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Thorin still isn't used to having a grand feast on a regular basis, but he certainly isn't going to argue.

The dining hall is massive, large enough for every single Dwarf who has ever lived to sit at one of the tables without crowding. Somewhere at the head of Thorin's table sits Durin the Deathless himself, and somewhere ahead of him sits Mahal. Thorin has met them, once, when he first arrived. The fact that he feasts with them now, at every single meal, is something he's not sure he'll ever be able to get used to.

"Don't slouch, Thorin; it's bad for your back."

He's not sure he'll get used to his mother being around again, either.

Fryn always was a stoic Dwarrowdam, but she doesn't look so now. The gray in her hair and beard is gone, and she smiles—Thorin can't remember if he ever saw her genuinely smile when she was alive. And now, she apparently has taken it upon herself to mother her children even in the afterlife.

Thorin does as she says nonetheless. "Mother—"

"I don't want to hear it. You can learn bad posture here just as you can as a mortal."

"I wasn't going to say anything about that."

Fryn gives him a look, unable to disguise her grin. "Mm, yes, I'm sure you weren't."

Thorin huffs, because she's right. He looks down at his plate—piled high with meat, potato, fish, food he hasn't had since his visit to the Shire, and that's not something he particularly wants to think about.

He closes his eyes, just for a moment, and when he opens them, he's no longer in Mahal's Halls.

It takes him a moment to realize where he is. The room is dark, lit only by candles and a few scattered torches, and his eyes have to adjust to the change from brightness to dimness, but when they do, there’s no denying it.

He hasn’t even considered that he would have a funeral in the first place, much less be present at it. And yet here he is, watching his kith and kin walk past his physical body on a plinth, Orcrist in his lap, the Arkenstone in his hands.

It’s the first time he’s seen it since it had been shown off for ransom, and it makes him no less angry now than it did then. That stone, that piece of rock had taken so much from him, had caused him to send Bilbo away, to nearly kill the person who had become most precious to him.

I have to destroy it.

He takes a step forward, reaching for the thrice-damned stone, and then—

And then Bilbo walks past him, his shoulder going right through Thorin’s. Bilbo shivers, and Thorin remembers he can’t. He wouldn’t even be able to pick up the Arkenstone in this form, much less break it apart into shards.

He doesn’t look at his body. He doesn’t deserve it. He doesn’t deserve this, a king’s funeral, with the Dwarves he cares for most surrounding him. And Bilbo… Bilbo shouldn’t be there at all. Thorin nearly killed Bilbo, and yet he is still there, standing between Bofur and Dori and looking as though it is taking all the courage and willpower he has to do so.

Thorin walks directly toward Bilbo, prepared to tell him that no, he doesn’t have to be here. Bilbo hadn't forgiven him—there hadn't been the chance for Thorin to ask for it. Thorin had blacked out the moment he saw Bilbo on Ravenhill, and then... nothing. He couldn't say what he needed to then, and he can't say it now because Bilbo can't hear.

That, the fact that he is not forgiven for everything he's done to Bilbo, has haunted him from the moment he awoke in front of his Maker.

Movement from where his head rests on the plinth turns Thorin’s attention toward his nephews. Kíli and Fíli stand together, their shoulders only just barely an inch apart. Tears run down Kíli’s cheeks, but he isn’t sobbing, not yet. His lip wobbles as he shifts his weight from his wounded leg to the other, and Thorin’s chest aches. He looks just like the little Dwarfling who had stood in front of Thorin more than fifty years ago, dirty cheeks wet and shining, asking why his father wasn’t coming home like he’d promised.

He’s cost his nephews all their father figures—Víli, Frerin, and now himself. It’s just another thing he doesn't think he can forgive himself for.

Fíli isn’t crying. Thorin’s thankful for that. Instead, Fíli is staring intently at a corner of the plinth, avoiding looking at Thorin’s body at all. It is only then that Thorin notices he is not wearing his clothes from the quest, nor his armor from the battle.

He is dressed as a king, and it suits him.

Dáin must have brought the clothing; there is no other explanation. The tunic and dressings are long on Fíli—but then, the clothes hadn’t been meant for him in the first place. The Durin blue is striking in its vibrancy and cleanliness; the raven-black furs are almost purple against the candlelight and contrast against the gold of Fíli’s hair. One shoulder, which had taken a blow from a poisoned blade, is well-padded, but there are no dressings or bandages or even a sling visible over his clothes. He wears his old braids, along with a new one that frames his face and declares him king of Durin’s folk.

A lump forms in Thorin’s throat, and he walks to his nephews. His nephews, the rambunctious Dwarflings who never seemed to stay out of the dirt and mud after their baths. His nephews, the warriors who are not even one hundred years old and have already lived through what will be, Mahal willing, the largest and worst battle of their lives.

His nephews, who have grown so much and yet are still, somewhere within them, the giggling children he had to chase out of his forge when the dinner bell rang.

“My boys.”

Thorin goes to them, resting his hands on one of Kíli’s shoulders and Fíli’s good one. He can’t feel the fabric of their clothing, or the softness of their hair, and he knows they can’t feel his touch, either.

He almost thinks he sees something flicker in Fíli’s expression, but then Fíli turns his head away.

