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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.

Chapter Text

You sing softly as you rock Fíli in your arms, his tiny body curled up in your arms. He murmurs softly in his sleep, and you discern Kíli's name, as well as his mother's. You shush him softly, running your fingers through his hair.

You place him on his bed, sitting next to him as you cover him with the blanket. You put a hand against his cheek as you finish the lullaby, and he sinks deeper into the covers, sighing.

Kíli is already out like a light, his dark hair spread out around his head. You tuck the blanket around him too, sitting back. You can see out of the corner of your eye that Thorin is watching you, but you don't look up to meet his gaze.

You know what he's thinking, and you're thinking it, too. But you say nothing anyway, just looking down at the two sleeping brothers, silence filling the air between you. It's not an uncomfortable silence, nor is it awkward. It's just... there.

Your fingers worry absently at the marriage bead in your hair, a gesture you know you adopt when you're nervous or tense. The pressure of the metal between your fingers calms you, grounds you somehow, the etched designs and sigils rough against your fingers.

"Y/N," says Thorin's voice, and you look up, trepidation filling you. "Yes?"

He stands, offering you his hand. "Dinner. Let's go."

You sigh, standing and taking his hand. You leave the room together, closing the door quietly behind you. You walk in silence, and you swing your entwined hands between you as you walk, almost absently. His hand is familiar against yours, every callus on his palm warm and comfortable on your own.

"I hope you're not angry," he says suddenly.

You blink at him. "Why would I be?"

He shrugs diffidently. "There's really only one reason we fight, nowadays."

"You know I don't blame you," you say. "And I don't want to fight."

"I know." His fingers brush the backs of your knuckles. "Nor do I. But if you've at least thought about it now—"

"The answer is still no," you say quietly. "I need time."

"How much more time do you need?" he asks, his voice ragged. "I've been asking you two years, Y/N—"

"Three," you correct him automatically. "Three years, not two."

"That just makes it worse." He sighs, audibly lowering his voice. "I understand that you need to think, and that this will demand the most of you, but sometimes I wonder if you'll ever want it." He says it quickly, as if he's thought it for a long time but hasn't ever said it till now.

It stings. "I will, I do want it, just not right now. I don't think I'll be able to manage it, that's all."

"And I respect that," he says. "But—" He shakes his head. "Never mind."

"But what?" You press your lips together to keep them from trembling. What the hell is wrong with you? You're never this easy, you never cry easily. You blink the mist away from your eyes and force your voice to steady. "What?"

"But maybe if you thought of what I want, too," he says softly, "this would be fairer."

"It's—it's me who's going to suffer the most from this," you say, your voice shaking. "My body that will pay the toll, and you call it fair? Nine months of holding a child, it's not easy!"

"I know that," he says, gripping your hand tighter. "I know, and that's why I've been waiting for you to say yes, I've been waiting years. I can wait longer, Y/N. As long as you need. But, please, just think about it."

You swallow hard, looking away. "Fine," you say. You lick your dry lips, blinking. Mahal, you'd sounded so harsh. And so selfish. You wince internally. "And... and thank you. For giving me space. I appreciate it; not many others would—would sacrifice as much."

He lifts your hand to his lips, pressing a quick kiss to your knuckles. "The same goes for you." Your heart feels like it's cracking. He's got seemingly infinite reservoirs of patience, and he's saving all of it for you. You swallow your tears and smile at him.

Dinner is thankfully normal, with lots of laughter as per usual, courtesy of Frerin, and Fíli and Kíli, who are absolutely fascinated by Frerin and Yraena's triplets. You find the tension of your earlier conversation with Thorin ebbing away until you feel like it never happened at all. But it lingers, just at the back of your mind, and you know it'll never really go away, not until it's resolved. And judging by what you felt, you have no idea how long that'll take. Years, maybe.

You have no idea then, how wrong you are.

+++

You're in the middle of a very confusing dream about Frerin and an army of teddy bears when you hear a voice calling your name. You break the surface of consciousness slowly, but you don't want to get up; you bury your face deeper into the covers, grumbling.

"Y/N, wake up," says the voice, and you feign sleep as a calloused hand runs lightly up your arm, which is actually quite pleasant. You hold back a shiver as you feel his lips trail up your jaw, then across your cheek. "Y/N?" Hmm, you think. There's really no need to get up, especially not when Thorin is being affectionate.

You try to make your heart beat normally as his other hand skims up your side, outlining the delicate curves of your waist and hips. His lips move up your jaw, and then higher, then higher...

You sit up suddenly, gasping and spluttering indignantly. "You stuck your tongue in my ear!"

He grins at you. "I did; it certainly got you moving, didn't it?"

"Eugh!" You throw a pillow at him, which he dodges with ease. "That's gross. I mean, what you were doing before was fine, but don't do that ear thing again."

"No?" His smile makes him look like sunlight in human form. Dwarf form. Whatever. He looks so gorgeous in the lemony golden light of the sun pouring in from the skylight and his hair still messy from sleep that you can only hold yourself back from attacking him by putting your hands behind your back.

"Why are you putting your hands behind your back?" he inquires, tilting his head to the side. You huff. "No reason. But just don't ever do that again."

"But what about this?" He leans in, his lips finding the hollow formed by your collarbones, just below your throat. Sensation spreads from the spot, and you withdraw your hands from behind your back and reach for him greedily, pulling him down on top of you.

He loses balance and half-falls onto you as you come together, mouths seeking. You wind yourself around him tightly, and your bodies press up against each other in all the right places. His fingers dig into your hips while yours scratch lightly along his chest, yanking him closer. Your legs scissor around his hips as your lips move along his jaw, down to his throat.

He hums gratifyingly as you slide down his body, your hands mapping him, memorizing him even though you've already memorized everything there is to see already. He's breathing hard as your exploratory fingers cover him, every inch of tanned, muscular skin. You trace your fingertips over the scars, the testaments of his bravery, his willingness to give his life for his people. The hard ridges of his abdomen, the taut skin over hard muscle, the impossibly broad shoulders, tapering to narrow hips. Oh, yes, he's gorgeous. He's gorgeous, and he's all yours.

You flush as you encounter a series of newer scars—the scratches your nails had made, the bruises marked by your teeth, scattered love bites all along his neck and chest. They're faded, but they're still there. Your featherlight fingers ghost along the parallel scratches on his shoulder blades, dark and prominent—the marks your nails had made, all those years ago, the very first time you'd made love. He'd rubbed salt into them, he'd told you, to keep them there, to let them scar. You'd blushed.

Your eyes find his, and he's watching you, his eyes dark and his lips parted. His cheeks are flushed. You lean forward slowly, achingly slowly, just brushing your mouth across his. He arches up, trying to reach your lips, but you move away, smirking, instead kissing his cheek, the sharp bones of his face, fine and sculpted. He tastes like sunlight and morning and Thorin.

"Tease," he breathes.

You smile just before you kiss him, softly at first, then harder, then harder still, then even harder. It slowly takes flight, lambent desire slowly growing into a churning inferno. Before long he's groaning into your mouth, his hands moving roughly across you, as if he can't touch you enough. His fingers wind your marriage braid, tracing the cold metal bead across your cheek.

"I never tire of seeing this in your hair," he murmurs, the bead running along your lower lip.

"Because it makes sure nobody else can look at me?" you ask, quirking an eyebrow. He smiles a little. "In part. It also makes sure I fulfill my promises. It reminds me of what I owe you."

"You don't owe me anything, Thorin." You lean closer. "There are no debts here."

"But I owe you my heart," he says. "And my soul. That's what the bead says on it. 'And you will take my heart and soul and weave a debt from it, so that I may owe you them both until my last breath is drawn with you by my side'," he translates, eyes flicking back to yours.

"You owe me neither," you say. "They're already mine."

He huffs out a laugh. "I'm glad you're so confident. I don't think I could have managed if you were hesitant."

"Are you kidding? It's been five years. Any hesitation evaporated long ago." You kiss him softly. "Now enough talking. There's something you owe me right now, and I don't think I have to tell you what it is."

He grins and leans in for another kiss, shifting until your bodies align, perfectly and like lock and key, made comfortable and well-worn by years of intimacy. "You don't."

He's just about to move into you when there's a blithe knock on the door, and an equally as blithe voice calling from the other side. "Y/N! Thorin! Get up, you two, it's late!"

You sigh as Thorin swears in Khuzdul, his head falling forward, leaning his forehead against yours. "Dís," he mutters. Then he calls, louder. "Dís! Go away, we're busy!"

You hear her huff. "I need to talk to Y/N," she calls. "We'd planned a little something for today, and I need to speak with her."

"Then speak with her at breakfast."

"No!" she yells through the door. Mahal, stubborn siblings are so difficult. "If you don't stop defiling her right now I'll pop the latch and open the door myself, I'm sure it's nothing I haven't seen before!"

"Oh, let me up," you sigh, poking his chest. "I'll just talk to her now."

He shakes his head but moves away, grumbling about older sisters. You grin as you snatch up your dressing gown, tying it hastily as you head to the door. You open it a crack and peer at Dís. "Yeah?"

She raises her brows. "I would ask if I was interrupting something, but that much is evident. Anyway, we were all planning to ditch the men and go out today."

"Go where? And who?"

"Just around. Me, you, Yraena, Saelle, Estela." She counts off her fingers. "With the notable absence of our husbands."

You grin. "Okay, great. When do we leave?"

"Right after breakfast, if you can manage it," she says, shifting her weight. "And tell my darling brother that it's high time he experienced some delayed gratification."

You laugh and nod. "I'll be sure to tell him so."

"Good." She smiles and waves. "I'll be off then. I'll see you at breakfast, Y/N." She heads down the corridor and you close the door, moving back towards the bed, where an irate Thorin is half-sitting, the sheets tangled around his waist.

You untie your dressing gown, flinging it heedlessly behind you, sliding back into bed. "Now," you say delicately, pulling him in. "Where were we?"

+++

You tip your head back, closing your eyes against the feeling of Lyvya's careful hands in your hair, braiding it neatly.

"You know," you say, "I'm perfectly capable of doing my own hair."

"Now, shush." She tugs on a lock of hair, pulling it under another. "You'd mess it all up if you were doing it."

You grin. "Of course."

"You're all going out today, aren't you?" she asks, and you hum your assent. "Just the girls."

"I'm sure it'll be a refreshing outing," she says. "It's sure to have been a most stressful time for the past few weeks."

"It has been."

"Now," she says brusquely, "I've gotten you another bottle of your weekly tonic, it's on the table by the fireplace."

You nod. "Thanks."

"Be sure to take just the right amount," she warns. "Those don't always work."

"All right, Lyvya."

"And make sure you stopper the bottle, it evaporates quite fast—"

"Okay."

"And the goblet needs to be cleaned after every dose—"

"Fine."

"And remember to take it tonight—"

"I will."

"And—"

"Lyvya," you say. "I got it. I'm old enough to know what I should and shouldn't do now. And I'm married too." You wiggle your fingers at her, your ring flashing. "Remember?"

"Of course, miss." She pats your shoulder. "I just worry."

"I know you do. And you shouldn't." You look at yourself in the mirror. "And as usual you make me look much prettier than I really am."

"Oh miss," she laughs. "You're too modest. Here." She places a flower in your hair, tucking it in neatly among your braids. "Now you look like a princess in every regard."

"Thanks, Lyvya." You smile at her. She drops a small curtsy. "I'd been meaning to ask you how things are coming along," she says. "How marriage is treating you and all."

You shrug. "It's treating me fine."

"It's only—you're happy, aren't you, miss? The prince, he makes you happy?"

You take her hands. "Yes, Lyvya," you say. "He does make me happy."

Her smile is sad yet joyful at the same time. "Good," she says. "Now go on, miss. Enjoy yourself." She gives your hair one last adjustment before ushering you out the door, closing it softly behind you.

+++

"So," says Saelle, raising her eyebrows at you. "Married life is suiting you, hmm?"

You suppose she looks different now, but you've known her too long to properly tell. Her luscious silver hair is cut short now, just brushing her shoulders. Her eyes are clearer now, more open. She's more lithe now, more easy with herself, and she carries herself with that same confidence, but now it's real.

Estela is just as striking and catlike, with her slanting violet eyes, and her hair is longer now, tied in a thick inky braid that hangs till her waist. Matching bronze rings encircle their fingers—engagement rings. They'd exchanged them a few months ago.

"You can tell?" You grin at her and she shrugs. "You certainly look happier."

"So do you."

"All thanks to Estela," she says, bumping her shoulder with hers. "It's just been crazy for the past few years."

"'Crazy' is a gentle way of putting it," you laugh. "Especially for Yraena."

"True," sighs Yraena. "Three children, Mahal... I never thought it'd be possible, and yet here I am. I wanted children, but certainly not so many at once. But I'm managing fine." She smiles. "Frerin and Dís and Thorin and Y/N have been such helps." She pats your shoulder. "I've no idea how I'd be alive without you all."

Dís grins. "Experience with two of my own."

"I must admit I've never wanted children," says Estela. "I always thought the responsibility would be too much for me to bear."

"I don't mind either way," shrugs Saelle. "As long as I have you." She smiles at Estela, who smiles back. "With all that entails."

"Of course, we've been very consistent gossip for the past couple of years," said Estela. "I've had so many people coming up to me and telling me what a pity is is that nobody will get my eyes now, or that it's sad that my line has to end like this."

