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One of These Days (Again and Again)

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“Death to the Durins!” Azog screamed. Orcs went everywhere. Fili raced up the hill to defend his uncle, his brother running right behind him. Bilbo desperately tried to get to any of the others, even as he watched the line of Durin face what was sure to be their end, because it couldn’t end like this, he refused, he wouldn’t let it-

And then, it didn’t.

~

The first time it happened, Bilbo was quite certain that it was simply a bad dream, that he’d been hit in the head. Even if things did happen exactly the same way that they had the first time. It wasn’t possible, things like this just didn’t happen.

The second time it happened, Bilbo was still so absolutely confused that he made small differences just because he was completely bewildered and couldn’t answer. Thorin threatening to throw him over the wall still wasn’t enough to shake him from his shock because, well, it had happened already. Three times now, he was counting.

The third time it happened, he realized that whether he was losing his mind or not, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that each time he found himself out on the battlefield, someone died. Someone he cared about was always cut down, and he’d had to watch it four times now.

The first day it had been Fili, cut down by Azog in defense of his brother. The second day, it had been sweet Ori, taking an orc arrow to the neck. This time, he reasoned with himself, he was going to take the opportunity that the Valar had presented him and he was going to do it right. By Eru he was going to get them all out of the horrible battle they’d found themselves in.

Then Thorin fell, and watching him stumble to the ground was more than his heart could take.

The fourth time he woke up standing in Erebor, watching Thranduil and Bard argue with Thorin, he acknowledged that maybe, just maybe, it might not be that easy.

~

It always came back to that horrible moment in Erebor. The moment Bilbo had dreaded all night long, had barely even slept over, the one that had left him with sweaty palms and a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Now, having done it…six times, by his count, it was quickly losing its strength. Mostly because the hard part wasn’t here, he was going to be banished, there was no changing Thorin’s mind, but the battle, that was where lives came on the line.

(The heartbreak still started in the hollowness of Erebor though. Every time Thorin called him a traitor and came after him with those glazed over eyes that saw nothing but gold, Bilbo’s heart broke a little bit more. Because he was losing Thorin, whether it was on the battlefield or to the gold, it didn’t matter, Thorin wasn’t his, maybe never had been-)

Bard displayed the Arkenstone. Thorin’s eyes went wide. The accusations began.

Bilbo kept his mouth shut this time, wondering if perhaps, perhaps, if he didn’t offer himself forward, maybe something else would change. Perhaps it would make a difference, perhaps Bilbo could stay and convince Thorin to keep off of the battlefield, to stay inside and watch his gold or something.

And no it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the last two deaths in a row had been Thorin. And both of them had been bloody, and both of them had left him grieving, even though his grief had been short lived before the day repeated. Again.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to find out if keeping Thorin inside was an option. Thranduil glanced to the side, and Thorin followed his gaze all the way to Bilbo. “You?” he whispered, and his eyes caught that dangerous gleam again.

Bilbo swallowed hard. “I-yes. I did.”

“And you would lie to me about it?” Thorin bellowed. “You thought you could get away with your foul deed as you betrayed me?!”

Well, now he knew what happened if he didn’t tell Thorin first. He didn’t get the chance to try and convince Thorin to stay inside. He wound up leaving the mountain as he did every time.

And when Thorin took Azog’s blade to his chest, it was still as hard to watch as all the times before.

~

When Dwalin died, Bilbo had choked back a scream. He’d managed to keep it to himself when he’d found himself back inside Erebor, Thranduil and Bard haggling with a gold-crazed Thorin once more.

When Kili died, he’d shut his eyes tight and hadn’t opened them until Thorin had called him out for stealing the Arkenstone.

When Bofur died, he’d dug bloody grooves into his palms, wondering why it couldn’t be him, it should be him, why was it always someone from the company.

When Thorin died, he’d finally let his tears fall, and everyone had been left bewildered that he’d started to cry before Thorin had found him out as the traitor.

