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but oh, my heart was flawed

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Thorin learns of gold from his mother, sitting on her lap as a child and reaching for the burnished beads the handmaidens have braided into her hair. Her earrings are long and studded with opals and chime like bells when she moves, and her beard has been knitted around her throat so it falls like a necklace, weaved through with shining thread that glitters with the shards of sapphires.

“Your father made it for me,” she tells him when Thorin finds the bracelet on her wrist. It’s not bright yellow like the jewellery in her hair but silver, interlaced with white, round gems that gleam blue or violet in the light.

When Thorin is taught the value of stone he asks his mother why Father hadn’t crafted something finer for her. Moonstones are beautiful but commonly found in the depths of the mountain, and even common dwarves would hesitate in offering them as a gift to show affection.

It’s an innocent question and Mother receives it as such, laughing as she strokes her hands through his hair. She says it’s because it was a very long time ago, because Thrain loved her before she loved him and he knew they were her favourite. She says she’s fond of the bracelet despite its value, that she’s not ashamed to wear it even if others believe it too cheap. She says that one day when Thorin is grown he will perhaps find someone that will help him understand in a way that she cannot, tweaking his nose when Thorin frowns at her in confusion.

 

 

Death comes in fire and ash, in thick smoke that chokes the air from his lungs and in the scent of charred flesh peeling away from the bone. It comes buried in screams and tucked beneath the leathery wings of a monster. It comes in exhaustion and despair, in the fury that grows within Thrain and the mad desperation that sprouts in Thror.

Thorin thinks of this as he fumbles for an oaken log, as the dirty blade of an orc’s sword settles against his throat, as he bleeds out on a stiff cot from wounds that itch with infection.

Death has followed him for nearly a century, has nipped at his heels for so long that Thorin suspects he should be more surprised to find himself caught at last. Instead he feels raw, he feels tired and cold and hollowed out, like he’s teetering over the edge of pit and it will almost be a relief to finally fall.

He hopes the story of his life will not be told as a tragedy. And as he looks back on it all, watching for glimpses of sky through the swaying flap of his tent, it’s finally become clear to him that there was never another way for this to end.

 

 

Memories of his brother form in hazy fragments: fine lines fanning out from the corner of squinted eyes, yellow hair twisted into a knot at the base of a freckled neck, a dry palm coming to rest on Thorin’s shoulder. He remembers Frerin tackling him on the yard and kicking at his feet from beneath the table, but the images are cloudy and distant and Thorin wonders at times if he was only ever told of such things.

The pictures clear when he thinks of Frerin on the road, mud-spattered and dusty, his bright hair browned with dirt. He and Thorin would take turns watching over Dis, carrying her on their shoulders or each taking a small hand in one of their own, lifting her off the ground together as she squealed.

Thorin remembers his brother with a worn blanket clutched around his shoulders, lifting tired eyes to Thror and raising his voice so the whole of the camp would hear when he told the King that trying to retake Moria was a fool’s errand.

He remembers his grandfather grabbing Frerin by the collar of his shirt, telling him to hold his tongue and then striking him hard when Frerin laughed in his face.

 

 

The man is drunk. He stinks of ale and piss and his teeth are black with rot. His eyes are bloodshot and the skin around them resembles the colour of wax paper. The hand holding the knife beneath Thorin’s chin is shaking, spasms set off from too much drink or not enough.

He has followed Thorin from the bar.

“Give me your money,” he says. There’s spittle on his lips that he doesn’t wipe or lick away. “Give it to me, or I’ll slit you, throat to balls.”

Thorin is caught between revulsion and wild, mad humour, his temper on edge from a day of thankless work and his blood hot from liquor. He tips up his chin, barring his throat, and the drunk frowns, blinking stupidly.

“I have none,” Thorin says. The smile he offers is sharp and ugly.

The drunk sneers. He calls Thorin a liar, a crook, a dirty creature that should have stayed in his fucking hole.

His fingers snap like dried twigs in Thorin’s hands.

The man cries out and drops the blade, and Thorin twists his arm to bring the thief to his knees. He punches him in the face, smashes his elbow into his nose and grabs a fistful of his greasy hair to slam him down into the mud. Thorin leaves the man in a heap on the road, kicking him onto his back so he can plant the heel of his boot against his quivering throat.

“You will not approach me or any of my kin again. Do we have an understanding?”

