalin showed up."

"That was scary," agreed Kili. "Still, uncle can't remain angry at us for the whole journey, can he?" The look on Fili's face showed his belief that this occurrence could be a distinct possibility, knowing their uncle's infamous temper. "Nah! He'll get over it soon enough."

"I hope so, Kili. I really hope so."

At the front of the group, in his customary position, rode Thorin. Dwalin rode alongside him and one could believe that they were on their journey to the Lonely Mountain if it weren't for the direction they were travelling and the smaller number of the company.

"So, you finally got off your royal arse and decided to get our burglar back?" said Dwalin with a hint of a smirk as he looked at his friend and king.

Thorin simply grunted in response, still mad at Dwalin's pig-headedness. Damn him and his fighting abilities and the fact he was huge! Thorin's face was like a thunder-cloud and Dwalin liked nothing more than teasing his friend when they were alone, or relatively alone in this case, the others a little way behind, keeping a safe distance.

Dwalin's smirk was turning into a grin. Thorin hated being bested at anything, and having to back down and let him come must surely grate on his nerves. He wondered how long it would be before Thorin spoke to him, deciding to speed matters along. This will be fun, he thought. "Don't know why you're bothering, myself."

No response other than a dark look.

"It's not like she actually managed to sneak past him as we'd hoped. Not much of a burglar after all."

The dark look got even darker. Dwalin could see the small twitch in the corner of Thorin's eye, a sure sign that his temper was rising. This wouldn't take long after all. A few well-placed barbs and Thorin would not be able to help himself.

"No, I'm wrong about that. She stole the Arkenstone, so she was a thief after all." Hands were clenching the reins tightly. "Couldn't trust someone like that, myself."

If looks could kill, Dwalin would have been a lifeless body right now. Okay, time for the killer punch, he thought.

"Still, I can see the appeal. She is a tasty little piece, after all. Curves in all the right places. Must have been a pretty good tumble to go to all this tro…"

Before he could finish the sentence, Orcrist's tip was pressed into his throat, a ferocious snarl emerging from Thorin's mouth. "You dare? If we didn't have so much history together, I would slit your throat for speaking so disrespectfully of your future queen! Mark my words, Dwalin, friend or no, if you ever utter such filth about the woman I love again, it will be your last."

The two friends stared at each other for a few seconds, one black with fury, the other with wariness and a hint of shame. Thorin slowly withdrew his sword, placing it back angrily into its sheath before taking the reins once more, spurring Shadow into a faster trot, eager to get some distance between himself and the rest of the dwarves.

Dwalin turned back and saw the looks of astonishment on the others' faces and felt ashamed of himself and his words. He had gone too far; he knew it. With a deep sigh, he moved to catch up with his friend.

"I am sorry, Thorin," he said humbly. "I did not mean the things I said. I was just trying to get you to speak."

Thorin turned to him, slightly calmer now. "No-one speaks about Bella like that. Not even me. We owe more to her than we can truly comprehend and I will not tolerate anybody treating her with anything other than total respect, not even in jest."

Dwalin nodded his head in acknowledgement. "I apologise again. It was ill-mannered of me to speak so of any woman, much less Bella." Thorin's look told him his apology was accepted and he continued. "I am truly glad that you are going to find her, Thorin. I know how much she means to you. I could always see it, even when you were trying to deny it to yourself."

"What do you mean?" asked Thorin, still trying to recover his equilibrium after threatening to kill his best friend. The action had been instinctual. One instant he was in a rage, the next, he had his sword to his friend's throat. If he needed proof of his love for Bella, it was right there. He was willing to kill anybody, and he meant, anybody, who threatened her, even someone he thought of as a brother.

"Oh come now, Thorin," replied Dwalin. "I may be a hardened soldier, and freely admit that the ways of females are a puzzle to me most of the time, but I could tell that you were ensnared by her the instant you saw her. It was as if you had just seen the most precious jewel ever and you instantly coveted it. You hid it right quick, I'll admit, and I doubt Bella herself saw, but I did. I knew then that she would be your 'one', even if you didn't."

"Don't be ridiculous," snorted Thorin disdainfully. "We could barely stand each other for much of the time."

"Only because you chose to be a complete orc's backside to her," chuckled Dwalin. "I have never seen anybody fight themselves as much as I watched you fight your feelings for her. It was almost a relief to have Azog attack you. It knocked some sense into you."

