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though the stars walk backward

Chapter Text

 


 

 

 

“...would be a merrier place.”



Bilbo wakes with a start. His cheeks are wet and his hands are cold.

Darkness greets him, but he remembers light, and grey skies; snow falling and sticking in dark eyelashes. Blue eyes.

He blinks.

“Where…?”

He hears soft laughter to his right - Bofur and Bombur - and to his left the grind of sharpening swords.

Erebor, before the battle, before…

 


 

 

Bilbo races towards Raven Hill, blindly shoving one foot in front of the other, desperation at his back like a physical presence, a mad fear muffling his hearing until the sounds of the battle all but die away.

If I get there faster, he reasons, scrambling for purchase on the slipping rocks of the hill, If I can get there fast enough, if I get there faster, if I get there faster…

His chest burns, his legs ache, his face is already wet with tears.

And when he finds them, finally, again, Fili and Kili have already gone to the tunnels.

 


 

He learns that if he dies, he wakes on a broken stone floor.

Erebor. Always Erebor, and Bilbo with dark shadows to one side, and the first light of a terrible dawn to the other.

 


 

He figures that he could make a map out of this history. That he would be able to tell the story of their world in a series of maps. Maps of hills of flesh and roads of broken bone, rivers of blood and towns named after screams. Bilbo thinks that it is a map he never wished to see. One that can’t be charted.

 




The second time he watches Thorin die he thinks he’ll never be himself again, thinks there is no recovering from it. Fili and Kili have both survived, but Bilbo’s grief is overpowering. Alone on the ice, standing beside the still, bloody form, he folds in on himself, a willow branch in a hurricane; thinks there couldn’t be pain worse than this.

He wakes to the same semi-darkness, Bofur’s laughter somewhere near him.

He mutters to the others, excuses himself, finds a corner near the outer wall and cries in the cold light of dawn, relief filling his heart and a sinking feeling like self-remonstration at his own selfishness pulling bile into his throat.

Thorin’s nephews had lived, but not Thorin, and in the end he had wished for another chance, even at the risk of their young lives.

He curses his selfishness and wonders what Thorin would think. But he cannot ask Thorin what he thinks, because Thorin is preparing for war - a mad king defending a desolate kingdom from an enemy he cannot defeat, and Bilbo the archer who’d unwittingly loosed the first arrow and sealed his doom.

 


 

It’s always the same place. When it first started Bilbo always wondered what it was he had done to deserve this, to deserve watching them die again, and again. It’s after the sixth death of Thorin Oakenshield that Bilbo thinks he finally knows what it was that caused all of this. Why it was this particular moment that he keeps being brought back to.

He had never really believed in anything before this, never really had the creation of Middle Earth instilled into him like some other Hobbits who studied the old lores. He thinks though that this is a punishment from the Valar, that perhaps Aulë saw how Bilbo helped aid in the demise of his dwarves and saw this as fit punishment.

He wakes up wishing he could rewind time then laughs at this thought so loudly he wakes up Bofur who looks at him questioningly.

“I was just thinking how pointless it would be to ask to be able to go back, to a different time.” Bilbo says as he lays his head back down on the bed roll, not trusting any of the chambers that the mountain has to offer.

“Would you want to go back to the beginning?” Bofur asks quietly, always sympathetic of Bilbo’s fondness for home.

“No, not the beginning.” Just before this.

 




He wonders if he could get the Arkenstone back, what he might be able to trade for it in Thorin’s stead, but he cannot figure a way out of the mountain fast enough, as the Elves are already in motion. He always wakes near dawn, sometimes later but never earlier, never with an opportunity to change his decision from the night before.

Bilbo sits on the upper stone wall, an area still intact after Smaug’s residence.  With a fingernail he traces runes that he cannot read carved in the stone, the clink of the dwarves’ armor behind him in the great hall, the chill wind in his hair, and tries not to think that he exchanged the Arkenstone for Thorin Oakenshield’s death. He thinks about intentions, how the best can be upturned; Thorin never intended to break his vow to the Men of Laketown, any more than Bilbo intended to start a war.

And yet, it seems they were both doomed to do exactly the thing they most wanted to avoid.

He fingers the gold ring in his pocket, considers not for the first time that he might yet slip away from all this, silently and invisibly. He wonders if he could only get far enough away if he might pass the day and wake the next morning somewhere else. He wonders if he could go home, and leave the dwarves and Erebor and the mountain’s thrice-cursed heart behind him.

Bilbo rises slowly to his feet, dusts off his blue coat as best he can, and prepares to join the Company and the King at the gate.

 


 

Bilbo learns that there are many different hues of red. That when Thorin dies on Raven Hill the first time, his blood runs the same color as the calla lilies he tried to grow one spring in his garden.

He learns that Fili’s blood runs the color as when a raspberry stains fingers. He learns that Kili’s blood is the same shade of red as the scarf that his mother had knit for him one year when he was a child, dark and thick.

He learns that red has different shades and different memories attached to them. He starts cataloging them, trying to remember the names for each shade and seeing if for each death the color remains the same.

Scarlet, Ruby, and Carmine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

a current under sea
picked his bones in whispers, as he rose and fell
he passed stages of his age and youth
entering the whirlpool

- T.S. Eliot

 

 


 

 

 

 

Bilbo dodges through the pack of goblins, throwing rocks and loose stones with one hand, his small sword in the other, remembering that always his advantage in battle lays in not being seen or touched. If he gets too close to an orc, close enough to be grabbed, he is likely to be wounded or killed. Wounded meant he was less capable of helping the dwarves; getting killed meant waking up this morning, all his efforts for nothing.

He struggles to have a meaningful impact in the skirmish while keeping all the dwarves in his sights. Fili, having not ventured through the tunnels alone this time, fights back-to-back with his brother on the other side of the frozen river. Thorin and Dwalin are fighting their way down the steps to the ice, where Azog waits below, flanked by a guard of Gundabad orcs. The ice is split in places and the river churns beneath them as though reaching to pull them down.

With the dwarves separated into two groups and outnumbered, Bilbo feels the familiar fear beating in his chest like a caged thing, the same dread that has sat in his stomach today and yesterday and yesterday.

Dwalin shouts from somewhere on the stairs above him, heedless to Bilbo’s invisible presence, and Bilbo looks in the direction of his wide-eyed gaze.

Kili, driven away from Fili, is being pressured out onto the ice by three huge orcs, farther from his brother with every step.

“Kili!” Fili cries, and his eyes are as wild and violent as the water that swirls underneath them.

Bilbo hears a roar from up above - Thorin, locked in combat with two orcs, can see what’s happening but can’t hope to get there fast enough.

“Thrak ul vok ve alnej!” Azog commands, and the orcs scramble to obey.

Bilbo watches, helpless, as Fili tries to fight his way to his brother, only to be pushed back again and again, while Kili, his sword crashing against orc armor and blades, is surrounded and driven towards Azog like a fly caught in a trap.

Bilbo grips Sting and sets off at a run towards the youngest heir of Durin, with no notion as to what he might do, but only knowing that he must do something.

The pale orc steps forward to claim his prize.

Thorin and Dwalin shout from their positions, progressing closer to the ice, but too slow.

Fili calls his brother’s name, his tactics desperate and reckless now, but too far away.

Bilbo maneuvers around the orcs, eyes locked on Kili where he fights defensively, the orcs playing with him like a cat does a mouse. In a moment Kili is knocked down, on his back on the ice, but as he scrambles to regain his footing, Azog descends upon him, disarming him in a moment with his grotesque sword-arm and then scooping him up by the hair in one huge hand.

“No!” Bilbo yells, and he’s so close now, in the middle of the orc pack but too far away from Kili and Azog, still unseen and wearing his ring, and so he does the only thing he can think to do.

He pulls the ring from his finger, a grin born of desperation and panic splitting his face, and calls, “Here I am - slayer of Bolg!”

Azog’s gaze shifts to him, and for a moment Bilbo thinks his gamble has worked - Azog’s hold on Kili’s hair loosens in his surprise, just enough for the dwarf to slip free. He falls to the ice, already rolling to escape.

“Ul halflaumn!” Azog cries, and the orcs surrounding Bilbo have already turned their attention to him, and are closing in.

Bilbo moves towards Kili still; he’s only paces away now. He hears an anguished shout, someone calling his name, and it’s Thorin, Thorin can see him now, but Bilbo can’t worry about that - he has Sting drawn defensively before him, the ring in his other hand, and what happens is just a blur to Bilbo’s eyes.

A huge orc slams into him, sending him sprawling, and the ring flying from his grasp. Kili, on his knees on the ice and just out of Azog’s grasp, reaches instinctively towards Bilbo as if to help him.

And the ring makes an arc through the air as Bilbo falls, and he sees it like a golden fleck amongst the silver snowflakes, sees it sail towards Kili, and land, as if by its own will, on the dwarf’s smallest finger of his left hand.

But Kili doesn’t vanish, and so Azog is upon him again, pulling him up by an arm, Kili’s sword well out of reach, and Bilbo isn’t sure if his anguished cry is for Kili or his ring, and he knows that Thorin’s shouts are moving closer, and Dwalin’s enraged battle-cry is closer still, but there isn’t time, there never is, and to his horror, Bilbo watches as Azog picks Kili up bodily and slams him down into the ice, shattering a hole right down through to the frigid water beneath.

Azog goes down on one knee, and Kili disappears from sight.

Drowning. This is something Bilbo hasn’t had to see before.

Bilbo screams as he’s scooped up by an orc, the other orcs cheering loudly and laughing, Fili screaming and pushing into his foes, Thorin raging somewhere out of Bilbo’s sight, and oh, if he could only turn and see Thorin one more time, instead of watching this, watching this happen to Kili, and now that he’s lost his ring and lost the day there’s nothing left to do but to die.

Despair, and pain, and Kili’s gurgled shouts growing fainter and weaker.

The orc that holds Bilbo tightens his grip, pressing against his chest and back and pinning his arms, and at another agonized shout from Thorin, Bilbo shuts his eyes tight.

Let it be done. Let me wake up in Erebor, let me try again, let it be over, make it stop, make it stop-

Kili is no longer screaming, and Bilbo is waking up.

 

 


 

 

When Kili was old enough, or as Thorin put it, big enough, to hold a weapon he begged to be trained to fight. He was always a little smaller than others. He would stand outside for hours copying his older brother’s movements to the point of exhaustion. He learned everything he could, every weapon they would let him try. He would be out there until his fingers were bleeding from pulling back on the bow and Fili would have to take him inside and clean up his hands before their mother saw.

“You don’t have to do this, Kee,” Fili would tell him.

And Kili would just look away and bite the inside of his cheek.

 

****

 

Now as he stands with his back to Fili’s he knows he still has something to prove.

He can hear their heavy breathing over the sound of metal on metal. As orcs swarm them he flashes a smile at Fili. Fili crosses his swords in front of his chest and uses them as a shield to push off two orcs that were coming at him. He glances at Kili quickly and returns his smile.

“Do you remember that move that we made up?” Fili calls out as he turns quickly to take the head off an orc.

“Which one?” Kili calls over his shoulder as he ducks and rolls out of the way of a blow.

“The one that Thorin made us promise we would never use.”

“I was hoping you would say that!” As soon as Kili goes to move into position he is flanked by three orcs who are intent on pushing him out onto the ice, and away from Fili.

“Kee!” Fili calls out to him, and Kili tries to force a smile.

“I always liked a challenge.” He hears his mother’s voice, barely a whisper in his mind.

Always my reckless boy.

 

****

 

It’s chaos and Kili’s scalp stings from the fist pulling his hair. Everything seems to be moving slowly. His brother’s cries seem muffled and far away.

He sees Thorin and Dwalin fighting their way towards Azog, Dwalin with a berserker fury and Thorin with more coordinated moves.

 

****

 

“It’s not just enough to be able to fight, you have to be able to defend yourself and avoid any blow that is coming towards you. You need to be quick and you need to be aware of your surroundings.” Thorin had paced around Fili and Kili as they stood on the small training grounds that Ered Luid had provided.

Thorin praised Fili’s technique, how he managed to move his body gracefully even through the toughest of obstacles. Kili was faster, more reckless, and didn’t care what was in his path. He could always see the disapproving looks that Thorin would give him when he wouldn’t take direction. It was always Fili who managed to get him back on track.

 

****

 

He sees Bilbo and for a fraction of a second he wonders where he came from. He tries to focus on what Bilbo is shouting at Azog but all he can hear is the ringing in his ears. Whatever it was Bilbo said or did, it was enough for Azog to loosen his hold on him.

Kili scrambles away on his knees as an orc’s foot kicks his sword further out of his reach. Bilbo is running towards him and Kili reaches out towards him. His eyes aren’t quick enough in the clamor of bodies surrounding him. His eyes feel as if they’re filled with smoke from the pipe being too close. There’s a feeling of something on his smallest finger. He barely has time to register it, to wonder how it got there before he feels himself being lifted off of the ice by his arm.

There’s the feeling of falling, like when he fell out of a tree he was told not to climb, the rush of air pushing past his ears and the feeling of his heart in his throat.

The sheets of ice are breaking and drifting apart. His body is pushed through the ice and into the water. This time there is no hard ground to catch his fall, just a hand around his throat and sharp pricks on his skin. He can feel the warmth leaving his body as the water engulfs him; he lets his body go with the flow of the current.

He thinks that he had really not seen the world yet. Just worn out maps, the moon over the mountain, the crunch of leaves beneath feet, stormy days, vibrant skies and silhouettes, and the cries of his name shouted across broken ice.

He closes his eyes and behind his lids he sees stars colliding and a fire moon with the name of his brother on his lips.

 

 


 

 

“Fee!” It comes from Kili’s throat, broken and mangled. His chest is heaving as he grasps at his clothes. He doesn’t know what purchase his hands are trying to find.His back is against hard ground and he smells the familiar decay and dust of broken stone. He can still feel the rush of water in his lungs, how the ice worked its way into his veins until his body could no longer move.

There are hands on his chest, too warm for his still cold skin. They’re smaller than what he expected. They’re not the familiar shape of his brother’s, don’t hold the calluses his have from years of wielding swords.

Bilbo shushes him, places a careful hand on his shoulder.

"Are you alright?" the Hobbit asks. "Did you have a dream?"

“Yes.”

Bilbo studies his face for a long moment. “Tell me about it,” he says, his voice pitched low.

“We were on Raven Hill, the battle had started and we, we were losing. I was...Azog had gotten a hold of me, they had pushed me back from Fili. You were there.”

Bilbo’s eyes widen, but he stays quiet.

“You showed up at the last moment, no one had even seen you come. Then right before, right before I went under, there was a gold ring on my finger.” Kili’s voice is far off as he lifts up his hand to see a gold band on his smallest finger, glinting in the light from the dying fire.

Bilbo’s hand shoots out faster than Kili can track his movement, and grabs at the ring on his finger.

“Give it to me!” Bilbo hisses, and Kili recoils as Bilbo pulls the band from his hand.

Something passes over Bilbo’s face like a shadow, and makes the little hairs on Kili’s neck stand on end, but then Bilbo is cradling the little ring and pushing it into the pocket of his coat.

When Bilbo looks up at him, he is himself again.

“What happened? How did I get ahold of that ring?” Kili is fully sitting up now, his eyes fixed on Bilbo.

Bilbo stares at his own hands, takes a deep breath. “I don’t know, I don’t understand it myself. I had the ring and then I didn’t, and I saw it on your hand before you… before you went under the water.” Bilbo looks up at Kili, his eyes shining.

“It’s real then? This isn’t the first time?”

“I’m afraid it’s not.”

“How many times have I watched him die already?” Kili’s voice is quiet as he pulls his knees up to his chest.

“I don’t think that…” Bilbo’s voice is bordering on anxious.

“How many?” Kili makes eye contact with him and hopes that he conveys the desperation and anger he feels.

“Thirteen.”

“How many times have we died?”

Bilbo lets out a deep breath and looks to the ground for a moment before whispering. “Fourteen. This last time, this last time was the first time you were killed before he was.”

“Why? Why was it always him first?” Kili is getting angry. He knows that it’s irrational but he can’t help the rage working its way through him.

“Because he was always protecting you.” Bilbo’s eyes hold grief beyond measure. For the first time Kili really looks at Bilbo and see’s how much the Hobbit has aged since leaving Bag End. How the weariness in his eyes holds with it an anguish that weighs on him, and how with each death he carries a fragment of it in his chest.

He doesn’t sleep again; instead he tries to forget the tendrils of cold still clinging to his body.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Cry woe, destruction, ruin and decay. 
The worst is death, and Death will have his day.

-William Shakespeare, Richard II

 

 


 

 

 

 



Things are different for Bilbo after that.

If Kili dies, Bilbo is wrenched from whatever he is doing and wakes in Erebor.

If Fili dies, it is the same.

If Thorin dies, the same.

And Kili is always with him in the mornings, asking, What will we do next? He always remembers the previous day. Is always hopeful and bright-eyed, sure that Thorin and Fili can be saved.

But Bilbo doesn’t know the answer. He thinks he’s tried it all, and it always ends the same - Thorin dies, and there is nothing he can do, and he wakes again in Erebor and goes to the gate to face the hurt and betrayal in Thorin’s eyes, the tears he doesn’t let fall.

Bilbo remembers a story his mother used to tell him when he was a child, about the great kings of Elves and Men before the fall of Gondolin. Lore that most Hobbits chalked up to fantastical legend, but Belladonna told as though it were a history instead.

“But why do they always die?” Bilbo had asked one night, curled up in his bed in Bag End. “They try so hard - why do they have to die, Mama?”

And his mother had only smiled sadly and told him, “Because some paths cannot be changed, dear one,” and Bilbo had fallen asleep with an ache in his chest.

This is the same, he thinks to himself. He watches Kili go to Fili on his bedroll in the great hall, intent on waking him, to be with him before the battle starts, perhaps to beg him to be careful, but Fili won’t understand, he cannot know what is to come.

This is the same. Their paths are laid before them, and they are blind.

 


 

Kili misses the rustle of leaves, breeze between the branches, soft earth underneath his feet. It is replaced with heavy stone and ice. Always moving between the same two places.

“We should leave the mountain.” Kili whispers one morning as they are waking up.

“And go where?” Fili sounds amused, Kili can hear the smile in his voice.

“Away from mountains, away from cold and air where it is too hard to breathe.” He’s moving his hands in front of his face, envisioning open land and trees so far that he can’t tell where the forest ends.

“Well when this is over I promise that we will go out hunting. I’ll even go to that one spot with you that I hate.” He never says no, never tries to remind Kili that there is an impending war upon them.  That they would never make it out of the mountain with an army of elves outside the gate. Just gives him a soft smile.

“Promise?” He feels like a child again, and he is looking at Fili with a determination that he knows his brother will understand.

“Of course, nadad.”

 

 


 

Bilbo thinks he might tell Thorin about the Arkenstone before the Elves and Men arrive at the gate demanding peace or war. He tells Kili of his plan, who only looks at him a long moment and says, unusually quiet, “If you think it might help.”

He finds Thorin pacing in the armory, giving orders to Dwalin and Gloin to bring more weapons to the gate.

“Thorin,” Bilbo begins, fingers pulling at the bottom of the mithril shirt he wears.

“Master Baggins?” But Thorin’s gaze on him is eerily warm, his face pale, his eyes glittering with madness and something akin to affection, something unyielding and sad.

Bilbo’s heart pounds in his chest. His breath short. Tell him. Do it now.

“Nothing,” Bilbo chokes out, forces a smile, his eyes burning. “It’s nothing. Only…. Good morning, I suppose.”

Thorin smiles (approximates a smile with his mouth and cheeks, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, it’s nothing like Thorin, and Bilbo can’t bear it). 

“Leave it to Hobbits to exchange pleasantries on the edge of war. Come. We’ll be wanted at the gate.”

 


 

Every time, Kili has Fili make him a promise. Every time when he wakes up surrounded by cracked and crumbled stone he knows that his promise was broken.

 

He breathes in the familiar smell of dust until it is the only thing left between his lungs.

 


 

 

Bilbo doesn’t follow Gandalf towards Dale this time; instead slips on the Ring and makes his way back in the direction of the mountain. Kili is inside, and he’s going to try to convince Thorin and Fili not to go to Raven Hill.

This is their plan, and they’ve tried it before, and always something goes wrong - Thorin will not be swayed from what he believes is his task, to kill Azog, or Kili misses the opportunity to speak to them before they’re off towards the hill, or the line of Durin gets separated in the skirmish in the valley.

Bilbo lashes out with his sword as he passes orcs, slashing backs of legs and digging his blade in between armored flesh, his sights set on the mountain, where he knows Thorin and Kili and the rest of the Company will emerge from, any minute now.

But a stray blow from an orc sword catches him aglance in the throat - he falls forward on his belly, he chokes, his limbs thrash, he lifts his head, he can see the mountain gate, he can hear the horn sounding from the stone, his vision blurs.

 

He wakes in Erebor, cages a scream behind his teeth.

Kili wakes moments later, rushes to Bilbo’s side. “What happened?” he whispers frantically, “We weren’t even out of the mountain yet!”

Bilbo only covers his eyes with shaking, dirty hands, hangs his head, takes a deep breath.

He lifts his head, meets Kili’s wet, wide eyes.

Says, “Again.”

 


 

 

“We shouldn’t go to Raven Hill.” Kili is trying to convince Thorin, who is already climbing onto a ram as a war chariot pulls up, driven by Balin.

“It is where Azog is, and I plan to meet him there.”

“Because we have a better advantage down here.” Kili knows what he is saying isn't true but he hopes that Thorin will listen.

“Azog will not come down from the top of his perch. We have no choice.” No choice.

Kili closes his eyes. He was never very good at convincing Thorin of anything after a certain age.

“It’s a trap,” Kili blurts out.

“A trap?”

“Can we get a move on? I’m trying to hold them off here,” Dwalin cuts in as he slashes through an orc running towards the chariot.

“They’re going to send in another army once we get to the top.” Kili is desperate as he looks between Thorin and his brother. “You have to believe me."

“Perhaps he is right.” Fili is looking to Thorin now. For a moment there is a flash of relief that runs through Kili. If anyone could convince Thorin, it would for sure be his heir.

“We have no way of knowing that. Our best advantage is heading to Raven Hill.” It’s the last thing Thorin says before his ram is making its way through the battlefield and a solemn Kili is climbing into the chariot.

 


 

Kili awakes back in Erebor before he sees Thorin or Fili die. It is the first time in three nights that he has not had to witness their deaths. He looks around to see Bilbo gasping for air, and his wet, red eyes.

 


 

He tries not to follow Fili around. Tries. He realizes he isn’t very good at staying away. He looks for him in the shadows, in flickers and on carried whispers. He always manages to find him.

“What is it, Kee. You’ve been following me around for hours,” Fili calls over his shoulder as he is looking over an old tapestry.

Kili walks up to him. He doesn’t know how to stand anymore, doesn’t trust his own footing or his hands. His hands flutter, lets them hover over Fili’s shoulder until he puts them quickly back down at his sides.

He doesn’t know what to say anymore. Every word is too much and not enough. He lets out a sigh, watches as strands of gold flutter over Fili’s shoulder. Kili takes a step to the side to stand next to Fili, hoping that he won't feel so out of place.

“What is it?” Kili asks, not looking at the intricately woven threads on the tapestry made of blue and gold but instead of Fili whose eyes are focused downward.

“It’s a tapestry of all the kings. When one is crowned they get added on. I had only heard about it in our teachings. Don’t you remember?” Fili turns to look at Kili, whom he realizes is standing a little too close. He doesn’t move, but instead stays firmly placed.

Kili’s eyes are moving quickly. He’s trying to remember this moment specifically, trying to find a way to etch it into his memory. He wants to remember the laughter lines by his eyes and his wind chafed skin. Instead of the memories that seem to be flooding him of crimson flowing on white.

Kili clears his throat and takes a step back. “You’ll be on there one day.” He’s walking away to a small gold statue in the corner of the room.

“I do not think that is a future that is intended for me.” There is no resentment in Fili’s voice, no remorse or longing. Just a certainty that Kili hates at this moment.

“I think it is.” Kili doesn’t wait for his brother’s reply, instead he walks out of the room and tries not to envisions the stone halls closing in on him.

 


 

It is always the same.

Frustration beats on Bilbo like hunger pains. He has never before felt so stretched.

“What’s happening to us?” Kili whispers one morning. They have woken earlier than usual, the others are still asleep, Thorin nowhere to be seen, Gloin on the wall keeping watch, but still not enough time to get it back, to go to Dale and retrieve that which he gave to Thorin’s enemies.

“Perhaps the mountain is punishing me,” Bilbo answers, laying on his bedroll only half-awake. He looks around at cold grey stone, flickering lamp light, dark corridors that stretch seemingly forever and into nothing.

“Because I stole his heart. I gave it away.”

It was never meant to be mine.

 


 

 

Watching Thorin die from afar is both harder and easier than being there to hear his words.

An apology. Always an apology.

Once, Bilbo speaks right over him, his own incessant pleas of I am so sorry drowning out Thorin’s increasingly desperate words. Thorin is laying on the ice, Fili and Kili are with Dwalin fighting Bolg’s army, Azog is dead, and Thorin is dying, and Bilbo will not let him speak, his words garbled, tears dripping from his chin, his hands clasping Thorin’s.

“I am so sorry, Thorin,” but Thorin is weeping, and coughing, and then he is still, eyes drifting from Bilbo’s face to the grey skies above.

Bilbo’s low anguished moan carries on right into his dreams.

He wakes in Erebor, and every member of the Company within earshot of his sleeping place is staring at him when he opens his eyes.

“Everything all right, Mister Baggins?” Dori asks cautiously.

Bilbo rolls over, curls in on himself, scrubs at his face.

“Just a dream,” he assures them. “Go back to sleep.”

 


 

 

The next time Kili doesn’t have to watch his brother die. Instead he has to watch Bilbo grieve over Thorin as Thorin tries to spit out blood-filled apologies.

 


 

Today feels different to Kili. He has a plan. He won't let anyone down. He smiles at his brother. And for the first time, feels a sense of hope as he beads Fili’s hair with gold.

 


 

 

Kili falls to his knees on Raven Hill as he watches a blade go straight through Fili. He doesn’t scream his brothers name. He doesn’t bother to fight as he is swarmed. Instead he closes his eyes and welcomes release.

 


 

 

Bilbo understands that they must all be saved. Thorin, Fili, Kili, and himself. That whatever dark and powerful magic has bound him to this terrible fate, not one of the four of them is allowed to die.

He thinks he ought to be more grateful. A chance to save his friends, to save Thorin - isn’t that why he gave away the stone in the first place?

Instead he finds himself losing his footing on the ice of Raven Hill in his desperate scramble to reach his dwarves, watching as a huge dark orc runs Fili through as he had stood protecting his bleeding brother from a blow; he hears Thorin’s anguished scream, sees Kili go to his knees, his eyes wide in disbelief.

He thought this was it, Bilbo realizes as he sits down on the ice, He thought we were going to make it this time.

Bilbo watches Thorin now, the way the snowflakes stick to his dark hair, freezing strands in silver, watches the muscles of his neck move as he yells a battle-cry, commits to memory his grief and strength and how alive he looks in this moment, prepares for the jolt of waking from one reality to another, hopes he can carry this moment with him. Hopes that next time, he’ll get it right.

 


 

 

Bilbo wishes that his death wouldn’t matter. That they could live on, finish the day, even if he died.

