The March of Time

50: A Thief in the Night

Disclaimer: All rights go to JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson, respectively. Anything you don't recognize is mine.

Quick A/N: Can we please talk about how this is Chapter 50. Like, 50. Seriously, thank you guys so much. I would not have made it to such an outstanding number of a chapter if I didn't have y'all's support; I've said it before, and I'll say it again, but you guys are the ones that inspire me to continue writing this, so thank you so much!

And as promised, here is the prize for this chapter, the title of the third part to this story listed below:

Part I: The March of Time

Part II: The Stars of Dawn

Part III: The Songs of Shadow

(In case anyone needed a refresher on titles)

But yeah, there it is!

Much thanks to my reviewers last time: mh21, and all of you Guests! (And, not to be whiny, but where'd all my reviewers go?) Thanks to those who favorited and followed, as well!

And now on to a really long chapter! Enjoy!

Chapter Fifty: A Thief in the Night

The stars were still glimmering faintly in the sky when Alison perched herself on a large boulder a few miles away from the Front Gate of Erebor, setting her bow on the ground beside her and shoving her hands deep into her coat pockets to protect them from the bitter chill of the pre-dawn morning.

She didn't do anything, just sat and waited for the sun to rise, listening to the distant rushing of the River Running to the east and the wind whistling over the rocky ground and the faint calls of birds in the distance, the only life present so far in the Desolation of Smaug; though that would be fixed soon, she thought, now that the dragon was dead and the land could heal.

It was a habit she had found herself doing since coming to Erebor, waking up before dawn and sneaking out of the kingdom to watch the sun rise. She had never been one to be into these sorts of things, but the more she did it, the more she wondered why she had never done it in the first place.

There was just something so…calming about sunrises. Like when the gold and red of the dawn sky washed out the blacks and blues of the night, the millions of stars winking out of view to make way for the radiance of the sun, and she could almost imagine everything being all right with just that one simple shift in differential existence, because the dawn symbolized hope, and hope symbolized things too vast for her to name – and, honestly, she could use just a little hope right now.

Don't think about it, don't think about, do not let him get under your skin, she thought firmly, fixing her gaze on the southern spurs of the Mountain as her mind taunted her once more of the events that had transpired yesterday. Though, of course, Thorin's words to her came rushing right back to her consciousness, no matter how hard she tried to suppress them.

"I am searching for the key to our survival, while you stand there and accuse me of succumbing to greed and gold, and claim that I don't see anything when I see clearly what is coming! And what I see is you standing back and letting me handle this by myself while you skirt around my nephew with every intention of bedding him under my nose, because you think I have no sense of what is going on!"

The words didn't sting today as much as they had when he had first said them, though Alison bitterly attributed that to the fact that she had replayed them in her mind so often that they were now only a sort of dull drone in her ears, their effect having whittled down to nothing more than a hollow sort of hurt in her chest.

But the worst thing about it was that even though she knew he had only been prompted into saying it because of the sickness, she knew even more certainly that what he had said did hold some truth in it.

Ever since coming to Erebor, she had been completely useless. Ooh, yeah, she had helped build a wall and occasionally went scouting every once in a while, round of applause for Alison Ashburne. But Thorin had been completely right – a total asshat and one of the biggest dicks in all of Middle-earth to her about it – but still right. She had found the Lesser Ring Johnathan wanted her to get, but so what? She had no idea how to destroy it, even less of a clue on how to wield it, and she was fast running out of options because Johnathan was coming any day now, and she knew he would pry it out of her cold dead hands if that was what it came down to in the end and she couldn't defeat him.

And what the hell did he even need it for? She highly doubted he wanted it for a fashion accessory, but what did it do? All it had done when she touched it was make the stone under her feet or whatever do some really weird thing she couldn't explain, and showed her some cool star patterns in her head, and she sure as hell wasn't putting it on to see what happened; after all, she wasn't that stupid. But what did it do, and what does Johnathan want with it so badly to basically launch a war over it?

A sharp wind from the northwest suddenly swooped over the land and pelted her with cold, and she huddled deeper into her coat, pushing her hands further into her pockets until her right hand brushed against something hard and solid – two somethings, actually – and she brought her hand back out, opening her palm to reveal the clasp Kíli had given her back in Lake-town, and none other than the bane of her existence, the Lesser Ring.

Both items glowed softly in the weak dawn sunlight, Kíli's clasp dark and cold, and the Ring bright silver and seeming to hum softly, warming her hand even through the leather of her glove, and she scowled down at it in her palm.

"I don't know why you think you're so special," she said to the Ring, as it twinkled innocently up at her. "I once got a cheap plastic ring out of a gumball machine that looked cooler than you."

The Ring said nothing, thankfully, and Alison rolled her eyes before shoving it back into her pocket, keeping Kíli's clasp out with her; it was already bad enough she was talking to an inanimate object, and the last thing she needed was for this possibly evil, world-dominating band of metal to answer back, or something as equally strange.

Because if giant eagles and dragons and ravens can talk, why can't rings?

Alison looked back out to the horizon, turning Kíli's clasp over and over in her fingers absent-mindedly; the dark clouds out to the west were still churning like crazy, and she wondered if she saw a bit of lightning in there, even as the sun slowly began to crawl its way up the sky, bringing light to a new day, despite the storm still brewing on the horizon.

She glanced back down to the clasp in her fingers, Thorin's words coming back to taunt her once again: while you skirt around my nephew with every intention of bedding him under my nose.

Well, she thought sardonically. There was one way to tell Thorin that she was dating his nephew. Or – courting. Whatever they did here.

Which led to the thought of what her and Kíli actually were. It freaked her out thinking of him as her boyfriend; boyfriends were guys who brought flowers to the first date and then took their girlfriends to watch really corny and awful movies. Kíli was a dwarf, and a prince, and she had watched him kill things in front of her and for her, almost die several times, and so far, their romantic moments had only consisted of making out before a dragon attack and making out again after she almost shot him with an arrow. Not exactly the definition of normal. Or romantic.

But then again, what part of this could possibly be considered normal? She was in freaking Middle-earth, a descendent of a Hero, and she was the supposed savior of not only this should-be fantasy world, but her world, as well, tasked with defeating the Shadow and killing her sadistic family relation that wanted her dead, also. Normal was pretty much out the door a long time ago.

"If you sit out here any longer, I'm afraid you might freeze into a statue," a voice said from behind her, and Alison turned quickly, seeing Kíli make his way up to the boulder she was sitting on and grinning up at her.

Alison recovered herself quickly from the shock of his appearance; she had been so lost in her thoughts she hadn't even heard him approach, which also put her out a bit, considering her senses had gotten pretty well ever since coming here.