The Company has stopped circling Thorin’s body, and have instead surrounded the plinth, humming. Thorin’s gaze lingers on Balin, who is not controlling his weeping. On Dwalin, whose usual stony stare is softer, directed away from Thorin's body. On Bofur, Bifur, Bombur; on Dori, Nori, Ori; on Óin and Glóin. On Dáin, standing behind them beside Gandalf. On the tears in each of their beards and the redness of their eyes.

On the Hobbit, on Bilbo, on the way he swallows and his eyes shine wet. On the way the candlelight makes his hair glow, dirty and dingy though it may be. On the mithril he still wears under his tunic, though it’s been days since the battle ended.

Thorin looks at every single face, recognizes their grief, and realizes just how fortunate he is to call these people—these Dwarves, this Hobbit, and yes, even the blasted wizard standing above them all—his friends.

The humming stops, every head bows, and though he knows he won’t be heard, Thorin can’t help himself.

“I do not deserve your loyalty, or your forgiveness, any of you,” he says, his words echoing off the walls to unhearing ears. “But I am thankful for every last bit of it. I am sorry I could not be the king you had hoped for, that I myself had hoped I would be.”

The room is silent, almost eerily so, and Thorin continues. “I am proud to call you my kin, and would have been even prouder to call you my people. I have failed you, but not one of you have failed me.

“Thank you,” he says, after the briefest pause. “Thank you, for answering my call, for fighting by me, for giving me far more than I deserve.” At this, he looks at Bilbo. There is one single, lonely tear on his cheek, sliding down quickly as it reaches his jaw.

Gandalf steps forward, silently, and places his hand on Fíli’s shoulder, over the same place Thorin’s had been only moments ago. Fíli looks surprised when he turns to Gandalf, but he nods, once, and follows the wizard up a small set of steps to stand before the Company.

He walks as Thorin had taught him, holding his head high, his back straight, his pace almost leisurely, as though this is any other day. His face tells another story entirely. Thorin’s not sure he has ever seen such pain on Fíli’s face, and he wishes with all his might that he could have spared Fíli from this, if only for another fifty years.

He should not have to rebuild, on his own, a home he does not remember.

Fíli turns to face the Company, and his expression changes completely. He looks far from pleased, but the sorrow that had been present on his face when his back was turned to them is gone.

Balin steps forward then and stands beside Fíli, the Raven Crown in his hands. Thorin wishes they had had the time to forge a new one, a crown that had not been cursed to weigh upon the brows of gold-mad kings. But he knows Fíli, knows that he would not have another made just for himself, not when he had other priorities to tend to. Thorin still wishes for it, for one that would make Fíli proud to bear it.

The crown is handed over to Gandalf, and the wizard stands behind Fíli, somehow not seeming to tower over him, and announces, “The king is dead!”

Fíli is still, incredibly still, as the crown is placed upon his head. The chamber is silent, and Thorin can see the exact second Fíli feels the weight of himself, of who he is now, and the sight of how miserable Fíli looks in that moment feels like a knife in Thorin’s chest.

There is only a moment between this realization and the moment Balin moves to stand by his brother again, raising his sword.

“Long live the king!”

The rest of the Company draws their weapons in salute, repeating the chant. It is a pledge as much as a proclamation, an announcement that these Dwarves will follow their new king to their death, and the words fill the empty hollowness of the room.

Fíli bows his head, and when he looks at the Company again, Thorin can tell he doesn’t know what to say. He has no doubt Fíli had something prepared—another thing Thorin had taught him, and that Balin had probably helped him with, judging by his expression—but Fíli says nothing, and the chamber is silent again.

“Fíli,” Thorin says, moving to stand directly in front of him. “What were you going to say?”

His expression is blank, but Thorin can hear him swallow, can sense his heartbeat racing.  His eyes dart from one place to another.

Thorin knows Fíli can’t hear him, can’t feel any comfort from him, but he tries. He puts his hand on Fíli’s arm and looks him directly in the eye.

“Breathe, Fíli. These are your friends. Your kin. Your people, now. There is nothing you can say to them that will turn them away. I should know that.”

Fíli doesn’t move, his gaze flickering to the body behind—no, through—Thorin.

“Speak from your heart, if you can’t remember your words. They will listen.”

Fíli’s gaze locks onto Thorin’s eyes, and Thorin almost thinks that Fíli had heard him, that he’d got through, and he takes a few steps backward, toward the rest of of the Company.

And then Fíli walks down from the platform. He pauses, then suddenly falls to one knee, head bowed, and unsheathes his dual swords, setting them down with less care than usual at his feet. It’s a gesture of complete servitude, traditionally unfitting for a king, but it’s strangely appropriate now. Fíli has fought beside these friends, led them when Thorin was no longer able to, and now must help them steer toward a new future.

Thorin worries for Fíli’s shoulder briefly, but if it pains him, Fíli does not show it.

“I have little to offer you as king,” he says, his voice strong and unwavering, and Thorin feels an overwhelming wave of pride. “I have no experience ruling or leading, and I realize I have much to live up to, after Thrór, after—after Thorin. But you have my swords, my protection, and my promise: every piece of gold in this mountain that does not belong to a member of Thorin Oakenshield’s Company will help rebuild Erebor and Dale, to surpass the glory that both were before. We will help Lord Bard so that we may see trade, prosperous and beneficial for both Dwarves and Men, with New Dale. We will make the mines and marketplaces safe again, for our miners and merchants and tradesmen to practice their craft.