~

He’d tried to change things in Erebor. That hadn’t worked. So he’d focused his attentions on the battlefield.

He’d stopped looking to Erebor. Erebor wasn’t where people started getting into trouble. No, it was that blasted hill that Thorin and the others had charged so recklessly, the one near the rocky crags and the ruins that were left of Dale.

He’d tried to keep Thorin from heading up the hill, tried to warn him about the trap. But Bolg always came around, Fili and Kili would get themselves into trouble, and then somehow, somewhere, someone got killed. He was so tired of Azog’s cry of, “Death to the Durins!” that he could weep.

He thought he’d made it, for a moment. Bilbo kept Fili and Kili successfully from climbing up and around and being trapped by Azog. The company was unharmed and in sight, and he thought that maybe, maybe, he had a chance to get it right. Thorin was there and looking at him with such relief that Bilbo was distracted for just a moment. Just one moment.

Then Bard fell from an orc spear, because Bilbo hadn’t been watching for him, he’d been watching for the company, and Bilbo suddenly found himself back inside Erebor once more.

That was about the time that Bilbo sort of…snapped.

~

The hobbit was acting strange. Increasingly strange with every moment that passed.

Bard could understand why, of course. He’d all but been tossed out on his ear from the ones he’d called friends, he had nothing on his person and nowhere to go, and he was about to be embroiled in an all-out war. These were none of the things that a hobbit, a Child of the Kindly West, ought to be seeing and living. Bard would have understood if the hobbit had been weeping in a corner or trying to stand on wobbly legs with his sword held shaking before him.

He wasn’t doing any of those things. He seemed more like he was on a mission, and as he darted around various orcs and neatly avoided weapons of all sorts, it was as if he’d figured it all out and was simply waiting for everyone to catch up.

Never mind the slight twitching that his eye had taken up. Or the tapping of his foot and his constant shouting at Bard to keep up, he was going to get speared at the rate he was moving.

“I have a duty to my men, Master Baggins,” Bard told him at last. “I cannot abandon them.”

Bilbo glared at him. “You don’t owe them a thing you need to be coming with me. I can, I can keep you safe. Yes, keep you safe, at least someone safe.”

Ah. Guilt, then. That, Bard could understand. “Perhaps your king will come to his senses,” he tried. An orc gave a cry and ran towards him, but was cut down by the hobbit before Bard could even raise his own weapon. He blinked. Bilbo seemed nonplussed.

“It’s not about…about Thorin,” and there was the heartbreak Bard had been expecting. Bilbo looked up towards the hill before them, near the jagged rocks, and Bard didn’t understand. It was as if he were waiting for something.

Then he shook himself and turned back to Bard. “All right, it’s something to do with him, but if I don’t get you to safety, then I can’t ever move on, now can I?”

Bard frowned. This wasn’t exactly a conversation he ought to be having in the middle of a battle but the hobbit was leaving him more confused by the minute. “Move on? What do you mean, move on?” Perhaps he meant romantically. Perhaps he and the dwarf king had meant something to each other before the gold had taken hold of Thorin’s senses. That would explain the heartache and perhaps the hobbit’s strangeness. People acted in strange ways when they were in love.

“I can’t move on from today,” Bilbo said again, confirming his suspicions, but then he kept going and Bard was left staring. “I keep living this day again and again, don’t you understand? I’ve done this day thirty-two times and I’m never going to be rid of it if I can’t keep you lot alive, and I’m going to miss keeping Bofur safe if you don’t start moving! Let’s go!”

He reached forward and grabbed Bard’s hand before tugging hard. Bard went, still trying to process what the hobbit had told him, and nearly missed the orc coming behind him. Bilbo dispatched of it quickly enough and then kept moving as if he hadn’t cut down an orc nearly twice his size. “Let’s go!” Bilbo said again, impatiently this time. His eyes were starting to take on the same glazed look as Thorin’s, except for a completely different reason.

