As Fili fell from the tower, Bilbo screamed. Maybe others heard it, maybe they didn’t. He did not know. Nothing registered but the young dwarf who had befriended a lost and scared hobbit, the young dwarf whose battered and broken body was now falling to certain death.
Or maybe he was already dead. Azog certainly seemed to think so, what with the stabbing and screaming.
Those screams would echo through Bilbo’s mind for the rest of his existence, however long or short that might be.
Bilbo didn’t know how he made it to the other side of the frozen river. He didn’t remember the passage, didn’t know what was going on. Nothing existed between seeing Fili fall and finding himself at the young dwarf’s side, his body bent awkwardly across the rocks.
He wasn’t breathing.
And yet, when Bilbo pressed his hands to Fili’s chest, there was life there. The faint beat of a heart under fading warmth. Blood still trickled from the wound. A desperate, mad idea built in Bilbo’s mind.
He ran his hands over Fili’s limbs, checking carefully but quickly for further damage. A broken leg, some ribs, but nothing that couldn’t be healed if life remained. Even his skull seemed solid, despite the impressive rock it must have impacted.
“Thank Eru and Yvanna,” Bilbo breathed. “And Aule,” he added, remembering the Dwarrow’s tale of their creation. Aule had made his creations of hardy stuff indeed if a fall from such a height hadn’t shattered half the bones in the youngling’s body. Then again, Thorin had managed to walk off whatever Azog’s warg did to him once he’d come to. Maybe Bilbo should have expected it.
Still, there was the stab wound to contend with, and the shock. And the cold. Bilbo could not promise anything even if he’d had proper healing equipment, training in using it, and a safe place to work. Perhaps even an elf would be unable to help, though their healing magic was beyond anything the other races had access too.
But hobbits, some hobbits, had one other thing, one thing even the elves did not have. Hobbits like Bilbo.
It would only work for family, for those with a deep connection. Parents, siblings, children. Bilbo had none of any left. And yet, there were tales of the Gift of Yvanna being used for those who were not kin, who were as close as. Husbands and wives yes, but also adopted family. It would bind him here if it worked, to this dwarf, to Fili and his kin and his home, but Bilbo had come to love Fili and Kili as his own, children of his heart if not his blood. The Company was as much family as any Bilbo had left in the Shire, more so perhaps.
With that love in mind, Bilbo pulled a small bundle from under his armor. It had taken a miracle to keep it with him all this time, through all their adventures, but the little pouch of soil was still on the cord about his neck. With one hand Bilbo pulled the pouch open and with the other he pulled Fili’s clothes from the wound.
Or tried to. The remains of armor and shirt were well fashioned and did not want to tear further. Bilbo let the pouch fall against his armor and used Sting to cut further, feeling with every moment of delay that Fili’s life faded from under his hands.
Somehow the ring caught his eye, glinting and gleaming from Bilbo’s finger. This was no time to be invisible. Sure, it was a battlefield, but if he was invisible to enemy eyes, might he also be invisible to the Valar? Bilbo pulled it from his finger and dropped it on the ground beside him. Then he finished cutting Fili’s shirt away from the wound.
A probe from a dirty finger showed the wound was deep, probably cutting into the lung. Blood still moved sluggishly, a very faint heartbeat still present at the neck.
Bilbo poured out the contents of the pouch into the palm of his hand, the rich soil of Bag End mixing with the dirt of Erebor, the blood of orcs and dwarrow. A small corner of Bilbo’s mind protested the addition of such filth, but this would work or it would not. The added material could not be washed away. Not in these conditions. Bilbo could but work with what he had.
Carefully, he prayed, to Yvanna, to Eru, to Aule just to cover all the bases. He prayed the chants he’d been taught and every word that passed through his mind as he pressed the good earth of the Shire into Fili’s shoulder, working the soil deep into the stab wound.
“Please,” Bilbo breathed, prayed, begged again and again. “Please don’t take him from me. No more. I can’t lose any more.”
