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Plant Your Trees

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Beorn's home was not the same in winter as it had been in summer.

Or perhaps it was Bilbo who was not the same.

The contrast between the fields of flowers they had left and the fields of snow that had met Bilbo a few days ago was quite stark, but it would not last.

It would return to what it once was and the flowers would bloom once again come spring.

But the frost that had made itself at home in his heart... Bilbo was not certain it would ever go away. And he knew he could not turn back to what he'd once been.

For that he would like to curse and thank Gandalf with the same breath.

If the Wizard had never come.

If Bilbo had never gone.

Then he would have missed so much, and lost so little.

If Thorin and Fíli and Kíli had never died.

If.

If, if, if...

"If I had one wish..." Bilbo said and his voice trailed away in the silence of the sleeping house.

Gandalf and Beorn had gone to bed hours ago and Beorn's animals had done the same, except for a brown and red cat that had laid claim to Bilbo's lap and alternated between meowing and pricking his leg with sharp claws if he stopped petting it.

If, if, if...

In the fireplace the fire kept dancing and swirling.

-

Bilbo did not remember falling asleep but he must have, and Gandalf or Beorn must have moved him to his bed because it was there he woke up.

The Hobbit took his time opening his eyes but eventually he sighed and accepted that he was indeed awake.

He might be the only one though, because as Bilbo blinked open sleep-crusted eyes he realised he could hear soft snores in the background. More than one person snoring even.

Strange, it wasn't like Gandalf and Beorn to sleep late. It could perhaps be some of the dogs.

But it wasn't.

-

Not even daring to breathe or blink out of fear that he would do something to change it, Bilbo took in the scene in front of him.

Hazel eyes were open wide in shock, all traces of sleep gone.

He couldn't have looked away even an entire herd of oliphaunts had come marching into Beorn's home.

The three Dwarfs sleeping in front of the fireplace naturally paid him no mind.

Bilbo must have made a sound because the red and brown cat curled up on Kíli's stomach opened one eye to glare at him.

And then Thorin stirred.

*

Bilbo watched him wake, an event he'd seen only a handful of times on the quest. For all that Bilbo considered himself a morning person, Thorin always seemed awake and moving before him, or half the Company.

Thorin's body went still, much like how the wind would die away in the Shire, chased away by the approach of a strong spring storm, one that promised a good solid rain through the afternoon. It was as though Thorin went from relaxed sleep to wakeful tension from one second to the next, prepared to leap into battle at a moment's notice, all without bothering to look at the world around him to see what was going on.

Thorin waking had always made Bilbo wonder what it was like, to live the life of a warrior, carrying memories and experience that made one wake as if the world was ending around one's ears.

Now Bilbo didn't wonder anymore. Not that Bilbo was a warrior, not by any stretch, but he woke enough nights gasping from the sight of Orcs bearing down on the Company. Never bearing down on himself, no. It was always the Company, or Bard's sweet children, or even Gandalf, never mind that the batty old meddler was a wizard. Bilbo always dreamt of his friends being cut down, those he'd fought beside and fought to protect.

Most of all, he saw the sons of Durin falling beneath a tide of Orcs. And Bilbo was always there, standing there, watching, unable to move, unable to interfere as the ocean of black overwhelmed his Dwarves, so helpless.

Even if that wasn't how they'd died, it was what his dreams thrust at him over and over again, as though his mind refused to loosen its grip on his grief. If anything, it seemed to worsen as Bilbo and Gandalf retraced their steps, past the broken city of Dale, through the dreary darkness of the Mirkwood, on toward Beorn's…

And now, well.

Now he was dreaming his Dwarves were with him, sleeping in Beorn's house, presumably traveling home with him, back to the Shire.

Surely that wasn't a surprise. Bilbo knew in his heart he would carry all three of them with him all his days.

He just couldn't tell if this new dream was better or worse than the battle dreams. Certainly pleasanter, but at least the dreams of Erebor and Ravenhill did not make him feel like his grip on sanity was at risk of slipping loose.