The hobbit had gone mad. The banishment and the heartache had been too much for him, Bard supposed. There was no other reason for it because he couldn’t honestly be, what, repeating the day over and over again like some twisted punishment from the Valar themselves. It wasn’t possible.

They were nearly to the rocky hills alongside Dale when Bilbo called out, “Thorin are you here? Fili! Kili! Dwalin!”

The dwarves weren’t there. “Damn them, where are they?” Bilbo cursed. “They’re supposed to be here already!”

“Look out!” someone shouted, and when Bard turned, the portly dwarf was being cut down. There was nothing to be done at that point, it was already over, but Bard still started moving towards him.

“Bombur no!” Bilbo screamed, and Bard began to run towards the dwarf to defend his body, to see if he actually could still live, to do something-

And then he was quickly coming to a halt in Erebor’s throne room. He blinked.

“We only ask for what is rightfully ours,” Thranduil said, much as he had that morning. He was still wearing his royal robes, not his battle gear. Bard stared around in shock, quickly moving his eyes over the dwarves. There, there was the one Bilbo had named Bombur, except he was standing by other dwarves, looking uncomfortable about the whole proceedings.

Alive. Not wearing an orc blade for an ornament.

Bard’s eyes immediately went to Bilbo, tucked off to the side behind Thorin. Bilbo was grinding his fists into his eyes, and when he looked up, he looked resigned. He looked just as he had only a few moments before when they’d been in the heat of battle.

“What?” Bard said, and all eyes turned to him.

“What what?” Thorin growled. “Are you confused as to my answer, as constant as it has been?”

“You’ve already spoken to us,” Bard said, blinking. “We, we had this conversation just this morning.”

“It is morning,” Thranduil said irritably. “Have you hit your head?”

Bard glanced at everyone else but there wasn’t a single hint of recognition. Not until he got to Bilbo, whose eyes were getting wider and wider. The mad edge was starting to fade, and in its place was something Bard hadn’t seen in…well. Two days now.

Hope. A small flicker of hope.

“We were in battle,” Bard said, and Bilbo actually smiled. It was a wide and manic sort of thing, but he was honestly smiling. “You even told me as much.”

“I did,” Bilbo said, and all eyes moved to him instead. “I did, ha! And you remember! No one’s ever remembered before! Though,” he added, frowning a bit. “I’m not entirely sure I ever tried to tell them.”

“And you’ve done this how many times?” Bard demanded, because he’d only been in this room, doing this moment, twice now. But Bilbo had said-

“Thirty-three, now,” Bilbo told him. “But oh, oh Bard. You remembered.” And he looked as if he were going to cry now.

“Remembered what?” the younger Durin said. Fili, his mind supplied, with his brother Kili beside him.

“Enough of this nonsense!” Thorin shouted. “What have you brought to me, that you think will change my mind? You say you have something of mine – what is it?”

Thranduil smirked and turned to Bard, and Bard paused. The Arkenstone was wrapped in his bag, but now, looking at Bilbo, it was almost cruel to bring it forth. The hobbit had suffered this scene thirty-three times, and from the look on his face, he knew what was to come.

That meant he’d been banished and cast from the dwarf he so obviously cared for over thirty times. And Bard didn’t have the heart to make him suffer it again.

“A rock,” Bard said, and Bilbo frowned. “A stone that the dwarves placed in Dale to show our treaty with one another. You helped build Dale once, I would ask that you do so again.” His hands didn’t move to the bag at his side.

Bilbo let out a helpless laugh, and he shook his head. “That’s the first bit of kindness I’ve had in thirty-three days,” he said. His eyes shimmered with tears anew. “But please, there’s no use. This always ends the same, there’s nothing I can do to change this bit. I’ve tried, I really have. You might as well show him.”