The drunk says nothing, his eyes wide and glassy, blood rushing out from the pulpy remains of his nose. Thorin snarls, pushes his heel down until the scum chokes out the word yes.

Later, Dis presses wet rags to his knuckles and squeezes his wrists tightly when Thorin tries to drag his hand away.

“I am fine,” Thorin snaps.

“You are anything but,” Dis says, her blunt nails slicing into his skin.

 

 

Dis is born too soon. She comes out feet first, small and fragile with long, spindly limbs. The healers don’t expect her to last the night but Mother takes her into her arms, pale and shaking but with strength left in her eyes and voice. She names her newest child as she bleeds to death, lying in bed beneath in a thick blanket so the colour won’t show through the sheets.

She gives Thorin her bracelet, folding his fingers over it and pressing a kiss to the back of his hand. She tells him it’s too precious a thing to be hidden away beneath layers of earth and stone.

 

 

Thorin almost sells it when he’s starving, when he needs money for supplies, when his people begin to fall sick on the road and the cost of medicine is too high.

He weighs the bracelet in his raw, dirty hand, rubbing his thumb over the elegant design of the metalwork. He has never known his father to be gentle, but thinks there must have been a softness in him once to craft something as delicate as this.

He asks for his grandfather’s opinion on the matter and dislikes how Thror’s eyes glow at the prospect, the quick bobs of his head as he tells Thorin to ask for double its worth, hungering for the weight of gold coins in his pocket.

Thorin sells his sword. He sells his fine cloak, gifted to him by Balin on his twentieth name-day, his bracers and jade hair clips, his boots. He keeps the bracelet wrapped in a doeskin pouch and stitches it carefully into the seams of his clothing.

 

 

“So, this is the hobbit.”

Bilbo Baggins is everything Thorin expects him to be. He is spoiled by the comforts of home, small and weak and unfit for world that lies beyond his borders. Thorin circles him, unimpressed, and the hobbit twitches like a nervous rabbit caught in the presence of a wolf.

He comes running after them in the morning, breathless and stumbling over his own feet, the contract clutched tight in his hand and marked with his startlingly bold signature.

“I signed it,” he says, grinning, the collar of his shirt damp with sweat. Gandalf looks to Thorin, a knowing gleam in his eye, and Thorin sighs as he digs his heels into the sides of his pony, turning away.

He looks back just once. Bilbo squawks when Bofur and Gloin heave him up onto the back of a spare pony, and Thorin glances over his shoulder only to make sure the hobbit isn’t about to fall and slow their pace.

Bilbo sways but doesn’t slip from the saddle. There’s colour on his cheeks his brown hair gleams gold in the light of the morning sun.

 

 

Thorin is better than the man he works for. The local blacksmith is a cheat, selling brittle swords and creaking bows, getting away with it because he was once brilliant and his old reputation has yet to fade. Thorin knows this because the weapons mounted on the walls of his shop are of a good, solid quality. They deserve to be held in a warrior’s hands, not kept for display and gathering dust.

The job is barely worth his time. He’s underpaid and overworked, but the jewellers and the stonecutters have already turned him away and Thorin still has what remains of his family to support. The blacksmith keeps finding reasons to cut his wage, chomping at an apple as he examines Thorin’s craftsmanship, telling him his weapons are too heavy, too plain, uncreative and unfit for anyone to use but another bloody cave-dweller.

Each sells at a high price, and Thorin sees none of the profit.

So he works through the day with gritted his teeth and shaking hands. He pounds his hammer into steel, picturing the blacksmith’s face. He wants to knock out his teeth, to feel his windpipe crunch beneath his thumbs. He lets the ring of metal on metal clog his ears and fill his head, lets his rage settle in the space around his heart, lets it take hold and swell until it threatens to crack him open from the inside out.

 

 

Thranduil’s long face is unmarked by age. There are no lines stemming from his mouth or stretched over his brow, no freckles on his skin or colour warming his cheeks. Bodies are made to be ruined, to be altered by the sun and wind and broken down by time. Other races may view elves as beautiful and fair, but Thorin looks at them and only sees something strange.

“Thrainson,” Thranduil calls him, and his voice makes Thorin think of deep, open water —calm and flowing on the surface with cold currents lurking below.

