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Like Gold In A Dying Fire

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Dwalin is running across the crowd after the battle, shoving elves and men and Dain's dwarves (all shaking, alive, screaming in pain at their wounds, stunned because there was fighting and then there was not and now there's just breathing, and how can you breathe after the world is torn asunder?) aside, not thinking, barely conscious to keep on breathing, just running, because he's sure he'll lose his mind if he allows himself to think or be aware of himself more than is strictly necessary (it's always like that, after a battle. He loses himself. He wishes it would scare him. He wishes he'd never come back).

He comes to the tent and nearly stumbles into a ragged, burly shape. The Skinchanger fixates her brown eyes onto him for a moment, so small compared to her, so big and brave for his people. There is a quickly patched-up cut on her left cheek and she stops.

She doesn't say anything, though. She just smiles, sad, hopefully a liar and reassuring. Dwalin stares at her with eyes he is not aware of how mad and desperate they look, and then shoves his way past Beorn (she expected this, she knew this was going to happen- she's lost, too, and it screams every night through her chest like fire, through the shackles around her wrist) and into the tent.

They're still taking his armour off, the gold catches the light and paints the cloth walls with flames that lick and do not kill.

Dwalin has to remind himself to breathe.

He looks up at Balin, a child searching for his older brother's comfort, but Balin is silent, immobile, staring at the body on the bed with a quiet, quiet face. There are two bodies behind him, Dwalin then sees, but their chests aren't moving, and he knows he is about to retch.

He doesn't.

(All of this takes place in a millisecond, in the time it takes Balin to breathe in and then breathe out, and he see his brother rush to his king's bedside, and his heart aches even more).

"No." Dwalin whispers. A single syllable, almost inaudible, and then again: "No. No, no no no no no no no no," it accompanies him as he covers the distance between the entrance and the bed, it fills his mind with something, "No," and Balin closes his eyes when he hears it, furrows his brow, breathes when the first tear graces his cheek. He cries silently, like a man for whom crying is private and intimate and his. He cries looking away from Dwalin as Dwalin's hands hover over Thorin's chest, the golden breastplate torn across, blood bubbling in the chasm, Dwalin knows his hands are shaking. He suddenly starts tearing the breastplate off, roughly, his mind not knowing what to do, his mind wanting to free Thorin's bloodied, screaming breaths, his mind instructing his vocal chords and lips to speak a single, hopeless word that becomes a mantra, a sound the warrior can cling to as his mind is filled with nothing but a single desperate scream (high-pitched, continuous, monotone: insane) that is begging to be freed.

"My... my lord-" he hears someone say, an elven healer, her dark hands reaching for his arms and taking hold, "my lord, you are hurting him!"

"No, no, I need to-"

"My lord-"

"Dwalin," Balin sternly, sadly, whispers but isn't heard.

The healer grabs Dwalin's shaking wrists and he is forced to look her in the eye, her hair pulled back in a tight braid, her eyes calming his ravaging heartbeat.

And then,


Thorin's eyes are open, brimming with tears from the pain despite, and Dwalin wishes Mahal would show him the mercy of not having to look at his âzyungâl's blue eyes one last time, cold eyes, defiant eyes, wonderful eyes. So he shuts his own, and swallows, and the girl lets go of his hands.

"I am here, iglanlêkh mizim."

Up to then, he hadn't realized how shaky his voice actually is, how drenched in tears it is, how tiny it sounds in his big warrior's chest. He'd never thought of using such small, precious words in public, words he'd whispered in his ear when it was dark, and night kissed their secrets the same way they kissed each other's scars.

But up to then he hadn't realized he was losing his mind all along.

Dwalin notices he's crying (since how long, though? Since Oin came to him and told him to go to the Elvenking's healers' tent? Or ever since he saw Thorin crumble to the ground, vomiting blood onto his hands?) as he crawls up to Thorin's side, grabs his hand, holds it tight as he smiles when his eyes meet Thorin's (a liar and reassuring), filling with nothing as nothing substitutes the blood that doesn't seem to stop gushing from his torn arteries. The sheets beneath him are soaked in red.

Dwalin will dream of this red for the rest of his lifetime.

"I'm cold."