"They know better than to say those sorts of things to my face," says Saelle. "But I still hear them behind my back. You get used to it," she shrugs. "But on a more positive note, we've made it sure that a lot more people have come out in the past four or five years now. They're all braver now."

"Well, there's the silver lining," says Dís.

You're all just wandering aimlessly, around the kingdom. Now you draw up to a wide balcony overlooking all of the valley, standing at the railing. You breathe deeply, letting the cool mountain air fill your lungs.

"I've been meaning to ask you," you say to Saelle. "Have you heard from Lady Hisa at all after you told her about Estela?"

She nods. "She basically disowned me, not that I'm complaining, but..." She shrugs. "I still go to see her occasionally. She hasn't asked after you, in case you were wondering."

You smile. "I'm sure she hasn't. How is she?"

"Just as horrible as usual," she says. "Why?"

You shrug. "No reason. She was my teacher for a pretty long time. Just wondering if she's still the same."

"I don't think she's capable of change now," says Saelle. "She's much too far gone for that." She frowns at you cautiously. "I noticed the conversation pretty much derailed when it came to children," she observes. "Is anything wrong?"

You tap the iron railing, lost in thought. "No, I guess. Thorin... he's been asking me for years. And I keep saying no."

"No?" She frowns deeper. "You don't want kids?"

"Not exactly. Not yet." She seems to read the vibes in the air and drops the subject. "Your choice, I suppose. Anyway." She shrugs, lifting her face. Her hair blows around her head. "So much has happened in these past years." Her voice sounds faraway and distant, like she's speaking from inside a tunnel.

You nod your agreement, looking at the sprawling city of Dale strewn across the valley, a million pinpricks of light among the rocks. They seem to blur together, merging into a whirl of lights and colors. "It's been a lot of memories."

"Y/N?" She sounds alarmed. "Are you okay?"

You turn to ask her why, and to tell her you're fine, but you feel a sudden darkness come up around you, wrapping you in it and drawing you away into oblivion.

+++

You wake up slowly, your whole body aching, your head most of all. You blink, gathering yourself slowly. You're on a bed, familiar and warm—your own. You try to move, and a dull ache pounds through your head. You groan.

"She's awake," says a voice, and Estela swims into view. She smiles at you, but she looks preoccupied. "Hey," she says. "You gave us quite a scare."

"What—what happened?" Your head feels like it's full of cotton balls. You try to sit up, but she gently pushes you back down. "Whoa there," she says. "Lie back, you're weak."

"What happened?" you ask again.

"You passed out," she says. "Saelle caught you, but you were out cold."

"Why? I don't remember—"

"Y/N?" Dís', Yraena's, Saelle's, and Lyvya's faces come into view. "Oh, thank Mahal you're awake," says Yraena's voice.

"How long—"

"Just an hour or so," says Saelle. "How're you feeling?"

"Like hell." You groan again. "What happened back there?"

Lyvya is holding a vial. "Here you are, miss," she says. "Drink this. It'll give you energy."

You sit up with Estela's help, swallowing the golden liquid inside the vial. Strength flows into your veins and you sit up straighter, against the headboard. You frown at them all. "What happened?" You're getting tired of asking that question over and over.

"Well, you fell, and you'd fainted," begins Dís. "We brought you back here, and we had a doctor look at you. He left a few minutes before you woke up. He told us what happened."

"Where's Thorin?" You frown at her, suddenly noting his absence. "You didn't call him?"

They all exchange looks full of meaning. "That's just it," she says. "We thought you'd want to tell him, yourself. We didn't call him."

"Tell him what?" You're beginning to lose patience. "What happened to me?"

Dís takes a deep breath, her face uncharacteristically grim. "Congratulations, Y/N," she says, her tone flat. "You're with child."

You feel your mouth drop open. "W–what?" Your eyes flick to Saelle, Estela, Yraena and Lyvya, who are all gazing back at you, faces unreadable. "But I can't be," you stutter. "The—the contraceptive tonic—"

"Doesn't always work," says Dís. She sounds apologetic. "It's not consistent."

You feel like you're watching glass shatter in slow motion. "How—how far along am I?" You can hardly dare to ask.

Yraena answers. "Not long. Only about two weeks."

You feel faint again. "But—but I can't—" You feel panic and nausea rise in your throat. You're not ready, you're not prepared for this, you're not—

"Calm down," says Dís, rubbing your back. "Deep breaths, Y/N. Deep breaths."

You try to drag air into your lungs, gasping. Oh, Mahal. You're with child. You're pregnant, with Thorin's child. The cloak of the surreal descends, and you gasp for breath, disbelieving.

"Here." Dís hands you another goblet, and you take it, fingers shaking so hard it nearly spills clear liquid everywhere. "Oh, Mahal," you whisper. "Dís, what am I going to do?"

"You're going to take this now," she says, pressing the goblet into your hands. "It'll give you a dreamless sleep. We'll call Thorin—"

"No!" You shake your head, panic suffusing your chest. "Not yet. Please."

"Fine." Her tone is soothing, like she's speaking to an overexcited horse, steady and calm and grounding. "Just take it now, Y/N."

She helps you tip it into your mouth, and almost immediately you feel its effects; your eyelids droop, your heart slows, your vision dims. The goblet dips forward in your limp fingers and Dís plucks it from your hand, easing you down onto the pillows. She kisses your cheek as you close your eyes, and that's the last thing you feel before you slip away gratefully into the darkness.

Chapter Text

You pace back and forth in front of the bed, over and over, trying to think of what to say.

You place a worried hand on your stomach, almost as if you can feel the life growing inside you. It's become a habit already, and it's only been a few days. You hadn't told Thorin, but you feel like it's high time you did, now. He's due to come back any minute now, and your heart is in your throat. What on earth will you possibly tell him?

You glance worriedly at the mirror. Your pinched, drawn face gazes back at you, and your eyes immediately drop to your stomach. Of course you can't tell yet, since you're hardly a month along, but you still imagine you can see it, the baby growing inside your belly, a small swell in your stomach. But there's nothing, nothing that betrays your condition.

You'd spent the last few days with Yraena and Dís, practically in tears all the while. It's probably your hormones, but you don't care. You're still not ready for this. You're still not prepared. You don't know if you'll be able to handle this. And will you be able to tell Thorin without bursting into tears halfway through? Can you even tell him at all?

Before you can answer yourself or wonder if you'll give in to your hormonal imbalances, the door swings open, and you spin around, your hand immediately resting on your belly. Then you drop it just as quickly. "Thorin," you say, your voice shaking slightly.

"Y/N." He sighs, moving to the bed and sitting down. You follow, but don't sit, a hand gripping a bedpost as you steady yourself. You swallow, watching him. Your child, will it have his eyes? His hair? His economical movements, his loping grace? The shape of his face?

You push the thoughts away. "Thorin, I need to talk to you. I have to tell you something."

He looks up at you. "Yes?"

You sway, your heart pounding. You feel panic rise in your chest and fight it, taking deep breaths like Dís had told you. You bite your lip and look directly at him. You swallow hard, straightening your spine, and speak.

"Thorin," you say. "I'm pregnant."

He stills, then looks up at you, his face expressionless. He says nothing. You take another deep breath, steadying yourself against the bedpost. For an eternity there is silence, punctuated only by the gentle ticks of the clock on the mantel.

"How long?" he asks finally. How long have you known?

"Just two days." You search his face for any emotion, but there's nothing. "And how far along are you?"

You exhale. "Two weeks."

There's a pause. Then: "You're sure?" he asks, and then he stands, making his way towards you. You stiffen, and nod slowly. "I'm sure."

Slowly, light blooms in his eyes. He looks happy—no, not happy. He looks incandescent. And it makes you feel worse, if that's possible. "That's—that's good," he says, his eyes flicking over yours. "Y/N, this is... this is good."

"No," you say, stepping back, your voice wobbling. "No, it's not good!"

He shakes his head, that blazing light still in his eyes. "What do you mean? Aren't you happy?"

"I—I don't—I'm still not ready, Thorin," you say. "I'm not ready for this. I don't know if I can handle this, I wasn't prepared for it, and I still—I'm still not."

He shakes his head again, slowly. "I don't understand," he says. "Why don't you want this, Y/N? Why don't you want—"

"I don't know!" Tears are gathering in your eyes, blinding you. "I don't think I'll be able to handle what'll be demanded of my body and my mind, Thorin, it's just too much!"

"But what you gain, in the end, won't that be worth it?" His eyes are wide. A sudden and unexpected anger rises up in you, rearing up like a snake preparing to strike. "You don't understand!" you burst out. "You'll never understand what it means for me, I didn't want a child so early!"

"Why don't you?" He's shouting too, now. Your frustrated fingers pull at your hair, and you turn furiously, breathing hard. "Because I don't want it, not so soon! Before I came here, I never even wanted kids, never wanted to settle down at all, and now even after I was being so careful it just didn't work!"

"It didn't work?" He sweeps an arm out, gesturing to the bottle on the table near the hearth. "That—this—didn't work?"

You shake your head, a tear finally slipping from beneath your lashes. "No, it didn't. It didn't work even if I'd been taking it so long." You wish you could blame him. You wish you could scream at him to have been more careful, to realize that the consequences of what you'd both done stretched far beyond something simple. But you can't, not when you're in the wrong too.

"You don't understand, the sort of space I need, what I'm saying at all. You don't understand," you say again.

"Then make me understand!" He strides towards you, his jaw clenched. He looks furious, but he shouldn't be the angry one, you're going to suffer for this, not him. You step towards him, teeth gritted. "Let me spell it out for you, then," you hiss. "I never wanted children this early, Thorin, get that in your head! I never wanted to have children so soon! I'm hardly equipped to deal with it, at all. And now, even after all the things I did to try and stop it, it still happened! I'm—I'm pregnant, with your child, even after everything I did to try and stop it." You sob, turning away, wrapping your arms around yourself as if you can protect yourself from reality.

"You don't want it?" he asks. "Even after everything I've done, after everything you've given me and I've given you, you don't want this?" He looks disbelieving. "This—this is the only thing you've ever let me down with, Y/N, your unwillingness to finish what we started, to make what we have solid and concrete and real." His brows draw together. "You've never wanted that, but it's all I've dreamed of, for five years." He swallows hard, looking at you almost sadly. "You're not happy?"

"No," you whisper. "I'm not happy, Thorin. At all."

There's a long, terrible silence, swelling between the two of you. You feel the tears keep falling, steadily down your cheeks. For a long time you only look at each other, and even though he's only standing a few feet away, he's never been further away from you. You feel something crack and break between you, something primal and deep-rooted, and it feels like a crack in the universe, like the stars tearing apart.

His voice sounds toneless and hard when he speaks again. "Will you keep it?"

You look up, blind with tears. "Wh–what?"

"Will you keep it," he repeats, his voice deadly flat. His eyes are glittering with anger, and your breath catches as your teeth snags on your lip. You sniff, and shake your head.

"I... I don't know," you whisper. Your voice breaks.

His whole face goes entirely still. He stiffens, and you immediately realize you've said the wrong thing, that you've gone too far. But there's no time to take it back. "If space is what you need, then fine," he says coldly. "Perhaps you should have said that in the beginning."

You watch him, a hand over your mouth, as he stalks from the room and closes the door.

The silence he leaves behind is deafening, and you stay like that for what feels like ages, sightlessly staring at the door and one small, tiny little part of you hoping he'll come back. But he doesn't come back. You know he never will.

It's all I've dreamed of, he'd said. For five years.

You sink onto the bed, clutching a pillow that's swathed with the familiar smell of leather and spices and musk. And you break down.

For the first time in what feels like eons, for the first time since your parents' deaths, you allow yourself to be carried away by something beyond grief, something that feels like a hook dug beneath your rib cage and is pulling the sobs from your body, something whose other end is attached to the one person you thought you could trust more than anyone in the world. Tethering you to him, no matter the distance, but this feels like you've lost him completely.

You breathe in the scent that's more familiar to you than your own, but it fails to comfort you. You try to stifle your sobs with one hand while the other immediately moves to your stomach protectively. You hate that this tore you apart, that something that should bring two people together has forced you to opposite ends of the world.

Nausea rises in your throat and you force it down, mentally forcing yourself not to give in to the stress. For the first time, you feel like you've lost him. Thorin, who has been that one constant in your life for the past five years, someone you could trust with anything and laugh with and cry with and share with, and now he's gone. And it's your fault. You pushed him away.

And, just like that, anger replace the sadness. Your breathing turns heavy as your fingers tighten comvulsively on the pillow. Without warning, startling even yourself, your nails rip through it, savagely tearing it to shreds. You fling it across the room, furious. It hits the bottle of contraceptive tonic and it falls, the glass breaking. Translucent golden liquid spreads across the carpet in front of the hearth.

You don't care. You turn your blind rage to the bedsheets, the pillows, the bedposts, slamming your hands and fists into them over and over, not even feeling the pain as your skin tears, blood and feathers sticky under your fingernails and caking your palms. You hit it over and over, until you finally begin to feel the pain of it, and clutching your bleeding hands, your knees give way.

When Lyvya comes rushing inside upon hearing the commotion that's how she finds you, bleeding fists cradled to your chest and on your knees in the middle of the room, weeping as if your heart would break.

+++

She bandages your hands, carefully and softly, smearing a salve onto them and telling you they'll heal over in a few days. It's the second time she's done this for you, and you can feel the weight of your friendship, five and a half solid years of it, as she works, her golden head bent. She doesn't ask any questions, but you have a feeling she knows what happened.