It’s the second time they’ve met and the first they’ve spoken. Thorin has retreated to the outer walls of Erebor to escape the pounding music and roaring noise of the great hall that shudders through the whole of the mountain. He doesn’t know if Thranduil has followed him or is here by coincidence and doesn’t much care. He dislikes the intrusion of his presence, doesn’t trust his flawless face or false smile, his eyes that are as hard as newly found diamonds still encrusted with stone.

Thorin turns away, a muttered pardon on his lips, but Thranduil’s hand is quick to dart out after him and his fingers curl into the meat of Thorin’s shoulder like claws.

“A moment,” Thranduil says.

He bends forward at the waist and leans in, close enough to knock brows, closer than any guest to the house of Durin should dare to come.

“What are you doing?” Thorin asks, a hint of fire laced through the words. Thranduil’s sweet, warm breath touches his face, and Thorin is caught between feeling insulted or baffled. But to step away would be surrendering, an admittance of distress, and he will not give this presumptuous stranger such satisfaction. He keeps his feet planted firmly on the stone his people have dragged upwards from the pits of the earth and into the sun. He doesn’t lose the steel in his spine, doesn’t dare to let his eyes flicker away.

Thranduil nearly seems to frown. A small crease forms between his brows as he tilts his head, but it vanishes so quickly that it may have been nothing more than a trick of the evening light.

“And here I was thinking you were the King’s very own,” Thranduil says, and his eyes take on a strangely distant look, unfocused and faraway, as if he’s gazing at something that Thorin can’t see. “But still, there is so much of your grandfather in you.”

Fear, as cold as the winter winds that cut across the mountain, races through Thorin’s blood. He doesn’t know why it’s there, why he’s not shaking with rage instead, but it’s enough to make want to retreat, to take half a step backwards even as Thranduil’s fingers tighten.

The elf blinks, pupils dilating, and then he sighs as his lids flutter shut, shockingly dark lashes drifting against white cheeks.

“Such a shame,” he says, releasing his grip.

“What are you talking about?” Thorin asks, his voice rasping, catching in his throat. He feels dizzy and the taste of bile is lapping at his tongue.

Thranduil straightens. His lips curl upwards into a smile that barely touches his face even as it forms over the thin shape of his mouth.

 

 

The air in Mirkwood is heavy and suffocating in its humidity. Thorin hates it, hates the buzzing insects that follow them in thick swarms and scent of dampness and rot, the creeping, skittering animals that lurk in the shadows of the forest. Though he itches to push on he calls for frequent breaks, the Company weary from walking through the cloying, wet heat held beneath the canopy of trees.

He draws the back of his hand over his brow, watching as the others fan out along the narrow pathway that’s been tread into the ground. The water in his flask is warm but it washes the dusty taste form his tongue, and he tips his head back as he drinks, one gulp followed by another, more than he should allow himself but still not enough to ease his thirst.

A bead of liquid spills from the corner of his lips, and it's only when Thorin is wiping it away that he catches sight of Bilbo, staring at him from where he sits on a log with his dirty knees pulled up to his chest.

Thorin lifts his eyebrows, the back of his hand skimming along his mouth and beard. Bilbo holds his gaze but blushes from the hollow of his throat to the tips of his cheekbones, and a half-forgotten heat stirs from somewhere deep within Thorin at the sight.

“Where you thirsty?” Thorin asks, his voice turning low. He steps close, offering the water.

It feels like he’s asking another question entirely.

Bilbo sets his jaw, dropping his feet to the ground and uncurling as he reaches out. He’s bold enough to touch Thorin as he pulls the flask his grip, smooth nails and soft fingertips grazing over Thorin’s scabbed knuckles as he draws his hand away.

“Yes,” Bilbo says, pink tongue darting out to dab at his lower lip. His eyes are bright and steady, and they look nearly green in the haze of Mirkwood’s yellow light. “Very.”

 

 

He digs through a mountain of corpses to find his brother’s body, filth and decay caking his hands, the sick scent of it filling his nose and throat. Thorin spits over his shoulder, trying to blink the grit and sweat from his eyes. Flies buzz around his head, flaring up from the remains of the orcs and dwarves he tosses aside.

He is told that it took three orcs to fell his brother, but knows this is a lie when he drags away the bloated husk of a warg and finds Frerin there beneath it, his handsome armour cracked open and smeared with gore, an arrow piercing his throat. Thorin means to break off the stone tip and slip the shaft free, but his hands are shaking and his stomach is clenching and the blood in his eyes is starting to darken the edges of his vision. His fingers curl themselves into the his brother’s dirty, matted hair, and he can’t bring himself to let go until Dwalin appears at his side, speaking softly as draws Thorin away.

