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lay down your sweet and weary head

Chapter Text

***

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You’ve come to journey’s end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They’re calling
From across a distant shore

*

Dying had turned out to be easier than Thorin had expected. The battle had left him weak and with many wounds, only connected to life by a thin thread to which he clung with grim determination until his apologies had been made.

Even filled with sorrow his burglar’s eyes were still steady and blue as they coaxed Thorin’s mouth through the words that needed saying. And once that was done… Fíli and Kíli were dead, the battle was won and Erebor retaken. There was nothing left for him here anymore and when Thorin Oakenshield finally let go of life, he did so gladly enough.

Dying was indeed easy. He just hadn’t expected to wake up after.

*

Thorin comes to with a shout and a whole lot of disorientation. The last thing he remembers seeing is the face of a hobbit marked by grief and the dirty grey cloth of the tent under above him and he feels as if no more than a second has passed since he’d closed his eyes for what he’d then assumed to be the last time.

Later he’ll have to fight the insane urge to laugh at the fact that the first thing he notices as wrong is the length of his beard, the long forgotten weight trailing down his chin, complete with delicate clasp. He hadn’t worn such a beard since the day that Smaug came, the one outward sign of his shame and all that he’d lost.

One hand comes up to finger the silken strands, just as his eyes finally focus on his surroundings. For a long moment his heart stops, deeply buried pain rising at the sight of his old quarters in Erebor all around him. Just like he remembers them. Exactly like he remembers them, from the bed he’s sitting on, to the harp in the corner, and the armour in another one. Even on the quest he’d never truly believed he’d see these rooms again.

Before he can do anything but stare, uncomprehending as to why he’s now suddenly vividly imagining his past when he should be dead and buried, the door slams open to a worried looking Dís clutching a dagger.

Her presence slams into him like a hammer on an anvil – she looks young, so painfully young - small - and unburdened by sorrow and responsibility. This is a Dís he hasn’t seen for decades, decades that dragged longer and longer the more the spark in her eyes extinguished.

Grief erupts at the reminder of the fate of her sons, their bloodied and still bodies flashing through his mind’s eye as he sees their mother in front of him. He tries to tell himself that here, in this strange construct of his past, they’re simply not alive yet, not dead, but he can do no more than mute his sorrow.

Dimly he realizes that she’s talking, now looking even more worried as she hurries over to the bed and shakes his shoulder while he does nothing but drink in the sight of her as he’d always tried to remember his sister even in the darkest of times.

“ – nadad, what’s going on? What happened? Are you – ”

The desperation in her voice finally yanks him out of his own mind. “I’m fine, namadith, everything’s all right.”

Her features relax a little at his response, but it doesn’t erase her suspicions. “You were screaming Thorin,” she points out, her eyes intent beneath the worry. “Loud enough that I could hear you. I’ve never heard you scream like that.”

Thorin almost winces, even while trying to look as reassuring as possible as he attempts to figure out how to get out of this one. Of course this Dís wouldn’t know, she hasn’t lived what he’s lived, hasn’t ever seen him as less than her strong, dependable older brother, not yet cracked or broken.

“Just a nightmare, Dís,” he finally settles on saying, calmly enough that she’ll hopefully believe him. “Nothing to worry about.”

A familiar frown appears on her forehead, that little cleft between her eyebrows that he used to tease her about endlessly. The frown that says, quite eloquently, ‘not buying the load of dragon dung you’re spouting right now, Thorin’.

“Leave me the right to worry when my brother suddenly starts screaming like he’s being skewered in the middle of the night,” she says a little acidly. Even back then  she hadn’t been a fan of Thorin’s habit to downplay any kind of injury, physical or otherwise. Or should he say even now? He wishes he knew what in Mahal’s name is going on here anyway.

He also wishes he hadn’t given in to the instinctive urge to check his body for the wounds that should, by all rights, be there at the mention of being skewered – which he quite clearly remembers being – only to find no bleeding wound or scar marring any of the places he’d been struck. Dís’ gaze grows even more suspicious at the motion.

One thing, however, he is sure of. If this is reality and not just a dream or hallucination, he will never tell anyone, especially not Dís, the truth of the life he has already lived. He will not burden anyone other than himself with that knowledge – unfortunately this also means that he can’t just ask her what the date is without appearing like a complete loony for having forgotten.