Thorin sniffed but didn't deny the words. "Yes, well, I had a mission to complete. I needed to be focused on that. For decades, I thought of nothing but getting our home back and I finally had that chance, small as it seemed then. I could not be distracted by a woman or by her creamy skin; large, soulful eyes, plump lips or inviting bo…." Thorin caught himself before he completed that sentence. The laugh beside him told him Dwalin knew exactly where his thoughts were headed.

"Anyway, I'm glad that you are going to her. You've been much too miserable and surly. And since that's your normal state, it's saying a lot," grinned Dwalin, amused by Thorin's look.

"Should have killed you when I had the chance," muttered Thorin, trying, and failing, to ignore Dwalin's amusement.

Where is that damned door? Blast that wizard, thought Thorin as he yet again turned onto one of the myriad paths in this infernal place. Would it be so hard to have some sort of sign or map so that unwary travellers could actually find their way around?

Gandalf had told him that there would be a mark on the door to indicate the home of the hobbit that he proposed should join the Company. So far, he'd travelled over numerous paths in this veritable rabbit warren of a place and had yet to see a mark on any door. It was dark now and the chances of spotting anything in the gloom were getting slimmer by the minute. He thought about knocking on a random door and asking for directions but the reaction he'd received from the few hobbits he'd encountered dissuaded him. He seemed to terrify them.

As his mood got more grim with each footstep he took up yet another hill, he looked up and saw the faint glimmer of something on the round door at the top, overlooked by a large tree that dominated the skyline. Getting closer, he saw the shape of a dwarven rune etched into the door which glowed bright blue.

Finally! Relieved to have finally found the place, he made his way towards it, drawn by its homely feel. A small light outside the door, which he could see was a deep forest green, illuminated the small garden and stairs that led down to the gate which fronted the path. Reaching the gate he looked out, impressed, despite himself, by the view of the surrounding countryside, shrouded in the comforting blanket of night, only the glow from the windows of the various homes dotted throughout giving any light. He could see the lake and what looked like a larger dwelling on the other side, lights spilling from its many windows. Most probably an inn of some sort, he thought.

From behind him, he could hear the faint echoes of voices singing, along with raucous laughter. This is definitely the place, he thought, knowing only dwarves could make that much noise, especially when together.

Opening the gate, he stepped onto the property, assailed by the sweet scent of the blooms that covered most of the space, spilling onto the steps and over the door and roof of the home. The house seemed to be built into the hill, something Thorin approved of even though it was very different to a home within a mountain. Still, it was a very attractive place from the outside and it was obvious the owners were very house-proud: of their garden, at any rate.

He wondered what this hobbit would be like and if Gandalf was not making a huge error in judgement by suggesting they include him in their plans. Only the fact that Gandalf had been the one to stoke the fire within his heart, insisting that now was the right time to try to reclaim his homeland, whilst at the Prancing Pony Inn in Bree, did Thorin even contemplate going along with the wizard's idea. So far, his directions left a lot to be desired.

Thorin only hoped the hobbit had a stout heart, courage and a useful weapon. He would need it, especially if the dragon still lived.

Knocking on the door, he couldn't help but be amused by the immediate cessation of noise within the home. Being intimidating had its advantages. He was once again gazing out over the landscape when the round, green door was pulled open.

"Gandalf." Thorin greeted the wizard, complaining about his poor directions as he stepped inside the home, pulling off his cloak as he did so. The other dwarves were gathered around the door and in the entrance hall as he gave his nephews a smile of greeting.

His first impression of the hobbit's home was one of warmth, both from the fires in the hearths and by the amount of wood that was used throughout the dwelling. He briefly noted that the roundness of the front door was repeated inside, with the walls and doors all following the same circular pattern. It was so very different to the angular lines favoured by dwarves in their halls.

His thoughts turned to the hobbit he was here to meet. So far, he had not caught sight of him. As he took a couple of steps forward, Gandalf moved to one side, revealing the person standing behind him.

Thorin felt like he'd been punched in the gut. There in front of him, stood the most exquisite creature he'd ever laid eyes on. With one glance, he took in the golden, tawny hair, creamy skin and the perfect bow of her pink lips. Her clothing only hinted at her figure but he could tell she was delightfully curved, her shirt amply highlighting her feminine attributes.

What made him feel like he was standing on the edge of cliff, about to jump off, were the liquid depths of her chocolate brown eyes. They were wide with surprise, the almond-shaped orbs thickly fringed by eyelashes that hinted at a sensuality within that was masked by the innocence that seemed to radiate from her.