He thinks they would bury him in Erebor, and a fitting tomb it would make for the Hobbit who thought he could avoid a war and save his friends. Cold stone, his body forever in the mountain, motionless and helpless.

He wonders if perhaps he’s already dead. That this might be where Hobbits go when they die - back to their worst day, reliving again and again the consequences of their worst deed.

The price of betraying the one you love most.

 


 

 

When they next wake, Kili is springing out of his bedroll and making his way down to the libraries.

“Where are you going?” Fili calls after him.

“I left something down in one of the halls!” Kili calls back. He’s fast and determined. Bilbo waits before he meets Kili who is sitting on the floor surrounded by texts.

“What are you doing?” Bilbo asks as he looks at a text covered in runes he doesn’t understand.

“There has got to be something in one of these books.” He’s frantic as he stands up and starts haphazardly throwing books off the shelf and onto the floor.

“What would we even look for? I can't be of much use on some of these texts.” Bilbo picks up a book that Kili threw over his shoulder that had gone sliding across the floor.

“I don’t know. Something, anything. Something about time. About punishment? Maybe the Valar have done something like this to those who need to be punished.”

“If that’s the case, I know what I’m being punished for. But what have you done?” Bilbo clenches his fist and sets his knuckles on the table as he looks to Kili who has stopped moving.

He doesn’t say anything, instead he starts going through the spines on the books a little slower this time, and with gentler hands.

 


 


They carry with them the weight of the dead. It comes to them in flashes, works its way into their dreams and reminds them of mangled flesh and screams carried on the wind .

 

 

  

Chapter Text

 


 

 

 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas

 

 

 


 

 

They find nothing of use in Erebor’s library, no answers to the riddle of their doom. Bilbo suspected they wouldn’t.

That morning they are almost late getting to the wall. Bilbo shudders to think how Thorin would react if there was no one there to take the blame for the Arkenstone’s theft.

He steels himself, steps forward, says as he always has before: “I took it. The stone is real.”

The hurt in Thorin’s eyes is no easier to face for having seen it so many times.

 


 

Bilbo goes to the gate one morning alone, before dawn, while Gloin is finishing his watch on the wall.

He’s awoken earlier than usual, and considers, for perhaps the hundredth time, leaving the mountain, going back to the ruins of Dale, finding Bard and Thranduil and begging that they give him back the Arkenstone.

From his place on the wall, he can just see the ranks of Elves entering formation, preparing to besiege the mountain.

Too late. Always too late.

Bilbo pulls himself up onto the jagged wall, finding a stone flatter than most to sit on, and lets his legs dangle. He looks below, thinks of the many times Thorin has pushed him into this very wall, threatened to throw him over.

Bilbo wonders if, one of these times, Thorin might make good on the threat. Something always stops him. Bilbo thinks he might finally be beginning to understand what that something is - that perhaps it’s the same thing that prevents Bilbo from telling Thorin about his treachery, until the last possible moment. A desire to keep him safe from harm. A desire not to harm him.

Love, Bilbo thinks bitterly.

 


 

 

There is a glimmer of hope like a blinking star when Kili wakes next.

He looks at Fili and he knows that his eyes look like they want something, deep brown and craving.

“Your eyes look like they have secrets.” Fili whispers to him one morning when they wake.

Kili doesn’t say anything, instead he closes his eyes.

“What is behind your eyelids?” He can feel Fili moving closer to him. It wasn’t abnormal for them to be so close they were touching but now Kili is highly sensitive to all of Fili’s movements.

“Stars.” Kili says it with a smile as he envisions a night sky beyond the mountain.

“Show them to me.” Fili whispers. He moves closer to Kili so their faces are merely inches apart. “I want to see what you see, see the world through your eyes.”

Kili opens his eyes and lets Fili look into them. His blue is overwhelming and intense, too much to look into for too long. Kili has flashes of Raven Hill, of blood and snow. He looks away. He doesn’t want Fili to know these secrets.

But how long before a star's light fades? A few hours? A few thousand years? He doesn’t know if it is just a moment or the rest of his life that he is trapped here. For the first time in his life he hates the thought of the night sky and starlight.



 

Bilbo is sitting on the outer wall one morning. Kili finds him there, singing softly to himself; Bilbo wishes that his words might be carried far from this place, if he must stay. It’s a song he’s been working on since they stayed in Beorn’s home. Bilbo’s voice barely carries over the wind as he sings:

 

     Roads go ever on and on

     Under cloud and under star,

     Yet feet that wandering have gone

     Cannot return to home afar.*

 

Kili sits down beside him, and Bilbo continues in a hushed voice:

 

     Eyes that fire and sword have seen,

     And horror in the halls of stone,

     When will they look on meadows green

     And trees and hills they once had known?*

 


“It isn’t quite finished,” Bilbo says after a moment, and Kili smiles at him gently.


“No. It’s not.”

 


 

 

 

Bilbo lets his confrontation with Thorin at the gate play out the same way every time, always ending in Thorin’s hands bunched in his shirt, Bilbo’s back pressed to the rampart, tears and madness in Thorin’s eyes, and Bilbo slinking down the rope to escape the mountain. Always he says the same words (I gave it to them. You are changed, Thorin), afraid to deviate from what he knows doesn’t result in his own death at Thorin’s hands, or something worse.

Always the same, until he cannot stand it any longer.

“I gave it to them.”

“You?”  Quiet and hurt, unbelieving.

“I gave it to them to prevent this war!” Bilbo’s limbs are shaking.

“You would… steal from me?”

“Thorin, please,” and Bilbo goes to him, beseeching, hands outstretched.

“You are changed,” the Hobbit says quietly, “You are sick,” and he reaches for Thorin, his hands finding only hard armor to grasp.

Thorin lifts his arms and pulls his hands away, confusion and hurt written on his face.

“You would lie to me?” Thorin rasps.

“Please, Thorin,” but the dwarf is backing away, pulling out of Bilbo’s feeble grasp, and Bilbo realizes that there are tears on his own face, frustration and guilt and anger and loss and fear welling up in him.

“Get him from my sight,” Thorin orders weakly, turning away from Bilbo, voice catching on his words. He looks around to the company, who all stare, uncomprehending. Only Kili, who has been slowly moving closer to Bilbo, knows what danger they’re all in.

“Did you not hear me!” Thorin shouts.

“Thorin-” but Bilbo’s words are drowned out.

“Throw him from the rampart!”

Kili reaches Bilbo before anyone else can, pulls him away from Thorin and towards the rope that will lead him down, away from Thorin and his dwarves, to the battlefield below.

“Kili!” Fili calls, “What are you doing? No!"

“Let me go!” cries Bilbo, trying to squirm from Kili’s grip.

“I’ll see you down there,” Kili hisses in his ear, shoving him towards the rope. “Get out of here, before something terrible happens.”

“Don’t let him take off his armor,” Bilbo says as he grips the rope and begins to descend, eyes locked with Kili’s. When Kili only nods, half-attentive, the Dwarf’s eyes returning to his mad uncle, who paces frantically amongst the Company, the other Dwarves shouting and talking amongst themselves; Kili’s eyes are scanning for his brother, and Bilbo shouts, “Kili! The armor! Don’t let him take it off!”

Gandalf’s booming voice cuts through the cacophony.

“If you don’t like my burglar, then let him return to me!”

“Ignore the traitor!” Thorin yells to his nephew, and then turns back to address Gandalf. “You may have the Shire-rat, if you like - do with him what you will, but no friendship of mine goes with him!”

Bilbo reaches the ground below, panting and weeping, and presses his back against the stone of Erebor. He listens for the beat of Raven’s wings, the voice of Dain Ironfoot, and the coming of war.



 

There comes a day when Thorin is killed in the valley.

Bilbo fights his way through the swarm of Orcs, Elves, and Dwarves, making for the mountain, thinking that if he can just reach Thorin before he leads his charge to Raven Hill, then they might all be saved.

Bilbo has tried this tactic before, only to be killed himself several times in the melee.

Today is different, and hope swells in him, sudden and bright and unbidden - until he reaches the Company and sees the state they’re all in.

Bloodied, wounded, Bofur limping, Bombur with a head-wound bleeding into his eyes, and there, in a tight swarm of orcs, Thorin, Fili, and Kili fighting as a unit. Arrows fly, swords flash and crash, dwarven battle-cries ring out, and still Bilbo presses onward, keeping Thorin’s dark swinging hair in his sights, slashing and cutting with Sting as he goes.

“Thorin!” the Hobbit calls, but he’s too far away, the battle is too noisy, Thorin cannot hear him.

Kili is protecting his brother, as Fili is protecting him, the two of them a deadly whirl of blades beside their uncle.

Bilbo pushes ever closer to them, only to watch as Thorin dodges a blow, decapitates an orc, and then takes an arrow to the throat.

The king falls.

“No!” Bilbo cries, voice hoarse and high, and he redoubles his pace, getting closer.

Fili and Kili are fighting frantically now, but the orcs will not ebb.

Bilbo reaches Thorin finally, where he lays on the ground, his nephews defending his fallen body, and he slips off his little gold ring.

Thorin’s eyes widen and his mouth forms the shape of Bilbo’s name, but no sound comes out.

“Shh, lie still,” Bilbo pleads. “Don’t move!”

Thorin reaches blindly for him, and Bilbo grabs at his hand, taking it in both of his, and he is weeping again, watching as Thorin tries to speak, but the arrow lodged in his throat won’t allow it.

“Oh, Thorin,” Bilbo sobs, “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t-”

But the light fades from Thorin’s eyes, and he sees and hears no more.

Bilbo wakes on cold stone. Emptied out and hollow. Feels as desolate as the empty halls of the kingdom Thorin dies for.



 

 

“What if I don’t leave the mountain?” Bilbo whispers to Kili. He has pulled him aside at the foot of the stone stairs that lead to the gate. “What if I don’t tell Thorin it was me? What if I stay, and you and I never separate? What if everyone stays in the mountain?”

Kili looks at him a long moment. “Thorin will not stay behind these walls, not after the sickness-” Kili cuts himself off as Dwalin draws close enough to hear them. They wait for him to pass.

“What if we tell them what’s really going on?” Bilbo continues, insistent, desperate.

Kili pulls him farther out of earshot of the rest of the Company, tucks them into a dark alcove.

“Calm down,” he hisses. “Bilbo, no force on this earth could keep Thorin and the others from joining the battle - not even you. It won’t work!”

Bilbo blows out a long breath, shifts on his feet like he wants to pace but can’t find the room to do it. “You’re right,” he breathes, “I just… I can’t hurt him anymore, Kili. I can’t watch him die.”

Kili places both hands on Bilbo’s shoulders. “Then maybe today, you won’t have to.”

 

They are late getting to the parapets.

Thorin has fired arrow after arrow down into the valley, his rage a great and terrible thing, shouting for the thief who stole the Arkenstone to reveal himself.

Before Bilbo can speak, face his fate at Thorin’s hands, Kili ushers him up the stone stairs and towards the rope, says, “Go, Bilbo. It won’t help to tell him now.”

But it’s too late. Before Bilbo can even grab the rope, Thranduil’s command to his army is issued, and the mountain is besieged with a volley of arrows.

Bilbo sees Bofur’s look of alarm, before an arrow pierces him just above the collar of his armor. His expression stiffens as he falls.

“No!”

More arrows rain down upon them. The Dwarves cry out, shouting and cursing, grabbing for their weapons, and Bilbo sees Dwalin, then Oin fall, and then Thorin, who had held his position, a single archer against an army.

Bilbo feels a weight strike his back; he cries out and falls forward, his hands catching on the rough stone. He watches Thorin’s face slacken as the rest of the Company, led by Kili and Fili, make to retreat into the safety of the mountain. He watches Thorin’s chest rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall.


He wakes in Erebor.



 

Bilbo thinks he can almost remember the green of the meadows, the smell of fresh cut hay, the color of the daffodils in bloom, the taste of ripe berries. He finds himself some mornings daydreaming of the Shire in spring, and begins to imagine Thorin there with him - Thorin as he should be, having a smoke in the garden, or perhaps taking a stroll with Bilbo to the market; quick to smile, alive and happy.

It’s a life Bilbo thinks they could never know.



 

“I did it, I took the arkenstone.” Kili’s words cut through the air before Bilbo has a chance to say anything to Thorin. Bilbo closes his mouth and looks around at the shocked faces of the company.

“You? You took the Arkenstone?” There is disbelief in Thorin’s voice as he tilts his head and narrows his eyes at Kili.

“I took it…”

“You betrayed me?” Thorin is moving towards Kili and pointing his hand at his chest.

“I did it to stop all of this!” Kili gestures around to the rampart and the scene beneath them.

Bilbo is standing behind Thorin with his eyes closed, trying not to watch what is playing out before him.

“To stop what, exactly? A war? This will stop nothing! Nothing!” The company is trying to make their way between Thorin and Kili.

“I will kill all of you!” Thorin is lunging towards Kili as Dwalin pushes back against Thorin.

Fili grabs ahold of Kili and pulls him inside the mountain.

Bilbo clutches at the front of his shirt, still expecting to feel rough hands on him.

 

He had never seen Fili cry. Not in all their years. Not when he didn’t get his way, not when he would get hurt during practice, or when he burned himself when he first started using the forge. Not when he would fail at princely duty. Never once did Kili see Fili’s eyes brim with tears.

Now Kili stood in front of Fili with his icy eyes. Kili remembers when they were younger and thinking that he could warm them up and they would melt and change their shade of blue.

There were tears brimming, threatening to spill.

It was strange, Kili thought, to watch someone’s strength leave them.

“I have dreams of fire. Not the dreams that you would think. It’s not of Lake Town, of buildings burning. It’s of hair like dragon’s flames, licking away at who you are.” A tear falls, tracing its way through a laughter line.

“Fee…” Kili is reaching out to him, desperate to even feel his clothes under his skin, feel the warmth radiating through threads.

Fili pulls his arm back and forces a smile. “No, brother. You did it for her. You gave the Arkenstone to her people as a bargaining tool. You have shown your hand and most importantly your heart.” He doesn’t call him nadad, instead uses common to speak to him. Kili can recall the handful of times that Fili had called him brother instead, and how each time it was because Kili had done something to hurt Fili.

“You promised, you promised me this morning that you’ll leave with me after all of this.” Kili is pleading. His desperation is like a broken instrument, strings that screech and don’t produce the right sound.

“Is that why you wanted to leave? Because you betrayed our people?” Fili’s voice isn’t stern, it’s filled with hurt and Kili can’t stand that he is the cause of it.

Kili closes his eyes. “You promised.” It’s barely a whisper.

“You want me to betray Thorin as well? He will banish you, Kili, when this is all said and over with. If the sickness doesn’t make him do worse.” Fili is pacing now, wiping away at his eyes.

“You wouldn’t let that happen.”

Fili sighs. “No I wouldn’t, but it doesn’t mean that I would go with you either.” Fili is walking out of the chamber, his footsteps echoing.

“You promised!” Kili shouts, his voice bouncing off gold and dust covered remnants.

He doesn’t think, just swings his fist into the stone. He hears his knuckles crack as the rock breaks his skin. He watches as his blood drips down the wall.

He hates himself more for this, that this could be the time that they all make it out and all for his family to think he did it for an elf, and not to try to ease some of Bilbo’s grief.

 

“Where is he?” Kili calls to the company who are all sitting around by the stairs waiting.

“He went to speak to Thorin,” Bilbo replies as he wipes his hands over his face.

“Why?”

“What happened to your hand? You need that wrapped up.” Bofur is standing from the stone he was sitting on and making his way towards Kili.

“He went try to ask for forgiveness for you,” Dwalin say. “That maybe the King Under the Mountain would spare his nephew. I told him not to go, Thorin is not himself right now and I suspect your brother is not either.” Dwalin has his arms crossed over his chest as he narrows his eyes at Kili.

Kili is waving off Bofur who is pulling at his hand. He doesn’t say anything else to the company as he makes a dash for it down to the throne room.

 

“He didn’t know what he was doing!” Kili can hear Fili’s voice carrying down the hall.

“He did know!” The voice that replies is unlike Thorin’s, tinged with a raspiness and a hiss that is akin to more of a dragon.  “Betrayed! By my own kin!”

“He’s under some sort of elf magic...he…”

“Do not make excuses for your brother. I see what this is. This is a ploy to take the throne from me. You wish to be king and you’re using your brother to get the Elves on your side.” Thorin’s voice sounds dangerous and low.

“A ploy? Is that what you think? That we would betray you for the mountain? For broken statues and tainted gold?”

Kili makes his way into the room. Thorin glances from Fili to him. Fili turns around following Thorin’s eyesight.

Before Kili can say anything he sees what he has seen so many times before, but it is different this time. It is worse. It is not the same blade, nor the same wielder.

A blade goes through FIli’s chest and a scream rips from Kili’s throat.

He falls to his knees as Thorin stares in horror at the sword in his hands.

Kili breaks off into a run to get to Fili or Thorin, he isn’t sure which he is running towards.

As his feet are pounding against stone he can feel time slowing down, can feel his movements becoming thick and hazy.

 

He awakes in his bedroll, beads of sweat dripping down his face as Fili is rushing to his side to ask him if he had a nightmare.

Kili doesn’t say anything, instead he clings to his brother’s chest. Pulls him by his nightshirt and sobs into the fabric.

“Shhhh, nadad, it was just a bad dream.” Fili is petting the back of Kili’s hair as he chokes out another sob.

Fili will never know of the great relief it is just for Kili to hear him say nadad again.



 

“We mustn’t give up hope,” Bilbo tells Kili, but is voice sounds like defeat.

Kili says, “I cannot do this anymore. I cannot watch him get killed for my actions.”

“You’ve done nothing wrong. Why did you tell Thorin you took the Arkenstone?”

“I tried to share some of your burden.”

Bilbo’s mouth forms a thin line. “The blame is mine, Kili. And though I appreciate the effort, I don’t think we ought to try that plan again.”

“All it was for was more bad memories and a lifetime filled with nightmares. You...you don’t know what is was like to see Thorin like that.” Kili’s voice is breaking as he looks to the ground.

Bilbo looks out at the valley below them. He can see in the shadows that play across the open fields the echoes of battles that have happened before - and yet, exist only in their memories. He sees Thorin laid out on the ground, pierced with arrows; Fili broken beneath the mace of a troll. He looks to Kili again, sees hurt beyond his age etched in his features.

Bilbo remembers Thorin’s rage, and he remembers Thorin’s countless apologies. He takes Kili by the hand.

“I have seen Thorin at his worst, but I hope to see him again at his best. Do not give up, Kili. We cannot give up.”  

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

What remains once the war is won?

Fame.
Songs.
A kingdom of corpses.
His name too heavy in my mouth.

-"He is Half of My Soul" by starredsoul.tumblr.com

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

“When this is all said and over with I’m going to ask for red to be banned from Erebor. I don’t ever want to see it again. No tapestries, no cloth, nothing.” Kili walks past Bilbo in one of the many halls.

“I do believe that when this is over, the color red will not be making an appearance in my garden for quite some time.” Bilbo says with his arms crossed over his chest as he envisions a garden filled with bright yellows.

Kili turns back to look at Bilbo, and for the first time in a very long time they both laugh.




 

 

Bilbo waits from his vantage point in Dale, his gaze fixed on the mountain. He knows that any moment now, Thorin and the dwarves will join the battle. He knows that Thorin will be well, be himself again. He wonders how Kili can stand it, the many times he has watched his mother’s brother emerge from the shadows of Erebor, hale and sane, only to be laid to waste mere hours later in bloody chaos.

Bilbo can’t blame him for never trying to keep Thorin and Fili inside the mountain. Such selfishness would not do. Afterall, it’s impossible to stop the sun shining, even behind the darkest storm clouds.

“Bilbo,” Gandalf says from behind him, out of breath. “I thought I’d lost you in the valley. This is no place for a Hobbit - come away from here.”

“Hullo, Gandalf,” Bilbo says dully. He doesn’t spare a glance for the old wizard. His eyes stay focused on the grey stone gates of the mountain. Waiting.

“Bilbo?”

Gandalf never knows, never gives any indication that he understands what’s going on, though time and again when Bilbo encounters him during these endless days he hopes the old man’s wisdom might offer some answer.

“A moment, Gandalf. Just a moment.”

This is my favorite part.

The bell tolls in the mountain.

“Thorin,” Bilbo breathes.

 

This time Bilbo is killed on the slopes of Raven Hill, before he gets to hear again the way Thorin says his name.




 

 

Days pass and no days pass. It is always the same day. Bilbo thinks one morning that it might help him to count them, that it might help him stay rooted somehow.

He realizes he would have to count them by deaths, rather than sunsets.




 

 

They’re all in the valley, and no one has gone to Raven Hill yet. It’s chaos and hope, shouting and the grunts and battle cries of orcs and Dwarves, Dain’s army rallying back into formation, the Company together a glorious blaze of blades and axes cutting swathes through the orc-lines.

And Bilbo, as always, is fighting his way towards them, wearing his little gold ring, hope and desperation swelling in him in equal measure, despair and defeat always on the horizon.

A huge orc pivots awkwardly to avoid an axe-blow from an Iron Hills Dwarf, and crashes headlong into the Hobbit he cannot see.

Bilbo is jerked to the side, stumbles and sprawls in the cold mud, and feels the ring slip from his finger.

“No!”

The gold band goes rolling on its edge, out of Bilbo’s grasp, before colliding with an upturned stone and settling onto the ground with an audible whump.

Bilbo scrambles forward on hands-and-knees, heedless to the battle and with no thought to Thorin and the others in his mind, only bent on retrieving his ring.

His fingers close around the gold, digging into mud and blood-soaked earth to pick it up. He sits back heavily, staring at the ring in his fingers, until the familiar roar of Dwalin shakes him from his reverie.

He looks up, sees some of his dwarves not more than twenty paces away. Fili and Kili, ever in tandem, and Thorin and Dwalin and Balin, separated from the rest of the group.

The ring, Bilbo thinks, Kili, and then shakes his head as if to rid himself the odd feeling of detachment that has crept over him.

He remembers what he’s here to do, Kili having convinced him that he stands the best chance to stop Thorin from making his mad assault on the Hill and taking the others with him, but before Bilbo can get five steps, a blow to the head delivered from behind knocks him forward onto the cold ground.

He thinks he hears Thorin shout his name - one word, sharp and surprised and pained - but perhaps that is only part of a dream he has before he wakes in Erebor.




 



Death has a place in the garden. With it comes new growth, new life, the seeds of the next generation, fruits of labors, the cycle endless and generous and undiscriminating.

Here, death means nothing. Nothing grows, nothing is reaped, and certainly, nothing ever changes.





 

 

Kili always felt like he was moving too fast, that he was something that wasn’t meant to be held. Now he wishes that everything would just slow down and that he could feel Fili’s skin on his.

 


 

 

There’s a word for what this is. Ushruf. It is used for when someone deserves what is happening to them.




 

 

He wants to ask his brother what it is like being the sun. What it must be like to walk into a room and know that everyone’s eyes are on you.

He’s always noticed this about Fili, but now sitting here waiting for Thorin to be pulled out of his sickness, again, he notices the way everyone seems to gravitate towards him. Waiting for his next move, waiting for a decision.

He knows that if he asked Fili this that he would just smile and say that it was the other way around.

But Kili is not the sun, nor is he the night sky. He thinks he is the fire moon, a raging light against the enveloping dark.




 

 

Kili looks down at his fingers and sees the polished silver skin of a scar on his index finger. He remembers how he burned it on the forge when he was a child and was told not to be playing down there. He remembers his curiosity vividly and how he had put his fingers close to the flame.

Later when he snuck back into the house crying Fil had pulled him aside to run cool water over the burn. He remembers how his brother kissed the warm flesh on his fingertip before he had put a bandage on it.

He lifts his finger to his lips and feels the smoothness of the scar against his chapped lips.




 

 

His memories start to blur together and he works to pick out the countless deaths stacking against all his favorite memories.

“I feel like all I know are grays and muted colors and red, red like nothing I’ve ever seen. The sun here is the same every day, it’s hazy and covered by clouds. I miss the sun, I miss its warmth. I miss the smell of pine and moss.” Kili speaks out loud to an empty hall.




 

 

“I’m not too sure I know what it’s like to dream anymore, Mr.Baggins.” All Kili has are visions of frozen fingers, purple lips, and violent mountains.

“Please, call me Bilbo. And you’ll remember what it’s like to dream again one day. You can have a life again outside this chaos, and you’ll be happy again.” Bilbo runs a finger over the acorn in his pocket.

“How are you so certain?”

“Because it is all we have left,” Bilbo says. “Hope, that one day we will save them, and this will all be over, and you and your brother can have your lives back, and Thorin can have his throne, and I… I suppose I will go home.” He turns and looks back at the dark halls of Erebor, tries to see them as Thorin had described them to him once - shining, vast and bright, full of golden light.




 

 

They’re on Raven Hill and the odds are stacked against them, just as they always are. Kili has his bow and arrows this time and he is standing on top of one of the towers shooting arrow after arrow as Fili, Dwalin, Bilbo, and Thorin fight against the masses.

Azog is swinging his mace against Bilbo and Thorin who are ducking and moving too quickly for the orc. Kili smiles to himself as he watches the scene unfold.

He puts another arrow in his bow and feels the wood press against his cheek. He’s aiming for a group that are enclosing on Fili, who is twisting and turning with both of his blades.

Kili lets out a breath and hears the arrow go flying and as he watches it go for its intended target, the orc grabs Fili by the back of his tunic and pulls the dwarf close to his chest.

The arrow stays true to its course.

He feels delirious as he watches the blood spread under Fili’s thin armor. Kili doesn’t know anymore if he is lost or loss itself. A grief so strong it has manifested inside of him and made him indistinguishable.







 

“I can never get there fast enough.” Bilbo is apologizing to Kili, and how many times has he done this? “Something always stops me, and I… and then I wake back here. Or something changes, and you aren’t where I think you’ll be, I can’t find you all until it’s too late. I’m sorry, Kili - it isn’t working!”

Kili rings his hands, chews his bottom lip.

“We have to get to the gate soon,” Bilbo mutters, looking to the lightening sky.

“What do we try next?” Kili asks, his brow furrowed and his brown eyes dark with pain.

Bilbo thinks for a moment, hands on his hips. He huffs out a breath.

“Raven Hill again. We get them to Raven Hill, and we save them there.”

 

That day, Bilbo watches Kili loose an arrow that slays his golden-haired brother

Before he’s jerked away from his place next to Thorin, back to wakefulness the same morning, before all of this can be undone, he turns to Thorin, who fights by his side still, all battle-fury and beauty and life, ignorant of the unspeakable tragedy on the ice behind them, and Bilbo yells, “Thorin! I--”

He wakes in Erebor.




 

 

This is a place without creation. A place that even the Valar would not want to touch. A place of killing and lost hope.

 


 

 

Kili wakes and looks down at his hands expecting to see indentations from pulling back his bow string. There is no evidence of what he did, just a shiver running down his spine.

 

They never make it to night. He wants to know how the moon illuminates flesh.

 


 

 

“If you keep walking around like that, with that solemn look, I will forget what you looked like before all of this,” Fili says with a small smile.

“What did I look like?” Kili asks with a smirk. He leans against cold stone.

“Wild and free, with your muddy boots and bruised knees.”

 


 

 

“It’s a promise.” Dis put the cool stone in Kili’s hand.

“What sort of promise?” Kili asked, and he looked down at his mother’s hand enclosed over his.

“A promise that you will come back.”

 

Kili thinks that if he could really do things all over again then he would give the stone to Fili. That he would feel his hands in his and he would tell him that he would never leave him.