She guides you to the bed and says softly, "Miss, you should lie down."

You stare at the bed with horror. The bed you've shared with him, for five years. It's spotted now with your blood, the sheets torn and rent by your nails. But that's not what you see when you look at it. You see five years' worth of love and happiness and comfort, all blown away like a candle blown by the wind. Like ashes scattered on the ground, pieces you can never put back together.

You reel back. "No," you gasp. "No, not here, anywhere but here—"

"All right, miss, come with me," she says, and takes your shoulders gently but firmly, moving with you towards an unfamiliar corridor. She opens a small wooden door and ushers you inside. "Here, miss, you can stay here as long as you like."

You look around, shivering. It's bare and sparse, with unassuming stone walls and a plain wooden bed against one of them. A small fireplace stands nearby, a merry fire roaring within. There's a wardrobe, and a dresser, both bare, and a divan by the hearth. You turn back to Lyvya. "Is this... is this your room?"

She nods, blushing. You're not allowed in here, and she's embarrassed, that you're in her room. A princess, in the room of a servant. She's not comfortable, and she's insecure, and it makes you so sad you nearly start crying again.

You hug her tight. "Thank you," you say. "Thank you so much."

Despite your assurances that you'll be fine sleeping on the divan and it's not a big deal, she rests her case with only three words: "Miss, the baby."

Which is how you find yourself on the bed and Lyvya claiming she's perfectly comfortable on the divan, ten minutes later. You're still in your dress, but you don't care, and when you finally fall asleep it's with one hand spread protectively over your abdomen and the other reaching out almost involuntarily, for a hand that'll never hold it.

+++

When you wake up in the morning you wonder why you feel so miserable.

Then the memories of last night come seeping into your brain and you groan, burying your face into the pillow. You gingerly lift your hands, which are thick and knobby with the bandages wrapped around them. They hurt like hell, though.

Lyvya is passed out on the divan, her hair loose and her mouth slightly open. She looks young and vulnerable in sleep, and you feel an overwhelming wave of tenderness for the young dwarrowdam wash over you. You have no clue where you'd be if it weren't for her.

Scribbling a quick note for her involving lots of Xs and Os and thank you so muchs and I'll come talk to you laters, you leave quietly, hurrying along down the corridor. After a few twists and turns you find your room, whose door is ever so slightly ajar. Your heart starts to pound.

You slip inside, closing it behind you and flattening yourself back against it instantly. You see him immediately, sitting in one of the chairs by the hearth. The bottle of tonic is back on the table; he must have put it back there. You approach cautiously, clearing your throat.

"Thorin?" Your voice is pitifully small and weak.

He doesn't turn. You see a gleam near his feet out of the corner of your eye and look at it, frowning. Your frown deepens when you see that it's the bottle you knocked over last night, in shards. Distantly, you remember breaking it last night. Then what...? Your eyes flick to the one on the table in front of him, half-filled with golden liquid, and your heart plummets. Oh, no.

"Thorin." Your voice is sharper now as you stride around him, looking into his face. He looks drawn-out and tired and pale, with dark shadows smudged under his eyes like he hasn't slept all night, which he probably hasn't. His chest is rising and falling unevenly, and his eyelashes flutter as he cuts his gaze up to look at you.

His lips twist into a smirk. "Y/N," he says, his voice slurred and nearly unrecognizable. "What're you doing here? I thought you'd left."

You shake your head, swallowing, fighting tears again. "No," you whisper. "No, it wasn't me who left, it was you."

"You said you didn't want it, didn't you?" He cocks his head to the side, his eyes unfocused. "You left. I closed the door, but you'd left long before I did." He nods knowingly. You feel that familiar nausea and force it down. "No," you say. "No, I—"

"You've said enough," he says suddenly, cutting through your wavering voice with ease. You fall silent. "I don't want to hear anything you've got to say. You had your chance, and you ruined it. 'S not my fault if you... if you're..." He gestures widely, picking up the bottle on the table and draining the clear amber liquid inside in one draft, barely wincing as the likely sharp liquor passes his lips. He must be used to it, then. Your stomach lurches. You hadn't known what to expect, coming here now, but it wasn't this. You'd expected better, somehow.

"Thorin, stop," you say. "Stop, this isn't you—"

"What're you going to do, leave again?" He lurches to his feet and you instinctively move back, your fingers spreading across your stomach. His eyes track the movement and he bares his teeth in something that's half a sneer and half a snarl. "Don't pretend like you care," he spits. "The biggest threat to the child in your womb is you."

The words hit you like a slap. You reel back, eyes widening in shock. Words and coherency have deserted you completely. You swallow your tears, feeling pain beyond anything you've ever felt spreading through you like poison.

"I begged you," he says, hands balled into fists. "I asked you for three years, and every single time, you said no. You were always too afraid of it, what it'd bring you, what it'd bring me. You were afraid of everything, and you called it unpreparedness, you called it not being ready."

"No," you gasp. "No, it isn't—wasn't—like that—"

"Don't lie to me!" He steps forward an unsteady step and you scramble back, fear trickling through you. You can't remember ever being afraid of Thorin like this, never. But now you're terrified. Of his strength, not that of his hands but that of his words. And some little part of you is scared of both, scared that he might raise his hand against you, lose control and hurt you. Even if you know he won't, he can.

"Stop it," you say. "Stop it, this isn't you, you're hurt, I hurt you and you're just being angry or sad or whatever and I get it—"

"I'm not being angry, I'm being honest," he snaps. "More honest than I've ever been for a long, long time."

You feel your lip tremble and look away, unable to bear the pain of this. Your hand is still pressed to your stomach, and you try to hold the tears back. "Please," you say, but whether it's to him or you you don't know. "Please—"

"Tell me again," he says, his face flushed. His unsteady gaze finds yours. "Say it now. Will you keep it?"

A tear slides down your face. You say nothing. He makes a disgusted sound and whirls around, making to leave the room. This time you follow, crying openly now as you reach the door first, spreading your arms across it as if to physically hold him back. "Wait," you sob. "Please, just listen to me."

He shakes his head, eyes wild. "I've had enough listening to you, Y/N. Now this time, you listen to me." He leans closer, till you can smell the sharp tang of alcohol on his breath. It makes your stomach turn over. "If you don't want to keep it, then fine. But it's done. This—whatever we had before, consider it done. If you don't want anything more to do with our child"—those two words make you flinch, but he goes on undeterred—"then I don't want anything more to do with you."

He pushes past you and moves away down the corridor, and for the second time you find yourself staring after him, watching him walk away while your world rends apart and sifts down at your feet, brought asunder.

But this time you're alone.

You don't know how, but suddenly you're sitting in front of the fireplace, watching the fire dance away inside. The backs of your eyes ache, but there are no more tears left. It seems that after so long suppressing the tears, there are no more to shed.

"What have I done?" you whisper aloud, your palm pressed to your abdomen. "What did I do?" You look down, at your hand. "I'm so sorry," you say to the life growing inside you, the life both you and Thorin created. "I'm so sorry, I've ruined everything. I've wrecked it all. I'm... I'm the worst mother, the worst person to raise something as pure as you."

You imagine that there's something down there that hears you, something with a tiny, beating heart and a soul woven from both yours and your husband's. Something living, something alive. His voice echoes down your head, clearly. Will you keep it?

If you don't... What would that make you? You'd be killing something you made, something you breathed life into. And then you realize, contrary to what you'd thought, you're not alone. You'll never be alone, not when what you carry inside you still has life. And you realize slowly that there's no way you're taking that life away.

"Hear that, little guy?" you whisper, patting your belly. "You're not going anywhere."

+++

You sleep in Lyvya's room again that night, after tearfully confessing to her what had happened between you and Thorin. She'd held you as you'd cried for several hours, and you'd felt marginally better once she put you to bed with a pat on the cheek and another on your stomach, telling you she's proud of you and that she knows you'll do the right thing.

You lie awake for what feels like hours, listening to Lyvya's soft snores fill the room. The conversation you'd had with Thorin repeats again and again in your head, displaying about fifty different places you'd have been able to interject and tell him what you meant. Of course, you'd done none of them.

You'd expected him to be angry, of course, which he had been, but you hadn't expected the other little surprise you'd gotten. In all the time you've known him, you've never seen him like this, senseless and almost incoherent. You've never seen him really drunk, not this drunk, at least. You can still smell the sharp, sweet smell of the liquor on his breath as he'd leaned towards you. The memory makes you feel sick.

You realize that even if you're keeping the baby now, you don't want to see him. You don't want to talk to him, not after what he said. It may be your fault in a way, but there wasn't any sort of excuse for the things he'd said to you. You don't even care that he was drunk and just saying whatever came to his head. There'd been a saying, back at home. A drunk man always speaks the truth, or something of that sort. Anyhow, you're sure he meant every word of what he'd said. And that being known, you don't want to see him, or talk to him.

You don't want to fight, but you're sure about this. And surely he won't want to talk to you, either. And that's fine with you; you can just go on alone, until he realizes by himself that you're not getting rid of the baby. Maybe then things will go back to normal.

You doubt that, but you decide not to dwell on it, instead shutting your eyes and allowing your exhaustion to carry you away, and this time your hand doesn't reach out for another's, knowing that the warmth will never be reciprocated.

You wake up to Lyvya bustling around, and she chirps out a good morning, pressing a cup of tea into your hand the moment you haul yourself into a sitting position. You sip it, watching her move around, humming tunelessly.

"Well, miss?" she asks once you've finished the tea. "Is it back to your room, or...?"

You shake your head. "Could you grab a dress from the room? I'll head to breakfast from here, if that's all right."

"It's perfectly fine with me," she says. "But... but what about—" She blushes. "Er—are you and the prince still fighting, miss? I know it's—it's not my place to ask and all, and it's improper, but I... I was only wondering, since you didn't want to head back and all—"

"It's all right to ask, Lyvya," you say. "And we are still fighting. I think we will be, for a long time, so..." You shrug. "I hope I'm not intruding on your privacy or anything by staying here."

"Of course not, miss." She squeezes your hand. "It'll be better with you here, much more lively." She smiles. "I look forward to having you here, miss."

You grin back. "Me, too."

She hurries off to your room to grab a dress and returns with her cheeks flushed, out of breath. You peer at her inquisitively. "Was he there? Did you see him?"

She shakes her head, still breathless. "I did see him, but he didn't see me. I hurried off before he could, and I brought this." She holds out a deep turquoise tea gown, light and comfortable. "No more corsets," she says. "Not until you've had the baby."

Until you've had the baby. Hearing that seems to make it more real, and it finally seems to hit you, that you're pregnant and you're going to have a baby. You peer at yourself in the mirror after stripping down in the bathroom, scrutinizing your reflection.

You look totally normal, not a single thing betraying that you're carrying a child in your stomach. The only obvious blemish on your body is a bite mark on your throat, and your chest contracts when you see it, so you quickly finish your bath, trying not to think of how and when you'd gotten the mark.

Lyvya dresses you efficiently at usual, doing your hair nearly but plainly, and with a few whispered encouragements from her, you leave for breakfast. Your heart is pounding as you approach the dining hall, and you walk inside quickly, your eyes sweeping up the table as you walk in and sit down next to Dís.

He's there, and he's not looking at you. You try to ignore the way your pulse races, and pull a plate towards you; you're starving, but you don't feel like eating. You remember the baby in your stomach and take a bite of toast anyway, eating for the child if not for yourself.

"Y/N?" whispers Dís. "Did you talk to Thorin?"

You swallow your toast. "I did," you murmur back.

"And?"

You say nothing, feeling your face twist minutely. Dís exhales. "Oh," she says. "He's not happy?" She puts a hand on your elbow under the table. You shake your head. "I wasn't happy," you say softly. "And he wasn't too pleased with me." You feel his eyes on you and blush. "Can we talk about this later?"

She looks towards him and nods quickly, going back to her marmalade. The rest of the meal passes in silence, punctuated only by Yraena and Dís' quick looks between you and Thorin. Frerin is biting his lip with obvious trepidation, looking at his brother. It's clear he knows... Was that where Thorin had gone before getting himself blackout drunk? To talk to Frerin? It probably is.

It's clear everyone knows about your condition, so you say nothing of it. You pointedly ignore your husband all throughout the meal, and when you get up you make sure he catches your cold look in his direction before you stalk away. You don't miss the way his hands clench on the tablecloth, though, before you leave.

You're not in the mood for another shouting match, so you head quickly back to Lyvya's room, out of breath. She makes you sit on the bed and gives you a glass of water, which you drink gratefully. "Thanks," you sigh as you set it on the table by the bed.

"Well?" she asks, her eyes wide as saucers. "Did you...?"

"No," you exhale. "I just didn't want to talk to him at all. I don't think I ever will..."

"Now, don't think like that, miss." She puts a slender arm around your shoulders. "You'll sort this out, I'm sure of it. Just give it some time."

"I hope so," is all you say, but when you search inside yourself you don't know if she's right. You don't know if you want her to be right, either. Maybe the knowledge that Thorin no longer trusts you isn't the ugliest possibility you'll have to face, after all.

+++

"Well?"

Dís is tapping her feet, her arms crossed over her chest and a scowl on her face. It's clear that she's fond of you, but she knows you've done something to hurt her brother, and so it doesn't matter how fond she is of you, she'll still take his side. You sigh, preparing for the blow.