A slumbering beast within him that he didn't even know existed, awoke with a roar that demanded he take her for his own, vanquishing any rival that even dared to think to challenge his claim to her.

Never had he felt anything like this – the need to steal her away where he could make her his, over and over again, worshipping her body until they were too sated to continue, only to begin all over again. The need to drape her in jewels and precious metals in order to highlight the beauty she possessed and to declare to the world that this woman was his, and his alone, for all eternity.

He felt the tightening of arousal as he looked at her. She was not even a dwarf. How could he react so viscerally towards a female of another race, a hobbit? Was she even free? That thought caused the beast within to snarl with a possessiveness that threatened to dispose of any male who assumed any sort of claim on her.

No, this cannot be! He had a quest to fulfil; a mission that had come to him after the loss of his grandfather and father. He could not afford this kind of distraction.

Though he wanted her so very, very badly.

It seemed as if his internal conflict had taken an age, but he became aware that mere seconds had passed since he beheld the hobbit and his equilibrium shaken to the core. Then common sense forced itself back into his consciousness. Of course this is not the hobbit Gandalf was talking about. The wizard would not suggest taking a female, of any race, on such a dangerous journey. He would never see her again after they left and this madness would be but a brief flash of memory. He tried to ignore the flare of pain in his chest that this thought caused.

As he continued to look at the beautiful creature, a more familiar and comfortable feeling arose – anger. Anger that one look from her could have him tied in knots and contemplating thoughts and actions that he had no right to have. How dare she do this to him? How dare she have any power over his thoughts? It would not do. The sooner they left, the better.

"So, this is our burglar?" he forced himself to say, fully expecting denials from everyone as they corrected him before introducing the real hobbit that Gandalf had meant. He paced around the hobbit as he spoke, asking her about her weapon of choice, both trying to intimidate her and see more of her, making his expression as inscrutable as possible.

The truth resulted in a mix of emotions: shock, denial, astonishment, confusion and joy. No, this could not be. No, there was no way she could become part of the Company. What was Gandalf thinking? A creature as delicate as this one could not survive in the wild. It was madness to even contemplate it.

And even in the midst of his denials, a voice within sang with glee at the thought of having her near. To have the opportunity to speak with her, touch her, woo her.

Anger flared again within him at the conflict of his thoughts. She threatened to ruin all he had striven for, dreamed of, for so long. There must be no room in his heart or mind for anything other than his quest.

Why? Why did I have to meet her? Why did Gandalf have to choose this hobbit? Was this some sort of joke from the gods? Had he not suffered enough?

Rage and desire warred within him. He had to let rage win, for his own sake.

He fought Gandalf vigorously against having Bella Baggins as their burglar and it seemed as if she was just as strongly opposed to the idea. He allowed himself one last lingering look at her before he pushed his desire for her into a vault in his mind, determined not to let it free again. Rage and stubbornness would be his vault-keepers, his mission would be the key.

It was a couple of weeks into their journey that they ran into the first signs of trouble.

The Company had reached the forest within two days and were now making their way westwards along its northern border. They had encountered a small party of elves who had rapidly recognised the King Under the Mountain and if they were surprised to see him there instead of being back in the mountain, their calm elven visages concealed their thoughts.

The forest here was not as dark and forbidding as it was further south and the dwarves had taken to making camp within the safety of the trees at night, making sure not to stray further into the forest than necessary. None had any wish to repeat their previous experience with Mirkwood. The game in the area, whilst not abundant, was good to eat and supplemented their food supplies.

Despite his initial anger, Thorin had to admit to himself that he was enjoying the dwarves' company. Whilst this journey was as important, if not more so to him, as their quest to reclaim their home, it did not have the same fears and doubts as before – at least not to the others.

Thorin himself, was terrified at the possibility of not regaining Bella's love. Yes, she was his 'one' but it didn't work in reverse. Hobbits did not have only one love in their life, she had explained to him. She knew widows who had remarried and of betrothed couples that had severed their relationship, for whatever reason. The hobbit ideal was to find a life-long partner but they were capable of loving more than once.

What if she fell in love with someone else?

The beast within surged in fury at the mere thought. Mahal help any male that dared to encroach on what was his!

Then rational thought made itself known again. Bella had admitted that she had never loved anyone before him, and she was no young girl, barely into her adulthood. It seemed unlikely that she would find another in the short time since she'd left.

But she was a maid then, he thought grimly. Now that she knew the pleasures of the flesh, would she feel the need to sate her desires with another? You did not miss that which you did not know. Thorin's hands gripped the reins tightly, imagining them wrapped around the neck of Bella's lover.