“Most importantly, no one who seeks a life in Erebor will want for anything. We will make this place a home again, for every Dwarf that wishes it to be theirs, to return and raise their families in the place they belong.”

There is a long pause, and Thorin can see Fíli second-guessing himself before Glóin steps forward, face hardened.

“You may keep my share of the treasure, my king, and use it to rebuild so that we may all enjoy the future of Erebor.”

“And mine,” says Balin.

“Mine, too,” Ori announces.

“Aye.” Dwalin nods. “You have mine.”

One by one, the rest of the Company gives their portion of the treasure to the king, much to Fíli’s evident surprise. Even Nori, the last person Thorin would have expected, gives his up with only a shrug.

Bilbo is last, and somehow he sneaks next to Thorin to address Fíli. “Hobbits have no use for gold,” he says, his voice quieter than Thorin has ever remembered it. “It will be of much more use here.”

“I thank you all for your generosity,” Fíli says, rising to his feet. “You have my word that your shares will go toward rebuilding and restoration. Every one of you will have a home here for as long as you and your line may live. Have you any need of coin, all you need is to ask and it will be given.”

The Company bows, and if it were possible in his current form, he would no doubt be misty-eyed. He did not think he could ever be more proud of his nephew, and yet he is.

Fíli will be a much better king than Thorin could have ever hoped to be.

Gandalf makes a hand gesture, and Kíli takes a step forward to stand beside his brother before they both walk up to the platform again. Kíli is given a smaller circlet and named the crown prince. He does not say a word; the tears on his cheeks are dry, but their tracks catch the light when he turns his head.

Fíli tries to smile at his brother, but Kíli does not—cannot—return it. Fíli squeezes his shoulder in support, his own smile slipping, revealing only for the briefest moment his sadness before he steps down from the platform.

He goes to each Dwarf in turn, resting their foreheads together and offering them positions or storefronts or special homes. To Balin, he offers the position of Royal Advisor. To Dwalin, Captain of the Guard. To Óin, he grants the infirmary and his own herb shop in the marketplace. To Glóin, the position of Ambassador for New Trade. To Dori, a stately home fitted with a tea room. To Nori, Royal Spymaster. To Ori, Royal Scribe and Librarian. To Bofur, Head of the Miner’s Guild. To Bifur, a large toyshop in the marketplace. To Bombur, the royal kitchens. All accept wholeheartedly, and some—Nori, Ori, and Bofur among them—are shocked, but accept nonetheless.

Bilbo is last once again, and looks utterly stunned when Fíli stands in front of him as he did with the rest of the Company.

“I’m afraid I don’t know if there is anything I can give you that you might want, Bilbo,” he says, forgoing the head bump. “I know you’re anxious to return to the Shire, but you have a home here, if you want it, in the royal apartments. It will always be saved for you.”

Bilbo blinks, glancing from Gandalf to Fíli, and even from beside him Thorin can feel his anxiety rise. “I—the royal apartments? No, no, I can’t possibly—“

“Would you prefer somewhere else?” Fíli asks, his head cocked to the side and looking confused. “The royal apartments are the nicest in Erebor, and I’m sure Uncle would have wanted you—“

“I can’t,” Bilbo says, his voice breaking before he clears his throat and tries to stand taller and straighter, clenching his fists loosely.

“Take it, Bilbo,” Thorin says. “Please.” He knows it’s selfish, knows he shouldn’t ask it of him, but it would give Bilbo a reason to come back. And if Thorin can somehow return to Erebor like this now, perhaps…

There’s a pause, and Bilbo shakes his head and clears his throat again. “Thank you for the offer, Your Royal Highness, but I can’t. Please, give the room to someone else. You may have need of it once you take a queen.”

Thorin can tell the suggestion rankles Fíli, but he is gracious about it, nodding. “As you wish. If there’s anything I can do for you, let me know. I won’t take my offer back—you will always have a home here if you want to return.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo says with a bow. “You are very kind.”

Fíli shakes his head. “All I’m doing is thanking my friends,” he says, and they give each other small, almost-sincere smiles.

Gandalf moves toward the exit, and the Company starts to filter out. Kíli is one of the first to leave, almost bolting toward the door, with the brothers Ri, Dwalin, Dáin, Bilbo, and the family Ur not far behind.

Bilbo looks reluctant when he does leave, turning around to face the room one last time. Thorin takes a step forward to stop him, but Bilbo faces the door again and walks away.

Fíli slumps almost immediately once everyone has left, moving over to Thorin’s body.

“Go with them,” Thorin says. “Don’t dwell on me.”

Fíli does not listen, and Balin, whom he seems to have forgotten, walks over to him, his footsteps loud enough that he doesn’t startle Fíli.

“He would be so proud of you,” Balin says. “You did wonderfully.”

“I haven’t done anything but make promises.” Fíli tenses. “I’ve done nothing. He wouldn’t be proud of a too-short speech or promises I can only hope to fulfill.”