“We’ve been kind to you!” Kili said, and he sounded so young and so hurt that Bilbo flinched. Bard felt even worse for the stone in his bag, because Bilbo had given more than just the pretty stone when he’d handed it to them the night before. He’d given his friendships up, he’d betrayed every single dwarf that he’d obviously adored so much. All to try and save their lives.

“It’s not, it’s not like that Kili. Not the thirty-three days you remember but the days I remember. I’ve been living this single day of anger and war so many times it’s all routine and nothing I do changes it.” Not a single dwarf seemed to understand and even Thranduil looked bewildered.

For a moment, Thorin’s gold-lust seemed to fade, and he appeared more the stoic, honorable dwarf that Bard had butted heads with in Laketown. Then the glaze upon his eyes returned and Bilbo seemed to see it too, for his face crumpled a little bit more.

Then he straightened his back and rounded his shoulders. “He has the Arkenstone, Thorin, and I gave it to him. So yell at me all you want, banish me, but I’ve got bigger things to do right now, and the first one involves talking with Bard about what we can do next.”

He began to step down the stairs, never noticing the growing rage behind him. Perhaps he didn’t need to, given that he’d seen it so many times. “You…you thief!” Thorin bellowed. “Traitor! You rat!”

“Let’s go,” Bilbo said briskly, doing his best to ignore the dwarf king who howled behind him. Thorin threw out the words of banishment as he had before, the same ones that Bard remembered, and Bard finally turned away to join Bilbo on the way out. Thranduil followed, but there were obviously a million questions on the elf king’s tongue.

Bard didn’t care. What he did care about was that he was suddenly now stuck in the same situation as Bilbo, and he was now doomed to repeat the same day again and again with no reprieve. The hobbit had been telling the truth, and only now was Bard realizing the effects of that.

He quickly caught up to Bilbo outside the gates and put his hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. “Tell me everything you know,” he said. “For I have no desire to live this day again and again.” He could break the cycle, he was certain of it. He could free the hobbit, he could protect his people and his city, and they would move on.

Bilbo didn’t look impressed by his determination, but Bard was absolutely certain of his success. Even more so when they found Thorin and his kin exactly where Bilbo had said they would be: at the base of the hill that ran alongside the jagged cliffs and ruins. Thorin had even cleared his mind of the gold-lust, and he’d looked relieved to see the little hobbit. There would be reconciliation. It gave Bard higher hopes, and even Bilbo seemed of good cheer. Yes, he would break the cycle and return them to normalcy.

Which was why, when Thranduil was pulled from his elk and slaughtered, and Bard found himself standing in Erebor again, he resisted the urge to curse a blue streak and instead settled for smacking the elf king in the arm.

~

“Ow!” Thranduil yelled, sounding highly un-royal and very much like a young elfling. Bard was glaring at him something fierce, not even sympathetic to Thranduil’s rubbing of his arm.

Bilbo wanted to bury his head in his hands. Not just the company and Bard, but Thranduil too? Was it going to be every single person that left them returning to this moment again and again? Every person that wasn’t an orc, and Bilbo supposed he ought to be thankful for small miracles.

At least he had Bard with him. At least he no longer had to endure this alone.

“Where’s my armor?”

Bilbo turned to Kili, who was looking down at himself. “I had armor on,” he said slowly. “Where, where is it?”

Bofur ran across to the balcony and peered down. “There’s no army,” he said, stunned. “Where’d they all go?”

Slowly Bilbo moved his gaze over all of them. Oin seemed equally surprised, and Balin was looking around the throne room as if he’d never seen it before. A quick glance at Thranduil showed the elf king looking equally as startled, his hands patting down his chest where the fatal blow had been only moments before.

“You remember?” Bard asked, because Bilbo couldn’t, he couldn’t. His voice didn’t seem to work, and his throat was dry. He couldn’t hope. And yet…

“We were in battle a few minutes ago,” Dwalin said. “Aye. And now we’re here, just as we were this mornin’, if that’s what you mean.”

“Is this what you were talking about, Bilbo?” Fili asked. “This, this living of the same day again and again?”