No, he had to convince her that she did not need anyone but him. He would give her everything she desired, and more. He could do no less for his soul-mate.

They were now relatively close to the Grey Mountains and the terrain was much more rocky and hilly. The trees of the forest were more scattered and clumped in groups around boulders and ravines. An ideal place to hide.

"Keep your eyes open for any movement," warned Dwalin, scanning their surrounds intently. "If there is to be any trouble from orcs, it will be here."

"Do you think they may be orcs in the area, Dwalin?" asked Fili.

"We are close to the foothills of the Grey Mountains," answered Thorin. "Not all the orcs were destroyed so it stands to reason they may linger in these areas, hoping for prey to pass by."

"Yes, always did like being compared to prey," murmured Bofur sarcastically.

"They should be scattered and leaderless," said Thorin, ignoring Bofur's remark. "Between us, we should be able to fend off any attack. If there is a larger number than we can handle, we are to run into the forest. At least there we shall have cover."

Thorin would be glad once they were past this part of the journey. It was certainly the most dangerous section and an attack could come from anywhere. Also, the nature of the terrain meant they sometimes had to go hours of their way in order to skirt an impassable ravine or rocky hillocks. If they didn't have the ponies, they could have climbed over or gone through these, but they weren't willing to part with them, not with such a long way to go.

A couple of nights later, they made camp on a slightly raised patch of grass with a group of boulders to one side which would allow the dwarf on watch to get a good view of the surrounding area. There was a stream that trickled into the forest which would provide water for the ponies and themselves.

They had settled themselves for the night, Bofur playing his flute whilst Fili & Kili sang some rather bawdy dwarven songs that had Dwalin chuckling. Bifur was tapping along to the music while he carved a piece of bark he had found and Ori was drawing in his book, as usual. Thorin leaned back against the rock, shaking his head and smiling at the lyrics his nephews sang, wondering how they even knew some of the songs.

They didn't realise that the noise they made easily carried in the evening air and announced their presence to the desperate orcs that hid behind the rock formations, not too far away.

There were nine of them, a far cry from the legion that had marched on the mountain under the command of the pale orc. These orcs hailed from the Grey Mountains and the promise of riches and a feast of dwarven flesh had proved too great a temptation. With their crudely-hewn weapons and armour, they had met up with other orc tribes to form a huge contingent. Of course, several orcs had ended up as meals for the others along the way. When they had arrived at the mountain and seen the men and elves that stood alongside the dwarves, they were filled with malicious glee; man-flesh was even tastier and more tender than the tough dwarf flesh. Elf-flesh was a delicacy as they were harder to kill and they fully intended to gather all the dead elves they could find after they defeated them in battle.

Against their expectations, the combined black armies were routed and most of their number were killed, leaving the survivors to scatter and flee, disorganised and without any leadership. The remaining orcs were decimated even further as they turned on each other, the dead feeding the living, even if it was unsatisfying. Not even orcs enjoyed eating orc-flesh.

The prospect of edible flesh had the group salivating in expectation.

It was Ori's turn to take first watch tonight and so far, it had been fairly quiet, only the rustling of small creatures disturbing the silence. Fili had given him one of his knives, seeing as Ori still hadn't procured one of his own yet, too busy with his scribe-work to bother. Thank goodness neither of his brothers were here or they would have groused at him for being so careless and coming on this trip not properly armed. The quest had changed him, given him a confidence in himself he did not possess before and, although he still preferred the pen to the sword, he was no longer afraid to fight if necessary. He had survived the battle, after all. Yet his brothers, particularly Dori, still saw him as their baby brother, unable to fend for himself. This was why he had sworn Nori to secrecy about going with the princes. If Dori knew, he would have tried to prevent him going, or worse, insisted on coming along as well. Ori needed this time on his own and he was relishing every moment.

The orcs' plan was to silently ambush the dwarves, taking out the one on watch first to prevent him alerting the others. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for the company, discipline was not an orc trait and, as the smell of the dwarf flesh got stronger, their hunger and desperation took over and any plan fell by the wayside. One orc, in particular, sprinted ahead of the group, not taking care to avoid stepping on fallen branches, which, in the still night, rang out like hammers striking stone.

Ori, whose head had begun to droop in weariness, snapped to attention at the sound coming from behind him and grabbed Fili's knife just as the first orc lunged towards him from the side.