"At least I'd make a pretty statue," she replied, shrugging as he came up beside her and settled down close to her side, stretching out his legs in front of him and leaning back on his elbows.

"Very pretty," he agreed, smirking when she looked down at him lounging. "Worthy enough to decorate the chambers of a Prince of Durin, I'd reckon."

"Unfortunately for you, you'd have no more privacy," she countered, a smile tugging at her own lips. "You'd have to change in front of me and everything."

"You act as if the sight of me naked would scar you," he teased, and Alison raised a brow.

"Considering I've already seen you strip down to your skivvies and get tossed into a moldy sack to be eaten by trolls, I doubt you'd have anything that could scar me more than you already have," she said wryly.

This made him laugh, and just that one sound seemed to make her feel immensely better; their moments were rare, ever since reuniting with the Company in the Mountain, and whenever they had gotten a chance to themselves, their conversations were usually about Thorin's condition, what they should do to prep for the battle, and other things that just made her want to tear her hair out in frustration and panic. But this was a nice change, for once.

Kíli quieted down after a moment, and they sat in amiable silence until he reached up and tugged on the end of her braid, causing her to make a face back down at him as he gazed up at her with some humor and concern.

"You look exhausted," he noted. "Why don't you ever sleep anymore?"

She shrugged, feeling the weight of the Ring in her coat pocket and ignoring the faint stirring of guilt inside of her; she hadn't told anyone about her finding the Ring. Bilbo was the only one who knew she had it, while everyone else thought that she was still looking for it, despite her not having been near the treasury in days.

But she didn't want to tell them; the Ring was her problem, and she was the one who had to deal with it, nobody else. Johnathan had already made it clear several times over that he would destroy anyone who stood in the way between him and the Ring, and she didn't want to put anyone she cared about on the front line with her. This was between her and Johnathan, no one else, and especially not Kíli.

But she couldn't tell him that, couldn't tell him she couldn't sleep at night because she had nightmares of what Johnathan was going to do to her when he found out she had the Ring, or what should happen in the battle should she fail to protect the Line of Durin. Sleep was a luxury she couldn't afford, not when so much was at stake, and not when everything now relied on her to save two worlds.

"I'm just…worried," she said, not really meeting his eyes when she said it, instead opting to look back to the steadily rising sun as he nodded slowly in her peripheral.

"I know what you mean," he said, and there was a slight pause before he asked hesitantly. "Have you…talked to Thorin lately?"

Alison stiffened, recalling their heated argument yesterday – another thing she hadn't told him – before saying tonelessly, "Why?"

"I just…" He sighed, raking a hand through his hair, and Alison looked over at him, her heart twinging at the look of absolute weariness etched into his usually lively features. "You and Bilbo were right," he said finally, and Alison raised her brows. "Thorin is not himself, and it's – it's tearing me apart, watching him go through this, and knowing that there's only so much we can do, and that the rest is up to him, but he—"

He paused, glaring out at the horizon, and Alison pretended not to notice the sudden moisture in his eyes, reaching out her hand and placing it on top of his, saying nothing, only waiting until he had gotten his emotions in check and he had twined his fingers with hers before he decided to speak again.

"I want him to fight this," he said seriously, still looking out to the horizon. "I want him to forget about the Arkenstone and lead us into battle like he has led us on this quest; even if it's just the fifteen of us, with no army, I'd rather die fighting than sit in that Mountain and watch him obsess over that damn stone. I want him to be the King I know him to be, and I want him to thrive, and when Dwarves flock back to the Mountain, I want to be able to point at him and say, 'This was the man I followed across the world for. This is the King that I would cast my life aside for over and over again.' I want him to be that King, Alison. I want him to fight this."

"I know," Alison said softly, unaware of just how much Kíli's words had affected her until she found herself blinking back tears. "I know you do, Kíli. We all do. But we have to believe that Thorin can pull himself out of this. No matter how hopeless it seems, no matter how far gone we think he is, we have to keep believing, and not abandon him in his time of need."

She wondered if she was trying to convince herself more than Kíli, but he sat up and put an arm round her all the same, drawing her close to his side as she sank gratefully against his chest, his comforting warmth reaching out and enveloping her even through his mail and thick cloak as they watched the sun rise over the hills in front of them together.

"What are you holding?" he asked after a few moments, pointing to her hand, and Alison opened it, forgetting that she had still been holding his clasp until then.

When she showed him what it was, he smiled broadly, the gesture lighting up his handsome features and brightening his dark eyes, and she was pleased to see the tiny blush that crept up his cheeks as he looked back to her.

"You still have that?" he said, and she nodded, smiling slightly as he began to rummage quickly through an inside pocket of his cloak before extracting something and holding it in his hand.

"What, did you expect me to chuck it into the lake the first chance I got?" she asked dryly, and he shook his head quickly.

"No, I-I think it's amazing that you still have it, is all," he said, and now he was definitely blushing as she watched him.

"Why are you blushing?" she said amusedly, poking one of his red and stubbly cheeks, and he scowled jokingly at her before answering.

"Well, uh… it's common, you could say, for Dwarves to give their, um, the target of their affections, a token to show their interest, I guess," he stammered, and Alison had to bite her cheek to keep from laughing at his embarrassment, though it was beyond cute. "Usually it's the women who make their interest known first, but sometimes the men have to, you know…give her a push in the right direction."

"So that's what this was?" she said, holding up the clasp. "Your 'pushing me in the right direction?'"

"If that's what you want to perceive it as," he said quickly. "But if not, you can—"

She shut him up with a chaste kiss on his lips, quick and light, but it was enough to kill his babbling, and she was pleased to see the delightful shade of red he had turned when she pulled away.

"I take it that was your way of saying I talk too much?" he said, and she gave a half-shrug.

"Plus I just wanted to kiss you," she replied cheekily, and he chuckled, pulling her close again to where she could feel his rumbling laugh reverberating through her chest.

"What did you take out of your cloak?" she asked, recalling his earlier action, and he shifted to where she was still leaning on his shoulder, but could now see his face next to hers.

"Another push in the right direction." He grinned at her before opening his palm to reveal a fine silvery chain, so bright and pure she knew it had to be mithril, and her breath caught in her throat when she saw it; it was a simple necklace chain, no more, but it still had to be one of the most gorgeous and finely crafted things she had ever seen.

"It's for the clasp," he said, indicating the object she still held in her hand, and he motioned for her to give it to him.

She did, and she watched in fascination as he took it and threaded it expertly into the chain, before holding it up and saying, "May I?"

