Bilbo’s hands trembled as he smoothed out the rumpled, blood stained bit of parchment. His own eyes stared up at him. He looked so happy; so young and full of life and adventure. Gods help him he did not feel it now. He felt older now, more than his years, and his heart was heavy with heartache and the shattered promise of things that had never come to pass.
His adventure was nearing its end, save for the long journey home, and it had closed upon them all with a bitter sort of empty victory. Smaug was no more, the great battle was over, and Erebor was once again in the rightful hands of the dwarves. Only… the king that sat upon Erebor’s throne was not Bilbo’s king. Dáin was not the man that Bilbo had risked his life for. He was not the man that Bilbo had promised he would help reclaim his home. He was not Thorin.
“He kept it close to his heart you know,” Ori offered up, no doubt trying to break the thick, mournful silence that had fallen around them.
Ori had been the one to draw him at Thorin’s request. Bilbo had known. Not right away mind, but he’d caught on and had said nothing on the subject. He’d thought it charming actually. It had warmed something in his tiny hobbit heart to think of Thorin and his newly pinned sketch of his burglar. Because that’s what Bilbo was. He was Thorin’s; even though the words had never been spoken out loud and never would be. They’d come to this in silence, both unsure of what truly lay between them, but it was there and waiting for the end of the journey to be given light and voice and heart and love.
Bilbo looked up to Ori with tears brimming in his eyes. He tried to smile, but only managed a slight trembling of lips. Ori smiled large enough for them both.
“He said you was his good luck charm,” Ori continued; his eyes dancing with a fond, almost wistful memory of their king. “Kept you close to his heart to ward off the dark things. The wargs and pale orcs and shadows too thick to see through without a light. I s’pect that was you, Master Baggins,” Ori stated with certainty, though his voice broke with his next words and Bilbo broke a little more along with him. “His light.”
Bilbo dropped his watery gaze back down to the portrait, but held out a single hand for Ori to take and squeeze. “He found his way through… in the end,” Bilbo choked out and then gave a decisive, single nod of his head.
With a sniff, Bilbo squeezed at Ori’s hand one last time, then drew it back to himself and folded the portrait up again. He tucked it away, into the inner pocket of his vest just over his heart.
“Thank you, Ori,” he said after clearing his throat and turned to the young dwarf. “I will treasure it always.”
Ori smiled again and held out another bit of parchment. “I thought… well when he asked me for one of you, I thought maybe you’d like one for yourself.” Bilbo’s gaze dropped to the portrait and he found Thorin’s eyes gazing up at him with that same burning intensity that they’d always held. “Perhaps it’s his turn to guide you on your path, Master Baggins,” he suggested.
Bilbo grit his teeth against his once again brimming tears, but smiled and decided he liked the thought of that. “Perhaps it is,” he agreed and brushed a thumb over that beloved face before folding the portrait up and tucking it away with the other. “We came this far together. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind seeing me safely the rest of the way… For I shall carry him in my heart, wherever I may go, to the end of my days.”
Ori nodded again, his own eyes having gone glassy, and he patted Bilbo once on the shoulder before turning and seeing himself off through the grand gates of Erebor. Bilbo watched him go, waited for him to disappear, and then turned away. He’d waited until they’d laid Thorin to rest in the halls of his forbearers and then had left the grand halls of the Lonely Mountain with a promise to never return. They were empty to him without his king and he longed for the comfort and warmth of his own hearth and home.