 

 

“Bilbo, can I ask you something?” Kili walks up to Bilbo, it’s still early and the sun hasn’t broken over Dale yet.

“Of course.”

“You said that Fili died all those times protecting me. I don’t want to know about all of them. I just want to know about the first one.”

Bilbo took a breath, looked down at his feet. “I had just gotten to Raven Hill,” he said quietly. “Thorin had sent you and Fili into the watch tower alone. I don’t know what happened after that, I just know that the both of you were separated.”

“But what happened?”

“Is this something that you really want to know?”

“No, but it is something that I need to know.”

“Azog had your brother-” Bilbo closes his eyes and take a breath, the vision still fresh in his mind. “-he had your brother by the back of his tunic. He stabbed him through the chest and then dropped him from the tower. I think he said that you were next.”

“What happened to me?” Kili holds onto a hope that he went after Azog and that he died at the pale orc’s hands avenging his brother.

“I do not know. You took off, ran up the steps in a fury and were slaughtering orcs like nothing I had ever seen. I don’t know why you two had separated.”

“Because he knew. He knew that it was a trap, he was trying to buy me time.” Kili lets out a dark laugh, one that vibrates through his bones.

Bilbo looks at him curiously and thinks that the way Kili’s laugh echoes in these halls reminds him of the sound of thunder, and stone fighting stone.

For a moment Kili wishes that the stories were true, that he wasn’t made of flesh, but instead of mineral and dust so that maybe he wouldn’t have to feel.




 

 

“Do you fear the forest?” Bilbo whispered.

This was before.

The answer came a moment later, on a breath, barely loud enough for Bilbo to discern from the silence surrounding them: “Yes.”

And when Thorin shifted closer to him, Bilbo reached out blindly, and found Thorin’s hand in the darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

“Will you come with me?” he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone.
But not in this one.

-Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

“We must keep trying,” Bilbo tells Kili. The young dwarf looks hollowed out, broken.

“Thorin taught me archery,” Kili says slowly, as if he’s struggling to pull memories of anything other than this time into his thoughts. “Fili helped me train…”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Bilbo insists, stepping forward and reaching for Kili’s hand.

“Kili.” Bilbo looks up earnestly into his face, sees tears standing in his eyes. “We mustn’t give up hope. We must keep trying.”

Kili swallows audibly, straightens his shoulders, locks his hand in Bilbo’s, pulls in a bracing breath. “Raven Hill, then,” he says on an exhalation.

Bilbo nods once, firmly, tries for a smile that cracks at the edges.

“Raven Hill.”




 

 

Sometimes Bilbo makes for Raven Hill and he cannot find any of them when he gets there. All is silent but for the low whisper of the wind. He resists the urge to call out to Thorin, and sets to searching the tower for them instead. Sometimes he comes upon a group of orcs - sometimes he manages to kill one or two of them, before his invisible from is grabbed up, or overrun, or run through by many blades slashing at an enemy they know is there but cannot see. When he wakes in Erebor he wonders if they were all alright, safe and victorious somewhere in the tunnels or on the north side of the Hill perhaps. He wonders that his own foolhardiness could spell their doom so many times, and on these mornings he does wish to go back to the beginning, as Bofur had suggested - to stay in his smial and never try to sate his hidden thirst for adventure.

Sometimes he doesn’t even make it out of Dale. He sees Thorin and the others start their ascent on the Hill, but before he can slip on his ring and go after them, it’s already over. When he wakes in Erebor, he might ask Kili, “Who was it this time?” Or he might see the set of Kili’s shoulders when he sits up from his bedroll, see him struggle to reign in his harsh breathing, and then Bilbo knows that Kili has watched his brother die again, and he says nothing other than, “We can’t give up yet.”

Sometimes it happens on the battlefield that one of them is killed in their initial charge; and once or twice Bilbo is killed in Dale during the siege on the broken city, cut down running by an orc or crushed beneath the mace of a troll.

Bilbo sits on his rolled up blankets on the stone floor of Erebor’s front hall, looking up to the wall at the pre-dawn light, and wonders how it can be that he could have lived this one day so many times and still be unable to predict events exactly as they will happen.

It is always the same, and yet it is never the same in the same ways. He feels caught in a current, and he remembers their river-escape, the helpless fear at being pulled this way and that by the rushing water, the sense that at any moment he would be crushed against a rock or between the racing barrels.

Only this is no river, and Thorin is never there to find him afterwards, to pull him to his feet and into a hard embrace and say into his hair, “Bilbo, I thought we’d lost you. You’ve saved us all again.”





 



Clue-Finder, he’d called himself, boasting to the dragon. Ring-Winner, Barrel-Rider, Web-Cutter.

“Would that I could cut this web,” he mutters to himself.

“What’s that?” Kili whispers, standing near him.

“Nothing,” Bilbo says. He smiles. “Only nonsense.”

Kili looks at him strangely before saying, “Come. We’ll be wanted at the gates. Are you ready, Bilbo?”

 

He weeps freely this time, when he reveals himself as the traitor who took the stone and turned it over to Thorin’s enemies. He struggles to say the words.

Thorin’s face is tear-streaked when he gives the hoarse order to throw him down.

 

That day Bilbo watches from his place at Thorin’s side, snow swirling on the ice and the Eagles calling overhead, watches as Kili is beheaded by Azog before the eyes of his brother and uncle.

Bilbo wakes in Erebor. Web-Cutter, he thinks, and rubs at his tired eyes as if to wipe away the memories.





 

 

Kili thinks about saying no, thinks it might be the right thing to do when Thorin asks if they will all follow him one last time.

He sits on a piece of broken statue and waits.

Light emerges and Thorin makes his entrance.

Kili doesn’t stand like he has so many times before, he doesn’t tell Thorin that he will not stand aside and watch while others fight their battles. He doesn’t even know whose battle this is anymore.

When he doesn’t stand, when he doesn’t shout he thinks that there will be nothing. Instead it is Fili who is walking forward.

“If you will not lead our people, then I will. I will take Kili and the others and I will look for Bilbo. I will help win this with or without you. And when we win, I will take the Arkenstone and I will make sure it is destroyed.”

Kili is looking at his brother in wonder.

Thorin smiles. “I believe, if you are amendable, that I could follow.”




 

 

Fili leads the charge at the gate. It’s breaking pattern. Kili feels exhilarated by his side.

They make it to Raven Hill with ease and quicker than they have before.

Kili remembers this feeling, one that he used to have all the time when him and his brother would go out into the woods. He feels unstoppable and like they can take on the world.

He laughs rich and loud as Bilbo meets them on Raven Hill.

“I almost couldn’t catch up,” Bilbo breathes out.

Kili clasps a hand on his back. “You did and just in time for the show!”

“You’re more cheerful than usual.” Bilbo looks between Kili and Fili.

“I believe I saw a golden light and it gave me hope.” Kili’s smile is infectious and Bilbo can’t help but smile as well.

“Right, what’s the plan then?” Bilbo asks looking at Thorin.

It is Fili who replies. “We wait here, fight off whatever comes to us. Azog will eventually leave his tower if we are this close.”

Kili can’t help the smile on his face as he watches his brother look around Raven Hill. He whispers to Bilbo, “We just need to wait for the eagles.”

They fight. Kili fights with an intensity he has never felt on this battlefield. Fili fights without restraint, all of his moves savage. They dance around each other on Raven Hill, their feet gliding across the ice.

Kili tries to push away the swelling in his chest, the growing hope that is filling up the hollowness.

It’s not was he was expecting.

“Kili!” The name is familiar as it carries through the ruins of the watch tower. “Kili!” It is not his brother’s shout, not the familiar cry of his name.

Fili looks around for a moment, the space temporarily clear of any orcs.

Bilbo is looking at Kili with raised eyebrows.

“Go to her!” Fili eventually shouts.

“Kili!” His name rings out again as a figure of red and emerald emerges on Raven Hill.

“Go!” Fili shouts again as more orcs descend upon them. He swings both of his blades, cutting two orcs in half.

Kili shakes his head no as he tries to stay by Fili’s side.

“Kili!” He turns to look to see Tauriel swinging her blades swiftly and with grace through the center of an orc.

It is not the same way his brother fights, her moves are more fluid and almost dreamlike. He opens his mouth to say something but doesn’t know what could even be screamed across these bodies between them.

There is no starlight when he looks at her, no halo of light.

He turns to look at Fili who seems to almost glow with radiant light. He smiles to himself as he feels his chest swell with pride and his heart stutter.

Her voice cuts through the noise again. “Kili!”

This time he didn’t even notice the blade in his chest.

He rubs his thumb against Fili’s cheek, looking into his eyes filled with horror as his knees hit the ground.





 

 

“Who is she?” Bilbo asks Kili one morning. “The red-haired Elf captain, I remember her from Mirkwood. And one time…” he trails off, unsure if he wants to tell Kili too much of what happened before things changed, before Kili was able to remember it all, too.

“One time what?” Kili looks at him curiously, wondering what Bilbo knows of the she-elf.

Bilbo looks at him a long moment. “It happened before, during one of my days on Raven Hill. Are you sure you want to know?”

Kili bites his bottom lip, forgetting that it is chapped from the wind. “Yes.” It’s no different than the constant taste of blood in his mouth.

“Your brother was killed,” Bilbo says quietly, “and so were you. It was just Thorin left, and I couldn’t get to him. I’d made a mistake, thought I could follow the two of you into the tunnels, turn you back before… well… it didn’t work, anyway. I saw you, your body, and then the Elf was there. She was crying.” Bilbo swallows hard. “She was leaning over you, and she was crying, and she had a stone, I think. It was small, and dark colored. She put it in your hand.” Bilbo looks up and meets Kili’s eyes. “I didn’t understand it,” he says.

“I gave away something that I shouldn’t have.”

Bilbo feels as if he’s been struck.

“So did I,” he says quietly.




 

 

Kili isn’t even too sure if this is real anymore.

He walks up to Fili and without a word reaches inside his tunic.

“Kili?” Fili whispers as Kili is practically against him.

Kili pulls out one of Fili’s daggers. Without hesitation he runs it across his palm and winces at the sting. 

“Mahal, what are you doing Kee?!” Fili is exclaiming as he looks for a piece of tattered cloth to wrap up the bleeding wound on Kili’s hand.

He doesn’t know how to explain to him that he was trying to see if he could still feel something that wasn’t grief.

He smiles a wicked grin at the way Fili says Kee.

 




 

 

Bilbo begins to worry about Kili. Each morning he looks more blank, his eyes dull and expressionless.

Bilbo pulls him aside, away from the others. “Kili? Are you well?”

“Before yesterday it was just an idea, that his blood was on my hands. Now it really is.” Kili feels desolate.

Bilbo frowns. “It isn’t. That… what happened, it didn’t really happen. We have time to try again.”

“But it did happen because every time I close my eyes I see my arrow-” Kili closes his eyes as the tears start to well up, his voice cracks “-my arrow that pierced him.” He remembers when he first picked up archery and how worried Dis was over one of them getting hurt.

There is nothing Bilbo can say to that. He thinks now that Kili needs to be saved as well, as much as Thorin or Fili.





 

 

It’s still early morning yet and he is alone with Fili who has a plum in his hand that reminds Kili of countless bruises. Fili bites into the flesh and Kili finds himself wondering how his lips taste.

Kili runs his tongue across his teeth.

Fili stops eating to look at Kili.

“Do you remember what I used to tell you when we were younger?”

“You used to tell me a lot of things, Fee.” He can feel the grin stretching across his features, using muscles that haven’t been used in days.

“But do you remember what I told you about where you came from?”

Kili does but he shakes his head no, wanting to hear the way that Fili says it.

“That I thought you were forged in the wilds because of your wolf like grin.” Fili smiles kindly at Kili.

Kili realizes now that he was looking at Fili like he wanted to devour.




 

 

They almost make it so many times that Bilbo thinks he’s becoming immune to the feeling of hope. It swells in his chest each time nonetheless, and each time it does, the space it leaves behind after feels bigger, more hollow. More empty.





 

 

“So sorry,” Thorin is sputtering, his lips wet with blood, “so sorry, that I have led you into such peril.”

Azog’s blade is still in his chest, the decapitated orc attached to Thorin in this way. It’s more than Bilbo thinks he can bear. His hands shake, his voice is caught in his throat.

“So sorry - Bilbo -” Thorin is coughing, his head lolling to the side.

“No, no no no,” and there’s nothing he can do, and Kili and Fili are fighting up in the tower, and Dwalin is trying to push his way through a crowd of orc warriors at the stairs, and Thorin is dying.

Bilbo grabs Thorin’s hand. It spasms, fingers curling in pain; it doesn’t hold his as it’s done before.

“Go back - to your books,” Thorin begins, but a fit of bloody coughing stops him.

“No no no, Thorin, just one more moment!”

 

Bilbo wakes in Erebor. He thinks of his books, his favorite armchair, his garden, the acorn in his pocket, and that he’d burn it all and scatter the ashes if it would but undo this.





 

 

“I’m going to try to talk to Thorin,” Bilbo whispers to Kili.

“Bilbo,” Kili says gently, “Thorin is mad.”

Bilbo pulls at his coat, thinks of the mithril shirt underneath, feels the collar of it against his skin. “Even so,” he says, “I’m going to try.”

 

“Thorin.” Bilbo catches him on his way to the gates.

“Master Baggins.” Thorin, wearing his grandfather’s golden armor, greets him with that bizarre fondness, a small strange smile. (Bilbo wonders how much of the sickness he is hearing in that fond tone, how much or how little belongs to Thorin himself. If perhaps Bilbo isn’t just a valuable part of his hoard in these moments. If any of what Bilbo felt between them before all of this ever actually existed.)

“I need to speak with you,” Bilbo forces himself to say.

Thorin frowns. “Is it,” he looks around, ensures none of the others are in earshot, “about them?” Thorin’s voice drops to such a low pitch Bilbo feels a trickle of fear down his spine.

“No,” he says, “it’s about the battle.”

“You fight bravely,” Thorin interrupts, the abrupt change in his demeanor never something Bilbo can get used to. He smiles, all wrong. “You will do well. You have your mithril vest, and your small sword, and Dwarves on your side.” Thorin reaches a heavily gloved hand to Bilbo’s back, turns him towards the gates and starts walking.

Bilbo stumbles at his side. “Thorin, wait, that’s not what I mean. I… I had a dream,” he blurts.

Thorin laughs. “A dream?”

“Yes,” Bilbo says, feeling the desperation welling up in him. “A dream. In it, you… you were killed. And Fili and Kili, too.”

Thorin stops walking and turns to look at Bilbo peculiarly. He eyes track across the Hobbit’s face, linger on his eyes, and for a moment Bilbo thinks he sees a glimpse of his friend there, free of sickness, his Thorin, the person he had staked his honor upon and left his home for.

“A very vivid dream,” Bilbo presses on. “A premonition, even. I think we must all be very careful today. I think… I think we should move everyone, the Elves and the Men, too…. into the mountain.”

Thorin jerks as if struck.

“Into the mountain?” he repeats, voice raspy. “You would have been open my doors to my enemies? Let their seige into my halls? Hand over to them what is rightfully ours!”

Thorin’s escalating rage is something to behold, a festering expanding thing that leaves the Dwarf shaking and breathing heavily. The Company have heard this outburst, and their chatter ceases. Kili stands slowly, seeming to gauge the distance between Thorin and himself, preparing for what, Bilbo would rather not guess.

Bilbo takes calming breaths. He forces a laugh.

“Silly me,” he says, laughing or choking. “Yes, very foolish indeed. Forgive me. I was talking nonsense.”

Thorin visibly calms.

“Nonsense, yes,” Bilbo goes on, forcing more laughter. “I must have been more, ah, affected by my dream than I thought. You’re right, of course.”

“No apologies are necessary,” Thorin says quietly, and for all that Bilbo knows he is mad, he looks almost regal in that moment, back straight, head held high, turning in a swirl of black fur and his glinting crown, turning towards the gate.

Bilbo lets out a shaking breath. He turns his shaking hands into fists, squeezes until he feels his short nails digging into his palms.

As he walks past Kili to join Bofur and Bifur, they share a look. Kili’s expression is hard, but his eyes are soft, pitying. Bilbo offers a tiny shrug of his shoulders, Kili looks away on a sigh.

Kili lays a hand against Fili’s armored back.

“Come, brother,” he says. “We’ll be wanted up on the wall.”





 

 

Kili doesn’t know if it's dragon sickness that is eating away at him or heartache. That maybe it manifested in a different way for him. All he knows is that he wants his brother. He wants him in a dark all-consuming way. He wants the way Fili’s hips look like they were meant to be gripped by his hands.

He thinks that this is how fire catches.





 

 

“Do you remember when we were younger and you promised me that one day we would lay on the sand, that we would see the ocean like in the pictures in the books that we read and the maps that we would look at?”

He remembers how they would jump from piece of furniture to furniture. Making up words and shouting silly things.

“I remember everything I’ve ever promised you.” Fili’s voice is soft as his slowly lifts a hand. He hesitates as Kili inches closer. Fili rests his hand on Kili’s cheek, his thumb moving in small comforting circles on Kili’s skin.

Kili smiles for he thinks he has found what to hold onto. A tether to keep from slipping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 


 

 

“It was a fine cry - loud and long - but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow."

- Toni Morrison

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


Bilbo thinks that if time would only pick itself up and move on again, that it would be spring in the Shire by now. The daisies and dandelions would be blooming, all the orchards in blossom and the birds singing merrily, farmers preparing for the first hay cuttings, the market full of leafy green produce and early spring berries. He and Hamfast would be discussing planting rotations in his garden. His pipe would keep him company there.

He presses his eyes shut tightly and tries to remember these things.

Instead he knows only ash and snow, cold muddy ground and stone and ice, blood and death, death, death.

 


 

Bilbo has caught up with Thorin, Fili, and Kili on the battlefield.

“The harder we try, the closer we get,” Bilbo pants, addressing Kili in a low voice, “the harder it is when we fail.”

Kili smiles grimly and steps back into the melee.

Bilbo is the one who tries his hand at deathbed apologies that day, laying in the cold wet mud with Thorin knelt next to him, his eyes wide, his hands hovering over Bilbo’s chest, afraid to touch.

Blood-soaked, his vision darkening, Bilbo spits out, “I’m sorry, Thorin, I-”

“Bilbo no.”

“I tried, I tried, I never…”

He wakes in Erebor.

 


 

Beorn’s gardens were beautiful, Bilbo thought, and certainly any self-respecting Hobbit could see that, even despite the enormous bumble bees.

He sat out in the bright sunshine on a low bench, stretched his feet into the grass, closed his eyes and sighed happily.

“You must feel quite in your element here, Master Baggins,” said a deep voice from behind him.

Bilbo cracked open one eye and turned his head to look at Thorin. He was divested of most of his armor and heavier traveling clothes, clad only in a lightweight blue tunic and pants, and only barely favoring his wounded side.

“Hullo, Thorin. Come and sit, enjoy the sunshine while we have it.”

Thorin did just that, sitting next to Bilbo on his bench. He folded his arms across his chest rather stiffly, and Bilbo sniggered when he noted that Thorin seemed to be waiting as if he expected something to happen, as if sitting quietly was a foreign task.

“You ought to call me just Bilbo,” he said. “I did, after all, save your life last night.”

Thorin turned quickly, eyes wider. “I did thank you for that, for your bravery.”

Bilbo smiled. “Yes, you did.”

They sat quietly for a time. Bilbo watched the bees and the sway of the flower stems under their weight. Thorin shifted next to him, cleared his throat, drawing Bilbo’s attention.

“Tell me of your home,” the Dwarf said softly, and when Bilbo met his gaze he was reminded of the night before, the way Thorin had looked at him and smiled, blotting out the sunrise itself.

So Bilbo looked out on the garden and told Thorin about the Shire, talking at length about his garden and orchards, the market, his neighbors and of his extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins, his voice growing softer over time, until he heard beside him a quiet snoring, and looked to see that Thorin’s head had fallen forward as he’d dozed off.

Bilbo smiled, and went on talking.

 

Bilbo remembers this time and wonders if it ever happened. Wonders if everything he thinks he remembers happening before this day was only part of a long dream - a dream made up of sunshine and smoke, dark forests and a warm embrace beside a freezing river - a dream between deaths.

 

 


 

 

Raven Hill again, Bilbo fighting at Thorin’s side on the ice, the same cold hope in his chest. He can do little but slash and stab at any orc that gets close to them, but Thorin is a calculating and skilled warrior, preserving a circle about them that’s free of enemies. The orcs keep coming, and they are hacked down.

Azog stands behind his guard, surveying the scene with cold malice, waiting, Bilbo has learned, for Thorin to deplete most of his strength on lesser enemies before moving in to engage him.

Dwalin fights to Bilbo’s right and behind, closer to the stairs, and closer to the edge of the frozen falls. Fili and Kili, Bilbo knows, are somewhere in the tower, hunting Bolg or perhaps, if they are very lucky, have already killed him and are making their way to the ice.

A shout has Bilbo looking away from the dark orc that’s charging them, behind him where he knows Dwalin stands.

The tall dwarf is being crowded by a surge of orcs, swarmed, perhaps at a command from Azog that Bilbo missed.

“Thorin!” Bilbo shouts, and he feels Thorin turn to look in his direction, “Dwalin!”

“No!”

Thorin and Bilbo make to move to Dwalin, but they’re cut off by half a dozen orcs, forced to fight where they stand, Bilbo ducking and narrowly avoiding a blow to the head.

“Dwalin!” Thorin cries, and again Bilbo looks to the warrior, and sees him locked in a stalemate, his battleaxe caught against the pike of a large orc.

For a moment, there on the edge of the frozen falls, Dwalin and the orc are still. But then Dwalin shifts quickly, pressing forward with his axe, turning the orc so its back is to the ledge.

The orc loses footing, falls sideways towards the ledge, and Dwalin’s momentum is unstoppable. He goes down face-first as the orc tumbles over the cliff, and barely holds on to his weapon.

Bilbo shouts, whether in relief or fear he does not know, and Thorin yells beside him, “Move, Bilbo!” and no one has noticed Azog’s approach.

The Pale Orc descends on Dwalin so swiftly he doesn’t even have time to regain his footing. Azog grabs his axe and throws it over the falls, kicks him squarely in the face, snapping his head back.

Thorin is yelling now, and Bilbo finds that he is, too.

Without preamble, Azog raises his blade arm up - Dwalin, stunned, tries to roll - and with a sneer, Azog brings his blade down and removes Dwalin’s head in one motion.

The crunch of his blade in the ice beneath is the loudest sound Bilbo can hear, before Thorin roars.

Bilbo closes his eyes just as he realizes Dwalin’s head has begun to roll towards the edge of the falls. He waits to wake.

Nothing happens.

He stills smells blood on the air, can still hear the hoarse dogged cries of the orcs, can still hear Thorin’s rage and grief, still feels the chill air atop the hill and the snow falling on his face.

“Bilbo!” Thorin shouts. “Move!”

And he realizes he will not wake. That this is not the end. That Dwalin’s death means nothing.

Or perhaps it means everything, because Thorin is advancing on Azog with swiftness and skill, his sword swinging like an extension of his arm, and Bilbo is moving with him by instinct alone, entirely defended by him now, the occasional hand on his shoulder grounding him.

“It cannot be,” Bilbo whispers.

With horror he realizes that they may yet win this day.

He laughs grimly, grabs at Thorin’s arm to get his attention. Thorin turns to him, his dark hair swinging.

“It is too great a price!” Bilbo shouts. He reaches for Thorin’s free hand, finds his fingers and squeezes, sheathes his small blade. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, reaching into his pocket.

“Don’t look.”

Bilbo slips on the ring. He hears Thorin’s surprised cry, and makes for Azog.

The swarm of orcs that stands between Thorin and his enemy is easy to move through while unseen, and in a moment Bilbo stands before the great orc, whose face is twisted in a scowl at the Hobbit’s sudden disappearance.

Bilbo pulls off the ring and declares, “Here I am.”

Azog face lights up with glee.

Thorin screams his name.

Bilbo closes his eyes and waits for the blow.

A sharp pain, a feeling of drowning, and he wakes in Erebor, gasping for breath. Somewhere off to his right he can hear Dwalin talking quietly with Gloin, arguing, it seems, over who is the most skilled at sharpening blades.

I will never tell Thorin, he vows to himself, when all this is over, I will never tell him of any of this. I will leave the mountain, go back home, and he will never know how many times and how many lives and how many days…

 


 


“You are sick, Thorin.” Bilbo tries to tell him one morning. Gently.

“I am besieged,” Thorin corrects. He lays a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. Gently.

“Come to the gate,” the King says, and to Bilbo’s mind it is a question. Follow me?

“What else would I do?”
 

 


 

“Do you love me?” Bilbo whispers as Thorin lays bleeding into the ice.

Thorin breathes out, and it doesn’t sound like Yes, but it doesn’t sound like No.

Thorin dies, and Bilbo wakes.

He stares up from his sleeping place into the vast arching heights of Erebor’s upper levels; arches and halls and passageways he has not seen. He wonders if the kingdom is built all the way into the peak of the mountain, if the Dwarves sought soaring heights as well as great depths.

He imagines a high room, perhaps with a balcony where the resident might step outside, have a smoke, feel the sun and the wind. He imagines a terrace with black soil, seeds planted in rows. In his mind’s eye he sees a tiny garden growing near the peak of the mountain, where sunlight is abundant and the right person might cultivate life.

He sees himself there, and the vision shatters, dissolves.

He bends back his finger on his left hand, pushes until he cannot stand the pain.

 


 

 
There has been too much ash on his tongue and he won’t let the fire inside of him die out this time.

“I have a plan.” Kili runs up to the rampart next to Bilbo who had offered to take watch and relive Bombur of his duties.

“What is it?”

“We don’t fight.”

“We’ve tried that before, Thorin always leaves the mountain.” Bilbo sighs as he looks out over the rampart, waiting for Bard to approach, waiting for the same scene to unfold.

“We leave the mountain, we still go out to fight. I need you to be close by. We get a chariot and we run, run as far and as fast as we can go out of the battle.”

“What of the other dwarves, what of Erebor? What of your home?” Bilbo looks up at Kili now with confusion etched into his features.

Kili bites the inside of his cheek and squares his jaw. “And what if we can save them? What if we can finally be free of this madness? This sickness?”

“And what? We just run off with the King and the Heir? That no one would come looking for us? Azog would hunt Thorin down, he would tear apart Middle Earth looking for him. Do you think Thorin would stand by? That Fili would just stand by? That you would let others die?” Kili has seen Bilbo like this before, but it is usually Thorin that he is speaking to.

“I think that if it stopped all of this that I could do it.”

“No, I don’t think that you could.” Bilbo looks away, his eyes resting on Dale. “Besides, they would never forgive us for letting everyone die just so they could live.”

“It’s a pain I’m willing to trade.”

“What would Fili want you to do?”

Kili sighs in defeat and looks away, lightly hitting the wall with his fist. “He would want me to fight every single day. He would want me to find a way for everyone. For all of this to work. He wouldn’t lose hope the way I have, nor would he have come up with such a stupid idea.”

“It’s not stupid, it’s just desperate.” Bilbo says quietly. “So, what do you want to do?”

“Fight.” Kili says as he tries to think of a new way to protect everyone.

“Right on time then.” Bilbo says as he watches a white horse come running towards the gate.

 


 

 
It starts and ends with bloodshed.

Howling winds, the clang of metal, tortured screams, flash of an arrow, and the way that hope seems to melt away like snow, slow and inevitable.

