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At the End of the Tunnel

Chapter Text

You wake up to the sound of water running in the bathroom.

You roll over, wincing against the bright light that slants through the skylight, onto your back, your hand reaching out automatically to the other side of the bed, which is, of course, empty. But the sheets are still pressed down and flattened, and they're still warm, as if Thorin had only gotten up a few minutes ago. They still smell like him, that intoxicatingly male mixture of drowsy heat and musk and leather.

The silken sheets are soft against your skin as you shift, swinging your legs out of bed and rubbing your eyes, pulling the coverlet up to your clavicle even if there's nobody in the room. You're no stranger to this, this daily routine that you've perfected over the years. And even if it has been almost five years, you still feel that little burst of happiness when you wake up in the morning with your body pressed against Thorin's or your hand tangled in raven hair. You'll never get used to the feeling of being married, and happily so.

The past five years has been a blur of activity and happiness and milestones. The birth of Frerin and Yraena's children—triplets, two boys and a girl, eight months old, the girl with her father's blond hair and dark eyes and both the boys with flaming curls and one with Yraena's coal-black eyes and the other with dark brown like his dad. Fíli and Kíli are older now but still young, still full of wonder for the world and innocent as only children can be. Dís has let herself rest a lot more, allowing Yraena to take over some of her duties.

It hasn't been a piece of cake for you and Thorin, either—there's been so much to do, so many things to take care of and so many things to sort out. You sit through meetings, help Yraena and Frerin with their kingly and queenly duties, take care of the kids when they're busy. And through it all the bond between you has only gotten stronger with every passing day and month and year. You're happy, and so is everyone else.

But happiness doesn't come without a price, even if it is a small one. He's asked you too many times to count, whispering into the negligible space between you, if you're ready yet, to take that last step, the one that takes the most courage of all—children of your own. Every time he'd asked you'd set him down quietly but firmly; you're not ready yet, not ready for something as demanding as pregnancy or what comes after.

After all, you'd seen Yraena, what she went through, what came later, having to love the children as fiercely as anything, have time for them always and take on the massive responsibility of being a parent. It isn't something you've always wanted, but now you kind of get why people do want children; the joy of creation, the act of actually making life with someone else, someone you love, is enticing. The prospect of your love merging to form another being, whom you'll also love as much as the one you share it with, is a tempting one.

But you're not ready. Not yet.

You stretch, raising your arms above your head with a sigh. The water is still running as you stand, uncaring about modesty as you drop the sheets, letting them pool around your bare legs. You head over to the bathroom, draping your tangled hair over one shoulder as your fingers encircle the knob and push the door open soundlessly.

You shiver as you feel the damp warmth of steam condensing on your skin as you close the door behind you. You can see Thorin's blurred outline behind the fogged glass, a broad-shouldered figure with that dark hair falling over them. You move to the glass doors, sliding them open and stepping inside.

He turns, his hair sticking to his shoulders and chest with the water, which clings to the hollows of his chest and back, outlining the muscles in sleek, wet lines. His brows rise when he sees you standing there, drawing the doors closed behind you.

You don't say anything, just step over the damp tiles and wrap your arms around him, the water splashing onto you, hot and silky. His own arms come around you, and he presses a hot, wet kiss to your lips. "I see you've woken up," he murmurs.

"Mmhmm." Your hair gets heavier as you stand under the rain of hot water, dripping down your back. "I thought I should give you a proper greeting on this lovely morning."

"How thoughtful of you." Your skin, pressed together, slides against each other frictionlessly. "I'm honored to receive such an extravagant welcome."

"You should be." You sigh as his lips trail a damp path down your jaw, steam clinging to both of you. He pulls away and you chase a drop of water that's trickling down his cheek with your finger, wiping it off gently. "Now, don't I get a welcome that nice?"

He spins you around quickly, pushing you up against the fogged glass. You gasp at the sudden cold of it, which melts almost immediately into heat as his body cages yours, pressing against yours everywhere, sending warmth tingling down your spine.

A callused hand runs up your leg, cupping the back of your thigh and pulling it over his waist. You grab his shoulders for balance as he leans forward, lips brushing yours. "A nice welcome," he murmurs, his teeth closing over your bottom lip. "Like this?"

You reach for him, your hands settling delicately onto his shoulders. "Yes," you say, a little breathlessly. "Just like that."