And none of it mattered, because Thorin's eyes were blinking open, taking in the room blearily, with no small amount of consternation drawing his thick eyebrows down into a familiar frown. His gaze settled on Bilbo and locked there, something like astonishment flickering across his face, quickly chased down by another frown.

Thorin stood, slowly and carefully, as though expecting Bilbo to bolt and vanish any second. In any other circumstance Bilbo would have laughed at him. As it was, he felt like bolting, because he could not bear seeing Thorin in front of him only to watch him vanish before his eyes. Not again, not when he seemed so close Bilbo could almost reach out and touch him.

Thorin took three halting steps, as if he wasn't sure he was capable of it, favoring his right side, and Bilbo remembered the blade wound through Thorin's foot, through his chest, his blood soaked through every layer of cloth he'd been wearing. Bilbo's breath shuddered out, fleeing his chest, the traitorous air.

Thorin stopped at the edge of Bilbo's hay-and-blankets bed near to Beorn's fireplace, his back lit dimly by the dying embers, casting him in looming shadows. In his face Bilbo saw the frozen falls of Ravenhill, and Óin dressing Thorin's body for burial, how Thorin had looked so small and cold and alone, and how the world had sunk from grey to black as the cover-stones were pushed over three new tombs. It was unfair, it was so unquestionably unfair and wrong, and Bilbo knew this had to be a dream. This Thorin in front of him was a shade, one more memory blurring into nightmare, because it shouldn't have been Thorin, it never should have been Thorin who died, or Fíli, or Kíli.

It should have been Bilbo.

Bilbo, in exchange for all three of them. Or one of them at least.

But Bilbo was not a fool, and he knew perfectly well life didn't work like that, no matter how much he wished it. So when Dwalin had found him curled over Thorin's body three months ago, Bilbo had straightened his spine, even if tears stained his cheeks. He'd offered Gandalf the best smile he could manage, though his voice had died in his throat. He'd stood unwavering through the funeral, as he had done for his parents so many years ago, even though part of him wanted to crawl in after them. And he had drunk very old Dwarvish wine he'd not tasted at all, and toasted to his Dwarves' honor. And as soon as Gandalf assured him winter had softened enough to travel safely, he had wished his Dwarves all the luck in the world and left.

And now, now. Well. Bilbo was not a fool, and he was not mad, and this Thorin was not real. He could not be. So Bilbo knew him to be a dream.

Thorin knelt at his side, still strangely tentative—as if Thorin had ever done anything tentatively a day of his life!—and reached for Bilbo.

Bilbo recoiled, leaning back to avoid that touch. He would not do this again, he would not lose Thorin again.

Thorin's hand stilled in midair before dropping to rest on his thigh. At this new angle, Bilbo could see his eyes, still dark in the dim light, but glittering and watching Bilbo steadily.

"Bilbo," Thorin said, voice the same as ever, but soft and uncertain, and he somehow turned Bilbo's name into a question Bilbo couldn't begin to decipher, let alone answer.

Whatever it was, it was enough to make Bilbo relax forward without thinking, and Thorin took it as permission to reach out and catch the sleep-mussed curls falling into Bilbo's eyes, brushing them back behind his ear. Bilbo could not hold in his sharp gasp. Thorin's hands were warm and calloused as his palm cupped Bilbo's cheek and his fingertips skated down the shell of his ear.

Thorin's hand fell away, and he said, "You've kept your hair long," as if that was relevant to anything. Bilbo laughed in spite of himself.

"More like it's hard to find a willing barber among a bunch of thickheaded Dwarves," he said, the banter coming to him so easily that when he realized, it was a knife to his heart. Because this wasn't real.

"Ah." Thorin's return smile was genuine, so very familiar, and another twist of the knife. "But this is Beorn's house," he said, looking around as if to verify what was certainly a statement, the confusion of his waking moments returning to his brow.

Bilbo almost asked what that had to do with hair, or haircuts, before he caught himself. This was ridiculous. Thorin was dead, and he was dreaming about bantering with him over Bilbo's hair length, of all things. He scratched his nails along his thighs, hard enough to leave marks beneath his trousers, and started to tell Thorin exactly that, but Thorin beat him to it.