So he makes himself smile, despite his own worries, and says, “As I told you, just a nightmare. I’m fine.” And because Dís still makes no move to leave, he adds, “And I would like to go back to sleep sometime soon.”

It’s a clear dismissal and Dís’ mouth thins as she throws him one last glare and turns on her heels. The door bangs shut behind her.

Thorin collapses back against the soft mattress, pushing away the stab of guilt at having exploited Dís’ anger whenever her help is turned down to make her leave to focus on his situation. He died. He knows deep in his bones that he did truly die and yet everything that has happened since then has felt no less real than his life before.

What is this then, a second chance? He’s never believed in second chances, far too cynical far too early for such a hopeful view of the world and yet he doesn’t know what else it could be, either. Maybe he’s cursed to relive his life’s pain over and over. He’d be damned though if he just sat by and did nothing knowing what would happen.

His lip twists wryly. It’s that easy then. He doesn’t know what’s going on, maybe he’ll never know, but whatever it is he’ll do everything in his power to change fate and spare his loved ones the pain he remembers. He would settle for no less.

And a sense of purpose has always been his driving force. Even if it usually isn’t accompanied by the need to keep secret from his family and friends that he’s a stranger in his young body, six times older than he should be.

He falls asleep trying not to think about a certain hobbit burglar and his loyal company that he’s left behind in death. He fails.

*

He oversleeps the next morning, whether because his mind needed the rest or his body had he isn’t sure, but he curses himself nonetheless as he rushes through the hallways after a quick breakfast. He still doesn’t know what year or day it is, doesn’t know what kind of duties he should be attending to at this moment and his planned head start on the day has gone down the drain.

“Thorin!”

At the cry ringing out from behind him, Thorin turns before his brain has caught up with his ears and placed the voice, and only many years of practice in keeping his face clear of his emotions keep him from showing his double-take.

He hasn’t seen his little brother for well over a hundred years.

“Thorin,” Frerin says again, slightly out of breath and thankfully oblivious to Thorin’s inner turmoil, “why aren’t you at the council session? You’ll be late.”

Council session? “Oh bother.”

Tearing his gaze away from Frerin, so vibrantly alive, Thorin starts to double back the way he’d come with what he hopes to be a cheerful wave indicating that he would see Frerin later.

Right now it doesn’t matter that he all but collapses against the stone wall as soon as he has rounded the next corner, his legs weak when he really should’ve expected to run into his brother at some point. This must be what seeing a ghost feels like.

He hasn’t seen his brother in so long, and now that he has seen him, all he can feel is shock overlain with painfully vivid memories of Frerin dying in his arms –

(blood bubbling from pale lips and only silence greeting

“Hold on, brother, don’t give up, stay with me.”

as Frerin’s last breath rattles his chest)

- memories that, despite his best intentions to the contrary, he’d ended up recalling most often when thinking about his younger brother. After a while he’d simply started trying to stop thinking about him altogether as much as possible, even with the bitter knowledge that Frerin deserved better than that from his remaining kin pounding behind his eyes.

This Frerin, the smiling, joyful, barely teenage Frerin that he’s just seen, had been all but buried beneath all the sorrow his passing had caused. And this Frerin, just like this Dís, doesn’t know what Thorin has lived through.

His mouth twists a little at the reminder that he will have to put on an act for his own family’s benefit. He isn’t even sure if he remembers how to be the Thorin that Frerin would know, a young unburdened self.

But wallowing in self-pity has never helped anyone, so he pushes off the wall with new determination. For their sake, he would relearn himself. He would blunt the edges that a hard life has left on him and smooth his expression into something less grim and serious.

His father throws him a reprimanding look when he slides into his chair as unobtrusively as possible, but turns his attention back to the assembled councillors at Thorin’s minute shake of the head.

He lets councillor Dragur’s words about a complication in the eastern mineshafts wash over him, not caring much for their mundane nature – he still remembers having been excited to finally be allowed to sit in on these sessions, though playing little active part, but a life full of frustrating negotiations had curbed his curiosity – until his grandfather’s voice suddenly catches his attention.

“Lord Girion and King Thranduil have requested a meeting to discuss trade arrangements and military concerns – ”

The rest of Thrór’s words drown in the white noise cascading into Thorin’s mind. He knows this meeting, remembers it like he remembers everything that had happened on that day in painstaking detail.

It’s the day that Smaug came.