Dis doesn’t cry when he brings her back their grandfather’s crown and their brother’s axe. She takes Thorin’s face between her hands, and Thorin closes his eyes and drops his forehead to her shoulder, his fingers folding into fists at his side.

 

 

Thorin carves Fili and Kili practice swords from the wood of a chestnut tree. He cuts their names into the hilts and presents them to his nephews as gifts when he visits, bringing them outside and into the field lying just beyond their house.

“Try to strike me,” Thorin says, nothing but his oaken bracer in hand, and Fili and Kili barely spare a glance between themselves before leaping to the task.

They are old enough to know they’re being taught a skill and not playing at some game, but they treat it as such anyways, laughing as they dart around Thorin’s legs, counting how many times they manage to land a hit and keeping score.

“I’m winning!” Fili crows, pulling a face at his brother as Thorin steps pass the swing of Kili’s sword.

“Are you now?” Thorin asks. He catches Fili’s ankle with the heel of his boot the next time he ventures close, pulling his foot out from under him. Both his nephews laugh uproariously as he falls, even as Fili points at Thorin and calls him a cheater.

The lesson draws to a close when Thorin catches a stick beneath his arm. He drops his elbow over it to keep it locked against his body and falls to the ground, feigning death. His nephews take the opportunity to pile on top of him, tugging at his braids and pulling at his beard, pinching his cheeks red. Thorin holds his breath, keeps his eyes shut tight, and just as his nephews’ amusement starts to veer towards worry he springs up with a shout. Fili is quick enough to escape but Kili stumbles, so Thorin wraps an arm around his waist and tickles his sides until he’s crying with laughter.

Thorin doesn’t sleep that night. He lies awake in a soft bed with his hands folded over his stomach, thinking of what it would be like to stay here in this small house with his sister and her sons. He would never find a job in the area that would pay enough to support them, but he would be there to teach the lads how to properly hold a sword, to tell them bedtime stories about their lost home and heritage. He could chop wood for Dis in the morning and discuss lesson plans with Balin when he visited. He could be a part of their lives.

He leaves the next morning before the sun rises while the house is still asleep, not wanting his sister to see him crumble as he says goodbye.

 

 

Bilbo crawls on top of him, face warm and eyes dark as he presses his hands flat to Thorin’s shoulders, hovering over his slick, flushed cock. His legs are naked and shaking, a line of sweat trailing down and over the curve of his rounded waist. They’ve only just started and already he looks ruined, arching his back and letting out a low whine as he sinks onto Thorin, filling himself in one long, smooth motion that sends a shudder up his spine.

Thorin had taken his time in stretching Bilbo, but the swiftness of the action must still cause him more pain than pleasure. Even knowing this Thorin nearly loses himself, overcome with the need to do nothing more than slam into Bilbo, to pin him down and use him, to watch him writhe against the ground, wanton and needy and full.

He grabs at Bilbo’s hips, forcing him to pause as a shuddered gasp hisses through his teeth.

“Thorin?” Bilbo says, his knees clenching against Thorin’s sides.

“Slowly,” Thorin gasps. “Damn you, slowly.”

Bilbo pouts, looks nearly heartbroken before a new, wicked light fills his eyes. He covers Thorin’s hands with his own, and then inch by excruciating inch drags himself upwards, lifting off of Thorin completely before beginning to creep his way back down.

“Oh, I’m sorry, is this too slow?” he asks, offering Thorin a honeyed smile as he begins the process anew.

Thorin groans, toes curling, his body straining against the thin blanket laid out beneath them. He tries to think of something other than the heat and tight muscle engulfing him, than the wet sounds being made between their bodies, than Bilbo’s fluttering stomach and narrow shoulders, the faint freckles scattered along his thighs.

Thorin has played the role of the beggar before. He has held out his hand and said please even as the word curdled in his mouth. When he crossed the borders of the Blue Mountains for the first time, thick furs on his shoulders and a strong axe in his hand, he had swore to himself that he would never be brought so low again.

And he hasn’t forgotten this vow, but never has he wanted to ask for anything so sweet in his life.