"What strange shapes the afterlife takes," Thorin said, and his frown was growing like a thunderstorm on the horizon. His gaze settled on his nephews, his mien softening for a second, before he tensed. "My boys—" And he looked to Bilbo again, abrupt and afraid.

"Kíli didn't—Bilbo, you aren't…" He looked heartbroken, shocked by whatever revelation was newly weighing on him.

Bilbo didn't know what it was or how to answer him; only, 'you're not real' suddenly didn't seem the right thing to say.

Thorin must have seen something of Bilbo's confusion, because he shook his head and muttered something to himself, too soft even for Bilbo to catch in their intimate quarters, and in Khuzdul besides, if Bilbo heard any of those sharp syllables correctly.

"I died," Thorin said, as if he'd been reading Bilbo's mind, but he spoke more to himself than to Bilbo. He looked to Bilbo sharply, as if expecting a contradiction—and really, Bilbo couldn't blame him. They argued often enough, didn't they? "I—you…" He glanced back at his nephews, at Fíli, eyes lit with unnamed grief that Bilbo understood better than he liked.

"I remember watching Fíli fall," Thorin broke off, jaw clicking shut and shoulders tensing into a decent impression of stone.

It reminded Bilbo far too much of the effigy planned for Thorin's tomb, so he said the first thing that came to mind. "You went sort of…" Bilbo almost said 'mad,' but that wasn't right, even if it was. Thorin had gone mad over the gold, but the way he'd broken over Fíli's death had been a different madness altogether. "Dwalin called it berserker, later… After."

Thorin blinked, clearly surprised. "Aye, it is something like that." He looked back at his nephews again, so terribly sad that Bilbo had to dig his nails into his thighs hard enough he was sure he'd broken skin, just to keep from reaching out and catching Thorin in a hug.

There was only so much his heart could take, and he was certain that would break it.

Thorin would melt away into nothing if he dared reach out.

It wouldn't be the first time Bilbo had dreamt as much.

Thorin turned back to him slowly, looking for all the wide world like he wasn't sure he wanted to tear his gaze away from his nephews. Like they'd vanish if he did. Like Bilbo felt, sure all three of them would disappear the second he blinked.

"Kíli?" Thorin asked, almost too quiet to hear.

Bilbo hesitated, but in this, at least, he knew what Thorin was asking. Thorin saw it in his face, and frowned all the harder.

"Bolg," Bilbo said reluctantly, feeling like the word was dragged by claws and daggers from his throat. "That spawn of Azog. Kíli faced him together with Captain Tauriel."

"Captain Tauriel?" Thorin asked, and his usual scowl was creeping through, the one he always wore when he heard anything sounding of Elves.

"She was captain of the guard, one of Thranduil's—"

"Was?" Thorin interrupted. "She died with Kíli—for Kíli?"

Bilbo shook his head slowly but kept Thorin's gaze. "No… Kíli died avenging Fíli and protecting Tauriel in equal measure. Tauriel did not die, though she would have, had Prince Legolas not arrived at the last moment. I am not sure she is thankful for it." She had seemed lost, when Bilbo had seen her, a reflection of his own feelings in another's eyes.

Thorin slowly sunk the rest of the way to the floor from where he'd been crouching since he'd first approached Bilbo, gaze dropping away, and he was silent for so long Bilbo tried to think of anything to say. What comfort could he offer an uncle who'd lost both his nephews to the scourge of the Durin line? What comfort could he offer this illusion of his own cruel mind, when he could think of none even when he was awake?

"I don't understand," Thorin said with a blankness that worried Bilbo despite his certainty that none of this could ever be real. He scooted closer, even as his fingers instinctively dug against his thighs to keep from reaching out.

Thorin caught the movement and looked up, so lost that Bilbo's breath stopped in his chest, any false words of comfort dying before they'd ever seen the air.

"What of you? How did I fail you as well, my burglar?" Thorin asked, voice hoarse, and he was so terribly stricken.

Bilbo only realized he was leaning forward when his palms landed on Thorin's knees, and his face was a bare foot away from Thorin's own. "I don't… You didn't." You didn't fail anyone, he wanted to say, but the words stuck in his throat.