"I told Thorin, that I'm pregnant," you begin, "and he was... he was really happy. He wanted it, he had wanted it for years now. But I'd kept saying no, and now it's happened, and while he's happy, I'm still not prepared for it, to handle it."

She waits.

"It... turned into an argument, and one thing led to another, and he asked me..." You inhale deeply, expelling the breath in a rush. "He asked me if I'm going to keep it. And I told him I didn't know."

Her eyes widen, and her arms fall to her sides. "You told him you didn't know?" she demands. "But... but that means... do you want to get rid of the baby?"

"I didn't know, back then," you say, helpless. "I've known a lot of people who couldn't handle the demands made of your body and mind during pregnancy when they weren't ready, and they lost it, and ended up hurting the baby and themselves, too. I didn't want that to happen, so I... I just told him to wait. That I didn't know. And he walked out. He left." You sigh.

"Did you talk to him after that?"

"I tried," you say bitterly. "But he was drunk. Totally, completely drunk. I couldn't have gotten a word into his head, not when he was in that state."

She shakes her head, seemingly uncomprehending. "He... I can't imagine him doing something like that."

"Neither did I. But that's how it was. He yelled a lot of things, and he said he meant them, and I know he did." You sigh, suddenly immensely tired. "He asked me again, if I would keep it. I didn't say anything, so he told me it was over. That if I wanted to get rid of the baby, then he wanted to get rid of me. And he left again." You rub at your eyes, shaking your head. "It was just really stressful. And shocking. I've never seen him drunk like that, not ever."

"He didn't... didn't hurt you?" You can tell how scared she is to ask, how afraid she is that he's raised a hand to you while he wasn't in his right mind. You just shake your head. "Not with his hands, at least."

She looks away, biting her lip worriedly. "I'm sorry," she says. "I'm sorry you had to see him like that."

"Me too."

"He talked to Frerin," she says abruptly. "After you fought the first time, he went to Frerin, who came and told me. He didn't tell me what you two fought about, just that Thorin wasn't too happy about it. He said he'd run off somewhere, but he thought it was to talk to you, not..."

"Not what he really did," you say. "I'd have thought that, too."

She breathes deeply. "Well," she says, "have you decided what to do?"

You nod. "I'm keeping it. Not because of what Thorin said, but because now that I think about it... I do want it. I wasn't ready because I didn't know what it meant, but now I do. There's life inside me, more than one. Killing it would be killing a part of me, and that's just inhuman. We both created this life." You put a hand on your lower stomach, looking down. "And I want it. So does he, and now so do I."

She smiles a little. "Are you going to tell him?"

You wince. "No, I'm not."

The smile slips off her face. "What? But why? He'll be—"

"I don't want to... Not after what he said." You shake your head obstinately at her disbelieving look. "You weren't there, Dís. You didn't hear him. I'm not going back to him anytime soon, even if we're in agreement now."

"But, Y/N!" She looks furious. "You can't just keep fighting forever, that child needs its father, even if it may not know it, it can sense that it needs him!"

"It doesn't matter, at least for a few... I don't know, as long as it takes to sort itself out." You set your jaw stubbornly. "It doesn't matter."

"You both did this together, Y/N," she says, shaking her head. "You may blame him and he may blame you, but at the end of the day you're both responsible for this, for your child. And for it to have been discovered among so much sadness and tears and anger, it won't be good for its health, or yours, or Thorin's."

"I know," you say. "But it doesn't matter. What he said, Dís, I'm not coming back from that anytime soon. Maybe you can ask him to talk to me, but you can be sure I won't budge."

She sighs. "Fine. Maybe I will ask him. And if he says no, Mahal save me..." She rubs a hand across her face. "I'll do something, but you mark my words, you and Thorin need to sort this out as soon as you can. For your child's sake, and your own. I've had my fair share of fights with my husband, but this seems like something else entirely. It can't possibly be good for your relationship, it could damage what you have, and it could create a rift between you that might become impossible to jump across."

She fixes you with her critical blue glare. "Take care of yourself, and the baby," she says. "And maybe if you both bend your prides, this may work out yet." She turns in a swirl of skirts and stomps off, leaving you to gaze after her with a sigh. You know she's right, but you don't care. You know that's stupid of you, but you don't care about that, either. If Thorin can't apologize, neither can you.

You head back to Lyvya's room, wondering if you just made a terrible mistake.

Chapter Text

"Y/N?" The voice is a familiar one, one you've been hearing every day for six years, a voice you've come to love and learn more than anything else, any other. You've heard your name in that voice in every emotion—happiness, sadness, irritation, respect, admiration, exasperation, love, lust. But never with anger. Brief anger, of course, but never true anger, the sort that lasted weeks and weeks and never seemed to abate and grew more with every passing day.

You never want to hear him say your name like that, like there's a chasm between you, one too far to jump across and too deep to jump into. You never will—you hope.

He's here, and close. You can feel his presence in front of you, pins and needles on your skin. You can see every individual brushstroke of coal-black lashes feathering down on his cheekbones when he blinks, the darker flecks of blue in his eyes. He's close enough for you to feel his breath on your cheek. You shiver. And even before the shiver fully slides off your body he closes the distance between your bodies, and then his hand is on your cheek and he's kissing you.

His lips are soft on your own, soft and tasting so familiarly of tea and chocolate, spice and Thorin. You draw upon the taste, parting his lips, beckoning his tongue into your mouth with yours, wanting to get closer, close enough to share your heartbeats, crack open your own chest and give it to him, even if he already has it.

Somewhere in the back of your mind you see unfocused blue eyes and feel the barbs of words that went in deep, but the thoughts dissolve faster than they came, scattering as his palm presses to the small of your back, pulling you closer.

He draws away slightly, just far enough for you to see his eyes, swallowed by the blackness of his desire. He's looking at you like he always does—a mixture of adoration and wanting, of desperation and hope. "Y/N," he says. "I love you."

You pull him closer, threading your fingers into his hair and kissing him again, harder. He responds with a purr, fingers creeping up your bodice, fitting into the bend of your waist perfectly. You could get lost in this, lost in the feeling of him against you and his hands on your hips and his breath on your lips. "I love you too," you gasp in between kisses. "I'd do anything for you. You have to know that, Thorin. You know, don't you?"

His eyes are wide and sad. "Y/N?" And suddenly he's falling away from you, sliding out of your arms and disappearing like a ghost as, between one beat of your heart and another, he vanishes, only the faint ringing of your name carried on the wind. You're standing alone now, with only the weight of your crushing guilt mooring you down to earth, and a vast ocean of loneliness opening up beneath your feet, swallowing you and sending you into the cold, dark water. You close your eyes, not struggling, and give up.

+++

"Miss?" asks a frantic, familiar voice. "Miss, wake up!"

Your eyes fly open with a gasp, and you sit up quickly, heart pounding. "Thorin?" You're panting, the back of your nightgown sticking to your skin with sweat.

"It's me, miss," says a soft voice. "It's Lyvya."

You focus on her with difficulty. "Lyvya?" You blink, uncomprehending. You feel a soft hand on your cheek. Slowly, she swims into focus, hair loose and eyes wide. You blink again. "Lyvya," you say on en exhale of breath.

She gently strokes your hair. "I'm right here, miss."

Your chin wobbles and you feel tears press at your eyes. You press your lips together and look away, and she murmurs some soothing nonsense, pulling you into her arms and holding you. You lay your head on her shoulder and fight the tears back, holding them at bay.

"I hate this," you whisper. "I hate not being able to—to do anything anymore. I've ruined everything, and it's my fault. He hates me and it's my fault—"

"Miss, he doesn't hate you," she says softly. "Nothing in this world or any other can ever make him hate you."

"Well, I hate myself," you sigh. "I royally screwed up. He's probably never going to talk to me again. If I were him, I wouldn't."

"Well, you're not him. And that's why he won't never speak with you ever again," she says, stubborn and optimistic and sweet as ever. "It's all just a misunderstanding," she goes on. "If you just spoke with him, tell him—"

"No." Your breath rattles in your throat. "I'm not telling him anything."

"Miss," she says, dismay flashing across her face, "you can't not—"

"I can. You weren't there, Lyvya, you didn't hear him. I did, and sometimes I can still hear what he said. He's right, in a way. Maybe that's why I'm so scared, because he was right and that was the truth and I'm afraid of it." There. You've said it. You chew on your lip, zealously.

"Oh, miss." She puts a hand on your cheek, her eyes sad. "Sometimes you need to go and face the truth, no matter how ugly it is. This is one of those times. I know you miss him terribly, and I—"

"I don't miss him." The words are uncharacteristically sharp, and you wince immediately after you say them. "I'm sorry," you say. "It's just—" You sigh. "I can survive without him, you know. I don't need him to live."

"You were calling his name, in your sleep," she says softly. "And you were crying." She brushes a hand across your cheek, and it's only then that you realize they're wet, and your lashes are fringed with salt. "You look like death on two feet," she says. "And you look haunted, almost like a ghost. I think you do need him to live, miss. Just not the way you might think."

You look away, shaking your head. "What do you want me to do?"

She sighs, sliding off the bed. "It isn't my place, but if I were you, I'd go sort this out, cards on the table and honesty. Both of you respecting each other's opinions and choices and resolving the issue. Now," she puts her hands on her hips. "What are you going to do?"

You tilt your chin up, rebellious. "I'm going to ignore him and avoid him."

Lyvya sighs.

+++

The knife flies from your hand, slamming into the center ring of the target. You exhale harshly, stepping back to admire your handiwork; every target on the wall is skewered through with a blade, all thrown by your hand.

You head to the wall, yanking the blades out to start afresh. You position yourself at the throwing line, leaning back. You're just going to let the dagger in your hand fly when you hear voices, faint but evident, in the corridor. You freeze as you recognize them—Frerin, and Thorin.

You fling the daggers onto the table and slip into the changing room, your heart racing. You duck behind the door and catch your breath, listening. You hear the door close, and their murmured voices, clear as day.

"... talk to her, Thorin," says Frerin. He sounds tired. "You can't just keep avoiding her forever."

"I can damn well try." His voice is rough, short, tight. Your heart contracts. He sounds like he hasn't slept all night, or gotten any rest at all the past few days. He probably hasn't, just like you haven't.

"This isn't her fault, you know," says Frerin. "She wasn't ready, but it still happened. And I should know how much responsibility and how much attention and care it demands from a mother."

He stays silent.

"Tell me what happened," he pleads. "She looked furious at breakfast the other day, and she rarely gets that angry. What did you say to her?"

You blink. So he doesn't know. He knows the gist of it, but not all of it. Didn't Thorin tell him? You move deeper into the shadows behind the door, pressing your back against the wall. You hold your breath and hear a sigh.

"Look, Frerin, it's nothing you need to worry about—"

"It is everything I need to worry bout, Thorin, you're my brother and she's like my sister. And I keep both your interests at heart and all, and it's been six years. Six years, and you two are more in love than anyone I'd ever seen, and now for the past few days it's just... it's terrifying. It's like you don't love each other anymore. It's been stiff and cold and it's as if time has started to turn backwards—impossible. And I'm so afraid for you, can't you see that?" You hear another sigh. "Seeing you two is like trying to swallow glass. Whatever you said to her, tell me."

You hear nothing. Silence reigns for a few minutes, then he speaks, so quietly you strain to hear it, leaning forward. "After I came and talked to you that first time—she'd told me she wasn't sure about keeping the child. It just made me so angry, Frerin. Didn't she care at all?" There's raw pain in his voice, and you feel helpless tears rise in your eyes. Had you come off as indifferent? Or like you didn't care? You can't imagine having sounded like that.

"I left," he sighs. "And she was just standing there and looking at me, and I wanted to go back, to tell her I didn't mean to make her cry like that..." He breaks off abruptly, and it's all you can do not to run out from behind the corner and throw yourself into his arms, but you hold back. "But she didn't realize what she'd said. And after I came and talked to you I realized I just wanted to forget about the whole damn thing. I wanted to just pretend like it didn't happen."

There's silence. Frerin seems to catch up, because you can hear the incredulity in his voice when he speaks again. "You didn't."

"I did. And I didn't expect her to come looking for me. So when she did, I didn't know what to do. I don't even know what I said to her, back then. Later, I... I did."

"Well? Tell me you didn't ruin it forever, Thorin—"

"I told her that if she didn't want it, I didn't want her." There's a horrible silence that meets his words, and you bite your lip hard to keep from crying. When did all this get so messed up and horrible?

"No," says Frerin softly. "No, you didn't."

He says nothing.

"You—you don't realize what you've done, do you? You've—you've pushed her away. If I were her, I wouldn't come back to you, no matter how much you tell her you didn't mean it."

"How can she not want it, Frerin? She's never wanted it, and I fear she never will. And that would... that would be the worst thing in the world, for me. She doesn't understand, she didn't understand, and..."

"And neither did you." He sounds sad. "You need to talk to her, Thorin."

"No." He sounds almost afraid. Afraid, and angry. "Not after what she said."

Dear Mahal, you think. Sometimes you hate that you think so alike sometimes.

"Thorin, you can't just never talk to her again. You know—I know you know—she won't come talk to you now. She'll keep her distance. Just like the way you are. You're not even sleeping in the same room anymore—"

"That doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does. Five years won't be erased so easily. You've fought before, but not like this."