But Bilbo wasn’t listening. Bilbo’s eyes were only on Thorin. For Thorin was staring at the ground, and his fists were clenched in rage.

No. Not rage. Shame.

“Thorin?” Bilbo asked tentatively. Please, Eru, if you’ve damned me to live this day for the rest of my years, please give me this. Please give me my dwarf back.

Thorin didn’t answer, but the guilt on his face only grew. “Thorin, do you remember?” he asked.

Finally Thorin turned his head away. “Do not look upon me,” he rasped. “I know what I did, when I last stood here. My mind is so clear and yet it wasn’t. I…I said…”

Bilbo didn’t care what he’d said. The memory of the dwarf’s rage from yesterdays faded from his mind, and all he knew was that Thorin was there. Thorin was there.

He raced across the stone floor and threw himself into Thorin’s side. Thorin flinched but Bilbo wasn’t letting go. “You’re here,” he whispered, and then he let out a laugh that was only a bit manic. “You’re here. Thorin, oh Thorin…”

He couldn’t stop himself from saying the dwarf’s name over and over again until Thorin finally put an arm around him. “I’m here,” he whispered, and when Bilbo looked up, Thorin’s eyes were clear, if a little wet. “I’m here, Bilbo.”

“Would someone mind explaining to me just what is going on?” Thranduil snapped. “Not that I mind being saved from a bloody fate, but I stood here just this morning.”

“Yes you did, as did I,” Bard said. “I even still have the Arkenstone in my bag.” He patted the bag on his side.

“Toss it over into the abyss,” Thorin growled. “I want no sight of it.”

Bard, surprisingly, shook his head. “No, O King. For I think you’ll change your mind in time, when you are not so raw of emotions. It is good to see you sound of mind again, however. And I will keep it for you until you ask for it again.”

“My stones,” Thranduil began, but Balin cut him off.

“No offense, your majesty, but I’m thinkin’ we have ourselves a bit of a bigger problem at the moment. Namely the fact that we’ve just started back to where we were this morning. And it sounds as if this has been going on for some time.”

“This is day three for me,” Bard agreed. “But Bilbo is on…day thirty-four?”

“Something like that,” Bilbo muttered. He finally let go of Thorin, his cheeks going warm at the display he must have given everyone. Just because he’d been forced to live the day so many times didn’t mean that everyone else had. And just because he and Thorin had grown close didn’t mean…well. Hopefully everyone would see it as an embrace of friendship and nothing more.

Just because Bilbo felt more than friendship didn’t mean that Thorin did, or would.

No one made any sort of comment, and in fact Thorin kept his arm around Bilbo’s shoulders as they turned to face the others. The heat of his hand left Bilbo feeling more grounded and less out of control. “What, exactly, happened?” Gloin asked.

So Bilbo set about explaining his first month of repeating the same day, over and over. He told them of what he’d discovered, and he’d told them of what he’d learned. It wasn’t much, as far as tactical advantage went, but given that he’d been fighting so hard to keep them all alive for so long, he supposed he could be forgiven.

“Right,” Fili said when he’d finished. “We need to all stay alive, then. That shouldn’t be too hard.”

“You try it,” Bilbo muttered. “See how well you do.”

“And it bears no meaning to anyone outside of this room?” Thranduil inquired. Bilbo shook his head. “Then I’ll ensure that my army keeps me as safe as possible. I will only wade into battle when necessary. That protects one of us.”

“Lovely of you,” Dwalin said under his breath. Bilbo quite understood the sentiment, even if he had watched the elf king get cut down just moments before. That had been hard to watch. No matter his own personal conflicts with the elf, no one deserved a death like that. No one.

“We’ll protect our own,” Thorin told him tersely. “You stay alive, we’ll stay alive.” He paused for a moment. “Bard, do your people need defense?” he asked.