She understood what he was asking and nodded, shifting to where her back was facing him and moving her braid out of the way so he could put it on for her. She shivered involuntarily as his fingers, gloved though they were, grazed the skin of her neck and collarbone, and his warm breath on the back of her neck as he clasped the chain and she turned back around, holding it in her fingers and marveling at the beauty of it, and the gesture behind it.

"It's beautiful," she whispered, admiring it as it set against the black fabric of her coat, and she looked back to Kíli with a soft smile before a troubling thought hit her. "Thank you, Kíli, but I – I don't have anything to give you, I shouldn't—"

"Your gratitude is enough," he assured her gently, taking her hand and squeezing it. "Though I wouldn't say no to, you know…"

He gestured nonchalantly to his mouth, and Alison rolled her eyes, shoving his shoulder as he laughed.

"You are so annoying," she said, grimacing when he swooped in and pecked her on the cheek, still laughing heartily.

"Which is precisely why you love me," he replied cheekily, kissing her once more on the chin and then landing a quick one on her lips before pulling away as she huffed in mock irritation.

"Something I'm still trying to fathom," she joked, but he only laughed again, before pulling her to her feet as he stood up.

"Don't deny it," he said, as she gathered up her bow and they picked their way down the boulder they were on, making their way back to Erebor now that the sun was up and the strengthening wind was making it steadily colder. "If you didn't, you wouldn't swoon every time I kissed you."

"Whoa now, Romeo. Don't let your head get too big," she said, though she couldn't help but smile; their lives had been so full of drama and worry lately that it was nice to take a step back from it all and breathe, and she wanted this feeling to last before they stepped back into the confines of Erebor and faced their stark reality once more.

They walked back to the Mountain in comfortable silence, not touching, but close enough to where they could still enjoy one another's warmth and presence, and Alison looked around the landscape once more, her eyes picking up on the faint silhouette of Ravenhill, and what looked like tiny flecks of snow already beginning to drop from the sky, high up above.

"Kíli, do you know what day it is?" she asked suddenly, and he thought for a moment before answering.

"I'm not sure," he answered. "I think Balin knows, but my guess is…the tenth of November, maybe?"

"The tenth?" she said, her eyes widening as she looked to him, and he nodded, cocking an eyebrow at her expression. "Yeah. Why?"

"Yesterday was my eighteenth birthday, then," she said, and his face lit up in interest.

"That's still so strange," he said, shaking his head. "You're practically the same age as me in Dwarven years, yet Men years are so much younger compared to us. Though now you're an adult in your world, right?"

"Yep. Which means I now get to vote, strike out on my own… I think," she said, frowning as a new thought occurred to her. "But Gandalf said time moves differently here than in the mortal world, so when I go back, I'll probably still be seventeen. Which is really weird."

"Or you could just not go back," he said lightly, and even though Alison knew he meant it as a joke, she still stiffened and moved away from him, suddenly tense and on-edge.

"Please don't joke about that," she said quietly, and her sudden mood change sobered him quickly as she bit her lip anxiously.

"I'm sorry, Alison," he said sincerely, gazing at her intently even though she didn't trust herself to meet his eyes, afraid the well of homesickness in her chest would open and the tears would gush out. "I shouldn't have said anything. I know how greatly your home means to you."

"It's fine," she said automatically, if only to appease him and not make him feel guilty. "Let's just not talk about it, okay?"

He nodded, and they continued back to Erebor in silence, though Alison still couldn't quite shake the tension settling heavily on her now.

She recalled her talk with Galadriel when she had been back in Lake-town, when the she-Elf had told her she would have to make a decision about where she wanted to stay for the rest of her life soon, and being in Erebor had only intensified her anxiety about the choice. Being trapped within the Lonely Mountain with a sickened Dwarf King and a war approaching had stirred the homesickness she had been suppressing for months now, and she thought of her family constantly, wondering if it was still the same day she had left the mortal world for them, and wondering what she would choose when the time came, though her answer varied from day to day.

They were approaching the Front Gate, close enough to where Alison could see the simple rope ladder Bifur and Bofur had made a few days ago swinging lazily from the wall where her and Kíli had exited the kingdom, when she suddenly stopped, puzzled, and turned her gaze to the east, where the ruins of Dale lay.

"Do you hear that?" she asked, frowning as her ears picked up what sounded like hoof beats, and Kíli nodded slowly, looking in the same direction she was.

"Aye, I feel it," he said, and she nodded as the ground under her feet thudded faintly along with the hooves. "About four or five horses, maybe?"

Alison swore under her breath, suddenly recalling a part from the book, and Kíli looked to her at her violent language.

"We have to get back to the kingdom, now," she said, pulling on his wrist as they jogged to the ladder.

"What's happening?" he asked behind her in bewilderment.

"Bard and Thranduil are going to ask Thorin for payment, and he's going to refuse," she said grimly. "And if things turn out like the book, then we're basically screwed."

"Oh," he said, as they reached the ladder and began to ascend. "That's…lovely."

She didn't respond, vaulting over the last of the wall they had erected and stalking into the halls, making a beeline for their campsite as Kíli scrambled to keep pace with her.

They entered into the corridor where their campsite was still situated, coming upon the Company, who looked like they had just woken up as Bombur went through their rations, which were pathetically low, though they all looked up when her and Kíli walked in.

"And just where were you two?" Bofur asked mischievously, from where he sat re-braiding his hair on his bedroll. "Sneakin' around at the crack of dawn like that—"

"Where's Thorin?" Alison interrupted, swearing like a sailor internally as she realized the king was nowhere to be seen in the corridor, and Bofur's grin vanished to be replaced with an uneasy frown.

"Um…"

"He's where you'd expect him to be," Nori said, looking at her shrewdly with a hard set to his mouth, and Alison understood Nori's intent perfectly.

"I'm going to get him," she said coldly, starting toward the treasury. "The rest of you, get out to the wall."

Her tone left no room for questions or arguments, and she was gone so quickly no one had time to ask as her footsteps carried her rapidly to the treasury, having been there so often she hardly had to think about it anymore as she entered the chamber and looked around, her eyes finding Thorin almost immediately, though what she saw made her blood boil.

She stormed over to him in the midst of the treasure, her boots scattering coins as she stared at him, simmering with anger as she took in his new, decadent golden armor and fine heavy cloak, but he paid no heed to her approach, too immersed in staring at the golden-wrought, complicated yet exquisite crown in his hands as she came up behind him.

She swallowed her apprehension at seeing him so soon after their blowout yesterday, telling herself it was for the best to be here, to try and get him to at least see some reason before charging out there and launching war on anything with a pulse that dared ask him for compensation.