“He would,” Balin says, shaking his head. “He was more proud of you and your brother than either of you knew.”

“He could have said it!” Fíli’s grip tightens on the edge of the plinth, his knuckles turning white. “He could have told us! I don’t even know if I’m doing what he would have wanted!”

“You are,” Thorin says, his voice breaking as he rounds the plinth to stand opposite Balin on Fíli’s side. How could he not know? “You are doing everything I should have done from the beginning. I am so proud of you, Fíli.”

“He is not the king any longer,” Balin says. “It doesn’t matter if you do what he would have done, because you are here and he is not. You must start making decisions for yourself, for the good of your people, and not because you think your uncle would approve.”

“I’ve never known Erebor,” Fíli says. “How am I supposed to rebuild a kingdom I never knew?”

Balin pats Fíli's good arm. “If we recreated Erebor the way it was, we would see ruin the way we did before. We have a new king now, with new ideas. We have been given the gift of a blank slate. You won’t make the mistakes those of us who remember Erebor would. You will make a better home for us, and you will have our help.”

“I don’t want to do it.” Fíli’s eyes fill with tears, and he closes them tightly. “I don’t want this. I want Uncle back.”

“That is why you will be the best king we could hope for,” Balin says gently. His expression turns to one dangerously close to pity. “The weight of the crown is heavy on those who do not want it.”

Fíli says nothing, and Balin leaves with a sigh, casting one last glance at Thorin’s body.

“When you are ready,” Balin says to Fíli, and Gandalf nods and closes the door behind them.

Fíli immediately casts off his crown, tossing it across the chamber and letting it clang against the stone floor.

“You’re supposed to do this, not me,” he says to Thorin’s body.

“I know,” Thorin says. “I know, and I’m so sorry.”

“I can’t do this.”

“You can, and you’ll have to.”

Fíli doesn’t say a word, his hand wrapping around the Arkenstone.

“No,” Thorin says, feeling pressure in his chest and fearing the worst, but Fíli casts the stone at the floor. It rolls but does not break, and Fíli does not give it a second glance.

Thorin’s relief is overwhelming.

“I don’t know why they wanted to bury you with it,” he says, wrapping Thorin’s hands around Orcrist’s hilt instead with care. “Stupid, if you ask me.”

Thorin chuckles. “Aye. Thank you for that.”

Fíli is quiet for a moment, staring intently at Thorin’s hands. “Were you proud of me? Really? I know Balin says it, but I suppose he has to say it. Would—would you be proud of me now?”

“Yes,” Thorin says firmly. Maybe, he thinks, if I try hand enough, I can get Fíli to feel it. “Balin is right. I have always been proud of you, and I always will be.”

Fíli doesn’t move, and his expression doesn’t change. Thorin curses himself for not saying it more, for being quick to correct and slow to praise while he was alive. He isn’t good at this, never was, and now Fíli is the one who has to pay for it. Fíli had surpassed every single expectation Thorin ever had for him, and as a result, Thorin had constantly him for more, for better. Thorin’s been proud of his eldest nephew for as long as he can remember, ever since he held the boy for the first time and Fíli’s little hand wrapped around Thorin’s finger.

Fíli didn’t have to do a single thing for Thorin to be proud of him. Thorin just wishes he was able to tell him that.

“I just want to do things the way you’d want them,” Fíli says. He reaches behind his neck, untying the leather band and holding the stone pendant in his hand. A gray haze moves slowly within the purple stone, and Thorin stares at it in wonder. He would recognize that stone anywhere.

It’s murb’aban.

Fíli is Bâhadmârab, and they never knew. Not Thorin, not Dís—they had thought, when he was born with a diamond-shaped birthing-mark, that he might have been, and Dís did everything she could to shield him from it. Murb’aban was banned from their home, and Frerin, Bâhadmârab himself, was told never to let Fíli near it. But somehow Fíli had discovered it, knew how to summon a spirit, and none of them had noticed.

When did he find it? Had he known decades ago, when Víli and Frerin had died at Azanulbizar? Had he summoned them?

“This is your home,” Fíli continues. “Not mine. Not yet.”

“It will be,” Thorin says. “You will make it your home.”

Fíli sighs, hanging his head. His lips move as though he’s saying something, but Thorin can’t hear him; it’s muddled, as though Thorin’s underwater and Fíli is speaking from the surface.

“What?”

Fíli doesn’t stop talking, and slowly Thorin’s vision begins to blur. He can see where the murb’aban is resting upon the plinth, no longer touching Fíli’s skin, and when Thorin blinks he is back in the bright feasting hall.

“Are you all right, Thorin?” Fryn asks, sipping at her ale while an uproar of laughter takes over down the table. “You look ill.”

“Have another ale,” Thrór says, sliding a tankard across the table toward him. “It’ll make you feel better.”

Thorin manages to catch it, but only just. I've just watched my own funeral, he wants to tell them, but thinks better of it. Explaining would take too long, and he'd doubt they'd understand anyway.

There are a few who would, though.

Thorin stands, putting his hands on the table. “Where are Frerin and Víli? And Bís?”



It feels wrong, Bilbo thinks, to be so sad and somber after a funeral.