If Bard was surprised by Thorin’s offer, he managed to keep it to himself. “My focus was actually on Bilbo,” he said. “He is the smallest and…well. Up to this point has been starting at a disadvantage, beginning the fight all the way in Dale as opposed to here.”

“No more,” Thorin said firmly. “Bilbo is welcome to stay with us. If he chooses,” he added quietly.

There was nowhere else Bilbo wanted to be. “Oh I’m staying,” he said. “I only left because I had no other choice, and even then you’ll remember that I came to find you in the battle.” Remember. Thorin remembered.

It was a lovely feeling. Bilbo had more hope singing in his chest then ever before.

“Right,” said Dwalin. “Let’s get to the finish line of the day, shall we?”

~

They didn’t quite get there on the first run through.

Or the second.

Almost the third, but then the orcs seemed to pop up out of nowhere and Balin fell. Dwalin didn’t take kindly to that.

Fili fell the fourth time and Kili definitely didn’t take kindly to that. Nor did Fili, given the glares he kept making as he rubbed at his completely healed sternum.

“Maybe,” Dori said at last, when he’d taken a brutal blow to the head and they’d all found themselves back in Erebor, “just maybe, this might not be as easy as we’d thought.”

Bilbo just buried his head in his hands.

~

“It’s a matter of strategy,” Kili said one of the days (forty-six, Bilbo thought, but they were all starting to run together, and every time he tried to make a count marker it was gone by the next repeat). “We just need to all strategize and…figure it out. Obviously.”

“Well thank Mahal you’re here,” Nori drawled. “We’d get nowhere if it weren’t for your wisdom.”

Kili glared at him, and thankfully Thorin cut him off before he could launch back some sort of rebuttal. “Enough. This isn’t helping.”

“Maybe if we go out earlier, surprise ‘em,” Bofur offered. “Like they’ve been surprisin’ us. Maybe that’s the trick.”

“Or perhaps they’ll see you coming and cut you down faster,” Thranduil said. He had long given up trying to hold a regal air and was instead tracing the designs on his staff. “Then we can start over even faster.”

“Some actual help in planning might aid as well, as opposed to simple snark,” Bard snapped. The man had seemed to side more with the dwarves with every repeated day, though there’d been a terse exchanging of words once with Thorin that neither had really forgotten (ha, they never forgot now). Suffice to say, Bilbo could easily see the tension between all three of the leaders in the room, and it wasn’t making things better.

“There is nothing simple about me,” Thranduil scoffed. “Including my snark.”

“Maybe one of us is supposed to die,” Fili exclaimed at last. “We just have to do it in a certain place or something. I don’t know!” he said when Thorin pinned him with a look. “Maybe it should be one of us!”

“It’s obviously not,” Dwalin said. “Every one of us has died already, and we always repeat!”

Bilbo paused from where he’d been biting his thumbnail. There was a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that had been growing for a few days now, and that, unfortunately, never stopped. All his other scratches and battle wounds went away but the feeling in his gut, that one always stayed. Perhaps because he’d woken up in Erebor in much the same way that first day.

He swallowed and lowered his hand. “That’s not true,” he said quietly.

His voice seemed to echo in the room, and he looked about for something, anything, to gaze at so he didn’t have to look at anyone else. “Yes it is,” Bard said when the silence went on. “Bilbo, we’ve all died at least once.”

Bilbo shut his eyes and sighed. “No we haven’t. Not all of us.”

Somehow, he’d managed to escape the jaws of death. Forty something days, and Bilbo had never been cut down, not once.

Perhaps Fili was right. Perhaps one of them was supposed to die, and the only one who hadn’t so far was…

“No,” Thorin said firmly, and when Bilbo opened his eyes, Thorin was glaring at him. “That’s not an acceptable solution.”

“Acceptable or not doesn’t change if it is the solution,” Bilbo said.

“You’re not dying!” Kili burst out. “We’ll get through this, all of us!”