"Thorin," she said quietly, yet firmly, and it took a few moments, but he finally looked away from the crown and met her gaze, his blue eyes looking so wrong yet still the same that it gave her chills as his gaze hardened when he saw it was her.

"What is it?" he asked stonily, and Alison hesitated, unsure of how to phrase this carefully.

When she didn't immediately say anything, Thorin turned back to his perusal of the crown, speaking up again after a few moments as Alison's mind whirled.

"Did you know that this crown belonged to my grandfather, Thrór?" he said, and his tone was flat, but laced with an edge of reverence that momentarily halted Alison in her thinking. "Huh?"

He nodded, turning it in his hands so the gold ridges and spires of it caught the torchlight and gleamed.

"This armor, too, belonged to Thrór, when he was King under the Mountain," he continued. "I remembered seeing him in it, one time, even after all these years. I had only been a child, and he had only been trying it on after the smiths had presented it to him for an anniversary ceremony for his rule, but still I remember looking up at him, and seeing how kingly he looked, and how much I wished I could be like him when I myself became King."

Alison said nothing, acutely aware that the party from Dale was most likely already here, but she only listened as Thorin went on. "I always admired my grandfather," he said, his tone becoming wistful, yet tinged with something much more sorrowful. "He had been wise and just, until the sickness grew within him; it controlled him, until the very last moments leading up to his death. It made him prideful, more so than the average Dwarf, greedy, and misjudged, thinking he was justified doing anything in the name of the people and the kingdom, when really it was for himself."

He looked back to her, his blue eyes still hard and unflinching, but revealing a sliver of depth of the dwarf Alison knew, and she held her breath. Was Thorin really fighting this?

"I've been so conflicted," he said solemnly. "I have been striving to be the King my grandfather once was, but trying to refrain from being the one he became. Saying it is difficult would be an understatement."

He suddenly lifted the crown as Alison watched, wary yet hopeful, as he said, "This crown symbolizes the delicate balance between the two, and here is where I adorn it, with you as my witness. Here is where I bury the ghost of him, yet put on all that was best in him."

And with that, he lowered the crown onto his head, and even though the sight made Alison's gut clench in warning, she couldn't help feeling some awe at just how…noble he looked, like a true King, though her unease was building the longer she looked at him wearing the crown.

"Thorin," she said quietly, not wanting to ruin his moment, but knowing that she couldn't hesitate any longer. When he turned and looked at her levelly, she sucked in a deep breath before continuing, knowing she had to tread carefully around this subject, given his harsh outlook on it as he had proved the day before.

"Bard and Thranduil have come to speak with you," she said delicately, noting the way his features tightened and his eyes darkened, and her heart sank a little before going on. "At least, I think it's them. Like, ninety-nine percent sure. But yeah. So if you want to, uh, work something out, then everyone else is at the wall."

Smooth, Ashburne, she scolded herself, as he seemed to mull over her words with a scowl. Way to make him even more suspicious of their motives.

"Very well," he said gruffly. "Let us see what these penny-pinchers and ungrateful traitors want."

He made to stalk past her, but stopped when she thrust out an arm, catching him on the chest and knowing she just bruised her arm from his armor as she looked at him seriously.

"Whatever you just said to me in here, about your grandfather and the King you wanted to be, just…remember that, please. Whatever happens out there, please just remember that, Thorin."

He didn't respond, but he looked away uncomfortably before maneuvering out of her grasp and continuing on to the wall, her following behind with a heavy pit of despair opening in her chest, as she knew she probably hadn't gotten through to him entirely as they walked on.

A few minutes later, they arrived to the wall, looking out upon the morning as snowflakes drifted lazily down from the sky and the storm still built on the western horizon. Thorin went to the middle of the wall, in a place between Fíli and Kíli, while Alison strayed to his left, propping herself between a very distressed Bilbo and a worried-looking Balin.

She looked down below the wall, which wasn't very high, taking in the scattered remains of the statues they had used to fortify the structure, and beyond that, five horses that stood below the Gate – or, rather, four horses and what looked like a moose, on closer inspection.

God, of course Thranduil would be the one with a freaking war moose, she thought exasperatedly, as she took in the familiar pale hair and freezing blue eyes, still noticeable even from the distance they were at.

Next to Thranduil were the familiar figures of Legolas and Tauriel, straight-backed and stiff in their saddles, and on the Elvenking's right was Bard, astride a white horse and looking highly uncomfortable, wearing armor beneath his new navy coat yet still looking quite like a king with his grim features and intense expression.

There was another horse, also, with the fifth figure, and Alison's eyes locked on the grey robes and pointy hat, her heart stuttering in her chest as the others began to murmur around her, obviously noticing what she had.

"It's Gandalf!" Bilbo said from beside her, looking so relieved she thought he was going to faint as he stared at the Wizard.

Alison couldn't deny, she was relieved to see Gandalf, too, but her worry doubled as she thought back to the book; she couldn't remember in minute detail what had happened concerning the negotiations for the treasure, but she knew the gist, and only prayed that Gandalf would help resolve the issue instead of stirring the pot, as he usually did.

"Why is the Wizard with them?" Thorin said venomously, his whisper carrying down to Alison's ears, and she looked at him sharply, watching the fire in his eyes rekindle, and she knew Thorin was jumping to conclusions, which was going to end up very badly if she didn't do something.

Before she could say anything to him, however, Thranduil started forward on his moose, somehow managing to look quite regal despite the ridiculousness of it all, coming to a stop a few feet away from the rest of the party and looking up at the assembled Company, his features as frozen as ever.

"Hail, Thorin, King under the Mountain," he called up, but his voice was a lazy drawl, like a cat watching a mouse struggle under its paw in amusement.

"What is it you want?" Thorin replied coldly, and Alison watched Thranduil raise one of his dark brows smoothly.

"I have come to welcome the new King and his Company back to Erebor, and seek their aid in this time of great hardship," he said, as Bard approached slowly atop his horse.

His eyes met Alison's from the ground, and the look he gave her confused her; it was half-warning, and half-apologetic, and she wondered what it could mean as she tuned back in to what Thranduil and Thorin were saying.

"An army led by Johnathan Ashburne is also on its way, a mere two days' march from the Lonely Mountain, and moving swiftly," the Elvenking was saying. "And we have come not only for aid, but to extend our hands to forge an alliance to combat this enemy."

Alison's stomach seemed to drop somewhere beyond her toes, her veins freezing over as a shocked ripple went through the Company. Johnathan was on his way, only two days from the Mountain.