Bilbo had wanted to do this once before. No hobbit had ever used the Gift of Yvanna more than once, and few had ever done that. But once before he had wanted to try, for his mother as the illness took her. He had offered, and perhaps that had been his mistake. If he had just tried it, maybe it would have worked. And maybe even the Green Lady could not have saved one who was dying of grief as much as any illness.
He didn’t let himself wallow, not today, though the memories of that winter tugged at him most uncomfortably. Instead, Bilbo thanked his mother for leaving him this chance to spend his gift on Fili.
The words did not stop until, under Bilbo’s filthy hands, Fili suddenly took a deep breath. He did not open his eyes, did not otherwise show signs of life, but that breath, and the ones that followed, were enough to give Bilbo hope. He brushed away some of the dirt and found a dark scar, permanently stained by the earth used to seal it, but no wound.
Another yell, many other yells, finally caught Bilbo’s attention. Fili was breathing, might just live through this, so Bilbo could finally note the state of the battle. He grabbed his ring and looked. Kili was nowhere in sight, but Thorin was facing Azog, the two battling away upon the frozen river. And Thorin was losing.
Fear froze Bilbo’s heart again. “No,” he whispered into the freezing air. Panic drew him to his feet. A crash of sword against mace sent him running yet again. He knew nothing of the time between Fili’s side and Thorin’s. All Bilbo knew was the look on Thorin’s face, the certainty of death, and the welcome.
Bilbo knew that look all too well. His mother had worn it at the end.
“No more,” Bilbo screamed, but no one marked him. Gray blurred his vision as he threw himself at the battle. Not at Azog. No small pain from Bilbo’s little Sting would prevent the blow coming. Locked in battle, Thorin on his back, there was no option. They could remain locked, or one could win by giving in.
And Thorin wasn’t wearing much armor.
Just as Thorin twisted, letting Azog through, leaving his blade free to thrust up, Bilbo threw himself between the two and took the blow.
Every scrap of air was forced from him in an instant. Pain radiated through his entire body as blackness filled his vision. And none of it mattered, because Bilbo could feel Thorin, warm and whole, below him.
Bilbo didn’t expect to wake up. He’d just blocked a giant orc’s death strike with his body. Hobbits were small folk. The blow was as likely to go straight through him into Thorin as anything.
Except he did wake up. And if he wasn’t truly warm and cozy, he was at least bundled up and on something softish. If he wasn’t comfortable, at least there was a haze between his perception and the pain radiating through his body. And when he opened his eyes, there was cloth above him, closing out the sky.
It seemed like the thing to do, so he groaned.
“You’re awake.” The relieved voice seemed impossibly familiar and completely unknown. It was not until Thorin stepped up to Bilbo’s side that the hobbit had any idea who spoke.
Bilbo tried to speak. To apologize. To ask after Fili and Kili. To wonder where he was. All that came out was a pained noise and a dry croak.
“Water first.” Oin bustled to Bilbo’s other side with a cup too large for hobbits to handle comfortably.
“Thorin?” Bilbo tried again once his throat was wet enough.
“Rest, Master Baggins,” Thorin said, his warm hand resting on Bilbo’s shoulder. “The battle is over.”
“He and Kili are in the next tent, recovering well.”
Bilbo frowned, for he couldn’t remember what happened to Kili at all. But Fili. “I need—” He made the mistake of trying to sit up and the forgotten pain came back with a vengeance.
“You need to rest,” Oin snapped. “That blow shattered ribs. Even the elves weren’t sure they could put you back together.”
“Fili,” Bilbo whimpered through the pain. “Please.”
“When you wake next,” Thorin said, “I’ll have him brought.”
Thorin was as good as his word. Fili and Kili were both in the tent when Bilbo next woke, the latter laid out in a cot and looking more than a little the worse for wear while the former sat in a chair with a crutch beside him.
“It worked,” Bilbo whispered as he took in Fili’s battered form. Battered, but not broken. Bandages swathed his ribs, and more tied splits about both the leg Bilbo had expected and an arm he had not, but Fili sat whole and alive.
“Bilbo?” Fili asked, his eyes lit up with a smile. He looked ready to launch himself across the tent, broken bones and restraining bandages fogotten, but even in that instant, Bilbo fell back asleep.