 


 

He remembers discovering a lavender field with Fili. Pinching the flower between their fingers. He remembers days later, when Fili brushed a strand of hair out of Kili’s face, how he could still smell it underneath his fingernails. He remembers briefly leaning into the touch before Fili pulled his hand away. He wonders if he’s always felt this way.

 


 

There’s a darkness that drips off of his shoulders some days.

“Do you think that all of this feeds into the mountain? Into the madness? Sometimes I think I can see the shadows growing,” Kili says to Bilbo as they stand at the entrance of the gold counting room.

“I’ve never thought of it.”

“It must have something to do with it.” Kili thinks of the dark halls, the ones that linger with muffled screams and still smell of embers and smoke.

 


 

He taught him how to fight, he taught him how to braid, how to peel the skin off fruit.  But there’s so much Fili hasn’t taught him, like how to move lips when they’re pressed against another's.

 


 

He looks at the point of his arrow and lightly touches it with his finger. It pricks his skin and makes him bleed.

“Why did you do that?” Fili asks him as they’re getting ready for battle.

He doesn’t know how to say he was trying to see if it’s as sharp as his want.

 


 

There’s so many things that Kili wants to tell Fili. Most importantly he wants to tell him how he dreams. He dreams of sapphire, of hands uncurling, knees touching, of a lake filled with “I’m sorry” and waves that crash with a thousand apologies.

 


 

 There’s the thought of a new beginning. It’s a wispy and frail thing, barely tangible but coming to light.

 


 

Kili brushes Fili’s hair slowly. Offers to put new braids into it and change the beads to that fitting of an heir, to ones fitting of war. Fili sits in front of him, with his legs crossed. Kili is gentle, mindful of all of his touches.

“I don’t remember the last time that you’ve done this,” Fili says quietly.

“Not since, well not since I was smaller than you.” Kili says it wish a smile. It seems far too long ago that he was smaller than his brother.

“It’s nice, to see you this way again.”

“What do you mean?”

“Something has been troubling you lately.”

Kili doesn’t reply.

“I know when something is wrong nadad. I have known you you’re whole life. Why do you keep secrets from me?”

“Because it is not just my secret to tell,” Kili whispers as he finishes a braid.

“Kee, if what you truly want is outside of this mountain…”

Kili doesn’t let him finish. “There is no one outside of this mountain that I want. What happened in Lake-Town was the effects of poison and magic and I am glad to be rid of it.”

He wonders how long Fili has been wanting to ask that. He wonders what effects of this loop cause Fili to act certain ways. Kili wishes he knew, wishes he had some semblance of control.

“Then what is it nadad? What is weighing so heavy on you?” Fili is turned now so that he is looking up into Kili’s anguished eyes.

Kili leans down, hesitant. He brings a hand up to Fili’s cheek, he feels the bristle of his beard against his skin. He’s slow with his movements, scared of losing this. He cautiously moves his thumb across Fili’s bottom lip, feels how the skin there is petal soft and the slight tremble in it. Fili doesn’t move, instead he keeps his eyes focused on Kili and leans up just a little.

Kili lets out a small breath at this, a sigh of relief. He leans just far enough for their lips to meet. His lips are chapped and it’s the first time in, he doesn’t know how long, that his mouth hasn’t tasted like ash.

Kili is getting off of the chair, pushing Fili back onto the floor. He didn’t realize how much he needed this, for the cavernous hole in his chest to be filled. Didn’t realize how muted and ghostly he was becoming.

It’s nothing like he imagined and he doesn’t even know how long he’s been imagining it.

“Kili.” Fili moans into his mouth. Kili places their lips together once more. Kili has so many questions, he wants to ask Fili, how long, how long have you felt this?

Instead he pushes those thoughts aside to focus on the solid body underneath his. How Fili radiates heat. Fili’s hand cups his cheek and he can feel the callouses from his swords, it sends a shiver down his spine. Fili moans in response. Kili’s hands are roaming, he’s trying to find a way to get passed all the chain and cloth. He pulls away and lets out a small laugh when he can’t and buries his face into the warmth of Fili’s neck.

“It’s a little inconvenient,” Fili says breathlessly.

Kili lets out a laugh, one from deep within. He forgot what it was like to feel like this. “More than inconvenient.” He brushes hair out of Fili’s face, and looks into his azure eyes.

And this, this to them is better than any jewel.

“I should probably finish your hair.” Kili whispers as his hand lightly touches Fili’s face. He revels in the feel of his wind beaten skin.

“It’s only one more braid. Keep the bead and when this is over, you can finish it.” Fili pulls Kili’s hand to his and places his last bead into his palm.

Kili feels vibrant and unrestrained.

 


 

“You seem to be doing better.” Bilbo clasps his hands behind his back as he walks up to Kili.

“I’d rather live in this in-between than to live in a world where he is not in it,” Kili says as he holds the bead in his palm. He presses it tightly, until he feels it make marks into his skin.

 

They get to the gate and when he see’s the sun glow in Fili’s hair he knows that his heart is no longer his.

 

Kili fights for this life, fights for the chance that he has. He’s quick and more alert than he has been.

And this time when Fili dies, when he watches his blood spread out in the snow, he screams.

He screams until his voice cracks. Until his voice sounds unfamiliar to him and more like the way wolves howl at the moon.


 

When he wakes next he feels in his pocket for the bead. He feels a hollowness creep over his chest and carve its way in, making a home.

He hates this place, this endless winter that reeks of dissolution, with its winds that bite and a cold that grips the skin and holds it tight.

 


 

He misses the way his wrist would slip when he would play his fiddle. Misses the crescendo of song. The simpler times, sun kissed skin, the stinging smell of fresh grass, crowns made of leaves and stems, shared whispers and promises between children.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

"But the stars that marked our starting fall away.
We must go deeper into greater pain,
for it is not permitted that we stay."

-Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Bilbo thinks he will forget the brightness of the sun and the feeling of joy, of contentedness even. But then, on most days anyway, he gets to watch Thorin charge out of the mountain, sword and shield flashing like a beacon, a bright shimmer in a field of grey, and Bilbo can never stop the swell of something equally bright that fills his chest; bright and sharp and hot and painful, and Bilbo never stops telling himself that this will be the time he makes sure that that light is not snuffed out.




 

Raven Hill, always on Raven Hill. Kili sees Fili surrounded, his face remains still. For a moment Kili thinks that he was made to be modeled for statues. That the halls of Erebor deserve a king who would look alluring in stonework.

Bolg is hurdling himself towards Fili, knowing that he won't be able to defend himself when there are already multiple orcs on him. Kili is quick as he slides down a stone and onto the ice. He uses his momentum to almost glide in front of Fili.

By the time Bolg’s weapon hits it strikes Kili through his chest. His vision blurs as he falls to his knees. The last thing he sees is Fili screaming his name and the smear of scarlet across the ground. He takes in a ragged breath and feels dirt and snow on his tongue. He feels his last heart beat stutter against his ribs and he knows he passes with a smile on his lips.

He wakes in Erebor with the stain of earth still in his mouth.

 


 

He’s lost count of how many times his bones have been on this battlefield.

 


 

Winter is crushing everything that Kili once had. Things that he used to hold dear to him. He remembers playing out in the snow as children. Remembers coming inside to warm fires and dry clothes. He remembers Fili telling him stories, elaborate ones filled with all of Kili’s favorite things. He would always ask Fili if there would be dragons, magic, and broken crowns that could only be mended by two princes.

Now when he thinks of winter, he thinks of desolation. Of bodies freezing in the snow.

Sometimes he wants it to be his own.

 


 

Kili daydreams. Daydreams of walking down the mountain, of leaving this place where everything is blood stained. He dreams of lying in the shallows of the lake, of the rocks pressing into his back as the tide comes into shore. Of water washing over his skin, of the salt seeping into his wounds. It always ends with the sky turning red and opening up with violence as blood splatters from the clouds.

He dreams of his limbs becoming trees, of his body sinking into the earth.

 


 

Bilbo wonders if there are other version of this life in which the sun sets each day, someone or everyone is dead, and the world goes on anyway. He tries to imagine himself leaving Erebor, Thorin’s body buried in a tomb deep within the mountain, or attending Fili or Kili’s funeral at Thorin’s side, or what may have been if he had made a different choice on the day that Dwalin died first. He tries to distinguish one grief from another, but finds all their deaths are blended.

He thinks there must be other worlds (so many of them by now) in which each of these dark and desolate days saw a dark end, and there must be other lives where he is living with those consequences, instead of these.

But this is the world and the life he has, and it doesn’t do him much good to wonder about those other lives.

 


 

It's a habit that Fili had, one that Kili doesn’t get to see anymore, either because the days are too long or too short, he isn’t sure.

He doesn’t realize he’s doing it at first until Bilbo asks him, “What are you doing?”

“What?” Kili asks as he shakes his shoulders a little bit and straightens out his tunic.

“You’ll be slouching and then you square your shoulders. You’ve been doing it quite a bit recently and I’ve never seen you do it before.”

Kili knows what Bilbo is talking about. The way that he used to watch Fili in lessons, even around the house. How his limbs would become more languid and the stiffness in his body would loosen. Once Fili would realize what he was doing he would lightly shake it off, square his shoulders and take in a deep breath. Making his body look more like stone, more restrained.

When Kili had asked him about it once, years ago, before Kili had even understood their line, Fili had told him, “You know the stories that I tell you, the one’s where we’re princes?”

Kili had nodded his head yes, watching as Fili turned into all hard lines, “Well one day you will understand why it’s that story that I tell you about so much.”

Kili thinks back to at night when he would have nightmares and Fili would brush his hair out of his eyes where it was sticking to his forehead, and whisper into his ear, “Shhhhh dashat, I’ve got you.”

 




Kili and Bilbo fight with everything they have. They’re shouting to each other across the ice, making quick decisions and even quicker movements. Their bodies ache and there’s still blood, there's always blood, but so far it’s none of theirs.

Gandalf and Bard are at the bottom of the hill with Thranduil, fighting off any orcs from going up. Dwalin is at north, moving his axes with brute force and taking out any orcs before they reach Thorin.

Kili and Fili are back to back, not letting anything between them. Kili won't even let Fili speak of separation. Instead they take on Bolg. Kili has been waiting for this, he moves his sword quickly between both hands, too fast for the orc to keep his eyes on him. Fili pulls a dagger out of his boot and flings it between the armor that juts out of the orcs ribs. The orc doesn’t know who to focus on, their movements synchronized yet shifting to the orc’s eye.

Fili moves to get behind Bolg, to find a way past his mutated armor.

Kili hears his name being called and grips his hand tighter around his weapon. His name is called again and he tries not to look, tries to keep his focus on the orc.

When his name is called a third time he turns quickly with his knuckles turning white as he sees too familiar red coming through one of the tunnels in the watch tower.

Kili looks at her. He tries to think about what he’s feeling as he sees her graceful movements and her features so sharp they could cut stone and can feel nothing but indifference.

He turns his attention back to Fili who is rolling across the ground and out of the way of a blow. Kili rushes up to them. His sword finds its purchase as it goes through Bolg’s chest. Just as the orc gasps out Fili reaches up and stabs the orc through the front.

They orc falls to his knees and Fili and Kili look at each other over the gasping pale body between them.

Kili lets himself smile as he looks at Fili who is kneeling and leaning to one side, with his arm across his front as he takes deep breaths.

He doesn’t notice the orc’s ebony blood mixing with blood the color of wine beneath them.

 


 

Thorin and Bilbo are the main attraction, center stage with their fight against Azog. The pale orc is furious, swinging his mace unforgivingly and blindly. Bilbo keeps disappearing in flashes, throwing the orc off. Thorin is smirking as Bilbo appears once more sliding on his knees behind the orc, slashing the back of his legs. The creature wails out as Thorin swings orcrist to Azog’s neck. He bleeds obsidian and it runs like ink across the ice.

 


 

Retreating from Raven Hill at Thorin’s side, the bodies of Azog and Bolg and so many orcs behind them, Bilbo feels as if he is walking in a dream. He sees Fili and Kili up ahead of them, the way they smile at one another; watches Balin come up out of the ravine and Dwalin run to him shouting and laughing.

The Eagles are decimating what remains of the orc armies, scattering them north and east; leaderless, they fall.

Bilbo turns to Thorin, who looks back at him with soft eyes, a small smile, tired but alive.

“Do you remember in Rivendell, when you told me about the lights in Erebor, the ones you thought were fireflies?”

Thorin blinks. “I’m surprised that you remember that.”

Bilbo smiles. “I’d like to see them, if I may. If it’s permitted, that is.”

Thorin looks at him a long moment, breathes in sharply, nods. “Anything you would like to see, I will show you, Bilbo.” He’s looking at him like he has so many times before - happy, content - but those times were always near the end. This feels like a beginning, and Bilbo almost doesn’t want to feel it, for fear it will be swept off on the breeze like smoke rings.

But the warmth that swells in Bilbo threatens to burst him. He thinks surely that this cannot be so easy, not after all this time, after all the failures and the heartbreak.

Bilbo smiles back at him, and together they turn and make their way towards the mountain.

 


 

Kili closes his eyes for surely this can’t be real. He walks the stone halls and hears the stones scream his name.

He worries at his lip, at his nails, at the skin on his knuckles, pinches it between his fingers trying to find something to hold onto.

His heart is fluttering like a hummingbird's wings and he can feel his skin prickling. It’s too much to believe.

The day isn’t over but there's a chance for a sunset and the dawn of a new day. It’s threadbare and Kili is afraid that if he grasps at it that it will dissolve.

They’re inside the mountain and the air seems to be crackling. Fili stumbles as he walks next to Kili. Kili grips his arms and pulls him up so that he can lean against him.

“What is it? Are you hurt?” Kili asks him, he tries to think of the battle and doesn’t remember a time when he took his eyes off of Fili.

Except for when his name was called.

Kili’s eyes widen in horror.

“Oin!” Kili screams as he’s trying to keep Fili upright but his eyes are fluttering closed and his limbs are becoming languid. Fili’s hand finds it’s way into Kili’s. The weight of it seems too heavy as it rests there.

Fili falls to the floor. Kili is there cradling him, Fili’s head in his lap. He’s brushing strands of hair out of Fili’s face and whispering “Fee,” over and over, it’s garbled and broken. Oin and Thorin are trying to grab Fili but Kili knows it’s too late and just pulls his brother closer to his chest.

“Get back! It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter.” He whispers it, as if he’s trying to make himself believe it.

It’s the dying light of day.

He holds him close, a hand wrapped into Fili’s hair, his thumb running over his scalp in small motions. Even with all the smells of war tainting him, he still has the underlyings of the last days of summer clinging to his skin. Kili buries his face into Fili’s neck and breathes him in.

He wakes in Erebor with the lingerings of heat, wildflowers, and salt mixed with sweat.

 

He can still feel the curve of Fili’s palm in his.

 




There is a memory Bilbo hangs onto that he will not allow himself to revisit very often. He knows the way in which memories are often altered by frequent remembrance, how they can become less or more than the truth, become watery and fragile, or too like a wish fulfilled.

 

“It’s quite chilly here,” Bilbo said, stepping up next to Thorin where he stood on the planks outside of the Master’s house. Bilbo watched Thorin’s breath on the air, and the way the moonlight lit Thorin’s eyes when they turned on him.

“We are much farther north than your Shire, Bilbo.” And then, “Care for a smoke? The Men have given me some pipeweed.”

“Thank you, yes.”

They stood and shared Thorin’s pipe in companionable silence for some time, both of them looking at their destination in the distance, the Lonely Mountain. It rose up from the landscape like an afterthought of the earth itself, and Bilbo wondered who had said to themselves ages ago, “Why not have a mountain, just here, all alone?”

“Have you taken some extra clothing from the Men?” Thorin’s voice shook Bilbo from his imaginings.

Bilbo looked down and plucked at the hem at his tattered and stained waistcoat, once a rich burgundy red, now more of a muddled and frayed mess. He looked at Thorin’s new cloak, rich red in color and finely made, and the close inspection and comparison made it that much more clear to him how badly his clothing had weathered his adventure so far.

“I doubt they’ll have anything that will fit a Hobbit very well,” Bilbo replied.

“Perhaps not. But wait here a moment, I may have found you something that will do.”

Thorin handed his pipe over to Bilbo and turned to go back inside. When the door opened for a moment, Bilbo heard how loud and rowdy the dinner party had become. Part of him longed to join in the revelry with his companions, but in truth he could think of little else but the task before him. And now that he was so close to it, he began to really wonder how he or Gandalf or anyone had ever expected he might be able to steal from a live dragon. He had to hope that Smaug was dead. Otherwise, Bilbo mused, the burglar probably would end up so.

Thorin returned just as Bilbo had started to consider going back inside, his pipe long smoked out, thinking Thorin must have been accosted by a member of the Company or perhaps one of the Men wanting a word with the soon-to-be-King.

“Here,” Thorin said, taking the pipe from Bilbo and unfolding a bundle of blue cloth to reveal that he was carrying a rather Hobbit-sized looking coat. “This may have belonged to one of their young ones, but it looks suited to you.”

Thorin held the coat out in front of him, and it took Bilbo a moment to realize Thorin meant to help him put it on. He turned around and pushed his arm into a sleeve, then the other, aware of the way that his shoulders brushed against Thorin’s hands. Bilbo turned to face him, still standing close, and Thorin’s hands came to rest on his shoulders, lingering there.

“It fits quite nicely,” Bilbo said, finding and fastening the belt.

Thorin tucked his chin down and smiled, said, “Good,” and Bilbo found himself unable to look away from that smile, and wound up smiling right along with him.

Thorin slid his hands from Bilbo’s shoulders and stepped back a pace, turning again to face the mountain.

“But I owe you a great many things finer than an old coat.” He spoke so quietly Bilbo wondered if he was meant to hear.

“If we reclaim the mountain…” Thorin broke off, and looked back at Bilbo, almost apologetically.

“When,” Bilbo corrected, and this brought another slow, warm smile to Thorin’s face.

Not breaking eye contact, Bilbo reached between them and took Thorin’s hand in his own, gave it a hard squeeze. He felt brave doing so, but not brave enough to do more, and Thorin seemed content and happy enough with just that.

“After we’ve reclaimed the mountain,” he said in a hushed voice, “there are many things I would see added to your share. I-”

The door to the hall swung open behind them, and they broke apart and turned just in time to see Fili wince, and his eyes dart from where their hands had been joined moments before to Thorin’s face.

“Kili is getting sicker,” Fili said, a desperate note to his voice. “I think you’d better come have a look at his leg, uncle.”

Thorin nodded, face grave once more.

“Orc poison,” he spat. In a softer tone he said to Bilbo, “Get some sleep, if you can. We have a hard journey tomorrow, harder perhaps because it is so near the end.”

Bilbo nodded and smiled.

But he stayed out there looking at the Mountain for a long time into the night, and it seemed he could still feel the damp warmth of Thorin’s palm against his own, still feel the light press of his hands on his shoulders through the fabric of the coat he’d given him.


Surely none of this had actually happened. Surely in this world of greyness and madness and death, Thorin had never held his hand in the moonlight, had never looked at him so fondly, had never smiled at him so timidly or spoken of a time later, a time after their Quest was fulfilled, a time they might have had together.

Bilbo reaches up and touches the shoulder of his blue coat, just where Thorin’s hands might have lingered, and thinks that it couldn’t now be the same coat Thorin had given to him that night.

Not in this world, where there is nothing left of softness or tenderness; nothing left of the inkling of love.

 


 

Fili finds Kili in a room filled with golden light. There are crowns sitting on pedestals, and more piled in various arrangements throughout the room.

When he makes his way to Kili he sees that there is a crown resting in his hand. It’s small, and it has points circling it. It’s a crown for a child here in a room filled with crowns for kings.

“Little small, don’t you think?” Fili asks as he steps next to Kili.

Kili turns and lifts his lips at the corners. “Reminds me of the ones we had when we were younger, the ones that we would wear in our room at night when you would tell me stories.”

“Yes but the ones we had were made from flimsy paper, not gold,” Fili says as he pulls the crown out of Kili’s hands and rests it on his head. It rests on the back, sliding a little off to the side and Fili laughs at the image of it resting on Kili’s dark hair.

“Well I think I liked ours better.” Kili’s eyes are locked onto Fili’s.

Fili clears his throat and turns away, his fingers resting on the crown that would belong to a prince.

He wants him the way that night craves day, the way that the wild calls to wolves. He wants to devour.

 


 

“I must find a way to stay in the mountain,” Bilbo says to Kili the morning after they had all survived the hill, but had lost Fili anyway. With Fili had died most of what was left of Bilbo’s hope that any of them would ever see the sun set on this day.

Kili is hollow-eyed and doesn’t respond.

“Kili!” Bilbo hisses loudly.

But he only looks at Bilbo sadly and says, “Whatever you want to do, Bilbo, do it. It hardly matters. I have no more delusions of winning great battles or saving anyone.”

He turns and walks away, and Bilbo is utterly without the energy to follow him, to offer him hope, to beg him not to despair.

 

Bilbo is shaking when he confesses his theft to Thorin this time, but more with weariness than fear. He thinks for a brief moment that it might be better if Thorin throws him from the wall. Perhaps his head would be dashed upon the rocks, and his blood would seep down to the roots of the mountain, and somehow he would be forgiven his damning crime.

 

This time when he climbs down the rope, he is ready to slip his ring on when his feet touch the ground. He hears astonished shouts from the Elves, hears Gandalf call his name, but he knows exactly where he might hide, and tucks himself in between fallen stones. He waits.

 

He’s waited for Thorin to make his mad charge out of the gates enough times to know how long it takes him to join the fray. Just as Bilbo begins to notice that the battle is turning against Dain’s favor, he leaves his hiding hole unseen, and goes back to the stone wall.

The rope he used to escape the mountain is still hanging there. Bilbo grasps it and starts to climb.

“Where is Thorin?”

The Company gasps collectively - all but Kili, who looks at him blankly from his place at his brother’s side, uncomprehending.

“Bilbo,” Bofur says, visibly distressed. “You shouldn’t be here. Thorin will-”

“Thorin will be fine,” Bilbo insists, and he realizes he’s shaking again. “Tell me where he is.”

It’s Dwalin who finally answers him.

“The throne room, last I saw him. And he’s worse than ever, so you can’t - Bilbo!”

Bilbo had already slipped his ring back on and was racing down the corridors.

He doesn’t find Thorin in the throne room. Frustration clouds his thoughts for a moment and he paces on the narrow walkway.

“Think, Bilbo,” he whispers to himself. “He’s worse than ever, but he’s near the end of this… whatever this madness is. Where would he go?”

And suddenly Bilbo remembers another time, ages ago by now, when he’d foolishly and wrongly thought he was already seeing Thorin at his worst.

“Gold beyond measure… beyond sorrow, and grief…”

Bilbo sets off running towards the treasure room where the dragon had slept.

 


 

There’s words clawing at Kili’s throat, trying to make their way out. All sharp corners, making his throat feel raw. “Do you remember when we were younger and you used to call me dashat?” Kili is hovering behind Fili as he sharpens a blade. They’re sitting around waiting for the sickness to break.

“Of course I do, I remember more than you probably do Kee.” There is always a fondness on Fili’s lips when he speaks of them.

“Did you call me that because of what we are, or was it because I was yours?” Kili figures he has nothing to lose asking it.

Fili stops sharpening his blade and Kili can see the muscles in his back tense. “You were always my prince.” It’s barely a whisper but it’s loud and ringing in Kili’s ears.

Kili feels frantic as he moves to Fili and causes the blade in his hand to drop with a clatter on the ground. His hands are wrapped tightly in the fabric on Fili’s clothes as he pulls him up to him and slots their lips together. It’s all teeth and bruising force.

Kili realizes that Fili is holding onto him just as tightly and in this moment he knows that they are two withering things racked with fever and delirium.

If Fili is the last days of summer then Kili is the first days of autumn, August and September, frayed edges bleeding into one another. Hazy days where you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

 


 

Bilbo finds him almost by mistake. Thorin is leaving the gold-floored gallery of the Kings, clad only in his familiar light mail.

They both halt in their tracks at the sight of one another.

“Bilbo,” Thorin breathes, and the sound of his voice, Thorin's voice and not the voice of the mad king, sets Bilbo back into motion. He rushes forward and throws himself against Thorin, wraps his arms around his middle.

“You’re back,” Bilbo whispers.

Thorin doesn’t move a muscle, and it feels to Bilbo as if he’s barely breathing.

“I could say the same,” he whispers.

Bilbo lets him go, steps back, and he’s shaking again, and the two of them start talking at once.

“Why would you come back-”

“We must get everyone into the mountain-”

Thorin looks at him more closely, and Bilbo can’t keep the trembling of his hands and arms and legs.

“Bilbo, what happened to you? You look… battle weary. Have you been fighting?”

The laugh that erupts from Bilbo’s throat is choked and dry and entirely without humor.

“Never mind all that,” he says. “Dain is surrounded, and the orcs are taking Dale, and there is another orc army, coming from the north - we must get them all inside, the Dwarves and the Men and the Elves.”

To Bilbo’s utter astonishment, Thorin nods immediately, and says, “Come, then. I must tell the others.”

“I don’t know how we’ll manage it,” Bilbo pants. They’re running back to the gates of the mountain, where the rest of the Company is deciding their own fate, with or without a king.

“Neither do I. But you have managed many impossible things in the short time I’ve known you. Perhaps your good luck will hold.”

“You don’t believe in luck,” Bilbo shoots back, beginning to feel giddy and wild, like the Hobbit who had run out his door after a band of Dwarves so very long ago.

“No,” Thorin answers solemnly. It seems to Bilbo that he means to say more, but holds his tongue instead.

 

And when Thorin asks the others if they’ll follow him, one last time, to gather their allies and get them into the safety of the mountain, Bilbo stands at his side as if he’d always been there.



Dain’s dwarves make a strategic and organized retreat through the gates of Erebor at Dain’s and Thorin’s shouted commands. The Company guards the entrance and what remains of Dain’s war machines and their operators remain just outside, defending and holding the gate from the scattered orcs.

 

“I go to Dale,” Thorin announces, seated atop his war ram, face flushed from battle and his sword gleaming with orc blood. “To Bard and the Men of Laketown.”

“Thorin, no,” Bilbo says. “Not alone.”

“We’ll ride with you,” Kili says, and Fili nods, and Bilbo sees in Kili’s face renewed hope.

Loathe as he is to wait behind while the heirs of Durin rush headlong into danger, Bilbo doesn’t bother to argue. He’s surprised and pleased when Thorin rides up close and offers him a hand, saying, “Come with me?”

Seated on the ram behind Thorin and clinging to his waist, Bilbo allows himself a few moments to close his eyes, feel the wind in his air, listen to Thorin’s breathing, feel the rise and fall of him pressed to Bilbo’s front, and he hopes. He hopes and hopes and hopes and finds himself begging to no one or anyone who might hear him, Oh please, please, please.

 

The retreat from Dale is nearly a disaster, but they have Gandalf and many of the Elves with them, and so the Men are saved from slaughter on the road leading from Dale down into the valley. Azog doesn’t descend from his perch, and it seems Bolg has yet to arrive.

 

Orcs and trolls pursue them from Dale all the way to Erebor’s gate, forcing the mixed army to turn and fight at the last.

 

When Thorin and Bilbo are surrounded by a pack of orcs and the ram is driven through with a spear, they go tumbling forward and onto the hard ground, and Bilbo almost thinks he might laugh. They can fight on foot surely enough, and soon, the Eagles will come.