The Ring in her pocket suddenly seemed to weigh a ton, and it took all of her self-control not to sink to the floor and start gasping for air right then and there, panic building in her chest and constricting her windpipe as the exchange going on below her went on as if it were taking place underwater.

"We have soldiers, Men of Lake-town and Elves of the Woodland Realm alike, waiting in Dale," Bard chimed in, fixing his dark eyes on Thorin. "It would give them great heart to hear that another King has pledged himself to their cause."

It was silent for a few moments, the only sounds those of nature around them as it seemed both sides held their breath, before Thorin finally broke it.

"Yet I sense that this is not the only reason why King Thranduil has approached my gates," Thorin said sardonically, his mouth twisting into a sneer. "Go on, then, Thranduil; you have asked for aid, but what is your price? What is it you desire?"

Thranduil's lips curled into an icy smile, the expression actually turning quite eerie as he watched Thorin hungrily.

"I came to reclaim something of mine," he said. "You already know what it is I seek, of course, but if you'd rather I stake my claim publicly, so be it: the white gems of Lasgalen. That is my price, Thorin Oakenshield. The gems, in exchange for peace and an alliance."

Thorin's sneer still had not left his face as next he turned to Bard. "And what of you, bargeman?" he said to Bard. "I doubt you have any precious gems you want, so I assume it is gold you are seeking."

"Aye," Bard said, bowing his head humbly to the Dwarf King. "Lake-town lies as nothing more than a smoldering ruin; we cannot stay in the Woodland Realm forever, and it will take many long months of hardship and toil until either Esgaroth or Dale can be rebuilt in their full. I come on behalf of my people, and ask for your generosity, to compensate my people for their loss and help us become the cities of wealth and prosperity you promised to us before the Master of Lake-town. That is my request, in accordance with King Thranduil's offer of peace and an alliance."

There was another bout of silence, this one more prolonged than the last, interrupted only by a faint rumble from the brewing storm, though Alison thought she was the only one who had heard it, as everyone else seemed too caught up between staring from Thorin to the party assembled on the ground to notice much else.

"My only question is why should I help you?" Thorin said finally, and Alison's apprehension rose as she looked at Thorin's dangerous scowl. "You imprisoned us as trespassers and refused to let us go, even after discovering the true purpose of our quest through your lands," he spat, jabbing a finger at Thranduil. "You were content to let us all rot, without a damn about anyone but yourself, a coward faced with change that you were none too willing to accept, because it would have been beyond your control to maintain it!"

Thranduil said nothing, but his face seemed to grow even whiter in anger, his eyes wide and hard, as Thorin rounded on Bard next.

"And you," he sneered. "You are just as greedy as your Master; you claim everything is for your people, when I know Men like you would only cop a coin just to make their pockets fatter. So I ask again: why should I help the likes of you?"

"Because this is not about money or control!" Bard said heatedly, shifting agitatedly in his saddle as if he wanted to storm up there and knock some sense into Thorin, which Alison wouldn't object to. "This is about presenting a united front against an enemy that would see us all slaughtered before the day is done! There is no escaping the battle to come, Thorin, and I know you realize this. Join us and we can all fight and defend our lands together!"

"An even more apt reason not to," Thorin said coldly, his eyes glittering down at the bowman. "I know how underhanded both Men and Elves are, and I will not be taken as a fool; you claim for wanting to unify before the ranks of Johnathan Ashburne, and while this is a clever ploy, I see only your greed driving it, the thought of what benefits you will reap by extending your hand an undercurrent of your true motives. And I will refuse, for I am not to be cheated at the end of all of this."

"This will not end as abruptly as you wish it, Thorin Oakenshield!" Gandalf finally spoke up, raising his head and locking his piercing blue gaze onto Thorin, his voice firm and his features tight as he beseeched the Dwarf King.

"The army is coming, and the coming battle will be long and it will be arduous, one of the greatest battles seen on this earth in centuries," he continued. "And you are a fool to think that if you win this battle, it will be the end of it. The Darkness is spreading, and it is too late to be stopped entirely; you will be fighting until your days are numbered and spent, and if you choose your strategies poorly, as your path is leading you to do now, then you will be fighting by yourself until you see the end of a life fraught with peril and constant battle."

"I will not lead my people into an alliance that will cheat them over and over again," Thorin said stubbornly, his face set into a deep scowl. "They have faced enough as it is, and, if worst comes to worst, then we will ride out this storm until it passes. Battles do not last forever."

"Indeed they do not," Gandalf conceded. "But think of the consequences, Thorin! Your people would be plagued with death and enmity, a legacy unbefitting to their forebears! Do not see all of this as folly, but as a chance for glory and valor and friendship, a peace that will last for generations. Do not throw all of this away over misgivings concerning treasure and motives."

"That treasure is the legacy of my people," Thorin argued. "And I will not have it wasted upon those who would just as easily cross us when the chance arose!"

Gandalf opened his mouth to retort back, but was cut off by Thranduil raising a languid hand, though his eyes sparked dangerously as he stared up at Thorin.

"Leave it be, Mithrandir," the Elvenking said. "If Oakenshield wishes to die defending his treasure, then that is what he can do. Or if he chooses to see sense once more and recover his sanity, then he will ask for aid. Let him decide."

Thorin bristled at Thranduil's arrogant tone, the muscle in his jaw twitching angrily as he gazed back at the Elvenking with so much suppressed fury Alison wondered how the elf was standing it.

"Very well," Gandalf said, speaking up before Thorin exploded or something as equally bad. "This leaves you but with one question to answer, Thorin: how shall this day end? With strife and animosity, or peace before the onslaught of the storm?"

"Wait!" Bard cut in, momentarily distracting everyone as all attention turned to him. "Let Oakenshield consult his Company, and then decide at a later time. All we are doing is backing him into a corner and giving him an ultimatum he sees no way out of. Let him choose what is best for him and his people."

His dark eyes beseeched everyone gathered, and when his eyes met hers, Alison suddenly knew that Bard was doing everything he could to avoid conflict. He didn't want this petty argument over treasure any more than she did, and she felt a rush of gratitude for the bowman's intervention, wondering just when he had gotten to be as wise as a king.

"Bard is right," Alison said, stepping up and agreeing with him to show support to the plan, as it was apparent no one else was going to say anything, though she tried to swallow her nervousness as every eye swiveled to her. "None of this is going to solve anything right now. Let Thorin choose for himself."

Her voice carried over the wall, and the party below all shared significant glances as Alison waited anxiously, biting her lip.