"ORC!" he cried as he rolled sideways, narrowly avoiding the crude blade that was aimed at his head. With instincts honed from months on the road and all the trouble they had encountered, he swiped his knife upwards, slashing into the orc's arm. That caused the orc to falter and cry out in pain, giving Ori enough time to thrust the knife into the orc's chest, satisfaction coursing through him as he heard the gurgle of blood pouring from the wound and the last twitches of life left the foul creature.

The snapping twigs and Ori's cry had roused the rest of the company, warrior instincts coming to the fore as weapons were instantly raised. Dwalin had Grasper and Keeper to hand in a flash, as the motley group of orcs descended on their camp. He instantly sized them up as not much of a threat and he grinned as he gave his battle cry, beheading the first orc with one swipe of his axe. It was almost too easy and he eagerly threw himself into the fight. It was a good thing that peace had come to the mountain but he could not deny that he had missed a real fight to the death. He had been a warrior too long, after all.

Bifur and Bofur had a little more trouble with their orcs, Bofur not quite ready as one particularly desperate orc swung his mace at him. The blow got him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him and making him stumble to the ground. He was trying to get his hammer up to defend himself from the next blow but was kicked in the leg and he fell onto his front, hammer in front of him. He was expecting the next blow to finish him off when he heard Bifur yell out in Khuzdul and then the body of the orc was slamming on top of him.

"What is it with these damned things falling on me?" he grunted as he pushed himself up, the orc rolling off him. "Thanks Bif," he grinned as he threw himself back into the fracas.

Fili had two knives in his hands before the first orc fell but he looked worriedly at his brother. He knew Kili's arm did not have the strength it had before. "Stay near me, Kili," he whispered.

Kili growled in response. "I'm fine, Fee."

"You sure?"

"Yes, now just kill the orcs, will you?" There was no more time for words as they clashed with three orcs. Though they were a motley trio, hunger and desperation made them fierce fighters and the brothers had their hands full.

This was the first test of Kili's arm since the battle and he would be lying if he wasn't slightly worried that the residual weakness would prove his downfall. It annoyed him that Fili felt he had to protect him even if he would do the same were their positions reversed. Gritting his teeth, he struck out at the orcs, using two hands for added strength. With Fili behind him, the orcs were pushed back, no real match for the two young dwarves, weakened by hunger as they were. Fili stabbed one in the gut before swirling around and slashing the throat of the other one, nearly decapitating him. He turned to help his brother but saw that Kili was holding his own, forcing the orc backwards until he tripped over a rock. Kili laughed with delight as he brought his blade down with his weakened arm, killing the orc instantly.

"Well done, brother," grinned Fili, pleased that Kili's arm didn't seem to have posed much trouble.

"Thanks. That was fun," laughed Kili, turning his head to see how many orcs were left.

It looked like his precautions were paying off, thought Thorin as he grabbed Orcrist, instantly going into warrior mode at the first sound of the orc raid. His many years of experience confirmed his suspicions that any orcs that attacked them would be disparate groups, with no clear purpose other than to kill and eat. These orcs were even more rag-tag than normal and he had no doubt that his company would easily dispose of them, even if they were outnumbered.

As the first orc ran at him, his spiked club raised to strike, Thorin thought of Bella. There was nothing that was going to prevent him from getting to her, certainly not this ragged bunch. He would take on the long-gone Sauron himself, if necessary.

With a strength born of determination, Orcrist's blade was barely visible as Thorin swung it around like a dwarf possessed, instantly striking fear into the orc who realised, too late, exactly who he was taking on. His head rolled right into the camp's fire, unnoticed by Thorin as he continued on to the next one.

It seemed like only minutes before all was quiet, save for the heavy breathing of the dwarves as they squinted out into the night trying to ascertain if there were more orcs nearby.

"Is everyone alright?" asked Thorin, looking at his company. It struck him then that if he had insisted on travelling alone, the outcome tonight may not have been in his favour. Nine against one would have been long odds and he felt a wave of affection for his kin and friends.

There were rumblings of assent from the others as they began disposing of the bodies. "Kili? How does your arm fare?" he asked.

Kicking a head out into the darkness before answering, Kili turned towards his uncle with a wide smile on his face. "It's good, uncle. I hardly noticed any weakness. I think it's almost back to normal."

Thorin walked over to his nephews and wrapped an arm around their shoulders, hugging them briefly to him. "I'm glad, Kili. Very glad." Looking at Fili, he whispered, "Thank you."

Fili looked at his uncle and gave him a smile of understanding. "You're welcome."

A/N: Thanks once again to my awesome beta, lizajay12 for her help.