"I know." He sounds weary, and tired, and drained. "You think I don't want her back? All I've dreamed and thought of since I left is her. But I can't go back to her, not now. I just don't want to see her right now."

"She's keeping it," says Frerin unexpectedly. You frown; you hadn't even told him. So far, the only ones who knows are Dís and Lyvya. You're sure Dís hasn't told him, so he must have guessed. Frerin has always been the most perspective of all of you.

Thorin sounds surprised. "What?"

"She's keeping the child."

"How do you know? Did she tell you?" His voice is carefully monitored, neutral but forced. You can hear the strains underneath, of almost-panic.

"No," says Frerin. "I saw it in her face, that day at breakfast. I saw it; did you?"

Silence.

"No, you didn't, because you were trying so hard not to look at her, and trying to make it seem like her fault. I know you, and I know you blame yourself, but you want to blame her, too. And you refused to see what was so clearly in front of your face, that she wants it now, and you aren't there for her, for the child—for all we know, it could well be children, like it was with Yraena—"

"Don't." He sounds hollow, bled dry. "Frerin—don't. Don't make this worse than it is."

"I'm not the one making it worse than it is. Talk to her, make this right, or you'll never fix this. Believe me, I know. Get it out of the way before it breaks you."

You hear footsteps, and then the door opens and closes softly. You stand there for what feels like hours before you hear the lock click again, leaving you alone in the deserted training room, your tears long since dried.

+++

"I'm hungry," you say.

"Well, obviously," says Yraena, leaning back with a little smile. "You're not the only one you have to eat for, now."

"And I really feel like eating pizza," you go on. "Like, really really badly."

She looks puzzled. "What's pizza?"

You're both sitting in her room, in squashy armchairs in front of the fire. The warmth of it travels over your skin, making your limbs buzz. You point a finger at her. "It's food—we had it back where I came from. It's sort of a dough circle with cheese and vegetables on it, and it's baked—it is heavenly. You wish you had it here. I'm sure I do. I really want to eat it." You sigh dramatically, placing a hand on your stomach.

She smiles wider. "I had all sorts of odd cravings, too, while I was expecting," she says thoughtfully. "Frerin nearly exhausted himself trying to satisfy them." She looks at you pointedly. "Have you sorted things out with Thorin yet?"

You shrug a shoulder. "No."

"Look, Y/N, I know you're probably tired of hearing this—"

"Already am," you mutter.

"But you need to reconcile, and soon. Your baby, it needs a father. It needs him, and so do you. You don't know you need him, but you do."

You feel that all-too familiar choking feeling in your throat, the tightening of your chest—the one that accompanies anyone saying Thorin's name, or telling you to stop fighting, or telling you to talk to him. "It doesn't matter," is all you say. "I'm not talking to him."

"Please, Y/N." She looks at you plaintively. "This is the worst time to be fighting."

"I don't care." You look into the fire steadfastly. She sighs. "You both blame each other, and you both blame yourselves, I know, but you both made this happen—both of you had a hand in this. You have to understand that if you don't sort it out soon, it can end very badly."

"I know," you say, emotion scraping your voice raw. You think of what Thorin had said in the training room all those days ago. You think I don't want her back? All I've dreamed and thought of since I left is her. "I need him, I know. I know I need him, and I can feel that I do, and I can feel that the child needs him, too. But I just can't bring myself to own up to what I said. Or surmount what he said."

She looks away, her lips pulled into a frown. "You can do it, I know. It's a small price to pay, for what you get in the end, isn't it?"

"What? What do I get in the end?"

"Life," she says simply. "Your child's, your own and Thorin's—together. Isn't that something you've always dreamed of? Something you've always wanted?"

You swallow. "I..."

"Enough talk about such sad things," she says briskly. "How are you keeping? Can you feel anything, anything different or strange?"

You blink yourself out of your earlier reverie. "What? Oh, not really. Not yet. I can sort of feel something, like there's something inside me, but besides that, nothing. And I'm sure even that is purely psychological."

She smiles, stretching out her arms. "Just wait a few days," she says. "You'll be able to feel a heartbeat. And a little fluttering feeling. It's a little alarming at first, but you get used to it. You come to love it, since it symbolizes what you've made."

You say nothing, and she squeezes your hand. "I know you'll do what's right," she says. "You always have, and you always will. I trust you to make the right decision."

You smile at her. "Thanks, Yraena."

She grins. "That's what I'm here for."

"Spreading positive vibrations here?" It's Dís, sweeping into the room, carrying something in a hand. "We certainly need them."

She settles down into the armchair next to you, smiling. "So? How are you doing? You're not tired or anything? Do you need anything?"

"No, I'm fine," you say. "Though I'd kill for some pizza."

"I'm not so sure about pizza—whatever that is—but I did bring food." She takes out a bag, plunging her hand into it and drawing out a basket of rolls. "I thought you would be hungry."

"Mahal, yes." You swipe a roll, biting into it. "Thanks; I was starving."

She grins. "You'll get hungry way more often after this," she says. You finish off the roll, trying not to think of how it shouldn't be Dís and Yraena taking care of you like this and asking after you and helping you. You shake off the thoughts, taking another roll.

The rest of the evening passes without mention of Thorin or your fight, and you almost—almost—forget about the whole thing as you fall asleep in Lyvya's room, but the last thing you think before you fall asleep is how much you wish he was there with you.

+++

You stop in front of the familiar door, the door you've been sleeping and living behind for five years. You put a hand on the knob, shivering; it's cold to the touch, and it makes goosebumps spring out over your arms.

You know for a fact that he's not sleeping here, or staying here, just like you're not—you've no clue where he is. With Frerin, probably.

You don't even know why you're here. You'd told Lyvya it was to get some things you needed, but that isn't true. So what on earth are you doing here?

You push the door open.

Everything inside is normal, eerily so. The only strange thing is that there's a fine layer of dust settled over everything, dust motes dancing in the bars of sunlight that the skylight lets in. You walk forward, your footsteps oddly loud in the empty room.

You trail a hand along the walls, lost in thought. The empty bottle of liquor is still on the table next to the hearth, and you walk towards it, picking it up. Even it is coated finely in dust, the dregs of the liquid inside a murky gold. You put it down again almost blindly, turning away.

Someone—Lyvya, probably—has changed the sheets, and they're clean and whole now, spotless white, the heavy silk coverlet neatly tucked around it, gathering dust. You place a hand on one of the bedposts, biting your lip. There's faint fingernail marks on, scratched into the surface. You trace your finger across one, feeling helplessness clutch at you. When did everything go so wrong?

Mahal, what are you even doing here? You'd thought you could sort of pluck up the courage to tell Thorin what you'd meant, that you were sorry and you wanted him back so, so badly, but you'd been wrong. You can never go back. You grip the bedpost tighter, breathing deeply. You blink the mist from your eyes, and you're just about to turn around and get the hell out of this room when—

"Y/N?"

Your heartbeat takes flight, like a frightened bird. You spin around, pressing yourself back against the wooden post. Your mind goes blank, and your chest is rising and falling deeply.

"Thorin."

How long has it been since you've seen him? Two weeks? Three? Of course you've seen him at meals and all, but back then you'd been trying so hard not to look at him. Now though, you have nowhere else to look.

He looks different—his hair is longer, messier. There are shadows beneath his eyes, his lips are bitten and chapped, his cheeks are hollowed. You can see the pulse fluttering wildly in the side of his throat where the neck of his tunic opens at the front. He looks thinner, too. You swallow regret and sadness and bitterness and speak.

"What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing." You wonder if you look as different as he does to you. Of course the most obvious change in your appearance would be the now slightly-noticeable bump in your stomach, and how dead you probably look.

"I was just leaving," you say. Your own voice surprises you—frigid and unwavering.

"Wait," he says. "Don't—don't leave." Not again. He sounds broken, but firm. You did that. You made him sound like that. The thought makes you feel sick.

"I need to—we need to talk, Y/N." You try not to let that little flash of emotion show when he says your name. You press yourself back further. "Do we?"

He says nothing. Your eyes drink him in, all of him, darting across his face, his exposed throat, his arms and everything you've missed for so long. It's only been a month, but it feels like a lifetime. "You know we do," he says.

"Fine. Then talk," you say. "I'm listening."

"Don't act like you don't feel anything," he says, and his voice is uncharacteristically sharp, like the cutting edge of a broken shard of glass; jagged and serrated. "I can see you haven't been sleeping. I know you haven't been in here since the last time. Don't act like nothing affects you. I know it does."

You feel your face twist. "What do you want from me, Thorin?"

"I can't live like this," he says. "You can't allow five years beside me and then expect me to carry on without you now. I can't."

You feel tears gathering in your eyes and force them down. You've been showing emotion a lot more easily these days, owing to your hormones, but it's seriously annoying. You can't get through he day if you don't cry at least once. Before it was almost impossible to make you cry.

But he sounds so sad. You swallow your tears and lean heavily against the bedpost. "You think it's been easy for me? You think I don't want—you think I don't regret—you think that's it's been nothing for me?" You shake your head. "It hasn't been nothing."

He's just watching you, eyes defeated. You blink hard, getting rid of the tears, and it's only then that you realize your hand is splayed over your stomach. It's already a habit. You can swear you feel a sort of pull, a flutter, inside you, beneath your spread fingers, one that seems to cry out to Thorin through their shared blood.

"I know," he says. Somehow you know what he means. I know you're keeping the child.

"So?" You lift your chin imperiously, a hand still on your slightly swollen abdomen. "So what if I am?"

"Y/N." His voice is steady, but the foundations of it seem to shake. "I know that what I said was... That it was—"

"Unforgivable?" The word hangs, in all its horrible, deadly finality. "It was."

"I was there too." He looks at you levelly. "I wasn't the only one who spoke that day."

"I know. You think I don't know that?" You're close to tears now, gritting your teeth. "I know what I said. And I was wrong. Okay? I was wrong. I knew that then, and I know it now. But now it doesn't mean—now it's done. I didn't do it. I'm keeping it."

"I know." He exhales. "I know—"

"And you know, I realized something, in the past month." You cut across him brutally. "I got over it, what you said, I got over it and I'm living now, and I'm surviving. I'm taking care of the child, and I did all that, without you. I makes me wonder, what else I can do, without you." You look at him, steadily. "I spoke too, but you also had a hand in this."

His eyes search your face. "Yes," he says. "I suppose I did."

"Fine, then." You walk forward, towards the door. "I'm leaving now," you say softly. You stop in front of him, looking up into his face, and what are you doing, why are you so close to him? But while your mind rebels, your body still craves his touch, his closeness. Even now, pinpricks of sensation travel up your arms, trail down your spine.

"Everyone gives up eventually," you say. "I can't make excuses for you anymore."

He says nothing, he's just watching you. You feel like your heart twists, pain lancing through you. Walk away, says your mind. Leave.

But your body hasn't forgotten, how it feels to be pressed against him, share in his warmth, his nearness. And it betrays you now, wanting that closeness; somehow your hands have curved around his shoulders, gripping them hard. "I need you," you say, breathless. "You have to know that. Don't you?"

Before he can reply, you lean up, casting away your doubt, and kiss him.

It's entirely still and quiet; you can hear the tread of his feet as he steps forward, his fingers coming up to grip your arms, encircling your forearm, holding you lightly but firmly. You inhale the familiar scent of him, and he tastes like chocolate and cinnamon. Something in you jolts, something deep inside you, and he parts his lips, but you don't know whether it's to gasp or to say something, and you won't find out, because at that moment you step away, hands falling away from him, suddenly realizing what you've done.

He blinks; he looks dazed. "What," he says. "Y/N, what?"

"I shouldn't have—I shouldn't have done that," you whisper, stepping back. He holds his arms out for you, but you back away, shaking your head. "Not yet," you say. "Not—not now. I still need—I can't do this, Thorin. I'm sorry."

You turn and hurry away, a hand still pressed to your stomach, where something is calling out for Thorin, the beat of its heart having matched his own, something that needs him as much as you do.

Chapter Text

A month and three days.

It's been one month and three days since it all began. The fighting, the nightmares, the crying, the sadness and that hole in your chest that nothing seems to fill. One month and three days since you told him, and a week since you last spoke to him. And lost your control and let your instincts take hold and make you act like a madwoman.

A month and three days.

It feels like forever, and no time at all.

You still see him every night, in your dreams. He never says anything, just looks at you with broken blue eyes, eyes like bruises in his pale face. You can't move, pinned in place by invisible bonds, and you can only watch helplessly as blood blooms from lacerations in his skin, barbs that go in deep, slicing bone and shredding nerves. Cuts you made, from the knife you wielded. The light goes out of his eyes, leaching from them and turning them dull and flat. He dissolves, like ice into water, like blood in snow, leaving only memory behind.

Then you wake up screaming, or crying, or maybe even both.

A month and three days.

It feels like forever.

You stay cheerful, for your sake and for others. For Lyvya, who exhausts herself getting you things and helping you even if you tell her it's okay. For Yraena, who laughs with you and stays by your side because she knows you're hurting. For Dís, who places cautious, adoring hands on your stomach when she thinks you're asleep and tells your unborn child that it has a loving mother and father and that everything will work out in time. For Frerin, who takes your hands and tells you that you need to talk to him, that this is killing you both. But it's no use. It never will be.

A month and three days.

It feels like no time at all.

