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Alone in This War

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It was not until after Thorin died that the magic began its work.

Dori sat outside the tent, pressed between Ori and Nori in an exhausted muddle after a full day of counting the dead and handing bandages to Oin, checking on what wounds he was qualified to deal with, and spending even more time hauling corpses. It was not often Dori regretted the strength he had but the piles of orc bodies seemed endless, and it was forever worse to move one only to find a dwarf or elf body beneath.

They were there when Gandalf stepped out of the tent, long beard ratty and tangled and his shoulders stooped. “Thorin is dead,” he said and Dori watched as Bilbo cried, horribly hating the small creature and feeling like his heart was just getting heavier and heavier.

The hobbit who understood nothing. The hobbit who had betrayed them. The hobbit who had taken the Arkenstone like it was his to give away, like it could have been his share. The hobbit who meddled in their affairs and now cried at what he had wrought.

But he cried when Dori did not, and he felt Ori’s hand squeeze his and still felt only numb.

The line of Durin was broken. He wondered if Balin could cry as easily as the hobbit.

He went to sleep that night numb, Ori pressed against his back and Nori behind him, with the smell of death still around him and did not dream.

When he woke up the air was clear, the sky still dark and he was bedded down in armor he had not been wearing. Pushing himself up too abruptly, he rubbed a hand over his eyes and looked around at the guard tower in Erebor where they had bedded down and waited for war to come to them.

Thorin stood, framed against where the dawn was starting to appear, talking quietly to the raven and Dori could not breathe. His fingers were shaking against the cold stone and he could not catch his breath for Thorin stood alive in front of him, hair long and not matted down in blood, flesh and body whole.

When he turned his head he saw Ori and Fili huddled against the wall, heads bent together, Fili darting looks toward his uncle and Ori watching only him, fear in his eyes and his hands gripping Fili’s.

Dori had never had vivid dreams, and he had spent months rolling his eyes at Oin and Gandalf, mocking Oin’s portents and doddering belief that the world made sense and could be understand in the movement of water and flight of birds. At least, he had told himself, Oin was not Radaghast.

Which meant he had no idea how to even explain the memory of battle, the sound of screaming and clashing metal and carrying Fili’s body off the field and watching Thorin slip away to death. Pushing himself up, he shoved his bedroll back, armor clanking and making Thorin turn to look back at him.

“Is is early still,” he said and the sound of his voice made Dori’s breath stutter in his chest as he stood. “Dain should arrive today.”

“We must not fight,” Dori said, the words slipping past his lips before he could stop them and Ori and Fili both stared at him, Ori’s eyes wide in shocked fear as the rest of the company stirred and seemed to awake.

“What?” Thorin asked, and his voice was neither as quiet or kind as it had been before.

Dori’s throat worked, but his mind was too full of questions of what was happening to be able to articulate the sheer danger they were all in.

When he did not speak, Thorin frowned. “Have you not been paying attention to the last few days?” he asked, stepping forward and Dori almost took a step of his own back. “They are the ones seeking war by coming here with weapons and gold lust in their hearts. They demand our treasure at sword point, these men of the lake, who bring elves with them who have no say in this!” His voice rose as he spoke and Dori quaked but did not move. “You know these things. Why then do you say we should not fight?”

“Because,” Dori said, as Ori crept up behind him, Fili leaning against the stones where he had been, and Nori sat up, blinking sleep out of his eyes. “Because something worse is coming,” and Oin was shaking out his trumpet and frowning at him, Dwalin coming to stand with Thorin and Dori felt like someone was stabbing him in the chest when Kili sat up, hair wild around his face and eyes wide as he tried to wake himself up.

“Something worse?” Dwalin asked, Thorin’s eyes narrowed. “Something worse than these usurpers who want to take our treasure, the wealth of our nation?”

“Bolg,” he said, and the others were mostly awake and watching him. “He’s bringing an army of orcs and wargs and bats even. We can’t fight the elves and men, we have to prepare. When Dain arrives we have to start preparing our defenses and we might—“

“How could you possibly know this?” Thorin asked, Dwalin’s expression dark and Dori could see Balin quickly and quietly talking to the raven who looked as confused, bald head cocked to one side.