+++

You push the door open, laughing at something Thorin had said as you walk into the dining hall, which is, as usual, buzzing with activity. Yraena is balancing two children on her lap, attempting to feed them; Frerin is holding another, bouncing her in his lap while she giggles; Dís is grinning and watching them while Fíli and Kíli tug on her hands, laughing.

The moment you and Thorin walk in, they disengage from their mother and run to you, and you bend, swinging Fíli up in your arms. "Hey, little guy," you say, squeezing him around the middle. He kisses your cheek. "Hi, Y/N," he says.

You place him on your lap as you sit, pulling a jug towards you. "Morning, Yraena."

"Oh, hello, Y/N," she says, looking harried as she tries to spoon gruel into her son's mouth. "Sorry, I'm a bit—busy—" She succeeds in putting the spoon in his mouth, but he spits it out, looking grimly pleased.

She sighs and sits back. "Oh, I give up," she says. You laugh. "Here, let me." You pick up one of the boys—coal-black eyes, so it's Amaan, not Aelan—and settle him onto your lap as Fíli sits in the table, looking highly entertained. You look up at Yraena shrewdly. "Do the choo-choo train," you advise, remembering what your mother had done when you were a toddler. As she raises her eyebrows, you try it, and Amaan giggles, then eats it.

"Ta-da," you sing, grinning. She shakes her head. "How on earth—you know what, don't answer that." She massages her temples with the tips of her fingers. "I'm just such a lost mother sometimes," she sighs. Then she blinks at you. "Haven't you and Thorin decided if you want to have children yet? You'd both be amazing parents, really."

You feel the familiar sinking feeling in your stomach, the one that comes up whenever someone mentions you, Thorin, and if you want kids. You bite your lip. "I—I don't know," you say. "Thorin has been asking me, consistently, for the past three years, but I don't think I'm ready yet. I'm not sure I can take that step yet."

She smiles. "I was just as insecure when I conceived," she says. "But it faded, and then I realized how lucky I was, to be the creator of your own little family. It all begins with you." She pats your shoulder. "And I know Mahal has a plan for you two. You'll be ready soon, Y/N."

You shrug. "I hope so."

Meanwhile, Frerin is swinging his daughter Pytra around, while talking to Thorin, both of them grinning. Pytra is giggling, her blond curls waving around as he swings her. As you watch he pulls her close, kissing her baby-soft cheek. She shrieks with happiness, and you see that slight darkening of Thorin's eyes that you've noticed comes up whenever he sees Frerin or Yraena with their kids, or even Fíli and Kíli. You look away almost bitterly—you know how badly he wants it, but you can't let it deter your choice.

You feel a hand on your shoulder. "Don't feel like it's your fault he's unhappy," says Dís' voice softy in your ear. You turn, sighing. "I don't know, Dís. I feel like everyone is ready except me."

"Sometimes they need to give you space," she says. "It's your body that's going to bear the brunt of the whole thing. You'll be sacrificing the most, and he sees that, and he's giving you that space."

"I see that," you say. "I see that he's holding back a lot, and I'm grateful, but sometimes I just feel guilty for taking something so integral away from him. Three years, Dís. He's been asking me three years, and every time he does I say no."

"You're not ready, and it's a big step. Let it simmer, and then act. Don't rush into this. This is the worst thing to rush into, let me tell you. You don't want to be unprepared for something as demanding as pregnancy. If you're caught off guard, it can hinder everything. Your health, the child's health, Thorin's health. Just take your time. You need to want it."

You nod, squeezing her arm. "Thanks, Dís."

She drops a kiss onto your forehead. "What are big sisters for?"

+++

You lift the goblet to your lips, tasting the bitterness, the slight acerbity of the fluid inside. It burns on the way down, trailing a fiery path down your throat. You swallow it, trying not to make a face. It tastes terrible, but you're used to it—you've been drinking it every week for five years, after all.

You set it down, sighing. You hear water running in the bathroom, and Thorin's slightly off-tune humming, but it fails to make you smile today. Too much is running through your head. You bite your lip, looking outside at the star-strewn sky outside. You hate that this takes up so much of your thoughts, that it makes you feel so torn between two decisions.

You hear the bathroom door open, but you don't turn around, instead gripping the table with your hands and facing away from it. You stopper the bottle of the tonic, pushing it away almost roughly. It skids off down the table, glass clinking.

"Now what did that poor bottle ever do to you?" Thorin's arms wrap around you from behind, pulling you flush with him. His body is as familiar to you as your own, and the comforting scent of him is usually enough to calm you down, but not this time. You mutter something unintelligible, turning away.