You're starting to feel it now, the child growing inside you. The faint, distant echo of a flutter, the feeling of a heartbeat. Two hearts beat inside you now, two lives, two souls. You have a bit of a bump to show too, now; those who didn't know before do now—the princess is going to have a baby. Another heir of Erebor.

"Talk to him, please," says Frerin. "Please, Y/N, you're killing him and yourself. If this goes on any longer there will be nothing more to save. Please talk to him. Make this right. Fix what broke all those weeks ago." He stares into your eyes desperately, looking sorrowful. "Can't you see what this has done? This has to stop."

You do see what it's done; you see it every time you look in a mirror. You can feel the distress in the air, like a pulse of sadness thrumming in your bones. Sometimes you dream that you go and tell him how sorry you are, and he tells you he knows, and that he's sorry too. He reaches for you, to take you in his arms, but just before your lips meet you wake up, every single time.

You take the tisanes and concoctions Lyvya and Dís give you, ones to calm you and help the baby. But as Dís said to you a few days ago, "There will always feel like something is missing as long as the child doesn't sense its father."

You know the child needs him. You need him, just as badly. But till now you haven't known yourself to be this stubborn, or prideful. Well, that is what staying in Erebor amongst the dwarves for six years can do to a person, you suppose.

You want to make things better between you. Of course you do. It's all you dream of. It's just that you're afraid. No, not afraid. You're terrified. Of what you may hear if you ever go and tell him you want him back. Of what he'll say to you. You know that if that conversation goes anything along the lines of it was your fault, you'll either blow up like an activated land mine, or shatter into a thousand pieces nobody can ever hope to put back together.

A month, and three days.

Will you be able to last any longer?

+++

You take a sip from the mug Dís has just handed you. The thick liquid inside is rich and buttery, a little salty, like soup, but with the sharp tang of herbs. You take another sip, feeling warmth spread up your body. You sigh.

"Thanks," you say.

She nods. "How are you feeling? Not too tired, I hope?"

You shake your head mutely and she presses her lips together, giving another terse nod. "That," she says, nodding at the mug clutched in your hands, "should give you some energy, and stay some of the hunger pangs or cravings or any odd things for a few hours." She slides off the desk she was sitting on and sits next to you on Lyvya's bed, sighing. "You should get some rest," she goes on. "Are you tired?"

"No," you say. "No, I'm fine."

She looks unconvinced. "Right. Get some rest all the same, it looks like you haven't slept for a month."

I haven't. "I will, I'll sleep in a few hours," you say. "It's fine, Dís. I'm fine."

Her eyes are unreadable. "How are you holding up? Are you doing all right?"

You nod. "I'm fine," you lie. "I'm doing okay."

"I wish I believed you," she sighs. "I really do. But you don't look fine, Y/N. And I know you are not fine. Just as I know my brother isn't fine either." She gently combs a hand through your hair. "Is there anything I can get you? Any food, or blankets, anything?"

"Thanks, Dís, but I'm all right," you say. "If I need anything, I'll yell."

"All right." She smiles wistfully at the curve of your stomach, the now-noticeable bump where the baby is growing. "It'll all be fine," she says softly, and you don't know if she's talking to you, the child, or herself. "Just give it time, and it'll all fall into place. You'll see." She raises her head, the sad smile still on her face, but her eyes are glimmering with unshed tears. "It'll all be fine."

"I hope it will," you whisper, and she sniffs, shaking her head. "I know you don't want me to ask, but, Y/N—have you talked to him at all? Have you even tried?"

"I did." You remember that night, vividly, snatches of it filtering back through your brain in blurry, distorted flashes—the smell of spice and leather, the taste of heat and Thorin, the feeling of his skin beneath your hands, the sound of his voice shattering you like you were made of flimsy glass, the hollowness in his eyes. "I did talk to him."

"And?"

"And nothing changed, Dís. I'm still angry at him. And he's not too happy with me, either. But I can live with it—"

"Can you really?" Her voice is thin and strained. "Is this your definition of 'living with it'?" She looks disbelieving. "Because if it is, then I really do not want to know what living without it looks like. Y/N, please. Please talk to him. If you don't, I will."

"Dís, don't. Don't make this more difficult." You place the empty mug on the bedside table. "This is between me and Thorin, and I don't want any of you caught in the crossfire."

She stands with a sigh. "Fine." She takes the mug, clasping it between her hands tightly, so tightly that the tips of her fingers turn white. "Be stubborn," she sighs. "You should get some rest now, and sleep even if it's hard." She heads to the door, slipping outside and leaving you alone with only your thoughts to keep you company.

+++

You gasp and sit up ramrod straight, your heart pounding. You look around frantically, because surely he's there, to hold you in his arms and tell you everything will be all right? He's here to tell you it's all right, and that he's sorry and everything is back to normal now, isn't he?

You realize slowly where you are—on Lyvya's bed, the sheets tangled around your waist. And there's nobody in the room besides Lyvya herself, sprawled on the divan, an arm curving to the floor from where she's sleeping. She doesn't wake, her breaths still even and shallow.

You blink the tears from your eyes, frustrated. Why are you never getting over this? Why is it so hard to just accept that he's not going to come back? Why can't you just give up?

You take a shaky breath and look out the window, at the breaking dawn. The sun creeps out from behind the mountains in the distance, raying the sky in brutal shades of gold and orange and red, painting the world in shades of morning. Another morning, another day without him. A month and four days now. You grimace and slide out of bed.

As has become your usual fashion, your bath is quick and simple, efficient and economical. You dress in a tea gown, forgoing a corset as you have been for the past month. You comb your hair quickly, gathering it back in a loose chignon, and gaze at yourself in the mirror.

You're paler than usual, and your skin looks sallow, pinched, stretched across your cheekbones. There are bags under your eyes, and your cheeks look completely bloodless. You sigh, biting your lip. White crescents bloom on the supple skin as you do, quickly reddening again when you stop biting it.

You look haunted, dead, gaunt. Only a few months ago you'd been flushed with color, bright-eyed, full-cheeked and happy, blushing when you'd look at yourself in the mirror in the morning like this, thinking of what you'd been doing last night. Remembering, smiling to yourself. You'd been happy. In love, just like any girl your age in love. You hadn't foreseen this then. This horrible emptiness inside you where he used to be. In your mind then nothing could come between you.

You blink at your reflection, and a single, solitary tear slips from beneath your left eyelid and slides down your cheek, glimmering in the morning light filtering in from the small window in the bathroom. You don't move to wipe it away, letting it drip down onto your dress, where it dampens your collar slightly.

You stare into the mirror for what feels like years, losing track of time. You're looking at yourself but not really seeing anything, sightless and lost in thought. It's only when you hear Lyvya bustling around outside that you realize how late it is.

You sniff and wipe at your cheek, even if any tears shed are long since dry. You give yourself another brief once-over, deciding you'll have to pass, and step outside.

Lyvya smiles at you, folding the sheet on the divan. "Good morning, miss," she says. "Did you sleep well?"

You force a smile and nod. "Not bad, Lyvya. You?"

"Oh, you know me, miss," she laughs. "I sleep like the dead." She walks over to you and smiles brightly, though you can see past the artifice, down to how worried and concerned and sad she is for you beneath. She pats your stomach, a sort of protective happiness settling over her face. This time, though, it isn't fake. "And what about you, little one?" she asks, her voice soft. "Did you take care of your mother last night? Did you make sure she slept well?"

You smile a little, and she beams at you. "Well, that's just wonderful, isn't it," she sighs, and there are tears glimmering in her eyes. "That's what you should do, miss, you should look out for each other. That's what family is about."

"You're right," you say, your voice distant. "It is."

She sighs, and puts her hands on her hips. "Right then, I'll just go have a bath. I'll see you later, then, miss." She kisses you on the cheek and heads off, humming. The door closes behind her and you hardly wait a moment or two before slipping from the room, heading out into the corridor. Your feet carry you to a familiar corridor, and a familiar door. You bite your lip, and decide what to do.

You raise a fist and knock on the door, holding your breath. One. Two. Three. Four. Five—

It flies open, revealing a comfortably familiar, gangly figure, dressed shabbily as per usual in an old robe and carpet slippers, and stubble on his cheeks, long sandy blond hair pulled into a messy ponytail. But the eyes, bright, cheerful blue and navy and cyan, behind enormous glasses, are chipper and alive.

They widen with surprise when he catches sight of you. "Y/N?"

You smile tremulously. "Hi, Faryn. Can I come in?"

+++

"And that's what happened," you sigh, stretching your legs and placing a protective hand on your abdomen. "That's what's going on right now."

He blinks at you over the rim of his teacup, which doesn't have tea in it, but is actually filled with brandy, which is his idea of a welcoming and soothing, comforting drink. You shudder at what Lady Hisa would say to that.

"That is frankly quite alarming," he informs you. "It's not very good for you, or your baby. Or your husband, for that matter. Or anyone, really. It... it isn't the right path to go by, if you know what I mean."

"I think I do," you say darkly.

He picks up a crystal decanter full of dark golden liquid and pours some more into his teacup, presumably having finished his earlier helping. He seems to think for a moment, then holds it out to you. "Brandy?"

"I'm pregnant, Faryn," you sigh. "I'm not supposed to drink."

"Right." He sets it back on the table with a soft clink. "But it's only manners, you know."

"Offering pregnant women alcoholic beverages isn't manners, Faryn, it's ignorance," you chide, smiling. You can always count on him to lift your spirits—no pun intended, of course—even when you're at your lowest.

He waves a hand, spilling brandy onto the table. "Nonsense. It's polite. And I know a dwarrowdam or two who wouldn't say no, by the way." He winks, sipping from his teacup again. "And, before you can ask, yes, Lady Hisa is absolutely one of them."

You snort. "Sure she is."

"Shh," he says. "I know things about that woman that'd make your hair curl, and that is an understatement. She's been in her fair share of sticky situations, and she's gotten her hands dirty to get out of them, let me tell you."

"Really?" Despite yourself, you feel yourself leaning forward in anticipation. Well, you think, gossip can be anyone's weakness, really. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," he says, reaching forward and gently tweaking your nose, "it's none of your business and not my job or place to tell you. Now, we were talking about your life and your decisions and your drama, not Hisa's."

"Oh, come on." You pout. "If I wanted a psychiatrist, or a counselor or a therapist or whatever, I'd have hired one."

"Ah," he says, lifting his teacup, "but my services are free, my lady."

You roll your eyes. "I've heard that about you."

"Ouch." He watches you reproachfully, sipping again. "Sharp are the arrows of a soul shattered and a heart broken." He raises his brows at you. "I do see more than you let on, Y/N. I can see how this has broken you."

You shake your head. "I just... I don't know how everything went so wrong all of a sudden. It was just normal, happy life and then a sharp left turn into... I don't know, Dante's Inferno or something."

"Who's what?" He stares at you and you shake your head, smiling a bit. "Nothing, just... never mind. Just that everything suddenly went so wrong. And I'm so lost."

He sets his teacup down, frowning pensively. "I'm sure you've heard this already, from about seven thousand people, but you can't sit this one out, Y/N. You have to face it, go and talk to him, go make it right. You know Thorin, and he's not going to come to you and just ask you to forget it all. He's going to keep his distance, and he's not coming forward any more. He's exhausted his limits, by even talking to you that day. He's faced what was eating him up inside. But have you?"

You stay silent.

"See? You still haven't come to terms with your mistake. He had a point, you know. He wanted this, he was ready. Why weren't you? Tell me the truth, Y/N. Why didn't you want a child?"

You stare at the carpet, gauging your answer. "My... my mother," you say finally. "Before I was born, she felt like she didn't want a child. She loved my dad, and she married him and they were happy, but she never wanted a child. She just didn't want to... to take up that terrifying responsibility, that enormous burden. And so they didn't. He respected her decision, and they were happy."

You take a deep breath. "But then she got pregnant. She was taking medicines, contraceptive ones, but sometimes they don't work. And it didn't, for her, and it happened. She was careful, but it still happened." You shake your head, unseeing. "And it just tore her apart. She wasn't prepared. She thought she never would be, and so it took a lot from her, the pregnancy. She kept the child, but all the stress, the unpreparedness, everything... it took a massive toll on her. And the baby."

"What happened?" he asks softly.

"She lost it." You exhale. "Five months in, she lost it. A miscarriage. The baby died." You shake your head again. "And it just... it wrecked her more than the stress of holding the baby did. Because she'd come to love it, the child, even if she may not have wanted it before. She loved the idea of it, a little baby boy with her eyes and my dad's hair..." You swallow hard.

"Later, they tried again. And that time, she took care of the child, loved it, nurtured it, kept it healthy and safe, and then I was born, nine months later, just when I was supposed to. And she loved me too, because she and my dad made me. Later, when I was fifteen, she told me about the baby brother I never had, the one who was never... the one who never made it. She sounded so heartbroken, even then, that she lost him, that I resolved right then and there that nobody, nothing, could have that kind of power over me. To break a person is one thing, but to scatter the powder of the shards they were shattered into is another." You swallow. "I didn't want a child, either. I never did."

"Until...?" He raises his eyebrows, enigmatic, and you cave, sighing. "Until Thorin. He just... reminded me of what could be, of what we could make together. And I did want it, but there was this block in my mind, repressing that desire to create something with him. The fear that the same thing that happened to my mom, would happen to me. Sometimes I'm still scared I'll wake up and..." You place a hand on your stomach. "And it'll all be gone."

"You know that it wouldn't happen," he says. "Not if you make a conscious effort. Not if you take care of it and help it. Then it'll work out."