Bilbo, obviously picking up on her worry despite his own, reached over and squeezed her hand tightly, and Alison gave the hobbit a fleeting smile, hoping Thranduil would go for Bard's plan.

"Very well," the Elvenking said finally, though he looked as if a lemon had been forced into his mouth as his voice dripped acid. "You have until dawn tomorrow to think on your decision and how you deem to act, Oakenshield. Choose wisely."

Thorin nodded once, his head jerking weirdly, before Thranduil raised a slender hand and turned his moose back to Dale, the large creature moving with surprising agility as the rest of the party filed in behind him.

Alison sought Gandalf's gaze, and she found him already looking at her before he made after Thranduil, his mouth set in a grim line and his eyes tired as she looked at him.

He gave her an imperceptible nod before following after the others and breaking their eye contact, but Alison understood the gesture clearly: Help him.

She turned away from the wall, her resolve hardening from Gandalf's intended message, only to find that the Company had already moved away from the battlements, trailing after Thorin as they entered the entry hall.

"Thorin," she called, striding after the dwarves as her anger rose belatedly, mixing with her sudden determination and turning her veins to steel as her eyes bored into his back. "Thorin!"

Her voice echoed through the great hall, causing everyone to stop in their tracks and turn and look at her in shock, though her eyes were only for the King, who turned slowly, as if preparing himself for her words.

Damn straight he better be, she thought vindictively, before speaking aloud.

"What the hell was all that?" she demanded, and his face pinched at her vehement tone.

"I do not barter with cowards and penny-pinchers," he replied, his voice colder than the air around them, though she was undaunted.

"They are our allies for this battle, or have you already forgotten what Thranduil said?" The Elvenking's name darkened Thorin's scowl, but she pressed on, not having time for his stupid schoolyard animosities. "Johnathan and his army are a two days' march from the Mountain – we need their support!"

"I will not accept help from those who would just as easily launch war on us as Johnathan Ashburne would!" He snapped back, while the dwarves and Bilbo looked on in growing shock and alarm.

"Bard is not a traitor!" she fired in return, being careful to leave Thranduil's name out of what she was going to say next. "He could've left us to die by the orcs' hands at the Forest River, but he helped us get to where we are now, and he slayed the dragon for us! Does his help count for nothing?"

"He helped us to make his pockets fatter—" Thorin scoffed, before Alison literally stamped her foot in frustration, causing a puff of dust to rise from the ground and smashing a piece of rubble in the process as he looked at her as if she had lost her mind.

"For his family!" She all but shrieked, fed up arguing with him over every little thing now as he continued to stare. "So what? And Thranduil just wants some goddamned jewels, for Christ's sake! Why not give him and Bard a fair share of the treasure and be done with it?"

"Because you do not understand what it means to be a King!" he snarled. "You are no Dwarf; you could not possibly understand the importance of what you are asking me to do! This is Dwarf gold. This is a Dwarven kingdom. Everything in here, down to the smallest pebble on this mountainside, is more important than you could ever imagine, and I will not give up what has belonged to my forefathers for centuries because of an offer between an Elf and a Man, and especially because a human Hero is telling me to do it!"

"What has gotten into you?" she asked, suddenly weary, staring at him as if she had never seen him before; and she hadn't, honestly. This was a side to Thorin she had never seen, one that she never knew to be there, and she hated it. She truly hated it. "This isn't even the sickness anymore, Thorin; you've changed, and definitely not for the better. What happened to you?"

"I am seeing reason," he retorted. "And you will refrain from making any more remarks about the condition of my health and sanity, Miss Ashburne; I am still the leader of this Company, and you will not question my decisions any longer."

"Our contracts are fulfilled," she countered, a sudden thought occurring to her. "We killed the dragon and took back the Mountain, just as we agreed to do. Technically, we have no more obligation to you."

Thorin's face contorted at her reminder, knowing that what she said was true, and his voice came out scarily blank as he growled, "Am I not the King, then?"

"To these dwarves, yes," Alison said, narrowing her eyes and using the hardest voice she could manage, Thorin glaring at her as she went on. "But you are not Bilbo's King, and you are not mine."

"Then leave," he snarled. "As you said, I cannot force you to stay. So go and deal with your petty allies, if that is what you so desire."

"Be careful, Thorin," she warned, taking a step back as the tension within the hall grew insurmountable. "Because if I do leave, then your chances of overcoming your fate will be next to none."

And with that, she turned on her heel and stalked back out to the battlements, guilt and anger clashing inside of her as she dimly heard someone call her name, though she refused to look back.

She had hit Thorin below the belt, she knew, but she was getting so tired of his attitude and inevitable decline into the sickness that she felt a kind of savage, vindictive pride at her warning. If he was going to play hardball with her, then she would step up to the plate and take that challenge. She only wished that she didn't have to keep doing this, meeting Thorin's strikes with her own, and especially in front of the others; she just wanted Thorin back.

"Alison!" Kíli caught her elbow as she stormed back out to the battlements, and she turned quickly, catching him off-guard as she raised a brow, trying to look as unruffled as she could as she met his concerned gaze.

"What happened in there?" he said, his eyes searching hers, and she was irritated to find that he had hidden his emotions behind his mask, making her uncertain whether he was just concerned or angry with her for calling out his uncle in front of everybody.

"You were there, weren't you?" she snapped. "Why are you asking me?"

She regretted the words as soon as they were out, and Kíli blinked, leaning away from her slightly as she sighed and shook her head, running her fingers through her hair in frustration.

"I'm sorry," she said tightly. "But, Kíli, I-I just want you to realize…I can't save him if he doesn't want to be saved."

She scrubbed at the sudden tears in her eyes, not wanting to break down in front of him as he said nothing, but wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to his chest, placing his forehead against her hair since they were the same height and she didn't tuck easily under his chin.

They stayed like that for a while, his warm breath on her cheek a sharp contrast to the light snow that was still falling outside, when she suddenly became aware of a distant pounding emanating from outside of the kingdom, sounding a lot like…

"An army," she whispered, straightening in Kíli's arms as her heart flew to her throat. "An army is approaching, Kíli; Johnathan is here."

But Thranduil had said two days – so why was Johnathan here…?

But to the northwest, on one of the surrounding spurs of the Mountain, a long line of figures emerged at the top, before dipping down into the valley and setting course for Erebor, moving far too swiftly for marching orcs and goblins, and their steeds looking nothing like wargs.

In fact, the steeds weren't even horses; the mounts looked like rams from such a distance, and Alison narrowed her eyes, squinting, noticing that the figures were shorter than Men or Elves, and definitely Orcs, as they rode closer, more and more lines of mounted war rams and chariots and other instruments of war she had no name for trundling closer to the Mountain.