He sighs. "Y/N," he says. You say nothing. He spins you around, frowning at you. You avert your eyes, and his fingers tilt your chin up, forcing you to look at him. "Y/N, what happened?"

You say nothing.

His eyes drift behind you, to the bottle you'd shoved away. Then they find the goblet, the dregs of the tonic you'd taken glimmering inside at the bottom. His blue gaze flicks to yours again. "You're still taking it?" He sounds half-disbelieving, half-sad. You shrug. "Can't risk it," you mutter.

His eyes search your face, then he shrugs, letting you go. He turns abruptly and moves off towards the bed, stripping off his shirt and tossing it onto the chair as he goes. You follow, feeling like you've just swallowed a rock. Your slightly shaking fingers unknot your dressing gown, and it lands on top of his discarded tunic as you settle onto the sheets, putting your face in your hands. The air is cool on your bare legs and you shiver.

"Y/N," says his voice, and then you feel his warm hand on your back, rubbing slow circles on your skin like you're a cat that needs a rub. You don't mind—he's found that it calms you down, more than words or any other gestures do. He knows you, in and out, all of you.

You lift your face with a sigh. "I'm sorry."

"You don't need to be." He presses a chaste kiss to your lips. "It's your life, and your choice."

"No," you say. "It's our life, and our choice." You look at him, hesitant. "And I'm ruining it. If I'm—if I'm forcing you to forfeit your happiness, that means I'm taking away what makes this our life and not just mine or yours, Thorin—"

"Stop." He shakes his head. "No. You're not forcing me into anything, Y/N. If anything, I'm forcing you into thinking this way."

"No, you're not—"

"Blaming ourselves will get us nowhere." He pulls on a lock of your hair. "Enough of this. When you're ready, you'll tell me. Okay?"

"Okay," you mutter.

"Good." He lies down, stretching unabashedly with a sigh. You feel a little grin tug on your lips as your hand reaches out, carefully running through his hair. He moves closer to you, closing his eyes, as you let the ebony strands slip through your fingers, soft as spider's silk. The bright silver of your wedding ring is stark against the blackness of his hair. You shift so that his head is pillowed on your lap as you stroke his hair, feeling as intensely happy as you are sorrowful.

He eventually falls asleep, curled up next to you, his head still in your lap, his breath tickling your legs. He calls your name once or twice, and his fingers wind into the skirt of your nightgown, his eyes moving rapidly beneath the closed lids. You try to wake him, but he doesn't open his eyes, and eventually he quiets down, still gripping your skirt. But you lie awake for a long time, and it's close to dawn when your eyes finally slip closed, ferrying you away into dreams.

+++

You blink yourself awake, inwardly berating yourself as you sit up quickly.

You're usually very much awake and attentive and even active in council sessions, but today you're bored, sleepy and you haven't said a word for the past two hours. You put it down to the fact that you got about three hours of sleep the previous night.

Frerin is talking, saying something about the Long Lake and Dale, and you try to make sense of it. So far, you're not doing so well. You blink again, sitting up straighter. Across from you, Dís winks at you, a smile flitting across her face. You smile back, grateful.

"Is something the matter?" whispers Thorin in your ear, his hand on your knee startling you. You lean into him surreptitiously. "Nothing, just tired," you whisper back. He pats your leg, but he doesn't withdraw, thankfully; it keeps you more awake, feeling the heat of his skin through the fabric of your dress.

The rest of the meeting passes thankfully quickly, and once Frerin solemnly dismisses everyone in the room it empties slowly, the dwarves trickling out amidst murmured conversation. The door finally closes with a faint boom, leaving silence behind.

"Well, that was scintillating," sighs Frerin, cracking his knuckles. He stands, stretching like a cat. "Is Yraena still with the kids?"

"She is," you say. "Last I saw her she was in the nursery."

He sighs again. "And I know how much she hates missing these things. All right, I'd better go check if she's all right. Good meeting, all of you." He leaves, clapping Thorin's shoulder as he goes, the door closing behind him.

Dís raises her brows at you. "Well," she says. "I don't suppose you two have anywhere to be, so I'm going to cart you off for looking after Fíli and Kíli. I have to meet father now."

She stands, and you follow suit. She sighs, rubbing at her eyes. "I'll see you two at dinner, then." With that she wanders off, humming. You raise your eyebrows at Thorin. "And as usual we get to babysit."