“Bilbo,” he breathes. “I…”

Bilbo hushes him, smoothing a hand over Thorin’s jaw, coarse hair crackling against his palm. Thorin is quick to turn into the touch, dragging his tongue over the sensitive webbing between Bilbo’s fingers, letting nothing more pass his lips but a groaning sigh.

Bilbo takes pity. He flays himself open on Thorin’s cock. He grinds down and ruts against him, twists and rocks back and forth until they’re both hot and dizzy and aching for more.

“Oh,” Bilbo says, eyes pinched shut, his mouth open and wet, made shameless by his desire. “Oh…

Thorin can’t stop himself. He sits up and rolls them over, pins Bilbo’s back to the ground with his knees drawn up and caught between their bodies. Bilbo squirms, making the most delicious sounds, half on the blanket and half in the dirt. His hands slip over the sweat on Thorin’s back, fumbling across his shoulders until they find his hair where they grip and pull. He drags Thorin down for a kiss, teeth scraping against his jaw before their mouths find each other. He tastes like pipe-weed and rain and ripe, sweet fruit, and Thorin licks into his mouth as he works a hand between them, fisting Bilbo’s cock and breathing in the sounds of his whimpered moans.

Thorin falls asleep with Bilbo tucked against his body, with his hand splayed against his chest and with Bilbo’s heart beating beneath his open palm.

 

 

“Liar. Oathbreaker,” Bard sneers, his hand cutting through the night air like a blade, spittle flying from his lips. His face is coloured by the light of the burning houses in the distance, the fires still flickering at the edge of the lake.

Thorin narrows his eyes. “Watch your tongue, smuggler.”

“Oh, do you wish to silence me from speaking the truth? You promised to share the riches of your mountain!”

“That was before you chose to ally yourself with our enemy,” Thorin snaps.

Balin says his name, reaching out to take his arm, but Thorin shrugs him away without sparing him a glance.

Bard looks wild in his anger. His hair hangs around his face in damp, matted clumps, his chest heaving as he steps forward.

“The elves have aided us! They’ve tended to our wounded, worked with us to put out the fires, to repair the damage that you brought upon us all, King Under the Mountain!”

Bard offers him a low, mocking bow, sweeping out his arms. When he stands again his rage has changed, hardened into something icy and bitter.

“You are sick with greed, Thorin Oakenshield,” he says. “You are weak. There is something wrong with you, twisted and rotten, and none of your dear companions are brave enough to speak of it!”

The Company is silent behind him. Thorin spares a look towards Balin, who meets Thorin’s eyes with a silent, desperate plea lingering in own. He looks to Bilbo, standing stiff at his side, but his face is hidden in shadows, his shoulders pulled into a tense, straight line.

Thorin crosses his arms. He thinks of the elves, turning away as Erebor burned. He thinks of the ruins of Moria and of his sister’s rickety cabin, of sleeping on soggy ground while his stomach clenched with hunger. He thinks of the men who have laughed at him, who stole from him and cheated him, who spat at his father’s feet when he asked for nothing more than honest work.

Thorin has done what none thought possible. He has lived. He has reached through dragonfire and taken back what is his. He is the King Under the Mountain, finally, finally, and he will not be brought to his knees again.

“You will not see a coin from us,” he says, and it’s strange, how the words fall from his mouth, how his tongue forms them into something harsh and brittle, detached from the calm certainty that dwells in Thorin’s chest.

Bard shakes his head, his smile twisted, his laughter hollow.

“Then let it be on your head.”

 

 

“You’re hurting me.”

Bilbo is naked and stretched out beneath him, cradled against a small mound of gold. His throat and belly glisten with sweat and his thighs are slick with Thorin’s seed. There’s a stray ruby resting on his hip and a string of pearls nestled against his arm, and Thorin can’t seem to drag his eyes away from the sight.

“Thorin,” Bilbo says, sharper now. He always looks so lovey after they finish, drowsy and indulged, smiling at Thorin like a cat that’s got the cream. But he’s blinking now and beginning to frown, shifting restlessly beneath Thorin’s hands.

Thorin tightens his grip at Bilbo’s waist when he tries to move away, and Bilbo hisses, lifting his arms as if he means to push against Thorin’s chest. It’s only then that Thorin looks, that he notices the soft skin beneath his nails has bruised and reddened beneath his touch.

He pulls his hands from Bilbo’s body like he’s been burned.

“I’m sorry.”