One figure rode before the others, mounted on the biggest ram of them all, and though Alison couldn't make out any details of the person, she could still see the giant war hammer it carried in its hands and the burnished armor, looking like a cross between gold and bronze as suddenly Kíli sucked in a sharp breath from beside her, his eyes going wide in bewilderment and wonder as he said one word.

"…Dáin?"

Bilbo had no idea what was going on.

All he knew was that he had been sitting in their camping corridor, brooding on his bedroll and staring down at the ring in his fingers, when Alison and Kíli had skidded in, their faces flushed and out of breath as Kíli had gesticulated wildly towards the wall.

"What is it?" Thorin demanded, launching himself to his feet and staring hard at his youngest nephew. "Have they come back?"

He looked furious at the idea of Bard and Thranduil's return, but Kíli only shook his head, saying, "Dáin. It's Dáin. He's here, and he has…he has an army…"

He let out a breathy laugh, sounding giddy beyond anything, and Bilbo stowed away the ring and got to his feet, following the others as they stood and gaped at the prince.

"Show me," Thorin had ordered, and Kíli led them back out to the battlements, gesturing for them to look over the wall, and they had, Bilbo's breath getting stuck in his throat as he took in the army before their gates; though they weren't orcs…

"Hail, cousin!" A booming voice sounded from below, and Bilbo's gaze sought the source of it, his eyes coming to rest on an armored dwarf astride a ram that had to be as large as his house back in the Shire, and that was when all sense of reason had fled him.

Now the dwarf had dismounted and was climbing up the rope ladder Bombur had thrown down, and soon he was standing upon the battlements with them, towering over Bilbo, built as powerfully as Dwalin, even without the armor, with an elaborate helm decorated like the snarling head of a boar on his head before he removed it.

His hair was as fiery red as Glóin's, but woven with such intricate braiding it was a bit unsettling, especially combined with his tusk-like red beard, scarred features, and shrewd, calculating grey eyes.

"Dáin," Thorin said, sounding immensely relieved as the dwarf took them all in with his sharp eyes. "Welcome to—"

But Thorin was cut off as Dáin let out a booming laugh and suddenly crushed the King into an embrace that looked like a cross between a hug and a headlock, Thorin's expression almost comical as Dáin released him.

"Mahal, is it good to see you!" The dwarf laughed jovially. "We hadn't heard anything for months, but I knew, I knew you weren't in any serious trouble – too stubborn to even die, this one!"

He punched Thorin in the arm, hard, and Bilbo winced as their armor clashed, but Dáin paid no heed, continuing to laugh as Thorin grimaced.

"How did you know I'd be here, and that the dragon was defeated?" he asked, but Dáin only waved a hand in dismissal.

"I didn't," he replied. "But I had a feeling, you see, and this raven intercepted me on its way to the Iron Hills, carrying a message from you and telling all that had been done, and I made haste to here at once. Even though you said that the dragon was dead, I still had to come and see for myself – and, of course, greet you as the new King."

Dáin grinned, and Thorin forced a smile back, though his eyes had darkened once more.

"Well, it's a good thing you brought an army," the Dwarf King said, and Dáin raised his bushy eyebrows questioningly. "Because we have a battle coming."

"This is excellent," Dáin said, rubbing his gauntleted hands together gleefully as him, Bilbo, Fíli, and Kíli stood in Erebor's throne room, clustered together beneath the throne where Thorin was currently situated.

After hasty greetings and introductions on the battlements, Thorin had selected them four and proceeded to lead them to the throne room, intent on catching Dáin up on the current happenings and having the other three present to fill in on missing parts of their adventure and act as a sort of council for the King.

Dáin had listened to their story raptly, so focused on the tale that he barely even noticed Bilbo, much less realized who or what he was, when it was the hobbit's turn to talk. But once they had finished, the dwarf lord had grinned broadly, and looked so excited Bilbo wondered if he even registered what was actually coming as he went on.

"A battle between Orcs, Elves, Men, Dwarves, and other assorted nasties?" He shook his head, looking far too pleased with this idea to Bilbo. "Durin's beard, they'll be talking about this one for centuries."

"Then you will agree to help us?" Thorin said. "You will stay at the Mountain?"

"You bet yer sweet arse I will," Dáin replied, and Thorin almost grinned at the response as he nodded.

"Good," he said. "Because we will need all the help we can get, especially if Thranduil and Bard plan to strike for the treasure."

"Uncle, I don't think that is their intent," Fíli spoke up, looking as cool as ever as he faced Thorin. "With the threat of Johnathan Ashburne, surely they won't—"

"It's best if ye listen to yer uncle on this one, lad," Dáin interrupted, and Fíli looked to him, slightly offended. "Ye raised 'em well, Thorin, that's for sure, but by Mahal." He chuckled. "Just as rock-headed and outspoken as you were."

"But Fíli is right, Thorin," Bilbo said, stepping forward and ignoring Dáin's surprise, only focusing on the king in the throne. "You've won the Mountain, is that not enough? Why start a needless conflict, when our true enemy is practically on our doorstep—"

"And who's this, again?" Dáin said, narrowing his eyes at Bilbo. "A Halfling of the West, hmm?"

"Bilbo Baggins," Thorin supplied. "He was hired as our burglar for this quest, and he is a trusted ally to me."

Once, Thorin's words would have warmed Bilbo, to think of himself as the dwarf's ally, but now he barely felt anything, still beseeching Thorin with his eyes to realize that whatever he was planning to do about Bard and Thranduil was wrong.

"You would understand better, perhaps, if you were in my position, Bilbo," Thorin replied to him, shaking his raven head, now unadorned with any crown, thank Eru. "And you are right; the Mountain is won, but that does not stop the threats we now face, from both sides, enemy and ally alike. We must now defend it."

"But you're not even giving Bard and Thranduil a chance to be allies!" Bilbo protested, wringing his hands. "You're adamant about keeping them at arm's length, all because of the simple matter of gold and gems—"

"Enough, Bilbo," Thorin said firmly. "I will speak no more of this. You, Fíli, and Kíli will be dismissed, as Dáin and I must speak on other matters."

"You mean war plans," Bilbo retorted, suddenly seized by a reckless feeling, and Thorin stared at him in slight shock at his tone.

"Leave, please, Bilbo," the king said. "We will speak later."

"Thorin," Bilbo said, refusing to back down as his recklessness crashed over him. "You gave a promise. Do not forget about what you have said, about your judgment being clouded, about being blinded by—"

"Yer out of line, Master Baggins," Dáin interrupted, glaring at Bilbo as his nostrils flared, making his tusk-like beard ripple with the force of the air. "That is no way to speak to your King—"

"Dáin, please," Thorin said, quelling the dwarf lord with one look. "Bilbo, you are dismissed. Now, go."