 

When Bilbo sits cradling Thorin’s head in his lap, just outside the gates of Erebor, the snowflakes just beginning to fall in the valley, the Eagles calling overhead, and Thorin bleeding out from his many wounds, Bilbo finally does laugh, and it’s bitter and broken and choked with sobs, and he bends down and presses his lips to Thorin’s bloodied forehead, says, “Please, please no,” but still Thorin breathes out and does not breath in again.

 


 

“When Dwarves fight as an army,” Thorin told him, “we form ranks shoulder to shoulder, each Dwarf protecting the one to his left with his shield, and so on down the line. When we are too few in number for such tactics, we split up into smaller groups of two or three, four if we can manage it. Always we are thinking of our shield-brothers to the left and to the right, behind and before us.” Thorin’s voice went on, low and serious. “Taken singly, we are much to be reckoned with; but when we fight side-by-side, we are each of us shielded doubly, and while orcs care nothing for one another, Dwarf warriors train for battle by learning both to fight and to defend.”

Bilbo wakes with a start, back inside the mountain, face tear-stained. He tries to place that memory - was it in Rivendell that Thorin had said that, or at Beorn’s house? Or in Mirkwood perhaps, or when Bilbo visited him during their imprisonment in the Elven-King’s halls? Had Thorin ever said such a thing to him at all?

It is not yet dawn. Bilbo lays still as the stone around him, and listens to Kili weeping quietly, and Fili shushing him - poor Fili, who does not know, can never know. Bilbo stares up into the impenetrable darkness of Erebor.

 


 

When Thorin dies with everyone else already inside the mountain Kili lets out a primal scream, a rage that he has never known.

It is Fili who pulls him close, who whispers into his ears, who runs his hands soothingly down Kili’s back. “Shhh, dashat, I’ve got you.”

Kili breaks even more at this. Breaks over memories, shared memories, one’s that Fili will never remember and ones he’s certain he’ll never be able to make. He grieves for the stars he’ll never see and the darkness that he misses, he grieves for the way Fili would follow him out into the forest to go hunting, his feet quiet against fallen leaves. He grieves over the summer, so full of colors that it’s almost painful to look at. He grieves of lavender, tangerines, and breaths shared between lungs.

His tears are a lament and his memories are making a burial ground.

 


 

“Why do they call it the Desolation?” Bilbo’s voice carried over the wind that whipped at the Lake, the little boat he rode in with Thorin rocking back and forth.

Thorin, his cloak catching the morning light and shining red, looked at him with a furrowed brow and answered, “Because Smaug took more than the mountain when he came. He destroyed all the lands around Erebor and Dale, burnt the trees and the fields. Nothing grows there anymore - they say nothing can.”

Bilbo pressed his lips together. “Well, that can’t be right,” he said. “With the right skill and tending, I’m sure some plant or other would find a way. After all, fire makes a path for new life to get a footing.”

Thorin smiled in that slow way of his, and Bilbo watched the distant mountain grow a little closer on the horizon.


Bilbo thinks now that Thorin must have been right, that somehow this landscape must be cursed, whether by the dragon or something else, Bilbo wouldn’t know. It’s a place frozen in time, caught forever in between destruction and renewal.  




 

Bilbo finally sits up, slowly, weighed down by weariness and grief.

He speaks loudly, uncaring that the other Dwarves besides Kili might hear.

“It has to be Raven Hill.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

“Though lovers be lost, love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.”

-Dylan Thomas

 

 

 


 

 

Bilbo stands behind a slab of wall, watching Thorin in the early morning light that drips in from the open parapet above. The King is issuing commands to the Company, final orders to move stone here or there, to bring more supplies and weapons to the gates. Lost still to his madness, Thorin says nothing of treaties or alliances, cares nothing for the safety of Laketown’s survivors. He cares nothing for his own safety or that of his Company, this Bilbo knows.

His heart aches. He had hoped, foolishly, if only for a few moments, that Thorin might have some memory of the previous day, of the battle they’d almost won - some residual feeling of Bilbo’s embrace, of the kiss he’d pressed to his forehead in his dying moments.

Bilbo smiles grimly, still watching Thorin move about. No, he thinks. These are memories we can never share. These are things that never happened, not really, not to us.

A moment comes when Thorin stops in his pacing, swinging to look at Bilbo, as if finally feeling Bilbo’s eyes on him.

Bilbo’s breath catches in his throat.

Thorin smiles. A warm, mad smile that sets Bilbo’s jaw to grinding. He smiles back, feeling it split his face like a wound.




“It feels like forever ago.”

“What does?” Fili asks him as they stand inside the mountain.

When you kissed me and ruined me. Kili doesn’t know how to say this, doesn’t know how to say he wants the corruption, that he wants to become a permanent fixture in these halls if it means that Fili would love him. That his hands would roam and turn Kili into nothing but broken stone.

Kili clears his throat, “When we learned we would be going on this quest.”

“I suppose it does.”

Fili doesn’t say anything. Kili was never a very good liar.

He remembers when they were kids and he would go out into the woods on his own, how he could come running into the house with scraped knees and telling their mother he fell when he was walking through the market.

How later when he would be in their bedroom Fili would shut the door and ask him to never lie to him, that he could lie to the whole world but never to him.

Kili nodded and told his brother where he had been going, to the water out in the woods, the woods with trees so high if they were climbed Kili claimed you could see all of Middle Earth. When Kili spoke he spoke with his arms outstretched as if he were flying.

He was never alone again after that, Fili with his palms clasped to boost Kili to a higher branch.


 

Bilbo struggles to make it out of Dale, heart pounding, feet skittering on the icy steps. The orc army never moves exactly as they did the day before, making his escape route unpredictable each time.

Even with the relative safety of invisibility, and the mithril armor he wears under his shirt, he is not immune to unforeseen death.

An elf arrow, intended for an orc he dodges, finds its mark in his throat. He reaches up a trembling hand and feels the fletching, feathers soft and beautiful, before he falls forward. This time, like so many times before, there is no one there to speak to him, no one to comfort him or ease his passing.

He cannot make a sound, but his mouth forms Thorin’s name, again and again, brushing over the syllables tenderly.

He looks to the sky overhead. The sounds of battle around him dim. He waits for cold stone at his back and stale air in his nostrils.



 

 

Bilbo scratches his last mark into the stone of the wall and lays down the knife he’d used for carving.

Fifty-three.

“Is that what I think it is?” Kili’s bland voice startles him. Bilbo wants to laugh at himself, that he could be so jumpy and on edge. He thinks that after all he’s seen and done now, that nothing ought to surprise him, least of all the quiet, unexpected voice of a friend.

“I counted,” Bilbo whispers. And then, “When all this is over, do you think we’ll remember any of what happened? Or will we be like them?”

“I don’t know if I’ll want to remember.” Kili crouches down next to him and runs a finger over the fourteenth mark.

They stand up and are quiet for a time, side by side. Bilbo watches the sky gaining light over Dale, over the battlefield, shades of pale blue and yellow spilling into the blue-blackness.

“There are some things I’d want to remember.” Bilbo’s voice is small even to his own ears. “And there are many, many things I’d like to forget.”

“Will you stay with him,” Kili whispers, turning to look at Bilbo. “If we ever finish this, will you stay here? With Thorin?”

Bilbo meets Kili’s eyes, finds too much sadness there. He looks away. He swallows hard.

He doesn’t know a suitable answer, nor does he know the truth - suitable or not.

He says, “Come. They’ll be looking for us inside.” He tugs gently at the sleeve of Kili’s shirt and turns to the mountain. “Time to put your armor on.”

 


 

“Do you remember what I asked you to promise me when we were younger?”

Kili doesn’t say anything, just bites the inside of his cheeks and clenches his fists until his knuckles turn white.

“I asked you to never lie to me.”

He wants to tell Fili that he breaks a promise to him every day. That every day he asks him to leave the mountain, to leave his place, and every day they end up right back inside.

“It’s not as simple as that,” Kili grinds out.

“It seems simple, Kee.”

“Don’t do this to me, please, I’m begging you.” He doesn’t know how to say, all these secrets, they’re about you and me. They’re ugly, they’re about blood that runs and kisses that are forgotten. They’re about bruises, bruises, bruises. Mostly importantly about bruises, about the invisible ones too.

“I’m not doing anything, you’re the one keeping secrets. But I’ll wait, I will wait like I always do, just hope that you tell me before I grow old from age.” Or worse, before you leave Erebor with someone who is not me. Kili can read between the lines in what Fili is saying.

Kili tries not to let the words sting, wishes that things weren’t this way.  I’ll wait like I always do, repeats in his head as he swings away at orcs.

 


 

Kili dies in the tower on Raven Hill. It is because he stepped between a blade and Fili, and when the red bloomed from his chest he smiled at Bolg with the whisper of, “see you again tomorrow,” on his lips. He was hoping for there not to be a fifty-fourth mark on the wall but he figures if there had to be that he would rather it be his.

 


 

 

Bilbo makes it to Raven Hill that day, but again their plan fails. Fili or Kili is killed out of his sight, and he wakes again to the darkness of Erebor.

In the morning light, Bilbo carves his marks again into the grey stone. He feels his face screw up in anger, the blade in his hand heavy as a sword, the wind whipping on his skin as rough as sandpaper.

Kili says nothing when he sees, only turns and walks back down to the great hall. Bilbo watches him go, and finishes his work.

Fifty-four.

 


 

“It’s not what you do with the sword, but how you hold it after.” His father told him this, holding the sword flat against Kili’s palms.

He kisses Fili rough and sharp, bruising hips, and he thinks to himself, it’s not how you kiss someone, it’s how you hold them after.

 


 

Kili wants there to be a place with no winter, a place with no clouds, no broken promises, no stones given to another, no golden rings. A place where there is no ache, no ache, no ache.

 


 

“Bilbo said he’s to write a book when this is all over with,” Fili says smiling as he brings an apple to Kili. It’s sour in his mouth but it masks the taste of copper.

“What sort of book?” He wonders if he’ll write these parts. Of the deaths and the ghosts that are to linger after, if he’ll be at home and see ghosts in his reflection. Of bloody fingerprints, bloody limbs.

“About the quest, I told him to make sure he writes Thorin accurately. I believe he said, ‘I’ll portray him exactly as he is, with stubborn tenacity.” They both laugh at this. “If you were to write a book about this, what would you write about?”

He wants to say that it would start out like this, “I’ve died every time you’ve said my name.”

Instead he says, “I would write a book about two princes, of sword fights, dragons, and happy endings.” I would write a book so you never fade away.

 


 

Kili watches Bilbo turn an acorn over in his hand.

“How long have you been holding onto that?” Kili asks sitting on a stone next to Bilbo. They are waiting.

Bilbo remembers his words to Thorin, about planting it and remembering, but he thinks that there’s a new reason that he holds onto it.

“Because seeds grow in the dark, it's what they know best. All the plants you see, all the flowers, they started out in the dark. Sometimes you need a little bit of dark in your life in order to grow.” Bilbo smiles, twitching his nose, before he puts the acorn back into his pocket to rest against a gold band.

Kili thinks if that’s the case then he hopes the earth will swallow him whole.

 


 

Bilbo can no longer face Thorin on the parapet without weeping. Too many times he has seen the hurt in Thorin’s eyes, the couple moments of what looks like sanity, clarity, before Thorin is lost entirely to his deranged anger.

Now, Thorin’s face is open with disbelief and pain. Betrayal.

Bilbo finds it harder to tell him that he has changed, to remind him of his promise in Laketown. Today he barely whispers it.

“You speak of loyalty?” Thorin whispers back. “What do you know of it?”

Bilbo covers his mouth to smother a sob.

Tears roll down Thorin’s cheeks unheeded, cutting through the ash on his skin. His balled fists shake at his sides, and Bilbo prepares for what comes next.

“Get out,” Thorin hisses through trembling lips. Bilbo freezes, stares at him wide-eyed.

“And do not return here.”

Bilbo makes for the rope without a glance back, but still he hears Thorin’s hoarse shout.

“Banishment!”

Crouched at the base of the outer wall of Erebor, his eyes squeezed shut and panting for breath, Bilbo can hear the other Dwarves calling Thorin’s name. He’s gone into the mountain. Dain hasn’t even arrived yet.

Bilbo almost wishes he’d been angrier. He’s never felt more like the thief and traitor Thorin sees in him every day when he reaches to grab at his shirt; never felt less like a friend.

 


 

Kili leaves the mountain adorned in armor, his brother at his side, or he at his brother’s, he isn’t too sure anymore.

The leather on his boots is worn, mud sticking to the bottom, but his feet hit the ice-covered ground hard.

He will show them dark, show them how he has grown.

His armor weighs heavy on him, he can hear the noise of chains clinking even through the sound of screams.

 


 

Bilbo rushes his ascent on Raven Hill, having lost some time getting out of Dale. His legs burn and his lungs ache. He finds Thorin and Dwalin exactly where he hopes they’ll be, near the stone stairs, looking out over the frozen river, and he takes off his ring, pants, “Thorin!”

The Dwarf turns and looks, as he always does in his moment, as if he’s been struck.

“Bilbo...”

Thorin’s look of disbelief, his clear bright eyes free of madness, his shock at seeing Bilbo there burgeoning on elation, it overcomes Bilbo yet again. All the farewells between them are too much in the face of Thorin’s near-joy. Bilbo rushes forward, collides with him hard enough to set Thorin back a step, throws his arms around him and presses the side of his face against his chest. He breathes.

It takes only a moment before Thorin’s arms encircle him, almost hesitantly, and then harder, a fierce squeeze, and Thorin says, “Bilbo,” low and wondering, in the same tone he used to speak of Erebor when they sat outside Beorn’s house and Bilbo had said to him, Tell me about your home.

Bilbo pulls back, still breathing hard from his climb, and grips at the front of Thorin’s clothing. “It’s a trap. Bolg’s army comes from the north - Azog is hiding in the tower-”

“A trap!” Thorin turns his head to look at Dwalin.

“Fili and Kili are in there,” Dwalin says, paying no heed to Bilbo’s clinging hands on his king’s armor.

Thorin’s fingers encircle Bilbo’s wrists, gently, as he orders to Dwalin, “Call them back.”

“No!” Bilbo says quickly, “Kili knows it’s a trap. He knows what to do.”

Thorin’s brow furrows in confusion. “How? How could he know that? He said nothing of it.”

“Never you mind that.” Bilbo steps back from Thorin, disentangles his hands, turns to face the tower. “They will hide, wait for Bolg; he means to join Azog here, while his army descends into the valley.”

Thorin looks at him a long moment, eyes searching Bilbo’s. Bilbo shakes his head. “Trust me,” he says, quiet, sure. “Trust Kili.”

Thorin nods.

“Then we must warn Dain!” Dwalin is pacing, his eyes never leaving the tower.

“No,” Bilbo says again. “We stay here.” He turns to Thorin. “You came for Azog. You can defeat him.”

“Bilbo, how do you-”

“Trust me.”

Drums roll in the tower, jerking Bilbo’s attention away from Thorin’s questioning, wondering gaze. “Azog is coming,” he breathes. “Bolg has arrived.”

Thorin and Dwalin grip their weapons.

“I will not insult you,” Thorin says, adopting a battle stance, eyes scanning the ruins across the ice, “by suggesting you leave. I will not say this is no place for you. But if you chose to leave, I would not call it unwise.”

Bilbo smiles and draws Sting, filled with renewed hope and blossoming energy, as he always is when he stands at Thorin’s side ready to face death.

“Wisdom aside, there is no other place for me.”

 


 

“Do you trust me?” Kili asks as him and Fili enter the tunnels on Raven Hill.

Fili turns to look at him, worry etched in his eyes. “Always, dashat.”

Kili surges forward and quickly places his lips to Fili’s. Fili is stunned at first but quickly kisses him back. When Kili pulls away he presses their foreheads together.

“This tower is a trap, orcs will be crawling through these tunnels within a moment. We’re going to get captured.”

“We can fight…”

“No, we’re going to let ourselves get captured.” Kili pulls back and looks up ahead of them. “There will be orcs coming from above, down that tunnel there, then they will come from behind us and surround us. We let them take us, they’ll take us to one of the lookouts, where we can see the battle below.”

“Then what?” Fili asks as he pats his chest, ensuring he has his daggers sheathed.

“Then we fight.” Kili clasps Fili’s shoulder, giving it a tight squeeze. He begins to hear the drums of war and heavy footsteps on stone.

 


 

Azog and more than a dozen huge orcs, some of which Bilbo recognizes, appear on the tower’s balcony. Bilbo feels Thorin stiffen beside him, and is grateful that neither Fili nor Kili have been captured this time around.

The Pale Orc speaks, his lips twisting cruelly, clearly making his threats and challenges. There is one word Bilbo knows, for he has heard it before - a bastardization of “Oakenshield” - and it chills Bilbo to hear it again from the monster’s mouth.

“Stay close,” Thorin says softly, not taking his eyes off the orcs.

Azog sends his orc warriors first, as Bilbo knew he would, choosing as he has before to stay back with his small guard, waiting for the Dwarves to waste precious energy on lesser foes.

As Thorin and Dwalin rush forward, battle-cries on their lips and weapons held high, Bilbo slips on his ring and follows.

The dance of battle has become familiar to Bilbo. He knows where to slice legs to cripple, how to place his feet in a sturdy stance, where to jab his small blade to bring forth a frothy spray of black blood. These he does and more, occasionally removing his ring and calling out to draw attention away from Thorin or Dwalin and onto himself before he disappears again and darts away from their enemies.

Dwalin’s axe is a twirling punishment; Thorin’s sword a darkly flashing death. Blood splatters on the ice, coating it in places like spilled ink.

Two orcs rush Thorin at once, and he loses ground, has to step back. But Bilbo steps in under his guard, drives Sting up into the chest of one of them, and nearly falls with the orc as he tries to remove his blade.

Bilbo is tired, so very tired he thinks even his bones are weary. But they’re all still standing, and that is an encouraging thought.

Out on the ice in the swirling snow, the three of them are a spectacle, surrounded on all sides by a ring of orcs that is slowly thinning. Azog stalks and paces above them, calling the occasional order or insult, watching all. When Bilbo looks up, he sees that Bolg has joined him, and stands at attention beside the Defiler.

“Bolg has arrived,” Bilbo calls to Thorin, who looks over his shoulder and up at the tower before turning back and decapitating an orc.

“Bolg’s army will flood the valley,” Bilbo says, “and some will come here to the Hill!”

“Bilbo!” Thorin grunts and thrusts his sword into an orc’s belly. “How do you know?”

“But don’t worry,” Bilbo goes on, as he ducks under a blow that would have lopped off his head. “The Eagles will come.”

A fresh wave of orcs, Bolg’s warriors, stream out of the tunnels of the great tower, and the three fighters on the ice turn to face them.

Bilbo reaches into his pocket and grips his little ring before sliding it onto his finger. He makes a wide irregular path from where he was standing moments before and comes round behind Thorin, to ensure no orc might guess his postion.

He looks back up at the tower, and sees that Bolg is gone. Only Azog remains, breathing harshly in pleasure at the scene below him; he sneers. Bolg has left, Bilbo realizes. And he knows what comes next.

 


 

It’s not Azog that comes for them, but Bolg. Kili tries to keep himself from smirking; he was hoping it would be the Pale Orc’s son. He’s tempted to tease the orc, to ask him if he’s enjoying his day. Instead he bites the inside of his cheek and plays his part.

Kili makes it easy for him. He barely puts up a fight and Fili follows suit. Bolg and a few orcs drag them to a lookout on the tower, it’s not the highest point but it’s high enough that they can see Raven Hill and hear Azog’s commands above them.

“Oakenshield!” Bolg calls out down below them. It grabs the attention of Thorin, Bilbo, and Dwalin. Thorin’s eyes are wide with horror, Dwalin’s grip tightens more on his axe, and Bilbo places a hand on Thorin’s arm to remind him that there is a plan in place.

Bolg has Fili and Kili gripped tightly by the back of their tunics, their knees bent to they are hunched over. Kili looks up to see the first tastes of victory over Azog. The Pale Orc has on a wicked grin, his back straight as his voice commands. He starts giving his speech, one Kili has heard many times before.

 


 


“Fili! Kili!”

Thorin’s shouts are desperate; Bilbo knows that Thorin knows he cannot possibly reach them in time.

“Don’t worry,” Bilbo whispers at his side, invisible still. And he figures that even if he gives only false hope, if he is wrong about the brothers’ plan Thorin won’t live to remember it anyway.

Then many things happen all at once - Dwalin is driven away from Thorin by a surge of orcs from the tunnels; Thorin’s sword clatters loudly against the huge blunt weapon of a Gundabad orc and shatters near the hilt, leaving him with a blade hardly more than a dagger; and the brothers drop swinging and fighting from Bolg’s grip while Bilbo looks on, caging a scream in his mouth.

 


 

Fili looks over at Kili to see him grinning.

“How long do we let this go on for?” Fili whispers.

“Oh, only a moment longer. Personally I think Azog likes the sound of his own voice, so we should let him carry on for a bit.” Kili says it lightly, barely above a whisper but he still gets a kick to the ribs from an orc that is standing nearby.

Kili winces and Fili struggles in Bolg’s grasp before Kili gives him a look indicating for him not to fight back.

“Do they know what you’re saying?”

“Probably not. I would say they’re more stupid than a pile of rocks, but that’s an insult to the rocks.” Kili keeps the banter light, to try to ensure to Fili that this plan will work.

He lets Azog talk for a moment longer before he looks at Fili and gives him a nod. Fili pulls two daggers from his tunic, throwing them at the orcs next to them. They land on their targets and one of the orcs falls off the side of the tower. Kili kicks back behind him, enough so that he drops Fili who rolls off to the side, drawing his swords in the process.

He makes quick work of the other orc, impaling him on his sword and pushing him to the edge of the tower. Fili kicks the orc in the chest and watches him slide off of his blade and down to the hard earth below.

Bolg drops Kili to his knees, taking his elbow and hitting the brunette in the back of the skull.

He feels like his knees are pressed on a fault line and his breathing is causing tremors in the earth.

He fights, never leaving Fili’s side. He tries to pretend he doesn’t feel the crackle in the air, how it feels before a storm rolls in. Pandemonium, clash of swords, knuckles hitting bones.

Fili is quick, all swift movements and high arcs of his blades. He keeps more orcs from entering onto the balcony.

They both hear the swift sound of an arrow through their ears. It strikes Kili in his shoulder, he winces and breaks the wood. “Kili!” Fili screams his name as he puts a sword through an orc's chest. Fili pulls a dagger out of his boot and aims for the archer on the platform above them. He lets his blade fly and it lands between the orc’s eyes.

“It’s fine!” He shouts to his brother as swings his sword in an arc to watch it crashing down against Bolg’s twisted armor. It creates sparks and Kili pulls his sword back quickly. His knuckles grip tightly around it and he moves around in a circle, trying to get his back to a less open area.

Fili seems to have taken care of the remaining orcs battling their way through the tower. The main fight is happening down on the ice, where all the reinforcements are being sent to.

“We take care of him then we go down to help!” Kili shouts over to Fili who is swinging his swords in a circular motion, gaining momentum with them and trying to intimidate Bolg.

They try to make quick work of him, they spend their time moving with haste and in synchronized motions. When Bolg swings his blade one ducks while the other jumps.

“Kind of like that game we used to play when we were younger, you know the one,” Kili blocks a blow from Bolg as Fili’s sword lands a blow cutting the back of Bolg’s knee, “where we would jump around on the furniture and pretend that we were being hunted and mum would yell at us.”

“She only yelled because you always ended up breaking something.” Fili takes another swing and gets the back of Bolg’s other knee causing him to sway forward.

“I’m certain you broke things as well.” Kili moves out of the way as Bolg lands on his knees.

“I only broke the fruit bowl because I was trying to catch you so you wouldn’t land on the kitchen table and break it into pieces.” Fili lifts up both his swords. “Same time then?”

Kili nods in agreement, a smirk tugging at his lips.

Fili brings them down, slicing through Bolg’s neck as Kili’s blade lands through the center of Bolg’s chest, breaking through bone. The orc’s head goes rolling down and off the side of the tower.

They take a moment to catch their breaths and look at the body at their feet.

“I suggest we get down there before the pain kicks in,” Fili says indicating the fight on the ice and then the wound on Kili’s shoulder.

 


 

The Defiler storms out of the tunnels, swinging a spiked ball-and-chain and roaring, his fury at Bolg’s death written plainly in his twisted features. Bilbo shudders despite himself and reaches in his pocket to slip off his ring.

He knows from past experience that Azog is always interested in the small creature that robbed him of Thorin’s death so long ago. He races at the orc, a strangled wordless shout tearing from his throat.

“Bilbo!”

But even Thorin’s despairing plea won’t stay his course.

Azog swings his mace, but Bilbo has anticipated him and rolls to the side, springing to his feet and dodging once more. He can’t afford to look away, but he hears Dwalin calling for Thorin, and reasons the Dwarf must be onto something very foolish indeed.

Bilbo tries to lead Azog away from the edges of the ice, out into the center where the water, he knows, is deepest. His cat-and-mouse game can’t last forever, and he spares a glance at the tower to see if Kili and Fili have emerged.

That moment alone nearly costs him, and he has to throw himself awkwardly to the side to avoid Azog’s blow. He tries to scramble to his feet but his legs aren’t beneath him. He’s forced to roll away, and roll again, shards of ice flying around him.

Azog shouts some dark curse just as Thorin shouts Bilbo’s name again, closer than he ought to be right now.

Bilbo finds his footing and in one swift movement jabs his hand into his pocket and shoves his finger into the circlet of the ring.

Azog’s shout this time is dismayed, surprised, and Bilbo smirks as he dashes towards him.

Thorin is throwing off the last of his enemies, and Dwalin is still besieged by the steady trickle of orcs from the tower; they are too far apart for Bilbo’s liking, but for now he hopes only to find a home for his little sword in Azog’s back.

The Pale Orc turns and faces Thorin, and for a short moment exactly nothing happens.

To Bilbo it feels as if the very air crackles with energy.

He moves in to take his chance - but his foot finds a weakness in the ice instead, a fracture that Azog’s chained-mace had made, and the splintering of the ice seems an unnaturally loud sound.

Azog turns at the noise just as Bilbo is pulling his cold, soaking foot free of the small hole, but it’s too late. Something gives him away, perhaps Azog sees the crack in the ice or hears the splashing; whatever it is, he strikes out in Bilbo’s direction, and Bilbo feels the blunt edge of his blade collide with his shoulder.

Thorin sees, and he screams, and Bilbo likes nothing less than the desperate hopeless tone of it.

Bilbo goes tumbling and lands on his back, his left arm fairly frozen in pain from the shoulder down.

No matter, he thinks bitterly. And with a bit of struggle he slips off his ring and pockets it. For he has faced death at Azog’s hand before, and it’s been a long while since he hid from it.

Bilbo moves to try to stand, but Azog is upon him, sneering and gleeful, and kicks him squarely in the chest.

Bilbo goes down again, hard, his back slamming into the ice and his head hitting hard enough to bounce up. He cannot get his breath for a moment, winded by the force of the kick, and it’s all Azog needs.

The Defiler stands over him, showing his teeth in his joy. “Lat mat firukav halflaumn, agh avhen latr kaumn liwo sha lat.”

Bilbo’s vision is blurry, but he can just make out the form above him, the orc’s blade long and raised high; death an absolute. He doesn’t close his eyes. He smiles instead. No matter.