He pushes himself to his feet, staggering when the gold shifts beneath him. He feels drunk, his head cloudy and muddled, the pattering of coins ringing too loudly in his ears. He shakes his head, blinks, pinches the bridge of his nose, but none of it helps and quite suddenly his mind turns to thoughts of the arkenstone, still unfound and waiting from him, buried beneath the very sea of gold he stands in.

It’s too much. His skin is prickling and his blood is on fire and it feels like he’s being taffy-pulled in a thousand different directions.

“It’s fine. You were just squeezing a bit hard, that’s all,” Bilbo is saying, but his brows are still pulled in tight. He draws himself upwards and reaches out, his fingers skimming along the bottom edge of Thorin’s tunic that he hadn’t bothered to discard.

“Come back?”

Thorin pauses, caught in temptation. He thinks that there are much better ways he could apologise to Bilbo. He could crouch down and draw his tongue over the flushed marks he’s left behind, could take Bilbo’s cock in his mouth and coax him back into arousal. He imagines the sounds Bilbo would make for him, the soft sighs and shuddered moans, how he would laugh if Thorin were to suddenly lift his head and nuzzle as his soft belly, dragging his beard against unsuspecting skin.

Later, a voice in the back of his mind whispers to him. Later, when you have the arkenstone in hand. Think of how he will look beneath its light, how it will reflect in his clear eyes.

“I cannot,” Thorin says. He has lost control of his tongue and doesn’t realize he’s speaking until he notices Bilbo’s expression fall. “I have to—”

“Right,” Bilbo says. “Of course.”

His eyes are hooded, his head tipped low. His hair has grown long, Thorin notices, thick brown curls falling over his ears and shifting against his jaw, dragging over the sharp curve of his collarbone. Thorin allows himself a moment to touch it, drawing it back and away from Bilbo’s face.

Bilbo looks up at him, his jaw nudging against the heel of Thorin’s hand. His mouth looks soft and swollen and very red in the warm light of the torches. It trembles beneath Thorin’s touch when he leans down close for a kiss.

 

 

The mace falls on his shoulder, shattering Thorin’s arm and dropping him to his knees. There’s blood in his mouth and eyes, hair sticking to his cut lips and the sweat on his face. His vision blurs as he blindly swings up his shield, and Azog laughs as he knocks it away, a low and gravelly sound that swells into a scream as Thorin’s last defense is left to clatter uselessly against the rocks.

Thorin’s ears are ringing and something’s gone wrong in his head. The world begins presenting itself to him in jagged, stuttering pieces: the distant roar of battle, blood dribbling down his twitching fingers, sharp stones digging into his knees and gritty dirt caught between his teeth.

Azog taps his mace against the crown of Thorin’s head, as soft as a kiss. He lifts it again, up and up and up, blotting out the light of the sun, and in that moment Thorin understands that he’s going to die.

Fili sinks his sword deep into Azog’s side. Thorin catches a glimpse of him from beneath the orc’s outstretched arm, his golden hair flying around his face, teeth clenched into a wild grin and eyes bright with victory.

Azog bellows, twisting at the waist. The motion drives the blade in deeper, makes it impossible for Fili to pull free. The boy still tries, retching at the sword instead of letting go.

“No,” Thorin croaks. His hands are empty. He moves to throw himself against Azog’s legs but his entire body has turned numb and the mud is sucking at his boots and he tumbles back down to his elbows and knees. “No, Fili, don’t—”

Azog brings his severed arm around. The jagged steel rod he has driven into the stump gleams wickedly as the hooked end pierces through Fili’s widened eye.

 

 

Thorin has forgotten that Bilbo is such a small creature beneath his hot temper and flashing charm. He’s so light that Thorin can lift him with one hand, can hold him over the high gates of Erebor with no strain at all.

Bilbo’s round eyes are wide, fever-bright and damp, his lips turning blue at the edges. His feet kick out against the wall, knocking loose bits of stone as his bare toes skid against the otherwise smooth surface. Each of the Company gasps or cries out behind them. Kili starts forward only to be pulled back by his brother, and Balin calls Thorin’s name sharply, as if he is a child in need of discipline.

Thorin snarls but ignores them, keeps his attention fixed to the burglar, the filthy, dishonourable little thief twisting in his grasp.

“How dare you?” He hisses, his fingers clenching, tightening. “Stealing what is mine, giving it over willingly to the greedy hands of our enemies.”