With pleasure, Bilbo thought angrily, scowling and following the retreating backs of Fíli and Kíli out of the throne room without even a word to the Dwarf King.

He had no idea what had come over Thorin lately, but whatever it was, it was making Bilbo sick to his stomach; this was not the Thorin he had followed the world for, and this was certainly not the Thorin who had promised him nothing would happen to him, that he would still be the same.

Except he is not, Bilbo thought dully, as he walked along the dusty corridors back to the front halls of the kingdom. Because Thorin is stronger than this paranoid dwarf perched upon a throne, he is wiser, and braver, and gentler—

"—He's gearing up for war," Fíli was saying, as Bilbo turned a corner and almost ran smack into him and his brother and Alison.

The group stiffened, but when they realized it was just him, they relaxed, and Fíli gestured him over as they continued their conversation.

"And Dáin is supporting him?" Alison asked incredulously, receiving grim nods in return. "Shit," she muttered. "This is bad. This is really, really bad."

"No kidding," Kíli snorted, and the corridor fell silent as everyone searched through their own thoughts.

There has to be another way out of this, Bilbo thought. There has to be something that can sate both sides' wants; something to stem Thorin's anger, and something to give Bard and Thranduil that would make them give up their claims to the treasure, at least temporarily until this blasted battle is over with…

Bilbo ran his hands over his coat and mithril shirt in agitation, needing something to stem the anxious twitch in his fingers, but he started when his hands brushed against the large lump beneath his coat, before remembering that it was just the Arkenstone—

The Arkenstone.

Bilbo's heart began to pound, his palms slicking with sweat, and he turned to Alison urgently, his eyes wide.

"Alison," he gasped. "I know – there's something we need to discuss—"

She studied him for a second, and she seemed to pick up on what he was trying to convey, for she turned to the two princes and said, "Bilbo and I need to talk. Privately."

Fortunately, they understood her and nodded, moving away to find the others as Bilbo's heart fluttered madly at his insane idea.

When their footsteps had retreated, Alison turned back to Bilbo and crossed her arms.

"I know what you're thinking," she said. "And it was in the book, Bilbo, but I'm not sure that this is a good idea."

"It's our best option," he defended, refusing to be swayed, though his apprehension increased over her words. "The Arkenstone would settle this disagreement temporarily—"

"But it won't," she replied. "Bilbo, this is going to piss off Thorin royally; he will literally lose his shit if you give that stone to Thranduil."

"Which is why I'm not giving it to Thranduil," he said, after casting her a weird look at her strange terminology. "I'm giving it to Bard."

She opened her mouth to argue, but Bilbo rushed on before she could. "Look, I know Bard doesn't want this conflict to happen any more than we do; I'm not blind, despite whatever he says in accordance with Thranduil. I'm giving it to him, and we can work something out to deal with until after this battle is over."

"I don't doubt your motives, Bilbo," she said, shaking her head. "I'm only afraid of the consequences, and how Thorin is going to react when he finds out what you've done—"

"A risk I am willing to take," he said. "This is good, Alison, you must see that. I'm doing this for Thorin, if only to protect him in the long run, and I—what?"

He paused when he noticed the strange look she was giving him, her pale green eyes studying him intently and making him extremely uncomfortable as she seemed to find something interesting within him and she nodded slightly.

"Nothing," she said, before breathing in deeply and sighing heavily, suddenly looking exhausted. "I just… If you're sure about this, Bilbo, if you're absolutely positive…then do it. I shouldn't be agreeing to this, but it's your choice, and if you think you can make at least a part of this mess better…then do it."

Bilbo nodded, meeting her eyes steadily despite the whirlwind of emotions now swirling inside of him as he thought of what he was about to do.

"Trust me," he said. "I plan on it."

It was about midnight when Bilbo relieved Bombur from his watch at the Front Gate, his nerves pulsing and the back of his neck damp with sweat as he thought about the looming task before him tonight.

After several minutes of pacing along the wall anxiously and watching the storm continue to brew on the horizon, Bilbo finally deemed it time to proceed with his plan before he backed out entirely and put all of them into even more jeopardy.

He looked around, making sure no one was watching him (Dáin's army had circled to the west of the Mountain and set up camp there, out of the way of the Front Gate), before he grabbed up the rope ladder bundled at his feet and tossed it over the side, waiting until it had unfurled completely to the ground before starting down it.

Before he climbed over the wall, he checked his coat one more time to make sure the Arkenstone was there before beginning his descent, climbing quickly yet carefully down to the ground.

Like a thief in the night, he thought bitterly, ignoring the qualms of what everyone back home would say if they knew what he was doing, a respectable hobbit as he was reduced to nothing more than a flitting shadow, betraying one of his closest friends to a Man he had met only weeks prior.

He pushed that thought aside, however, not wanting to think about Thorin or his reaction once he found out what Bilbo had done. It was for the good of all of them, he reminded himself, as he turned his gaze to the distant glowing silhouette of Dale, alight with the camping Men and Elves' fires as he screwed up his courage one more time.

And without even a glance back at Erebor, Bilbo started forward, and made his way to the ruins of Dale under cover of darkness.

Author's Note

This sounds really weird, but I think the part with Kili and Alison in the beginning was my favorite part to write in this chapter, despite all that was going on; it was just so CUTE. And Dain is here! I decided to write my own take on his character based on what I've seen and read and interpreted, so hopefully you guys liked it.

And to answer some questions I received last chapter, I realized that I am doing some things differently from the book here, but hopefully the flow and pacing of certain things will make sense in the long run; but thanks for pointing it out! (And yes, I know you guys caught on to my use of the trailer lines, as you no doubt caught them in here, too - I just couldn't help it though!)

Anyway, thank you for all the reviews/favorites/follows! (Congrats on breaking 300 reviews!) So if you'd be so kind as to leave a review: anything you liked, disliked, are looking forward to? Let me know! (Seriously! There's been a lack of reviews lately, and maybe it's me just being paranoid, but if I've lost my touch on anything, please don't hesitate to point it out! I always strive for ways to better myself, so please don't be hesitant! :) )

Next chapter we get another Alison POV with the showdown of the Arkenstone, a Thorin POV where he might just realize things are spiraling out of control, and yet another Alison where the stage is set for the next part of this story... (one that involves a certain other Hero and a Ring *wink wink*)

Thanks again, lovelies! Until next chapter...

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