Thorin's hands came up to cover Bilbo's own. "I remember you were there. You were there, at my side when I…" Though Thorin's face stayed tilted toward Bilbo's own, his gaze fell away, as though he saw something besides Bilbo in front of him. "Was it nothing but illusion? A false comfort as death claimed me?" he muttered, most certainly to himself than to Bilbo. Bilbo frowned in consternation, trying to understand what Thorin meant.

"It was a cold comfort then," Thorin suddenly growled, fingers tightening on Bilbo's hands. He looked to Bilbo again—or rather, saw Bilbo again, instead of whatever had been before his mind's eye. "How?" Thorin demanded, as arrogantly demanding and outright angry as Bilbo had ever seen him, barring memories of gold sickness he did not care to think on.

"I don't understand," Bilbo said. He leaned back, only a little, but Thorin's hands remained gentle despite his anger, and they slid slowly up Bilbo's arms, an impossible warmth through the cotton of Bilbo's shirt, and they did not stop tracing up his skin until they carefully cupped Bilbo's jaw.

Thorin swayed forward as if he could not help it, his anger melting back down into that terrible grief he'd had looking upon his nephews. "How did you die?" he asked softly.

Bilbo blinked repeatedly, rapidly, because this… well. This was a turn of events his dreams had certainly never taken before, not even close, and he—well. How did one answer such absurdity? He opened his mouth to protest, something along the lines of, this is a dream. I'm not dead, Thorin. You're dead. You're being ridiculous, again. But Thorin continued as if he'd not asked a question at all.

"I apologized—did I?" He searched Bilbo's eyes, Bilbo still caught in his grip—gentle, so carefully gentle. Thorin's eyes slid closed and he swayed closer. "As the breath left me, Bilbo, I pleaded your forgiveness. I thought… I was certain it was true, no vision. Bilbo, my Bilbo, please believe me. If I could take back my words, my actions at the gate, for any price I would do so. I—"

Bilbo felt horror growing within him, a great gaping, churning ache in the pit of his belly as Thorin spoke, half-stricken, half-panicked. He caught Thorin's hands in a tight grip, dragging them from his face to hold against his chest, as though that would communicate every thought and feeling tumbling through his body.

"Thorin," he said, but Thorin was rambling on.

"You should not have died—the eagles came. I thought you safe, despite everything, despite all I caused. Bilbo, I am sorry. I do not deserve your forgiveness, but I cannot—"

"Shut up," Bilbo interrupted, suddenly fierce and angry at this shade before him, daring to impugn Thorin's memory, their last moments together. "Stop talking, stop! How dare you?"

Thorin reeled away in shock, jerking so far back some distant part of Bilbo was surprised the Dwarf didn't topple straight over. But Thorin's hands were still caught in Bilbo's own, and he refused to let go, and held on all the tighter when he realized Thorin's face had shuttered with hurt and a sort of expectance, like he was only waiting for Bilbo to condemn him.

"How dare you?" Bilbo snarled again, entirely out of sorts and quite furious about it, that his mind would put this sort of terrible, mangled repetition of Thorin's death before him like that was the least bit okay. "I—of course I forgave you! Of course I did, as though there was anything to forgive when it was I who betrayed you. I betrayed you, Thorin, and you died for it!" If a whisper could be hissed in a shout, Bilbo accomplished it, the Baggins part of him ever mindful of Fíli and Kíli—their shades?—sleeping beside the fire. He glared fiercely at Thorin and lowered his voice. "So don't you dare apologize, or look at me like that, like you're sad for me, when you died, Thorin. You, and not me, when I should have. Don't. You. Dare."

Thorin stared at him, and Bilbo was pleased to see his jaw was hanging open in shock. Bilbo took a breath, and then another, trying to calm down. He failed rather spectacularly.

Thorin twisted his hands and somehow managed to catch Bilbo's own, tangling their fingers together. "You're not dead?" he asked, voice and eyes lit with hope.