And yet that’s what the Company is doing. Bombur had worked for days on a feast, and while the food is certainly very good, the spirit that the Company once had during large meals is entirely gone, and it brings down Bilbo’s mood, as well, making him feel more miserable than he had even at the funeral.

Funerals should be times for remembrance and celebration of the dead, and yet Bilbo thinks he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to be cheery even if this one was.

He picks at his food, chasing lumps of meat and potato around his bowl with his spoon to make it look as though he’s eaten more than he has, and he avoids the curious gazes the others are throwing his way.

“All right there, Bilbo?” Bofur asks from beside him, elbowing him in the side without any force.

Bilbo looks up. The rest of the Dwarves around them have moved on from their food, turning instead to their refilled tankards, but are still eerily quiet, talking in hushed voices. Fíli is notably absent still, his place at the head of the table empty.

“Of course,” Bilbo says, attempting a smile that wouldn’t fool anyone. “Just, ah, not so hungry, I suppose.”

“You? Not hungry? Did Bom put something in your stew?” Bofur winks, but his smile slips quickly when Bilbo doesn’t return it.

“We do things a bit differently in the Shire, I suppose,” Bilbo says with a sigh. “Funerals aren’t so… so gloomy. We celebrate the life, and take comfort knowing we’ll see them again.”

“Aye, I imagine we will see Thorin again.” Bofur pauses, and Bilbo senses a ‘but’ coming. “Dwarves live a long time, though. The boys—well, the King and Crown Prince, now—they’ll have at least 150 years left in ‘em before they’ll go to the Halls, Mahal willing. That’s a long time to wait.”

Bilbo blinks. “Do Dwarves not have Connections?”

“That’d depend on what you mean by connections,” Bofur says, raising an eyebrow. “We can’t talk to the dead, if that’s what you’re wondering. Well, a Bâhadmârab can, but there hasn’t been one of those since Thorin’s brother. Can Hobbits talk to spirits?”

“No,” Bilbo says. “No, we can’t.” He folds up his napkin carefully, setting it beside his bowl. “What’s a… what was it? Bâhadmârab?”

Bofur glances around, as though to make sure the coast is clear, then leans in a bit. “It’s a Durin thing. A Bâhadmârab can summon spirits, and talk to 'em. Usually it’s one a generation, which means either Kíli or Fíli should be able to, unless Mahal is planning on giving Lady—well, Princess Dís, now—more children. But neither of ‘em have really shown much interest. There was Frerin before them, and then Thorin’s aunt before him, and I don’t know of any before her, but she was popular. Helped people say goodbye when they couldn’t before the person died, that sort of thing.” He shrugs, leaning back away. “You’d have to ask a Durin for more about it. They keep most of it secret.”

“Just like everything else about you Dwarves,” Bilbo grumbles, but nods. “Thank you. That’s… interesting.” So the Dwarves did have a way to communicate with spirits. It won't do Bilbo any good, especially if the only two Dwarves who could are already dead, but it’s something, he supposes.

The stone door opens then, and every head turns to watch Fíli walk in. His face is stoic and blank, and Bilbo feels for him. He can’t be older than thirty in Hobbit years—still a child, really—and here he is, king of a lost kingdom reclaimed and having to mask his sadness to appear strong.

Bilbo doesn’t think he would have been able to do as well as Fíli is, even now. He feels terrible, and he can only guess that he looks just as bad. A proper Hobbit would try to cover that up, but Bilbo’s not quite proper anymore, it seems.

He doesn’t know if that’s a blessing or a curse.

Fíli takes his seat at the head of the table, and the platters of food pass hands to reach him. Bilbo turns to look at his own food again, but a loud scraping sound and the loud crash of rock against rock makes him look up again.

Kíli is standing, glaring at Fíli, his chair pushed away and toppled over. Fíli returns his gaze, steady and unfeeling, and Kíli storms off without another word. Bilbo can see that his cheeks are wet again when he passes by.

“What was that about?” Bilbo asks once he’s gone, and Bofur shakes his head.

“Can’t ever tell with those two.”

“No, indeed.” Bilbo sighs down at his food. “I think I’m going to go outside for a pipe.”

Bofur nods, but doesn’t rise when Bilbo does. “Don’t go running off on us this time,” he teases, but something in his eyes makes Bilbo think he’s serious.

“I won’t,” Bilbo promises. Not yet, anyway.

It’s only been a few days since the battle—and Eru, does it feel like an entire lifetime—but Bilbo thinks he knows his way around the most important areas in Erebor: namely, the dining hall, the kitchens, the front gates, and what has been designated as his room. It’s a bit of a walk to get to the gates from the dining hall, but his feet carry him without his mind having to dwell on it.

The front gates are mostly clear now, with only a few smaller boulders near the entrance that are perfect for sitting upon. He takes the one closest to the gates, having to climb a bit to sit on it, and leans back against the mountain, pulling the pipe Gandalf had given him from his pocket.

There’s just enough pipeweed left in it for another smoke, and he lights it up and takes a long puff. The night air is refreshing, the pipeweed soothing, and Bilbo looks up at the stars in their twinkling beauty and is transported back to Bag-End, to his days sitting up on the grass roof and stargazing all night with his mother, making up their own constellations. It’s so peaceful, and perhaps the first comfort Bilbo has had since the battle, so he closes his eyes and breathes it in.