Thorin’s roar is unexpected.

The slosh of something thick and hot across Bilbo’s face and neck must surely be his own blood. And yet.

Then Thorin is there, pulling him to his unsteady feet, saying his name, and when Bilbo looks down he sees the headless body of the Pale Orc at his feet, seeping its black life into the ice below them.

 


 

Fili puts Kili’s arm over his shoulder, supporting his weight to carry him down Raven Hill. Kili turns his head to his face rests against Fili’s cheek. His body feels like a shipwreck, as if it were dragged over jagged rocks.

“I can feel your grin,” Fili says trying to fight off his own smile. “What has you in such a good mood considering the fact that you’re wounded?”

“Because I’m coming home,” and there is a comfort in the shore.

 


 

The descent from Raven Hill is a blurry mess to Bilbo. He is aware of Thorin’s arm supporting him, of Fili and Kili following behind, and of a throbbing pain in his head. But he feels groggy and unfocused, and that more than anything before makes him afraid. For if he can not think, how can he save them? How can he be sure they make it safely back to the mountain?

The calls of the Eagles overhead are a piercing pain to his ears, but they bring hope, they signal the turn of the tide.

“We must get the wounded to safety,” he hears Dwalin say.

Thorin grunts his agreement; if he says anything, Bilbo isn’t sure.

Every step forward is a small trial. Bilbo’s vision swims periodically.

The valley below is a battlefield in chaos, and this Bilbo has seen before. He remembers other times when they’d all walked this path together, only to be defeated at the last - a unseen wound in Fili’s side, a volley of orc arrows finding too many marks in Thorin. To die again at the gates, to fail when they are this close to victory… Bilbo can’t stand the thought, anymore than he can will his body to move any faster.

“Stay with me.” Thorin’s voice, low and urgent, brings Bilbo out of his dark reverie, and he realizes  they have descended again into the melee.

“We have wounded with us!” Dwalin is shouting, perhaps to Dain’s Dwarves, perhaps even to the Elves.

The clash of steel is almost a welcome sound to Bilbo, for its familiarity.

“What happens next?” he whispers, trying to remember, and only then realizes Thorin is carrying him. He opens his eyes, to see that they are very near the mountain, and Thorin is jogging, and the battle is raging all around.

Thorin looks down and meets his eyes, opens his mouth to speak, but then some great falling body collides with him and sends them both sprawling.

Bilbo tumbles loosely, the sky above and earth below swirling together in a grey sameness. Then all is black, and he knows no more.

He wakes in Erebor.

But it is not the same.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 


 

 

“And following its path, we took no care
To rest, but climbed: he first, then I-- so far,
Through a round aperture I saw appear
Some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears,
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.”

- Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Kili waits.

He waits to feel the air crack around him, the floor to fall beneath him and to wake up with shallow breaths.

He sits on a stone as Fili runs a damp cloth across his knuckles. He is covered in soot, blood, and invisible scars. His eyes are feral, rapid, as he looks out past Fili to the commotion around them.

“You usually complain a lot more when I am trying to clean up your cuts,” Fili says gently as he wrings the cloth over the bowl, blood dripping into the water.

Kili doesn’t know how to say that he doesn’t feel his cuts, that he feels numb.

Fili stands up and grabs the bowl. Kili is immediately on his feet. “Where are you going?”

“To empty out the water and get some more. I will be back in just a moment.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“It will only be a moment, you’re injured, there is no need for you to aggravate your wounds even more.” Fili says it with finality and gives Kili a knowing look. Kili sits back down and watches Fili’s every movement until he is out of sight.

He takes a deep breath, then another. Before he knows it he is gasping for air,clutching his chest with his vision spinning.

“Kili!” His name breaks through the pounding in his head. He looks up to see Fili’s frantic hands searching over him, checking for any wounds he may have missed. Kili grabs onto one of Fili’s hands, feels the warm skin and bone beneath his. He stays like that, his fingers gripping Fili tightly until his breathing slows.

“Fine, I’m fine. Just had a sharp pain is all from the arrow.” He aches at the lie.

“We need to get it out. I should take you to one of the healers.”

“No, it’s not that deep. Just pull it out for me.” Kili gives him pleading eyes.

“I don’t think that’s the best idea.”

“Please, I would rather you do it. Besides there are others in far worse shape than me, they need to be seen first.” It's the right thing to say to get Fili to do what he wants.

Fili nods his head in agreement and slowly helps Kili take off his layers of clothing. Kili tries not to pay attention to the way that Fili’s hands linger on the hem of his clothes, how his knuckles brush across his chest as he helps to lift the tunic off of him. It leaves a trail of fire going up his stomach.

“It doesn’t look too deep.”

“I told you.” Kili manages a smile as he looks at Fili’s disapproving face.

“I shouldn’t need to push it through, I believe I can just pull it out. Though it is going to hurt.” Fili’s fingers are soft as he touches the swollen skin around the arrow head.

Kili wants to tell him that he wants it to hurt. That he wants him to dig it in deeper before he pulls it out.

He wonders for a moment if there will still be days where his throat will be raw from screams ripped from him. If there will be days where his body still feels like it is not his own.

As Fili works on the piece of silver resting in Kili’s shoulder, Kili bites the inside of his cheek hard enough to bleed and tries not to like the rough feel of Fili’s fingers pressing into the wound.

 


 

Bilbo wakes. Or, at least, he thinks he does. Someone is speaking, perhaps, and the smell of woodsmoke hangs heavy in the air. His lips feel stuck together, his tongue too swollen in his mouth to speak. Something sharp stabs at the back of his skull, and before he can open his eyes, he slips back under.

 


 

“Where are you going?” Fili asks as Kili is attempting to take the steps two at a time to the gate to leave the mountain.

“I have to go get something,” Kili calls back to him.

“Let me come with you then, they are still looking for survivors out there.”

“No, I have to go do this on my own. I won’t be long.” Kili says it quickly. He figures he needs to do this while he has a chance. He doesn’t know if Bilbo will pull through and if he does than Kili wants to put all of his mistakes past him.

Fili has a feeling that he knows what it has to do with, but he can’t find it in himself to say the words. A part of him worries that what happened in the tunnels was something that happened when Kili was caught up in the moment, that he will realize he made a mistake and that anything Fili might say may push him towards her.

“How long do you think you’ll be?” Fili figures this is safe ground.

It dawns on Kili what he might be thinking, that he would leave the mountain in search of steady eyes and emerald cloth. He tries to bound back up the stairs but his movements are not as quick.

Kili takes Fili’s hand in his, careful of the eyes around them. “I promise you, I will be back as soon as I can. Before the sun sets.” He runs a thumb across Fili’s knuckles before he turns to leave.

 


 

“Do you remember what you said to me in that house in Laketown.” Tauriel is looking at Kili with guarded eyes.

“I do. But I was not meant to love a star, I was not meant to love something so far away, I do not know if I can feel the warmth of a star.” He wants to say it was because he was meant to love the sun, that even with distance he can still feel it’s warmth.

“A part of me was hoping that you would not remember, that the effects of the poison had taken its toll on you.”

An ache resonates through him, her cold beauty too hard to ignore. He looks at her red hair, not the same shade of red as blood, but that matching fire. It reminds him of warmth, of the way Fili’s hand ran across his forehead to wipe away the sweat on his brow, of Fili’s hand in his, gripping it tightly.

She smiles gently as she pulls the token from her pocket. Her fingers run over the runes before she places it in Kili’s palm.

“I have lived a very long time, I have seen many great things. I have seen love, I see it in you. Do not waste it.” Tauriel clasps his fingers around the stone, she places a gentle kiss on his forehead. Her eyes linger on his for a moment before she turns around to walk away.

“Did you know?” He calls after her.

She turns back around with a grin, “I knew the second he called your name. It came out as a song to my ears. I also knew when you tried to steal my bow, that you would do anything to protect him.”

 


 

Tauriel looks out at the land before her, to the ruined city of Dale and the forest that lies beyond. The wind blows gently causing strands of her hair to move out of their place and fall along her shoulders. She looks down at her hair that has started to come undone, to her blood covered clothes and for the first time in her life she feels a spark spreading through her.

She is not something that can be tamed, something that belongs to anyone. A grin breaks across her features.

“Where is it you plan to go?” His voice does not hold it’s usual commanding tone. She turns around to face Thranduil. She straightens her posture around him, narrows her eyes.

She wants to be brutal and quick, when she strikes she wants it to be the way that thunder cracks across the sky.

“I do not know yet. Maybe to Rivendell. Perhaps some place that no one talks about, out by the shore.” Perhaps somewhere wild. She likes the idea of being something feral, almost savage. That when people will ask her who she belongs to she will say, ‘no one’, with a wolf like grin.

“I may not always be your King, but you will always be my Captain.” Thranduil lifts up his hand for a moment as if to reach out to her. To cup her soft cheek in his hand, to tell her, ‘I am sorry I have been cruel and unforgiving.’ but he is a King and he cannot let those words pass from his lips. Not out in the open, not where words are carried on the wind. He drops his hand before squaring his shoulders.

“If I do come back one day, what will you tell everyone of my banishment?” He is welcoming her back but she feels the need to challenge him. She needs to know that it will not be the same, that she will not follow his demands when they are not just.

“That I was a fool.” Perhaps kings do not always care what is carried on whispers. It is the most unguarded and honest that she has ever seen him. And she aches for it, aches for what she never knew. Aches for when he lost his wife, how she was at his side for all the years after, how she watched him change into something unrecognizable. Into something cold and callous. But the king standing before her now is very much the one she remembers from centuries ago. The king who smiled with grace, who laughed in his halls loudly, and did not care what others might think of him. Who ruled with fierce diplomacy and did not care for matters of things like gems.

“Then we were both fools.” She turns to look out to the setting sun, how it breaks over the branches of the forest. She can hear it calling to her.

She will not be nameless. She will make her own name, spell it out in the sands on the shore, carve it into the bark on ancient trees. It will rest in the roots of flowers and when she pulls them from the earth, she will feel it resonate through her. It is then she will return to the Mirkwood.

 


 

“Where did you go?” Fili asks when Kili returns to the mountain before the sun is setting.

“I had to retrieve something.” Kili takes the token out of his pocket and tosses it in the air before catching it and putting it back, out of sight where he does not have to see it.

They haven’t spoken about it, about what had happened in Laketown, not in this new day. They had not spoken of what had transpired in the tunnels of the watch tower, of Kili’s lips grazing Fili’s.

Fili does not ask him how he got the token back instead he asks him, “What do you plan to do with it?”

“I think our mother would be very pleased to have it back and that I kept my promise.”

 


 

Bilbo dreams of the summer of his coming of age. In his memories the fields and meadows of the Shire are more green and vibrant during that year than any other. The sky was so wide above him as he explored the Southfarthing, skirted along the edges of the Old Forest, climbed great trees to better keep a look out for Elves passing through on their way to shores Bilbo would never see. This was the last summer he slept out under the stars.

In his dream, a fire sparks and spreads, and he watches the trees go up like torches and all the grasslands turn to ash. Smoke fills his lungs and he struggles to breath as he runs and runs and runs. Orcs pursue him, huge as trolls and covered head to toe in Dwarven armor stolen from the mountain. The gold inlays glint red, reflecting the fires of his homeland. All is consumed, hot embers scatter in the gusting winds, and Bilbo is surrounded by his enemies. Their bloody smiles and glowing eyes look down at him from great heights. Shaking, Bilbo reaches in his pocket for his ring - he cannot find it, and he begins to search desperately, tearing at his clothes, until finally, there, in his coat, the one he wore into battle, in the pocket where he’d hidden the Arkenstone, he touches it. He pulls the gold band out, holds it before him, and it glows fiery red, until he feels the burn of it and yelps, and drops the ring. When it strikes the earth, Bilbo feels the ground at his feet shudder and quake.

 


 

Kili visits Bilbo in his unconscious state, in one of the rare moments where Thorin is not at his side. Kili slips into the room. Bilbo is almost unrecognizable to him compared to the Halfling he met in Hobbiton. There are lines that etch his face, lines that will not disappear; instead they will become more prominent with time. Kili leans down on his knees, resting his arms on the bed.

“I was foolish when I left home all those months ago.” Kili pulls at the linens on the bed. “I wanted nothing more than to make everyone proud. Mahal, I wanted so many things. Mostly I wanted my family to be truly happy. I don’t know if they will be, inside this mountain, it’s not how the stories told it. I don’t know if Thorin,” Kili lets out a sigh, his throat tightening. “-I don’t know if Thorin should spend too long in these halls. I do believe he can find happiness like he has always wanted though. I hope that you can see that.”

Bilbo’s body is still except for the small rise and fall of his chest. Kili sits up a little straighter, his voice quieter, “I also never expected to have a new friend. I need you to pull through this, you need you to pull through this. I cannot live any more of those cruel days.” Kili takes Bilbo’s hand in his and for a moment he swears he feels the fingers tightening around his.

Kili stays like that until he hears footsteps approaching the room and he slips out before anyone can see.

 


 

“Why me?” Fili asks him, looking into Kili’s dark eyes.

“Because you’re as golden as they come.” He bleeds sunlight, illuminates everything that he touches. Their eyes are searching and Fili doesn’t seem to be making a movement so Kili leans down to place their lips together. He’s hesitant, worried that this will be ripped from him and he will have to start all over.

Seven times. Seven times he has told Fili of his love for him. Each time it was returned.

Kili pulls back and looks into Fili’s eyes, “when did you know?”

“I think a part of me always knew.”

“No. When?” Kili needs to know, it's something that he can hold onto. It’s something that when every day when he asks him this, the answer will be the same and then he will know.

“Perhaps it was the first time you scraped your knee. Or when I taught you how to peel the skin off an orange and your fingers were so small that they could barely hold the fruit. Maybe it was the moment you trusted enough to show me the tree that you loved to climb. It could have been from the way that you climbed into my bed at night when you would have nightmares, how you would whisper my name like it was the most important thing in the world. When I say that I always knew, that is what I mean Kee.” Fili says it with such surety that Kili doesn’t know if he can doubt it.

He surges forward and kisses Fili hard enough to knock them both on the floor. He doesn’t deserve this, doesn’t deserve something so pure. When his vision flashes to red and he remembers his arrow piercing the flesh beneath him he closes his eyes tighter and whispers into Fili’s mouth, “more.”

 


 

Bilbo wakes. He breathes in the familiar cold-dust scent of the mountain before he opens his eyes. He would know the air of Erebor even blind, so often has it greeted him. He is aware of a throbbing pain in his head, radiating around and settling behind his forehead. He thinks this is certainly odd, but it’s different, and therefore not entirely unwelcome.

Nevertheless, when he opens his eyes he is prepared to see the familiar stone roof of the great hall, the grey predawn, the same stones.

He squints up into a dark, much lower ceiling instead. Bilbo blinks his eyes to clear his vision, and he can just make out the exquisitely intricate designs carved into the stonework overhead. He realizes he’s in a bed - a proper one, if not a bit larger than necessary - and certainly not laying on piles of blankets and cloaks on a cold stone floor. In fact, he isn’t cold at all, but warm.

Something stirs to his right, and Bilbo turns groggily to look.

Thorin, seated in a large chair, wearing finely made but simpler clothing in dark blues and black, clean and looking unharmed but for a dark scab at the corner of his mouth and a closed gash on his forehead, and, evidently, asleep. Bilbo is so stunned for a moment that all he can do is stare at the slow and even rise and fall of his chest, the gentle flare of his nostrils as he breathes.

“Thorin.” Bilbo tries to speak, though his dry throat will hardly produce a sound. But Thorin jolts forward in the chair anyway, his eyes opening abruptly, startled. He calms visibly the moment their eyes meet.

“Bilbo,” he says on a breath. “I - we thought we had lost you.”

For all the dryness of his throat, Bilbo feels it constrict, and must swallow several times. He cannot be sure he isn’t dreaming again, a better dream but a dream nonetheless.

“Drink this.” Thorin reaches and produces a cup, and helps Bilbo bring it to his lips. A small sip is all he can manage, but the cool water soothes him and calms him. As Thorin moves to withdraw the cup, Bilbo cannot resist the urge to touch him - he wraps weak fingers around Thorin’s wrist, and the Dwarf meets his eyes questioningly, something achingly akin to hope shining there.

“I am tired,” Bilbo says with some struggle. “And I think I must sleep. But first I have to ask - is this real?”

Thorin’s brow furrows. “Real?”

Bilbo closes his eyes, too tired to keep them open any longer, a dull throb returning to his temples.

“Are you real, or a dream… must we go to the gates?”

Silence stretches, but before darkness claims him Bilbo hears Thorin’s voice again.

“Rest, Bilbo.” Soft, and quiet, and utterly unlike the world of days Bilbo has known for so long.

 


 

When Kili finally dreams again it's of wicked things, it’s of ice blue eyes, bloody and in the palm of his hands with Fili whispering, “since you can’t look me in the eyes anymore.”

 

He doesn’t tell Fili of these dreams, or of the dreams where he cuts his hair short in front of everyone. Asking for atonement for his brother’s blood on his hands.

 


 

Oin’s official diagnosis is a concussed head, a result of Azog’s blow that sent Bilbo backwards into the ice. Bilbo learns that he slept for nearly five days (and hearing this steals the breath from his lungs - five days after the battle have already passed, and he missed them all) and that Thorin was with him as often as his duties allowed.

The room Bilbo has been moved to is, in fact, inside Erebor. He learns that initially he had been brought back inside the mountain to avoid the last ravages of the battle, then moved to one of the healers’ tents, and then, once rooms were cleared inside the mountain for the wounded, he’d been given this place to rest in. It is an old room in what was once the palace servants’ quarters, and Thorin is needlessly apologetic about that on more than one occasion, explaining that he would have given Bilbo a room in the royal wing if any were ready.

It isn’t until he has a chance to speak to Kili that Bilbo is even sure that any of what they experienced together had been real, and not a symptom of his injuries - this surety, however, only lends more doubt to Bilbo’s current reality, and leaves him with more questions, the most important being, how could any of this have happened in the first place.

Gandalf visits him, and although the wizard doesn’t ask any questions or say anything to imply that he knows that Bilbo fought in what is now being called the Battle of the Five Armies not once, but dozens of times, he does look at Bilbo with a curious, lingering gaze, as though trying to read an old tome in a language he hasn’t exercised in a long time.

 


 

Kili spends time in the woods, a quiver on his back, bow in his hands. He goes out to the woods when FIli is called upon and Kili can’t find it in his heart to listen to any more talks of rebuilding. Not when he is too busy trying to keep his hands from shaking. He goes to the woods in hopes to steady them.

He looks for animals to hunt but the shadows in the forest sometimes come in different shapes, darker forms. When images of Fili come to him in flashes, of his eyes like glass and his lips pale he finds himself on his knees with ragged breaths, fingers pulling at his hair.

And in those moments the only thing to point his arrow at is himself.

He wonders as he lets the tip of the arrowhead pierce under his chin, not enough to break his flesh, if it would take them back, if it would start this all over again or if there would be nothing at all.

When he feels the warmth of his blood start to trickle down his neck he pulls the arrow away and tosses it out into the woods. The sight of his own blood on the silver makes him sick and he coughs up bile on the forest floor.

 


 

Thorin visits often, and Bilbo finds it both absurdly comforting and ceaselessly strange how easy it is to reach for Thorin’s hand and take it in his, to bring a small and almost shy smile to Thorin’s lips.

But then, sometimes, he thinks of the Arkenstone, and he remembers Thorin’s hands fisted in his clothing, Thorin’s rage, Thorin’s heartbreak. Things that Thorin does not remember, because he didn’t do them.

And sometimes Bilbo has to work very hard to remember which of their confrontations this Thorin actually experienced. He reminds himself that this Thorin never bled out in the snow, or stuttered blood-spattered apologies as he died, or cradled Bilbo and begged him to hold on.

Or perhaps this Thorin had done that last part. Bilbo isn’t sure. He wasn’t awake for it, if it happened.

“I owe you an apology,” Thorin says quietly, during one of his visits.

Bilbo waves a hand, hoping to quiet him. Thorin is in his usual chair, pulled close enough to Bilbo’s bed that they could link hands. Bilbo is sitting up, propped against pillows that smell only faintly musty.

“You needn’t apologize, Thorin.”

Thorin shakes his head, his gaze directed somewhere near the foot of the bed. “No,” he says. “I must. I want to make a public proclamation, naming you Dwarf-friend, so that there can be no confusion about your…” Here Thorin hesitates, looks Bilbo in the eye. “Banishment.”

Bilbo swallows, licks his lips. “I stole from you,” he says evenly. “Thorin, I took the Arkenstone - the one thing you wanted most, and I gave it to your enemies. I’m the one who should be apologizing.”

“There’s no need,” Thorin says, shaking his head. “I know what you were trying to do. I could not see it then, but I do now. You acted as only a true friend would.”

Bilbo laughs bitterly. “A true friend.”

“Yes, Bilbo. You saw what the others couldn’t. What I couldn’t.”

But Bilbo can’t stand the thread of self-recrimination running thick in Thorin’s tone of voice. “I did a foolish thing,” he says harshly. “And had things gone differently… Thorin, what I did, it didn’t even work.”

“And yet, I should not have banished you. My words were meaningless and I hope you know-”

“I should not have stolen from you!”

He didn’t mean to shout, and he’s surprised to find himself breathing heavily.

“Peace,” Thorin whispers, looking away and running a hand across his mouth. “We don’t need to speak of this now.”

“Do you forgive me? Thorin- do you trust me?”

Thorin drags his gaze up and looks at him a long moment. “Yes, on the second count.”

“And on the first?”

Bilbo watches Thorin’s throat work as he swallows hard, and doesn’t miss the fact that  Thorin doesn’t break eye contact as he says, voice firm, “I do not know. But I believe I do.”

Bilbo nods, smiles, and reaches to take his hand. “Good,” he says. “If we’re to be friends, we must be truthful with one another.”

Thorin’s smiles in return, and runs his fingers across the back of Bilbo’s hand. “Friends?”

The heat that spreads across the skin of his neck and face surprises him. “Well. Hm. True friends? As you Dwarves say.”

Thorin looks confused for just a moment before he barks out a laugh that seems to surprise him. Bilbo feel as if he’s soaking in it, in Thorin’s comfort and laughter, and resists the urge to close his eyes and let the sound wash over him like sunlight.

 


 

The Arkenstone was returned to Thorin in exchange for a vast portion of wealth, Thorin explains to Bilbo. He tells Bilbo that he had not the heart to see the thing set in his grandfather’s throne, or any throne that he himself might rule from, and so had it locked away. The heart of the mountain would remain in Erebor, but the mountain-king had no love for it.

“It will remain the birthright of my people,” Thorin says, “and the heirloom of my line. Let it pass to Fili when the times comes, and he can choose to do with it as he pleases.” Bilbo hears the truth in Thorin’s words when he smiles and says, “I care not.”

 


 

When Bilbo is deemed healthy and strong enough to leave his bed, he takes a slow walk alone to the great outer wall.

He finds it much changed, even only a fortnight after the battle. Already, Erebor seems brighter, cleaner, less murky; the wall and parapets sturdier, more orderly, their construction less hastily done and with more purpose.

Bilbo squints into the sun and watches his breath fog in the cold air. He can’t actually remember precisely the last time he saw such sunlight, golden and soft, or saw the sky cast in blue rather than grey. He can just make out the commotion in Dale, see figures moving about. The reconstruction by the Men of Laketown is underway in earnest as they prepare for the coming winter.

He runs a hand along the stones, and finds what he’s looking for.

Fifty-four marks, scratched into the stone with a knife. Weeks and years ago, it seems. Bilbo traces every one of the scores, and as he does he notices with no small amount of surprise that he’s smiling.

 


 

One day Kili comes from the woods covered in blood but no animal in his hands. His eyes are far off and distant but when he looks at Fili for a moment he is wild.

Fili approaches him slowly, helps him to clean the blood from underneath his fingernails and the lines in his hands. Helps him to get the blood out of his hair.

“What happened?” Fili asks quietly as he runs Kili’s wet hair between his fingers. Kili is sitting in a large steel bath and Fili is sitting on a chair behind him.

“I shot a deer.”

Fili takes a deep breath, “you’ve shot plenty of deer before nadad, why was this one different?”

“I tried to stop the bleeding.” Kili’s voice is far off as he says it. He can still see the deer laying out on the forest floor, his arrow through its chest. Kili ran quickly to the animal, getting on his knees and pushing his hands to the wound to try to stop the bleeding. He faintly remembers whispering, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” to the animal as it took its last breaths. He stayed there until the sun set, his body in a heap and racked with sobs as he felt the warmth leave the deer.

Fili is trying to find what to say to comfort Kili but he can’t figure out the root of the problem. Instead he leans down and places a kiss to the top of Kili’s head.

“I don’t want you going out there alone.”

Kili snaps out of his daze and turns enough to be able to look up at Fili, his fingers gripping the side of the tub. “No, I need to. I need to be out there. It’s fine, it was just a one time thing. I’ll be ok next time.” He doesn’t know if it's the truth but perhaps if he says it enough he can convince himself.

“Alright, just, promise me if you come home like this again to come straight to me regardless of where I am.”

Kili nods his head in agreement. That night Kili asks Fili to take him apart, to make him forget his own name and rebuild him into something just for Fili. And Kili kisses his chest, an area with an invisible wound that FIli will never see. He asks for Fili to hold his heart, soft like the animals he kills, to make it keen in his hands. And when Fili exhales against Kili’s skin it is like dandelion puffs, feather light and full of wishes.

The blood that has been permanent in his mouth is starting to taste like wine, and now at times when he thinks of FIli he thinks of the space between his fingers, how Kili’s fingers fit perfectly. He thinks of Fili’s broad shoulders, of all the weight that they carry yet they never seem to falter even when they are sex loosened as he stretches across linens. This is how he will heal, with time in the woods and nights spent with golden light wrapped around him.

 


 

He feels like he can’t love himself, so Fili does it for him. He remembers too much so Fili tries to help him forget. He can’t sleep, so Fili soothes him. He can only see the dark, so Fili shows him the light.

 


 

Kili memorizes the color in Fili’s hair, golden like the wheat fields outside of the Blue Mountains. His eyes as blue as the open sky. His collar bones, the shape of them beneath Kili’s fingers, how they jut out when he arches his back off the bed. Their knees touching under tables. The endless maw of his affection. Fili’s voice in the morning, how it comes out in a rasp, riddled with remnants of sleep. The cadence of his tone as he shares his ideas at meetings. Each beat of syllables, pauses between words. He measures his breaths, how they come in shallows but at night they are high pitched and gasping when Kili is between his thighs. He memorizes them so that when he wakes up there is not something missing, that there is not a scar gone that was there before. He does this to ensure that everything stays the same.

 


 

If Fili is the sunrise, bringing with him new found hope. Then Kili is the sunset, the descent into nightfall.

 


 

Bilbo takes to helping with the reconstruction. He is nowhere near as strong as even Ori, but he can push carts of rubble, he can sweep and clean and clear debris, he can join the parties that scout for firewood and leave the mountain bundled in Dwarven clothing, the air so cold it’s nearly sharp. And if he’s quieter than he was before, slower to join his companions in telling tales and singing songs, well, not one of his friends makes much comment on the matter. There is much to be done, and everyone is busy, afterall.

But every once in awhile Bofur will offer him a warm smile, Dwalin will clasp a hand to his shoulder, his face unusually soft. Gloin offers to explain how the market system used to run in Erebor, what their plans for the restored markets are. Bifur whittles him a wooden eagle, its wings spread wide in flight, and gives it to Bilbo with a smile and a phrase in Khuzdul. What Bifur says Thorin later translates for Bilbo while they’re alone - “Hope comes in unlikely forms, no?”