Dori opened his mouth and stopped, utterly unsure what had happened, if the battle had been a dream or if he had lived it and been sent back somehow through time. “I—I saw it in a vision,” he said and Oin gave him a disbelieving look.

“But you do not believe in them,” he said and Ori tugged on Dori’s elbow, trying to pull him back. “You mock the portents and prophecy.”

“Perhaps I only needed to experience one of my own to fully believe,” Dori said but Oin was shaking his head.

“Visions do not work that way,” Oin said and Dori stared at him in angry disbelief.

“You narrow minded, old—“ he started to sputter and stopped when Dwalin grabbed him by the back of his collar, shaking him and Dori barely restrained himself from turning around and throwing the taller dwarf off.

Dwalin’s look was anything but kind. “Perhaps you are a spy.”

What?” Dori managed, mind reeling and shock freezing him in place. The accusation was low and quiet but rang around their small guard tower, Bombur at the doorway from where he was coming in from another lonely night watch. Ori looked ill, and Thorin’s eyes were dark and closed off. “That doesn’t even make sense,” Dori said, voice tiny.

He had forgotten so quickly in battle the sinister way the gold sickness had driven them all almost mad until blood and tears washed it away.

“They have been hounding every step we’ve taken,” Thorin said, stepping forward and Dori’s stomach tightened in fear and anger. “They have found us at every corner, no matter where we traveled.”

“You can’t be serious,” Dori said and Thorin’s expression was answer enough for that. “Thorin—“ he tried because he had always believed in their exiled king, had always trusted in where he led.

“How else would you know?” Thorin asked, stepping back and Dori tried to follow him, forgetting Dwalin still holding him back. Behind him, Ori started to protest and Fili instantly dragged him back, shaking his head slightly. Dori wondered if the prince had ever seen the same look in Thorin’s eye, or if he just knew to be afraid.

“Have you all lost your minds?” Nori demanded, no one there to drag him back. When he started forward, Dwalin turned, his speed still a surprise and shoved him back, hard enough Nori almost lost his footing.

Even though Dwalin had released him, Dori did not move, watching Thorin. “Then why would I tell you now?” he asked, idly noting how hollow his voice sounded.

“Guilt’s a funny thing,” Thorin said and Dori laughed, the sound an ugly echo around the small space, Thorin’s eyes narrowing at him.

“You would know all about that, wouldn’t you?” he asked, remembering Thorin’s face when Fili and Kili fell around him, unable to protect him as much as Thorin had been unable to save him. The princes had not even agreed with the idea of war, and Dori wondered why neither of them spoke up now, or if they understood their uncle’s darkness better than anyone there.

He remembered the way the small hobbit had sat outside Thorin’s tent and sobbed, a broken and quiet sound.

They all knew more about guilt than they had an April morning, almost May.

Thorin’s anger was palpable in the air between them. “I am not a spy,” Dori said again.

“We cannot risk that,” Thorin said, and Dori realized that Bilbo had only betrayed him the day before, and been threatened with being thrown off the mountain side for stealing only a stone. And now Thorin thought he had been betrayed again so soon.

No wonder his face looked carved from stone.

Dwalin’s hands were suddenly back, pushing him to his knees and Dori vaguely realized he could struggle, he could fight back but he only felt tired down to his bones and as betrayed as Thorin looked. Behind him, he could hear a scuffle he assumed was Nori struggling with someone, and a pained and shocked sound he recognized as Ori.

The thought of his brother almost had him moving again, but there didn’t seem to be time.

“Thorin,” he said, and Thorin at least met his eyes as he felt a stinging pain at the back of his neck that blossomed into a pain more excruciating than anything else he had ever felt.

The pain swallowed up his entire world until he snapped awake, shaking all over and tears on his face to find the same rock ceiling above him, Thorin standing where he had been, talking to the raven and Dwalin snoring with his back to the wall near where Thorin was.

“Brother,” Ori said, and his fingers where on Dori’s face, feeling the wet tears and the way he shook. “Brother, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Rolling on his side, away from Thorin and away from Ori, Dori drew his knees up against his chest as much as he could in the armor he still wore.

Behind his back, the dawn came over the camped armies, sliding across the mountain.