He pulls Bilbo back from the ledge of the wall but doesn’t set him down. He shakes him until his teeth are rattling and a wheezy cry is torn from his lips.

“I should throw you to the rocks.”

Bilbo can’t speak, the lump in his throat bobbing against Thorin’s palm. He claws at Thorin’s forearm as Gandalf calls up to them from far below.

 

 

Kili is screaming.

He leaps onto Azog’s back and hacks at him with a dagger, plunging it down into the orc’s shoulders, the thick muscles of his neck. Azog bellows with rage, clawing at the air until he catches the throat of Kili’s tunic, throwing him to the ground as he lifts his weapon.

Fili’s sword is still sticking out from Azog’s side and Thorin makes a wild grab for it, the hilt slippery with blood. With all the strength he has left Thorin rips the blade towards him, cutting through muscle and tissue and fat. Azog’s intestines spill over his boots, a spray of black blood drenching Thorin from throat down to his ankles.

The mace still falls, and Kili’s chest caves in with a wet crunch.

Thorin is distantly aware of Azog collapsing, of the great groan that is squeezed from the monster’s lungs as he dies. Once Thorin had dreamt of cutting off the Defiler’s head, of mounting it on a stake atop the high walls of Erebor for all to see. But such pathetic, hateful thoughts have been torn from him, shredded and scattered to the wind at the sight of Fili, unmoving from where he lies facedown in a shallow puddle. Kili is staring at him, trying to drag himself towards his brother, fighting against his broken body even as he cries out in pain.

Thorin goes to him. He pulls Kili’s head onto his lap and holds his face in his hands to keep him from looking away. He’s bleeding out too quickly for Thorin to stop it, so he strokes his thumbs over his damp, rough cheeks, and tells him lies.

It’s all right lad, it’s all right. I’m here. You’ll be fine, you’ll both be fine, I promise…

He says these things until Kili stills and turns cold in his arms, and he thinks about the little boys that used hang off his wrists and listen to his stories, that bickered with each other and played together, that made a knotted mess of his hair whenever he allowed them to braid it and always looked to him like he knew everything, could fix anything.

Dis had asked him to leave them at home, but Thorin had insisted.

They will rule, one day. They need to be a part of this.

Thorin doesn’t know how long he sits there for with his hands in Kili’s hair, how long it takes for him to notice the arrows sticking out from his chest and shoulders. He touches the fletching of one, prickly and black, and wonders distantly why he hadn’t felt it when it struck him.

“Thorin?”

Thorin’s eyes are aching and his vision blurs when he looks up. He blinks until he can see Bilbo standing in front of him.

“Oh,” Bilbo says, reaching out, his face crumpling with grief. “Thorin.”

 

 

Thorin catches Galadriel’s eye in Rivendell. She stands far away from him beneath a white canopy, lingering on an open balcony as Thorin passes by below.

It’s the light that draws his attention. Her skin gleams like a pearl and her hair drifts over her shoulder like a wave of molten gold. Her face is smooth but the wisdom of age glows in her star-filled eyes. She looks old and strong and strikingly beautiful, like a marble statue breathed to life.

Thorin finds himself pinned by her gaze. His throat tightens and dries and his heart flutters in his chest, and it feels as though she’s reaching inside of him and gathering up every rotten scrap of himself that he’s hidden away, collecting the tattered pieces in her delicate, white hands and holding them out before Thorin to see.

There is so much of your grandfather in you, a voice or old memory whispers to him, nearly kind and so much softer than Thranduil had been all those years ago.

Thorin shivers. He looks away, presses his fingers into his eyes until red spots begin to bleed out into the darkness beneath his lids.

No, he thinks, or maybe he says it. It sounds or feels or tastes like a lie, so he shakes his head and clenches his teeth, forces his arm to drop as he tips up his jaw, stares at lovely, awful creature that looks down on him.

I am better. I am stronger. I will not be that.

Galadriel’s head tilts to the side. The light in her eyes shifts or darkens, and for a moment she looks almost sad.

 

 

It takes him hours to die.

He bleeds from the inside, fluid welling up in his throat and dabbed away from his lips when he coughs. The wounds left by the arrows fester and darken. His shoulder blade is shattered and splinters of bone stick out through the skin of his arm.