 


 

Kili stands on the parapet, watching as ravens circle overhead. He remembers watching birds, their flutter of wings. He always envied them, the freedom they must feel as they soar through clouds and feel the warmth from the sun.

He used to feel like he could fly, felt like he was soaring any time Fili said his name.

Now he feels as if the wings have been plucked from his back, nothing but scars in their place. Long and ugly. Ash and dirt grinding between his teeth. His tongue weighs heavy like stones as he tries not to say a hundred different things. “I’m sorry for what I did to you, for the pain I caused. I’m sorry for the bloodshed, all of it, for the times I killed you. They were all my fault, every single one. I’m sorry for your pomegranate lips, how blood looks when it’s trickling down them. I'm sorry that I’m selfish, that I am no good for you. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

There Fili is in front of him suddenly, all dreams and hopes. Fili who is digging himself like roots into Kili’s heart, turning his limbs into trees, building a forest out of him so high with all of his praise, “you were so brave nadad”,  that he does not know if he will ever see the top. Kili quirks his lips in a smile at the thought, he may not be able to fly but he does know how to climb.

 


 

“We can never tell them.” Bilbo says this to Kili with a smile.

“I know,” Kili replies softly. And if they are both saddened by this, Bilbo thinks it’s better at least that they each have one other person who can understand how hard it can be to laugh, to lift a mug of ale with steady hands, to sleep through the night without bloody dreams.

 


 

“Where exactly are we going?” Bilbo asks as he pulls a fur lined robe around him tighter.

“To the forest.” Kili calls behind him as they walk out of the gates.

“Why are we going out to the woods? This is the coldest day so far.” Bilbo sniffs the air and wrinkles his nose, his skin already turning a soft shade of pink.

“Do you wish to sit in on another meeting?” Kili turns around and begins walking backwards with a grin on his face. It is one of the only times Bilbo has seen him look happy.

“I suppose that I really don’t, there’s only so much I can listen to.”

“My feelings exactly.”

When they get to the edge of the woods Kili jumps up and hits a tree branch letting snow fall down onto the ground.

“What do you do when you’re out here?” Bilbo asks as he watches Kili begin climbing across various rocks and fallen tree branches.

“Sometimes I hunt, sometimes I just sit and look at the snow. It’s brighter out here, even if the sun isn’t out. The snow makes it brighter, it’s easier to look at than grey stones.”

And that Bilbo thinks he understands.

“Does Fili come out here with you?” Bilbo asks as he sits down on a large rock watching Kili shoot arrows at birds.

“He used to, all the time. Back before Erebor at least. He’s too busy now though, Thorin always needs him for something.” His arrow finds a quail, right through the heart. Kili closes his eyes for a moment and tries not to let the image of blood on the snow bother him. He thinks if he keeps making himself look at it then it will help him forget the days that used to seem endless. That they will become a distant memory, tainted and blurred.

“You can’t avoid him forever.” Bilbo says it loudly so that he knows Kili will hear it as he pulls his arrow from the bird.

Kili leans back on his haunches, his hands at his side. “I can’t look at him and not remember what happened.”

“What happened was not because of Thorin, it was because of the sickness.” Bilbo says it fiercely.

Kili is on his feet quickly at this, turning around to face Bilbo who has not moved from his position on the rock save to shove his hands deeper in his pockets.

“You don’t know what he did, you don’t,” Kili looks down and takes a deep breath fighting back tears. “-you didn’t see him. You didn’t see how he drove that blade through Fili like he was nothing to him.” Kili spits out and when he looks up it is with tear stained eyes.

Bilbo moves closer to Kili at this, his hands reaching out to wrap around the young dwarf. “It wasn’t him, Kili; he would never do anything to harm either of you.”

“I know that, a part of me knows that but it doesn’t stop the image from appearing in my mind.” Kili chokes it out as he relaxes into Bilbo. “I wish I could just forget it.”

“I know you do Kili, and I want nothing more than for you to be able to forget. Trust me, if I could I would take back everything, I wouldn’t have signed that contract and you all would have been better off.” It’s the words that have been in Bilbo’s mind but hasn’t dared to say out loud.

Kili pushes back at this, his hands grabbing Bilbo’s shoulders. “Don’t say that. We were not, you saved us more times than any of us would care to admit. You may not be the same Bilbo but neither are we because of it, and I know for certain that Thorin is better because of it.”

Bilbo pulls Kili back to him at his words, his head resting on his chest listening to the quick beating of his heart, how it sounds like the flutter of a bird's wings. Perhaps it is a selfish thing to have another share these dark memories, but for a moment Bilbo is grateful.

 


 

Bilbo thinks sometimes about writing down their story, his story, the whole tale from start to finish. But he’s a bit fuzzy on some of the details, especially the time between giving the Arkenstone to Bard and waking up in a bed in Erebor. He tries to imagine how such a book would read, and feels it would be too obvious to astute readers that some things, many things in fact, were missing.

He remembers Gandalf’s words to him on the edges of Mirkwood, a lifetime ago now: You are not the same Hobbit that left the Shire.

He wonders if the wizard has any idea of his gift for foreshadowing, and he runs his fingers over and over the gold band in his pocket.

 


 

Some mornings Bilbo wakes in his little room and the air is too still, it smells of snow and it’s too much like the calm before a storm. He finds that he can’t catch his breath, can’t stop seeing Raven Hill, the shattered ice, Kili with his head pushed down into the freezing river, Fili with a blade through his chest, Thorin laying alone and bloodied in the snow.

In these times, Bilbo stumbles to the little fireplace in his quarters and with shaking hands stokes the embers back to life, takes deep breaths and lets the scent of woodsmoke fill his nostrils. He tells himself that there’s to be no battle today, no one’s lives are in jeopardy, no army waits outside the gates.

On one such morning, after he’s calmed himself, Bilbo digs through his pile of belongings and pulls his little sword out from under a cloak. He finds Thorin in his own quarters.

“Will you take this for me?” Bilbo asks, before he even says good morning.

Thorin gives a little shake of his head, a small confused smile. “Why?”

Bilbo tries to smile in return, he tries for light laughter but it comes out more like a cough. “Well, I hardly need it now, do I?”

After a long look, full of more sympathy than Bilbo is comfortable with (he fidgets, shifts his feet), Thorin takes Sting from his hands. “I’ll put it away for you then, ‘til it’s wanted.” He opens a chest along the wall and lays the little sword inside. Bilbo breathes a tiny sigh when Thorin closes the lid.

“Thank you.”

“Of course,” Thorin says, tucking his chin down. Then, brighter, “Breakfast?” and Bilbo finds he is happy to accept the invitation.

 


 

“Kili, do you have a moment?” Thorin poses it as a question though Kili supposes it is not one. Kili’s eyes linger on Fili for a moment before Fili leaves the hall that they had been in discussing how much gold to give to the people of Dale. Kili nods yes but makes no move to get closer to Thorin.

He can feel the strain between them, how it stretches out like a chasm. Thorin clears his throat before looking back up to his nephew. “I have not had a chance to apologize to you.”

For a moment Kili feels sick, his body wanting to erupt with manic laughter. He has no idea what he should be apologizing for.

“I told you so many tales of this place when you were younger. I asked you to come on this quest when you were far too young,”

Kili cuts him off. “Please don’t say that, don’t bring that into this.”

Thorin nods his head in slight agreement. “Regardless, I am sorry for what I did. I am sorry for Laketown. I suppose I knew of the madness here and I was only trying to spare you.”

It’s not what Kili was expecting. He looks up at Thorin’s unguarded eyes. “I never wanted you to see what I had to, how the madness corrupts and turns people into something unrecognizable. If it wasn’t for Bilbo,” Thorin takes a deep breath before continuing on, “-if it was not for Bilbo and what he did I do not think I would have broken out of it.”

Kili smiles at this, “he was braver than all of us.”

“Just as brave as you. He told me about the tunnels in the watchtower, told me all about your plan. I’m glad you discussed it with him and not with me. I don't know if I would have let you go through with it. I am glad you had Fili with you.”

Thorin places a hand on Kili’s shoulder and Kili tries to relax into the touch, to not let his muscles tense at this.

“I’ve always been glad that you’ve had Fili, and he has you. I couldn’t have asked for anything greater.” Thorin’s voice is soft and for a moment Kili remembers being small enough to sit on Thorin’s foot while holding onto his leg while he walked and asking for him to tell him a story about the mountain.

“Fili will always be the greatest thing to have ever happened to me, I do not know what I have ever done to deserve him.” Kili’s voice is quiet and he feels as if he’s said too much.

Thorin squeezes his shoulder. “It’s not about deserving. If I kept that mindset then I would not have my family, nor would I have such a friend as Bilbo. Don’t ever let yourself think that he doesn’t need you though. He is going to need you more than ever. The rebuilding of this place will take a lot of work and there will be much that is expected of him. If you are by his side I do not think the sickness will ever touch him.”

Kili wants to say a million things, he wants to ask what Thorin knows but it's too much. He never dared to think that anyone would approve of them, that they would stand by and let him love with abandon. Kili just nods his head yes and before he knows it he is in Thorin’s arms, his chin resting on his shoulder and holding him tightly. Kili remembers Bilbo’s words from the forest and he feels a weight lift from him, no longer holding the full weight of grief. Thorin returns the embrace and Kili allows himself to forgive.

 


 

Bilbo intends to stay the winter and leave when the roads clear in the spring. If he closes his eyes and concentrates very hard, he can almost smell the sweetness of the first hay cuttings, of the flowers blooming in his gardens, of the honeysuckle in the meadows and the tart blueberries filling on the bushes.

He tries not to think about the inevitable conclusion to all of this - which is that he will, of course, leave Erebor and Thorin, too.

 


 

“You’ve changed, Bilbo,” Thorin says, and Bilbo looks up just in time to watch him flinch at his own words - or rather, at the memory of them whispered through Bilbo’s lips, through Bilbo’s tears.

“Have I?” Bilbo asks, pretending to be very busy sifting through the latest requests from Dale, strewn across the small desk in Thorin’s quarters. They often meet here, even if to do nothing but sit quietly together and smoke a pipe. (Bilbo never tells Thorin that it is during these times when they are alone together and comfortable that he feels simultaneously the most grounded and the most adrift.)

Thorin regards him quietly for a moment, clearly not dissuaded by his nonchalance.

“Am I to ask, ‘Are you alright?’ and give you the opportunity to use one of your clever riddles to throw me off?”

Bilbo turns to look at him, surprised.

“Bilbo,” Thorin goes on softly, “you are quiet. You complain about nothing, where you used to complain incessantly about the smallest and least important unpleasantries - missing handkerchiefs, for instance. You don’t complain anymore, about anything. You don’t tell stories. You eat less. You look tired.”

Sighing, Bilbo takes a the seat across from Thorin at the small table. He studies the grain of the stone, grey and dull. “What would you have me say?”

“Nothing, if that is your wish. But I would say this to you. I have some experience with warriors after great and terrible battles.” Bilbo snorts at the term ‘warrior’, but Thorin goes on. “My people call it azghthart. In common you would say… ‘battle weary.’” Thorin shakes his head, annoyed. “It doesn’t translate well.”

Bilbo clenches his fists until his fingernails dig into the palms of his hands; they’re not as soft as they once were, but the pain is still sharp.

“Weary is a good word for it.”

Thorin hums in agreement. “Then you are not alright.”

“But I will be.” Bilbo pretends he doesn’t hear the question in his own voice.

“You will be yourself. And I have learned that Bilbo Baggins is made of sturdier stuff than many Dwarves I’ve known.”
Bilbo nods, grateful for Thorin’s faith in him.

He does not tell Thorin about the nightmares, the ones where all the Company dies and he is left scrambling over their corpses. Nor does he tell Thorin that some mornings he wakes and does not know what he will find when he opens his eyes, that some days food and drink taste of nothing but ash on his tongue. He thinks that Thorin likely already knows all this.

 


 

Bilbo often takes his meals with Thorin, and if it ought to be strange that it’s just the two of them, it isn’t. Perhaps in one of those other lives, Bilbo thinks, he might have been able to pretend he was still just a Hobbit, and of a respectable family - a Baggins of Bag End. But not in this life. In this life, he knows the ache in his chest, the burning pain in his belly that he felt every time he lost Thorin. He knows he loves him, and though Thorin doesn’t remember any of the times he wept over Bilbo’s broken body, Bilbo suspects that Thorin felt much as he did. Bereft.  

In this life, there is no use pretending he is something he is not, and though he isn’t entirely sure what he is, when Bilbo watches the candlelight catch in Thorin’s eyes during those rare moments when he really laughs over a particularly acerbic comment Bilbo makes about Thranduil or when Bilbo purposely mispronounces a word of Khuzdul that he often hears, Bilbo thinks it’s alright that he not entirely understand himself. That perhaps it’s enough to be here, in this life, now, no matter all the other endings he lived to remember.

 


 

Bilbo really only planned to stay the winter. But then he sees the way spring bursts into the valley, and he begins to doubt his decision to leave so soon. There is much yet that he could do to help, especially as caravans of Dwarves from the Blue Mountains are arriving every week, and with meager patches of grass beginning to grow where once there was only grey mud and snow, it’s much easier to look out at the landscape and not see the bodies of his friends strewn across it.

He thinks of planting in that blood-soaked soil, of replacing all the death he’d seen with something new and bright and alive. Flowers and trees that would sink their roots into the earth and perhaps feel the vibrations of heavy footsteps and cacophony. Briar rose, he thinks, would do very well; verbena, zinnias, oak, and willow.

 


 

Fili is always being pulled in a hundred different directions, needed for things that Kili doesn’t think are necessary. Instead of voicing this though he stays at his side, listens to his ideas and suggestions. How his voice commands attention.

“You don't always have to stay, Kee,” Fili tells him as he pours over parchments scattered on a table.

“I don’t mind.”

“Well that’s just a filthy lie.” Fili says it with a smile as he looks up from the black ink to see Kili grinning at him.

“You’ll know the days that I mind, it’s the days that I take to the forest.”

“I guess it is a good thing then, sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I would do without you whispering into my ear. Though I suppose Balin doesn’t take too kindly to it, sometimes I think he is going to throw a book at us or worse.” Fili says as he pulls Kili against him. Kili takes the opportunity to push Fili onto the desk and rests himself between his legs.

Kili rolls his eyes, “can you not talk about him right now? That’s one way to destroy my good mood. All I can think about is being younger and lesson plans.”

Fili chuckles against Kili’s hand before he places a soft kiss to his knuckles. Fili’s eyes take on a serious gaze as he looks at Kili. “What is it?”

“I just never thought that I would have this.” Fili’s voice is quiet as his legs wrap around Kili trying to pull him closer.

“I don’t think we were ever meant to have anything else.” When Kili says it he knows it to be true.

“What will happen, years from now when I am to be king?” Kili is the only person that Fili voices these concerns to and even then the moments are few and far between.

“We’ll get there when we get there.” Kili says it but he tries to ignore the pain working its way through his chest.

“I don’t care what anyone thinks.” Fili says it fiercely and this time Kili is the one to let out a small laugh.

“There’s a filthy lie.”

“I’m serious Kili. I wouldn’t want this any other way. If I have to then I will just tell everyone that I wish to claim no one and name Dain’s line as heirs. It is common for our people to be alone.”

“Not for a king.”

“Look at Thorin.”

“Yes, look at Thorin with Bilbo practically draped on his arm these days. He scarce will go anywhere without him.” It's almost bittersweet but Kili tries to keep the smile on his face. He doesn’t want to think of a world where he is separated from Fili.

“I do not know what I will do, but regardless of what it is just know that it won't change this. Besides it would not seem odd for you to be everywhere with me. It’s the best cover if you really think about it.” Fili is saying in between feather light kisses placed on Kili’s neck. Kili tilts his neck to the side and lets out a small moan. He thinks that he likes this Fili, that he would carry the weight of them hidden from the world. Kili grabs onto Fili’s elbows and hold them tightly. He would live out the rest of his days like this, keeping them a secret if it meant that this is how he got to see Fili, and Fili had already promised him that in the spring he would go out to the forest with him when was not needed so much. That he would shoot arrows with him and watch them land in the bark on trees. When everything is green and the trees are filled with sun kissed leaves.

 


 

Repairs and restorations are long completed to major living areas of the mountain in preparation for the exiled Dwarves to arrive. Bilbo is offered new quarters in the royal wings, as Thorin had promised. He chooses rooms right next to Thorin’s, and they find themselves together every evening in one another’s rooms.

Thorin often falls asleep on the couch in front of Bilbo’s fireplace, his pipe extinguished and some report or other long forgotten on the cushion next to him. Bilbo smiles, and draws a blanket up to Thorin’s shoulders before he goes to bed.

On one such night, Bilbo stands up from his large armchair and offers his hand to a sleepy Thorin. The Dwarf looks bewildered for an instant before he reaches for Bilbo, and it’s the most natural thing, Bilbo thinks, when they climb into Bilbo’s bed together and press against each other’s sides. Thorin clasps his hand in the dark, and Bilbo whispers, “It was always to be this way, wasn’t it?”

“I had hope,” is Thorin’s soft response before they both settle down to sleep.

Bilbo finds that Thorin isn’t bothered by his nightmares, when he wakes sweating and shaking, sometimes with a choked off yell. He learns that Thorin has nightmares of his own, fire and blood and wasted breath, and under the covers Thorin whispers to him that he fears the sickness of his line will return and rob him of his senses, of himself. Bilbo reaches and cups his bearded cheek, strokes his thumb across Thorin’s bottom lip, swings a leg up over his belly. It seems they both feel grounded in this way, and if Bilbo suspects that Thorin isn’t as happy in Erebor as he ought to be, well, he can certainly understand why.

 


 

When Kili hugs Dis, for a brief moment he forgets all of the pain, forgets the way that Fili sounds letting out his last breath. He breathes her in, his nose buried in her thick dark hair. He can feel her tears in the cloth of his shirt. He wraps his arms around her tighter.

For a moment he is small again, he is a child running between her legs. He is lost stories and comfort, he is her soft melodic voice singing him to sleep at night. He remembers all of these things, how she held him in her arms. She is the lavender fields he found, lilac and full of life. If she is a season then she is spring, giving him renewal.

He was always her small son, thinking that he would never be bigger than the other dwarves his age. He was always special to her, gifted by his more angular features. When he took on his love for the woods, of open skies and fresh air, she was encouraging him to love it with all his might. While others took to stone, to darkness and hard minerals, he was trying to soar.

Her hands run down his back as he whispers to her, “Don’t you wish to see the mountain again?”

“I had seen it enough when I was younger, I would much rather be seeing you.”

When he pulls away to give her the rune-stone he makes sure that it is in front of Fili, that he knows that this is where that stone belongs. In their mother's hands.

 


 

When Dis arrives with a caravan from the Blue Mountains, Bilbo is struck by how similar to Thorin she looks - the same sharp features and dark hair, bright eyes. But she’s even more reserved, except where it comes to her sons and brother, and to Bilbo, of whom she has apparently already been told a great deal.

“So,” she says, “it seems that I owe you a debt, Master Baggins. My sons tell me that you were of much use on the journey here, and that you fought bravely to protect them and my brother.”

Bilbo feels his skin prickle with sweat, wondering just how much  Kili might have let slip. But it seems she only knows a part of the story  - the last part, the only part that really matters, Bilbo supposes.

“I took a nasty knock to the head, yes,” he responds. “In the end it is I who owes Thorin my life.”

Dis looks at him appraisingly, a glint in her eyes and a small smile on her lips. “I’m sure,” she says eventually. “And I can only imagine the humility contests you and my brother get up to, passing off all the credit for your great deeds as though neither of you are the heroes you are. No-” she says, cutting Bilbo off in the middle of his scoff. “You are a hero to my people, Master Baggins. And I am at your service.”

The Lady bows for a moment while Bilbo shifts uncomfortably.

“And now that that’s out of the way, might I impose upon you to have a cup of ale with me?”

Bilbo suspects they’re to be friends, after all.

 


 

There’s broken colorful glass on the ground, shards strewn about. Fili picks up a piece and holds it in his hands.

“It kind of reminds me of you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Even though it’s broken it's still filled with so much color.” Fili holds the glass up to one of the torches on the wall to see the bright colors painted on it. Of course Fili would notice the way Kili now refuses to leave his side, how he is more attached than ever before. No longer asking for space between them. He supposes then that Fili has noticed the haunted look in his eyes.

Kili feels a pang in his chest.

Fili turns the glass around in his hand and lets out a wince.

“What happened?”

“Small cut is all.” Fili goes to put the finger in his mouth to stop the bleeding when he feels Kili’s fingers around his wrist. Kili steps closer to him, keeping their eyes each other. He doesn’t break eye contact as he slides Fili’s finger into his mouth and licks at the cut to stop the blood. Kili hums around the digit and closes his eyes. When he hears a low groan come from Fili he pulls the finger out and runs his tongue along it, keeping his eyes focused. Fili is pushing him back against the wall and kissing his neck.

“Tell me you want this.” Kili whispers as he tilts his head back to give Fili access.

“I want this.” Fili growls against his neck.

“Tell me you’ve always wanted this.” Kili pants out as Fili’s hands roam, discovering parts of untouched skin.

“Always, always, always.”

 


 

“Do you mean to stay?” Thorin asks this over breakfast one morning, spring long since having given way to summer.

Bilbo sets down his fork. “For now, at least.” He looks Thorin in the eye, and the Dwarf nods.

“I still miss Bag End,” Bilbo goes on. “Erebor is still a strange place to me, and one in which I’m not entirely sure I belong.” Thorin stills, but says nothing. “But if I’m to be honest, I don’t know that I would belong in the Shire any more, either. I was so sure, once…” Bilbo trails off, stares at a point over Thorin’s shoulder. Then he smiles, grabs a scone from the basket on the table and tears it in two. “Perhaps I belong now in both places, or in neither.”

Thorin looks pained. “I believe you belong where you will be happiest,” he says softly.

Bilbo’s smiles brightens. “Well then, for now, I am where I belong. And I believe you owe me a translation of the latest version of the tale of the trolls that I heard was going around. Let’s have it, so that I can correct it, as I’m sure they’ve got it all mixed up.”

 


 

There is a great feast held midsummer, and Thorin is given a proper coronation, a mere formality at this point, but after the other Dwarves’ long journeys and all the hard hours spent cleaning in the mountain and repairing Smaug’s damage to Erebor, everyone is more than happy for an excuse to celebrate.

Bilbo looks at the faces of his companions, all sat around a large table in one of the great halls, their faces lit and alive with drink and the glow of the lamps above them. The hall is full to bursting with table upon table of Dwarves, laughing and singing and eating and drinking. Erebor is brought back to life. Bofur and Dwalin share some joke between them, laughing with their heads bent together; Fili smiles at Kili and his face is bright and happy.

Beside him, Thorin takes Bilbo’s hand under the table and smiles one of his full, brilliant smiles.

“I have you to thank for much of this,” he says, leaning close to that Bilbo can hear him over the din.

Full of drink and cheer himself, Bilbo is feeling very brave, so he leans closer to say with honesty, “There is nothing I would not have done to see this journey to a happy end, Thorin. It’s no less than any of you deserved.”

Thorin’s eyes shine for a moment with something more than ale and crystal light, and he blinks rapidly, clearing his throat. Bilbo squeezes his hand a little more firmly, and doesn’t fail to notice that Dis and Kili and Fili are smiling at them from their seats across the tables.

Bilbo meets Kili’s eyes and gives a small nod, which Kili returns.

Later in the evening, they move their congregation outside and are treated to some of Gandalf’s spectacular fireworks (at Bilbo’s suggestion, since the wizard had returned to the mountain from whatever journey he had taken just in time to see King Thorin accept his crown once more).

The lights break in the dark sky above them like brightly colored rain, and Bilbo watches as the green and gold embers reflect in Thorin’s eyes, looks back to the sky to see them fading eventually as they fall to earth and leave the stars shining in their stead, undimmed flecks set in the black cover of the night.

 


 

The sky sparks with emeralds, rubies, sapphires. Everyone has returned to Erebor and they all say Thorin’s name with pride, they speak of the king under the mountain and how he gifted them all with a place to call home once more. The name feels heavy on Kili’s tongue. The fireworks remind him too much of the gems that lay in the mountain so instead he looks to Fili. The lights are casting his features in a strange glow, casting shadows across his brow and cheeks. Even in this light he has never looked more beautiful.

“Can we go inside?” Kili asks. He wants to stretch out his hand and to feel Fili’s in his. But it is a night of celebration, there are too many around and a part of him worries of what whispers might catch fire.

“Of course, dashat.”

When they are deep within the mountain, within one of the bed chambers Kili lays with Fili’s hand in his.

“Tell me a story.” Kili whispers as he runs his fingers across Fili’s knuckles. It is what they do on the bad days, the days where Kili remembers nothing but bloodshed. Kili tells Fili that it helps to push away the nightmares, that if their is a happier story in his mind then sometimes he dreams instead.

“There was a boy,” Fili starts out.

“Have I heard this before?” Kili asks as he turns on his side to face him.

“No, I don’t believe I’ve told this one. There once was a boy who climbed his way out of the shadows to reach the sun. He lived in a world of smoke and ash, of bones. He saw the sun shining so he made his way out to the forest. To the trees, he climbed and climbed. And the forest loved him for it, the forest built him a crown out of flowers and a throne out of bark. The trees named him king.” Fili’s voice is quiet as he is searching Kili’s eyes.

Kili knows that it impossible for Fili to remember any of what had happened, though he knows that Fili is attuned to him, that he notices the way shadows always seem to lurk around him. How they cling to his shoulders, his fingertips, his clothes. He knows of the screams that rip from his throat at night and the only thing Kili can ever say is, “I had a dream that I had lost you.”

“Then his kingdom is a world of many worlds, and his story is written a book that should not be seen by eyes, with red ink known only to those who bleed. And his days are filled with nights, too many nights to count, with stars falling.” After Kili says it he lays back down on the bed, an exhale passing his lips. He never takes his hand out of Fili’s.

Fili squeezes his hand and says with a small smile, “Then he waits for the sun to rise.”

Kili still has the battlefield running down his spine, war etched in the lines on his fingers. “Each morning he wakes to sunlight pouring in and to a prince who wears his smile like a crown.” He pulls a small smile at his lips and feels Fili radiating warmth next to him. Kili leans over and kisses him, Fili’s honey lips and sun kissed cheeks in the cusp of his hand. Only sunlight can be warm enough to burn away the battle scars.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

A wind has blown the rain away
and blown the sky away
and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand.
I think, I too, have known autumn too long.

- e. e. cummings

 


 

 

 

 

{FIVE YEARS LATER}



Bilbo wakes. It is dark, not yet dawn, and he is warm, and in bed. He blinks, breathes slowly, rolls over on his side, and presses his face into Thorin’s back between his shoulder blades. Thorin stirs a bit, but sleeps on. Bilbo wraps an arm as far as it will go around his husband, and closes his eyes.

 


 

“Falling in love with you was like falling in love with a lightning storm.” Fili pushes strands of hair out of Kili’s face, looking down into his wide eyes.

“What do you mean?” Kili’s voice is barely a whisper. He runs his hands down Fili’s bare chest, tangles his fingers in the hair there.

“Somedays you’re calm, then I see it building like a storm rolling in. Then you’re nothing but loud cracks and bright blinding light. Beautiful but dangerous to be close to.”