There was always someone from the Company there when Bilbo awoke, and something for him to drink or eat that quickly knocked him back out if exhaustion and pain didn’t beat the herbs to it. Bilbo had no idea how long it had been since the battle, though it seemed the orcs at least hadn’t won.
Finally, Bilbo woke with no company but Thorin, who had made himself somewhat scarce since that first awakening.
“I’m sorry,” Bilbo said as soon as he could. “I should not have taken the Arkenstone.
Thorin looked down, his expression grave. “Never say that again.”
Bilbo bit his lip, uncertain how to respond.
“You…” Thorin took a deep breath, and releasing it, looked up. His eyes were haunted, but the madness that had lingered in them so long, longer perhaps that Bilbo had ever dared realize, was gone. “You did what you thought was right. And… and it was right. More so than any other actions of our company. Bilbo… never apologize. Because there is no cause.”
“I never wanted to hurt you,” Bilbo whispered.
Thorin stepped closer and caught Bilbo’s hand, then dropped to his knee, pressing that small hand to his forehead. “You have never hurt me. So many times you have saved me, saved my people, my home, my kin. And I have doubted you, threatened you, and tried to kill you.”
“You were not yourself.”
“No, I was not, but that does not pardon my actions. I have wronged you.”
Bilbo tightened his fingers around Thorin’s. “I forgive you.”
Thorin chuckled, but it was not a happy sound. Rather, it expressed pain that could not come out any other way. “I suspected as much when an invisible body threw itself between Azog’s blade and myself.”
“It worked?” Bilbo offered tentatively.
“The mithril may have stopped the blow from cutting you, but it almost took your life anyway.”
“Oin did say something about my ribs.”
“I offered Thranduil the Arkenstone if he could save you.”
Bilbo could only stare at Thorin in shock. “No,” he breathed. “I am not worth so much.”
“Yes.” Blue eyes finally met Bilbo’s. “You are worth far more than any gem. As are my nephews and home and people. And you were the only one who could teach me that lesson.”
“I’m sorry. It was supposed to come back to you.”
Thorin chuckled. This time the sound had some amusement. “Oh, it did. Gandalf gave Thranduil an earful and the stone was returned for the promise of some gems he wants more. Looked all too pleased with himself when we traded… Myself, I think I looked more displeased. I would be content never to see the Arkenstone again.” Darkness seemed to gather on that dwarven brow again. “It is a curse. I see that now. It cannot stay here. I do not yet know how best to dispose of it, but I will not permit a stone to rule my mountain.”
Bilbo smiled, a feeling of amazing pride filling him. This was the dwarf Balin had seen outside Azanulbizar, the king worth following. The dwarf Bilbo had risked his life for time and again. “I have missed you, my king,” he whispered as exhaustion dragged him back to darkness.
When Bilbo was finally well enough to move about, he found the tent camp a grim place. The dwarrow of the Iron Hills were working to make something habitable of a region of Erebor. The folk of Lake-Town were huddled in the lee of the mountain with weak promises of shelter and help with Dale. And the Elves had mostly departed save those tending the wounded and those still too wounded to move. It seemed the war had been won, but no one was celebrating.
“We need to have a party,” Bilbo said to Fili as the two limped through the encampment.
“We’ve few enough supplies to feed everyone for another week,” Fili said sadly. “We can’t afford a feast.”
“I didn’t say a feast,” Bilbo said, “though one wouldn’t go amiss. No, you need to celebrate. We’ve won. Erebor is saved, the war won, and we still live.”
Fili looked thoughtful the rest of their journey. When they finally reached their destination, the tent where Thorin was holding court despite his own bruised ribs and battered bones, Fili peeled off and headed out with a hint of mischief in his face.
Bilbo set aside the question of what he’d wrought and entered the tent. There he found Bard, Thranduil, and Thorin arguing. Something about resources and directing efforts, but clearly no one was listening to the others.
“Enough,” Bilbo yelled after a moment of trying to understand. He was not a large figure, had not a loud voice compared to many, but he was used to making himself heard through crowds of Tooks and Bagginses. All three figures, and their staffs, stopped and turned to stare.