The sound Dwalin makes is a cross between a sob and a bitter laugh, he squeezes Thorin's freezing fingertips in his palms, "Better?"

"No. It still hurts it-" he coughs, retches, wheezes as blood pools into his mouth and drips down his cheek. The dark-skinned healer delicately wipes it away. Thorin catches his breath, tilts his head to the side. He looks at Dwalin, mouth open as he tries to force air into his lungs. There's a hole in his stomach. His dull eyes scan Dwalin's face frantically, and then rest directly in his, and the scream inside his warrior's brain grows so loud Dwalin's scared he'll burst at the seams.

"I don't want to go," Thorin whispers, "not like this-"

"No, no, Thorin-"

"Honourless, unworthy-"


"I let the sickness take me."

"It does not matter."

He runs a hand through Thorin's blood-matted, sweat drenched hair, "It does not matter. You came back, you came back."

"They're dead."

Dwalin's breath catches for a moment, the rhythmic movement of threading his fingers through Thorin's hair jars for a second, and then he forces himself back inside his head, "It was not your fault."

This time, it's Thorin's turn to make a sound that is a cross between a sob and a bitter laugh, "It is." He looks away, at the ceiling, and lets the pain destroy him completely. He can feel his umùrad start to seep out with the blood that never seems to end, he sees it as it tinges the world in grey, and he is too tired, much too tired to try and keep it there.

He is so, so empty.

"Balin," he then whispers, and Dwalin's brother is quickly by his side, "is Bilbo still here?"

The other dwarf nods curtly, ashen. "In Bard's tent, I believe."

"Call for him. Make him come here."

Balin bows his head, unquestioning, and then scurries past the healer and nearly bumps into a lithe elf with fiery red hair (he does not recognise her, caught up as he is in his own thoughts), who doesn't say a word but lets him pass. She's not staring at Dwalin nor at Thorin, she's staring to the right of them, behind where Balin stood. She's clenching and unclenching her hands, and death is a black cloud screaming in her ears.

It is less dark than when the orcs took her parents. It is, for some reason, sharper and easier to make bleed. She stands quietly for a few moments, and then Legolas calls her name, and she goes to him.

"Are you all right, mellon-nin?"


A moment of quiet. 

"Will you be?"

A bitter smile.

"In time."

Dwalin wipes hair out of Thorin's sweating brow, his breathing slightly quieter, slightly slower, more and more difficult with every passing moment. Then Thorin grabs his hands again, and laces their fingers together, and smiles. It is painful and it hurts him and Dwalin wishes he weren't doing it, he weren't torturing himself that way, but his king is a stubborn one, and he knows there's no changing that. 

"Stay with me," Thorin croaks, and takes another shaky breath.

"I want you to... when I go. Stay. Please."

Dwalin swallows and rests his forehead against Thorin's just as Bilbo enters the tent, accompanied by Balin, "Of course, âzyungâl. I promised, don't you remember? Until the end."

Thorin exhales, and the world shimmers as his gaze turns to darker caves, beyond their reach, as his eyes truly see for the first time, and they burn bright.

With the earthy browns of what he guesses is Bilbo's Hobbity ataman and umùrad, the colors of the earth and sky, deep ground, comfortable greens, shining blues. His heart is of the deepest purples, throbbing with both wanderlust and melancholy combined.

Balin is a raging storm of greys and tranquil whites. There is red, a crisscross of it, knots and ties of wisdom, an ever-growing loom of knowledge and kindness and compassion. Street-smarts, too, the double-faced wonder of a teacher lightly swatting his head with a book when he could not get his Westron right being the same person tricking the Bargeman King to offer them safe passage.

The healer elf burns too bright even for him, and somehow she knows this when he looks at her, because she bows, and leaves, her ebony skin now nothing but pulsating, transparent light Thorin cannot bear to even stare at.

And Dwalin?

Dwalin is the reds and golds and browns of fire, the darkness of stone and in the middle, where his heart is, shining light, white, bright.


Thorin smiles to himself.

I always knew you were this beautifulBut you never believed me. Mahal, you stubborn stubborn oaf. You never believed me.

And he thinks that if this is the view death is to gift him, then maybe (just maybe) it will not be so bad a journey.