Completely ignoring the continuing meeting around him – he knows what’s being said anyway – Thorin casts his mind back to the events preceding the fire-drake’s attack. After the council meeting he’d made his way to the great gates for the usual inspection and had met Balin there only about a minute before the first firs had flown through the air, uprooted and blazing.

He yanks himself out of his recollection before long familiar panic overcomes his iron resolve. During his distraction the meeting has finally wrapped up and he has to force himself not to display undue haste while getting up. If the absolutely crazy plan forming in his head should have a diamond’s chance in a forest he needs to move and move fast to acquire a bow and a quiver from the armoury before heading up to the gate.

As he runs, Thorin silently thanks his father for having insisted on his son learning to use every kind of weapon there is before settling on one to achieve mastery in, for while he has always been drawn to the sword, he also knows how to use a bow – and is surprisingly proficient at it, pride and a sense of duty not having let him rest until everything the weapons masters had thrown at him had been accomplished to their satisfaction (and they’d been exacting indeed), while never as good as his younger nephew would one day prove himself to be.

He is also quite sure that he isn’t as good as Bard the Dragonslayer, but he remembers Bilbo talking about a bigger than fist-sized soft spot on the dragon’s belly and that is not an impossible shot to make. After all he remembers the exact course of Smaug’s flight.

As he ascends the steps to the balcony above the gate the weight of the bow in his hands is strangely comforting for a weapon he’s never put much stock in beyond its tactical value. He has long ago accepted that there will always be fear before a true fight, a rush so fierce that it debilitates some, and only years of control over his emotions help him stay sane in the seconds before Smaug attacks.

It is almost worse, knowing what’s to come.

Fire cascades over the balcony, just as he drags Balin behind a pillar and yet his hands are rock-steady when he jumps back into the open after the deluge has let up. Smaug is banking right to return for another pass at the gate and for a moment, just a moment, his belly is exposed.

Thorin lets the arrow fly, straight and true. Dwarven steel and hardened wood eat deep into the beasts belly and with a horrible shriek it plummets.

Thorin feels curiously numb as he stares down at the body of Smaug the Terrible, the chiefest and greatest calamity of our age as Bofur had put it, twitching in its last death throws. He has done it. He has defied fate and changed the course of the future. Many would live whose deaths he’d already witnessed once.

And yet, strangely, he feels the urge to cry for the future he has just destroyed. It’s selfish, he knows. The life he has lived hadn’t been easy and many things had come to pass that he’d tried his best to forget, but it had been his life and there had been joyous moments too. There had been relationships that he now mourns and people he misses – he keeps looking over his shoulder expecting to see Fíli or Kíli behind him as they always are, and even those who are present like Balin and Dwalin are not the same and he knows that they will never have the same relationship as before, now that all the tragedies they’d suffered through together will not happen.

He doesn’t regret killing Smaug, would do it again in a heartbeat, but even that knowledge doesn’t quite mitigate the pervading sense of loss.

Finally Balin clears his throat next to him, tearing Thorin away from his brooding thoughts as he stares at the dragon below.

“Congratulations, laddie,” he says, voice dry as dust, “you’ve just killed a dragon.”

Thorin can’t help his answering snort, though he tries to remember that this, technically, is not a moment to look cynical or bleak.

He claps his friend on the back silently, and leaves the balcony.

*

The first thing he does once he finally finds himself alone – no father and grandfather insisting to hear every detail, no crowd of whispering dwarves staying a respectful distance away – is to pay a visit to the throne room and then the lower halls. He looks at the arkenstone and only sees the blood that has been spilled on its account – not the least because of his own damning greed.

(He sees Bilbo, face white and bloodless with fear as his feet dangle above the ground, the pain in his eyes as Thorin snarls at him.)

He walks between piles of gold and only sees a way to keep his people fed and provided for. He touches the crown that had been crafted for him at his birth, mithril interwoven with steel and sapphires, and only sees the faces of his friends and family, those he longs for, and those he is finally reunited with.

He leaves the bowels of the mountain with a lighter heart.

And as for his friends… the relationships he remembers might never be the same again, but that doesn’t mean there could not be new ones. He would need to be patient, of course, considering that most of his company, including Bilbo, aren’t even alive yet, but once the time has come, he would do everything in his power to help them, and perhaps be granted the gift of growing close to them once more.

He could ask no more than that.

And in the meantime, he has a family returned to him that he thought forever lost, and a kingdom he hasn’t walked in peace for too long.