"I know," you say. "But then, all I could think of was my mother's tears and how sad she seemed. Even if it was just a possibility, a shadow of a person, she still loved it. And then it was gone, and she was destroyed by it. So was my dad, and I... I didn't want that, for me or for him. Not when he wanted it so much more than I did."

You lapse into silence, spent. You lace your fingers tightly together, swallowing. Sometimes it's so much easier to talk to Faryn—Faryn, who will listen to you and won't interrupt you and won't give you pity or sympathy or ordinary reactions. Faryn, who you can talk openly with without feeling like you're giving away too much. Faryn, who's been your best friend for six years.

Surely enough, he's just looking at you, his multicolored, polychromatic blue eyes gazing out at you, and the only thing in them is resolution, resolve. It's like there are two Faryns, one who's all light jokes and laughing humor, and one who seems to look into your very soul and tell you exactly what you need to hear. The dichotomy is a startling one.

"You do see what you have to do, don't you?" he asks. "You have to tell him this. He has to understand. And the only way to make him understand is to make him see everything. Right now, all he sees is half of it. You need to make sure he's seeing it all, and you're both on the same level, or else this won't work. You know that, don't you?"

You hesitate, and nod.

"Good." He stands and kneels in front of you, patting your shoulder. "Once he knows, it'll be easy to make all this right. The words will come more easily if he knows the whole truth. And I know you'll both be brilliant parents." He smiles at you, and somehow you know he's being totally, guilelessly genuine. "Your child is a lucky little thing, to have a mother and father like you and Thorin. It'll be a good child. But in here"—he taps your abdomen—"it needs to be surrounded by good vibrations, not bad ones. Fix that before it's too late."

You give him a watery smile. "Maybe you should take up a career as a therapist, Faryn. You'd make some serious coin."

He laughs. "I've been known to make the occasional world-changing motivational speech," he says, and just like that he's just Faryn again, scruffy and sweet and a little odd in his huge glasses and old robe and impish but wise smile, like a faerie in one of the old Scottish tales back at home. To you, he symbolizes home, and hearth and warmth. Symbolizes belonging, even if he never really has himself.

"Thank you," you say. "I think it was a good idea, coming to see you today."

"It's never a bad idea to come see me." He grins. "You know you're always welcome here, Y/N. Don't even bother to knock, I'll always be at your service." He sweeps a bow, which would be graceful and impressive if his glasses didn't slip off his face and clatter to the floor.

He swears and lunges for them, falling over in the process, and while you would normally be teasing him about his clumsiness, this time—this time you're already laughing.

Chapter Text

"Thanks, Lyvya," you say.

She takes your plate with a smile. "It's nothing, miss," she says. "Someone's got to make sure you've been, and still are eating well, shouldn't they?"

She whisks the plate off towards the bathroom. "Well then, miss Y/N? Is there anything more you need, or will you call it a night?"

You stretch with a yawn, a palm spreading over your stomach as is your usual habit now. "I think I'm okay," you sigh, standing. You scoop up your nightgown where it's folded on the chair, heading to the bathroom. "Today was sort of exhausting."

"I could make a nice cup of tea," she says, peering at you not without concern. "It'll help you feel better, and you'll sleep more, and deeper. I'll bring up a pot, if you would like...?"

You squeeze her hand. "Thanks, Lyvya," you say. "But there's really no need. I'll be fine, really. I'll just go to bed now."

She shakes her head, but her expression is still gentle—gentle, but firm. "I insist, miss. I know it will help. Wait here, I'll be back before you know it." With another smile, she hurries off, leaving you to shake your head after her.

You've changed, and you're sitting on the bed, feeling inordinately, impossibly tired. You feel like there's bags of sand tied to your feet, dragging you down, weighing you down. Your blood seems to be flowing sluggishly through your veins, turning your eyes heavy and laden. This whole situation is taking more from you than you'd ever anticipated.

Lyvya appears in the doorway, holding a gently smoking pot of tea, and you can smell it from all the way where you're sitting—mint. The familiar scent washes over you, making tears prick at your eyes; it'd always be mint tea, every single time, whenever you'd been bedridden with cramps every month. Lyvya would bring it up, set it on the nightstand, and dampen some cloths, leaving them next to the tea, and it'd always be Thorin who'd give them to you. He'd been embarrassed, and flustered, the first few times, but then it had all fallen into a schedule, a ritual, something comfortable almost.

You can still remember how he'd insist on helping you sip the tea despite your protests that you could do it yourself, the way he'd smile and press a kiss to your lips every time you'd sip, coaxing you to finish a cup, then two, then three. The way he'd calmly handle all your mood swings and your throwing things at him and shouting, the way he'd rub your back slowly, murmur soothing nonsense as the pain would rip through you.

You reach out and blindly take the cup Lyvya proffers to you, taking a cautious sip. The familiar flavor fills your mouth as memories accost your mind. The way the littlest things have the biggest meanings, how small, inconsequential things can tie themselves into your memory and leave an imprint there, an impression, something profound and meaningful.

"Thank you," you say. She only smiles at you, her eyes sad. "I thought you would want to taste something familiar," she says, and you feel another pang, for how thoughtful she's being, of how much she cares. "I thought it would help."

"It does. It is." You nod, taking another sip. "Thanks."

She smiles, tucking a lock of hair behind your ear. "I know how you feel about this, miss," she says. "I may not understand, but... I know. And I hope it all gets resolved soon, for your child's sake and yours, and your husband's."

Somehow, you manage to crack a smile. "Me, too," you hear yourself say, as if from a great distance. Your voice sounds echoing, like you're standing in a tunnel. "Me too, Lyvya."

Her smile turns sadder, and she ducks her head, standing. She nods at the cup in your hand, and days softly, "I hope the tea is all right." Then she hurries off towards the bathroom, the door shutting behind her softly.

You finish off the tea and set it on the bedside table, and carefully stretch out onto the bed, exhaling as you settle into the sheets. They smell like Lyvya—a calming mixture of candles and sugar and lemons. Now, after so many weeks of you inhabiting the room it smells a little like you, too; vanilla and spices.

You quickly close your eyes as you hear the door open, and Lyvya emerge, and you hear her humming as she readies the divan where she's been sleeping. You hear rustling, and then the lights are doused.

You look up at the dark ceiling for what feels like hours, watching shadows play across the darkness, lighting it and then darting away like quicksilver. Your mind wanders, and the more you think about the past month, the angrier you get—not at him, but at yourself. Replaying what had happened, what you'd said, what he'd said...

You make a tight fist on the bedsheets, feeling helplessness and anger choke you. You ruined everything—of course, you could still hear him, all those weeks ago, his voice slurred, distorted, echoing uglily through your mind. If you don't want anything more to do with our child, then I don't want anything more to do with you.

Those words were the ones that were taking you the longest time to come back from. Part of you knows he was drunk and probably saying the first thing that came to the top of his head, but another part of you tells you that he meant it, and that he knew what he was saying. In a way, wasn't he right, though? He'd probably been appalled that you'd ever even consider getting rid of the baby. And rightly so, too.

Another part of your brain speaks up. He should respect your decisions and know that you do what you do for your reasons, and that those reasons are justified.

But had you respected his decisions? His sacrifices, what he's done for you? He'd probably swallowed his opinions and wishes for three years just because you weren't ready. But you are ready, and you know that now. So who is in the wrong for this? You, or him?

You exhale, biting your lip. You're both wrong here. You've both made mistakes, and you've both been blind. But if there's one thing you know for sure, it's that the one who began it all, the one who was the first domino that made the others all crash onto the ground, is you.

And that's why it's got to be you who ends it. If you don't, then it will never end, and you know it. If you don't take the first step, then the marathon would never be over. Hell, it would never even start.

You feel a faint flutter in your stomach and place a hand atop it, wishing that you could somehow tell your child that soon, it would have its father. Soon, he would be near again. Soon, everything will be the way it should have been.

Soon, you think, and with that word echoing in your mind, you finally fall asleep.

+++

You peel your eyes open in the morning, feeling more hopeful than you have in weeks. A sort of steely, iron-hard resolve settles in the marrow of your bones, one that makes your blood sing, a determined melody of determination, of firmness.

Today will be the last day. This will be the end of everything. It ends, and it ends soon.

You will make sure of it.

You get dressed quickly, your heart racing in anticipation, but for what you don't know, exactly. You scrape your hair back into a messy ponytail, quickly assessing your reflection before you step out of the bathroom.

Lyvya smiles at you, but it immediately melts into a look of almost confusion. "Miss, are you going somewhere?"

"What? Oh, um..." You balk. "Actually, I was just... going to eat... breakfast." You try for a winsome smile, biting the inside of your lip. She puts her hands on her hips and fixes you with a critical blue-green glare. "Miss," she says distinctly. "Where are you going?"

You deflate. "I'm going to talk to Thorin. Make this right, fix what I broke. I can't live like this any longer, Lyvya, always lying awake at night wondering what I could have done differently to make things have worked out... I can't. I have to do something. I'm talking to him, I'm going to tell him I'm sorry and that I know I was wrong..."

"Oh, miss." She wraps her arms around you and you hug her back, sighing. She draws away, and she's smiling. "Well, one of you has sense, at any rate," she says. "And, miss, you absolutely cannot go out with your hair looking like that." She deftly steps behind you, pulling the tie from your hair and pulling the strands into a neat braided crown on your head. Then she straightens your dress and steps back. "There," she says. "Much better, isn't it?"

You laugh. "Much, thanks. I should get going now, before I lose my nerve."

She squeezes your hand. "I know you'll do the right thing," she says again. "All I ask is that you don't let fear hold your tongue. Say what you mean and only then this will truly be over, all right?"

You take a deep breath and nod. "Okay. Okay, I won't."

With a final nod, you leave the room, quickly heading away into the main corridor. As you walk along the passage you wonder where you're going. You don't even know where he is. But you do, whispers a soft voice in the back of your mind. You do know where he'll be, right now. And that's back where this all began, because today is that day.

That day—the day you fell here, into Middle-earth. The day you met him. It's been six years now. Six years since you met him, and you'd seen him every single day of your life since then.

Until now.

You grit your teeth and mentally curse yourself, walking faster against the tide of memories that threaten to engulf you. You will not dwell on it, not right now, not when it can be a weakness that could be the catalyst for everything to come crashing down again.

You stop in front of the right door, and catch your breath. It's time to face the demons. You push the door open and step inside, and it falls shut behind you, the lock clicking into place.

You step into the room, and the door closes behind you. You look around and see him there, like he is every morning, shoulders and back and chest bare the way it is every morning, his hair messy and tousled, tumbling down his shoulders the way it is every morning. He's whistling softly as he adjusts the bedsheets, just like he does every morning, tucking the ends into the mattress neatly, stretching it across the bed and leaving it crisp and neat. You watch the steel-hard muscle shifting languidly beneath scarred, soft skin, skin you let your hands press against last night. As you watch, he turns and sees you, and the way his whole face seems to light up whenever he catches sight of you never ceases to amaze you, that someone can love you that much. And you love him just as much, more every day...

You rip yourself from the memory, biting your lip hard to keep them all at bay. He is there, just where he always is, by the bed, a hand on the sheets. They're still clean and spotless, and with a sudden jolt you realize Lyvya hasn't been in here since she helped you the first time. So that means...

"It was you?" Your voice sounds strange in the silence, sudden and loud. You wince internally as he tenses, then turns, his expression flat. He doesn't say anything.

"You... changed the sheets? Cleaned the room up?" you go on. Somehow you find the strength to walk forward, close enough to see the shadows in his eyes, on his face. Slowly, he nods, a sudden flash of vulnerability flitting across his face before it vanishes. Your throat aches. "I thought it was Lyvya."

"I know you did." He doesn't sound like anything is out of the ordinary, but you can feel the tension beneath the words, like a lion preparing to pounce. "What does it matter if I changed the sheets, Y/N? What are you doing here?"

"It matters to me." Your voice seems to have shrunk, folding in on itself. "And you know why I'm here."

He shakes his head. "I don't know why. I don't know, sometime over the past month and a week I've lost the ability to predict what you're going to do or why you do what you do. I can't tell whether you're here to ask me something, or because today is... is that day, or just to make a point—I don't know; what are you doing here, Y/N?"

You swallow hard, and exhale. "I can't do this anymore. I'm done. It's over. I can't live like this for a single day longer."

His eyes are hard and flat and glittering as he watches you, saying nothing. You step closer and go on, your eyes searching his desperately. "It's been one month and seven days, Thorin. I know you've been counting too."

Silence.

"It's enough," you choke. "I've had enough."

"Enough of what," he asks softly, his voice dangerously low. Your hands ball into fists as you look directly into his face. "Enough dancing around the truth and avoiding you, enough sleeping in Lyvya's room and hiding, enough of trying to live my life normally without you even if that's impossible. Enough of pretending like I don't need you, pretending I can raise this child by myself. Enough telling everyone I'm fine and that they don't have to worry about me. That's it. I can't do it anymore."

Another step forward. "Every day, every single goddamned day I put this off, told myself I could handle it without you. But I can't. I can't live with the fact that I did all this." You gesture at the room, the bare hearth and the musty smell and the cold air. "I just can't."