Rounds of agreement went up through the room. Even Thranduil seemed to frown, surprisingly, at the thought of Bilbo’s death being their chance to escape their never-ending day. It was touching, as was Bard’s concern, but it didn’t change what probably had to happen.

The sick feeling in his gut only increased.

“Stop!” Bilbo finally shouted. “Stop it, all of you! You’re not making this any easier!”

“Good,” Dwalin said firmly. “You’re not dyin’. No one’s dyin’.”

“If I have to keep you here within Erebor to ensure your safety, I will,” Thorin said. He’d stepped closer to Bilbo, and he almost seemed as if he wanted to reach out and touch him. He hadn’t come anywhere close to Bilbo since that first day of remembering, and Bilbo found himself missing the loss deeply.

Thorin kept his hands by his sides, however, and Bilbo sighed. “All of you are arguing with me and that alone tells me that a part of you knows it to be true. You all know that my death is how we get out of this.”

Silence met his words. He swallowed hard and rubbed his hands on his pants. “Then that’s settled,” he said, trying to make his voice not shake.

“Nothing’s settled,” Bard said. “We do as Kili has suggested: we fight to get us all out of this alive. It is the other option that has never been done, and I feel that it’s the best option we have.”

Oh how he wanted that to be the answer. “Bard-“ he began, but Thorin stepped up to him, and Bilbo sort of forgot how to think when the dwarf he wanted, longed for, was standing so close to him.

Thorin seemed to be considering reaching out for him again, but Bilbo was left disappointed once more. “Please,” he said lowly. “Let us try to have everyone live through the day. Do not sacrifice yourself without us attempting to all live to see tomorrow.”

Bilbo finally nodded, and the relief in Thorin’s eyes was nearly palpable. “We defend ourselves again,” Thorin said, turning to the group at large, and Bilbo tried to make that his focus. Get through the day alive. He could do that. He’d done it so many times now it honestly couldn’t be that hard.

He supposed that was what made it so easy to be trapped by Bolg.

So focused on Kili and Thorin’s safety, he didn’t realize that he’d wandered up onto a rocky hill, all by himself, and when he turned, Bolg was there, and Bilbo was by himself. Pulling out his blade was too slow. Far too slow.

They’ll be free, he tried to convince himself, and then Bolg ran him through with his blade. It hit the mithril and spared him, but the pain was still so intense that Bilbo let out a scream. He could hear his name being called, shouts of fear, but all he could think of was the blade that was keeping him pinned and the pain, oh Eru the pain.

In the few seconds that it took for Bolg to skewer him, it only took another second more for the orc’s spiked club to come down against the side of his head. He could feel his skull cracking apart and open, the pain so incredible that he seemed to leave his body, and then he could feel the blood flooding his face. He couldn’t breathe, would never breathe again.

Then he took in a sharp breath and nearly tumbled to the stones beneath him in Erebor’s throne room.

Once he drew a breath, it wasn’t enough, he had to take another or he’d be ill. His hands flew to his head and he desperately tried to put his skull back together, but it was all there in one piece. The pain was fading fast, the pain that he’d never known before until death had taken him, and he couldn’t get enough air, he was going to pass out, why couldn’t he breathe?

Something grabbed him and he tried to swing his sword, only to discover his hand was empty. A voice came to him, but he couldn’t understand the words over his own gasps or the horrible ringing in his ears. His hands clung to the being in front of him.

Furs. A hard body, one that he remembered embracing and holding on to so many times over their journey. The smell that was unique to only him.

Thorin.

The dwarf’s voice finally permeated through the ringing that was slowly beginning to fade. “…have to slow down your breathing, Bilbo, breathe-“

Bilbo took a sharp gasp and tried to make his next breath come out slower. His hands were trembling, his entire body was shaking, and his face was wet. He desperately tried to wipe the blood away, but when he looked down at his hand, it wasn’t covered in blood but tears.