Bilbo snorted a humorless little laugh and couldn't quite help his exasperated look. "No, Thorin. This," he tried to wave around the room, but both his hands were still caught in Thorin's, and so he ended up sort of swinging their arms around in an odd little dance, "is a dream. Nothing more." A cruel one, with a warm-bodied Thorin half in his arms, trying to apologize for things that were entirely Bilbo's fault.

Well. Mostly Bilbo's fault. Perhaps fifteen percent could be put on Thorin.

Thorin's fingers tightened around Bilbo's, and he looked around the room more carefully. "This is Beorn's," he said.

"We did this bit," Bilbo said dryly.

Thorin looked to Bilbo, then to his nephews, then around the room again. He shook his head slowly, in bewilderment more than denial, Bilbo thought. "I do not understand," he said, and Bilbo had to bite his own cheek to keep from pointing out they'd done that bit as well.

"This is a dream," he said instead, firmly as he could manage. And if his voice trembled just a little, well. Who could fault his heart for wanting something he could never have?

Thorin shook his head. "I remember the battle with Azog. I remember the eagles flying over the mountain, the tide finally turned, though so many lay dead. I fell there, and then you came." He smiled at Bilbo, tentative. "You are always saving me, Master Burglar."

"I got you killed," Bilbo said flatly. "If I'd not been such a fool…"

Thorin leaned forward abruptly until his forehead pressed against Bilbo's, his skin still shockingly warm, so very alive Bilbo could weep from the touch. "You saved me," he said, voice brooking no argument. "When I could see nothing beyond the gold, when I was mad with it, you pulled me free. Do not doubt it, Bilbo."

Bilbo tried to hold back his sniffle, but couldn't quite manage it. He screwed his eyes shut and bit his tongue instead, willing himself not to cry; normally he wasn't prone to such nonsense, but since the battle it seemed like thoughts of Thorin caught him with terrible ease.

"If this is a dream, it is a strange one," Thorin mused, breath puffing softly against Bilbo's mouth. "I was sure I died in your arms, my Bilbo. All faded to blackness, and I woke in great darkness, called forward by a voice I knew not, but my heart named him my maker…"

Bilbo couldn't open his eyes to see the certainty and awe he heard in Thorin's voice mirrored in his face, still too close to Bilbo, too real, too full of life.

"But if this is a dream, why does it bring me to the skin-changer's house, surrounded by those I have wronged most of all?"

Bilbo made a strangled, irritated noise, pressing his forehead harder against Thorin's. "Don't you start that again, you great, irritating… king!" Because Bilbo had discovered in the recent months that stubborn as Thorin was, it wasn't an attribute unique to him. All kings seemed to possess the annoying quality, from Thorin to Dáin, Bard to Thranduil. It was the single most obnoxious thing Bilbo had ever dealt with, including a certain meddlesome wizard and Bilbo's own silver-thieving cousin.

Thorin grunted, squeezing Bilbo's hands. "Yet if this is a dream, it feels peculiarly real."

Bilbo huffed, finally opening his eyes once more to give Thorin a look. "It's not your dream, it's mine. Of all the arrogance...!"

"Yours?" Thorin said, his confusion plain in his voice.

"Yes," he said firmly, trying to head off any argument Thorin might try to make. "I have only dreamt of you, and Fíli, and Kíli since… Well. Since."

Thorin gently pulled away, and Bilbo felt the loss of it immediately, much to his own surprise. Cool air kissed his forehead unpleasantly where Thorin's warm skin had been but a second ago.

"I feel too real for this to be your dream," Thorin said.

If this were any other situation, Bilbo would have laughed at the absurdity of the statement. "A dream would say that, wouldn't he?" he pointed out instead.

Thorin blinked.

Bilbo blinked.

They stared at each other, for Bilbo didn't know how long. It felt like an eternity, but couldn't have been more than a few minutes.

Bilbo disentangled his fingers from Thorin's and reached up—slowly, carefully, oh so carefully—and touched his fingertips to Thorin's cheek, just above the scruff of his close-cropped beard. He'd finally begun growing it in, those weeks before the battle. Thorin's skin was warm, as it had been since Thorin had reached out to him. In all of Bilbo's other dreams, Thorin was cold, always so very cold, like the ice Bilbo had held him on, the stone he'd been buried in.