"Of course." He smiles at you, and you search for the telltale darkening of his eyes, but there's nothing. You feel your lips tilt up as you smile back, then he holds out an arm. You loop yours through it and you leave the room, letting the door fall shut behind you as you walk.

"When did you fall asleep yesterday?" he asks, and you shrug. "No clue. A lot later than you, that's for sure."

"Then I'm afraid I violated rule number one," he sighs. "And what's that?" you ask, raising an eyebrow. He grins down at you. "Never fall asleep before your wife."

"Oh? And why can't you?"

"Because there's no telling what she'll get up to when your eyes are closed," he says, and he yelps as you pinch his arm. His yell turns into a laugh as you roll your eyes at him. "Very witty, Thorin. If you must know, I just watched you sleep. It was most entertaining—you talk quite a bit in your sleep."

He flushes and you grin. "I did hear my name more than a few times," you say teasingly. "And you were moving around quite a lot, too."

He studiously says nothing.

"I assume that's the real reason behind rule number one," you say loftily and nonchalantly. "Because you'll have erotic dreams about her and you don't want her to know about it."

He chokes, coughing. "Too bad," you go on. "It's too late to hide it." You pat his arm and his cough subsides. "I did not have erotic dreams about you last night."

"No? That's disappointing." You sigh.

"I'm sure," he murmurs. There's silence for a few minutes, then you speak again. "Well, erotic dream jokes aside—I did hear you, and you were moving around last night. I tried to wake you up, but you didn't budge. Was something wrong?"

He says nothing for a few seconds. "I did dream of you," he says finally.

There's a pause. "It wasn't actually an erotic dream, was it?"

"Mahal, Y/N—no, it wasn't." He sighs, laughing. Then he sighs, his smile fading. "It was nothing. Nothing you need to worry about, anyway."

"Thorin," you say quietly.

He looks away. "Really."

"Thorin."

He caves, shaking his head. "It was just a stupid dream—I woke up and you'd left."

"Left where?" you ask softly.

"Left me," he answers, just as softly.

You stop, making him stop too. You put your palm on his face and he closes his eyes, turning his cheek into your touch. "Hey," you say. "I'd never leave you."

"I know." It's an exhale of breath. "It was just a dream."

"There's truth in dreams," you say.

"Not in this one."

You raise yourself up on tiptoe, pressing your lips to his in a quick kiss. You're about to draw away when his fingers knot in your sleeve, bunching in the fabric, pulling you closer again. You freeze—what was just a quick, chaste moment quickly blossoms into something more desperate, more carnal, in just an instant.

He cups the back of your neck, his lips opening yours, his tongue brushing against yours lightly, then more firmly, his other hand sliding to the small of your back and pushing you against him. Your own hands slide up his back and into his hair, tilting his head, tasting the heat of him, the taste you never get tired of.

It's been five years, but every touch, every kiss, feels like the first. All those times you've lain side by side, even made love—every time you've felt the pull of something new, something different, each time. This time is no different; the feeling of his fingers sliding down the neck of your dress, allowing his lips better access to your skin, his breath on your exposed collarbone, his hands gripping your hair, tilting your head back, you feel every individual sensation like you've never felt it before.

"I'd never—never leave you," you gasp, trying to maintain your coherency while his teeth graze your skin. "I'd cut out my own heart than spend a day away from you. You have to know that—"

"I do," he whispers, pressing you even closer. Your body molds to his and you groan when you feel him against you, hard and responsive, and it makes liquid heat pool low in your stomach. "I know," he says breathlessly. "Mahal, I know—I love you."

The three most important words of all.

"I know," you say. "I know, and I know you know I love you too."

His exhale is warm on the skin just above your chest. "That was a lot of 'know's."

You're breathing hard. "Way to ruin a moment, Thorin."

"Mmhmm." He nibbles on your skin and you squirm. "We do have to go babysit, you know."

Distantly, you remember. "Oh, yeah."

He laughs, his beard rough against your neck. "Don't tell me you forgot already."

"I sort of did."

He draws away, adjusting your dress. "At least I know I can use this to help you forget things I don't want you to remember."

"Forget things you don't want me to remember," you say, brushing his hair away from his forehead. "You could make me forget my name if you wanted."

"I already do." He grins at you, moving away down the corridor and leaving you to grumble something unsavory about husbands and follow after him, pulling the skirt of your dress down as you do. Ahead, you hear him laugh softly, and you hide your own grin as you hurry after him.