All around him was Thorin’s warmth and strength. The dwarf wasn’t hesitating to touch him now, and Bilbo sagged against him. If he thought about it long enough, he could still feel the club colliding with his head, and he shuddered so hard his feet shifted where he stood.

“We don’t do that again,” Dwalin said, his voice rough. Murmurs from the company followed him.

Bilbo looked up and wiped the last of the tears from his eyes. Thranduil and Bard were closer, further up the stairs than they’d ever come before, as if they’d moved up to meet Bilbo. Both looked shaken. “Agreed,” Thranduil said quietly.

“And now we know,” Fili said. “It’s all of us. Which means-“

“It could be a matter of how many of us,” Thranduil said, though he sounded as if he were trying to be gentle. “It could be the three Kings that are meant to perish in battle.”

Bard pursed his lips but gave a slight nod. “No,” Bilbo whispered. He shook his head and looked up at Thorin. The dwarf said nothing but appeared resigned to the fate. “No, no no. If I can’t die, you can’t either. We, we go with the original thought that we’re all supposed to get through this day.”

“Perhaps the three of us are meant to fall,” Thorin agreed, and Bilbo couldn’t help the horrible sound that came from his throat. Thorin said nothing but his hands tightened against Bilbo’s back. “We will join near the ruins of Dale and attempt to make a last stand together.”

The thought of Thorin dying, of him having to fall, was nearly as painful as Bolg’s club. Bilbo clutched at Thorin and shut his eyes tight. Just another moment. Just one more moment before he had to witness what might be the end of his dwarf.

Perhaps this was how Thorin had felt, thinking that Bilbo’s death would bring an end to this madness.

“We will join you,” Thranduil said, and Bard gave his nod, and that was all there was to it.

~

“Well that wasn’t it,” Balin said with a heavy sigh as they started again in Erebor. Bilbo raced over towards Thorin and held him tight, and Thranduil noticed with some bewilderment that Bard was rubbing his…backside?

Bard caught him looking and scowled. “It hurt,” he complained, much as Legolas had as a young elfling. “You try taking an arrow to the arse and see how you feel.”

“My matter of death was much more dignified than that, at least,” Thranduil said with a sniff. To be fair, a small orc cutting him down by the knees only to stab him from behind wasn’t all that dignified either, but it was better than being shot by a poisoned arrow in such a…delicate place. In spite of himself, Thranduil smiled.

Bard didn’t appreciate it. One of the dwarves, the bald one marked with ink, met Thranduil’s gaze and gave a begrudging grin of his own. A smaller dwarf, covered with knit everywhere, coughed to cover his own amusement.

Perhaps they weren’t all bad. At the very least, they could keep their amusement to themselves.

“So what now?” the youngest dwarf asked. His dark hair and lack of beard would have left him nearly akin to a man, had he been taller. At least, that was what Thranduil was trying to convince himself of. An elf falling for a man was heard of.

His loyal guard falling for the small Durin’s heir wasn’t exactly in his plans. Then again, if they never left this endless day, it wouldn’t really happen, now would it?

Cheered considerably, Thranduil made his way up the stairs for the second time since this whole debacle had begun. “Perhaps it is a separate combination we need to look for,” he said. “Or perhaps a place we were meant to fall and have yet to reach.”

If the dwarves could not figure it out, Thranduil supposed he could…lend them his intelligence. They were sorely in need of it, and Thranduil would not see the child of Yavanna fall again. Hobbits were not meant to see battle: to see him cut down so brutally had been a blow to Thranduil’s very soul. He hardly knew the being, but Bilbo Baggins had been nothing but determined to see peace brought between them. A peace loving creature did not deserve a death on a battlefield.

Bard followed him up the stairs, and Thranduil watched as the dwarf king separated himself from the hobbit. “Perhaps,” Thorin Oakenshield agreed reluctantly.

Discussing things with an ill-tempered dwarf. What had Thranduil’s life come to?

His only consolation was found in Bard still rubbing his backside.