Thorin's beard scratched against Bilbo's skin.

"Oh." Bilbo's eyes widened, his mouth dropping into an O of surprise, and he pushed his fingers more firmly against Thorin's skin, nails scraping lightly against his beard just below his ear. "Oh," he said again, and he still didn't know if all of this was real, but it felt so good, just good, to feel Thorin's body when he reached out to him, to feel life in the Dwarf he'd come to love so dearly, and missed too much.

Thorin leaned into his touch like a cat starved of attention, fingers digging into Bilbo's knee enough that Bilbo felt the pull of the scratches he'd made himself, not half an hour ago, when he'd first seen Thorin at the fireplace.

He winced, but he didn't mind the pain at all, and when Thorin started to withdraw at Bilbo's flinch, Bilbo followed him forward, climbing into Thorin's lap like he was the cat, or like he was a little fauntling needing comfort after a terrible nightmare. He slinked his arms quickly around Thorin's neck so he couldn't be removed, and firmly ignored the way bits of Thorin's armor dug unpleasantly into his skin.

"You died," Bilbo breathed out, not particularly clearly because he was suddenly crying. He could feel the fat, salty tears tumbling down his cheeks, the pressure of more aching behind his eyes, his nose and throat suddenly overwhelmed and stuffy with snot. "You died, you died you diedyoudied—"

"Sshh, melekûn men," Thorin hummed, low and gravelly, his arms coming up to surround Bilbo in more hard bits of armor and unbelievable, delicious warmth. Broad hands spanned over his back, rubbing soothing lines up and down, his thumbs tracing smaller circles against the cotton of Bilbo's shirt. "I am here. You are safe. I am alive. Sshh."

Bilbo let Thorin hold him—prayed to Eru and Aulë and anyone who was listening for him to never let go—and cried himself out. He hadn't cried quite this way since Dwalin had found him over Thorin's body.

He distantly realized that his neck was damp exactly where Thorin's cheek was pressed; Thorin was crying too. His fingers were aching in their lock around Thorin's neck, but he unclenched his painful grip to slide his hands up and tangle his fingers in Thorin's hair, burying them there in the dark strands that were neatly combed and braided in a complex pattern that felt familiar, though Bilbo could not immediately place them and did not care to try.

"You are. We are," he agreed, wetly and with a haze of uncertainty what he was saying even made sense. All he wanted to do was comfort Thorin the same way he was being comforted. "All of us," he added, watching Fíli and Kíli where they still slept peacefully by the fire in Beorn's great hall, their chests rising and falling in what had to be one of the best sights Bilbo had ever seen, even if it was all a bit blurred by his slowing tears.

He pressed his mouth and nose briefly into Thorin's shoulder hard, not minding the way the chainmail made sparks of discomfort flash through his nerves, but he couldn't keep his eyes from tracking back to the boys. They were a sight for sore eyes, no mistake.

Something about the pair of them made him finally feel like maybe this wasn't a dream that would leave him heartbroken in the morning, but he could not quite put his finger on what it was. He watched, happy and awed and puzzled, as Fíli shifted in his sleep, grumbling something and elbowing backwards, causing Kíli to whine out his own complaint and shuffle lower. He had his arm thrown over Fíli's side to cling to his brother's chest, right where Fíli had been—

Where the Defiler had—

Bilbo couldn't think it, not even now, months later. Fíli's death had been burned onto his memory, unfathomable, unthinkable, and somehow still existing as a fact. He'd been unable to move, even as Kíli and Thorin had torn off, mad with the shock of it. And still Bilbo could not think it.

Well then. Kíli's arm draped over Fíli's side, hand resting exactly over where Fíli should have been wounded, but most certainly wasn't.

It was that hand that brought dawning realization down on Bilbo.

He couldn't be dreaming.

He would never dream Kíli holding Fíli. No, it had always been the other way around. Fíli had always been the one running after Kíli, containing Kíli's enthusiasm, protecting his younger brother from the chaos of his quick, unstoppable energy. Fíli always protected Kíli, not the other way around.