One more step. "But I'm sorry," you say. "I thought I wasn't ready. And I think it's time you knew why." You look away. "It's because of my mother, the same thing, it happened to her. She wasn't ready, but it still happened. And she lost her baby. It died, five months in." You blink the mist from your eyes, seeing his wide eyes like sapphires in your blurry vision. "And I couldn't let that happen to you. Or me. It'd kill us both, and until I was totally ready, who was I to promise that it'd all be fine? What if we lost it, Thorin? What if I lost it? Wouldn't it be my fault?"

You don't look away, even as you feel the tears gathering in your eyes. "So I told you I didn't want it. And I was wrong. I was ready, all along, but I did it realize it. But I do now. And I'm keeping the baby. But I can't do it alone. This child, it needs its father. For weeks now, it's been like it's calling out for you, but I can never do anything. But now..."

Another step. "I'm sorry for what I said, or implied. I'm not getting rid of the baby. If it ruined everything, then I'll gladly take the blame." The implication hangs in the air, a heavy pause meeting your words.

"It isn't all your fault," he says finally. "Don't say that it was only your fault."

You blink, and a tear traces down your cheek. His eyes search your face. "I've been replaying the conversations we've had, over and over, for the past few weeks. Every time I see something different, something I hadn't seen the last time. I never noticed then, how much you blamed yourself. And I thought you should... Until a few days ago, when I saw you, speaking with Dís. You took the weight of the world onto your shoulders, when it should have been both of us."

This time it's him who steps closer. "I also spoke that day. I said..." He looks away, his mouth twisting faintly. "I said something I would never forgive myself for, if I were you. And some part of me meant it. And when you left, it was like a punishment, for those words. I kept you away because that was my penance, my price. I drove you away, so you needed to stay away, to cause me pain for what I did." He shakes his head. "But I didn't realize that the punishment wasn't only borne by me. It wasn't only killing me."

One more step. He's close enough to touch now. "It was killing you, too," he says softly. "And that was my biggest mistake of all. Not realizing your pain. Not seeing your turmoil. Not being there to help you and the baby, not being where I was supposed to."

Another tear falls. "So you..." Your voice is a whisper. "You still want me? After what I... after what I said? You're not... angry?"

"I was," he says. "And so were you, and both our angers were justified. But if we are both forgiven, then perhaps it will be a lesson learned and no more."

"I forgave you the second I left," you say. "I only realized it later. When I asked myself why I was really angry—and it was because you were right, in a way. Who am I to tell you I'll take away something you've wanted for so long? Who am I to snatch away your happiness? Who am I to—"

"Y/N." He shakes his head. "What I said... I'd be surprised if you still wouldn't have forgiven me in fifty years. I know I wouldn't. If anything, I should be telling you these things." He's looking at you, just looking at you, the way he always does—hope, desperation, love, wanting. "If you would forgive me for what I said—if it were enough if I only said I was sorry—"

"No," you say, "stop. Don't say that, Thorin. I'm sorry. And I forgave you a long time ago. But what I said, if you can't ever say it's all right, then fine, I understand, I just want you to know that—"

But he never finds out what you want him to know, and neither do you, because before you can finish he closes the distance between you in a single step, his hands curving around your face and his lips descending onto yours, effectively stopping your self-inflicted tirade.

A dam breaks inside you, spilling out all the bitterness, the choked and repressed emotion, the hate and sadness and anger and frustration. It momentarily blinds you, and for a second you're not there, in the Mountain in your room. You're somewhere else, somewhere safe and comforting and warm. Somewhere you want to stay.

Your own tentative arms slip around his shoulders, bringing him closer. Part of you is disbelieving, the other part is relieved, the other is just confused. It's clear you've been forgiven, and so is he, and you're both sorry for what you said, and knowing that, does it mean everything's better now? That its all right and there'll be no more fighting?

Then, you decide, Screw it. I don't care.

Your grip grows surer, your feet raising you up on tiptoe so as to better reach his mouth, your hands sliding into his hair, gripping hard as your teeth graze his lower lip. He sighs raggedly into your mouth as you do, his hands still framing your face tenderly, protectively. Your bodies press together, fitting perfectly as usual, aligning neatly. But this time, you gasp slightly and draw away a little as a sudden throb from your stomach distracts you.

His eyes are dazed. "What? What is it?"

You look down. "I... I felt something. Just something small, but... still something."

A hand slides down to cup the back of your neck as he presses a butterfly-soft kiss to your neck, then draws away, his other hand brushing gently across your swollen abdomen. His eyes soften, as does his expression, smoothening into a gentle, protective sort of adoration. The backs of your eyes ache as you watch him.

"I suppose it can tell," you say softly. "That you're near, and you're its father. It's sort of instinct, I guess."

His arms wrap around you suddenly, lifting you clean off your feet. You shriek and grip his arms as he swings you around, both of you laughing, and then sets you down, kissing you again, then again, then again. "I love it already," he says quietly, and you smile, just at him. The sort of smile you only ever give him.

You see a flash of blue, and then he's pulling you in again, arms tight around your waist as he kisses you hard. Head spinning, you retaliate, gripping his shoulders as you kiss him back, reeling in the suddenness, the rightness. It feels like something had been missing, before, and now it's back. You're finally whole again.

Your hands move of their own volition, somehow doing something with his tunic, getting it off with almost alarming precision, considering how you're not even paying attention to the task. You bat it away and then your hands are on bare skin and you've needed this so, so badly.

It's almost curious, your careful exploration of his body. As if you're trying to remember, to rediscover the planes and edges and dips in his skin. He's thinner than you remember, but still strong, the muscle beneath his skin hard and capable. Your fingers hook into the waistband of his trousers, feeling soft skin beneath your hands as you tilt your head, your lips opening underneath his.

His hands are less sure on your dress, but it comes away as well, up off your head, leaving you bare in the chill air. You shiver, but before you even feel the cold he's there, his heat enveloping you, wrapping you in warmth and that powerful, masculine scent of his, the one you've missed so badly. You inhale it deeply, feeling it settle in your bones, a pulse going through your stomach as you do.

You push down and then he's kicking his trousers away, pulling you towards the bed, and then your kisses turn frantic, desperate, full of both want and need. The next few seconds are a blur of gasps and shared breath and the rustle of fabric and then somehow you're beneath him, on your back on the bed, his fingers laced with yours and keeping your hands above your head as his tongue slices into your mouth. You arch up, tasting the musky, spicy sharpness of him, moaning into his mouth as your tongues tangle together.

His mouth leaves yours, trailing a burning path down the line of your jaw, sucking at the pulse point in your throat, mouthing your heartbeat as it races beneath your skin. His touch is soft, but electrifying, sparking your skin wherever he touches it, leaving thousands of trails of fire in his wake.

You think you say his name, but you can't be sure—everything seems to be shimmering as if dusted with glitter, throwing off dozens of multicolored sparkles and slowing down time. Your blood is racing in your veins, fast and thunderous. You've never felt more alive, more awake.

Not even half an hour ago you'd still been fighting, but now, this—every second of this is burning away the memories of the pain, the sadness and anger and bitterness, of what was. That was then, and this is now. And you want to stay in now, forget then, let the wound close. The scar would remain, but only as a reminder.

He draws away slowly, and you lick your lips, already craving that taste of him, wanting more of it. You move to draw him down again, but he places a finger on your lips, shaking his head as he lowers himself again, his lips outlining the wings of your collarbone, the too-sharp bones and too-prominent hollows in your throat. Your head falls back, a gasp escaping your lips as his mouth moves lower, pressing to the swell of your breast, his tongue flicking over your skin and making your back arch.

Then lower still. You raise yourself up on your elbows, your hair falling down your shoulders and back as you do, watching him, feeling wanting and tenderness in equal measure beating through your blood. He presses light, adoring kisses to the swell in your abdomen, and you bite your lip, your heart fluttering.

"I can almost feel it," he says softly, eyes flicking up to yours. You feel tears gather in your own, and nod, feeling like your chest is cracking open. His smile is wistful, a little sad, but happy at the same time. "Like a little butterfly."

You choke on a small, wet little laugh, sniffing and nodding again. "It's been like that for about three weeks now," you say, and your voice cracks halfway through the sentence. The smile fades from his face, replaced by something akin to regret, or bitterness, or perhaps both.

"I should have been there," he says quietly. "It should have been me taking care of you, not Dís and Yraena and Lyvya. I was supposed to be with you, helping you, but I wasn't. I should have been with you every step of the way, but... I wasn't."

Your fingers graze his cheek as you shake your head. "You know why you couldn't have been there. It isn't your fault."

"I don't think it'll even truly recognize me right now," he says, apparently ignoring you. "It'll have to get used to me, because now it'll be used to Dís and Yraena and you and Lyvya and even Frerin—but not me. And I'm..."

"Stop." You place a finger on his lips. "Don't wreck yourself. This isn't hopeless. The baby is only about two and a half months old. It'll take time to get used to your presence, but it will get used to it, soon. Already whenever I'm near you its heartbeat gets stronger, more palpable. It already does know you, but it just has to recognize you now. And that'll only take days."

You lean forward and kiss him softly. "I love you. And don't ever think that this is hopeless. It isn't. It never will be." Another kiss. "Okay?"

His eyes slip closed. "Okay."

"Good," you say, shifting and moving closer. "Now shut up and kiss me."

So he does.

+++

Light.

And heat.

Those are the first two things you become aware of, even before you open your eyes. For a moment you have no idea where you are, or what happened in the past few hours, and your mind floats in a sort of trancelike bliss, one that memory and realization don't pervade.

Then you stretch—and freeze, your eyes flying open. Your body is pressed up against another's, your arm thrown across his chest and your head lying in the crook of his shoulder, an arm curving protectively around you. His other arm has snaked around your waist, his hand resting just above the baby growing in your stomach, a tender sort of protection in the touch. Your fingers are laced with his where they're pressed to your skin.

You sigh, going still again, settling back into the covers. You don't know how long it's been since you both fell asleep, but all you know is that you just got the best sleep you've had for the past month and a half. Maybe in all your life. Deep and dreamless and safe. And it feels like something big and heavy that had been sitting on your chest is gone now, your body impossibly light.

Mahal... How long has it been since you've woken up like this, in your room on your bed with your sheets covering you and with your husband's body tangled around yours? How long has it been since you woke up with his scent surrounding you and his heat wrapping you and that total, all-encompassing sense of safety that only he can bring you settled in your bones?

Against your volition tears prick at your eyes and you bury your head into his shoulder, blinking them back, sniffling a little. In all those weeks of fighting and distance and bitterness... in all that time something in you had cracked, broken—the simple thought that despite it all, you missed him. The warm sound of his laugh, the frown line that appears between his eyebrows whenever he's worried or concerned, the way you could talk for hours and hours and never tire of the sound of his voice and the way he talks. He's your best friend and your best love, and it had been killing you to let him go.

You must be pretty loud in trying to stop yourself from crying, because you feel him shift, his arm tightening around you and his body stiffening before relaxing again. "Y/N?"

You sniff again and wipe your eyes before giving him a watery smile. "Hi."

There's that little frown line. Dammit. "What's wrong?" he asks. "Is everything okay?"

You nod valiantly. "Yes, everything's fine..." Despite your protest, your body betrays you, another few tears slipping down your cheeks. "I'm fine," you say, but your voice cracks in the middle.

"No, you're not fine," he says, drawing away gently. His palm comes up to cradle your face, his thumb wiping away the tears. He looks unimaginably sad, and even more regretful. It breaks your heart. "What have you done to yourself, my darling? What have I done to you?"

"No," you say, shaking your head with another sniff. "It wasn't you. You could never hurt me like that, Thorin..."

"But I did, didn't I?" He leans forward, and your lips meet softly. The kiss tastes of salt and regret, and when he draws away a fresh bout of tears spills from beneath your lashes. "No," you say. "I just... I thought I'd lost you, forever. I couldn't live like that, without you. It was killing me."

"Just as living without you was killing me." His eyes are the brightest of bright blue. "I came here today because it's been six years. I know you came here knowing I would be here too, since it's that day today. I just couldn't believe it's been only six years and something has driven us apart like that, something that could have destroyed everything that began the same day so many years ago."

"Thorin, I love you." They're simple words, but there's years of meaning and purity behind it. "And nothing can ever drive us apart—not again, anyway."

"There will be arguments and fights, you know," he murmurs, lips quirking up at the corner. You allow yourself a tiny smile, too. "There will be... but only until this." You lean up and kiss him again, and this time it tastes like heat and electricity and fire, like hope. He pulls you against him, a hand tangling in your hair as his other hand presses to your back.

You're about to shift closer when a sudden throb darts through you, making you gasp and pull back and look down. You place a hand on your abdomen, sighing. "Again," you say.

"I don't think it likes it when its mother and father get too affectionate with each other," he says, clearly suppressing a grin. "Maybe it feels embarrassed."

You snort. "That awkward moment when you're a fetus trying to sleep in peace and your mother and father keep having sex," you say. "It must be quite annoying. Poor thing."

"Mmm." His nose brushes yours, softly. "I think it'll have to adjust. Since we'll be doing it a lot more now."

"Ha ha." You tilt your head up to kiss him again. "Getting a little too ambitious, aren't we?"

"You know you want it," he breathes against your lips. Your arms wrap around his shoulders, pulling him in again. "Or maybe," you murmur, "the baby's just happy that it's mom and dad are finally together again and aren't fighting anymore."

"Then it's not the only one who's happy about that," he says, and you smile. "It isn't," you agree, pulling him closer, and then you don't speak again for a long, long time.