“Ah, Bilbo. I’d hoped to find you out here.”

Bilbo jumps, nearly dropping his pipe, and looks up to see Gandalf towering over him. He’s almost frustrated with himself for not hearing the wizard walk up. Bilbo gives Gandalf a look, but he seems unaffected as he sweeps down to sit on the ground next to Bilbo’s boulder.

“Yes, well. What did you want to see me for?” Bilbo almost cringes at how rude the words sound, but he’s not in a particularly polite mood, after all. Leave it to Gandalf to disturb him when he’s trying to relax.

“I wanted to tell you that you may keep my pipe until I return for it.” Gandalf smiles a bit, though he doesn’t look at Bilbo. “And also to let you know that we will be returning to the Shire in three days.”

“Three days?” He’s not sure whether to be relieved that it’s so soon, or upset that they aren’t staying longer. “Why is that?”

“Three days will give me long enough to ensure that Fíli and the future kings of Erebor will not fall to the dragon-sickness.”

“Do you think he will?”

“Not if I make sure that the mountain is protected properly.” Gandalf turns to him. “I would say we could stay longer, but I think it would be best to leave after three days. It will give us enough time for goodbyes.”

Bilbo nods, though he can’t say he agrees. He takes another puff of his pipe, wiggles his toes, and looks down at his feet. How far his feet have taken him—so much further than he ever thought he’d go in his lifetime, and now he would have to make the trip once more. “I just want to go home.”

And he does, truly. But something makes him want to stay, too.

“I imagine you do,” Gandalf agrees. “We’ll get you home, safe and sound and hopefully much more quickly than it took us to arrive here.”

“Thank you,” Bilbo says, because it seems like it’s what he has to say in response, not because he wants to. There is a pause, not overly uncomfortable, and Bilbo looks up at the stars again.

They feel further away, cold and distant, and they aren’t so comforting now.

“Dwarves are not connected to places the way Hobbits are,” Gandalf explains, answering a question Bilbo hadn’t asked. “I’m afraid you won’t be able to speak with Thorin until—”

“I know,” Bilbo says curtly.

“My point is, it will do you no good to stay—“

Bilbo hops off the boulder and puts out his pipe. The night air is now stifling, the pipeweed unsettling his stomach, and this is not a conversation he is ready for or wants to have. “I think I ought to get some sleep now, if you’ll excuse me. I’ll be ready to leave on the third day.”

“Of course,” Gandalf says after a beat, but Bilbo has already walked back through the gates, an overwhelming ache in his chest.



Nori itches, and not in the good way.

He hadn’t planned on giving up his share of the treasure. After all, it was more than enough to live on for the rest of his life, and just the one share would make sure Dori and Ori were taken care of for the rest of their lives, too. Nori knew Ori would give his away the minute Balin did; the kid tries to be too noble and loyal for his own good, and Mahal knows that if Fíli ever asks for anything, Ori will always give it. But Nori was sure that Dori would at least keep his share, to make sure they’d all be set, and the fool had given it away.

Nori chooses to ignore the fact that he’d given his own share back right after Dwalin had surrendered his. That had nothing to do with it, after all. Dori is supposed to be the responsible one, and he hadn’t been, and that’s Nori’s point.

Besides, where’s the fun in being set for life? It wouldn’t mean Nori would stop thieving altogether. He stole because he had to at first, to make sure Dori and Ori were fed, but now it’s so easy that it’s fun. A pleasant way to spend the day, really, so long as he did it right.

But Ori’s grown up a lot on their quest, and he doesn’t think Nori’s little tricks and thefts are all that fun anymore. Ori doesn’t think very much is fun anymore, to be honest, and it hurts Nori a bit to see his youngest brother look so crestfallen.

It also makes Nori less interested in some of his usual tricks, not having a willing, attentive audience.

And beyond all that, Fíli had offered him the position of Spymaster. There’s no disputing that Nori is the perfect candidate, of course, but now he’s on the right side of the law. He won't be able to do any thieving at all at this rate. He knew that when the position had been offered to him, and yet he still took it, like a bloody idiot. Signed his career as a thief right away to be the good guy.

Ugh.

He scratches at his neck. Mahal, he wants to leave. He hates the after-funeral feasts, and he especially hates how sad Dwalin looks from across the table.

A shag might cheer him right up, but Nori’s not stupid enough to suggest it. He’ll wait for Dwalin to come to him, like he usually does.

And there’s that good kind of itch, making itself known again.

The stone door opens, and Fíli walks in, looking haggard. Ori looks up from his plate for the first time that evening, and Fíli meets his eyes before sitting down.

Fool children.

Nori would pity Fíli if he weren’t so glad it’s Fíli who’s king. The kid’s smart enough, if not more trusting than he should be, but maybe that’s a good thing for a king to be at first. He’s got Balin and the rest of the Company to knock sense into him when he needs it.

He’s still not good enough for Ori, though, if you asked Nori. Especially now that he’s king. He’ll have to marry a Dwarrowdam and make heirs at some point, and that would leave Ori heartbroken.