Kili stops moving his hands and tightens his jaw. “I don’t know if I like what you’re saying.”

Fili smiles and places a kiss on the corner of Kili’s lips, a small laugh erupting in his throat. “Here comes the clouds.”

Kili wants to push him away, to tell him that he still dreams of that endless winter years before. That Fili will never know of the pain he felt, never know the way their blood looks mingled together against snow. Instead he pushes Fili back so he is the one on his back and climbs on top of him, his legs straddling either side.

“Perhaps it is time for lightning to strike then.” Kili quirks his lips up in a wicked grin causing Fili to roll his hips against him.

They kiss like rolling thunder.



 

Business in the mountain carries on at its usual pace, and Bilbo finds that he has grown very well accustomed to his life there. If Erebor isn’t necessarily his first choice of home, it is made more than bearable by Thorin and his friends. And as Consort to the King, Bilbo has many duties that he enjoys, and that keep him quite busy.

It is a good life, and Bilbo is grateful for it.

 


 

Kili remembers looking for adventure, asking the world to unfurl before him. He remembers wanting to be brave, courageous, wanting to be someone that others needed. He wanted to do his people proud, to be a prince of war. To fight armies, to fight seasons, to fight weary winters. Years ago he would have thought it would be noble to die for a cause, now the only thing he would die for is Fili.

 


 

“Negotiations have always been your strong point, not mine,” Thorin concedes. Bilbo walks beside him as they leave the council room through the antechamber.

“You give yourself too little credit, as usual. All I did was remind everyone that if they wanted supper on time, they’d better come to a decision.”

Thorin laughs, and Bilbo with him.

Bilbo thinks not for the first time that this kingdom-ruling business must be very difficult for one person to tackle alone - but as two together, he and Thorin are doing alright.





Sometimes when he wakes from his nightmares Kili feels like a broken tree, the one he runs across in the woods outside the mountain, it’s trunk snapped in half the way his spine feels like it's breaking from the weight of that winter. Something that he isn’t allowed to forget.

 


 

Kili can’t speak so he lets his hands speak for him, lets them trail out maps across Fili’s body, lets them carve out valleys and build mountains. His hands white hot, like metal from the forge. Images searing behind his eyelids. In those moments he’s scared to blink.

 


 

There’s a boulder left on the rampart from the battle, just one bolder, a piece broken from a statue. When it was to be moved Kili stopped them from moving it, asking for it to be left in it’s place. Part of it as a reminder though he could never say. The other reason was at night he liked to come sit on it, to watch the sky become gradient in its colors, to fade from light blue bleeding into black.

“What are you looking at?” Fili asks.

Kili turns to look at him, to see him finely dressed in thick furs, gold embellishments on the collar and cuffs. Kili looks down at himself, at his tattered clothing meant for the woods. He smiles as he reaches out and grabs hold of Fili’s sleeve and pulls him closer.

“I’m watching the sky change. There’s a star that always appears on the horizon, it is in the same position every time this time of the year.” Kili moves a little so that Fili can sit down next to him.

“Have you been paying attention that much, that you can tell their positions?”

“It changes depending on the month, the season I suppose.”

Fili looks down along the parapet, to all the guards stationed there. “You may leave, go inside the mountain for a while to warm up. I will retrieve you when I am ready.” Fili calls down the line to the guards who all move in synchronization back inside the mountain.

“Why did you have them leave?” Kili asks with a knowing grin.

Fili leans down and kisses Kili quiet. “Because I have no had a free moment with you all day.”

“Look at you,” Kili kisses Fili again, “already commanding guards and abusing your power.”

“Oh is this what you call abuse of power?” Fili laughs against Kili’s lips.

“Yes and it is a great and terrible thing.”

“Then I shall have to do it more often.” Fili bites down gently onto Kili’s bottom lip before pulling away. “Now tell me more about this star you have been watching.”

Kili lets out a deep and heavy sigh. “I just know it is at its brightest when its sits there,” he points to the edge of the sky to the place beyond the forest, “I wish that I could see it, see where it actually is.”

Fili looks at the star for a moment then looks back at Kili with his wide brown eyes, leaning back on the palms of his hands.

“You wish to see it?” Fili doesn’t take his eyes off his brother. Kili with his over worked hands, dirt on his boots and the smell of the woods clinging to his hair.

“More than I should want to.”

“Then we will go find it.”

Kili sits up at this. “We can’t just-”

“Why not? Why can’t we go? I see no reason why we can’t.” Fili cuts him off.

“I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“Of course you do, you know to start by going beyond the woods.”

“You’ll come with me?” Kili twists his hands in one another, a small tick he has picked up over the last few years.

“Always.”

 


 

“I wish to take a trip with Kili.” Fili approaches Thorin in one of his many vast studies. It is late, later than he should be visiting a King but this is also his uncle who does nothing but make exceptions for his nephews.

“That seems like it would be a rather good idea.” Thorin looks up from his paper and into Fili’s eyes.

“You think it will help?”

“He always gets a little different around this time of year, when winter starts approaching. It would be good for him to be out of the mountain.”

“Do you think it is because he remembers the battle?” Fili approaches Thorin’s desk.

“I think that if anyone knew what troubled Kili in the winter months that it would be you.”

Fili leaves Thorin’s room with a gnawing at his chest.

 


 

Bilbo goes looking for Kili sometimes, after catching his eye in the hall and seeing a familiar look there, or noticing Fili shrouding himself in a composed sort of sadness. He invariably finds the young Dwarf in some old hall or other, one of the places still not in use by Erebor’s relatively small population, as Bilbo will not bother to go looking for him in the wilderness beyond Erebor. Bilbo can understand his need to seek solitude, as he often feels the need in himself (his trips to Dale are about more than purchasing items not readily available in the mountain).

Sometimes the two of them will just sit quietly together, until Kili will turn to him and smile. Other times they talk about the days only they two remember - never in great detail, just enough to place it in their own memories.

“Fili says we are leaving the mountain for a while, just the two of us,” Kili says when Bilbo finds him investigating an old store room. Kili looks a bit pale, and Bilbo thinks as he has sometimes before that what they went through together may have damaged Kili more than it did him.

Bilbo smiles. “I think that would be a good plan.” Then, more softly, “Winter is coming soon, after all. It’s not a good time for traveling.”

“It’s not a good time.”

Bilbo hums, but says nothing. He can’t exactly disagree.

 

Bilbo never tells Kili that sometimes he feels troubled by his memories, and he goes looking for Kili but cannot find him. During these times, Bilbo often takes comfort in his little gold ring. Sitting with it in the palm of his hand, feeling its warmth and weight, Bilbo feels almost transported, lifted above the confines of the mountain, to a place where he could make anything possible for himself.

That’s just a fanciful feeling though, of course, and Bilbo chalks it up to his own belief in the ring as a good luck charm, as much as a useful tool when one needs to walk unseen.

 


 

Fili finds Bilbo in Dale. He followed him to his monthly weekend trip to the markets there, where Bilbo liked to smell the flowers that they were growing, pick up spices and other things that reminded him of a world bigger than him. Fili grabs him by his elbow and pulls him into one of the taverns.

“Fili?” Bilbo asks startled.

Fili pulls off the hood to his cloak and seats them at a table over by the window. “I wish to speak to you. I apologize about the circumstances, there was no time to talk to you in Erebor.”

Bilbo nods his head and orders them two ales and bread. “What is it you need to talk to me about?”

“Kili talks to you sometimes, he never really tells me about what but I have seen him come with you to the market. I have seen him follow you around in the halls. I have heard your hushed whispers.”

“Fili-”

“Please Bilbo, I know that he talks to you. I’m not asking you to tell me about what. If Kili wanted me to know he would have told me. There are days though where I am scared I am losing him and I don’t know what it is I am losing him to. I don’t know what invisible creature I am fighting.”

“Oh Fili.” Bilbo half smiles and holds out a hand to squeeze Fili’s. “There is nothing for you to fight. It is something Kili has to do on his own, though what you have been doing has been very helpful and if you keep doing what you’re doing it will help Kili fight it.”

“I just don’t understand what he is fighting!” Fili practically hisses through his teeth as the barmaiden drops two ales on their table and walks away with wide eyes.

Bilbo tries to smile but it falls on his features. He pulls his hand away and sets it in his lap. “No you don’t.”

“I just want him to be how he used to be.”

“That will never happen, Fili. The battle took its toll on him, he almost lost you.”

“Is that why he talks to you, because you had Thorin?”

“Perhaps that is it. We seem to have had similar nightmares about it.”

Fili nods his head in understanding but says no more on the matter.

 


 

“Are you ready dashat?” Fili wraps his arms around Kili’s waist, kissing the side of his neck.

“It will be nice to have time with you without being pulled off to go do other things. We haven’t had a long trip since,” Kili realizes he can’t finish the sentence.

“No we have not and perhaps this will do the both of us some good.”

 


 

Kili wants his hands to stop being something anxious, always searching for something to do, something to grab onto. His hands that seem to speak condolences. He wants them, himself, to become something untethered, untied, unwounded.

 


 

When they set out on their journey Fili watches Kili, watches the way his face remains stone while on a pony, his eyes straight ahead when they used to be filled with such wonder about the things around them.

“Let’s take a break, maybe hunt for a bit.”

“I’d like that.”

When Kili has an arrow in his hands the stone features fall away, they become something softer, something more alive. It’s similar to the moments when it is just the two of them and Kili isn’t expected to behave any sort of way for anyone.

He hears a noise through the trees and shoots an arrow into the encompassing dark of the branches. A moment later there is the noise of his prey hitting the forest floor.

They spend hours going through the woods, Kili shooting arrows and Fili tossing his knives.

“I’m sorry I held up our journey today.” Kili says at night as they lay in their bed roll looking up at the sky, embers from their fire still crackling next to them.

“We are in no rush.”

 


 

They walk past ancient trees, over mountains. They spend months traveling, just the two of them. They spend their nights wrapped up in each other and only once does Kili have a nightmare, it happens on the first day that there is snowfall. Winter breaks across the sky, sharp teeth creating a jagged tear to bleed the sky of its ice.

Kili looks at the snow with mournful eyes, with gasps made for funerals. His unsaid words a lament as each flake reaches the ground.

Fili kisses away the snowflakes that fall on Kili’s cheeks and after that Kili doesn’t seem so hesitant about the snow.

 


 

When they cross a mountain peak, glow of green and purple lights streak the sky above them bathing them in a lilac light.

“Sometimes I forget how big the world really is.” Kili says as his hands reach up towards the sky, as if they could reach the distant lights.

“Do you ever think about if we could have been something else? If we could have been born different things or at different times? What if we weren’t carved from rocks but instead what if one of us was born of moss, dirt?” Fili says as he watches Kili’s hands fall to his sides as he turns around.

“I never think of things like that. I suppose I should be grateful then that I am here at the same time as you.”



 

When he is in Fili’s arms it is the only time he lets himself become vulnerable. The only time he lets down defenses, when he lets his brother warm up his cold bones.

They kiss with teeth, with gentleness, tenderness. With something they were both always aching for.

 


 

They follow the star with Kili drawing a new map leading towards it’s destination. They pass over the mountains, through the land of men and reach the coastline at night. They reach the edge of the map, to waters, cliffs edges, beaches with black sand. Kili looks out at the horizon, to the star sitting on the edge of the world.

“This can’t be the end.” Kili says as he looks at the star, brighter now than it was before but still not close enough.

“Kee-”

“This isn’t the end.” Kili takes off across the sand, flecks kicking up at his feet. He drops his bow, his quiver, arrows spilling out across the sand and into the water.

He runs into the water, his movements slowed down against the crash of waves against him. He pushes past the tide, past the crushing force of water. He gets waist deep with water lapping at his skin, ragged breaths and an animal yell ripping from his throat.

Fili is behind him, his hands searching, grabbing, trying to get ahold of Kili’s attention. He closes his eyes, lets his vision be filled with that torturous winter that he tries so hard to fight. Along the images though are other images, images of Fili’s wrist tracing outlines in the sky, of his mouth so wide when he laughs it could fit the moon.

Kili falls into Fili’s chest, his body shaking as his hands grip onto the furs around Fili’s collar. Their knees knock together and through the sobs Kili tries to find his anchor, tries to find honey taste of gold skin. He places their lips together but Fili grabs him by the shoulders and pushes him back, his eyes looking for Kili somewhere in his own.

“You have to talk to me Kee, I need you to.”

“I lost you. I lost you. I lost you.” He repeats it, his hands knuckle white gripped tight onto Fili’s clothes.

Fili brushes back a wet strand of hair from Kili’s face. A wave crashes against them and causes them to lose their balance a little but Fili keeps them upright. “What do you mean dashat?”

Kili starts to come back to himself, the cold of the water bringing him back. The water that surrounds land has never been known to be warm and it sends shocks down his spine. He looks up at the sky, at the water around them. He realizes he has made his brother travel months for something they both knew they couldn’t reach. He lets go of Fili, his hands wrapping around himself.

“In a dream. I lost you in a dream. I’ve been losing you many nights since.” Kili’s eyes are red rimmed, glassy and wet even in the dark. He clutches at his chest, pulls at the wet fabric clinging to his skin.

“I don’t know what to do Kili. I’m trying, Mahal knows I am trying but I’m trying to save you from something that never happened.” Fili shakes Kili my his shoulders, frustration of years built up in him.

“Something that never happened.” Kili repeats the words, they sound hollow coming from his lips.

“I don’t know what to do.” Fili says it quieter this time as his hands loosen their grip. Fili can feel the sting in his eyes, his constant worry overflowing. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where we go from here.”

Kili looks at Fili breaking, of his strong resolve crumbling at the end of the world. Their limbs knock together again when another wave hits them, the water rising past their torsos now. He pulls Fili close to him, places a kiss to each eyelid, to his forehead, to the corner of his mouth. His breath still uneven, breaking with each wave that lands against them.

“I know what we do, we go home.”

 


 

When Thorin asks him over breakfast one morning, “Are you happy here, Bilbo?” he smiles genuinely and replies that he is, in fact, happy in Erebor with Thorin.

“I think sometimes, though,” Bilbo goes on, gaze focused on his eggs and toast, “that things might have felt different here, that if things had been different… then the mountain might feel more like a home.” He smiles with irony. “But It is my home now because I am here with you. It just feels a bit tainted.”

Thorin is very still, and Bilbo notices the peculiar way he is looking at him. He shrugs.

Thorin swallows. “It’s curious to me, that you and I could be so very different in so many ways, and yet in this, feel the same.” He shakes his head. “Erebor is my home and yet, it is not the same home I lost.”

“Thorin, are you happy here?”

The smile Thorin offers is weak to Bilbo’s eyes.

“I am satisfied with my duties, I am obliged as King to act on behalf of my people, I am glad to have given them back our kingdom. I do what I must. It is certainly preferable to exile.”

“That’s not the same as being happy.”

“I’m happy with you.” This smile is warm, and Bilbo feels it fill his chest.

“Well then,” he replies, “it seems we do feel much the same on some matters, at least.”

 


 

Some nights Bilbo can’t easily fall asleep. This is not usually after a particularly happy day, or even a hard one, but rather after a day which was neither great nor bad. On days when nothing much really happens, and it’s just the routine of his new life pushing him through the hours, Bilbo feels that his hands will begin to shake.

So when he tucks into bed with Thorin, he doesn’t cling to him. He lays still on his back and looks up at the ceiling, reminding himself that the long winter was years ago now, that he no longer wakes to cold stone at his back and the world dawning grey over the wall. He thinks of his little gold ring safe in the pocket of his overcoat hanging on the back of his favorite chair, and resists the urge to get up and have a look at it.

Thorin notices his strange moods, of course, especially in the middle of the night. Tonight, he pulls Bilbo against him and breathes into his hair, a wordless comfort in the dark.

Bilbo thinks that through all the endless days of the battle, Thorin’s memory was a wordless comfort to him in his darkest hours.

Exhaling, Bilbo places one hand on Thorin’s chest, just above his beating heart, and is lulled to sleep by its rhythm - alive, alive, alive .

Bilbo dreams of the calla lillies he planted one year in his garden. They weren’t right for the soil, and so withered after barely blossoming. He never tried growing them again.

 


 

“Thorin…” Bilbo is waiting just outside the feast hall when Thorin comes looking for him and finds him there. It’s the annual anniversary celebration of the great battle.

“I was looking for you.” Thorin smiles and bends to kiss Bilbo, who returns it with a grin and a pat to his arm. Thorin takes his hand.

“I think I’ve had just about enough for the night,” the King says conspiratorially.

“Just as I was thinking. But wait a moment, will you?” Bilbo is perhaps a bit flush with drink, but what he wants to say he’s been wanting to say for some time.

“Would you ever consider coming to live in the Shire with me?” He all but blurts it out.

Thorin’s face is blank. Bilbo makes to let go of his hand, but Thorin grips it tighter. He steps in closer to Bilbo, and Bilbo can see the tell-tale crinkling around his eyes, the beginnings of one of his truly spectacular smiles.

“I have considered it,” Thorin says lowly, “many times. I wasn’t sure what you would think of such a plan. But I will tell you the truth, now. With two living heirs and a lifetime of duty and hardship behind me, I think I would very much like to spend the later years of my life in your quiet Shire. If you’ll have me in your home, that is.”

Bilbo reaches with both hands and cups Thorin’s face, pulling him down into a hard kiss. “Of course I will, Thorin. Whenever you’re ready.”

Thorin’s smile is so bright Bilbo can’t help the laughter that escapes him, feeling like a tween making secret plans behind the rosebushes with a sweetheart. He thinks of his garden again, and wonders what flowers Thorin might like to see grow there.

 


 

They reach Erebor again in the spring. They pass through a wheat field and Kili tells Fili that he blends right in with the gold and amber. Rain hits their skin on a warm day, warm enough that they strip down to nothing and let it wash away their skin. Kili traces a rain drop down Fili’s thigh, to his knee and down to his ankle. When the sun shines again, when it breaks through the clouds they both have an understanding of why spring is the way it is. Why there is a wild sprouting bloom, growing blossoms, and the feeling of being brand new.

 


 



{TEN YEARS LATER}

 

 

The night before Fili’s coronation he wakes from a dream, from screams, from breaking ice and Kili being held underwater. He wakes to sweat, to his throat raw from a scream.

“Fee, what is it? What’s wrong?” Kili is sitting up in bed next to him, his hands quick and bird like as he roams over Fili’s body looking for any signs of something wrong.

He pulls Kili close to his chest, his hands wrapping themselves in Kili’s hair. Kili listens to the rapid beat of his brothers heart, his face warm against Fili’s overheated skin.

“I had a dream.”

“What sort of dream?” Kili asks as he pulls back from Fili to search in his eyes, to see the frozen horror in them.

“It was the battle, only it was very different. It was chaos, and you, nadad, I cannot speak of what happened.” Fili closes his eyes as if it will push the images away.

“You have to tell me, it will help.”

Fili opens his eyes again to see Kili’s strong resolve, he nods his head in agreement. “You died Kili, Azog had you and he held you under the ice. I could hear you calling my name through the water, muffled but I would know that sound anywhere.” Fili remembers in his dream how the ice was stretched thin, placed over the water to break, to welcome them into something darker. His fingers in his dream clawed at the tears of reality to try to get him out. “I didn’t know how to get out, which way was what.” His voice is distant as he remembers the confusion, the true meaning of the word fear creeping into every aspect of himself.

Kili’s hands tighten in the blankets around them, his jaw square. He takes in a deep breath, “it was just a dream.”

 


 

In the middle of the day, among the bustling of others around them, of everyone attending to needs that Fili didn’t think were necessary he turns to Kili. “It didn’t feel like a dream.”

“But it was.” Kili says it with a stone mask, crafted so carefully their maker would be proud of its perfection.

“Was it like the dreams you have had before?”

“Yes, only mine come in different shapes, they take on many forms.”

“I’m sorry.” Fili grabs onto Kili’s hands and pulls them to his lips placing gentle kisses along the knuckles.

“Why are you apologizing?”

“I had no idea.” Fili says it with such conviction, with determination behind his eyes.

Kili smiles at him knowing that he will still never know and perhaps there is a relief in that fact.

 


 

Fili listens to Thorin’s words, measures the beat of every syllable. He hangs onto them so he can remember them years from now when this is nothing but a memory and they are living completely different lives.

He feels the raven crown being placed on his head and in turn he places a thinner more light weight silver crown on Kili’s, adorned with sapphires.

Dis has tears in her eyes and Thorin has an ever present smile, a new chapter in his life unfolding before him. Bilbo gives reassurances and Fili nods politely to the hundreds of dwarves that speak to him.

Throughout the day he reaches over and brushes the back of his hand against Kili’s as a reminder, something solid to hold onto.

 


 

Fili’s coronation is at least as grand as Thorin’s, and Bilbo finds that he feels proud of the young Dwarf, and of Kili, ever at his side. Thorin is appropriately solemn during the ceremony, but happy, and Bilbo feels the new path they’ve chosen stretch out before them in a solid and real way for the first time.

He embraces Fili when they have a moment.

“You’ll be a good king,” he promises, “a great king.” Bilbo’s eyes trail to Kili, who stands near them. “Look after him,” he whispers, “and more importantly, let him look after you.”

 


 

When it’s time to leave the mountain, Bilbo and Thorin say goodbye to each of the members of the original company in turn, embracing them and sharing laughs.

Bilbo watches as Dwalin and Thorin go off into a corner to speak privately, and for a moment his heart aches, knowing that Dwalin is saying goodbye to not just his king but his friend. Bofur offers a warm smile as if to tell Bilbo he’ll take care of the great oaf, and Bilbo’s heart feels a little lighter.

Bilbo embraces Kili last, squeezing tightly.

“This is not the end of our friendship, you know,” he says, pulling back and looking into Kili’s eyes. They’re shining, and Bilbo knows that his are as well. “Tea is at four,” Bilbo says, his voice shaking only a little, “you’re welcome any time, Kili, and don’t bother knocking.”

When the former King and Consort ride out of the gates on their ponies, it sounds as if the entire kingdom has shown up to make a great fuss. Bilbo laughs and waves, and Thorin smiles wide and raises his hand in a salute to the Dwarves of Erebor.

Bilbo and Thorin have packed everything they need for a long journey, as well as things they wanted to have with them. Bilbo makes sure, of course, that his ring is always in his pocket.

They cross the land between the mountain and Dale, the site of the battle, and Bilbo finds it’s with a lighter heart than any previous time he’d make this journey. The screams don’t echo quietly, or jump up loudly in his ears; he sees sunlight scattered across green grass and rolling through Dale’s wheat fields, instead of snow and ice and blood.

He turns his head to look at Thorin and finds him already staring at him.

“What are you thinking of, amralime?” Thorin asks.

The endearment throws Bilbo for a moment. Thorin has said it to him before, but usually it’s whispered against skin, spoken quietly in the dead of night, a balm to quiet one or both of their unsettled nerves.

“I was thinking of the battle.” Bilbo answers as truthfully as he can. “And how nearly I came to losing you. And how lucky we are to have had the past ten years.” He smiles.

Thorin grins. “You call it luck,” he says, “but I still say you made much of our luck for us, Bilbo. Leave dreary thoughts of that day behind, and let’s face the sun instead.”

 


 

Somehow traveling West seems easier to Bilbo than traveling East had, and somewhere between Beorn’s dwelling and Rivendell he remarks to Thorin that it seems as though they had traveled the entire Quest uphill and were now going back down.

Thorin laughs for what Bilbo thinks is honestly much longer than necessary, until it gets contagious and he ends up joining in.




 

At night when Kili kisses Fili he feels his heartbeat through his chest, strong enough to shake the stars from the sky.

Kili trails constellations down Fili’s neck, his hands reaching to undo the ties on his trousers. He straddles his brothers waist, brunette hair falling in Fili’s face. “What would my king like this evening?”

Fili groans and flips them over so Kili is underneath him, he pins Kili’s hands above his head with one hand and uses the other to run fingers down Kili’s angular cheeks. “For his brother to realize that they are equals.”

Kili lets out a huff of air, blowing strands out of his face. “Fee-”

“You have to believe it Kili, I would not be where I am without you.”

Kili thinks about it for a moment, for the smallest fraction of time he thinks of those repetitive days ten years ago and he supposes in a way that it is true. That maybe without whatever magic held onto him that winter that they would not be where they are today. They would not be content, they would not be happy.

Kili smirks up at Fili, “I suppose you’re right. Actually if it wasn’t for me Thorin would probably have to stay in Erebor for the rest of his life with Bilbo. I keep you on your toes, keep you-”

Fili silences Kili with a kiss. “Shut up Kee.”

 

 


 

When they finally cross the borders of the Shire, Thorin slings an arm around Bilbo’s shoulders and kisses the top of his head.

“I’ve brought you back,” he says. “It was important to me, that you come back. Did I ever tell you that?”

“You just did,” Bilbo replies.

They cross through the meadows hand in hand, leading their ponies to walk behind them.

Bilbo sees Hobbiton growing closer in the distance, and when they finally look down on it he smiles to see how familiar it looks. Green and vibrant, all the gardens like splashes of color on the landscape. Hobbits toil on in the little fields with their tools as they always had done, the roads are teeming with foot traffic and carts. It’s so like the day he’d left, so long ago now.

They receive no small number of strange looks as they pass by Hobbits on their way to Bag End, and Bilbo remarks to Thorin that Shire gossip will make sure that their arrival is known to all before sunup tomorrow.

Bag End is finally in sight, and Bilbo stops to look at his little home with its bright green door. The Gamgee’s kept it up for him, as he’d written in a letter to them after the battle, and his garden is well tended.

Thorin reaches for his hand and squeezes it, and they continue on.

“I liked your little house the moment I clapped eyes on it,” Thorin tells him as they walk the winding path up the hill. Bilbo smiles at that.

“I couldn’t tell by your attitude.”

“I was foolish and judgmental, but you can hardly blame me for that.”

“No,” Bilbo agrees, “we Hobbits aren’t known for our canniness with great quests, or our deeds in battle.”

When they finally reach the garden gate, it’s with a steady hand that Bilbo reaches out to touch it. He pushes it open slowly, taking in the sight of his beloved garden, his little windows, everything he’d left behind and then come to wonder if he’d ever want to see again.

“I’m glad you’re with me.”

They stop in front of the round door, and Thorin looks at Bilbo expectantly. Bilbo does nothing, only looks at it, and so it’s Thorin that reaches for the knob, turns it, and pushes the door open.

Bilbo crosses the threshold, immediately aware of the smell of home surrounding him. A quick glance in the hall and into the sitting room assures him that all is as it should be.

He reaches out a hand, which Thorin takes with a smile, and they stand in the foyer together.

“Well,” Bilbo breathes, with a little shake of his head. “We’re back.”



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

{EPILOGUE}

 

Many years hence, a messenger clad in black atop a great black horse will ride on Erebor and attempt to trade promised riches in exchange for only a small ring, the least of rings, carried by a Hobbit and sheltered in the great Dwarven kingdom. In addition to gold and other treasures, the messenger will add, his Master offers an alliance - for the might of Mordor will soon shake the earth and destroy all that stand opposed.

His Master will be sure that such a trade will be well received by the ruling line of Durin, so renowned for their greed and madness that many years ago he had bent his will upon their survival, ensuring that when the time came to call upon Erebor, the mountain would answer, and yield.


The Black Messenger will not expect the arrow that looses from a high balcony, arcing through the air and catching in the bright sunshine, before finding its mark in his throat.