Balin weeps, his beautiful beard singed and turned black from battle. Thorin wants to apologize to him but Balin keeps shaking his head and telling him to stop, patting his hand from where he kneels at his side, just as he would when Thorin was a child and lying sick in bed.

Dwalin is quieter, stoic. He touches his forehead to Thorin’s, his hand squeezing his arm tight enough to hurt. It’s him that Thorin makes the requests of, gesturing to his scattered belongings piled at the corner of the tent. Dwalin does nothing but nod and do as he’s asked, taking Thorin’s hand and bowing low before he leaves.

The rest of the Company come to him in pairs, their faces pale and dirty. Ori sniffs and wipes at his nose with the back of his knitted glove, but the rest are silent and tearless, each offering him an oath before they recede.

Bilbo is the last to arrive. There are dark circles beneath his eyes and his hair greasy and limp. There’s blood on his feet and on his knees, crusting along the soft line of his jaw. Thorin can’t tell from where he lays if it belongs to Bilbo or another.

“Are you injured?” Thorin asks.

Bilbo laughs, a wretched sound that spirals out from his mouth.

“Am I injured,” he says. “Me.”

“That is what I asked.”

Bilbo collapses into the chair that’s been pulled to Thorin’s side, curling his hands into fists and jamming them into his eyes.

“I’m fine,” he says. His voice sounds tight. “I’m fine, you great fool.”

There’s so much to say, and Thorin knows he must do it quickly or not at all, and yet he finds himself unable to speak. Bilbo sighs and sags in his chair, flattening both hands against his face. His shoulders are slack and there’s dirt beneath his nails, and Thorin wishes he could remove every speck of filth his quest has left on Bilbo’s body, wishes he could take the broken space between them and fold it back together with hands that never shook with cold desire, never reached out for Bilbo in anger.

“My nephews are dead,” Thorin says, because he must say something and because that… that is important.

Bilbo looks up from behind the shield of his hands, eyes blinking and lips thinning as he nods.

It’s becoming difficult for Thorin to breathe. It feels like a hand has clamped itself tight around his heart and begun to squeeze. A low, keening sound is ripped from his throat, and Bilbo is scrambling forward, pushing his fingers through Thorin’s bloody, matted beard, begging him to stop.

“I’m sorry,” Thorin says. He feels like he’s coming loose at the seams, like Bilbo’s touch has shattered him. “I— it all went wrong. I shouldn’t have, at the gate. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

“Stop,” Bilbo says. “Be quiet. Don’t—don’t worry about that, now.”

Thorin coughs, and the hot taste of copper lingers on his tongue.

“I wish to part in friendship from you. I would take back my words—”

Bilbo makes horrible sound, like he’s going to cry but he’s trying so hard not to. He bends down and presses his mouth to Thorin’s. His lips are warm and soft and they part eagerly for Thorin’s tongue when he dares to risk a taste.

Bilbo’s cheeks are damp when he pulls away. He kisses Thorin’s brow and his hair, the stinging cut beneath his eye. Thorin is content to lie there and be lavished with such undeserved affection, but he’s beginning to feel heavy and tired and knows this will be his very last chance.

He draws his arm out from beneath the covers, wincing, and presses his mother’s bracelet into Bilbo’s hand.

“What is this?” Bilbo asks. He sniffs, frowns, looks from the jewellery in his hand to Thorin’s face and back again. “Why are you giving it to me?”

Thorin tries to smile, but his lips are gummy with blood and he keeps losing sight of Bilbo’s face. He reaches out and Bilbo takes his wrist, guides Thorin’s palm to his cheek. He’s still holding the bracelet, and Thorin can feel the chill of it against his skin.

He’s not certain how much he manages to explain. My mother gave it to me, he wants to say. My father made it for her. It’s not worth very much but it’s a pretty trinket and she loved it because she loved him. Had I the time I would craft you something grander, perhaps a ring or necklace marked with a stone that matches the colour of your eyes.

Would you have liked that, Bilbo? I hope that you would.

Maybe none of it gets out. Thorin is cold and everything has fallen into darkness. He’s no longer sure if his eyes are open or shut.

No matter, Thorin thinks. From somewhere very far away Bilbo is calling to him, and though Thorin tries to answer his mouth is dry and his lips refuse to hold the shape of Bilbo’s name. His arm is so heavy that even with Bilbo squeezing at his hand he can’t stop it from falling.

He knows that Bilbo will come to understand.