“We need food, shelter, and good cheer. We have gold, a mountain, and allies. Surely from that you can make something before winter freezes us all in our beds.” Bilbo spoke as though he were confronted with a room full of mischievous faunts instead of grown adults, two of whom were far older than Bilbo would ever be.
“Perhaps a break, to cool tempers,” Thorin proposed with a surprising degree of rationality. The other leaders nodded and departed with muttered apologies.
“Should you be out of bed?” Thorin asked once they were alone save Balin and Dwalin.
Bilbo glared, standing straight and firm upon his own two feet. Though straight was something of a default with how many bandages he had about his ribs. He stepped forward and, with care, knelt before Thorin.
“Master Baggins, you must not kneel before me.” Thorin leaned forward, his hand held out.
“But I must,” Bilbo said, though he would have preferred not to speak through teeth gritted against the pain of his ribs. “I must beg a boon of my king, and I know enough of kings to know this is proper.”
Thorin sat back with a frown. “What boon would you ask of me?”
Balin let out a soft growl, but Bilbo kept his eyes on Thorin. “I beg leave to stay in the area.”
“Of course.” Thorin threw himself to his feet and knelt before Bilbo. “I would take back every word I said on the ramparts.”
“Master Baggins, you are welcome within the halls of Erebor, now and for as long as you wish to remain. We would not be here without you.”
Tears trickled down Bilbo’s cheeks as relief flooded him. If Balin hadn’t stepped up, he might not have made it to his feet.
“Come now, laddie, surely you didn’t think we would turn you away?” Balin said as he escorted Bilbo to a chair.
“I thought you wanted to go back to your home,” Dwalin said from his corner. The dwarrow glared at him. “I’m not saying I don’t want him here. But he’s been talking about his precious hole all this time. Never said he wanted to stay before.”
“Dwalin, if Master Baggins wishes to stay, he is welcome to stay,” Thorin snapped, sitting back on his chair.
“Please, don’t fight,” Bilbo said quietly. “I don’t want anyone to fight anymore.”
“Don’t mind them,” Balin said, his hand supportive on Bilbo’s shoulder. “They’re always like that. Have been since they were children.”
Bilbo let out a sigh. “Can I talk to Thorin for a minute?”
“Of course.” Balin escorted a scowling Dwalin from the tent.
“I… Umm…” Bilbo stuttered. “I can’t leave.”
Thorin frowned. “Not that I particularly want you to, but you seem distressed by this fact.”
“Well, not really, now that you’re not mad.” Bilbo cracked a smile and saw Thorin echo it. “But it’s hard to explain. I know dwarrow are a secretive race.”
“Are you saying this is a hobbit secret?”
“Well, yes, I suppose you could put it that way.”
“Then you do not need to explain.”
“Maybe not now, but I should.” Bilbo considered a moment. He’d hoped for permission to stay in Dale, or maybe on the outskirts of the mountain. He hadn’t really thought through explaining. “Though perhaps Fili and Kili should be there.”
“I’ll make dinner.”
Thorin shook his head. “You’re going back to bed. Bombur will make dinner and you will rest.”
“I can—” But Bilbo tried to lean forward as he argued and was cut off by the pain surging through him.
“You will rest. You could have died on Ravenhill.” The look in Thorin’s eyes was pleading, and Bilbo nodded.
“If my actions saved you,” Bilbo said between pants of pain, “it would have been worth it.”
“I have feared since we met that I would be the cause of your death,” Thorin said sadly.
“You have been the cause of my life,” Bilbo countered. “And that is worth dying for.”
Dinner was surprisingly merry. Kili was allowed out of bed, his wounds finally mended enough to risk walking instead of being carried on a litter thanks to the efforts of the elf-maid who’d been quietly stalking him since the battle. The rest of the Company had their share of bandages and broken bones, but none were as bad off as the Durins. Or Bilbo himself.
And none, thank Mahal, were dead.
After, Thorin encouraged the others to leave, keeping Bilbo and his nephews by his sides. His own ribs were aching more than a little after the day spend yelling, but thanks somehow to Bilbo’s intervention, some agreements had been hammered out.