Then again, nobody’s good enough for Ori, so maybe Nori should keep his nose out of Ori’s business. He’ll be damned if he turns into Dori, and meddling with Ori's little crushes is a surefire way to get there.

Not what he wants to think about. In fact, he'd rather stop thinking altogether. He glances around the room, trying to find something distracting that isn't the big attractive lump across the table from him, and watches as Fíli leans over and whispers something to his brother. Nori strains his ears to try to catch what he's saying, but he can only hear the muffled rasping of Fíli’s voice and can’t make out any of the words. Whatever he says, it causes Kíli to topple his chair over and leave. Nori snorts to himself, and Dori jabs his elbow with his fork from beside him.

“Don’t laugh at him,” Dori says. “The poor boy was crying.”

“I wasn’t laughing at him,” Nori grumbles, scratching his arm. “And I’m not Ori, in case you hadn’t noticed, since your eyes have gone so bad.”

Dori gives him a look. “My eyes aren’t that bad, and you’re still my younger brother. I can scold you when I like.”

“Operative word there is clearly younger.” And then, quietly enough that Nori’s sure Dori can’t hear: “Crusty old bastard.”

Ori hears it, though, and he turns to look at him. Nori shrugs and grins, winking, and Ori cracks a small smile before turning back to his food.

Well. At least he’s managed to cheer someone up a bit.

Nori can see some movement from further down the table. Bilbo’s up and sneaks toward the door, but no one else seems to notice besides Bofur.

The wizard stands and excuses himself soon after, and Nori’d bet money they’re going to the same place.

Still, people are leaving, and that means the feast is officially over, thank Mahal. Nori looks across the table at Dwalin, who’s apparently been staring at him. Nori raises an eyebrow, and Dwalin sets down his tankard, pushing it away from himself.

That’s more like it.

Nori pushes his chair away from the table. “Well, it’s been real fun, but I’m going to bed,” he announces, and while Dori glares at him—presumably for using the word 'fun' at a funeral feast—that’s all he does. Nori stands and heads for the door, and he can hear other chairs scraping against the floor.

More than just the one he’s expecting.

Shit.

Nori can’t go to his own room; he shares it with Dori and Ori, and Mahal knows he won’t be able to keep this thing quiet—in more ways than one—if he leads Dwalin there. Dwalin’s room is out of the question, too, since he shares with Balin. They nearly got caught in the hall last time, so that’s off-limits now as well.

He looks over his shoulder to see who’s behind him. Dwalin and Balin are walking together, though Dwalin looks about ready to bolt. Nori gets his attention while Balin talks, and slinks around a corner. He can hear them walk by, and then their footsteps stop.

“I need to do something before bed,” Dwalin says, and there’s a pause.

“Of course, brother,” Balin replies. “But be quick about it. I don’t think I’ll be awake for too much longer. The King and I have early meetings tomorrow morning.”

One set of footsteps walks away, and another comes closer. Dwalin walks around the corner, and Nori grabs him by his tunic, pulling him further into the hallway.

“It should be dark enough here,” he says, reaching for the waistband of Dwalin’s trousers. “But we’ll have to be quick. I heard more people start to leave the dining hall.”

“Nori.” Dwalin puts his hand over Nori’s, stilling them, and Nori looks up. Dwalin looks serious, and definitely not interested in sex.

Uh-oh.

“What?” Nori asks, taking his hands away quickly.

Dwalin sighs. “We need to talk.”

This is it, then—The Speech. Nori thought he could put it off a bit longer, squeeze a bit more out of their arrangement, but it seems Dwalin’s done with him now.

He tries not to think about how much that hurts.

“And we can’t put it off until after because…?” he asks, only half-teasing, and Dwalin snorts a laugh.

“We could, but I’d rather we both be clear-headed for this.”

Ah. So he’s still interested in sex, then. That’s a good sign. Nori relaxes a bit more, crossing his arms. “Fine. But hurry it up; we don’t have all night.”

“I’d like to court you,” Dwalin says. “Properly. And marry you after, if you’ll have me.”

Nori blinks, then laughs, because really, that has to be a joke. “All right, that’s funny, I’ll give you that. Now come here and fu—“

“I mean it,” Dwalin says, taking a step forward. He puts his hands on Nori’s shoulders, and there’s an intensity in his eyes that Nori can’t say he’s seen before. “I want to court you. Will you let me?”

Nori hesitates, and that scares him more than anything else. He’s had offers of courting and marriage before, from lesser Dwarrow than Dwalin who’d got too attached, and it was too easy to turn them down and get them out of his life.

But this is Dwalin, and Dwalin is different. There’s no evidence that Dwalin would be a bad husband—in fact, Nori’s pretty sure that if he were to have a husband at all, he’d want Dwalin.

But marriage

The fact that he’s even considering taking Dwalin up on it terrifies him.

“I—“ Nori starts, and then he hears his name being called from the main hallway.

“That’s Ori,” he says, managing to twist out of Dwalin’s grasp and put some distance between them, taking a few steps back toward the main hall. “I should go.”

Nori can see the next words on Dwalin’s lips, but he turns his back and walks as fast as his feet can take him.

When he finds Ori and they head to their room, he tries to forget the look on Dwalin's face as he left.