He buried his face into Thorin's neck, breathing deeply and let fresh tears trickle down his cheeks. Happy tears, for a change, because his mind was suddenly awhirl with such burning joy.

This had to be real. It had to be. Bilbo wouldn't dream in his wildest, strangest dreams that Kíli would be the one protecting his brother.

It should have been the other way around.

"This is real," he said, muffled into Thorin's neck. He tightened his fingers in Thorin's hair even as Thorin's hands slowed their steady, comforting travel across his back to slide up Bilbo's arms, and Bilbo leaned back at the nudge of encouragement, meeting Thorin's damp eyes with his own soggy grin.

"This is real," he repeated, fierce and happy. "It has to be. I would never—it has to be." He leaned into Thorin, pressing his forehead to the Dwarf's, beaming into Thorin's beautiful, confused blue eyes.

"Good," Thorin said, but his lips twitched just so, and he asked rather wryly, "And you know this now, how?"

So Bilbo told him, and surprised a quiet, rumbling laugh out of Thorin, but he couldn't argue the point either. Thorin told him in halting tones that he had not seen them act so since Fíli had been just twenty-two, and Kíli only seventeen, and Fíli had fallen down one of the old, unsafe mining tunnels in Ered Luin and broken his arm and two ribs. He'd been missing for two days, the entire community fraught with worry, none more so than Kíli.

"When we found him, it was Bofur and two others who rigged the harnesses and mining equipment necessary to lift him safely out. Kíli did not part from Fíli's side for nigh on four months. I believe Fíli was ready to climb the walls to escape Kíli's fussing by then." Thorin smiled in fond memory, and Bilbo smiled at him in return.

They sat together exactly like that, for much of the night, whatever was left of it. They spoke in quiet voices and studied each other's faces, and not once did Bilbo let Thorin go entirely. Bilbo was pleased to notice he was not the only one, for Thorin seemed no more interested in letting Bilbo go either.

For Bilbo's part, he wasn't willing to risk losing track of Thorin for a second, and if that meant curling in the Dwarf's lap until he figured out what to do next, by all that was green he was going to do so.

That admittedly didn't last terribly long, and about an hour later they silently agreed to shuffle onto Bilbo's blankets, sitting side by side against the wall, legs and sides pressed together, hands curled so that their fingers entwined. And still they talked, inconsequential little stories of Bilbo's youth, of Ered Luin, of Thorin growing up in Erebor. Small things.

Neither of them wished to speak of the battle any longer, or their deaths, or whether Bilbo had gotten it wrong and this was a dream after all. Or at least, Bilbo did not wish to, not at all, and since Thorin no more made mention of it than Bilbo did, he assumed he felt the same.

But Bilbo's desire to stay beside Thorin for the rest of time, doing nothing more than conversing as he leaned into Thorin's warmth… all his want in the world combined together did not keep him from yawning, over and over again, exhaustion piling up on top of him like lead weights. Want he wanted did not keep his mind from drifting as it tried to sink into sleep without his permission.

If he was tired, he was surely awake, wasn't he?

This had to be real.

"You must sleep," Thorin murmured, his voice a soft humming comfort somewhere above Bilbo.

It was only then Bilbo realized his head had come to rest against Thorin's arm. He pried his eyes open, wondering when they'd closed. "'m fine."

Thorin chuckled. "Indeed, very fine. But you must rest, Bilbo."

Bilbo made a plaintive disagreement, what was an eloquent argument in his head, but somehow came out only as a mumbled whine.

"We have decided this is real, have we not?" Thorin asked, sounding far too reasonable for Bilbo's liking, and cutting straight to the quick of Bilbo's fears.

Bilbo pressed his face into Thorin's shoulder. "I'm afraid," he muttered.

"As am I."

Bilbo sighed deeply. "Be here in the morning," he said, and he meant for it to be a demand, but knew it sounded just as much like a plea.

"Nothing would drag me from your side, ghivasha," Thorin promised. He shifted, and Bilbo felt his curls being brushed to the side, and the brief, warm press of Thorin's mouth.

Bilbo was asleep before he really registered the kiss.