“Now, I believe you wished to tell us something,” Thorin prompted after it became clear Bilbo wouldn’t begin without it.
Bilbo nodded, looking uncomfortable. He pulled from inside his shirt a pouch, the one Thorin had seen several times on the quest about the hobbit’s neck, the one Thorin had seen hanging outside the mithril armor after Azog fell into the river.
“This is hard to explain,” Bilbo said softly.
Fili bit his lip, then said, “Does this have anything to do with how I survived?” He rubbed his shoulder, the one with the strange scar that should have been a mortal wound. Oin had said it looked placed to penetrate the lung and sever several important veins.
“Ah, yes. That would be…” Bilbo took a deep breath and set the pouch on the table. “Some hobbits have a gift, a chance to change things.” His fingers drummed on the little leather pouch, and Thorin realized he’d seen the hobbit do just that against his chest, or rather against the pouch under his shirt, during the quest.
“And you are one such,” Thorin said.
“Yes. Yes, I am. I can’t explain why—”
“We understand secrets,” Kili said, his voice all too flippant as was his want.
“Thank you.” Bilbo gave Kili a sincere look. “It is… hard to speak of this. We don’t… Well, we call it the Gift of Yvanna. Those who have it can make one plea for a loved one, for family. If granted, it can bring life back where it has all but fled.” Bilbo’s voice choked up as he looked at Fili. For a moment, Thorin felt as though he were back on the river, seeing Fili’s body fall from the tower.
“I died,” Fili whispered, and Kili whimpered.
“No,” Bilbo snapped, straightening and looking fiercer than it seemed a hobbit should be able to. “No,” he said softer, “but it was close.”
“While I cannot express my gratitude for your saving my nephew,” Thorin said after a moment of silence, “you said it was for family.”
Bilbo smiled sweetly at the boys, deepest love shining from his face. “Sometimes it can be stretched to family we choose. I have no one I love more in all the world than those I have traveled with these months.” He looked shyly at Thorin and the dwarven king felt his heart skip a beat. “But there are consequences.”
“I owe you my heir’s life. Anything I can do to mitigate these consequences is yours.” Thorin spoke regally, the words of a king as well as a loving uncle.
“Me too,” Kili said quickly. “You saved us.”
“I saved Fili, though I am more than glad another could fulfill the roll for you,” Bilbo said. “The Gift works but once.”
“You saved our uncle as well,” Fili said. “No matter the means, we all owe you.”
Bilbo turned red about the ears and cheeks. “I did not do it for debts.”
Thorin set a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder. “Family does not act so for the sake of debts.”
“Yes, precisely.” Bilbo pursed his lips. “Well, there’s no mitigation per say. It’s more… well, I tied myself to Fili, to your family. Where once I was tied loosely to family and my home, now I am very tightly tied to Erebor and the line of Durin. I… well, I might be able to leave someday, I don’t know…”
“Thus your request today.” Thorin watched Bilbo nod. “Well, that is simple enough then. Your home shall be here and you shall be as one of our family.”
“Oh, I can’t ask that much.”
“You just said…” Kili looked confused.
“I’m just a simple hobbit. You’re royalty.”
Thorin turned Bilbo to face him and took up his hands. “You are far from a simple hobbit. But if all hobbits will do so much for family, then there is far more to your race than any other in Arda realizes. And that is their loss.”
Bilbo’s eyes were fixed on their joined hands and his ears were turning a vivid red again.
“Anyway, I am certain I would be lynched for treating you like less than the hero you are,” Thorin added flippantly. “You saved me, and I’m sure everyone here in this camp knows that.”
“Both stories,” Fili said gleefully. “The Company has been storytelling by the campfire.”
“Tell me they haven’t been spreading how we escaped Thranduil where the elves can hear,” Thorin pleaded, closing his eyes as he imagined the elf king’s reaction.
“Not yet,” Fili said. “But someday it is going to come out.”
“Wait until I can run and hide, if you please,” Bilbo said lightly. “One king mad at me was more than enough for one lifetime.”
Thorin winced, but Bilbo’s hands never left his.