Dís walks into Thorin’s forge, slipping a thick, soot-stained apron over her head. She sets the fire alight, then dusts her hands off and reaches for a handful of hair pins. As she braids her hair into one long tail, she looks over the materials she’d laid out the night before, making sure there is enough for the scabbard she’s been paid to make.

While Thorin has been gone, she’s taken over his commissions. She isn’t the blacksmith he is—she’s a silversmith by craft—but she knows her way around a forge well enough to give her less-discerning customers, mostly Men, weapons and tools that work as they should. She doesn’t like the way the Men in the marketplace look at her when she goes to sell, but they pay her what she asks without haggling, unlike her Dwarven customers.

She decided a while back that she can deal with the looks so long as she gets the money she’s due.

After her hair is braided and the long tail is pinned up to her head, Dís splits her beard into two sections and pins those out of the way as well. She tests the fire with a brand—it turns red-hot quickly enough that she decides the forge is ready, and she dunks the brand in a bucket of water.

Time to start the work day, then.

Scabbards give her more trouble than other pieces, so Dís decides to take her time, starting by warming the steel in the fire before using her pincers to put it on the anvil.

She nearly burns herself on it when she hears a loud flapping sound from her windowsill.

“Watch those clumsy hands, Lady Dís,” something croaks, and Dís nearly drops the steel and pincers both before she turns to see that it’s a raven.

By the time she manages to put the steel and pincers aside, she knows she’ll have to reheat the metal and start all over again.

“You have clearly not been a messenger for long, if you think sneaking up on a Dwarrowdam in her forge is acceptable behavior,” she says a bit sharply. “If you bring news, tell it.” She can feel hope rise in her chest—is this raven from Erebor?—but she refuses to be cowed by it.

The bird turns its head away, blinking. “Food first,” it demands. “Long way to fly, you know.”

Dís knocks her hands together to clean off the soot, then wipes them on her apron before standing akimbo. “I will feed you when I know where you have come from, and whose news you bring.”

She’s almost certain the raven rolls its eyes, if ravens could do such a thing. “I have come from Erebor, with news from the—well, he is King now, I am sure.”

Thorin. It’s news from Thorin. They made it to Erebor.

Dís can’t find her fruit bowl quickly enough. She gives the bird a pile of berries and a slice of fresh bread, and then pulls a chair up to the window and sits.

“You have your food, now speak.”

“I am not a dog, Lady Dís,” the raven clucks, picking up a berry and squashing it between its beak. “I will speak when I wish.”

Bloody ravens. Dís grits her teeth. She will need to speak to Thorin about sending letters instead of verbal messages from now on. “Then, please, eat your fill and tell me what you have to say.”

The bird takes an unbearably long amount of time—Dís is certain it’s just trying to spite her at this point. But, finally, the last speck of bread and berry is gone, and the raven ruffles its feathers.

“I have news from the newly-crowned King Under the Mountain,” the bird says, and Dís leans forward. “He instructed Cräg—that is me—to tell the Lady Dís of Ered Luin that the Worm is dead, and Erebor has been reclaimed.”

“That fool managed it,” Dís breathes, her hands tightening on the fabric of her skirt. They have their home back. “My sons—what does Thorin say of my sons?”

“Thorin?” the bird caws, sounding eerily like laughter. “I spoke not to Thorin Oakenshield. No, the King Under the Mountain is Fíli the Golden of Heart.”

Dís’ heart is stuck between rising to her throat and sinking to her stomach. Fíli lives, then, and was crowned king without her being present—which is an entirely different argument that she will have to have later—but… “What of Thorin Oakenshield?”

The raven cocks its head to the side. “Thorin Oakenshield is no more. He died on the battlefield after slaying the White Orc.”

Dís’ breath catches. Thorn’s quest had succeeded, then, but he had not lived to see it.

And now she would never see him again.

“What of Kíli? Have you heard of my youngest?” she asks, unclenching her skirt and smoothing out the fabric, pointedly not looking at the raven.

“He lives,” the bird says, and Dís leans back against her chair.

My boys are alive.

She only feels the relief for a moment, because while her boys are well, her brother, her last blood beyond her own children, is dead.

“Your sons are fools,” the raven continues, shifting its weight on its feet. “They tried to help Thorin Oakenshield when he faced the White Orc, but he was too distracted trying to protect them to see the Orc’s minions.”

Dís glares at the raven. “My sons are braver than you might ever hope to be, pigeon.”

It narrows its eyes—that’s what Dís thinks it does, at least—and hops a step closer on the windowsill. “I did not say they were cowards. I said they were fools. Are all Dwarves as thick in the skull as—“

“Silence,” Dís commands. The bird obeys, but only just.

Thorin had made her a promise, had told her that he would keep her sons safe, and he had done that. And now he is gone, and her eldest, still not even one hundred years old, is King of Erebor, and no doubt in need of council. And her youngest, sweet boy that he is, who had hero-worshipped Thorin for most of his life, will need comfort from his mother.

She does not think on how much she needs them now, too.

“Raven,” Dís says, her voice stronger than she thought it might be, as she stands. The bird doesn’t seem affected by it, but it turns to listen.

“Tell the King of Erebor that his mother is on her way to him.”